With major fluctuations in the force, Series 8 maintains a strong level for Spooks – you could argue it should have stopped here
“They think you’ve got Harry Pearce in the palm of you hand and you’re making moves”
Finally, after too many years of yoyo-ing between good series bad series, Spooks finally put together two strong instalments back to back. I think the shorter run (8 episodes) really does focus the writing which now goes all-in on the serial plot line running through the whole series, yet still finding time to blend in self-contained storylines here and there.
Big betrayals cut deep, harsh on a team barely recovered from Connie’s recent deception. Personnel changes rock the team equally hard, as Malcolm is (metaphorically) sacrificed to bring back Ruth, Jo is (literally) sacrificed for big business and Ros (understandably) goes in hard for Tobias Menzies. And Richard Armitage’s Lucas North gets his arse out – quality TV all round. Should Spooks have gone out all guns blazing here?
She’s back! There’s a measure of contrivance in Ruth’s return to the show, necessary to undo the finality of her previous departure and to extricate her from the cushy life in Cyprus which she’d established forself. So cheerio to handsome new partner (they weren’t married so it’s OK he got killed), sayonara to her step-child in all but name, and welcome back to sweet emotional lrepression with Harry. Continue reading “Lockdown TV Review: Spooks Series 8”
“Knowledge is nothing without understanding”
I loved chemistry at school, enjoyed biology too but for some reason, my brain could never wrap itself around physics. So when two characters in Terry Johnson’s play Insignificance started discussing the specific nature of the theory of relativity – albeit through the medium of toy trains and helium-filled balloons – I was thrown back to the mild panic of Mr Byrchall’s classroom and the general feel of ‘I just don’t get it!’.
But Insignificance is not a play about physics and the two characters aren’t just any random people. It’s 1954 and though they’re officially named The Actress and The Professor, we can – with reasonable confidence – infer that they’re Marilyn Monroe and Albert Einstein. And they’re intermittently joined by her husband Joe DiMaggio – The Ball Player – and Joseph McCarthy – The Senator, for a fantasia on the nature of celebrity that is occasionally quite dazzling. Continue reading “Review: Insignificance, Arcola Theatre”
“I learned a long time ago not to trust what people tell me”
I did want to love Fearless, I really did. Any series with Helen McCrory in its leading role has to be worthy of consideration and ITV have been upping their drama game (qv Unforgotten) recently. But despite an intriguing opener, the six episodes of Fearless increasingly tested the patience as Patrick Harbinson’s script failed to deliver on its twistily complex promise, instead giving us a fairly run-of-the-mill thriller that ultimately proved less than thrilling.
With a playbook that threw out major themes with regularity – miscarriages of justice, the Syrian refugee crisis, institutional corruption, the war in Iraq, the ethics of the surveillance state, just to name a few – it was inevitable that some would fall by the wayside. But with the amount of personal backstory for McCrory’s Emma also shoehorned in there, the narrative was both painfully overstuffed and sadly inconsequential – it was increasingly hard to know what we were meant to care about.
Continue reading “TV Review: Fearless, ITV”
“You might put me in prison but let me tell you this: you can’t judge me unless you’ve had it done to you.”
Blimey, I knew Unforgotten was good (here’s my Episode 1 review, and my Series 1 review) but I wasn’t expecting it to be this soul-shatteringly excellent. More fool me I suppose, Nicola Walker is a god among mortals and her presence alone is reliably proving a harbinger of excellence, but allied to Chris Lang’s scorching writing, it’s hard to imagine that we’ll see much better television than this before the year is out.
That it managed this by using elements that have been seen recently (historical child sex abuse as per Line of Duty; the Strangers on a Train twist featured in Silent Witness just last month) and imbuing them with a compelling freshness is impressive enough, but the way in which it revealed this at the mid-point of the series and yet still had hooks and surprises aplenty to keep me gripped right until the bitterly haunting end. Continue reading “TV Review: Unforgotten Series 2”
“This thing – this thing is not over yet….”
Ivo van Hove’s revelatory approach to Arthur Miller’s work has set the bar almost impossibly high for other directors and so it’s perhaps a little unfortunate that Timothy Sheader is first up with All My Sons, the opening production in this year’s season in the Open Air Theatre in Regent’s Park. It’s not that it’s a bad production, not at all, but rather it just feels a little pedestrian, too traditional to really make the heart beat faster in the way brilliant theatre should, and in the way previous productions have done.
