TV Review: Silent Witness Series 14

With Kieran Bew with his top off and Barbara Flynn breaking every singe person’s heart, Series 14 of Silent Witness is mostly excellent. We just need to talk about Harry…

“If you’re deliberately trying to annoy me, you’re succeeding”

Series 14 of Silent Witness is the first one that contains episodes that I actually remember from first time around, two of them in fact. One – ‘Lost – can lay claim to being one of the best ever stories that the show has produced. The other indulges in a fakeout that had me hook line and sinker at the time though as I recall, not my dad!

It’s a season that start off tremendously, the serial killer vibes of ‘A Guilty Mind’ and the decades-spanning effects of ‘Lost’ offering up a different take on forensics for once. But towards the end of the run, it is clear that a decision has been made (who knows by whom) to give Harry more to do and that throws things off balance. Continue reading “TV Review: Silent Witness Series 14”

News: The RSC launch Sonnets in Solitude

The Royal Shakespeare Company have announced Sonnets in Solitude, a selection of Shakespeare’s sonnets self-recorded by RSC actors while in lockdown. 

Many of the actors were working with the RSC at the time of the theatre’s temporary closure on 17 March and have been unable to perform or rehearse since.

RSC Artistic Director Gregory Doran said,

“The sonnets are so intimate, confidential and direct, and watching them being performed in this way captures that immediately. Perhaps after 400 years, the form has finally found its ideal format”.

The RSC will release 90 of the 154 sonnets over the coming weeks which will be available to view via the RSC’s You Tube channel Miles Jupp, Alexandra Gilbreath, Antony Sher, Emma Fielding and Rosie Sheehy are just some of the actors involved in Sonnets in Solitude. Continue reading “News: The RSC launch Sonnets in Solitude”

Review: As You Like It, RSC at the Barbican

I find much to enjoy in Kimberley Sykes’s production of As You Like It for the RSC at the Barbican, particularly Lucy Phelps’ epic Rosalind

“Then, heigh-ho, the holly!
This life is most jolly”

The critical reception for Kimberley Sykes’ production of As You Like It for the RSC was a little lukewarm this summer, all 3 stars and grudging praise. But I found myself really rather seduced by its many charms, as it opens the winter residency for them at the Barbican. And in Lucy Phelps, a Rosalind full of big dyke energy for the ages. Read my four star review for Official Theatre here.

Running time: 2 hours 50 minutes (with interval)
Photo: Topher McGrillis
As You Like It is booking in rep at the Barbican until 18th January

Review: Richard II, Barbican

“I wasted time, and now doth time waste me”

I am aware that I’m flying in the face of received wisdom here but I really wasn’t a fan of the RSC’s Richard II. The announcement of David Tennant in the leading role ensured its sell-out success (regardless of the actual strength of the production) and its transfer to the Barbican after its initial run in Stratford-upon-Avon likewise proved to be the quickest of sellers. Its critical notices have been close to superlative too, so the level of expectation was certainly high.

But for all of this, I found Gregory Doran’s production to be largely quite dull, it hardly ever provoked excitement or even piqued my interest in the slow-moving telling of its tale of regime change and the corrosive effects of absolute monarchy on the individual. The inferences of a Christ-like demeanour to this King are heavily played and Tennant laps this up, irascible and irritable throughout and increasingly given to thoughts of his own divinity. Intentional perhaps, but hard to like. Continue reading “Review: Richard II, Barbican”

Review: Bracken Moor, Tricycle

“I think most of us are walking around in a sort of slumber really”

With a revival of The Pride just announced as the next production in Jamie Lloyd’s Trafalgar Studios residency, it seemed like a good time to visit Alexi Kaye Campbell’s latest play Bracken Moor at the Tricycle. That said, I have to admit to not being the greatest fan of this ambitious mash-up of political/economic drama and ghost story which is co-produced by Shared Experience and directed by their own Polly Teale. In the midst of the 1930s financial crisis, Yorkshire landowner Harold and his wife Elizabeth are still shell-shocked by the ghastly death of their young son Edgar ten years since and only now are they acquiescing to an extended visit from their old friends Vanessa and Geoffrey. But as they retrace their old friendship, the presence of the visitors’ son Terence awakens something more sinister.

