Month: April 2020

Six by Nico: Home by Nico Experience

24/04/20

sixbynico.co.uk

Running a review site that focuses on film, theatre and comedy has never been more problematic and, of course, we also review restaurants – and that’s even more difficult. While film,theatre and comedy can be sourced online, restaurants cannot.

So when we hear that Six by Nico are offering a four course meal, to be cooked in customers’ home ovens, we sit up and take notice. At £80 for four people, it’s not cheap, but neither is it too extortionate for a high-end takeaway, and it does include wine! And yes, there are only two of us, but we’ll freeze up two portions for later. (Future menus, it transpires, will be available for two diners, at the reduced cost of £50.)

In the good old days B.C. (before Coronavirus), we had plans to visit this popular restaurant with friends, but could never seem to sort out a time when we could all get there. Ah, for such problems now! SbN is best known for showcasing a different theme each month and tends to book out well in advance. So, here, finally, is our chance to try out their cuisine, albeit in the familiar surroundings of our modest home. This week’s menu theme is ‘Catalonia.’

The food arrives at 10am, neatly packaged with cooking instructions and full allergy information. It’s apparent at a glance that the portions are on the generous side. We separate two portions, put everything in the fridge, and look forward to the evening.

Unfortunately, when we approach the allotted hour of 7pm, (Sod’s law!)  a whole battalion of workers start attacking the pavement outside our front door with drills, a process that continues until the small hours of the morning. Apparently there’s a problem with the electricity supply. ‘Will it last out until we’ve finished cooking?’ we yell over the noise, crossing our fingers and hoping for the best…

It does. Phew!

For starters,we have a very nice foccacia with olive oil and basalmic vinegar. (The foccacia isn’t quite as splendid as the one we’ve been sampling from Tasty Buns, but is nonetheless an appetising introduction.)

Next up, it’s a manchego bomba with red pepper romesco: a round, firm sphere of excellence filled with a gooey, melting cheese and potato filling and accompanied by some green salad. Delicious.

The main course is a rich, chicken and chorizo ragout, accompanied by paprika & garlic patatas bravas and roasted fennel and piquillo pepper cous cous, the latter served cold. This is the most ambitious of the dishes here and it works very well indeed. There’s also a bottle of Plot Twenty Two Tempranillo Shiraz, the heavy acidic flavour cutting perfectly through the tang of the sauce.

Next up, cheese and crackers: a portion of ossau iraty, a delicious cheese from the Pyrenees (and when I say a portion, there’s a huge block of the stuff, which will be happily eaten over the next few days). We enjoy this with some charcoal crackers and a tangy chutney, noting that the cheese has been sourced from I J Mellis, our usual purveyor of choice in Edinburgh (though somebody recently treated us to a subscription to the equally excellent Pong Cheese, so it’s a wee while since we’ve been).

And so to pudding, which is slightly disappointing. St Clement’s cake  – the name conjours images of a moist citrusy orange and lemon concoction, but this, served with a vanilla crème anglaise, though a perfectly decent bake, is a little too bland for our liking. It lacks the lip-smacking decadence of a perfect pud, the final flourish that such a meal demands.

Of course, what’s missing from all this of is the theatre of visiting a top flight restaurant, the vivacity and atmosphere that the food itself is only a part of. Nevertheless, this is more ambitious (and feels much more special) than your average takeaway. Those wishing to investigate should note that only the first two hundred customers who apply for a weekend meal will be successful, so if you want to try it, book early.

4 stars

Philip Caveney

 

Twelfth Night

23/04/20

National Theatre Live

I’m never sure about Twelfth Night. Yes, it’s a perfectly constructed play, with a rich cast of characters and some of Shakespeare’s most profound and memorable lines. But I’m always pulled up short by the identity swap stuff, because it’s so silly. And, dare I say it, over-used in the bard’s comedies. Yes, I know he’s a genius. But come on. It defies credulity.

Still, major plot quibbles aside, this latest offering from the NT Live’s lockdown programme is nothing short of glorious. Director Simon Godwin really revels in the play’s theme of gender fluidity, and it makes perfect sense in this context to have a female Malvolia (the marvellous Tamsin Greig), Feste (Doon Mackichan) and Fabia (Imogen Doel).

For those who need a memory jog or who are new to the play, this is the story of twins Viola (Tamara Lawrance) and Sebastian (Daniel Ezra), washed up on the shores of Illyria following a shipwreck. Each believes the other dead, and sets out alone to seek shelter.

