TV Review: Doctor Who Series 12

Series 12 of Doctor Who goes hard on what we think we know about the Time Lord and finishes in a blaze of glory

“You can be a pacifist tomorrow. Today you just need to survive”

I don’t think I have ever minded anything that happened in Doctor Who so much that I have declared it cancelled, even at the point where all the magnificent character development by Catherine Tate’s Donna was undone in a plot point of real cruelty. So it is hard to take so-called fans of the show seriously when torrents of complaints are unleashed about the sanctity of a world of science fiction that has long enjoyed challenging and expanding what we know about characters we love. (See my Episode 1 review here.)

So it should come as little surprise that I really rather enjoyed series 12 of Doctor Who. Across the season as a whole, I felt that Jodie Whittaker has settled more into the role, especially as the writers feel more confident in finding her voice. And the balancing act of having three companions in the TARDIS has been more assured now that the business of introducing them is over, allowing the group to splinter off for large chunks of episodes has allowed much more of their characters to shine through, particularly for Mandip Gill’s Yaz (who I am mightily glad survived that final episode – I thought she was doomed after her chat with Graham). Continue reading “TV Review: Doctor Who Series 12”

12 Days of Christmas – Black Mirror 3:5

“We don’t actually really want to kill each other”

On the eleventh day of Christmas, Black Mirror gave to me…its first disappointment

Well it had to happen, and I’m impressed that it took me until the eleventh out of twelve episodes of Black Mirror before we hit a duffer. We’re talking relatively of course, Men Against Fire is still a good hour of television but the bar has been raised so consistently highly that there is an amazing standard to live up to, especially in having to follow San Junipero, which I’m currently ranking as the best so far.

Men Against Fire sees Black Mirror take on the world of the military, surprisingly for the first time, in a world where biological war has ravaged Denmark and resulted in a mutation of those exposed. Labelled ‘roaches’ by the survivors, a military squad (who all have an implant called MASS to make them better soldiers) is in charge of controlling and purging them, but though new recruit Stripe manages to kill two on his first mission, the ramifications of his actions prove to be huge. Continue reading “12 Days of Christmas – Black Mirror 3:5”

Review: Bakkhai, Almeida Theatre

“I am somewhat…supernatural”

What is most fascinating about the way that the Almeida Greeks season is unfolding is that it is as interested in interrogating storytelling as much as stories. As with Aeschylus’ Oresteia and now Euripides’ Bakkhai, we’re being presented with striking new versions of these familiar tales which simultaneously make a case for why they have endured into a third millennium rather than complacently assuming they will just speak to modern audiences regardless.

Robert Icke incisively opened up the domestic and legal ramifications of the House of Atreus in forensic detail. And now Anne Carson, following her version of Antigone for Ivo van Hove, and director James Macdonald position their Bakkhai deep in the recesses of folk memory, a guttural song passed from generation to generation with its cautionary tale of the consequences of leading society to defy convention. It is sure to be divisive but I have to say that I found it endlessly interesting. Continue reading “Review: Bakkhai, Almeida Theatre”

Review: King John, Shakespeare’s Globe

“Mad world! mad kings! mad composition!”

One of the terms most overused by reviewers and publicity writers alike is “timely revival” and this production of King John is no different, coinciding with the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta as it has processed on a mini-candelit-tour of Temple Church and Holy Sepulchre Church Northampton ahead of this run at the Globe. But Shakespeare dropped the ball here with this play, it is no surprise in the watching that it is one of his lesser-performed works and though James Dacre’s production has its bright spots, it can’t cover all of its inherent weaknesses.

