Review: The Forest, Hampstead Theatre

Like being given a jigsaw with no corner pieces, the challenges of putting together what is happening in Florian Zeller’s The Forest means it is hardly worth the trip to the Hampstead Theatre

Apparently you’ve no objection to telling stories yourself”

You might not have picked Florian Zeller to be the writer who arguably one of the most regularly produced in London over the last few years but theatres have fallen hard for the French playwright (indeed, cinemas too as his Academy Award for The Father last year attests). His latest new play The Forest arrives now at the Hampstead Theatre but despite the quality cast, I found it hugely disappointing.

Any familiarity with Zeller means that you know nothing is ever straight-forwardly presented in his world. But he pushes that to the extreme here, amping up the levels of disconcertion to a point of almost meaninglessness. There’s naturally no concession to narrative construction but this goes beyond fiendish puzzle building, this is being obtuse for the sake of being obtuse, Zeller trying to outdo his reputation at the expense of all else. Continue reading “Review: The Forest, Hampstead Theatre”

TV Review: Silent Witness Series 22

Series 22 of Silent Witness continues a rich vein of form as it hits 200 episodes of hot button topics

“Things don’t always conform to expectation”

Series 22 of Silent Witness sees the crime procedural hit the impressive landmark of 200 episodes and after the highs of the previous season, it maintains a strong standard of storytelling that keeps it feeling fresh, even if it does tend to fall back on its regular crutches as it refuses to let hardly any characters recur beyond their single stories. 

Even with Nikki having found love and managing to maintain a transatlantic relationship with Michael Landes’ US diplomat Matt from last time around, keeping him in Washington means he’s barely there. And new intern Alice, who gets to play a big part in the final case, is only introduced just beforehand which feels like a waste of Kiran Sonia Sawar (and also reduces the story’s emotional impact since she’s practically a stranger, qv Mexican intern Luisa from last season’s finale…). Continue reading “TV Review: Silent Witness Series 22”

News: Cast for Hampstead Theatre’s The Fever Syndrome announced

Hampstead Theatre has announced the full cast and creative team for the world premiere of Alexis Zegerman’s vivid, new play, The Fever Syndrome, including the marvellous Alexandra Gilbreath

Running from 19th March until 23rd April 2022, The Fever Syndrome will be directed by Roxana Silbert and designed by Lizzie Clachan and features quite the impressive cast.

Lisa Dillon (Cranford, BBC One; Hapgood, Hampstead Theatre), Jake Fairbrother (Skyfall, EON Productions; Hamlet, National Theatre), Alexandra Gilbreath (Not Going Out, BBC One; The Provoked Wife, Royal Shakespeare Company), Robert Lindsay (My Family, BBC One; Anything Goes, Barbican), Sam Marks (Doctor Who, BBC One; Richard II, Royal Shakespeare Company), Bo Poraj (Miranda, BBC One, Raya, Hampstead Downstairs) and Alex Waldmann (The Mikvah Project, Orange Tree; Julius Caesar, Royal Shakespeare Company) will perform in this thrilling portrait of a brilliantly dysfunctional family.  They are joined by Nancy Allsop and Charlotte Pourret Wythe. Continue reading “News: Cast for Hampstead Theatre’s The Fever Syndrome announced”

TV Review: Doctor Who Flux (Series 13)

Opting for a miniseries for Series 13 of Doctor Who certainly changes up the pace well, as Flux comes to a breathless end with some great work by Jodie Whittaker

“Do you think running will help?”

And so the end begins for Jodie Whittaker, and for Chris Chibnall. The 13th Doctor and her showrunner had a three-series-and-out deal which they are honouring and so this final season – a miniseries called Flux and three specials – will take us up to the centenary of the BBC in late 2022 and the regeneration of the Time Lord into…well, whoever the returning Russell T Davies decides.

One might have thought opting for the ostensibly more focused notion of a miniseries, of one overarching story stripped over six episodes, would have made Flux a simpler affair than the last few series of Doctor Who but Chibnall clearly had other plans. But having reached the end, I’d say that it was a good deal more fun than anticipated, a full-on caper merely teasing traumatic revelations about the Doctor’s selves rather diving full on into the morass of series lore. Continue reading “TV Review: Doctor Who Flux (Series 13)”

News: National Theatre adds The Deep Blue Sea and The Comedy of Errors to National Theatre at Home

National Theatre adds The Deep Blue Sea and The Comedy of Errors to National Theatre at Home

The National Theatre has today announced The Deep Blue Sea, with Helen McCrory in the lead role as Hester Collyer, will be added to National Theatre at Home for audiences around the world to experience. The recording is dedicated in fond memory of Helen McCrory, who had a long and rich association with the National Theatre and who sadly passed away last month. The Deep Blue Sea was her most recent performance at the National Theatre in 2016. Two on-stage conversations with Helen McCrory have also been made available on National Theatre at Home: one on stage in 2014 with Genista McInosh as Helen discussed preparing to play Medea (also available on National Theatre at Home) and one from 2016 in conversation with Libby Purves about playing Hester in The Deep Blue Sea.

