TV Review: Peaky Blinders Series 5

Series 5 of Peaky Blinders plots a particularly dark path for Tommy Shelby but leaves a little too much up in the air – spoilers abound

“It was a consequence of good intentions”

Getting Elliot Cowan into the new series of Peaky Blinders made my heart sing, getting him to play a closeted gay journalist was just gilding the lily, so naturally he didn’t make it past the end of the first episodes. Such are the ways that this show breaks your heart.

As the race through the years carries on apace, we’re now in the time of the Wall Street Crash of 1929 and the rise of fascism with the arrival of Oswald Mosley, and these two points are the main drivers of this fifth series. The recalibration of the family business to cover their losses, and Tommy’s burgeoning political career serving his increasingly varied ambition. Continue reading “TV Review: Peaky Blinders Series 5”

TV Review: Press (BBC1)

Mike Bartlett’s Press has a fantastic company and big ambitions but is probably best enjoyed as feisty entertainment than an accurate portrayal of the world of journalism

“We do it through the most outrageous storytelling in the world, not statistics”

A lot of the chat around Mike Bartlett’s new series Press, as written by journalists at least, was around how the show fails to represent life at a contemporary newspaper in an accurate manner. So I hasten to remind us all, as if it were really necessary, that Press is a drama and not a documentary, and that dramatic license and a real, and frankly essential, thing.

Soapbox done, this six parter is an interesting if simplistic look at duelling newsroom as it follows the teams at Sun-a-like The Post and Guardian-a-like The Herald as they follow stories, set the news agenda and battle for the very soul of journalism. It’s all highly watchable in a popcorn-munching kind of way but – perhaps ironically given my first paragraph – the shadow of the real world occasionally looms a little too large.  Continue reading “TV Review: Press (BBC1)”

Full cast announced for the West End transfer of Mary Stuart.

The full cast has been announced for the West End transfer of Robert Icke’s new adaptation of Mary Stuart. Following a critically acclaimed, sold out season at the Almeida Theatre in 2016-17, the production will open at the Duke of York’s Theatre from 15 January for a limited run before visiting Theatre Royal Bath, Salford Lowry and Cambridge Arts Theatre.

As previously announced, Juliet Stevenson and Lia Williams reprise the play’s central roles. Also reprising their roles are Rudi Dharmalingam (Mortimer), David Jonsson (Davison), John Light (Leicester), Carmen Munroe (Kennedy), Eileen Nicholas (Melville) and Daniel Rabin (Kent).

Joining the cast are Michael Byrne (Talbot), Christopher Colquhoun (Paulet), Calum Finlay (Aubespine) and Elliot Levey (Burleigh).

Two queens. One in power. One in prison. It’s all in the execution.

Schiller’s political tragedy takes us behind the scenes of some of British history’s most crucial days. Playing both Elizabeth I and Mary Stuart, Juliet Stevenson (Hamlet) and Lia Williams (Oresteia) trade the play’s central roles, decided at each performance by the toss of a coin.

Get your tickets here and have a read of my review from the Almeida here.

Film Review: Murder On The Orient Express (2017)

“I know your moustache…”

What to do when you want your new film to be a new version of one of Agatha Christie’s most famous whodunnits? Well if you’re Kenneth Branagh, you call in some of your mates to play the main characters, friends like Dame Judi Dench, Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Olivia Colman, Penélope Cruz, Daisy Ridley, Leslie Odom Jr., Josh Gad, and Willem Dafoe. Plus you can also get some real talent to fill the minor roles – blink and you might miss the likes of Paapa Essiedu, Miranda Raison, Hadley Fraser, Adam Garcia, even Sergei Polunin.

But if you’re Kenneth Branagh, you also cast yourself as Hercule Poirot and as he’s directing himself, there’s a sense that the sharing of some much-needed constructive feedback didn’t happen. For as his ridiculously huge moustache is placed front and centre in scene after scene, this Murder On The Orient Express feels nothing so much as a vanity project. Which is all well and good if you like that sort of thing, and I quite like Branagh as it happens, but it is absolutely fatal in a story that is intrinsically about the ensemble. Continue reading “Film Review: Murder On The Orient Express (2017)”

Album Review: Take Flight (2007 Original Cast Recording)

“What is this impulse that drives otherwise sane men to attempt the impossible?” 

Take Flight was a 2007 musical that played at the Menier Chocolate Factory (before my blogging time) written by composer David Shire, lyricist Richard Maltby Jr and writer John Weidman. Weidman is known for his collaborations with Stephen Sondheim (Pacific Overtures, Assassins) and it is hard to avoid the comparisons to that style of musical theatre here, for it does come across as very much of the same school. 

The musical was inspired by the early history of aviation, weaving together the likes of “the Wright Brothers, Charles Lindbergh, Amelia Earhart, along with such sundry luminaries as Otto Lilienthal, the German “Glider King”; Commander Richard Byrd; French flying aces Nungesser and Coli, and various others”, bouncing around three key narratives as they attempt to…take flight. Continue reading “Album Review: Take Flight (2007 Original Cast Recording)”

Review: Saint Joan, Donmar Warehouse

“Must a Christ perish in every age to save those that have no imagination”

This
 is Bernard Shaw’s Saint Joan but very much via Josie Rourke, as the medieval piety of the pre-show entertainment gives way to the uber-modernity of this interpretation with the opening flourish of a tablecloth being whipped away (more impressive than it sounds!). The gods being worshipped here are high finance and business as scenes are set in companies like Vaucouleur Commodities Brokerage and Dauphin Holdings, Evan Davies and Bloomberg news tickers give us regular updates and it is in the midst of all this that Gemma Arterton’s Joan arrives, the sole figure in period dress. 

