10 top theatrical moments of 2021

As distinct from my favourite shows of the year, this list celebrates the fact that sometimes the good and the not-so-good co-exist right next to each – some of my favourite moments.

For reference, here’s my 2020 list, 2019 list, 2018 list, 2017 list2016 list2015 list and 2014 list.

Helen McCrory, in memoriam
I still don’t really have the words to talk about how sad the passing of Helen McCrory is, such a favourite actor of mine for so long. But what was joyful was hearing the absolute esteem in which seemingly every one of her colleagues held her, a testament to the person as well as the performer.

Being scared, by women
After having declared that scary theatre just didn’t work for me, the Terrifying Women made me eat my words in quite some style with their Halloween special. Continue reading “10 top theatrical moments of 2021”

TV Review: Silent Witness Series 6

Not a moment too soon, Series 6 of Silent Witness finally includes some colleagues for Sam Ryan to give us some relief from her relentless dourness

“Everyone know you love…getting involved”

Having flirted with releasing Sam Ryan from her torment with a suspected tumour at the end of the last season, Series 6 of Silent Witness makes the wise decision to change things up by building a team around her, to relieve some of the pressure of making her the centre of every case. So we welcome William Gaminara’s Professor Leo Dalton and Tom Ward’s Dr Harry Cunningham as colleagues to the sainted Sam, who allow for multiple cases to now be featured in each story.

It’s a good development and one which improves as the season goes on, even if the inclusion of drama in both their personal lives pushes us a little closer to the soapier side of things. But with the show now anchored in London, we do start to see the rapid changeover of police personnel between each story which, to me, feels like a missed opportunity. Brilliant work by the likes of Lia Williams and Stuart Graham, even Tim Healy, makes any of their investigating officers ripe for a series-long feature but no, it’s not to be.

And even with colleagues in tow, the show now openly mocks Sam’s predilection for getting involved, aka meddling, even to the point of standing in the middle of an active police operation with her hands on her hips saying ‘how dare you tell me what to do’. It’s a ridiculousness that is increasingly hard to bear. Continue reading “TV Review: Silent Witness Series 6”

Review: Waiting for Lefty, Two Lines Productions

A digital production of Waiting for Lefty, updated to the modern day, breathes some sharp, fresh air into the Zoom theatre format

“Can I help it that times are bad?”

In a week when many theatres in England are preparing to open their doors again, it might seem a little perverse to be launching yet another digital production into the ether. But new company Two Lines Productions’ choice of Clifford Odets’ Waiting for Lefty – as directed here by Phil Cheadle – feels like a real shot in the arm for anyone who might be feeling jaded about another Zoom play.

The structure of Odets’ play, centred around a union meeting, lends itself to this format (Cheadle wisely steering clear of any reference to Handforth Parish Council…!). And as this group of cab drivers ferociously debate strike action for a living wage, we find ourselves fully immersed in proceedings in a radically different yet essentially quite similar way that resonates so powerfully at the play’s striking climax. Continue reading “Review: Waiting for Lefty, Two Lines Productions”

12 Days of Christmas – Black Mirror 2:1

“She didn’t know it was fake”

On the fourth day of Christmas, Black Mirror gave to me…Hayley Atwell and a Humans protoype

Be Right Back, the first episode of Series 2 of Black Mirror, finds all sorts of interesting pre-echoes in Series 2 of Humans which has just finished airing this month on Channel 4. There, Carrie-Anne Moss’ grieving scientist was looking at ways in which to effectively transfer the consciousness of her comatose daughter into the digital realm and here, Brooker imagines a possibility where the process has been exploited into something one can buy.

