Oof, the start of the downfall…Series 9 of Spooks turns into the Lucas North show with terrible ramifications
“Do you know how I knew it was true? Because for the first time you made sense”
It couldn’t last, two strong series of Spooks back-to-back were undone by the horrors of Series 9. And it needn’t have been this way, it opens with a great 10 minutes. Ros;s funeral! A proposal! Harry as an assassin! Ruth getting called “that dogged, brilliant bitch”! But new head writers Jonathan Brackley and Sam Vincent then have the trickier task of reconstructing a new team, and don’t quite nail it with Sophia Myles’ Beth and Max Brown’s Dimitri only ever appearing in shades of beige.
Worse though, is the shifting of the entire season’s narrative onto Richard Armitage’s Lucas who – dun dun dur – is actually someone else called John Bateman, whose torturously wrangled personal history is dragged out through the presence of Iain Glen’s Vaughan. Undoing all the good work that Armitage had done in building the fascinating ambiguities of Lucas North, the entire John Bateman storyline was a huge mis-step and ultimately indulges Spooks at its worst.
Never better than turning Harry down, she’s a vital steadying presence in a show that badly needs it. Continue reading “Lockdown TV Review: Spooks Series 9”
The Secret of Crickley Hall is a disappointing ghost story that not even Suranne Jones can rescue
“Hands up who wants to move out of here
‘Hands up who wants to know where Cam is?'”
You know how it is. You nod off while you’re watching your son at the playground and then he disappears. And then 11 months later you move to the north and find yourself in a haunted mansion where his spirit starts talking to you. Such is the world of The Secret of Crickley Hall, which flits between affecting family drama and haunted house hokum as it follows its parallel timestreams.
Adapted by Joe Ahearne from James Herbert’s novel (airing on the BBC on 2012), the current-day trials of the relocated Caleigh family run alongside the experience of the group of orphans who were evacuated there in 1943. At the heart of the story lies Eve, wracked with guilt over the disappearance of her son Cam, the conviction that she has some kind of sixth sense leaving her susceptible to the torrid history of her new home. Continue reading “TV Review: The Secret of Crickley Hall (2012)”
“I am the Angel Gabriel
‘And I’m the Queen of Sheba’”
I was pointed towards this DVD of the Young Vic’s version of The Nativity after failing to be impressed by either film version I watched a couple of weeks ago, and even if something is usually lost in the filming of theatrical work, David Farr’s adaptation of the story is proof positive of how effective the medium of theatre can really be. Designed for young people (but equally the young at heart), this physical, in-the-round production had me captivated and much more moved than either of the overly-literal films.
For this telling is conscious of the sense of wondrous magic that ought to accompany the Nativity story, the others failed in trying to make a credible world in which these events might have unfolded, this succeeds in recognising the power of just believing, no matter what it is one believes. So a beggarman turns into a glorious Angel Gabriel, the donkey carrying Joseph and Mary tells them a tale of wise King Solomon, the souls of the children massacred under Herod’s orders are given a beautifully bright future. Continue reading “DVD Review: The Nativity (Young Vic)”
“I like maths, and I like outer space. And I also like being on my own”
One of the most successful plays of 2012 (and indeed my personal fourth-best play of the year) was the National Theatre’s adaptation of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time so it was little surprise to hear that it would transfer into the West End, albeit a little belatedly. So from the immersive in-the-round staging of the Cottesloe, it has now graduated to the much larger proscenium of the Apollo but where one might argue it has lost a little something of what made it so intimately special first time round, the transfer expands the physical and visual language of Marianne Elliott’s production to great effect to create something even more theatrical.
