Tips for First Time Visitors to the Victoria Palace Theatre for Hamilton

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Hamilton has finally arrived in London, with previews beginning a few days ago. In 2015, I wrote a post on this blog containing tips for those travelling to London to see the Barbican’s Hamlet and as so many found it useful, I thought I’d try and think of some helpful tips for anyone new to the area, coming to see Hamilton. As I’ve already seen the show twice here, I can also give some insight in to the entry process. Oh and I’ve also written my thoughts, as a newcomer to the show, which you can read here if you’re interested.

1. Getting There

The Victoria Palace Theatre is very easy to get to, due to the fact it is located so close to the Victoria underground station! If you want to go straight to the theatre on arrival in Victoria, take the Cardinal Place exit from the underground station and you will exit on the same side of the road as the theatre, which will be to your right. The photo below shows this exit and the theatre is just hidden by the station itself. It is also worth downloading the Citymapper app to your phone, as this is an easy way of finding out the best route to somewhere in London.

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There is also a useful map via the Delfont Mackintosh website here: Area Map

and another here: Victoria Palace Theatre – Google Map

2. When to arrive?

The theatre recommends that you arrive 60 minutes beforehand, although it is opening 90 minutes before the performance time (6 p.m. for evening shows and 1 p.m. for matinees). The queue to enter does move quickly (provided you have the right documents ready – more on that below), but the advantage of arriving early is that you have more time to join the merchandise queues! There are kiosks on stalls and circle levels, but the queues do get quite long, so make time for it if you plan to buy anything. Hopefully an online shop and perhaps even a physical shop, as in NYC will open in the future, but for the moment, the kiosks are the only option.

3. Meeting the rest of your party?

As all of your party must be together before you are allowed to enter the theatre, you should arrange to meet at a designated spot. The area in front of the theatre can get quite busy the nearer it gets to show time, so I’d suggest standing to the side, or meeting outside the tube station.

4. What do you need to bring with you to enter?

On both of my trips to see the show this week, the process for entry has been very strict, but very efficient too. Unlike other shows where you are told you’ll need ID and then no one checks it, the Victoria Palace is very serious about its requirements, to try and dissuade people from buying inflated tickets on a secondary market.

Only join the queue to enter once all of your party has arrived, as you won’t be allowed entry until then. You will be asked to present your email ticket confirmation, photo I.D (passport or driver’s licence) and the credit/debit card that you paid with. After documents have been checked, you’ll be directed to a door to enter, on which your bag will be checked. Following the bag check, you’ll enter the theatre and your credit/debit card will be swiped and your souvenir ticket slip will be printed. At that point – you’re in!

5. Inside the theatre / Seating chart?

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The newly refurbished Victoria Palace Theatre is a lovely theatre, with plenty of bars on its various levels, as well as lots of toilets! Above is the Ticketmaster seating chart and a couple of my photos from the inside of the auditorium are below. I’ve also added a link to the indispensable resource that is Theatremonkey, which offers insight in to seats and their views of London’s theatres and will become very helpful once seat reviews of the newly refurbished building start to be submitted.

 

 

6. Food & Drink

There are plenty of places to eat around the area of the theatre, thanks to the regeneration that has been taking place for the last few years. There is everything on offer, no matter your budget or taste, for example sandwiches and snacks from Pret, Costa and Eat, or various restaurants including Bills, Browns, Jamie’s Italian, Zizzi, Wagamama. Oh and there’s also a Shake Shack for those in need of a good burger! A great site on the Victoria area can be found at the Create Victoria website: https://createvictoria.com/food-and-drink

7. Stage Door

The stage door itself is out of sight at the moment, due to the on-going building works. However, for those hoping for autographs, there is an area behind some barriers at the side of the theatre, where fans can gather to wait for any actors who exit that way, but there are no guarantees of who you will see and whether they will stop to sign. Wrap up warm though, as it gets very cold!

8. Still looking for tickets?

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Although most tickets for the first block of dates have been sold, you can still pick up tickets in a variety of ways:

(a) Official Website – Keep checking the website for availability, as the odd ticket is still available for certain performances until June 2018. Tickets for the next booking block (from July 2018 onwards) will be released in the next booking period. Visit the website here: Tickets

(b) Daily lottery – £10 tickets are available every day via the Hamilton lottery. To enter, you need to download the official Hamilton app from the website, or enter online. Lotteries open at 4 p.m. and close at 2 p.m. the following day. You can enter for a maximum of two tickets in each lottery draw.

(c) Late Release Premium Tickets – A limited number of premium-priced tickets will be released online at 12 noon every Monday for all of the following week’s performances.

(d) Standing Tickets – As yet, there are no standing tickets available, but the website refers to further details of the Grand Circle (top tier) stand-in tickets being announced at a later date.

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If I think of anything else that may be useful, I’ll be sure to add it to this post! Enjoy the show!

 

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Theatre Review – Hamilton – I’ve joined the revolution, as this astonishing show explodes on to London’s theatre scene!

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Ever since Hamilton burst on to the New York theatre scene in 2015, with such universal praise and adoration, I have been intrigued. After ticket lottery failures when I’ve been in NYC and the rising Broadway ticket prices, I decided to wait for the London transfer to see the show for myself. So, before Thursday night, I had not heard a single second of its soundtrack and I knew only the very basic historical facts. You couldn’t be more of a newcomer to this musical than I was.

The big questions people are now asking me: Could anything live up to the level of hype that Hamilton has (remember it has already won 11 Tony Awards and the Pulitzer Prize)? Would I want to go and see it again?

By the time I emerged from the Victoria Palace Theatre later on Thursday night, the answer to both questions was a resounding YES!! In fact, I was so desperate to go again sooner than April (when I have my next ticket booked), that I bought a single ticket for Saturday’s first matinee to relive it all again!

