Review: Country Music, Omnibus Theatre

A sensational performance from Cary Crankson anchors a powerful production of Simon Stephens’ Country Music at Clapham’s Omnibus Theatre

“I want you to forgive me for the things I’ve done”

A glance at the cast for the original run of Simon Stephens’ 2004 Country Music at the Royal Court sees Sally Hawkins and Laura Elphinstone, a killer for the FOMO in me. But hopefully in 10 years time or so, people will be looking at the cast for this revival at Clapham’s Omnibus Theatre and saying I saw Cary Crankson way back when…

He’s an actor I’ve rated for a while now – he won my Best Actor in 2014 for The Saints, he was a standout in The Faction’s ensemble too, so if there’s any justice we’ll be talking about him much more very soon. For he is sensational here as the troubled Jamie, the young man at the heart of this elusive but exquisitely painful play.    Continue reading “Review: Country Music, Omnibus Theatre”

Review: Paddington 2 (2017)

I succumb easily to the charms of Paddington 2 and Hugh Grant having the time of his life

“Exit bear, pursued by an actor”

In a year when sequels have outperformed expectations (at least mine anyway), I should have heeded the signs that Paddington 2 heralded back last winter that sequels were ‘in’. Paul King’s follow-up to his 2014 warm-hearted original, reintroducing us to our ursine Peruvian hero, occupies a similar space of resolutely British family films that are a cut above. 

Written by King and Simon Farnaby, the film is unafraid to take its audience seriously and for every adorably sweet sequence, there’s genuine peril and even darkness in there too. Hugh Grant is the main antagonist, an actor called Phoenix Buchanan who has been reduced to making dog-food adverts and his ne’er-d-well ways see Paddington framed for a crime he did not commit. Continue reading “Review: Paddington 2 (2017)”

Oscar Week Film Review: The Shape of Water

It has 13, yes 13!, Oscar nominations and the luminous Sally Hawkins but does Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water live up to the hype?

“Man is as silent as the grave. But if farts were flattery? Honey, he’d be Shakespeare”

First things first, Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth is probably one of my all-time favourite films and definitely one of the ones that affected me most, as anyone who saw me sobbing helplessly outside the cinema on Haymarket for a good ten minutes after it ended. So The Shape of Water had something to live up to and including Sally Hawkins in its cast was a good start.

And in its love story between a mute cleaning lady and a 7 foot tall fish monster captured in the Amazon and held hostage in a government research facility, it certainly treads a unique path. And though it may sound unconventional, an interspecies rom-com with additional gay and African-American sidekicks seems pretty much par for the course  in 2018. Continue reading “Oscar Week Film Review: The Shape of Water”

TV Review: The Hollow Crown – The Wars of the Roses: 1. Henry VI Part 1

“I would his troubles were expired”

The Hollow Crown rises again. Four years on from the first suite of striking televisual adaptations of Shakespeare’s history plays, the BBC continue their Shakespeare Lives season by completing the set. For theatregoers, it has been a ripe time of it – Trevor Nunn reviving The Wars of the Roses late last year and the excellent Toneelgroep Amsterdam bringing their streamlined version Kings of War to the Barbican just last month – but as you’ll see, the common thread is one of adaptation, opportunities to see the three parts of Henry VI as they are remain few and far between.

And so it proves here. Though this is entitled The Hollow Crown – The Wars of the Roses: 1. Henry VI Part 1, Ben Power and Dominic Cooke have compressed the three plays into two parts and it’s hard to argue against it really – there’s plenty here to sink your teeth into (and get your head around). Emasculated by lord protector the Duke of Gloucester (a solid Hugh Bonneville, displaying as much range as he ever does), Tom Sturridge’s Henry VI finds himself an uncertain king, a querulous youth who bends whichever way the wind blows strongest in his court, riven by dynastic rivalry. Continue reading “TV Review: The Hollow Crown – The Wars of the Roses: 1. Henry VI Part 1”

DVD Review: An Education

“Silly schoolgirls are always getting seduced by glamorous older men, but what about you two?”

