Tuesday, 21 June 2011

‘The Shadow Line’ - Broadcast by BBC2 - Thursday 5th May -Thursday 16th June 2011

Some shows are easy to watch even if you are a restricted viewer. They are shown on television and all you need do is park yourself on your sofa, with a cuppa perhaps, and a bite to eat, and enjoy the view on the small(ish) silver screen in front of you.

Mind you, if the show is The Shadow Line, it might be wise to take great care when you choose to sip your tea, and like many of the characters you may not even have a chance to take that bite to eat, before a shocking moment descends on you. Happily in the viewer’s case the result is probably not death. For the characters there’s a high chance it might be!

This is a compelling and bizarre thriller with a vast multitude of thrilling moments in addition to very many hysterically funny moments also, some intended by the writer, (producer and director), Hugo Blick and others possibly unintentional. For me the greatest comedy was provided by Rafe Spall as baby-faced psychopath Jay Wratten, nephew of drug baron Harvey Wratten, whose murder sets the whole story and investigation by both criminals and police off. Jay was terrifying and funny at the same time, delivering lines, such as that accusing a fellow character of comitting a ‘naughty tackle’, superbly and later telling the story of a sportsman inviting people to ‘shoot him’ if he returned to his sport. Jay announces if the man had said that to him he would have shot him. And we know he would and with glee, and what that also means for anyone who does not leave his ‘sport’ when they have said they would. In a scene chasing another character his running gait provides some moments of light relief in the midst of high tension. He loves to torture; beware all humans and cats! The moment he, or Stephen Rea’s mysterious Gatehouse, appear on screen we feel very wary. That said Gatehouse is far less obvious as someone of whom to be afraid; he is still, monotone and in perfect control. He seeems like he may actually help the other characters. In first meeting him you wonder whether you can actually fully trust this man in raincoat, black gloves and trilby hat informing you, ‘What I am about to tell you will be the most important thing you will ever hear.’ But why? Well if I said any more it’d spoil the surprise(s) wouldn’t it?!

The direction, photography and acting by all are excellent. You could take still images and they would feel like works of art set in the shadow between light and dark – Leonardo DaVinci would have loved it! And the direction gives plenty of time to focus on each actor as they explore the depth of their character and his/her feelings in outstanding psychological studies. This is especially important in the stories of Detective Inspector Jonah Gabriel played by Chiwetel Ejiofor and ‘flower-man’ Joseph Bede – Christopher Eccleston. Whilst trying to solve the crime, Jonah is also trying to solve the mystery of who he is, suffering amnesia as the result of a bullet in his head. Is he ‘good cop’ or ‘bad cop’? The great sensitivity of his emotional expression has us feeling for him and yet not knowing if we are ‘right’ to – our doubts reflecting his own. His work partner Lia Honey (very nicely played by Kierston Wareing) tells him that he is a good cop because ‘it goes with the badge’ but that doesn’t feel very convincing or reassuring. The difficulty with these two characters is we don’t really get to know them. Chiwetel does an excellent job expressing what he can but of course holds back because he doesn’t know exactly who he is! And Honey comes across as a very efficient and dedicated, though a  little naïve, cop but also a highly expositional character. This is also the trouble with the script at many points. Some of the characters are given very long-winded expositional monologues/dialogues to take the plot forward and yet we cannot engage enough to understand it. At points it tries to be too clever; too over-the-top for what actually needs to be conveyed. And when, following probably the longest expositional scene by a character in the whole piece, that same character decides to put a gun in his mouth instead of a cup of tea we completely sympathise! That said, even with its vast array of characters – probably too many to follow and some seemingly uneccessary, we do feel a great deal of empathy for many of them even some more minor characters.
The character who most inspires our empathy though is the ‘main’ criminal character Joseph Bede, who has felt obliged to take over the drugs operation from his murdered boss Harvey Wratten. Played softly and subtly by Christopher Eccleston, he seems so gentle and hardly a cold, calculating criminal. He is all about surviving and making enough money in a final drugs deal to support himself and his wife Julie – Leslie Sharp – to the end of their days. The tragedy is the end of their days together may be much sooner than for others in their mid-forties. Julie suffers with early-onset alzheimers. Arguably Lesley’s performance in this is the most impressive of all – it is certainly the most heart-rending. Joseph and Julie were childhood sweethearts and we will for him to have his final deal succeed so at least they can have the care required to make the best of the few remaining precious real moments her illness allows them together.

