Lockdown TV Review: Spooks Series 9

Oof, the start of the downfall…Series 9 of Spooks turns into the Lucas North show with terrible ramifications

“Do you know how I knew it was true? Because for the first time you made sense”

It couldn’t last, two strong series of Spooks back-to-back were undone by the horrors of Series 9. And it needn’t have been this way, it opens with a great 10 minutes. Ros;s funeral! A proposal! Harry as an assassin! Ruth getting called “that dogged, brilliant bitch”! But new head writers Jonathan Brackley and Sam Vincent then have the trickier task of reconstructing a new team, and don’t quite nail it with Sophia Myles’ Beth and Max Brown’s Dimitri only ever appearing in shades of beige.

Worse though, is the shifting of the entire season’s narrative onto Richard Armitage’s Lucas who – dun dun dur – is actually someone else called John Bateman, whose torturously wrangled personal history is dragged out through the presence of Iain Glen’s Vaughan. Undoing all the good work that Armitage had done in building the fascinating ambiguities of Lucas North, the entire John Bateman storyline was a huge mis-step and ultimately indulges Spooks at its worst. 

Nicola Walker-ometer
Never better than turning Harry down, she’s a vital steadying presence in a show that badly needs it. Continue reading “Lockdown TV Review: Spooks Series 9”

Not-a-re-review: Death of a Salesman, Piccadilly Theatre

This striking reinterpretation of Death of a Salesman raises the roof at the Piccadilly Theatre, it literally brings the house down…

“I don’t say he’s a great man…but he’s a human being”

Gonna be a bit cheeky with this, as I got to go the West End transfer of Death of a Salesman as a guest. And even though I loved it at the Young Vic, I didn’t particularly feel inclined to write about it again, in this slightly recast version co-directed by Marianne Elliott and Miranda Cromwell. So check back for that previous review and rest assured that it is a corking night at the theatre.

Running time: 3 hours (with interval)
Photos: Brinkhoff Mogenburg
Death of a Salesman is booking at the Piccadilly Theatre until 4th January

Review: Death of a Salesman, Young Vic

A brilliant cast shine in this striking revival of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman at the Young Vic

“Attention, attention must finally be paid to such a person”

The American dream hasn’t often looked like this. Marianne Elliott and Miranda Cromwell’s re-imagining of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman reaffirms the Young Vic as the place to go to shake up these American classics (qv A View from the Bridge) with a startling revival that seems destined to go far.

Elliott has recent form of course in reinterpretations and Cromwell was the Associate Director on Company too. And if Death… might not go quite as far, it still emerges as a thoughtful reconsideration with a decidedly psychological bent, trapping us as much as Willy in his troubled mind. Continue reading “Review: Death of a Salesman, Young Vic”

Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 8

“You are the chief executive officer of the human race”

It was quite interesting to rewatch Series 8 of Doctor Who, one which I hadn’t revisited at all since it originally aired, as my memories thereof were not at all positive. And whilst disappointments remained – Robin Hood, 2D cartoons, the treeees! – there was also much to enjoy that I’d forgotten about. The smash-and-grab of Time Heist, the simplicity of ghost story Listen, and the ominous darkness of the finale.

I’m still in two minds about Peter Capaldi’s Twelve though, I want to like him so much more than I do, and I think you do get the sense of him feeling his way into his irascible take on the role. Jenna Coleman’s Clara benefits from being released from the yoke of impossibility to move to the forefront of several episodes and if she’s still a little hard to warm to, that finale really is superbly done. And then there’s Michelle Gomez, stealing the whole damn thing magnificently! Continue reading “Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 8”

Not-a-review: The Undone Years, Theatre Royal Haymarket

 
Just a quickie to cover this reading of a new play. The Pitch Your Play initiative run by Masterclass offers the opportunity for young writers aged 17-30 to showcase their new and unpublished work in front of an audience. Simon Cotton has had a busy time of it recently as part of Action to the Word’s A Clockwork Orange but he’s also made room to write The Undone Years, a play which looks at the immediate aftermath of the First World War on British family life.

I’m not going to review, this post is mainly for completeness of my theatre trips, but I did think that it was an interesting approach to looking at the enduring effects of war on the day-to-day living, not only on those who survived the battlefield but those who were left behind. And how whole aspects of life had to be reconfigured in light of the huge shadow of the war – how important can one make one’s individual concerns in light of such loss.

Short Film Review #26

Rubbish

Rubbish sees Martin Freeman and James Lance reprise characters from an earlier short film Call Register, best mates Kevin and Julian. Once again tussling over a girl, in this case Anna Friel’s new neighbour Isobel, this time the scenario is around recycling in the flats where they live. Ed Roe’s film neatly punctures the hypocrisy that many of us carry about green issues, the lip service we pay and in this example, how that can rebound on us. Lance carries on his laidback swagger and Freeman is brilliant once again as the constantly over-compensating Kevin, aware he’s about to lose another girl to his handsome friend.


Elephant Palm Tree

Another film from Kara Miller and another two-hander that this time charts the quietly painful collapse of a marriage. No external factors are involved, it’s just a woman realising that the relationship to which she has devoted her life is giving her nothing back and asking for a divorce. But his (unspecified) high-flying job has kept her a very plush way of life and as they do battle over what she would walk away with, it becomes clear that whereas she’s ready to leave her man, her resolve may not be strong enough to divorce herself from this lifestyle. George Harris redeems himself a little for Frankenstein and Doña Croll is subtly affecting as the torn Martha, the difficulties of her life and decisions etched upon her face.


Project One

A rather fascinating project in which the medium  of short film is stretched to encompass the world of video games, all on the most meagre of budgets. It’s an experiment for sure, but worth a look.

