Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 7

“It is known that the Doctor requires companions”

Right – the first season that I haven’t rewatched any of at all. Things get a bit hectic here as once again, the series got split in two, accommodating the mid-season departure of Amy and Rory and the (re-)introduction of new companion Clara Oswald, plus a pair of specials respectively marking the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who and the end of Matt Smith’s tenure as Eleven. It all adds up to a bit of a bloated mess to be honest, though not without its high points.

Amy and Rory feel a little ill-served by their final five, the introduction of Mark Williams as Rory’s dad detracts from their screen-time (yet he doesn’t feature in their farewell?), though the return of the Weeping Angels gives their noirish NY-set exit episode some real heft. And though I admire Jenna Coleman’s confident take on Clara, she’s a hard companion to warm to without any contrasting humanity to go with her intelligence and intensity.

The ‘Impossible Girl’ arc didn’t really tick my box and the grandiosity of Moffatt’s writing for the finale of The Name of…, The Day of… and The Time of the Doctor doesn’t really help (I was curiously unmoved by all the fan-service second time round). Still, Gatiss knocks it out of the park with the superb Ice Warrior tale Cold War and bringing mother and daughter Dame Diana Rigg and Rachael Stirling together on screen for the first time.  Continue reading “Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 7”

TV Review: Apple Tree Yard

“Before I met you I was a civilised woman”

Based on the novel of the same name by Louise Doughty, psychodrama Apple Tree Yard has proved itself most watercooler-worthy with its twisting plot, classy cast and yes, controversial moments making it a hit thriller for the BBC. The story revolves around Yvonne Carmichael – celebrated scientist, mother of two, wife to Gary – who, when a chance encounter at work leads to an unexpected quickie with a literal tall dark and handsome stranger, finds her entire world tipped upside down by the consequences that follow.

Written by Amanda Coe and directed by Jessica Hobbs, the first episode plays out as a rather marvellous exploration of a 40-something woman rediscovering her sexuality and having the kind of illicit affair that makes you write naff diary entries (as Yvonne does…). But by the end of the first hour, the drama takes the first of several hard turns as [spoiler alert] she is brutally raped by a colleague. The use of rape as a dramatic device is one which should always be interrogated but here, coming from the text as it does and its devastating impact detailed as painstakingly as it was in episode 2, it felt appropriately handled and never gratuitous. Continue reading “TV Review: Apple Tree Yard”

Review: Young Chekhov – The Seagull, National

“We should show life…as we see it in our dreams.”

The Seagull may be the most ensemble-focused of the three plays that make up Young Chekhov but with the glorious Anna Chancellor appearing as the mercurial Arkadina – her star cachet getting her out of having to do either of the other two – the attention can’t help but be drawn to her and her extraordinary stage presence.

This may be the most well-known of the Chekhov plays being presented here, it certainly deservedly emerges as the strongest, and so David Hare’s freshened-up version has little of the heavy work it had to do with the others. Jonathan Kent’s production places it at the end of the three-show day deliberately, it’s where it sits chronologically and you really do get to see the maturation of the writer, his ability to develop his characters and themes more dramatically effectively. Continue reading “Review: Young Chekhov – The Seagull, National”

Review: Young Chekhov – Ivanov, National

“People think there’s something deep about despair. But there isn’t”

With Platonov failing to even make it onto the stage in his lifetime, Ivanov came to be Chekhov’s professional debut as a playwright. As such, it bears many of the hallmarks of a writer still coming into his strengths – having identified what he wants to say to the world, he’s still working out the most devastatingly effective way of doing it. The first time I saw Ivanov has the distinction of being one of the first times I ever really enjoyed a Chekhov play, seduced as I was by Kenneth Branagh’s portrayal for the Donmar in the West End (which also had a little known actor called Tom Hiddleston in it…), 

I’d be lying if I said I could remember enough about Tom Stoppard’s version to compare and contrast with David Hare’s new adaptation here, but Geoffrey Streatfeild’s interpretation of the title character does feel a little less of an outright cock. Don’t get me wrong he’s still a Grade-A tool (misogynist, anti-Semitic, serial cheat) and ‘mid-life crisis’ remains the pathetic catch-all excuse it ever has done, but there’s a real sense of the depths of the black clouds of depression that lie over this Ivanov and the social pressures that has put him under that offer at least a little insight, if not outright sympathy, for his situation. Continue reading “Review: Young Chekhov – Ivanov, National”

Review: Young Chekhov – Platonov, National

“Whatever you do, don’t rely on your own judgement. That’s the worst mistake you could make

Platonov wasn’t performed in Chekhov’s lifetime and even in this radically adapted version by David Hare, I’m not 100% sure that it works. You can see the attraction in terms of the Young Chekhov context – a trilogy of the Russian’s early work – but for me, the main pleasure comes in seeing the benchmark from which his later genius advanced.

