TV Review: Man in an Orange Shirt

I end up a little disappointed after an excellent first half of Man in an Orange Shirt

“You didn’t think we could set up home together like man and wife?”

I wanted to love Man in an Orange Shirt , I really did. A BBC two-part mini-series from 2017, it was written by Patrick Gale using elements from his own family history. And featuring a cast that is both suitably impressive -James McArdle, Vanessa Redgrave – and pretty – newcomers to me Julian Morris and Oliver Jackson-Cohen.

The first half is by far the stronger. Set in the 1940s, old schoolmates Michael and Thomas find themselves stationed together in WWII Italy. An unexpected connection blooms between the pair and once war is over, Michael searches out Thomas and they spend a blissful weekend together. Only trouble is, Michael also has to eventually reunite with his fiancée too. Continue reading “TV Review: Man in an Orange Shirt”

TV Review: Unforgotten Series 2

“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”

TV Review: Unforgotten Series 2 Episode 1

“Maybe we should be concentrating on the suitcase”

In the glut of new crime series that have started this week – Death In Paradise, No Offence – Chris Lang’s Unforgotten stands out for me as a clever twist on a crowded genre, plus it has the bonus of the ever-excellent Nicola Walker in a starring role. Unforgotten’s twist on the crime drama is to completely emphasise the latter over the former, so whilst each series hooks on a cold case brought back to life, the focus is on the lives that have continued in its wake.

The reveal of the format was a highlight of the beginning of the first series, the disparate stories of 4 seemingly unconnected people bound together by the discovery of their phone numbers in the victim’s diary. And this second series wisely sticks largely to the same formula, introducing us to a Brighton gay couple in the process of adopting, a nurse on a cancer ward in London, a teacher applying for a headship in a school in special measures, a young man lying to his mother…all of whom are sure to be linked to the body found in a suitcase in the River Lea. Continue reading “TV Review: Unforgotten Series 2 Episode 1”

Review: Punishment without Revenge, Arcola Theatre

“I may exaggerate beyond all sense and reason”

The third of the Spanish Golden Age plays for me was Punishment without Revenge – El Castigo sin Venganza – another Lope de Vega play but rather than the (not so) comic stylings of green breeches, this is a straight up tragedy and consequently emerges as the strongest of the lot. In the court of the Duke of Ferrara, an illicit passion builds up between the Duke’s bastard son Federico and Cassandra the Duchess of Mantua, the woman he is sent to collect to be a bride for his father. They submit to their urges when the Duke leaves for battle but on his return, the abuse to his honour must be avenged.

William Hoyland is excellent as the vituperative Duke, possessed of a deadly charm with the most vicious edges with some striking speechifying; Nick Barber’s handsome Federico pairs well with Frances McNamee’s Cassandra (a nice casting touch as they also portray lovers in another of the plays) as they pursue their doomed love in spite of the threat it poses to them; and even a lighter side is allowed to shine through the court shenanigans in the form of Simon Scardifield’s manservant and the blustering courtiers of Chris Andrew Mellon and Jim Bywater. Continue reading “Review: Punishment without Revenge, Arcola Theatre”

Review: A Lady of Little Sense, Arcola Theatre

“She is as thick as potato mash”

The remit of the Spanish Golden Age rep season, a co-production between Arcola Theatre, the Ustinov Studio, Theatre Royal Bath, and the Belgrade Theatre in Coventry, is to bring to light three rarely performed plays from what they term “the last unopened treasure chest of world drama”. But whilst the academic interest of delving into this cultural period is undoubtable, the quality of the drama uncovered feels variable.

Lope de Vega’s A Lady of Little Sense, or La Dama Boba from 1613, is a romantic comedy whose tales of the arranged marriages of two sisters recalls The Taming of the Shrew. Wealthy businessman Don Octavio has two beautiful daughters to marry off but the educated Nise has an arrogance to match her intelligence and her sister Finea is as dopey as they come – the suitors that come to take their hands thus have to decide the lesser of two evils. Continue reading “Review: A Lady of Little Sense, Arcola Theatre”

Review: Don Gil of the Green Breeches, Arcola Theatre

“What’s your disguise for?”

