Lockdown TV Review: Spooks Series 7

In which the rollercoaster of quality rockets sky-high again, Series 7 of Spooks ranks as one of my favourites

“I want my team to know why I acted the way I did”

The introduction of series-long plots didn’t necessarily work first time round for Spooks but in Series 7, the magic certainly happens to produce one of the best seasons across its decade-long life. Perhaps the reduced episode order from 10 to 8 helped to refine the effectiveness of the storytelling, recognising that it was Adam’s time to go definitely worked and finally made the right kind of room for Ros to rise, and giving Gemma Jones this material was an absolute masterstroke. 

Undoing the silly fakeouts of Ros and Jo’s ‘deaths’ right from the off, the introduction of Richard Armitage’s Lucas North also works well, his time in Russian captivity casting a nice shade of doubt over his presence in the team, a marked difference to the alpha males of Tom and Adam. And the ongoing Sugarhorse mystery is skillfully wound throughout the whole season, coiling ever-tighter until the hammer blows of a properly fierce finale. 

Nicola Walker-ometer
She’s just a distant memory at this point – Harry really is such a fuckboy. Continue reading “Lockdown TV Review: Spooks Series 7”

Lockdown TV Review: Spooks Series 3

It’s all change at Thames House as Series 3 of Spooks sees the original core team leave the security service one way or another 

“We cannot have another Tom Quinn”

I’d forgotten just monumental this series of Spooks was, as first Matthew MacFadyen’s Tom took his leave after getting a conscience, then Keeley Hawes’ Zoe was shunted off to Chile to evade justice and then David Oyelowo’s Danny shuffled off this mortal coil thanks to bloody Fiona and an annoyed Iraqi terrorist. Rupert Penry-Jones was drafted in as Adam, a friendly MI6 type who fits the Tom mould perfectly, though we could have done without his wife (more of that anon).

But even besides all the personnel shifting, the writing is shit-hot in this season, especially when the focus is on the morality of security service actions. Targeted assassinations on North Sea ferries, honeytrapping members of the Turkish mafia, these are meaty issues with some real consequences for all concerned. 

Nicola Walker-ometer
Now firmly established in the team, attention turns to her trying to get some, in the most Ruth-like possible way, ie stalking someone illegally and sharing a carbonara with a traitorous ex-colleague, this is prime Ruth territory. Continue reading “Lockdown TV Review: Spooks Series 3”

DVD Review: The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

You won’t see better for your grey pound”

The opening quarter of John Madden’s film The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel might leave you wondering about the state of British comedy and our collective tastes, given that it really was quite the box office success in 2011. A unconnected collection of retired and retiring Brits all decide to up sticks and move to a hotel in the Indian city of Jaipur, though it turns out the judicious use of Photoshop means it is not quite the luxurious venue it has set itself up to be. Their reasons for going are various – personal, medical, debt-fuelled – and as we delve into each of these characters, we see how their journeys are just as much emotional as they are physical.

The film’s success was practically guaranteed with its luxurious casting of the crème de la crème of this particular age bracket – Judi Dench, Celia Imrie, Bill Nighy, Ronald Pickup, Maggie Smith, Tom Wilkinson, Penelope Wilton, its pretty much a dream collection and they add a veneer of class to the whole film which pulls it through its undoubtedly tricksier moments. These come during the aforementioned opening section which seems to set the film up as a broad culture-clash comedy, poking easy fun at the discomfort of elderly travellers arriving in a completely foreign land. Is it funny? Are racist comments in this context acceptable because they’re delivered with a wonderfully acerbic bite by Maggie Smith? I guess it is a decision you make for yourself but it feels a fine line. Continue reading “DVD Review: The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”

Review: Talk Show, Royal Court

“I am sure you can all tell we’re going to have a great show tonight”

‘The show must go on’. Rarely can the oft-glibly offered aphorism have possessed such poignant resonance as at the Royal Court over the past week. Alistair McDowell’s Talk Show should have marked the end of the hugely ambitious weekly rep season, with a company of fourteen actors working their way through six new plays with just a week’s rehearsal for each. But instead, the news that company member Paul Bhattacharjee had gone missing during rehearsals, being followed by the discovery of his body a week later cast the most tragic sheen over the show.