To Viola, disguising herself as a boy seems the safest bet, so she changes her clothes and calls herself Cesario. So-disguised, she finds work as a messenger for Duke Orsino (Oliver Chris), and is soon engaged in the peculiar business of attempting to woo the Countess Olivia (Phoebe Fox) for him. Unfortunately, Olivia falls for Cesario instead – and, to complicate matters further, Viola herself is smitten with the Duke. Add Olivia’s unruly uncle Toby (Tim McMullen) and his drunken entourage into the mix, and it’s easy enough to see why the prissy, order-loving Malvolia becomes so peevish and out of sorts.

The standout here is clearly Greig’s Malvolia; this is a star turn. Her obsessive, precise nature is beautifully detailed, and the frenzied abandon that follows when she falls for the revellers’ trick – instructing her to dress in yellow stockings to win Olivia’s favour – allows us a glimpse beneath Malvolia’s repressed exterior, as her secret desires are cruelly exposed. Her abject humiliation is genuinely heartbreaking.

But there’s plenty to admire besides Greig: McMullen’s interpretation of Toby (all louche and dissipated, like an ageing rock star) is original and works well with the script, while Daniel Rigby’s man-bunned Andrew Aguecheek makes a perfect comic foil.

The set, by Soutra Gilmour, is inspired: dominated by a huge rotating staircase, that turns to reveal a vast range of locations, all cleverly depicted with a few deft strokes.

This is a lovely, light production, with both exquisite foolery and emotional depth. I reckon I’ll even let the false identity stuff go. Against the odds, they make it work.

4.4 stars

Susan Singfield

Liberty Equality Fraternity

21/04/20

Digital Theatre

The worldwide pandemic is leading us into some unexpected waters. My previous knowledge of Australian Theatre would best have been described as ‘very minimal’. But after recently watching and enjoying Emerald City on Digital Theatre, we’ve been prompted to seek out another production by the National Theatre of Australia.

Liberty Equality Fraternity is a tight little three-hander that plays rather like a witty update of Kafka’s The Trial, demonstrating how, in the age of social media, it’s impossible for anyone to have secrets. Whatever we do, whatever we say, it seems that somebody is always watching us.

Orlagh (Caroline Brazier) sits alone in a tiny room in front of a blank screen. She’s been at work on what seems like a normal day, when she finds herself unceremoniously bundled into isolation, with no real explanation of what’s happening to her. Has she broken some obscure law? Is she about to be accused of something? Then in comes ‘Arkie’ (Andrew Ryan). It’s not his real name, he explains, but refers to an extinct bird that he’s rather fond of. Arkie, it turns out, knows a lot about Orlagh. He has intimate details of every aspect of her life, including incriminating photographs which soon start to appear on the screen behind her – and, it transpires, he’s trying to establish connections between her and other people, some of whom she knows, and some she has never heard of.

As the interrogation continues, Orlagh’s fears start to mount and they are not exactly assuaged with the appearance of Walter (Helmut Bakaitis), whose suave and effortless dismissal of all that has gone before seems, if anything, even more sinister.

This is a dark and often caustically funny piece, written by Geoffrey Atherden and featuring sterling performances from the cast. Ryan is particularly good as the boorish Arkie, frantically trying to maintain control but subject to to his own fears and inadequacies, as Orlagh gradually begins to get the measure of him and turns his techniques back on him. It soon transpires that Arkie too has secrets he’d rather not share with the world.

The play asks some pertinent questions about the perils of contemporary living. Why are we so ready to share every detail of our lives on social media? Do we honestly believe that such platforms are harmless… that they might not one day be used against us?

Liberty Equality Fraternity may not provide any answers but it certainly asks some highly relevant questions.

4 stars

Philip Caveney

 

Five From Inside

21/04/20

Traverse Theatre YouTube

We were looking forward to Donny’s Brain at the Traverse, but then along came a global pandemic to scupper our plans. Enter writer Rona Munro, director Caitlin Skinner and the rest of the cast and crew with a plan to fill the gap: a series of five short monologues, free to view on the theatre’s YouTube channel.

Thematically, we’re in all too familiar territory: one way or another, the characters are all trapped, either physically incarcerated or marooned within their own introspection. It’s a ghastly reminder of the zeitgeist.

