TV Review: Close to Me, Episode 1

The first episode of Channel 4’s new drama Close to Me promises much, with Connie Nielsen and Christopher Eccleston in unsettlingly good form

“How could she have hurt herself so badly just falling down the stairs?”

Based on Amanda Reynolds’ 2017 novel and written by Angela Pell, Close to Me looks set to take the place of the stylish drama of the month. All six of its episodes have been released on All4 but I’m going to resist the urge to binge for now at least, although with Susan Lynch in the cast and Kate O’Flynn yet to appear, this will be quite the effort. 

Connie Nielsen’s Jo has taken a nasty fall down the stairs at home which has left her with a serious case of amnesia, the whole last year gone from her memories. But as she recuperates and tries to piece it back together, it turns out life is a lot more complicated than that, with secrets heaped upon secrets involving both family and friends. Continue reading “TV Review: Close to Me, Episode 1”

TV Review: The Bletchley Circle Series 2

Hattie Morahan makes a more than able replacement for Anna Maxwell Martin in Series 2 of The Bletchley Circle 

“Well ladies, let’s get cracking”

Series 2 of The Bletchley Circle at least has one more episode in it than the first, as it takes the form of two two-part stories but as it is the last season, it is also tinged with sadness. It is also a little curiously structured as Anna Maxwell Martin’s Susan departs after the first story, allowing Hattie Morahan’s Alice Merren – who appears as the protagonist of the opening mystery – to step up and replace her in the group for their final case.

Alice just happens to be another former colleague from Bletchley Park who, as the series opens, is awaiting trial for killing her old flame from those Bletchley days. Julie Graham’s Jean is sure she must be innocent and so reconvenes Lucy, Millie and a reluctant Susan to try and prove her innocence and solve the mysterious connections to a place called Porton Down… Continue reading “TV Review: The Bletchley Circle Series 2”

Review: Backbeat, Duke of York’s

“Do you want to be part of the group, or do you want to be an individual?”

Telling the ‘origin story’ of the Beatles, how they paid their dues as a rock’n’roll covers band in Hamburg with their original line-up of John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Pete Best and Stuart Sutcliffe, Backbeat is actually less Beatles-centric than one might expect. The focus of the show, written by Iain Softley and Stephen Jeffreys from Softley’s 1994 film of the same name, is actually the relationship between original bassist and visual artist Stuart Sutcliffe and the two main figures in his life: best friend Lennon who teaches him guitar so that he can join the band on their trip and abandon art school, and Astrid Kirchherr, a German photographer who falls passionately for him and recognises his true artistic potential.

It is this conflict that forms the backbone of the show – Sutcliffe struggling to balance his best friend and his lover, the band and his art – all underpinned by the knowledge that his cruel early death from a brain haemorrhage came just as the Beatles were about to hit the big time. And it is clear that these are the only really fully-fleshed characters in the show: Nick Blood’s achingly cool and handsome Sutcliffe strikes a magnetically seductive pose, connecting beautifully with Ruta Gedmintas’ coolly composed Astrid and sparking well with Andrew Knott’s bolshy, hero-worshipping Lennon. They make an intriguing threesome and in some ways it is a shame that the show doesn’t get to delve more deeply into these relationships, particularly between Sutcliffe and Lennon. Continue reading “Review: Backbeat, Duke of York’s”

Review: Women Beware Women, National Theatre

Women Beware Women is a cautionary tale of the consequences of the pursuit of wealth, power and lust in the 16th Century Florentine court written by Thomas Middleton. It takes up residence at the National Theatre, in the Olivier, as part of its Travelex season, so lots of £10 tickets should become available when the new season opens for booking to the general public on 30th April.

The plot goes a little something like this: Bianca, the daughter of a wealthy Venetian family, elopes to Florence with a poor merchant’s clerk Leantio. While he’s away on business the Duke of Florence sees Bianca and is determined to seduce her. Bianca leaves her husband when the Duke offers her a life of luxury. In a separate plot line, Isabella is faced with going into a loveless marriage with a rich yet stupid ward. She’s appalled when her uncle Hippolito confesses his love for her. But her aunt Livia, Hippolito’s sister, cunningly persuades Isabella that she isn’t related by blood, so she’s tricked into an incestuous relationship with her uncle. That’s clear, right? Continue reading “Review: Women Beware Women, National Theatre”

Review: The Priory, Royal Court

“No-one wants to be associated with failure…”

Following on from the mammoth successes of the over-rated Jerusalem and the equally highly praised Enron, The Priory has a lot to live up to in maintaining the Royal Court’s current run. A new play by Matthew Wynne, it follows a group of 30-something old friends as they convene on a country house to celebrate New Year’s Eve away from the rat race. Brought together by their mutual friend Kate for reasons of her own, secrets are uncovered and tempers flare as the frustrations of modern living are brought into sharp relief and the question of ‘what is success’ is repeatedly challenged.

Jessica Hynes’s Kate is the emotional centre of this work. Sifting through the emotional detritus of a highly traumatic year, her search for some kind of meaning is what drives the play. Whether its seeking refuge in the company of old friends, the solace of an old love or the temptation of a new faith, Kate’s attempts to deal with her angst seem doomed to failure, and her loneliness, even when surrounded by others is heartbreaking to watch: I found Hynes to be utterly convincing in this part. Continue reading “Review: The Priory, Royal Court”