Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 2

“Some things are worth getting your heart broken for”

David Tennant’s opening season took the template of the opening series and ran with it, Russell T Davies’ vision finding its ideal mate in the Scottish actor. The typically adventurous sweep was tempered with a more tender vision, which considerably upped our emotional investment (previous companions returning, romantic connections whether past or present).

Bringing back the Cybermen was an interesting move, as was the introduction of the notion of parallel worlds (and how important that became…). And if the series-long motif of Torchwood didn’t really pay off, especially not when one considers what Torchwood the show became, the finale to Doomsday is pretty close to perfection. Continue reading “Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 2”

DVD Review: Made In Dagenham

“All over the country, women are getting less because they’re women”

I thought this would make an appropriate film review for International Women’s Day, it being a celebration of the sewing machinists whose ground-breaking 1968 strike at the Ford Dagenham plant laid the basis for the Equal Pay Act of 1970, enshrining the right of equal pay for equal work. Nigel Cole’s 2010 film, written by William Ivory around the real life events, has been turned into a musical which will be opening at the end of the year, Gemma Arterton taking the lead role under Rupert Goold’s direction, but she has a lot to live up against the glorious Sally Hawkins and what is a rather lovely film.

Made in Dagenham very much fits into the well-established working class Brit flick template – think The Full Monty, Brassed Off, Calendar Girls… – in that it is never particularly challenging, it revels in period cliché and can definitely be described as heart-warming. But also like those films, it does have a little grit at its base, realism (of sorts) is allowed to temper the optimism that drives this huge moment of social change, the individual struggles of these women co-existing with the collective battle to great effect and backed by a super cast, it is frequently moving. Continue reading “DVD Review: Made In Dagenham”

Review: The Trojan Women, Gate Theatre

“A pregnant woman is a Trojan horse”

After Mike Bartlett’s inimitable slant on Euripides in his contemporary version of Medea for Headlong, it is now the turn of poet Caroline Bird to reimagine the world of Ancient Greek tragedy for modern times with her take on the same playwright’s The Trojan Women, directed by the Gate’s own AD Christopher Haydon. Set in the mother and baby ward of a prison in the fallen city of Troy, the mothers, wives and sisters of the destroyed army await their fate as the marauding Greek invaders decide how to divide their spoils of war, chief among them Hecuba, the former queen and Helen, the woman in whose name the Greeks fought their bloody war. (FYI I attended the final preview, courtesy of their bargaintastic Gatecrasher offer).

Bird’s prose clearly has a keen poetic edge, especially in conjuring up the desolation of a defeated nation, and perhaps surprisingly it also opens a vein of bleak humour, at times a blessed relief from the sheer harshness of it all but also sometimes feeling dangerously close to a glibness that feels wrong and best embodied by Jon Foster’s blokey Talthybius who is frequently very close to this line. Lucy Ellinson’s excellent one-woman Chorus negotiates the balancing act with much more skill, her very pregnant tragicomic countrywoman shackled to the bed and thus an unwitting witness to everything, passing incisive comment, asking pertinent questions, bitterly relating the very human toll of the conflict to those normally protected by palace walls. Continue reading “Review: The Trojan Women, Gate Theatre”

Review: Twelfth Night, Shakespeare’s Globe

“And all is semblative a woman’s part”

Mark Rylance’s much-trumpeted double-bill return to Shakespeare’s Globe this summer started with Richard III but it is now the turn of the belated second part to make its bow. Tim Carroll’s revival  of Twelfth Night, originally seen in 2002, largely uses the same all-male company and the same Original Practices approach of ‘doing it like it’s 1601’ for a short run – all sold out – before transferring into the West End. With a view to this, official press reviews will come from the Apollo rather than the Globe, so heaven know if this counts as a preview or not. Oh and in the interest of full disclosure and as heretical as it may be, I am not really a fan of Mark Rylance, just so you know. I do try to test my dislikes though, in the spirit of open-mindedness, something made much more palatable here by the £5 groundling tickets.