First up, there’s Jacob (Bhav Joshi), who’s literally locked up: he’s in prison, desperately seeking help from his brother. The off-kilter camera angles create a sense of panic and disorientation; his fear is palpable. Next comes twitchy Fern (Lauren Grace), who’s also being kept against her will, apparently in some kind of clinic. She’s struggling to ‘colour her mood’ correctly with her crayons. ‘I’m normal,’ she keeps insisting, frantically trying to banish her demons.

Mr Bubbles (Michael Dylan) is a children’s entertainer whose career is on the line after an embarrassing live TV bust-up with his partner; he’s trapped in his character, wiping at his make-up, trying to reveal the self below. And Siobhan (Roanna Davidson) is locked in a cycle of resentment against an employer who ostracises her, and refuses to recognise her contribution to the firm’s success.

My favourite of the five is the last one, Clemmy, performed by Suzanne Magowan (last seen by Bouquets & Brickbats in the thought-provoking Fibres), which takes the form of a filmed confession from a mother to her young daughter. She’s caught in a web of her own lies, and her anguish is heartbreaking. The back story is tantalising; this clearly has the potential to be developed into a longer piece.

But there’s no weak link here, and an astonishing tonal mix, considering the self-limiting nature of the project. Although each one is a stand-alone, they work best when viewed together, a series of lives connected by a sense of isolation.

Available until 9pm on 2nd May, these vignettes are well worth fifty minutes of your time.

3.8 stars

Susan Singfield

System Crasher

18/04/20

Curzon Home Cinema

Here’s a tip for you: don’t watch this film if you’re in the mood for a bit of light entertainment to help you while away a locked-down evening. Also, don’t watch it if you’re up for something sad but ultimately up-lifting. In fact, don’t watch it at all unless you’re prepared to spend a couple of hours feeling horrible and helpless, sobbing intermittently, furious about the way we let down our most vulnerable kids.

And nine-year-old Benni (Helena Zengel) is very vulnerable. Traumatised in her infant years, she is bursting with rage. Her social worker, Frau Bafané (Gabriela Maria Schmeide), is running out of options. Benni has been expelled from so many group homes there’s nowhere left to try. All she wants is to go back to her mama (Lisa Hagmeister), but that’s not possible. Not when mama’s abusive boyfriend is there; not when mama fails every time to prioritise her daughter.

It’s utterly, devastatingly, heartbreaking. I don’t remember when I last cried so much. Zengel’s performance is extraordinary. Her Benni is a desperate child, who just needs someone to love her. But she’s so damaged, so violent and so destructive that not many adults can cope with her. Sometimes it seems like a breakthrough might be possible: there’s a string of well-meaning professionals such as her school escort, Micha (Albrecht Schuch), who go out on a limb to try to help. But three weeks’ respite in the woods isn’t a permanent home; a friendly mentor is no replacement for a family; they can never give enough. And Benni’s yearning is so vast it’s all-consuming. Everyone wants to make things better but no one knows what to do.

The film is German, so the social care set-up is different from ours here in the UK. But the inadequacy of a bureaucratic system to address the needs of a wounded child is all too recognisable. The team around Benni are decent, dedicated folk, their anguish as palpable as hers as each of their efforts fails.

Writer/director Nora Fingscheidt has crafted System Crasher to perfection, depicting Benni’s calamitous story in unflinching detail. I especially like the razor-sharp flickers of flashback we are shown whenever Benni begins to freak out, brief glimpses into the suffering that has shaped her blighted life. I like the colours too: a light-saturated palette that seems to suggest brighter possibilities.

Sadly, for Benni, such possibilities are only dreams. This is truly a modern tragedy.

5 stars

Susan Singfield

Treasure Island

16/04/20

National Theatre Live

Treasure Island is one of those stories I know without knowing. Despite being an ardent bookworm as a child, I never read past the first couple of chapters of Robert Louis Stevenson’s seminal text. I’ve never watched a film version all the way through either. I’m not sure why; maybe I just didn’t think that seafaring adventures were for me. And yet, of course, I know the characters, the plot, the tropes – because every pirate cliché emanates from this book.

So now’s the time for me to see it through, via the National Theatre’s free YouTube screening, available until next week. I settle on the sofa next to my husband, who hands me a glass of wine. So I’m relatively happy, although I can’t refrain from grumbling, ‘It’s not the same as actually being out.‘ It’s not, obviously. But, for now, it’s what we have.

