TV Review: A Very English Scandal

Hugh Grant delivers a career best performance in the hugely enjoyable A Very English Scandal. Just don’t mention your National Insurance card.

“Tell him not to talk. And not to write to my mother describing acts of anal sex under any circumstances whatsoever”

I don’t think I’ve ever been chilled quite so much by the end credits of anything like A Very English Scandal. You know, that bit when you find out what happened next to the people who you’ve just been watching. It helps of course that I knew nothing about the 1970s Jeremy Thorpe affair on which it was based but still, never have 11 dogs and a missing NI card seemed so ominous.

Written by Russell T Davies, adapted from John Preston’s book, and directed by Stephen Frears, A Very English Scandal is a complete breath of fresh air. Perhaps surprisingly for a true-life tale of sex, politics and attempted murder, it has a quirky, almost jolly tone that is hugely enjoyable, deftly comic as it negotiates the would-be Machiavellian moves of a politician desperate to save his skin. Continue reading “TV Review: A Very English Scandal”

Review: The Argument, Hampstead Downstairs

“The crisis is over. Isn’t it…?”

The Hampstead Downstairs continues its strong run of programming with The Argument, further developing already existing creative relationships. This is William Boyd’s first original play, following his adaptation of 2 Chekhov short stories in Longing which played the main house in 2013, and it is directed by Anna Ledwich, who helmed the Olivier-nominated Four Minutes Twelve Seconds here in 2014.

Though it is a much abused term when it comes to theatre marketing, The Argument really does fall into the category of dark comedy. Pip and Meredith are just back from seeing some popcorn flick at the cinema and a disagreement about the flimsiness of the plot snowballs into a titanic argument about the very nature of their relationship, which then cracks under the strain. In a series of two-handers, Boyd then shows us how the ripples of this quarrel impact on their best friends Tony and Jane and her parents Chloe and Frank, provoking new arguments too. Continue reading “Review: The Argument, Hampstead Downstairs”

TV Review: Life in Squares

“We’re living in extraordinary times Virginia”

I think Rachel Freck and I would be very good friends, given the exquisite job she did in casting BBC1 miniseries Life in Squares very much according to my preferences. Phoebe Fox and Eve Best, Lydia Leonard and Al Weaver, James Norton and Rupert Penry-Jones and Elliot Cowan, plus bonus Deborah Findlay and Emily Bruni amongst many more – the stuff of my dreams. So I was already very well-inclined towards this retelling of the travails of the Bloomsbury set, written by Amanda Coe and directed by Simon Kaisjer, before it had even started.

Fortunately it also delivered well over its three hour-long episodes, giving us costume drama with a bit of a difference (and a smattering of raunch as its publicity campaign unnecessarily blurted). Kaisjer’s vision was less opulent fantasy than lived-in reality, albeit through an artistic filter, and so handheld camerawork mixed with everyday costumes to achieve this more rooted ethos. And Coe’s script putting one of the lesser celebrated of the set – Vanessa Bell née Stephens – at the heart of the narrative gave the narrative the freedom to stretch out across multiple timeframe, remaining fresh all the while. Continue reading “TV Review: Life in Squares”

TV Review: WPC 56, Series 1

“Never forget your sole responsibility is to help the men”

I somehow managed to let the first series of WPC 56 pass me by last year. It may have played in the afternoons on BBC1 but anything starring Kieran Bew ought to have been much more firmly on my radar. So in advance of the new series starting, I was pleased to see a rerun which I was able to catch on the good old iPlayer. Created by Dominique Moloney, it tells the story of Gina Dawson, the first Woman Police Constable to join Brinford Constabulary in the West Midlands.

The show managed a great balance between following Dawson’s struggles to be accepted in such a male-orientated work environment – battling not only misogynistic colleagues but also an uncomprehending family and partner – and the series-long narrative about a potential serial killer and the disappearance of two local boys. Over five episodes of 45 minutes, I have to say I really enjoyed it, and not only for Bew’s DI Burns (although that was something of a boon). Continue reading “TV Review: WPC 56, Series 1”

Review: You Can Still Make A Killing, Southwark Playhouse

“It takes a certain kind of person to work in the city”

Nicholas Pierpan has looked previously at the financial sector before in his monologue The Maddening Rain, but in his new play You Can Still Make A Killing which is now coming to the end of its run at the Southwark Playhouse, his focus pulls out much wider than the impact on just one man. Edward and Jack were both traders at Lehman Brothers but their lives took significantly different turns after the company collapsed as the crisis in financial systems across the world began to really bite.

With too much invested in the firm, Edward’s world falls apart and he is left hanging around hopelessly in his old Starbucks, trying to wheedle his way back in through overheard gossip and tips from former colleagues. He eventually gets a job, but at the Financial Regulations Authority (the FSA by any other name), investigating the very nefarious practices that he himself had been involved in and soon the name of his old friend Jack pops up. For Jack managed to somehow keep his plates spinning in the air and kept his job, as ever more inventive ways of bending the system become necessary. Continue reading “Review: You Can Still Make A Killing, Southwark Playhouse”

Review: Uncle Vanya, Arcola

“He understands nothing, achieved little, influenced no-one”

Sad to say, I think I will never fall in love with the new Arcola, or rather Studio 1 there. It comes across as such a difficult, inflexible space with (for me at least) frequent acoustic issues and a loss of what made the old Arcola Street location so special. I’m still hopeful that one show or another there will change my mind soon but my experience at this co-production of Uncle Vanya with Coventry’s Belgrade Theatre did not manage it. Part of it was due to the last-minute nature of my attendance: TfL’s inability to keep a tube moving forced me to miss The Four Stages of Cruelty in Studio 2 and so I was lucky to catch anything at all, sneaking into Studio 1 at the last minute but consequently ending up in terrible seats which ultimately coloured my experience.

This is a new version of Chekhov’s play by Helena Kaut-Howson and Jon Strickland, the latter of whom also takes on the title role whose quiet life in the country is disrupted when society darling relatives come to stay. The new arrivals struggle to get accustomed to the new pace of rural life but it is the household around them who are affected the more as the upheaval forces reassessment of loves, lives and expectations. This adaptation wisely plays up the humour to counterpoint the grim bleakness that typifies much of Chekhov’s work and as per usual, there is the staticness of people trapped in their milieu which can be oh so frustrating to watch. Continue reading “Review: Uncle Vanya, Arcola”

Review: An Inspector Calls, Garrick

“We don’t live alone. We are members of one body. We are responsible for each other.”

Despite being a much-lauded and much-travelled production, and a mainstay of many a GCSE English Lit exam, An Inspector Calls has completely passed me by until now, my first engagement with this play. Time and the Conways at the National was my first Priestley play earlier this year, so I was interested to see another of his plays, especially one so well known. Representing the other side of the coin was my companion for the evening, Aunty Jean a former English teacher who knew the play inside out, so we had the makings of an intriguing night at the theatre.

JB Priestley’s period thriller, adapted here by Stephen Daldry, opens in 1912 with the self-satisfied Birling family celebrating the engagement of daughter Sheila to Gerald Croft. Oozing wealth and pomposity, Arthur Birling takes the opportunity to share his theories on money and success along with the glories of being on the right side of the social divide. Interrupting this cozy evening strides Inspector Goole, who informs them a young local girl has killed herself just hours before. As he quizzes them about her sacking, pregnancy and suicide, the previously composed family gradually falls apart as various revelations about their involvement with the girl come to the surface and how each of them contributed to her downfall. Continue reading “Review: An Inspector Calls, Garrick”