Terence was Edgar’s boyhood best friend and within a few nights, appears to become possessed by Edgar’s restless spirit. This provokes his parents to finally start to deal with their buttoned-up grief but in hugely different ways. Helen Schlesinger’s extraordinarily affecting Elizabeth clings to every possible shred of hope that she could actually be communicating with her lost son and the rawness of her grief is spell-binding. And the much more pragmatic Harold, Antony Byrne in classically old-school English mode, finds himself questioning the decisions he has to make about a dispute over pit closures, his capitalist certainties challenged by this brush with the unknown. Continue reading “Review: Bracken Moor, Tricycle”

Film Review: Anna Karenina

 

”I’d rather live life wishing I hadn’t rather than wishing I had”

Today I was lucky enough to catch an early screening of Joe Wright’s new film, Anna Karenina starring Keira Knightley in the title role, which is certain to be divisive with its unique approach. Tom Stoppard has been employed to distil Tolstoy’s weighty tome into something more manageable and his adaptation clocks in at a shade over 2 hours. Remaining largely faithful to the novel, Stoppard’s focus is on exploring different kinds of love, and so whilst the focus is mainly on Anna herself as she negotiates the tumultuous affair with a young cavalryman that sets her against her husband and the might of Russian society, he also ensures that the subplot featuring the agrarian Levin’s attempts to woo the object of his affections is kept in to provide a neat counterpoint.

Presented with a classic of literature and wanting to avoid predictability as far as period dramas are concerned, Wright’s main conceit has been to reconceptualise the whole thing in a deeply theatrical manner, literally. He treats the story as a piece of theatre, sometimes being played out in front of an audience, sometimes as backstage drama, but always with a defined fluidity and through-line. This exceedingly stylised and highly choreographed approach has a huge cinematic sweep which I adored, but it does soon calm down into something more measured and at key moments, it opens out with some breath-taking transformations.  Continue reading “Film Review: Anna Karenina”

Review: After Troy, Shaw Theatre

“Was there another Troy for her to burn?”

After Troy sees Glyn Maxwell creating a new play out of Euripides’ two tragedies, Hecuba and The Women of Troy, both dealing with the experience of the women left behind in the aftermath of the Trojan War with marauding Greek soldiers an ever-present threat. Hecuba and her daughters are the prisoners of warrior Agamemnon and vile king Mestor and as they struggle to come to terms with the loss of the men in their lives, kings, husbands, father, brothers, sons whilst waiting to be delivered into a life of slavery, there are many horrors still yet to come for Hecuba.

Maxwell is a poet and this is evident in the lyrical density of his verse which is tightly constructed with lots of repetition and synchronised dialogue aiming for an epic feel, but slightly undermined by the modern sensibilities that have been introduced in the desire to create something new, the humour and particularly the heavy use of expletives didn’t always feel appropriate and become quite wearing. But it is not just a lyrical piece, it is heavily influenced by movement, the women often express themselves through the medium of dance which becomes as important a part of their vocabulary as words. This is effective at first but as we come to realise that it is only the women who take part in this ritual dancing, the ‘Ancient’ as it were and it is the men who get to swear, wear modern costumes and be funny, the balance of After Troy never quite finds its equilibrium.

The strength of the performances helps to somewhat overcome the density of the material: Eve Matheson’s Hecuba is a force to be reckoned with, a grieving vengeful woman finding dignity where she can in the oppression wrought by the Greek men holding them prisoner. I also enjoyed Rebecca Smith-Williams’ willowy prophetic Cassandra and the beautifully compassionate turn from Oscar Peace as Talthybius, the Greek scribe who comes close to understanding the true horror that his people are wreaking on Troy.

There were moments where it all gets a bit relentless, the subjugation of these women to the masculine military might pushes and pushes but without a real sense of purpose, it is not immediately clear what Maxwell is trying to achieve here. The timelessness of war and the effect is has on people is an enduring truth, but making his victims so recognisably Ancient Greek lessens the impact. But there is a strangely hypnotic quality to proceedings, with its flashes of dark humour in the perils of not listening to women and the power of Matheson’s performance in particular, that stirred something deep inside me, but this was a realisation that hit me on the way home – it would have been much nicer to have that response to the drama that was playing out in front of me.

Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes (with interval)
Programme cost: £3
Booking until 23rd April then touring to the Lowry, Salford and the Stephen Joseph, Scarborough