Succession Series 1 and 2. Review.


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And here they are.  All of the pigs in one big poke.

Stupidly I missed Season 1.  For some reason I didn’t zone in on its qualities on first airing and let it go by me.  But the early rave reviews in the national press for Season 2 made me reconsider it and I started again, binging the 20 episodes over the last month or so.

And what a treat it was.

Jesse Armstrong (the show runner) was previously responsible for Peep Show, The Thick of it and even, back in the day, contributed to the excellent Smack The Pony.  He wrote the hilarious Four Lions too.

What this means is that although Succession is essentially a drama it is, in fact, a full blown comic feast with one liners ricocheting across the screen with siege-like ferocity and quantity.

Chief gag thrower is the astounding Keiran Culkin, the weasel-faced runt of the Roy Litter who you’d never tire of punishing, but whose acerbic put downs are guaranteed to split your sides ten times an episode.  he takes particular fun in tormenting the, also excellent, Jeremy Strong who plays his inept, drug-consuming brother Kendall with doe-eyed misery as his privileged life gradually falls into greater and greater disrepair.  He’s a car crash of a human being.

The other comic character who never ceases to amuse with his rhinoceros-skin dimness is Matthew Macfadyen as Tom, the dipstick husband of the power hungry Shiv (daughter of the patriarch from hell Logan Roy – Brian Cox in his greatest ever role).

A good sport in this show is to decide which of these feckless fecks you hate the most.  For not a single one of them has any redeeming features.

That said, my wife had a soft spot for the manslaughterer Kendall and I could at least tolerate the inept (but surprisingly devious) Greig – the limpid cousin.  But that’s it, the rest are as hideous human beings as you could make up.

Or are they made up?

The reality is that this is just a great big mash up of the Trumps, Weinsteins and the Murdochs.

Everything in this cesspit is about power and success.  They are consumed with the need, as a media conglomerate, to acquire more and more businesses and with manslaughter and sexual misconduct (and subsequent cover-ups) thrown into the mix the result is a mosh pit of vanity and greed.

Supporting roles of note go to Helen Hunter who is delicious as the two timing competitor CEO who briefly joins the company.  And the outstanding Peter Freidman as Francis and Jean Smith-Cameron as Gerri – Roy’s Nick and Margaret.

The milf- (or gilf-) like attraction that Gerri has for Roman makes for some of the show’s highlights with truly hysterical moments aplenty.

But at its core, and the bedrock of all that is truly awful in the human race, is the commanding presence of bastard-in-chief, Brian Cox, as the patriarchal Logan who surely has never been gifted a role as meaty as this.  Despite over 200 roles on TV and cinema only once has Cox been recognised at the big ones, a lone nominee in the Golden Globes nearly 20 years ago.  This is surely about to change.  His presence is so all consuming that this has the look of certainty about it.

It’s utterly compelling TV with a cinematic quality and a soundtrack to rival the best that Hollywood has to0 offer.  And, oh, that theme music.  My tune of the year, bar none.

Enjoy!

 

Hotel Mumbai: Movie Review.


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The Taj Hotel in Mumbai; setting for this atrocity.

This Sky Original movie simultaneously released in theatres and on Sky and we watched it on its opening night, free from either having read reviews or expectations.

To be honest, the real life incident that spawned the movie had actually faded in my memory so common, now, are such mass-murder terrorist events.

Some critics are calling it exploitative with an unacceptable level of Hollywood gloss, personally I found it perfectly acceptable and well told with enough sympathy in its direction to justify the horror that lies behind the script.

That didn’t really matter though, because whether or not one is familiar with this event, there are plenty others that it might have been.

It’s an ensemble cast production with stand-out, but un-showy, performances from Armie Hammer, Dev Patel and the head chef, played beautifully by Rohan Mirchandaney – all are trapped in the high class Taj Hotel in Mumbai as it is laid siege to by a group of Islamic terrorists acting under instruction from an off-screen telephone dictator known only as “The Bull”.

Whilst the terrorists enjoy a fair amount of screen time, it’s their prey that the movie, rightly, focusses on rather than glorify the terrorists’ actions.

It’s utterly chilling, pretty much from start to finish.  The head count of close-range and strafing machine-gun deaths is colossal, brutal and completely emotionless.  Indeed the film strangely fails to emotionally engage; rather it leaves you horror-struck at the ability of a less than elite bunch of assassins to wreak havoc, with little or no police/military intervention for many hours, making their killings become almost sporting-hunt-like.

The story is peppered with crescendos of killing and then quieter periods where the prey take stock of their situation and gradually formulate plans for their escape.

