TV Review: Doctor Who Series 10

Episodes, in order of preference
World Enough and Time
Extremis
The Doctor Falls
Thin Ice
Knock Knock
Oxygen
The Eaters of Light
Smile
The Pilot
Empress of Mars
The Pyramid at the End of the World
The Lie of the Land

Top 5 guest spots
1 David Suchet’s Landlord was as perfectly written a character as befits one of our more superior actors
2 Regular readers will know I’m a big fan of Kieran Bew and his astronaut in Oxygen was no exception
3 Nicholas Burns‘ malevolent Sutcliffe was a delightfully Dickensian villain 
4 Another theatrical delight of mine is Anthony Calf, impressive as the pseudo-Victorian Godsacre
5 Rebecca Benson’s young Pict impressively led The Eaters of Light from the front, a perfect vessel for Rona Munro’s vision

Saddest death
Michelle Gomez’s Missy has been a brilliant breath of fresh air and whilst her decision to follow Moffat and Capaldi out the door is understandable, it isn’t any less disappointing. And perhaps the timey-wimeyness of the circumstances around her passing mean that maybe this isn’t the last we see of her…

Most wasted guest actor
I don’t what I expected from the reliably excellent Samantha Spiro in Doctor Who but I didn’t get it from her part in The Doctor Falls.

Gay agenda rating
With Bill onboard, A+!

DVD Review: Hamlet (2014)

“A man’s life’s no more than to say ‘one’”

One of the main problems with the countless thinkpieces about the filming of live theatre is that they are almost always written by people who have ample opportunity to see the plays live. To talk about losing the innately unique quality of theatre unfolding before you is all too easy when you’re seeing shows pretty much every day of the week; when your own opportunities to see theatre, especially the bigger productions that tend to get filmed, are limited due to any kind of accessibility concern, it becomes a whole ‘nother ball
game.

Which is a slight digression from how I intended to start this, by saying that I wonder how much of a difference it makes if you’ve seen a production live and then on screen. I’ve not done the double, as it were, on many plays, I’ve tended just to use DVD as a way to catch up on things I missed and so was a little hesitant about whether to include Sarah Frankcom’s production of Hamlet for the Royal Exchange in this collection. But boy am I glad I did, for I enjoyed immensely, possibly even more than I did at the theatre. Continue reading “DVD Review: Hamlet (2014)”

Review: Hamlet, Royal Exchange

“What a piece of work is a man”
 

The political may be largely subsumed into the personal here but rarely has Hamlet felt so universal. Sarah Frankcom’s stated aim was to create “a Hamlet for now, a Hamlet for Manchester” and in the casting of the towering thespian might of Maxine Peake, it is not hard to feel that she has succeeded. Court scenes are played out around the dinner table, affairs of the state dealt with in business meetings, but all serve to intensify the pained intimacy of a family gone wrong, the suffering of people trapped in a dark world of pain at the heart of which lies this tortured sweet prince.

Dressed in a dark blue Chairman Mao suit (a neat nod to the politics of a determined contrarian) with hair cropped and shaved, Peake’s androgyne is a mesmeric figure from start to finish. The intelligence that sparkles from that voice, the openness that is commanded from that unflinching stare, it is nigh on impossible not to get swept away in the beauty of the performance. It remains at all times deeply humane too – this is a Hamlet who is really teetering on the brink as we see in the shaking hand that cannot pull the trigger, the vocal tremors throughout, the quivering lip at the news of Yorick. Continue reading “Review: Hamlet, Royal Exchange”

Review: Tonight at 8.30 – Dancing, Richmond Theatre

“But if at last we’re able to smile
We’ll prove it was all worth while”
 
And what would you know, they saved for the best for last. It wasn’t just the end of 10 hours in a theatre that made me happy, I really did prefer this final part of Tonight at 8.30.
 

Dancing
Family Portrait, Hands Across The Sea and Shadow Play

Running time: 2 hours 10 minutes
Booking until 14th June, then touring to Oxford Playhouse, The Lowry, Cambridge Arts, Theatre Royal Brighton and Hall for Cornwall in Truro
Photo: Mark Douet

Review: Tonight at 8.30 – Dinner, Richmond Theatre

“This can’t last. This misery can’t last….Nothing lasts really. Neither happiness or despair”

Seeing the three parts of Tonight at 8.30 on the same day left me shattered so I am ducking out of full reviews for them and just ranking them in order of preference.

