Review: Small Island, National Theatre

Andrea Levy’s novel Small Island comes to life most beautifully in this adaptation by Helen Edmundson at the National Theatre

“How come they know nothing about their own empire?”

There’s something glorious about Small Island, its epic scale suiting the National Theatre to a tee as a story about marginalised communities finally breaks free from the Dorfman… Andrea Levy’s novel was memorably adapted for television in 2009 and Helen Edmundson’s version is no less adventurous as it refashions the narrative into a linear story of just over three hours and stellar impact with its focus here on three key characters whom circumstance pushes all together.

Jamaicans Hortense and Gilbert with their respective dreams of being a teacher and a lawyer, and Lincolnshire farm daughter Queenie, all searching for their own version of escape and all unprepared for the consequences of smashing headfirst into the real world. For dreams of the ‘motherland’ prove just that for these first-generation immigrants shocked by the hostility of post-war Britain. And Queenie’s hopes of freedom are curtailed as she finds herself trapped in a loveless marriage to bank clerk Bernard. Continue reading “Review: Small Island, National Theatre”

Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 3

“You 
Are 
Not 
Alone”

 
There’s something perhaps a bit perverse in some of the strongest episodes of new Who emerging from the series which (arguably) had the weakest companion. Freema Agyeman was ill-served by writing that couldn’t let her be a companion in her own right, as opposed to the-one-in-Rose’s-shadow, and consequently never felt entirely comfortable in the TARDIS.
 
Series 3 has real highs and certain lows – the introduction of Doctor-lite episodes (to ease the production schedules) produced the inventive wonder that was Blink (and further proved Steven Moffat’s genius), the unashamed grab for the heartstrings was perfectly realised in the Human Nature / The Family of Blood double-header, and the re-introduction of one of the Doctor’s most enduring foes was well-judged. That said, we also had the inevitable return of the Daleks who already feel like they’re in danger of over-exposure.

Continue reading “Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 3”

TV Review: No Offence Series 2

“Now is not the time for your Bronte Sisters-saurus act”

In what’s been a blistering start to the televisual year (Unforgotten, The Moorside), the second series of Paul Abbott’s No Offence is definitely up there, offering at least a little comic relief along with its deadly serious dark side. My views on episode 1 set the tone for the rest to come – the glorious return of the Friday Street team, led by Joanna Scanlan’s inimitable DI Viv Deering, having met their match in the arch-villain Nora Attah, a glorious performance from Rakie Ayola.

And typical of Abbott’s oeuvre, along with his co-writers, there’s a fantastic complexity to his characters. Attah may rule her gangland with a rod of iron, issuing icy reprisals against rivals who dare cross her path, but as subplots about FGM and sexual violence are threaded through the season, there’s strong hints about the harshness of the world that has shaped her. And that makes her the ideal counterpart for Deering’s anarchic policing style, our sympathies caught in the complex conflict between their respective shades of grey. Continue reading “TV Review: No Offence Series 2”

TV Review: No Offence Series 2 Episode 1

“A police presence is non-negotiable”

Paul Abbott’s No Offence returns for a most welcome second season after a quality Series 1 in mid-2015 added to the purple patch for police procedurals that we seem to be in. Abbott’s spin places us with the Manchester Metropolitan Police and in a world that is equally darkly comic and dramatic as the squad deal with the ramifications of the climax of that first series, as well as keeping an eye on the combustible gangland situation that looks set to involve our guys here.

And what guys – Joanna Scanlan’s almost impossibly charismatic DI Viv Deering as comically sharp as she is whip-smart, Elaine Cassidy’s pragmatic DC Dinah Kowalska and Alexandra Roach’s serious-minded DS Joy Freer underneath her, with Sarah Solemani’s ice-cold DCI Christine Lickberg joining them, providing scarcely wanted oversight and some juicy looking tension. The casual female focus (of the series at large) and refreshing body positivity (of this episode in particular) are just marvellous to behold. Continue reading “TV Review: No Offence Series 2 Episode 1”

Review: Much Ado About Nothing, Old Vic

“He hath borne himself beyond the promise of his age”

There was certainly a raised eyebrow or 3 when it was announced that the leads in Mark Rylance’s take on Much Ado About Nothing for the Old Vic would be Vanessa Redgrave and James Earl Jones. Neither have previously taken on the roles of the warring Beatrice and Benedick and having worked together recently on Driving Miss Daisy (which others liked even if I didn’t), their’s is a pairing with history. But undoubted quality aside, it is a brave move to cast so daringly and with a production that relocates Shakespeare’s play to England in 1944. 

