Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Review: Years of Sunlight, Theatre503

"They kicked us out
And knocked our house down
And shipped us here to the arse end of nowhere"

I learned to swim in Skelmersdale, known as Skem to anyone who has ever been there. A couple of miles from the village where I was born, the drive to the Nye Bevan Swimming Pool was always a fascinating one visually due to the whims of the 1960s town planners who designated the place a 'new town' - sheets of grey concrete dominated the architecture and the roads were full of roundabouts after roundabouts, barely a traffic light to be seen among the network of subways. It was also a strange feeling though, as it was crossing the invisible borderline from Woollyback territory (your more typical Lancastrian accent) into the land of the Scousers (the inimitable sound of Merseyside).

I bring you this insight into the early years of Clowns because Years of Sunlight, a new play by Michael McLean, is set in Skem and whilst it had an undeniable nostalgic charge (I'm almost certainly the only reviewer there who got excited at the sight of the 'Connie', or Concourse shopping centre in a video clip), the play also had the unexpected result of making me think of the place in a new light. This particular 'new town' was designed to rehouse the overspill population from the poorer parts of Liverpool but the forced creation of new communities is rarely so simple as that, and it is this impact that McLean explores here, by following the thread of a 30 year friendship.

Critics' Circle Awards 2017: the winners in full


Even without trying, I end up being contrary! The Critics' Circle Awards have announced their winners for 2017 and as I cast my eyes down the list, I was amused to see that their best new play and best musical were shows that I did not hugely enjoy (The Flick and Groundhog Day) and their best actor pick - Stephen Dillane - was another that did not register with me at all.


After that, things chime a little better with me, with Billie Piper's excoriating work in Yerma, which is returning this summer, and Glenda Jackson's extraordinary Lear (whatever you thought of the production, her production was a stonking return to the stage) both being recognised. And deservedly, the creatives behind Harry Potter and the Cursed Child gain just as much recognition, if not more, as its cast. Lovely to see Charlene James getting a nod too for  Cuttin’ It as most promising playwright.

Critics' Circle Awards 2017: the winners in full



Sunday, 29 January 2017

Review: The Convert, Gate

"There's no place for a highly educated African woman here"

Danai Gurira's Eclipsed was the best thing I saw in 2015 so the prospect of seeing her 2012 play The Convert, also at the Gate Theatre, was a joyous one indeed. And once again, Gurira turns her focus to the African continent, exploring the kind of history that I'm pretty sure is rarely featured in the majority of Western schoolrooms. The year is 1896 and the place is Rhodesia, the country now known as Zimbabwe, and The Convert takes a look at colonialism there from the inside out.

Chilford may be a native of this territory but taken from his family as a young boy, he has been moulded into an approximation of 'an English gentleman', the only black Roman Catholic priest in the area and tasked with the job of converting the population to the ways of their colonial masters. On the run from an attempt at forced marriage, Jekesai finds sanctuary under Chilford's tutelage, renamed as Ester and quickly becoming his star pupil but as she comes to understand just how much she's expected to give up, she's left to question if there's any safe haven at all.

Round-up of news and treats and other interesting things

Hamilton-mania never dies down - as the first news about the UK cast arrives, the original Schuyler Sisters are reuniting this weekend!


The cast for a profoundly affectionate, passionate devotion to someone (-noun), written and directed by debbie tucker green, has been announced as the estimable Gary Beadle, Gershwyn Eustache Jnr, Lashana Lynch, Shvorne Marks and Meera Syal.

It runs in the Royal Court Jerwood Theatre Upstairs from Tuesday 28 February 2017 to Saturday 1 April 2017 and sees tucker green return to the theatre where her play hang was such a great success in 2015.

Saturday, 28 January 2017

Not-a-Review: Peter Pan, National

I didn't care too much for Peter Pan, as the gif below might suggest, so I'm keeping my mouth shut for once.


