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)”

TV news: Mike Bartlett’s Life brings Victoria Hamilton back to the screen

Mike Bartlett’s Life brings Victoria Hamilton back to the screen in a reprise for her Doctor Foster character

Created and written by Mike Bartlett and produced by Drama Republic, Life stars Alison Steadman, Peter Davison, Adrian Lester, Victoria Hamilton, Melissa Johns, Rachael Stirling, Saira Choudhry, Erin Kellyman, Calvin Demba and Joshua James.

Victoria Hamilton will reprise her role from Doctor Foster – now going by the name of ‘Belle’, rather than Anna – and seeking to rebuild her life anew.

Adam James will appear later on in the series, reprising his Doctor Foster role as Belle’s now ex-husband Neil. Life also features Elaine Paige and Susannah Fielding in key roles. Continue reading “TV news: Mike Bartlett’s Life brings Victoria Hamilton back to the screen”

Film Review: Last Christmas (2019)

Any film with Patti LuPone has to be a winner, even if Last Christmas only features her for 90 seconds or so. Nowhere near as bad as they’d have you believe…

“Before we eat lesbian pudding…”

There’s always a measure of slight disappointment when something doesn’t live up to its billing. To look at most of its press coverage, you’d think Last Christmas was ZOMG WORST FILM IN THE WORLD™ (a title it might have held at least for the four weeks before Cats came out…). But the reality, as per usual, is something much more mundane – it’s a perfectly serviceable piece of festive fluff, hardly ground-breaking but then what rom-com is?

Obviously I’m biased since the great Patti LuPone makes a random cameo early on, but I found the whole thing to be quite watchable. Its guest cast is a winner from start to finish – Michelle Yeoh! David Mumeni’s inexplicably rebuffed pub guy, Anna Calder-Marshall’s spiky homeless woman, Lydia Leonard and Jade Anouka as a lesbian couple, Amit Shah’s bumbling estate agent…and that joy of trying to work out which bit of London is being used at any given time. Continue reading “Film Review: Last Christmas (2019)”

Not-really-a-review: Loot, Park

“You’ve been a widower for three days, have you thought about a second marriage?”

I ummed and aahed a bit about what to write about this one – I saw what I think was the final preview of Loot before a few days to retool before opening night on Wednesday and as with any comedy, especially farce, there’s nothing like doing it live to help it bed in. At the same time, I’m not much of a fan of farce (my fault I fear…) and only really booked for two reasons. 1 – it’s on the list. And 2 – Sinéad Matthews, future queen of all our hearts. She really is fantastic and it’s nice to see a shift in gear from her customary electrifying intensity.

So yeah, I thought Michael Fentiman’s production was funny in parts (though nowhere near as funny as most everyone around me) and impressively sharp-edged and dark for a play that is celebrating its 50th anniversary. But the writing, in its targets, does show its age and there’s no attempt to show Loot as anything but a period piece, which may well tickle the fancy of those a generations on from me but ultimately left me feeling cold on occasion. And if the attempts at laughs come thick and fast, well they have to as much of the humour is dated. Sorry, my dear.

Running time: 2 hours 
Booking until 24th September, then moves to the Watermill in Newbury from 28th September to 21st October

The 2015 London Evening Standard Theatre Awards

Best Actor
Kenneth Cranham, The Father, Ustinov Bath, Tricycle Theatre & Wyndham’s Theatre
Ralph Fiennes, Man And Superman, National Theatre’s Lyttelton
James McAvoy, The Ruling Class, Trafalgar Studios
Simon Russell Beale, Temple, Donmar Warehouse

Natasha Richardson Award for Best Actress
Denise Gough, People, Places and Things, National Theatre’s Dorfman
Nicole Kidman, Photograph 51 , Noël Coward Theatre
Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Nell Gwynn, Shakespeare’s Globe
Lia Williams, Oresteia, Almeida Theatre & Trafalgar Studios Continue reading “The 2015 London Evening Standard Theatre Awards”

Review: The Red Lion, National Theatre

“I was never so loved, nor loved this life so strong”

Patrick Marber’s first new play in over a decade comes after a period of writer’s block, so it is perhaps little surprise that his subject matter in The Red Lion is one that is close to his heart and something with which he is intimately associated. Marber is a director of Lewes FC, currently in the Isthmian League Premier Division, and it is this world of non-league football into which he delves over a considerable 2 hours 20 minutes.

