TV Review: The Crown, Series 4 Episodes 1-3

I ration myself to Episodes 1-3 of Series 4 of The Crown in the first instance but find it is losing its lustre a little

“I’m struggling to find any redeeming features in these people at all”

Kicking off in 1977, Series 4 of The Crown swiftly moves into my lifetime with its second scene taking place in 1979, although not quite into events that I remember, at least in these first three episodes. And with the arrival of both Diana Spencer and Margaret Thatcher on the scene, there’s quite the decade to explore.

But something has gone a little awry for me and The Crown. The sheer scope of Peter Morgan’s writing means that there’s a mahoosive ensemble at work here but the nature of his construction of episodes that drill down to intimate focus means that there’s huge gaps and terrible wastage, particularly of Helena Bonham Carter’s delicious Princess Margaret. Continue reading “TV Review: The Crown, Series 4 Episodes 1-3”

10 of my top moments in a theatre in 2019

Flashes of excellence can be found in the midst of any production so this list celebrates some of those breath-taking and/or memorable moments that really made theatregoing enjoyably fun this year

For reference, here’s my 2018 list, 2017 list2016 list2015 list and 2014 list.

Crying with laughter at the VAULT

I don’t think I have laughed so much and so helplessly for a long time as I did with improv group Sorry.

Jessica Hung Han Yun’s extraordinary lighting in Equus

Ned Bennett’s production of Equus had so much to commend but it was Jessica Hung Han Yun’s lighting work that really stood out for me Continue reading “10 of my top moments in a theatre in 2019”

TV Review: The Crown Series 3

Series 3 of The Crown sees new actors in across the board but Olivia Colman is sadly no Claire Foy. Helena Bonham Carter rocks though

“Sometimes duty requires one to put personal feelings…
‘And frivolity”
…aside”

Doing little to dispel rumours that she isn’t a Time Lord, The Crown takes its cues from Doctor Who as Series 3 sees the Queen regenerate from Claire Foy to Olivia Colman. And not just that, the whole cast of main players has been replaced as this new company will take us through the next couple of series. It’s a clever move, considering the spain of history that the show takes but it is also a little sad to lose such excellent performances as Vanessa Kirby’s Princess Margaret, Victoria Hamilton’s Queen Mum, Alex Jennings and Lia Williams as Edward and Wallis and of course, Foy’s exceptional work.     

Series 3 then, takes us from 1964 to 1977, featuring such notable events as the Aberfan tragedy, the moon landing and the arrival of Camilla in Charles’ life. And with its many millions and pick of the white acting talent in this country, it remains eminently watchable. That said, something has shifted for me and it just doesn’t feel as effective as the first two seasons. A large element of this is the way series creator and main writer Peter Morgan has structured the show, choosing to maintain a massive ensemble of recurring characters but keeping the focus, and turnover, of episodes relentlessly tight. Continue reading “TV Review: The Crown Series 3”

Review: Sorry, VAULT Festival

The joy in improv is being right there in the room and with the comedians of Sorry, there’s such joy, catch them at the VAULT Festival in March

“Sorry I’m late, there were fishermen wanking on the Northern Line”

Improv done well is one of the greatest pleasures I know, and Sorry’s take on the form, which is inexplicably only playing at the VAULT Festival for a couple of dates, has to be some of the best I’ve seen. Over the hour of inspired improvised insanity, the audience was crying with laughter, half the company were helpless too and as ever, you had to be there to even begin to comprehend how funny it was.