Running time: 2 hours 40 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 4th February

Cast of Peter Pan continued

Friday, 27 January 2017

Re-review: Escaped Alone, Royal Court


Image result for escaped alone royal court

"I’m walking down the street and there’s a door in the fence open and inside there are three women I’ve seen before"

There's something delicious about seeing the Caryl Churchill's Escaped Alone return to the Royal Court before heading out to New York and then a UK tour. It's also testament to James MacDonald's production that the quartet of actors who originated their parts have all returned - Linda Bassett, Deborah Findlay, Kika Markham and June Watson, marvels every one.

I ranked the play as the fourth best thing that I saw last year and though I don't always like to go back to things I enjoyed (in case it sullies the memory), I wanted to treat myself to this again. And I'm glad I did, for the layered complexity of Churchill's writing allows for re-appreciation and indeed re-interpretation. My original review holds true but given the way the world has lurched closer to apocalypse (literally so, apparently), the play's contrast between Doomsday and the domestic feels ever more poignant and pertinent.

Running time: 50 minutes (without interval)
Booking until 11th February, then touring 15 – 26 Feb BAM, New York; 7 – 11 March The Lowry, Salford; 14- 18 March Cambridge Arts Theatre; 22 – 26 March Bristol Old Vic

TV Review: Fortitude Series 1

“It’s not a new hotel we need, it’s a bigger morgue"


The publicity for Season 2 of Fortitude, just starting now on Sky Atlantic, reminded me that I had the first series still lying around unwatched and that now would be as good a time as any to get stuck in. Created and written by Simon Donald, it manages the not-inconsiderable feat of being an effective cross-genre show, so much so that it flicks from one to another from scene to scene. It begins life as a murder mystery set in the isolated town of Fortitude in Arctic Norway, the quality of its cast meaning that it can afford to knock off Christopher Eccleston's scientist within the first couple of episodes.

As it is a community of about 700 in extreme conditions, it also plays out as a small town comedy of the blackest kind, as the quote up top demonstrates, bringing in soap opera-ish twists which also darken as well, pretty much into horror show territory. But where Fortitude is most unexpected is in its ventures into sci-fi, as the strange happenings in the township begin to defy any kind of rational explanation. It's a disconcerting move but once the paradigm is established, I kinda liked the randomness it brought to the show, especially since I had no idea that that was where we were heading.

Cast of Fortitude Series 1 continued

News: so much goodness at the National Theatre 2017-18

Mountains of info was released by the National Theatre about their plans for 2017-18 at this morning's press conference, so much that I'm still digesting the half of it. Particular stand-outs on the first sift though, are
  • Ivo van Hove's return (after his Hedda Gabler) with a world premiere adaptation of Network, with no less than Heisenberg himself, Bryan Cranston making his UK stage debut
  • The cast of Nina Raine's Consent including Priyanga Burford, Pip Carter, Ben Chaplin, Heather Craney, Daisy Haggard, Adam James and Anna Maxwell Martin.
  • The glorious Amadeus returning in the new year, Michael Longhurst's stellar production wisely keeping its two leads of Lucian Msamati and Adam Gillen intact
  • The Headlong co-production of DC Moore's Common will see Anne-Marie Duff return to the South Bank along with Trevor Fox.
  • And Duff is clearly in for the long haul, as she'll also appear in Macbeth with Rory Kinnear, a taster of which we saw at the Shakespeare Live event
  • Cast and creatives for Yaël Farber's Salomé have been announced too. It is designed by Susan Hilferty with lighting design by Tim Lutkin, music and sound by Adam Cork, movement direction by Ami Shulman, fight direction by Kate Waters and dramaturgy by Drew Lichtenberg. Cast includes Philip Arditti, Paul Chahidi, Ramzi Choukair, Uriel Emil, Olwen Fouéré, Roseanna Frascona, Aidan Kelly, Yasmin Levy, Theo T J Lowe, Isabella Niloufar, Lubana al Quntar, Raad Rawi and Stanley Townsend.

