TV Review: King Charles III, BBC2

“I ask no less than power to achieve my will in fair exchange for total service to the state”

Uneasy lies the head that waits for the crown. Mike Barlett’s King Charles III was a deserved award-winning success when it took the Almeida by storm in 2014, transferring into the West End and then Broadway, later touring the UK and Australia too. Its success lay in the conception of a Shakespearean future history play, written in verse but set in a world recognisably our own, where Prince George is nonchalantly eating croissants, Queen Elizabeth II has just passed and before he has even been crowned, Charles finds himself in a constitutional crisis of his own making. A bold but welcome move from the BBC to commission a version then.

Directed as it was onstage by Rupert Goold and adapted by Bartlett (the narrative has been telescoped down by over an hour), it re-emerges as a powerful, pacy drama, a fascinating look into how the relationship between monarchy and government could so easily shift at a time of transition, anchored by an achingly nuanced performance from Tim Pigott-Smith in the title role. The ache is of course deepened by the actor’s death last month but that sadness shouldn’t overshadow the quality of his work here, masterful in his command of the verse, mesmerising as a man trapped by history. Continue reading “TV Review: King Charles III, BBC2”

DVD Review: The Ghost

“Well don’t tell me you’re going to read it now”

Roman Polanski’s The Ghost, retitled The Ghost Writer in the rest of the world, may have been released in 2010 but remains as powerfully pertinent and indeed politically relevant as ever. Based on the Robert Harris novel of the same name, Ewan McGregor’s nameless protagonist is employed by former British PM Adam Lang, a slippery Pierce Brosnan, to finish his memoirs at the Martha’s Vineyard residence where he’s staying with his wife Ruth, an excellent Olivia Williams.

The task in hand is made more complicated though when Lang is indicted for potential war crimes in collusion with the US administration and the writer is forced to live in-house, where his tentative investigations into Lang’s career uncover conspiracy after conspiracy. The parallels with Tony Blair are clear but not overworked and Polanski’s delivery of a tense thriller with a strong narrative is superlatively done here. Continue reading “DVD Review: The Ghost”

DVD Review: Narcopolis

“The drug is the key”

Written and directed by Justin Trefgarne, British sci-fi flick Narcopolis marks his major directing debut and on a limited budget, especially for this genre, it very much looks the part. Set in a dystopian near-future where drugs are no longer illegal but a black market still flourishes, hard-bitten cop Frank Grieves finds himself drawn into a dark mystery when he’s called onto a job. And as the dead bodies, estranged families, corporate conspiracies and mind-bending narcotics pile up, this complex case proves a tough one for Frank to crack.

With Elliot Cowan in the lead role, it should be little surprise that Narcopolis appealed to me but I do like a good sci-fi film and without a huge amount of money to spend, Trefgarne’s focus has clearly been on richly defined character interaction and it pays off. Amongst others, Cowan’s grizzled former addict has to deal with the boss he accidentally shot in the face (a wry Robert Bathurst), his adoring but neglected son (a sweet Louis Trefgarne) and mysterious woman Eva Gray (Elodie Yung) who holds many of the secrets needed to expose the truth. Continue reading “DVD Review: Narcopolis”

Review: King Charles III, Almeida

“Like I saw on television when 
I was a younger man, I’m Charles no more 
The human being, but transformed into 
A Spitting Image puppet”

Fans of Mike Bartlett, and quite frankly if you like theatre then you ought to be one, will be used to the way in which his writing swings from the epic to the intimate, from sprawling ‘big issue’ plays like Earthquakes in London and 13 to the charged intensity of Contractions, Cock and Bull with crackers like Love Love Love inbetween. So it is good news indeed that he is delivering from the both ends of the pendulum this month – Paines Plough have two-hander An Intervention up at the Watford Palace about to open next week and Rupert Goold’s Almeida has the ambitious and adventurous King Charles III.