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Jamael Westman & company. Photo: Matthew Murphy

Seeing two of the first four previews also means that I have been lucky to already see both Alexander Hamiltons (Jamael Westman on Thursday and Ash Hunter’s first performance on Saturday afternoon), so I can give my thoughts on both interpretations.

So, for the uninitiated like me, inspired by the biography by Ron Chernow, Hamilton tells the lesser known story of one of America’s founding fathers, Alexander Hamilton, an immigrant from the Caribbean, who arrived in New York and went on to become one of the most vital individuals in the shaping of the foundation of the U.S.A; from his determination to help secure freedom from the British, to his defence of the new Constitution, to his creation of a financial system for a new nation as its first Treasury Secretary. It’s the story of a man who strived to achieve so much and has been, to a certain extent, overlooked by history.

Until now, that is! In fact, one of the finest achievements of Hamilton is that it is informing thousands of audience members about a period of history they may know little about, especially if they aren’t American. It’s the best history lesson you’ll ever have!

Why is it so incredible? Hamilton executes every element of the show to perfection. You may be thinking that the style of music isn’t for you, but you’ll likely by thrillingly surprised. It’s genuinely impossible to choose a favourite song, as the show moves so smoothly from one to the next that it’s hard to separate them. Each one adds to both the progress of the story and the emotional depth of the show. Very few musicals manage this, which is why very few truly capture my imagination. In this case, I left the theatre and immediately downloaded the soundtrack to listen to it all over again and to marvel at the intelligence, wit, passion and power of Lin Manuel Miranda’s music and lyrics.

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Giles Terera & company. Photo: Matthew Murphy

As an ensemble, the Hamilton London company is also one of the slickest, most cohesive units I’ve ever seen on stage and I only saw their 2nd and 4th performances! It’s as though they have been playing these roles together for years, which is a testament to their abilities!

The style of the music of Hamilton, which blends hip-hop, rap, RnB and more traditional-style musical numbers, dictates that the pace of the show is incredibly fast and yet, there is not a moment where the actors, detailed choreography, lighting or sound effects falter; all coming together under director Thomas Kail to bring to life so vividly what is the strongest production on any stage at the moment.

What is it that makes stories about revolutions so compelling to watch as musicals I wonder?! My all-time favourite has always been Les Miserables and Hamilton is the only one to rival it, in terms of its sheer power and emotional range. It’s a truly thrilling, exhilarating, exciting, emotional and uplifting experience, that very few shows will ever match. I honestly never expected it to, so decisively, exceed my expectations.

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Michael Jibson. Photo: Matthew Murphy

As the cast are all so strong, it’s difficult to pick out individual performances and each audience member will have their favourites. I loved the character of Angelica, who was the first one to bring a lump to my throat during “Satisfied”; a song which reveals something about her that I hadn’t expected. Rachel John is both a superb vocalist (having already impressed me in The Bodyguard) and actress in the role. Giles Terera’s charismatic portrayal of, as he says himself, the villain of the story, Aaron Burr, is also very good indeed, with “Wait For It” and “The Room Where It Happens” being some of my favourite moments. Much like the best characters, he isn’t simply a villain, but a man who ultimately makes a tragic mistake.

Obioma Ugoala’s George Washington is a strong and likeable commander, while Jason Pennycooke brings the humour and wit of Lafayette and then Thomas Jefferson to life. Although I preferred Angelica as a character to Eliza, who is far less interesting, I did find “It’s Quiet Uptown” between Hamilton and Rachelle Ann Go’s Eliza very moving, capturing two people dealing with loss in such a poignant way. Then of course there is the small, but memorable role of King George, here played sublimely by Michael Jibson, who received huge applause from the audience after each brilliant appearance.

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Rachelle Ann Go; Rachel John; Christine Allado. Photo: Matthew Murphy

As for the lead role, having seen both actors who will be taking on that responsibility in London, the good news is that whether you see Jamael Westman or Ash Hunter, you will see a first-class performance. They both bring their personalities and little personal touches to the character, with Westman’s perhaps the grittier, big brother, when compared to Hunter’s younger Hamilton. Hunter perhaps elicited a more emotional response from me, but they are both already strong, confident and overflowing with enthusiasm, which shines on the stage.

So, to sum it up. At 7:29 p.m. on Thursday I was a Hamilton newcomer, sceptical about the hype and fully prepared not to see the magic that seemingly captured every audience member who experiences it. Three days, two performances and multiple listens to the soundtrack later, I’m a fully paid up member of the revolution! My next ticket for the show isn’t until April but, just like Aaron Burr, I want to be in the room where it happens far sooner than that!

Do anything you can to see this show. The ticket prices in London are nowhere near as steep as New York and the impressively tight ticket arrangement will hopefully limit the success of any extortionate secondary market. I’ll be writing a further post with information and tips for those either coming to London for the show, or for those looking for tickets, but my main message – Buy a ticket now and if you can, book two performances in one go, as you’ll undoubtably want to go back!

Welcome to London, Hamilton! Now that we have you and Harry Potter & The Cursed Child, we officially have the two happiest theatres in the world in this incredible city!

Hamilton continues in previews at the Victoria Palace Theatre until press night on 21st December 2017. There is limited availability until June 2018, with the next block of tickets to go on sale soon. For more information, visit the website here: http://www.hamiltonthemusical.co.uk

 

Film Review – Breathe – a beautiful, true story, that makes you want to try and truly live to the full.

 

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I was unable to go to this year’s London Film Festival and so I was relieved that one of the films I had been most looking forward to seeing, was coming out this month in the UK. The film is out now, but I was lucky enough to go to a preview screening last Monday, complete with Q&A with its star Andrew Garfield, director Andy Serkis and producer Jonathan Cavendish, the son of the couple depicted on screen, but more on the Q&A later.

Breathe is a beautiful film. From hearing what it is about you may think it is going to be a very sad one, but, although containing some very moving scenes, the overall spirit of Breathe is one of hope, love and the resounding message that we all need to live, as richly and fully as we can.

