Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Accused: Stephen's Story - BBC1 - Tuesday 28th August 2012

(Rated 3/5 )

Disappointing, strange... confusing...
This episode by Danny Brocklehurst and Jimmy McGovern didn't quite hit the mark for me. Stephen (Robert Sheehan) is losing his m
other to a terminal illness. A nurse, Charlotte (Sheridan Smith) is brought in by Stephen's father Peter (John Bishop) to help relieve his wife's suffering - Stephen thinks she has relieved it too far and killed his mother to have his father for herself. And then...?!
I won't say what, as again that might give the game away, but this time sadly it's kind of boring and un-engaging and sort of obvious in plot, whilst leaving the real motivations and solution to the viewer to decide for themselves. I didn't really care. I felt it was difficult for the actors to get involved in their portrayals because each of them had to leave it unclear as to whether they were 'good' or bad'. Stephen was supposed to be sensitive with possible anxiety hints at other mental health conditions, but seemed more fascinated by Charlotte's tits than anything else, and I didn't feel connected to the other characters either. Sheridan is usually very good but flat in this. And motives behind the crimes, if they were crimes? Hm, well they didn't make any sense.

I would love to be told otherwise if others experienced this differently? Please let me know :)

Accused: Stephen's Story – Review by TheRestrictedReviewer © 2012

Twitter: @RestrictReview

Monday, 27 August 2012

‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time’ - National Cottesloe Theatre - Saturday 25th August 2012

(Rated 7/5 )

Absolutely thrilled and delighted to give the National Theatre’s production of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time my top mark! I am sure Christopher, the hero of the piece, would query giving a better than perfect score, but I would then tell him it’s like an A*, but with an extra-special additional star added to that! 5=A, 6=A* and 7=A** J.

I read Mark Haddon’s book many years ago and absolutely loved it. Definitely one of my all time favourite novels. According to popular marketing of the novel, Christopher John Francis Boone has Asperger’s syndrome. I would say this is probably the closest it’s possible to get to ‘easily’ labelling him so that people can have some idea as to what to expect of him. However, I completely agree with Mark Haddon in his article in the theatre programme for this production – labelling people and putting them into boxes comes no way near to describing who and how they are and, in many cases, is completely unhelpful. Within all our peculiarities and syndromes, we are all individual, and on a kind of continuous scale of ‘abnormality’ – which of us is in fact normal?! It simply does not exist!
Christopher has difficulty reading and understanding other people’s emotions – his empathy is highly limited. He also struggles to allow people close to him physically – hugs are a nightmare and should be avoided – his way of coming close to someone, as shown in the play, is to slowly bring hands together, but at the point of touching, Christopher will withdraw. He loves and becomes absorbed my mathematical problems. He is very good indeed at proofs of theorems – there is a safety and security for him in the world of maths, in which you can prove things 100%. The outside world, or even the world in his own home, does not provide that safety, because nothing can be proved – it’s all a great, big confusion of people and their odd behaviours.
This becomes even more of a problem when he faced with a murder mystery to solve. Who killed Mrs. Shears’ dog, Wellington, with a garden fork? In the process of solving this mystery, Christopher goes detecting and also solves a much greater mystery of his own family and faces many of his demons along the way…

Luke Treadaway, who played the lead in the NT’s Warhorse also, continues to show his exceptional talent in performance as Christopher. This is a virtuoso study of a character, in which he uses voice as well as body language to take us along with him in understanding Christopher. We adore him! The poetry and movement of his internal world are delightful and so moving. We both fully get how hard it is for Christopher to appreciate the feelings and roller-coaster emotions of other humans with whom he has to deal, and also understand them and ourselves better in exploring with him. The beauty of his fantasies of being an astronaut comes across in a dance of lights, images and computer graphics, in which props, as well as fellow cast members are used to lift him aloft and help him fly weightlessly. The staging is complete brilliance, the biggest supporting role in exhibiting the fascinating workings of Christopher’s mind. Very well done to designer; Bunny Christie, lighting designer; Paule Constable, video designer; Finn Ross and movement directors; Scott Graham and Steven Hoggett. And of course also sound designer; Ian Dickinson, music maestro; Adrian Sutton, voice coach; Jeanette Nelson and fight director; Kate Waters. This is definitely an ensemble piece. And an ensemble stage also, which opens up at various points to reveal all sorts of secrets, devices and treasures, and on which Christopher builds a train set – which later comes to life, and draws the faces Siobhan teaches him to interpret people’s feelings. All parts of performance and staging contribute in equal measure in showing us who and how Christopher is and how his world and our world operate and come into conflict… and maybe harmony.

