Month: January 2016



Swallow Street, London


We were in London to review a show and decided we’d like to dine afterwards, somewhere we hadn’t tried before. Fishworks have two venues, one in Marylebone and the other on Swallow Street, the latter just a ten minute walk from the Wyndham Theatre. It being a Saturday evening, amidst the general chaos of the Lumiere Festival, we booked in advance a couple of days beforehand. On arrival, we were delighted to see that the venue had its own fishmonger right there on site, a huge marble slad laden with ice and displaying an impressive array of fishy delights, so there was clearly no danger of the ingredients not being fresh enough. The place was packed but our seats were all ready for us and though the tables  were all fairly close to each other, the atmosphere was convivial and the staff pleasant and attentive.

We were 0n a budget so we opted for the set menu, which offered two courses for £18.95 or £21.95 for three, which in the heart of the capital is excellent value. I began with the Brixham fish soup, served with Gruyere croutons and a small bowl of rouille, a light sauce of olive oil, garlic, saffron and chilli peppers. The soup was delicious, thick and smooth, with a real depth of flavour. Susan opted for a bowl of steamed mussels, in a white wine and garlic sauce, served with lemon thyme and shallots. This too was spot on and happily didn’t feature any cream, which is generally the easiest way to spoil a bowl of mussels.

For the main course, I ordered the homemade fishcake with buttered spinach and hollandaise. I’m a big fan of the humble fishcake, but it’s surprising how many chefs manage to get it wrong. How often have we been served something that resembles a deep fried hockey puck? No such problems here, though. The generously proportioned fish cake was light, feathery, delicately spiced and augmented by a  rich Hollandaise sauce, which made it an absolute delight. Susan had the fillet of sea bream, served on a bed of shaved cucumber, with a chilli and mint salad. Again, just as it should be, light, cooked just so. We shared a side portion of chips, which were old-school good, crispy and scrumptious, with no oily aftertaste.

Unusually, we eschewed pudding and both ordered a second glass of the rather pleasant sauvignon blanc that is Fishwork’s house wine. And then it was out onto the street to fight our way through the packed crowds gawping at the illuminations floating in the air above us. We made it back to Euston station by the skin of our teeth.

Fishworks has a lot going for it. If you feel like splashing out, the a la carte offers a selection of more indulgent delights and there’s a daily selection of specials chalked up on boards around the venue. Amidst the ubiquitous chain restaurants that seem to dominate theatre-land, this is a little gem worth seeking out.

4.2 stars

Philip Caveney


The Revenant



This time last year, Alejandro Gonzalez Inaritu dazzled the cinema-going public with his quirky comedy, Birdman. Now he dazzles us again, with something entirely different – a bleak, gruelling historical drama, based on a real life story, a film that pulses with bone-jarring violence offset by eerily beautiful location photography.  The Revenant looks set to dominate this year’s Oscars and it’s clearly a hard-won victory. At times, the actors look as though they’re going through as gruelling an experience as their screen counterparts. Here is the life of an 1820s fur trapper in all its grimy glory. It doesn’t look an appealing way to make a living.

The story concerns an expedition into the American wilderness in the depths of winter. Hugh Glass (Leonardo Di Caprio) is the team’s scout and he’s accompanied by his mixed-race son, Hawk (Forest Goodluck). Barely ten minutes into the action, the men are attacked by Arikara warriors and only a handful of them escape with their lives. Matters aren’t helped when, shortly afterwards, Glass is attacked by a grizzly bear (a prolonged scene of almost unwatchable savagery) and is left close to death. The team leader, Captain Andrew Henry (Domhnall Gleason) decides to strike out for their home base and leaves Glass in the care of seasoned trapper John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) and callow youth Jim Bridger (Will Poulter). Henry instructs Fitzgerald to give Glass a decent burial when ‘his time comes.’ But Fitzgerald is a survivalist. He murders Hawk and leaves Glass for dead, throwing him into a half dug grave and abandoning him to a slow and painful death. But Glass’s hunger for revenge somehow keeps him alive…

