Review: God of Carnage, Theatre Royal Bath

Too short a run and too short a play? I just about make it to God of Carnage at the Theatre Royal Bath

“Are we ever interested in anything but ourselves?” 

A criminally short run for Theatre Royal Bath’s production of God of Carnage, especially since it has er’ from Downton and ‘im from The Royle Family and ‘her from Sherlock and *swoon* Nigel Lindsay in it. I was barely able to fit it into the diary but a sweeping trip to the West Country at the weekend meant I got in just before the final show.

Yasmine Reza’s ferociously savage take on middle class mores was seen in the West End a decade ago and appears to have lost none of its bite. As two well-to-do families come together to discuss a playground incident between their children, the thin veneer of respectability as they tiptoe around the delicacy of the situation is soon ripped away and a real ugliness revealed. Continue reading “Review: God of Carnage, Theatre Royal Bath”

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+!

TV Review: Doctor Who Series 10 Episode 1 – The Pilot

“Do you know any sci-fi?”

So here we are, the moment that the epic rewatch has been building up to – the start of Doctor Who’s tenth series, notable for being the final one for both Peter Capaldi’s Twelfth Doctor and showrunner Steven Moffat. And perhaps predictably, Episode One – The Pilot is a cracking piece of TV, a real return to form that hopefully will last across the entire series (I’m not holding my breath…) or at least the majority of it (that I feel more confident about).

Key to this is the arrival of Pearl Mackie’s new companion Bill, a welcome breath of real fresh air into the standard trope but more importantly, a distinct separation from what came just before. No offence to Jenna Coleman’s Clara but the character’s knowingness made it hard to ever warm to her and though on paper, the idea of her being more of an equal to the Doctor has legs, in reality it just became rather self-satisfyingly wearying. Continue reading “TV Review: Doctor Who Series 10 Episode 1 – The Pilot”

Review: Ugly Lies The Bone, National

“It took three surgeries to give me back my eyelid”

There’s a moment to catch the breath in the opening scene of Lindsey Ferrentino’s Ugly Lies The Bone as Kate Fleetwood’s Jess removes the virtual reality helmet she’s been wearing to reveal substantial scarring across half her face (excellent prosthetic work from the creative team). Jess is a veteran of three tours of Afghanistan, the last cut short by a close encounter with an IED that ravaged her body, whose recovery process after fourteen months in a hospital bed is not necessarily being aided by a return home to the depressed Florida town where she grew up.

What is proving effective is a pioneering form of virtual reality-based therapy (based on real life) that is designed to help Jess manage the constant pain that her injuries cause. In a custom computer-generated world, she is liberated, if only momentarily from excruciating skin grafts and flashbacks and an understandable heaviness of spirit that claws its way back to the surface as soon as the helmet comes off. For in the real world, the end of NASA’s shuttle programme has left Titusville a shadow of the place it once was, making it even harder to reconnect with the sister and ex-lover she finds there. Continue reading “Review: Ugly Lies The Bone, National”

Review: Dead Funny, Vaudeville

“Benny Hill? Oh, for fuck’s sake…”
I started off Terry Johnson’s production of Dead Funny concerned that the comedy references on the pre-show curtain – Eric and Ernie, Carry On, Benny Hill – were outwith those to which my tastes naturally incline. Turns out what I should have been on the lookout for was an Alan Ayckbourn play in sheep’s clothing. And if that’s the way your preferences go, as it seems with the majority of the print critics, then this is the play for you.
Dead Funny was written in 1994 but is set two years earlier in the couple of days when both Benny Hill and Frankie Howerd shuffled off this mortal coil. At a time before the death of celebrities, particularly comedians, is marked with the sharing of YouTube clips and gifs of favourite jokes and comic scenes, ‘The Dead Funny Society’ marks the passing of their faves by reenacting their work. That’s all well and good for chairman Richard but his increasingly frustrated wife Eleanor who is desperate for a child.
Thus a play about the legacy of bygone television comedians is spliced with one about marriages in crisis, the link found being people seeking refuge in the celebration of the former as a way of escaping troubles in the latter. Johnson – directing his own play – finds himself in the curious position of working on an entirely period piece. Not in terms of the actual comedy material, nostalgia will always be current to fans, but as far as the specificity of its setting goes, not to mention the questionable gender politics. it’s just thoroughly dated.
Fortunately, it has been cast extremely well. Katherine Parkinson imbues Ellie with real conviction in all her marital angst, the eye-opening first scene gets down to the naked truth of her problems with Rufus Jones’ Richard in bravely full-frontal style. And her position on the outside of the group allows her to scathingly mock their antics – Steve Pemberton, Ralf Little and Emily Berrington all bringing their own quirks and issues to bear, before the whole thing collapses in farce. So you could well find Dead Funny dead funny if it ticks your particular boxes.
Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes (with interval)
Photo: Alistair Muir
Booking until 4th February

Ticket provided by the lovely Theatre Bloggers with the Stagedoor app too

DVD review: Nativity 3 – Dude, Where’s My Donkey

“I said hip, hop, Santa’s gonna stop”

Has ever a movie franchise fallen from grace quite so sadly as Debbie Isitt’s Nativity films? It was made worse for me as I watched them all for the first time this year and so the decline has been compressed into a couple of weeks. The first film utterly enchanted me, the second somewhat disappointed by the third – Nativity 3: Dude, Where’s My Donkey – thoroughly junked everything that worked about the original.