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Robin & Diana Cavendish

It is the story of Robin and Diana Cavendish (played by Andrew Garfield and Claire Foy), who meet in 1957 and soon marry. Robin is a tea broker and so they travel to Kenya for his work, enjoying a happy and loving life together. It is when Diana is pregnant with their first child, that Robin contracts polio, which results in the devastating news that he will be permanently paralysed from the neck down. He can only last two minutes at most off an external ventilator and doctors give him mere months to live.

Understandably Robin’s reaction is one of depression and defeat. He does not want to live, locked away in a hospital, unable to move and dependent on a machine and the staff around him and Garfield plays his withdrawal with such rich depth, not an easy task, when so much has to be conveyed through the face and the eyes. Not many actors could convey such emotions, but Garfield is one of the best around, both on stage and screen (his recents roles in Hacksaw Ridge on screen and Angels In America on stage, both had me shedding tears).

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Claire Foy & Andrew Garfield

However, the key to Robin’s renewed sense of living, is thanks to the love and unwavering support he receives from his wife Diana and Claire Foy is utterly superb in this film (give her the nominations for the awards now). As with Felicity Jones in The Theory of Everything, a lot of my tears shed during Breathe, were due to seeing the other person affected by such a prognosis and Foy shows how much strength Diana Cavendish had to have. She was away from home, pregnant and faced with losing her husband. It is clear that the reason Robin went on to live for decades is because of her and I left the cinema inspired by her strength.

Their story is not just about their determination to continue to live as a family, as the Cavendish’s fought for rights of those with disabilities, who at that time, were simply locked away and forgotten about by society. The resistance they face at removing Robin from the hospital is frightening and a scene in which he visits a hospital in Germany, in which people with similar paralysis are housed in storage units, seems unimaginable and highlights how important their work to have those with disabilities seen as human beings really was.

Breathe is blessed with many components that come together to create such a wonderfully satisfying film. First, it has been brought to the screen by producer Jonathan Cavendish, the son of Robin and Diana. He talked during the Q&A about how this was the most truthful biopic you would see, as everything in it happened. The involvement of those who were there, or knew those who were, ensures that you feel the authenticity of the film and also adds to the emotional response you have to the story, on knowing it all happened.

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The film also has a strong script from William Nicholson (who refused payment until the Cavendish family had read it and were happy for it to be made), which balances the sadder moments, with the overwhelming sense of joy and fun that you see. Yes, I did shed some tears throughout Breathe, but I also laughed a lot too. There are many moments of fun and humour, as we see how the Cavendish’s and their group of close friends adapt to Robin’s new circumstances, including when the family goes on holiday to Spain and have to pull over by the side of a cliff road, when Robin’s ventilator breaks. While help is called from England (in the form of Hugh Bonneville as their wonderful friend Professor Teddy Hall) and the manual pump is used to keep him alive, they are soon surrounded by locals, setting up caravans and fires and a party atmosphere! It seems so crazy, yet it happened, meaning an event that could have been frightening, actually still seems full of life and humour and joy.

4473The film is also wonderfully directed by Andy Serkis (known best for his work as Gollum in The Lord of the Rings/The Hobbit). This is the first film Serkis has directed (although he did work as second unit director on The Hobbit films) and he has delivered a truly lovely film. He spoke on Monday about how close he felt to the material, having once played a polio sufferer himself and by also growing up with a mother who taught special needs children and a sister who was diagnosed with MS. He read the script and was moved by it, asking to direct it, as part of his and Jonathan Cavendish’s company, The Imaginarium Studio. He also had to contend with the tricky task of filming Tom Hollander in two different roles, as he plays Diana’s twin brothers. Serkis spoke during the Q&A about how much work this took to achieve and commended Hollander’s talent in pulling it off.

The talent of the cast is the final crucial element of Breathe. Garfield is fantastic as Robin, first as the athletic, young man and then as someone having to cope with such a terrifying change in their life. Watching Garfield go through the stages of pain and grief at his limitations is heartbreaking (a scene where Diana lays their newborn child by his head just one example). He conveys so much emotion without saying much at all and you feel all of Robin’s pain and sense of loss. However, what makes his performance all the more incredible, is the way he also brings Robin’s playfulness and humour to the forefront too. You laugh along with him, as he continues to live and thrive against all the odds.

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Jonathan Cavendish, Andy Serkis & Andrew Garfield at the Q&A at Picturehouse Central Cinema

Breathe wouldn’t work if the actress portraying his wife Diana wasn’t an equal to Garfield and in Claire Foy (best known for Netflix’s The Crown), they found the ideal talent. It is hard to imagine having to find the strength Diana did and Foy is superb from start to finish as she comes to terms with what has happened, stubbornly refusing to let Robin give up and then doing everything humanly possible to make their lives as rich as possible. They were clearly an incredibly devoted couple and it’s heart-warming to see. Jonathan Cavendish talked in the Q&A about how well they depict his parents, calling it extraordinary, also saying his own 83 year-old mother, who never cries, does cry every time she watches Breathe, shocked by the accuracy of Garfield’s performance.

Surrounding Foy and Garfield is a tremendous cast of British acting talent. Bonneville is wonderful as the friend who builds Robin’s mobile chair, allowing him more freedom than had ever been thought possible at the time and Stephen Mangan plays Dr Aitken, the friend who helps on their mission to raise the profile of the need for rights for those with disabilities. Playing two twin brothers couldn’t have been easy for Hollander, but he’s perfect in the roles, bringing another layer of fun and comedy.

Combine all of these elements with beautiful music from Nintin Sawhney and you really do have a very special film, that feels incredibly personal to those who have brought it to life. I certainly hope it features in the nominations list next awards season and cannot recommend it highly enough. You will cry, but you will also laugh and leave the cinema with a reminder that life is precious and we should do everything we can, to live it to the full.

