Lockdown TV Review: Spooks Series 6

AKA the one that doesn’t work and the one that you should avoid if you’re feeling angsty about the current situation – approach Spooks Series 6 with caution

“The only option will be national quarantine and burial pits”

Series 6 is one of the trickier ones to watch right now so be warned – it opens with a two-parter called ‘The Virus’ which makes for a eerily chilling watch. It’s also a curious season as whilst the introduction of a series-long storyline – Iran seeking to gain nuclear capability – for the first time seems like it should work no problem, the reality doesn’t hang together quite as well as it ought.

The major level conspiracy theory takes too long to click into gear, and never really reaches the high-stakes territory it needs to hit home hard. The ‘mole in MI-5’ thread doesn’t pay off convincingly, recruiting another journalist off the street tests the patience (sorry Ben) and where one fake-out death of a major character might be permitted, two in the space of three episodes feels lazy. A major disappointment following the highs of Series 5.

Nicola Walker-ometer
Absolute zero, it’s as if she never existed. Fucking Harry. Continue reading “Lockdown TV Review: Spooks Series 6”

News: #HampsteadTheatreAtHome launches this week

The latest venue to announce the opening of their digital archive in order to satisfy our theatrical cravings is the Hampstead Theatre who, in partnership with The Guardian will re-release the live stream recordings of Mike Bartlett’s Wild, Beth Steel’s Wonderland and Howard Brenton’s Drawing the Line for free.

Available to watch on theguardian.com and hampsteadtheatre.com, the three productions will be made available, on demand, over three consecutive weeks as part of the theatre’s #HampsteadTheatreAtHome series and the first of these – Wild – is available now. And once you’ve watched it, take a look at the ways you can support the Hampstead Theatre here. Continue reading “News: #HampsteadTheatreAtHome launches this week”

TV Review: Scott and Bailey Series 4

“This is something I can’t ignore”

Typical really, the first series of Scott & Bailey that I actually get to watch live on air and it’s the first one that disappointed me. I caught up quickly with the first three over the last few weeks so that I would be up to speed with Series 4 but all in all, I didn’t feel like it was up to the standard. No real overarching story emerged across the eight episodes and without the heightened drama that would have added, this just felt like a retread of some of the same old plot points.

An ill-advised affair with a colleague, a promotion not taken due to personal circumstances, Janet’s kids playing up, tough but tender relations with Gill…it does feel like we’ve been here before. And though there are new twists, none of them really took flight – Rachel’s step up to sergeant never really foregrounded, a hint of romance for Janet left until the very end. The individual cases that came up maintained the usual level of interest but something was lacking in the end. Continue reading “TV Review: Scott and Bailey Series 4”

Review: Wonderland, Hampstead Theatre

“I’m the son of a son of a son of a collier’s son, the last in a long line”

So this is actually a review of a preview, although it was not intended to be. Beth Steel’s Wonderland was meant to open on Thursday but had to delay it until next week due to “ensure the safety of the cast” which may seem a little dramatic but once you enter the Hampstead Theatre’s main auditorium, it soon becomes clear that this was no idle claim. The theatre has gone into the round again and this time, Ashley Martin Davis’ awe-inspiring design has carved out a 3-storey high pit shaft that operates at three levels. Even the act of walking to your seat (if you’re on the stage) becomes precarious as high-heeled shoes must be removed and if you don’t like heights, I wouldn’t look down…!

In a year that marks the 30th anniversary of the miners’ strike, Steel’s play instantly feels well-timed but cleverly, it is not the play you might be expecting. The presence of Arthur Scargill and Margaret Thatcher loom large (how could they not) but the focus lies elsewhere, in the heart of a Nottinghamshire mining community that feels the effects of the strike, and its lingering aftermath, most keenly indeed. We join the play as two lads start their first day down the pit and are initiated into its unique working ways and its all-encompassing camaraderie, right at the moment that the government has decided to take on the miners as part of a schismatic ideological shift in workers’ rights. Continue reading “Review: Wonderland, Hampstead Theatre”

Review: Chariots of Fire, Gielgud

“100 metres can feel like a marathon”
For the longest time, I was sure that I didn’t want to see Chariots of Fire, not least because the hoarding for this Hampstead Theatre transfer into the Gielgud finds it necessary to call it Chariots of Fire on stage, as if it could be anything else in a theatre. But Mike Bartlett, who adapted the film, is a writer I like and a change of cast meant Gabriel Vick, an actor whose charms I, erm, appreciate, was able to tempt me there on the final day of the (curtailed) run. The most arresting aspect of Edward Hall’s production is Miriam Buether’s design which snakes a running track around the front stalls and puts audience members on the stage – it makes for constant visual interest and not just for the men in shorts.
As a story set around the Olympics (Paris 1924), when the production was first announced it felt like a bit of a cash-in to the upcoming Games (London 2012) and sure enough, a West End transfer was announced even before it began. And to be honest, I’m not sure that it really stood up as a piece of effective theatre when separated from all the 2012 buzz. I’ve never seen the film so I wonder if this had an impact, but essentially the thrill of having athletically performed athletic races aside, it was rather dull.

The rivalry between two British runners – religious Scot Eric Liddell, played with fervent defiance by Jack Lowden and James McArdle’s first-generation Lithuanian immigrant Harold Abrahams – never really takes off dramatically as it is largely implicit, rather than actualised (the pair are rarely together). The whirl of supporting characters get so little stage time that very few of the fine actors onstage get the opportunity to make an impact and I wasn’t a fan of the way in which the action sequences were blended, or otherwise, with the dramatic scenes, too often the transitions felt painfully obvious. 
Using the famous music, written by Vangelis, also didn’t really work for me. It’s a no-brainer in the end and the oohs and aahs of recognition from the audience around me clearly showed that it was the big money note they’d been waiting for but it felt so unsubtle, so bolted onto the production that it just didn’t connect with the whole. So I should have listened to my instincts in the first place! 

Running time: 2 hours 45 minutes (with interval) 
Booking until 5th January

Review: Viva Forever, Piccadilly Theatre

“Do you still remember, how we used to be…”

Producer Judy Craymer reinvigorated a whole new theatrical genre when she masterminded the ABBA jukebox hit Mamma Mia! to huge box-office success, and so proved the natural choice to steer a show featuring the back catalogue of the Spice Girls and a script by Jennifer Saunders into the West End. The resulting show – Viva Forever – is a story of a young woman who is forced to ditch her bandmates in pursuit of her reality show dreams, the mentor who is determined to exploit her in order to secure her own media career and her mother who is on hand to make sure she never forgets who she is. But it is one that doesn’t quite so much fill the Piccadilly Theatre with girl power as a sense of what might have been.

Crucially, the discography isn’t always sufficient for the task in hand of a jukebox musical. Delving into some of the lesser-known works of the Spice Girls isn’t as much as a problem (though front-loading them so is a curious choice as we have to wait a while for a stone-cold hit) as the way in which the lyrical content has to be shoehorned in, resulting in some awkward fits – ‘Say You’ll Be There’ suffers particularly here. But equally, there are moments that do work. The act 1 closer weaves together ‘Goodbye’, ‘Mama’ and ‘Headlines’ in a rather stirringly affecting manner as the three women reach crucial points in their journey; ‘Spice Up Your Life’ becomes a dazzling fiesta of a Spanish street festival; and the titular ‘Viva Forever’ is recast as a tenderly intimate acoustic ballad. Continue reading “Review: Viva Forever, Piccadilly Theatre”