Carrie Cracknell, who directed Helen in Medea and The Deep Blue Sea, said: “Helen was undoubtedly one of the greatest actors of her generation. Incandescent, playful, fierce and wildly intelligent. Her craft and precision as an actor was awe-inspiring. On some afternoons, while Helen was rehearsing The Deep Blue Sea at the NT, the sun would pour through the windows, and it would feel for a moment that time had stopped. That the world had stopped revolving, as the entire cast and crew would stand, quietly enraptured by the humanity and aliveness and complexity of Helen’s work. As we moved the production into the auditorium, I would marvel at how she held an audience of 900 people in the palm of her hand. She could change how we felt with the slightest glance, a flick of the wrist, a sultry pause, yet somehow she never lost the central truth of her character. I couldn’t be prouder that we have this beautiful recording of our production to share. Continue reading “News: National Theatre adds The Deep Blue Sea and The Comedy of Errors to National Theatre at Home”

TV Review: Waking the Dead Series 4

It took them a moment but Series 4 of Waking the Dead finally gets round to shaking up the formula, poor Mel 

“That’s not how my mother said it would be. In her day, you didn’t expect to be widowed and then go through the ignominy of having your late husband’s body covered with another man’s semen”

Spoiler alert, Mel’s rooftop demise is etched in my memory but I couldn’t remember exactly when it came in terms of the show as a whole. So I was pleased when I got to the end of Series 4 and only a few moments before did I clock that this would be Claire Goose’s final episode of Waking the Dead, the episode refreshingly free of too much foreshadowing.

It is a shame that it took killing one of the team but you have to say the show needed it, having settled far too easily into a formulaic rhythm which meant this grand rewatch hasn’t been as engaging as I first thought it might be. Without any real overarching series arcs, there’s not quite the dramatic impetus that merits the attention ist is currently getting from me. Continue reading “TV Review: Waking the Dead Series 4”

Lockdown TV Review: Spooks Series 4

With the loss of its original core cast and the destabilising presence of Martine McCutcheon, Series 4 of Spooks struggles to find its feet

“You’re up against the British state…who do you think is going to win that particular battle?”

This season of Spooks struggles quite badly amidst all the upheaval of Series 3 in which in the entire original team departed Thames House. Tom’s identikit replacement Adam does well enough but somehow, something goes terribly wrong with the introduction of his wife and fellow spy Fiona (Olga Sosnovska). They sadly lack chemistry and their domestic drama just doesn’t translate well into the business of saving the country on a weekly basis.

The tone is set by the randomly chaotic energy of Martine McCutcheon’s guest spot in the opener two-parter and from then on, as we cover people smuggling, the rise of far right political movements, cultists and the ethics of releasing terrorist suspects, the series jerks along rather, Raza Jaffrey’s Danny-a-like isn’t given anywhere near enough to do and the snaffling of Miranda Raison’s Jo off the street is as bizarre an advert for recruitment as any.

Nicola Walker-ometer
It’s a pretty low-key series for Ruth – hints of her passion for Harry come through whether in romantic feeling or rebelling against him a bit. She comes into her own in the final episode with the revelation of a step-brother who killed himself but has never been mentioned before putting her in the line of fire but all in all she deserves better. Continue reading “Lockdown TV Review: Spooks Series 4”

News: #HampsteadTheatreAtHome launches this week

The latest venue to announce the opening of their digital archive in order to satisfy our theatrical cravings is the Hampstead Theatre who, in partnership with The Guardian will re-release the live stream recordings of Mike Bartlett’s Wild, Beth Steel’s Wonderland and Howard Brenton’s Drawing the Line for free.

Available to watch on theguardian.com and hampsteadtheatre.com, the three productions will be made available, on demand, over three consecutive weeks as part of the theatre’s #HampsteadTheatreAtHome series and the first of these – Wild – is available now. And once you’ve watched it, take a look at the ways you can support the Hampstead Theatre here. Continue reading “News: #HampsteadTheatreAtHome launches this week”

Oscar Week Film Review: Phantom Thread

It may be Daniel Day-Lewis’ apparent last hurrah but Phantom Thread is all about Lesley Manville’s world-conquering excellence.

“No one gives a tinker’s fucking curse about Mrs. Vaughn’s satisfaction!”

Written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson and nominated for 6 Academy Awards, a lot of the attention around Phantom Thread has been around Daniel Day-Lewis’ announcement that this would be his last film role. But for me (and for any right-thinking folk), the pleasure comes from a scene-stealing supporting role for Lesley Manville which has garnered her one of those nods. (Not sure if she’ll be attending the ceremony though or giving her understudy a brief moment in the sun.)

And it is an unexpectedly engaging and surprising film. Day-Lewis plays fashion designer Reynolds Woodcock whose rule on the world of 1950s London couture is slowly slipping due to the arrival of the New Wave. His audacious arrogance, sorry artistic temperament, is brought into question when he meets Belgian waitress Alma but when a romance sparks up between the pair, the result is a far from conventional affair which leaves its gender dynamics entirely shooketh. Continue reading “Oscar Week Film Review: Phantom Thread”

Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 4

“Donna Noble has left the library. Donna Noble has been saved”

And here we are, my favourite series of Doctor Who. So much huge wonderfulness and even its less good moments are still more than halfway decent. Key to the series’ success is Catherine Tate’s Donna Noble – gobby and one-dimensional in her introductory episode the Christmas special The Runaway Bride, her character journey throughout this season is magisterially constructed, a true awakening of self (with thankfully no romantic inclinations towards our Time Lord) and one given unbearable poignancy due to its frustratingly tragic end.

It’s also one of the best constructed series in terms of its over-arching season arc, its warnings and clues layered meaningfully into several stories and building into a momentous and properly climactic finale, which lands just about the right level of grandiosity. There’s also the first companion-lite episode (the superbly creepy Midnight) to go with the Doctor-lite one (the achingly beautiful dystopian Turn Left); a typically brilliant Moffat double-header in  Silence in the Library and Forest of the Dead with gorgeous work from Alex Kingston as the soon-to-be-hugely-significant River Song; and if the return of Rose undoes some of the emotional impact of the Series 2 finale, Billie Piper’s work is spikily powerful. These are episodes I can, and have, watched over and over again.

Continue reading “Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 4”