Television Review – Suits 7.02 “The Statue”

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Well, after last week’s episode seemed to drive most of this show’s previous narrative path off a cliff, I confess I wasn’t particularly looking forward to seeing what they had in store in episode two. I was therefore relieved that, for the most part, the storyline of The Statue made sense, especially in the new landscape in which we find ourselves in season seven. Yes, there are still things I don’t like (more on that shortly), but it was a hell of a lot better than the premiere (feel free to read my thoughts on that here).

Harvey Specter – A child beginning to grow up?

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As those who read last week’s review know, I couldn’t stand Harvey last week. His character literally changed overnight, which did a disservice to him and all of his previous character development. This week, saw a mini journey for him over the course of just one episode. At the beginning, he makes so many mistakes I was shaking my head in despair – throwing his new-found power at Louis, throwing out offers of named partner to whoever he pleased, shouting down Donna’s concerns and insulting Jessica to her face. Someone get him to a therapist…….oh wait…… (I’m getting to that don’t worry).

As my main complaint last week was poor narrative structure and plotting, it was a relief that this new, not improved version of what was my favourite Suits character, actually experienced some growth over the hour. He messed up, a lot, but he learnt from those errors in judgment and is slowing beginning to put things right and most of the final decisions he made, including with regards to both Alex’s and Donna’s positions at the firm, were the correct ones. I can only hope that season seven continues to have a plan for him, which is consistent and believable (and sorts his personal life out once and for all).

All hail Jessica, the voice of reason & sanity!

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Raise your hand if you miss Jessica Pearson! This week saw the welcome guest appearance of the superb Gina Torres, with both present day and flashback Jessica playing a part in the narrative (yes, an actual narrative this week). In a week where we watched Harvey stuff up, the voice of reason yet again was Jessica. Harvey has always listened to her and she finally made him see sense and start to act like a man capable of being in charge of PSL.

Gabriel Macht and Torres always had wonderful chemistry on screen and that continued here. We still know very little about the origins of their friendship, but its depth and meaning to both characters is always clear, strong and an asset to the show overall. I assume we won’t see her again until the 100th (she must be in it, surely?!), but they should try and bring her back as much as possible in my opinion!

We all got Litt up!

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Thank god! After his stumble last week, Louis Litt was back on fine, fun form and I for one was thrilled to see it. From a professional, PSL perspective, he was yet again absolutely right, highlighting why I still think that in the end he should be in charge of running the firm. He may be emotional, but he sees the bigger PSL picture. It took Jessica to make Harvey see sense on brining over Alex Williams, but she didn’t say anything that Louis hadn’t already expressed. I only hope the truce and understanding that seemed to exist between Harvey and Louis at the end of this week remains. They work better together than when at each other’s throats!

It was also lovely to have some of Louis’s wit back. Most of the times I laugh out loud when watching Suits is thanks to the superb Rick Hoffman and this week was the same. Stuffing a cat?! I’ve missed this version of him and Gretchen is the perfect sidekick for him now that Donna is moving in to a different place in the firm. Now all we need is for Louis to find some happiness. Oh, and more of his therapist please. I can see that dynamic getting quite fun!

Donna Paulsen – COO (much better than Senior Partner)

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I’ve seen criticism about the lack of realism in a secretary becoming a senior partner. I would agree with this, although in a show with a premise like Suits (and which never delves in to any realistic legal detail – go watch The Good Wife for that), moaning about Donna’s storyline not being realistic is hardly logical. Have those people been paying attention to Mike all these years?!

By the end of this week Donna has a position that makes more logical sense and respects the show’s narrative (it’s that word again). As COO she can act as a director of personnel and handle the administrative elements of management that Harvey will clearly have no time for (and would most likely be terrible at). I hope this allows her to build a role and a level of success and respect that she deserves. I also hope she finally finds some independence from Harvey and maybe even some happiness too.

Putting the ghosts of the past behind Mike

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Mike is really stepping up this year, which is wonderful after the petulant, demanding version of him we saw in season six when he was in prison. Seeing him get out on his own and be successful, was lovely to watch and Harvey was right that he needed to confront his ghosts and take control of his narrative going forward (see, creative team -narrative is important)!

