Review: Absolute Hell, National Theatre

A characterful slice of seedy Soho life,  Absolute Hell is anything but at the National Theatre

“You won’t call the police, I’ll call the police”

We’ve all got a history, a bit of a chequered past and Rodney Ackland’s play Absolute Hell is no exception. Premiered in 1952 under the title The Pink Room, it received an enormous critical drubbing which led to a 40 year near-silence from the playwright. But as time passes, trends shift and plays eventually get rewritten, a new version of the drama emerged in the late 1980s to considerably more success.

It is that version that is being revived here by Joe Hill-Gibbins with the kind of luxury casting that National Theatres are made for. And with the world of this slice-of-life play being made up of a vast ensemble of characters, it’s a great fit. Absolute Hell is set in a Soho members club in the period between the end of WWII and the Labour general election win and follows its patrons as they retreat from the social (and physical) upheaval of wartime into a fug of drink, drugs and debauchery. Continue reading “Review: Absolute Hell, National Theatre”

TV Review: Mum Series 2

A hugely successful return for Stefan Golaszewski’s BBC sitcom Mum, with world-beater Lesley Manville in brilliant form once again

“Three types of potato – are you out of your fucking mind?”

I’m not sure what we’ve done to deserve Stefan Golaszewski’s Mum but I’m sure as hell glad that we have it. The second series of this BBC sitcom has now drawn to a close and it is hard not to think that it isn’t one of the most magnificently perfect bits of television out there, surpassing even the heights of the superlative first season

Starring Lesley Manville and Sam Swainsbury as it does, it could well have been machine-tooled to appeal to my Venn diagram of all Venn diagrams. But Mum is so much more than my varying crushes, it is a supremely well-calibrated piece of heart-breaking and heart-warming writing that finds its humour in that most British of ways, through adversity. Cathy’s husband and Michael’s best friend may have died a year ago but their attempts to move on, to maybe explore their mutual, unspoken attraction are constantly frustrated by the clod-hopping presence of her extended family at every beat.   Continue reading “TV Review: Mum Series 2”

Review: The Scar Test, Soho Theatre

“I just – I can’t believe this is England”

Hannah Khalil’s intelligent exploration of the Israeli-Palestine conflict Scenes from 68* Years was one of my top-ranked plays of last year and so I was delighted to be able to see her new play The Scar Test, albeit in the oppressive, claustrophobic heat of the Soho Upstairs at the height of summer. And with that knowledge of at least some of Khalil’s theatrical style, it was a pleasure to be able to sink into her idiosyncratic storytelling and be so thoroughly challenged by its subject matter.

Here, Khalil has turned her focus to the experience of female detainees at the notorious Yarl’s Wood detention centre and the many, many indignities suffered by those trying to work their way through the knots and prejudices of our immigration system. And as with that previous play, multiple verbatim strands are splintered into non-linear episodes, some coalescing into something approaching an overall arc, some disappearing into the ether, forgotten victims neglected by us all. Continue reading “Review: The Scar Test, Soho Theatre”

Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Young Vic

“On the dank and dirty ground…”

Joe Hill-Gibbins’ idiosyncratic 2015 take on Measure for Measure filled the Young Vic with inflatable sex dolls so it should come as little surprise that for his A Midsummer Night’s Dream, he and designer Johannes Schütz have transformed the stage into a muddy paddock. With just a mirrored back wall to add to the set, the scene is thus set for an exploration of the “subconscious” of this most oft-seen (particularly in the year gone by) of Shakespeare’s plays. 

There’s some great work, delving into the murkiness of the relationships here. Far from spirits “of no common rate”, these royal fairies feel like a real married couple in the throes of having to work things out yet again, Michael Gould’s Oberon’s manipulations as much as anguished as angry, and Anastasia Hille’s Titania relishing the removal of the ball and chain as she plays sex games with Bottom, roleplaying the attending fairies in a witty twist. The intensity of their connection repeats itself later in another clever connection.  Continue reading “Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Young Vic”

TV Review: Mum

“I feel as sad as the sisters of Lazarus”

A number of the reviews of the first episode of Mum (here’s mine) were cautiously optimistic but commented that Stefan Golaszewski’s writing wasn’t really funny enough for a sitcom, or up to his previous TV show Him and Her. I hope that people persisted with it though, for it emerged as a simply beautiful piece of television, closer to a drama in the end than an outright comedy, and all the more affecting and effective for it.

In some ways, it’s not that surprising that it wasn’t a canned laughter kind of show – an actor of the stature of Lesley Manville, with her nearly 40 years of collaboration with Mike Leigh, wouldn’t do that, would she (I guess My Family being the exception here…). Instead, what we got was a subtle meditation on how life continues after bereavement, working through the stages of grief and minutiae of life over the course of that tricky first year. Plus Manville ate a large crisp in one go, now you don’t get that kind of quality just anywhere! Continue reading “TV Review: Mum”