Breathe is now on general release in UK cinemas. For more information, visit its website here: http://www.breathefilm.co.uk/home/ and watch you can watch the trailer here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JycCFypvgmI

 

 

Theatre Review – A majestic King Lear at the Minerva Theatre, Chichester

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(All photos credited to: Manuel Harlan)

Ten years ago, I hadn’t yet become the theatre addict I am today and so, as a result, I missed out on seeing Sir Ian McKellen’s King Lear at the RSC, having to make do with watching it on DVD. Undoubtably a theatre legend and one of the actors I now never fail to see on stage, there was no way I was missing out a second time and last night saw me back in Chichester to see McKellen’s return to this iconic Shakespearean role. Seating only 283 people and running for just over a month, I certainly felt lucky to have a ticket.

It’s the second time I’ve seen him perform in the intimate space of the Minerva Theatre (the first being 2011’s The Syndicate) and it’s clear that he thrives on the added power that comes from being so close to the audience and the play itself also benefits from the intimacy of the venue; drawing you in and holding your attention, despite the lengthy running time (just over 3 hours, plus an interval in this case).

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However, Jonathan Munby’s production is much more than its leading actor, boasting an incredibly talented ensemble cast. Sinead Cusack is a highlight as the Countess of Kent, whose loyalty and love of her King causes her to follow him in disguise, despite his cruel treatment of her, after so many years of service, in the opening scene (so brilliantly staged here, with Lear playfully taking great delight in cutting up the map of the UK with a pair of scissors – Scotland to Goneril, Northern Ireland & Wales to Regan, and England, the last third, which is then ripped in two, if you were wondering).

The strength of the female roles in King Lear is always one of my favourite aspects of the play and this production did not disappoint. Dervla Kirwan plays Goneril with a poise and maturity the comes from being the eldest sibling, exasperated by her father’s behaviour and slowly driven further and further down a path that doesn’t seem natural to her. Interestingly, in this production I never truly despised Goneril and by the end, I still did not believe her capable of the murder of her sister. She just did not seem dark enough for such actions in Kirwan’s hands.

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Kirsty Bushell’s Regan on the other hand, thrives on the darkness that descends; dancing around to music during the torture of the Earl of Gloucester, clearly turned on by the whole twisted experience. Bushell is excellent throughout this production, using her sexuality to manipulate and control those around her, before being foiled by her sister’s jealousy of her seduction of Edmund.

I always have the most sympathy for the Earl of Gloucester (how could you not?!) and this production was no different with  Danny Webb delivering a strong, moving performance, particularly in his scenes with Jonathan Bailey as Edgar/Tom. Bailey is fantastic as the loyal, loving son, wronged by his father and brother, in the same way as Cordelia is wronged by Lear and her sisters (and Bailey’s Edgar seems to care a great deal about her, based on Bailey’s reactions to her casting off and later death). He doesn’t go too far with the pretence of madness either; it’s always just a means to an end and his counterpoint, Edmund, is also wonderfully portrayed by Damien Molony. I’ve seen more evil portrayals; more devious ones too, but Molony comes across as extremely believable throughout the play.

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The Minerva may be a small space, but Paul Will’s set is never lacking; creating multiple locations with ease and enhancing the power of key moments in the story (especially when combined with Ben and Max Ringham’s music and sound). I particularly loved how the red carpeted dias began to resemble a pool of blood, expanding outwards from beneath McKellen’s feet, as the rain from the storm lashed down on him. This Lear may keep his clothes on (unlike his 2007 performance), but the scene is no less powerful.

Some aspects of the production didn’t quite work for me. After a promising first scene, Phil Daniels’ Fool seems to fade away in to the background and is forgotten much too quickly when compared to others that I’ve seen. Also, despite strong performances from both McKellen and Tamara Lawrance individually, the love between father and daughter never really shone through, resulting in Cordelia’s death and Lear’s grief lacking depth for me. Having said that, King Lear never draws from me the same emotional response as say, a powerful production of Hamlet, which has been known to bring me to tears. Perhaps it’s the fact I never really feel sorry for Lear, feeling he brings his miseries on himself, or perhaps some plays resonate more with some audience members than others.

However, McKellen’s portrayal throughout the production of a man clearly starting to feel his age, resulted in a much more believable ending. All the moments of him trying to catch his breath, as if on the verge of a heart attack and the added wheezes, meant that his sudden death during the play’s final moments seemed inevitable, rather than out of the blue.

King Lear will never be my favourite Shakespearean tragedy. However, this production is one of the strongest I’ve seen. It was engaging, engrossing and a thoroughly enjoyable theatre experience. Making your way to Chichester to try for a returned ticket is absolutely worth the effort.

King Lear continues its run at the Minerva Theatre, Chichester until 28th October 2017. Running time: 3 hours (or just over), plus a 20 minute interval. Although sold out, keep an eye on the website for returns or head to the theatre on the day to join the returns queue. For more information, visit the website.

Victoria’s Suits Awards 2017!

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So, as it’s the Emmy Awards tonight, I thought I’d mark the day by creating my very own set of awards for a show that has deserved recognition over the years, but always seems to slip under the radar at awards season.

Therefore, I bring you my first Suits Awards 2017, recognising some of the greatest achievements in the first half of season seven! I’ll start with a big thank you to those of you who have provided suggestions for categories and award titles. You know who you are and it is greatly appreciated!

…….So on to the Awards……!

Do let me know in the comments any categories you’d add!

1. Favourite Performance – Rick Hoffman as Louis Litt!

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Season seven has so far been an emotional rollercoaster for Louis Litt. I’ve been frustrated with him, angry with him, sad for him and laughed aloud at his comedic antics. Rick Hoffman should have been nominated for his performance so many times (This Is Rome immediately comes to mind) and I have loved every minute of him so far this season. We’ve had his emotional near breakdown, his nastiness, the lovely rooftop scene and that utterly heartbreaking final scene in Donna’s office, not to mention his delight at meeting Brian’s baby, his hilarious GoT walk of Shame and his mud mare! A masterclass. Bravo Rick Hoffman. I look forward to many more years of getting Litt the hell up!

