TV Review: The Salisbury Poisonings

Deeply sensitive writing and direction mean that The Salisbury Poisonings proves a powerfully effective treatment of the story

“God knows what’s happened here”

Whodathunkit, a drama about a public health crisis in the middle of an actual public health crisis proving to be just the thing we needed. Anyone thinking about writing a Covid 19 drama would do well to examine writers Adam Patterson and Declan Lawn and director Saul Dibb’s deeply sensitive approach here in The Salisbury Poisonings.

What works particularly well is that they’ve determinedly gone for a fact-based telling of the story, which steadfastly refuses to indulge in overly dramatic or cinematic touches/ And their focus is on the human aspect of how this whole affair affected actual people rather than extrapolating to the whole of society or going dwon the wormhole of a spy thriller. Continue reading “TV Review: The Salisbury Poisonings”

Review: Temple, Donmar Warehouse

“Was it ever our choice to be the parish church of high finance?”

I was surprised at the number of people who didn’t come back after the interval of The Red Lion on Friday night as I was enjoying myself but on reflection, you can see that for all its lyricism (or indeed because of it) Patrick Marber’s writing doesn’t really stretch far beyond the world of football in which it is set. A similar narrowness of vision struck me about Steve Waters’ Temple at the Donmar Warehouse too, its exploration of the place of the church in the modern world does just that without substantially delving beyond that into whether the church should have a place in the modern world – it preaches to the choir somewhat.

A fictionalised account of the October 2011 events that saw the Occupy London camp force what not even the Blitz could manage – the closure of St Paul’s Cathedral. Starting at the end of a fortnight of fraught hand-wringing and teeth-gnashing which saw the doors eventually reopen but the canon resign, Waters places us at the heart the behind-the-scenes soul-searching. This he does through Simon Russell Beale’s dean (his boss) who finds himself thrust unwillingly into the spotlight and having to tread a most careful path through a treacherous landscape – can the church be party to a forced eviction, what leadership can such a venerable institution truly offer, do its duties lie with the City or the citizens? Continue reading “Review: Temple, Donmar Warehouse”

Review: Fireworks (Al’Ab Nariya), Royal Court

“Whoever gets back to the front door first without getting shot, wins”
Fireworks 
Running time: 90 minutes (without interval)
Booking until 14th March

In a nameless and besieged Palestinian town Lubna and Khalil, 11 and 12 respectively, live with the consequences of growing up in the middle of a war. Khalil loves the Ninja Turtles, oscillates between violence and sensitivity, teeters on the brink of adolescence and perplexes his parents — played with conviction by Nabil Elouahabi and Shereen Martin.
For her part Lubna feasts on the fireworks that illuminate the night sky. Except, of course, they’re not fireworks but bombs. She must also deal with her first period and realising she doesn’t have any proper friends, while her parents (Sirine Saba and Saleh Bakri) struggle to make sense of the death of their son. The children are in effect housebound. Everyone around them fears for their safety, and their psychological wounds fester. By concentrating on their experience, Dalia Taha’s play offers a refreshingly oblique perspective on the conflict in Gaza.
Director Richard Twyman elicits poised and tender performances from the younger cast members (on press night Yusuf Hofri as Khalil and Shakira Riddell-Morales as Lubna). The result is a painful, unsettling vision of precarious lives.

Review: Tonight at 8.30 – Dancing, Richmond Theatre

“But if at last we’re able to smile
We’ll prove it was all worth while”
 
And what would you know, they saved for the best for last. It wasn’t just the end of 10 hours in a theatre that made me happy, I really did prefer this final part of Tonight at 8.30.
 

Dancing
Family Portrait, Hands Across The Sea and Shadow Play

Running time: 2 hours 10 minutes
Booking until 14th June, then touring to Oxford Playhouse, The Lowry, Cambridge Arts, Theatre Royal Brighton and Hall for Cornwall in Truro
Photo: Mark Douet

Review: Tonight at 8.30 – Dinner, Richmond Theatre

“This can’t last. This misery can’t last….Nothing lasts really. Neither happiness or despair”

Seeing the three parts of Tonight at 8.30 on the same day left me shattered so I am ducking out of full reviews for them and just ranking them in order of preference.

Dinner
Ways and Means, Fumed Oak, and Still Life

Silver medal for Dinner – Still Life (better known as the inspiration for Brief Encounter) is among the highlights of the whole thing but Fumed Oak is one of the weakest with its gender politics too much of its time.

Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes
Booking until 14th June, then touring to Oxford Playhouse, The Lowry, Cambridge Arts, Theatre Royal Brighton and Hall for Cornwall in Truro
Photo: Mark Douet

Review: Tonight at 8.30 – Cocktails, Richmond Theatre

 “We’re not tight and we’re not too bright “

Boxset viewing in now de rigueur in the Netflix age so it is only natural that theatre should follow suit. The 3 James plays at the National can be (and will be) viewed on the same day and so too can the three parts of Noël Coward’s Tonight at 8.30, touring the UK after a run at the Nuffield. Blanche McIntyre’s production for ETT can also be seen in three separate chunks but the impact of the triple bill really helps the 9 plays feed off of each other and highlight the strength of the ensemble (and also pull you through the dips in quality that inevitably come with so much writing from one author).

