Doctor Who returns for its twelfth series with a rollicking spy caper in Spyfall and a masterful twist at the end
“Don’t be ridiculous, the Doctor is a man
‘I’ve had an upgrade'”
Just a quickie as the latest series of Doctor Who starts with a real bang, neatly killing off Stephen Fry in short order before he got too annoying, making Lenny Henry a Zuckerberg-esque tech villain and introducing Sacha Dhawan into the cast where he looks set to be a genius addition.
Borrowing liberally from a range of spy capers, I enjoyed this widescreen take on the Doctor, splashing a fair bit of the budget on some strong location work, the effects team keeping the threat of the shadowy aliens ominously vague, and the returning team settling nicely into their established dynamic. Continue reading “TV Review: Doctor Who Series 12 Episode 1”
With Allelujah! at the Bridge Theatre, the return of Alan Bennett leaves me less than enthused
“Still, it was better than this”
In some ways, Allelujah! is perfectly symptomatic of the problem I have with the Bridge Theatre. Does London really need any new theatres, no matter how much people think they want interval madeleines? Does it especially need ones that put on large-scale Alan Bennett premieres? It is nice to see Nicholas Hytner maintaining the long-gestating creative relationship he has with Bennett but at the point where his new venture is now just a carbon-copy of his former home down the South Bank, except with premium seating, it is increasingly hard to make the case for it.
It doesn’t help that this isn’t vintage Bennett. His first play in six years, Allelujah! takes place in the crowded geriatric ward of the Bethlehem, a Yorkshire hospital threatened with closure. A camera crew are filming a documentary, allowing many of the patients to wax lyrical about lives that have passed on by, the England that once was. And in the corridors around the hospital, Bennett similarly lets rip, on the loss of compassion in our society, a social care system on its knees, an NHS in an even worse state, privatisation, gentrification, the downright stupidity of an immigration system that is leaching away the very talent we need to stay. Continue reading “Review: Allelujah!, Bridge Theatre”
“There’s nowt so queer as folk”
Only about a week behind schedule, I wanted to round up my thoughts about the National’s Queer Theatre season – links to the reviews of the 5 readings I attended below the cut – and try a formulate a bit of a response to this piece by Alice Saville for Exeunt which rather took aim at the season alongside the Old Vic’s Queers (also I just want to point out too that there are two writers of colour involved – Tarell Alvin McCraney and Keith Jarrett). As a member of the ‘majority’ within this minority, I tread warily and aim to do sowith love and respect.
It feels important to recognise what the NT (and the Old Vic) were trying to achieve though. Queer Theatre looked “at how theatre has charted the LGBT+ experience through a series of rehearsed readings, exhibitions, talks and screenings” and if only one looked at lesbian women, two of the readings were written by women. Several of the post-show discussions at the NT talked specifically about this issue but in acknowledging it, also quite rightly pointed out that there just isn’t the historical body of work to draw from when it comes to wider LGBT+ representation. That’s where the talks and screenings came into their own, able to provide some of that alternative focus. Continue reading “Queer Theatre – a round-up”
#5 in the National Theatre’s Queer Theatre season of rehearsed readings
Last but by no means least in this queer season is the one play written by a straight person and perhaps the queerest of the lot. Mae West wrote The Drag in 1927 where its frankness about gay lives (and once again, drag ball culture!) scandalised its out-of-town Connecticut and New Jersey audiences so that it never made it to Broadway. But Polly Stenham has opted to revive it for this reading and to introduce it to a new (Alaska Thunderfuck-literate) crowd.
To be brutally honest, it isn’t the greatest play in the world, but what it does do is hold a fascinating mirror to early 20th century attitudes and how tolerance and intolerance existed side by side, then as now; the safe spaces gay men find in order to be their extravagantly true selves equally as timeless. And closet cases in marriages remain a sad truth, if not quite as dramatic as the son of a homophobic judge married to the daughter of a gay conversion therapist that we get here! Continue reading “Review: Queer Theatre – The Drag, National”
“We underestimated her”
The first series of Line of Duty was well-received by critics and audiences alike, hence a second series of Jed Mercurio’s police show being commissioned. With the centre of the anti-corruption team AC-12’s investigation DCI Gates having reached a conclusion of sorts, their attentions are turned onto Keeley Hawes’ DI Lindsay Denton, the sole survivor of an ambush on a witness protection scheme that leaves three police officers dead. Suspicions are aroused by some suspect decision-making on her part but it’s soon evident that there’s much more to the case, not least in the tendrils that connect it to the past.
