News: CFT’S 60th anniversary season announced

Full details of Chichester Festival Theatre’s Festival 2022 – their diamond anniversary year – have been announced by Artistic Director Daniel Evans and Executive Director Kathy Bourne

This sparkling Festival season offers no less than six world premiere productions, including three musicals: the Tony and Olivier Award-winning Gershwin musical Crazy for YouLocal Hero, inspired by the hit film and featuring songs by Mark Knopfler; and a new family musical adventure, The Famous Five. The host of dramas includes some of the new plays originally lined up for Festival 2020 – The Taxidermist’s Daughter by Cicestrian Kate Mosse, Steven Moffat’s The Unfriend and Christopher Shinn’s The Narcissist – as well as Alecky Blythe’s Our Generation. Henry Goodman plays Poirot in Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient ExpressAlex Jennings leads the cast of Stephen Beresford’s new play The Southbury Child, Roy Williams’s much-praised Sing Yer Heart Out for the Lads returns in a reconfigured Minerva; and Alan Ayckbourn’s celebrated Woman in Mind completes the line-up. And for Christmas, Chichester Festival Youth Theatre present The Wind in the Willows. Continue reading “News: CFT’S 60th anniversary season announced”

TV Review: Chloe

Led by the remarkable Erin Doherty with great turns from Pippa Bennett-Warner and Billy Howle, twisty thriller Chloe is huge amounts of fun

“I just felt like a bit of an imposter”

The realisation of a six-part TV drama aside, writer/director Alice Seabright manages something rather clever in Chloe in offering up an authentic depiction of the way (some) people use social media (Instagram) these days. As we meet Becky Green, we see her scrolling through the ‘gram-a-like with the TV blaring away, doing a deep dive into the profile of one person in particular – the titular Chloe – combing through all the carefully curated details of their life, as it seems online at least. 

Living somewhere on the rough side of Bristol, Becky’s life is presented as rather humdrum. Stuck with a mindless temp admin job and reluctantly forced into the role of carer for her dementia-suffering mother, you’d forgive her a little escapism. But when news of Chloe’s passing filters through, Becky spies an opportunity for herself. For she is a master of reinvention, adept at adopting new identities, and she soon inveigles her way into Chloe’s grieving friend group by donning ASOS’s finest and renaming herself Sasha. Continue reading “TV Review: Chloe”

Film Review: The Electrical Life of Louis Wain (2021)

Some may enjoy this more than me but I found The Electrical Life of Louis Wain to be almost insufferably twee despite Benedict Cumberbatch working hard

“The more intensely he suffered, the more beautiful his work became”

If you were playing Oscar-bait bingo, then you’d definitely want to draw biopic The Electrical Life of Louis Wain. Central character with vaguely defined mental condition, with a wife who dies young, plus Olivia Colman AND Benedict Cumberbatch in the cast. Maybe we should do shots rather than bingo, it might make the film a touch more bearable… 

Will Sharpe’s film seems likely to divide audiences. Not between dog lovers and cat fanciers as you might expect, but to weed out those who have a high tolerance for the insufferably twee. For in its attempts to depict the unique brain chemistry of artist Louis Wain, it errs towards a sepia-tinged, Colman-narrated vision of whimsy and wonder that belies the essential tragedy here. Continue reading “Film Review: The Electrical Life of Louis Wain (2021)”

TV Review: A Very British Scandal

Claire Foy and Paul Bettany headline some rather alternative festive fare in the BBC’s Christmas special A Very British Scandal

“Canapes and cock, is there anything else?”

A drama about the first major case of slut-shaming in the British media, a warning note about the dangers of dick pics, a harrowing example of how vicious divorce can get, the BBC really do know how to wish us a merry Christmas! A spiritual follow-up to A Very English Scandal, A Very British Scandal was written by Sarah Phelps whose Agatha Christie adaptations briefly threatened to become a welcome festive institution but instead, there was a pivot.