Mark Haddon’s novel was inescapable as it rose to cult status and it is impressive that Simon Stephens’ adaptation manages to create something new, albeit entirely recognisable, out of the story. I still remain unconvinced by the touch of meta-business of the characters putting on a play of the story that is largely narrated by Niamh Cusack’s achingly kind Siobhan, but otherwise it is a sensitive and witty re-telling of the tale of Christopher Boone, a teenager who sees the world in an entirely different way to many of us and who is swept up in a personal odyssey spearheaded by his discovery of the body of his neighbour’s dog with a garden fork through him. Continue reading “Re-review: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, Apollo Theatre”
“Sometimes we don’t see everything that’s going on”
A tale of how the supernatural can linger in the same house, Marchlands was an ITV drama originally broadcast in early 2011. Written by Stephen Greenhorn and set in Yorkshire, it follows the fortunes of three families who all live in the same house. In 1968, Ruth and Paul are mourning the death of their 8 year old daughter Alice but suffering from a serious lack of communication and stifled by living with his parents. In 1987, the Maynard family struggle to deal with young Amy’s invisible best friend whose arrival coincides with all sorts of strange happenings. And in 2010, Mark and Nisha return to the village of his childhood, but secrets from the past threaten their future and that of their unborn child.
Greenhorn’s writing cleverly sets up and slowly unravels a different set of mysteries in each of the strands, whilst also introducing overlapping elements which intertwine across the years. Jodie Whittaker’s Ruth, dismissed as a hysterical grieving mother, brings a tortured distress to her determination to find out the truth behind her daughter’s drowning; Dean Andrews and Alex Kingston pair up brilliantly as the 80s couple whose children are inexplicably caught up in Alice’s web; and Shelley Conn is convincing as the modern-day new mother, stressed from the demands of parenthood, the loneliness of her new home, the mysteries that her husband, the ever delectable Elliot Cowan, won’t reveal. And then there is Anne Reid, in scintillating form as a woman vital to all of the stories. Continue reading “DVD Review: Marchlands”
“People don’t want to hear the answer to a maths problem in a play”
Back in 2003, Mark Haddon’s Whitbread Prize-winning novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time was somewhat inescapable. A murder mystery told from the perspective of Christopher, its quasi-Asperger’s Syndrome-suffering main protagonist whose investigations open up further mysteries that irrevocably change his neatly ordered life, it charmed many a reader with its quirky format and unique voice. It didn’t seem an automatic choice for a theatrical adaptation it has to be said but Marianne Elliott and the National Theatre have turned their hand to it regardless, employing a playwright who has had a ridiculously prolific year so far – Simon Stephens – to adapt it.
I caught the first preview, as I wanted to see it before I went on holiday, and as I missed out on tickets in the first round, I ended up in the ‘pit’, essentially a row of seats at ground level around the Cottesloe which has been reconfigured into the round by Bunny Christie in a design which is always visually arresting and endlessly surprising. Paule Constable’s excellent lighting design works beautifully with the swirling projection work, sequences of numbers tumbling all around, and Elliott has brought in Scott Graham and Steven Hoggett of Frantic Assembly to lend their inimitable style to some of the movement. It is a production that is overflowing with ideas, perhaps a few too many at the moment and the preview period will help refine this a little, but the way in which they combine to powerfully affecting effect cleverly stretches our sensory experience to suggest how differently some see the world. Continue reading “Review: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time, National Theatre”
“Over the last year, it feels like it’s all falling apart…in this country…across the world…”
Mike Bartlett can probably lay claim to being one of the most interesting new British playwrights to emerge this century, steadily building his oeuvre of plays that pick at modern life and expose its shortcomings… And as his profile increases, so too have the stature of the commissions, moving from the Royal Court – where I saw his Cock – to the Cottesloe at the National Theatre with last year’s Earthquakes in London and now graduating to the Olivier – the youngest writer in 10 years to be staged there – with his latest new play 13.
What is it all ‘about’ I hear you say. Well if that question is foremost in your mind then it is likely that you may be disappointed with 13, as it eschews a conventional sense of narrative for the creation of apocalyptic foreboding in a contemporary London that feels all too realistic. For it is a piece of writing that feels incredibly pertinent, full of up-to-the-minute references to public disorder, social media, student riots and the Arab Spring, concerning a society wracked with disturbing dreams and a crippling uncertainty. What Bartlett alights on is the importance of belief, not necessarily in God but having some conviction that things will be ok if we trust our instincts, and the succour that is gained from collecting as a group behind such beliefs. Continue reading “Review: 13, National Theatre”