TV Review: The Crown, Series 2

A quick whip through Series 2 of The Crown

“History is not made by those who did nothing”

Do I still love The Crown? Yes. Do I still find it a little hard to muster enthusiasm about it until I’m watching it. Absolutely. It remains lavish prestige drama that carries little excitement about it and that’s perhaps inevitable as it trundles through the decades of the second half of the twentieth century, little dramatic surprise can really be sprung.

Instead, the thrills come from the script of Peter Morgan’s fantasia into the emotional life of our monarch, and a production that looks like the multi-millions of dollars that have been spent on it. Oh, and the cream of British acting talent popping in for a scene or two at an astonishingly high rate. Continue reading “TV Review: The Crown, Series 2”

Review: On Approval, Jermyn Street

“Where do you bank?” – 
‘Anywhere; I simply don’t care’”

On Approval was written in 1926 by Frederick Lonsdale as a comedy of manners capturing the shifting dynamics in gender roles in a world where suffragists and the Great War had ushered in the potential for great change. Against this backdrop, Lonsdale posits a scenario with two wealthy woman – one a young pickle heiress, the other an older spoilt widow – seeking to test drive potential future spouses by taking them up to a Scottish country estate ‘on approval’ and spending a few weeks together to test their compatibility. But though the promise of a witty evening is often raised, its light-hearted nature too often feels insubstantial.

Anthony Biggs’ production polishes the play hard but never really comes up with the cut-glass sharpness needed to elevate the performances above the comic shortcomings of the writing nor the crispness of pacing that would create an irresistible forward momentum. The intimacy of the Jermyn Street Theatre doesn’t always help, leaving the quartet of actors frequently exposed at the lack of solid dramatic foundation and missing the gumption necessary to paper over the cracks.  Continue reading “Review: On Approval, Jermyn Street”

Review: When We Are Married, Garrick Theatre

“Marriage isn’t perfect”
J.B. Priestley’s farcical comedy When We Are Married arrives at the Garrick Theatre in London for a limited season with a substantially star-studded cast donning their finest Edwardian gear. Set in 1908, three middle-class couples in Cleckleywyke, Yorkshire have their world turned upside-down when, in preparing to celebrate their silver wedding anniversaries, the validity of their marriages is called into question and they face certain social ruin but also huge personal issues as the very nature of their relationships is called into question.

There’s no doubt that it is extremely strongly cast with stalwarts of screen and stage forming the ensemble, especially in its six leads. I enjoyed Susie Blake and David Horovitch as the Helliwells with a particularly believable partnership, but the most fun is had by Maureen Lipman as the redoubtable Clara and Sam Kelly’s hen-pecked Herbert who have great fun playing out the role reversal when he is freed from the shackles of her imperious gaze and withering put-downs. Michele Dotrice does well as the long-suffering Annie who revels in her freedom from her dour councillor husband as played by Simon Rouse with some delicious comic timing, but is then slightly compromised by the need for a neat happy ending to the play.

There are constant hints of something more: the beginnings of revolution in the serving classes; the potential for female emancipation; even domestic violence, but none are explored for this is indeed a comedy, a rambunctious farce which is fine for the most part but a little frustrating for me and I personally struggled find the humour in a man slapping his wife. As for the rest of the play, I found there were just too many extraneous characters: the presence of Helliwell’s young niece is completely unnecessary and her relationship with Forbes is not used to counterpoint any of the marriages so I struggled to see why they were there and others like the Reverend and the reporter simply cluttered the stage. And I wasn’t really a fan of the broad comedy essayed by Roy Hudd’s drunken photographer with his end-of-the-pier routine and Rosemary Ashe’s brash, vulgar Lottie, but this is thoroughly old-school stuff.

It is uncomplicated fun and at times quite amusing, but ultimately it does have to be said that this is aimed at the upper age bracket. Whereas it was a entertaining diversion for me, it was rapturously received with rounds of applause coming at the end of every flourish by an actor, even the set got a good clap as the curtain rose at the beginning but to be honest, I was by far the youngest person in the stalls as far as I could see. All in all, if you appreciated 1970s sitcoms, or indeed enjoy watching re-runs of them these days, then this will be the perfect show for you.

Running time: 2 hours 10 minutes (with interval)
Programme cost: £3.50
Booking until 26th February 2011
Note: some smoking of cigars and cigarettes onstage

Originally reviewed for The Public Reviews

Review: A Daughter’s A Daughter, Trafalgar Studios

“The problem with the young is not just that they think they’re right, but that they know they’re right”

A Daughter’s A Daughter, one of Agatha Christie’s lesser known and rarely performed plays , which was a very late addition to the programme at the Trafalgar Studios, running for just four weeks before The Caretaker takes over. It was written under the pseudonym Mary Westmacott, who was Christie’s alter ego for more romantic material, and is seen here for the first time in over 50 years in only its second ever large-scale staging.

It eschews the familiar thriller territory of Christie’s regular work for a more intimate drama, a tale of the relationship between a mother and daughter who allow bitterness, jealousy and resentment to challenge the bonds between them. Returning from 3 years in the army at the end of the Second World War, Sarah Prentice discovers a cuckoo in her family nest, her mother Ann is now engaged to a chap who is equally unfond of the new arrival in the life of his betrothed. In a battle of wills, Sarah’s behaviour then forces Ann into making the choice between her daughter and her fiancé: Sarah ‘wins’ but at a massive price, as we follow the pair for the next few years as they futilely search for happiness and comfort in men and booze whilst not letting go of the resentment and selfishness between them. Continue reading “Review: A Daughter’s A Daughter, Trafalgar Studios”

Review: The Letter, Wyndhams

Based on a real life scandal, Somerset Maugham’s The Letter takes place in the house of a plantation owner, Robert Crosbie, and his wife Leslie in the British colony of Malaya in the 1920s. With her husband away on business, Leslie claims that she shot a mutual friend, Geoff Hammond, in self-defence, following an attempted rape, and the play focuses on the steps taken by the wife’s lawyer to convince the court of her innocence. Matters are complicated somewhat following the discovery of an incriminating letter which throws doubt on her innocence and her lawyer is forced to make a huge decision in order to save her.


I imagine that Jenny Seagrove is aiming for impassive here as Leslie, but just comes across as wooden and completely devoid of emotion. It is as stiff a performance as I have ever seen, she never feels relaxed or comfortable on the stage and it was quite hard to watch. Matters are not helped by the plummy accents which permeate this production, but lend it the air of farce. Anthony Andrews was just dull as the lawyer who faces a dilemma and I didn’t give two hoots about him in the end. Jason Chan’s Chinese lawyer clerk does well to try and rise above the questionable racial stereotyping; Andrew Charleson’s blindly devoted husband is fine and Peter Sandys-Clarke’s British consul was nicely observed.



The scene changes were bizarre with a bamboo screen wheeling its way across the stage languidly and sapping any energy that might have been built up, with only the opium den scene providing any real interest. Altogether though, it is an unfortunately dull play, only the one vaguely thrilling moment at the very beginning, and it is riven with racial and sexual anachronisms and such a dated idea of stiff-upper-lipped British reserve which make it hard to swallow these days. But even with those edges smoothed, the play The Letter is just fundamentally dramatically unexciting and this production is therefore really not worth the effort.