TV Review: Apple Tree Yard

“Before I met you I was a civilised woman”

Based on the novel of the same name by Louise Doughty, psychodrama Apple Tree Yard has proved itself most watercooler-worthy with its twisting plot, classy cast and yes, controversial moments making it a hit thriller for the BBC. The story revolves around Yvonne Carmichael – celebrated scientist, mother of two, wife to Gary – who, when a chance encounter at work leads to an unexpected quickie with a literal tall dark and handsome stranger, finds her entire world tipped upside down by the consequences that follow.

Written by Amanda Coe and directed by Jessica Hobbs, the first episode plays out as a rather marvellous exploration of a 40-something woman rediscovering her sexuality and having the kind of illicit affair that makes you write naff diary entries (as Yvonne does…). But by the end of the first hour, the drama takes the first of several hard turns as [spoiler alert] she is brutally raped by a colleague. The use of rape as a dramatic device is one which should always be interrogated but here, coming from the text as it does and its devastating impact detailed as painstakingly as it was in episode 2, it felt appropriately handled and never gratuitous. Continue reading “TV Review: Apple Tree Yard”

12 Days of Christmas – Black Mirror 1:3

“Sorry I go a bit weird and wonky sometimes”

On the third day of Christmas, Black Mirror gave to me…three cheating lovers

The Entire History of You
is the final part of the first series of Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror and finds itself somewhere in the middle of the preceding two episodes in terms of its sci-fi/reality interface. Here, future technology has advanced so that people have ‘grains’ implanted that record memories and allow them to played back whenever but the story it is used to tell is an all-too-familiar one of human jealousy.

Toby Keggell’s Liam is an unhappy lawyer whose miserable state of mind after a difficult work appraisal leads him to suspect his wife, Jodie Whittaker’s Ffion, of having an affair with a former lover called Jonas, a suave Tom Cullen. It played out eerily effectively, especially in the look on people’s faces when ‘recalling’ but never really took flight into as superlative a piece of television as episodes one or two. Continue reading “12 Days of Christmas – Black Mirror 1:3”

Review: The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism with a Key to the Scriptures, Hampstead Theatre

“The best thing I ever did was the worst thing I ever did. And it all came to nothing. It makes no sense to anyone, what we did, it’s written in a language no one reads anymore, it’s… incredible”

Tony Kushner’s The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism with a Key to the Scriptures has been given the moniker #iHo for short, though quite why that impulse has kicked in now is not clear, for the play is a hard-going three and a half hours full of wordily complex pontifications. The mechanics of social media aside, to suggest that it can be encapsulated in a three letter hashtag feels crudely reductive.

The play centres on the Marcantonio family, a brood of Italian-Americans summoned back to their Brooklyn brownstone by patriarch Gus who has decided to commit suicide. He says it is because of encroaching Alzheimer’s but it is his ideals that this former Communist has lost rather than his marbles, and it is this crisis that sparks off lengthy debate after lengthy debate about faith and politics, socialism and America with his three adult children and their motley collection of partners. Continue reading “Review: The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism with a Key to the Scriptures, Hampstead Theatre”

Review: The Odyssey, Almeida/Live-stream

“I’m stunned with wonder”

When Rupert Goold first announced the #AlmeidaGreeks season with all its familiar titles, I don’t think anyone could have predicted how genuinely epic a sweep of theatrical innovation it would usher in. From the extraordinary Oresteia to the shattering Bakkhai and Medea, the radical main house programme has been supported by a wide range of supplementary activity, not least the 16 hour, 60+ actor retelling of The Iliad (which can now be viewed in full on the Almeida website).

So it’s only natural that as the season draws to an end, it is bookended by another Homeric extravaganza in The Odyssey, again with 60 odd actors participating in a 12 hour non-stop feat of major storytelling which was live-streamed on t’internet. And conscious of raising the ante, directors Rupert Goold and Robert Icke took us on a literal journey, putting the players in taxicabs, boats, buses, trekking across rooftops and down busy streets to bring Ithaca to Islington as Odysseus winds his way home. Continue reading “Review: The Odyssey, Almeida/Live-stream”

Review: Cheek By Jowl’s As You Like It, screening at Noël Coward Theatre

“One man in his time plays many parts”

Celebrating the twentieth anniversary of this particular production and the launch of The Sophie Hamilton Archive which chronicles over 30 years of their work, getting to attend a screening of Cheek By Jowl’s As You Like It was a fabulous way to spend a Sunday evening. Shown in the very Noël Coward Theatre (or Albery as was) where it was recorded, the event was made extra special by the attendance of the entire revival cast who proudly took their bows onstage at the end, in front of the film of them taking their bows on that same stage – a lovely moment.