Cocktails
We Were Dancing, The Astonished Heart and Red Peppers

Probably gets the bronze medal as my least favourite of the three parts.

Running time: 2 hours
Booking until 14th June, then touring to Oxford Playhouse, The Lowry, Cambridge Arts, Theatre Royal Brighton and Hall for Cornwall in Truro
Photo: Mark Douet

Review: Ciphers, Bush

“The vast majority of the people in your life won’t know what you do”

Justine is found dead and her sister Kerry is determined to find out what happened. But digging into the apparently dull and innocuous life that her sibling led reveals that she was in fact an undercover MI5 agent and in her increasingly desperate pursuit for the truth, it becomes clear that nothing is quite what it seems. Dawn King’s new play Ciphers cleverly looks at both the effect that becoming a member of the secret services can have on a person and the fallout on their loved ones when things go more than just a little pear-shaped.

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McIntyre keeps a firm touch on the double-playing though, encouraging her cast to delineate their characters but not too much, and there’s some accomplished linguistic acrobatics to add in a further layer of obfuscation. She masterfully handles the jump-cuts and time-shifts of the script too, through an ingenious screen-wipe technique, enabled brilliantly by James Perkins’ clinical design and the subterfuge of Gary Bowman’s lighting. The scenic structure of the play may feel televisual but there is no mistaking that this is piece best served theatrically.

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Running time: 2 hours (with interval)
Playtext cost: £3.50
Booking until 8th February, then touring to Salisbury Playhouse

Review: The Only True History of Lizzie Finn, Southwark Playhouse

“They must be her winter knickers…”

Perhaps better known as a novelist (A Long Long Way and The Secret Scripture have both been Booker-nominated), Sebastian Barry’s 1995 play The Only True History of Lizzie Finn receives its UK premiere here at the Southwark Playhouse in a production by award-winning director Blanche McIntyre. Having carved a niche for herself as the most celebrated dancer in Weston-Super-Mare, Lizzie Finn finds herself swept off her feet by an Irish soldier returning from the Boer War. Despite their completely different backgrounds, they return to their homeland anticipating married bliss but at a time when changes in the land laws are causing huge societal changes in Ireland, life is far from easy.    

The play is not without its challenges. Made up of sequences of short scenes, sometimes just a few lines long, the rhythm of the production is something that takes getting used to: James Perkins’ design of wide steps, whilst effectively evoking the seafront, doesn’t seem particularly well-suited to the format. But in the rather impressionistic approach by McIntyre, moments of visual grace emerge from these scenes, like embers spiralling out of the fire, flashing brightly and disappearing into the dark. I particularly loved the doubling of actors at the Castlemaine’s dinner party to create a witty echoing of an earlier scene.   Continue reading “Review: The Only True History of Lizzie Finn, Southwark Playhouse”

Review: The Bomb: a partial history – Second Blast, Tricycle Theatre

“There are over 200 countries in the world and only 8, maybe 9 have nuclear weapons”

The second part of the Tricycle’s The Bomb – a partial history is named Second Blast: Present Dangers and focuses its attention on where the nuclear threat lies now, i.e. in the Middle East and North Korea. Alongside the five plays, there’s more of the verbatim reportage, edited by Richard Norton-Taylor, in this section, effectively deployed to demonstrate the almost ridiculousness of the way in which the debate about Iran and nuclear capability has been framed the US and Israel, and later on to remind us of the official political positions of many of our own leaders in the UK.

Altogether I was a tiny bit disappointed with this half of the day (I’d’ve given it 3.5 stars as opposed to 4 for Part 1) as First Blast: Proliferation had cast its net far and wide to cover five different aspects of the history of the bomb but Second Blast returned time and time again to Iran (3 times in fact) in terms of the present day. Obviously it’s a massive part of where we are in terms of potential instability, but I felt that a more useful eye could have been cast elsewhere as well – in a savage indictment of those countries like Israel and Pakistan who still refuse to sign up to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, or indeed a more damning look at those countries that have signed yet show no signs of reducing their stockpile. Continue reading “Review: The Bomb: a partial history – Second Blast, Tricycle Theatre”

Review: There Was A Man. There Was No Man

Part of The Bomb: A Partial History – Second Blast season at the Tricycle Theatre

 

“Ethics are all very well from the safety of Switzerland”

In some ways Colin Teevan’s There Was A Man. There Was No Man ought to have been the most powerfully resonant piece in the second part of the Tricycle’s The Bomb – a partial history given the heightened tension around the Iranian nuclear programme and the ever-present antagonism with Israel.

The official blurb is as follows. ‘While Israel officially has no nuclear arms programme, few doubt it has; Iran claims this gives it the right to develop its own nuclear programme. Who will be the first to blink? When an Israeli and Iranian scientist meet at a conference in Jordan, their meeting has deep repercussions for their nations, their families and themselves.’ Continue reading “Review: There Was A Man. There Was No Man”