Lockdown TV Review: Spooks Series 1

I had already started a rewatch of Spooks earlier this year as part of a planned Nicola Walker retrospective but as it turns out, I’ll have to use that Britbox subscription for something else!

“When will you tell her that your real name is Tom Quinn and that you are a spy”

It is interesting to look at back at much-loved shows and be reminded of how not everything is always how you remember. So much of Spooks has aged remarkably well – not least its choice of subjects that have remained terrifyingly evergreen – that it is easy to forget that this opening season of 6 episodes sees them still searching for that house style. 

It is undoubtedly a bit shonky in look and feel, the slick Thames House set isn’t yet in place and the focus on the lead team at the expense of too many nameless supporting bods gives the personal dynamics a somewhat off-balance feel as we delve into too much of the personal lives of Tom, Zoe and Danny.

But airing in May 2002 in the immediate post 9/11 climate gives its geopolitics real currency. And the threats they face – homegrown far-right movements, fears over immigration, the push for Kurdish self-government, US abortion rights, Russian spies being murdered on British soil… – are compelling throughout. And any show that has Jenny Agutter and Nicholas Farrell dry-humping in a corridor has to be a winner right?!   

Nicola Walker-ometer
To be honest, I’d forgotten Ruth wasn’t a member of the team from the start, so these six episodes pass by with an outrageous lack of Nicola Walker. Continue reading “Lockdown TV Review: Spooks Series 1”

Book review: The Half – Simon Annand

The Half – Photographs of Actors Preparing for the Stage by Simon Annand

Just a quickie for this book as The Half – Photographs of Actors Preparing for the Stage by Simon Annand was released in 2008. But with an imminent new exhibition of these photos and a bargainous copy of the book popping up on Ebay, I thought I’d take the plunge.

And I’m glad I did as it is a proper work of art in its own right. Annand has been photographing actors for over 25 years and as such, has a veritable treasure trove of shots to share with us, resulting from the trusting relationships he has built up with so many, from the new kids on the block to veritable dames. Continue reading “Book review: The Half – Simon Annand”

Review: Dances of Death, Gate

“My nature may be flawed but I struggle to overcome it”
Is there anything more annoying than someone else having the same good idea as you at more or less the same time. Given the length of time it must take to actually commission a new version of a play and bring it to the stage, who knows when or whether these two coincided but either way, London now has its second new adaptation of Strindberg’s The Dance of Death in six months. Conor McPherson refreshed the play as part of the Donmar’s residency at the Trafalgar Studios 2 but here at the Gate Theatre, Howard Brenton has taken a slightly different tack, incorporating the lesser seen second part to create Dances of Death
The play, as with much of Strindberg’s work, is a barrel of laughs. Edgar and Alice live on a remote Swedish island which is dominated by a military barracks but though they have been married for nearly 30 years, their relationship has deteriorated into a bitterly toxic mess as their disappointments in each other and the world around them has poisoned them to the point where it is this very hatred that sustains them. So much so, that the arrival of Kurt, a figure from their past, merely offers a new dimension to their war games as opposed to a potential exit strategy. It is vicious, bitter stuff, and in the intimacy of the Gate, ought to be near-unbearable.

But it never quite got under my skin and convinced me of its raw animosity. Michael Pennington and Linda Marlowe, excellent actors both, felt a little mannered in Tom Littler’s production, not quite surrendering entirely to the bleakness of Strindberg’s worldview. Why this is becomes more apparent with the introduction of a new generation in the second half, as we visit the children of our trio and see how the enmities of the past continue to shape the present but also get a hint of redemptive hope that just doesn’t feel entirely earned.
I liked both Edward Franklin and Eleanor Wyld (still one of my ones to watch) as the next generation but the way in which Edgar and Kurt’s rivalry trundled on lost much of the venom of the sustained onslaught of the first half – just how dense is Kurt…the play doesn’t benefit from giving him more exposure at all. Maybe I would have enjoyed this more had I not seen The Dance of Death so recently but I can’t help but feel that this production doesn’t quite live up to the considerable reputation of this theatre and the fierce emotion that it often provokes. 

Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes (with interval) 
Playtext cost: £5
Booking until 6th July

DVD Review: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

“Things aren’t always what they seem”

My anticipation levels for Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy were rather high, I didn’t make it to the cinema but its award-winning pedigree backed up by several people recommending it to me, assured that I would love it. And though it is a genre I have neglected, I do love a good spy thriller. That said, I’d not read the 1974 John Le Carré novel it was based on or seen the TV show, so I was coming to it with completely fresh eyes. I’d been warned that I’d need to concentrate so I took care to ensure that distractions were kept to a minimum as I watched the DVD, but I have to say that I really wasn’t carried away by the film or swept up into its world of intrigue.

When an MI6 agent is gunned down mid-meet in Hungary, the head of the secret service Control and his lieutenant George Smiley resign in acknowledgement of the failure, but Smiley is soon covertly rehired to look into the possibility that it was a mole that gave the game away. With the help of two colleagues, he begins to investigate the shortlist of suspects to find out who is the one who has betrayed his country. Swedish director Tomas Alfredson brings a measured solemnity to the densely complex plot which comprises of a bewildering number of characters and details which I struggled to take in and sustain the requisite level of interest. Continue reading “DVD Review: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy”

Review: Goodbye to All That, Royal Court

“The older you get the more you realise: you don’t grow up. Not really. You just get older.”

Luke Norris is perhaps better known as an actor from plays like Remembrance Day, The Kitchen and The Gods Weep (oh, how they wept) but he has now turned his hand to playwriting as part of the Royal Court’s writing scheme. And with some success, as his first play Goodbye to All That is part of the Young Writers’ Festival there and is playing in the upstairs theatre alongside a programme of readings of other plays by budding playwrights.

It is then perhaps ironic that the play focuses on older people. David, who has just got his A-level results and is heading off to Leicester, discovers that his grandfather Frank is having an affair and demands that he breaks it off. The relationship is closer than usual as David was raised by his grandparents but we come to see that this 46 year-long marriage has not been a happy one and Frank has actually fallen in love for the first time with Rita. The scene is then seemingly set for an exploration of whether it is “ever too late to start again”. Continue reading “Review: Goodbye to All That, Royal Court”