TV Review: The Salisbury Poisonings

Deeply sensitive writing and direction mean that The Salisbury Poisonings proves a powerfully effective treatment of the story

“God knows what’s happened here”

Whodathunkit, a drama about a public health crisis in the middle of an actual public health crisis proving to be just the thing we needed. Anyone thinking about writing a Covid 19 drama would do well to examine writers Adam Patterson and Declan Lawn and director Saul Dibb’s deeply sensitive approach here in The Salisbury Poisonings.

What works particularly well is that they’ve determinedly gone for a fact-based telling of the story, which steadfastly refuses to indulge in overly dramatic or cinematic touches/ And their focus is on the human aspect of how this whole affair affected actual people rather than extrapolating to the whole of society or going dwon the wormhole of a spy thriller. Continue reading “TV Review: The Salisbury Poisonings”

Review: Death of England, National Theatre

In Death of England, Rafe Spall delivers the performance of a lifetime in this punchy monologue by Clint Dyer and Roy Williams at the National Theatre

“These are my dad’s words, not mine”

When the Dorfman gets it right, it really is something special. The combination of our National Theatre’s calibre and the intimacy of its smallest theatre means that when a play dares to do something different in there, the results can be extraordinary. I felt it in the pit for the first run of London Road, in the genius pre-show of Barber Shop Chronicles, and it is now in evidence once again with Clint Dyer and Roy Williams’ epic monologue Death of England, featuring a stunning performance from Rafe Spall, directed by Dyer.

Ferocious and fearless, we first meet Michael on the mother of all benders while he mourns the death of his father and then quick as you like, he flashes into storyteller mode and proceeds to not so much dismantle the fourth wall as to charm it into buying him six pints and then home for an unsatisfactory fumble. For about a quarter hour, Spall sets up Michael’s world beautifully by bantering with audience members with consummate ease, offering a sniff of this, a taste of that, seeking validation too as we come to realise how fragile a man he currently is. Continue reading “Review: Death of England, National Theatre”

10 of my top moments of the decade

Ever behind the curve, I present 10 of my top moments in a theatre over the last ten years (plus a few bonus extra ones because whittling down this list was hard, and it will probably be different tomorrow anyway!)

© James Bellorini

Extraordinary Public Acts for a National Theatre

The establishment of the Public Acts programme at the National Theatre offered up something sensational in Pericles, an initiative designed to connect grassroot community organisations with major theatres, resulting in a production that swept over 200 non-professional performers onto the stage of the Olivier to create something that moved me more than 99% of professional productions.  A truly joyous and momentous occasion. 

Honourable mention: this year’s musical take on As You Like It proved just as heart-swellingly beautiful over at the Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch. Continue reading “10 of my top moments of the decade”

News: the National Theatre announces 15 new productions for 2019 and 2020

So much goodness! The National Theatre have just announced details of productions stretching deep into 2020, and with writers like Lucy Kirkwood, Kate Tempest, Roy Williams and Tony Kushner, and actors like Lesley Manville, Maxine Peake, Conleth Hill, Cecilia Noble and Lesley Sharp, it is hard not to feel excited about what’s ahead.

Olivier Theatre 

Following a sell-out run at Rose Theatre Kingston, the acclaimed two-part adaptation of Elena Ferrante’s MY BRILLIANT FRIEND by April De Angelis is reworked for the Olivier stage by Melly Still (Coram Boy). When the most important person in her life goes missing without a trace, Lenu Greco, now a celebrated author, begins to recall a relationship of more than 60 years.  Continue reading “News: the National Theatre announces 15 new productions for 2019 and 2020”

2017 Laurence Olivier Awards nominations

Best New Play 
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child – Palace
Elegy – Donmar Warehouse
The Flick – National Theatre Dorfman
One Night in Miami – Donmar Warehouse

Best New Musical
Groundhog Day – The Old Vic
Dreamgirls – Savoy
The Girls – Phoenix
School of Rock – New London

Best Revival 
Yerma – Young Vic
The Glass Menagerie – Duke of York’s
This House – Garrick
Travesties – Apollo Continue reading “2017 Laurence Olivier Awards nominations”

12 Days of Christmas – Black Mirror Christmas

“So thanks to you, some dork meets a girl, not much of a Christmas story…”

On the sixth day of Christmas, Black Mirror also gave to me…only bloody Jon Hamm!

