Birthday treats – poetry and post-show talks

Been a bit quiet on the show front whilst I’ve celebrating a particular anniversary (I turned 29, for the 11th time if anyone’s counting…) but I was pleased to have been treated to a couple of special evenings out with Helen McCrory and Helena Bonham Carter reading poetry and a return visit to West Side Story

“Time to look, time to care, 
Some day”

Front row tickets to something with Helen McCrory? It’s the stuff birthday dreams are made of, and so I was delighted to get to go to Allie Esiri Presents Women Poets Through the Ages at the Bridge Theatre. And not only was there McCrory action, there was a reunion of evil Harry Potter sisters Narcissa Malfoy and Bellatrix Lestrange as Helena Bonham Carter was also on the bill.


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TV Review: Harlots Series 2

Season 2 of Harlots maintains an impressive run for this excellent series

“You let women do this to you?”

I loved the first series of Harlots when I finally got round to catching up with it recently, so I was keen not to let too pass to tackle Series 2. Inspired by Hallie Rubenhold’s The Covent Garden Ladies, creators Alison Newman and Moira Buffini have done a marvellous job of conjuring and maintaining a richly detailed world that puts women’s experiences front and centre.

The heart of the show has been the burning rivalry between competing madams Lydia Quigley and Margaret Wells, and Lesley Manville and Samantha Morton remain a titanic force as they do battle with each other while simultaneously battling a corrupt patriarchy that would abuse them and their power for a guinea a time. And with its new additions, this second series widens out that focus to incorporate the experiences of other women. Continue reading “TV Review: Harlots Series 2”

TV Review: Harlots Series 1

The best TV show you haven’t heard about? Harlots just might be it!

“When the time comes, I hope your quim splits”

I suppose that it is good that we have so many more options for good television to be made these days. The flipside to that is that it can be harder to keep track of it all. Harlots is fricking fantastic, a hugely enjoyable and high quality drama but airing on ITV Encore (and Hulu in the US),  it has languished in the doldrums of the unfairly unheralded.

A glance at the castlist shows you how much of a waste this is. Samantha Morton and Lesley Manville at the head, Jessica Brown Findlay, Hugh Skinner and Dorothy Atkinson among the supporting, Fenella Woolgar, Danny Sapani and Kate Fleetwood popping up now and again too. This is luxury stuff and yet criminally few know about it. Continue reading “TV Review: Harlots Series 1”

Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 8

“You are the chief executive officer of the human race”

It was quite interesting to rewatch Series 8 of Doctor Who, one which I hadn’t revisited at all since it originally aired, as my memories thereof were not at all positive. And whilst disappointments remained – Robin Hood, 2D cartoons, the treeees! – there was also much to enjoy that I’d forgotten about. The smash-and-grab of Time Heist, the simplicity of ghost story Listen, and the ominous darkness of the finale.

I’m still in two minds about Peter Capaldi’s Twelve though, I want to like him so much more than I do, and I think you do get the sense of him feeling his way into his irascible take on the role. Jenna Coleman’s Clara benefits from being released from the yoke of impossibility to move to the forefront of several episodes and if she’s still a little hard to warm to, that finale really is superbly done. And then there’s Michelle Gomez, stealing the whole damn thing magnificently! Continue reading “Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 8”

TV Review: River

“We’re all shattered underneath really, aren’t we”

The second part of Nicola Walker’s cross-channel takeover of crime drama has been BBC1’s River. An altogether different prospect to ITV’s Unforgotten, Abi Morgan’s six-parter is aesthetically closer to the Nordic noir of which TV audiences seem unendingly enamoured but still manages to find its unique niche in a crowded marketplace. The Scandi feel is enhanced by the genuine casting coup of Stellan Skarsgård as DI John River but what marks out River are the people around him.

Chief among these is Walker’s Stevie, DS Stevenson, who we meet straightaway and instantly get a feel for their closeness of their professional relationship as they tackle crime on the streets of London. But what is brilliantly done is the shift from buddy cop show to something altogether darker as [major spoiler alert] we find out at the end of episode 1 that Stevie is dead, murdered recently, and River is in fact imagining her presence at his side, even to the extent of regularly conversing with her. Continue reading “TV Review: River”

Review: The Iliad Online, Almeida/Live-stream

“You can’t kill me
I can’t ever die”

After three weeks away, all my initial thoughts were on a cosy night in catching up on the first two episodes of The Great British Bake-off and I couldn’t imagine anything changing my mind – how wrong could I be! When the Almeida first announced their durational performance of Homer’s Iliad, it sounded like a madcap plan, a morning ‘til night affair in association with the British Museum and featuring over 60 actors – the only thing stopping me from booking was it being the last day of my holiday!

But fortunately, the good folk of the Almeida decided to livestream the whole shebang – all 16 hours and 18,255 lines of it – so that people could dip in and out to their heart’s content as well as attending at the British Museum for free during the daytime. I switched on at about 8pm as Bertie Carvel started his section, intending just to sample its wares but sure enough, I was there until the bitter end around 1am, having been sucked into its unique brilliance and unable to miss a minute more of it. Continue reading “Review: The Iliad Online, Almeida/Live-stream”

Review: The Beaux’ Stratagem, National Theatre

“A man dare not play the tyrant in London, because there are so many examples to encourage the subject to rebel.”

It may be The Beaux’ Stratagem but it is Mrs Sullen’s play. The most striking thing about Simon Godwin’s production of George Farquhar’s final Restoration comedy is its determinedly proto-feminist stance as Mrs Sullen – an independently wealthy woman now desperately unhappily married – is given surprising agency to express herself in a meaningful way and attempt to extricate herself from her situation. And in Susannah Fielding’s superbly silken performance, she’s exquisitely played as an almost tragicomic figure, endlessly entertaining in the raucous romping around but as Jon Clark’s lighting picks her out at the end of each act, capable of holding the entire Olivier theatre’s hearts in her hands.

