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)”
In the spirit of the season, I’m not commenting too much on the RSC’s The Merry Wives of Windsor at the Barbican
“I hope we shall drink down all unkindness”
Fiona Laird’s production of The Merry Wives of Windsor is the third of the RSC’s show to open at the Barbican this winter and whilst it is certainly an eye-catching revival with its Only Way is Essex tendencies, it really wasn’t the one for me.
Running time: 2 hours 45 minutes ((with interval)
Photo: Manuel Harlan
The Merry Wives of Windsor is booking at the Barbican until 5th January
Hope Dickson Leach’s The Levelling is a haunting film debut, and a grim one too
“There’s nothing for you here anymore”
Eee, it’s grim to be a farmer in the UK right now, if we’re to believe what we see in the cinema. At least in Yorkshire, there’s the chance of some hot gay sex but in Somerset, things look decidedly worse with not even that relief as an option.
Writer/director Hope Dickson Leach finds something more desperate in the unforgiving land of the Somerset levels, as she explores the fracturing of a family farm in the aftermath of the death of the son and heir. Trainee vet Clover returns for the funeral of her brother but is shocked at what she discovers.
Continue reading “Film Review: The Levelling (2016)”
“Donna Noble has left the library. Donna Noble has been saved”
And here we are, my favourite series of Doctor Who. So much huge wonderfulness and even its less good moments are still more than halfway decent. Key to the series’ success is Catherine Tate’s Donna Noble – gobby and one-dimensional in her introductory episode the Christmas special The Runaway Bride, her character journey throughout this season is magisterially constructed, a true awakening of self (with thankfully no romantic inclinations towards our Time Lord) and one given unbearable poignancy due to its frustratingly tragic end.
It’s also one of the best constructed series in terms of its over-arching season arc, its warnings and clues layered meaningfully into several stories and building into a momentous and properly climactic finale, which lands just about the right level of grandiosity. There’s also the first companion-lite episode (the superbly creepy Midnight) to go with the Doctor-lite one (the achingly beautiful dystopian Turn Left); a typically brilliant Moffat double-header in Silence in the Library and Forest of the Dead with gorgeous work from Alex Kingston as the soon-to-be-hugely-significant River Song; and if the return of Rose undoes some of the emotional impact of the Series 2 finale, Billie Piper’s work is spikily powerful. These are episodes I can, and have, watched over and over again.
Continue reading “Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 4”
“I would his troubles were expired”
The Hollow Crown rises again. Four years on from the first suite of striking televisual adaptations of Shakespeare’s history plays, the BBC continue their Shakespeare Lives season by completing the set. For theatregoers, it has been a ripe time of it – Trevor Nunn reviving The Wars of the Roses late last year and the excellent Toneelgroep Amsterdam bringing their streamlined version Kings of War to the Barbican just last month – but as you’ll see, the common thread is one of adaptation, opportunities to see the three parts of Henry VI as they are remain few and far between.
And so it proves here. Though this is entitled The Hollow Crown – The Wars of the Roses: 1. Henry VI Part 1, Ben Power and Dominic Cooke have compressed the three plays into two parts and it’s hard to argue against it really – there’s plenty here to sink your teeth into (and get your head around). Emasculated by lord protector the Duke of Gloucester (a solid Hugh Bonneville, displaying as much range as he ever does), Tom Sturridge’s Henry VI finds himself an uncertain king, a querulous youth who bends whichever way the wind blows strongest in his court, riven by dynastic rivalry. Continue reading “TV Review: The Hollow Crown – The Wars of the Roses: 1. Henry VI Part 1”
“All these cases where people pretends to be one thing for half a century and then turn out to be something else”
The insanity that is the scheduling wars between the BBC and ITV often throws up random anomalies but rarely has the result been something as rewarding as a surfeit of Nicola Walker. Having recently made River for the BBC and Unforgotten for ITV, both police dramas were premiered in the same week and as six-part dramas, are reaching their climax at the same time too. And what has been particularly pleasing is the fact that both have proved to be highly watchable and interesting takes on the genre.
Chris Lang’s Unforgotten focused on a cold case from nearly 40 years ago as skeletal remains are found in the basement of a derelict house and in the cleverly constructed first episode, the four disparate characters that we have been following are eventually tied together as their phone numbers are found in the victim’s diary. Walker’s DCI Cassie Stuart and Sanjeev Bhaskar’s DS Sunny Khan soon identify him as a Jimmy Sullivan but the show focuses as much on the effect of long-buried secrets on the potential suspects as it does on the case itself. Continue reading “TV Review: Unforgotten”
“I think the temptations will be too strong in Brighton”
Just a quickie for this 3 hour adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice which was spread over 3 weeks and so proved to be quite a drawn-out experience. Charlotte Jones’ dramatisation, directed by Sally Avens, worked extremely well, thanks to a spiffingly high-quality cast. Current RSC darling Pippa Nixon ad Jamie Parker took on the leading couple, Samantha Spiro as Mrs Bennett, Toby Jones as Mr Collins, Fenella Woolgar as Miss Bingley…the list goes on. And narrated by Amanda Root, it was practically tailor-made for me.
