TV Review: Stephen (ITV)

Stephen is a deeply compassionate and quietly furious look at the many injustices of the Stephen Lawrence case

“Never expected getting justice to be my job”

Written by Frank Cottrell-Boyce and Joe Cottrell-Boyce and directed by Alrick Riley, Stephen is based on the book In Pursuit of the Truth by DCI Clive Driscoll who spearheaded the 2012 police re-investigation which ultimately led to the conviction of two of the killers of Stephen Lawrence. Murdered in 1993 in a racist attack, the 18 year old Black British man’s case was fumbled in the extreme, the subsequent Macpherson report finding the Met incompetent and institutionally racist, his family left despairing that justice would ever be served. 

And this is where the show is strongest. Sharlene Whyte as Doreen Lawrence and Hugh Quarshie as Neville Lawrence deliver two quietly devastating performances as Stephen’s parents, now separated but still bound inextricably by their son’s murder, their lives shaped not just by his absence but by the absence of fair treatment by the investigating authorities. Thus the arrival of Driscoll, played here by Steve Coogan, a DCI handed the case in a cold case review in 2006, is rightly treated with a high degree of hard-won scepticism and scorn. Continue reading “TV Review: Stephen (ITV)”

TV Review: The Capture

Lia Williams is all kinds of caustic brilliance in conspiracy thriller The Capture

“Accepting you can rarely see the whole picture is part of the job”

I’m working my way through the TV shows I can watch on my free trials on various services, which has lead me to The Capture which aired on BBC1 in late 2019 and somehow completely passed me by. This is particularly egregious since it features Lia Williams the kind of amazing top boss role that makes you wonder why she isn’t better known.

Created, written and directed by Ben Chanan, The Capture takes place in a surveillance state that not too long ago would have been described as a near-future dystopia but now, is just London on a Tuesday. In a society that closely monitors CCTV, so much of justice depends on the reliability of those camera image. But what happens when that confidence is eroded? Continue reading “TV Review: The Capture”

Lockdown TV Review: Spooks Series 2

Now this is more like it, Series 2 of Spooks settles into the classic feel that works so well

“This ridiculous James Bondery…do we need it?”

With this second season, Spooks really gets into its stride I think, recognising that it is an ensemble show at heart (and a rolling ensemble at that, although it’s a shame new recruit Sam doesn’t get more to do) and nailing the variation in tone and style of episodes which largely remain self-contained. Also, Nicola Walker finally arrives as Ruth, which is good news for the audience, Harry and the nation.

Topics-wise, we touch on hacker kids, Irish republicanism, Islamic radicalisation and Anglo-American relations among others. But it is ‘I Spy Apocalypse’, written by Howard Brenton and brilliantly directed by Justin Chadwick with a smothering sense of claustrophobia that really gets the pulse racing as a fire drill for a terrorist incident gets very dark very quickly – it’s possibly one of the best ever episodes of Spooks.

Nicola Walker-ometer
Praise the Lord – analyst Ruth Evershed finally arrives in Episode 2 in all her long cardigans and flowing skirts and though initially viewed with suspicion coming from GCHQ as she does, she soon wins over the team with her knowledge of Greek mythology, Russian crucifixion practices and much more besides. Continue reading “Lockdown TV Review: Spooks Series 2”

Lockdown TV Review: Spooks Series 1

I had already started a rewatch of Spooks earlier this year as part of a planned Nicola Walker retrospective but as it turns out, I’ll have to use that Britbox subscription for something else!

“When will you tell her that your real name is Tom Quinn and that you are a spy”

It is interesting to look at back at much-loved shows and be reminded of how not everything is always how you remember. So much of Spooks has aged remarkably well – not least its choice of subjects that have remained terrifyingly evergreen – that it is easy to forget that this opening season of 6 episodes sees them still searching for that house style. 

It is undoubtedly a bit shonky in look and feel, the slick Thames House set isn’t yet in place and the focus on the lead team at the expense of too many nameless supporting bods gives the personal dynamics a somewhat off-balance feel as we delve into too much of the personal lives of Tom, Zoe and Danny.

But airing in May 2002 in the immediate post 9/11 climate gives its geopolitics real currency. And the threats they face – homegrown far-right movements, fears over immigration, the push for Kurdish self-government, US abortion rights, Russian spies being murdered on British soil… – are compelling throughout. And any show that has Jenny Agutter and Nicholas Farrell dry-humping in a corridor has to be a winner right?!   

Nicola Walker-ometer
To be honest, I’d forgotten Ruth wasn’t a member of the team from the start, so these six episodes pass by with an outrageous lack of Nicola Walker. Continue reading “Lockdown TV Review: Spooks Series 1”

12 Days of Christmas – Black Mirror 3:6

“He wants people to face the consequences of what they say and do”

On the twelfth day of Christmas, Black Mirror gave to me…the bees, THE BEES!

