TV Review: Unforgotten

“All these cases where people pretends to be one thing for half a century and then turn out to be something else”

The insanity that is the scheduling wars between the BBC and ITV often throws up random anomalies but rarely has the result been something as rewarding as a surfeit of Nicola Walker. Having recently made River for the BBC and Unforgotten for ITV, both police dramas were premiered in the same week and as six-part dramas, are reaching their climax at the same time too. And what has been particularly pleasing is the fact that both have proved to be highly watchable and interesting takes on the genre.

Chris Lang’s Unforgotten focused on a cold case from nearly 40 years ago as skeletal remains are found in the basement of a derelict house and in the cleverly constructed first episode, the four disparate characters that we have been following are eventually tied together as their phone numbers are found in the victim’s diary. Walker’s DCI Cassie Stuart and Sanjeev Bhaskar’s DS Sunny Khan soon identify him as a Jimmy Sullivan but the show focuses as much on the effect of long-buried secrets on the potential suspects as it does on the case itself. Continue reading “TV Review: Unforgotten”

Film Review: Mr Turner (2014)

“There’s no room for cynicism in the reviewing of art”

One might equally say there’s no room for cynicism in my reviewing of Mike Leigh’s work, such a fan of his oeuvre am I and the laidback, gruff charms of Mr Turner are no exception, confirming the iconic director in the full flush of his prime. Timothy Spall has already been deservedly rewarded for his wonderfully harrumphing performance of the last 10 years of the life of this most famous of painters and it is a compelling portrait, of a man established in his world as a bachelor, a master painter, and later a lover. Leigh’s episodic style fits perfectly into this biographical mode, dipping in and out of his life with the precision of one of Turner’s paintbrushes, colouring in a captivating collage of his later life.

Spall is excellent but around him, the women in his life provide some of the most hauntingly beautiful moments of the film. As Sarah Danby, the mistress and mother of the two daughters he would not recognise, Ruth Sheen is piercingly vivid, her barely contained fury resonating deeply. As Hannah Danby, her niece who was Turner’s long-suffering and long-serving housekeeper, Dorothy Atkinson is painfully brilliant as a woman subjugated and subdued by his wanton sexual advances, the psoriasis that afflicted her, and her deep love for the man. As “self-taught Scotswoman” and scientist Mary Somerville, Lesley Manville near steals the film in a simply beautiful self-contained vignette. Continue reading “Film Review: Mr Turner (2014)”

Review: Blurred Lines, National Theatre

“I’d be surprised if part of the audience didn’t feel alienated”

A dissection of “what it means to be a woman today”, Blurred Lines is a devised piece currently occupying the Shed, created by Nick Payne and Carrie Cracknell and the result of improvisation and experimentation with the cast of eight women. The show utilises text (effectively), poetry (interestingly) and songs (less than successfully) woven together into a patchwork piece of theatre. Naturally, the end result is somewhat uneven and it was hard not to feel that the almost scattershot approach mutes the overall impact of the work as the attention flashes from moment to moment. 

For me, the strongest sequences were the ones bookending the show, which comes in at a snappy 70 minutes straight through. A roll call of the stereotypical depictions of women in the cultural sphere speaks with the unassailable truth that has undoubtedly dogged the careers of everyone here, reinforcing the narrative about the paucity of decent roles for women. And a blistering final segment challenges a patriarchal actor/director relationship, asking searing questions about what we all may have been conditioned to find acceptable.  Continue reading “Review: Blurred Lines, National Theatre”

