August theatre round-up

I might have taken a break from reviewing for the last couple of months, but I didn’t stop going to the theatre. Here’s some brief thoughts on most of what I saw in August.

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, aka the Sheridan Smith show
Queen of the Mist, aka the surprisingly affecting one
Appropriate, aka all hail Monica Dolan
Waitress, aka ZZZZZZZOMGGGGG STUNT CASTING oh wait, Joe Suggs hasn’t started yet
The Doctor, aka all hail Juliet Stevenson
A Very Expensive Poison, aka it was a preview so I shouldn’t say anything
Blues in the Night, aka all hail Broadway-bound Sharon D Clarke (and Debbie Kurup, and Clive Rowe too)
The Night of the Iguana, aka justice for Skyler Continue reading “August theatre round-up”

Oscar Week Film Review: Victoria and Abdul

Not even Judi Dench can save this irresponsible look at the British colonial legacy, Victoria and Abdul nevertheless takes two Oscar nominations into the ceremony.

“It is imperative that the royal colon receives a little roughage”

AKA The Other V&A. You can see the rationale behind Victoria and Abdul, allowing Dame Judi Dench to reprise her much-loved role from Mrs Brown with another 20 years under her belt. And directed by Stephen Frears from a screenplay by Lee Hall, hopes were reasonably high.

What results though, is a film that indulges in an irresponsible kind of historical revisionism, a refusal to engage with and interrogate the reality of British colonial rule. Hall’s version of Victoria is allowed to be coyly ignorant of the looting of Indian treasure, a champion of diversity too in an improbable twist. Continue reading “Oscar Week Film Review: Victoria and Abdul”

Review: Twilight Song, Park

 “It’s hard isn’t it”

Completed shortly before his death in 2014, Kevin Elyot’s Twilight Song now belatedly receives its premiere courtesy of the Park Theatre. The play doesn’t emerge as one of his strongest though, the shadow of the excellent My Night With Reg lingers long over the scant 75 minutes here and you’re left wondering just how completed the play was – would it have benefitted from another turn or two in the development mangle after its initial run.

Twilight Song finds itself split between the present day and the 1960s, looking at the relationship between homosexualist Barry, his mother Isabella and his wider family. From his boyhood when decriminalisation was just around the corner but still too late for a closeted uncle, to his present day where sexual liberation hasn’t prevented him from frustrated singledom, we see how individual happiness doesn’t necessarily follow societal change no matter your sexuality or generation. Continue reading “Review: Twilight Song, Park”

Round-up of news and treats and other interesting things

In his first season as artistic director of Theatre N16, Scott Ellis presents a slew of new writing.
 
Olympilads by Andrew Maddock, produced by Lonesome Schoolboy and directed by Niall Phillips, reunites the team that presented He(art) at Theatre N16 earlier this year. Theatre N16 executive director (and former artistic director) Jamie Eastlake will present his new show Deadline Day by John Hickman and Steve Robertson: a bitter sweet tale about football, greed and the North-South divide.
 
Ten emerging artists debut a selection of original and varied works exploring feminism today in Maiden Speech: A festival of fresh feminist voices. Theatre N16 will also produce a new play by Sarah Milton, directed by Scott Ellis.

Continue reading “Round-up of news and treats and other interesting things”

TV Review: Line of Duty Series 4

“Watch what I do, not what I say”

So Series 4 of Jed Mercurio’s Line of Duty winds up to its insanely tense climax and once again it satisfies the requirements of event TV – giving some answers but withholding others, in the full anticipation of further seasons in which to explore the overarching stories that still remain. This did also mean that it didn’t quite push all of my buttons the way I would have liked for it to be as spectacular as the end to Series 3.

With the Caddy arc being resolved so thoroughly then, I very much enjoyed the fresh slate of AC12’s investigation of an entirely new case here (review of Episode 1 here). And Thandie Newton’s superbly slippery DCI Roz Huntley was an excellent antagonist, the potential framing of a suspect being only the beginning of the twistiest of tales that threatened to swallow up any and everyone around her, good or bad, corrupt or misogynist. Continue reading “TV Review: Line of Duty Series 4”

TV Review: Line of Duty Series 4 Episode 1

“Don’t make out I’m in the wrong”

After three superlative, and interlinked, series, one might have forgiven Jed Mercurio for leaving Line of Duty as it was. But the show has been a victim of its own slow-burning success and so a fourth series has arrived, with a plum Sunday evening slot in the schedule to boot and the good folk of AC-12 are once again with us. And having most cleverly toyed with its structure of featuring a high profile lead guest star in the previous series, the arrival of Thandie Newton as this year’s bent cop (or is she…) left us pondering how the hell are they going to top Series 3’s opening instalment.