To provide the inspiration for their improv, Sorry’s shows begin with a chat with a special guest (tonight saw them invite Dust playwright Milly Thomas) which throws up all sorts of ideas which are then incorporated into the comedy routine that follows. Thomas proved extremely game, revealing a hatred for salmon and a love for giant freaky dolls among other things, which set us off for great things. Continue reading “Review: Sorry, VAULT Festival”

2019 What’s On Stage Award nominations

As we move towards the year end, so award season gets into full swing and What’s On Stage have now revealed their nominations celebrating everyone who works in theatre apart from sound designers and musical directors. As ever, these awards tend to work around which fanbase can weaponise the strongest and so there’s lots of love for shows which might not necessarily be troubling many other shortlists…

Still, am liking the recognition for Milly Thomas and Dust, Es Devlin’s luminous set work for Girls & Boys, and Six and The Grinning Man getting into the cast recording category (though can’t quite work out how Come From Away fits into there as well…). And it’s a bit sad that the way their eligibility period works means that Hamilton comes up against Company, making the supporting actress/actor categories ridiculously difficult to choose between.

You can vote here until 31st January, and winners will be announced on 3rd March.

Continue reading “2019 What’s On Stage Award nominations”

Review: Dust, Soho

A piercingly effective and surprisingly funny at the impact of suicide – Dust has already sold out at the Soho Theatre in London but returns may be available.

“I’ve been dead for three days”

If you don’t laugh, you’ll cry. Given that Milly Thomas’ one-woman show Dust is centred on a young person’s suicide, there’s a surprising amount of humour contained therein. It’s of the darkest, most mordant kind of course, but it does mean that the emphasis of the writing skates a little close to the surface.

Alice decides to end it all but when she wakes in a hospital, it turns out she hasn’t succeeded quite how she wanted. For though she is dead, she hasn’t passed on and is forced to observe the aftermath of her decision to end her life, bear witness to the impact it has on her friends and family, the loved ones left behind. Continue reading “Review: Dust, Soho”

Review: Cargo, Arcola Theatre

“We’re all in the same boat…”

One of the shrewder observations of recent weeks has been the puncturing of the declamatory announcements that the UK has become impossible to live in and that emigration was now necessary after just a few days of turmoil. For when you compare that to the issues that cause immigration now, for example more than five years of civil war, huge swathes of towns and cities – even Syria’s largest city Aleppo – literally bombed out, then you see the sense of perspective that is sorely needed.

Issues like this ran around my head as I sat down to watch Tess Berry-Hart’s new play Cargo (a snippet of which I was able to see at the excellent Refugees Welcome event in May). Among the many strings to Berry-Hart’s bow is her role as a key co-ordinator for Calais Action and so this is clearly a writer who knows of what she speaks when it comes to refugees. But taking a different spin on the subject, Cargo imagines (or should that be slightly embellishes…) a near-future dystopian Britain that is the land people are trying to flee.

It’s an effective technique, one which tumbles the audience directly into the experience of those forced to flee the sanctity of their homeland. Max Dorey’s design reconfigures the Arcola’s studio into a shipping container and we’re plonked on crates and rubbish bags for seats, straining to hear the whispered beginnings of the play which opens in darkness as three young people stowaway in hope of reaching the welcoming security of Europe. But have they leapt from the frying pan into the fire, as the desperate measures they’ve taken continue to threaten them. Continue reading “Review: Cargo, Arcola Theatre”

Review: Refugees Welcome, Southwark Playhouse

“We’re privileged to welcome you here”

Something a bit different for a Sunday but definitely worthwhile, Refugees Welcome saw a curated collection of performances exploring the themes of displacement, exodus and the humanitarian disaster of the refugee crisis through the medium of theatre, comedy and poetry. Organised by David Mercatali in support of Calais Action and all their advocacy work as well as aid support for displaced people in camps and hotspots across Europe, it proved a powerful programme of thought-provoking work.

For me, it was most fascinating to how consider how theatre in particular responds to contemporary crises, the speed of response somewhat limited by form, the nature of response dictated by swift-changing news agendas. So the excerpt from Anders Lustgarten’s 2015 play Lampedusa, performed by Louise Mai Newberry and the playwright, felt horribly like last year’s news because we’re not being still confronted with the images of overcrowded boats crossing the Med. But the snippet of Tess Berry-Hart’s Cargo, soon to be seen at the Arcola, reminded us that this is not a problem that is going away, and that (certain) theatres are not shying away from. Continue reading “Review: Refugees Welcome, Southwark Playhouse”