DVD Review: Criminal Justice Series 1

“We’ve got the best criminal justice system in the world and the jury will get it right”

I do love me a good crime/legal procedural on the television (see North Square, The Jury, Murder One, Damages) but I rarely have the time to watch everything I want to these days and the BBC series Criminal Justice is one of the ones that slipped through the cracks. It has sat on my Lovefilm queue for ages and after a conversation about Ben Whishaw with one of his fans, I decided to finally get round to watching both the series on DVD.

Predictably, I loved it. Written by Peter Moffat (who also penned North Square), it is a five episode trek through one person’s journey through the various stages of the criminal justice system. The 2008 first series starred the aforementioned Whishaw as Ben Coulter, an aspiring footballer who finds himself accused of murder after a drink and drug-fuelled night out with a girl who ends up stabbed to death whilst Ben struggles to remember any of the details of what actually happened. And so from interview rooms in the police station to failed bail appeals and prison cells and then the subsequent court case, Ben’s experience at the hands of the system is thrillingly portrayed.  Continue reading “DVD Review: Criminal Justice Series 1”

DVD Review: A Very British Sex Scandal

“Do you think that homosexuality between 2 consenting males should be a criminal act”

A Very British Sex Scandal was a docu-drama that aired in 2007 on Channel 4. I watched it at the time and it has stuck with me ever since, a devastatingly powerful piece of film-making and a pertinent reminder of the struggles and battles that others fought in order for gay people to live in a more equal society today. Written and directed by Patrick Reams, it centres on the mid-1950s trial of several well-known men arrested for gross indecency and buggery which proved to be a landmark moment in solidifying public opinion against such legislation, stemming the virulently anti-homosexual political establishment and eventually leading to the decriminalisation of homosexual acts between consenting adults in Britain.

The film is a combination of dramatisations of key moments and events from the story interspersed with a set of interviews with gay men who were alive at the time. The mix is a good one: initially it is a roughly even mixture of the two, full of scene-setting shots in the drama but also providing much context of the realities of being a practising homosexual man in this era. These contributions are often eye-openingly frank and disturbingly brutal, it’s hard to think that it really wasn’t so long ago but this was just what life was like.  Continue reading “DVD Review: A Very British Sex Scandal”

Review: Hedda Gabler, Old Vic

“They may say what they like, for aught that I care”

There’s something rather pleasing about watching the upwards trajectory of an actor in front of our very eyes, the sense that we are witness to a genuine star in the making. From Little Shop of Horrors to Legally Blonde to Flare Path, Sheridan Smith has worked up a list of much-lauded theatrical credits, in the face of much scepticism it has to be said, which sits next to a television career which has also deepened and broadened in the types of roles that she is taking on. It was still a little bit of a surprise though to find that she would be taking on the title role in the Old Vic’s production of Hedda Gabler, Ibsen’s complex character oft being considered one of the juiciest roles for an actress to take on. 

Anna Mackmin directs a new version of the text by Brian Friel whose main focus seems to have been to imbue the play with a much stronger vein of humour. It is a decision of which I was not particularly fond as it diminishes much of the impact of the first half of the play. Being encouraged to laugh so much at the characters by whom Hedda finds herself surrounded in what is meant to be her newly-wedded bliss means that there’s too much of a disconnect when the more serious business post-interval kicks in. Adrian Scarborough’s husband is the biggest victim here, we’re never really invited to see him as a real man beyond his wife’s distaste and though his grand moment plays well to his comic strengths, it feels entirely incongruous.  Continue reading “Review: Hedda Gabler, Old Vic”

DVD Review: Cambridge Spies

“Ponces and spies, Anthony. The people with most to hide never have moustaches.”

In retrospect, I can’t even begin to comprehend why it has taken me so long to getting round to watching Cambridge Spies (the obvious lack of time given how much theatre I see aside) – a quality BBC drama with a properly thesp-heavy cast about spies, with gayness involved, and Imelda Staunton as the Queen (Mother). But regardless, it has taken me this long and of course I’m kicking myself as I thought it was a brilliant piece of drama. Over four parts, Peter Moffat takes us through the key years of four of the Cambridge Five Soviet spies from their recruitment at Trinity College through to the defection of two of them nearly 20 years later.

It was a story I knew little of, so there was a genuine frisson in watching how it all unfolded, not knowing what would happen next, but the real thrill was in the excellent character work from the four leads – Toby Stephens as Kim Philby, Tom Hollander as Guy Burgess, Rupert Penry-Jones as Donald Maclean and particularly Samuel West as Anthony Blunt. From their idealistic anti-fascist student days when the Soviet Union seemed like the only real option to stand against the encroaching terror, the wisdom of the KGB’s recruiting plan was borne out by the ascendance of these four into the higher echelons of the British state, from where they would be able to provide the most important of secrets. Continue reading “DVD Review: Cambridge Spies”

Review: Little Eagles, RSC at Hampstead Theatre

“All these dreams of fire and steel in one little head”

The best of intentions always tend to go awry from time to time and so it is with theatre bookings. I would not normally have considered going to see Little Eagles, as Russian space history is not generally a subject I care that much about, at least not enough to pay money to see. But, as it was one of the new commissions by the RSC and being performed by the Ensemble, whom have grown into a fabulously cohesive unit and therefore pretty much making anything they do a must-see as they come into the final furlong of their time together.

