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: Shakespeare Lives – The Works

 
“Make me acquainted with your cause of grief”

The Works is a short film written and directed by Elliot Barnes-Worrell that rather ingeniously explores life for a group of young people on a Peckham estate using only the words of Shakespeare. Barnes-Worrell has worked his way through the Complete Works and woven together his own story by splicing diverse characters and speeches into one powerfully effective whole.

So when tension erupts into a fight between rival factions (“Do you bite your thumb at us, sir?”), a nearby do-gooder called Portia intervenes to break them up (“The quality of mercy is not strained…”), breaking off from a chat with her girlfriend Celia (you always knew that, right?!) and so on and so forth. Barnes-Worrell is endlessly inventive in the way he cherry-picks the source material but it isn’t always immediately clear who is who in the power structures on this estate. Continue reading “TV Review: Shakespeare Lives – The Works”

Review: PLAY, VAULT Festival

“I don’t even know what a colossus of the creative industries is”

 PLAY is a new writing initiative that aims to inspire collaborative working by bringing together writers and directors and giving them two weeks to come up with a short play. And here at the VAULT Festival, there’s two sets of four plays, or PLAYs, bringing together a rather exciting set of creatives to produce some spankingly fresh theatre. The second set takes place mid-February but I’d urge you to book for this one now (you’ve got until Sunday) as I reckon it’s the best tenner you can spend this week, with some seriously impressive work going on here.

Play 9, written by Chloe Todd Fordham and directed by Polina Kalinina, felt like a bit of a riff on Shallow Grave, three university pals skirting around an uncomfortable truth about their (unseen) flatmate. Starting off with a well-choreographed sequence of fighting over a remote, Fordham’s writing quickly slipped into its structure of three differing accounts of what happened, slightly complementary, slightly contradictory, full of detail fleshing out the complex relationships herein, slowly but surely moving the place of real revelation. A couple of right-up-to-the-minute references perhaps overplayed their hand but I did mostly enjoy the shifty evasion of this guilty trio.  Continue reading “Review: PLAY, VAULT Festival”

Review: Dara, National Theatre

“I am Muslim, but my humanness is shared with anyone and everyone. If we choose to love one special person, does it mean that they are the only person worth loving? ‘To you, your religion, to me, mine’. ‘There is no obligation in religion’ – straight from the Quran. We cannot force our religion upon others.”

For all the gnashing of teeth about how ‘national’ Rufus Norris’ newly announced debut season as AD at the NT is or isn’t, there’s actually something much more significant happening right now as part of Nicholas Hytner’s finale. The press attention may be on Tom Stoppard’s return to the stage but over in the Lyttelton, the first South Asian play to run at this South Bank venue is doing that most idealised of theatrical practices – reaching out and engaging with new audiences.

I saw a late preview of Shahid Nadeem’s Dara and I was blown away at how mixed a crowd I was taking my seat with – there’s undoubtedly a more sophisticated debate to be had about people wanting to see stories they can directly connect with rather than being more adventurous but still, it felt like a significant enough matter that I wanted to make mention of. And as critics will be seeing the show with a more than likely traditional press night audience, it isn’t something they’ll necessarily pick up on. Continue reading “Review: Dara, National Theatre”

Review: Behind the Beautiful Forevers, National Theatre

“The world doesn’t work in our favour”

Rufus Norris is set to take over the artistic directorship of the National Theatre in April next year but makes an admirably bold move in Behind the Beautiful Forevers. Adapted by David Hare from the 2012 non-fiction work of the same name by Katherine Boo, who spent three years living, investigating and writing about life in the Indian slum of Annawadi which lies in the shadow of Mumbai airport, it’s sprawling and scrappy yet epic and enlightening as it elucidates something of what it means to be this far below the poverty line. It is rarely comfortable viewing but its unflinching and unsentimental approach feels essential.

Whether accurate or overemphasised, a strongly matriarchal societal structure emerges in this version of Annawadi as wives and mothers seize the initiative in the face of feckless husbands and sheer necessity. Which results in the pleasing preponderance of excellent female roles – Stephanie Street’s Sikh Asha is the fixer for the entire neighbourhood, putting work at the expense of even a special birthday party her kids have put on; Thusitha Jayasundera’s crippled Fatima is a cyclone of malevolent anger that dominates her household; and Meera Syal’s practical Zehrunisa looks set to secure her family’s future out of the slum with some canny deal-making. Continue reading “Review: Behind the Beautiful Forevers, National Theatre”