This is the second time the story has inspired a film. In 1971, Man In The Wilderness starring Richard Harris, used the basis of it but changed Glass’s name to Zachary Bass. Inaritu’s film actually sticks closer to the real tale and has the added advantage of Emmanuel Lubezski’s stunning cinematography, his fluid camerawork soaring and sweeping throughout the action to create an almost immersive experience. Often you’ll find yourself closer to the action than is strictly comfortable. In one scene, Glass’s breathing actually fogs the camera lens – in another, blood spatters the screen. And then there are sequences featuring Glass’s fever dreams, strange, hypnotic, almost hallucinatory. It all makes for grim but compelling viewing. Many will be repelled by the extreme violence and a scene where Glass takes refuge from the cold inside a freshly killed horse – yes, you read that right – isn’t going to sit well with any vegetarians in the audience. (Strangely, this isn’t as ridiculous as it might seem. It was an old buffalo hunter’s trick to keep warm inside the gutted carcass of a freshly killed bison. Like a fleshy electric blanket).

The Revenant is an extraordinary slice of cinema, an epic story of survival, of man against nature. If Di Caprio ends up lifting the best actor Oscar (despite speaking only a handful of lines in the entire film) I for one won’t begrudge it to him. I’d say he’s earned it, if only in the scene where he’s required to devour a live fish.


5 stars

Philip Caveney




Emma Donoghue’s Room is one of my favourite books of recent times: a terrifying tale of kidnap and abuse, rendered somehow hopeful and life-affirming by its young narrator, Jack. The boy has no idea that the tiny, locked room he lives in is a prison; he thinks it is the world. And the world, as he knows it, is small but full of love. After all, Ma is with him all the time, and she is always good to him.

But it’s a worry – isn’t it ? – when a favourite novel is adapted for the screen. There’s no way a director can ever realise every reader’s vision and, when you’ve constructed clear and absolute impressions of the characters and their environs,  disappointment seems almost inevitable.

Almost. But not quite. Because Emma Donoghue is a bona fide artiste, and she did not merely sell the rights to Room to the highest bidder. Instead, she waited for an offer that allowed her to write the screenplay herself and, oh, am I glad she did. Because Room the movie is just as heartbreaking and affecting as its source material and, although there are of course changes made to suit the form, it seems that very little is compromised. ‘Room’ is just as weirdly claustrophobic, joyous, repellant and homely on film as it is on the page.

Jacob Tremblay, as Jack, is a revelation. He’s expressive and appealing and extremely natural; hats off to director Lenny Abrahamson for eliciting this performance from such a  young actor. And Brie Larson is marvellous too, delivering a subtle but curiously intense and credible portrayal of Joy, a young woman who has, against such overwhelming odds, managed to create a happy childhood for her beloved little boy.

OK, so maybe there are a couple of scenes that could have teased out some more tension (when Old Nick drops Jack, for example), and it would have been nice to have seen William H. Macy’s part developed into something more, but these are minor quibbles in the face of an affecting and engaging film.

4.6 stars

Susan Singfield

Theatre Bouquets 2015




We saw some fantastic theatre in 2015. Here, in order of viewing, are our favourite productions of the year.


The Caucasian Chalk Circle – Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh

A production so enchanting, funny, lively and, yes, engaging (sorry) that no one in the audience could fail to feel its impact, Mark Thomson’s Caucasian Chalk Circle was Brechtian theatre at its very best.


The Venetian Twins – Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh

A farce majeure, beautifully played, timed to precision and rib ticklingly funny from start to finish, The Venetian Twins was proof indeed that farce doesn’t need to be toe-curling; it can be a thing of beauty too.


Funfair – Home, Manchester

HOME’s inaugural production, Funfair by Simon Stephens, was a dazzling box of delights, a real multi-media event that employed lights, shadows, live rock music, back and front projection, masks, movement and a central turntable  used to stunning visual effect.


The Skriker – Royal Exchange, Manchester

The Skriker was a screaming, hurtling explosion of a play. Caryl Churchill’s script was frightening, angry, funny and weird and Maxine Peake was perfectly cast as the shape-shifting fairy, inhabiting each persona completely.


