TV Review: Black Earth Rising

A cast led by Michaela Coel, Noma Dumezweni, John Goodman and Lucian Msamati make Hugo Blick’s complex Black Earth Rising watchable if not quite essential

“That is why I made a deal like that”

A tricky one this. At this point, you know what you’re getting with a Hugo Blick drama (qv The Shadow Line, The Honorable Woman), weighty complex dramas with amazing casts tackling inscrutable global conspiracies. And Black Earth Rising is no different, as it puts the Rwandan genocide and its aftermath under the microscope, examining Western colonial and capitalist attitudes towards Africa along with the role of the Iinternational Criminal Court.

And with a cast led by Michaela Coel, Noma Dumezweni, Harriet Walter, John Goodman and Lucian Msamati to name just a few, it is naturally eminently watchable. Coel plays Kate Ashby, a young woman with a complicated relationship with her barrister mother Eve (Walter). Eve adopted Kate from Rwanda years back but her decision to take on a case prosecuting a Tutsi general who, after helping end the genocide, went on to commit war crimes in neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo, outrages Kate who is also Tutsi.
Continue reading “TV Review: Black Earth Rising”

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”

Review: The Process, Bunker Theatre

BAZ Productions’ The Process proves bold and striking in its use of BSL and spoken English, if a little flawed too, now running at the Bunker Theatre

“Would you like me to speak for myself?”

You can’t say they didn’t warn you. Captions like “no-one will understand everything” and “no two people can have the same experience” flash up on the wall before The Process starts – “that is how it is meant to be” we’re gently but insistently told.  For this is a story told in both BSL and spoken English, with overlaps and gaps deliberately built in, probing at our need to understand everything, exemplifying that for some, that is an unimaginable luxury.

Sarah Bedi’s play posits a near-dystopia (ie sometime soon after 31st January…!) where notions of personal economic cost have become a major driver in a political system where the power of the state is becoming monolithic. Jo Kay, a Deaf entrepreneur, has developed the app which is being used to measure people’s contributions and costs to society but though she is ostensibly being celebrated as part of the establishment, she soon sees her tool weaponised against her. Continue reading “Review: The Process, Bunker Theatre”

20 shows to look forward to in 2020

I look ahead to some of the 2020 shows exciting me most with an emphasis away from the West End, looking mostly instead at the London fringe and across the UK 

Sure, there’s all sorts of big ticket shows coming to London in 2020 (with big ticket prices too to go with their big names), like Sunday in the Park with George with Jake Gyllenhaal, Sister Act with Whoopi Goldberg, A Doll’s House with Jessica Chastain. But there’s so much more to discover if you venture away from Shaftesbury Avenue…

1 The Glass Menagerie, Odéon–Théâtre de l’Europe at the Barbican
Not that I want to be predictable at all but Isabelle Huppert! Acting in French! Right in front of you! I understand that van Hove-fatigue might be setting in for people but only a FOOL would pass up the chance to see one of our greatest living actors. A FOOL! 

2 The Glass Menagerie, Royal Exchange
And if you wanted to do a direct compare and contrast, Atri Banerjee’s revival for the Royal Exchange will be worth checking out too for an alternative perspective. 

3 The Wicker Husband, Watermill
Even before Benjamin Button tore my heart apart, I was excited for the arrival of this new musical by Rhys Jennings and Darren Clark but now, the bar has been raised even higher. And the gorgeous intimacy of the Watermill feels like a perfect fit.


4 Children of Nora, Internationaal Theater Amsterdam
Me: “I don’t need any more Ibsen in my life”
Also me: Robert Icke revisiting the world of A Doll’s House through the eyes of the next generation? Yes please.

5 Romantics Anonymous, Bristol Old Vic
I don’t think I thought this delicious Koomin and Dimond musical would ever actually return, so this short run in the UK ahead of a US tour feels like a real blessing. Now where did I put my badge?
Continue reading “20 shows to look forward to in 2020”

Re-review: ear for eye, Royal Court

I go back to debbie tucker green’s ear for eye because sometimes, you just have to

“Change don’t give-a-fuck
change gone do its thing with or without you.”

