#AdventwithClowns Day 11 – Uncle Vanya (BBC iPlayer)

Just a few days left to capture this recent West End production of Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya with Toby Jones and Richard Armitage

“You have some kind of sauce all over your trousers”

When its West End run was curtailed by th’pandemic, wheels were put in motion to get a filmed version of this Uncle Vanya produced. Sadly, Ciarán Hinds was unable to reprise his role but Roger Allam is a fine substitute and the rest of this cracking cast were able to return for Ross MacGibbon’s filmic direction of Ian Rickson’s stage work in the emptied surroundings of the Harold Pinter Theatre.

There’s not too much more to say about Conor McPherson’s vibrantly colloquial adaptation that I didn’t already cover in my stage review but as ever, the benefits of the close-up camera work adds a stunning intimacy to an already stellar performance level. Indeed, being swept up even further into the despair of Aimee Lou Wood’s Sonya is almost too much to bear but well worth the exquisite agony.

2021 What’s On Stage Award nominations

The nominations for the 22nd Annual WhatsOnStage Awards have been announced 

Voting is open now, closing on Friday 21 January 2022, with the winners being announced at the awards ceremony on Sunday 27 February 2022. Write-in votes for Sutton Foster should be sent forthwith.

BEST PERFORMER IN A MALE IDENTIFYING ROLE IN A MUSICAL
Roger Bart – Back to the Future the Musical, Manchester Opera House & Adelphi Theatre
Olly Dobson – Back to the Future the Musical, Manchester Opera House & Adelphi Theatre
Arinzé Kene – Get Up, Stand Up! The Bob Marley Musical, Lyric Theatre
Julian Ovenden – South Pacific, Chichester Festival Theatre
Eddie Redmayne – Cabaret, Playhouse Theatre – Kit Kat Club
Ivano Turco – Cinderella, Gillian Lynne Theatre

BEST PERFORMER IN A FEMALE IDENTIFYING ROLE IN A MUSICAL
Aimie Atkinson – Pretty Woman, Piccadilly Theatre & Savoy Theatre
Samantha Barks – Frozen, Theatre Royal Drury Lane
Jessie Buckley – Cabaret, Playhouse Theatre – Kit Kat Club
Carrie Hope Fletcher – Cinderella, Gillian Lynne Theatre
Beverley Knight – The Drifters Girl, Garrick Theatre
Stephanie McKeon – Frozen, Theatre Royal Drury Lane Continue reading “2021 What’s On Stage Award nominations”

News: Digital Theatre+ partners with Sonia Friedman Productions to Provide Education Platform for Uncle Vanya

From Thursday 25th November, Schools, universities, and educational institutions all over the world will be able to see Conor McPherson’s stunning adaptation of Chekov’s masterpiece Uncle Vanya thanks to a partnership with producers Sonia Friedman Productions and Digital Theatre+, Digital Theatre’s education platform. 

The original run of Sonia Friedman Production’s sold-out stage production of Uncle Vanya at the Harold Pinter Theatre was cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In the midst of the first lockdown Sonia Friedman Productions and Angelica Films, in association with BBC Arts, commissioned a film of the stage production, which received critical acclaim and went onto win the Theatre Award at the South Bank Sky Arts Awards 2021. Continue reading “News: Digital Theatre+ partners with Sonia Friedman Productions to Provide Education Platform for Uncle Vanya”

10 top theatrical moments of 2020

In lieu of trying to make sense of this shitshow of a year through the normal year-end lists, I thought I’d just stick with an unranked list of 10 of my top theatrically based productions of the year

For reference, here’s my 2019 list, 2018 list, 2017 list2016 list2015 list and 2014 list.

Uncle Vanya, Harold Pinter Theatre

A rather exhilaratingly good take on the familiar Chekhov classic, a worthy presence in the West End.

The Wicker Husband, Watermill Theatre

One of the last things I saw before lockdown and what a gorgeous lingering memory to have, I pray that this is not the last we hear of this beautiful new musical. Continue reading “10 top theatrical moments of 2020”

News: Uncle Vanya to receive broadcast release

Sonia Friedman Productions has announced that Ian Rickson’s highly acclaimed production of Conor McPherson’s new adaptation of Uncle Vanya has been filmed on stage at the Harold Pinter Theatre in partnership with Angelica Films. The new film version of the production will be shown in cinemas ahead of broadcast on the BBC (date tbc) with further distribution details to be announced soon. This makes it the first UK stage production closed by the Coronavirus pandemic to have been filmed and produced for the screen.

Directed for screen by Ross MacGibbon, the film reunites nearly all of the original cast of the production that was in its final weeks (read my review here) when the country went into lockdown in March and theatres were forced to close. Only Ciarán Hinds was unavailable and his role has now been taken by Roger Allam. Continue reading “News: Uncle Vanya to receive broadcast release”

Lockdown TV Review: Spooks Series 9

Oof, the start of the downfall…Series 9 of Spooks turns into the Lucas North show with terrible ramifications

“Do you know how I knew it was true? Because for the first time you made sense”

It couldn’t last, two strong series of Spooks back-to-back were undone by the horrors of Series 9. And it needn’t have been this way, it opens with a great 10 minutes. Ros;s funeral! A proposal! Harry as an assassin! Ruth getting called “that dogged, brilliant bitch”! But new head writers Jonathan Brackley and Sam Vincent then have the trickier task of reconstructing a new team, and don’t quite nail it with Sophia Myles’ Beth and Max Brown’s Dimitri only ever appearing in shades of beige.

