TV Review: The Secret of Crickley Hall (2012)

The Secret of Crickley Hall is a disappointing ghost story that not even Suranne Jones can rescue 

“Hands up who wants to move out of here
‘Hands up who wants to know where Cam is?'”

You know how it is. You nod off while you’re watching your son at the playground and then he disappears. And then 11 months later you move to the north and find yourself in a haunted mansion where his spirit starts talking to you. Such is the world of The Secret of Crickley Hall, which flits between affecting family drama and haunted house hokum as it follows its parallel timestreams.

Adapted by Joe Ahearne from James Herbert’s novel (airing on the BBC on 2012), the current-day trials of the relocated Caleigh family run alongside the experience of the group of orphans who were evacuated there in 1943. At the heart of the story lies Eve, wracked with guilt over the disappearance of her son Cam, the conviction that she has some kind of sixth sense leaving her susceptible to the torrid history of her new home.  Continue reading “TV Review: The Secret of Crickley Hall (2012)”

Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 6

“Demons run when a good man goes to war”

And here it is, the point at which I stopped loving new Doctor Who, even in a series that has two of the best episodes it has done, and the first series that I haven’t ever rewatched in its entirety. I do enjoy Matt Smith’s Eleven immensely but the writing across this season – which was split into two for transmission – was just fatally erratic for me. Alongside the innovative work from Neil Gaiman in The Doctor’s Wife and Steve Thompson in The Girl Who Waited, two contrasting but superlative pieces of writing, stories such as The Curse of the Black Spot and Night Terrors took the show to a less sophisticated place – (or do I really mean that I started to feel that this version of Doctor Who wasn’t necessarily aimed at me…?)

Even the big finales (for there were two, one for each half) fell a little flat. The premonition that the Doctor would “fall so much further” than ever before in A Good Man Goes to War raised expectations only to be dashed by an overloaded episode with little emotional heft aside from the River Song reveal, and The Wedding of River Song suffered from the general over-use of the characters dying-but-not-really-dying trope (poor Arthur Darvill…). That said, the high points of the series are so very good – the striking US-set opening double-bill, the Doctor finally meeting the TARDIS, and brain-scratching sci-fi with real heart. Frustratingly inconsistent. Continue reading “Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 6”

Radio review: Blood Wedding

“You have already thrown me away”

Ted Hughes’ reworking of Blood Wedding first aired in 2008 and won awards that year. It was re-broadcast as part of Radio 3’s season covering Lorca’s Rural Trilogy – this play, Yerma and The House of Bernarda Alba. Productions of Lorca’s work often search for the elusive spirit of the duende, that magical ingredient that brings out the chills, and that is markedly present here due to Pauline Harris’ astute direction. 

Rather than try and create a taste of Spain, Hughes and Harris focus on the rural, evoking the timeless spirit of folkloric traditions that transcends nations. So the tale of two feuding families, locked in a death spiral of conflict even as they celebrate a marriage that should be uniting their houses, could be anywhere, not just the Almerian mountains where Lorca set it, and a multitude of British accents thus don’t sound out of place. Continue reading “Radio review: Blood Wedding”

Review: Pack, Finborough

“The cards you’re holding? You need to establish what they’re worth”

The Papatango New Writing Festival came up with an absolute cracker in Dawn King’s Foxfinder which sold out the Finborough last winter, so it is fair to say that expectations for this year’s winner – Louise Monaghan’s Pack – are fairly high. It is an entirely different beast though and one which seems eerily well-timed as the events around the recent Rotherham by-election played out, as this is an unflinchingly raw take on racism in a different part of Yorkshire and how it has permeated our society in ways which don’t always readily manifest themselves.

Monaghan’s framing device is a bridge class at a community centre which brings working class mothers Stephie and Deb under the tutelage of Dianna, a maths teacher at the nearby high school, and they are joined by local GP Nasreen to make up the quartet. They’re a diverse group and throughout the smattering of techniques that we see them learn for this card game, the real interest comes in the tentative common ground that they find in the snippets of conversation inbetween. They discuss the husbands that they tolerate, the ageing parents that they care for, the children that they are trying to nurture, but against the febrile atmosphere of a looming British National Party rally, their lives become inextricably entangled with each other. Continue reading “Review: Pack, Finborough”

Review: Like A Fishbone, Bush

“How could there be a meaning there?!”

The timing of an opening of a new show is everything: later this week I’m going to the Tricycle to see Then and Now, their Women and Politics multi-part extravaganza at a time when the new cabinet has fewer women than ever so it feels even more appropriate. Such immediate relevance can be a double-edged sword though as Like A Fishbone, the new play by Anthony Weigh opening at the Bush Theatre about the memorialisation of a school shooting, comes less than a week after the tragic events in West Cumbria and whilst not directly connected, there were moments when it felt really quite close to the bone.

Like A Fishbone takes its title from the Robert Lowell poem For the Union Dead referring to the memorial for the war dead in Boston as this play examines what is appropriate when it comes to dealing with the legacy of a tragic event. A leading architect has been commissioned to create a memorial for the victims of a terrible crime, all the children of a village murdered in their schoolhouse, and she is preparing to unveil her work to the public. When a blind woman somehow makes her way into the office where the model of the memorial is being kept ready for delivery, the scene is set for a confrontation between the two as it turns out she is the mother of one of the children who died in the attack. They then challenge each other about what constitutes a fitting monument to the dead, what it means to be a mother and the relative merits of clinging onto faith over the stark acceptance of the brutal truth. It’s heavy-hitting stuff, almost claustrophobic in its one room, real-time setting, but genuinely thrilling. Continue reading “Review: Like A Fishbone, Bush”

Review: The Line, Arcola

“I understand painting, literature, music and France. What else is there to understand?
‘There’s love’.”

Written by the delightfully monikered Timberlake Wertenbaker (more proof that my name is indeed too dull to be a playwright!), The Line claims to tell one of the “great untold stories of modern art”. Edgar Degas’ (Henry Goodman) life is disrupted by the arrival of a young, self-assured woman, Suzanne Valadon (Sarah Smart) who is possessed of much artistic talent, but wants tutoring. Their relationship develops from master and pupil to something more despite their differing views on the future of art and their paths diverging over the next 20 years: the pair are watched over all-the-while by Degas’ housekeeper, Zoé Clozier.

The ever-flexible space at the Arcola has been converted into an artist’s studio, with canvasses strewn all around the walls which gives a great sense of atmosphere and there’s furniture placed in the centre of the stage, representing the drawing room in which much of the action takes place. It is staged in the round (or more accurately the square) which is largely effective, but does prove slightly problematic towards the end as Valadon shows some of her work to Degas and so it is only displayed to one half of the audience. Continue reading “Review: The Line, Arcola”