TV Review: Doctor Foster Series 2

“How does this end Simon?”

In some ways, you can’t blame ’em for trying to replicate the extraordinary success of the first series of Doctor Foster, quality drama that fast became a rare appointment-to-view fixture  with a rare return to weekly instalments.  And given that writer Mike Bartlett is known for his prolific nature, that a second series quickly came into the offing was no great surprise.

But it can be hard to recapture the magic and though all of the key players have returned – most notably warring ex-couple Suranne Jones’ Gemma and Bertie Carvel’s Simon – this set of five episodes has really suffered from a lack of raison d’être. Waves of vicious revenge percolate throughout but with no discernible driving narrative beyond that, it proved far less engaging. Continue reading “TV Review: Doctor Foster Series 2”

Review: The Lower Depths, Arcola Theatre

“Living is fucking impossible and that’s the truth of it”

The Arcola launch their Revolution Season, marking the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution and exploring its considerable impact, with a new production of Gorky’s The Lower Depths played by an ensemble who will remain on duty for the subsequent play in the main house The Cherry Orchard. And whilst I do enjoy getting to visit and revisit an ensemble, I have to admit to really not enjoying this.

Translated by Jeremy Brooks and Kitty Hunter-Blair and directed by Helena Kaut-Howson, The Lower Depths focuses on the downstairs from Chekhov’s upstairs, the angst of the aristocracy replaced by the desperation of the downtrodden and it really is as much fun as it sounds. A cast of nearly 20 play an assortment of misery-bound miscreants passing through a Moscow lodging house for the destitute, complaining volubly about their lot in life. Continue reading “Review: The Lower Depths, Arcola Theatre”

Review: Young Chekhov – The Seagull, National Theatre

“We should show life…as we see it in our dreams.”

The Seagull may be the most ensemble-focused of the three plays that make up Young Chekhov but with the glorious Anna Chancellor appearing as the mercurial Arkadina – her star cachet getting her out of having to do either of the other two – the attention can’t help but be drawn to her and her extraordinary stage presence.

This may be the most well-known of the Chekhov plays being presented here, it certainly deservedly emerges as the strongest, and so David Hare’s freshened-up version has little of the heavy work it had to do with the others. Jonathan Kent’s production places it at the end of the three-show day deliberately, it’s where it sits chronologically and you really do get to see the maturation of the writer, his ability to develop his characters and themes more dramatically effectively. Continue reading “Review: Young Chekhov – The Seagull, National Theatre”

Review: Young Chekhov – Platonov, National Theatre

“Whatever you do, don’t rely on your own judgement. That’s the worst mistake you could make

Platonov wasn’t performed in Chekhov’s lifetime and even in this radically adapted version by David Hare, I’m not 100% sure that it works. You can see the attraction in terms of the Young Chekhov context – a trilogy of the Russian’s early work – but for me, the main pleasure comes in seeing the benchmark from which his later genius advanced.

It’s not for lack of trying from Jonathan Kent’s production, lead by a sparkling performance of disreputable charisma from James McArdle as an unhappily married teacher intent on spreading his vodka-fuelled discontent through the bedsheets of most of the local community, not least Nina Sosanya’s Anna and Olivia Vinall’s Sofya, with little care for the impact of his actions. Continue reading “Review: Young Chekhov – Platonov, National Theatre”

Review: The Girl’s Guide to Saving the World, HighTide

“Do you think – deep down – that all men secretly hate women?”

Elinor Cook was the 2013 winner of the George Devine Award for Most Promising Playwright and so it is a natural fit that her play The Girl’s Guide to Saving the World should premiere at HighTide this year. Billed as “a frank and funny new play about friendship, feminism and what it means to be successful”, it’s a tale of nearly-30-something angst as Jane, Bella and Toby deal with the difficulties of accepting adulthood and what that means for their lives.

