Lockdown TV Review: Spooks Series 5

Full of shocks that actually mean something, Series 5 of Spooks is one of its absolute best

“The British people will accept anything if you serve it up with a picture of Will Young in the shower”

A cracking series of Spooks that starts off with a series of bangs, robbing Colin of his life and Juliet Shaw of her ability to walk, the introduction of Ros Myers to the team is an invigorating success, particularly as she inspires Jo to become more badass too. This incarnation of the team really does click well, responding smoothly to the enforced changes in personnel, though newly single father Adam’s mental health crisis too often feels like a plot device rather than a genuine exploration of PTSD.

Subject-wise, the relevance level remains high, particularly pertinent when it comes to national crises with panic buying and over-stuffed hospitals feeling all too real. The role of fundamentalist zealots is shared equally between Christian and Islamic believers over the series and even if the finale underwhelms somewhat, the eco-terrorism theme hasn’t become any less significant.

Nicola Walker-ometer
I’m still not over it, the defenestration of Ruth Evershed. Having finally made it to a date with Harry, which went about as well as could be expected, she runs up against a murderous Oliver Mace conspiracy and ends up having to fake her own death to protect Harry and ends up fleeing the country. An ignominious end for the heart of the team.  Continue reading “Lockdown TV Review: Spooks Series 5”

Review: [BLANK], Donmar Warehouse

Much to admire technically in [BLANK] at the Donmar Warehouse but it doesn’t quite land the emotional hit it aims for

“Have you ever felt like you were standing exactly to the left of your life?”

On the face of it, [BLANK] has all the makings of an outright success. With Alice Birch writing and Maria Aberg, this Donmar Warehouse and Clean Break co-production is a powerful indictment of how the vicissitudes of our criminal justice system hit women, and their families, the hardest by far.

And in terms of a text, it is undoubtedly an audacious undertaking, consisting of 100 scenes from which directors can craft their own narratives. Here though is where the production doesn’t quite click, Aberg trying her best to form some, any, kind of flow but the form just doesn’t allow for it. Continue reading “Review: [BLANK], Donmar Warehouse”

Review: Othello, Sam Wanamaker

“O God, that men should put an enemy in their mouths to steal away their brains”

In light of Roman Tragedies reminding us of the vast potential of what Shakespeare can be rather than the tendency towards the ‘proper’ readings of his work that we tend to get here in the UK (vast generalisations I know, but can you really argue against it…), it’s gratifying to see directors, and venues, taking the opportunity to stretch those traditional notions. The Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, housed within Shakespeare’s Globe, isn’t the first place you’d think of to find such a production but in Ellen MacDougall’s interpretation of Othello, we have just that.

Text updated to the 21st century (dramaturgy by Joel Horwood), key characters regendered (Joanna Horton’s Cassio is an inspired move), a contemporary soundtrack that interpolates Lana Del Rey, it is enough to make any purist shiver and you kinda feel that’s the point. MacDougall refocuses the play on masculinity in crisis but it is also tempting to think that on a larger scale, there’s a smidgen of Emma Rice’s shaking of the branches of theatrical orthodoxy at play here too. With the post of Artistic Director of the Globe being advertised again, we can only hope such invention remains. Continue reading “Review: Othello, Sam Wanamaker”

Short Film Review #62

Last year, I made a weekly feature out of short film reviews (if you explore the film tag, you can find them all) but in the name of reclaiming some semblance of a normal life, I’ve put them on hold. Things still pop into my awareness or my inbox though so I thought I’d flag these up. 

Not quite a short film but an interactive video game, 5 Minutes features newly-announced Beowulf Kieran Bew (and it’s good news, he’s a bearded Bew in this one) as a father trapped in a zombie nightmare with his teenage daughter. You can select three levels of difficulty to help them through their journey to try and escape the zombie curse (I’ve managed medium, just about) and it is all rather well done. I’m no expert at all in this kind of thing though so make of it what you will! Continue reading “Short Film Review #62”

Review: All’s Well That Ends Well, RSC at Theatre Royal Newcastle

“Praising what is lost makes the remembrance dear”
 

Whether considered a problem play or no, the fact that All’s Well That Ends Well is performed relatively infrequently is testament to the inherent difficulties of the play. Helena’s relentless pursuit of a man who does not love her, her determination to have them betrothed, the way she later inveigles her way into his bed, the story is an uneasy tale to take in a world of more enlightened sexual politics and though Nancy Meckler’s production for the RSC, here in Newcastle for a week, shines a fantastical light on the play (although not as successfully as the National’s excellent Grimm-like version from 2009) I think the issue around its uncommon revival is more careful avoidance rather than criminal neglect. 

