TV Review: Messiah – The Harrowing (2005)

Helen McCrory and Maxine Peake help elevate Messiah – The Harrowing to arguably the series’ devastatingly effective high point

“See beyond the victim, see the killer”

The first series of Messiah is certainly one of the best, setting the wheels in motion for an effective crime series, but I’d argue that it is the fourth instalment Messiah – The Harrowing that is the best of them all. The arrival of a new writer – Terry Cafolla – releases the show from the baggage of its legacy which seemed to weigh the last series one and produces something that is really, well, harrowing.

Harking back to that first series and its connecting device of people being killed in the style of the Apostles, the murderous connection here ends up being Dante’s The Divine Comedy and its descent into hell. And weighted around the death by suicide of the daughter of one of their colleagues, Red and his team (with Maxine Peake’s DS Clarke now in for a retired Kate) find themselves once again up against the darkest parts of human nature. Continue reading “TV Review: Messiah – The Harrowing (2005)”

Re-review: War Horse, New London

“Do I look like an effing equine expert?”

The theatrical behemoth that is War Horse shows no signs of flagging (or ending up as a Tesco burger just yet…) but as someone who is easily freaked out by puppets and isn’t particularly keen on horses, its charms have eluded me somewhat. I was taken to see the show for my birthday in 2011 after declaring it was the only way I would ever see it (review here) and from the awkwardly placed cheap seats in the side circle, it was a difficult place from which to try and challenge my preconceptions. Surprisingly for me though, it was the actual play I had the biggest problem with rather than the puppets. 

But when the opportunity presented itself to go again with a friend who had never seen the show before, I couldn’t resist the temptation to revisit the show and revisit my opinion with something less of the original baggage I went with. And with this somewhat different mindset and also aided by far superior seats, I did find myself enjoying it far more than I had anticipated. Indeed I welled up more than during the film of Les Misérables, leaving me questioning just who I’ve turned into! 

Being prepared for what was actually happening onstage rather my expectations opened my eyes to the charming nature of the first half (though I’d still roast that goose given half a chance) and there are undeniably magical moments of theatre that come from Handspring’s puppetry, not least the first appearance of the adult Joey which not even familiarity with the puppet can dull. (And in today’s economic climate, who could honestly deny the NT the invaluable marketing opportunities from showcasing one of their greatest successes). 

But even in this happier state of affairs, some doubts still persisted about the show as a whole. The story is really quite slight as it races across Devon cornfields and then French battlefields as little time is ever devoted to these characters – why does Albert apparently have no friends in the village, major plots points like cousin Billy’s shell-shock and Muller’s dramatic volte-face are quickly despatched with no depth. And structurally, there is little disguising the way in which the show lurches from set piece to set piece – the folk music hauntingly sung by Bob Fox is undoubtedly atmospheric but sits awkwardly, functional rather than integral, an altogether too easy way of manipulating emotion in a story that really shouldn’t need it. 

And I suspect this stems from the tension that comes from adapting a children’s book for a wider market which remains family-friendly. Nick Stafford’s adaptation of Michael Morpurgo’s novel evokes much of the desperate horror of conflict, but the central thrust of the story with its repeatedly equine soft focus is simply too laden with saccharine sentimentality for the brutally effective First World War story that is hinted at elsewhere. Of course in the end, it matters little: the show continues to do great business, remarkably so for a play, and for all my caveats, this is the kind of theatre that people will remember. 

Running time: 2 hours 40 minutes (with interval)

Booking until 26th October for the current booking period


I won’t be posting for a few days so I thought I’d leave you an out-of-office message so you’d know nothing was wrong – I have coping strategies in place to manage six days without theatre (though celebrating my birthday in Florence with friends will certainly help…!).

And as a birthday present to you, my readers, I’ve selected some of my favourite current videos for your viewing pleasure.   Continue reading “Out-of-Office”

Review: War Horse, New London Theatre

“Will you just shut up about your blimmin’ horse”

Those of you that know me, or have read a few reviews on here, will know that I have something of an aversion to puppets, specifically puppetry that tries to be realistic in its portrayal – Avenue Q’s fluffy monsters are fine in that respect – but something about the mimicry of ‘real life’ has never been something I have enjoyed watching and indeed freaks me out a little bit. Throw into the mix horses, an animal of which I am not keen, and it is perhaps unsurprising that I have never been to see War Horse. Nor had I ever intended to, but I made the mistake of saying that the only way I would go was if someone bought me a ticket for my birthday…and lo, guess what happened…

Adapted by Nick Stafford from Michael Morpurgo’s children’s book, War Horse has been one of the biggest theatrical success stories of recent years: originally playing at the National Theatre in 2007, then returning for a revival the next year and then transferring into the West End in March 2009 where it has become one of the best selling shows in town, a genuine fixture at the tucked-away New London Theatre where its success shows no signs of abating, especially in the reflected glow of its award-winning sister production on Broadway. Quite why this is, I have to say still eludes me having seen the show, I couldn’t tell you what the magic ingredient is in here that has led to its enduring achievements aside from offering one of the most overly sentimental theatrical experiences possible. Continue reading “Review: War Horse, New London Theatre”