    More, much more, information after the jump.

News and thoughts - Initial casting for Hamilton announced

"Just you wait...just you wait"

With priority booking having sold out its allocation ahead of public booking opening on Monday 30th January (12pm), Lin-Manuel Miranda's Hamilton has certainly had its share of advance publicity and it is certainly proving reluctant to leave the spotlight as it has now announced initial casting for several of its key roles. 

Christine Allado (Peggy Schuyler/Maria Reynolds), Rachelle Ann Go (Eliza Hamilton), Tarinn Callender (Hercules Mulligan/James Madison), Rachel John (Angelica Schuyler), Jason Pennycooke (Marquis de Lafayette/Thomas Jefferson), Cleve September (John Laurens/Philip Hamilton), Giles Terera (Aaron Burr) and Obioma Ugoala (George Washington) will open the London production later this year, with further casting to be announced at a later date.

Thursday, 26 January 2017

Review: PLAY - The Subterranean Season, VAULT Festival

"We're gonna Jean Valjean the shit out of this"

PLAY - The Subterranean Season takes in plays 23-26 in their ever-growing programme of short plays, devised in just two weeks by a collaboration of writers, directors and actors up for the challenge of creating something sparklingly, spankingly, brand new and fresh. I saw PLAY Theatre Theatre Company for the first time at the VAULT Festival last year and fell for them hard, as is evident from the pull quote they've opted to use on their publicity this year (one for my scrapbook!). 

As ever, the four PLAYs cover a wide range of themes and styles, from the deceptively whimsical to the psychologically acute, sometimes within the same 15 minutes. For me, Aisha Zia's 24 and Miriam Battye's 26 achieved this balance perfectly, the former (directed by Holly Race-Roughan) mixing hipsterish shenanigans with guitars and cardboard boxes with a darkening look at the desperation of flat-hunting in South London. And the latter's portrayal of an intense friendship was breath-takingly good, Matt Harrison teasing some sensational work from Emily Stott and Jessica Clark.

Review: A Year From Now, VAULT Festival

"I see I'm starting to get old now"

If I had star ratings, RedBellyBlack would gain an extra one automatically for featuring the theme tune to 80s kids TV programme Round The Twist in their show A Year From Now. I would then probably take it away again because they're all too young to have watched it when it was on and I'm bitter like that. Fortunately, A Year From Now has much more to it than the cultural appropriation of my childhood so we're good.

Playing at the VAULT Festival after a run at the Tristan Bates last year, the show is built on a set of responses to the provocation 'where do you see yourself a year from now?'. Using the techniques of verbatim theatre, a company of 5 interpret the answers to that question from 14 different people from all walks of life, with a multidisciplinary approach. With a keen eye for the visual, Vicki Baron's direction mixes in movement with the miming, laughter with the lip-syncing, constantly keeping us on our toes. 

Review: Rent, St James

I'm not one to deny anyone their fandom and Lord know Rent has some of the most devoted of the lot. But for whatever reason, the show has left me cold every time I've seen it, increasingly so in its determination to defend artistic excess.





I was bought a ticket as a Christmas present so I was able to go and test my feelings once again but no change, no matter how good Layton Williams' performance was. So for once, I'm just going to leave it here.

Running time: 2 hours 40 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 28th January, then touring as below


Cast of Rent continued

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Review: Dirty Great Love Story, Arts

"Things I can be sure of - I'm in a bed
'Things I can be sure of - my bloody head...'"

With so much gloomy news dominating the headlines and cinemas filled largely with Oscar bait, two-hander Dirty Great Love Story arrives at the Arts Theatre to offer a well-timed and satisfying slice of lighter entertainment. Written by Richard Marsh and Katie Bonna from the experiences of their own lovelife, and previously seen at the Soho Theatre, in Edinburgh and off-Broadway, it's an energetically modern take on the rom-com and if it doesn't necessarily have anything earth-shattering to say, it's probably all the more enjoyable for it.