And it is no exaggeration to use those words. King Charles III takes the form of a future history play, using Shakespearean language and conventions to tell a story of a constitutional crisis that take place in the aftermath of the death of Queen Elizabeth II. It shouldn’t work, and it shouldn’t work this well, but it really does, with an extraordinary confidence of vision. The great unwashed become “the man who travels day by day upon the Clapham omnibus”, x-rated text messages are described as “a token of my love”, the ceremonial role of the Royals thus “a monarchy reduced to smiling dolls, like waitresses in diners themed” – the use of language is a constant delight.  Continue reading “Review: King Charles III, Almeida”

Review: Serious Money, Radio 3

“We will make a profit at the right time in the right place, with an smile on our very acceptable face”‘

Just a quickie for this Caryl Churchill adaptation. This most linguistically adept of playwrights is a natural fit for the radio, the focus able to settle on the unique way in which she is able to utilise the written word and in Serious Money, it is her use of rhyming couplets that gains real prominence in this medium. But it is her subject matter that really stands out and makes one wonder why a revival hasn’t been mounted recently. Set just after the Big Bang of 1986, Churchill explores the impact of deregulation on the financial markets, how it gave rise to a culture of dodgy high-stakes insider trading and in this case, set the scene for some particularly rapacious Third World exploitation.

Emma Harding’s adaptation gives brilliant life to this jargon-filled, profanity-fuelled world and whilst it may initially seem like a dizzying whirl of barely definable characters, a method to the madness becomes clear, one’s ear becomes accustomed to the poetic, yet shallow, language they speak, their mouths full of empty promises and worthless proclamations as they pursue the greedy mantra of the 1980s. There’s a murder too, but that hardly seems a major point in the end, we don’t even find out who did it but it matters not a jot. Continue reading “Review: Serious Money, Radio 3”

Review: ‘Tis Pity She’s A Whore, Cheek by Jowl at the Barbican

“Tis not, I know, my lust, but tis my fate that leads me on”

A quick glance at my Top 25 Plays of 2011 on the right sidebar will show you that Cheek by Jowl’s The Tempest was one of the absolute highlights of my theatregoing year and so by rights, I ought to have been highly excited for the company’s return to the Barbican with ‘Tis Pity She’s A Whore. But it was the Russian sister company that took on Shakespeare last year and my only other experience with CbJ’s English work was a rather painfully dull take on Macbeth, also at the Barbican, which meant I was a little equivocal about this prospect. Great word-of-mouth persuaded me to take the risk though, booking for late in the run, and it was well-founded as it turned out to be a highly inventive, energetic and deeply sexy evening at the theatre.

It was my first experience of the Jacobean tragedy, a cautionary tale about the problems of wanting to bonk your sister, which has been thoroughly revitalised in this modern-dress version which pulses along with the punchy soundtrack that starts the show along with a rather fun full-cast dance routine. Giovanni comes back from university, full of incestuous thoughts about his sister Annabella who is being pursued by a number of suitors. But as it turns out, she only has eyes for her brother too and though she ends up betrothed to Soranzo, watched by the vengeful Hippolita, the ramifications of their love have a deadly impact as religion, culture, corruption and morality collide. Continue reading “Review: ‘Tis Pity She’s A Whore, Cheek by Jowl at the Barbican”

Radio Review: Dickens in London

“It seems that I would be an uncommercial traveler”

The bi-centenary of Charles Dickens’ birth has been marked in several different ways across a variety of media and Dickens in London, this collection of five short radio plays by Michael Eaton was one which entertained me nicely. Adapted from some of Dickens’ journalistic essays, the plays deal with his changing impressions of London as he grew up, was stimulated by and then grew tired of the great city that inspired so much of his writing.

We start with A Not-Overly-Particularly-Taken-Care-Of Boy where the boy Charles gets lost on his very first visit with his uncle, then move to Boz, where a young man has secured himself employment as a Parliamentary Reporter for the Morning Chronicle but dreams of writing his own stories. Samuel Barnett is particularly good in these two first stories, his voice is particularly well suited to radio, so full of character and crackled emotion. Continue reading “Radio Review: Dickens in London”