TV Review: Life (Series 1)

Mike Bartlett’s new TV show Life is rich in middle-class miseries and stellar performances from Victoria Hamilton and Alison Steadman

“One can’t have blessings without sufferings”

My main feelings about Mike Bartlett’s Life revolve around Rachael Stirling and thus are somewhat spoilerific – consider yourself warned! I was highly excited to see Stirling back on our screens so I was a tad disappointed when it turned out that her character was in fact a ghost and could only be seen by her grieving husband Adrian Lester.

But then when it was revealed that she was in fact a bisexual ghost – a proper shout at the TV moment – and her entanglements drew in at least one other, it was a glorious pay-off which almost, almost made up for her not being a full-on member of the ensemble. And its a hefty ensemble, set in a large house split into four flats in which four sets of tenants are all facing their own trials. Continue reading “TV Review: Life (Series 1)”

TV Review: W1A (Series 2)

Something doesn’t quite click right with Series 2 of W1A, as it struggles to live up to what has gone before though still remaining quite gently funny

“I don’t want to be dramatic about it, and I mean we all love Sue Barker, but I’ve to to say we are looking at a situation here”

I’ve loved going back to watch Twenty Twelve and my memories of the shift to W1A were that it was just as good, if not better. I’d definitely say that about the first series but having just gone through series 2, I found myself just a little disappointed. The bar having been raised so high, it feels like this collection of four episodes just doesn’t have the same zing that really grabs your attention.

In many respects, nothing has really changed. There’s still much comic currency in the exposure of the labyrinthine bureaucracy of the BBC and the determination of any middle-to-senior manager to avoid actually making a decision. But there’s also a slight sense of familiar ground being retrodden that dulls the edge – I mean once again any and every female is falling at the feet of Ian Fletcher, really? Continue reading “TV Review: W1A (Series 2)”

TV Review: Humans Series 3

I can’t help but think Humans might have run its course as a uniquely intelligent and British sci-fi drama

“…the coming together of man and machine. You can change the course of history…”

I’ve enjoyed where Humans has taken us thus far, and the beginning of a third series seemed promising. But as I got to the end of this season and twist after twist pointed at where the story might well continue, it felt like I might have reached my expiration date with the show.

The human/synth baby that Mattie is carrying, Niska’s transformation into ur-Niska, V’s survival…it’s hard not to feel that any of these feel far less interesting than where Humans are trod thus far in its carefully balanced but uniquely British brand of sci-fi. Continue reading “TV Review: Humans Series 3”

TV Review: Humans Series 3, Episode 1

All hail the return of nuanced, intelligent sci-fi – series 3 of Humans starts on Channel 4

“Lemonade not included”

I’m not entirely sure why Gemma Chan and Emily Berrington haven’t become hugely famous due to the world-class performances that both have been delivering for two series of Humans, the third of which has just started on Channel 4. As Synths possessed of consciousness, they manage the not-inconsiderable task of translating the world of sci-fi improbability into something deeply, deeply affecting, and this latest series shows no sign of that changing.

Following on from the events of Series 1 and Series 2, this third season takes us a year further into the future. With the consciousness code uploaded to all synths worldwide, the ensuing chaos led to ferocious reprisals from the human population which has left the synths decimated, ghettoised, shut off from the society they longed to join. And its the chill of recognition here that makes Humans works. You can call this near-future or dystopian but the anger and prejudice against the ‘other’ is as current-day as they come. Continue reading “TV Review: Humans Series 3, Episode 1”

Review: Far From The Madding Crowd, Watermill

“I am not morally yours”

Truth be told, after a dodgy time with The Woodlanders in an English Lit elective at uni, I’ve pretty much kept my distance from Thomas Hardy. So it might be a little surprise that I ventured to the wilds of West Berkshire and the Watermill Theatre to see this adaptation of Far From The Madding Crowd but Jessica Swale is the kind of delightful director who is worth travelling for, plus she has a predilection for casting Sam Swainsbury in things which means she is my lobster 🙂

This actor-musicianish production is really cleverly staged as Philip Engeheart’s versatile and movable set design evokes an appropriate sense of rural charm with witty and ingenious touches allowing memorable representations of key events such as the harvesting of the wheat and untold business with sheep and lambs (where even this hardened soul had to admire the skill of the puppetry). With Catherine Jayes’ music underscoring much of the action, the pastoral atmosphere feels just right. Continue reading “Review: Far From The Madding Crowd, Watermill”

Radio Review: Denmark Hill / Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight / The Day We Caught The Train

“I have to write an essay on Shakespeare’s view of the family, it’s a bugger”

Denmark Hill is something of a rarity, a 30 year old Alan Bennett television play that never saw the light of day and so remained unproduced until this radio version brought it back to life. A suburban riff on Hamlet which sets it in a contemporary South London, it’s more of an interesting curio than an essential addition to the Bennett canon but it still has many points of interest. A nifty turn of phrase when it comes to a joke, the often ridiculous behaviour of human beings at times of crisis, and a top-notch cast that includes Penny Downie’s Gwen, her new lover George played by Robert Glenister and her angst-ridden son Charles, the ever-lovely Samuel Barnett.

