TV Review: Life (Series 1)

Mike Bartlett’s new TV show Life is rich in middle-class miseries and stellar performances from Victoria Hamilton and Alison Steadman

“One can’t have blessings without sufferings”

My main feelings about Mike Bartlett’s Life revolve around Rachael Stirling and thus are somewhat spoilerific – consider yourself warned! I was highly excited to see Stirling back on our screens so I was a tad disappointed when it turned out that her character was in fact a ghost and could only be seen by her grieving husband Adrian Lester.

But then when it was revealed that she was in fact a bisexual ghost – a proper shout at the TV moment – and her entanglements drew in at least one other, it was a glorious pay-off which almost, almost made up for her not being a full-on member of the ensemble. And its a hefty ensemble, set in a large house split into four flats in which four sets of tenants are all facing their own trials. Continue reading “TV Review: Life (Series 1)”

TV Review: W1A (Series 3)

W1A remains entirely watchable in Series 3 but repetition sets in to blunt its comic edges

“It may be the future but it’s still the BBC”

Returning to W1A has been good fun, though watching its three series back-to-back, it is interesting to see just how much it wears its concept increasingly thin.  Series 1 was a winner, introducing its cast of misfits all trying to navigate the bureauracy of the BBC and avoid doing as much work as possible but even by Series 2, the strains were clear to see.

John Morton’s Twenty Twelve, the show that kicked off this mockumentary mini-universe, had an inbuilt advantage in that it had a clearly defined end-point, the thing that everyone was working towards. By contrast, W1A has a sense of ambling on which, while perfectly pleasant to watch, means that a terminal case of diminishing returns sets in. Continue reading “TV Review: W1A (Series 3)”

TV Review: Quiz

James Graham’s Quiz makes a marvellous leap from stage to screen

“People still want to gather as a nation, to experience something big together”

Not a huge amount to say about the TV adaptation of James Graham’s Quiz, a show I enjoyed in the West End, not least because of its interactive elements (even if we lost). It bloomed in the televisual treatment, losing a little of its structural intricacy but gaining a narrative through-line that really worked, the explosive arrival of Helen McCrory’s QC making it worth the while. And the story remains as intriguing as ever, though just as free from doubt for me.

They totally did it, right – the Ingrams may have been stitched up in court by the tinkered-with evidence (and credit to Matthew Mcfadyen and Sian Clifford for two excellent performances) – but they totally did it.  Fun to see cameos like Paul Bazeley’s Lionel from Legal and Maggie Service’s Kerry the Floor Manager, and original cast members like Sarah Woodward and Keir Charle too.

Review: Death of a Salesman, Young Vic

A brilliant cast shine in this striking revival of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman at the Young Vic

“Attention, attention must finally be paid to such a person”

The American dream hasn’t often looked like this. Marianne Elliott and Miranda Cromwell’s re-imagining of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman reaffirms the Young Vic as the place to go to shake up these American classics (qv A View from the Bridge) with a startling revival that seems destined to go far.

Elliott has recent form of course in reinterpretations and Cromwell was the Associate Director on Company too. And if Death… might not go quite as far, it still emerges as a thoughtful reconsideration with a decidedly psychological bent, trapping us as much as Willy in his troubled mind. Continue reading “Review: Death of a Salesman, Young Vic”

Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 8

“You are the chief executive officer of the human race”

It was quite interesting to rewatch Series 8 of Doctor Who, one which I hadn’t revisited at all since it originally aired, as my memories thereof were not at all positive. And whilst disappointments remained – Robin Hood, 2D cartoons, the treeees! – there was also much to enjoy that I’d forgotten about. The smash-and-grab of Time Heist, the simplicity of ghost story Listen, and the ominous darkness of the finale.

I’m still in two minds about Peter Capaldi’s Twelve though, I want to like him so much more than I do, and I think you do get the sense of him feeling his way into his irascible take on the role. Jenna Coleman’s Clara benefits from being released from the yoke of impossibility to move to the forefront of several episodes and if she’s still a little hard to warm to, that finale really is superbly done. And then there’s Michelle Gomez, stealing the whole damn thing magnificently! Continue reading “Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 8”

Film Review: London Road

“Everybody’s very very nervous”

The theatrical production of London Road was a major success for the National Theatre, the opening run first extending in the Cottesloe and then being rewarded with a later transfer to the much larger Olivier – I was first blownaway by its originality and then later comforted by its message in the aftermath of the 2011 riots. So the news that director Rufus Norris was making a film adaptation was received with apprehensive anticipation, could this strikingly experimental piece of theatre possibly work on screen.

