TV Review: Fearless, ITV

“I learned a long time ago not to trust what people tell me”

I did want to love Fearless, I really did. Any series with Helen McCrory in its leading role has to be worthy of consideration and ITV have been upping their drama game (qv Unforgotten) recently. But despite an intriguing opener, the six episodes of Fearless increasingly tested the patience as Patrick Harbinson’s script failed to deliver on its twistily complex promise, instead giving us a fairly run-of-the-mill thriller that ultimately proved less than thrilling.
 
With a playbook that threw out major themes with regularity – miscarriages of justice, the Syrian refugee crisis, institutional corruption, the war in Iraq, the ethics of the surveillance state, just to name a few – it was inevitable that some would fall by the wayside. But with the amount of personal backstory for McCrory’s Emma also shoehorned in there, the narrative was both painfully overstuffed and sadly inconsequential – it was increasingly hard to know what we were meant to care about.

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Casting awareness for ITV’s Fearless

“There’s something else going on here”
 
I can’t call this a casting announcement as who knows when this news was actually revealed. But I’ve only just got around to looking at the cast for new ITV drama Fearless and oh lordy, it’s a good’un. Written by Homeland writer and executive producer Patrick Harbinson, Fearless has Helen McCrory in its lead role which of course makes it an instant winner, but by putting the likes of Sam Swainsbury, Jamie Bamber, David Mumeni and Sam Crane in the ensemble makes it a must-see – purely for the acting talent of course… 😉
 
 

 

Review: Sunset at the Villa Thalia, National

“Something Greek sounds good”

It’s the ideal isn’t it, shipping off to a Greek island to escape grey clouds in June and point-settling about plus ones, and its what Charlotte and Theo have done in Alexi Kaye Campbell’s new play Sunset at the Villa Thalia. He’s a playwright seeking inspiration, she’s an actress who loves him very much, and so they’re renting a cottage on the idyllic isle of Skiathos. But the year is 1967, a momentous year in Greece’s political history, and the American couple they’ve bumped into at the port aren’t quite as benign as they might seem.

Harvey and June are swiftly invited over for drinks on the terrace and as tongues are loosened on the ouzo, we discover that he works for the US government in a shadowy role. With these heavy hints of the CIA, we discover what Kaye Campbell is up to as it was American intervention – in aid of stifling the threat of Soviet expansion – that arguably partly facilitated the military coup that’s about to happen. And it’s not just nations he’s manipulating but the people around him, as he convinces Charlotte and Theo to buy the cottage from its desperate owners who are emigrating to Australia. Continue reading “Review: Sunset at the Villa Thalia, National”

Review: Eternal Love, Cambridge Arts Theatre

“If you marry me you’ll never be a candidate for the Vatican”

Originally seen at Shakespeare’s Globe in 2006 and 2007 as In Extremis, Howard Brenton’s newly retitled Eternal Love marks the 21st birthday year of English Touring Theatre and the first instalment in a three-year-long project to tour quality drama across the country. On a personal note, it also saw my first ever visit to Cambridge (too brief for my liking, I look forward to a return) and the Cambridge Arts Theatre (very friendly, I like the fact I found the bar before I found the box office!).

The retitling offers a further clue to its subject matter in a subtitle The Story of Abelard and Heloise but in some ways, this feels a little bit of a misnomer. For though the enduring love story between the medieval theologian Peter Abelard and his fearsomely intelligent student Heloise is a central part of the play, Brenton also focuses on the key philosophical debate of the time, as intense rival Bernard of Clairvaux declares his determination to defeat this heretical foe and maintain the doctrine of absolute faith. Continue reading “Review: Eternal Love, Cambridge Arts Theatre”

Leading Man of the Year 2012

With perhaps some predictability, the two most popular posts ever on this blog are the Leading Men of the Year from 2010 and 2011 – clearly if blog hits are what makes you happy, just post pics of hot shirtless men 🙂 – heaven knows I won’t judge you! Also Mark Lawson says “critics…should be wary of parading their crushes in print” and the day I start taking his advice…

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And so sure enough, here we have 2012’s entry in the canon of gentlemen who I’ve seen on the stage and who are somewhat easy on the eye. They’re not ranked in any way – I’m sharing their degrees of hotness so step inside with me and Nathan…
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Review: The Shawl, Young Vic

“You’re not prepared to live life without mystery”

This production of David Mamet’s The Shawl is a little bit of a curiosity which has popped up at the Young Vic’s Clare studio for a brief 10 day run. Directed by the 2012 Genesis Future Director’s Award winner Ben Kidd, it is only a short play – coming in at just under an hour – but one which is slinkily persuasive in its portrayal of a conman who may or may not have psychic powers and it is given a rather interesting production here, full of great ideas.

