TV Review: Unprecedented, Episode 3

Episode 3 of Unprecedented proves a bleak and brutal one-two of hard-hitting Covid drama

“I don’t see what good it does to worry, sitting around panicking”

Due to the (presumably intentional) programming, Part 1 and Part 2 of Unprecedented – Headlong and Century Films’ creative response to Coronavirus – found a sense of balance in their collections of short plays, tragicomic probably being the watchword. Episode 3 however goes all in on the tragedy, making it a pretty bleak half hour.

First up is Duncan Macmillan’s Grounded, directed by Jeremy Herrin, which takes aim at the generation gap and how that has dictated people’s response to the crisis. Katherine Parkinson’s event planner is wracked with job worries and concerns over her ability to home-school. But what really drives her over the edge is the casualness with which her retired parents are taking the whole affair, screaming into the ether as they amble on as if life hasn’t changed but at all. Alison Steadman and Michael Elwyn are excellent as the slightly daffy, devoted couple belatedly coming round to the seriousness of it all. Continue reading “TV Review: Unprecedented, Episode 3”

News: Readings from the Rose launched

As a means of bringing joy and creativity into homes during these uncertain times, the Rose is launching the ‘Readings from the Rose’ initiative

Several prominent actors and creatives in the industry have filmed themselves reading their favourite poems and the Rose will be releasing one reading every day at 1pm across 14 days.

These readings can be accessed by anyone completely free of charge on the Rose’s YouTube and Instagram channels, in the hope that they will bring some light entertainment to audiences while theatres are dark. Continue reading “News: Readings from the Rose launched”

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”

Shakespeare Solos – Part 3

“Who in the lusty stealth of nature take
More composition and fierce quality”

It might seem curious timing for the Guardian to release the third and final set of their Shakespeare solos a good couple of weeks after the hullabaloo of #Shakespeare400 but if you look at the television schedules, you do see the attempts not to overload people with content. The second iteration of The Hollow Crown only starts this weekend and Russell T Davies’ take on A Midsummer Night’s Dream won’t be with us until the end of the month.

Still, these final five videos feel a little bereft of inspiration for me, featuring as they do two excerpts from the same play (The Merchant of Venice) and two actresses currently starring in the same play (The Maids). One of those, Zawe Ashton, does give us one of the highlights of the entire series with a beautifully mournful take on Jacques’ Seven Ages of Man speech from As You Like It but it’s hard not to wish that some of the casting choices had been equally as inventive. Continue reading “Shakespeare Solos – Part 3”

DVD Review: The Beach

“We all travel thousands of miles just to watch TV and check in to somewhere with all the comforts of home, and you gotta ask yourself, what is the point of that?”

I have great affection for both the book and the film of The Beach. On my year abroad, Alex Garland’s novel was reverently passed between my group of friends as we all tumbled for its charms and then as the film was released with perfect timing, we were able to dissect exactly how it was different from the book and what had been lost in translation over endless nights of drunken debate. The collective decision that it just wasn’t as good means I’d never quite gotten round to ever watching the film again and with a little distance, I have to say I didn’t think it was that bad and that soundtrack, boy it took me back to Forskarbacken 7!

Making the film a Leonardo DiCaprio star vehicle as Danny Boyle did (or as originally planned lead Ewan McGregor would have us believe, was forced to do) clearly had an impact on the direction John Hodge’s screenplay took. Much of the book’s self-aware intelligence, as a twenty-something traveller ventures through Thailand in search of a good time and then ultimately a self-contained community in a secluded paradise, is sacrificed for straight-forward thrill-seeking which ends up telling a less rich story. Making the lead American rather than British may have had something to do with this, who knows… Continue reading “DVD Review: The Beach”

Review: Julius Caesar, Noël Coward Theatre

“Men may construe things after their fashion clean from the purpose of the things themselves”

I hadn’t originally intended to take in Gregory Doran’s all-black version of Julius Caesar for the RSC, not for any particular reason than just that it didn’t really appeal. It seemed that my instincts had paid off when it was announced that, with a rather odd sense of timing, the production would be filmed in Stratford-upon-Avon and shown on television before it made its transfer to London’s Noël Coward Theatre and then on to a UK tour. But upon watching this televised version which mixed location shooting with action filmed on-stage, I was utterly seduced by Doran’s reinterpretation which sees the play relocated into some unspecified modern African dictatorship.