If this is anything to go by, Mike is shaping up to be a formidable opponent, which I imagine will make things even more interesting when he inevitably has to go up against Harvey (that corporate / pro bono conflict must be around the next corner surely?). There wasn’t much of Rachel this week, but hers and Mike’s mature and genuine relationship is a joy and only highlights the craziness of the show’s new “relationship”.

You knew I’d have to get to the show’s weakest link eventually……..!

Love is not in the air Harvey. Wake the hell up Paula Agard!

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I’ve previously asserted my stance as a believer that Harvey and Donna belong together. In the words of Donna, this series is not my first rodeo and I’ve watched enough “will they / won’t they / should they” on screen to know when the answer is clearly yes. I still think that is the case here, although whether the writers of this show will ever have the courage to follow their own narrative is another question.

As for Harvey’s new relationship with his former therapist (I still cannot believe it, to be honest), it just stands out from the rest of the show as being crazy and illogical, unless it is being used to continue the long game of having Harvey Specter finally admit where his feelings truly lie. Last week, I could not understand why it was included. Not because I was inconsolable that Darvey wasn’t a reality in the first five minutes, but because this romance made no sense, having had no build-up or signposting in the entire previous season.

I’m going to put my lack of faith in the creator of this show on hold momentarily and hope that the very fact this relationship has come out of nowhere and seems nuts, is actually the point. The whole first scene was so saccharine and the polar opposite of the very real connection between Mike and Rachel. That has to be deliberate….surely? Yes Harvey, she knows you better than anyone in some respects – that’s because she was your THERAPIST! I’ve seen lots of chatter this week about transference and in my book, that is the only thing that makes sense for this storyline. He needs an emotional anchor and he does not feel that that can be Donna (in my opinion, because he is still too afraid to face how he really feels about her). The scene in which Donna accurately predicted that he would seek out Agard was gold! He looked terrified!

That leaves me to say one more thing on this topic – WAKE UP PAULA! I still think it’s a disgrace that the writers have reduced what was a strong, intelligent, professional woman, who took part in one of the show’s most compelling plots, to a bedfellow for Harvey. She deserved better and I hope she sees sooner rather than later, that Harvey (whether he realises it or not) is using her as an emotional crutch and an escape from someone else. Non-Darvey people can mock me all they want, but I’m simply following the narrative that has been set out over six seasons (and especially since season four). Time will tell, I suppose.

And finally – welcome Dule Hill!

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As a worshipper at the altar of The West Wing, it’s fantastic to have Dule Hill join the cast. We didn’t see much of Alex Williams this week, but the markers were set that his past with Harvey is perhaps about more than friendship. What does Harvey owe him for and how will he try and collect? I’m certainly looking forward to finding out, as well as watching him interact with Louis (I assume the flowers come next week)!

So, overall, 7.02 was a much better viewing experience than the premiere. There was structure, a narrative that made sense and it gave me a sense that perhaps Korsh and co do actually have a plan. I certainly hope so. I dearly love Suits and have all my fingers crossed that they don’t let themselves, or the fans, down.

Suits continues weekly on Wednesdays 9/8c on the USA Network in the USA and on Thursdays on Netflix in the UK (thanks again for that Netflix)!

 

 

 

Review – Letters Live (Union Chapel, 15th July 2017)

 

IMG_6864On Saturday night, it was time for one of my favourite events in any year. It was another trip to Letters Live, which I first discovered after missing the very first event at the Tabernacle and since missing that, I’ve been determined to go to at least one night of any Letters Live run in London since. This weekend’s performances took place at Union Chapel in Islington, which is a wonderful venue and an ideal setting for Letters Live.

For those unfamiliar with Letters Live, it is an evening that celebrates the power and beauty of the written word, through the reading of letters from throughout history, whether from the 1800s or 2017. Some were incredibly funny and some were deeply poignant, delivered by another set of talented actors and writers. You never know what letters will be read and you can never be sure which celebrities will be reading on any given night. This all adds to the magic and excitement of the occasion and keeps the focus on the letters and not the people reading them.

Letters Live also supports some wonderful charities (you can learn more on the website) and encourages all of us to think about writing more, in a world where technology has taken away from the simple, yet powerful act of putting pen to paper.