I Am Bob

Donald Rice’s I am Bob is a rather amusing if slightly overlong film that plays like a homespun take on Being John Malkovich but with Bob Geldof at the heart of it. A mix-up with his chauffeur on a toilet break during a long ride up to a gig in Glasgow leaves him stranded in an isolated Lancashire pub without cash, cards or mobile. But far from being abandoned, it is hosting the 14th Long Marston Lookalike Convention and so he gets swept up in the baffling world of celebrity impersonations where David Bamber has already entered as Bob Geldof and the two have to do battle to be the most convincing Bob. It’s silly but fun and even if it stretches a little too languorously, it is always good-natured. 

Review: Chimerica, Almeida

“I’m looking for the Tank Man” 

There’s a moment of genius near the end of Lucy Kirkwood’s new play Chimerica that manages that all-too-rare feat of managing to unearth something genuinely new out of the familiar, challenging the way we hold viewpoints and the assumptions that come with them. It is a startling realisation, excellently executed and one which allows for an interesting reinterpretation of what has gone before. Kirkwood’s subject is the fast-changing and complex relationship between China and the USA and sprawls ambitiously over 24 years and multiple storylines to create an unwieldy epic, co-produced with Headlong, that just might be one of the most interesting and exciting pieces of new writing in London.

At the heart of the story is Joe Schofield, a photojournalist responsible for one of the iconic images of the twentieth century in capturing the moment a protestor stood in front of a tank in Tiananmen Square, who gets the sniff of a new story when he finds out the man might be living in America. As he pursues this new lead through the nooks and crannies of Chinatown to glittering political fundraisers, his singlemindedness threatens his relationships with the friends and lovers around him, but also with his key Chinese friend and contact for whom the price to pay is significantly higher.  Continue reading “Review: Chimerica, Almeida”

Radio Review: The Weirdstone of Brisingamen + Gracey and Me

“Is this the way to Macclesfield?”

Books like Alan Garner’s The Weirdstone of Brisingamen and The Owl Service and Susan Cooper’s The Dark Is Rising series were huge favourites of mine when I was a wee laddie, so I quite most intrigued to hear that a radio adaptation had been made of the former for Radio 4. Peter Thomson’s dramatization condenses the novel down to a highly atmospheric hour as this children’s fantasy tale winds its way around the ancient mysteries hidden on Alderley Edge. The story starts with Colin and Susan, young siblings who are sent to stay with old family friends in Cheshire whilst their parents are away, and who soon find themselves sucked into a mystical battle between the forces of good and evil who are all hunting for the Weirdstone which has gone missing and which looks strangely like the jewel at the heart of Susan’s favourite bracelet. 

Thomson has the tale narrated by an older version of Colin, a technique I’m not normally a fan of but one which works extremely well here, especially as he is played by Robert Powell whose sonorous tones are soothingly ideal for the purpose. And Jane Morgan’s production is inspired in its use of music (by Mia Soteriou) and special effects (by Wilfredo Acosta) to quickly establish the necessary atmosphere of ancient mystery and peril. She’s cast her play astutely too: Trevor Cooper’s booming guardian Gowther is brilliant, Philip Voss’ voice epitomises weary wisdom and Monica Dolan is a perfect choice for the wicked Selina Place. And with Hugo Docking and Fern Deacon full of youthful energy and wonder as Colin and Susan, it’s a rather wonderful hour of radio entertainment. Continue reading “Radio Review: The Weirdstone of Brisingamen + Gracey and Me”

DVD Review: Happy Go Lucky

“En-ra-ha, EN-RA-HA!”

This was actually the first Mike Leigh film I saw at the cinema and I absolutely loved it, so it was interesting revisiting it on DVD, especially so in the context of his other films. To my eye Happy-Go-Lucky sticks out as being a bit different to the others, and not just because it doesn’t feature Lesley Manville (or Imelda Staunton for that matter), but because its general aesthetic feels in a different key.

Sally Hawkins’ Poppy is a permanently chirpy primary school teacher whose life we follow throughout the film and though Hawkins is exceptional, as ever is the way of things with me, it is the second female lead that really grabs me and it is Alexis Zegerman’s Zoe Poppy’s best friend and flatmate that really wins me over with her drawled-out, deadpan delivery proving surprisingly alluring. That said, there is endless comedy gold in Hawkins’ face throughout the film, whether trampolining, the reactions to having her back massaged to find out where some pain is coming from, or responding to Flamenco teacher’s request, it is just beautiful to watch. Continue reading “DVD Review: Happy Go Lucky”

DVD Review: The Ruby in the Smoke

“I mean to have that ruby”

The Ruby from the Smoke is the first in a series of four books featuring adventuring lead character Sally Lockhart. Here a mysterious message received from her father just before he drowned in the South China Seas sets her on a dangerous journey which starts with a man dying in front of her very eyes at the mere mention of what is contained within. She is then drawn into a mystery involving the opium trade, the fabled Ruby of Agrapur and even secrets from her own family history as her life is under constant peril from the dastardly Mrs Holland.

This was one of those things that I pretty much knew I was going to love from the moment I heard about it, but it certainly does help that I do really like the actress that Billie Piper has become. There’s an inner strength to her as well as a richly warm quality that is highly endearing and ideally suited to this modern figure of a woman, challenging Victorian notions of womanhood as she strives to uncover the truth. And Pullman writes extremely well for his female characters, something carried over in Adrian Hodges’ screenplay, as Hayley Atwell’s Rosa makes a sterling ally for Sally and as the evil Mrs Holland, Julie Walters makes a convincing villain. Obviously casting against type, it is an astonishingly effective performance, exuding huge malevolence and full of spine-chilling touches – the false teeth in particular – it’s a vein of work she ought to pursue a little more. Continue reading “DVD Review: The Ruby in the Smoke”