Charolais -Spotlites, Edinburgh Festival

Written and performed by Noni Stapleton, Charolais was an unlikely comedy about a young Irish woman and the jealousy she felt towards a beautiful heifer. It was an unusual tale, as beautifully written as it was acted: a one-woman performance that not only made us laugh and cry, but also brought to life a horny cow.


Lungs, Roundabout, Edinburgh Festival

On a grey, rainy day in Edinburgh, Paines Plough’s productions of Lungs by Duncan Macmillan was a breath of fresh air. The witty, sparkling script picked us up by the scruff of the neck and hurled us along in a series of perfectly created flash-forwards as the central couple argued, chattered, broke up and made up again.


Filthy Talk For Troubled Times, Venue 106, Edinburgh Festival

Phantom Owl’s actors were seriously top-notch, and Matthew Lillard’s direction was flawless too: the choreography looked effortless but was perfectly orchestrated. The atmosphere was wonderfully tawdry and menacing – Neil LaBute’s script brought expertly to life.


Dead Dog In A Suitcase (and Other Love Songs) Home, Manchester

Kneehigh’s reputation precedes them: we knew before the show began that we were in for an energetic, multi-disciplined, high-octane experience, and were well-prepared to be dazzled by what we saw. We were not disappointed!


Golem, Home, Manchester

The story of the Golem might be traditional, but this production, by experimental theatre company 1927, was anything but. Execution was key here: the perfect meld of acting, animation and music created a surreal, dreamlike world and we could only marvel at the degree of precision that must have been required to bring this extraordinary production together.


Jane Eyre, National Theatre, London

The National Theatre’s Jane Eyre was a dynamic interpretation, eschewing the rigid formula of a period drama in favour of a more holistic view of the novel. This made for a surprisingly faithful telling of the narrative: free from the confines of a naturalistic set and strict chronology, director Sally Cookson created space for Jane’s whole story to be centre stage.


Lord of the Flies, Lowry, Salford

A superb adaptation of a literary masterpiece,Anthony Sheader’s Lord of the Flies was a delight from start to finish. And plaudits to choreographer, Jonathan Holby, who co-ordinated the movements of the large cast flawlessly, regularly cutting between normal speed and slo-motion to display simultaneous events – building steadily to a thrilling conclusion.

Susan Singfield

Film Bouquets 2015





It was a pretty decent year for film. Here, in order of release rather than stature, are our favourite movies of 2015.


Birdman – Director: Alejandro Gonzalez Inaritu

This effortlessly quirky film was really all about live theatre and the essential differences between the two disciplines. Michael Keaton dazzled in the lead role and was brilliantly supported by a stellar cast. It was all ingeniously edited to look like one continuous tracking shot.


The Theory of Everything – Director: James Marsh

A superb biopic of Professor Stephen Hawking featuring stunning central performances from Eddie Redmayne, and Felicity Jones as his long-suffering wife. It managed to be genuinely tear-jerking but never strayed into sentimentality. A hard tightrope to walk, but accomplished with ease.


Whiplash – Director: Damien Chazelle

The adventures of a young jazz percussionist,(newcomer, Miles Teller) and the brutal bandleader (JK Simmons) who drove him to the very edge of sanity. Riveting stuff from start to finish and though Teller’s buttoned-up character was rather unlikable, nevertheless you cared about him.


It Follows – Director: David Robert Mitchell

This nifty low budget delight reinvigorated the horror movie, throwing in a generous splash of vintage John Carpenter. Look at it as an allegory about STDs or a protestant condemnation of promiscuity, but it manages to wrack up almost unbearable levels of tension. Look behind you!


Mad Max: Fury Road – Director: George Miller

Miller’s triumphant return to his famous franchise after a thirty-five year absence was a jet-fuelled, turbo-charged jolt of pure adrenalin. For the uninitiated, it must have been like putting your head in a tumble drier and pressing the ‘on’ switch. I went back for a second look, days later!


London Road – Director: Rufus Norris

Clearly indebted to its theatrical roots, but still a truly cinematic work and probably the most original movie of the year, Rufus Norris’s film about the infamous Ipswich murders of 2006 is a compelling and occasionally staggering ensemble piece that lingers long in the mind.