 

Last night’s performers were: Amanda Abbington, John Simm, Rob Rinder, Zawe Ashton, Nick Moran, Lemn Sissay, Alan Carr, Ashley Walters and with musical interludes from the singer Izzie Yardley.

What were my favourites tonight? This is always a tough question, but Alan Carr read some particularly brilliant letters and was hilarious throughout the night. His letters included a complaint from a airline passenger on his dreadful seat (“Seat 29E”) (read it here), a letter from Kenneth Williams to a fan and the response to the Turkish Sultan from the Zaporozhian Cossacks. I also loved Harold Pinter’s brilliant response to a letter from a theatregoer concerning the play The Birthday Party (the initial letter read by Amanda Abbington and Pinter’s response by John Simm), a surreal letter from Jack Lemmon to Walter Matthau regarding investment in a cat farm (also read by Simm) and a college student’s rejection of his Harvard rejection letter (read by Ashley Walters) (read it here). Hunter S. Thompson’s letter of advice to his friend was also a thought-provoking letter, particularly towards the end (read by Simm, you can read it here).

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The wonderful venue that is Union Chapel

On the other end of the emotional spectrum was Rob Rinder’s reading of “Sleep Well My Love,” a letter by an American WWII veteran Brian Keith to Dave, a fellow soldier he met and fell in love with in 1943 in North Africa. It was written on the anniversary of their first meeting. Sadly Dave never made it home. It was a particularly moving reading from Rinder, as Saturday night also marked the four year anniversary of his marriage to his husband.

There was also Zawe Ashton’s powerful reading of MSNBC anchor Melissa Harris-Perry’s open letter to Richard Mourdock following his comments on rape being an act of God, which affected many of us in the room. You can hear Melissa read her letter yourself here: https://youtu.be/nMmI2Ah3X3I

Letters Live also always chooses wonderful musical acts (previous nights have included Tom Odell and it was at Letters Live last year where I discovered Rag N Bone Man) and last night’s act Izzie Yardley was another performer whose music I will be looking out for following this event. I particularly loved her opening song, By Your Side (check it out on Sound Cloud here).

As I have done with previous Letters Live nights, below is a full list of last night’s letters and music. I would add that last night there was no screen showing us the details of the letters and so I have compiled this list based on the notes I made from the introduction to each letter and some follow up research on the internet to ensure that I have all the names set out correctly! I’ve also included links to some of the letters throughout this article if I have been able to find them (some from the Letters Live website itself).

In fact, my only criticism of Letters Live is that they don’t give out a list of the letters read. I’m all for the surprise of the night, but they could still hand something out as everyone is leaving (we were given something at the Southbank Centre event a few years ago). Until then, my pen and paper will have to do!

List of Letters & Music (Saturday 15th July 2017)

