TV Review: Unforgotten Series 2 Episode 1

“Maybe we should be concentrating on the suitcase”

In the glut of new crime series that have started this week – Death In Paradise, No Offence – Chris Lang’s Unforgotten stands out for me as a clever twist on a crowded genre, plus it has the bonus of the ever-excellent Nicola Walker in a starring role. Unforgotten’s twist on the crime drama is to completely emphasise the latter over the former, so whilst each series hooks on a cold case brought back to life, the focus is on the lives that have continued in its wake.

The reveal of the format was a highlight of the beginning of the first series, the disparate stories of 4 seemingly unconnected people bound together by the discovery of their phone numbers in the victim’s diary. And this second series wisely sticks largely to the same formula, introducing us to a Brighton gay couple in the process of adopting, a nurse on a cancer ward in London, a teacher applying for a headship in a school in special measures, a young man lying to his mother…all of whom are sure to be linked to the body found in a suitcase in the River Lea. Continue reading “TV Review: Unforgotten Series 2 Episode 1”

TV Review: Line of Duty Series 2

“We underestimated her”

The first series of Line of Duty was well-received by critics and audiences alike, hence a second series of Jed Mercurio’s police show being commissioned. With the centre of the anti-corruption team AC-12’s investigation DCI Gates having reached a conclusion of sorts, their attentions are turned onto Keeley Hawes’ DI Lindsay Denton, the sole survivor of an ambush on a witness protection scheme that leaves three police officers dead. Suspicions are aroused by some suspect decision-making on her part but it’s soon evident that there’s much more to the case, not least in the tendrils that connect it to the past.

Series 1 was very good but Series 2 seriously raises the bar, firstly by engaging in some Spooks-level business in casting the excellent Jessica Raine and well…spoilers, but secondly in getting from Hawes the performance of a lifetime in a masterpiece of a character. Denton is so multi-faceted that she’d beat a hall of mirrors at its own game and from her manipulative use of HR to her way with noisy neighbours to the shocking abuse she suffers in custody to the machinations of her superiors, the slipperiness of this woman is merciless and magisterial in its execution, its inscrutable nature utterly compelling. Continue reading “TV Review: Line of Duty Series 2”

Album Review: Parade (Original London Cast 2007)

“Call for justice! We need justice!
Beat the bastard! Kill the bum!”

Based on historical events from the turn of the last century in Atlanta, Georgia, Jason Robert Brown and Alfred Uhry’s Parade has been something of a slow-burning theatrical success – its original 1998 Broadway run criminally short, ending way before it won 2 Tonys, but later tours and overseas productions cementing its reputation as a sterling piece of new musical theatre. In the UK, Southwark Playhouse had a grand production in 2011 but 2007 saw the Donmar deliver a work of small-scale genius which was captured in its entirety on this double-disc recording.

Perhaps not the most likely of subjects for a piece of musical theatre, the 1913 trial of Jewish factory manager Leo Frank – Bertie Carvel in the role here – for the rape and murder of a 13 year old employee Mary Phagan benefits hugely from the musical treatment. The trial caused a big media sensation in the US and forced an examination of the (not so) latent anti-Semitism in this southern state offering a wide range of opportunities to explore musical styles, estimably executed by Thomas Murray’s 9-strong band playing David Cullen’s new orchestrations.  Continue reading “Album Review: Parade (Original London Cast 2007)”

Radio Review: The Eustace Diamonds, Radio 4

“If only money were not an obstacle”

With fortuitous timing, given how much Trollope I’d read and watched at the tail end of 2012, came this radio adaptation, by noted author Rose Tremain, of The Eustace Diamonds. The manipulative Lizzie Eustace claims ownership of a marvellous diamond necklace, a family heirloom which she claims was given to her by her late husband Florian. As the Eustaces close rank in an attempt to reclaim what they believe should not have left the family, Lizzie looks to find another situation to keep her in the lifestyle she has become accustomed to but finds that the case of these precious stones follows her and blights all her attempts to form new attachments.