Niamh Cusack plays his teacher, Siobhan. Totally and utterly wonderful! As much as we adore Luke as Christopher, we love Niamh’s Siobhan too. She is so much more than his teacher. Through her narration of some parts of Christopher’s story, as well as voicing him in parts like a counsellor would with a client, we experience the intense empathy and support she gives Christopher. It also emphasizes his own voice at times when he is maybe struggling to express himself. She is so gentle and yet so strong. There are also some highly humorous moments when she tells us and Christopher what another character has said, and then they say it themselves in their own way; playing with similarity and contrast.

Luke’s father is played by Paul Ritter and mother by Nicola Walker - both very good indeed. Father, Ed is portrayed as hesitant yet honest when he feels appropriate and we feel his dilemma in trying to do the best practically for his son, whilst holding big secrets from him in attempts to save him – these have catastrophic consequences. This is a man who silently contains his emotions or in crisis lets them out with his fists or by seeking emotional consolation and rescuing from women. He shows us how hard it can be for men in our society, who are expected to be strong and brave and practical and show the stiff upper lip. It’s a huge load! Mother Judy also shows us how difficult it can be to be a fully-functioning feeling mother to a child who cannot appreciate and understand that. This will be poignant for any mother, any parent who truly cares for their child. Her story, disappointment in life and quest for an ideal, are a catalyst for events, yet whilst we may blame her for a while, we certainly do not condemn. How can we? The writing of Mark Haddon, adaptation by Simon Stephens, production and performances make us understand all the issues involved in a way that makes us truly interested and sympathetic to all involved. This story is rich in issues! Mark Haddon is a genius and I was pleased that so much of the original text was kept in the adaptation.

Other characters, voices, props etc are played by Una Stubbs, Sophie Duval, Nick Sidi, Matthew Barker, Rhiannon Harper-Rafferty and Howard Ward. They act as witnesses to Christopher by sitting on the sides of the stage and simply observing… and then support and empathy by being the characters with who  he interacts as well as literally supporting him in his journey. Ingeniously done and all really great! I’d also like to give a shout out to Toby, the rat, who put up with being swung around during Christopher’s hectic travels.

It is Siobhan who suggests Christopher convert the book of investigations into the ‘curious incident’ into a play, and that she and others will help him. And that is exactly what happens, with the book and play constantly referred to and included in the action. Fellow actors step into characters as required, with Christopher commenting on their suitability to take on the roles at times. And when he wants to explain a mathematical proof to the audience – which may delay the action, but which were of course included in Mark Haddon’s book – Siobhan suggests he does so in an appendix after the curtain call, which he does to perfection, with the glorious help of the full technological wizardry of graphics and stage.

Christopher recites the prime numbers in order when he feels frightened or uncomfortable. In essence, they are his best friends. When we came into the auditorium to take out seats, for a moment I thought my seat wouldn’t be next to my companion’s. There was a seat covered in white and with the number “173” on it. An envelope told me I was sitting in a prime seat! We wondered if that meant I was going to be called on to take part in the show. For that reason I withheld from opening my envelope. At the interval I realised in prime seats had opened theirs and so I did. Inside was more information on the number “173” and a little exercise to see if I was special. You add up the numbers associated with the letters on your name – A=1, B=2 etc. to 26 – and if they make a prime number, you win a prize. We tried various combinations of both out names, short and long forms, with and without middle names, and it turned out that I’m not special, but my companion is! We won a badge showing one of the faces Siobhan draws Christopher to help him understand people’s expressions. It's a smiley face as with eyebrows over the eyes as so... \ and /...