So who did kill Harvey Wratten and why does it matter so much to the 70 characters involved? What is The Shadow Line really about? Is is simply asking us to think about the ethics and moral of human behaviour and how there is no black and white but rather we are all good and bad? Or is there something much greater at stake?
For that you will have to watch for yourselves and hope to understand – it is not easy!

Or you can read below for a few clues and resolutions…


The answer to the who-dunnit comes surprisingly early in episode 3 when we learn it is Gatehouse. In fact this seems too simple and obvious and has you asking yourself if that was really the case and what more is there to discover? Of course, in spite of the fact that Gatehouse is murdering people right, left and centre and did kill Harvey Wratten, there is more to it! And that is one of the reasons we remain hooked. We so want to know what as well as follow Jonah’s journey of self-discovery and find out if Joseph can find a miracle to help him and Julie!

The what was beautifully summarised in a text from someone near and dear to me:
“I only understood what was going on just before the end. I don’t quite see how this system {pension ‘scheme’} can be viable considering the numbers of murders necessary each time someone steps out of line! Emotionally harrowing though…”

And yes it really is that!
Joseph’s deal does not succeed in time to make a better life for him and Julie with care in their own home. And as he has not left the ‘game’ in adequate time to satisfy Jay Wratten, he knows he intends to kill him. Desperately sad and with Julie trying to kill herself to stop the pain and begging him to let her go, Joseph commits sucide himself allowing Jay to kill him in the same manner as Harvey Wratten was killed at the beginning.
And just as Jonah has found out that he is in fact a good cop and now tries to stop the bad cops he also gets killed by his own partner Honey! This is awful – the good hero dies – thinking at the end of the scan of his new baby still inside his wife’s womb.

Unusually bad has won over good and we are left with bad guys Jay Wratten and Gatehouse and bent cops taking care of the continuing pension scheme!

The Shadow Line – Review by TheRestrictedReviewer © 2011

Twitter: @RestrictReview

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Frankenstein (Reverse Roles) - National Theatre – via NTLive screening - Saturday 26th March 2011

(Rated 3/5 )

As the audience settles into its seats and waits for the show to start so does the actor playing The Creature, in a large bubble-womb centre stage, in this innovative stage version of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein directed by Danny Boyle.

And then the creature, and the show, spring to life triggered by impressive stage effect lightning/electricity. So he is born, naked and scarred from the stitching of his patchwork body.

Jonny Lee Miller spends many minutes alone on stage discovering his body; how it moves, how to sit, stand and cries out in shock and wonder at it all; as the actor said like a young toddler but in a fully-grown man’s body. And then he starts to encounter people and learn how to be…

Jonny’s interpretation of the creature was superb; played with great sensitivity and emotional intelligence at times far greater than the other characters he encounters, especially Victor Frankenstein, his creator. Benedict Cumberbatch, addicted to his revolutionary work, excellently plays the scientist as closed-off from other humans, especially his fiancée Elizabeth (Naomie Harris).

Unlike in the classic films, this creature is not a monster with neck bolts and with the focus of the story on his creator. Rather he is the protagonist. The production and Jonny’s performance inspire true empathy. He learns how it feels to be human, to love, to desire, to need, to savour the words of Milton, and to express as though a character from a Shakespearean play, and like in many such tragedies to trust and have that trust betrayed, to experience great loss and to be denied simply because of your appearance. He is like an alien showing us how we are, at times not a very palatable view. Can we really wonder that he turns to anger and rage and in being shown so little care that he does so in return?