  • “By Your Side” performed by Izzie Yardley (song)
  • 2013 – Letter by Carrie Fisher to Princess Leia (read by Amanda Abbington)
  • 1880 – Letter from American poet, musician and author Sidney Lanier to his eldest son, on the birth of his youngest son (read by John Simm)
  • 1851 – Letter from poet Alfred Tennyson to his friend Robert Monteith, following the loss of his son, who was stillborn (read by Rob Rinder)
  • 1785 – Letter from Fanny Burney (who became Madame D’Arblay) to her sister after she became Keeper of the Robes to Queen Charlotte (read by Zawe Ashton)
  • 1997 – Letter from Buzz Aldrin to a professor regarding his time as an astronaut (read by Nick Moran)
  • 2001 – Letter from Astronaut Frank Culbertson, following 9/11, while he was aboard the International Space Station (read by Lemn Sissay)
  • 1972 – Letter by Kenneth Williams (from the Carry On films) to a fan from New Jersey Andrew Hathaway (read by Alan Carr)
  • 1967 – Letter from a theatregoer to Harold Pinter & his response (read by Amanda Abbington and John Simm)
  • 1960 – Letter from U.S Air Force WWII pilot Claude Eatherly (one of the pilots who bombed Hiroshima) to Reverend N. (read by Ashley Walters)
  • 1897 – “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus” – a response from the editor of the now defunct New York paper The Sun to 8 year-old Virginia O’Hanlon, who had asked if there was no Santa (read by Rob Rinder)
  • 1967 – “Janis Joplin Lives!” – Letter from Janis Joplin to her parents (read by Zawe Ashton)
  • 1896 – “He has nothing left but his poker” – Complaint letter to the Atlantic City Railroad, New Jersey from an unhappy local named A.T Harris, regarding his bull (read by Nick Moran)
  • 1963 – Letter from Jackie Kennedy to the Soviet leader Chairman Khrushchev, following the death of JFK (read by Amanda Abbington)
  • 1958 – “A man has to be something; He has to matter” – Letter from Hunter S. Thompson to his friend Hume Logan in response to a request for life advice (read by John Simm)
  • INTERVAL
  • 2004 – “Seat 29E” – Complaint letter to Continental Airlines, regarding seat 29E! (read by Alan Carr)
  • 1919 – Violet Trefusis to English author Vita Sackville-West (read by Amanda Abbington)
  • 1969 – Letter from Charles Perkowski to publisher John Martin (read by Nick Moran)
  • 2012 – Melissa Harris-Perry’s open letter to Richard Mourdock, regarding his terrible comments on rape (read by Zawe Ashton)
  • 1981 – publishing of Paul Devlin’s rejection letter to Harvard, rejecting the rejection letter! (read by Ashley Walters)
  • 1943 – “Sleep Well My Love” – Letter by American WWII veteran Brian Keith to Dave, a fellow soldier who he fell in love with in North Africa, who never made it home (read by Rob Rinder)
  • 1927 – Letter by Edith Sitwell to Cecil Beaton (read by Amanda Abbington)
  • 2017 – Letter to the Telegraph’s letters page (regarding the outcomes of inaccurate predictive text) (read by Alan Carr)
  • 1996 – Letter from Saul Bellow to Kingsley Amis’s son Martin, following Kingsley’s death (read by Nick Moran)
  • 1988 – Letter from Jack Lemmon to his friend Walter Matthau, regarding investment in a cat farm (read by John Simm)
  • 1675 – “You Baylonian Scullion” – Letter from the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire to the Zaporozhian Cossacks, demanding their surrender and their colourful response back to him! (read by rob Rinder and Alan Carr)
  • 1995 – “Bruce is Great” – Joe Strummer’s contribution to a MoJo article on Bruce Springsteen (read by Nick Moran)
  • 1914 – “Brown is as pretty as white” – Letter from W.E.B Du Bois (the first African American to earn a Ph.D at Harvard) to his 14 year-old daughter, Yolande, who had left home to study in England (read by Lemn Sissay)
  • “So Easy” preformed by Izzie Yardley (song)

So that’s all from Letters Live for now. At least it’s clear that these events will always return. Their popularity only seems to grow and I look forward to lots more evenings like this one to come.

For news and information visit Letters Live’s website, or for more lovely letters visit the Letters of Note website. The brilliant books that have inspired these events: Letters of Note, More Letters of Note and To The Letter are available through the usual stockists.

Television Review – Suits 7.01 – Skin In The Game (or as I call it, “WTF?!”)

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Last night Suits returned to television screens for its season seven premiere. As one of my favourite shows still airing, I’d been looking forward to watching it, to seeing everything Suits does best, namely creating a fun and entertaining world around a close knit family of characters, while gradually growing their individual characters and the dynamics of the group. It had achieved this so much in the latter half of season six. Yes, some storylines were still farfetched (that character and fitness committee test does not exist in reality folks and “The Donna” itself was a tad nuts), but it still managed to keep the characters true to themselves and the journey they’d already been on since the show began. You could see the progression of their journeys.

In my view, the season seven premiere didn’t just stray away from some of these characters’s established personalities and storylines, but invalidated so much that had gone before. I’m determined to be constructive in this review, but I’ll be honest, it’s going to be a challenge!

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Before I get in to specifics, I’ll start with a disclaimer. Yes, as the years have gone on, I’ve become a viewer hoping for Harvey and Donna to get together, which is in part due to the structuring of the relationship by the creator Aaron Korsh and their progression to date. It still seems to me to be the logical place for it to go, just as it was for Booth & Brennan in Bones, or Josh & Donna in The West Wing. I’ve always assumed they’d get there, but maybe not until the very end, until the ridiculous use of it by the network’s official sources even had me thinking maybe they’d be bold and actually try and write a real relationship for them some time this year.