Joanna Horton is good as the poor physician’s daughter who is adopted by the Countess of Rousillon yet finds herself falling in love with her ‘brother’, Alex Waldmann as a Prince Harry-inspired Bertram who soon heads abroad pretty sharpish. She follows him to the French court, winning the favour of the King by utilising her father’s knowledge and persuading him to offer Bertram’s unwilling hand in marriage as reward. Again he flees (this time to the battlefield) and again she follows, determined to get her man even if it means tricking him into bed and as one is meant to assume with the ginger Prince, combat has a maturing effect meaning that he allegedly becomes quite the catch and her doggedness is thus rewarded. Continue reading “Review: All’s Well That Ends Well, RSC at Theatre Royal Newcastle”

Review: As You Like It, RSC at Theatre Royal Newcastle

“I am that he, that poor unfortunate he”

As You Like It is one of those plays that I find hard to get too excited about since I feel like I’ve seen it a hundred times. And Maria Aberg’s production for the RSC came with the additional baggage of over-enthusiastic acclaim from certain quarters that usually leave me sceptical but when in Newcastle the same week as the RSC… As suspected, the Laura Marling soundtrack riled me, its folks stylings seeming somewhat faux for a reason I can’t really articulate without resorting to calling it smug. But in Pippa Nixon, it has a truly excellent Rosalind.

Set in a Glastonbury-inspired Forest of Arden, Nixon is startling as a genuinely androgynous figure once transformed, making the scenes with Alex Waldmann’s Orlando a thrilling experience in its gender-questioning ardour. And she’s a compelling presence throughout whether battling her fierce father or coaching her would-be lover in the school of romance. It all builds into a touching finale of nuptial bliss, which eventually wore down most of my scepticism, but I’m not entirely convinced that the setting works so well elsewhere. Continue reading “Review: As You Like It, RSC at Theatre Royal Newcastle”

DVD Review: Breaking the Mould – The Story of Penicillin

“Dirt is the enemy”

Breaking the Mould was a 2009 TV movie for BBC4, starring Denis Lawson and Dominic West, about the development of penicillin for use as a medicine. It occupies that strange ground of fictionalised reality, in that it is based on real people and events but contains invented scenes “for the purposes of the narrative”. Added to that is a rather tight timeframe of 80 minutes in which the story is told, which results in a rather lightweight affair, which is nonetheless intermittently entertaining.

Starting in 1938, after beginning with one of those annoying flash-forwards to the end of the story, the film focuses on a group of scientists at the Dunn School of Pathology in Oxford, led by Australian Howard Florey. Aided by the German Ernst Chain and the English Norman Heatley, he was preoccupied creation of a stable form of penicillin that could be developed for medical use, following Fleming’s initial discovery of its antibacterial properties. Against the antipathy of the scientific community and the hardship imposed by the declaration of WWII, their determination to succeed eventually led to one of the most significant discoveries of the century, although it doesn’t always necessarily feel like it here. Continue reading “DVD Review: Breaking the Mould – The Story of Penicillin”

Review: The Gods Weep, RSC at Hampstead Theatre

“I feel like my soul has been bathed in acid”

You know there is a problem when a phrase like the above resonates strongly with you during a play… After a successful take on events post-Macbeth in Dunsinane comes Dennis Kelly’s The Gods Weep which is very heavily inspired by Kurosawa’s film Ran, which was in turn was influenced by King Lear. Admittedly this was a first preview, but at close to four hours long, and full of chaotic fighting, much blood, dead cats and squirrels and an inordinate amount of swearing, this had the amazing effect of making me actually want to watch paint dry instead: it’s not only the gods who will be weeping by the end of this run.

Replacing the feudal kingdoms of Lear/Ran with its modern-day equivalent, a multi-national corporation, the CEO Colm decides that after a lifetime of building an empire through brutal and savage means, it is time to relinquish power to his two subordinates. However in doing so, he unleashes a bloody power struggle between the two rivals with truly devastating consequences and ramifications which force Colm to face up to a lifetime of questionable decisions. Continue reading “Review: The Gods Weep, RSC at Hampstead Theatre”