DVD Review: Kingsman – The Secret Service

“I’m a Catholic whore, currently enjoying congress out of wedlock with my black Jewish boyfriend who works at a military abortion clinic. So, hail Satan, and have a lovely afternoon, madam”

Matthew Vaughan and Jane Goldman’s collaboration on comic book adaptation Kick Ass went rather well for them, so reuniting for spy caper Kingsman: The Secret Service – based on The Secret Service by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons – seemed like a no-brainer. So much so that Vaughan walked away from directing X-Men: Days of Future Past for this project, and it is indeed a whole heap of fun, poking irreverently at the often po-faced spy film genre with great glee.

The film follows mouthy teenager Gary “Eggsy” Unwin as he is recruited and trained up by the same secret spy organisation that his long-dead father belonged to, ultimately having to wise up quickly as a plot by an evil megalomaniac threatens the whole world. So far so Bond, but where Kingsman shines is in ramping everything that 007 can’t do up to 12. So there’s huge amounts of creative swearing,  and more gratuitous violence than you can shake a bag of severed limbs at. Continue reading “DVD Review: Kingsman – The Secret Service”

Review: Utopia, Soho Theatre

“We know that there’s another way…we just not sure where it is”

What is Utopia? Defining the hopes and dreams of a perfect world has occupied writers for hundreds of years and in this co-production between Newcastle’s Live Theatre and the Soho Theatre, contemporary writers have also been asked to explore their own takes on the concept, blueprints for future happiness, which have been woven altogether by Steve Marmion and Max Roberts in this ambitious, if unwieldy production.

In a strange grey room, six pierrots work their way through the different blueprints, working through the various scenarios to see if any of them actually do lead to the promised land. Some are funny and satirical as in the warlord discovering the power of Facebook or the old-school stand-up whose jokes fall flat in a world of perfect harmony. And some are more serious, as the authors probe the idea of utopian ideals arising out of  less-than-perfect situations, acts of self-sacrifice and tender kindness coming out of the blue. Continue reading “Review: Utopia, Soho Theatre”

Review: Crawling in the Dark, Almeida

“Waiting for something to happen so you can go and tell everyone what a state my mum is?”

The Almeida Theatre has long been developing links with a younger audience through its Almeida Projects programme and Crawling in the Dark is their seventh play that has been especially commissioned for young people. Writer Natalie Mitchell has created a response inspired by the show currently playing in the theatre, David Eldridge’s The Knot of the Heart and its examination of how personal responsibilities and family relationships are affected by substance abuse, but shifting the focus onto the teenagers in the family. Living on an Islington council estate, Amber and Nathan are reunited with their hard-partying mum Liz after a while staying at their grandparents. It soon becomes clear though that her behaviour masks a much darker secret and the huge weight of caring for their mother and trying to conceal the truth of what she is up to falls on the too young shoulders of these two.

Kellie Bright as Liz struggling to deal with her drug habit whilst caring so very deeply for her kids was heartbreakingly good, a sympathetic portrait of a mother unable to extricate herself from the tangles of addiction. Along with Tahirah Sharif and Michael Lewis, a believable family dynamic was created from the outset, the easy familiarity with each other utterly convincing making their struggle all the more poignant. Sharif as excelled as the older of the siblings, carrying more of the burden but the weight of the responsibilities pushing hard on her and threatening her burgeoning relationship with the compassionate Freddie, played with charm by Tobi Bakare. Michael Lewis’ younger and consequently less able to adjust Nathan was also well-played, acting out in school and hungry for stories of happier times and family memories to cling onto. Continue reading “Review: Crawling in the Dark, Almeida”

Review: Greenland, National Theatre

“It’s like we’re conducting a big, massive experiment…”

Pulling together narratives and investigative work from four playwrights, Moira Buffini, Matt Charman, Penelope Skinner and Jack Thorne around the ever-current issue of climate change, Greenland is the latest play at the National Theatre to tackle this issue, following on from Mike Bartlett’s Earthquakes in London last year. Based on interviews with scientists, politicians, money-makers and philosophers, woven together by dramaturg Ben Power and directed by Bijan Sheibani, this is a highly ambitious, challenging piece of work and though this was the first preview, it seems that some of these challenges might be a little too much.