Declan Donnellan’s original production dates back to 1991 and as pointed out by one of the speakers tonight, its cross-gender and colour-blind casting made and still makes it a most transformative piece of theatre and one with great foresight (even if sadly, messages about women taking on male roles still haven’t quite sunk in) in a pre-Propeller, Section 28-pasing age. What emerges as most pleasing is the utter lack of gimmick with no overarching conceit to justify the decisions here, starting simply with a troupe of identically dressed actors and the desire to tell a story. Continue reading “Review: Cheek By Jowl’s As You Like It, screening at Noël Coward Theatre”

Review: Our Town, Almeida Theatre

“The morning star always get wonderful bright the minute before it has to go”

Some images sear themselves into the mind, never to be forgotten and for me, the staging of the third act of Thornton Wilder’s Our Town was such a one – something so simply done yet achingly powerful in effect, all the more so given it isn’t immediately apparent. And after Mr Burns, it is the second time in three plays that the Almeida has delivered a doozy of a third act – one can’t help but feel sorry (or laugh) at the doofuses that left at any of the intervals.

It is interesting to see the strength of the reactions to David Cromer’s version of this show – in the Evening Standard, Fiona Mountford decries it as glib, desultory and that final act as smug(!) and Jake Orr dismissed it thus Continue reading “Review: Our Town, Almeida Theatre”

DVD Review: Silk, Series 2

“People are saying you only made silk because you’re a woman and from Bolton”

The joys of Netflix allowed me to quickly move onto Series 2 of Silk in perfect time before the third, and final, series hit BBC1, and it remains an excellent piece of television, a quality legal drama blessed with some cracking writing, a stellar leading cast, and a revolving ensemble which continues to draw in the cream of British acting talent to give their supporting roles and cameos. The series kicks off with Maxine Peake’s Martha having ascended to the ranks of QC whilst Rupert Penry-Jones’ Clive languishes in her slipstream, and the dynamics of their relationship form a major driver of the narrative. 

Her adjustments to her new role and responsibilities are fascinatingly drawn, especially as she negotiates the ethics of working with a notorious crime family and their shady legal representation. And his pursuit of that exalted status of QC as he stretches himself professionally to take in prosecutions, as well as Indira Varma’s attractive solicitor, is challenged when he overreaches himself in a particularly pressing case. As ever, individual cases fit into each episode as well, but these wider storylines are where the real interest comes.  Continue reading “DVD Review: Silk, Series 2”

Review: Love and Information, Royal Court

“What do you mean when you say it has meaning now?” 

One of the things I love most about blogging is the honesty with which it allows one to write. So much ‘official’ theatre reviewing (as in for a publication) is predicated on the basis of a perceived authority, on the acceptance of received truths, which due to space constraints are rarely articulated. But I’m not bound by any that here and so I can say I honestly don’t get what all the fuss is about Simon Russell Beale – I’ve yet to see him myself, in a performance that is worthy of being named one of our greatest ever actors – and likewise, I can say that I’m not sure that I get Caryl Churchill as a playwright. I don’t doubt or challenge her position as one of the UK’s most influential playwrights or her impact on contemporary theatre but rather, in the six plays of hers that I have seen, I haven’t had that kind of epiphany that made me stop in my tracks and say ‘this is amazing theatre’.

I’m constantly educating myself theatrically though and that’s where the informality of a blog – my theatrical education in progress if you will – comes into its own, tracing how my opinions can change (I’ve learned to love Chekhov) or not (I still dislike Ibsen, in the main). Thus I happily took the opportunity to see Love and Information, a new Churchill play at the Royal Court, her first since 2009’s controversy-baiting Seven Jewish Children, not least because it features an ensemble cast of extremely high quality. Continue reading “Review: Love and Information, Royal Court”

Short film reviews #2

There are so many short films out there featuring so many actors that I like that I found it impossible choose my favourites…so here’s a second set for your delectations, there may well be more to come!

I do

The main reason I started looking at short films was after having been sent this little beauty which was a finalist in the 2010 Electric Shorts competition. I Do stars both Julian Ovenden and Aden Gillett so it should be clear why someone thought it relevant to my interests, but it is actually a really well put together little film by Duncan Cargill. It looks good, it is sexy and fresh and wittily clever all within less than three minutes. If you only watch one of these films, I’d make it this one! Continue reading “Short film reviews #2”