TV Review: Silent Witness Series 17

Series 17 of Silent Witness, in which the show feel very much still in transition, and we’re not just talking about Nikki’s haircut 

“One maverick on the team is enough”

Of course, having finally implemented the significant change that I was longing for, Series 17 of Silent Witness experiences a little bit of turbulence doesn’t quite nail the landing. With the sanctimonious Leo dispatched to the pearly gates, Richard Lintern’s Dr Thomas Chamberlain is introduced as the new forensic pathologist head honcho. But internally, the writers seem to have decided that Nikki is actually the lead and so Thomas finds himself very much sidelined throughout the series.  

Part of the issue is that they’re still figuring out the roles of newcomers Jack and Clarissa. David Caves’ Jack is posited as an insane Action Man figure, throwing himself into rugby-tackling and questioning suspects even with the police right there. It is noticeable that this is somewhat facilitated by more and more stories featuring fewer and fewer police characters, allowing for the appearance at least that the Lyell aren’t stepping on too many toes… And the writers still seem a little hesitant to consider Clarissa’s analyst a full member of the team.  Continue reading “TV Review: Silent Witness Series 17”

Review: Habeus Corpus, Menier Chocolate Factory

Alan Bennett’s Habeus Corpus gets a belated revival at the Menier Chocolate Factory. Stuck in the past, should it have been left in the past too?

“He whose lust lasts, lasts longest”

The Menier Chocolate Factory know exactly what they’re doing when they lead with the tagline ‘a filthy farce from a less enlightened age’. If that type of comedy is your thing, then come darken our doors and escape the woke crowd… Alan Bennett’s Habeus Corpus dates from 1973 and nothing about Patrick Marber’s admittedly stylish production here can hide that fact. 

Despite the quality of Bennett’s writing being fitfully evident with some really witty stuff, the major issue with the play lies in its uncertainty of form. It pushes towards farce but without any of that genre’s intricate cleverness and so can’t help but resemble a middling 1970s sitcom, with a base level of humour that even the most end-of-the-pier comic might have decided to leave in the dressing room. Continue reading “Review: Habeus Corpus, Menier Chocolate Factory”

TV Review: His Dark Materials, Series 2

No spoilers, but the second series of His Dark Materials is a continued absolute triumph

“Your duty is to protect the girl…and the boy”

We may have lost an episode of the second series of His Dark Materials to the pandemic but you really couldn’t tell, its atmospheric and elegiac storytelling feeling like some of the most mature work on screen right now. Jack Thorne’s adaptation of Philip Pullman’s novel(s) manages a brilliant balance between faithfulness and invention, an added scene between Mrs Coulter and Lee Scoresby is a sensational addition. And the direction from Leanne Welham and Jamie Childs keeps the show looking amazing.

From Lyra’s enduring guilt over Roger’s demise in the Series 1 finale, to climactic struggles that lead to some truly traumatising conclusions, the odyssey that Lyra and Will take from their Oxfords to Cittàgazze and beyond is nothing short of stunning. Dafne Keen’s Lyra remains as intellectually curious as ever but Amir Wilson’s Will takes the spotlight as he’s forced to reckon with the weight of responsibility forced onto his shoulders. And he is achingly good, a new maturity coming forth episode by episode. Continue reading “TV Review: His Dark Materials, Series 2”

TV Review: Doctor Who Series 12

Series 12 of Doctor Who goes hard on what we think we know about the Time Lord and finishes in a blaze of glory

“You can be a pacifist tomorrow. Today you just need to survive”

I don’t think I have ever minded anything that happened in Doctor Who so much that I have declared it cancelled, even at the point where all the magnificent character development by Catherine Tate’s Donna was undone in a plot point of real cruelty. So it is hard to take so-called fans of the show seriously when torrents of complaints are unleashed about the sanctity of a world of science fiction that has long enjoyed challenging and expanding what we know about characters we love. (See my Episode 1 review here.)

So it should come as little surprise that I really rather enjoyed series 12 of Doctor Who. Across the season as a whole, I felt that Jodie Whittaker has settled more into the role, especially as the writers feel more confident in finding her voice. And the balancing act of having three companions in the TARDIS has been more assured now that the business of introducing them is over, allowing the group to splinter off for large chunks of episodes has allowed much more of their characters to shine through, particularly for Mandip Gill’s Yaz (who I am mightily glad survived that final episode – I thought she was doomed after her chat with Graham). Continue reading “TV Review: Doctor Who Series 12”

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”

Review: They Drink It In The Congo, Almeida Theatre

“Give me the history of the Congo in four and a half minutes”

There’s an ingenious moment in the middle of They Drink It In The Congo when a PR guy has to step in for an ailing colleague at an imminent press conference and utters the line above. The answer he gets exposes not only the vast complexity of the socio-political issues in the Democratic Republic of Congo but also the way in which Westerners seek to reduce them to manageable soundbites so that they can be dismissed as problems easily solved

Which in a nutshell is the key issue at the heart of Adam Brace’s new play for the Almeida. Aware of the impossibility of doing Congolese history justice in a couple of hours, he approaches the issue from an alternative angle, the impossibility of “doing something good about something bad”. Daughter of a white Kenyan farmer, Stef now works for a London NGO and is excited to be given the opportunity to organise ‘Congo Voice’, a new arts festival raising awareness of the issues there. Continue reading “Review: They Drink It In The Congo, Almeida Theatre”

Review: Arcadia, Churchill Theatre Bromley

“When we have found all the mysteries and lost all the meaning, we will be alone on the empty shore”

With London audiences pondering The Hard Problem and struggling to find the answer (we’re insufficiently classicly-educated apparently, though the journalist getting the name of the play wrong here is hardly a great start to counter that assertion) fans of Tom Stoppard can also catch his more celebrated play Arcadia in this English Touring Theatre and Theatre Royal Brighton co-production, directed by the ever-interesting Blanche McIntyre. I hesitate to call it a nationwide tour as it doesn’t appear to heading any further north than Birmingham but it is still a healthy enough trek for this pleasingly complex but affecting play.

As is customary with this playwright, it is a play full of weighty ideas – complex mathematics and chaos theory, entropy and existential truths, and takes place in the same country house drawing room in two time periods simultaneously, 1809 and the present day. Along the length of a fine dining table, the past rubs up against the present as the scientific rigour of the intellect goes head to head with the emotional poetry of the soul as Stoppard ultimately explores what it simply means to be human (and also what stirring rice pudding really represents). It is perhaps easy to get caught up in the density of the detail during the play but it would take the hardest of hearts not to be swept up the heart-breaking swing and sway of the final scene. Continue reading “Review: Arcadia, Churchill Theatre Bromley”

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