TV Review: The Split / The Good Fight

If female-fronted lawyer shows are your bag (and why wouldn’t they be!), the twin joys of The Split and The Good Fight have marvellous to behold

“Kill all the lawyers”

If I’m completely honest, Abi Morgan’s The Split did leave me a tad disappointed as it veered away from its legal beginnings to something considerably more soapy over its six episodes. The personal lives of the Defoe clan well and truly took over at the expense of any of the cases they were looking after and even if that family includes Nicola Walker, Annabel Scholey and Deborah Findlay, it’s still a bit of a shame that it ended up so schlocky. Continue reading “TV Review: The Split / The Good Fight”

TV Review: The Split, BBC1 (Episode 1)

All hail the return of Nicola Walker to our TV screens in new Abi Morgan drama The Split

“Divorce shouldn’t be easy”

Just a quickie to cover the first episode of this new legal drama which looks extremely promising, not least because of a swooningly wonderful cast. The aforementioned Nicola Walker, Annabel Scholey and Fiona Button as sisters, the ever-marvellous Deborah Findlay as their fearsome mother, people like Stephen Tompkinson and Meera Syal as clients, hunky Dutchmen like Barry Atsma looming on the sidelines, and the likes of Rudi Dharmalingam and Kobna Holdbrook-Smith also on the fringes. 

Photograph: Mark Johnson/BBC/Sister Pictures

DVD Review: Birthday Girl

“Are you a giraffe?”

Birthday Girl is a rather odd little thing, a 2001 film from Jez Butterworth (he of Jerusalem) that seemed to slip under the radar somewhat. It’s not brilliant but by the same token it isn’t terrible either and plenty worse films have made bigger waves. Ben Chaplin’s John is hapless in St Albans (is there anything else you can be there? ;-)), having no luck in love and so resorting to getting himself a Russian mail-order bride called Nadia. She turns up in the form of Nicole Kidman, who else, and though she can’t speak a word of English, she indulges his S&M fantasies and so job’s, it would seem, a good’un.

But it’s no happily ever after, Nadia’s two rough cousins soon turn up on the doorstep (played by Frenchmen Vincent Cassel and Mathieu Kassovitz, assumedly because the Russians were out on the day they were casting?) and John’s job as a bank clerk turns out to be rather important. Their unpredictable violence pulls John deep into a morass of deception and criminality but after the mid-film twists take place, the movie runs out of energy and trundles towards a rather uninspired ending that no amount of random Brit cameos (Ben Miller, Reece Shearsmith) can rescue. Continue reading “DVD Review: Birthday Girl”

Review: Rules for Living, National Theatre

“Let the bedlam begin”

The final play to premiere in Nicholas Hytner’s final season in charge of the National Theatre is Sam Holcroft’s Rules for Living, directed by Marianne Elliott in the Dorfman. Was it a pointed decision to end his reign with a show both written and helmed by a woman, who knows? Either way, it’s always good to see this venue providing such high profile opportunities for the writers it nurtures. Holcroft’s short(ish) Edgar and Annabel played as part of the Double Feature season in 2011 and she was a writer-in-residence here at the NT in 2013, from whence this rather cracking new comedy has emerged. 

And boy is it funny, I don’t think I have laughed this thoroughly and consistently at a play in ages. As someone for whom farcical goings-on too often fall flat, I’m often left bemoaning the fact I’m sitting stony-faced in a sea of hilarity (cf. One Man Two Guvnors et al) but for once I was right with them. Holcroft’s set-up has an extended family coming together for Christmas lunch, an event for which Edith has been preparing since January. She’s looking forward to seeing both her sons, Matthew and Adam, and their partners, and they in turn are keen to see their father who has been in the wars recently.  Continue reading “Review: Rules for Living, National Theatre”

Short Film Review #35

Knowledgy

Another Icelandic short (it’s a slippery slope once I start on these things…) and this time it’s a jet black comedy. Hrefna Hagalín and Kristín Bára Haraldsdóttir’s Knowledgy follows a naïve Icelandic couple as they get suckered into an LA-based cult by the charismatic leaders (and the example of Ashton Kutcher). Following their every move is their lodger who is filming their story for his film project and provides an excellent external view into this ever-darkening tale.


Audiobook

Another short and sharp clip, James Spinney’s Audiobook is a wryly funny look at the recording of an actor’s memoirs. Daniel Ings’ arrogant Aussie is a volatile presence who threatens to completely overwhelm Oliver Stevens’ young sound technician with his over-inflated and easily-pricked ego. Stevens also wrote the film, which may be short but has a punchy sense of humour about it.


Eddie Loves Mary

A dinky little thing, Hannah Rothschild’s Eddie Loves Mary is a lovely sweet-natured film that wears its sentimental heart proudly on its sleeve. Kevin McNally and Gina McKee lead the cast but there’s a host of brief appearances from familiar faces like Steven Mackintosh, Anna Maxwell Martin and Stephen Mangan as we get closer to the mystery of who is spray-painting Eddie Loves Mary all over the place.


