TV Review: Doctor Who Series 11

Series 11 of Doctor Who comes to an end and it’s a big yes from me – a hugely successful refresh for this beloved series

“I have to lay down the rules if someone’s new”

From the opening episode, I knew that Series 11 of Doctor Who was going to do it for me. New head writer and executive producer Chris Chibnall’s reset was most obvious in the casting of Jodie Whittaker as the Thirteenth Doctor but it was his other changes – namely a real widening of the pool of writers and a pronounced shift in tone – that really defined the shape of this new Doctor Who.

For all its sci-fi nature, that shape was decidedly human. The tragic death of Sharon D Clarke’s Grace was a defining moment in that opening episode, providing the trigger for this TARDIS crew to come together. And rather beautifully, the series really allowed for a full exploration of everyone’s different grief at her passing, culminating in the brutal power of Ed Hime’s ninth episode It Takes You Away.

And pivoting away from the oft-times densely packed complexity of the show’s mythology, the storytelling pointed less at grand alien threats but rather to the foibles of human nature – the enemy within. The racism of Rosa, written by Malorie Blackman with Chibnall, Vinay Patel’s exploration of the British colonial legacy around Partition in Demons of the Punjab, this was science-fiction as its most powerful, commenting powerfully on contemporary society (and naturally provoking the kind of outrage you’d expect). Continue reading “TV Review: Doctor Who Series 11”

Hallowe’en DVD Review: Dracula Untold (2014)

“Drink…and let the games begin”

You gotta love an origin story, even for the dark lord himself, as everyone’s misunderstood, no-one’s that bad really. Or so Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless would have us believe in Dracula Untold, a 2014 Gary Shore film that ultimately did fairly good business. Here, Luke Evans’ Vlad is a good lad who only got the nickname ‘The Impaler’ because he was kidnapped by the Ottoman Empire as a boy and trained into their most deadly assassin. 

But he’s escaped now and has a wife and kid so all is good. Or is it? When a Turkish helmet (not a euphemism) is found in a river, Vlad realises that his childhood friend Mehmet, now Mehmet II, played by Dominic Cooper in a huge amount of fake tan (because you know, Hollywood couldn’t possibly try and turn a Turkish actor into a star) is up to no good. So he follows the stream to a cave where Charles Dance is hiding. Continue reading “Hallowe’en DVD Review: Dracula Untold (2014)”

TV Review: The Vote, Donmar Warehouse via All4

“This after all has been a very careful election” 

A fascinating experiment from James Graham and Josie Rourke, The Vote was a “play for theatre and television” which after two weeks of performances at the Donmar Warehouse – for which you had to enter a ballot for tickets – aired live on More4 at the very moment that it was set, the night of the UK general election. I wasn’t one of the lucky few in the ballot and am rarely inclined to dayseat (though I know several people who managed it) so I’ve only just got around to catching up with it on All4 (formerly 4OD) where it is on for another couple of weeks.

I’m glad I did get to see it as it is very funny and pulled together an extraordinary cast, the vast majority of whom spend mere moments onstage. Graham’s play focuses on the trials and tribulations of a South London polling station in the 90 minutes before voting closes and though there’s a farcical plot that holds the play together in the larger sense, the real joy comes in the microstories of the various voters who come in to exercise their democratic right as best they see fit. Drunks losing their polling cards, giddy lesbians brandishing selfie sticks, teenagers asking Siri who to vote for, all amusing slices of life are represented by a stellar cast who seem to be having just as much as the audience. Continue reading “TV Review: The Vote, Donmar Warehouse via All4”

Review: Timon of Athens, National Theatre

“We have seen better days”

Relevance. From the moment that Timon of Athens was announced as part of the upcoming season at the National Theatre with its look-alike poster image, it was clear that this would be a production straining for resonance in the modern world. This is nothing new of course – the recent Antigone opened with an evocation of the capture of Bin Laden, the RSC have relocated Julius Caesar in a modern-day African dictatorship, numerous Comedies of Errors have touched on people-trafficking – but in his quest to update this neglected Shakespeare problem play for our times, Nicholas Hytner seems to have suffered very much from square peg round hole syndrome. Aspects of this production may well improve as the preview period progresses, my problems with it ran much deeper.

