TV Review: Cobra, Series 1

Victoria Hamilton is smashingly good in the rather entertainingly silly first series of Sky drama Cobra

“We’ve had a plane crash on the A1 and we have a solar storm that could wipe out our power supply, I just don’t have time for this”

In such a crowded TV market, it can sometimes be difficult to even find out what TV shows are on, never mind remember to get round to watching them. I find that doubly so for original dramas on Sky, which is a shame as there’s often some decent stuff on there. One of those is Cobra, created and written by Ben Richards, who wrote a fair number of episodes of Spooks and you can sense that show’s DNA rippling through these six episodes here.

This first series of Cobra lies somewhere between disaster movie and political thriller and even if it can’t quite make its mind up, there’s something daftly enjoyable about it which is encapsulated in the quote above. Robert Carlyle leads as beleagured PM Robert Sutherland who has to deal with these huge crises, along with managing burgeoning insurrections from his fellow Tories and dealing with his daughter’s best friend dying from drugs she provided. Continue reading “TV Review: Cobra, Series 1”

2021 Offie & ONCOMM Award Winners

In this ‘special circumstances’ year, the Offies 2021 Awards Ceremony celebrated the creativity and resilience of artists in fringe, alternative and independent theatre in a time of crisis who have found new ways to produce fresh and inventive work for thousands of stay-at-home audiences.

The Offies are OffWestEnd’s main awards, for shows with at least 10 performances, and awards were given to the best of the shows presented before lockdown and the few who managed to go ahead in the summer
months.

The OnComm is the new award for online shows from across the UK (and beyond) and was introduced in May 2020. Additionally, the winner of the OffFest award for theatre shows in festivals was also announced, alongside extra OneOff awards for innovative work and initiatives in 2020, especially in the light of the Covid lockdown. Continue reading “2021 Offie & ONCOMM Award Winners”

Film Review: London Unplugged (2018)

A quirky portmanteau of 11 shorts, London Unplugged doesn’t really work, even with a nice bit of Juliet Stevenson

“No-one has time for anyone”

A London Film School, Psychology News, Four Corners Film and the Migrant Resource Centre, London Unplugged betrays its collaborative origins in a scattershot collection of 10 short films. Trying to re-establish depictions of London on film in some kind of reality, it certainly has highly admirable ambitions. 

But the reality of so many different writers and directors being given so broad a canvas as London life means that the end result is highly uneven and only occasionally satisfying. Attempts are made to string the films together with the linking device of a runner making her way from Stratford to Kew Gardens but it doesn’t work, there’s no real connective tissue there. Continue reading “Film Review: London Unplugged (2018)”

The finalists of The ONCOMMs 2021

The OnComm is the new award for online shows from across the UK (and beyond) and was introduced in
May 2020. 

1. Recording pre-lockdown (direct)
(i.e. with little or no editing)
Going Viral / Daniel Bye
Hysteria / Spymonkey
Jane Clegg / Finborough Theatre
The House Of Bernarda Alba / Graeae

2. Recording pre-lockdown (edited)
(i.e. with significant editing)
Bubble / Theatre Uncut
Cyprus Avenue / Royal Court & Abbey Theatre
SeaWall / Simon Stephens
The Encounter / Complicité Continue reading “The finalists of The ONCOMMs 2021”

Review: Alice – A Virtual Theme Park

Doing the Macarena with the Queen of Hearts? But of course. Alice – A Virtual Theme Park does an excellent job of blending technical innovation with live theatre

“There ought to be a book written about me”

There’s rarely a dearth of opportunities to visit Wonderland, Lewis Carroll’s ever-popular source material a frequent presence in theatres but with Alice – A Virtual Theme Park, there’s a very much 21st century take which works surprisingly well. And given Covid-19, it isn’t a play but rather a multiplatform, multiple choice experience.

Let the Cheshire Cat guide you through your Zoom settings and listen to Leda Douglas’ inquisitive Alice as she takes us down the rabbit hole, and the scene is then set for an inspired, interactive and family-friendly journey with these familiar characters, effectively curated by Creation Theatre. Continue reading “Review: Alice – A Virtual Theme Park”

TV Review: Chewing Gum (Series 2)

Series 2 of Chewing Gum sees Michaela Coel nail the ‘two series and out’ trajectory of some of the best British sitcoms

“I’m not 17, I’m a grown-up woman. I just…regularly make childlike mistakes”

I belatedly came to Chewing Gum just now and watched both the first series and this second one in a single sitting each, their addictive nature and too-easily bingeable lengths giving me two fine nights in front of the TV.