Sadly not a dramatisation of the Ocean Colour Scene song, Nick Payne’s The Day We Caught The Train is a predictably lovely piece of writing from one of our most reliable new writers. Olivia Colman’s Sally is a GP mourning the recent death of her mother, trying hard not to let being a single mother rule her life even if the fact is she hasn’t had sex for a year. We join her on a regular day full of mini-dramas which seem designed to keep her from something special, a date with Ralph Ineson’s kindly David. Naturally, it doesn’t quite go to plan but the way it unfolds into something beautifully moving is skilfully done indeed. Continue reading “Radio Review: Denmark Hill / Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight / The Day We Caught The Train”

Review: Much Ado About Nothing, Shakespeare’s Globe

“How much better is it to weep at joy than to joy at weeping”

Sometimes I have aspirations of being a serious writer and sometimes, I just want to look at something pretty. And so once it had been established that Simon Bubb was lighting up the stage of the Globe in the touring production of Much Ado About Nothing, #SexyBenedick was born and I quickly got myself into a nearly-sold-out matinée performance to inspect the evidence personally. And it was true, he makes for a most handsome leading man indeed and as it turned out, the play wasn’t half bad either.

I can’t even take credit for the best bit of insight about it. @3rdspearcarrier identified its key success as egalitarianism, this being the first version of the play for a long time that hasn’t been a star vehicle for Beatrice and Benedick and with a cast of eight doubling up and more, the energy of Max Webster’s production emphasises how much of an ensemble show it really is. With the rough and tumble aesthetic of James Cotterill’s easily portable design, there’s something deliciously playful about the whole affair which made it an absolute delight to watch in the early May sunshine. Continue reading “Review: Much Ado About Nothing, Shakespeare’s Globe”

Review: The Soft of her Palm, Finborough

“I forgive you, because I love you so much”

Not many plays are set in Northampton and though Chris Dunkley’s The Soft of her Palm takes place there, it is more a signifier of ‘everytown’ rather than tied to this specific location. For domestic violence – the subject of this disturbingly intense and thought-provoking 80 minute play – can happen to anyone, anywhere. The show opens in the present day where Sarah has crashed her car outside Phil’s house, she steps inside to recover but it soon becomes apparent that this is no accidental meeting – the pair know each other only too well and their relationship emerges to be a highly toxic and horrifically violent one.

Dunkley then rewinds scene by scene over the course of a year to trace how we have gotten to this place but at each step, the playwright confounds our expectations and prejudices as we edge ever closer to a fuller understanding of the truth. And that truth is essentially that these are two damaged individuals, equally adept at manipulation: struggling chef Phil is frustrated by his business dealings and his inability to communicate, Sarah’s psychology is deeply troubled and rooted in past insecurities, neither one is above shamelessly putting Sarah’s young daughter Poppy in the frontline of their battles, neither one seems truly able to move on from the other, with destructive consequences. Continue reading “Review: The Soft of her Palm, Finborough”

Review: Afternoon Dramas – Lilo and My One and Only

Time is slipping away from me somewhat and so I’m going to cheat a little by lumping together reviews of Radio 4 Afternoon Plays into one post which might hide the fact they’re more mini-reviews than anything. I do like to diarise everything theatrical, such being the addictive nature of maintaining this blog, and so I wanted to tip the nod to these plays, Lilo by Katie Hims but particularly Dawn King’s most excellent My One and Only.

I first became aware of King with her darkly atmospheric play Foxfinder at the Finborough last year which I rather enjoyed, so was looking forward to My One and Only even before the announcement of the frankly fantabulous Katherine Parkinson as Layla, one of the lead roles in this tale about stalkerish obsessive love and the modern technological age facilitates that all too easily. A modern advancement of the epistolary form, this play is made up purely of phone calls yet King manages to build up character and mood in the most effective of manners as the tale twists and turns with jaw-dropping revelations and heart-stopping tension. Continue reading “Review: Afternoon Dramas – Lilo and My One and Only”

Review The Resistance of Mrs Brown, Radio 4

“I never miss an opportunity to go unnoticed”

I love me some wartime drama especially when it involves the role of women, TV films like Housewife 49 and plays like The Firewatchers fill my heart with joy, and so the 15 minute drama for this week (formerly the Women’s Hour drama) fell very much into my field of interest, with an added twist of alternate history in the mix. Ed Harris’ The Resistance of Mrs Brown imagines a world where the British were defeated at Dunkirk and a Nazi Military Administration has been set up in London. Joan Brown works as a tea lady for the new powers-that-be and is determined to keep her head down, especially after the death of her husband, but when she advertises for a new lodger, she is contacted by the Resistance who want to use her unique position to help strike a blow against the Nazis.

Amanda Root’s delicate clipped tones make a beautifully unwilling heroine out of Mrs Brown, who is pushed along by the forthright Mrs Crace, a delightfully matter-of-fact Adjoa Andoh and Simon Bubb’s Wode who try their best to cajole her into going along with their plans, and using her as a narrator is an inspired choice by director Jonquil Panting as we’re constantly reminded of her reticent fragility which ends up responding beautifully to the challenges that are presented to her. Whether its her daughter, her boss or the men she serves tea to who come to know her a little, she is pulled one way or another until she finally gains the confidence to stand up for what she truly believes in and consequently makes decisions according to her own conscience. Continue reading “Review The Resistance of Mrs Brown, Radio 4”