 Well, like this is how! The beauty of Line of Duty has been how it has increasingly embraced its batshit mental moments with the intense realism that comes from its peerless interrogation scenes. It is both silly and serious and it pulls it off with real élan – so much so that you don’t care how ridiculous it is that Vicky McClure’s Kate can still slide in to work undercover in police stations that are down the road from her own or that forensics guys apparently aren’t so hot at telling whether people are dead or not.  Continue reading “TV Review: Line of Duty Series 4 Episode 1”

TV review: Line of Duty Series 1

“Do you want me to recrime it sir?”

With Jed Mercurio’s Line of Duty about to start its third series on BBC2, I thought I’d go back to the first two series as they have to rank as some of the best police dramas out there. Centred on the world of AC-12, an anti-corruption unit charged with investigating suspected police wrongdoing, we’ve been so far blessed with two extraordinary stories, hanging on superb performances from the people under suspicion – Keeley Hawes (whose series we’ll get to next) and Lennie James.

James plays DCI Tony Gates, a decorated officer with an amazing clear-up rate that seems too good to be true, and so when he comes to the attention of AC-12, initially for something completely unrelated, the wheels are set in motion for a fast-degenerating state of affairs. Money laundering, drug running, cover-ups, and gruesome murders intertwine and intersect with Gates at the heart of it all, but his true connections to events always in question, right until the end. Continue reading “TV review: Line of Duty Series 1”

Review: Temple, Donmar Warehouse

“Was it ever our choice to be the parish church of high finance?”

I was surprised at the number of people who didn’t come back after the interval of The Red Lion on Friday night as I was enjoying myself but on reflection, you can see that for all its lyricism (or indeed because of it) Patrick Marber’s writing doesn’t really stretch far beyond the world of football in which it is set. A similar narrowness of vision struck me about Steve Waters’ Temple at the Donmar Warehouse too, its exploration of the place of the church in the modern world does just that without substantially delving beyond that into whether the church should have a place in the modern world – it preaches to the choir somewhat.

A fictionalised account of the October 2011 events that saw the Occupy London camp force what not even the Blitz could manage – the closure of St Paul’s Cathedral. Starting at the end of a fortnight of fraught hand-wringing and teeth-gnashing which saw the doors eventually reopen but the canon resign, Waters places us at the heart the behind-the-scenes soul-searching. This he does through Simon Russell Beale’s dean (his boss) who finds himself thrust unwillingly into the spotlight and having to tread a most careful path through a treacherous landscape – can the church be party to a forced eviction, what leadership can such a venerable institution truly offer, do its duties lie with the City or the citizens? Continue reading “Review: Temple, Donmar Warehouse”

Review: Hope, Royal Court

“It’s the trouble with being so overwhelmingly Labour”

The plot for Jack Thorne’s Hope could be lifted from the newspapers right now – a cash-strapped Labour council is faced with impossible choices as austerity continues to bites hard and £22 million has to be trimmed from this year’s budget, £64 million over the next three years. In Newcastle, the figure is actually £90 million despite having already lost £151 million over the last four years, and the decisions about what essential services are to be cut are those that plague Hilary and Mark, the Leader and Deputy Leader respectively, of Thorne’s unspecified local government.

Stella Gonet’s Hilary is determined to make it work, a New Labour pragmatism already drawing up the list of priorities – Sure Start centres versus swimming pools, daycare for the disabled versus personal safety in rough areas to give but a couple of examples – but Paul Higgins’ Mark is cut from much more traditional cloth and his protesting colleagues coalesce around him. Eventually, he reluctantly spearheads a rebellion and a refusal to set an amended budget but though this is described as a fable, it is no fairytale, and the consequences of defying government are all too real. Continue reading “Review: Hope, Royal Court”

Review: Children of the Sun, National Theatre

“We are tiny, tiny fragments of miniscule cogs in a grand and fabulously random collision”

If it ain’t broke… Adaptor Andrew Upton, director Howard Davies and designer Bunny Christie have had considerable success with previous Russian epics Philistines and The White Guard and so they’ve reunited once again, this time to breathe new life in Maxim Gorky’s Children of the Sun, which has just started its run in the Lyttelton at the National Theatre. Set in a small town in a Russia on the cusp of revolution (1905 rather than 1917), experimental chemist Protasov and his coterie of middle class hangers-on are waltzing through life oblivious to the turmoil outside the gates of their estate, but their tragedy is as much personal as they turn out to be as blind to the needs and desires of each other as well. 

Gorky’s writing is remarkably perceptive throughout the play. Written in 1905 as a direct response to the huge societal changes around him, he skilfully diagnoses the malaise of the self-absorbed bourgeoisie and lays bare the blinkeredness of their cosseted ignorance and the hopelessness of their grandiose idealism. But he does it with a real deftness of touch, creating richly detailed characters who are rarely so insufferable that one’s heart doesn’t ache at the inevitability of the violent collapse of their entire world. Geoffrey Streatfeild’s erudite academic Protasov fully exemplifies this – a man full of an acute sense of the growing importance of science in the world yet an abject failure at maintaining the relationships in his life. Continue reading “Review: Children of the Sun, National Theatre”