The interactions between The Creature and Frankenstein crackle in intensity as they conflict in their analyses of the meaning of life. Almost all the other characters feel like extras, undeveloped by the script and with little to work on, they come across as wasted and stereotypical. Victor’s father (George Harris) seems almost robotic, perhaps this was deliberate – an indication of the parenting of Victor and maybe how he became shut-down (emotionally) himself. Having no real sympathy for many of the supporting characters and with muted reaction from them we almost feel nothing when Victor’s brother, William, is killed.

However the rape and murder of Elizabeth is shocking. We see the trust develop between her and the Creature and, aside from the blind man who teaches the Creature much in his early life, Elizabeth is the only one showing him kindness and compassion. Yet, through the fault of her husband, she has to die; in revenge for Victor’s killing of the Female he created as companion.

And so on the two battle through a kind of no-man’s land and we are left wondering who is in fact the more human.

Frankenstein – Review by The Restricted Reviewer © 2011

Twitter: @RestrictReview

Thursday, 2 June 2011

Much Ado About Nothing - Wyndhams Theatre - 26th May 2011

(Rated 7/5 ) 

Please note for those who do not know the play or want to be surprised by the production, this review contains spoilers.

This was actually Much Ado About Something Totally Amazing!
Rated 7/5 as it is definitely better than perfection and 7 is my favourite number!
A spectacle triggered and catalyzed by the special connection between Catherine Tate, and David Tennant and definitely enhanced by their glorious skills in comedy drama making them an electric pairing of acting talent – in my humble opinion, best comedy couple ever!
And, yes I cannot resist, in the words of David Tennant’s alter-ego the 10th Doctor, as if speaking to all performers/companions involved, ‘You were brilliant, and so were you, and you…’ Gulps!

From now on I will refer to David Tennant as DT, (as he is affectionately called by many), and Catherine Tate as CT.

I first heard about this on Saturday 8th January 2011, in a text from a very good friend, with whom I’ve shared some previous superb DT performance viewings on stage in Hamlet and Love’s Labours Lost. I was in the bath at the time! The text read that DT and CT would be on BBC Breakfast. So I rushed out of the bath and put the TV on. That was around 8am so a bit of a wait to the end of the programme when they came on, just before 10am. DT said to CT: ‘You tell them.’ And so she did; they’d be doing Much Ado About Nothing together with her as Beatrice and him as Benedick. It had been CT’s idea to do it, but some time ago, and she thought too close to their time on Doctor Who and so they waited a while before running it by a producer, Sonia Friedman. CT added she thought DT would be the perfect Benedick. Later he said he thought she the perfect Beatrice. Russell T. Davies comments in his book, Doctor Who: The Writer’s Tale that DT and CT adore each other. Their on-screen chemistry is clear to all who have seen their stint together in the TARDIS during the fourth series of the new Doctor Who (DW). Though DT is not ‘My Doctor’ as Whovians term their favourite DW title-role playing actor, he and CT are my favourite Doctor-Companion combination. They spark off each other! Their joy and emotion hits you full on! And personally I love the concept of two best buddies working together for the entertainment of themselves and so for others too. That way we/the audience, get to experience their best work.
The moment the interview finished I was on the internet to book tickets - any tickets that could be obtained. Well, except they couldn’t be for love nor money. Not for the next 3 hours. The website was continually down and nobody answered the box office phone. I guess maybe a few others were trying too! I persisted, absolutely determined, and at the 11th hour – so to speak (just as I had to go out); not a reference to Matt Smith honest – I was rewarded by the website finally allowing me to get two tickets. In actual fact I wasn’t quite sure when I’d got them for. By this point the website was live and working but in a kind of sporadic way that meant you could get so far before it hung up and you lost what you’d been doing. As it turned out they were tickets to a preview show. In theory the actors and whole performance improves during the run until the end when they’re so at ease with it, the flow is as perfect as it’s ever going to be. I imagine during some runs there are performances in the middle that may feel a little less good if the actors fall into the trap of roboticness and not feeling a new zest for it every performance. That said there is something very exciting about previews. The actors and team are still experimenting; trying out new things, and for me any mistakes are actually exciting opportunities, endearing, potentially exposing of some personal quality of that actor and not ‘wrong’.