Hayley Atwell’s Martha is devastated when her husband Ash, Domhnall Gleeson, is killed in a car crash in the remote area where they live, all the more so when she discovers she is pregnant. Lost in the throes of grief, an acquaintance – a brilliantly gobby Sinéad Matthews – offers to sign her up to something that will help her cope and Martha finds it impossible to resist. For it is an online service that collates the digital footprint of the deceased, their social media profiles and suchlike, to create a virtual replica of the deceased with whom you can ‘communicate’. Continue reading “12 Days of Christmas – Black Mirror 2:1”

Review: Jane Wenham: The Witch of Walkern, Watford Palace Theatre

“If she’s innocent, we’re simply sending her to God early”

The most powerful image of Jane Wenham: The Witch of Walkern comes courtesy of the centrepiece of James Button’s design, a timber structure illuminated as a church cross on one side and extending as a noose-bearing gallows on the other. It encapsulates the central thesis of Rebecca Lenkiewicz’s play – that twisted symbiosis between the Church and the witch-hunts that scarred society for so long – with an eloquence that characterises much of Ria Parry’s production, which is about to embark on a considerable UK tour.

An Out of Joint, Watford Palace Theatre and Arcola Theatre co-production, in association with Eastern Angles, Lenkiewicz based her drama on real-life events in a Hertfordshire village, an all-too-recognisable tale of society seized by collective fervour. It’s been several decades since any witch hunts but when tragedy falls on the village of Walkern, suspicion quickly falls upon the local cunning woman Jane Walkern and her herbal remedies amid whispers of the return of witchcraft, stoked by new priest Samuel Crane who is determined, quite literally, to get his woman. Continue reading “Review: Jane Wenham: The Witch of Walkern, Watford Palace Theatre”

Review: You Can Still Make A Killing, Southwark Playhouse

“It takes a certain kind of person to work in the city”

Nicholas Pierpan has looked previously at the financial sector before in his monologue The Maddening Rain, but in his new play You Can Still Make A Killing which is now coming to the end of its run at the Southwark Playhouse, his focus pulls out much wider than the impact on just one man. Edward and Jack were both traders at Lehman Brothers but their lives took significantly different turns after the company collapsed as the crisis in financial systems across the world began to really bite.

With too much invested in the firm, Edward’s world falls apart and he is left hanging around hopelessly in his old Starbucks, trying to wheedle his way back in through overheard gossip and tips from former colleagues. He eventually gets a job, but at the Financial Regulations Authority (the FSA by any other name), investigating the very nefarious practices that he himself had been involved in and soon the name of his old friend Jack pops up. For Jack managed to somehow keep his plates spinning in the air and kept his job, as ever more inventive ways of bending the system become necessary. Continue reading “Review: You Can Still Make A Killing, Southwark Playhouse”

Review: Hamlet, Crucible

“For some must watch, while some must sleep”

So part two of the Hamlet week saw me making my first ever visit to Sheffield to the Crucible Theatre where director Paul Miller has reunited with frequent collaborator John Simm in tackling Shakespeare’s epic. I have resisted making any comparisons with the two productions in this review and tried my best to approach the writing of this review as if I had not seen the other.

This Hamlet is very much back to basics, very few props and frippery onstage, so that quite often what we are seeing is simply just a group of actors acting. And whilst on the one hand that was nice to see, on the other, it did mean that there was a whole lot of just standing around and the limited emotional palette with which they had to work meant that too often the connections just weren’t there between the characters, Ophelia and Laertes might as well have been strangers for example. Continue reading “Review: Hamlet, Crucible”

Review: As You Desire Me, Playhouse

A study of memory and identity and how truth is often just relative, Luigi Pirandello’s As You Desire Me is one of his lesser performed works, but presented in a new adaptation by Hugh Whitemore and directed by Jonathan Kent, it has quite the casting coup with both Kristin Scott Thomas and Bob Hoskins as part of the company.

We first meet Scott Thomas as Elma, a singer in a sleazy 1930s Berlin night-club and living in a sado-masochistic relationship with a man Salter and his lesbian daughter Mop who is also attracted to her. A man appears and tells her that she is, in fact Lucia, the wife of an Italian aristocrat. She was the victim of an appalling assault during the First World War and, as a result, lost her memory. But when she goes to Italy to pursue this dream new life, she finds unexpected problems and disappointments. Continue reading “Review: As You Desire Me, Playhouse”