Writer Alecky Blythe uses a technique whereby she records interviews with people which are then edited into a play but spoken verbatim by the actors, complete with all the ums and aahs and repetitions of natural speech. And in 2006, she went to Ipswich to interview a community rocked by a series of murders, of five women in total, all sex workers, and set about telling a story not of salacious deaths but of a community learning to cleave together in trying times. Oh, and it’s all set to the most innovative of musical scores by Adam Cork, elevating ordinary speech into something quite extraordinary. 

The material has been considerably reshaped for the screen – Moira Buffini assisting as script consultant – resulting in a much more straight-forward narrative through-line than was seen on stage. This linear development is reflected in Danny Cohen’s cinematography which tracks the wintry gloom of the beginning into the verdant bloom of the climax with a real visual grace. Straightening out the storytelling reduces the theatricality of the presentation too, making this feel much more like a piece of documentary realism.

Where the stage show had a cast of eleven each playing a resident and multiple other roles, each character is played by someone different here, meaning the focus is teased out a little from the tight circle of the London Road residents and their outrage about their street turning into a red light district, to give a more fully realised sense of the wider community. They consequently get more of their own voice heard – the nervy teenagers suspecting everyone around them, the sex workers shaken up by the attacks on their own, the journalists tiptoeing around the sensitivity of the issue whilst always on the lookout for a scoop. 

The experience of the residents does remain central to the film though, Blythe digging back into her archive of interviews to find ways of ensuring at least of them appears in every scene and Cork rejigging the score where necessary too. And this is where the writing is at its strongest, in always showing the complexity of the collective response. Though the story moves towards a happy(ish) ending with the London Road in Bloom street party as the culmination of their efforts, there’s no pretence that a solution to the inherent problems has been found, they’ve just been moved away from their doorstep. 

This ambiguity comes across particularly well in characters like Olivia Colman’s Julie and Nick Holder’s Ron, barely apologetic in their unspeakable thoughts yet rooted in small-town authenticity. Paul Thornley’s inscrutable Dodge, Linzi Hateley’s pragmatic Helen and Clare Burt’s dithering Sue remain a delight, Anita Dobson is daffily wonderful as June, Michael Shaeffer and Rosalie Craig’s journalists both stand out and the original Julie, Kate Fleetwood, plays the new role of Vicky, a haunting figure representing the spirit and presence of the working girls, both alive and dead. 

And delving a little deeper, clever little touches abound in the production. The two schoolgirls singing ‘It Could Be Him’ (see clip below) are the daughters of Burt (Eloise Laurence) and Hateley (Meg Hateley Suddaby); Blythe and Cork both get cameos as a newsreader and a pianist respectively; and the final street party mixes real residents of both the real London Road in Ipswich and the fictional one in Bexley in with an ensemble that folds in any number of faces that seasoned theatregoers might recognise.

Elements of choreography by Javier De Frutos are used sparingly but most effectively to sprinkle pathos or humour into sequences as required, David Shrubsole’s sharp musical direction keeps the singing (nearly all done live) on point, and Norris’ direction constantly takes on inventive new directions to expertly but sensitively reshape the material for this new medium. I can’t imagine what it would be like to come to this film without prior experience of the show (and I’d be fascinated to hear from you if that’s you) but as a fan, it is undoubtedly a beautiful extension to one of the most innovative musical theatre experiences of the last decade.