On the day I felt the usual pre-performance nerves that I experience for the actors and for me. I trust them more than I do myself. Of course they’re gonna do great and have it all in hand – head and heart too – but maybe my psychology is someone has to be nervous so I’ll do it for them.

I arrived early – as is my way – but this time, joy of joys, no need for a google map or directions. If you do check google – which of course I did! – Wyndham’s theatre sits on top of Leicester Square tube. Geographically it is right next door. And of course there is a huge picture of DT and CT for all to see from afar so you absolutely can’t miss it/them. I had also checked out the location with a friend the previous Saturday and we’d also sussed out the ‘stage door’ situation – ‘stage dooring’ now being a necessary part of the complete theatrical experience for me. I love meeting the actors afterwards as themselves and doing the autograph/photo thing - lovely little interactions.
I sat in the theatre foyer waiting for a friend. (We were going to meet at the stage door but it was raining hard.) Already there were some quite scruffy-looking men, being organised by a smart-casually dressed woman. They seemed to have camera equipment and the woman was handing out notes. Press! It was press night. My friend arrived and then a man from below who informed everyone that there was another 7 minutes to wait as ‘Catherine was having her hair and make-up completed.’ OH how I’d have loved to gate-crash that press Q&A. Could’ve invented a fictional magazine/periodical that I was writing for. Well actually I am! But of course the organising woman had names and was counting heads on the way in so missed that gig!

Friend and I went to eat. We planned to go to a place about 5 minutes away but it rained so hard on the way that we dove into the nearest restaurant, which happened to be a Bella Italia, but could have been anything really! Later, unfortunately, I texted other friends that we were in Bella Pasta, causing a great deal of confusion in meeting up since there are no Bella Pastas on Leicester Square but, is I found out from one poor friend trying to find us, 3 Bella Italias!

Having rescued friend, and finished our meal, we made our way back to the theatre. We still had plenty of time and so decided to go for another stage door reccy. It was still there but quite neglected. We joked we’d have good spots if we stayed and didn’t bother watching the performance. Very different to the previous Saturday around 5:15pm when it was crowded with people waiting for the stars. On that occasion a couple walked past wondering if ‘it’ was Christopher Eccleston, whom everyone was waiting for. As DT came out, and I managed to get a good enough view, I commented, ‘He has stubble’. A passing man asked if that was good. I replied in the affirmative; certainly very good on most men to look at and if not too long and prickly to kiss too.

We collected two more friends at the front of the theatre and, seeing as we were all sitting in different places, agreed to meet for a just a few minutes afterwards – in my head the few minutes would extend to as long as it took DT and CT to come out – back at the stage door.

On the way to my seat I bought goodies. I had just planned to get a programme – as souvenir, for cast/crew information and to be signed by DT&CT – and a poster – to put up on wall. Then I spotted a T-shirt was available too. I unashamedly admit that, like DT, I enjoy wearing T-shirts – black best – on which are my favourite performers and/or something they have drawn, eg. DT and his doodle for Headway Essex.  So T-shirt was very tempting but a dilemma due to cost and being financially challenged. In the end, as friend said, I’d be getting them all anyway so I might as well do it now. I did and clutched them all lovingly and obsessively to my chest as I struggling past others to my seat. A fab seat! Central in 3rd row stalls.

The play commenced with Hero (Sarah Macrae) dancing to a recognisable, but disguised 80s track, ‘played’ by a ghetto-blaster. And so the party, the theme and setting of the play are well and entertainingly established. According to the programme we are in Gibraltar and many of the male members of the cast, including Benedick and Claudio have come back from the Falklands war. All the music is 80s-inspired or adapted; so too, the costumes and hair. Maria’s young son, who has some highly amusing interactions with DT’s Benedick, comes on stage with a Rubik’s cube. CT’s Beatrice first appears dressed as a Blues Brother. And later DT’s Benedick redresses for the fancy dress party in highly colourful lace tights and top, denim mini-skirt and a curly fair-haired wig; Madonna?! Claudio comes as Adam Ant and Hero wears a Lady Diana mask and later her wedding dress. But I am jumping way ahead of myself and the play…

DT in fact first arrives on stage at the wheel of a golf-buggy to resounding cheers from the audience. Incidentally DT has said that this bit of ‘business’ will not continue for the whole run. What a shame; it was wonderfully hilarious seeing him do a 3-point turn to drive the buggy off stage again.