Inside Out – Directors: Pete Docter, Ronnie Del Carmen

Pixar rediscovered their mojo with this animated delight, which seemed to draw its inspiration from The Numskulls. With as much to please adults as there was for a younger audience, this didn’t put a foot wrong, while the script would have given Sigmund Freud a run for his money.


Amy – Director: Asif Kapadia

Compiled from found footage, this stunning documentary did more than confirm what we thought we already knew about Amy Winehouse. It showed she’d been virtually hounded to her death by the tabloid press and gave her story a sense of tragedy that left most audiences in tears.


45 Years – Director: Andrew Haigh

This stylish film lays bare the complexities behind the relationship of a long married couple as they approach an important anniversary. Tom Courtenay and Charlotte Rampling excel in this slow-burning tale of love and regret set against the bleak backdrop of the Norfolk Broads.


The Martian – Director: Ridley Scott

After the disappointment of Prometheus, Scott needed to find his way back into outer space and he did it with this winning tale, based on Andy Weir’s novel. More science fact, than fiction, Matt Damon starred as an astronaut stranded on the red planet, but determined to get back to earth.


Carol – Director: Todd Haynes

This stylish 60s set melodrama confirmed Haynes as one of the finest directors of our time. There were splendid performances by Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara and a stunning evocation of a lost era. Throw in a gorgeous score by Carter Burwell and really, what’s not to like?


The Lady In The Van – Director: Nicholas Hytner

There has to be a comedy, right? And this wry  adaptation of Alan Bennett’s book pitched everything perfectly, with stand out performances from Dame Maggie Smith and Alex Jennings as the distinguished author – or rather as two different versions of him – an inspired touch.

Philip Caveney




if asked to create a list of franchises that didn’t really need another instalment, the Rocky series would surely figure high on a lot of people’s lists. It’s easy to forget, though, that back in 1977, the original film lifted the best movie Oscar, trouncing rivals of the calibre of Taxi Driver and Network. Sadly though, the film’s writer and star, Sylvester Stallone went on to produce a series of increasingly cartoonish sequels (he did the same thing with his other big franchise, Rambo) and its these inferior films that tend to linger in the public’s consciousness.

So how do you find a new angle on the story? Writer/director Ryan Coogler, creator of the much-admired Fruitvale Station,  has given it his best shot and it’s to his credit that the resulting film is as watchable as it is. Creed  focuses very much on an African-American perspective. Where earlier films had a powerful white man overcoming black champions, here the familiar story is pitched in reverse (and is therefore arguably a more realistic premise).

Adonis (Michael B. Jordan) is the illegitimate son of the late former world champion, Apollo Creed. He’s grown up with not so much a chip on his shoulder as a five ton boulder. Raised by Creed’s wife in the lap of luxury, Adonis still has an overpowering urge to punch people for a living and has already been the victor in a string clandestine bouts in Mexico, but he longs to go legit. So he throws in his cushy job in L.A, moves to a tiny flat in Philadelphia and searches out a suitable trainer. Inevitably, his gaze falls upon Rocky Balboa, the only man ever to have beaten his old man in the ring.

These days, Rocky (Stallone) is running a restaurant named after his late wife, Adrian and is suffering from a few health issues. Initially reluctant to return to his former life, he sees something in Adonis and… well, you can pretty much work out the rest. Ultimately, it does come down to another gruelling string of training and fighting sequences and those viewers who are turned off by the sight of grown men brutally pummelling each other to unconsciousness are not going to like this at all. There are a few cleverly placed references to the original movie and interestingly, Adonis’s main opponent here is former heavyweight champion, Tony Bellew, playing a character called’Pretty’ Ricky Conlan. Ironically, he looks considerably less buff than most of the actors in the film, but having said that, I still wouldn’t want to trade punches with him.

Jordan is convincing as the ‘hungry’ kid on the block, Stallone still mumbles so much, you only recognise three words out of every five and the film is ultimately KO’d in the final round by some decidedly mawkish dialogue as Rocky points out that Adonis’s punch up with Conlan is just the same as his own battle with the big C. But the climactic fight is thrillingly staged and while it’s not a patch on the likes of Raging Bull or The Fighter, it’s nonetheless the best Rocky film in a very long time.

