TV Review: W1A (Series 3)

W1A remains entirely watchable in Series 3 but repetition sets in to blunt its comic edges

“It may be the future but it’s still the BBC”

Returning to W1A has been good fun, though watching its three series back-to-back, it is interesting to see just how much it wears its concept increasingly thin.  Series 1 was a winner, introducing its cast of misfits all trying to navigate the bureauracy of the BBC and avoid doing as much work as possible but even by Series 2, the strains were clear to see.

John Morton’s Twenty Twelve, the show that kicked off this mockumentary mini-universe, had an inbuilt advantage in that it had a clearly defined end-point, the thing that everyone was working towards. By contrast, W1A has a sense of ambling on which, while perfectly pleasant to watch, means that a terminal case of diminishing returns sets in. Continue reading “TV Review: W1A (Series 3)”

TV Review: W1A (Series 2)

Something doesn’t quite click right with Series 2 of W1A, as it struggles to live up to what has gone before though still remaining quite gently funny

“I don’t want to be dramatic about it, and I mean we all love Sue Barker, but I’ve to to say we are looking at a situation here”

I’ve loved going back to watch Twenty Twelve and my memories of the shift to W1A were that it was just as good, if not better. I’d definitely say that about the first series but having just gone through series 2, I found myself just a little disappointed. The bar having been raised so high, it feels like this collection of four episodes just doesn’t have the same zing that really grabs your attention.

In many respects, nothing has really changed. There’s still much comic currency in the exposure of the labyrinthine bureaucracy of the BBC and the determination of any middle-to-senior manager to avoid actually making a decision. But there’s also a slight sense of familiar ground being retrodden that dulls the edge – I mean once again any and every female is falling at the feet of Ian Fletcher, really? Continue reading “TV Review: W1A (Series 2)”

TV Review: W1A (Series 1)

Series 1 of W1A hits the spot when its humour tends towards the gently absurd. And at any moment when Monica Dolan, Jason Watkins or Sarah Parish are onscreen.

“I’m sorry…I don’t want to be rude or anything but Ian is not Justin Bieber”

Following on from the success of Twenty Twelve, John Morton’s W1A scooped up its key personnel and shifted them from the bloated organisational chaos of the Olympics Deliverance Team over to the no-less-unwieldly bureaucracy of the BBC. So Ian Fletcher Hugh Bonneville) takes the scarcely defined job as Head of Values there, is saddled once again with Siobhan Sharpe (Jessica Hynes) as Brand Consultant and the whole thing is deliciously narrated by a super-dry David Tennant.

And to a large extent, the transplant is successful. The key to these shows is the quality of an evenly-balanced ensemble and W1A knocks it out of the park from top to bottom. Monica Dolan’s bruisingly plain-spoken comms officer, Nina Sosanya’s too-good-for-this-world TV producer, Rufus Jones’ hilariously too-rubbish-for-this-world counterpart and best of all, Jason Watkins’ director of strategic governance and Sarah Parish’s head of output both delivering masterclasses in avoiding making any decisions at all. Continue reading “TV Review: W1A (Series 1)”

Film Review: Rocketman (2019)

Elton John gets in on the self-produced musical biopic game, meaning Rocketman is gonna take a long long time to get anywhere near the truth

“People don’t pay to see Reginald Dwight… 
they pay to see *Elton John*!”

I always find there being something a little suspect about the subject of a biopic being intimately involved behind the scenes, that sense that you’re only being permitted to see a carefully curated version of this particular story (cf Tina the Musical, On Your Feet onstage; Bohemian Rhapsody most recently on film). And Rocketman ultimately proves no exception, with Elton John executive producing and husband David Furnish getting a producer credit, and Wikipedia thus offering up a substantial list of deviations from what actually happened

You might argue that as the film, written by Lee Hall and directed by Dexter Fletcher, isn’t a documentary, it doesn’t need to concern itself with an absolute fidelity to historical record. But I just find it fascinating this need to embellish, so much being smuggled under the umbrella of ‘creative license’ that can’t always be explained away with the ‘needs’ of filmmaking. Things as fundamental as changing the inspiration for Reg Dwight’s stage name from his mentor Long John Baldry to John Lennon, or claiming that ‘Daniel’ and ‘I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues’ were the songs he auditioned for with Dick James when neither had been written yet. At what point does that creative license start being straight-up dishonesty? Continue reading “Film Review: Rocketman (2019)”

Review: The Bay at Nice, Menier Chocolate Factory

Penelope Wilton almost, almost, makes it worth seeing a David Hare play with The Bay at Nice at the Menier Chocolate Factory

“I know what life is and what it cannot be”

Oh, British theatre and your ongoing obsession with David Hare. I’ve never really got it, never had that experience with one of his plays that made me go ‘oh that’s what they’re talking about’. Indeed, I only really booked for The Bay at Nice for the opportunity to see the Great British wonder that is Penelope Wilton in the intimacy of the Menier Chocolate Factory.

