TV Review: A Very English Scandal

Hugh Grant delivers a career best performance in the hugely enjoyable A Very English Scandal. Just don’t mention your National Insurance card.

“Tell him not to talk. And not to write to my mother describing acts of anal sex under any circumstances whatsoever”

I don’t think I’ve ever been chilled quite so much by the end credits of anything like A Very English Scandal. You know, that bit when you find out what happened next to the people who you’ve just been watching. It helps of course that I knew nothing about the 1970s Jeremy Thorpe affair on which it was based but still, never have 11 dogs and a missing NI card seemed so ominous.

Written by Russell T Davies, adapted from John Preston’s book, and directed by Stephen Frears, A Very English Scandal is a complete breath of fresh air. Perhaps surprisingly for a true-life tale of sex, politics and attempted murder, it has a quirky, almost jolly tone that is hugely enjoyable, deftly comic as it negotiates the would-be Machiavellian moves of a politician desperate to save his skin. Continue reading “TV Review: A Very English Scandal”

Review: Killer Joe, Trafalgar Studios

Killer Joe is a horribly misjudged revival at Trafalgar Studios that makes a mockery of #MeToo, you and all of us

“Is she doin’ anybody any good?”

Just to be clear, I’m using the ‘she’ in the quote above to refer to the play itself here – an misjudged, tone-deaf revival of Tracy Letts’ Killer Joe, a poor poor replacement for The Grinning Man at the Trafalgar Studios and a curious choice indeed for Orlando Bloom to make a return to the West End stage.

Written in 1993 and marking Letts’ debut, it is a scorchingly nasty look at working-class American life, the desperation it forces some into, the impact that an unconstrained popular culture has on society. And whilst it may have resonated then, all that chimes now is a warning bell to keep the fuck away. Continue reading “Review: Killer Joe, Trafalgar Studios”

Too-hot-to-review: Woyzeck, Old Vic

“We are too desperate to do anything but live our lives desperately”

To be quite honest, I hadn’t intended to see Woyzeck, little about it appealing to me (despite the presence of Nancy Carroll and Ben Batt in the cast – attractive to me in EXACTLY THE SAME WAY). But a bargain and the chance to catch up with an old friend got me to the Old Vic on a gorgeously sunny afternoon where, inevitably, I found myself enjoying it more than I thought I would. There’s just a few performances left though if you want to catch it for yourself/bask in their air-con.

Round-up of news and treats and other interesting things

The news of Tim Pigott-Smith’s passing at the age of 70 yesterday was a terrible shock, not least because he was still in a rich creative vein – a tour of Death of a Salesman was scheduled for next month and the long-anticipated TV adaptation of his multi-award-nominated turn in the lead role of King Charles III is due later this year.

This tribute from Mike Bartlett is beautifully done. Continue reading “Round-up of news and treats and other interesting things”

Round-up of news and treats and other interesting things

Romola Garai will star as Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough alongside Emma Cunniffe as the eponymous monarch in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of Queen Anne. They will be joined by Jonathan Christie, Michael Fenton-Stevens, James Garnon, Richard Hope, Hywel Morgan, Beth Park and Carl Prekopp with further casting to be announced soon.

After originally opening at the Swan Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon in November 2015, Queen Anne will transfer to Theatre Royal Haymarket for a thirteen week limited run from 30 June until 30 September. Written by Helen Edmundson (The Heresy of Love, RSC) and directed by Natalie Abrahami (Happy Days, Young Vic), this gripping play explores the life of one of England’s little-known sovereigns and her intimate friendship with her childhood confidante Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough.

Continue reading “Round-up of news and treats and other interesting things”

TV Review: Apple Tree Yard

“Before I met you I was a civilised woman”

Based on the novel of the same name by Louise Doughty, psychodrama Apple Tree Yard has proved itself most watercooler-worthy with its twisting plot, classy cast and yes, controversial moments making it a hit thriller for the BBC. The story revolves around Yvonne Carmichael – celebrated scientist, mother of two, wife to Gary – who, when a chance encounter at work leads to an unexpected quickie with a literal tall dark and handsome stranger, finds her entire world tipped upside down by the consequences that follow.

