Review: Bad Nights and Odd Days, Greenwich Theatre

Paul McGann and Kerrie Taylor, among others, shine in Bad Nights and Odd Days, a set of four short plays by Caryl Churchill at Greenwich Theatre

“She thinks the sun shines out of your arse, I could tell her different”

In the aftermath of such an epochal event as a global pandemic, you can understand why many a theatre would tend towards the safer, warmer end of programming in order to attract audiences back out once again. Which is why is most gratifying to see some buck that trend, Greenwich Theatre doing so in quite some style in an evening of four short plays by Caryl Churchill entitled Bad Nights and Odd Days.

Predictably, it’s a fascinating, challenging, probing theatrical experience, that really does further cement Churchill’s totemic position in the landscape. From global apocalypses to bedroom conversations, her unmistakable linguistic prowess carves out startling insights into her characters and into the way we all wield words, their meaning so often veiled under layers of need and ambition, love and desperation.  Continue reading “Review: Bad Nights and Odd Days, Greenwich Theatre”

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”

TV Review: Jonathan Creek Specials (2009–2013)

The Jonathan Creek specials from 2009–2013 undo much of the damage from Series 4, with Sheridan Smith largely to thank for that

“I’ve got a very important presentation to Weetabix in five minutes”

After the horror show that was the fourth series, Jonathan Creek disappeared from our TV screens for five years and for the subsequent five, returned only intermittently for three feature-length specials from 2009–2013. And I think the break did everyone a world of good as these episodes rival some of the show’s best in recapturing the sense of investigative fun that lay at its heart.

Chief in this is the casting of Sheridan Smith as wise-cracking paranormal investigator Joey Ross. Their buddy relationship is well drawn, wisely kept clear of any romantic entanglement and yet still deeply affectionate at its heart. Complex, multi-faceted mysteries are allowed to unfold more effectively in the longer format, although Renwick can’t help himself with women as porn stars and clod-hopping trans jokes. For the most part, everything just hangs together  better – until Jonathan get a wife that is…More of that in Series 5. Continue reading “TV Review: Jonathan Creek Specials (2009–2013)”

TV Review: Doctor Who Series 12

Series 12 of Doctor Who goes hard on what we think we know about the Time Lord and finishes in a blaze of glory

“You can be a pacifist tomorrow. Today you just need to survive”

I don’t think I have ever minded anything that happened in Doctor Who so much that I have declared it cancelled, even at the point where all the magnificent character development by Catherine Tate’s Donna was undone in a plot point of real cruelty. So it is hard to take so-called fans of the show seriously when torrents of complaints are unleashed about the sanctity of a world of science fiction that has long enjoyed challenging and expanding what we know about characters we love. (See my Episode 1 review here.)

So it should come as little surprise that I really rather enjoyed series 12 of Doctor Who. Across the season as a whole, I felt that Jodie Whittaker has settled more into the role, especially as the writers feel more confident in finding her voice. And the balancing act of having three companions in the TARDIS has been more assured now that the business of introducing them is over, allowing the group to splinter off for large chunks of episodes has allowed much more of their characters to shine through, particularly for Mandip Gill’s Yaz (who I am mightily glad survived that final episode – I thought she was doomed after her chat with Graham). Continue reading “TV Review: Doctor Who Series 12”

Book review: The Half – Simon Annand

The Half – Photographs of Actors Preparing for the Stage by Simon Annand

Just a quickie for this book as The Half – Photographs of Actors Preparing for the Stage by Simon Annand was released in 2008. But with an imminent new exhibition of these photos and a bargainous copy of the book popping up on Ebay, I thought I’d take the plunge.

And I’m glad I did as it is a proper work of art in its own right. Annand has been photographing actors for over 25 years and as such, has a veritable treasure trove of shots to share with us, resulting from the trusting relationships he has built up with so many, from the new kids on the block to veritable dames. Continue reading “Book review: The Half – Simon Annand”

TV Review: Luther Series 5

Luther Series 5 aka the one that maybe goes too far?

“Can we do that?
‘Within parameters…'”

Not quite flogging a dead horse yet, but the much anticipated fifth series of Luther indulges its title character far too much  in the name of shocks and thrills, whilst simultaneously begging us not to misunderstand him, Nina Simone’s glorious voice plays out over the violent wreckage of the final scene.

