AKA the one that doesn’t work and the one that you should avoid if you’re feeling angsty about the current situation – approach Spooks Series 6 with caution
“The only option will be national quarantine and burial pits”
Series 6 is one of the trickier ones to watch right now so be warned – it opens with a two-parter called ‘The Virus’ which makes for a eerily chilling watch. It’s also a curious season as whilst the introduction of a series-long storyline – Iran seeking to gain nuclear capability – for the first time seems like it should work no problem, the reality doesn’t hang together quite as well as it ought.
The major level conspiracy theory takes too long to click into gear, and never really reaches the high-stakes territory it needs to hit home hard. The ‘mole in MI-5’ thread doesn’t pay off convincingly, recruiting another journalist off the street tests the patience (sorry Ben) and where one fake-out death of a major character might be permitted, two in the space of three episodes feels lazy. A major disappointment following the highs of Series 5.
Absolute zero, it’s as if she never existed. Fucking Harry. Continue reading “Lockdown TV Review: Spooks Series 6”
“Sometimes it grieves me that I have never loved anyone. I don’t think I’ve ever been loved either. It really distresses me”
Trevor Nunn’s revisit of his production of Scenes from a Marriage for the St James Theatre was due to open last week but untimely and persistent illness for one of its leads, Mark Bazeley, meant that a series of early performances were cancelled and its opening postponed until tonight. And we could all probably do with some of whatever he took to get well as alongside the glorious Olivia Williams, there’s some extraordinary work going on here in this adaptation by Joanna Murray-Smith of Ingmar Bergman’s timeless classic, first seen at Coventry’s Belgrade back in 2008 with Nunn’s then-wife Imgen Stubbs and Iain Glen.
Over fifteen or so ‘scenes’ spanning a decade, we see the portrayal of Johan and Marianne’s marriage from the opening (dubious) highlight of being interviewed for a magazine on their 10th wedding anniversary through the trials of painful losses and abject betrayals into the battlefield of bitter recriminations, the divorce courts and beyond. It probes into the state of marriage with unblinking precision, peeling away the layers of complacency that settle into long-running relationships and revealing the truth about how people really feel about each other, no matter how messy or raw it becomes.
At its best, this is coruscating, blood-pumping stuff. Its blistering take on the institution of marriage is spell-binding as closeness is corrupted and intimacies become injurious – they say familiarity breeds contempt but it has rarely been so uncompromising as this. Williams cracks open Marianne’s veneer of domesticated bliss to reveal a mass of insecurities, anguished desperation at the prospect of being abandoned that is near-impossible to watch, along with glimmers of razor-sharp wit and intelligence to make her engagingly complex.
And Bazeley is excellent as mid-life-crisis-stricken Johan, never afraid of showing this man’s narcissism and cruelty for what it is as he chases personal desires, a new piece of skirt, at the expense of his wife and (unseen) child, exposing his character’s weaknesses with skill, yet always maintaining a credible lived-in-ness with Williams’ Marianne that makes them utterly believable as a well-worn couple, inextricably connected even as they tear each other apart. The only criticism I could wager comes with a particular jump in time which occurs late on and which exculpates some rather heinous business, Bergman/Murray-Smith ducking the exploration of one key aspect of the deterioration of this partnership.
Scenes are interspersed with snippets of home videos which are surprisingly effective; Shane Attwooll, Melanie Jessop and Aislinn Sands provide sterling support as a range of peripheral characters; and the piles of furniture that are loaded on either side of the set, ferried on and off by capable stage-hands, neatly suggest the accumulated piles of baggage that weigh us all down. Nunn directs with a surprisingly nifty sense of pace and though he doesn’t specify if we’re in Bergman’s Sweden, his own London or anywhere else for that matter, it never matters –it could be anywhere, anytime, any of us.
Photos: Nobby Clarke
Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes (with interval)
Programme cost: £3.50
Booking until 9th November
“So wise, so young, they say, do never live long”
I picked on this radio adaptation of Richard III to be my companion on a particularly long journey over the weekend since it came in at nearly three hours of running time, but hadn’t anticipated that it would be as dull and unengaging as it was and consequently I struggled to get to the end of it. Quite why this should be I’m not entirely sure, it is competently spoken throughout – Douglas Henshall taking on the title role – but it never gripped me, it never seemed to transcend the medium to come alive and sound real rather than an academic exercise and so it left me most disappointed indeed.