Not exactly a knockout, then, but it wins on points. Stallone is already threatening a rematch.

3.8 stars

Philip Caveney



Slow West



I’ve been trying to see this for quite a while. I missed its brief appearance in cinemas, failed to pick up the DVD and then, by chance, noticed it when I was scrolling around Netflix looking for something to watch. I was initially delighted for the opportunity to catch up, but, inevitably, I suppose, was left feeling a little disappointed, because reviews I’d read on its release had led me to expect something amazing; but John Maclean’s film didn’t thrill me as I’d been promised.

Slow West, as you might expect, is set in America but is actually filmed in New Zealand and though the widescreen vistas are undoubtedly handsome, they didn’t really convince as genuine locations. Jay Cavendish (Kodi Smit-McPhee) is a vulnerable sixteen year old Scottish lad, on a mission to find his former ‘sweetheart’, Rose Ross (Caren Pistorius), who has  fled to America with her papa, after he accidentally killed Jay’s wealthy father in a brawl. Jay is rescued from an encounter with bad guys and befriended by the more experienced Silas Selleck (Michael Fassbender) who offers to chaperone him to his eventual destination – but Jay is unaware that Selleck is actually a bounty hunter, after the reward that’s been offered for the Scottish runaways. As it turns out, Selleck is only one of a whole crew of bounty hunters all intent on claiming the hundred dollars ‘dead or alive.’ But who will get there first?

As I said, it’s all handsomely mounted but there’s no real sense of urgency  in the film and despite the fat that a high body count mounts up throughout  proceedings, (something that Maclean focuses on only in the film’s closing moments) you don’t really feel the impact of those killings. Throw in occasional jokey appearances by some rather unconvincing Native Americans and an ending that ought to be devastating, but somehow isn’t, and I can’t help feeling that this film has been somewhat overpraised. It’s not awful, you understand, just a bit… meh.

3.5 stars

Philip Caveney


The Bridge



Since the success of The Killing, Scandi Noir has become something of a TV growth industry – it seems the viewing public can’t get enough of lurid crimes in snowy landscapes – and out of all the series that followed the adventures of Sarah Lund, perhaps The Bridge is the most assured. It incorporates fiendishly twisty (and it has to be said, highly unlikely) plots with a hist of fascinating characters. Most intriguing of all, of course, is Sofia Helin’s remarkable turn as police inspector Saga Noren. I could probably fill a book with praise for Helin’s creation. Saga is somewhere on the autistic spectrum, (it’s never really pinned down) which means that her responses to social situations can be somewhat inappropriate and often, wildly funny, a device that cleverly undercuts the series’ visceral story lines, which would otherwise make relentlessly grim viewing.

In Season One, the corpse of a woman is found lying on the Oresund Bridge – or rather, two corpses, since the top half belongs to one victim and the bottom half to another. (Yes, I know. It’s a trope of this series that no killing is ever straightforward). As the corpse has been deliberately placed at the halfway point between Denmark and Sweden, Saga is required to collaborate with Danish copper, Martin Rohde (Kim Bodnia), an affable married man with serious commitment problems (when we first meet him, he’s just undergone a painful vasectomy). The pairing of the two characters is a masterstroke, creating some ‘odd couple’ interplay that powers the first ten episodes to a suspenseful and heart breaking conclusion. Unlike their American counterparts, the Scandis never shy away from tragedy and Martin in particular is put through the emotional wringer.

In Season Two, Saga and Martin are reunited when a tanker heading towards the Oresund Bridge is found to be without a crew, apart from five drugged youths, who have no idea how they came to be there. The story cleverly links back to Season One and we’re on for another ten episodes of fascinating crime drama, as Saga and Martin try to unravel the ensuing mystery. Martin is called upon to confront the criminal mastermind who tortured him in Season One, Saga tries to establish a stable relationship with spectacularly awkward results and just to up the stakes, there’s a potential outbreak of a killer plague virus…