Lone Scherfig’s film An Education was one of my top films back in 2009 and rightly saw Carey Mulligan nominated for Best Actress at the Oscars. Watching it again reminded me of how good it is, a great showcase for British film and one of my favourite depictions of 1960s Britain I think I’ve ever seen. Nick Hornby’s screenplay is based on Lynn Barber’s memoirs of her schoolgirl years, spent mainly pleasing her father’s desire for her to be an excellent student and get into Oxford. That is, until handsome stranger David offers her a lift one day. That he’s twice her age is no matter, the world of sophistication he inhabits seduces her entirely from her humdrum Twickenham existence and changes her life completely.

Mulligan is brilliantly cast as the 16 going on 17 Jenny Mellor, the combination of her youthful looks and soulful eyes captures much of the teenage precocity that leads her to think she’s more mature than she is, especially in the face of such rowdy schoolgirl friends like Ellie Kendrick’s Tina and as she rushes headlong into this adult world of jazz clubs, stolen nights in hotels and weekends away in Paris, she brilliantly shows how her self-assuredness is slowly stripped away as she comes to see what she has sacrificed in order to follow her heart. Olivia Williams’ brilliant Miss Stubbs is the perfect counterpoint, a spinster teacher who encourages Jenny’s academic dreams yet perversely epitomises the height of ambition for an educated woman. Continue reading “DVD Review: An Education”

DVD Review: Paddington (2014)

“I’m going to stuff you, bear”

A rather unexpectedly lovely surprise from the end of last year whose key message of acceptance of foreigners feels ever more pertinent in the current circumstances. Paul King’s Paddington, based on Michael Bond’s classic creation, has that warm feel of a classic family film, full of set-pieces and humour and a deal of minor peril, but none so much as to really make you scared. Instead, there’s a glowing happiness that almost (sadly) feels as old-fashioned as a marmalade sandwich.

As if you didn’t know, Paddington comes from darkest Peru and a wittily filmed black and white prologue shows us how a British geographer called Montgomery Clyde befriended his family in the jungle, eventually leaving with a promise of a place to stay should they ever visit London. When circumstances conspire to leave Paddington alone on a railway platform in W2, he’s taken in by the Brown family and capers ensue. Continue reading “DVD Review: Paddington (2014)”

DVD Review: X+Y

“When somebody says they love you, it means they see something in you they think is worth something…it adds value to you” 

Clearly Nick Payne was onto something. In his play Constellations, the infinite possibilities of the relationship between characters Marianne and Dave – as originally played by Sally Hawkins and Rafe Spall – are explored and wouldn’t you know it, fate conspired to bring them together again (Hawkins and Spall that is) in UK film X+Y, and this time with a different twist on the illness. For one reason or another, I didn’t get round to seeing X+Y (or A Brilliant Young Mind as the US would have it) at the cinema last year, which is madness considering how tailor-made for me this film is, but ultimately I’m quite glad I got to watch it in the privacy of my own home as there was a fair amount of ugly crying by the end!

Which in itself isn’t that surprising as it was written by talented playwright James Graham (The Man, This House) in a beautifully, unashamedly warm-hearted manner. Inspired by documentary Beautiful Young Minds, it follows Nathan Ellis (Asa Butterfield), a teenager somewhere on the autistic spectrum who is something of a mathematical genius. Encouraged by his maths tutor Humphreys (Spall), himself a former prodigy and suffering from his own condition, and the tireless patience of his widowed mother (Hawkins), he’s selected to represent the UK at the International Mathematical Olympiad but to do so means facing up to some major challenges. Continue reading “DVD Review: X+Y”

Review: Constellations, New Victoria

“An indented rule indicates a change in universe”

When a rooftop beekeeper and quantum cosmologist meet-cute at a party, the first few lines of Nick Payne’s play Constellations suggest a rom-com in the making as time restarts and a new possibility plays out, it’s clear that there’s something much more eloquently sophisticated at work here. Premiering at the Royal Court upstairs, Michael Longhurst’s production manages to be both intimate and epic, the story of two people somehow expanding to fill several universes of heartfelt emotion.