fosterIAN awards 2012

 WinnerRunner-upOther nominees
Best Actress in a PlayKate O’Flynn, LungsLaurie Metcalf, Long Day’s Journey Into NightHattie Morahan, A Doll’s House
Helen McCrory, Last of the Haussmans
Cate Blanchett, Big and Small
Sally Hawkins, Constellations
Best Actor in a PlayLuke Treadaway, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-timeRafe Spall, ConstellationsBilly Carter, Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me
David Suchet, Long Day’s Journey Into Night
Hugh Ross, A Life
Dominic Rowan, A Doll’s House
Best Supporting Actress in a PlayNiamh Cusack, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-timeLaura Howard, Lost in YonkersRuth Sheen, In Basildon
Nicola Walker, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time
Katie Brayben, A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Open Air)
Fenella Woolgar, Hedda Gabler
Best Supporting Actor in a PlayPaul Chahidi, Twelfth Night (Globe)Charles Edwards, This HouseRobin Soans, Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me
Rory Kinnear, Last of the Haussmans
Cyril Nri, Julius Caesar
Olly Alexander, Mercury Fur
Best Actress in a MusicalCarly Bawden, My Fair LadyJanie Dee, Hello, Dolly!Caroline O’Connor, Gypsy
Anna Francolini, Victor/Victoria
Rosalie Craig, Ragtime
Jenna Russell, Merrily We Roll Along
Best Actor in a MusicalSimon Russell Beale, Privates on ParadeMark Umbers, Merrily We Roll AlongRichard Dempsey, Victor/Victoria
Julian Ovenden, Finding Neverland
Will Young, Cabaret
Dominic West, My Fair Lady
Best Supporting Actress in a MusicalClare Foster, Merrily We Roll AlongBonnie Langford, 9 to 5Josefina Gabrielle, Merrily We Roll Along
Debbie Kurup, The Bodyguard
Helena Blackman, A Winter’s Tale
Laura Pitt-Pulford, Hello, Dolly!
Best Supporting Actor in a MusicalMichael Xavier, Hello, Dolly!Damian Humbley, Merrily We Roll AlongAlistair Brookshaw, A Winter’s Tale
Stuart Matthew Price, Sweet Smell of Success
Ben Kavanagh, Boy Meets Boy
Oliver Boot, Finding Neverland

2012 Best Supporting Actress in a Play + in a Musical


Best Supporting Actress in a Play 

Niamh Cusack, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time
Though Nicola Walker was excellent as the mother in this adaptation, it was Niamh Cusack who really shone for me. Her kindly teacher also doubled as a narrator of sorts and so it was her gorgeously warm tone that steered the audience into the wonderful world of this production, alive to the sensitivities of the situation but never once veering towards the condescending (unlike certain reviewers I could name).

Honourable mention: Laura Howard, Lost in Yonkers
One of those performances that caught me right in the heart from its opening moments and never let go throughout. Neil Simon’s play can be described as a tragicomedy and whilst most of the audience were hooting with the comedy, I found myself weeping near-continuously as Howard depicted the simplicity and emotional openness of the always under-estimated Bella with huge skill.

Ruth Sheen, In Basildon
Nicola Walker, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time
Katie Brayben, A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Fenella Woolgar, Hedda Gabler

7-10
Lucy Ellinson, The Trojan Women; Miranda Raison, The River; Laura Elphinstone, Chalet Lines; Anastasia Hille, The Effect

 

Best Supporting Actress in a Musical

Clare Foster, Merrily We Roll Along
Foster had a great year, impressing mightily in Finding Neverland at the Curve but it was as Beth in the Menier’s Merrily We Roll Along that she solidified her credentials as a genuine favourite by giving a rendition of ‘Not A Day Goes By’ that actually made me forget Bernadette Peters’. Truly special.

Honourable mention: Bonnie Langford, 9 to 5 The Musical
Langford figured strongly in my childhood as companion Mel in the first Doctor Whos I really remember watching and in Bugsy Malone too, so I can’t believe it has taken this long for me to finally see on her stage. And what a debut it was, as as secretary Roz in 9 to 5 The Musical she effortlessly steals the show with a sensational number that displays all of her considerable skillset.

Josefina Gabrielle, Merrily We Roll Along
Debbie Kurup, The Bodyguard
Helena Blackman, A Winter’s Tale
Laura Pitt-Pulford, Hello, Dolly!

7-10
Beverly Rudd, Soho Cinders; Siân Phillips, Cabaret; Lucy Van Gasse, Wonderful Town; Aimie Atkinson, Steel Pier

Review: In Basildon, Royal Court


“There’s no new beginnings for families like ours. And there never has been.”

One of David Eldridge’s most recent previous plays – The Knot of the Heart for the Almeida – proved to be one of the most divisive I’ve experienced in terms of the response from the critics who lauded it and so many of the bloggers and audience members of my acquaintance who really did not like it at all. So when the new season at the Royal Court was announced featuring a new play by him, I was OK with not booking it as it helped me with my ‘I will cut down on the amount of theatre I see’ mantra. But then they announced the cast and as soon as I saw the names Linda Bassett and Ruth Sheen I knew that I would have to book for In Basildon. Bassett blew me away in the Arcola’s undersung The Road To Mecca and Sheen is an actress whose work I have recently revisited and adored in recent Mike Leigh films, and the Leigh connection is furthered with the presence of other regular collaborators Peter Wight and Wendy Nottingham. So I was a mixture of reluctance and eager anticipation as I schlepped off to Sloane Square to catch the final preview.