Richard and Katie's meet-cute is in a sketchy Bristol nightclub. He's on a stag night and been single for a while, she's on a hen do and nursing a broken heart and with friends egging them on, they're soon sharing shots at the bar, sweat on the dancefloor and shags in a hastily procured hotel room. In the fug of the next morning's hangover, she beats a hasty retreat but not before she wonders if there isn't perhaps the spark of something there, and thus the rest of the play covers the next two years in the lives of these 30-something Londoners as they will-they-won't-they their way to a climax of which even Bridget Jones would be proud. 

Monday, 23 January 2017

Review: Gazing At A Distant Star, Greenwich Theatre

"When you're at uni, you think the salad in your kebab is your five-a-day and Marlboro Lights are a food group"

I do try and attend new writing nights here and there and I often ponder what, if anything, happens to the many works in progress that feature in their programmes. And in the case of Life Sentence by Siân Rowland, a short but powerful monologue I saw as part of this night at the Southwark Playhouse, I'm getting to see that development first-hand. Expanding on the larger theme of people going missing (this production supports the charity Missing People), Rowland has introduced two more monologues and intertwined the three together to create Gazing At A Distant Star

Call centre worker Arun is grinding through shift after shift to save for university, the only chink of light coming with his friendship with colleague Glen, but he's not been seen for a week. Anna is training for a 5k run when a chance encounter brings memories of her long-disappeared sister come flooding back. And Karen's wait for a postcard from her son, who is off on a lads holiday, is interrupted by a knock on the door from the police. As they each deal with the pieces of their shattered lives, so too are their stories fragmented as the narrative continually shifts between all three.

Sunday, 22 January 2017

Review: The Tempest, Southwark Playhouse

"Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments"

The RSC may have Simon Russell Beale and cutting-edge digital technology but the Southwark Playhouse has real heart when it comes to The Tempest. I missed the press night, which had the happy consequence of meaning that I actually got to watch this Shakespeare for Schools production with its intended audience, hordes of schoolchildren of mixed ages who, by the show's end, were thoroughly rapt (though perhaps not quite as tear-stained as I).

Streamlined into 90 interval-less minutes and infused with a real sense of theatrical ingenuity, Amy Draper's production does a fantastic job of reinterpreting the Bard without dumbing him down. Anchored by a deeply compassionate Prospero from Sarah Malin, this Tempest is rooted in fallibility and forgiveness, the clear-sighted storytelling never letting us forget that it is only in the recognition of the former that we can expect the latter.

Thursday, 19 January 2017

Review: The Lower Depths, Arcola

“Living is fucking impossible and that's the truth of it”

The Arcola launch their Revolution Season, marking the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution and exploring its considerable impact, with a new production of Gorky's The Lower Depths played by an ensemble who will remain on duty for the subsequent play in the main house The Cherry Orchard. And whilst I do enjoy getting to visit and revisit an ensemble, I have to admit to really not enjoying this.

Translated by Jeremy Brooks and Kitty Hunter-Blair and directed by Helena Kaut-Howson, The Lower Depths focuses on the downstairs from Chekhov's upstairs, the angst of the aristocracy replaced by the desperation of the downtrodden and it really is as much fun as it sounds. A cast of nearly 20 play an assortment of misery-bound miscreants passing through a Moscow lodging house for the destitute, complaining volubly about their lot in life.

Cast of The Lower Depths continued

Re-review: BU21, Trafalgar Studios 2

"Every night on the news there’s literally always some sort of massively catastrophic end-of-the-world shit going down... And I always wonder ‘how would I cope, if that happened to me?’"

I enjoyed Stuart Slade's BU21 massively when it played the Theatre503 early last year (see my original review and my top ten of 2016) but I hadn't intended to revisit the show - sometimes the memory of it is plenty sufficient. The feedback from friends who had appreciated the play just as much persuaded me to change my mind though and I'm glad I went back, as there was as much that I'd forgotten as there was that I remembered I loved, making this a definite recommendation from me, even if you've been before.


