TV Review: Code 404

Starring Stephen Graham and Daniel Mays, Sky Comedy’s Code 404 treads an uneasy line between comedy, sci-fi and police procedural

“What’s with the birdbath?”

Created by Tom Miller, Sam Myer and Daniel Peak, Code 404 has a concept that feels like it ought to work but in its execution, somewhat misses the mark. Set (very loosely) in a near-future London, this is a world where technological advances have progressed so far as to be able to bring people back from the dead. So when DI John Major is killed in the line of duty, it doesn’t necessarily mean the end…

Problem is, the procedure is still experimental. So Daniel Mays’ John is more than a bit glitchy. And given that it took nearly a year to execute, his partner – Stephen Graham’s DI Roy Carver – has moved on and moved in with John’s widow – now wife again – played by the excellent Anna Maxwell Martin. And as they try to solve the case of John’s not-murder, all sorts of uncomfortable truths threaten to bubble to the surface. Continue reading “TV Review: Code 404”

TV Review: Gangs of London (Sky 1)

Some epic storytelling and a mighty ensemble make the hyper-violence of Gangs of London highly watchable

“A war was started when my father was shot”

Sky 1 seem to have got themselves quite the coup in Gangs of London, a major new series which – if there was any justice in the world – ought to break through the limitations of Sky’s minimal audience share. Created by Gareth Evans and Matt Flannery and boasting a highly exciting ensemble cast, it is a visceral and highly violent look at an immense power struggles between power syndicates in London after the assassination of the patriarch of its premier crime family.

Finn Wallace ruled the streets of London for 20 years but in the wake of his untimely death and with no-one taking responsibility for ordering the hit, it falls to his younger son Sean to take the reins. But Sean is a highly volatile young man  and the careful balancing act required to keep the billions of pounds flowing through the organisation and to maintain the equilibrium between so many warring factions is of little interest to him whilst his father’s killer remains unpunished. Continue reading “TV Review: Gangs of London (Sky 1)”

TV Review: Line of Duty (Series 5)

Series 5 of Line of Duty has some cracking moments, some big revelations and one of Anna Maxwell Martin’s best ever performances

“There’s no secrets in AC12”

So we make it to the end of Series 5 of Line of Duty and it was a lot wasn’t it. A properly tragic couple of deaths, a deep suspicion of a core team member or two and perhaps inevitably, one step forwards and two steps back in the ongoing H conspiracy.  

Jed Mercurio’s plotting remains as tightly wound and full of surprises as ever, the reveals in the organised crime group were well done but I think the gang stuff was nowhere near as much fun as the internecine conflicts within the police force itself. Continue reading “TV Review: Line of Duty (Series 5)”

TV Review: Motherland (Series 1)

Anna Maxwell Martin shines in funny new sitcom Motherland

“It’s better now I’ve got this nanny…”

Between Father Ted and The IT Crowd (I’ve never seen Black Books), Graham Linehan has quite the sitcom-that-I-love pedigree so I’ve been keen to see what his latest Motherland would bring, after an entertaining pilot aired last year.

Written with Sharon Horgan, Helen Linehan and Holly Walsh, the show follows Anna Maxwell Martin’s perma-harassed Julia as she struggles to deal with her mother declining to help out with childcare and the school run. As she’s caught between the hyper-efficiency of the Alpha mums and the schlubby friendliness available at the opposite end of the scale, it’s a highly entertaining take on working parenthood. Continue reading “TV Review: Motherland (Series 1)”

Review: The Convert, Gate Theatre

“There’s no place for a highly educated African woman here”

Danai Gurira’s Eclipsed was the best thing I saw in 2015 so the prospect of seeing her 2012 play The Convert, also at the Gate Theatre, was a joyous one indeed. And once again, Gurira turns her focus to the African continent, exploring the kind of history that I’m pretty sure is rarely featured in the majority of Western schoolrooms. The year is 1896 and the place is Rhodesia, the country now known as Zimbabwe, and The Convert takes a look at colonialism there from the inside out.

Chilford may be a native of this territory but taken from his family as a young boy, he has been moulded into an approximation of ‘an English gentleman’, the only black Roman Catholic priest in the area and tasked with the job of converting the population to the ways of their colonial masters. On the run from an attempt at forced marriage, Jekesai finds sanctuary under Chilford’s tutelage, renamed as Ester and quickly becoming his star pupil but as she comes to understand just how much she’s expected to give up, she’s left to question if there’s any safe haven at all. Continue reading “Review: The Convert, Gate Theatre”

Review: They Drink It In The Congo, Almeida Theatre

“Give me the history of the Congo in four and a half minutes”

There’s an ingenious moment in the middle of They Drink It In The Congo when a PR guy has to step in for an ailing colleague at an imminent press conference and utters the line above. The answer he gets exposes not only the vast complexity of the socio-political issues in the Democratic Republic of Congo but also the way in which Westerners seek to reduce them to manageable soundbites so that they can be dismissed as problems easily solved