Full cast list

Julie – Olivia Colman
Sue – Clare Burt
Kelly McCormack – Rosalie Craig
June – Anita Dobson
Seb – James Doherty
Vicky – Kate Fleetwood
David Crabtree – Hal Fowler
Helen – Linzi Hateley
Tim – Paul Hilton
Ron – Nick Holder
Councillor Carole – Claire Moore
Simon Newton – Michael Shaeffer
Rosemary – Nicola Sloane
Dodge – Paul Thornley
Terry – Howard Ward
Gordon – Duncan Wisbey
Mark – Tom Hardy
Hayley – Rosie Hilal
Natalie – Amy Griffiths
Colette McBeth – Gillian Bevan
Jessica – Anna Hale
Schoolgirl 1 – Eloise Laurence
Schoolgirl 2 – Meg Hateley Suddaby
Kath – Angela Bain
Margaret – Jenny Galloway
Alan – Sean Kingsley
Imelda – Jayne McKenna
Jason – Richard Frame
BBC Newsreader – Alecky Blythe
Grahame Cooper – Mark Lockyer
Harry – Barry McCarthy
Shop Assistant – Abigail Rose
Evening Star Girl – Maggie Service
Radio Techy – Alexia Khadime
Radio DJ – Dean Nolan
Stephanie – Ruby Holder
Alec – Calvin Demba
Stella – Helena Lymbery
Wayne – Mark Sheals
Graeme – Morgan Walters
Ivy – Janet Henfrey
Steve Cameraman – Jonathan Glew
Chris Eakin – Jason Barnett
Policeman – Andrew Frame
Anglia Newsreader – Rae Baker
 
Ensemble
Abby Rose Bryant, Adam Dutton, Adam Vaughan, Alan Vicary, Alicia Woodhouse, Alistair Parker, Amanda Minihan, Ameer Choudrie, Andrew Spillett, Andy Couchman, Anita Booth, Annette Yeo, Audrey Ardington, Barnaby Griffin, Basienka Blakes, Bob Harms, Carl Patrick, Carly Blackburn, Carol Been, Cassandra Foster, Charlotte Broom, Chloe Bingham, Chris Akrill, Clare Humphrey, Clemmie Sveaas, Connor Dowling, Coral Messam, Corinna Powlesland, Cornelia Colman, Courtney Crawford, Cris Penfold, Cris Snelson, Cydney Uffindell-Phillips, Daisy Maywood, Daniella Bowen, David Birch, David Stroller, Debra Baker, Don Gallagher, Edward Baruwa, Elaine Kennedy, Eleanor Clark, Ella Vale, Ellis Rose Rother, Emily Bull, Emma Brunton, Eva Lamb, Faye Stoeser, Frank Stone, Gary Forbes, Graham Hoadly, Haruka Kuroda, Hayley Gallivan, Helen Colby, Hendrick January, Ian Conningham, Ilana Johnston, Ilse Johnston, Ira Mandela Siobhan, Jack Edwards, Jackie Marks, James Ballanger, Jess Ellen, John Brannoch, Johnathan Fee, Jon Ponting, Joshua Lacey, Judith Paris, Julie Armstrong, Karianne Andreassen, Kayleigh Clayton, Laura Cubitt, Leah Ellis, Leah Georges, Leanna Wiggington, Lee Nicholas Harris, Linda Lewcock, Louis Fonseca, Louise Lee, Lucinda Shaw, Luke Fetherston, Lynne Wilmot, Marc Antolin, Margarita Reeve, Melanie La Barrie, Michael Fox, Michelle Wen Lee, Miles Mlambo, Miroslav Zaruba, Morgan Crowley, Natalie Victoria Dungan, Nathan Amzi, Nathan Harmer, Nathan Rigg, Nicholas Marshall, Oliver Roll, Paul Blackwell, Paul Bullion, Paul Shea, Perry Moore, Pete Meads, Philip Howard, Rachel Ann Davies, Rajesh Kalhan, Rebecca Scarott, Rebecca Sutherland, Rebecca Thomas, Reuben Williams, Rob Smithson, Sarah Heyward, Sarah Stanley, Sidney Livingstone, Simon Fee, Simon Humphrey, Stephanie Natufe, Stephen Webb, Steve Carroll, Steve Elias, Stuart Angell, Susan Fay, Susan Lawson-Reynolds, Tim Coldron, Tom Lyle Severn, Tomos James, Tony Pankhurst, Tony Timberlake, William Rossiter, Yinka Williams, Zoe Uffindell
 
Additional Choral ADR Group
Bethan Nash, Callum McIntyre, Daisy Maywood, Edward MacArthur, George Ikediashi, Hannah Genesius, Patrick Tolan, Perry Moore, Steve Rostance, Toby Webster,   

 

Review: Rules for Living, National Theatre

“Let the bedlam begin”

The final play to premiere in Nicholas Hytner’s final season in charge of the National Theatre is Sam Holcroft’s Rules for Living, directed by Marianne Elliott in the Dorfman. Was it a pointed decision to end his reign with a show both written and helmed by a woman, who knows? Either way, it’s always good to see this venue providing such high profile opportunities for the writers it nurtures. Holcroft’s short(ish) Edgar and Annabel played as part of the Double Feature season in 2011 and she was a writer-in-residence here at the NT in 2013, from whence this rather cracking new comedy has emerged. 