Benedick is talking with other characters, when Beatrice baits him, beginning the first of many rounds of comedic insulting banter by asking him why he is talking as nobody is listening to him. He retorts with the famous line;
"What, my dear Lady Disdain! are you yet living?"
She replies wondering how such disdain could die, with Beneck there to feed it.
And so the current state of their relationship is simply yet beautifully and effectively set-up by the master writer William Shakespeare; probably at his best comedically in this play. This is a classic situation of two people meant to be together yet constantly resisting their attraction. A meeting of minds and wit but determined to hate each other. The one set in his ways and content as he is with no need for a female love-interest/companion; the other as scornful of men as she is of marriage.
This seems designed for the skills of DT and CT. They play it marvellously, jumping off each other’s lines with their own in perfect timing, pitch and with a sense that they are absolutely in tune being out of tune. Interestingly, these two are playing this at ages 43 (her) and 40 (him). A time when single people these days may feel ‘on the shelf’ with no hope of getting off it, which would almost certainly have been the case/feeling in Shakespeare’s time. Many of us teenagers of the 80s can identify!

We are also introduced to Hero’s story. Claudio (Tom Bateman) is told that the Prince, Don Pedro (Adam James) plans to woo Hero for him. Claudio is suspicious that the prince actually plans to woo her for himself, unware that it is the bastard brother Don John (Elliot Levey) of whom he should be wary. As villain of the piece Don John plots to convince Claudio that Hero has been unfaithful and so ruining her for marriage. This is in fact the main plot of the play and the thread on which all else hangs, and yet it feels like it is there only to serve the drama of Beatrice and Benedick’s relationship.

We return to B&B as, set on getting them together, other characters amuse themselves, and us, by attempting to convince each one that the other is in love with them. The staging of this is total genius. Whilst the men discuss how much Beatrice loves Benedick, pillars revolve around the stage, at times just revealing enough and yet plenty of the hidden – or so he thinks – Benedick and his reactions to what they are saying. Meanwhile the blinds are being white-washed by painters. DT encounters many obstacles and has numerous accidents whilst trying to keep hidden while still hearing what’s going on. At one point he falls so that his hand gets covered in paint, which he later forgets and wipes over his face and hair. Of course we know, though he doesn’t, that not only do the conspirators know he is there but he is being highly unsuccessful in covering his accidents. Benedick’s facial expressions are classic DT! This is fall-out-of-your seat hysterically funny.
Beatrice is sent to call Benedick to dinner. The physical state he is now in begs all her disdain! He now feels for her supposed predicament and has decided to requite her love… but not yet. We experience the humour of their kind of transition state – her just as she was and he altered.

And then it is Beatrice’s turn to be set-up. This time one of the painters is on a pulley-system as he paints a pillar. Hero and Ursula (Kathryn Hunt) start talking about Benedick’s supposed infatuation and Beatrice tries to hide from them. In her case she crawls under a paint-spattered sheet. Her conspirators proceed to hook her up to the pulley and she is raised from under the sheet so she can look and listen from on high, whilst still believing she is hiding! Again there is phenomenal comedy from CT’s facial expressions and body language; and so much laughter that we can hardly hear the dialogue below her. We are provided with another wonderful and typical CT moment as, back down to earth, she unhooks herself and shows us how proud she is of her high-flying feats! All credit to CT doing that 8 performances per week in the 3-month run. I believe 101 times in all!

The acting by all is superb. There are no hangers on. They have the excellent text of Shakespeare to work on and sell it in spades.

The comedy continues to excel in the hands on the watchmen who witness talk regarding the dastardly deed of usual Shakespearean mistaken identity in which Hero, really Margaret (Natalie Thomas) is taken to have ‘spoken’ with Borachio (Alex Beckett) at her hen party. But otherwise the tone of the piece changes to a painful seriousness as the consequences of the deception play out.