However, being on “Team Darvey” as it’s known, does not mean I don’t watch the show hating any suggestion of other relationships for the characters along the way. I was a big fan of Zoe for example and would have loved to have met Mitchell. The key for me has always been that the storylines stay true to the characters and develop them in a logical, fulfilling way.

That is therefore why I had huge issues with last night’s season opener. I’ll take it a step at a time!

Timing is everything

First things first, Skin In The Game starts the morning after the end scene in the season 6 finale. We know this because Rachel says she’s worried about Louis after Tara dumping him the night before. Therefore, no time has passed, so you would expect there to be a gradual shift / ratcheting up of new storylines. Instead, we have Harvey, Donna and Louis acting in ways, literally overnight, that are simply not realistic, or in line with their personalities. Had there been a passage of time between 6.16 and 7.01, this may have made the entire episode a little less crazy, but without that, it makes some of the characters’s decisions seem rash and ill-considered.

Harvey Specter’s character being put in reverse gear and driven off a cliff

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Harvey has always been my favourite character in Suits. I’ve loved watching him grow from the arrogant, cocky, emotionally-stunted man, to a more well-rounded human being. He may still sometimes act a little crazily, but his development has always felt organic and a natural progression, as he life has changed and he has matured. Season five and six added to this wonderfully. We had his anguish about losing Donna, his therapy helping him open up about his issues about her and his mother, his guilt over Mike taking the fall, his OTT behaviour to get him out of jail, his desperate schemes to get him admitted to the Bar and on a personal level, his willingness to listen to Donna’s advice about reconciling with his mother, enabling him to find closure for that part of his life. We last saw him uncertain about what Donna wanting more meant and then the following night celebrating Mike’s success.

I’m not sure what I expected from 7.01, but it was not to open with Harvey speeding around to his therapist’s house and declaring he’d got through all of these issues and he’d realised she was the one he wanted to share his successes with. Seriously?! Where do I even start?! There’s been no mention of Dr. Agard since season five, at which time he did flirt with her to deflect having to open up in their sessions and she shot him down, remaining professional throughout. Then, there’s the fact that her last interaction was with Donna about Harvey and since she was last on the scene, we’ve seen him dreaming about being intimate with Donna. Where is the consistency? If you’re not going to write Donna & Harvey together, fair enough, but don’t throw in signposts to it that even a blind man would see! It almost felt like Donna saying she wanted more freaked him out so much that she could mean him, that he literally sped off in to the arms of the nearest woman who already knew him and was still around.

To have Harvey suddenly declaring he’s been harbouring feelings for Agard is rather bizarre in itself, seemingly coming out of nowhere from the character’s standpoint, but he’s made some strange choices in the past, so you can chalk it up to that. However, what is even more crazy here, is that she suddenly has feelings for him too, declaring to him over dinner, in one of the worst scenes of written dialogue I’ve seen on television, that she’d fantasised about being with him in a scene out of a Richard Curtis movie! Really?! Did you see how messed up he was?

Plus, on a professional level, it seems out of character that such a successful, professional woman would act so inappropriately. I note the throw away line about enough time passing in the APA (I assume the American Psychological Association) guidelines. These seem to say two years and I’m pretty sure it hasn’t been two years since episode 5.01, let alone since his last session in 5.10. Suits has never been a show famed for details of the law I know, but surely they know their own timelines if they’re going to through a rule in to try and justify their ludicrous plot line.

Donna and Harvey’s relationship aside, this new love interest for Harvey is simply not credible. If the writers has wanted him to be in a new relationship, fine, just make it one that’s believable, say if he’d reconnected with Zoe, sped back in to the arms of Scottie or a new character altogether. To bring back what was an interesting, strong, intelligent female character carrying out a professional role and reduce her to being a woman who’s all along been fantasising about this Richard Curtis-style ending (I’m amazed it wasn’t also raining!) with a man she knows has clear issues, invalidates part of her purpose, which seemed to be to treat a man in need of therapy! The Dr Agard from season five would never have entertained such craziness the way she was written. After a rewatch, I admit the last scene is pretty sexy, but it still makes no sense for it to be the therapist!