Well this was a White Christmas but necessarily like the ones you used to know. Black Mirror’s 2014 Christmas special saw writer Charlie Brooker go feature length and director Carl Tibbetts get crazy fortuitous as Jon Hamm just declared his love for the series and his interest in appearing in it one way or another, the result being this interlinked triptych of stories, combining as ever to chilling effect.

Hamm plays Matt, a man working in some unspecified remote location and sharing a cabin with Rafe Spall’s Joe. They’ve been living together for five years without really communicating but this particular morning, Joe wakes up to Matt making Christmas dinner, determined to get the story of how he ended up in this isolated place. And sure enough, it is a tale of human exploitation of technological advancement. Continue reading “12 Days of Christmas – Black Mirror Christmas”

Review: Hedda Gabler, National Theatre

“I’ve never felt at home”

With Hedda Gabler, the ever prolific Ivo van Hove is making his National Theatre debut, so you can forgive him returning to a production which he has launched twice before – with the exceptional Dutch actress Halina Reijn in Amsterdam and with Elizabeth Marvel in New York. This time however, he’s working with a new version of Ibsen’s play by Patrick Marber and has the equally extraordinary talents of Ruth Wilson leading his company. And as with his revelatory A View From The Bridge, this is a contemporary reworking of a classic that will frustrate some with its froideur but left me gasping at its gut-wrenching rawness.

As ever, van Hove’s spatial intelligence lends itself to a re-appreciation of the theatrical space in which he’s working. He’s invited audiences onstage at the Barbican, and backstage too and here in the Lyttelton, the wings are closed off by Jan Versweyveld’s gallery-like white box and so characters make their entrances and exits through the same doors that we use – Judge Brack even arrives via the rear stalls at one point. And van Hove keeps things off-kilter onstage too, often pushing the action out to the far edges, focusing the eye on unexpected details like the eloquent sweep of Hedda’s back, the tapping foot of a nervy ever-watching Berthe. Continue reading “Review: Hedda Gabler, National Theatre”

DVD Review: The Lion in Winter (2003)

“Of course he has a knife! I have a knife. We all have knives. It’s 1183 and we’re all barbarians!”

It was more morbid curiosity that drew me to this 2003 TV movie remake of The Lion in Winter than anything, its most recent appearance on a London stage hardly setting the world alight, but a cast list that included John Light and Rafe Spall as well as the more luminary lights of Glenn Close and Patrick Stewart (taking the roles made famous by Katharine Hepburn and Peter O’Toole in the 1968 film) added to the appeal. What was interesting though was how much I’d forgotten about James Goldman’s approach to this dynastic struggle, as humourous as it is historical.

So though it might appear dry – Henry II’s determination to overrule his estranged wife Eleanor of Aquitaine in naming their son John (of the Magna Carta) as his successor rather than the older Richard (of the Lionheart) – it’s actually a spiky family comedy-drama as the brothers, completed by Geoffrey the other one, duck and dive through the political machinations of their parents and the ever-present threat of Philip II of France whose sister Alais is contracted to be betrothed to whoever will be heir and is currently Henry’s mistress. Continue reading “DVD Review: The Lion in Winter (2003)”

DVD Review: X+Y

“When somebody says they love you, it means they see something in you they think is worth something…it adds value to you” 

Clearly Nick Payne was onto something. In his play Constellations, the infinite possibilities of the relationship between characters Marianne and Dave – as originally played by Sally Hawkins and Rafe Spall – are explored and wouldn’t you know it, fate conspired to bring them together again (Hawkins and Spall that is) in UK film X+Y, and this time with a different twist on the illness. For one reason or another, I didn’t get round to seeing X+Y (or A Brilliant Young Mind as the US would have it) at the cinema last year, which is madness considering how tailor-made for me this film is, but ultimately I’m quite glad I got to watch it in the privacy of my own home as there was a fair amount of ugly crying by the end!

Which in itself isn’t that surprising as it was written by talented playwright James Graham (The Man, This House) in a beautifully, unashamedly warm-hearted manner. Inspired by documentary Beautiful Young Minds, it follows Nathan Ellis (Asa Butterfield), a teenager somewhere on the autistic spectrum who is something of a mathematical genius. Encouraged by his maths tutor Humphreys (Spall), himself a former prodigy and suffering from his own condition, and the tireless patience of his widowed mother (Hawkins), he’s selected to represent the UK at the International Mathematical Olympiad but to do so means facing up to some major challenges. Continue reading “DVD Review: X+Y”