Running time: 100 minutes (without interval)
Booking until 18th February

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Review: Winter Solstice, Orange Tree

"A new world which will last for ever..."

I'm pretty sure every time a German production is mounted in the UK, it is slapped with the mantle of 'most popular contemporary German playwright' (see Franz Xaver Kroetz's The Nest from late last year) - a sign that audiences here still have to be led gently by the hand towards European drama with whispered encouragements of 'well he is the best they have, you know'.

This time, it is Roland Schimmelpfennig's turn, as his 2013 play Winter Solstice receives its British premiere at the Orange Tree in this Actors Touring Company production directed by Ramin Gray. And it is well worth the effort as though it may flirt with the experimental, it also cuts through to the elemental - as piercing an insight into the rise of the far right as we've seen on any stage.

Preview: VAULT 2017

Established now as one of the major arts festivals in London, VAULT Festival returns from 25th January to 5th March 2017 at its original home beneath Waterloo Station and, for the first time, at satellite venues Network Theatre (just to the side of Waterloo) and Morley College (a little further away past Lambeth North). As ever, the programme features an exciting selection of shows exploring many themes via many more mediums. Full information and tickets are available now via VAULTFestival.com.


I'm still working out exactly what and how much I am going to see but I have got a few selections of the things that have definitely caught my eye. 

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Review: Promises Promises, Southwark Playhouse

"That's what you get for all your trouble"

On the face of it, you could see why reviving Promises Promises would be an appealing prospect - written by Neil Simon from a Billy Wilder film and featuring a score by Burt Bacharach and Hal David. But digging even just a little deeper - a running time of nearly 3 hours and an antiquated set of gender politics made it a tough one to watch, and an even tougher one to excuse in today's society.

If you were so inclined, you could argue that Billy Wilder and I.A.L Diamond's original screenplay for the 1960 film The Apartment is "a triumph of 1960s sexual work-place politics" but quite what that has to say to audiences today is very unclear, (apart from gentlemen d'un certain âge craving the good old days natch). I have liked much of director Bronagh Lagan's previous work but I can't help pondering the choice here.

Monday, 16 January 2017

Review: 2017 London Jam - Austentatious, Wilton's Music Hall

"We're going to have to tell the vicar"

The 2017 London Jam is a festival of improvisation presented by The Showstoppers, in association with Extempore Theatre & Something for the Weekend, featuring a wide range of improv stars from across both the UK and the world - the improvised Ibsen troupe from Norway being the unlikeliest inclusion there. Naturally, we went along to see our beloved Austentatious and as ever, they did not disappoint.

Regaling us with the tale of Fear and Fascination, full of illicit hat-wearing, malevolent vicars with a predilection for flashbacks, and sheep-loving surprises, this was the team at their best, taking their time with a slow start to to tease out some utterly surreal story strands. The bit of audience participation was unexpected good fun, but it was the surprise murder and the group's stunned reaction and subsequent glee that made it one of the best unknown Jane Austen novels I've yet seen.

Round-up of news and treats and other interesting things

South West London Law Centres, a charity that provides specialist legal advice in social welfare law for people who cannot afford to pay privately for a lawyer, are holding a comedy fundraiser event, Jokes For Justice, on February 23rd 2017 at The Bedford Pub, Balham. Nish Kumar, Jonny and The Baptists and Sophie Willan will be performing on the night to help raise funds to continue their work across South West London. After the devastating legal aid cuts of 2013, our income has been slashed by over 40% and ten other Law Centres have already closed down - funds are desperately needed to support access to justice for those most in need within our communities.

