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”

Review: Stories, National Theatre

Sam Troughton and Claudie Blakley are excellent in Nina Raine’s new play Stories at the Dorfman in the National Theatre

“This isn’t crowdfunding”

What a difference a few years makes: at 35, Bobbie hasn’t decided on pretty much anything in her life; at 39 however, Anna is resolute that she wants to make big changes in her life. Specifically, in the aftermath of a messy break-up with someone who didn’t want one, she’s determined to become a mother. Such is the world of Nina Raine’s new play Stories and as with Company, there’s so much more layered in here than the headlines might suggest. 

The focus does indeed first seem to be on fertility, as Claudie Blakley’s Anna debates, with her family, the ethics of sourcing sperm donors online and then rifles through her little black book to see if any of her exes would be up for donating a few of their best swimmers. But the scope is always wider than that, probing at the stories we are told stretching from bedtimes tales to the societal myths that we are sold and what that does to a mindset over the years. Continue reading “Review: Stories, National Theatre”

Review: Macbeth, National Theatre

Rory Kinnear as Macbeth, Beatrice Scirocchi as Witch and Anna-Maria Nabirye as Witch in Macbeth at the National Theatre (c) Brinkhoff Mögenburg 1002-1006

A whole lot of post-apocalyptic hurly-burly and sadly not much more besides – the National Theatre’s Macbeth really is something of a red-trousered disappointment 

“You have displaced the mirth”

Brexit has ruined Britain. The war of the Scottish Secession has laid ruin to much of the land north of Hadrian’s Wall. The lawless society that has resulted is a place where people once again use plastic bags willy-nilly (for tidying up after beheadings, as party hats – take your pick), where no-one has a mobile phone (presumably because roaming charges have been re-introduced), where the Look at my fucking red trousers meme has translated into despotic rule.

Such is the world of Rufus Norris’ Macbeth which is set ‘now, after a civil war’, hence my slight embellishment of said setting. I should add that I thought of much of this while watching the production, an indication of the level of engagement that it managed to exert. It wasn’t always thus – a bloody prologue is viscerally and effectively done and the entrance of the witches has a genuine chill to its strangeness. Continue reading “Review: Macbeth, National Theatre”

Review: The Cardinal, Southwark Playhouse

“A poet’s art is to lead on your thoughts through subtle paths and workings of a plot. I will say nothing positive; you may think what you please…”

It’s not too often that I open a review with mention of the sound design but Max Pappenheim’s work in The Little at the Southwark Playhouse is undoubtedly worthy of the accolade. In this intimate auditorium on the architecturally clean lines of Anna Reid’s set, there’s an extraordinary sense of being in vaulted palace chambers and cathedrals as echoes and reverberations amplify our imaginations perfectly.

It’s the kind of creative invention that those familiar with director Justin Audibert have come to expect and it is thrilling to see it maintained whether working in the vast Royal Shakespeare Theatre where his recent Snow in Midsummer was excellent, or on this much smaller scale where it is a real delight to see someone really understanding how to play to all sides of a thrust stage. There’s also a fascinating choice of material here in this revival of James Shirley’s The Cardinal, a 1641 play whose claim to fame is being one of the last to be performed before Oliver Cromwell pulled the plug on show-business.

Continue reading “Review: The Cardinal, Southwark Playhouse”

TV Review: The Honourable Woman

“It’s the Middle East Shlomo, enemies is what you make”

Only by chance did I find out that The Honourable Woman was leaving Netflix at the end of this month, so I quickly took the opportunity to catch up with Hugo Blick’s political spy thriller and as is so often the case with these things, was left wondering how I could have taken this long to watch it.

Political intrigue and personal drama coming from kidnapped children, suspicious suicides and betrayals ranging from old blood feuds to intra-familial conflict set the scene immediately for a typically dense and complex story from Blick, centred on a refreshingly new take on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the seeming impossibility of finding a solution when the wounds of the past are still felt so keenly and deeply. Continue reading “TV Review: The Honourable Woman”

Review: The Inn at Lydda, Sam Wanamaker Playhouse

“Some things are better left out of the history books”

Have you heard the one where Jesus, the three wise men and Caligula walk into a pub? No? Well it is pretty much the set up for John Wolfson’s curious new play The Inn at Lydda, at least once you’ve thrown John the Baptist and Tiberius Caesar in there as well. An eclectic bit of programming in the candlelit surroundings of the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, Wolfson has spun his tale from a tidbit in the New Testament Apocrypha and taken it to almost-farcical levels of comedy.

