TV Review: Life (Series 1)

Mike Bartlett’s new TV show Life is rich in middle-class miseries and stellar performances from Victoria Hamilton and Alison Steadman

“One can’t have blessings without sufferings”

My main feelings about Mike Bartlett’s Life revolve around Rachael Stirling and thus are somewhat spoilerific – consider yourself warned! I was highly excited to see Stirling back on our screens so I was a tad disappointed when it turned out that her character was in fact a ghost and could only be seen by her grieving husband Adrian Lester.

But then when it was revealed that she was in fact a bisexual ghost – a proper shout at the TV moment – and her entanglements drew in at least one other, it was a glorious pay-off which almost, almost made up for her not being a full-on member of the ensemble. And its a hefty ensemble, set in a large house split into four flats in which four sets of tenants are all facing their own trials. Continue reading “TV Review: Life (Series 1)”

Review: Ugly Lies The Bone, National

“It took three surgeries to give me back my eyelid”

There’s a moment to catch the breath in the opening scene of Lindsey Ferrentino’s Ugly Lies The Bone as Kate Fleetwood’s Jess removes the virtual reality helmet she’s been wearing to reveal substantial scarring across half her face (excellent prosthetic work from the creative team). Jess is a veteran of three tours of Afghanistan, the last cut short by a close encounter with an IED that ravaged her body, whose recovery process after fourteen months in a hospital bed is not necessarily being aided by a return home to the depressed Florida town where she grew up.

What is proving effective is a pioneering form of virtual reality-based therapy (based on real life) that is designed to help Jess manage the constant pain that her injuries cause. In a custom computer-generated world, she is liberated, if only momentarily from excruciating skin grafts and flashbacks and an understandable heaviness of spirit that claws its way back to the surface as soon as the helmet comes off. For in the real world, the end of NASA’s shuttle programme has left Titusville a shadow of the place it once was, making it even harder to reconnect with the sister and ex-lover she finds there. Continue reading “Review: Ugly Lies The Bone, National”

Review: Once In A Lifetime, Young Vic

“You don’t know anything about anything, George, and if what they say about the movies is true, you’ll go far”

The end of the silent movie era and the arrival of the talkies has proved fertile ground for many a storyteller, not least Betty Comden and Adolph Green’s immortal Singin’ in the Rain, but Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman’s Once In A Lifetime has a serious claim to being one of the first, premiering as it did in 1930 and its influence is plain to see. It has received major revivals from Trevor Nunn at the RSC (1979) and Edward Hall at the National (2005) and now it is the turn of Richard Jones at the Young Vic, in a production notable for marking the theatrical stage debut of Harry Enfield.

In a new adaptation by Hart’s son Christopher, Once In A Lifetime follows the trials and tribulations of three workaday vaudeville artists from New York who decide to throw in their lot and ship out to Hollywood. With the first ever talking motion picture doing great business, they opt to capitalise on the trend by opening an elocution school to help all those actors who suddenly need to speak on screen but even in its earliest days, the crowded corridors of Tinseltown prove a tough nut to crack with any number of wannabe starlets, studio heads and screenwriters competing for the limelight. Continue reading “Review: Once In A Lifetime, Young Vic”

DVD Review: Hyde Park in Hudson

“But, to answer your question, Elizabeth, I ‘am’ going to eat a hot dog”

Directed by Roger Michell and written by Richard Nelson, Hyde Park in Hudson is a rather delightful little thing, a trifle of a film that nonetheless has an endearing emotional edge to it. Set on the eve of World War II, George VI and Queen Elizabeth become the first British monarchs to visit the US but rather than the pomp and circumstance of an official state visit, they’re taken to Franklin D Roosevelt’s country estate and introduced to the complex personal relationships he’s built around him.

Key among these is Margaret ‘Daisy’ Suckley, a distant cousin and childhood friend who has recently returned to his life and who narrates the film in Laura Linney’s delicate but determined tones. The Royals want to secure US support for the war they know is coming, the polio-ravaged FDR wants to be left alone to amuse himself with the collection of women he’s gathered around him and Daisy just wants to know where she is in the pecking order. Continue reading “DVD Review: Hyde Park in Hudson”

Review: The Hairy Ape, Old Vic

“I ain’t on oith and I ain’t in Heaven, get me? I’m in de middel tryin’ to seperate em, takin all de woist punches from bot’ of ’em”

Fans of Bertie Carvel have certainly been rewarded with his recent burst of activity – he starred in Bakkhai at the Almeida, had a major role in BBC drama Doctor Foster and now returns to the theatre to lead this revival of Eugene O’Neill’s play The Hairy Ape. The play is described as a classic expressionist masterpiece and whilst that might be overstating things ever so slightly, it does give a useful pointer to the heightened theatricality of the drama and of Richard Jones’ production. My 4 star review for Cheap Theatre Tickets can be read here.

Running time: 95 minutes (without interval)
Photos: Manuel Harlan
Booking until 21st November

Review: Uncle Vanya, St James Theatre

“This is starting to get offensive”

Proving herself once, twice, three times a lady Chekhov adapter, Anya Reiss now finds herself in the slightly odd position where (I think) she’s had more of her adaptations produced than her original writing – it’s certainly one way of casting off the mantle of ‘saviour of new writing’ with which she has often been blessed/cursed. I didn’t catch her well-received take on Spring Awakening for Headlong earlier this year but it is reimagining the work of Chekhov that has really fired her mojo – recent versions of The Seagull and Three Sisters are now followed by an equally modern Uncle Vanya for the St James Theatre.

