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”

TV Review: Doctor Who Flux (Series 13)

Opting for a miniseries for Series 13 of Doctor Who certainly changes up the pace well, as Flux comes to a breathless end with some great work by Jodie Whittaker

“Do you think running will help?”

And so the end begins for Jodie Whittaker, and for Chris Chibnall. The 13th Doctor and her showrunner had a three-series-and-out deal which they are honouring and so this final season – a miniseries called Flux and three specials – will take us up to the centenary of the BBC in late 2022 and the regeneration of the Time Lord into…well, whoever the returning Russell T Davies decides.

One might have thought opting for the ostensibly more focused notion of a miniseries, of one overarching story stripped over six episodes, would have made Flux a simpler affair than the last few series of Doctor Who but Chibnall clearly had other plans. But having reached the end, I’d say that it was a good deal more fun than anticipated, a full-on caper merely teasing traumatic revelations about the Doctor’s selves rather diving full on into the morass of series lore. Continue reading “TV Review: Doctor Who Flux (Series 13)”

Radio review: Constellations / Elegy / The Meaning of Zong

Less reviews, more notifications that a wonderful radio version of Nick Payne’s Constellations is now available to listen to on Radio 3, starring Gugu Mbatha-Raw and George Mackay. It’s well worth your time but be warned, it could well lead to expensive splurges to see the four forthcoming West End casts of Sheila Atim and Ivanno Jeremiah, Peter Capaldi and Zoë Wanamaker, Omari Douglas and Russell Tovey, and Anna Maxwell Martin and Chris O’Dowd.

Sasha Yevtushenko also directs a production of Elegy as part of this double bill, a play which I don’t remember half as fondly, despite a strong cast at the Donmar Warehouse. Here again, Juliet Stevenson, Deborah Findlay and Marilyn Nnadebe elevate the production to must-listen levels but it just isn’t as gut-wrenchingly affecting a piece of writing in the end.

Last up is Giles Terera’s The Meaning of Zong, the debut play for this talented performer which is now receiving its premiere on radio. It’s an extraordinary dramatisation of a shocking piece of British history that very few of us will know about, one which is vital to add to the discourse that has emerged since last summer and a play that must be put on major stages as soon as we can.

Review: Elegy, Donmar Warehouse

“What would you choose?”

Irene Cara once declared she was going to live forever. But as advances in medical science enable us to live longer and survive once fatal conditions, the question remains about the quality of the life that remains. Nick Payne’s Elegy, further exploring the neurological theatrical so vividly started in plays like Constellations and Incognito, imagines society in a near-future scenario where the choice can be made to have part of the brain removed and artificially regenerated. The price though, the loss of huge swathes of memory.

Payne pulls no punches in showing us the impact of such a decision as when we meet post-surgery Lorna and Carrie for the first time, the former has no recollection of the latter to whom she has been married for many years. And cast as perfectly as they are here in Josie Rourke’s production in the form of Zoë Wanamaker and Barbara Flynn, Elegy has its achingly affecting moments as the non-linear narrative shows us Lorna as she was, as well as who she is now, and how the contours of her relationship have changed over time, particularly in the face of a degenerative brain disease. Continue reading “Review: Elegy, Donmar Warehouse”

Review: The Iliad Online, Almeida/Live-stream

“You can’t kill me
I can’t ever die”

After three weeks away, all my initial thoughts were on a cosy night in catching up on the first two episodes of The Great British Bake-off and I couldn’t imagine anything changing my mind – how wrong could I be! When the Almeida first announced their durational performance of Homer’s Iliad, it sounded like a madcap plan, a morning ‘til night affair in association with the British Museum and featuring over 60 actors – the only thing stopping me from booking was it being the last day of my holiday!

But fortunately, the good folk of the Almeida decided to livestream the whole shebang – all 16 hours and 18,255 lines of it – so that people could dip in and out to their heart’s content as well as attending at the British Museum for free during the daytime. I switched on at about 8pm as Bertie Carvel started his section, intending just to sample its wares but sure enough, I was there until the bitter end around 1am, having been sucked into its unique brilliance and unable to miss a minute more of it. Continue reading “Review: The Iliad Online, Almeida/Live-stream”

Review: High Society, Old Vic

“Not bad for a 35 year old”

Kevin Spacey’s swansong as artistic director at the Old Vic doesn’t open officially until next week but I only have a handful of days left for the above quote to remain pertinent to myself so I’m writing up High Society now – the usual disclaimers about previews apply. Maria Friedman’s directorial debut was the highly critically acclaimed Merrily We Roll Along so it makes sense for her to return to the world of musical theatre with this Cole Porter classic, given added spin here as the venue remains in the round.

