TV Review: Unprecedented, Episode 3

Episode 3 of Unprecedented proves a bleak and brutal one-two of hard-hitting Covid drama

“I don’t see what good it does to worry, sitting around panicking”

Due to the (presumably intentional) programming, Part 1 and Part 2 of Unprecedented – Headlong and Century Films’ creative response to Coronavirus – found a sense of balance in their collections of short plays, tragicomic probably being the watchword. Episode 3 however goes all in on the tragedy, making it a pretty bleak half hour.

First up is Duncan Macmillan’s Grounded, directed by Jeremy Herrin, which takes aim at the generation gap and how that has dictated people’s response to the crisis. Katherine Parkinson’s event planner is wracked with job worries and concerns over her ability to home-school. But what really drives her over the edge is the casualness with which her retired parents are taking the whole affair, screaming into the ether as they amble on as if life hasn’t changed but at all. Alison Steadman and Michael Elwyn are excellent as the slightly daffy, devoted couple belatedly coming round to the seriousness of it all. Continue reading “TV Review: Unprecedented, Episode 3”

News: The Mono Box launch The Monologue Library

I mean, just look at this absolute treasure trove of theatrical talent! 

 

I’m off to listen to Patsy Ferran read Tom Wells, and Gabby Wong read Alexi Kaye Campbell, and Sarah Niles read Winsome Pinnock and…and…

This incredible resource is free but like so many creative endeavours right now, would benefit hugely from your donations here

 

News: cast announced for Unprecedented: Theatre from a State of Isolation

Headlong and Century Films have today announced a cast of over 50 UK actors taking part in Unprecedented: Theatre from the State of Isolation. A series of new digital plays written in response to the current Covid-19 Pandemic, Unprecedented will be broadcast across the nation during lockdown as part of BBC Arts’ Culture in Quarantine initiative.

Written by celebrated playwrights and curated by Headlong, Century Films and BBC Arts, Unprecedented explores our rapidly evolving world, responding to how our understanding and experiences of community, education, work, relationships, family, culture, climate and capitalism are evolving on an unprecedented scale. The series will ask how we got here and what the enduring legacy of this historic episode might be. Continue reading “News: cast announced for Unprecedented: Theatre from a State of Isolation”

TV Review: Mum Series 3

Stefan Golaszewski’s Mum goes out on an absolute high with a glorious third and final series with Lesley Manville and Dorothy Atkinson never better

“I think this will be an interesting week”

Any TV series starring both Lesley Manville and Sam Swainsbury has clearly been specifically designed for me and me alone, and so I choose to take Stefan Golaszewski’s decision to end Mum after this third series extremely personally. Problem is, the guy knows exactly what he is doing, as this glorious series really did go out on a high.

It’s taken me a little while to get around to watching it. I adored the first series, and the second, and I just wasn’t ready to say goodbye. But given her return to the stage at the National, it felt like as good a time as any to indulge in a Manville marathon. And you can watch this entire series in less than the running time of The Visit, without even having to get dressed, so everyone’s a winner. Continue reading “TV Review: Mum Series 3”

Review: My White Best Friend, Bunker Theatre

My White Best Friend (and even more letters left unsaid) sees the Bunker Theatre start the process of going out in a blaze of glory

“It’s all we can do to listen”

There’s a couple of months before the Bunker Theatre closes its doors but it does seem a rather wonderful f*** you to bring back their inordinately successful mini-festival and sell out every night before the run even started. Developers may gain from taking over this space but as evidenced here in this kind of forward-thinking, thought-provoking production, London’s theatre ecology stands to lose a lot.  

Co-curated by Rachel De-Lahay and Milli Bhatia (who also directs), My White Best Friend (and even more letters left unsaid) is a raucous piece of gig theatre, centred on a provocation to a range of cracking writers to write letters “that say the unsaid to the people that matter most”. Those letters are then read to a standing audience, sight unseen by different actors every night. And there’s a DJ-led afterparty too, even on a Monday night! Continue reading “Review: My White Best Friend, Bunker Theatre”

Review: Absolute Hell, National Theatre

A characterful slice of seedy Soho life,  Absolute Hell is anything but at the National Theatre

“You won’t call the police, I’ll call the police”

We’ve all got a history, a bit of a chequered past and Rodney Ackland’s play Absolute Hell is no exception. Premiered in 1952 under the title The Pink Room, it received an enormous critical drubbing which led to a 40 year near-silence from the playwright. But as time passes, trends shift and plays eventually get rewritten, a new version of the drama emerged in the late 1980s to considerably more success.