This is a sprightly production, and a lot of fun to watch. Bryony Lavery’s script is fleet of foot, and Polly Findlay’s direction lively and light, although there’s more than a hint of darkness here.

Patsy Ferran is a female Jim – a Jemima – whose encounter with Bill Bones (Aidan Kelly) at her grandma’s inn leads her into piratic escapades. Before long, she’s left granny far behind, and is employed as a cabin-girl on the Hispaniola, learning to read the stars while befriending the dark-hearted Long John Silver (Arthur Darvill), as they sail forth in search of Captain Flint’s buried treasure. Betrayal and misadventure follow, of course, as do enlightenment and redemption. It’s never less than an exciting ride.

Ferran’s is a beguiling performance; indeed, the whole production charms. Joshua James’ Benn Gunn is bewitching, his conversations with himself simultaneously enervating and captivating; it’s a clever portrayal.The swordplay sequences, choreographed by Bret Yount, are bold and athletic. And Lizzie Clachan’s design shows us the boat as a living, breathing organism, exposing the metaphor of the island’s tunnels as Jim’s inner self, her conscience and her soul.

Whether Treasure Island is an old favourite or unexplored territory, this is certainly a piece of theatre that everyone can enjoy.

4.2 stars

Susan Singfield

 

Giri/Haji

15/04/20

Netflix

The lockdown continues and we’re scratching around for new sources of entertainment. We don’t usually review television series, but a vague tip-off via Facebook alerts us to this strange hybrid, a compelling blend of Tokyo/London crime-thriller/character drama. It failed to connect with large audiences on its initial release, but is now available to watch on Netflix.

Maybe the title doesn’t help. Giri/Haji (which translates as the dull-sounding Duty/Shame) also boasts subtitles for much of its content and, as we all know, that can be enough to frighten off large sections of the viewing public. But here’s the rub. Giri/Haji is one of the best TV series we’ve seen in a very long time, and we’re soon hooked, bingeing on all eight episodes in just a few days.

The action begins in Tokyo, where world-weary Detective Kenzo Mori (Takehiro Hira) is horrified to learn that a recent Yakuza-style killing in London may have been perpetrated by his younger brother, Yuto (Yōsuke Kubozuka), missing-presumed-dead after some misadventures in his home city. The murder victim is the nephew of a powerful Yakuza leader and the ensuing fallout threatens to cause a war between the different factions of Tokyo’s organised crime network.

Kenzo is dispatched to London to find his brother, but soon falls into the orbit of lonely detective, Sarah Weitzmann (Kelly McDonald), who is ostracised from her colleagues. Then Kenzo’s troubled teenage daughter, Taki (Aoi Okuyama), follows him to London and… you know what? It’s pointless to say much more about the plot because it’s very complicated and will probably put off as many people as it entices. But let me assure you, over eight episodes, everything ties together beautifully.

What Giri/Haji has to offer in abundance is a whole bunch of surprises, incidents you really won’t see coming. Writer Joe Barton clearly delights in pulling the rug from under his viewers’ feet, something he does with considerable skill. You thought the details on a  character were a bit sketchy? Well, hang on, in a later episode, there’ll be a deep dive that will take you back for a more in-depth look at him/her. You thought you had that other character well and truly nailed? Think again!

The other unexpected delight is how funny much of this is. Take Soho-based rent boy, Rodney (Will Sharpe), for instance, who can’t seem to open his mouth without unleashing an onslaught of invective-littered hilarity. Likewise, hardened criminal Abbot (Charlie Creed Miles) somehow manages to generate genuine threat whilst effortlessly dispensing corking one-liners. Even minor characters, people we only see once, for goodness sake, are gifted with fabulous lines of dialogue. And don’t go thinking that this is just a chuckle-fest, because the next thing you know, a Yakuza is being made to chop off one of his own fingers in unflinching detail.

There’s much more to commend this series: the animated introductions, the clever allusions to the way in which seemingly unconnected events can impact on each other, even when they happen thousands of miles apart and, in the final episode, a high action shoot-out that eerily metamorphoses into a Frantic Assembly-style dance number without pausing to take a breath. It’s a dangerous, audacious gambit that probably shouldn’t work – but absolutely does, big time.

For whatever reason it first failed to find its audience, Giri/Haji is right there, right now, ready to be explored at the touch of a button. If you’re too late for iPlayer, it will be on Netflix from Friday. Let’s face it, in the current situation, we can’t really argue that we haven’t got time…can we?

5 stars

Philip Caveney