And whilst I’d love to say these adaptation are going from strength to strength, for me it is much more a case of diminishing returns. Moving The Seagull to a contemporary Isle of Man chimed well but Three Sisters suffered a little (well, a lot) in the shift to a modern British embassy and so too does Uncle Vanya here, relocated to a Lincolnshire farm in the modern day. The sense of crippling stagnation, of an entire way of life on the precipice is present but none of the deep emotion or eternal tragedy of the characters that should elevate its concerns to the universal. Continue reading “Review: Uncle Vanya, St James Theatre”

DVD Review: Silk, Series 1

“245 women silks ever, out of tens of thousands”

I do love a legal drama and so too does Peter Moffat. I’m forever grateful for him for the Helen McCrory-starring joy that was North Square and I’ve recently caught up with the two series of Criminal Justice that he was responsible for, so it was only natural that I should be a big fan of Silk. But as the time pressures of a busy theatre schedule rarely let go, it wasn’t something I had time to watch live and it was only with its arrival on Netflix that I was able to catch up with it. The show focuses on a single chambers with two leading lights both hoping to be appointed Queen’s Counsel, “taking silk” as it were, and dealing with the pressures of life at the Bar.

Casting Maxine Peake and Rupert Penry-Jones as the rivals Martha Costello and Clive Reader works extremely well – her fierce intelligence and emotional counterbalance being perfectly portrayed by the ever-strong Peake and Penry-Jones making Reader something of an arrogant buffoon yet one with some redeeming qualities as he competes and consoles, seduces and shines his way through life. Over the six episodes, the focus is mainly on Martha and her dilemmas as she finds herself pregnant at a time of huge professional significance, but the series as a whole makes for a modern and exciting version of a legal drama. Continue reading “DVD Review: Silk, Series 1”

TV Review: What Remains

“Something bad always happens when you go upstairs”

Something is in the water of British crime drama that is making it more interesting than it has been for quite some time. Tony Basgallop’s What Remains, directed by Coky Giedroyc, has thrilled across four weeks on BBC1 making the kind of whodunnit that genuinely had one guessing right till the very end with its carousel of hugely unlikeable personalities remarkably all remaining in the mix for the crime for a very long time. Set in an inner-city townhouse split into flats, it plays on the anonymity of metropolitan life – the fact that we can live next door to people and remain strangers, dissociated from their lives entirely. Such is the fate of Melissa Young, whose decaying body is found in the loft of a building yet whose absence for two years has gone unnoticed. 

She owned the top flat but as soon we get to know the rest of the inhabitants, we soon see why this wasn’t the happiest of houses. A cranky maths teacher lives in the basement with something of a dirty secret, on the ground floor is a recovering alcoholic journalist whose romance with a colleague is under threat from his self-possessed teenage son, above them are lesbian graphic designers gripped in a psychotically abusive relationship and above them are a newly-arrived and heavily pregnant young couple. Throw in a widower detective on the brink of retirement and no life outside of work and the scene is set for cracking four-parter What Remains. Continue reading “TV Review: What Remains”

Review: The School for Scandal, Park Theatre

“I bear no malice to the people I abuse”

Sparkling reinterpretations of 18th century comedies have become something of an annual treat from Jessica Swale’s Red Handed Theatre company and following on from the delights of the Celia Imrie-starring The Rivals, the remounting of Hannah Cowley’s The Belle’s Stratagem and last year’s excellent The Busy Body, it is now the turn of Sheridan’s The School for Scandal to be primped and preened in their deliciously inimitable style. So for those as yet uninitiated to their ways, prepare for witty musical interludes and warmly embracing audience interaction as a vivacious ensemble romp through this comedy of manners.

Led by the machinations of the vicious-tongued Lady Sneerwell – Belinda Lang in epically glam form – Sheridan’s plot winds through a portion of the higher echelons of London society and exposes the gossip-fuelled hypocrisy at the heart of it. Lady Sneerwell wants others to suffer the loss of reputation she has; Sir Peter Teazle is concerned about the flightiness of his flirtatious younger wife; Sir Oliver Surface wants to test the mettle of his two nephews who stand to inherit his vast fortune; and above all, everyone wants to be the first to tell the juiciest pieces of gossip with the most salacious details. Continue reading “Review: The School for Scandal, Park Theatre”

DVD Review: The Canterbury Tales (1)

“If I’d known we were being invited to an orgy, I’d’ve stopped in Burnley”

This set of adaptations of six of The Canterbury Tales from 2003 make an interesting if baffling set of TV films. Taking inspiration from Chaucer’s writings and setting them in modern-day contexts, six different writers were chosen to try and find a happy medium between remaining true to the spirit of the originals and also making them accessible for a modern day audience not necessarily familiar with them. As I fall into that latter category (I’ve seen a theatrical adaptation but have never read them), my observations can only really thus reflect the tales as pieces of television in and of themselves rather than as the adaptations that they also are. That said, it doesn’t change the fact that disc 1 is significantly superior to disc 2.

First up was Peter Bowker’s take on The Miller’s Tale where Dennis Waterman’s publican runs his establishment with his attractive and much younger wife Alison. Played by Billie Piper, she lives for the weekly karaoke nights that she dominates and when a mysterious and charming stranger played by James Nesbitt arrives claiming to be a talent scout, her head is filled with promises of what could be. Nesbitt’s charisma serves him well as the silver-tongued Nick who schemes his way into the affections and purses of many around him, but this is a Piper still growing into her acting style and against Waterman’s dour husband, it never really grabbed me as a story.   Continue reading “DVD Review: The Canterbury Tales (1)”