We’re 2 episodes in, with one left, and I am really enjoying it this far. Whether the novel is simpler in terms of its dramatis personae or if Tremain has simplified the plot in her adaptation (I’ve not read the novel myself…), it feels like the easiest of Trollope’s stories to follow of the three I have encountered recently, yet it doesn’t suffer for it. Pippa Nixon’s Lizzie is a wonderfully ambiguous figure, an inveterate fibber and yet one doesn’t want to quite dismiss her as a complete liar and as she works her way through the smitten men in her life – Joseph Kloska’s Frank and Jamie Glover’s Lord Fawn, and later Adrian Scarborough’s cheeky Lord George – one can imagine exactly why they fall for her charms. Continue reading “Radio Review: The Eustace Diamonds, Radio 4”

DVD Review: Personal Affairs

“It’s always going to be someone else’s lipstick”

A completely random discovery, via an excellent bundle of birthday presents, was this BBC3 series from 2009, Personal Affairs. In its easy mixture of comedy and drama of 4 City PAs trying to discover what happened to one of their friends who has disappeared, it was rather enjoyable if hardly ground-breaking over its six episodes. But where it was huge amounts of fun was in the sheer number of theatrical spots it contained which made it a highly entertaining watch for me.

Whether it was Annabel Scholey as Scouse X-Factor wannabe Midge or Ruth Negga’s strident temp Sid amongst the leads, Al Weaver as a plotting boyfriend or a gorgeously bearded Kieran Bew (correctly assessed as the main attraction for me!)  as a potential love interest and Mark Benton and Emily Bruni amongst the bosses, the regular cast held much delight. Combined with a supporting guest cast which featured the likes of Ben Lloyd-Hughes, Mark Bonnar and Annette Badland, the acting was predictably of a high quality which ensured it was always extremely watchable. Continue reading “DVD Review: Personal Affairs”

Review: The Duchess of Malfi, Old Vic

“I account this world a tedious theatre, for I do play a part in’t ‘gainst my will”

Usual caveats and all that, this was an early preview of The Duchess of Malfi that I caught at the Old Vic, and so bear that in mind throughout. Positive comments on previews never seem to cause any controversy but without giving too much away about the direction this review (of a preview) will take, that is hardly likely to be the issue here. I have to say that for the first time, especially at a big theatre, I really felt like I was watching something in the middle of its creative process, that really was still trying to find its feet. Which I suppose is what some would argue the preview period is about but when ticket prices of up to £45 are being charged, it does feel a bit rich.

Marking Jamie Lloyd’s directorial debut at the Old Vic, this revival of The Duchess of Malfi was largely most anticipated by me for attracting Eve Best back onto the London stage (though Lloyd’s treatment of She Stoops To Conquer also quite whetted the appetite). Her Beatrice in the Globe’s Much Ado About Nothing really was one of those once-in-a-lifetime performances that I’ll remember for years to come, and so though it went against my natural instincts, I forked out for a good stalls seat (Row F) for this in anticipation of theatrical yumminess. What I got though was something else, a half-baked cake of a show with what feels like a set of serious misjudgements and lasted well over three hours.

This was first experience of The Duchess of Malfi (I’m choosing to skate over the Punchdrunk interpretation as little of it made any impact on me) and so I wonder how much of a difference that made for me. Upon being widowed, the Duchess takes a new lover, below her class, and marries him secretly as her two brothers, Ferdinand and the Cardinal, are determined to control her life and when they find out what she has done, during which time she has had 3 children by him (although how she got away with this I’m not entirely sure), they exact a chilling, oppressive revenge on her. Continue reading “Review: The Duchess of Malfi, Old Vic”

Shows I am looking forward to in 2012

Though the temptation is strong, and the actuality may well prove so, I don’t think I will be catching quite so much theatre in 2012 as I did last year. I could do with a slightly better balance in my life and also, I want to focus a little more on the things I know I have a stronger chance of enjoying.

So, I haven’t booked a huge amount thus far, especially outside of London where I think I will rely more on recommendations, but here’s what I’m currently looking forward to the most: Continue reading “Shows I am looking forward to in 2012”

Review: The Cherry Orchard, National Theatre

“Everything that people say is so much fluff and nothing”

The Cherry Orchard was Anton Chekhov’s final play and although the Old Vic saw Sam Mendes’ Bridge Project tackling it a few years back with a version by Tom Stoppard, it was last seen at the National Theatre a decade ago with Vanessa and Corin Redgrave. This production though sees director Howard Davies reuniting with Andrew Upton with whom he worked on Philistines and The White Guard as they continue to explore 20th century Russian theatre writing and also with leading lady Zoë Wanamaker after their wildly successful collaboration on last year’s All My Sons.

