Lockdown TV Review: Spooks Series 8

With major fluctuations in the force, Series 8 maintains a strong level for Spooks – you could argue it should have stopped here

“They think you’ve got Harry Pearce in the palm of you hand and you’re making moves”

 

Finally, after too many years of yoyo-ing between good series bad series, Spooks finally put together two strong instalments back to back. I think the shorter run (8 episodes) really does focus the writing which now goes all-in on the serial plot line running through the whole series, yet still finding time to blend in self-contained storylines here and there.

Big betrayals cut deep, harsh on a team barely recovered from Connie’s recent deception. Personnel changes rock the team equally hard, as Malcolm is (metaphorically) sacrificed to bring back Ruth, Jo is (literally) sacrificed for big business and Ros (understandably) goes in hard for Tobias Menzies. And Richard Armitage’s Lucas North gets his arse out – quality TV all round. Should Spooks have gone out all guns blazing here?

Nicola Walker-ometer
She’s back! There’s a measure of contrivance in Ruth’s return to the show, necessary to undo the finality of her previous departure and to extricate her from the cushy life in Cyprus which she’d established forself. So cheerio to handsome new partner (they weren’t married so it’s OK he got killed), sayonara to her step-child in all but name, and welcome back to sweet emotional lrepression with Harry. Continue reading “Lockdown TV Review: Spooks Series 8”

Review: The Visit or The Old Lady Comes to Call, National Theatre

Any opportunity to see Lesley Manville on stage should be taken but The Visit or The Old Lady Comes to Call proves close to a trial at the National Theatre

“We’re alive now only in the sense that moss and lichen are alive”

There’s no two ways about it – Tony Kushner’s new version of Friedrich Dürrenmatt’s 1956 The Visit or The Old Lady Comes to Call is a punishing evening on the buttocks. Thank the Lord (or the donors) for the relative comfort of the seating at the National Theatre but unless you’re a fan of Lesley Manville (and what right-thinking individual isn’t), it could well prove punishing on your patience too. 

Manville really is superb. She’s Claire Zachanassian, the richest woman in the world who has returned to her dilapidated hometown with an intriguing proposition for the townsfolk. She’ll donate an incredible, life-changing amount of money for everyone if they’ll carry out a brutal act of vengeance on the man whose actions forced her to leave the place as a pregnant teenager. And she rises to the challenge, displaying a mesmerising stage presence that is startling in its power. Continue reading “Review: The Visit or The Old Lady Comes to Call, National Theatre”

20 shows to look forward to in 2020

I look ahead to some of the 2020 shows exciting me most with an emphasis away from the West End, looking mostly instead at the London fringe and across the UK 

Sure, there’s all sorts of big ticket shows coming to London in 2020 (with big ticket prices too to go with their big names), like Sunday in the Park with George with Jake Gyllenhaal, Sister Act with Whoopi Goldberg, A Doll’s House with Jessica Chastain. But there’s so much more to discover if you venture away from Shaftesbury Avenue…

1 The Glass Menagerie, Odéon–Théâtre de l’Europe at the Barbican
Not that I want to be predictable at all but Isabelle Huppert! Acting in French! Right in front of you! I understand that van Hove-fatigue might be setting in for people but only a FOOL would pass up the chance to see one of our greatest living actors. A FOOL! 

2 The Glass Menagerie, Royal Exchange
And if you wanted to do a direct compare and contrast, Atri Banerjee’s revival for the Royal Exchange will be worth checking out too for an alternative perspective. 

3 The Wicker Husband, Watermill
Even before Benjamin Button tore my heart apart, I was excited for the arrival of this new musical by Rhys Jennings and Darren Clark but now, the bar has been raised even higher. And the gorgeous intimacy of the Watermill feels like a perfect fit.


4 Children of Nora, Internationaal Theater Amsterdam
Me: “I don’t need any more Ibsen in my life”
Also me: Robert Icke revisiting the world of A Doll’s House through the eyes of the next generation? Yes please.

5 Romantics Anonymous, Bristol Old Vic
I don’t think I thought this delicious Koomin and Dimond musical would ever actually return, so this short run in the UK ahead of a US tour feels like a real blessing. Now where did I put my badge?
Continue reading “20 shows to look forward to in 2020”

News: new productions and casting updates for the National Theatre

Jessie Buckley and Josh O’Connor headline a new production of Romeo and Juliet, while Callum Scott Howells and Rosie Sheehy star in Gary Owen’s Romeo and Julie, among other big news from the National Theatre

New productions

Simon Godwin returns to the National Theatre to direct Shakespeare’s ROMEO & JULIET following his critically-acclaimed productions of Antony and Cleopatra and Twelfth Night in the Olivier Theatre. Set in modern Italy in a world where Catholic and secular values clash, Jessie Buckley (Wild Rose, Judy) and Josh O’Connor (The Crown, God’s Own Countryplay the two young lovers who strive to transcend a world of violence and corruption. Fisayo Akinade (The Antipodes, Barber Shop Chroniclesis cast as Mercutio. The production will open in the Olivier Theatre in August 2020.

Set and costume design by Soutra Gilmour, lighting design by Lucy Carter, composition by Michael Bruce and sound design by Christopher Shutt. Continue reading “News: new productions and casting updates for the National Theatre”

News: the National Theatre announces 15 new productions for 2019 and 2020

So much goodness! The National Theatre have just announced details of productions stretching deep into 2020, and with writers like Lucy Kirkwood, Kate Tempest, Roy Williams and Tony Kushner, and actors like Lesley Manville, Maxine Peake, Conleth Hill, Cecilia Noble and Lesley Sharp, it is hard not to feel excited about what’s ahead.