The company opted to continue, initially recasting his (relatively small) role and then dedicating the remainder of the run to him. An incredibly tough decision at the best of times but sitting through the play and realising it touched so deeply on the emotional inarticulacy of generations of men, to the point where suicide becomes a viable option, there’s an almost incomprehensible poignancy about the determination to honour a colleague’s memory. Continue reading “Review: Talk Show, Royal Court”

Review: Pigeons, Royal Court

“Shit that went wrong right wrong (again)”

Spin number three on the Royal Court’s weekly rep wheel focuses on a new British writer Suhayla El-Bushra. Much of her previous work has been teen-focused, including Hollyoaks, and so it is little surprise that her play Pigeons centres on two childhood friends as they make the difficult transition into manhood in a world that dreams of multiculturalism. Through the haze of casual drug use, furtive blow-jobs under the counter, bunking off schools and listening to some bangin’ choons, Ashley and Amir find their lives inexorably pulled apart on different paths yet fatefully destined to clash together again. 

El-Bushra has fractured her timeline so that her play starts at the end and then moves back and forth in time to show the boys in the various stages of their relationship. A product of the care home system, Ashley loves playing the Sarf London wideboy with Ryan Sampson affecting some wonderfully vivid street speak, but he finds a kind of contentment in Amir’s family home. And along with Nav Sidhu’s Amir, they both enjoy the teenage rites of passage – Angela Terence’s Leah delivering their sexual awakenings – and the journey into something darker as the spectre of racial prejudice rears its ugly head.  Continue reading “Review: Pigeons, Royal Court”

Review: The President Has Come To See You, Royal Court

 “Do you know what is going on in Georgia?”

In a bold move as her opening salvo as incoming Artistic Director of the Royal Court, Vicky Featherstone has reimagined the way in which theatre is consumed in this venue with a range of innovative approaches suggested by a group of over 140 writers. The biggest of these is probably the Weekly Rep, a company of 14 actors and 4 directors performing 6 plays by new writers over 6 weeks, which started tonight with Georgian playwright Lasha Bugadze’s The President Has Come To See You, previously seen here as a rehearsed reading earlier in the year.

Knowing my all-or-nothing tendencies, I had hoped that the ensemble would be full of actors I did not care for so that I’d be able to resist booking, but it was not to be with the likes of a re-bearded Ferdy Roberts, Ryan Sampson, Laura Elphinstone and Siobhan Redmond luring me to Sloane Square, even though the prospect of the play itself did not really appeal. And it was that inner voice nagging away that I ought to have paid more attention to, as the bizarre twists and turns of this post-Soviet surrealist adventure left me cold. Continue reading “Review: The President Has Come To See You, Royal Court”

Review: Much Ado About Nothing, Noël Coward Theatre

“For man is a giddy thing, and this is my conclusion”

Transferring into the Noël Coward theatre, Iqbal Khan sets his RSC production of Much Ado About Nothing in modern-day Delhi, as a fitting counterpart to the African-dictator-led take on Julius Caesar which is now touring the UK after its London run. It’s a lengthy take on the play which does little by way of apparent editing, which is mighty impressive given the strength of the vision here, but it turns out the commonalities with contemporary India make this a great (arranged) marriage which is full of interesting scene readings which make this an intellectual, as well as visceral, pleasure.