Does it work? Making the Aragonese soldiers into a company of GIs has a visual impact that works well and turning Sigh No More into a bluesy harmonica-driven ditty is inspired. But putting Shakespeare’s language into the mouths of American soldiers doesn’t always work “my Lord…” and without wanting to open too far the can of worms that is the subject of race, I’m not so sure the lack of comment on a 1940s inter-racial marriage, never mind the issues of honour flung about later, really flies. Messina as the home front is neat though, making the Watch a Dad’s Army-style collection of ragbags and kids (including one called Beryl, maybe?). 

Continue reading “Review: Much Ado About Nothing, Old Vic”

Review: One Man Two Guvnors, National Theatre

“My honour has been fiddled with”

I’ve spoken before about the unwiseness of booking for shows that you don’t fancy even though they have very appealing casts and that goes double when it is a form of theatre that you know you can’t stand. Yet despite this, I still booked a pair of £12 tickets for One Man, Two Guvnors at the Lyttelton in the vain hope that I might be won over. For as you may or may not know, farce is one of my least favourite styles of theatre, I rarely find it funny, though I have tried, but this is compounded here by the casting of James Corden in the central role, a man whose ubiquity and public persona I find most objectionable. So why on earth did I book? Good question, but it was in the interests of trying to keep my theatrical experiences as broad as possible, the promise of a wonderful sounding supporting cast and the intriguing addition of songs by Grant Olding being introduced into the mix.

Based on the Italian comedy The Servant of Two Masters by Carlo Goldoni, Richard Bean has relocated the play to 1960s Brighton, thus mixing its commedia dell’arte origins with a British sitcom sensibility and augmented by the ever-present in-house band The Craze who provide musical entertainment before the show starts and during the interval as well as interspersing the action. The plot, for what it’s worth, concerns Francis Henshall, a (assumedly) cheeky chappy who’s down on his luck with no money and a huge appetite. He falls into a job as a minder for a gangster Roscoe Crabbe who is in town to collect £6,000 and then as chance would have it, he gets a second job working for a guy called Stanley Stubbers who is staying in the same hotel. But all is not what it seems: Roscoe is actually his twin sister Rachel in disguise as Roscoe was murdered by her boyfriend and she wants to collect the money to run away with her beloved, who just happens to be Stanley who is in hiding from the police. This being a farce, Francis then has to keep the two from discovering each other though they are staying in the same pub as he wants to keep the two pay packets and thus be able to eat and get his end away. Continue reading “Review: One Man Two Guvnors, National Theatre”

Review: England People Very Nice, National Theatre

Having had a whirlwind of publicity whipped up around it through accusations of heavy-handed racism, I was mildly disappointed to not be accosted by any protestors upon entering the auditorium for England People Very Nice, Richard Bean’s new play at the National Theatre. I was less surprised to find that I enjoyed the piece very much, and found largely most amusing, and not at all “racist”.

The play is set up as being performed by a group of asylum seekers awaiting the results of their appeals for residency, and tells the story of wave after wave of immigration of different ethnic groups into Bethnal Green throughout the last few centuries. So we see the French Huguenots arrive and face resistance to their arrival on a number of levels: on culture, on religion, and more materially on housing and on jobs, but yet also finding time for love. Time passes by and as a new wave of immigrants arrive, this time the Irish, so the French find themselves guilty of the same attitudes that were held against them upon their arrival. Continue reading “Review: England People Very Nice, National Theatre”