It’s not for lack of trying from Jonathan Kent’s production, lead by a sparkling performance of disreputable charisma from James McArdle as an unhappily married teacher intent on spreading his vodka-fuelled discontent through the bedsheets of most of the local community, not least Nina Sosanya’s Anna and Olivia Vinall’s Sofya, with little care for the impact of his actions. Continue reading “Review: Young Chekhov – Platonov, National”

2015 BroadwayWorld UK Awards – Winners’ list

Best Choreography in a New Production of a Musical
Drew McOnie – Hairspray – Leicester Curve

Best Costume Design in a New Production of a Play or Musical
Sue Blane – The Rocky Horror Show – Playhouse Theatre

Best Direction of a New Production of a Musical
Trevor Nunn – Cats – London Palladium

Best Direction of a New Production of a Play
Lyndsey Turner – Hamlet – Barbican

Best Featured Actor in a New Production of a Musical
Steve Rushton – American Idiot – Arts Theatre

Best Featured Actor in a New Production of a Play
Will Austin – Gods And Monsters – Southwark Playhouse

Best Featured Actress in a New Production of a Musical
Kerry Ellis – Cats – London Palladium

Best Featured Actress in a New Production of a Play
Rachel Lumberg – Romeo and Juliet – Sheffield Crucible

Best Leading Actor in a New Production of a Musical
Killian Donnelly – Memphis – Shaftesbury Theatre

Best Leading Actor in A New Production of a Play
Benedict Cumberbatch – Hamlet – Barbican Theatre

Best Leading Actress in a New Production of a Musical
Imelda Staunton – Gypsy – Savoy Theatre

Best Leading Actress in a New Production of a Play
Olivia Vinall – The Hard Problem – National Theatre

Best Lighting Design in a New Production of a Play or Musical
Hugh Vanstone – Future Conditional – Old Vic

Best Long-Running Show in the West End
Les Miserables Queen’s Theatre

Best Musical Direction (Fringe or regional)
George Dyer – Annie – UK tour

Best Musical Direction (West End)
Richard Morris – American Idiot – Arts Theatre

Best New Musical in the West End
American Idiot – Arts Theatre

Best New Play
The Play That Goes Wrong – Duchess Theatre

Best New Production of a Musical (Fringe/Regions)
The Spitfire Grill – Union Theatre

Best New Production of a Play (Fringe/Regions)
Crucible – Manchester

Best Performance in a Long-Running West End show (Female)
Rachelle Ann Go – Les Miserables – Queens Theatre

Best Performance in a Long-Running West End show (Male)
Jon Jon Briones – Miss Saigon – Prince Edward Theatre

Best Revival of a Musical
Grand Hotel – Southwark Playhouse

Best Revival of a Play
Harvey – Theatre Royal Haymarket

Best Scenic Design in a New Production of a Play or Musical
Es Devlin – Hamlet – Barbican

Best Sound Design in a New Production of a Play or Musical
Chris Whybrow – American Idiot – Arts Theatre

Theatrical Event of the Year
Miss Saigon 25th Anniversary Concert – Prince Edward Theatre

Theatrical Venue of the Year
Queens Theatre

Understudy of the Year in any production of a Play or Musical (Female)
Marsha Songcome – Miss Saigon – Prince Edward

Understudy of the Year in any production of a Play or Musical (Male)
Luke Baker – American Idiot – Arts Theatre

Some initial points of interest* about The Hard Problem at National Theatre

  • Damien Molony looking cute in a cardigan
  • The line “she was milking the family buffalo at 8” is mentioned. It is a winner.
  • Damien Molony looking strangely alluring in a lady’s shorty robe
  • Olivia Vinall looks to be the new Hattie Morahan, and delivers the leading role here with a delightful mixture of charm and confidence – nice to see her outwith Shakespearean damsel mode for once
  • Damien Molony’s thighs in said robe. *swoons*
  • Stoppard hasn’t reined in his tendency to lay his research bare. Not sure what a hedge fund is? A character conveniently asks the question to allow an explanation… Nor is there a huge deal of sophistication in his plotting, the twists that come seem rather obvious (though this could possibly have been his intention)
  • Damien Molony in his boxers
  • The play does have some meaty, fascinating aspects to it though, pairing up thoughtful forays into God versus science and the mind versus the brain, whilst also delving into the financial markets, research ethics and the vagaries of human behaviour, especially under pressure. Heaven only knows what those who’ve done their homework will make of it, for me it could do with exploiting the emotional angle more fully.
  • For all his hotness, Damien Molony could really do with enunciating and projecting a little better.
  • And plus ça change at the Dorfman/Cottesloe as in its end-on configuration, Row S clearly stands for severely restricted view – the cheap seats in the gallery on the right hand side (looking at the stage) cut off an area where Hytner frustratingly places actors on a regular basis. Even leaning didn’t really help. And with all the recent renovation work, it’s surprising the NT hasn’t managed to put signs up to Door C or Row S (or indeed placed ushers on that level to help out customers).
  • I continue to love Lucy Robinson, my first ever Lady Macbeth, even when she’s forced to swear like she’s in a Richard Curtis film.
  • Some gorgeous brainwave and synapse-inspired design work by Bob Crowley and lighting designer Mark Henderson make it visually arresting, though the reliance on the piano soundtrack felt a little clichéd and uninspired. Press go in on Wednesday though it is hard to imagine, that with this being Hytner’s directorial swansong as Artistic Director and Stoppard’s first new play in nine years, that a certain air of benevolence won’t characterise a goodly portion of the critical responses. If you’ve been already, let me know what you thought of it.

*Yes, shallowness abounds but hey, it’s Friday night.
Show information can be found here
Running time: 100 minutes (without interval)
Booking until 16th April (though new dates to be released in next booking period and returns often pop up)