Writer and creator Michaela Coel rarely let her imagination get in the way of the first six episodes but here, the expansion of Tracey’s world beyond her Tower Hamlets estate is quite simply fucking hilarious. Plus, the marvellous Sinéad Matthews appears in this series too. Continue reading “TV Review: Chewing Gum (Series 2)”

TV Review: Fortitude Series 3, Episode 1

I can’t work up much enthusiasm for the first episode of this third series of Sky Atlantic show Fortitude 

“I’m not putting that in my notebook”

The first series of Simon Donald’s Fortitude was a revelation as its ricocheting from style to style cohered into something most effective so Sky Atlantic’s to commission a second was not unexpected but nor was it successful. So it was something of a surprise to discover a third season was in the works but at just four episodes long, to wrap the story, it might just do something to right those wrongs.

On the evidence of this first episode though, I’m not too sure. The mythos of the show has become so convoluted and depressingly nasty that it is hard to work up the enthusiasm for the trials of these (fool)hardy residents in the far north of Arctic Norway. The wasps with their prehistoric parasites are still causing all kinds of trouble for everyone as more and more people are changed and made more violent and, well, watch this space… 

TV Review: Collateral

A truly stellar cast can’t quite convince me that we need another David Hare drama pontificating about the state of the nation – approach Collateral with caution

“On no account piss me about”

Stuffed with the kind of names to draw me in, unwillingly or otherwise, David Hare’s Collateral is certainly designed to do big things, as one might expect from a BBC2/Netflix co-production. But despite Carey Mulligan and Nicola Walker and Billie Piper and John Simm and Saskia Reeves and Deborah Findlay and John Heffernan etc etc etc, it’s a rather sterile affair.

A four-parter that kicks off as a police procedural, Collateral spreads its tendrils to quickly include the political establishment, the media, the church, the military and a healthy dose of refugees. So perhaps inevitably, it has that sense of skating over its many issues without really digging down deep enough to satisfy on (m)any of them. Continue reading “TV Review: Collateral”

Dispatches from the Vaults #2

“I didn’t think you all look the same”

I saw Tim Foley’s Astronauts of Hartlepool at the end of a long weekend and truth be told, I was just too tired to enjoy it properly. I’d love to read it and see it again, and then probably read it again, to get a fuller appreciation of how complex its hour. Layers upon layers are built up by Foley in his political sci-fi epic (Battlestar Galactica (the remake) as done by BBC3) in which Sophie Steer’s Aidan encounters multiple versions of Rakhee Thakrar’s dimension-hopping Nadia. They always meet in Hartlepool but all is not what it seems, even for the Brexit-voting North-East and Foley intelligently works in a deep critique of where we’ve let our country get to as well as keeping the tone admirably light. I just need to be less tired so I can concentrate more, sorry y’all.

Borderland/Calais was formulated as a response to not just the closure of the Calais refugee camps but also the media coverage thereof, using verbatim theatre techniques to give voice to those disenfranchised, dehumanised, demonised even by being part of what could be called one of the great humanitarian crises of the 21st Century. Over the week of the run, the programme featured a range of guest performers, from Rudi Dharmalingam, Lucy Ellinson and Yusra Warsama, to Denise Gough and Vera Chok who I saw deliver Borderland, written by Prasanna Puwanarajah and Stephanie Street, and Inua Ellam who performed Calais, woven from the Twitter Feeds of the Help Refugees and the Refugee Info Bus by Maddy Costa. Continue reading “Dispatches from the Vaults #2”

Review: Harlequinade / All On Her Own, Garrick Theatre

“Which text are you using?”

Part of Kenneth Branagh’s opening salvo as his year-long residency at the Garrick begins is the Terence Rattigan double header of Harlequinade and All On Her Own. When originally performed, Harlequinade was paired up with another of Rattigan’s short plays The Browning Version to beef up the bill and the same thinking has been applied here. Taking advantage of Zoë Wanamaker’s presence in the company, Branagh has introduced one-woman 30-minute play All On Her Own (also known as Duologue) to the programme, playing directly before Harlequinade with nary an interval between them.

One can see the theoretical case for the decision, ensuring West End prices can still be charged but providing a much more slimline companion piece to the three hours of The Winter’s Tale but in reality, it’s an odd pairing that demonstrates little complementarity (apart from for Rattigan completists). All On Her Own is a grand showcase for Wanamaker, as her widow returns from a party somewhat tipsy and begins to reminisce about her dead husband, even talking to him. It’s a little bit funny, it’s a little bit sad, but it’s a little bit perplexing too, especially as it has no connection to the ensuing HarlequinadeContinue reading “Review: Harlequinade / All On Her Own, Garrick Theatre”