Timon starts the play as a major player on the London social scene, showering the city and his acolytes with his financial largesse and a dubious open door policy. But such cultural and personal philanthropism comes at a serious price when it emerges that Timon is in fact bankrupt and when he turns to those who he has lavished with money and gifts, they turn their back on him and offer no help. He exacts a stinking revenge on them during a feast and then retires from society to become a bag lady. Even then, an unexpected discovery means that he cannot truly escape his former life but his influence is channelled into a darker stream of action as civil unrest is steadily growing. Continue reading “Review: Timon of Athens, National Theatre”

Review: Antigone, National Theatre

“When things must be, they will be”

Though the prospect of a different kind of Greek tragedy is one that is dominating our headlines at the moment, the ancient Greek kind remain an enduring presence in our theatres. Sophocles’ Antigone is the latest to re-emerge at the National Theatre with director Polly Findlay using Don Taylor’s version of the play, originally done for the BBC in the 1980s. Her production locates this version of Thebes somewhere in the North of England in the late 1970s (at least that’s when I reckoned but others in the group were less sure) in which Jodie Whittaker and Christopher Eccleston take the leading roles.

Thebes has been wracked by civil war and turmoil and in the aftermath of a particularly bloody struggle between the two brothers fighting over the throne, Creon seizes control and becomes king. To stamp his authority on the city, Creon opts to bury one brother but leaves the body of the other more rebellious one to rot outside on the battlefield. This horrifies Antigone, sister to the men and niece to Creon, and despite a royal decree forbidding anyone to touch his body on the pain of death, she sets about doing what she thinks is right. Continue reading “Review: Antigone, National Theatre”

Review: She Stoops to Conquer, National Theatre

“Ask me no questions and I’ll tell you no fibs”

Oliver Goldsmith’s 18th century comedy She Stoops to Conquer was last seen at the National Theatre in 2002 in an Out of Joint co-production, but has now been revived by the seemingly tireless Jamie Lloyd with a star-studded ensemble dripping with talent, both established and new, and breathing an entirely fresh energy into the Olivier theatre.

This comedy of manners centres on the Hardcastle clan, a family of means in the country: daughter Kate is due to be married off to young Marlow, the son of a friend of Mr Hardcastle’s but she is determined to ensure the match is to her liking; Mrs Hardcastle is determined to have her heiress ward Miss Neville married off to her own son Tony in order to keep her fortune in the family though Miss Neville’s attentions are focused on Marlow’s friend Hastings. But when Marlow and Hastings get lost on their way from London and end up in a bawdy inn frequented by Tony, he espies an opportunity to make mayhem and sets in chain a series of mischiefs, misunderstandings and mistaken identities as convoluted courtships and class differences collide in the countryside. Continue reading “Review: She Stoops to Conquer, National Theatre”

Review: The Kitchen, National Theatre

“What is there more?”

The Kitchen was one of Arnold Wesker’s first plays and follows on from the Royal Court’s well-received (if not by me) Chicken Soup with Barley in a year which has been something of a revival for Wesker. Written in 1959 and inspired by his own experiences of working in the catering industry, it is set in 1957 in the basement kitchen of a large London restaurant, the Tivoli. The dynamics of a swirling multi-cultural mass of chefs, waitresses and kitchen porters are exposed as they slowly build to the mad rush of a huge lunchtime service. Playing in the Olivier at the National Theatre, this was a late preview performance.

Director Bijan Sheibani has assembled a cast of 30 who rush about Giles Cadle’s circular kitchen set with increasing fervour as prep turns into service and the banter with all its personal enmities, tribal groupings and rivalries between kitchen staff and dining-room staff becomes increasingly fraught, and of course largely forgotten as the rush passes and the calm of the afternoon allows for a more reflective atmosphere. The less intense evening service provides a final act is no less dramatic though as slow burning stories finally explode. Continue reading “Review: The Kitchen, National Theatre”