2. Favourite Returning Guest Star – Wendell Pierce as Robert Zane

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Wendell Pierce always adds gravitas to any Suits episode and season 7A has been no different. We’ve seen him step up in the prison case, almost punch Harvey (a missed opportunity Robert) and then grow so much closer to his daughter, bringing us the force that is Zane & Zane. You can come back as often as you like Mr Pierce!

3. Best Character Development – Sarah Rafferty’s mighty Donna Paulsen

IMG_7321Season seven has brought a much deserved spotlight on to Sarah Rafferty’s Donna and we’ve learnt so much more about her in such a short space of time. We’ve seen Donna step up and ask for greater recognition and respect, navigate her new role, face humiliation in court and face the biggest unknown in her life – how she truly feels about Harvey. Rafferty is superb in the role and she’s taken it up a level so far this season, whether the heartbreaking moment she learnt about Paula and pretended she knew, to her conflicted walk through that hotel to her ex, to that final brave act, it’s been an emotional viewing experience. I hope she is here for years to come.

4. Favourite one-liner – Gretchen putting Louis firmly in his place!

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All hail the mighty Gretchen! She’s been a joy in the series ever since she first arrived in season five and questioned Harvey’s manliness! Aloma Wright is superb in the role and her dynamic with Rick Hoffman never disappoints. Hearing her warn Louis to change his behaviour or suffer the consequences was brilliant. There was no doubt she was totally serious!

5. Favourite Shot – the shot of two people alone in their offices, so near & yet so far, in “Home To Roost”

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This was a tough decision, as I did have a shortlist due to the fact that the directors and director of photography on Suits always make the show look visually lovely. However, the closing shot from “Home to Roost”, directed by Valerie Weiss, as we see Donna and Harvey, each at their desks; so near and yet so far, with the skyline behind them, was just beautiful. Runner-up mention to Patrick J. Adams’s lovely rooftop shot from behind Donna and Louis in “100”.

6. Favourite New Character – Ray Proscia as Dr Lipschitz

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We’ve seen a few new faces so far this season, but the winner has to be the much talked of Dr Lipschitz, played by Ray Proscia, whose therapy sessions with Louis have been on our radar for years. It’s a testament to how good Proscia is in the role, that I already feel as though he’s been around for ages. I hope he continues to guide Louis in season 7B. Maybe he can also recommend a new therapist for Harvey too?!

7. Favourite Location – the office of the COO

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Yes, the final scenes cemented the winner of this award, but it was on track to take the prize anyway. First, it’s a gorgeous office (I want that marble desk!); nicer than any corporate office I’ve ever seen and fits the personality of its occupant perfectly. Full marks to the set decorators and props team. Then there’s the fact Donna now has an office, which is such a fantastic development and yes, we now have those gorgeous final few minutes with Donna, Louis and Harvey in that location.

8. Favourite New Team – Louis and Brian 

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I already love Brian. He’s a decent guy, who has started to form a wonderful dynamic with Louis Litt. I loved his outburst in “Shame” when his parenting skills were questioned and him passing Louis his son was too cute for words! I hope for much more of Jake Epstein in the show. It’s about time Louis had a Mike of his own!

9. Best Friend – Rachel Zane

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I have always loved Rachel, played wonderfully by Meghan Markle and one of her finest qualities is how wonderful and supportive she is as a friend. I’ve missed her and Donna’s scenes and it was lovely to see them open up to each other again this season. They helped  one another find their way in their new roles in the firm, but Rachel was also the best friend every woman wants too – reminding Donna that she deserved the best, thereby averting her friend making a huge mistake, not to mention listening to her when she needed a friend and making clear that she is no fan of Paula Agard! We’d all be lucky to have a friend like Rachel.

10. Favourite Montage – the close of the 100th episode

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Patrick J. Adams did a stunning directorial job on the 100th episode and I loved the closing montage, as we watched both Louis and Donna head towards making what could be a huge mistake. It’s so well crafted and truly highlights what a great eye for the visual look of the show Adams has.

11. Favourite Song – Waves by Dean Lewis

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Suits always manages to choose superb songs to compliment its narrative and there were so many fantastic additions to my Suits playlist from season 7A. Special mentions to Love & Hate by Michael Kiwanuka from “100” and The One I Love by Mirror Fury from “Shame”. However, there could only really be one winner and that’s Dean Lewis’s beautifully, emotional acoustic version of Waves, which played over the final three scenes of the finale, adding even more emotion to Harvey’s talk with Jessica, Louis’s heartbreaking monolgue about love and that kiss. I hope all Suits fans have bought this song immediately (his album is also excellent too)!

12. Funniest moment – Louis’s mudmare! 

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Suits has always been able to balance drama and humour brilliantly and a lot of the comedic moments usually belong to the mighty Louis Litt and season seven has been no different so far. The winner has to be Louis’s hilarious mudmare from “Mudmare”! Seeing him and Harvey mudding, before his fantasy is ruined by the appearance of Alex Williams, had me laughing out loud! Runner-up mention to Louis’s Game of Thrones-inspired walk of shame through the corridors of PSL!

13. Most emotional scene – Louis’s heartfelt speech and THAT kiss!

IMG_7498.JPGThere have been a few contenders for emotional scene, but it had to be these last few minutes of “Donna”. Let’s face it, it was an emotional moment for both the characters and  the audience! I’m not sure we’ve recovered yet, so god help Harvey! Beautifully acted and directed, it was a mixture of a joyous payoff for the Darvey fans, but was also undeniably a little sad, as we see Louis in so much pain and then Donna and Harvey just as lost as he is. There will be troubled waters ahead, as that kiss will clearly have ramifications for their lives from now on. I could also have awarded it Biggest Shock, as cynical me never dreamt we’d see such an intimate moment at this point in the series. I’m so pleased I was wrong!

