Lockdown TV Review: Spooks Series 8

With major fluctuations in the force, Series 8 maintains a strong level for Spooks – you could argue it should have stopped here

“They think you’ve got Harry Pearce in the palm of you hand and you’re making moves”

 

Finally, after too many years of yoyo-ing between good series bad series, Spooks finally put together two strong instalments back to back. I think the shorter run (8 episodes) really does focus the writing which now goes all-in on the serial plot line running through the whole series, yet still finding time to blend in self-contained storylines here and there.

Big betrayals cut deep, harsh on a team barely recovered from Connie’s recent deception. Personnel changes rock the team equally hard, as Malcolm is (metaphorically) sacrificed to bring back Ruth, Jo is (literally) sacrificed for big business and Ros (understandably) goes in hard for Tobias Menzies. And Richard Armitage’s Lucas North gets his arse out – quality TV all round. Should Spooks have gone out all guns blazing here?

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She’s back! There’s a measure of contrivance in Ruth’s return to the show, necessary to undo the finality of her previous departure and to extricate her from the cushy life in Cyprus which she’d established forself. So cheerio to handsome new partner (they weren’t married so it’s OK he got killed), sayonara to her step-child in all but name, and welcome back to sweet emotional lrepression with Harry. Continue reading “Lockdown TV Review: Spooks Series 8”

Lockdown TV Review: Spooks Series 6

AKA the one that doesn’t work and the one that you should avoid if you’re feeling angsty about the current situation – approach Spooks Series 6 with caution

“The only option will be national quarantine and burial pits”

Series 6 is one of the trickier ones to watch right now so be warned – it opens with a two-parter called ‘The Virus’ which makes for a eerily chilling watch. It’s also a curious season as whilst the introduction of a series-long storyline – Iran seeking to gain nuclear capability – for the first time seems like it should work no problem, the reality doesn’t hang together quite as well as it ought.

The major level conspiracy theory takes too long to click into gear, and never really reaches the high-stakes territory it needs to hit home hard. The ‘mole in MI-5’ thread doesn’t pay off convincingly, recruiting another journalist off the street tests the patience (sorry Ben) and where one fake-out death of a major character might be permitted, two in the space of three episodes feels lazy. A major disappointment following the highs of Series 5.

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Absolute zero, it’s as if she never existed. Fucking Harry. Continue reading “Lockdown TV Review: Spooks Series 6”

Lockdown TV Review: Spooks Series 5

Full of shocks that actually mean something, Series 5 of Spooks is one of its absolute best

“The British people will accept anything if you serve it up with a picture of Will Young in the shower”

A cracking series of Spooks that starts off with a series of bangs, robbing Colin of his life and Juliet Shaw of her ability to walk, the introduction of Ros Myers to the team is an invigorating success, particularly as she inspires Jo to become more badass too. This incarnation of the team really does click well, responding smoothly to the enforced changes in personnel, though newly single father Adam’s mental health crisis too often feels like a plot device rather than a genuine exploration of PTSD.

Subject-wise, the relevance level remains high, particularly pertinent when it comes to national crises with panic buying and over-stuffed hospitals feeling all too real. The role of fundamentalist zealots is shared equally between Christian and Islamic believers over the series and even if the finale underwhelms somewhat, the eco-terrorism theme hasn’t become any less significant.

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I’m still not over it, the defenestration of Ruth Evershed. Having finally made it to a date with Harry, which went about as well as could be expected, she runs up against a murderous Oliver Mace conspiracy and ends up having to fake her own death to protect Harry and ends up fleeing the country. An ignominious end for the heart of the team.  Continue reading “Lockdown TV Review: Spooks Series 5”

Review: How To Hold Your Breath, Royal Court

“I thought when it came to it, I would be good at it”

Despite the fact that I really wasn’t a fan of How To Hold Your Breath, I can’t help but be impressed by the way that Vicky Featherstone really has shaken up the Royal Court since taking over as Artistic Director last year. The diversity in programming may mean that there’s no such thing as a safe bet there any more (something to play havoc with those who carefully book everything months in advance) but there’s something thrilling about that unpredictability, and also the variety that it thus lends to people’s theatregoing.