Dinner
Ways and Means, Fumed Oak, and Still Life

Silver medal for Dinner – Still Life (better known as the inspiration for Brief Encounter) is among the highlights of the whole thing but Fumed Oak is one of the weakest with its gender politics too much of its time.

Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes
Booking until 14th June, then touring to Oxford Playhouse, The Lowry, Cambridge Arts, Theatre Royal Brighton and Hall for Cornwall in Truro
Photo: Mark Douet

Review: Tonight at 8.30 – Cocktails, Richmond Theatre

 “We’re not tight and we’re not too bright “

Boxset viewing in now de rigueur in the Netflix age so it is only natural that theatre should follow suit. The 3 James plays at the National can be (and will be) viewed on the same day and so too can the three parts of Noël Coward’s Tonight at 8.30, touring the UK after a run at the Nuffield. Blanche McIntyre’s production for ETT can also be seen in three separate chunks but the impact of the triple bill really helps the 9 plays feed off of each other and highlight the strength of the ensemble (and also pull you through the dips in quality that inevitably come with so much writing from one author).

Cocktails
We Were Dancing, The Astonished Heart and Red Peppers

Probably gets the bronze medal as my least favourite of the three parts.

Running time: 2 hours
Booking until 14th June, then touring to Oxford Playhouse, The Lowry, Cambridge Arts, Theatre Royal Brighton and Hall for Cornwall in Truro
Photo: Mark Douet

Review: Drawing the Line, Hampstead via livestreaming

“When blood is spilt, disputes between people, nations, religions become all but impossible to solve”

A complete Brucie bonus to start off the year was the unexpected announcement that Howard Brenton’s new play Drawing the Line – a sell-out success at the Hampstead – would have its final performance live-streamed on t’internet. I hadn’t booked for the show as something had to give over Christmas and New Year and so the chance to catch up with it for free, albeit on the screen of my laptop, was one I was glad to take.

The play is set in the final days of the empire, as the British are beating a hasty retreat from the subcontinent but are determined to partition the land, and its diverse people, into India and Pakistan. The job of, quite literally, drawing the line falls to archetypal Englishman and judge Cyril Radcliffe who is shipped off to somewhere he has never been before, to accomplish what turns out to be a fiendishly complex assignment.  Continue reading “Review: Drawing the Line, Hampstead via livestreaming”

Review: Summer Day’s Dream, Finborough

“I spent more than half my life, when I ought to have been enjoying myself, arguing and planning and running around like a maniac”

The Finborough continue their run of unearthing any number of “neglected classics” from some of our most illustrious playwrights with a first revival for JB Priestley’s 1949 play Summer Day’s Dream. Set in a then post-apocalyptic 1975, a nuclear war –World War III? – has devastated Britain and returned it to a simpler way of life. Deep in the South Downs, the Dawlish family epitomise the new England, which strangely looks very much like the old pre-industrial one, but their quiet farming lives are disrupted by three exploitative visitors.


This trio – an American, a Russian and an Indian – represent the new superpowers and initially arrive under benevolent auspices, but as we and the Dawlishes soon come to realise, they are here to strip the land of its valuable minerals. Through them, Priestley explores a surprisingly modern take on global politics and the role of the national versus the international, alongside a more twee paean to the virtues of agrarian life and good olde England, as suggested by the homage of sorts to Shakespeare contained in the title.


Alex Marker’s mannered production makes a solid job of it. The structural formality of the writing precludes much innovation but a stately steadiness provides a measured pace and Philip Lindley’s design makes good use of the limited staging opportunities., Patrick Poletti’s Yankee industrialist, Peter Singh as the Indian scientist and particularly Helen Keeley as the Soviet commissar make strong impressions as the interlopers and if the majority of the Dawlishes are frequently overburdened by Priestley’s speechifying, Kevin Colson as the patriarch Stephen and Eleanor Yates as his considerate niece Rosalie also impress.


Running time: 2 hours 45 minutes (with interval)

Playtext cost: £3

Booking until 24th September

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”