TV Review: Apple Tree Yard

“Before I met you I was a civilised woman”

Based on the novel of the same name by Louise Doughty, psychodrama Apple Tree Yard has proved itself most watercooler-worthy with its twisting plot, classy cast and yes, controversial moments making it a hit thriller for the BBC. The story revolves around Yvonne Carmichael – celebrated scientist, mother of two, wife to Gary – who, when a chance encounter at work leads to an unexpected quickie with a literal tall dark and handsome stranger, finds her entire world tipped upside down by the consequences that follow.

Written by Amanda Coe and directed by Jessica Hobbs, the first episode plays out as a rather marvellous exploration of a 40-something woman rediscovering her sexuality and having the kind of illicit affair that makes you write naff diary entries (as Yvonne does…). But by the end of the first hour, the drama takes the first of several hard turns as [spoiler alert] she is brutally raped by a colleague. The use of rape as a dramatic device is one which should always be interrogated but here, coming from the text as it does and its devastating impact detailed as painstakingly as it was in episode 2, it felt appropriately handled and never gratuitous. Continue reading “TV Review: Apple Tree Yard”

DVD Review: The 39 Steps

“Life never seems grim after a couple of fried eggs”

I haven’t quite made it to see The 39 Steps on the stage yet, it’s one of those shows that seems set to go nowhere and so I am waiting for a cast to arrive that will really excite me and finally get me into the Criterion Theatre to see it. In the meantime, I borrowed this 2008 BBC adaptation on DVD off a friend to fit into my weekend of spy thrillers. For anyone who hasn’t seen it before (like me), the story revolves around Richard Hannay who, finding himself wrongfully accused of murder in mid-1914, is forced on the run as he uncovers a dastardly plot to cause a major war led by a German spy ring somewhere in Scotland and finds himself being chased by the Germans, the British police and a mysterious bi-plane, even as he tries to save the nation from invasion.

This adaptation was written by Lizzie Mickery from John Buchan’s novel and directed by James Hawes so its pedigree was relatively high, but I have to admit to finding the whole thing a bit creaky. Part of the problem was the central casting of Rupert Penry-Jones as Hannay, an actor whom I’ve previously much enjoyed but who lacks much presence at all here as events just spiral on all around him. Hawes could have done with injecting much more pace into the production all-around too but Mickery’s writing doesn’t help as it lacks any real menace to convince us of the peril in which our hero finds himself in. Continue reading “DVD Review: The 39 Steps”

Review: All My Sons, Digital Theatre

“I’m interested in what people want”

There’s not really much more to be said about All My Sons that I didn’t cover in my original review of the play. Howard Davies’ production of Arthur Miller’s classic was a deserved huge success in the West End in 2010 and Digital Theatre captured it on film over two nights in September and so one now has the opportunity to rent it online, or download it to watch via their video player.

The fact that the play takes place on the single set lends itself to being captured quite easily on film, there’s little theatrical shenanigans employed here to distract from the fireworks of the acting, that is the real focus of this show. David Suchet’s oily geniality and Zoë Wanamaker’s blind forthrightedness are simply exceptional together as the Kellers play host to family and neighbours and are ultimately left helpless as long-buried truths from the past worm their way to the surface with devastating consequences. Continue reading “Review: All My Sons, Digital Theatre”

Review: All My Sons, Apollo Theatre

“I’m his father and he’s my son, and if there’s anything bigger than that I’ll put a bullet in my head!”

Featuring two heavyweights of British acting talent, David Suchet and Zoë Wanamaker, the new production of Arthur Miller’s All My Sons at the Apollo Theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue has already attracted comments which have somehow made it onto big banners up at the theatre along the lines of “as close to a summer blockbuster as the West End can get”. Given that the first preview was just last night, this does seem a little previous, but having attended said first preview, I can honestly say never a truer word was said: this tale of guilt, denial and responsibility is just sensational!

Set in late 1940s smalltown America, All My Sons looks at what happens when capitalist greed runs amok hand in hand with a lack of moral responsibility. Joe Keller is a businessman whose factory was responsible for sending faulty aircraft parts to the American forces, resulting in the deaths of several servicemen in the Second World War. He escaped prison, but his business partner did not, and with his wife Kate and son Chris, has continued to be a successful man, the American Dream personified. However, when the business partner’s daughter Ann arrives for a visit, it becomes apparent that this dream is perilously close to being shattered. It turns out Anne was engaged to the Kellers’ other son Larry who disappeared in combat a few years ago but now has a budding romance with Chris. Kate is dead set against this as she is adamant that Larry is still alive, a delusion tolerated by the other men in the house, but it is the pursuit of the truth behind the force of her denial that finally unlocks the Pandora’s box of terrible secrets. Continue reading “Review: All My Sons, Apollo Theatre”