TV Review: Jonathan Creek, Series 3

Elements of David Renwick’s writing starts to show signs of flagging as the magic starts to fade in Series 3 of Jonathan Creek

“What exactly does all this add up to?”

After a decent first couple of series, the third season of Jonathan Creek sees the show start to wobble a bit as the raft of impossible crimes sways from ingenious plotting to improbably convoluted. Episodes tackle disappearing aliens and a man who thinks he has sold his soul to the devil and it doesn’t always come off.

That said, there’s still some classic tales in here too. The revelation of ‘The Eyes of Tiresias’ is artfully done and ‘Miracle in Crooked Lane’ is properly, admirably fiendish even with its meta-theatrics. Alan Davies and Caroline Quentin both continue in good form but David Renwick’s writing doesn’t permit more than piecemeal character development which, three series in, leaves them a little flat. Continue reading “TV Review: Jonathan Creek, Series 3”

10 of my top moments of the decade

Ever behind the curve, I present 10 of my top moments in a theatre over the last ten years (plus a few bonus extra ones because whittling down this list was hard, and it will probably be different tomorrow anyway!)

© James Bellorini

Extraordinary Public Acts for a National Theatre

The establishment of the Public Acts programme at the National Theatre offered up something sensational in Pericles, an initiative designed to connect grassroot community organisations with major theatres, resulting in a production that swept over 200 non-professional performers onto the stage of the Olivier to create something that moved me more than 99% of professional productions.  A truly joyous and momentous occasion. 

Honourable mention: this year’s musical take on As You Like It proved just as heart-swellingly beautiful over at the Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch. Continue reading “10 of my top moments of the decade”

TV Review: Cilla

“The Black bird has landed”

It’s only taken me, ooh, a couple of years to get round to watching Cilla, a 2014 ITV miniseries written by Jeff Pope, in which time the small matter of Cilla Black’s passing has made it a more poignant piece. My main reason for watching though, its arrival on Netflix aside, was to finally catch up with Sheridan Smith’s portrayal of the Liverpudlian light entertainment behemoth, back in the days when she was just a Scouse lass called Priscilla White.

Pope’s script definitely has a touch of the rose-tinted about it but there’s no denying the amazing energy of Liverpool’s music scene in the 1960s that comes across in the first two episodes. Though she has a job as a typist – her mother proudly proclaims “the first in the family to be considered suitable for office work” – Cilla dreams of being a singer and is making quite the name for herself on the club circuit, building a following through club performances with upcoming bands such as a quartet called The Beatles. Continue reading “TV Review: Cilla”

TV Review: London Spy

 “People lie Danny, they lie very well” 

Well this was a disappointment wasn’t it, there’s no two ways about it. Tom Rob Smith’s London Spy started its five episode run most promisingly with its forthrightly modern gay love story – between emotionally reclusive Secret Service operative Alex and Danny, a shift worker and regular on the hard-partying Vauxhall gay clubbing scene. Edward Holcroft and Ben Whishaw made a powerfully effective couple, negotiating their differences beautifully and believably so that by the time Alex went missing, the substance of the emerging conspiracy theories actually meant something.

But as the plot wound vaguely into labyrinthine dead ends and red herrings, it became increasingly hard to get a handle not just on what was happening but what Smith was trying to say. And directed in would-be sepulchral (but actually just frustratingly dark) gloom by Jakob Verbruggen, the joys of recognising bits of my local Vauxhall soon wore off as you realised that such a stunning supporting cast as Adrian Lester, Clarke Peters and Harriet Walter were indeed being criminally underused or landed with heinous dialogue and what started off irresistibly disintegrated into implausibility. Continue reading “TV Review: London Spy”

DVD Review: Page Eight

“There’s a fine line between calculation and deceit”

A rare foray into television for David Hare as both writer and director, Page Eight was broadcast on the BBC in 2011 but as ever, I missed it at the time – most likely I was in the theatre. On it went to my lovefilm list and up it came just in time for my little spy-fest. Career intelligence analyst Johnny Worricker has his life turned upside down when his MI5 boss and best friend dies suddenly of a heart attack, having revealed the explosive contents of a file which threatens the UK/US alliance and the future of MI5 itself. His artist daughter has something important to tell him, his strikingly attractive neighbour Nancy Pierpan has suddenly appeared on the scene with a (not-so) hidden agenda and the well-oiled wheels of the slippery government are determined to oust him whilst keeping its secrets. Old-school to his core, Worricker is confronted with a series of dilemmas, political, moral, personal, as he faces up to this contemporary world and his place within it.  

Aside from the obvious thrill of a new piece of writing from David Hare, Page Eight also contained some utterly luxurious casting and an exceptional, tailor-made central role for Bill Nighy as Worricker. Ineffably cool as only Nighy can be, the art-collecting, jazz-listening, women-seducing figure at the centre of the story was a perfectly convincing presence but the real star was Hare’s writing. Though undoubtedly a contemporary spy story, it eschewed the glossy thriller territory of Spooks for a no less compelling, intelligently intertwining yet thoroughly believable sequence of events. Shocks and surprises still came, but from people and actions rather than exploding helicopters or extended chase scenes and so it had a deeply satisfying quality that demanded, and rewarded, the attention. Continue reading “DVD Review: Page Eight”

Review: Too Close To The Sun, Comedy

Too Close To The Sun is a new musical which looks at the final days of the life of Ernest Hemingway before he committed suicide and makes up some things that might have happened then. Set in an isolated part of Idaho, Hemingway lives with his wife and his slutty secretary, when an old friend Rex de Havilland comes to visit with the intention of convincing the writer to sell the film rights to his life. Sounds like fun eh, well you don’t even know the half of it!

It is difficult to know where to start, there were just so many terrible elements to this thing. The songs were simply horrific: not a tune in sight and just the weirdest progressions, I don’t think any of them actually contained a chorus, it was kind of like twisted musical freestyling combined with verbal diarrhoea. I have to say that the two women, Helen Dallimore and Tammy Joelle, did their best with the material and at least had strong voices, but the two gentlemen, James Graeme and Jay Benedict, were just jaw-droppingly bad. They were landed with the worst songs for the most part, but their delivery was just so bad, that I struggled to keep a straight face any time either one opened their mouth to sing (which given I was on the front row, was a real trial). There was no sense of integration between the play and the songs at all, quite often they would just pop up and then disappear as quickly, leaving you dumbfounded. Continue reading “Review: Too Close To The Sun, Comedy”