The choice of interpretation might strike a casual observer as typical for the Globe, even a little unimaginative, given the wide variety of Shakespearean re-imaginings on offer, but that would be underestimate the incredible level of detailed work that has gone on here at all levels. Liam Brennan imbues Orsino with a much greater deal of personality than is often granted to this lovesick Lord, making him a constant point of interest; Colin Hurley’s Sir Toby Belch reins in the boisterousness to construct a much more interesting character; Feste’s presence possesses an intriguing ambivalence in Peter Hamilton Dyer’s hands; and James Garnon makes one notice Fabian more than I’ve ever done before. Continue reading “Review: Twelfth Night, Shakespeare’s Globe”

DVD Review: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

“Things aren’t always what they seem”

My anticipation levels for Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy were rather high, I didn’t make it to the cinema but its award-winning pedigree backed up by several people recommending it to me, assured that I would love it. And though it is a genre I have neglected, I do love a good spy thriller. That said, I’d not read the 1974 John Le Carré novel it was based on or seen the TV show, so I was coming to it with completely fresh eyes. I’d been warned that I’d need to concentrate so I took care to ensure that distractions were kept to a minimum as I watched the DVD, but I have to say that I really wasn’t carried away by the film or swept up into its world of intrigue.

When an MI6 agent is gunned down mid-meet in Hungary, the head of the secret service Control and his lieutenant George Smiley resign in acknowledgement of the failure, but Smiley is soon covertly rehired to look into the possibility that it was a mole that gave the game away. With the help of two colleagues, he begins to investigate the shortlist of suspects to find out who is the one who has betrayed his country. Swedish director Tomas Alfredson brings a measured solemnity to the densely complex plot which comprises of a bewildering number of characters and details which I struggled to take in and sustain the requisite level of interest. Continue reading “DVD Review: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy”

Review: Richard III, Shakespeare’s Globe

“And all the clouds that lour’d upon our house…”

The last time I was at the Globe (for Henry V), I made the mistake of mentioning that I had never actually been rained on whilst being a groundling. This time round, for the opening night of Richard III, we made it to the second half quite dry but then the heavens opened and I was forced to use my delightful yellow poncho whilst proved little respite against a rather heavy and sustained fall of rain which made me long for the hard comfort of the Globe’s (covered) seating. This Richard III is notable for seeing the return of Mark Rylance to the theatre where he was Artistic Director for 10 years where this all-male Original Practices-exploring company will also take on Twelfth Night later in the season and then transfer both to the West End.

Given the tragic news just last week of the death of his stepdaughter, it is hard to know what to say or how to pitch any comments about Rylance. Though it is probably close to heretical to admit it, I’m not actually that big a fan of him as an actor, having found him too dominant a presence on stages before for my liking at least, but given that for once this is actually a play where that is the intention, I was willing to give this a try. Using the types of costumes and props that would have been available in 1593, Rylance sports a false arm complete with teeny withered hand (I jested at the interval that this is him saying ‘look, I can even do Shakespeare with one arm behind my back…’) and a rather muted demeanour as he limps and shuffles around the stage. Continue reading “Review: Richard III, Shakespeare’s Globe”

Review: Seagull, Arcola

“I’ll sit through drivel if I have to, providing it’s witty and amusing”

The Arcola has had something of an unofficial Russian season of late, what with Anna Karenina and Uncle Vanya, and so their attention now turns to Chekhov’s classic play Seagull (the definitive article is clearly passé this year what with Government Inspector losing it too) with Runaway Theatre, using a new translation by Charlotte Pyke, John Kerr and Joseph Blatchley, the latter of whom is also the director. Set in 19th century Russia, the story revolves around four artistic types: fading actress Arkadina, young ingénue Nina, successful writer Trigorin and would-be playwright Konstantin and their complicated loves and lives between each other and those around them. When Konstantin puts on a play for the two women in his life, it acts as the precipice for a tragic set of consequences as all strive for emotional happiness and artistic freedom, yet despair and failure are never far away.

With this new translation that adhered word-for-word to the original text, it was discovered that some cuts and amendments had been made by the Russian censor back in 1896 and these have now been restored. It doesn’t quite mean there’s now Tarantino-levels of swearing and violence, indeed I would reckon even Chekhovian scholars would be hard-pressed to notice all the changes as many of them are relatively minor, but adding layers of subtlety to characters and a touch of clarity to relationships that contribute to the overall feeling of freshness to this interpretation. Continue reading “Review: Seagull, Arcola”