Dealing with an amusing take on the egg crisis of the first scene, and using Skype to correctly identify Fisayo Akinade’s spoiled manchild heir of a Dauphin in the next, the modern take is clever but there’s a strange tension that never quite resolves. The text has been cut but not completely modernised, so talk of battles and forts sit alongside the rise and fall of stocks and shares and it doesn’t settle into an interpretation that didn’t leave me going ‘you what now’ until it starts to play the drama straight as in the English plot to bring about the downfall of the woman uniting the French against them. Continue reading “Review: Saint Joan, Donmar Warehouse”

DVD Review: Ripper Street Series 3

“In Whitechapel, they die every day”

When low ratings for series 2 of Ripper Street saw the BBC decide to pull the plug on it, it was something of a surprise to hear Amazon Video would be taking it over (this was 2014 after all) in a deal that would see episodes released first for streaming, and then shown on the BBC a few months later. And thank the ripper that they did, for I’d argue that this was the best series yet, the storytelling taking on an epic quality as it shifted the personal lives of its key personnel into the frontline with a series-long arc to extraordinary effect.

And this ambition is none more so evident than in the first episode which crashes a train right in the middle of Whitechapel, reuniting Reid with his erstwhile comrades Drake and Jackson four years on since we last saw them. A catastrophic event in and of itself, killing over 50 people, it also set up new villain Capshaw (the always excellent John Heffernan) and brilliantly complicated the character of Susan, promoting her to a deserved series lead as her keen eye for business, and particularly supporting the women of Whitechapel, throws her up against some hard choices. Continue reading “DVD Review: Ripper Street Series 3”

TV Review: Russell T Davies’ A Midsummer Night’s Dream

“What visions have I seen”

When the RSC announced their production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, surtitling it ‘A Play for the Nation’ as it tours the UK, working with amateur theatre groups across the land, they probably weren’t expecting it to be a play for the nation because somebody would be putting on another production of it every couple of weeks. Or maybe they were, it is one of Shakespeare’s more popular plays – indeed it is among my favourites as the first I ever read – and so why wouldn’t Filter bring it back to the Lyric Hammersmith, the Reversed Shakespeare Company put their own spin on it, Emma Rice opened her tenure at the Globe with it, and the Southwark Playhouse open their own version of it with Go People early next week…

For those outside of the London theatre bubble though, the opportunity to see a televised version of the play, adapted by Russell T Davies’ gay agenda and directed by David Kerr, won’t have felt like overkill. And there was much to commend in a reimagining of the play which dabbled in just a fair few changes for the most part and then decided to rip up the rulebook in a jubilant final ten minutes that will doubtless seize the headlines and rile the purists among us but regardless, managed to remain unerringly faithful to exactly how you would imagine Davies’ Dream might play out (Flute/soldier fanfic please!). Continue reading “TV Review: Russell T Davies’ A Midsummer Night’s Dream”

Film Review: The Lady in the Van

“You wouldn’t see Harold Pinter pushing vans down the street”

It is more than 15 years since Maggie Smith starred in Alan Bennett’s The Lady in the Van in the West End but one can only imagine that the intervening years have deepened and enriched her performance as in this cinematic version, directed by Nicholas Hytner, she is just fantastic. The titular lady is Miss Shepherd, a cantankerous homeless woman who sets up shop on a Camden street in her junk-filled camper van and strikes up an unlikely friendship with Bennett, in whose driveway she eventually convinces him to let her park.

This happened in real life to Bennett, she spent 15 or so years there in the end, and amping up the realism, the film was shot on location in the real street but it is also a highly theatrical version of events. Alex Jennings plays two iterations of Bennett, one the somewhat timid man, the other the acutely observational writer inside, and they often argue with each other, disagreeing on whether things happened a certain way, and debating his various reasons for letting Miss Shepherd so totally into his life. Continue reading “Film Review: The Lady in the Van”

DVD Review: Da Vinci’s Demons Series 2

“This could be the gateway to extraordinary things”

The second series of Da Vinci’s Demons continues the historical fantasy in all its raucous, vaguely homo-erotic glory and feels like a stronger season for it. Having set up the busy world of Medici-ruled Florence and all its enemies, alongside Leonardo’s ongoing mystical quest at the behest of the Sons of Mithras, the show breathes a little here and has no compunction in scattering its main players on separate storylines, whilst folding in new ones to keep the story-telling ever fresh.

Most notably, Tom Riley’s captivating Leo hops on a ship with his pals and a guy called Amerigo Vespucci (Lee Boardman eventually getting to milk an excellent gag) to chase the Book of Leaves all the way to Peru and the depths of Machu Picchu. These South American scenes are just fantastic, magnificent to look at as our heroes take on the Incan Empire in all its gruesome feathered glory to uncover the mystery around Leo’s mother and the hidden power contained with the book. Continue reading “DVD Review: Da Vinci’s Demons Series 2”