TV Review: The Girl Before

A glossy psychological thriller that twists and turns entertainingly, The Girl Before is a nice bit of luxury TV

“I don’t think Facebook follows me into the shower”

Adapted by JP Delaney from his novel of the same name, The Girl Before does a clever job of taking all-too-familiar TV thriller tropes and if not subverting them, actually uses them efficiently and effectively, which feels like a more radical act in some ways. So there’s an incredibly glamorous house and a narrative unfolding in two time-periods simultaneously but for once, these choices are entirely justified.   

That house is 1 Folgate Street, an ultra-minimalist architect’s wet dream which has been made available by that architect for an incredibly cheap rent. Only thing is, there’s a whole set of rules you have to abide by, if you pass the interview, in order to maintain the place in keeping with its impossibly stylish aesthetic. And of course, that landlord has a handsome face and a mysterious past which doesn’t bode well for any prospective tenants. Continue reading “TV Review: The Girl Before”

TV Review: Motherland (Series 2)

The second series of Motherland continues to peel back layers of articifice around cultural ideas of motherhood – still bruisingly comic but sometimes just bruising

“Life’s too short to dick about with aubergines”

There’s a boldness to this second series of Motherland that is sometimes breath-taking. The show, created by Sharon Horgan, G*a*a* L*n*h*n, Helen Linehan and Holly Walsh, has never been sentimental about motherhood, brutally comic about the varying difficulties of being a parent/partner/employee/friend all at the same time and being utterly unafraid to show its characters failing at one if not more of them on an episodal basis.  

This second season though, all now available to watch on t’iPlayer, tightens the screws even more, really pushing out the limits of what these people are willing to inflict on others in the name of just getting through the day. It makes for a bracing watch but even I was wondering whether the brutality shouldn’t be reined in just a bit… Continue reading “TV Review: Motherland (Series 2)”

DVD Review: Mamma Mia! (2008)

All hail Mamma Mia! As we tentatively await the sequel, I revisit a film I can’t ever imagine not loving

“I won’t be muscled out by an ejaculation”

With Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again just about to hit cinemas, I thought I’d revisit the original Mamma Mia! film to remind myself of its pleasures, Pierce Brosnan’s singing and all. Released in 2008, it managed that trick of defying a lukewarm critical reception to garnering huge popularity, something repeated by The Greatest Showman (it’s almost as if film critics can’t quite imagine audiences wanting to see a harmlessly fun musical…). 

And that’s what this is in the end, lots of fun and silly with it. Based on the iconic jukebox musical of the same name, it’s a whole load of ABBA songs strung together on a gossamer-light plot of romantic comedy gold. Where it succeeds, as with the musical, is in taking the job at hand most seriously, whilst never taking itself too seriously at all. Songs are in the right places, serving as motors in the narrative, and there’s an integrity to the whole thing, even when its daft as a brush.

Continue reading “DVD Review: Mamma Mia! (2008)”

Review: Fiddler on the Roof, Chichester Festival Theatre

“How can I hope to make you understand”

Though my life has long been filled with musicals, Fiddler on the Roof has never been the one. I’ve only ever seen it the once (2013’s touring version) and though I quite enjoyed it then, I can’t say I was hankering after seeing another production. And though Daniel Evans’ hands are sure indeed when it comes to classic musicals, I found something rather uninspired both about the choice of programming it for his new Chichester home (although it is an absolute banker) and in his production.

It is perfectly decent, and the quality is solidly good throughout. Omid Djalili is an effective presence as Tevye, Tracy-Ann Oberman is very good as Golde, and it is always nice to see Louis Maskell onstage. But Evans is a director (and artistic director) who has made my heart sing with glorious revivals such as My Fair Lady and Show Boat (and Company and Me and My Girl) and I missed that kind of magic emanating from the unforgiving vastness of the Chichester Festival Theatre’s main stage. Continue reading “Review: Fiddler on the Roof, Chichester Festival Theatre”

Review: A Man of No Importance, Salisbury Playhouse

“A good sinner can get into a lot of mischief in a week”

Much like its central character, the charms of A Man of No Importance are gentle and delicate and these remain the watchwords for Gareth Machin’s actor/musician production of this musical for Salisbury Playhouse. Based on a 1994 film and set in early 1960s Dublin, Alfie Byrne is an unassuming bus conductor whose main passion in life is directing his local am-dram society at St Imelda’s. But even that has stagnated with endless runs of The Importance of Being Earnest leaching his creativity so he makes the decision to stage the much more controversial Salome, also by Oscar Wilde, unaware of the tumultuous course of action it will unleash for all concerned.

For the weight of the Catholic Church’s disapproval is a heavy load to bear and as the production is condemned for its blasphemy after local busybodies go running to the monsignor, a light has been shone under the genteel façade of this community and exposed homosexual longings, extramarital affairs and illegitimate pregnancies. Alfie is at the centre of it all as it is his secret `desire for his handsome younger workmate Robbie that precipitates the most seismic change but even as he feels his whole world changing from underneath him, surprises lie in store all along the way. Continue reading “Review: A Man of No Importance, Salisbury Playhouse”

Review: The House of Bernarda Alba, Almeida Theatre

“They are women without men, that’s all”

The list of actresses whom I adore is forever growing and changing but certain women remain constant on it, and one of them – who I never thought I would get to see on stage – is Shohreh Aghdashloo. She completely broke my heart in the film House of Sand and Fog (for which she was Oscar-nominated) and then toyed with our loyalties with a brilliant duplicitous turn in series 4 of 24. So when she was announced as taken on the titular role in the Almeida’s new version of The House of Bernarda Alba, I was ecstatic.

Emily Mann’s adaptation relocates Lorca’s Spanish story to rural Iran and changes a few of the names, but largely keeps the architecture of the play intact (although compressed into 95 minutes here). It is a relocation which is extremely successful, the oppression and repression of female sexuality sadly fitting in as easily here as in Catholic Spain and class issues are common across the world, making this a powerfully affecting, beautifully staged and haunting production that lived up to my every expectation. Continue reading “Review: The House of Bernarda Alba, Almeida Theatre”

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”