A great play would tease out such sub-themes as the state of modern cross-generational masculinity and what place faith has in such a capitalist world but Marber never really tempers his love for the beautiful game sufficiently to allow this to happen. So instead we get a very good play which lives and breathes football with its nostalgic yearning for the fair play and decency and corruption-free ethos of years gone by (if indeed they ever existed). Continue reading “Review: The Red Lion, National Theatre”

Film Review: London Road

“Everybody’s very very nervous”

The theatrical production of London Road was a major success for the National Theatre, the opening run first extending in the Cottesloe and then being rewarded with a later transfer to the much larger Olivier – I was first blownaway by its originality and then later comforted by its message in the aftermath of the 2011 riots. So the news that director Rufus Norris was making a film adaptation was received with apprehensive anticipation, could this strikingly experimental piece of theatre possibly work on screen.

Writer Alecky Blythe uses a technique whereby she records interviews with people which are then edited into a play but spoken verbatim by the actors, complete with all the ums and aahs and repetitions of natural speech. And in 2006, she went to Ipswich to interview a community rocked by a series of murders, of five women in total, all sex workers, and set about telling a story not of salacious deaths but of a community learning to cleave together in trying times. Oh, and it’s all set to the most innovative of musical scores by Adam Cork, elevating ordinary speech into something quite extraordinary. Continue reading “Film Review: London Road”

Review: The Wolf at the Door, Royal Court

“We had to plump for M16s for the altos because they have a tendency to get a bit flappy, the last thing they needed was an easily jammable firing mechanism”

Despite the alluring thrill of this note on the webpage for the show – “Special thanks to Real Lancashire Eccles Cakes for their donation to this production” – for one reason or another it has taken me until practically the end of the run to finally get along to Rory Mullarkey’s The Wolf from the Door at the Royal Court.

And to be honest, I have to say it would have been no great loss had I missed it. Mullarkey posits a world in which the middle classes are a seething mass of discontent and an aristocrat is spearheading a movement for radical change that taps right into it, cue beheadings in Tesco, marauding morris dancers and a fully armed WI. An arresting concept but one which increasingly reveals itself to have little to say, a particularly disappointing ending the cherry on this barely-risen cake. Continue reading “Review: The Wolf at the Door, Royal Court”

Review: Routes, Royal Court

“The problem is, citizenship isn’t automatically acquired through naturalisation”

I was initially quite hesitant about booking to see Routes – the murkily complex worlds of immigration and what was the UK Border Agency (UKBA) are all too familiar to me from aspects of my work and so I wasn’t sure that I wanted to see a dramatic interpretation of the painful intricacies of the legal system that so many people are forced to endure. And though Rachel De-lahay’s play, her second for the Royal Court, has a vivid compassion and a burning sense of injustice, it never really dealt sufficiently with its subject matter for my liking, barely scratching at the surface of something so rotten in the state of Great Britain.

She intertwines a number of stories, all to do with immigration and citizenship and how precious the rare flashes of humanity are, that survive in this system. Fiston Barek’s teenage Bashir has spent most of his life in the UK but at the slightest hint of trouble, finds his indefinite leave to remain under threat and a forcible return to Somalia on the cards. His roommate in his hostel is Calvin Demba’s Kola, a troubled youth offender disowned by his parents, one of whom works for the UKBA. And in Nigeria, Peter Bankolé’s Femi is trying to beat the system by buying a fake identity to be able to join his family in the UK. Continue reading “Review: Routes, Royal Court”