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?!
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”
“It took a lot of love to hate him”
On the one hand, Legend has a pair of cracking performances from Tom Hardy, who plays both Ronnie and Reggie Kray, that makes it an instantly interesting proposition. On the other, it’s a rather shallow, even sanitised version of events that delves into zero psychological depth and smacks of a irresponsibly glamourised take on violence that plays up to the enduring roll-call of British crime flicks that just keep on coming.
Writer and director Brian Helgeland begins with the Krays already established as East End hoodlums and tracks their rise to power as they seek to control more and more and have all of the capital under their thumb. This is seen through the prism of Reggie’s relationship and eventual marriage to Frances Shea, the teenage sister of his driver, a sprightly turn from Emily Browning when she’s allowed to act but too often she’s forced to deliver syrupy voiceover. Continue reading “DVD Review: Legend”
“Sometimes it grieves me that I have never loved anyone. I don’t think I’ve ever been loved either. It really distresses me”
Trevor Nunn’s revisit of his production of Scenes from a Marriage for the St James Theatre was due to open last week but untimely and persistent illness for one of its leads, Mark Bazeley, meant that a series of early performances were cancelled and its opening postponed until tonight. And we could all probably do with some of whatever he took to get well as alongside the glorious Olivia Williams, there’s some extraordinary work going on here in this adaptation by Joanna Murray-Smith of Ingmar Bergman’s timeless classic, first seen at Coventry’s Belgrade back in 2008 with Nunn’s then-wife Imgen Stubbs and Iain Glen.
Over fifteen or so ‘scenes’ spanning a decade, we see the portrayal of Johan and Marianne’s marriage from the opening (dubious) highlight of being interviewed for a magazine on their 10th wedding anniversary through the trials of painful losses and abject betrayals into the battlefield of bitter recriminations, the divorce courts and beyond. It probes into the state of marriage with unblinking precision, peeling away the layers of complacency that settle into long-running relationships and revealing the truth about how people really feel about each other, no matter how messy or raw it becomes.
At its best, this is coruscating, blood-pumping stuff. Its blistering take on the institution of marriage is spell-binding as closeness is corrupted and intimacies become injurious – they say familiarity breeds contempt but it has rarely been so uncompromising as this. Williams cracks open Marianne’s veneer of domesticated bliss to reveal a mass of insecurities, anguished desperation at the prospect of being abandoned that is near-impossible to watch, along with glimmers of razor-sharp wit and intelligence to make her engagingly complex.
And Bazeley is excellent as mid-life-crisis-stricken Johan, never afraid of showing this man’s narcissism and cruelty for what it is as he chases personal desires, a new piece of skirt, at the expense of his wife and (unseen) child, exposing his character’s weaknesses with skill, yet always maintaining a credible lived-in-ness with Williams’ Marianne that makes them utterly believable as a well-worn couple, inextricably connected even as they tear each other apart. The only criticism I could wager comes with a particular jump in time which occurs late on and which exculpates some rather heinous business, Bergman/Murray-Smith ducking the exploration of one key aspect of the deterioration of this partnership.
Scenes are interspersed with snippets of home videos which are surprisingly effective; Shane Attwooll, Melanie Jessop and Aislinn Sands provide sterling support as a range of peripheral characters; and the piles of furniture that are loaded on either side of the set, ferried on and off by capable stage-hands, neatly suggest the accumulated piles of baggage that weigh us all down. Nunn directs with a surprisingly nifty sense of pace and though he doesn’t specify if we’re in Bergman’s Sweden, his own London or anywhere else for that matter, it never matters –it could be anywhere, anytime, any of us.
Photos: Nobby Clarke
Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes (with interval)
Programme cost: £3.50
Booking until 9th November
I’m not one for standing ovations really, a show has to be beyond superb and really move me before I get on my feet, so imagine my surprise as I found myself standing and cheering before Elena Roger had even finished her final note of ‘Je Ne Regrette Rien’! This is a truly amazing production of a show that I would bet the house on winning at least one Best Actress award for Ms Roger by the end of the year. Ladies and gentlemen, this is Piaf.
A reworking of Pam Gems’ 1978 play which sketches the tragic and tragically short life of French street singer Edith Piaf, it doesn’t actually feature too much by the way of biographical detail as it places the songs for which she is so rightly famous full square and centre. And this is why it is such a success. Continue reading “Review: Piaf, Donmar Warehouse”
The Last Days of Judas Iscariot is a play by American Stephen Adly Guirgis, receiving its UK premiere here at the Almeida in a co-production with Headlong, who are run by Rupert Goold who is the director. The play centres on a trial testing the guilt of Judas, ostensibly set in Purgatory which looks and sounds a lot like a downtown seedy part of New York today. An array of witnesses from all points in history and the Bible are summoned to argue the toss, but as they’ve all been reincarnated as foul-mouthed typical New Yorkers, they are stripped of the protective aura that history and reputation has accorded them and we see everything from a whole new perspective.
It is certainly a different way of looking at things but it has been so well written and I feel the key to its success is in its no-holds-barred approach to telling it like it is whilst maintaining a sense of decorum. Adly Guirgis is often irreverent but also respectful with it, making it all the funnier when Mother Teresa is hauled all over the coals for opposing Vatican reforms that condemned anti-Semitism and Sigmund Freud’s testimony is discredited due to his raging cocaine addiction. Continue reading “Review: The Last Days of Judas Iscariot, Almeida”