The interval comes as Beatrice is getting drunk on the hen night as she struggles with her love for Benedick and fretting about how he will repond to her having decided to requite him.

Then in Act 2, Hero is preparing for her wedding in Lady Di gown and Beatrice, unprepared, has a hang-over! She curls up in Hero’s train.

B&B believe themselves in love but have not yet come out to each other. We see all the feelings that we can so identify with and feel for them in; the awkwardness, the vulnerability, the looks of love, the avoidances and again all superbly acted by CT and DT.

We then have the drama of Hero’s wedding in which Claudio refuses to marry Hero, accusing her of being ‘false’.  Beatrice is upset; distraught for her cousin, Benedick is all concern. This is again finely played, especially by CT revealing the heart of Beatrice and love for her cousin. A revenge plot is hatched to convince Claudio and others that Hero died from the shock and he is obliged to marry her ‘cousin’.

B&B are left alone. With a gulp, Benedick confesses his love to Beatrice. She laughs. This is such a huge ‘Aaww’ moment that I found myself expressing it out loud on several occasions through the scene. It felt so real and true. Just as many will empathise with; that moment where you declare love and the other reciprocates and you have the joy, embarrassment – if you’ve been sparring partners – a kind of denial and the heightened vulnerability, connection and delight. It tore at the heart in the most beautiful way.

But before they can be together, there is one thing he has to do for her – ‘Kill Claudio!’

And we have almost reached the denouement… but not before we have another very amusing scene between DT and the young boy involving a keyboard and leading to some more wonderful banter between B&B now in love… and an almost kiss! I was longing for it! Whilst also willing the play not to end!

At the repeat wedding – following a brilliantly powerful funeral scene, in which Claudio anguishes along to music from a loud, echoing ghetto-blaster – Claudio marries Hero’s ‘cousin’ to discover it is Hero herself.

Benedick asks the friar to marry him to Beatrice. Of course he has to ask her too! And they finally kiss to great whoops of delight from the audience.

They end, as the play began, with dancing.

During the curtain calls there were the best smiles you can imagine on DT and CTs faces. They seemed to enjoy it as much as the audience.
I was shaking as I stood up to applaud them.

As arranged I met my friends at the stage door.
DT was already out and signing autographs. How does he change so quickly?!
I managed to get a spot where I probably wasn’t supposed to be – kind of in the way of other actors coming out – but I wasn’t moved on – maybe the presence of my walking stick helped. I watched DT as he made his way along the line – happily signing and smiling in people’s photos – so open and delightful. I was wearing his Headway doodle T-shirt – kind of for him and also in the hopes of attracting his attention ;). Then he made it to me. I think he saw the T-shirt but didn’t comment. He signed the programme page with his picture on. And then went on to the next person, and then somehow he didn’t know who to go to next, and returned to me! I said he’d already signed for me and he replied ‘I could do you twice’ – okay maybe I’m misremembering that a little – but it was so sweet and funny – and yet it felt greedy to accept – a friend behind me handed me her flyer and I handed it to him to sign.
And then CT… SO lovely in person! (Friend later said how beautiful her hair is and how red-heads should rule the world! Made me so proud that I’m a strawberry blond! We also talked about how TV makes people fatter and distorted and how they look even better in person.) As I gave CT my programme to sign, I told her the performance was so good and she replied ‘Thank you, my darling’.

I am going again! Once is totally amazing but this is must-see several times over! It’s a drug and I’m addicted to that high!

Afterthought – courtesy of comments from my friends:
It was noted how quickly the conspirators are forgiven in the original compared to the Shakespeare Retold version in which Hero also keeps Claudio waiting and does not marry him; the trust destroyed between them. Maybe this reflects Shakespeare’s comedies in which he tends not to stay long with the ‘bad stuff’. Or perhaps it’s a historical thing and of his time when younger women of that ripe-to-be-married age didn’t have as much power to stand up for themselves in the same way as they do now and needed to have their honour defended by chivalrous men.

Much Ado About Nothing – Review by TheRestrictedReviewer © 2011

Twitter: @RestrictReview