Dacre heavily plays up the religious aspects of the play and whilst you can see the logic for the sacred venues and the atmosphere that the candlelight would have created, it’s less easy to see how it works as well at a sunny matinée in the open air on Bankside. Jonathan Fensom’s design imposes a red cross of a stage into the space and fills it with monks, but religion is only part of the story of John’s travails and weighting the emphasis so heavily here doesn’t seem to make a huge deal of dramatic sense (though I freely admit to not knowing the play at all well). Continue reading “Review: King John, Shakespeare’s Globe”

Review: Tory Boyz – National Youth Theatre of Great Britain at the Ambassadors Theatre

“The Tory party is the gayest of them all”

The National Youth Theatre originally commissioned James Graham’s Tory Boyz back in 2008 and given its success, they asked him to update the play so it could form part of their West End repertory season. To describe the Conservative Party’s attitudes towards homosexuality is a near impossibility – whilst the Same Sex Marriage Bill was admirably forced through by Cameron’s administration, the debates around it revealed huge rifts, bemoaning the encroachment of the “aggressive homosexual community” and the spectacular ‘activate the lesbian queen’ debacle – yet it has always been a party with gay members. And it is this dichotomy that Graham explores, how the compatibility of homosexuality and Conservatism has evolved over the years and whether, in this day and age, it does or should matter.

Sam (Simon Lennon) is a Tory researcher working in the busy office of an education minister. He’s out to his colleagues but with one eye on a more frontline political position in the near future, he’s more than content to keep it on the QT, much to the chagrin of his fresh-faced Labour opposite number James (Tom Prior) who is trying to coax him into the relationship that they both crave. The discovery that he is working in the same office that Ted Heath started his own career in inspires Sam to research that man and the rumours that swirled around his sexuality – scenes that we see played out in flashback – and in an additional plot, Sam also visits a secondary school to try and engage a disinterested group in politics with a weekly mock-Parliament set up, something which in turn also threatens to lead him to a stronger self-understanding. Continue reading “Review: Tory Boyz – National Youth Theatre of Great Britain at the Ambassadors Theatre”

Review: Prince of Denmark – National Youth Theatre of Great Britain at the Ambassadors Theatre

“How can we know what we’re capable of”

Premiered in 2010, Prince of Denmark is Michael Lesslie’s prequel to Hamlet and coming out of the National Theatre Connections programme, it has a strong teen focus making it an ideal part of the National Youth Theatre of Great Britain’s season at the Ambassadors Theatre. Set some 10 years or so before the events of Shakespeare’s play, Lesslie focuses on the younger inhabitants of Elsinore and imagines how they might have interacted as teenagers, sowing the seeds for what we know is to come.

It is a slight piece, barely an hour long, and director Anthony Banks has wisely decided to augment it with atmospheric sequences – whether the testosterone fuelled swordplay, including some very nifty foot flicks, or the beautiful harmonies of musical interludes, there’s a sense of teenage ennui being batted away at every turn as life in the royal court trundles on. At the heart of it is Hamlet, the prince who thinks he wants to be treated like a normal man, but with the arrival of brother and sister Laertes and Ophelia comes an increased emotional volatility. Continue reading “Review: Prince of Denmark – National Youth Theatre of Great Britain at the Ambassadors Theatre”

Review: Romeo and Juliet – National Youth Theatre of Great Britain at the Ambassadors Theatre

“Two households, both alike in dignity, In Camden Town, where we lay our scene”

Who better to tell stories of youthful (over-)exuberance than a group of exuberant youths. The National Youth Theatre of Great Britain’s 2013 Autumn season ‘Coming of Age’ continues with a West End residency of three plays, performed in rep at the Ambassadors Theatre. 

First up is Lolita Chakrabarti’s adaptation of Romeo and Juliet which relocates the play to the vibrant but cut-throat world of Camden market in the mid-1980s. In the shadow of long dole queues and the rise of a violent sub-culture, this tale of teenage “star-cross’d lovers” is recast in a new light and indeed a new sound, accompanied by a ska and New Wave-heavy soundtrack, performed live to form a cinematically aural backdrop where needed. It creates a vividly energetic atmosphere and one which charges the production with a fresh vibrancy.   Continue reading “Review: Romeo and Juliet – National Youth Theatre of Great Britain at the Ambassadors Theatre”

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”