Worse though, is the shifting of the entire season’s narrative onto Richard Armitage’s Lucas who – dun dun dur – is actually someone else called John Bateman, whose torturously wrangled personal history is dragged out through the presence of Iain Glen’s Vaughan. Undoing all the good work that Armitage had done in building the fascinating ambiguities of Lucas North, the entire John Bateman storyline was a huge mis-step and ultimately indulges Spooks at its worst. 

Nicola Walker-ometer
Never better than turning Harry down, she’s a vital steadying presence in a show that badly needs it. Continue reading “Lockdown TV Review: Spooks Series 9”

Lockdown TV Review: Spooks Series 8

With major fluctuations in the force, Series 8 maintains a strong level for Spooks – you could argue it should have stopped here

“They think you’ve got Harry Pearce in the palm of you hand and you’re making moves”

 

Finally, after too many years of yoyo-ing between good series bad series, Spooks finally put together two strong instalments back to back. I think the shorter run (8 episodes) really does focus the writing which now goes all-in on the serial plot line running through the whole series, yet still finding time to blend in self-contained storylines here and there.

Big betrayals cut deep, harsh on a team barely recovered from Connie’s recent deception. Personnel changes rock the team equally hard, as Malcolm is (metaphorically) sacrificed to bring back Ruth, Jo is (literally) sacrificed for big business and Ros (understandably) goes in hard for Tobias Menzies. And Richard Armitage’s Lucas North gets his arse out – quality TV all round. Should Spooks have gone out all guns blazing here?

Nicola Walker-ometer
She’s back! There’s a measure of contrivance in Ruth’s return to the show, necessary to undo the finality of her previous departure and to extricate her from the cushy life in Cyprus which she’d established forself. So cheerio to handsome new partner (they weren’t married so it’s OK he got killed), sayonara to her step-child in all but name, and welcome back to sweet emotional lrepression with Harry. Continue reading “Lockdown TV Review: Spooks Series 8”

Lockdown TV Review: Spooks Series 7

In which the rollercoaster of quality rockets sky-high again, Series 7 of Spooks ranks as one of my favourites

“I want my team to know why I acted the way I did”

The introduction of series-long plots didn’t necessarily work first time round for Spooks but in Series 7, the magic certainly happens to produce one of the best seasons across its decade-long life. Perhaps the reduced episode order from 10 to 8 helped to refine the effectiveness of the storytelling, recognising that it was Adam’s time to go definitely worked and finally made the right kind of room for Ros to rise, and giving Gemma Jones this material was an absolute masterstroke. 

Undoing the silly fakeouts of Ros and Jo’s ‘deaths’ right from the off, the introduction of Richard Armitage’s Lucas North also works well, his time in Russian captivity casting a nice shade of doubt over his presence in the team, a marked difference to the alpha males of Tom and Adam. And the ongoing Sugarhorse mystery is skillfully wound throughout the whole season, coiling ever-tighter until the hammer blows of a properly fierce finale. 

Nicola Walker-ometer
She’s just a distant memory at this point – Harry really is such a fuckboy. Continue reading “Lockdown TV Review: Spooks Series 7”

Lockdown TV Review: Spooks Series 1

I had already started a rewatch of Spooks earlier this year as part of a planned Nicola Walker retrospective but as it turns out, I’ll have to use that Britbox subscription for something else!

“When will you tell her that your real name is Tom Quinn and that you are a spy”

It is interesting to look at back at much-loved shows and be reminded of how not everything is always how you remember. So much of Spooks has aged remarkably well – not least its choice of subjects that have remained terrifyingly evergreen – that it is easy to forget that this opening season of 6 episodes sees them still searching for that house style. 

It is undoubtedly a bit shonky in look and feel, the slick Thames House set isn’t yet in place and the focus on the lead team at the expense of too many nameless supporting bods gives the personal dynamics a somewhat off-balance feel as we delve into too much of the personal lives of Tom, Zoe and Danny.

But airing in May 2002 in the immediate post 9/11 climate gives its geopolitics real currency. And the threats they face – homegrown far-right movements, fears over immigration, the push for Kurdish self-government, US abortion rights, Russian spies being murdered on British soil… – are compelling throughout. And any show that has Jenny Agutter and Nicholas Farrell dry-humping in a corridor has to be a winner right?!   

Nicola Walker-ometer
To be honest, I’d forgotten Ruth wasn’t a member of the team from the start, so these six episodes pass by with an outrageous lack of Nicola Walker. Continue reading “Lockdown TV Review: Spooks Series 1”

Review: Uncle Vanya, Harold Pinter Theatre

Conor McPherson’s adaptation of Uncle Vanya featuring Toby Jones and Richard Armitage at the Harold Pinter Theatre is so good you can forgive the “wanging on”

“I mean what I mean when I say what I say”

Above everything, the thing that stands out most about Conor McPherson’s adaptation of Chekhov’s evergreen Uncle Vanya is his use of the phrase “wanging on”, twice. It’s such a random thing but it rings out like a bell, both times, more so than any of the usages of contemporary language that pepper the script. Running it a close second though, is just how vital and vibrant Ian Rickson’s production proves.

From stacking his cast with real, proper talent (imagine your bit players being of the ilk of Anna Calder-Marshall, Peter Wight and Dearbhla Molloy) to reuniting with Rosmersholm designer Rae Smith, this is a finely tuned piece of theatre which ultimately, doesn’t do too much that is radical (though the fourth wall breaking-bits are smashing), but rather distils its Chekhovian spirit just so. Or maybe that it’s the first production of the play I’ve seen since turning 40 and its midlife crises suddenly have new resonance…! Continue reading “Review: Uncle Vanya, Harold Pinter Theatre”