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”

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)

Re-review: Great Britain, Theatre Royal Haymarket

“They weren’t lies, they were well researched stories that later turned out not to be true”

Just a quickie for this unexpected revisit to Great Britain. I hadn’t intended to go back to this Richard Bean play, which made a rapid transfer from the National Theatre to the Theatre Royal Haymarket after its up-to-the-minute emergence on the schedule after the culmination of a certain trial involving a certain Eastender-star-bashing redhead. But the offer of a good ticket and the chance to see Lucy Punch – of whom I’ve heard much but never seen on stage – tempted me once again into this murky world of tabloid junkies.

My original review can be read here and if anything, I think I might have been a little kind to it. The play hasn’t aged well, even in the six months since it opened as the fast-moving world of political, institutional and journalistic scandal moves on so quickly IRL that this fictional version already seems quaint. Add in that its bite has been evidently neutered by legal threats and its intelligence barely scrapes the surface of the ethical issues at hand, and it’s a bit of a damn squib for me. Punch was good though.