14. Best Matchmaker – Mike Ross

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Yes, Louis Litt may have been the trigger man in the end, but he had no idea what he was stirring up. Mike Ross on the other hand had a set goal – try and bring two people he cares about, the chance of happiness. Seeing him try and bring his “parents” together was so sweet. Now he just needs to have the talk with Harvey. Do it for all of us Mike!

15. Finest Achievement in Non-Verbal, Emotional Acting

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Not every actor can convincingly convey an emotional depth without words, but we are all very lucky as Suits fans that Gabriel Macht is superb at expressing a range of emotions without saying a word. This was never more evident than in those closing seconds of the mid-season finale, as Harvey was rendered speechless by Donna’s kiss. The palette of emotions you see flow through him is extraordinary – confusion, shock, a little anger and then that lovely slight hint of the beginnings of a smile, which disappears just as quickly as he stops himself, all the while his eyes convey just what a mess he is now in. Nuanced, emotional brilliance at its best. Bravo Gabriel Macht!

16. Guardian Angel Award – Gina Torres as Jessica Pearson

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We all miss Jessica, but she’s still been around in season seven so far and she has to be recognised for continuing to pull the strings in the background to keep the PSL ship upright! While Harvey was doing a super job of making everyone want to kill him, Jessica’s actions meant that soon the team was all back supporting the greater good of the firm. Not only that, but in the mid-season finale, she gave up her New York licence without a fight for the good of the firm and her friend Harvey. It’ll always be Pearson Specter Litt to me, even when he name comes down.

17. Special Recognition Award for winding up fans – Aaron Korsh!

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I admit Aaron Korsh’s tweets always make me laugh, as he navigates the potential minefield of audience reaction. It’s a fine balance. Yes, he winds some of us up sometimes, but when he does it in such a witty way, I have to give credit where credit is due!

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So, those are the worthy winners of my first Suits Awards 2017! Who needs the Emmys right?! If any winners would like their trophy, just let me know and I’ll happily send them to you!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Television Review – Suits 7.10 “Donna” – a stunning mid-season finale that will keep us speculating for months!

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I’ve needed a few days to digest (well, get over the shock, if I’m being honest!) of the mid-season finale of Suits, before committing my thoughts to the page. It’s been a bumpy road over the last ten weeks for me. There have been some wonderful moments, performances and ideas, but there have also been some questionable narrative choices, which had me feeling incredibly irritated (if you haven’t read my review of 7.01, that will give you an idea).

Thankfully however, this mid-season finale more than lived up to my hopes and astonishingly, exceeded them! Typical – just when I start to enjoy the series again, it’s time for yet another hiatus!

So, let’s delve in to episode 7.10, with the wonderfully tantalising title of “Donna”!………….

More screen time for Rachel Zane (about time too)

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The last couple of episodes of season 7A have seen Rachel Zane step more in to the spotlight, as she works on a case with her father. Other than her pro bono case with Jessica last season, Rachel tends to stay in the background, a support in the storylines of other characters and so it’s lovely when Meghan Markle is given more material of her own. Rachel’s difficult relationship with her father has been there throughout the series and it has been incredibly satisfying to see the two grow closer together recently, culminating in this storyline in which Zane and Zane (it’s always fab to have Wendell Pierce back) take down the man who hurt her aunt. The scene with Rachel laying down the law to a boardroom of old, white men was pretty darn fantastic.

Oh, and one more thing before we move on, bravo to Rachel for continuing to be a fabulous friend. Her reaction to Mike helping Paula was spot on; she is Team Donna and it was great to see that so clearly!

Welcome to the family Alex Williams (it took me a while)

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First, I love Dule Hill. He’s a wonderful actor, but I haven’t really connected with Alex Williams so far during his time in Suits. This mid-season finale though was when I finally joined the team and realised I liked this character and I hope this grows in 7B. Watching him kick some ass was fun and I loved the way he marched straight in to his old boss’s office. Suits has so many great actors to give material to, but maybe we’ll see more of Dule Hill, now that Alex William has finally settled in.

Jessica Pearson reminding me how much I miss her!

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I knew Jessica was coming back in the finale, but I’m sad it had to be as the person taking a hit because of the choices of Harvey and Mike! There’s something else for you to be seriously guilty about Mr Specter! Gina Torres and Gabriel Macht have always had a fantastic chemistry in the show and this emotional moment was another one, as we see Harvey’s fear at stepping up without her supportive presence come to the fore again. He misses Jessica and quite frankly so do I!

The scene reminded me how Jessica often helped us see better side of Harvey (and probably helped him be better too); the kinder, more vulnerable side and it was nice to see that once again, after finding him so irritating for most of this season. It’ll always be PSL to me, even when her name comes down.

Mike Ross just wants his parents to be happy (time to talk to Dad though Mike)!

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Mike Ross has joked about Harvey and Donna’s relationship to his friend and mentor on and off since the show began, but I’ve always thought he was only half joking. Just like Rachel (and to a lesser extent Jessica and Louis), Mike seems all to aware that his two “parents” have deeper feelings than simple friendship. Watch his face in Intent when Harvey says that Donna is different; you see him acknowledge the truth of Harvey’s feelings, even if Harvey won’t.

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So, it was lovely to see his attempt to bring happiness to the lives of two people who he really cares about. He goes from helping Paula Agard get Harvey a gift (didn’t she just do that, what on earth does he need another gift for Paula? Feeling worried?), to encouraging Donna to express her feelings. That’s a really thoughtful gift Mike – a break-up! As a fan, I applaud you! My only problem with this tactic is that he targeted the wrong parent. It’s Harvey that needs this conversation Mike. Get right on that in 7B please. Off you go!

Yet another stunning episode for Louis Litt / Rick Hoffman (Give him an award already)!

