TV Review: Doctor Foster, BBC1

“It’s just once you have the thought…”

I was late to my appointment with Doctor Foster, only getting round to watching episode 1 on Monday but I loved it so much (how could I not when the opening subtitle is “belt buckle being undone” and Bertie Carvel soon strips to his boxers) that I mainlined the next three so that I could watch the finale with the rest of the world. Written by noted playwright Mike Bartlett (King Charles III, Cock, Love Love Love amongst many others), it’s a fierce revenge drama anchored by a cracking performance from Suranne Jones as the titular medic with the errant husband.

From the moment she discovers a long blonde hair on her husband’s scarf, the scene is set for an almighty showdown but Bartlett’s skill is in stretching that moment tantalisingly over the entire series. Secret after secret tumbles out of the closet as she pulls at the thread but almost as destructive as his conduct (and Carvel is brilliantly craven as the slippery Simon) is the behaviour it unleashes in Gemma, her forthright determination cutting swathes through her employment prospects, her friends and neighbours and even her relationship with their 11-year-old son Tom. Continue reading “TV Review: Doctor Foster, BBC1”

The 2014 Manchester Theatre Awards nominations

Best Actor
Rob Edwards, in Duet For One and Separation, at the Octagon Theatre, Bolton
Michael Hugo, in Around The World In 80 Days, at the Royal Exchange
Harry McEntire, in Billy Liar, at the Royal Exchange
Dan Parr, in Britannia Waves The Rules, at the Royal Exchange
Michael Shelford, in Early One Morning, at the Octagon Theatre, Bolton

Best Actress
Clare Foster, in Duet For One and Separation, at the Octagon Theatre, Bolton
Natalie Grady, in Hobson’s Choice, at the Octagon Theatre, Bolton
Suranne Jones, in Orlando, at the Royal Exchange
Maxine Peake, in Hamlet, at the Royal Exchange
Lauren Samuels, in Love Story, at the Octagon Theatre, Bolton Continue reading “The 2014 Manchester Theatre Awards nominations”

TV Review: Scott and Bailey Series 4

“This is something I can’t ignore”

Typical really, the first series of Scott & Bailey that I actually get to watch live on air and it’s the first one that disappointed me. I caught up quickly with the first three over the last few weeks so that I would be up to speed with Series 4 but all in all, I didn’t feel like it was up to the standard. No real overarching story emerged across the eight episodes and without the heightened drama that would have added, this just felt like a retread of some of the same old plot points.

An ill-advised affair with a colleague, a promotion not taken due to personal circumstances, Janet’s kids playing up, tough but tender relations with Gill…it does feel like we’ve been here before. And though there are new twists, none of them really took flight – Rachel’s step up to sergeant never really foregrounded, a hint of romance for Janet left until the very end. The individual cases that came up maintained the usual level of interest but something was lacking in the end. Continue reading “TV Review: Scott and Bailey Series 4”

DVD Review: Scott and Bailey Series 1-3

“You went to live with a fella in Wigan, I assume he had a roof”
 

As with so many television programmes these days, it has taken me an inexplicably long time to get around to watching Scott and Bailey and sure enough once I started, I found myself mainlining all three series in advance of the new series starting on ITV. And sure enough, I loved it. Sally Wainwright is one of our best writers of television without a shadow of a doubt and no matter what she turns her hand to, she barely puts a foot wrong, all the while pushing the boundaries of conventional drama to become infinitely more inclusive, whether through the older characters of Last Tango in Halifax or the fierce and flawed policewomen of Happy Valley and Scott and Bailey.

Scott and Bailey grew out of an original idea by Suranne Jones and Sally Lindsay which Wainwright has written up into three (plus one to come) series of fantastic television. Janet Scott and Rachel Bailey are both DCs in the Manchester Metropolitan Police, part of the MIT team that deals with serious crime. And though it may seem trivial to say it, it is just so brilliantly and so casually feminist. The vast majority of the major roles in the police force just happen to be taken by women – Amelia Bullmore’s DCI Murray heads up the team, Pippa Haywood’s DSI Dodson is the next later up, the main pathologist goes by the name of Scary Mary…and none of it is ever an issue.

Continue reading “DVD Review: Scott and Bailey Series 1-3”

My top 10 favourite Doctor Who guest star appearances

With the new series of Doctor Who almost upon us, I thought I’d look back on some of my favourite guest spots on the show since it has come back on air, as it has become quite the magnet for actors to get on their CV. Have a look at my top 10, well 11, here and let me know who you think should have been on there instead.

Suranne Jones (The Doctor’s Wife)
This is probably my all-time favourite moment out of all of the new Doctor Who episodes. Neil Gaiman’s conceit was brilliantly simple, to bring the TARDIS to life, but Jones’ performance elevates it to something extraordinary, I get goosebumps just thinking about it and this scene, from near the end, is just perfection. As Matt Smith’s lip starts to wobble, we see the Doctor at his most affectingly human.


