Lockdown TV Review: Spooks Series 9

Oof, the start of the downfall…Series 9 of Spooks turns into the Lucas North show with terrible ramifications

“Do you know how I knew it was true? Because for the first time you made sense”

It couldn’t last, two strong series of Spooks back-to-back were undone by the horrors of Series 9. And it needn’t have been this way, it opens with a great 10 minutes. Ros;s funeral! A proposal! Harry as an assassin! Ruth getting called “that dogged, brilliant bitch”! But new head writers Jonathan Brackley and Sam Vincent then have the trickier task of reconstructing a new team, and don’t quite nail it with Sophia Myles’ Beth and Max Brown’s Dimitri only ever appearing in shades of beige.

Worse though, is the shifting of the entire season’s narrative onto Richard Armitage’s Lucas who – dun dun dur – is actually someone else called John Bateman, whose torturously wrangled personal history is dragged out through the presence of Iain Glen’s Vaughan. Undoing all the good work that Armitage had done in building the fascinating ambiguities of Lucas North, the entire John Bateman storyline was a huge mis-step and ultimately indulges Spooks at its worst. 

Nicola Walker-ometer
Never better than turning Harry down, she’s a vital steadying presence in a show that badly needs it. Continue reading “Lockdown TV Review: Spooks Series 9”

Review: About Leo, Jermyn Street

Excellent creative work makes About Leo, the debut play from Alice Allemano a real success at the Jermyn Street Theatre

“I have never, in my life, for one moment, been anyone’s muse. I was too busy rebelling against my family and learning to be an artist”

What does a woman have to do to be appreciated on her own merits? Be a leading surrealist painter? Be a founding member of the women’s movement in the country where she lives? Write several successful books?  Leonora Carrington may not be the best known of names but she deserves more than being known someone who had an affair with Max Ernst.

Such is the set-up for Alice Allemano’s impressive debut play About Leo. Wannabe journalist Eliza Prentice rocks up at Carrington’s Mexico City residence in order to secure an interview for a retrospective of Ernst’s work but is soon disabused of the notion that she was a mere ‘muse’. And over a long night, as tea turns into tequila, stories of love and loss and art and aspiration reveal a hugely fascinating figure.  Continue reading “Review: About Leo, Jermyn Street”

Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 1

“Do not blaspheme! Do not blaspheme!”

To mark Series 10 of Doctor Who starting on BBC1 next week, I’ve been counting down the weeks with a rewatch of all 9 of the previous series of new Who. And now we’re within touching distance, I’m counting down the days talking about each one. For once though, I’m going to keep these posts (relatively) short and sweet, following the below format.

With just the one series to judge him on, and that series being the very first when everyone was still finding their feet, Christopher Eccleston’s Nine often gets a bit of a raw deal. And some of his zany moments are undoubtedly really quite awkward to watch but for me, they’re easily outweighed by the emotional weight of his more serious work, especially when hinting at the considerable darkness of the events of his recent past that had left him so haunted. A solid re-entry back into the televisual world. Continue reading “Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 1”

Review: The Red Barn, National

“It’s as if I have lived my whole life with the handbrake on”

On booking for The Red Barn, you’re advised that “due to the tense nature of the play, there will be no re-admittance”. The play – written by David Hare from the 1968 novel La Main by Georges Simenon – is also described as a psychological thriller on the website. It all adds up to a certain degree of expectation about what kind of show it is one is going to see and even though this isn’t my first time at the rodeo, I’ve seen a few shows and know the danger of anticipation, it is often hard not to carry the weight of those expectations with you as you take your seat.

