TV Review: Unprecedented, Episode 1

Episode 1 of Unprecedented features strong writing from James Graham, Charlene James and John Donnelly 

“It’s clear that everything’s going to be different…
and then again, I’m scared that things won’t be different”

It is with an admirable speed with which Headlong and Century Films have pulled together Unprecedented, a theatrical response to the impact of lockdown on society. Conceived, written, filmed and produced in lockdown, and now airing on BBC4, some of our most exciting playwright and a cast of over 50 really have pulled together impressively and this first instalment of three short plays is certainly promising.

Necessity is the mother of invention, or something, and so all three use digital conferencing technology in one way or another and if anything, there’s no bigger marker in the way that our relationships to each other have been altered than this. How many of us even knew what Zoom was in January? And between them, writers James Graham, Charlene James and John Donnelly deftly sketch some of these changes.  Continue reading “TV Review: Unprecedented, Episode 1”

News: cast announced for Unprecedented: Theatre from a State of Isolation

Headlong and Century Films have today announced a cast of over 50 UK actors taking part in Unprecedented: Theatre from the State of Isolation. A series of new digital plays written in response to the current Covid-19 Pandemic, Unprecedented will be broadcast across the nation during lockdown as part of BBC Arts’ Culture in Quarantine initiative.

Written by celebrated playwrights and curated by Headlong, Century Films and BBC Arts, Unprecedented explores our rapidly evolving world, responding to how our understanding and experiences of community, education, work, relationships, family, culture, climate and capitalism are evolving on an unprecedented scale. The series will ask how we got here and what the enduring legacy of this historic episode might be. Continue reading “News: cast announced for Unprecedented: Theatre from a State of Isolation”

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)”

Review: Chinglish, Park

“Are you a small fish or a big pond?”

David Henry Hwang’s Yellow Face was the first play mounted in the studio at the Park Theatre when it opened in 2013, so it feels apt that the playwright’s return to the venue sees him promoted to the main house for Chinglish. Seen on Broadway in 2011, it’s a more light-hearted take on East Asian issues than we are perhaps seeing in our theatres, or in the limited range of East Asian theatre that gets put on here I should say, and proves an enjoyable treat.

Riffing on the chuckles that come from mistranslated menus and signs (I swear, it is one of my favourite things to do in touristy abroad), Chinglish follows the efforts of an American businessman trying to break into the Chinese market by providing accurately translated signage. But the divide is a big one, linguistically and culturally, and as he searches for people to help in his negotiations, he learns that he can’t always trust the words coming out of their mouths.  Continue reading “Review: Chinglish, Park”

Review: The Rover, Swan

“Come, put off this dull humour with your clothes, and assume one as gay and as fantastic as the dress my cousin Valeria and I have provided, and let’s ramble”

I’ve not been heading up to the RSC with that much regularity recently, but I’ll go anywhere for Alexandra Gilbreath and given that The Rover had the added bonus of Joseph Millson, the trip was a no-brainer. It also helped that it was written and directed by women, not that frequent an occurrence in Stratford. And written not just by any woman, Aphra Behn was one of the first professional female playwrights and this play dates from 1677.

And directed by Loveday Ingram, it is a sprightly bit of fun indeed. Set in the heady mist of carnival time, all bets are off as the normal rules of society are suspended. Three sisters disguise themselves to escape the strict futures ahead of them, and a group of Englishmen arrive in port ready and willing to create the lads on tour archetype. Chief among the sisters is Hellena, due to enter a nunnery so more than happy to make the acquaintance of the rakish and randy Willmore. Continue reading “Review: The Rover, Swan”

Review: Creditors, Young Vic

“You’re drawing my secrets from me. You’re pulling out my guts and when you go you’ll leave nothing but an empty shell around you.”

The Genesis Future Directors Award aims to nurture promising talent by plugging them into the creative network of the Young Vic and using this opportunity, 2015 winner Rikki Henry has chosen to present David Greig’s adaptation of Strindberg’s Creditors in the Clare Theatre there. Truth be told I’m not the biggest fan of the Swede and so I’ve never actually seen this play before but I know enough to know that Henry has tinkered with it to gay it up just a little.