Let me know if you know what it means?! J

For me the second half lost a little. For a while I couldn’t work out what it was… and then I realised… we lost Christopher’s voice and expressiveness under the external pressure of the world around him and his retreat inside himself, leaving others to tell the story. Very powerful drama to lose him and for him to then return even stronger.

I have been to The Cottesloe before, but it was unrecognisable to me in the way it was transformed. Not quite as small as The Donmar, but still retaining a great sense of intimacy and connection between performers and audience. It is accessed from outside the main NT building, a little way along from the Stage Door. It’s my favourite of the NT theatres and easier for those with walking disabilities trying to get to their seats, of which there were a fair few of us that evening!

I highly recommend this production!

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time – Review by TheRestrictedReviewer © 2012

Twitter: @RestrictReview 

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Accused: Mo's Story - BBC1 - Tuesday 21st August 2012

(Rated 5/5 )

Heart-rippingly powerful drama that had me bawling my eyes out at the intense pain of the situation created by genius writer Jimmy McGovern and co-writer Carol Cullington a
bout two mothers, played by Anne-Marie Duff (Mo) and Olivia Colman (Sue)... and their sons, living in the now depressingly common world of gangs and gun crime.

I foolishly gave last week's episode 5/5, giving myself no room for an improved score... on that basis this should be 7/5... Last week Sean Bean's performance really impressed, and the rest of the drama was good but not great... This week's performances were outstandingly and poignantly emotion-stirring and the twists and turns of the plot superb too. What is so shocking is this is real! This is happening in places around our whole country.

Such tight and well-constructed drama and several surprises, so it is hard and maybe a shame to say much about it. Anne-Marie Duff's and Olivia Colman's characters are very close friends, who work together in a hairdresser's and take a stand against bullying youths, who have dictated that shops be closed... and so the consequences...

Anne-Marie Duff is supremely sensitive in her acting. This small actor has an almost incongruently huge strength of expression and humanity. Olivia Colman, Ruth Sheen (Mo's mother) and Thomas Brodie Sangster are totally believable also - we feel their pain. And this is pain in abundance, but even within that there are some good laughs.

Outstanding to develop such compelling characters in just an hour such that we truly know and feel them. And a cleverly enmeshed plot to put them in the worst plight possible!

Accused: Mo's Story – Review by TheRestrictedReviewer © 2012

Twitter: @RestrictReview

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Accused: Tracie's Story - BBC1 - Tuesday 14th August 2012

(Rated 5/5 )

Jimmy McGovern's drama series Accused, that tells the stories which lead up to the accused characters we see on trial, is back. And my goodness this is such high class T

V, though I hope Jimmy wouldn't mind me referring to it that way as someone who writes about those real, unprivileged people from lower classes, iin such challenging moral positions. Do we agree with the verdict both legally and morally? What would we do in their shoes? (Or in Sean Bean's case, would we wear those stilletos?!)

Sean Bean is exceptional both as the 'boring' English literature teacher Simon, and his transvestite alter-ego Tracie, in whose glittering frocks he/she comes alive. He is deliciously camp, smart and tough as Tracie, yet also so vulnerable, sensitive, understanding - counselling his bedfellows, emotionally intelligent and demands our empathy. This is the best I have ever seen Sean Bean. His Simon is nice and normal - un-colourful, and yet for me highly noticeable and compassion-inducing. The quotes he teaches from the classics fit so well with the story and drama!

Stephen Graham, as his lover, does an excellent job too.

The piece deals with homophobia and bigotry against transvestites, self-identity, sexual-identity, love of self and others, trying to be 'normal' when you are 'out of the ordinary', and really challenges us to think about all these issues in our own lives and perhaps contemplate our own sexualities.

Dealing with all that would be enough, but a murder occurs as a consequence of Sean's and Stephen's characters liason and it is that for which Simon finds himself in the dock.

As usual Jimmy's writing really delivers. The piece is crisp, sharp (no pun intended), real, natural and unafraid to take risks or shock. In a strange way, though, I think in the way Jimmy brings things out, even shocking things do not shock us. He helps us accept what is and challenge what is wrong in society and our lives.

Accused: Tracie's Story – Review by TheRestrictedReviewer © 2012

Twitter: @RestrictReview