Once again, a new teacher is introduced to St Bernadette’s (this time, Martin Clunes’ Mr Shepherd) and once again, inimitable (and irritating) teaching assistant Mr Poppy (Marc Wootton) is on hand to cause mayhem with his unruly antics leading his class astray. But where the first film was rooted in the universal appeal of school nativities, this sequel opts for the bandwagon-jumping of focusing on flashmobs, which meant it was probably out-of-date as it arrived in cinemas last winter, never mind now in 2015. Continue reading “DVD review: Nativity 3 – Dude, Where’s My Donkey”

DVD Review: The Flint Street Nativity

 “Who put Jesus in with the iguana?”

Much more fun than traditional takes on the Nativity is Tim Firth’s The Flint Street Nativity (which I’d somehow managed to avoid seeing until now) which is utterly charming and heart-warmingly British in the best possible way. Firth’s conceit is to have adults playing children, hardly the most original of ideas, but as the pupils of this infant class put on a chaotic performance of the Christmas story complete with onstage squabbles and backstage power struggles, we see how the turbulence of their home lives is played out in their interactions with their schoolmates.

It is beautifully done, and sensitively played throughout. It never stops being funny – particularly as Dervla Kirwan’s determined Jaye plots and schemes to usurp Josie Lawrence’s Debbie Bennett as Mary – as playground rituals dominate proceedings. There’s the endless procession of ever-changing best friends, the relentless goading of the one who always says “dares ya” to the more susceptible kids, the terror of the boy with the stammer, the terrifying rough kid, the bossy know-it-all, the teacher whose patience wears ever thinner with each crisis. Continue reading “DVD Review: The Flint Street Nativity”

Review: A Day in the Death of Joe Egg, Rose Theatre Kingston

“There’s a limit to what you can do”

Good theatre makes you think, but great theatre makes you dig deep to really contemplate the deeper questions in life and how you might react in a similar situation. Peter Nichols’ 1967 play A Day In The Death of Joe Egg sits firmly in the latter category and in this magnificent production – a joint effort between the Rose Theatre Kingston and the Liverpool Everyman and Playhouse and directed by Stephen Unwin – it deals sensitively but firmly with the challenging reality of being parents to a severely disabled child.

Schoolteacher Bri hates his job and dreams of becoming a stand-up comedian – a juxtaposition which is beautifully realised in a highly amusing opening sequence – but his dissatisfaction has much deeper roots. His 10 year old daughter Josephine can’t do anything unaided or communicate with the outside world and the strains on his marriage to Sheila are really starting to show, they get by turning their life into one big comedy routine to numb themselves from the brutal truth of their situation. Continue reading “Review: A Day in the Death of Joe Egg, Rose Theatre Kingston”

Review: Where’s My Seat, Bush Theatre

“They kiss reluctantly; they kiss enquiringly; they kiss passionately”

Though the Bush Theatre has gained a huge reputation as one of London’s top fringe theatres, balancing the charm of its intimacy with the severe limitation of the venue perched above a pub in Shepherds Bush has been something of a trial and so the opportunity to relocate to an old library just around the corner was gratefully seized and a new chapter in the Bush’s history commenced. Where’s My Seat offers audiences a preview of what the theatre will become, as it is still under construction and development, as three short plays test-drive the space and feedback from the audience actively sought from compère-for-the-evening Ralf Little.

There’s a real playfulness to Where’s My Seat that is evident from the moment one walks into the old Shepherds Bush Library: the walls are covered with scribbles of what will eventually be there or marked ‘knock through’. The programming also reflects this: 3 playwrights were invited to write short plays, utilising one of three different seating configurations and up to nine of the most random props that had been selected at random from the National Theatre’s archive, but the challenge did not even end there. Three theatrical luminaries were then invited to create a set of challenging stage directions which had to be incorporated into the plays, so outgoing Donmar supremo Michael Grandage, outgoing Bush supremo (and going to replace Grandage) Josie Rourke and Alan Ayckbourn did their best (Ayckbourn displaying something of a lack of humour about his efforts though, providing three pages worth where the others had about 6 each!) Continue reading “Review: Where’s My Seat, Bush Theatre”

Review: The Aliens, Bush Theatre

“We’re not even close to being one of them”


Annie Baker’s play The Aliens marks the first time that Peter Gill has directed at the Bush Theatre in West London. Set at the yard of back of a diner in Vermont, former trailer park kid Jasper is trying to write a novel and college dropout KJ is laconically trying to find the perfect recipe for magic mushroom tea. A high school student who starts work at the coffee shop discovers the two nearly-30-somehings and a slow gentle friendship develops based on little chats, eating snacks and watching the 4th July fireworks.


Lucy Osbourne’s stage design is excellent, with the audience right there in the yard with the characters, it is well balanced being extremely intimate without feeling too intrusive and continues a strong vein of interesting design work at the Bush. But sadly that was about as good as it got for me.



It was well-acted to be sure: Mackenzie Crook nicely portrays the deluded self-confidence of Jasper, Ralf Little is convincing (and surprisingly tuneful) as the chilled stoner dropout KJ and would-be songwriter and Olly Alexander makes an intriguing debut as the awkward naïf who is sucked into their seductive world.

But as so little actually happens, I just found it dull to be honest. I longed for something more than just observing this world as I didn’t care much for Jasper or KJ and their attempted defence of their lifestyle and so struggled to engage with much of the piece. The interjections of an outsider helps a little as it is much easier to empathise with the geeky teenager but it just wasn’t enough for me.

It is fine to be minimalist, but it does rely rather on having engaging characters and I am not so sure that Baker has succeeded here in that respect. It actually reminded me most of Jerusalem, or at least in my reaction to it, in the way that it depicts a kind of fringe lifestyle that just doesn’t interest me or engage me on the night.

Running time: 1 hour 50 minutes (with interval)
Playtext cost: £3.50
Booking until 16th October