Opening next month is Cirque du Soleil's first-ever UK arena tour of its signature production, Varekai. Directed by Dominic Champagne, this production pays tribute to the nomadic soul, to the spirit and art of the circus tradition, and to those who quest with infinite passion along the path that leads to Varekai. The critically-acclaimed show, updated and featuring new acts yet to be seen in the UK will visit the Sheffield Arena, Dublin’s 3Arena, Newcastle’s Metro Radio Arena and Leeds’ First Direct Arena in February 2017, followed by the Genting Arena in Birmingham, Nottingham’s Motorpoint Arena and The SSE Hydro, Glasgow in March 2017. Tickets are on sale online at www.cirquedusoleil.com and at livenation.co.uk/artist/cirque-du-soleil-tickets.. Advance tickets are available from £45 (+ booking fee).

Saturday, 14 January 2017

Review: The Wild Party, Hope

"Queenie was a blonde, and her age stood still"

Joseph Moncure March's narrative poem managed the remarkable feat of having two musical adaptations thereof running in the same year in New York, one of which - by Michael John LaChiusa - will be the first show in the newly rebranded The Other Palace next month. Getting in early though is Mingled Yarn Theatre Company with their own cabaret-influenced interpretation of The Wild Party, running now at The Hope Theatre.

It is musical, rather than a musical, as the show opens with a marvelously sultry take on Britney Spears' 'Toxic' delivered by the supremely confident Anna Clarke (a performer so good you suspect she must have some Strallen blood!). And as she's joined by Joey Akubeze, we're soon whisked away into the decadent world of vaudeville turns Queenie and Burrs and their fabulously louche but fatally lustful lifestyle, complete with aggressive fruit-eating.

Friday, 13 January 2017

Review: Abigail, Bunker

“What would you do to take control?”

Fractured timelines can be an interesting way to tell a story – fragmented shards of drama shuffled in a non-linear narrative, forcing audiences to piece together a throughline to the truth, such as it may exist. But in these cases, we are very much at the mercy of playwrights actually providing enough information to reconstruct enough of a plot. And sad to say, I’m not too sure that Fiona Doyle’s Abigail actually does that. 

That’s not to say that we need to be given all of the answers, to have everything spelled out for us completely, but Abigail remains inscrutably vague to the end. It would be a fascinating exercise to reorder the script here, reconstruct Doyle’s writing to see if that really is the case but in its current state, directed by Joshua McTaggart over the course of an initially intriguing hour, the play still proves frustratingly ephemeral.

Thursday, 12 January 2017

Review: Brains, TheatreN16

"Jeff, there's no time for hysterics"

One of the most impressive things about the set-up at Balham's Theatre N16 is its commitment to nurturing new work and new companies in the face of an increasingly hostile funding climate. So the likes of Thick & Thin Theatre, a London-based company founded last year, are supported to develop and mount their work, such as their new play Brains, written and directed by Cameron Szerdy.

Brains is set in an office at the pharmaceutical company MediBite Inc. in a near-future world that has been ravaged by a virus that has turned much of the population into zombies. When the discovery of a potential cure well and truly sets the pigeons among the staff there, from ball-busting CEO Ursula to disengaged intern Tina, no-one is quite prepared for the cut-throat insanity that is revealed.

Review: HE(ART), TheatreN16

"This? In your chest? It can be stronger than it's ever been"

An interesting change of tack here from Andrew Maddock, who has been steadily carving out a niche for himself in doing creative things in and around the world of monologues (qv #1, #2, #3). Opening at Balham's TheatreN16, HE(ART) starts in a Maddockian (Maddockish? Maddockesque?) way with two separate duologues intercut with each other, and playing out at the same time. But over the running time of just more than an hour, it transforms into transgressively exciting.

Staged in the round (well, the square) in a boxing ring-like space in this production by Lonesome Schoolboy, In the one corner we have young couple Alice and Rhys doing battle over what kind of art they want to buy for their living room. And in the other, there's siblings Kev and Sam, gearing up for an altogether different kind of conflict, characterised by the fact that the former should be in prison. 