Grow Up

Ivan Madeira’s Grow Up serves as a really nice companion piece to Kate Tempest’s Wasted starring as it does Cary Crankson who appears in both. Grow Up is the precursor, a 10 minute blast through the trials of getting through the mundaneness of young adulthood and the onset of real life and responsibility. Lots of fun and full of astute observations.

Review: Jeeves and Wooster in Perfect Nonsense, Duke of York’s

“Do what to a what?”

The whole Jeeves and Wooster thing has passed me by in life – I’ve never seen the TV show or read PG Wodehouse’s stories, nor ever felt the need to catch up. But I do like me some Matthew Macfadyen and so the lure of seeing him onstage – after an absence of three years – meant that a trip to the unwieldly titled Jeeves and Wooster in Perfect Nonsense was in order. The play was adapted by Robert and David Goodale and is directed by Sean Foley, who brings a strenuous theatricality to the whole affair.

The conceit sees Stephen Mangan’s toff Wooster intending to put on a one-man show but soon finding that he needs the assistance of his trusty manservant Jeeves, played by Macfadyen, who helps him relay the tales of Wooster’s adventures by stage-managing the whole affair and portraying any number of supporting players. Thus we get a dizzying whirl of characters, locations and scenarios all conjured from Jeeves’ resourcefulness but not content with the The 39 Steps-style carousing, there’s possibly the hugest amount of arch nudge-nudge-wink-wink business ever seen on a London stage. 


Some may really appreciate it, but I found it to be most alienating. Drama school buddies of old, Macfadyen and Mangan work hard but are constantly fighting a losing battle against Foley’s sustained emphasis on the farce of the piece, which turns the tone into something perilously close to smug. And though you’d be hard-pressed to tell from the title, or the publicity, this is actually a three-man show – Mark Hadfield’s ageing butler Seppings is a frequently scene-stealing performance who also multi-roles his way through the story, making a mockery of his unheralded presence in the play. 


My relationship with farce has always been difficult but it isn’t clear-cut, a lot of farcing about leaves me cold but I loved Noises Off and the soon-to-be-West-End-bound The Duck House. But whatever magic ingredient they had – I suspect it is the charming heart at their very centre – it is sorely missing here and no amount of arched eyebrows can convince me otherwise.


Running time: 2 hours 25 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 8th March

Short Film Review #11

The latest set of short films that have crossed my path.

I haven’t covered any animated films before, but the voice cast for Cooked was just too irresistible, featuring as it does Katherine Parkinson, Stephen Mangan and David Morrissey. And I’m glad I did as this tale of an everyday love triangle between a walrus, a lobster and a seal by German animators Jens & Anna is just adorable. My limited experience in the field makes the comparison with Aardman’s work a little lazy but it really does have some of the same fresh and quirky sense of humour about it and visually it looks really impressive, using a variety of techniques to create something that feels nicely different. At barely six minutes long, you should definitely give this a watch. Continue reading “Short Film Review #11”

Short Film Review #8

The best cultural experiences, no matter the medium, is the way that it can make one feel. So where classic Broadway-inspired choreography makes my soul soar, musical comedies make me laugh helplessly and my painstakingly curated iTunes collection can fit any mood I want, this group of shorts contains two films that made me weep for days, I’m welling up just thinking about one of them now, and so I am pleased to be able to them with you. The first and the last are the weepies, with a smattering of less sad films mixed in the middle.

Continue reading “Short Film Review #8”

Review: Birthday, Royal Court

“It’s not the same for a man…”

It is a rare treat these days to be able to go into a show not knowing a huge amount about it and so it was with Birthday, just opening for previews now at the Royal Court. The reveal of the central premise was a great surprise and to be honest, if you don’t know it yet and are going to see it soon (although I imagine once it opens it will become impossible to avoid) I’d recommend leaving yourself unspoiled (and then of course coming back to read this later, hehe.)

Set in a modern-day maternity hospital, Ed and Lisa are having their second child, but in this world there are considerably more options open to them and given the difficult circumstances surrounding the birth of Charlie, they have opted for one of these. Thus playwright Joe Penhall takes us on a 90 minute journey through a somewhat alternative view of childbirth, and how men and women deal with it differently, to sometimes comic and sometimes perplexing effect.  Continue reading “Review: Birthday, Royal Court”

63rd Tony Award nominations

Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Play 
Jeff Daniels – God of Carnage as Alan
Raúl Esparza – Speed-the-Plow as Charlie Fox
James Gandolfini – God of Carnage as Michael
Geoffrey Rush – Exit the King as King Berenger
Thomas Sadoski – reasons to be pretty as Greg

Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play
Hope Davis – God of Carnage as Annette
Jane Fonda – 33 Variations as Katherine Brandt
Marcia Gay Harden – God of Carnage as Veronica
Janet McTeer – Mary Stuart as Mary Stuart
Harriet Walter – Mary Stuart as Elizabeth I

Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical 
David Alvarez, Trent Kowalik, and Kiril Kulish – Billy Elliot the Musical as Billy Elliot
Gavin Creel – Hair as Claude
Brian d’Arcy James – Shrek the Musical as Shrek
Constantine Maroulis – Rock of Ages as Drew
J. Robert Spencer – Next to Normal as Dan Continue reading “63rd Tony Award nominations”