And such is her exceptional talent, that she almost makes this an unmissable event. Her Valentina Nrovka is a strikingly captivating presence, a former pupil of Matisse called to authenticate a painting that might be one of his. Having left post-war Paris for revolutionary Russia, her artistic career has taken a back seat and motherhood has not proved anywhere near as fulfilling. Continue reading “Review: The Bay at Nice, Menier Chocolate Factory”

Review: Nightfall, Bridge Theatre

The Bridge Theatre proves the wrong fit for the grief-stricken intimacy of Barney Norris’ Nightfall

You need to take what you can get or you’ll be f**ked”

Barney Norris’ previous plays have been well suited to the places in which they’ve found themselves, the studios of the Arcola and the Bush. And as a brand new space with a flexibility built into its auditorium, the Bridge Theatre has been playing with different styles for each of its opening three productions. But as the theatre moves to end-on to promenade  to thrust, it doesn’t find the best match in Nightfall, directed here by Laurie Sansom. 

Part of the problem lies in the innate intimacy of Norris’ writing. He has absolutely nailed his oeuvre of excavating the beauty in ordinary lives, often beset by grief, often in rural England, and it is to these themes he returns here again. A family in deepest Hampshire are still coming to terms with the death of its patriarch, what that means for the struggling farm on which they depend and fighting to determine what the future might hold for each of them.

Continue reading “Review: Nightfall, Bridge Theatre”

Not-a-review: The Libertine, Theatre Royal Haymarket

“You will not like me”

There’s probably a German word for a play that opens with a self-fulfilling prophecy such as the one above, but even I wasn’t expecting how true it would be for The Libertine. Moving into the Theatre Royal Haymarket after a run in Bath, I haven’t been this bored by a play in quite some time. From Stephen Jeffrey’s writing to Terry Johnson’s direction to Dominic Cooper’s lead performance, I found it all all just fearfully dull.

Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 2nd December

Review: The Effect, Sheffield Crucible

“I can tell the difference between who I am and a side effect”

Lucy Prebble’s The Effect ranked as my 12th favourite play of 2012, Rupert Goold’s Headlong production for the National Theatre proving to be a quietly devastating piece of theatre exploring notions of self and identity through the prism of depression and drugs. Two willing volunteers take part in a medical trial for a new kind of anti-depressant, despite not suffering from depression themselves, and are monitored for any side effects by a doctor and a medical rep who have their own tangled history which further impacts the study.

Stuck in isolation together, guinea pigs Tristan and Connie swiftly fall head over heels – Henry Pettigrew and Ophelia Lovibond giving two stunning performances of a palpable chemistry – and Prebble raises the question of whether love is the drug or is their connection is due to the actual drugs in their veins. From that, she also probes into perceptions of depression – Stuart Bunce’s trial director believes his pill can cure or do anything but sinking into her own bleak mental morass, Priyanga Burford’s achingly fragile Dr James isn’t so sure. 

Daniel Evans’ production is beautifully cast – all four actors play the twists of character astutely and assuredly as priorities shift and relative truths come to light to shattering effect. Without giving anything away, it is a stunningly powerful ending in all its hushed beauty as science and sympathy battle and heartstrings tugged mercilessly. Amanda Studley’s design for the Crucible’s Studio space plays effectively on hospital waiting room and clinical atmospherics to suggest we could well be a part of this or the next trial, David Plater’s lighting adding to this unremitting feel.

The Effect might even be better now than it was 3 years ago, about 30 minutes or so has been junked from the running time which certainly helps, but it also really benefits from the intimacy here. Whether the anguish of Burford’s increasing inability to cope or Pettigrew and Lovibond showing us just how mysterious the human mind is with or without chemical alteration, this is an exceptional revival.

Running time: 2 hours 10 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 18th July

DVD Review: 4321

“You took my shopping and then you took my virginity”

Oh lordy, I have no idea what Noel Clarke is like as a person but on this evidence he is in desperate need of someone to tell him ‘no son, no’. Having shown promise with his earlier work, 4.3.2.1. sees Clarke moving onto what he sees as the next level , it just so happens that it is the next level down rather than up. A brash would-be comedy thriller that dreams so dreadfully of transatlantic success and yet comes off as exploitative try-hard, depressingly manipulative and a laughable vanity project.

Even at its base, it is a disappointment. The structure of the film follows four young friends as they deal with a particularly hectic time involving some gangsters and a bag of conflict diamonds they’ve nicked. Clarke retells the story from each woman’s point of view, a tried and tested device, but one which is wasted here – the narratives are kept essentially separate with no sophisticated intersection or interplay in the storytelling that would actually justify the format. Continue reading “DVD Review: 4321”

DVD Review: Chatroom (2010)

“We can get him online”

After watching The Nether at the Royal Court, a chat with a colleague about other plays that effectively depict the internet threw up Enda Walsh’s Chatroom which played at the National Theatre a few years back (and featured both Doctor Who (Matt Smith) and Spiderman (Andrew Garfield) in its cast. It was slightly before my time of insane theatre-going so I was glad to see that I could catch a film version, adapted by Walsh himself and directed by Japanese maestro Hideo Nakata.

The story concerns five teenagers in various states of unhappiness who find succour in online chatrooms. Disillusioned model Eva, anti-depressant taker Jim, unhappy daughter Emily and inappropriately flirtatious Mo are swept up by highly-functioning sociopath and self-harmer William in a room he’s created called Chelsea Teens! At first they just talk smack about those they don’t like but William soon manipulates them into acting on their feelings, with devastating consequences. Continue reading “DVD Review: Chatroom (2010)”