TV Review: The Girl Before

A glossy psychological thriller that twists and turns entertainingly, The Girl Before is a nice bit of luxury TV

“I don’t think Facebook follows me into the shower”

Adapted by JP Delaney from his novel of the same name, The Girl Before does a clever job of taking all-too-familiar TV thriller tropes and if not subverting them, actually uses them efficiently and effectively, which feels like a more radical act in some ways. So there’s an incredibly glamorous house and a narrative unfolding in two time-periods simultaneously but for once, these choices are entirely justified.   

That house is 1 Folgate Street, an ultra-minimalist architect’s wet dream which has been made available by that architect for an incredibly cheap rent. Only thing is, there’s a whole set of rules you have to abide by, if you pass the interview, in order to maintain the place in keeping with its impossibly stylish aesthetic. And of course, that landlord has a handsome face and a mysterious past which doesn’t bode well for any prospective tenants. Continue reading “TV Review: The Girl Before”

TV Review: Code 404

Starring Stephen Graham and Daniel Mays, Sky Comedy’s Code 404 treads an uneasy line between comedy, sci-fi and police procedural

“What’s with the birdbath?”

Created by Tom Miller, Sam Myer and Daniel Peak, Code 404 has a concept that feels like it ought to work but in its execution, somewhat misses the mark. Set (very loosely) in a near-future London, this is a world where technological advances have progressed so far as to be able to bring people back from the dead. So when DI John Major is killed in the line of duty, it doesn’t necessarily mean the end…

Problem is, the procedure is still experimental. So Daniel Mays’ John is more than a bit glitchy. And given that it took nearly a year to execute, his partner – Stephen Graham’s DI Roy Carver – has moved on and moved in with John’s widow – now wife again – played by the excellent Anna Maxwell Martin. And as they try to solve the case of John’s not-murder, all sorts of uncomfortable truths threaten to bubble to the surface. Continue reading “TV Review: Code 404”

TV Review: Last Tango in Halifax, Series 5

The short and sweet fifth series of Sally Wainwright’s excellent Last Tango in Halifax is a much-needed shot of the warm and fuzzies 

“I’m not deluded. Nice things do make me happy”

With an almost unerring sense of timing, Sally Wainwright gave the nation a shot of the warm and fuzzies with the perfectly short and sweet fifth series of Last Tango in Halifax. Having to wait for three years for it certainly built anticipation but it also had a powerful effect on the storytelling. In a series that has long been rooted in everyday life, allowing so much of that life to happen before revisiting them (as opposed to the laziness of a time jump) really deepens the context. Also, the official confirmation of the Wainwright shared universe was a real delight, how I would watch these avengers assemble!

So the ‘opposites attract’ element of Alan and Celia’s late-blooming relationship is now manifested in deeper ideological differences on subjects such as Brexit. And Derek Jacobi and Anne Reid play this sense of shifting priorities beautifully as his attention turns to his new job at the supermarket and hers is swallowed up the potential of a new kitchen. And as their families look on slightly aghast, there’s a real sense over the four episodes that this core marriage might actually be in peril. Continue reading “TV Review: Last Tango in Halifax, Series 5”

TV Review: Last Tango in Halifax, Series 5 Episode 1

Sally Wainwright’s Last Tango in Halifax returns in fine form for its fifth series, making Sunday nights great again

“Some people like getting on a bus”

The churlish among us might have grumbled that they felt a little short-changed by the fourth series of Last Tango in Halifax only consisting of two episodes. Having had to wait over three years for the arrival of a fifth, I’m now just ecstatic it is back (with four episodes this time around).

And in the best way, it feels like it has never been away. Derek Jacobi and Anne Reid’s bickering married couple, Nicola Walker and Sarah Lancashire searching for self-sufficiency as their daughters, and associated friends and family members dipping in and out with their varied capers. Continue reading “TV Review: Last Tango in Halifax, Series 5 Episode 1”

Review: The Sugar-Coated Bullets of the Bourgeoisie, Arcola Theatre

“We made the revolution, not Mao”

The Sugar-Coated Bullets of the Bourgeoisie is based on more than a decade of Anders Lustgarten’s intensive studies into China and it shows. The play is undoubtedly well-constructed and shines a light on an area that is persistently underexplored by British theatre but with so much information and insight at his fingertips, the playwright doesn’t resist the temptation to share as much of it as he can and it makes for a slightly frustrating experience.

So we get a thorough examination of modern Chinese history through the prism of a small village from Rotten Peach. There, the rise of Chairman Mao and the founding of the People’s Republic utterly transforms the landscape in 10 brutal years but we only get a certain amount of a dramatic rendering of how this upheaval affects the social fabric of the lives of the villagers, too much time is taken up with exposition and explanation, political theory by stealth and thus lacking in theatrical thrill. Continue reading “Review: The Sugar-Coated Bullets of the Bourgeoisie, Arcola Theatre”

Review: P’yongyang, Finborough Theatre

“Those stories…they’re not for us. Why dream about something that can’t be?”

You know how it is, you wait for a play about North Korea and two come along at once. But where Mia Ching’s You For Me For You used an absurdist approach to explore the impact of the Kim regime on individuals (and by extension, whole swathes of its population), In-Sook Chappell uses the frame of a classic thwarted love story, stretching over nearly three decades, to examine what life might be like in the harsh realities of the Communist state in P’yongyang.

When we first meet them, Anna Leong Brophy’s Yeon Eun Mi and Chris Lew Kum Hoi’s Park Chi Soo are schoolmates with a shared passion for cinema and soon enough, each other. They both dream of attending prestigious film classes in the capital P’yongyang but the revelation that Chi Soo’s father was born in the South demarcates him as lower-born in the strict rules of their society and thus their lives are set on radically different paths. Continue reading “Review: P’yongyang, Finborough Theatre”

Review: Pitcairn, Shakespeare’s Globe

“It is as if we find ourselves at the beginning of time…”

It may be Shakespeare’s Globe but it is Richard Bean’s when it comes to new writing at this venue and he returns once again with a Globe, Out of Joint and Chichester Festival Theatre co-production about the island colony of Pitcairn which was set up by Fletcher Christian in the wake of the mutiny on the Bounty in 1789. Playing with the ideas of revolutionary freedom that were burning so fiercely on the other side of the globe, Christian dreamed of creating an Utopian ideal out of the sailors who left with him and a group of Polynesian men and women but perhaps unsurprisingly, little that was ideal came out of it.

Little that is ideal comes out of this play either. Bean throws in a number of interesting ideas into his Pitcairn – the power struggles between comrades, the jealousies that come out of the supposed liberation of sexual freedom, the culture clash that arises out of the enduring adherence to the Tahitian tradition of utmost respect for hierarchy. But it all adds up to very little and Bean has also incorporated some dodgier elements especially when it comes to the cringe-worthy expression of that sexual freedom, the constant reliance of embarrassingly dated notions of the ‘natives’ (let’s dance!) and audience participation that doesn’t really fly. Continue reading “Review: Pitcairn, Shakespeare’s Globe”