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I may have had my issues with 7A, especially the early episodes, but there has been one constant from start to finish and that is Louis Litt and Rick Hoffman’s superb performance of such a multi-faceted character. We’ve seen every emotion run through Louis so far this season and 7.10 provided a beautiful end note for him until the show returns. I loved the fact he finally used that dictaphone for good, not evil, to help Alex.

However, more importantly, it was his friendship with Donna and his own heartache that resulted in Hoffman bringing tears to my eyes in his final scene. After feeling he let Donna down, he unwittingly helped her by opening up about his feelings. That last monologue about losing his soulmate is one of the most moving scenes I have seen on television in a long time (beautifully written by Genevieve Sparling). Whether you’ve experienced something similar or not, you can imagine that feeling and I wanted to give him a big hug. It’s not too late Louis – go and get your soulmate! The fact this beautiful scene only acted as the catalyst for that ending, is the icing on the cake!

……. and so we come to the ending…..and what an ending it was…..I’m still in shock…..!

Donna & Harvey – one of television’s greatest romances (whether they are ready to face it yet or not)

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It’s been a rollercoaster of a half season in the Donna and Harvey storyline. I haven’t liked where Harvey’s character was taken in the early episodes (and no, that’s not just because he is dating Agard; I hate that for other more substantial reasons), but he’s started to soften again in the last couple of weeks and I’m hoping the fall-out of that ending doesn’t propel him back down the path of being a douchebag! Resist Harvey, please!

Season 7A has also given us a greater exploration of Donna’s character, feelings and life and it’s about time too! We’ve seen her stand up for what she wanted and take on a position that, although you wouldn’t immediately consider for her, is one she can handle and thrive in. We’ve also seen her finally face the reality of her possible feelings for Harvey. It’s been the unspoken truth in the series and we’ve now had Donna acknowledge the frightening thought for her that Harvey may be her soulmate; the only one she wants to share her life with; frightening because he is seemingly happy with someone else.

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All of those feelings of fear, uncertainty and love bubbled up as 7.10 progressed and on re-watching it, I realised that the ending was inevitable. Although I was stunned the first time, never expecting Donna to make such a bold, brave move, it was where the episode had always been heading….and it was a superb minute of television, propelling this couple further up any list of television’s great romances, even though they still aren’t even there yet! Those closing seconds were an acting masterclass by Sarah Rafferty and Gabriel Macht (only made more emotional by yet another spot-on song choice in the acoustic version of Dean Lewis’s Waves).

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Rafferty was superb throughout the episode, as Donna was emotionally ripped apart by Malik, her integrity called in to question because of her relationship with Harvey, but watching her react to Louis’s pain was heartbreaking. She is putting herself in his shoes, knowing that she could be potentially heading towards the exact same position and it terrifies her; the confusion, the fear, the pain – it’s all there in Rafferty’s expression and eyes, as she stumbles back on to that window ledge and her knee-jerk response on seeing Harvey before her felt very true to the moment. She needed to know how she really felt and maybe try and feel how he felt too. Does she have her answer now? I guess we’ll see in 7B.

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The episode may have been called Donna and she may have been the instigator of that intimate kiss, but Gabriel Macht’s performance should not be underplayed in this episode. Yes, I’ve felt Harvey’s character has changed this year, but we saw his gentler side return recently and his need to protect Donna has always been admirable and in that final moment we saw a thousand different emotions flow through Harvey and all thanks to an actor able to convey immense depths of emotion without saying a word! You see the conflict in Harvey; the shock of Donna’s actions, the fact he cannot quite process it and the confusion it stirs up for him, which will no doubt be a huge part of 7B.

He may not speak, but it’s in his eyes, his face and my personal favourite subtle touch, his lips – there is the tiniest quirk of an upward smile to them, as he stands there in shock, before he pulls it back. It’s as if the realisation that Donna maybe does love him, just as Paula said, hits him, makes him happy for just a split-second, before the reality of everything else (the fact he is seeing someone else, meaning Donna has put him in a position he hates more than anything else, being the main one issue now). Beautiful, nuanced acting at its best Mr Macht!

Looking ahead – only 4 months to wait………

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Well, credit where credit is due to Aaron Korsh and his writing team. They have managed to give a stunning moment for the Darvey fans, but also one that only leads to more questions.

Harvey and Donna were never simply going to fall happily in to each other’s arms easily. It wouldn’t be realistic. Now we are facing a much juicier narrative path, summarised by one of my favourite words for television drama – Angst!! I foresee arguments, angry words, angry, confused Harvey, all of which, I hope, helps us build to a satisfying resolution. I fully accept the writers may not bring these two together until nearer to the show’s end, but at least now there is a rich canvas of material for the series, centring around this dynamic, which I hope will eventually bring them together.

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Harvey and Donna’s relationship aside – what else do I hope for in season 7’s back six episodes?

Well, happiness for Louis List. I mean, come on, the man deserves it! Whether it’s him winning back Sheila or meeting someone new, I really want to see that for him. I’d also quite like to see the long-overdue Rachel / Mike wedding, especially as I have a sinking feeling that Meghan Markle’s time on the show could be drawing to a close. Plus that wedding would bring even more angst for the best man and maid of honour!

We know we’ll be seeing more of Gina, as 7.16 will act as the pilot of what could be her new show (if it gets picked up) and I also look forward to more of lovely Brian, kick ass Gretchen and Katrina too. I also think Harvey’s mother will need to make an appearance, in light of the position he now finds himself in and I think this may help him see her in a new light. We really are lucky Suits has so many wonderful characters to draw on.

So, here’s to four months of speculation, analysis and online discussion. I’m just so pleased that my reaction to 7.10 was so different from my reaction to 7.01! Oh, and all fingers crossed for renewal news. I really would like a season 8, but the longer the silence on that subject goes on, the more worried I become.

Right….I’m off to rewatch those last two scenes again…..for the millionth time…..!