Predictably, multiple strands of story run parallel, some explored and revisited more than others as the narrative shifts around, there are occasional intersections but these are perfunctory rather than integral to the stories. Amongst everything, there’s a young woman moved to drop out of university to become a climate change activist; two women in a therapy session (there was division in the group as to whether they were mother/daughter or a lesbian couple, but it really isn’t that important) who are being driven apart by the strident ‘green’ views of one of them; two guys bird-watching in Greenland, one of whom has been doing it for 40 years; a Labour politician struggling to make a difference leading up to and at the Copenhagen Climate Conference. All are trying to make sense of the conflicting viewpoints around the issue and figuring out who to trust and what, if anything, can be done. Continue reading “Review: Greenland, National Theatre”

Review: The Typist, Riverside Studios

“It’s not a result of excessive masturbation”


The Sky Arts Playhouse: Live project has commissioned five new short plays which will be broadcast live on Sky Arts 2 but we have the opportunity to watch previews of them at Riverside Studios in Hammersmith before they are transmitted: first up is The Typist. Written by Rebecca Lenkiewicz, who will seemingly be forever known as the first woman to have a play performed on the Olivier stage at the National Theatre and directed by Bijan Sheibani, responsible for one of my favourite things from last year Our Class, there is obviously a very high class field of creatives brought together here by executive producer Sandi Toksvig and there are some corkers coming in the rest of the programme, not least Lesley Manville and Juliet Stevenson in a new Mark Ravenhill piece.


It tells the story of the relationship between Mary Parks, an artist and photographer who has lost her sight, and Fit, a smart but shy teenage boy who she has employed to transcribe her thoughts and writings. From the moment of his employment, their rapport is obvious despite their differences but as they become more and more honest with each other, Mary tests the relationship to its limits with an extraordinary request. It is a fine piece of writing, a brilliantly rounded portrait of a feisty mature woman and the real issues affecting her.


It opens extremely well, showing the inner turmoil of a woman struggling to deal with the reality of her affliction but when her visitor arrives, she’s so comfortable in her surroundings, it is several minutes before we actually realise that she is blind, it is very slickly done and as we see, typical of Mary’s approach to life. Gemma Jones beautifully plays the slow unfolding of a woman unused to being dependent on another, but coming to realise that she does need help and indeed the balm of human contact. Tobi Bakare is also good as the astronomy-obsessed Fit, learning more about the world from his interactions with Mary but also possessed of a strong moral code despite his relative youth. The reveal of the truth behind his name is a touching scene too, albeit a device borrowed from Slightly in Peter Pan.

Set entirely in Mary’s study, it is well dressed with book-laden shelves on the one side and an attractive variation of pictures and photos hanging on the other in Naomi Dawson’s design and complemented by Martin Kempton’s lighting which has been heavily influenced by Mary’s profession as a photographer. The brief scene changes are carried out in the deep red light of a darkroom and then there’s a bright flare of flashbulb and the lights come up for the scene: it was highly effective in the auditorium and I hope it comes across well on the television screen.

The Typist was an interesting piece of writing which accomplishes an impressive amount in a small space of time, though I’d be interested to see if there’s any plans to develop it further. It is lifted up by some excellent creative choices and acting, and for me it was a great opportunity to see Gemma Jones up close (who as it turns out, I still haven’t forgiven or going rogue in Spooks). There are three more dates to see this live if you so desire and it will be transmitted live on Sky Arts 2 at 9pm on Wednesday 9th June.

Running time: 45 minutes
Programme cost: free cast and creatives list available