Lockdown TV Review: Spooks Series 2

Now this is more like it, Series 2 of Spooks settles into the classic feel that works so well

“This ridiculous James Bondery…do we need it?”

With this second season, Spooks really gets into its stride I think, recognising that it is an ensemble show at heart (and a rolling ensemble at that, although it’s a shame new recruit Sam doesn’t get more to do) and nailing the variation in tone and style of episodes which largely remain self-contained. Also, Nicola Walker finally arrives as Ruth, which is good news for the audience, Harry and the nation.

Topics-wise, we touch on hacker kids, Irish republicanism, Islamic radicalisation and Anglo-American relations among others. But it is ‘I Spy Apocalypse’, written by Howard Brenton and brilliantly directed by Justin Chadwick with a smothering sense of claustrophobia that really gets the pulse racing as a fire drill for a terrorist incident gets very dark very quickly – it’s possibly one of the best ever episodes of Spooks.

Nicola Walker-ometer
Praise the Lord – analyst Ruth Evershed finally arrives in Episode 2 in all her long cardigans and flowing skirts and though initially viewed with suspicion coming from GCHQ as she does, she soon wins over the team with her knowledge of Greek mythology, Russian crucifixion practices and much more besides. Continue reading “Lockdown TV Review: Spooks Series 2”

Not-a-review: Travesties, Apollo

“It may be nonsense but at least it’s not clever nonsense”

The problem with being addicted to theatre is that it can be hard to turn down things, even against your better instincts. I knew I didn’t really want to see Travesties so I didn’t go to the Menier but sure enough, it transferred into the West End to test my resistance further and I crumbled.

I should not have done.

Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 29th April

DVD Review: Ripper Street Series 3

“In Whitechapel, they die every day”

When low ratings for series 2 of Ripper Street saw the BBC decide to pull the plug on it, it was something of a surprise to hear Amazon Video would be taking it over (this was 2014 after all) in a deal that would see episodes released first for streaming, and then shown on the BBC a few months later. And thank the ripper that they did, for I’d argue that this was the best series yet, the storytelling taking on an epic quality as it shifted the personal lives of its key personnel into the frontline with a series-long arc to extraordinary effect.

And this ambition is none more so evident than in the first episode which crashes a train right in the middle of Whitechapel, reuniting Reid with his erstwhile comrades Drake and Jackson four years on since we last saw them. A catastrophic event in and of itself, killing over 50 people, it also set up new villain Capshaw (the always excellent John Heffernan) and brilliantly complicated the character of Susan, promoting her to a deserved series lead as her keen eye for business, and particularly supporting the women of Whitechapel, throws her up against some hard choices. Continue reading “DVD Review: Ripper Street Series 3”

TV Review: No Offence, Channel 4

“Calm, methodical, Sunday fucking best”

There’s no two ways about it, Paul Abbott’s latest TV series has been an absolute triumph. Channel 4’s No Offence has kept me properly gripped over the last eight weeks and I’m delighted that a second series has already been commissioned as its enthralling mixture of comedy drama and police procedural has been irresistible from its opening five minutes with all its squashed-head shenanigans through to its thrilling finale which kept us on tenterhooks right til its final minutes.

Whence such success? A perfect storm of inspired casting and pin-sharp writing from Abbott and his team. Joanna Scanlan’s DI Viv Deering reinvigorates the stereotypical police boss to create a career-best character for Scanlan, her fierce loyalty played straight but her dry one-liners making the most of her comic genius. Elaine Cassidy’s DC Dinah Kowalska, the eager young copper on whom the focus settles most often, Alexandra Roach’s earnest but quick-learning DS Joy Freer completing the leads. Continue reading “TV Review: No Offence, Channel 4”

Re-review: The Weir, Wyndham’s

“Such a small thing. But a huge thing”

The Donmar’s production of Conor McPherson’s The Weir was an undoubted success last year and so the news of a West End transfer into the Wyndham’s was hardly too surprising. Josie Rourke has kept her cast of five intact for this stunningly effective piece of drama which has been grandly hailed as one of the all-time great modern classics. Who knows whether that much is true, but a return visit did confirm it as one of the most highly-rated plays I saw last year (review here).

What I was interested to see was how it stood up to a second viewing. Many of the critics this time round approached the revival having seen the original run back in 1997 and so viewing it from that prism clearly had an effect on how they received it (more four stars than five), but I have to say I adored being able to revisit the play. Able to breathe much more this time as the suspense was much less, I was able to take in the wash of beautiful language that ebbs and flows through this rural Irish pub.

Having seen it at the Donmar, one might miss the thrilling intimacy of that studio space, but Tom Scutt’s design rises to the occasion of the larger West End house – filling the stage effectively yet still drawing the audience in so that we too might be sat on a bar stool, tearing up beer mats and telling a tale or two to pass the time by and impress the newcomer. And I’ve not much more to say than you really should go and see it if you haven’t done so already. A pitch-perfect cast in a pitch-perfect production.

Running time: 1 hour 45 minutes (without interval)
Photos: Helen Warner
Booking until 19th April

 

Short Film Review #19

Sonja Phillips’ The Knickerman is a bit of a bonkers 1970s fest but hugely entertaining with it. Featuring some of the most epic denim flares you’ll ever see, the women of a sleepy village in Lincolnshire have their life changed when a handsome knicker salesman arrives on the market. Told through the eyes of a little girl who is transfixed by the “miracle” he claims to give women through their knickers, it’s a relaxed film , almost with the feel of an Instagram filter in its 70s glaze and from Jamie Sives’ charismatic lothario to the likes of Saskia Reeves and Annette Badland as the women who make regular visits to his stall, it’s a charmingly lovely piece of storytelling.