Not too much to add about ear for eye that I didn’t already say in my original review but it was a play that I kept thinking about, reading and re-reading, and decided that I needed to see again to really get that confrontational power that it possesses. A bit disappointed to see a few people making a dash for it, clearly too much of a challenge for them but you have to laud debbie tucker green for creating the kind of structurally ingenious and politically urgent work that provokes such some emotion.

Running time: 2 hours 5 minutes (without interval)
Photos: Stephen Cummiskey
eye for ear is booking at the Royal Court until 24th November

 

Review: ear for eye, Royal Court

ear for eye, debbie tucker green’s new play for the Royal Court is ferocious and uncompromising and challenging and quite often breath-taking

“This is harder for us than it is for you”

debbie tucker green’s new play play ear for eye is ferocious and uncompromising and challenging and quite often breath-taking. Tackling the current state of racism in both the UK and the US, a triptych of wildly diverse parts bind together green’s innate linguistic power with an acutely pointed experiential style and a determination to really make you listen.

Played at two hours without an interval, green thus presents us with what it is to be black today. The first is a tangle of overlapping voices, mothers advising sons how to deal with contact with the police, victim of harassment, activists looking to galvanise the struggle. Scenes are repeated in different voices, viscerally contrasting those experiences (particularly when the hand gestures scene is replayed with BSL).

Then we switch to a tightly wound duologue (Lashana Lynch and Demetri Goritsas, both excellent) as a black student talks, discusses, argues with a white professor about the violence meted out by white men in school shooting and bombings etc. She’s adamant it is indicative of systemic, structural racism, he’s sure they’re all lone wolves, but the power dynamics here are astonishing as we’re swept right into the maelstrom of mansplaining mendacity as he battles to exert his authority.

Finally, the third section is a filmed segment, white people reciting the horrific detail of some of the Jim Crow laws, seemingly the basis for segregation in the US. And lest we British get too complacent, it is followed by extracts from UK slave codes, tracing the historic links of these pernicious rules, literally codified into society and seemingly impossible to shake off. It is hard to take and that is pretty much green’s point (and why there’s no interval to slope off shamefully). 

green directs with laser-like precision, Vicki Manderson’s movement creating beautiful tableaux as the sixteen-strong ensemble endlessly switch and reconfigure. And Merle Hansel’s monolithic set frames this opening sequence with real visual flair, under Paule Constable’s elegant lighting choices. ear for eye is as challenging as theatre gets, as art gets, but make no mistake as to how vital it is. (And what a year Kayla Meikle is having!)

Running time: 2 hours (without interval)
Photos: Stephen Cummiskey
eye for ear is booking at the Royal Court until 24th November

Review: King Lear, Old Vic

“’Tis the time’s plague when madmen lead the blind”

Though no spring chicken myself, I’m not quite the right age to be truly excited about Oscar winning actress-turned politician-turned actress again Glenda Jackson’s return to the stage. I was more intrigued than truly excited when she was announced in the title role of Deborah Warner’s King Lear for the Old Vic for though I’m well aware of who she is, her film and TV credits never broke through into what I was watching either back then or since. (Feel free to recommend her must-see performances – I’ll add them to the list of things I’ll get round to watching one day.)

But I’m always here for casting decisions that shake the established order somewhat and with Celia Imrie, Jane Horrocks and Rhys Ifans in the cast too, there was no chance I wouldn’t go see this. Full disclosure though, I went to the final £10 preview so treat this review how you will. For it is simultaneously an effortful and frustratingly vague production that never truly convinces of the attempted scope of its artistic vision. Fortunately, this often-times ephemeral and occasionally perplexing Lear is anchored by a striking performance from Jackson. Continue reading “Review: King Lear, Old Vic”