And make no mistake, this is still a high quality 3 hours of a miniseries, blessed with two strong leads in Claire Foy and Paul Bettany and taken from a true story (with the requisite dramatic license) that is eye-wincingly lurid. The 1963 Argyll v Argyll divorce case was groundbreaking in terms of the salaciousness and scandalous detail that it included that was then widely published by the media in a way that had never been done before, not least in revealing the existence of explicit photos showing non-marital relations. Continue reading “TV Review: A Very British Scandal”

Lockdown TV Review: Spooks Series 5

Full of shocks that actually mean something, Series 5 of Spooks is one of its absolute best

“The British people will accept anything if you serve it up with a picture of Will Young in the shower”

A cracking series of Spooks that starts off with a series of bangs, robbing Colin of his life and Juliet Shaw of her ability to walk, the introduction of Ros Myers to the team is an invigorating success, particularly as she inspires Jo to become more badass too. This incarnation of the team really does click well, responding smoothly to the enforced changes in personnel, though newly single father Adam’s mental health crisis too often feels like a plot device rather than a genuine exploration of PTSD.

Subject-wise, the relevance level remains high, particularly pertinent when it comes to national crises with panic buying and over-stuffed hospitals feeling all too real. The role of fundamentalist zealots is shared equally between Christian and Islamic believers over the series and even if the finale underwhelms somewhat, the eco-terrorism theme hasn’t become any less significant.

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I’m still not over it, the defenestration of Ruth Evershed. Having finally made it to a date with Harry, which went about as well as could be expected, she runs up against a murderous Oliver Mace conspiracy and ends up having to fake her own death to protect Harry and ends up fleeing the country. An ignominious end for the heart of the team.  Continue reading “Lockdown TV Review: Spooks Series 5”

TV Review: Sticks and Stones

Mike Bartlett adapts his play Bull for the TV in the form of Sticks and Stones, with mixed if enjoyable results

“Maybe it’s banter”

I had clocked that Sticks and Stones that a new TV drama written and created by Mike Bartlett, hence it appearing pretty high on my to-watch list. What I hadn’t realised was that it is an adaptation of his cracking 2013 play Bull, which I have seen a fair few times, dating back to a reading in 2010. Given that the play was less than an hour and this serial was three (ITV) hours, I was intrigued to see how an extended version of this workplace bullying drama would work and I was pleased to see Ken Nwosu leading the cast, which included an alumni of the Young Vic production in Susannah Fielding.

And in line with the way his TV writing has been skewing, the result is something far more melodramatically silly than you’d ever expect from Bartlett in a theatre. I don’t say it as a particularly negative thing, more a statement of fact. The tautness of the play’s running time meant that once teeth were bared, it was one vicious snarl through to the end, heart-racingly menacing in its cruelty. Here, there’s much more time to fill and so it is more of slow build, as nice guy Thomas is essentially gaslit by his cut-throat team of property mangers (“we’re now able to offer a bespoke office solution”). Continue reading “TV Review: Sticks and Stones”

TV Review: Fortitude Series 1

“It’s not a new hotel we need, it’s a bigger morgue”

The publicity for Season 2 of Fortitude, just starting now on Sky Atlantic, reminded me that I had the first series still lying around unwatched and that now would be as good a time as any to get stuck in. Created and written by Simon Donald, it manages the not-inconsiderable feat of being an effective cross-genre show, so much so that it flicks from one to another from scene to scene. It begins life as a murder mystery set in the isolated town of Fortitude in Arctic Norway, the quality of its cast meaning that it can afford to knock off Christopher Eccleston’s scientist within the first couple of episodes.

