TV Review: The Crown, Series 1

“To do nothing is the hardest job of all” 

It’s taken a little time to getting round to watching all of The Crown because, in a first for me, I found it impossible to binge-watch the show. Even with Netflix kindly providing offline downloads just at the point where I had a lot of travelling to do, Peter Morgan’s drama was lots of fun to watch but rarely captured the buzzy energy that has accompanied much online programming. Because it many ways it isn’t like much of Netflix’s previous output, it really is an encroachment into BBC Sunday night and as such, I felt it worked best spread out in almost weekly installments.

That’s partly down to the nature of the subject material, we’re not likely to get many surprises in a detailed retelling of the history of the House of Windsor. But it is also due to Morgan’s writing which tends a little to the formulaic, especially in the middle part of the series, which is when my interest was most in danger of waning. The opening two episodes started brightly but once the shock of becoming monarch was over, the rhythm became very much one of someone close to the queen has an issue and she has to weigh personal desires against public duty, the latter always winning out. Continue reading “TV Review: The Crown, Series 1”

TV Review: The Crown Episodes 1 + 2

“The country needs to be led by someone strong”

You’d be hard-pressed not to know that Netflix have a new series called The Crown as a substantial portion of the £100 million plus budget has clearly been spent on blanket marketing coverage. And like a good punter brainwashed by adverts, I’ve watched the first two episodes to get a sense of what it is like.

Written by Peter Morgan and directed by Stephen Daldry, its credentials are impeccable and there is a slight sense of stepping on the BBC’s toes here, something alluded to in pre-show publicity that informed us the Beeb were less than willing to share archive footage from Buckingham Palace. But with as considerable and lavishly-spent a budget as this, the comparison isn’t quite fair as the ambitions here are most grand. Continue reading “TV Review: The Crown Episodes 1 + 2”

Review: The Argument, Hampstead Downstairs

“The crisis is over. Isn’t it…?”

The Hampstead Downstairs continues its strong run of programming with The Argument, further developing already existing creative relationships. This is William Boyd’s first original play, following his adaptation of 2 Chekhov short stories in Longing which played the main house in 2013, and it is directed by Anna Ledwich, who helmed the Olivier-nominated Four Minutes Twelve Seconds here in 2014.

Though it is a much abused term when it comes to theatre marketing, The Argument really does fall into the category of dark comedy. Pip and Meredith are just back from seeing some popcorn flick at the cinema and a disagreement about the flimsiness of the plot snowballs into a titanic argument about the very nature of their relationship, which then cracks under the strain. In a series of two-handers, Boyd then shows us how the ripples of this quarrel impact on their best friends Tony and Jane and her parents Chloe and Frank, provoking new arguments too. Continue reading “Review: The Argument, Hampstead Downstairs”

Review: Anna Karenina, Royal Exchange

“Love is just a better way to hurt each other”

Ellen McDougall’s debut production for the Royal Exchange is actually a trans-Pennine affair as once Anna Karenina wraps up in Manchester, the show will be heading over the hills (stopping at a Betty’s Tea Room en route as must surely be done) to the West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds, along with Chris Urch’s The Rolling Stone with which it plays in rep. It is always pleasing to see this kind of regional collaboration actually coming to fruition as it does provide reassurances that the arts are finding the best ways to work through these financially straitened times.

It helps of course when the work is of this quality. Jo Clifford’s adaptation of Tolstoy’s famed novel is very much unafraid to cut and reconfigure the story into something overtly theatrical as characters break out of the narrative to introduce themselves and provide short cuts through the author’s tangled web of nineteenth century Russian aristocracy. Clifford, and McDougall, also pull in the focus so that the counterpoint of Anna’s fast-burning passion with the dashing Vronsky and Levin’s hard-fought love for Katy becomes the beating heart of the matter. Continue reading “Review: Anna Karenina, Royal Exchange”

Review: You May Go Now – A Marriage Play, Finborough Theatre

“You will get off the bus and go to some sort of dining establishment and make eyes. Someone will find you.”

You May Go Now – A Marriage Play, written by US playwright Bekah Brunstetter takes up the Sunday/Monday slot at the Finborough theatre for the next three weeks, and is the first time that this play has been performed in Europe. Things open with Dottie teaching her daughter Betty how to be the perfect 1950s housewife, today’s lesson is baking and icing a cake. The kitchen set is carefully dressed with a great eye for period detail but it soon becomes clear that all is most definitely not what it seems under the surface. Betty has been a virtual prisoner, allowed no contact with the outside world, yet Dottie then throws her out into that world on her 18th birthday to find herself a husband. The next scene then flips the scenario on its head as Dottie becomes a modern-day woman, with a depressed husband, struggling to complete a novel: or does she? When Betty returns from the bus stop, and is followed by a mysterious boy called Phillip, it is clear things are about to change.

It is darkly funny, with lots of sparky dialogue especially around the largely unaware Betty, and the story itself is engaging and suspenseful once one has gotten a handle on the wilfully obscure structure. But there were also elements that didn’t work: the hints of child abuse were most disconcerting but then swiftly abandoned and left unexplored. And it was never apparent to me why Dottie was trying to get rid of Betty in the first place, the act that sets up the whole play. Continue reading “Review: You May Go Now – A Marriage Play, Finborough Theatre”