When a rooftop beekeeper and quantum cosmologist meet-cute at a party, the first few lines of Nick Payne’s play Constellations suggest a rom-com in the making as time restarts and a new possibility plays out, it’s clear that there’s something much more eloquently sophisticated at work here. Transferring from the Royal Court upstairs to the Duke of York’s in the West End, Michael Longhurst’s production sacrifices nothing in the scaling up to the larger venue and if anything, gains in epic power.


When a rooftop beekeeper and quantum cosmologist meet-cute at a party, the first few lines of Nick Payne’s play Constellations suggest a rom-com in the making as time restarts and a new possibility plays out, it’s clear that there’s something much more eloquently sophisticated at work here. Marking the Broadway debut for all concerned, Michael Longhurst’s production manages the transatlantic transfer seamlessly and one wonders where the show could end up next.


Woking. After successes in the West End and on Broadway, Nick Payne’s play Constellations is now touring the UK, starting off at the New Victoria Theatre in Woking. Which is as good a place as any to see a rooftop beekeeper and quantum cosmologist meet-cute at a party and find themselves exploring the many possibilities that their relationship could take as scenes are played and replayed, shifting their journey together subtly but ineffably into new places. 

Sally Hawkins and Rafe Spall. Perfect casting for the effervescent, wise-cracking Marianne and the slightly nerdish but endlessly endearing Roland, their intensity beautifully matched especially in the poignant flashforwards.


Sally Hawkins and Rafe Spall. That perfect casting retained for the transfer, their ease with each other and the technical challenges of the script even smoother than before and if the larger venue challenged them at all, there was no evidence of it.


Ruth Wilson and Jake Gyllenhaal. All change for Broadway – Wilson’s immense subtleties (is that an oxymoron?) made an ideal, if less kooky, Marianne and Gyllenhaal gave an interestingly judged performance as Roland, less obviously blokey but no less moving.


Louise Brealey and Joe Armstrong. And to the tour, Brealey really makes her mark with a more brittle, abrasive interpretation that contrasts so effectively with the warmer moments, and Armstrong exudes a hugely likeable affability that you would certainly chase across universes to find and keep.



Can I really put my finger on why I like this play so much? Why I think it is one of the smartest pieces of new writing that I’ve seen in recent years? I’m not sure that I can.
It’s to do with the way it wears its scientific concepts so lightly – I mean I couldn’t tell you anything about quantum physics right now but during the play, it feels like maybe I could.
It’s to do with the all-too-human instinct to wonder what if I’d done that differently, what path might that have led me down.
It’s to do with the expression of such powerfully felt emotion that yet feels intelligently reasoned.
It’s to do with free will.
It’s to do with love.


I cried a little bit. Well quite a bit.


I cried so much I couldn’t speak for about quarter of an hour afterwards.


I cried a lot, but a New Year’s Day hangover probably had something to with my emotional state too.


I cried a surprisingly small amount, almost just the artful single tear in fact.


Tom Scutt’s design is inspired – I don’t tweet him. Atom-based clusters of balloons trail from the corridor into the theatre, hexagonal tiles mark out the physical space the actors occupy, and Lee Curran’s lighting tracks the darkening mood perfectly.  


Tom Scutt’s design is inspired – I don’t tweet him. Some of the finer details are lost in the larger space but the evolving scale of the work is artfully done, capturing something even grander about the emotional contours of the play. This time, it is the sound design by David McSeveney that resonates stronger, delineating each fundamental shift so clearly.  


