Lockdown TV Review: Spooks Series 6

AKA the one that doesn’t work and the one that you should avoid if you’re feeling angsty about the current situation – approach Spooks Series 6 with caution

“The only option will be national quarantine and burial pits”

Series 6 is one of the trickier ones to watch right now so be warned – it opens with a two-parter called ‘The Virus’ which makes for a eerily chilling watch. It’s also a curious season as whilst the introduction of a series-long storyline – Iran seeking to gain nuclear capability – for the first time seems like it should work no problem, the reality doesn’t hang together quite as well as it ought.

The major level conspiracy theory takes too long to click into gear, and never really reaches the high-stakes territory it needs to hit home hard. The ‘mole in MI-5’ thread doesn’t pay off convincingly, recruiting another journalist off the street tests the patience (sorry Ben) and where one fake-out death of a major character might be permitted, two in the space of three episodes feels lazy. A major disappointment following the highs of Series 5.

Nicola Walker-ometer
Absolute zero, it’s as if she never existed. Fucking Harry. Continue reading “Lockdown TV Review: Spooks Series 6”

Review: Cat On A Hot Tin Roof, Young Vic at the Apollo

“The human animal is a beast that dies but the fact that he’s dying don’t give him pity for others”

Whatever the reasons behind the decision to open Benedict Andrews’ Cat On A Hot Tin Roof directly into the West End, a first for the Young Vic, you can’t help suspect that it has been informed by the extraordinary success of their 2014 collaboration on A Streetcar Named Desire. Equally, it is tempting to feel the play would be better off on The Cut, the better for its intimacy to really sizzle.

There’s certainly the attempt to raise the temperature – Andrews has his leads Jack O’Connell and Sienna Miller in various states of undress for large swathes of the play – but for all the skin exposed, there’s little sexuality between Tennessee Williams’ central couple, the reasons for which are painstakingly revealed later on. And ultimately it is a disconnect that reads better than it plays. Continue reading “Review: Cat On A Hot Tin Roof, Young Vic at the Apollo”

Review: Lazarus, King’s Cross

“A man lost in time”

It’s no secret that I’m a big Ivo van Hove fan, I’ve been to New York and Amsterdam several times to see his work as regular readers will know, so booking for his latest show to hit London – Lazarus – was a no-brainer. At the same time though, I have to say that the music of David Bowie has played little part in my life, so a musical continuing the story of his 1976 film The Man Who Fell To Earth and based on his songs doesn’t actually carry the same appeal that I might normally have with a van Hove show.

Of course, the shock news of Bowie’s passing as the show opened in New York this past winter lends Lazarus an especial charge, featuring as it does songs from his later albums and songs that were written for this project, among some of the last he ever penned. To an outsider though, it makes for strange experience with a strong sense of mood prevailing over a defined narrative progression, Enda Walsh co-writing a book with Bowie that is labyrinthine in its own fractured, hallucinatory way. Continue reading “Review: Lazarus, King’s Cross”

TV Review: And Then There Were None

“This is for a play in the West End?”

 Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None may not have seemed like the most obvious festive programming but Sarah Phelps’ three-part adaptation was an unalloyed success for the BBC. It was a particular surprise for me, as having seen it a couple of times on the stage, most recently in a rather creaky touring production, I wasn’t sure how it could be done well. But Phelps and director Craig Viveiros have managed a remarkable job, transforming the murder mystery into a dark, oppressive psychodrama.

From the off, swooping camera shots (of the Cornish locations standing in for the Devonian Soldier Island) take us out of the dusty drawing room, and haunting flashbacks take perfect advantage of the medium to suggest the oppressive weight of guilt that is being brought to bear here. For those new to the story, a microcosm of English society is invited to an isolated country house, under varying auspices, and once fully assembled, find themselves being picked off one by one by an unknown killer. Continue reading “TV Review: And Then There Were None”

Review: A View From The Bridge, Wyndhams

 

“Eddie Carbone. Eddie Carbone. Eddie Carbone.”

What more is there to say about a play that was my undoubted favourite production of 2014 (out of more than 380 lest you forget!) and which did more than I could have possibly imagined to finally introduce the spectacular creative force of Ivo van Hove to a wider audience. Not much as it turns out! The Young Vic’s extraordinarily successful A View From The Bridge has now transferred into the West End, setting up shop in the relative intimacy of the Wyndham’s and remains one of the most highly recommended shows that I could urge you to go and see. 

My original review is here and I stand by everything in it, van Hove’s recasting of Arthur Miller’s classic still burns with its unstoppable, slow-building tragic force and even in this larger space, maintains the same level of punishing emotion. I hadn’t intended to revisit in all honesty, having seen the original run twice but the announcement of onstage seating – to replicate something of the feel of Jan Versweyveld’s original staging – hooked me back in. When the pricing was finally announced, I balked but the simultaneous release of a new date, complete with tickets for the front row of the balcony (one of the best West End bargains for my money), meant I was helpless to resist. Continue reading “Review: A View From The Bridge, Wyndhams”

Re-review: A View from the Bridge, Young Vic

 

“You’ll see, you’ll get a blessing for this”

Too often, I leave a play thinking I really want to see it again and never quite manage to get round to booking for it. But I loved Ivo van Hove’s extraordinary take on A View from the Bridge so much on first viewing that I knew there was no chance I wouldn’t make sure a repeat visit would be inked into the diary. And it was just glorious getting to experience this transcendent production of Arthur Miller’s classic play again, to really soak in its textures and further appreciate the acute psychological insight it brings to the work.