For Bella, it is calming down her chaotic sex life, just a little, and figuring out how to become the writer she wants to be rather than an in-house retail magazine scribe; for Jane and Toby, it is first recognising and then reconciling the huge differences in what they want from their partnership; and Jane’s relationship with longstanding best friend Bella is also under threat as their interests diverge even as they work together to tackle cultural representations of women via the medium of a blog. Continue reading “Review: The Girl’s Guide to Saving the World, HighTide”

DVD Review: The Canterbury Tales (2)

“I was meant to do the world a service”

Watching the 2003 adaptations of The Canterbury Tales may have gotten off to a shaky start on disc 1 but soon rallied to make the project seem a worthwhile one and so I tackled disc 2 with some gusto. Unfortunately these latter three stories also suffered from the same unevenness and ultimately threw up a big question about the efficacy of the whole thing. In Avie Luthra’s The Sea-Captain’s Tale, the story of a marriage in an Indian community gone sour gains a pungent power as Indira Varma’s manipulative Meena turns to her husband’s business partner when in something of a bind. She would have it that Om Puri’s older Jetender is an oppressive bully and that Nitin Ganatra’s Pushpinder is her only chance of happiness, but it is soon apparent that she will say and do anything to get her bills paid, her urges satisfied and her selfishness sated. It has a film noir-ish tendency which works well and Varma is always eminently watchable.

The Pardoner’s Tale, retooled by Tony Grounds, is much less successful though. An unwieldy tale of three ne’er-do-wells and their conman ways in a town that is reeling from the impact of a potential serial killer as another teenage girl disappears. As parents and friends intensify their search, the men plot ways to scam money for themselves and as a young woman falls into their circle, the two plot strands ostensibly weave closer. But it is clumsily done, the denouement an unsubtle hammer blow and the elements of the story far too disparate – Jonny Lee Miller as the lead character is vaguely interesting, but not enough to save it. Continue reading “DVD Review: The Canterbury Tales (2)”

Review: In Basildon, Royal Court

“There’s no new beginnings for families like ours. And there never has been.”

One of David Eldridge’s most recent previous plays – The Knot of the Heart for the Almeida – proved to be one of the most divisive I’ve experienced in terms of the response from the critics who lauded it and so many of the bloggers and audience members of my acquaintance who really did not like it at all. So when the new season at the Royal Court was announced featuring a new play by him, I was OK with not booking it as it helped me with my ‘I will cut down on the amount of theatre I see’ mantra. But then they announced the cast and as soon as I saw the names Linda Bassett and Ruth Sheen I knew that I would have to book for In Basildon. Bassett blew me away in the Arcola’s undersung The Road To Mecca and Sheen is an actress whose work I have recently revisited and adored in recent Mike Leigh films, and the Leigh connection is furthered with the presence of other regular collaborators Peter Wight and Wendy Nottingham. So I was a mixture of reluctance and eager anticipation as I schlepped off to Sloane Square to catch the final preview.

Dying from prostate cancer, salt-of-the-earth Len has returned to the home he inherited from his parents as friends and family gather round his sickbed. Sister Doreen and best friend Ken lead the group but the atmosphere is shaken by the return of estranged sister Maureen who hasn’t spoken to ‘Dor’ in nearly 20 years. As Len passes away, attention turns to his will as everyone seems to have a claim on something, including Pam from next door, Doreen’s son Barry and his wife, and Shelley, Maureen’s daughter and Eldridge explores the tensions that emerge from these family loyalties and how they change over time and across the generations. The complexities of sibling relationships are brutally exposed but also overlaid with a frank discussion about class and how it is intrinsically connected to location, their working-class politics shaped by hard-earned experience. Confrontational, conflicted and compelling, Eldridge’s writing speaks with the darkest of humour but also the ring of a deep emotional truth. It’s just a shame that the Royal Court have decided to play the ‘tricksy’ card with the staging. Continue reading “Review: In Basildon, Royal Court”