Which in a nutshell is the key issue at the heart of Adam Brace’s new play for the Almeida. Aware of the impossibility of doing Congolese history justice in a couple of hours, he approaches the issue from an alternative angle, the impossibility of “doing something good about something bad”. Daughter of a white Kenyan farmer, Stef now works for a London NGO and is excited to be given the opportunity to organise ‘Congo Voice’, a new arts festival raising awareness of the issues there. Continue reading “Review: They Drink It In The Congo, Almeida Theatre”

Short Film Review #47

Eclipse Theatre’s 10by10 project was a series of short films “exploding the myth of a homogenised Black British culture”, all directed by Dawn Walton but written by and starring a wide range of some of our most exciting writers and performers. Filmed in 10 different cities across the UK, the hometowns of the playwrights in fact, and each shot in a single day, these make a fascinating insight into a wider cross-section of British society that perhaps is normally seen. Part 1 of 2. Continue reading “Short Film Review #47”

Review: Belong, Royal Court

“And what is the Nigerian dream?”

An original commission by British/African theatre company Tiata Fahodzi, the Royal Court upstairs now plays host to Bola Agbaje’s Belong. In this play that moves between London and Nigeria, Agbaje takes on an ambitious amount of subject matter: the diverse political cultures of the two countries, the differing experiences of first- and second-generation Black British people, whether notions of cultural identity can transcend nationality and race, the corruption endemic in so much of Nigerian bureaucracy, all in a swift 90 minutes, with new Artistic Director of the Tricycle Indhu Rubasingham taking on directorial duties.    

Disillusioned at his defeat in a general election campaign in Croydon, Kayode has retreated under the duvet to his sofa, much to the chagrin of his wife Rita. Craving some respite and motherly comfort, he books a trip back to Nigeria, the place of his birth, where he finds his place in the familial home usurped by Kunle, a bright young boy that Mama has taken under her wing and who is being groomed for great political things. But politics in Nigeria is a whole different kettle of egusi soup and as Kayode sees how Kunle’s bold statements have to go hand-in-hand with placating the crooked Chief Olowolaye, he sees the opportunity for a second bite at achieving political success.    Continue reading “Review: Belong, Royal Court”

Review: In The Blood, Finborough Theatre

“Five kids and not one of them gotta daddy”

In The Blood by Suzan-Lori Parks was originally scheduled to be the Sunday/Monday play at the Finborough but when Michael Healey’s The Drawer Boy was postponed due to the indisposition of one of its actors, In The Blood was promoted to a full run. Parks is a prolific American playwright, the first black woman to win a Pulitzer, but this marks the European premiere of this play, one of two she has written, inspired by Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter.

The story centres on Hester La Negrita, an illiterate mother of five children from different fathers, who lives under a bridge in a rough New York neighbourhood. Her oldest son is teaching her to read and write but she’s struggling even with the letter A and she constantly dreams of getting the ‘leg-up’ she needs to escape her situation. However, we meet a parade of adults in her life who hold her back, her best friend, a social worker, a doctor, a minister and her first lover who all could help her in their own way but who end up just using and exploiting Hester, mainly though her sexuality, leading to tragic conclusions.

Structurally, I found it interesting as there is a mix of the gritty realism of life on the street leavened by the comic possibilities with 5 small children, counterpointed by a series of revelations or confessions from the adult characters proving just how hypocritical the attitudes of the community at large really are. These work especially well in the intimate space of the Finborough, with the unflinching brutal honesty of Parks’ writing impossible to escape.

Natasha Bain does well as Hester, a difficult character to like as she is so naive and trusting in the face of repeated disillusionments but Bain imbues her with a quiet dignity and an undoubted sense that no matter how trying they can sometimes be, she really does love her children. From what I remember of Hawthorne’s book though, I struggled to see too many parallels to Hester Prynne, not something that bothered me greatly but people who book on the strength of the Scarlet Letter connection might be disappointed.

Hester aside, the rest of the cast double up as one of her kids and one of her tormentors to largely very great effect. Vinta Morgan deserves kudos for climbing into an adult sized babygrow, Frances Ashman was particularly impressive as tomboyish Bully and the manipulative Welfare but the whole ensemble should be praised for their versatility and the smoothness of their transitions between the characters.

Joe Schermoly’s design is bleakly simplistic but carefully enhanced by Ben Blaber’s lighting, which is most effective during the ‘confessions’. Altogether, it is a very well-performed, thought-provoking piece of work forcing us to look at how we treat the homeless within society: just don’t go expecting to see a version of The Scarlet Letter.

Running time: 2 hours 15 minutes (with interval, possibly subject to change as this was the final preview)
Programme cost: £2
Booking until 4th September
Note: some smoking in second act. The Finborough pub downstairs is closed for renovations so take your own drinks as it does get hot in there.

Originally reviewed for The Public Reviews