And boy is it funny, I don’t think I have laughed this thoroughly and consistently at a play in ages. As someone for whom farcical goings-on too often fall flat, I’m often left bemoaning the fact I’m sitting stony-faced in a sea of hilarity (cf. One Man Two Guvnors et al) but for once I was right with them. Holcroft’s set-up has an extended family coming together for Christmas lunch, an event for which Edith has been preparing since January. She’s looking forward to seeing both her sons, Matthew and Adam, and their partners, and they in turn are keen to see their father who has been in the wars recently.  Continue reading “Review: Rules for Living, National Theatre”

Review: Table, National Theatre

“I have a world map on my door.
‘We’ll see if we can find Lichfield on it later’.”

As the Cottesloe becomes the Dorfman, among other changes, the National Theatre has erected a temporary space called The Shed to keep a third working venue in their complex and opening the programme there, is this original play Table by Tanya Ronder. A family saga that stretches across several generations from 19thcentury Staffordshire to modern day London, taking in trips to hippy communes and East African missions, and with a rather gentle grace, it explores the way in which the actions of our parents impact on the people we become and how easy it is to irrevocably hurt the ones we love.

It’s a densely told story, made more complex by a fracturing of the timeline which sees the focus constantly shifting between time periods, and it may take some getting used to. Rufus Norris marshals his deeply talented cast of nine, who cover thirty characters across six generations of the Best family, with a highly engaging playfulness but it does take a little time for the key pieces to come into focus and for the play to really coalesce into something affecting. But when it does get there, and it was the second half for me, its gentle energy and reflective charm make for a winning combination. Continue reading “Review: Table, National Theatre”

The 2012 Manchester Theatre Awards nominations

Best Actor
Justin Moorhouse, Two, Royal Exchange
Christopher Ravenscroft, The Winslow Boy, Bolton Octagon
Clifford Samuel, Obama the Mamba,
President Of The Slums, Lowry
Ed Gaughan, Midsummer Night’s Dream, Royal Exchange


Best Actress
Victoria Elliott, Two, Royal Exchange
Lucy van Gasse, Wonderful Town, Lowry
Maxine Peake, Miss Julie, Royal Exchange
Lysette Anthony, Lady Windermere’s Fan, Royal Exchange
Imogen Stubbs, Orpheus Descending, Royal Exchange

Best supporting actor
John Branwell, Alfie, Bolton Octagon
Antony Eden, Taking Steps, Oldham Coliseum
Russell Dixon, Macbeth, Bolton Octagon
Christopher Villiers, The Winslow Boy, Bolton Octagon

Best supporting actress
Natalie Grady, The Daughter-in-Law, Library Theatre
Clare Calbraith, Saturday Night And Sunday Morning, Royal Exchange
Carla Henry, Miss Julie, Royal Exchange
Maggie Service, The Country Wife, Royal Exchange

Best Actor in a Visiting Production
Karl Davies, Henry V and The Winter’s Tale, Lowry
John Owen-Jones, The Phantom of the Opera, Palace
Ray Fearon, Julius Caesar, Lowry
Robert Bathurst, Blue/Orange, Opera House

Best New Play
The Gatekeeper, by Chloe Moss, Royal Exchange Studio
Snookered, by Ishy Din, Oldham Coliseum
Towers Of Babel, by Nick Yardley, 24:7 Theatre Festival
Obama the Mamba, President Of The Slums, by Kevin Fegan, Lowry

Best Actress in a Visiting Production
Josefina Gabrielle, The King and I, Lowry
Elaine C Smith, I Dreamed a Dream, Palace
Sian Phillips, Cabaret, Lowry

Best Performance in a Studio Production
Tricia Kelly, The Gatekeeper, Royal Exchange Studio
Fred Bloom, No Sleep For The Haunted, Lowry Studio
Reuben Johnson, Wrecked, Lowry Studio
Julie Hesmondhalgh, Black Roses, Royal Exchange Studio
Rachel Austin, Black Roses, Royal Exchange Studio