Turning into more of a lucky dip does mean that you’re not always going to pick a winner and such was the case for me with ZInnie Harris’ new work. A densely written and constructed play, it imagines a Europe swallowed whole by a new financial crisis and leaving the remnants of society to fend for themselves, turned into refugees fighting to cross the border into Istanbul or gain passage on rickety ships bound for Alexandria. With a seductive demon on one shoulder and her pregnant sister on the other, Maxine Peake’s Dana finds herself forced into that such a journey. Continue reading “Review: How To Hold Your Breath, Royal Court”

Review: The Bomb: a partial history – Second Blast, Tricycle Theatre

“There are over 200 countries in the world and only 8, maybe 9 have nuclear weapons”

The second part of the Tricycle’s The Bomb – a partial history is named Second Blast: Present Dangers and focuses its attention on where the nuclear threat lies now, i.e. in the Middle East and North Korea. Alongside the five plays, there’s more of the verbatim reportage, edited by Richard Norton-Taylor, in this section, effectively deployed to demonstrate the almost ridiculousness of the way in which the debate about Iran and nuclear capability has been framed the US and Israel, and later on to remind us of the official political positions of many of our own leaders in the UK.

Altogether I was a tiny bit disappointed with this half of the day (I’d’ve given it 3.5 stars as opposed to 4 for Part 1) as First Blast: Proliferation had cast its net far and wide to cover five different aspects of the history of the bomb but Second Blast returned time and time again to Iran (3 times in fact) in terms of the present day. Obviously it’s a massive part of where we are in terms of potential instability, but I felt that a more useful eye could have been cast elsewhere as well – in a savage indictment of those countries like Israel and Pakistan who still refuse to sign up to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, or indeed a more damning look at those countries that have signed yet show no signs of reducing their stockpile. Continue reading “Review: The Bomb: a partial history – Second Blast, Tricycle Theatre”

Review: From Elsewhere: On the Watch…

Part of The Bomb: A Partial History – Second Blast season at the Tricycle Theatre

 

“A door always leads to somewhere”

The final piece in the second part of the Tricycle’s The Bomb – a partial history returns to Zinnie Harris with From Elsewhere: On the Watch… where she revisits her characters of Frisch and Peierls from the opening From Elsewhere: a message… The scientists who did so much to advance the initial discoveries around nuclear technology have now been reincarnated as weapons inspectors in Iran who are confronted with the reality of what has been wrought with the revelations that came from their laboratory.

It’s a little heavy-handed in places and again doesn’t really possess much dramatic pull, but ultimately there is much that works about it. Daniel Rabin and Rick Warden has genuine chemistry as old friends who know each other inside out; there’s a deep recognition of the futility of much of the process of inspection, and the sense of unity that comes from revisiting this pair makes as neat an ending as one could have hoped for in such a hugely complex area as is covered altogether here. Continue reading “Review: From Elsewhere: On the Watch…”

Review: The Bomb: a partial history – First Blast, Tricycle Theatre

“Gentlemen, let the race begin”

Nicolas Kent’s final hurrah at the Tricycle Theatre, which he has patiently nurtured into fine battling form as a theatre really at the cutting edge of hot-topic drama, is this multi-authored two-part epic – The Bomb – a partial history. Inviting nine authors to respond to the debate (or more accurately the lack thereof) around nuclear weapons, Kent has pieced together a stimulating and challenging piece of theatre, divided into two parts, which can be experienced separately on different nights or one after the other on certain days, in a seven-hour marathon, which is how I did it (and probably how I’d recommend to it). 