After a slight hiccup in previous episode Men Against Fire, feature-length episode Hated in the Nation restored Black Mirror to its rightful glory to round off this third series. Adopting something of a police procedural approach and aligning itself closer to today’s society than the majority of previous instalments, this was a proper thriller and hugely enjoyable with it.

In a world where mini-drones have replaced the collapsing bee population, Kelly McDonald’s DCI Karin Parke is investigating a series of deaths where the victims are celebrities who have recently provoked the ire of social media. Along with newly transferred colleague and tech wiz Blue (Faye Marsay), solving the crimes leads them down a merry path of murderous hashtags, governmental misdemeanours and social responsibility. Continue reading “12 Days of Christmas – Black Mirror 3:6”

Review: Blue/Orange, Young Vic

“They see what they want to see, not what they really see”

I seem to be surrounded by people who saw and loved the original production of Blue/Orange, with its extremely tasty cast of Bill Nighy, Andrew Lincoln and Chiwetel Ejiofor, and who love to tell me about it! It was however before my time (here in London at least) and so my first, and only, previous experience of the show was with Tiata Fahdozi’s all-female version at the old Arcola, with a less starry but no less interesting cast of Helen Schlesinger, Esther Hall and Ayesha Antoine.

I mention this because it is interesting to me the ways in which people’s journeys with plays are shaped by these interactions, especially when they have been lauded as modern classics. Of the eight, only two are going back to this new production at the Young Vic (it doesn’t seem to be inspiring repeat visits), and the one who has been already didn’t like it. And critics’ responses thus far stretch from Aleks Sierz reconfirming its status as a contemporary classic to Matt Trueman declaring that it hasn’t aged well. Continue reading “Review: Blue/Orange, Young Vic”

fosterIAN awards 2011

 WinnerRunner-upOther nominees
Best Actress in a PlayEve Best, Much Ado About Nothing (Globe)Ruth Wilson, Anna ChristieRosie Wyatt, Bunny
Siân Brooke, Ecstasy
Lisa Palfrey, The Kitchen Sink
Geraldine James, Seagull
Best Actor in a PlayBenedict Cumberbatch, FrankensteinAndrew Scott, Emperor and GalileanTrevor Fox, The Pitmen Painters
Dominic West, Othello
Jude Law, Anna Christie
Charles Edwards, Much Ado About Nothing (Globe)
Best Supporting Actress in a PlayAlexandra Gilbreath, OthelloSheridan Smith, Flare PathSinéad Matthews, Ecstasy
Billie Piper, Reasons to be Pretty
Kirsty Bushell, Double Feature 1
Esther Hall, Many Moons
Best Supporting Actor in a PlayRyan Sampson, The Kitchen SinkHarry Hadden-Paton, Flare PathRobert Hands, The Comedy of Errors (Propeller)
Edward Franklin, Many Moons
Craig Parkinson, Ecstasy
Adam James, Much Ado About Nothing (Wyndhams)
Best Actress in a MusicalImelda Staunton, Sweeney ToddAdrianna Bertola, Josie Griffiths, Cleo Demetriou, Kerry Ingram, Eleanor Worthington Cox & Sophia Kiely, MatildaLaura Pitt-Pulford, Parade
Beverley Klein, Bernarda Alba
Jemima Rooper, Me and My Girl
Scarlett Strallen, Singin’ in the Rain
Best Actor in a MusicalBertie Carvel, MatildaMichael Ball, Sweeney ToddDaniel Evans, Company
Daniel Crossley, Me and My Girl
Alastair Brookshaw, Parade
Vincent Franklin, The Day We Sang
Best Supporting Actress in a MusicalSamantha Spiro, CompanyKate Fleetwood, London RoadJosefina Gabrielle, Me and My Girl
Josie Walker, Matilda
Rosalind James, Ragtime
Ann Emery, Betty Blue Eyes
Best Supporting Actor in a MusicalDaniel Crossley, Singin’ in the RainNigel Harman, Shrek the MusicalConnor Dowling, Guys and Dolls
Jack Edwards, Betty Blue Eyes
David Burt, Crazy For You
Nick Holder London Road

2011 Best Supporting Actress in a Play + in a Musical

Best Supporting Actress in a Play

Alexandra Gilbreath, Othello
The main reason that I travelled to see Othello at the Crucible was not so much for the reunion of The Wire stars in Dominic West and Clarke Peters, but in the casting of Alexandra Gilbreath as Emilia. And it was totally worth it as she made a massive impact, creating a fully rounded character with a history and passions that surely far exceeds what is on the page. Her work in the Royal Court’s The Village Bike also pleased me greatly, making this a great year for fans of the Gilbreath.

Honourable mention: Sheridan Smith, Flare Path
As anyone who saw Flare Path will say to you, ‘the letter scene, THE LETTER SCENE!’. Though second billed below Sienna Miller in this Terence Rattigan revival, Smith pretty much stole the show, finding unexpected deep reservoirs of feeling in Doris, the barmaid with a heart of gold done good, whose reactions to hearing the (translated) letter from her husband were one of the most affecting moments in a theatre all year.