Continue reading “Short Film Review #19”

Review: The Weir, Donmar Warehouse

“And the barman asked if I was alright”

It is interesting how the experience of one play can shape attitudes towards a playwright and for me, it was 2011’s The Veil which completely turned me off Conor McPherson to the point where I really wasn’t keen to be seeing any more of his plays. It’s not even as if The Veil was that bad but it was hard work and that thought has lingered strongly, to the point where I really wasn’t too keen on seeing the Donmar’s revival of the The Weir, especially since the venue has been far from a must-see place in recent times. But an irresistible opportunity to see it was dangled in front of me and I took it, and as is so often the case with low expectations, I had an absolutely cracking evening in the theatre.

Josie Rourke’s production is just sensational. Creatively, Tom Scutt’s design is perfectly, realistically detailed right down to the packets of bacon fries on the wall (though I always preferred the scampi ones myself) and Neil Austin’s lighting subtly graduates throughout the show to take us through the light and shade of the changing moods. And the casting is pitch-perfect, bringing together five Irish actors at the top of their game and combining to hauntingly fantastic effect in the rural bar room in which the play is set. Continue reading “Review: The Weir, Donmar Warehouse”

Review: The Veil, National Theatre

“What is it about this place that is a conduit for desperate souls”

Conor McPherson’s The Veil is his first original play for 5 years and set in 1822, marks his first foray into period writing although as it is set in a haunted country house in rural Ireland, he isn’t venturing too far from familiar territory. Rae Smith’s one room set, although it is a lavish recreation of the faded grandeur of a crumbling country pile, has great attention to detail with a great staircase going off the left and up to the gods and a large tree out the back of the conservatory and in it, we see the trials of the Lambroke family. Lady Madeleine’s estate is heavily indebted after the death of her husband and an impending economic crisis and so her 17 year old daughter Hannah is being married off to an English marquis. Hannah is a troubled young woman though, who hears voices and when her chaperone Berkeley proposes a séance before heading back to England with his philosopher friend Audelle, the personal demons and family secrets thus revealed threaten devastating effects.

I was someone else’s plus one for the evening for once and wasn’t actually aware it was the first preview until we arrived at the National in good company (though I did know it was early in the run) and so all the usual caveats apply. And they will apply because I didn’t like it all, though as ever, people rarely seem to have complaints when it is a positive review about a preview… McPherson directs his own play in the Lyttelton and I tend to be a little wary when I hear that playwrights are directing their own work, especially with new plays, as I always innately feel that they would benefit from external influences. Whether that is true or not I don’t know, but what I do know is that The Veil was painfully sluggish and not because of the mechanics of working through a first performance but mainly because of the writing and its construction. Continue reading “Review: The Veil, National Theatre”

Review: Greenland, National Theatre

“It’s like we’re conducting a big, massive experiment…”

Pulling together narratives and investigative work from four playwrights, Moira Buffini, Matt Charman, Penelope Skinner and Jack Thorne around the ever-current issue of climate change, Greenland is the latest play at the National Theatre to tackle this issue, following on from Mike Bartlett’s Earthquakes in London last year. Based on interviews with scientists, politicians, money-makers and philosophers, woven together by dramaturg Ben Power and directed by Bijan Sheibani, this is a highly ambitious, challenging piece of work and though this was the first preview, it seems that some of these challenges might be a little too much.

Predictably, multiple strands of story run parallel, some explored and revisited more than others as the narrative shifts around, there are occasional intersections but these are perfunctory rather than integral to the stories. Amongst everything, there’s a young woman moved to drop out of university to become a climate change activist; two women in a therapy session (there was division in the group as to whether they were mother/daughter or a lesbian couple, but it really isn’t that important) who are being driven apart by the strident ‘green’ views of one of them; two guys bird-watching in Greenland, one of whom has been doing it for 40 years; a Labour politician struggling to make a difference leading up to and at the Copenhagen Climate Conference. All are trying to make sense of the conflicting viewpoints around the issue and figuring out who to trust and what, if anything, can be done. Continue reading “Review: Greenland, National Theatre”

Review: Red Bud, Royal Court

“Red Bud makes the pressure better: it’s the excitement”

Slotting in upstairs at the Royal Court, Red Bud is a play by upcoming American writer Brett Neveu. Five friends make their annual trip to a motorcycle championship in southern Michigan but more than twenty years down the line, the attraction is beginning to wear thin, middle-aged concerns are taking over from high school dreams and not even copious quantities of alcohol and dope can paper over the cracks that have developed in their friendship. This is a review of a preview performance.

Initially full of the forced bonhomie, banalities and those easy recollections of the past that are the fallback of people who have drifted apart, the paper-thin veneer of this camaraderie is severely challenged by the introduction of a raft of drinking games from their youth which quickly darkens the mood as tensions rise to the fore, brutal truths are revealed and frustrations worked out as the evening degenerates into bitterness and violence. It is very well done starting off with an amusingly effective stunt and playing out the fast-unravelling scenario resulting in some convincing fight sequences and great use of fake blood given how exposed the actors are in this set-up. Continue reading “Review: Red Bud, Royal Court”