Telling of the terminal decline of the Russian ruling classes at the beginning of the twentieth century, Chekhov’s play is presented in a new version by Andrew Upton which provides a straightforward directness to the text, which is at time effective but also intermittently problematic. For me, it was just too modern for its own good, laced through with random words, colloquialisms and phrases that kept jolting me out of the period setting with some really strange choices, the Nina Simone song lyric being a particularly jarring example. When Upton imposes less on the writing, beautiful and powerful moments arise, it would just be nice if they were allowed to flow better. Continue reading “Review: The Cherry Orchard, National Theatre”

Review: Novecento, Donmar Warehouse at Trafalgar Studios 2

“When you don’t know what it is…it’s jazz”

The second play in the Donmar’s residency at the Trafalgar Studios showcasing their Resident Assistant Directors is Novecento by Italian Alessandro Baricco. Narrated by a single man, Tim Tooney a scruffy trumpet player who tells of a six year period in his younger days spent on a transatlantic liner called the Virginian. It is there where he strikes up a friendship with a pianist called Danny Boodman T.D. Lemon Novecento who, despite having been born on the ship and never having left it in his lifetime, happens to be one of the greatest jazz musicians the world never knew. This is a review of a preview performance, for better or for worse I still stand by my comments here.

Irish director Roisin McBrinn has just the one actor to work with, Mark Bonnar who plays Tooney and delivers his recollections over 100 minutes in a sustained virtuoso performance. This is a feat of great stamina as Bonnar’s intense energy never really flags at all and in certain scenes, like the account of a music duel between Novecento and jazz legend Jelly Roll Morton, he is just electrifying. But to be honest, these moments were few and far between for me. The play is centred on the premise that one is fascinated by this main character whom we never meet but once it has been established that he is a sociopathic recluse, and that comes very early on, there is little other place we go with him and there’s only so much description of amazing jazz playing that one can take before it becomes crushingly repetitive.


The life of a tortured artist in itself is not enough without delving into it but Baricco’s writing is sadly uninterested in digging deeper into his upbringing that has led to this chronic fear of the unknown, the unwillingness to embrace change, maintaining instead an unearned reverence which keeps us at arm’s length from the man behind this legend which is being painted for us. By the time the absurdist twist that comes with Novecento’s arrival in heaven is played out, I was thoroughly disengaged which made for a difficult time as in the intimate space of the Trafalgar it is hard to escape the gaze of the performer.

As with Lower Ninth, there is a good transfer of the Donmar aesthetic to this space: Paul Wills’ design is visually effective making much use of chains but it is Paul Keogan’s lighting that really provides the quality touch. Olly Fox’s score is interesting but is only ever really background music, which in a play about jazz musicians just ends up being frustrating.

Sadly, my abiding memory of this show is the fact that the theatre was absolutely freezing, to the point where people were putting their coats and scarves on, and when I made the suggestion that this could be looked at for future performances to an usher as we left, I was brushed off with a sneering, dismissive ‘that has nothing to do with me darling’. I realise that she might have rather been anywhere else on a Friday night, but being rude to a customer really does leave the wrong impression and as I said, this is now my enduring association with this show.

But even with heating switched on in the theatre, I don’t think that this is a show I would ever enjoy. Despite the best efforts of Bonnar, and he really does work extremely hard, there’s no disguising the paper thin content which is stretched out here over the uninterrupted running time.

Running time: 1 hour 40 minutes (without interval) this was a preview so could well be tightened up before opening night
Programme cost: £2.50
Booking until 20th November

Review: Twelfth Night, Donmar Warehouse at the Wyndham’s Theatre

Following on from a sensational Ivanov with Kenneth Branagh, the Donmar Warehouse West End season continues with this prodution of Twelfth Night, featuring Derek Jacobi as the star name in a very strong cast.

After the snowfall that predictably brought London to a standstill, my journey to the Wyndham’s was extremely torturous and unfortunately put me in a foul mood which did not bode well for an evening at the theatre. And whilst this production had much to dispel the howling wind and cold outside, it didn’t quite achieve the dizzy heights the rave reviews had intimated.

One of those dark comedies full of gender-bending escapades, Twelfth Night requires a certain suspension of disbelief that was just lacking in me tonight. The comedy is there for sure, with some great laugh out loud moments, but there were too many moments where I just wanted to shout out ‘but WHY?’! I felt there wasn’t enough conviction in Viola’s decision to disguise herself, and I had no real sense of which of the men actually really wanted to meet up with ladies or just remain within their own manly (read homoerotic) company.

Continue reading “Review: Twelfth Night, Donmar Warehouse at the Wyndham’s Theatre”