Most of what I said about the production in my review of the film still holds true so I won’t repeat myself too much. Having been spoiled by the intimacy that television cameras provided, it was a little difficult to readjust expectations in light of being seated in the rear stalls. Missing so much of the detailing, and indeed the clarity of much of the text in a couple of heavily-accented places, meant that I never felt quite as connected to the action as I had previously been, an interesting thing to discover given that the live experience is the one that is always trumpeted. Michael Vale’s crumbling set design did look impressive though, with its looming statue an ever-present reminder of the seeming inevitability of oppressive leadership.

Continue reading “Review: Julius Caesar, Noël Coward Theatre”

TV Review: The Hollow Crown, Henry V

“The sad-eyed justice, with his surly hum”

The fourth and final part of The Hollow Crown was Thea Sharrock’s televisual debut in directing Henry V, which carried over much of the same cast from the (disappointing for me) Henry IVs of the previous two weeks. The timing was not ideal for me to be honest, as I’ve seen the play in three different productions recently, and so normally I would have resisted the opportunity to see it again. But I needed to complete the set of these Shakespeare adaptations whilst I could still get them off the iPlayer before departing on holiday, and so once more unto the breach I stepped.

In some ways this was the type of production I’d been waiting for: a classical interpretation, but one which interpolated the melancholy, war-heavy themes that have marked the more modernised recent takes by Propeller and Theatre Delicatessen rather than the broadly comic and near-jingoistic approach currently at the Globe. From the off, it is clear that Sharrock is focusing on death as cinematic license permits Henry’s own funeral at the young age of 35 to be used as a framing device, lending an emotional resonance to the film which Hiddleston’s fast-maturing monarch plays against beautifully. Continue reading “TV Review: The Hollow Crown, Henry V”

TV Review: Julius Caesar, BBC4

“Men, at some times, are masters of their fate”

In the near-overwhelming deluge of Shakespeare love on the BBC which is about to reach its crescendo with the debut of the Hollow Crown season, the decision to film and broadcast the RSC’s current production of Julius Caesar seems a rather perverse one. The show, an all-black adaptation relocated to an unspecified modern African state by director Gregory Doran, has yet to complete its Stratford-upon-Avon run and will embark on a major UK tour including a residency in the West End’s Noël Coward Theatre, so it seems a little counter-intuitive to present it on our televisions – I only hope this does not impact on ticket sales (though given it played on BBC4, one does wonder what viewing figures were actually like…).

Of course, watching a play on screen is not the same as watching it live and though this starts with the opening scene recorded at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, the first transition cleverly moves us into location filming and so the production gains a filmic quality which makes use of varied locations, including a return to the RST, direct addresses to camera, ‘found’ cellphone footage and voiceovers to really translate the theatrical interpretation into something new for the screen, as opposed to simply replicating it. The relocation is a simple, yet powerfully effective one, the overthrowing of a military dictator by less than honourable types is something which will seemingly always have currency in the modern world, but more importantly the concept is worn lightly with little shoe-horning necessary to make it work. Instead it flows beautifully and naturally to great effect. Continue reading “TV Review: Julius Caesar, BBC4”

Review: Saint Joan, National Theatre

With Saint Joan, George Bernard Shaw took the well-known story of Joan of Arc, a young peasant girl eventually sainted, who led the French army to victory against the English during the Hundred Years War and was repaid for her trouble by being declared a witch and burnt at the stake since she believed that she was being guided by the voice of God in her head, and created an all-too-human story filling in the gaps in the history with tales of conflicting institutions, personality clashes and a keen sense of humour of what her life must have been like.

The play is remarkably even-handed in that it presents all sides of the argument and never really comes down on the side of either Joan or her oppressors. There are no goodies and baddies here, just a girl who believes God is speaking to her and the machinery of Church and State who will do anything to ensure their power remains stable: Shaw’s message is that uncontrolled individualism threatens the established order and is rarely tolerated. Continue reading “Review: Saint Joan, National Theatre”