Ailing Roman Emperor Tiberius Caesar has heard of a legendary healer over in Judea and so off he pops to be cured by him, only problem is we’re in the days between the Resurrection and the Ascension. Stopping off at a hostelry in the city of Lydda where this news filters through, their party bumps into Tiberius’ lascivious great-nephew and heir Caligula, plus three weary travellers who have been waiting 33 years to reunite with a man who might just be hiding in a nearby cave. Continue reading “Review: The Inn at Lydda, Sam Wanamaker Playhouse”

DVD Review: Mary Reilly (1996)

“I always knew you’d be the death of us.”

Even the look on Julia Roberts’ face is warning you away, ‘don’t watch Mary Reilly, it isn’t that good a film at all and my fringe is terrible’. Not only her fringe, her Irish accent is atrocious and inconsistent and the whole premise of the film – a retelling of the Doctor Jekyll and Mr Hyde story from Valerie Martin’s novel – rests on people not being able to recognise John Malkovich in a wig and coloured contacts. 

It could have been so much more promising. Director Stephen Frears reunited several of his Dangerous Liaisons colleagues – screenwriter Christopher Hampton, actors Malkovich and Glenn Close, cinematographer Philippe Rousselot and several others – but the slow, dour nature of the film is horrifically exacerbated by Roberts and Malkovich’s performances in all their miscast, malformed unglory. Continue reading “DVD Review: Mary Reilly (1996)”

DVD Review: Agatha Christie – A Life In Pictures

“There was a motivation…” 

This is a curious thing – a drama-documentary of legendary mystery writer Agatha Christie which utilises a double flashback structure to form a kind of biopic of her life, but one with an additional focus on her mysterious disappearance over several days after a particularly traumatic, though unexplained, experience. Anna Massey plays Christie late in life, at a party celebrating the 10th anniversary of The Mousetrap’s West End run, where she fields questions from journalists about her life, the answers to which are played out in flashback. Olivia Williams takes on the younger role who is meeting with a psychiatrist to try and explain her experiences, which are also replayed to us, through the delicate probing of her psyche. 

It is all elegantly done in this BBC adaptation, written and directed by Richard Curson Smith, covering the key points of her life – a happy childhood devastated by the loss of her father, the freedom of becoming a volunteer nurse and then pharmacist during the Great War, the beginnings of her career as a writer – but with little real insight or inspiration in what it is saying. The scenes around her disappearance have more meat to them but again fail to really click as the build-up to the grand reveal of what caused it falls rather flat in the final analysis. The split narrative adds nothing and instead subtract substantially from the pace of the film, continually frustrating as we switch fruitlessly between the two.  Continue reading “DVD Review: Agatha Christie – A Life In Pictures”

TV Review: Humans Series 1

“You’re just a stupid machine aren’t you”

I wasn’t going to write Humans up but I’ve spoken so enthusiastically about it with several people since I watched the whole thing in three days and so thought I’d better recommend it even further. If there’s any justice in the world, Gemma Chan will win all sorts of awards for her performance as Anita (later Mia), the Synth or human-like android that has become the must-have accessory for domestic service in this parallel present-day universe. 

Anita is bought by the Hawkins family who soon start to twig that something isn’t right in the way she is behaving and as Sam Vincent and Jonathan Brackley’s drama continues over its 8 episodes, we come to see that the lines between human and machine have been considerably blurred by technological advancement and its potential to be exploited identified as a key priority for the nefarious powers-that-be.

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DVD Review: The Politician’s Wife

“Why do you think it is always Conservative politicians who end up in these kind of sexual scandals?”

The list of actresses that I just LOVE is ridiculously long and seemingly grows by the day, but Juliet Stevenson has long been on there and a discussion with a colleague just before I popped off to see Happy Days reminded me that one of my earliest memories of her work was in 1995’s The Politician’s Wife, which due to the lovely folk of 4OD, one can watch at one’s leisure. And so I did. And whilst there may be a hint of the rose-tinted glow about it, I have to say I really enjoyed delving back into the story.

Set in a Conservative administration largely inspired by the heady days of John Major’s Back to Basics campaign, Minister for Families Duncan Matlock finds himself mired in tabloid scandal as his affair with ostensible researcher Jennifer Caird is exposed to all and sundry. Devoted wife Flora is left in shock, at first by her husband’s dalliances but then by the revelation that several party grandees knew long before she did and so she plots a calculated revenge with help from some unexpected quarters. Continue reading “DVD Review: The Politician’s Wife”