There are elements that work well – the span of the play over a day is perfectly suited to the night that slowly falls over the park, the planes that fly noisily overhead add a piquancy of their own and the well-cast company are excellent. Tom Mannion’s Joe Keller is the patriarch whose collusion in a terrible fraud hangs ominously like a cloud over his family, Charles Aitken and Amy Nuttall are moving as son Chris and his intended (with strings) Ann and Bríd Brennan is fearsomely fantastic as the delusional Kate. Continue reading “Review: All My Sons, Open Air Theatre”
“What do we know about her circumstances?”
The Panel is the only play in the season which does not feature a woman on stage. It stars all five male members of the ensemble in an interview panel situation, they’ve just spent three days interviewing a woman-only shortlist for a job and need to appoint, but with various deadlines fast approaching and a range of individual agendas at play, it is not a clear-cut decision.
I wasn’t a fan of the gender politics on display here. It felt a little reductive, suggesting no progress in the corporate world, ultimately tarring all men with the same brush and certainly I didn’t feel as if it had anything new to say. It did raise the interesting point though that only one of the women who was interviewed would have made the sift if it hadn’t have been a women-only shortlist, raising the question about the effectiveness of positive discrimination, something Ann Widdecombe’s interjections in the verbatim section focuses on: it has to be on merit, she says. Continue reading “Review: The Panel, Women, Power and Politics at the Tricycle”
“There’s only so much non-violence one can take”
The only play to feature the entire ensemble is Lucy Kirkwood’s Bloody Wimmin which rounds off the evening for Then. Taking the shocking fact, that many women in their 20s have never heard of Greenham Common or what it stood for as its starting point, it looks back at the protest camp set up in the name of nuclear disarmament, how it developed and what it came to mean to the women who were there, and then it moves to look at what, if any, impact it has on today’s society.
Starting off on Greenham Common itself with a delightful sending-up of the stereotypical view of the protesters, chunky-knit and wellington-boot wearing lesbians smelling of wood-smoke and obsessed with petty squabbles usually about the minutiae of cleaning and cooking rotas and missing ladles. Things take a more serious tone with the arrival of pregnant Helen, played by Claire Cox, and we follow her on her journey as a woman seeking personal liberation and enlightenment away from the daily grind and society’s expectations of her, especially as a mother and an expecting one as well to boot. Her confrontation with husband Bob (Oliver Chris) is genuinely shocking as they play a game of brinkmanship with the emotional missiles they have on each other, papering the cracks of their marriage and so we see Greenham actually as the catalyst for empowering women. Continue reading “Review: Bloody Wimmin, Women, Power and Politics at the Tricycle”
“I am blank between the legs”
Rebecca Lenkiewicz’s contribution is The Lioness, a character study of Elizabeth I, picking out two encounters from her life to show how she dealt with the pressures of power and the political role she chose for herself, of wife and mother to the nation. The confrontation with the dour John Knox, founder of the Presbyterians and a shocking misogynist, reminding her that being Queen in a man’s world was rife with long-held antipathy to female leaders and whilst his vituperative writings were not aimed specifically at her (but rather her sister), her sense of sisterhood was sufficiently strong to never forgive him.
And her relationship with the Earl of Essex, a favourite in her later life despite being the step-son of Dudley who possibly came closest to marrying her. In this continued liaison, there’s more of a sense of her need for companionship with Oliver Chris’ Essex after a hard life of power, his handsome arrogance proving irresistible and thereby making her devastation at his ultimate betrayal despite their familiarity (‘he called me Bess…’) all the more heartbreaking. Continue reading “Review: The Lioness, Women, Power and Politics at the Tricycle”
“’I never said there was no such thing as society’
‘Yes you did, it was in Women’s Own!’”
Written by Moira Buffini, soon to become the second living female playwright to have a play performed on the Olivier stage at the National Theatre (although by saying that am I undermining what this season is trying to achieve? I know it shouldn’t matter but surely it is significant enough to mention?), Handbagged is an extremely witty look at what the relationship between the Queen of England and Margaret Thatcher might have been like. Thatcher had a weekly audience with Elizabeth II during her Prime Ministership and this could be seen as the most constant professional relationship she had with another woman during that time, but it was not the easiest of times between the two as we see here.
They were tested by a range of major challenges. Like Reagan’s invasion of Grenada, supported by Thatcher but as a Commonwealth country the Queen had an interest as the Head of State there, and the Queen took great exception to not being fully included in the consultations around it. Like Thatcher’s rejection of sanctions against South Africa in order to try and weaken apartheid, something supported by the Queen as she felt it was threatening the stability of the Commonwealth. Like the Sunday Times’ alleged exposé of the rift between the women, leaked (or was it?) by the Queen’s Press Secretary Michael Shea, a waggish Simon Chandler in an excellent cameo here. Continue reading “Review: Handbagged, Women, Power and Politics at the Tricycle”