Review: Wildefire, Hampstead Theatre

“To them, we are nothing but a bunch of racist, sexist, overpaid thugs in uniform”

In what turned out to be my second Maria Aberg production in quick succession, I got something of a crash course in just why people talk about this director so excitedly. Here, she takes Roy Williams’ urban police thriller Wildefire and elides its scenes into a single downwards spiral as policewoman Gail Wilde takes on a South London posting but finds herself unprepared for the intense trials and tribulations of life in the Met.

Aberg and Williams do a magnificent job at conjuring a world that is at once innately distrustful of the police yet also guilty of inculcating that distrust. Out of the shadows of James Farncombe’s lighting and the nooks and crannies of Naomi Dawson’s open yet functional design, urban nightmares spill forth whether fighting football fans, council estate domestic abusers or the suffocating menace of disaffected hoodies with nothing to lose. Continue reading “Review: Wildefire, Hampstead Theatre”

TV Review: Silk, Series 3

“It’s not what any of you want”

And so it ends. A little unexpectedly, it was announced by creator Peter Moffat that this third series of Silk would be the last and whilst I would love to say that it was a fitting finale to the joys that were Series 1 and 2, I have to say I was quite disappointed in it. After showcasing Maxine Peake marvellously as the driven QC Martha Costello, here the character was barely recognisable; after securing the fabulous Frances Barber as a striking opposing counsel as Caroline Warwick, her incorporation into Shoe Lane Chambers neutered almost all the interest that had made her so fascinating; and with Neil Stuke’s Billy suffering health issues all the way through, the focus was too often drawn away from the courtroom.

When it did sit inside the Old Bailey, it did what the series has previously done so well, refracting topical issues through the eyes of the law – the kettling of protestors, Premiership footballers believing themselves beyond justice, assisted suicide, the effects of counter-terrorism on minority communities. And it continued to bring a pleasingly high level of guest cast – Claire Skinner was scorchingly effective as a mother accused of a mercy killing, Eleanor Matsuura’s sharp US lawyer reminding me how much I like this actress who deserves a breakthrough, and it always nice to see one of my favourites Kirsty Bushell on the tellybox, even if she melted a little too predictably into Rupert Penry-Jones’ arms. Continue reading “TV Review: Silk, Series 3”

Review: Beautiful Thing, Royal Exchange

“God, coz I bunk off games does it mean I’m gay?”

Jonathan Harvey’s 1993 play Beautiful Thing caused something of a furore when it first opened at the Bush Theatre and watching it now, it is hard to imagine that this sweetly romantic tale of an emerging teenage gay relationship could have managed that. But 18 years is a long time, especially when it comes to attitudes towards homosexuality, culturally this was a pre-Queer as Folk time but more significantly the age of consent for gay men was still 21 (though it was being debated at the time). So despite its unassuming nature, it could well be argued that this play does occupy a landmark place in the development of gay drama.

The play presents three young people, Jamie, Ste and Leah, who are all struggling to ‘fit in’ with their family, their friends, their peers and the world at large. Even the adult characters have their own struggles on this Thamesmead housing estate as poverty looms large but even in these unlikeliest of circumstances, an unexpected flame flickers between Jamie and Ste which is slowly nurtured into something rather beautiful in Sarah Frankcom’s production for the Royal Exchange. Continue reading “Review: Beautiful Thing, Royal Exchange”

Review: Mogadishu, Lyric Hammersmith

“Everyone has problems, he just needs a good slap”

Mogadishu is a new play by Vivienne Franzmann which was one of four winners of the Bruntwood Prize, a playwriting competition. It premiered at the Royal Exchange in Manchester, where it received the royal seal of approval from my Mum and Dad and Aunty Jean but it has now transferred to the Lyric Hammersmith.

White liberal teacher Amanda intervenes in a playground fight when she sees known troublemaker Jason bullying a younger pupil at their inner-city London secondary school but finds herself pushed and shoved to the ground in the ensuing fracas. She is anxious not to see him punished though, conscious of the social consequences for uneducated young black men, but when he flips the table and accuses her of physical and racial abuse, the security of Amanda’s world is shattered with her fitness to be a teacher, even a mother, called into question.

Julia Ford plays Amanda with a powerful dignity, well-intentioned to the end no matter what the cost and her scenes with Ian Bartholomew’s acting headteacher Chris, hamstrung by a world of bureaucracy, child protection legislation and the desire to be seen to be ‘doing the right thing’ ring with a depressing honesty. Shannon Tarbet as her daughter, and also a pupil at the same school, stole the show for me with a stunning intensity as she deals with her own issues and rages at the passivity of her mother. Continue reading “Review: Mogadishu, Lyric Hammersmith”