TV Review: Liar Series 2

Series 2 of Liar shifts the focus from rape to murder but does little to raise this from bog-standard thriller territory

“Sometimes bad things happen and we just have to deal with them”

Was the world calling out for a second season of Liar? When the first apparently did such great numbers for ITV, it seems the decision was inevitable but it has taken more than two years for it to arrive and I’m not sure that it carries the same level of impetus with it – I don’t imagine ratings will have held up to anywhere near the same degree.

That first series did show much promise, complicating a rape story by presenting a he said/she said narrative that asked some big questions. But midway through, Liar tipped its hand and ended up as a bog-standard thriller and it is in that same spirit that it continues here. A bit of story-telling trickery allows for Ioan Gruffudd’s Andrew to return alongside Joanne Froggatt as Laura but I have to say I really wasn’t gripped. Continue reading “TV Review: Liar Series 2”

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”

TV Review: Liar (Series 1)

A strong opening concept makes the first half of series one of Liar a must-see, until convention creeps in to mar the second.

“I feel like I’m in Dawson’s Creek

From the very beginnings of Liar, it is tough to like central character Laura Nielson. She’s the type of person who goes canoeing in the morning before going to work, she’s the kind of secondary school teacher who happily flips the bird to unruly students, heck she even sings to Sam Smith in the shower. But before you can get too annoyed with her for being someone who doesn’t prebook her taxi before going on a date, the hammer blow of date rape lands heavily to reshape our preconceptions.

The cleverness of Harry and Jack Williams’ series, at least for its first few episodes, is how it toys with those expectations. As Laura reels from the aftermath of her dinner with handsome surgeon Andrew Earlham, the shattered narrative structure flits repeatedly from present to past as it also switches perspective. It’s a neatly disorientating device that constantly calls into question the ‘truth’ of what we’re hearing or seeing, really ramping up the ‘he said she said’ format as consequences unravel dramatically for the both of them. Continue reading “TV Review: Liar (Series 1)”

Review: Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare’s Globe

“Everything in extremity”

It’s something of a shame that the shadow of Emma Rice’s torrid experience as AD of the Globe looms large over her second (and final) season there. The opening production in the ‘Summer of Love’ is Daniel Kramer’s Romeo and Juliet and following Rice’s lead, it is bold and brash, full of light and sound, and the kind of ferocious energy that you can easily imagine raising the hackles once again of those influential precious few.

And as such, it’s a production that encapsulates the wide-ranging issues of such a radical approach. With its YMCA dance routines and clown make-up, dinosaur costumes and middle-aged lovers, Kramer clearly has no problem in roughing up Shakespeare. And it’s no secret that the Bard can take it, one of the smartest innovations here is to run scenes in parallel – the marriage is intercut with the deaths that doom it, action and reaction played out simultaneously. Continue reading “Review: Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare’s Globe”

Review: Home Chat, Finborough

“I’ve got to convince you of my complete innocence and I don’t know how”

It’s a mystery really, how a playwright as renowned as Noël Coward can have a play that few have heard of and even fewer have actually seen. But it’s a genuine marvel that that play turns out to be a sparkling diamond, the Finborough once again coming up with the goods in exploring deep into the dustier realm of the literary canon. Home Chat has not been seen in the UK for nearly 90 years but on the evidence of Martin Parr’s revelatory production here, you wouldn’t be surprised to see it take it place alongside the more familiar of Coward’s works that frequently pepper the repertoire.

Not least because it contains a corker of a female lead in the figure of Janet Ebony, a garrulous gutsy character who tosses contemporary notions of morality under the microscope and finds British society to be severely lacking. Home Chat begins with a train crash, wittily mounted here in miniature, but it’s not the disaster that is the focus, rather the scandalous implications for its survivors. For it is revealed that Janet and her best friend Peter Chelsworth, who both escaped unscathed, were sharing a sleeping car and their family and friends back in Chelsea are simply outraged. Continue reading “Review: Home Chat, Finborough”

TV Review: Silk, Series 3


“It’s not what any of you want”

And so it ends. A little unexpectedly, it was announced by creator Peter Moffat that this third series of Silk would be the last and whilst I would love to say that it was a fitting finale to the joys that were Series 1 and 2, I have to say I was quite disappointed in it. After showcasing Maxine Peake marvellously as the driven QC Martha Costello, here the character was barely recognisable; after securing the fabulous Frances Barber as a striking opposing counsel as Caroline Warwick, her incorporation into Shoe Lane Chambers neutered almost all the interest that had made her so fascinating; and with Neil Stuke’s Billy suffering health issues all the way through, the focus was too often drawn away from the courtroom.

When it did sit inside the Old Bailey, it did what the series has previously done so well, refracting topical issues through the eyes of the law – the kittling of protestors, Premiership footballers believing themselves beyond justice, assisted suicide, the effects of counter-terrorism on minority communities. And it continued to bring a pleasingly high level of guest cast – Claire Skinner was scorchingly effective as a mother accused of a mercy killing, Eleanor Matsuura’s sharp US lawyer reminding me how much I like this actress who deserves a breakthrough, and it always nice to see one of my favourites Kirsty Bushell on the tellybox, even if she melted a little too predictably into Rupert Penry-Jones’ arms. Continue reading “TV Review: Silk, Series 3”

Review: Journey’s End, Richmond Theatre

“It feels like we’re just generally waiting around for something to happen”

Set towards the end of the First World War in the trenches at St Quentin, Journey’s End is a compelling account of life in an officer’s dugout written by RC Sherriff who drew on his own experience there to create this piece of powerfully timeless drama. Never moving from Jonathan Fensom’s tightly designed set, it focuses particularly on Captain Stanhope who is leading this group of officers in the days before the Germans launched one of their fiercest offensives as they reflect back on what has happened, battle through the grim realities of day-to-day life on the front line and contemplate the conflict that lies ahead.

David Grindley’s production was first seen in the West End in 2004 and is a masterclass in showing that less can be so much more when deployed with the devastating effectiveness that we see here. One of the play’s recurring themes is the corrosive effect of the endless waiting on the minds of soldiers and officers alike, so much so that one almost longs for something to happen, despite knowing that the order to the front line is an almost certain death sentence. So when that finally happens, the way that the audience is left to make their own conclusions about what is going on in the trenches above from the noise of artillery and bombs whilst watching an empty stage, especially when it is the fate of two of the main characters that lies in the balance, it is an almost unbearable moment. Gregory Clarke’s sound design is perfectly throughout, ever-present but rising to uncomfortable levels as the characters we’re coming to know repeatedly go up to face unimaginable peril above ground and the finale, with the final onslaught represented by a deafening wall of sound which literally shakes the theatre, is a moment of stirring horror that really does leave one stunned. Continue reading “Review: Journey’s End, Richmond Theatre”