It is that version that is being revived here by Joe Hill-Gibbins with the kind of luxury casting that National Theatres are made for. And with the world of this slice-of-life play being made up of a vast ensemble of characters, it’s a great fit. Absolute Hell is set in a Soho members club in the period between the end of WWII and the Labour general election win and follows its patrons as they retreat from the social (and physical) upheaval of wartime into a fug of drink, drugs and debauchery. Continue reading “Review: Absolute Hell, National Theatre”

TV Review: Doctor Foster Series 2

“How does this end Simon?”

In some ways, you can’t blame ’em for trying to replicate the extraordinary success of the first series of Doctor Foster, quality drama that fast became a rare appointment-to-view fixture  with a rare return to weekly instalments.  And given that writer Mike Bartlett is known for his prolific nature, that a second series quickly came into the offing was no great surprise.

But it can be hard to recapture the magic and though all of the key players have returned – most notably warring ex-couple Suranne Jones’ Gemma and Bertie Carvel’s Simon – this set of five episodes has really suffered from a lack of raison d’être. Waves of vicious revenge percolate throughout but with no discernible driving narrative beyond that, it proved far less engaging. Continue reading “TV Review: Doctor Foster Series 2”

Dispatches from the Vaults #2

“I didn’t think you all look the same”

I saw Tim Foley’s Astronauts of Hartlepool at the end of a long weekend and truth be told, I was just too tired to enjoy it properly. I’d love to read it and see it again, and then probably read it again, to get a fuller appreciation of how complex its hour. Layers upon layers are built up by Foley in his political sci-fi epic (Battlestar Galactica (the remake) as done by BBC3) in which Sophie Steer’s Aidan encounters multiple versions of Rakhee Thakrar’s dimension-hopping Nadia. They always meet in Hartlepool but all is not what it seems, even for the Brexit-voting North-East and Foley intelligently works in a deep critique of where we’ve let our country get to as well as keeping the tone admirably light. I just need to be less tired so I can concentrate more, sorry y’all.

Borderland/Calais was formulated as a response to not just the closure of the Calais refugee camps but also the media coverage thereof, using verbatim theatre techniques to give voice to those disenfranchised, dehumanised, demonised even by being part of what could be called one of the great humanitarian crises of the 21st Century. Over the week of the run, the programme featured a range of guest performers, from Rudi Dharmalingam, Lucy Ellinson and Yusra Warsama, to Denise Gough and Vera Chok who I saw deliver Borderland, written by Prasanna Puwanarajah and Stephanie Street, and Inua Ellam who performed Calais, woven from the Twitter Feeds of the Help Refugees and the Refugee Info Bus by Maddy Costa. Continue reading “Dispatches from the Vaults #2”

The Complete Walk, from the comfort of your sofa #5

“When we are born, we cry”

Entries #1, #2, #3 and #4 – and here’s number 5. 

Actually taking Lear to the White Cliffs of Dover seems like a good enough reason to mount the entire Complete Walk project if you ask me, and director Bill Buckhurst doesn’t disappoint. Belaris Free Festival’s interpretation gets a wee whirl before we move to Kent where Kenneth Cranham’s disoriented monarch comes across powerfully in jerky jump-cuts and voiceover and then ultimately powerful soliloquy. Skipping to the end of the play, Joseph Marcell then takes on Lear for a sensationally powerful reunion with Zawe Ashton’s deeply considered Cordelia.


I must confess I do find it hard to get excited about King John and despite a huge affection for the much-missed Trystan Gravelle, I saw nothing here to change my mind. Filmed at Northampton’s Holy Sepulchre church, with inserts that acted almost as a Shakespearean documentary in covering the death of Shakespeare’s son at the time of writing the play, this one just didn’t do it for me I’m afraid.


Philip Cumbus’ anguished Clarence in his cell; Prasanna Puwanarajah and Paul Ready giving subtly comic life to the murderers on his way to him; Clare Higgins’ Margaret looming ominously in the shadows, Michelle Terry’s (for yes, she directs too!) take on Richard III uses all the shadowy sinister atmosphere of the Tower of London to capture the mood of the play rather successfully. It is contrasted with a silent film version which is amusing to watch at first but spookily effective in the end in the way it portrays Richard’s climactic dream. (NB: click on the title for the full clip.)