Written by Amanda Coe and directed by Jessica Hobbs, the first episode plays out as a rather marvellous exploration of a 40-something woman rediscovering her sexuality and having the kind of illicit affair that makes you write naff diary entries (as Yvonne does…). But by the end of the first hour, the drama takes the first of several hard turns as [spoiler alert] she is brutally raped by a colleague. The use of rape as a dramatic device is one which should always be interrogated but here, coming from the text as it does and its devastating impact detailed as painstakingly as it was in episode 2, it felt appropriately handled and never gratuitous. Continue reading “TV Review: Apple Tree Yard”

TV Review: The Hollow Crown – The Wars of the Roses: 1. Henry VI Part 2

“I was a woeful looker-on”

On a night when the real drama was unfolding in Stockholm’s Globen arena and the main internecine conflict was between the juries of music professionals and the public vote as revealed by the new counting mechanism, the BBC’s decision to schedule The Hollow Crown against the Eurovision Song Contest didn’t work for me. Last week’s Henry VI Part 1 was a great reintroduction into these quality adaptations as it started the new series but the follow-up doesn’t quite match the same level.

Part of the issue lies in the seemingly accepted wisdom that the Henry VI plays are problems that need solving – I’ve still not managed to see a conventional production of the trilogy to use as a benchmark – and so the plays are often abandoned to the mercies of the vision of writers and directors. Such is the case with The Wars of the Roses: 1. Henry VI Part 2, chopped down and frantically paced, there’s a whole lot of fury but just not enough feeling (though if you’re a fan of battlefields and decapitated heads, you might fare better than I did). Continue reading “TV Review: The Hollow Crown – The Wars of the Roses: 1. Henry VI Part 2”

Review: The Hairy Ape, Old Vic

“I ain’t on oith and I ain’t in Heaven, get me? I’m in de middel tryin’ to seperate em, takin all de woist punches from bot’ of ’em”

Fans of Bertie Carvel have certainly been rewarded with his recent burst of activity – he starred in Bakkhai at the Almeida, had a major role in BBC drama Doctor Foster and now returns to the theatre to lead this revival of Eugene O’Neill’s play The Hairy Ape. The play is described as a classic expressionist masterpiece and whilst that might be overstating things ever so slightly, it does give a useful pointer to the heightened theatricality of the drama and of Richard Jones’ production. My 4 star review for Cheap Theatre Tickets can be read here.

Running time: 95 minutes (without interval)
Photos: Manuel Harlan
Booking until 21st November

 

 

Review: The Mentalists, Wyndhams

“People won’t like all that control stuff”

Well Stephen Merchant may be rangy but he sure ain’t got range. Which isn’t that much of a problem if you’re a fan, which I suppose is kinda the point when it comes to stunt casting, but for the regular theatre-goer is more problematic. For he is considerably exposed – literally so at times, if beanpole is your thing – for the nearly two hours of this two-hander in the Wyndham’s Theatre, marking his West End debut.

Richard Bean’s The Mentalists has been described by the playwright as “a dialectic between permissiveness and authoritarianism” but essentially it boils down to two men shooting the breeze in a hotel room somewhere in Finsbury Park, the one complaining about his lot in life, the other seemingly just going along for the ride. Naturally there’s more to it than that as the mood darkens, motives are revealed, truths come to light etc etc Continue reading “Review: The Mentalists, Wyndhams”

Review: Light Shining in Buckinghamshire, National Theatre

“There’s an end of outward preaching now. An end of perfection. There may be a time.”

Between this and Rules for Living, that’s two consecutive openings at the National Theatre that have been written and directed by women. Coincidence that it comes at a moment of regime change, who knows? Those more inclined to actual research might possibly tell you it’s more common you’d think but I doubt it. In any case, it’s pleasing to see Caryl Churchill getting a major production of one of her lesser-performed works at the hands of the talented Lyndsey Turner, who will soon be turning her hand to Benedict Cumberbatch’s Hamlet.

And it is an ambitious mark she has made here with Light Shining in Buckinghamshire, exploding the original six-strong casting of the show to a company of nearly twenty actors, supported by a community company of forty-odd supernumeraries. She needs the bodies too, to fit around an audacious design feat from Es Devlin which is best experienced with fresh eyes if possible, so no spoilers here. It is an inspired choice though, that both sets the scene perfectly for this world of political debate but also deconstructs meaningfully as the full scope of that debate becomes increasingly clear.  Continue reading “Review: Light Shining in Buckinghamshire, National Theatre”