Dying from prostate cancer, salt-of-the-earth Len has returned to the home he inherited from his parents as friends and family gather round his sickbed. Sister Doreen and best friend Ken lead the group but the atmosphere is shaken by the return of estranged sister Maureen who hasn’t spoken to ‘Dor’ in nearly 20 years. As Len passes away, attention turns to his will as everyone seems to have a claim on something, including Pam from next door, Doreen’s son Barry and his wife, and Shelley, Maureen’s daughter and Eldridge explores the tensions that emerge from these family loyalties and how they change over time and across the generations. The complexities of sibling relationships are brutally exposed but also overlaid with a frank discussion about class and how it is intrinsically connected to location, their working-class politics shaped by hard-earned experience. Confrontational, conflicted and compelling, Eldridge’s writing speaks with the darkest of humour but also the ring of a deep emotional truth. It’s just a shame that the Royal Court have decided to play the ‘tricksy’ card with the staging. Continue reading “Review: In Basildon, Royal Court”

DVD Review: All or Nothing


“Love, it’s like a dripping tap”

First up was 2002’s All or Nothing, though it was a little of an inauspicious beginning, as I’m not sure how much I actually liked this film in the end. Set on a modern-day London council estate, it circles the fortunes of three working-class families and their everyday lives, so far so Leigh, but it doesn’t really develop into anything that gripped me. There are several outstandingly strong elements in here, but they never really coalesce into an effective whole but rather remain too separate and thus end up losing some impact.

The focus settles on one of the families: Phil, Timothy Spall, is a taxi driver who has long lost ambition for life and is reduced to scraping pennies from his family in order to pay his retainer for the taxi firm; Penny, Lesley Manville, works the checkout at a supermarket and is struggling to remember what it is she ever loved about Phil. Alison Garland plays their daughter Rachel who works as a cleaner in an old people’s home and is being semi-stalked by Sam Kelly’s much older colleague and James Corden is their unemployed and belligerent son. There’s a whole lot of misery, which is then alleviated by tragedy, which ultimately suggests that life might hold something more. Continue reading “DVD Review: All or Nothing”

DVD Review: Vera Drake


“She’s gonna get herself in trouble one of these days”

I’m pretty sure that Vera Drake was actually the first Mike Leigh film I saw, and what a cracker it is. It really is an extraordinary performance from Imelda Staunton as the perma-humming cheerful soul with a positive word and deed for everyone around her, the nice suggestion of putting the kettle on being the remedy for everything and her kindly demeanour drawing people close to her.

Vera’s family life is perfectly drawn too: the drudgery of post-war working-class existence in no way stinted on and the different ways it has affected people clearly evident in her children, Daniel Mays making the best of things as a cheery chatty tailor and Alex Kelly’s cowed Ethel, somewhat diminished by life as a light-bulb tester. With Phil Davis completing the family unit, there’s such genuine connectivity to these scenes, a real sense of family life being lived and a gorgeous flicker of romance brightening Ethel’s life, that the knock on the door as the law finally catches up with Vera really does come as a genuine heart-wrenching kick as their lives are shattered by the revelation that she has been carrying out illegal abortions, or just ‘helping some girls out’ as she puts it. Continue reading “DVD Review: Vera Drake”

DVD Review: Another Year


“On a scale of one to ten, how happy would you say you were”

Mike Leigh’s most recent film split my friends – you can read a lengthy and less than enthusiastic review of Another Year here, but others really enjoyed it and I have to say that I found it to be a warm, perceptive and affecting drama that fits in perfectly to his work in the 2000s. Initially it seems to come from the same mould as Happy Go Lucky as we focus on engineer Tom and therapist Gerri, a long-married couple who are still deeply affectionate for each other and appear to live lives untroubled by major concerns and more than happy with their lot.

Ruth Sheen and Jim Broadbent fit together beautifully, their affability shining through as they tend to their beloved allotment or entertain their son Joe, Oliver Maltman in a seemingly permanent flirtatious mood. But it seems that happiness is something of a lottery and as we progress through the four acts of the film, taking place over the seasons of a year, we see that the lives of the people living around this couple are substantially less than idyllic. Whether it is Gerri’s client, a devastatingly pinched Imelda Staunton; Tom’s old pal Ken who has hit the booze and pies incredibly hard, Peter Wight in great desperate bedraggled form; David Bradley’s shell-shocked Ronnie, Tom’s brother with a tearaway nightmare of a son, Martin Savage crackling with vicious energy, it seem that happiness has passed them all by. Continue reading “DVD Review: Another Year”