Olivier Theatre 

Following a sell-out run at Rose Theatre Kingston, the acclaimed two-part adaptation of Elena Ferrante’s MY BRILLIANT FRIEND by April De Angelis is reworked for the Olivier stage by Melly Still (Coram Boy). When the most important person in her life goes missing without a trace, Lenu Greco, now a celebrated author, begins to recall a relationship of more than 60 years.  Continue reading “News: the National Theatre announces 15 new productions for 2019 and 2020”

TV Review: Brexit: The Uncivil War

Despite some considerable talent involved, I vote to leave Brexit: The Uncivil War

“It says here you basically ran the Leave campaign and yet I doubt most people have ever heard of you”

It is difficult to watch Brexit: The Uncivil War because it is hard to locate a raison d’être for telling this story as a drama rather than a documentary. Given how close it is to the present day and the way in which so much has still yet to unfold in the way the UK eventually disentangles from the EU, making the choice to start creating art around it feels an odd choice.

I’ve long been a fan of James Graham, like any rational person, and the way he has been able to dig deep and really explore so many of the issues afflicting contemporary society has been brilliantly in evidence. But it is hard not to feel that Brexit is a mis-step in the way that it seeks to reinterpret the roles of the key dramatis personae in this whole sorry shebang. Continue reading “TV Review: Brexit: The Uncivil War”

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”

DVD Review: Wolf Hall

“By the thrice-beshitten shroud of Lazarus”
 

Peter Straughan’s adaptation of Hilary Mantel’s Booker Prize-winning Wolf Hall and Bring Up The Bodies into a six-part TV serial has no right to be this good but somehow, it manages the extraordinary feat of being genuinely excellent. I didn’t watch it at the time and so caught up with its complexities and nuances over a binge-watch at Christmas. And though I’m no real fan of his acting on stage, there’s no doubting the titanic performance of Mark Rylance as the almighty Thomas Cromwell.

Mantel charts the rise of this lowly-born blacksmith’s boy through service as lawyer to Cardinal Wolsey (a brilliant Jonathan Pryce) to the heights of the Tudor court as Henry VII’s (Damian Lewis on fine form) chief fixer, predominantly in the matter of securing the dissolution of his marriage to Katherine of Aragon to enable him to wed Anne Boleyn. Rylance really is very good, subtler than he is onstage as he negotiates the world of ‘gentlemen’ – in which he is constantly underestimated – from the sidelines, wielding increasing amounts of power, though with it fewer and fewer scruples. Continue reading “DVD Review: Wolf Hall”

DVD Review: Silk, Series 2

“People are saying you only made silk because you’re a woman and from Bolton”

The joys of Netflix allowed me to quickly move onto Series 2 of Silk in perfect time before the third, and final, series hit BBC1, and it remains an excellent piece of television, a quality legal drama blessed with some cracking writing, a stellar leading cast, and a revolving ensemble which continues to draw in the cream of British acting talent to give their supporting roles and cameos. The series kicks off with Maxine Peake’s Martha having ascended to the ranks of QC whilst Rupert Penry-Jones’ Clive languishes in her slipstream, and the dynamics of their relationship form a major driver of the narrative. 

Her adjustments to her new role and responsibilities are fascinatingly drawn, especially as she negotiates the ethics of working with a notorious crime family and their shady legal representation. And his pursuit of that exalted status of QC as he stretches himself professionally to take in prosecutions, as well as Indira Varma’s attractive solicitor, is challenged when he overreaches himself in a particularly pressing case. As ever, individual cases fit into each episode as well, but these wider storylines are where the real interest comes.  Continue reading “DVD Review: Silk, Series 2”

DVD Review: Fingersmith

“The over-exposure of women to literature breeds unnatural fancies”

I struggled a little bit to find another theatrical-friendly lesbian-themed thing to watch so I returned to Sarah Waters and the 2005 adaptation of Fingersmith, which as it starred Sally Hawkins was no great hardship at all. Set in Victorian England as was Tipping the Velvet, this story follows the lives of Sue and Maud, two very different women whose lives are irrevocably changed when a trio of fingersmiths, or pickpockets, conspire to rob an heiress of her fortune. But it turns out the plans are even more devious than first assumed as they culminate in the most unexpected of fashions and in a deftly clever move, we revisit all we have just seen from another perspective, casting uncertainty of the surety of what we know which plays excellently in the subsequent exploration of the disturbing reality of Victorian mental asylums.

Sally Hawkins is predictably excellent as Sue, one of the pickpockets who hoodwinks her way into the slightly disturbed Maud’s, the pale Elaine Cassidy, household as a housemaid who acts as a chaperone to allow a second trickster, Mr Rivers played by a bewhiskered Rupert Evans, to pose as a gentleman and seduce Maud into marriage just before she inherits a large fortune. Maud has been stifled by life in her extremely strict uncle’s house as a contributor to his immense collection of pornography and relishes the contact of Sue’s seemingly kindred spirit, so much so that an illicit lesbian affair springs up between the pair. But even as Sue is deceiving her, it emerges that Maud is not quite as delicate as she may seem and so intrigue builds on intrigue as Peter Ransley’s screenplay condenses a wonderfully complex novel into a more streamlined narrative, though still full of equally multifaceted characters.  Continue reading “DVD Review: Fingersmith”