As it is a community of about 700 in extreme conditions, it also plays out as a small town comedy of the blackest kind, as the quote up top demonstrates, bringing in soap opera-ish twists which also darken as well, pretty much into horror show territory. But where Fortitude is most unexpected is in its ventures into sci-fi, as the strange happenings in the township begin to defy any kind of rational explanation. It’s a disconcerting move but once the paradigm is established, I kinda liked the randomness it brought to the show, especially since I had no idea that that was where we were heading. Continue reading “TV Review: Fortitude Series 1”

DVD Review: Persuasion (1995)

“No-one wants to be in calm waters all their life”

Anyone who has read this blog for a wee while will know I’m a sucker for a thesp-heavy cast but not even could have come up with the manifold delights of the ensemble for this 1995 version of Persuasion. Directed by Roger Michell and adapted by Nick Dear, it features Amanda Root and Ciarán Hinds as Anne Elliot and Frederick Wentworth, a once-engaged couple who were pulled apart by societal pressure as he was but a penniless seaman. Eight years later, Anne’s family is struggling to maintain their aristrocratic lifestyle due to overspending but Wentworth is now a captain and highly sought after – might their love be reunited after all? Watch this space…

Root and Hinds are both excellent with hugely subtle performances suggesting the depth of emotion each holds, unable to express how they truly feel and buffeted around a range of alternative marriage proposals as everyone tries to secure the best possible situation for themselves. But real pleasure comes too in the supporting performances, seeing such fantastic actors earlier in their career and tracing something of a journey in their acting careers. Continue reading “DVD Review: Persuasion (1995)”

DVD Review: The Road to Coronation Street

“I don’t care what they do in St Helens but in Salford, no-one puts soap next to bacon”

Despite being relevant to my interests on a number of levels (David Dawson, I’m northern, and the rest of that cast!), The Road to Coronation Street managed to slip by me when it was first broadcast on BBC4 in 2010. Though a long term fixture on ITV (this drama celebrated the 50th anniversary of the soap opera), it was the BBC that took up the reins of creating this origin story for the show, a journey that partly reflects that of its writer Daran Little, who worked on Coronation Street for many years as an archivist but is now a screenwriter for Eastenders, long its traditional rival. But oddities aside, it was a frenetic, energetic romp that I found highly engaging and found it to be over far too soon with its scant 75 minutes-long running time.

The programme tells the true life story of how Tony Warren, a young screenwriter struggling to make his name in the business at Granada Studios, who hit on the idea of creating a television programme that related directly to its audience by presenting a version of everyday working class life on a terraced street in Manchester. We see the genesis of Warren’s idea, conceived from so many details of his own upbringing; his fight to convince his Canadian-born boss to take a chance on it; their battle to persuade the Bernsteins, the studio owners, to put it on the air; and once agreed, the trials of casting it perfectly so that it met both the exacting standards of Warren’s ideal and the new realities of acting on television.   Continue reading “DVD Review: The Road to Coronation Street”

DVD Review: Clapham Junction

“The whole gay thing, is it still an issue any more?”

Part of Channel 4’s 2007 gay season, Clapham Junction was written by Kevin Elyot showing the lives of a number of separate but interconnected gay men over 36 hours in the Clapham area of London. So we have civil partnership ceremonies with the groom shagging one of the waiters at the party afterwards, dinner party guests meeting inopportunely at the local cottage before a ghastly middle class gathering, a teenage stalker finally meeting the handsome neighbour unaware of his troubled past, and guys prowling round the common for anonymous sex, little aware that a violent psychotic is amongst them.

Phoebe Nicholls’ delightfully overbearing mother with her monstrous prejudices, Samantha Bond’s blithely unaware party guest, Luke Treadaway’s sweatily intense teenager Theo desperate to offer himself up to Joseph Mawle’s lithe mystery man, Rupert Graves’ confident out television maker toying with James Wilby’s closet case (a neat nod back to Maurice), there are undoubtedly performances aplenty to be savoured in here. But the construction of the whole film is just generally too weak, Elyot’s writing uninventive and heavy-handed in the message it thumps home. Continue reading “DVD Review: Clapham Junction”