Which is a roundabout way of saying that Robert Icke’s production of The Red Barn was not the play I thought it would be. And that my initial slightly cool reaction was as much a response to that as it was to the material itself. Set in the depths of a Connecticut winter, two couples make their way home from a party and when one of the men doesn’t make it back, it is the consequences of that that makes up the meat of the play. Specifically, it’s how the other man of the group reacts, both right then and from then on, that Simenon and Hare and Icke probe into. Continue reading “Review: The Red Barn, National”

Review: Luce, Southwark Playhouse

“There’s a space between truth and deception that isn’t a lie”

Even in the handful of years since JC Lee (who has since gone on to write for television shows Looking, Girls and How To Get Away With Murder) initially wrote Luce in 2012, our worldview when it comes to terrorism has shifted considerably. Atrocities such as the Boston Marathon bombing and the attacks on Paris have focused fear anew about threats from both within and without our borders but it is the former on which Lee alights here. Luce was adopted at age 7 from an unspecified African country and raised by all-American couple Amy and Peter into a high-school hero complete with academic prospects and sporting prowess, so his teacher Harriet Carter is then perturbed to find cracks in the veneer.

An assignment in support of a right-wing terrorist flags her attention (no need for the Prevent strategy in the US…) and a surreptitious search of his locker reveals a stash of illegal fireworks. But conscious of the PR implications of besmirching the name of the school’s star student and problematising the perfect ideal of integration that he represents, she calls in his parents under the radar and begins a series of prevarications and half-measures to dealing with the problem. For despite his circumstances, Luce is still just a teenage boy, dealing with all of the pressures that young men face at such a critical juncture in their lives, and the perils in treating him differently soon become all too real. Continue reading “Review: Luce, Southwark Playhouse”

Review: Disgraced, Bush

“You haven’t read the Quran, but you’ve read a couple of sanctimonious British bullies and you think you know something about Islam?”

Credit where credit is due (but be warned, this bit of praise will involve a spoiler), Nadia Fall’s production of Disgraced at the Bush Theatre contains one of the most brutally effective and well-staged pieces of stage violence I have ever seen and fight director Kate Waters ought to be commended for it. Too often we mock poorly executed scuffles without really taking into account how tricky it can be to make it convincing and here, it is so well done that the image seared itself into my brain, working its way into a dream I had that night! 

But to the play at hand – Ayad Akhtar won the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Drama for Disgraced and a quick scan of its key scene might suggest he played to his audience just a little. A lapsed Muslim lawyer and his white artist wife have friends over dinner, a black female law colleague whose partner is a Jewish art dealer and over fennel and anchovy salad, they explosively debate religion, politics and cultural stereotypes. But the play is more than just Pulitzer-bait, digging into just how deeply faith and upbringing shape our identities and how we carry them through life no matter how one might try to reinvent oneself. Continue reading “Review: Disgraced, Bush”

Review: Lakeboat and Prairie Du Chien, Arcola

“They say fuck in direct proportion to how bored they are”

Continuing the rather scattershot programming that is going on at the Arcola since its move closer to Dalston Junction, a David Mamet double bill of two rarely performed short plays, Lakeboat and Prairie Du Chien, from early in his career is playing in the smaller Studio 2, whilst Studio 1 is dark until Uncle Vanya arrives from Coventry.

Lakeboat is set on an ageing cargo ship somewhere out of Chicago on the Great Lakes as English Lit student Dale joins the grizzled, heavy-swearing crew for the summer to replace the missing night chef, tales of whose disappearance are whirling around the ship. On the face of it, there’s perhaps not much to the play, but as a series of male character studies and the different ways in which men talk to each other, with all their braggadocio, masculine swagger, tales of sexual conquest and exertions of power where possible, it is highly illuminating. There’s some moments of great humour, usually concerning the most mundane of subjects, egg sandwiches or Clint Eastwood for example, but there’s also hints of darker places, sexual violence and intense loneliness. Steven Webb as Dale serves as the straight man for all the other characters with a brilliantly light wry touch and though everyone did well in the ensemble, Nigel Cooke’s plaintive Joe and particularly Rory Keenan’s handsomely beardy and fantastically filthy Fred were standouts. Continue reading “Review: Lakeboat and Prairie Du Chien, Arcola”