It’s cat and mouse throughout and gripping in its intensity.

I very much doubt this will trouble major awards juries, but as a piece of thought-provoking ‘entertainment’ it does its job without resorting to cliche, heavy emotional bribery or OTT special effects.

A good job, well done.

 

Middle England, by Jonathan Coe.


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When Jonathan Coe discussed with his novelist friend, Alice Adams, what should be the subject of his 13th novel he was encouraged to dig up The Trotter family that had appeared in his classic novel, The Rotters Club, and  The Closed Circle and to set them against the context of Brexit.

And so Benjamin Trotter and co are once again with us, living their life from 2010 to September 2018.

Had Coe waited three years to put pen to paper he could probably not have conceived what would happen beyond his already agog writing.

This for example.

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“Sit up man.”

The most despicable symbolic pose by one of the most odious men to have ever stridden the corridors of Eton or Westminster.

Or this?

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The leaders of the free world.  Admittedly slightly playing it for laughs.

Or one of these?

  • The firing of the father of the House
  • the firing of a very recent Chancellor of the Exchequer
  • the firing of Churchill’s grandson
  • a minority government
  • the total reliance of the DUP to try to hold together a majority, and failing
  • the most populist opposition parties in living memory – some would say fascists vs Trotskyites
  • the complete collapse of the Labour party in Scotland

The list goes on and on and on.

Coe sets his story against the background of the unfolding of David (Dave) Cameron’s legacy – the unbelievable outcome that resulted in this mess.

It’s not Coe’s best novel, it starts and ends weakly, slowly.  But in the central 3rd and 4th acts he creates a vivid satire on the outcomes of the political madness that has engulfed, and internationally embarrassed, this once-great nation.

The murder of Jo Cox, the rise of hate crime, the twitching of middle England’s middle class curtains as Tories tut and huff about the way middle England has ‘changed’.  His main platform is one of increasing racial intolerance that may, or may not, be the foundations of this new populist politics and the central reason for the Brexit decision.

“They” are bad.  Europe stinks. and yet his cast holiday “there”, hire “them” as their orderlies, maids, drivers.

When this book is good it’s page-turningly so.  There are many laugh out loud moments.  But when he goes off the boil, it quickly becomes tepid.

Saying that, Coe is one of our great writers and even a decent, rather than great, Coe is better than most writers’ career highlights.

 

The Lehman Trilogy by The National Theatre, directed by Sam Mendes


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Thank you NT Live.

I’m not in London so this was never going to make it onto my ticket list and after 45 productions in the Edinburgh Festivals and Fringe last month neither my wallet nor my body could have managed a trip to the big smoke.

So it was a great and lovely surprise when I saw this show pop up as an encore screening at my local Vue Cinema in Edinburgh.  (By the time I took my seat it was sold out.)

NT Live has pro’s and cons.

On the plus side, it gets so close into the action that you can see in extreme close up the power of performance, in this case exceptionally so, by three astounding actors; Simon Russell Beale, Ben Miles and Adam Godley.

The downside of that is it does have the effect of transposing the experience to cinema rather than theatre and, on this occasion, the negative side of that is that many of Es Devlin and Luke Hall’s simply majestic set (and set pieces) were slightly lost.  I’d like to have seen them as they designed them, in panorama.

At times the monochromatic combination of wardrobe, lighting, set and video makes for some of the most stunning tableaux you will ever see in a theatre.

I’m surprised this show won no Olivier’s (particularly when you see how many the distinctly average Come From Away walked off with) but that is not to diminish this monumental theatrical achievement by Sam Mendes.

Over the course of three and a half hours we see 150 years of the Lehman Brothers’ (and hence industrialised America’s) history presented by the three brothers, their heirs and a supporting cast of dozens of minor characters, all played, largely in third person narrative, by the three actors – apart from their principal roles they cover everything from screaming infants, to coquettish muses to an ageing Rabbi.  It’s remarkable.

The evolving set, whilst intriguing is, at times a little intrusive and this becomes irritating but at other times it’s a work of genius.

The piano music is described as the fourth character and that is so true, played as if in a silent movie throughout, almost completely underscoring the play, by Candida Caldicot.

This is a tour-de-force.  A remarkable production and a must see.  Despite the flaws it comes highly recommended from me.

 

My Edinburgh Festival and Fringe 2019.


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It’s been great.

It always is.

Have I seen a life-changer yet?

Not sure I have, but I’ve seen a lot of class.  (Update, since I first wrote this I have.)

I hate star ratings, but for convenience I have chosen this methodology to save time.