The first – which is sadly under-developed – is that the audience are all spirits watching the events of the play. Small video screens are mounted on the walls and occasionally show cctv footage of the characters outside but when they move into the main room, they are alone – the chairs on which we sit are all shown to be empty. It is a wonderfully striking image but one which passed by very quickly and was never really touched on, indeed the screens were used rather sparingly throughout which felt like an opportunity that could have been somehow pushed further. Continue reading “Review: The Shawl, Young Vic”

Review: The Conquest of the South Pole, Arcola

“I’d rather touch greasy chips than greasy chaps”

When it comes to European drama, I’ve tried my best with the slim pickings available to us here in London and I have quite often been pleasantly surprised: I Am The Wind and Big and Small being the examples that pop into the mind, as theatre that just operates on a completely different level to what I’m used to and given a treatment that somehow connected with me. But there have been shows that failed to break through the enigma – Black Battles with Dogs being the most recent example – and I’m sad to say that Manfred Karge’s The Conquest of the South Pole fell firmly into this category, leaving me completely nonplussed as to what it is that it is trying to say or do.

Stephen Unwin directed this show back in 1988 and for this, its first revival in London since then, he has returned to the piece for which he obviously has great affection to present in the main studio at the Arcola. But you know you’re in trouble when the most fascinating thing happening is three Hackney kids gate-crashing the theatre via an unlocked side-door and the subsequent silent efforts to get them to leave. Ultimately, I found this much more engrossing than the story of this group of unemployed young men who decide escape the grimness of their lives by re-enacting Amundsen’s voyage to the South Pole in a cramped attic using a washing line and some sheets to evoke the Antarctic tundra. Continue reading “Review: The Conquest of the South Pole, Arcola”

Review: The Lady from the Sea, Rose Kingston

“You’re like the sea, always changing”

Recent weeks have seen a couple of instances where theatre has successfully challenged my preconceptions: A Midsummer Night’s Dream saw me reassess Filter and David Eldridge surprised me with some fantastic writing that really resonated with me in In Basildon. Ibsen however has been a major stumbling block for me – I’ve tried my best, taking in several productions of his work but that connection has never emerged, the reason for his continued popularity completely eluding me. So it would be a lie for to me to say that I went to the Rose Kingston’s new production of The Lady from the Sea with a completely open mind – I was amenable to having my mind changed but it was with a heavy heart that I went there.

I’ve seen the play once before – ironically in a version by David Eldridge at the Royal Exchange in Manchester – and it was not a happy experience. Ibsen’s story focuses on the nymph-like figure of Ellida, settled uneasily in a marriage of convenience to Dr Wangel as memories of her past continue to have a strong pull on her. Wangel tries to facilitate resolution by inviting a man from her past to stay but he stirs up great emotional swells that threaten to pull Ellida back to her beloved sea. Continue reading “Review: The Lady from the Sea, Rose Kingston”

DVD Review: Othello, Shakespeare’s Globe

“And what’s he then that says I play the villain?When this advice is free I give and honest”

My first Othello was just last month with the Crucible’s extraordinary production which was rather breath-takingly good, so I was a little trepidatious about putting on this DVD on the Globe’s take on the play from 2007. Wilson Milam directed this rather traditional production but I was still rather keen to see an alternative version, especially once I’d found out that it contained John Stahl and Sam Crane in its ensemble.

Given how strong the four central characters were in Sheffield, I was quite surprised, and pleased, at how good I (mostly) found the four actors here to be, offering different but equally effective takes on the roles and demonstrating the malleability of Shakespeare’s text when in the right hands. Eamonn Walker’s Othello is a strident beast, most definitely a warrior though with hints of vulnerability which Zoë Tapper’s astoundingly accomplished Desdemona is clearly attracted to and thoroughly won over by. He perhaps could have worked in a little more charisma into his performance and his verse speaking didn’t always feel quite so natural, but this was mainly in comparison to Tapper whose luminosity shone through onstage, through every move she made and word she spoke, truly breaking the heart as the betrayals kick in. It feels a crime that she hasn’t done more stage work. Continue reading “DVD Review: Othello, Shakespeare’s Globe”