Part one is labelled First Blast: Proliferation and focuses on the period 1940-1992 as nuclear weapons became a horrendous reality as Japan found out to its cost and then a terrible threat to all as the Cold War descended between the superpowers of the USA and the USSR, and more and more countries sought to gain nuclear capabilities for themselves, threatening imbalances right across the globe. The attempts to control the spread of nuclear weaponry is also dealt with as the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty came into being and international pressure exerted to try and bring everyone into the fold. Continue reading “Review: The Bomb: a partial history – First Blast, Tricycle Theatre”

Review: From Elsewhere: the message…, Tricycle Theatre

Part of The Bomb: A Partial History – First Blast season at the Tricycle Theatre

“One kilo, a bag of sugar…you could make a bomb with THAT”

Set in a Whitehall antechamber in 1940, the opening play in the first part of the Tricycle’s The Bomb – a partial history is Zinnie Harris’ From Elsewhere: the message…. Scientists Rudolf Peierls and Otto Frisch have been conducting research in their laboratory in Birmingham looking at the discoveries of other people working in the field of trying achieve effective nuclear fission and hit upon a massive discovery. But as they wait to be admitted to the War Committee to give their revelation which has the potential to utterly change the course of the war, doubts creep in as to whether they, two expat Germanic Jews will be taken seriously.

What emerges is an intermittently fascinating tale that takes us through the early years of nuclear research and the slow realisation of the terrible power that the work that these physicists are carrying out will wield in the wrong hands. The race for knowledge was happening in several places, but it was Peierls’ fleeing from Germany where he had been working with the world-leader in atomic research Niel Bohr and subsequently sharing his knowledge with Frisch’s own advances that proved the critical moment. This is all described rather entertainingly, interspersed with their nervousness at having such a responsibility on their hands in such an unfriendly environment – as underlined by Simon Chandler’s sniffy clerk. Continue reading “Review: From Elsewhere: the message…, Tricycle Theatre”

Review: The Panel, Women, Power and Politics at the Tricycle

 

The second play in the Now half of Women, Power and Politics season at the Tricycle Theatre

“What do we know about her circumstances?”

The Panel is the only play in the season which does not feature a woman on stage. It stars all five male members of the ensemble in an interview panel situation, they’ve just spent three days interviewing a woman-only shortlist for a job and need to appoint, but with various deadlines fast approaching and a range of individual agendas at play, it is not a clear-cut decision.

I wasn’t a fan of the gender politics on display here. It felt a little reductive, suggesting no progress in the corporate world, ultimately tarring all men with the same brush and certainly I didn’t feel as if it had anything new to say. It did raise the interesting point though that only one of the women who was interviewed would have made the sift if it hadn’t have been a women-only shortlist, raising the question about the effectiveness of positive discrimination, something Ann Widdecombe’s interjections in the verbatim section focuses on: it has to be on merit, she says. Continue reading “Review: The Panel, Women, Power and Politics at the Tricycle”

Review: A Doll’s House, Donmar

Keeping up their impeccable record of attracting star names to their productions, the Donmar Warehouse have assembled a very impressive ensemble to perform Zinnie Harris’ reworking of Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House. Leading the cast as Nora is Gillian Anderson in one of her rare appearances on the London stage and she is ably supported by Christopher Eccleston, Tara Fitzgerald and Toby Stephens. So a feast of acting talent on show, which is always a great start!

However, I am a self-professed Ibsen hater, though I am always willing to give it a try, and I was particularly interested in this production as Zinnie Harris has made some substantial changes to the original. Most notably, the action has been resituated to England in 1909 and the profession of Nora’s husband has been changed from banking to politics. So the story remains about Nora’s slow realisation of how unhappy she is, exacerbated by the threat of blackmail, and her struggle to escape this domestic prison in the face of every single social convention. What the rewrite does is make the context much wider: instead of it just being a domestic battlefield, Nora also has to deal with the arena of political reputations through her blackmailer’s actions. For the most part, I think the rewrite is successful, but then I was never that familiar with the original, and so had no real basis on which to make the comparison on which nearly every other major review of this play is based.

Continue reading “Review: A Doll’s House, Donmar”