Continue reading “My top 10 favourite Doctor Who guest star appearances”

Review: Orlando, Royal Exchange

“Their morals were not ours”

Time for a confession – though I know I should have, I’ve not partaken of either Virginia Woolf’s 1928 novel or Sally Potter’s 1992 Tilda Swinton-starring film adaptation of Orlando. So my trip to see the stage version by Sarah Ruhl at the Royal Exchange was actually my first experience of the story of a time-travelling, gender-swapping, history-defying nobleman, which is given highly theatrical life by Max Webster’s production which features Suranne Jones in the leading role.

It is strikingly done – Webster uses Liz Ranken’s movement and Vicki Amedume’s aerial knowledge to create a highly physical world which plays up the comedy of the story. From a sexually voracious Elizabeth I who is most taken with her pageboy to a gorgeous evocation of the arrival of electricity, the silly and the sublime co-exist, often in the form of the chorus of three men who narrate the action and populate the many small scenes. Continue reading “Review: Orlando, Royal Exchange”

2014 What’s On Stage Award nominations

BEST ACTRESS IN A PLAY
Helen Mirren – The Audience at the Gielgud 
Anne-Marie Duff – Strange Interlude at the NT Lyttelton 
Hayley Atwell – The Pride at Trafalgar Studios
Suranne Jones – Beautiful Thing at the Arts 
Tanya Moodie – Fences at the Duchess 

BEST ACTOR IN A PLAY
Daniel Radcliffe – The Cripple of Inishmaan at the Noël Coward 
Ben Whishaw – Peter and Alice at the Noël Coward and Mojo at the Harold Pinter 
James McAvoy – Macbeth at Trafalgar Studios 
Lenny Henry – Fences at the Duchess 
Rory Kinnear – Othello at the NT Olivier  Continue reading “2014 What’s On Stage Award nominations”

Review: Beautiful Thing, Arts Theatre

“Some things are hard to say”

Somewhat appropriately, this 20th anniversary production of Beautiful Thing arrives in London just as a writer, who is carrying much of Jonathan Harvey’s legacy in giving life to a rich tapestry of diverse gay characters, has just closed his own gently touching play of young gay romance Jumpers for Goalposts (look out for its UK tour in the autumn). In the 20 years since Harvey put pen to paper, there have been significant legal, cultural and social changes so that gratefully, we are now in a world where many aspects of being gay are indeed easier. But at the same time, we should not forget that the battle is far from being won – there’s a constant struggle against fear, prejudice, violence, that should never be underestimated, no matter how many ‘gay plays’ may appear in our theatres.


What makes Harvey’s play so special is that it represents one of the first times in which gay characters took centre stage in a play that wasn’t particularly issue-driven and instead, serves up a straight love story (badumtish). Ste and Jamie are two regular working-class South London lads, everyday schoolboys living next door to each other and over the passage of a hot summer, finding that they’ve an awful lot more in common than they ever realised. And that’s essentially the sum of it: ostensibly a ‘gentle’ topic, but the slow but steady discovery of their sexuality and what that is going to mean for their futures, and the worlds of emotion that can accompany the decision to come out are huge, potentially life-changing matters and it is Harvey’s sensitive but assured handling of this that makes Beautiful Thing the timeless success that it is and will continue to be for at least another 20 years more.


But to the production at hand. Nikolai Foster captures much of the delicate innocent magic of the writing through some excellent casting choices. Jake Davies and Danny-Boy Hatchard are just gorgeously right as the teenage lovers, the former’s Jamie refreshingly appealing in his geekiness and the latter’s Jamie a fantastic stage debut with a nuanced understanding of the trauma that accompanies difficult family relationships, whether that violence is physical or emotional. The understated way in which both these actors portray their burgeoning connection has its own quiet power but the other characters of the play also add another dimension and a distinctive colour.

Suranne Jones’ fiercely protective mother Sandra prowls with an instinctive wit, she is armed with some cracking one-liners mostly aimed at Zaraah Abrahams’ neighbour Leah, a school dropout with an amusing Mama Cass fixation and an equally engaging bolshiness. And Jones and Abrahams are so good that one is left here wishing that we could explore a bit more of their characters, not least through the fascinating dynamic behind their sparring. Oliver Farnworth’s Tony, Sandra’s lover, sure looks good but is by far the least developed of the roles and doesn’t always feel as comfortable a fit in the role as he could.     

Colin Richmond’s set looks good in forming the council estate backdrop to the story, my only real problem came with the choice of venue – the Arts Theatre isn’t particularly well suited to the telling of such tenderly intimate stories and so I wouldn’t recommend buying tickets too far back in the theatre or in the circle if at all possible. But I would recommend buying them, to witness some of the tenderest performances and one of the funniest scripts in London and to see not just an important representation of the genuine scope not just of sexuality but also of class that makes up our country.

Running time: 2 hours 15 minutes (with interval)

Booking until 25th May