There’s not too much more that I can say about the play that wasn’t already mentioned in my original review and being a part of it again simply reaffirmed how I felt that first time. The tension that it creates in the Young Vic almost immediately is exquisitely painful, the knowledge of that final scene coming an additional pleasure, that central scene between Phoebe Fox and Luke Norris (I noticed this time that the way she jumps on him here is identical to the way she jumps on Eddie at the beginning of the play, showing just how complex these relationships are) – I really can’t imagine a better piece of theatre emerging in this country this year. 

Running time: 1 hour 55 minutes (without interval)
Photo: Tristam Kenton
Booking until 7th June, sold out but day seats and return are available from 10am on the day – you will kick yourself if you miss this

Review: A View from the Bridge, Young Vic

 

“Most of the time we settle for half and I like it better”

And so one of the theatre industry’s best kept secrets is blown wide open – Ivo van Hove is one of the most exciting directors in the world at the moment. I have been near-evangelical about his Dutch-spoken work for a while now (2 of his productions have been shows of the year for me) – booking six hours of Shakespeare here, four hours of Ingmar Bergman there, even going to Amsterdam to see his work with the Toneelgroep Amsterdam company he has so gloriously led for 14 years. So it is a bit of a coup for the Young Vic to secure him for this production of Arthur Miller’s A View from the Bridge which sees him work with British actors for the first time.

From the slow rise of its beautiful opening to the excoriating tragedy of a final montage that will live long in the memory, this production simply confirms van Hove as a man whose theatrical vision is just extraordinary. Here, he takes an already magisterial play, strips it of all theatrical fripperies and pretensions, and distils it into a blisteringly acute psychodrama that is just devastatingly precise in its forensic detail. The experience of watching it in akin to taking a deep breath and then being unable to exhale until the very end, its interval-less momentum carrying the audience right through its two hours and it is hard to see how this will be beaten by any other piece of theatre this year. Continue reading “Review: A View from the Bridge, Young Vic”

Review: Macbeth, Trafalgar Studios

“Stay you imperfect speakers, tell me more”

What is it that makes a hit? Jamie Lloyd’s Macbeth, the first show in his Trafalgar Transformed residency at the Trafalgar Studios, has rapidly become one of the hottest tickets in town, selling out nearly all of its shows and inspiring epic levels of queuing for the dayseats.  And the audience it has drawn, at this show at least, felt significantly younger than one would usually see at a West End house. So something has clearly worked in the marketing of Shakespeare’s tragedy to make it the kind of success that they most likely hadn’t dared dream of. In light of that, it seems almost immaterial that I predominantly found it a disappointing production.  

It was a fascinating experience to see the reactions of fresher eyes to a play whose ubiquity, arguably, does not necessarily correlate with its quality. For all its noble brutality and visceral poetry, it can be something of a hard ask in its later stages, no more so than in Act 4 Scene 3 which is the stuff of theatrical nightmares, yet it remains popular. And in Lloyd’s production with its Kensington Gore-splattered imagining of a near-future dystopian Scotland (the consequence of independence…?) and frequent bold strokes especially in Soutra Gilmour’s design which cleverly opens out, it clearly connected with its teenage audience from their frequent audible reactions.

But for me, much of it underwhelmed. My major problem was with the clarity of the verse-speaking, not with the Scots accent before I’m labelled a Sassenach, but in the establishment of a speaking style that replaced subtlety and rhythm with speed and volume. Throw in the gas masks of the weird sisters and I was left extremely glad that it was a text I was familiar with. The overall impression is one which evokes a spiralling inevitability to the end but so much is lost on the journey as the richness of Shakespeare’s words is plundered.

James McAvoy (returning to a role he has acted on television before) brings an undeniable energy to Macbeth himself but in most effective in the rare moments where the BPM is reduced to allow something profound to grow out of this interpretation. He lacks any chemistry with Claire Foy’s Lady Macbeth though, her delivery being one which really rankled with me, which undermines one of the strongest motors of the plot and as with many modernisations, the removal of nobility from the set-up – this Macbeth always feels like a fighting terrorist – somehow lessens its impact. 

There’s good work from Forbes Masson as Banquo, Hugh Ross as Duncan and Allison Mackenzie’s Lady Macduff – I still remain unsure about Jamie Ballard’s Macduff but I think that’s as much to do with my own preconceptions about the character. And ultimately that’s what I was left thinking, about how much we carry expectation into productions of play that we’ve seen so many times. Whilst I’d rather they hadn’t laughed so much at the darker moments, it was pleasing to see theatre connect with a younger audience even as my jaded blogger’s pencil dismissed it as uninspired. It’s a good job I only have two more Macbeths (so far) in the calendar ahead… 

Running time: 2 hours 40 minutes (with interval)

Booking until 27th April