TV Review: Jonathan Creek Specials (2009–2013)

The Jonathan Creek specials from 2009–2013 undo much of the damage from Series 4, with Sheridan Smith largely to thank for that

“I’ve got a very important presentation to Weetabix in five minutes”

After the horror show that was the fourth series, Jonathan Creek disappeared from our TV screens for five years and for the subsequent five, returned only intermittently for three feature-length specials from 2009–2013. And I think the break did everyone a world of good as these episodes rival some of the show’s best in recapturing the sense of investigative fun that lay at its heart.

Chief in this is the casting of Sheridan Smith as wise-cracking paranormal investigator Joey Ross. Their buddy relationship is well drawn, wisely kept clear of any romantic entanglement and yet still deeply affectionate at its heart. Complex, multi-faceted mysteries are allowed to unfold more effectively in the longer format, although Renwick can’t help himself with women as porn stars and clod-hopping trans jokes. For the most part, everything just hangs together  better – until Jonathan get a wife that is…More of that in Series 5. Continue reading “TV Review: Jonathan Creek Specials (2009–2013)”

TV Review: A Poet in New York

“I am such a disappointment, to everyone it seems. Of course”

Just a quickie for this as it was far too brilliant a piece of television to let slide without comment. Written by Andrew Davies and directed by Aisling Walsh, the focus is the final few months of Dylan Thomas’ life where his alcohol abuse is putting both his health and career at risk during a trip to New York intended to culminate in a meeting with Stravinsky to discuss a collaboration. Whilst staying in a Chelsea hotel, he delves back into his mind’s eye to revisit key moments of his life to desperately try and find something to cling onto.

Tom Hollander is sensational as the booze-sodden Thomas, tragically crushed by the addiction he can’t kick but yet so movingly eloquent when reciting his poetry, which Davies makes great use of throughout the screenplay, and remembering the relationships with his ailing father, and with wife (Essie Davis) and child in Wales, which stimulated such great art from him. Phoebe Fox matches him though as assistant and lover Liz, along with Ewen Bremmer as his long-suffering agent, their efforts to keep him afloat almost unbearably poignant as he pushes them away. Continue reading “TV Review: A Poet in New York”

Review: Vieux Carré, King’s Head Theatre

“What a remarkable tableau vivant”

Though some of Tennessee Williams’ works are considered amongst the finest plays ever written, his legacy as a truly great playwright is something that has developed posthumously. He continued to produce considerable amounts of writing until the day that he died in 1983 but its critical reception was increasingly poor and so much of the latter part of his body of work has remained neglected. His 1977 play Vieux Carré hasn’t been seen in London since 1978 (although part of it formed part of another Williams play I Never Get Dressed Till After Dark On Sundays which played at the Cock Tavern as part of a double bill of unperformed works) but now receives a rare revival at the King’s Head Theatre in north London.

Often, the delving into the little-performed parts of established playwrights’ back catalogues reveals a good reason as to why they have largely on the shelves, but Robert Chevara’s production shimmers with Southern heat and captivating character work to make this a rediscovery worth taking considerable note of. Nicolai Hart Hansen’s set design wisely strips things back to distressed brick walls, maximising the space available into which three beds, a dinner table and a throw-covered grand piano are squeezed to evoke the rooming house of Mrs Wire, on 722 Toulouse in the French Quarter of New Orleans. We start with the figure of The Writer recalling the time he spent there and switch back in time to see him as a callow young man, newly arrived from St Louis and nervously struggling with his unfamiliar surroundings. Continue reading “Review: Vieux Carré, King’s Head Theatre”

Review: Blue Surge, Finborough Theatre

“I thought I could pay for something a little extra…”

Opening with a pair of botched raids on a massage parlour suspected of offering additional services, the Finborough’s latest UK premiere – that of Rebecca Gilman’s Blue Surge – bustles with relationships between cops and hookers, discussions about the American class system and exploring whether you can ever truly escape your past. Set in a mid-sized Midwestern city in the recent past, Curt is a hard-working honourable cop, who with his doofus of a partner Doug was responsible for ballsing up the raids and thus potentially jeopardising a promotion. They both find themselves drawn to two of the workers they encountered there though and whilst Doug falls into a relationship with the ditzy Heather, Curt tries to play the knight in shining armour and rescue Sandy, with whom he feels a great affinity, putting both his job and his relationship with fiancée Beth severely at risk.

For Beth is middle-class and choosing to slum it as an artist and Curt finds it impossible to really connect with her as he is from a solidly working-class background , his upbringing close to the poverty line and continuing, he believes, to shape his life even now. Connecting with Sandy, who reveals a similarly broken childhood which has directly resulted in her career choice, he sees a kindred spirit despite the 20 year age gap and a quirky relationship of sorts starts to grow between them. But whilst he wants to rescue her, she doesn’t actually want rescuing and so good-intentioned as he is, Curt’s actions threaten to jeopardise everything. Continue reading “Review: Blue Surge, Finborough Theatre”

Review: The Children’s Hour, Comedy Theatre

“You ought not to say things like that about people, Mary”

After her (somewhat surprisingly) Olivier-nominated turn in The Misanthrope, Keira Knightley has returned to the same West End stage at the Comedy Theatre to further stretch her dramatic wings in a production of Lillian Hellman’s The Children’s Hour which also features the London stage debut of Ellen Burstyn, plus Carol Kane, Elizabeth Moss and a host of UK actresses in a rare play full of meaty parts for women. I hadn’t originally intended to see this show, the inflated ticket prices proving a step too far for a desperately uncomfortable theatre, especially in the (now no longer) cheap seats, but the offer from a kind soul to do the queuing for the £15 day seats meant that we ended up on the front row (A2&3) on a rainy Wednesday afternoon to be quite pleasantly surprised.

Set in 1930s New England at a small boarding school run by Karen and Martha, two women who after years of hard work and building up the school, are finally secure enough to begin looking at other things in life, in the case of Karen, marrying her patient fiancé. The only cloud on the horizon is problem child Mary, a massively disruptive influence and constant troublemaker who after yet another punishment is doled out to her, decides to run away to her grandmother’s house. But when an argument between Martha and her dippy aunt turns particularly rancorous with accusations of unnatural feelings towards Karen and is overheard by some of the other schoolgirls who pass on the tidbit to Mary, the malevolent child accuses her teachers of being secret lovers. It’s a charge which the grandmother takes deadly seriously, encouraging all the parents to withdraw their children and thereby threatening the very livelihood of the two women as they battle to clear their name. Continue reading “Review: The Children’s Hour, Comedy Theatre”