Best Production
The Winslow Boy, Bolton Octagon
Orpheus Descending, Royal Exchange
Arabian Nights, Library Theatre
Wonderful Town, Royal Exchange/The Halle/
Lowry, at the Lowry


Opera

Giulio Cesare, Opera North, Lowry
Xerxes, Royal Northern College of Music
Hansel and Gretel, Clonter Opera
The Maiden in the Tower/ Kashchei The
Immortal, Buxton Festival
Don Giovanni, Opera North, Lowry


Dance

Hofesh Shechter – Political Mother, Lowry
Danza Contemporanea de Cuba, Lowry
Lyric Pieces, Birmingham Royal Ballet, Buxton Opera House
Some Like It Hip Hop, Zoo Nation, Lowry
Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty, New Adventures Production, Lowry


Best Visiting Production

DNA, Hull Truck, Royal Exchange Studio
Love’s Labour’s Lost, Northern Broadsides/
New Vic Theatre, Buxton Opera House
Our Country’s Good, Out Of Joint/Bolton Octagon, at Bolton Octagon
Julius Caesar, Royal Shakespeare Company, Lowry
Blue/Orange, Theatre Royal Brighton production, Opera House


Best Musical
The Phantom of the Opera, Palace
Carousel, Lowry
9 – 5, Opera House
American Idiot, Palace
The Lion King, Palace

Best Special Entertainment
The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy Radio Show Live!, Opera House
Translunar Paradise, Lowry
Star Cross’d, Oldham Coliseum
Cinderella, Oldham Coliseum

Best Design
Manchester Lines, Library Theatre
Wonderful Town, Lowry
The Hound of the Baskervilles, Oldham Coliseum
Hansel and Gretel, Clonter Opera
Arabian Nights, Library Theatre

Best Studio Production
Days Of Light, Starving Artists, Royal Exchange Studio
Snookered, Tamasha/Oldham Coliseum/Bush
Theatre, Oldham University
Black Roses, Royal Exchange Studio
London, Paines Plough/Live Theatre and Salisbury
Playhouse, Royal Exchange Studio

Best Ensemble
Snookered, Oldham Coliseum
Star Cross’d, Oldham Coliseum
All the Bens, 24:7 Theatre Festival
Arabian Nights, Library Theatre


Best Newcomer
Tamla Kari, Saturday Night And Sunday
Morning, Royal Exchange
Anna Wheatley, Peter Pan, Octagon

Best Fringe
JB Shorts, Real Life Theatre Co,
Joshua Brooks, Manchester
All the Bens, 24:7 Theatre Festival
The Cell, 24:7 Theatre Festival
The Bubbler, Studio Salford

Review: Collaborators, National Theatre

“It’s man versus monster Mikhail, and the monster always wins”

Apparently the play Collaborators was sent to the National Theatre on spec and as it is now opening in the Cottesloe (this was a preview) in a production directed by Nicholas Hytner and starring Simon Russell Beale and Alex Jennings amongst others, it would perhaps suggest that anyone could be in with a chance of getting a play on the stage. But things are rarely as simple as they seem and although this is the debut play from John Hodge, he is a highly experienced screenwriter whose credits include Trainspotting, Shallow Grave and The Beach. His play riffs on historical fact to portray an imagined relationship between Russian playwright Mikhail Bulgakov and one of his biggest fans, Joseph Stalin, who commissioned him to write a play about his life for his sixtieth birthday.

Set in Moscow 1938 with the repressive regime well established and the secret police encouraging people to inform on dissident neighbours, Bulgakov had been forced into the difficult position of compromising his biggest success – The White Guard (a recent great success here at the NT) – to make it politically palatable for Stalin and accepting the banning of many of his other works due to their subversive message. Thus when he was offered the chance to write the Stalin play, it made both artistic sense – in finally getting his work on the stage again, and economic sense – in that he was able to negotiate a new apartment and a much better standard of living for him and his wife. The play imagines a series of meetings between the two, getting to know each other as the play gets written but whilst Bulgakov seems to get closer to Stalin and his viewpoints, his friends and associates are left living a life of increasing fear and intimidation. Continue reading “Review: Collaborators, National Theatre”