The signs were there, I just chose not to see them. The main one being that the author of Don Gil of the Green Breechesor Don Gil de las Calzas Verdes was Tirso de Molina, who also wrote Damned By Despair, otherwise known as one of the biggest car crashes at the National in a goodly while. But I didn’t investigate too much – I allowed myself to be seduced by the notion of an ensemble performing new translations of three neglected plays from the Spanish Golden Age and the murmurings of good reviews from Bath where they opened last year.

But suffice to say that Don Gil did not do it for me. A broad cross-dressing comedy of sledgehammer subtlety, one can identify some similarities with Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night which preceded this play by about a decade, but what is more notable is the poor comparison that it makes. The plot twists endlessly and mindlessly through a set of baffling contrivances and clearly cognisant of this, Tirso de Molina has one character or another recap just where we’re at at the beginning of what feels like every scene, there’s nothing but exposition and it is still clear as mud. Continue reading “Review: Don Gil of the Green Breeches, Arcola Theatre”

Review: Democracy, Old Vic

“That’s why I love mushrooms – you pick them, pickle them and eat them”

There’s apparently no predicting the way in which theatrical transfers work (apart from if we’re talking about Chichester musicals…). I can’t imagine the logistics involved in securing the necessary financial support, keeping the cast onboard and finding the ideal venue but perhaps more significantly, I’ve no concept of how the conversations begin. In some cases it seems a no-brainer, as in the aforementioned big-hitting Chichester musicals and indeed plays; in others, it seems easily misjudged, cf Written on the Heart;  and then there’s the others, in which a perfect confluence of factors enable a well-received production to make the relocation.

It is probably the latter of these options in the case of Democracy, one of the three Michael Frayn plays that made up Sheffield Theatre’s celebration of his work earlier this year (Copenhagen and Benefactors were the others), which has now transferred to the Old Vic. On the face of it, it may not be the most appealing of prospects, a play based on real-life events in West German politics in the 1970s but what emerges is a sweeping spy thriller full of political intrigue and historical significance, which is all the more compelling for being true.   Continue reading “Review: Democracy, Old Vic”

DVD Review: The Jury

Part of Helen McCrory weekend

“I know first hand the cruelty he’s capable of”

Though North Square was probably the first time I really took notice of Helen McCrory, it was in The Jury that she really stole my heart and for ages, it was this show that I fruitlessly referenced when trying to explain who she was. Written by Peter Morgan, The Jury played on ITV in 2002 over 6 episodes following a single court case as a Sikh teenager is accused of killing his 15 year old classmate. But rather than focusing on the case, as the title suggests the attention was the men and women that made up the jury and how the experience affected their lives in a multitude of ways.

McCrory played Rose, a rather nervous woman with an overbearing husband (boo, Mark Strong) who unexpectedly finds a sense of freedom in being allowed out into a new world and seizes the opportunity with both hands. Stuck in a room with people she doesn’t know, she almost reinvents herself from scratch and find herself increasingly drawn to Johnnie, who is played by a pre-Hollywood Gerard Butler (so who can blame her). He has his own challenges from a troubled recent past though and so whilst the sweet relationship that builds between the two is beautifully essayed as one senses the genuine spark between the pair, the small matter of his demons and her husband remain in the way. Continue reading “DVD Review: The Jury”

Review: The Prince of Homburg, Donmar Warehouse

“Your face isn’t the most cheerful today”

The Prince of Homburg by Heinrich von Kleist is this year’s summer play at the Donmar Warehouse marking the return of Ian McDiarmid after Be Near Me last year. Presented in a new version here by Dennis Kelly (who I still haven’t quite forgiven yet for The Gods Weep), it was written in 1811 just before the German Romantic playwright committed suicide, and apparently was one of Hitler’s favourite plays. In order to squeeze this in before my holiday, I ended up seeing the second preview which should be acknowledged when reading my comments.

The play follows the titular Prince of Homburg, a shining light in the Prussian Army but possessed of a dreamy waywardness which flies in the face of the strict obedience of the law that typifies Prussian military behaviour and when he defies an order from his father-figure the Elector, matters of courage and honour push them both to a horrifying point of no return. Continue reading “Review: The Prince of Homburg, Donmar Warehouse”