Which made the scheduling a tad frustrating, the week-long gaps a little too long for my apparent attention span these days whereas I would have rather binged on the whole thing in one go. But it was good. Parker taking a little getting used to as Darcy but getting there, connecting well with Nixon’s vibrant Elizabeth. Lydia Wilson making a compassionate Jane, Michelle Terry the same with Charlotte Lucas, David Troughton’s Mr Bennett resignedly pleasant against Spiro’s over-exuberant wife. A genuine pleasure.
“The over-exposure of women to literature breeds unnatural fancies”
I struggled a little bit to find another theatrical-friendly lesbian-themed thing to watch so I returned to Sarah Waters and the 2005 adaptation of Fingersmith, which as it starred Sally Hawkins was no great hardship at all. Set in Victorian England as was Tipping the Velvet, this story follows the lives of Sue and Maud, two very different women whose lives are irrevocably changed when a trio of fingersmiths, or pickpockets, conspire to rob an heiress of her fortune. But it turns out the plans are even more devious than first assumed as they culminate in the most unexpected of fashions and in a deftly clever move, we revisit all we have just seen from another perspective, casting uncertainty of the surety of what we know which plays excellently in the subsequent exploration of the disturbing reality of Victorian mental asylums.
Sally Hawkins is predictably excellent as Sue, one of the pickpockets who hoodwinks her way into the slightly disturbed Maud’s, the pale Elaine Cassidy, household as a housemaid who acts as a chaperone to allow a second trickster, Mr Rivers played by a bewhiskered Rupert Evans, to pose as a gentleman and seduce Maud into marriage just before she inherits a large fortune. Maud has been stifled by life in her extremely strict uncle’s house as a contributor to his immense collection of pornography and relishes the contact of Sue’s seemingly kindred spirit, so much so that an illicit lesbian affair springs up between the pair. But even as Sue is deceiving her, it emerges that Maud is not quite as delicate as she may seem and so intrigue builds on intrigue as Peter Ransley’s screenplay condenses a wonderfully complex novel into a more streamlined narrative, though still full of equally multifaceted characters. Continue reading “DVD Review: Fingersmith”
“It can be hard to find an ex-teacher”
Opening with a chance encounter with a former teacher by St Paul’s Cathedral, Stephen Poliakoff’s My City is his first work for the stage in over a decade. But its opening promise of delving into the mysterious hidden depths of a city we think we know so well with the added spice of revisiting mythic childhood teachers outside of the familiar context of the classroom now they are retired is never really fully realised. Poliakoff directs his own work at the Almeida and has secured the return of Tracey Ullman to the stage to play Miss Lambert, the former Headmistress who is found sleeping on a park bench.
Former pupil Richard is the one who finds her and we find out that she has taken to exploring the streets of London at night-time now she is retired and her gift for story-telling that so captivated her pupils remains strong as ever. This in turn prompts a series of renewed contacts which brings in his old school-friend Julie and two more of their teachers. Richard can tell that someone is not quite right with his childhood heroine though and as he seeks to get to the truth of Miss Lambert’s behaviour, he uncovers a world of secrets, lies, disillusionments and memories from all five of them. Continue reading “Review: My City, Almeida Theatre”
“Now we don’t want to start Christmas like this, do we?”
Slotting into rep in the Lyttelton for the next few months is Marianne Elliott’s production of Alan Ayckbourn’s Season’s Greetings, a play set during the festive period but by no means your average cheery Christmas show. Set in 1980 in the home of Neville and Belinda Bunker, this show shines a light on what happens when a group of nine people gather on Christmas Eve to spend the next few days together in festive harmony. The veneer of civility is soon shattered as we come to see that the various relationships, between friends, family, would-be lovers, husbands and wives, are all under huge strain and as events unfold spurred on by the arrival of a newcomer, home truths are exposed and the misery of human existence confronted.
It isn’t a comedy per se, rather a play with many farcical elements which come from the interactions between this group of people thrown together for Christmas as they tiptoe around fragile egos, unspoken truths, rampant libidos and frustrated ambitions. But it is also somewhat grim in its outlook: unhappy marriages, lack of career fulfilment, sexual frustrations are all themes that emerge time and time again, making for an uneasy mix. As an early preview, performances were impressive across the board but the pacing of the first act in particular needs a lot of work. With three scenes to Act II’s two, it is naturally somewhat longer but began to feel interminably long: around 15 people near me didn’t return after the interval, which was a shame as it did sharpen up quite a lot. Continue reading “Review: Season’s Greetings, National Theatre”