Marking the 50th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin’s first manned orbit of the earth, Rona Munro’s play follows the development of the Soviet space programme by Sergei Korolyov, a former gulag inmate with the meagrest of resources who managed the incredible even in the face of great political pressure. But it is a slow, long play with little variation of tone or voice; there’s no attempt to question this version of events and even the joy of seeing these actors in fascinatingly different roles did not really mitigate against this. Continue reading “Review: Little Eagles, RSC at Hampstead Theatre”

Review: King Lear, Royal Shakespeare Theatre

“A man may see how this world goes with no eyes”

 
A double bill of Shakespeare is something that not even I would undertake lightly but as an opportunity to visit the newly opened Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon, it was something I couldn’t resist: King Lear in the afternoon for the first time and a revisit of Romeo & Juliet in the evening. Typically, the old maxim about not booking shows to see particular actors came and bit me on the posterior with a depressing predictability, as the main reason for seeing this King Lear was in order to see Kathryn Hunter’s Fool, but as she unexpectedly withdrew from the ensemble at the beginning of the year, the role is now being covered by Sophie Russell.
 
This was only my second ever Lear, Derek Jacobi’s at the Donmar being the first and whilst I enjoyed seeing that with fresh eyes and not knowing the story, it was nice to watch this one with a little more comprehension of exactly what was going on! Though I was still a little perplexed by the mix of time periods covered in the costumes, the courtiers in classical garb but the outside world seemed to be inspired by the First World War, a mixture that was a little too haphazard for my liking. But overall, it did actually combine to quite epic effect, led by Greg Hicks’ powerful turn as Lear. I got more of a sense of a man going mad from Hicks, as opposed to the fragility, even possible onset of senility, of Jacobi’s interpretation, with his viciousness towards Goneril being particularly shocking in a way I didn’t remember so much. Continue reading “Review: King Lear, Royal Shakespeare Theatre”

Review: The Winter’s Tale, RSC at the Roundhouse

“Though I am not naturally honest, I am so sometimes by chance”

Sometimes quite a difficult play to pull off due to the disparate nature of its two main strands, The Winter’s Tale remains a popular choice for the RSC and this production, part of the Roundhouse season, was originally seen in Stratford in 2009. Starting off in the highly ordered Sicilia, Leontes rules with a tight discipline, ill-equipped to deal with the warm emotion of his wife Hermione. Playing the genial hostess to their friend Polixenes, King of Bohemia, rouses a terrible jealousy in Leontes though and charging them with adultery, he sets in train a terrible set of events that hugely alter his life. Much of the second half takes place 16 years later in Bohemia with events much advanced, but we eventually return to Sicilia to revisit Leontes and his court for the final denouement.

David Farr’s production is superbly mounted and works as a timely reminder that even the greatest of men can be undone by a moment of frailty and the echoing impact of the emotions and decisions of those in power throughout the rest of society. It is one of Shakespeare’s most impressionistic plays, there’s perhaps more suspension of disbelief necessary than usual in here, but it works as a tale of human nature and the rewards for those who are faithful and loyal throughout and this production manages to balance the two sides well, provoking huge emotional depths especially in a beautiful rendition of the ending but also raising spirits and laughs aplenty. Continue reading “Review: The Winter’s Tale, RSC at the Roundhouse”

Review: Antony and Cleopatra, Courtyard Theatre Stratford

“Give me my robe, put on my crown; I have immortal longings in me”

Never mind ‘the Scottish play’, it appears that it’s the role of Mark Antony that has some kind of a curse attached to it. Last year saw the Dutch Hans Kesting break a leg before The Roman Tragedies arrived at the Barbican (he delivered a barnstorming performance from his wheelchair), and now Darrell D’Silva is having to perform with his left arm in a sling after suffering severe injuries to his hand after a prop firearm malfunctioned during the technical rehearsal. He has now rejoined the cast after surgery, but press night has been postponed to try and make up some rehearsal time. So my first trip to the Courtyard Theatre at the RSC in Stratford which should have been to one of the final previews actually ended up being earlier in the run than planned.

This is a modern-dress Antony and Cleopatra, featuring guns and suits to tell this great tragic love story of two powerful individuals brought together yet unable to escape their circumstances. Rome is ruled by a triumvirate (what a great word!) after Julius Caesar’s assassination, yet all is not well. Mark Antony has had his head and heart captivated by the Egyptian Queen Cleopatra and is spending more of his time there than in Rome. Taking advantage of this is the ambitious Octavius Caesar who turns on the third triumvir Lepidus, setting the scene for an almighty showdown between the two rivals. Continue reading “Review: Antony and Cleopatra, Courtyard Theatre Stratford”

Review: The Rose Tattoo, National Theatre

The Rose Tattoo, one of Tennessee Williams’ earlier plays, is a life-affirming tale of sexual passion, love, betrayal and dealing with loss. Sadly, the original director Steven Pimlott died earlier this year, meaning Nicholas Hytner had to take up the reins at the National Theatre, working with his friend’s notes and paying tribute to his memory in a most fitting way.

Set in the Sicilian community in New Orleans, the story follows Serafina della Rose, an exotic seamstress who when widowed struggles to balance cherishing his memory with actually living life. She locks herself away and this affects her daughter Rosa from enjoying life too, but when a buffoonish, tattooed truck driver arrives in town, something inside Serafina begins to stir which is good timing for Rosa as a hunky sailor named Jack catches her eye. Continue reading “Review: The Rose Tattoo, National Theatre”