It’s a funny old piece though, Arthur Kopit’s book is based on Philip Barry’s 1939 play The Philadelphia Story and follows the trials of Tracy Lord (I didn’t know they had Tracys in the 1930s), a rich socialite about to get married who suddenly finds herself with three suitors – her dull fiancé, a charismatic tabloid journalist and her dashing ex-husband. As the pre-wedding parties start and the champagne flows liberally, there’s decisions to be made and some of Porter’s finest songs to be sung but little real fizz, to start with at least. Continue reading “Review: High Society, Old Vic”

Radio Review: An Interlude of Men / De Wife of Bristol / In the Depths of Dead Love

“It’s a blip when you’re 25, after 55 it’s a shambles”

Lesley Bruce’s An Interlude of Men is blessed with a brilliant pair of performances, Deborah Findlay and Barbara Flynn play Bren and Hilly whose lifelong friendship is thoroughly explored when Bren comes to stay and help as Hilly’s broken her wrist. They revisit girlhood memories and lament the time they drifted apart a little due to each being married and in the cosy warmth of nostalgia, they start to plan for a future together reclaiming that lost time. Bruce cleverly structures the rhythm of the play around the heady emotion of their initial reunion and the subsequent cooling off period and though it ends on a rather plaintive note, it sings with hard-won authenticity.

Riffing off of Chaucer’s The Wife of Bath, Edson Burton’s De Wife of Bristol is a wryly amusing take on the classic tale of one of the more vibrant characters in The Canterbury Tales and transplanted to the modern day, it gains real currency in its new location in the Afro-Caribbean community. Lorna Gayle’s Clarissa da Costa is a retired woman who has worked her way through a number of husbands and is now dispensing marital advice to recently arrived Jamaican housekeeper Shanti, a delicately moving Susan Wokoma. Shanti has her own tale to tell as well and together, they edge towards a way into the future. Jude Akuwidike, Cyril Nri and Alex Lanipekun are fun as the various men but make no mistake, this is a woman’s world. Continue reading “Radio Review: An Interlude of Men / De Wife of Bristol / In the Depths of Dead Love”

Radio review: Blood Wedding

“You have already thrown me away”

Ted Hughes’ reworking of Blood Wedding first aired in 2008 and won awards that year. It was re-broadcast as part of Radio 3’s season covering Lorca’s Rural Trilogy – this play, Yerma and The House of Bernarda Alba. Productions of Lorca’s work often search for the elusive spirit of the duende, that magical ingredient that brings out the chills, and that is markedly present here due to Pauline Harris’ astute direction. 

Rather than try and create a taste of Spain, Hughes and Harris focus on the rural, evoking the timeless spirit of folkloric traditions that transcends nations. So the tale of two feuding families, locked in a death spiral of conflict even as they celebrate a marriage that should be uniting their houses, could be anywhere, not just the Almerian mountains where Lorca set it, and a multitude of British accents thus don’t sound out of place. Continue reading “Radio review: Blood Wedding”

Review: Versailles, Donmar Warehouse

“Democracy…such an un-English word”

Expectations for Peter Gill’s Versailles were quite low due to a number of factors – a five star review from Billington; my reaction to Making Noise Quickly, Gill’s last directorial intervention at the Donmar; the announcement of a running time of 3 hours; and decidedly mixed chatter from friends who had already seen it. And as it often the way with these things, I ended up rather enjoying it. It certainly helped that I was prepared for the extreme steadiness of its pacing and the dip of the second act of this self-directed play.

Set in the aftermath of the First World War, Gill examines and contrasts the impact of the peace process of Versailles on a Europe ravaged by conflict and also on a slice of middle-class English society, notably Kentish families the Rawlinsons and the Chaters. Leonard Rawlinson is a young civil servant involved in the negotiations for the treaty but he is haunted by both his doubts of whether a lasting peace can be achieved through these means and the ghost of his fallen soldier lover Gerald, who just happened to be the son of the neighbouring Chaters.  Continue reading “Review: Versailles, Donmar Warehouse”

DVD Review: He Knew He Was Right

What could be more innocent than visiting the vicar of Cockchaffington?”

So having completely tumbled for the charms of The Way We Live Now, I turned to the following BBC Anthony Trollope adaptation He Knew He Was Right which was also reworked by Andrew Davies and broadcast in 2004. Trollope’s main concern here was the corrosive effect of jealousy and particularly on his lead character of Louis Trevelyan whose marriage and family are broken up as he struggles to deal with the independent mind of his wife Emily as he suspects her of having an affair, and suffers the consequences of a gossipy Victorian society.

And thus the problems started for me – I never once found myself believing or really caring for Louis or Emily or their relationship. Oliver Dimsdale and Laura Fraser both struggled with the likeability factor for me and so as a central plot point, the story lost me from the beginning. More engaging was Emily’s younger sister Nora’s romantic travails as she falls for a penniless writer – Christina Cole and Stephen Campbell Moore just lovely together, and another love story as a kind but poor young companion falls for her mistress’s great-nephew against society’s rules. Continue reading “DVD Review: He Knew He Was Right”