The beaux ain’t too bad either. Farquhar’s plot centres on their attempts to marry into money after squandering their fortunes in London. Hoping news of their disgrace hasn’t reached the provinces, they head north and stop off in Lichfield, pretending to be master and servant, where their attentions fall on a rich young heiress and her unhappily married sister-in-law. Samuel Barnett’s Aimwell and Geoffrey Streatfeild’s Archer are a witty pair of fellows indeed, with a cracking line in beautifully cut overcoats too, as their avaricious adventures are soon overturned by amorous attentions as they can’t help but fall head over well-turned heel for their marks. Continue reading “Review: The Beaux’ Stratagem, National Theatre”

Review: Off the Page – Microplays 4-6 from the Royal Court and the Guardian

“I believe in being open to all cultures”

There’s something a little perversely ironic about Tim Price’s PPE being one of the more effective microplays (SHORT FILMS!) of the Royal Court and Guardian collaboration given how it is a wordless piece. Directed by Hamish Pirie with movement choreographed by the excellent Ann Yee, it plays off the trademark physical gestures that politicians have become known for using as an emollient to the relentlessly grim messages that they’ve had to deliver in recent years. David Annen, Cyril Nri and Eileen Walsh do a cracking job as leaders of different parties and just through physical expression, manage to hypnotise and hoodwink a whole host of supernumeraries standing in for the too-willing electorate. It’s not a world entirely without hope but it’s a powerful indictment of how much of contemporary politics is stagecraft that we just lap up.

Chloë Moss’ Devil In The Detail focuses on the world of fashion, something that director Christopher Haydon laughingly admits to knowing little of but as a multi-million pound enterprise, there’s much more to it than just knowing which handbag is currently de rigueur. Moss picks up on the way that fashion can be used to bolster a person’s mood and self-belief – as Pippa Bennett-Warner and Vanessa Kirby’s characters get ready for award shows in the atelier of a hot designer – but also how the world of fashionistas can wield it as a vicious weapon as Lucy Ellinson’s killer stylist (such lipstick, so colour, many wow!) corrects the assumptions they’ve made, casually dishing out humiliation and obsequiousness which shatters the mood that playing dress-up had cultivated between the pair. Continue reading “Review: Off the Page – Microplays 4-6 from the Royal Court and the Guardian”

TV Review: The Secrets 5 – The Return

“I’m trying to tell you something for your own good”

Last but by no means least in The Secrets is The Return, which sees Nick Payne return to the writing table along with Dominic Savage who masterminded the whole shebang as one of the executive producers and director of all five. In this case, matters of the heart were involved once again as Ray and Lorna struggle to tell Ray’s brother Anthony, who has just done time, that they are now together and engaged, the complicating factor being that Anthony was with Lorna before he went inside.

Once again, an impressively slow-burning atmosphere prevails as the secret is kept as long as it can be for fear of unleashing Anthony’s rage, Tosin Cole’s focused anger feels genuinely threatening, and the good intentions of the thoroughly decent Ray and Lorna shine through in Ashley Walters and Pippa Bennett-Warner’s performances – there’s no malice here, just an unfortunate turn of circumstance and the consequences of not facing an awkward truth. Simply but powerfully done.

Short Film Review #47

Eclipse Theatre’s 10by10 project was a series of short films “exploding the myth of a homogenised Black British culture”, all directed by Dawn Walton but written by and starring a wide range of some of our most exciting writers and performers. Filmed in 10 different cities across the UK, the hometowns of the playwrights in fact, and each shot in a single day, these make a fascinating insight into a wider cross-section of British society that perhaps is normally seen. Part 1 of 2.

Parking Wars

Representing for South London is Bola Agbaje’s Parking Wars, a short, sharp and ultimately sweet tale of the thing most likely to test religious harmony on a Sunday morning – parking spaces. Richard Pepple’s pastor and Danny Sapani’s imam preach in neighbouring rooms and are united by their annoyance as the sound of car horns and shouting from outside. And out there, is a challenge that would faze any man, no matter his religion – good fun.

  

Brown Widow

Leah Chillery’s entry for Nottingham is blessed with an exceptionally good performance from Vinette Robinson as the titular Brown Widow, Gee. Beautiful, and she knows it, opinionated, and she isn’t afraid to show it; naturally, she’s not quite everything she seems.

Black Magic

Best known for his enduring role in Holby City, Hugh Quarshie is rather good fun as an avuncular protector who stumbles on a young boy being chased by some bullies down a Leeds back street. Sprinkling some of his voodoo on them to scare ‘em off, he takes the lad home and introduces him to a side of his heritage he’s never known before. Ben Tagoe’s Black Magic may be one of the more slight pieces in this series, it is nevertheless still entertaining.

Rage

Written by Akala in verse, North London’s Rage toys cleverly with perceptions of black men in prison as Jimmy Akingbola’s poetic narration from his cell leads us up the wrong path and only slowly do we get to see the full picture as life from the outside – featuring Pippa Bennett-Warner and Michael Maloney – fill in the blanks and hit home hard.

Two-Tone

Arzhang Pezhman’s Two-Tone represents Wolverhampton in this enterprise and for the shallow part of me, is one of my favourites featuring as it does both Shane Zaza and Neet Mohan. But it is also one of the better films as it combines comedy and the serious, highly topical subject matter and dramatically-satisfying mystery. Recommended.