As a crime drama, Neil Cross’ Luther really does manage to come up with inventively appalling serial killers and attackers that seem design to lurk in nightmares (the bus murder here…). But it is also increasingly tied up in the mythology of the show itself, the design here clearly aiming for some kind of apotheosis. Continue reading “TV Review: Luther Series 5”

Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 7

“It is known that the Doctor requires companions”

Right – the first season that I haven’t rewatched any of at all. Things get a bit hectic here as once again, the series got split in two, accommodating the mid-season departure of Amy and Rory and the (re-)introduction of new companion Clara Oswald, plus a pair of specials respectively marking the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who and the end of Matt Smith’s tenure as Eleven. It all adds up to a bit of a bloated mess to be honest, though not without its high points.

Amy and Rory feel a little ill-served by their final five, the introduction of Mark Williams as Rory’s dad detracts from their screen-time (yet he doesn’t feature in their farewell?), though the return of the Weeping Angels gives their noirish NY-set exit episode some real heft. And though I admire Jenna Coleman’s confident take on Clara, she’s a hard companion to warm to without any contrasting humanity to go with her intelligence and intensity.

The ‘Impossible Girl’ arc didn’t really tick my box and the grandiosity of Moffatt’s writing for the finale of The Name of…, The Day of… and The Time of the Doctor doesn’t really help (I was curiously unmoved by all the fan-service second time round). Still, Gatiss knocks it out of the park with the superb Ice Warrior tale Cold War and bringing mother and daughter Dame Diana Rigg and Rachael Stirling together on screen for the first time.  Continue reading “Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 7”

Review: Three Sisters, Southwark Playhouse

“Everyone’s here from the UK but it’s always the Cotswolds or Scotland or something so nice to have an actual…we’re moving back there you see” 

What is it that draws writers to adaptation? Anya Reiss’ extraordinary debut of two cracking plays for the Royal Court has been followed by versions of 2 Chekhovs and Wedekind’s Spring Awakening for Headlong which is currently touring. The first Chekhov saw The Seagull transplanted to a modern day Isle of Man for the Southwark Playhouse and now for the same theatre, she has tackled Three Sisters which is located “near a British Embassy, overseas, now”.

Which is all very well but in a play that is predicated on the desire to return home, there appears to be no earthly reason why any of the Prozorova sisters – the modern women that they are here – can’t just book the next flight to the London they left just over a decade ago. Instead they languish in the non-specific country suggested to be somewhere we might have recently invaded, where their father served as a diplomat until his death, stuck because he sold their old family home. Continue reading “Review: Three Sisters, Southwark Playhouse”

DVD Review: Luther Series 2

“They’ve set up a new unit”

Series 1, and particularly episode 1, of Luther has to rank as one of my favourite bits of television in recent years, so it was great news to hear that a second season had been commissioned. But given that my main enjoyment came from the ladies of the show, it was perhaps unsurprising that my enjoyment didn’t quite reach the same level. Taking place months after Series 1 finished, rebel detective John Luther has now joined the Serious and Serial Crimes division after some time off following the shocking events of the season finale. There, he continues to deal with the worst of human nature and utilising his own inimitable approach to catching these criminals.

For our purposes here on a Ruth Wilson level, there’s no denying that the character of Alice really has run its natural course and so it feels like a bit of a cheat having her be the first face we see just to recap the events of the series 1 finale. She reappears a couple of times after that but not in any meaningful way for the main story, so it’s a bit of a letdown. And Saskia Reeves’ Rose is not given the farewell she deserves as Luther’s former boss which feels a real shame, the impact of his repeated actions on her life and career could have been something rather interesting to explore. Continue reading “DVD Review: Luther Series 2”

DVD Review: Luther Series 1

“You don’t need to be thinking about Alice Morgan right now”

By the time that the television series Luther started on BBC1, I was already keen on Ruth Wilson as an actress but the first episode of the first series – which now ranks as one of my all-time favourite pieces of television ever – confirmed her as one of the most exciting people we have working in this country. The show is a high-quality detective drama featuring Idris Elba as DCI John Luther, a member of the Serious Crime Unit, whose unconventional and often controversial methods frequently sets him at odds with his colleagues and his estranged wife who end up paying the price for his uncompromising genius. 

Entirely written and created by Neil Cross, there’s a most pleasing continuous feel to the six-part series which combines a ‘story of the week’ format featuring some extremely gory and plain icky crimes with larger story arcs which build to the shockingly climactic finish of Episode 6. Ruth Wilson stars as research scientist Alice Morgan, who is involved in the former in Episode One but soon turns into the latter as a wonderfully twisted kind of relationship builds between her and Luther. It is hard to say much more without revealing too much for those who haven’t seen it – shame on you if you haven’t, go and watch it now! – but the way in which Wilson slowly subverts our expectations in that first hour is nothing short of superlative, the gradual reveal completely compelling, the way she says the word ‘kooky’ deserves an award category of its own.  Continue reading “DVD Review: Luther Series 1”