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Cast images released for Angels In America

With public booking for Angels in America opening at 8.30am on Friday 20 January 2017, striking images of its key cast have just been released. 2017 marks the 25th anniversary of the shows which will be directed at the National by Marianne Elliott and its all-star cast make it a very tempting proposition indeed. Millennium Approaches, the first of the two plays which form Angels in America, received its British premiere at the National Theatre’s Cottesloe Theatre in 1992, in Declan Donnellan’s original production, and was joined by Perestroika in a double-bill the following year.
Andrew Garfield is Prior Walter

Saturday, 7 January 2017

Review: Love, National

"I'm so sorry"

Oooft. No remedy for the January blues this, but one of the most brutally affecting pieces of theatre you could ever bear to see. Alezander Zeldin's Love follows what life can be found in the anonymous surroundings of a halfway house, a hostel run by the council for people in need of temporary accommodation. People are only meant to be there for a maximum of six weeks but with the system in meltdown, some have been there for over a year, living beyond what anyone could ever call reasonable.

It is tempting to see this as the failure of Big Society but really it is society in general that is being held to account here. The blind eye that we continually turn to those less fortunate than ourselves, the bureaucratic nightmares that we read Guardian thinkpieces about and then never consider again, the consequences of the collapse in the social responsibility of social security, the brutal reality of how desperately foodbanks are needed and the desperation that people feel in needing to use them.

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 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.

Cast of Unforgotten Series 2 Episode 1 continued

TV Review: No Offence Series 2 Episode 1

"A police presence is non-negotiable"


Paul Abbott's No Offence returns for a most welcome second season after a quality Series 1 in mid-2015 added to the purple patch for police procedurals that we seem to be in. Abbott's spin places us with the Manchester Metropolitan Police and in a world that is equally darkly comic and dramatic as the squad deal with the ramifications of the climax of that first series, as well as keeping an eye on the combustible gangland situation that looks set to involve our guys here.

And what guys - Joanna Scanlan's almost impossibly charismatic DI Viv Deering as comically sharp as she is whip-smart, Elaine Cassidy's pragmatic DC Dinah Kowalska and Alexandra Roach's serious-minded DS Joy Freer underneath her, with Sarah Solemani's ice-cold DCI Christine Lickberg joining them, providing scarcely wanted oversight and some juicy looking tension. The casual female focus (of the series at large) and refreshing body positivity (of this episode in particular) are just marvellous to behold.

Friday, 6 January 2017

Review: The Trackers of Oxyrhynchus, Finborough


The first show of this year was something fantastic 

Or was it? Can you tell I'm being sarcastic 
A satire on satyrs is quite an objective
Was all Greek to me though and far from effective 

Moving from Egypt to Greece and then London
The piece shifts from ancient times right through to modern
Written by a man named Tony Harrison
It sure is a play without comparison

Writing in metre pulls focus, not great though
Especially when you rhyme potato with Plato
Still not as distracting as Muppet-like penises
Dangling from menfolk like faux fur filled weaknesses

The programme's stuffed with words like didaskalia
And dithyramb too, 'bout which I've no idea
Nor do I know why there's random tap-dancing
Though with no shirts on it was fairly entrancing

The Trackers of Oxyrhynchus is the title
And if you speak Greek there's a bit of recital
For me though I felt disengaged and feeling 'huh'
Which is disappointing when at the ace Finborough

Running time: 75 minutes (without interval)
Photos: S R Taylor Photography
Booking until 28th January






12 Days of Christmas - Black Mirror 3:6


"He wants people to face the consequences of what they say and do"

On the twelfth day of Christmas, Black Mirror gave to me...the bees, THE BEES!
After a slight hiccup in previous episode Men Against Fire, feature-length episode Hated in the Nation restored Black Mirror to its rightful glory to round off this third series. Adopting something of a police procedural approach and aligning itself closer to today's society than the majority of previous instalments, this was a proper thriller and hugely enjoyable with it.