Season Three presented its fans with a potential problem. After a disagreement with the show’s creators, Bodnia walked, leaving author Hans Rosenfeldt to do a frantic last-minute rewrite. It’s absolutely to his credit that he not only manages to pull it off, but that the introduction of Saga’s new, pill-popping male partner, Henrik (Thure Lindhardt), gives the series a whole new lease of life. It soon becomes clear that Henrik is not the kind of character we have initially assumed he is and in fact, has his own, complicated and tragic back story. (There’s a moment where the rug is pulled out from under us with an unexpected revelation, that is quite frankly, brilliant). Meanwhile, we learn a lot more about Saga’s troubled family background. This new case kicks off with the murder of the owner of Copenhagen’s first gender-neutral pre school and leads to another incredibly complicated series of murders, which involve the recreation of contemporary paintings, using corpses as the raw material. Once again, it’s all rather ridiculous and yet the brilliance of the characters makes you accept what’s happening, no matter how bizarre the events. Against all the odds, the Bridge delivers a third slice of compelling television.

Will there be a fourth season? I certainly hope so. The Bridge is engaging stuff and there’s no indication that Hans Rosenfeldt is running out of ideas. If anything, he’s upping his game… so my advice is to tune in to Netflix and gorge yourself on one of the best crime dramas of recent years.

5 stars

Philip Caveney




Through a wintry landscape of the highways and byways of the United Kingdom, hobbles Hector (Peter Mullan) an ageing ‘gentleman of the road’. For the past fifteen years, he’s led a solitary life, sleeping in doorways and homeless shelters, eating in motorway service areas and down-at-heel cafes. But now he’s suffering from a serious medical condition, Christmas is coming and he’s finally looking to reconnect with the brother and sister he walked away from all those years ago. Perhaps understandably, they’re unwilling to see him…

Jake Gavin’s low budget tale is undeniably bleak and yet, at the same time,  strangely life-affirming, concentrating as it does more on the little kindnesses that strangers give to Hector – the cashier in the motorway services area who stands him a free breakfast, the Sihk corner shop owner who rescues him from the attentions of a couple of muggers, and the adorable Sara (Sarah Solemani) who runs the annual Christmas shelter where Hector is a regular visitor. And here is a film that will actually make you think about those helpless characters in shop doorways that so many of us pass by on a daily basis, often without a second thought. This is by no means a polished production. It’s rough around the edges and has no real conclusion to offer, but it’s a film full of heart, a raw and affecting slice of cinema verité.

Peter Mullan is, of course, a gifted actor and he makes Hector a fully fleshed out character. When he finally reveals the reason why he walked away from his family all those years ago, only the staunchest viewers will manage not to shed a tear. Hector is a delightful film, that barely made it to the multiplexes. If you get a chance to see it, big screen or small screen, take it. It’s a charmer.

4.5 stars

Philip Caveney

The Danish Girl


The Danish Girl tells the true story of 1920s landscape artist Einar Wegener, and his transformation into Lili Elbe, the woman he always knew he was supposed to be. Eddie Redmayne stars as the transgender pioneer, but it is Alicia Vikander, as Gerda (Einar’s wife), who really steals the show.

This is a good movie, with a lot of heart. The central relationship and its emotional complexities are explored unflinchingly, and the characters are nuanced and sometimes difficult. Gerda’s bond with Lili is especially dichotomous, as Lili’s emergence serves both to undermine her marriage and elevate her art (Gerda’s portraits of Lili ensure her success as an artist).

It’s beautifully shot: all gorgeous landscape or cityscape, costumes and décor. There isn’t a drab corner in this film, and maybe that’s the reason why it doesn’t quite reach the heights it could; it’s all a little too pretty, even the ugly stuff.

And there is, or should be, a lot of ugly stuff. Lili was one of the first people to undergo sex reassignment surgery – and the consequences were brutal. There need to be some darker elements to make this really clear.

There’s no denying Eddie Redmayne’s skill in depicting both Einar and Lili, but the performance is a little too mannered for my taste. His portrayal of femininity is somewhat overdone: too arch, too simpering, too coy. Maybe this was true of Lili Elbe herself, but it feels a little old-fashioned for a contemporary audience, as if the telling itself has snagged somehow on the very question of gender constructs it purports to explore.

But these are quibbles. It’s an important story, and a very watchable film.

4 stars

Susan Singfield