Suits will return to USA Network in the USA and Netflix in the UK in January 2018.

 

 

 

Television Review – Suits back at its best in episode 7.09 “Shame”

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I’m a little later than usual this week with my Suits review, but wanted to post my thoughts on episode 7.09 anyway, seeing as this was probably my favourite episode so far of this less satisfying season seven. There wasn’t actually much I didn’t like about it! It was so much more satisfying than the 100th in terms of storylines. We had strong plots for everyone this week, with Louis dealing with the shame of his actions, Rachel working with her dad, Mike trying to have fun with Harvey, which goes slightly differently to what he had planned, Gretchen kicking ass, Donna dealing with the choices she’s made in her life and all of PSL gearing up for another excruciatingly personal mock trial. Throw in some fabulous song choices and this was the type of episode you’d expect for a milestone hour.

So, as usual, let’s delve a little deeper in to the episode……….

Louis Litt walking the walk of Shame (insert bell ringing) & lashing out again!

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I have to start by saluting the writers’ homage to Game of Thrones with the brilliant scene in which poor Louis Litt starts to have regrets about his night with Sheila, visualised through him following in Cersei Lannister’s footsteps. These types of scenes are always some of my favourites in Suits, where it doesn’t take itself too seriously and it ensured an amusing start to the hour. We also saw, yet again, the consequences of Louis’s choices impacting on those around him, as he lays in to Brian, a character I already like quite a lot, only to realise how out of line he has been by the end of the episode! I really do hope we see much more of Jake Epstein in this role, especially with Louis, as they have the potential to be a lovely duo.

Zane & Zane take on the world!

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Rachel has always had a difficult relationship with her father and one of the few enjoyable aspects of season seven for me has been seeing the two of them become closer, culminating in them taking on this case together this week.

The fact it is personal for Robert Zane adds an extra layer of depth and I’m looking forward to seeing whether this experience causes Rachel to consider moving firms permanently. Wendell Pierce is fantastic in the role and seeing Robert proud of Rachel was genuinely lovely. Not enough credit is given to Meghan Markle for her role as Rachel, who yet again this week, was not only a great lawyer, but also a wonderfully supportive friend for Donna, in what was one of the best scenes of the episode.

Let’s have a round of applause for Gretchen! 

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Who doesn’t love Gretchen? She has been an asset to the show ever since she first breezed in to the office to put Harvey in line and let him know he wasn’t manly enough for her! We haven’t had nearly enough screen time for her this year, but Aloma Wright was superb this week, as Gretchen had to put Louis down for his terrible behaviour and then still have his back, ensuring that by the end of Shame, Louis and Brian (his very own Mike) are closer than ever.

Introducing Andy Malik, the new troublemaker

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I already quite like Deputy Attorney General Andy Malik (played brilliantly by Usman Ally), possibly because his storyline opens the door to the progression of the Donna / Harvey storyline (more on that below), but it was also nice to see someone not intimidated by Harvey and more than able to play dirty to try and get what he wants. My only complaint was the way this story was introduced, with Mike deciding Harvey needs to pick a fight with a big bully in order to look macho in the legal world. That was pretty lame in my opinion, but I’m looking forward to seeing just what the PSL family have to do to beat this opponent.

The setting up of the oncoming Harvey / Donna storm……..!

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Well, it’s been a strange year so far on the Donna and Harvey path. After the out of the blue parachuting in to the story of Paula Agard, they have been much more distant this year, with not just their potential relationship, but also their close friendship taking a nosedive. It’s not been particularly enjoyable seeing them this way, especially seeing Donna so unhappy at a time when she should be enjoying the higher status she has achieved.

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Shame provided some vital signposts on the potential Darvey path (I still think they will end up together, even if it isn’t until the last episode). We’ve seen Donna recognise and make peace with her feelings for Harvey and accept he is seemingly happy with someone else. This week we saw her make the crucial admission that she had put him above herself and that this is something she now regrets. This was a brave statement from Donna and suggests that she is perhaps ready to take her life in a new direction, possibly one without Harvey.

Then came the key to the episode – Andy Malik’s goal to discredit Harvey and use Donna to achieve it. Both of them acknowledged this week that any such cross examination of Donna will be brutal, with her personal relationship with Harvey, a bomb waiting to explode. Sucker Punch has always been my favourite episode of Suits, so the fact we saw them referencing that episode and the last mock trial, intimating Louis is about to do this for a second time, is incredibly exciting. A storm is brewing and I can’t wait to see it unfold, as it is sure to have serious implications for these two characters.

Looking ahead – this mid-season finale is going to be tough..!

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First things first, how brilliant is it that the mid-season finale is entitled Donna?! That title sets the tone before we’ve even seen the episode. Donna has been through so much this season and 7.10 now presents the possibility of her facing the humiliation of another mock trial, in which her sleeping with Harvey must come out (Louis does know this information after all) and her possibly taking the stand in court (although I still think it’s unlikely both of these scenes will happen in one hour).

Throw in the promo’s tantalising clip of Mike telling Donna to tell Harvey how she feels, the stunned, upset look on Harvey’s face in the promo and still photos and Agard in the mix and this is looking set to be a gut-wrencher of an episode, which I’m assuming will end on an angst-ridden cliffhanger. Will Donna walk away? Will she admit to Harvey she loved him, but has let him go? Will he finally wake up to the truth of his feelings, ready to address them in the back six?

There’s also the inclusion of Jessica (as creator Aaron Korsh has suggested in interviews that Gina Torres would be in episode 9 or 10). Will she offer Donna a job, or at the very least a short-term position to help her in Chicago? I actually have no idea, which makes it very exciting indeed. I just hope we are not disappointed. My fingers are very firmly crossed!

The Suits season seven mid-season finale, episode 7.10 “Donna” airs on Wednesday at 9/8C on USA Network in the USA and via Netflix in the UK on Thursday.