“If I’d known we were being invited to an orgy, I’d’ve stopped in Burnley”
This set of adaptations of six of The Canterbury Tales from 2003 make an interesting if baffling set of TV films. Taking inspiration from Chaucer’s writings and setting them in modern-day contexts, six different writers were chosen to try and find a happy medium between remaining true to the spirit of the originals and also making them accessible for a modern day audience not necessarily familiar with them. As I fall into that latter category (I’ve seen a theatrical adaptation but have never read them), my observations can only really thus reflect the tales as pieces of television in and of themselves rather than as the adaptations that they also are. That said, it doesn’t change the fact that disc 1 is significantly superior to disc 2.
First up was Peter Bowker’s take on The Miller’s Tale where Dennis Waterman’s publican runs his establishment with his attractive and much younger wife Alison. Played by Billie Piper, she lives for the weekly karaoke nights that she dominates and when a mysterious and charming stranger played by James Nesbitt arrives claiming to be a talent scout, her head is filled with promises of what could be. Nesbitt’s charisma serves him well as the silver-tongued Nick who schemes his way into the affections and purses of many around him, but this is a Piper still growing into her acting style and against Waterman’s dour husband, it never really grabbed me as a story. Continue reading “DVD Review: The Canterbury Tales (1)”
“Duty first, self second”
I hadn’t watched the film of The Queen since seeing it at the cinema back when it was released in 2006 and I have to say I quite enjoyed watching it again. Watching it at a time when admiration for the monarch is rather high given the celebration of her 50 years of service, it is a little hard to credit the way in which public opinion swung so viciously against her and the Royal Family in the aftermath of the death of Diana Princess of Wales and the hugely unexpected outpouring of public grief. Peter Morgan depicts a fictional account of the events that followed, though with so much still fresh in the mind, and documentary footage included in Stephen Frear’s film, there’s a sometimes uneasy mix of truth and fiction.
Central to the film is of course Helen Mirren’s Oscar-winning turn as the monarch, completely caught unawares by the shift in public mood and unable to seek refuge in the comfort of age-old protocol as the hands-on government of Tony Blair demands a different way of reacting than she has ever been used to before. Mirren is undoubtedly excellent, steering clear of outright impersonation and finding a vein of dry wit which makes the quieter moments of the film some of the best. She is aided by Michael Sheen returning to the role of Tony Blair, which he really has now made his own, as the PM who seizes the moment to lead the country and is determined to take the monarchy with him, kicking and screaming into a new era. Continue reading “DVD Review: The Queen”
“Sometimes we have to take care of things we’re frightened of”
After winning London Theatre of the Year in The Stage’s awards and the considerable success of The Kitchen Sink before Christmas, expectations are certainly riding high at the Bush Theatre as Josie Rourke’s final season as Artistic Director continues. Our New Girl is a play by Nancy Harris, who’s also playing at the Gate with her Kreutzer Sonata, which on first glance bears similarities to Tom Wells’ play as it is set largely in a kitchen, though we soon come to see we’re in a whole other universe (with better plumbing).
Hazel has given up her high-flying career as a top lawyer to run an olive oil importing business from home to allow her to spend more time at home with son Daniel and an imminent new arrival; her plastic surgeon husband Richard is away in Haiti on a charitable mission and has engaged Annie, an Irish nanny to help out around the house. But the picture-perfect suburban lifestyle is showing severe cracks: no-one is buying olive oil, Daniel is something of a problem child to say the least and Richard neglected to tell Hazel about the fact that he was getting professional help for her. That the nanny is seemingly perfect at her job only raises Hazel’s hackles further and as things begin to take a more sinister turn, it seems her suspicions may not be entirely baseless. Continue reading “Review: Our New Girl, Bush Theatre”
I’m not hugely proud of it, but I feel I ought to be honest in telling you that we left this at the interval. Hence this review of Chekhov’s The Seagull is technically a review of the first half but wild horses could not have dragged us back into the Lyttelton at the National Theatre, no matter how much I love Juliet Stevenson. It is presented here in a new version by Martin Crimp, condensed and stripped of its location, so that it is now set in some unidentified locale, a non-specific netherland which was quite disorientating. And combined with Katie Mitchell’s highly individualistic approach to directing, it means that this is most definitely Chekhov with a twist.
And I didn’t like it. At all. So many of the directorial choices were just annoying: the tendency towards the naturalistic speaking style meant that far too many crucial lines were swallowed up, most criminally in Nina’s monologue; even when they were loud enough, the idea to have the domestic servants continually running across the stage throughout the scenes resulted in more distraction away from the clear delivery of lines; the dim lighting restricts how much of the actors’ faces you can see (on the one hand this forces you to watch their physical performance more, but on the other, for a lip-reader like me, it was a nightmare). Continue reading “Review: The Seagull, National Theatre”