Sinéad Matthews, Ecstasy
Billie Piper, Reasons to be Pretty
Kirsty Bushell, Double Feature 1
Esther Hall, Many Moons

7-10
Claudie Blakley, Comedy of Errors (NT); Janie Dee, Noises Off; Imelda Staunton, A Delicate Balance; Anna Calder-Marshall, Salt Root and Roe

 

Best Supporting Actress in a Musical

Samantha Spiro, Company (Crucible)
It does seem that anyone playing Amy in Sondheim’s Company is a shoo-in for recognition here, Cassidy Janson just missed out on a nomination for her role in the Southwark Playhouse production, but the truth is when the song (Not) Getting Married is delivered well, it really is a showstopper. Janson did well, but Samantha Spiro, already so very beloved of my heart for Hello, Dolly! if not necessarily Chicken Soup with Barley, held the Crucible in the palm of her hand as the scatty bride-to-be whose jitters threaten to jeopardise her whole happiness. She radiates warmth here and never once sacrifices clarity of diction for an easy laugh in that most verbose of numbers: acting through song at its best.

Honourable mention: Kate Fleetwood, London Road
In some ways, it is a bit harsh to nominate one person out of London Road as it really is such a strong ensemble show but Kate Fleetwood emerged most as the beating heart of the show as the unassuming woman who set up the London Road in Bloom competition that forms the centre of the community’s coming together and achieves so very much. Fleetwood taps into so much empathetic normality here that somehow translates into something so special: that first “begonias and, petunias, and um, impatiens and things” is just remarkable.

Josefina Gabrielle, Me and My Girl
Josie Walker, Matilda
Rosalind James, Ragtime
Ann Emery, Betty Blue Eyes

7-10
Lauren Ward, Matilda; Cassidy Janson, Company (Southwark Playhouse); Joanna Riding, Lend Me A Tenor; Katherine Kingsley, Singin’ in the Rain

Review: Inadmissible Evidence, Donmar Warehouse

“Asking a working writer what he feels about critics is like asking a lamppost what it feels about dogs”

Inadmissible Evidence focuses in almost exclusively on Bill Maitland, a lawyer whose life is falling apart. Everyone important to him seems to be abandoning him, work colleagues, the numerous secretaries he’s sleeping with, his angsty daughter, and he exists in a bubble of self-obsessed torture and suffering – nicely realised in Soutra Gilmour’s office set that highlights his isolation – and presumably on the way to some sort of nervous breakdown. Douglas Hodge is thus never off the stage in a marathon of a performance that rarely lets up: he’s desperate to be the life of the party yet prey to numerous neuroses; unable to really connect with anyone yet constantly talking and raging at them; in this world it is all about him and so the play becomes all about him too.

Such focus on Maitland means that the rest of the ensemble have to work extremely hard to make any sort of meaningful impact in the production, Osborne’s writing not helping them a great deal. Daniel Ryan fares best as colleague Hudson, Serena Evans triples up effectively as a series of clients and Al Weaver makes a quietly moving study of his married man arrested for cottaging. But Esther Hall is completely wasted as final mistress Liz, given the merest opportunity to shine as she does extremely well here and Karen Gillan did not seem quite equal to the task as the secretary who has just had enough, coming across as flat and unresponsive, especially up against Hodge. Continue reading “Review: Inadmissible Evidence, Donmar Warehouse”

Review: Many Moons, Theatre503

“I looked into her big big eyes. And found one hundred moons in amongst the blue.”

Set over a hot summer’s day in Stoke Newington, Many Moons is Alice Birch’s debut play showing at the Theatre503 in Battersea. Following four people whose isolated metropolitan existences circle round each other, their stories threatening to collide in the scorching heat of a village fête in Abney Park with potentially devastating effects. Birch is a graduate of new writing schemes at both the National and the Royal Court and with her first full-length production marks herself out as a talent to watch with a highly witty yet poetic play of great maturity and dramatic intrigue.

Edward Franklin’s nervy, nerdy Ollie is a bundle of barely-socialised but still endearing energy as a young man trying to break free from a life of dull Oxford academia and dark matter to try and find something new in London. In the flat next door, Esther Smith’s effervescent Juniper is an irrepressible perma-smiling ball of positivity, newly moved down from the Midlands and unshakeably sure that love and life have great things in store for her. Jonathan Newth’s Robert is preoccupied with caring for his Parkinson’s-suffering wife but he still has deep desires of his own. And in a house across the road, Esther Hall’s heavily-pregnant and unhappily-married Meg is wrestling with her feelings of unfulfilment and channelling her time and energies into dealing with a world of suspicions. Continue reading “Review: Many Moons, Theatre503”