In a world where mini-drones have replaced the collapsing bee population, Kelly McDonald's DCI Karin Parke is investigating a series of deaths where the victims are celebrities who have recently provoked the ire of social media. Along with newly transferred colleague and tech wiz Blue (Faye Marsay), solving the crimes leads them down a merry path of murderous hashtags, governmental misdemeanours and social responsibility.

Thursday, 5 January 2017

12 Days of Christmas - Black Mirror 3:5

"We don't actually really want to kill each other"

On the eleventh day of Christmas, Black Mirror gave to me...its first disappointment
Well it had to happen, and I'm impressed that it took me until the eleventh out of twelve episodes of Black Mirror before we hit a duffer. We're talking relatively of course, Men Against Fire is still a good hour of television but the bar has been raised so consistently highly that there is an amazing standard to live up to, especially in having to follow San Junipero, which I'm currently ranking as the best so far.

Men Against Fire sees Black Mirror take on the world of the military, surprisingly for the first time, in a world where biological war has ravaged Denmark and resulted in a mutation of those exposed. Labelled 'roaches' by the survivors, a military squad (who all have an implant called MASS to make them better soldiers) is in charge of controlling and purging them, but though new recruit Stripe manages to kill two on his first mission, the ramifications of his actions prove to be huge.

Wednesday, 4 January 2017

Women in Theatre - 2016 in review

Attending the Women Centre Stage: Power Play Festival late last year, it was amusing to hear Sphinx Theatre's Sue Parrish's favourite anecdotes about the first ever report on the status of women in theatre that she commissioned in 1983. It found that out of 1024 productions surveyed across the country, only 11% were written by women and the majority of those were by Agatha Christie alone. 

It got me thinking that I hadn't continued the gender audit of my own theatregoing which I started in 2014 - the results of which can be read here - and whilst nothing comprehensive can be drawn from the 300 or so plays that I saw in 2016, I think it is interesting to break down the figures and see how they look. I think I do try and see a good mix, questioning why this production is all-male or that one has no diversity, but at the same time I do like to see a lot of gay theatre which inevitably skews male, it's hard to keep everything balanced...

In lieu of the Bechdel Test, I opted to measure the number of plays I saw with at least 50% women in their cast and it was pleasing to see that I've managed to keep that proportion going up over the last couple of years. Obviously these statistics don't record the quality of the roles being played, but in all honesty it is too hard to work out that level of detail in advance of seeing the number of shows we're talking about here.




Shows
With 50% or more women



%
2016
332
164
49%
2015
313
147
47%
2014
383
164
43%

Similarly, the raw numbers of women I saw onstage this year show show a steadily increasing proportion, which again feels in line with the general thrust of my decision-making.




Total Cast
Women
%
2016
3232
1500
46%
2015
3477
1534
44%
2014
3813
1636
43%

Looking at the creative side though, I found myself surprised on two fronts. Design has always been an area where women are well represented but it is interesting to see the proportion of both lighting and sound starting to pick up. Obviously we can't draw anything conclusive but hopefully the upward tick is indicative of general improvement.  



Writer
Director
Designer
Lighting
Sound
2016
31%
30%
49%
25%
20%
2015
37%
33%
40%
19%
17%
2014
31%
35%
39%
14%
16%

At the same time, I was disappointed to find that I'd slipped in terms of the number of plays written and directed by women, and quite a bit as far as the former is concerned. I would have sworn that I was much closer to parity with regards to the writing but clearly I need to make more of an effort to check the creatives as much as the cast-lists when choosing my shows (which has its own challenges as programming at too many venues isn't too often helpful in this matter!).

To this end, I'm going to monitor the figures for 2017 on a monthly basis, at least for the first quarter, and see how realistic achieving at least parity for any, if not all, of these categories is, at least without substantially reducing the number of shows I see.