So Tekla becomes a man and the play becomes a study of the corrosive effects of love gone awry, the love that used to dare not speak its name that is, refracted through the prism of gay marriage. Creative souls Adolph and Tekla are seemingly loved up but their marriage comes under scrutiny when the enigmatic Gustav appears on the scene whilst Tesla is away to successfully plant seeds of doubt in Adolph’s mind and expose what it truly means to give yourself to someone.  Continue reading “Review: Creditors, Young Vic”

Review: The Widowing of Mrs Holroyd, Orange Tree

“It’s rotten when you’re tied to a life you don’t like”

Whilst the news that the loss of its Art Council funding is a terrible blow (especially as Paul Miller’s reign as Artistic Director has barely begun), it was a little surprising for me to hear how vociferous the response was – apparently this venue is much more well-loved and well-regarded than anyone knew. Its mix of revivals of dusty half-forgotten plays and examples of the safer end of new writing has never really connected with me and so despite the best efforts of some to persuade me otherwise, it’s never become a must-see theatre for me.

And at first sight, it doesn’t appear that much has changed with Miller’s opening salvo of a DH Lawrence play that is rarely performed but looking further into his debut season, there’s much more excitement to be had – writers like Alice Birch and Alistair McDowell and directors David Mercatali and Paulette Randall suggest a realignment of the theatre to a more pleasingly contemporary aesthetic (though not exclusively, there’s still some Bernard Shaw in there) that could well see me turning into a regular. Continue reading “Review: The Widowing of Mrs Holroyd, Orange Tree”

Review: Tonight at 8.30 – Dancing, Richmond Theatre

“But if at last we’re able to smile
We’ll prove it was all worth while”
 
And what would you know, they saved for the best for last. It wasn’t just the end of 10 hours in a theatre that made me happy, I really did prefer this final part of Tonight at 8.30.
 

Dancing
Family Portrait, Hands Across The Sea and Shadow Play

Running time: 2 hours 10 minutes
Booking until 14th June, then touring to Oxford Playhouse, The Lowry, Cambridge Arts, Theatre Royal Brighton and Hall for Cornwall in Truro
Photo: Mark Douet

Review: Tonight at 8.30 – Dinner, Richmond Theatre

“This can’t last. This misery can’t last….Nothing lasts really. Neither happiness or despair”

Seeing the three parts of Tonight at 8.30 on the same day left me shattered so I am ducking out of full reviews for them and just ranking them in order of preference.

Dinner
Ways and Means, Fumed Oak, and Still Life

Silver medal for Dinner – Still Life (better known as the inspiration for Brief Encounter) is among the highlights of the whole thing but Fumed Oak is one of the weakest with its gender politics too much of its time.

Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes
Booking until 14th June, then touring to Oxford Playhouse, The Lowry, Cambridge Arts, Theatre Royal Brighton and Hall for Cornwall in Truro
Photo: Mark Douet

Review: Tonight at 8.30 – Cocktails, Richmond Theatre

 “We’re not tight and we’re not too bright “

Boxset viewing in now de rigueur in the Netflix age so it is only natural that theatre should follow suit. The 3 James plays at the National can be (and will be) viewed on the same day and so too can the three parts of Noël Coward’s Tonight at 8.30, touring the UK after a run at the Nuffield. Blanche McIntyre’s production for ETT can also be seen in three separate chunks but the impact of the triple bill really helps the 9 plays feed off of each other and highlight the strength of the ensemble (and also pull you through the dips in quality that inevitably come with so much writing from one author).

Cocktails
We Were Dancing, The Astonished Heart and Red Peppers

Probably gets the bronze medal as my least favourite of the three parts.

Running time: 2 hours
Booking until 14th June, then touring to Oxford Playhouse, The Lowry, Cambridge Arts, Theatre Royal Brighton and Hall for Cornwall in Truro
Photo: Mark Douet