TV Review: Doctor Who Series 12

Series 12 of Doctor Who goes hard on what we think we know about the Time Lord and finishes in a blaze of glory

“You can be a pacifist tomorrow. Today you just need to survive”

I don’t think I have ever minded anything that happened in Doctor Who so much that I have declared it cancelled, even at the point where all the magnificent character development by Catherine Tate’s Donna was undone in a plot point of real cruelty. So it is hard to take so-called fans of the show seriously when torrents of complaints are unleashed about the sanctity of a world of science fiction that has long enjoyed challenging and expanding what we know about characters we love. (See my Episode 1 review here.)

So it should come as little surprise that I really rather enjoyed series 12 of Doctor Who. Across the season as a whole, I felt that Jodie Whittaker has settled more into the role, especially as the writers feel more confident in finding her voice. And the balancing act of having three companions in the TARDIS has been more assured now that the business of introducing them is over, allowing the group to splinter off for large chunks of episodes has allowed much more of their characters to shine through, particularly for Mandip Gill’s Yaz (who I am mightily glad survived that final episode – I thought she was doomed after her chat with Graham). Continue reading “TV Review: Doctor Who Series 12”

Review: The School for Scandal, Park Theatre

“I bear no malice to the people I abuse”

Sparkling reinterpretations of 18th century comedies have become something of an annual treat from Jessica Swale’s Red Handed Theatre company and following on from the delights of the Celia Imrie-starring The Rivals, the remounting of Hannah Cowley’s The Belle’s Stratagem and last year’s excellent The Busy Body, it is now the turn of Sheridan’s The School for Scandal to be primped and preened in their deliciously inimitable style. So for those as yet uninitiated to their ways, prepare for witty musical interludes and warmly embracing audience interaction as a vivacious ensemble romp through this comedy of manners.

Led by the machinations of the vicious-tongued Lady Sneerwell – Belinda Lang in epically glam form – Sheridan’s plot winds through a portion of the higher echelons of London society and exposes the gossip-fuelled hypocrisy at the heart of it. Lady Sneerwell wants others to suffer the loss of reputation she has; Sir Peter Teazle is concerned about the flightiness of his flirtatious younger wife; Sir Oliver Surface wants to test the mettle of his two nephews who stand to inherit his vast fortune; and above all, everyone wants to be the first to tell the juiciest pieces of gossip with the most salacious details. Continue reading “Review: The School for Scandal, Park Theatre”

Review: His Greatness, Finborough Theatre

“I don’t write about life”

A programme note informs us that His Greatness is not a play about Tennessee Williams. Instead, Canadian writer Daniel MacIvor has chosen to write a tale inspired by him, based on ‘a potentially true story’ from the twilight of his career. In a hotel room in Vancouver, ‘the playwright’ (never named…) is still clinging onto the lustre of his former glories and desperate to recapture the dream with his latest premiere. But even his ever loyal assistant is beginning to flag and the arrival of a rent boy into the claustrophobic hotel room over a trying 24 hour period forces a reassessment on the part of all three men.

Jean-Marc Puissant’s traverse design does an excellent job of transforming the Finborough’s space into a slightly drab hotel room, double bed at one end and desk at the other, from where bon mots are bounced and verbal volleys are launched, languid seductions attempted and frustrated dreams ground down to dust. MacIvor’s writing is sharp and funny as the three men play the power games they can to come out on top but as the play progresses, the tone becomes more reflective, increasingly bitter as the realities of chasing fading stars become painfully apparent. Walker’s intense production manages this inexorable shift extremely well, mainly thanks to an outstanding cast. Continue reading “Review: His Greatness, Finborough Theatre”

Review: A Streetcar Named Desire, Liverpool Playhouse

“You take it for granted that I am in something that I want to get out of”

Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire seems an unlikely choice to put on in a chilly March in Liverpool – the Donmar’s 2009 production took place at the height of summer – but Gemma Bodinetz’s production succeeds utterly in raising the temperature to create a rather stunning account of this classic play which remains taut and gripping throughout. When Blanche DuBois is forced to throw herself on the mercy of her sister Stella in her tiny New Orleans apartment, Blanche is ill-prepared for the clash of class, culture and character that comes from such proximity to Stella’s husband Stanley as he sets about dismantling her delusions of grandeur with chilling cruelty.

The stifling heat of the French Quarter, and the ever-constricting atmosphere are perfectly simulated here in Gideon Davey’s design (plus special credit to Paul Keogan’s lighting) and Bodinetz expertly increases the pressure in ever-increasing increments to an almost unbearable level. There is dark stuff contained in here, I’d forgotten just how dark myself, yet we’re constantly reminded of Williams’ point that the world is full of pain and suffering and most people just get on with it. Yet Blanche has retreated from reality, glass in hand, Stanley’s completely differing take on life set him on a collision course with her and we are spared none of the violence as class warfare degenerates into domestic abuse on a horrific level. Continue reading “Review: A Streetcar Named Desire, Liverpool Playhouse”

Review: Drowning on Dry Land, Jermyn Street Theatre

“He’s not a novelist, painter or artist…he’s a personality”

Drowning on Dry Land is the third Alan Ayckbourn currently playing in London (Season’s Greetings and Snake in the Grass being the other two) just opening at the Jermyn Street Theatre. Written in 2004, it is a look at the curious nature of Z-list celebrity, of people who are famous just for being famous, following professional celebrity Charlie Conrad, universally adored as a grand underachiever, whose security is revealed to be paper-thin as his wife is terminally unsatisfied, his jaded agent is looking for a way out and as it turns out, he is all too aware of the precariousness of his position. Things come to a head at the birthday party of one of his children in the grounds of their country mansion when he is caught in the most compromising of positions with one of his adoring fans who has her own agenda.

Part of the problem that I had with this show was ironically acknowledged in the show itself – one of the characters even says “six years is a long time in showbusiness” – and the way in which celebrity coverage through various forms of media has saturated the market means that there’s countless ‘real-life’ dramas in our day-to-day lives, should we wish to engage with them. Ayckbourn’s subject matter for this play has been overtaken by reality and resultantly presents little that is acutely observed or revelatory to us here, especially as we are all complicit in the understanding that so much of what is considered ‘celebrity’ these days is purely vacuous and talent-free.

Continue reading “Review: Drowning on Dry Land, Jermyn Street Theatre”