Tom Scutt’s design is inspired – I tweet him, I don’t meet him. It looks as good as ever but the detail of Curran’s lighting is what captures my attention – the shift in the flashes of colour through to blood red, the antiseptic white of the harsh future scenes, the individual balloons picked out in lights with their own secrets.


Tom Scutt’s design is inspired – I tweet him, I don’t meet him and now I probably never will. Since the show has been end-on, there’s been a key scenic detail that I’ve missed every time. Every time. There aren’t enough potential universes to explain this. I need to go again.



Can I put my finger on why I like Constellations so much?
Even on my fourth viewing, there are details that come to me anew.
There are details that have still yet eluded me.
There are scenes that somehow pack a gut-punch as fierce as the first time – why wouldn’t language shift that way.
There are replayed scenes that I could continue to watch over and over – notes in hand or not 🙂   
And in perfect keeping with the theme of the show, Michael Longhurst has kept the production the same but different, or is it different but the same in a remarkable way. Marianne may wear an almost identical outfit whether it’s Hawkins, Wilson or Brealey wearing the shoes but she has exuded such a singular sense each time which has been breathtaking to behold. And partnered by the affable/affectionate/rumpled charms of Spall/Gyllenhaal/Armstrong, they’ve all been Marianne and Roland but their own Marianne and Roland and brilliantly so.



I loved it.


I loved it.


I loved it.


I loved it.



Running time: 70 minutes (without interval)
Photos: Helen Maybanks
Booking until 17th May, then touring to Liverpool Playhouse, Bristol Old Vic, Nuffield Theatre Southampton, The Lowry Salford, Cambridge Arts, Richmond Theatre and Theatre Royal Brighton

Review: Constellations, Samuel J Friedman Theatre

“If only we could understand why it is that we’re here and what it is we’re meant to spend our lives doing”

No word of a lie, the moment I heard that it would be Ruth Wilson joining Jake Gyllenhaal in the Broadway production of Nick Payne’s Constellations was the moment that I decided that I would make my own long-awaited debut appearance in New York. It is a play that both captivated and broke my heart at the Royal Court Upstairs and again in its subsequent West End transfer, so I had no worries about it scaling up to the Samuel J Friedman Theatre – the only concern being that Wilson and Gyllenhaal would match up to the incandescent performances of Sally Hawkins and Rafe Spall.

Fortunately they more than meet the challenge, offering up performances that simultaneously echo their predecessors whilst also finding something new, neatly reflecting the multiverse theory that underpins Payne’s writing here. On paper it might seem terribly scientific – “at any given moment, several outcomes can co-exist simultaneously” – but in reality, it is ineffably, unbearably human in the gorgeous contours of Michael Longhurst’s finely tuned production as scenes play and then instantly replay, shifting subtly but crucially each time with the story of Marianne and Roland’s relationship. Continue reading “Review: Constellations, Samuel J Friedman Theatre”

DVD Review: Persuasion (2007)

“I will not allow a woman’s nature to be more unconstant than a man’s”

This was actually my first interaction with Persuasion, the novel has languished on my bookshelf for years and I’ve never seen an adaptation before, so it was an interesting experience to take the story in for the first time with this ITV adaptation starring Sally Hawkins and Rupert Penry-Jones. Simon Burke’s adaptation condenses Austen’s work right down to 90 minutes, which means a lot may well have been lost, but it also made a great introduction for a novice.

After an engagement with Captain Frederick Wentworth eight years ago which crumbled in the face of her family’s disapproval, Anne Elliot finds herself on the shelf at 27. When her father and sister’s lavish lifestyle requires a downsizing of their household, life seems set to change for good as their beloved Kellynch Hall has to be let out to tenants. But the world is a small place and the connections that emerge between her sister’s household where she goes to stay and the new tenants, the Crofts, ensure that the past is not so easily left behind. Continue reading “DVD Review: Persuasion (2007)”