Series 1 was very good but Series 2 seriously raises the bar, firstly by engaging in some Spooks-level business in casting the excellent Jessica Raine and well…spoilers, but secondly in getting from Hawes the performance of a lifetime in a masterpiece of a character. Denton is so multi-faceted that she’d beat a hall of mirrors at its own game and from her manipulative use of HR to her way with noisy neighbours to the shocking abuse she suffers in custody to the machinations of her superiors, the slipperiness of this woman is merciless and magisterial in its execution, its inscrutable nature utterly compelling. Continue reading “TV Review: Line of Duty Series 2”
“Are you meditating on virginity?”
The Guardian’s Shakespeare Solos series continues apace with its second suite of videos now released on their website and this time they’re much more of a mixed bag. There’s strong work from a duffle coat-clad David Threlfall as The Tempest’s Prospero , mightily bearded and bedraggled but achingly eloquent too with all the heaving sorrow of revels ending. And Samuel West is an excellent Henry V, pacing the South Bank with the Houses of Parliament in full view as he experiences a restless night before launching into war.
An unexpected delight is Sacha Dhawan taking on the role of a would-be pickup artist in a King’s Cross cocktail bar to deliver Parolles’ speech about virginity from All’s Well That Ends Well. Dhawan is a highly charismatic performer but inhabits this role perfectly, not bad for a Shakespearean screen debut. And there’s striking work from Camille O’Sullivan as King John’s grief-stricken Constance, director Dan Susman capturing much of the intensity that made her Rape of Lucrece so memorable. Continue reading “Shakespeare Solos – Part 2”
“You wouldn’t see Harold Pinter pushing vans down the street”
It is more than 15 years since Maggie Smith starred in Alan Bennett’s The Lady in the Van in the West End but one can only imagine that the intervening years have deepened and enriched her performance as in this cinematic version, directed by Nicholas Hytner, she is just fantastic. The titular lady is Miss Shepherd, a cantankerous homeless woman who sets up shop on a Camden street in her junk-filled camper van and strikes up an unlikely friendship with Bennett, in whose driveway she eventually convinces him to let her park.
This happened in real life to Bennett, she spent 15 or so years there in the end, and amping up the realism, the film was shot on location in the real street but it is also a highly theatrical version of events. Alex Jennings plays two iterations of Bennett, one the somewhat timid man, the other the acutely observational writer inside, and they often argue with each other, disagreeing on whether things happened a certain way, and debating his various reasons for letting Miss Shepherd so totally into his life. Continue reading “Film Review: The Lady in the Van”
“Calm, methodical, Sunday fucking best”
There’s no two ways about it, Paul Abbott’s latest TV series has been an absolute triumph. Channel 4’s No Offence has kept me properly gripped over the last eight weeks and I’m delighted that a second series has already been commissioned as its enthralling mixture of comedy drama and police procedural has been irresistible from its opening five minutes with all its squashed-head shenanigans through to its thrilling finale which kept us on tenterhooks right til its final minutes.
Whence such success? A perfect storm of inspired casting and pin-sharp writing from Abbott and his team. Joanna Scanlan’s DI Viv Deering reinvigorates the stereotypical police boss to create a career-best character for Scanlan, her fierce loyalty played straight but her dry one-liners making the most of her comic genius. Elaine Cassidy’s DC Dinah Kowalska, the eager young copper on whom the focus settles most often, Alexandra Roach’s earnest but quick-learning DS Joy Freer completing the leads. Continue reading “TV Review: No Offence, Channel 4”
Sometimes, the simplest things are the best, and so it proves with Manjinder Virk’s film Forgive. A two-hander split between two timeframes, an estranged father and son reaching out but at different times, forgiveness paling into insignificance in the face of forgetting. Sacha Dhawan and Abdi Gouhad are both superb as the scars left by the sins of the past bite hard, but not quite hard enough to eradicate all traces of familial love as the unpredictability of the future shakes all certainties. Beautifully restrained film-making at its best.
Continue reading “Short Film Review #31”
“No-one knows how long it is going to last. No-one’s irreplaceable.”
Originally broadcast around the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who, Mark Gatiss’ docudrama about the creation of the long-running sci-fi TV programme was repeated over Christmas and so I couldn’t resist watching it over again. The programme itself ends up being a little constrained by its format at times like these, the expectations of a ‘special’ sky-high when the strength of the show (for me) is in its richness over the length of a series. And so the anniversary ‘special’ (and indeed the regeneration episode in the Christmas ‘special’) operate almost as stand-alones which aren’t always as successful as a storyline built up over numerous episodes.
And in the case of the anniversary, this was exacerbated by the sheer quality of Gatiss’ An Adventure in Space and Time which told the story of the birth of the series, from its genesis at the BBC, through the young guns who drove it to transmission and the tale of William Hartnell, the actor who took on the unknown role and started one of the enduring successes of the televisual era. It was full of details and grace notes that would have delighted the fanbase but more importantly, it also worked for the uninitiated as a powerful piece of drama with huge emotional impact (its finale was more moving than anything given to the real Doctor Who). Continue reading “TV Review: An Adventure in Space and Time”