Those in bold are official Edinburgh Festival shows

5*****

The Rite of Spring by Yang Liping’s Peacock Dance Company – This is the life-changer.  A mind-bogglingly beautiful contemporary dance show, weaving together the quiet innocence of Nepalese temple dance with the power and fury of Stravinky’s masterpiece.  Truly outstanding.

Ontroered Goed, -Are we not drawn onward to new erA – I’ve seen this bonkers Belgian political theatre company, from Ghent, before, doing LY£$.  They specialise in Climate Change polemics.

But this was a step up in class.  The entire play is a palindrome; as you will have spotted from the title.  This means it is performed backwards and then replayed in reverse as a film.  How they manage to speak backwards is simply brilliant.  And funny.  And thought provoking

The Patient Gloria – Traverse.  Outstanding theatre about a psychotherapy experiment from the 60’s by Abbey Theatre

Baby Reindeer – Richard Gadd’s masterpiece in the Roundabout at Summerhall.  Awe inspiring performance and story

Efterkalang – The Festival Music strand was a triumph this year.  Few household names but curated with love and real knowledge of quality.  Efterklang closed this year’s offering and they were simply terrific.

Villagers – The best live performance at Leith Theatre. Perfection

This is the Kit – (No this was).  A sublime performance both by TITK and support and beautifully lit by Grant Anderson.  Outstanding sound quality.

The Incident Room – superb story about the Yorkshire Ripper enquiry at The Pleasance

Peter Gynt – outstanding and hilarious take on mid 19th century classic at Festival Theatre

The Shark is Broken – Jaws – the back story at Assembly.  An amazing and very, very funny three-hander by actors playing Robert Shaw, Rod Steiger and Richard Dreyfuss

4****

Anna Calvi – wonderful performance at Leith Theatre

Matt Forde’s Political Podcast – Interviewing Nicola Sturgeon.  (Scotland’s First Minister.)  A delightful hour of Boris-bashing and independence speculation.

Crocodile Fever – tremendous co-pro between The Lyric Belfast and The Traverse.

Fish Bowl – Hilarious French physical comedy at The Pleasance

The Last of The Pelican Daughters – very funny Pleasance show that I had to leave after 30 minutes due to fire alarm

Oedipus – Would have been five stars but for the subtitles. The Kings

Shit – Ultra-sweary, hilarious but deeply moving Ausie show at Summerhall.  Brilliant.

Nightclubbing – Grace Jones inspired Summerhall Performance art.

Kala Kuti Republic – Tremendous dance show about Fela Kuti.  Met, and made best mates with, Bobby Gillespie at The Lyceum

Elgar’s Kingdom – Great tunes from The Halle and Edinburgh Festival Chorus.  Rubbish lyrics. At the Usher Hall

Total Immediate Collective Imminent Terrestrial Salvation – outstandingly original NTS show by Tim Crouch. At Festival Theatre Studio.

Once on This Island – Forth Children’s Theatre. My own company’s show.  A truly beautiful musical with a fabulous ensemble and several great performances .

Tartuffe,  Assemble Rooms – a great Scottish cast performing an abridged version of Liz Lochhead’s classic Moliere adaptation.  Very funny.  Great work from all four in the case (including Grant O’Rourke and Nicola Roy)

3***

The Burning – great performances but treacle-like script, at The Pleasance

Cométe – nice festival opener – pub band that may have gone to 4**** with a bigger audience

Who Cares – polemical Summerhall stuff about the care system but no narrative to properly engage with

The Crucible – too hard a story to tell through dance at The Playhouse

Best of the Fest – mixed bag, not the best of the Fest or it would have been 5*****

Ed Gamble – Work in Progress gig. Great warm up chat but the ACTUAL material was…meh.

Trips and Falls –  The spirit of the Fringe alive in this interesting but poorly cast and largely poorly performed Glasgow Uni production.  The Chief of police and the Granny were good though.

Square go – Started great but fell away, Scottish playground romp at the amazing Roundabout, at Summerhall.

If You’re Feeling Sinister by Avalon and BBC Arts in association with Tron Theatre at The Gilded Balloon.  Thios was always going to be tough to deliver a play about an album by Belle and Sebastiane, but by and large the two hander cast pulled it off .

2**

Teenage Fanclub – Boring.  At Leith Theatre – left after 45 mins.

Twin Peaks – Show about breast cancer billed as a comedy but not funny.

1*

Dynamite – it wasn’t – utter student improvisational crud by Bristol Uni Improv Soc.  Felt sorry for the excellent small girl with a pony tail (Katie) – not enough to save her blushes.