I found lots of to love, but particularly what had been done with the watch scenes, normally something tolerated with gritted teeth. Here, they are a group of social misfits, almost Napoleon Dynamite-inspired and it really really works, mainly because of the straightness of the bat with which the actors play it. We’re always laughing with, and not at them and they’re never played as stupid – in fact, something rather touching emerges from their determination of purpose. Niraj Chag’s music is also something wondrous to behold. Vivid, sensuous, powerful, it richly enhances the whole production and the six musicians who play throughout the show get a well-deserved bow at the end. Continue reading “Review: Much Ado About Nothing, Noël Coward Theatre”

DVD Review: The Jury (Series 2)

 

“He did do it, didn’t he?“

One of the side-effects of seeing so much theatre is that there is less time available to imbibe other forms of culture and for me, it has meant that I watch hardly any television these days. I rely on the iPlayer (although too much of what I download ends up lingering unwatched and then expiring) and other catch-up TV services, or else I add the DVD to my ever-growing pile of things to watch on a rare quiet day. Which means it frequently takes me ages to catch up, even with things that I am most looking forward to, one of which was the second series of Peter Morgan’s The Jury which played on ITV last year.

To be honest, calling it a second series is something of a misnomer as it bears no real connection to the first one from 2002, aside from being a show about a jury, which is something of a shame as that show remains one of the televisual highlights of my life. It was one of the shows that introduced me to love of my life Helen McCrory and also featured a smoking hot pre-Hollywood Gerard Butler, but also played out as a rather satisfying combination of character study and legal drama. This time round, the case in question was a retrial of a triple murder, but the focus is as much on the lives of the twelve people eventually selected as jurors. I’m not quite sure why Morgan decided to revisit the format, as in the end it was to somewhat lesser effect for me. Continue reading “DVD Review: The Jury (Series 2)”

Review: The Physicists, Donmar Warehouse

“Questions? Observations? Misgivings?”

Forming the final entry in her debut season as Donmar AD, The Physicists continues Josie Rourke’s realignment of the Donmar’s artistic policy. And as with Making Noise Quietly, it is into previously unknown areas for me as this play was written in 1962 by Swiss playwright Friedrich Dürrenmatt (although Rourke commissioned a new version here from Jack Thorne), someone I’ve never previously heard of. Wikipedia informs me he was a proponent of epic theatre but what it translates to here is a tragi-comedy with a farcical first half, which darkens to a more serious second which reflects its Cold War origins.

It starts off like the punchline to a joke: three nuclear physicists are in a mental asylum. Herbert Georg Beutler, who believes he is Sir Isaac Newton, Ernst Heinrich Ernesti who is convinced he is Albert Einstein and Johann Wilhelm Möbius who has regular visitations from King Solomon. It emerges that the first two have murdered their nurses and that Möbius seems set to follow suit, but as the reasons for their actions slowly become apparent, it is clear that something greater is at stake here. Continue reading “Review: The Physicists, Donmar Warehouse”

Review: The Bomb: a partial history – Second Blast, Tricycle Theatre

“There are over 200 countries in the world and only 8, maybe 9 have nuclear weapons”

The second part of the Tricycle’s The Bomb – a partial history is named Second Blast: Present Dangers and focuses its attention on where the nuclear threat lies now, i.e. in the Middle East and North Korea. Alongside the five plays, there’s more of the verbatim reportage, edited by Richard Norton-Taylor, in this section, effectively deployed to demonstrate the almost ridiculousness of the way in which the debate about Iran and nuclear capability has been framed the US and Israel, and later on to remind us of the official political positions of many of our own leaders in the UK.

Altogether I was a tiny bit disappointed with this half of the day (I’d’ve given it 3.5 stars as opposed to 4 for Part 1) as First Blast: Proliferation had cast its net far and wide to cover five different aspects of the history of the bomb but Second Blast returned time and time again to Iran (3 times in fact) in terms of the present day. Obviously it’s a massive part of where we are in terms of potential instability, but I felt that a more useful eye could have been cast elsewhere as well – in a savage indictment of those countries like Israel and Pakistan who still refuse to sign up to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, or indeed a more damning look at those countries that have signed yet show no signs of reducing their stockpile. Continue reading “Review: The Bomb: a partial history – Second Blast, Tricycle Theatre”