It wasn’t just this aspect of Harvey’s character that took a reverse turn tonight. I’ve often thought he took advantage of Donna (which to some extent she’s allowed), but I always believed he respected her. Tonight, we saw him refuse to give her the time to discuss what she wanted (more on that choice later). He brushed her off and only gave in under protest and when he selfishly saw it would benefit himself. Nothing he did was because he wanted to support Donna, which after 13 years of being as close as they are (romance or not) seemed horribly insulting to her and their friendship.

For the rest of the episode we had him running around trying to be the cock-sure player of old because he was scared of having to fill Jessica’s shoes. I had no problem with all of that though, as it at least made sense in the context of where he is in his life in that moment. He seemed to be having one last wild ride, before he had to step up and be the serious boss and that did fit with the person he is.

Sadly though, the fact I now desire someone to run him over with his fancy car, when he was my favourite character, says it all.

Donna deserving more and much more than she’s getting

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After Harvey, I’ve always loved Donna, for the confident, loyal, witty woman she is, played wonderfully as always by Sarah Rafferty. I was excited this year to see what Donna’s wanting more would lead to. It needed to be credible and thought out, so that path for her would surely take a few episodes to be established right? Wrong! Literally overnight, Donna has decided more means a partnership at the firm. Again, seriously?!

Now I know big law firms can have managers or COOs, which I suppose is what they are lazily labelling as a senior partner here, so that type of position is not totally bonkers, but I’m not sure she’d be able to invest in the firm. Legal detail has never been Suits’s focus, but for such a pivotal storyline for a lead character, I expected better. I just don’t buy that Donna would rush in to this overnight and it seems to have been done in part to stir up unnecessary tensions between her and Harvey and her and Louis. I am all for Donna having a larger role in the season, with her looking out for her own interests for a change, I just don’t think this was really the best choice. For non-lawyers it’s confusing, but also it just seems a bit excessive even for Donna. She could have been office manager or Head of HR (as many online have suggested) for example, still giving the same input, but from a more logical position based on her previous role. To be fair to Harvey, I can understand his surprise and indeed reluctance.

Plus, the end of the episode had Donna unpacking her office alone. It didn’t seem to be a particularly satisfying result for her and I found myself wishing she’d taken time to find something away from the firm and more specifically out from Harvey’s shadow, both personally and professionally. If they spend the rest of the season having her waiting for him to be ready, while he’s off having a fling with Dr Agard, I’ll be very annoyed. Too many woman in the show are starting to become present to service the needs of the men.

Louis – unbalanced yet again

Poor Louis Litt. I find myself saying that a lot. I’ll start by saying Rick Hoffman is a superb actor and is the main reason I like Louis so much, even when he’s being irritating as hell and his performance in 7.01 is excellent.

I agree, it’s natural, knowing Louis’s explosive personality, that following his break up, which cost him his fiancé and the chance at starting a family with her, he’d become unpleasant, but again, it’s the fact this happens instantly and with such venom. I found myself doubting that even Louis would be so awful to Donna and Rachel when hurting. The constant cycle of crazed Louis, to bumbling silly Louis is becoming annoying and they owe the character so much more writing-wise.

The positives (see, I’m trying to find some balance)

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It was no surprise that the best bits of this episode came from the women, with Donna, Gretchen and Rachel making the men look like weak little boys. I particularly enjoyed seeing Rachel step up and stake her position more. Keep the strong female dynamic coming, especially now Gina Torres is no longer a permanent feature in the show.

Shockingly, I also ended the episode really liking Mike. He really does believe he is trying to help the clinic, despite being blinded by the conflicts that will be unavoidable between working in the corporate and clinic worlds and he also stood up to Harvey, giving him some home truths in one of the best scenes in the hour. On top of that he was the only man in what used to be a supportive family, actually pleased to see Donna achieving something for herself. I’ve missed Mike’s scenes with Donna and this was a lovely moment.

I also enjoyed the bromance back between Mike and Harvey. It was one of the key attractions to the series when I first started watching it and there hasn’t been much room for it in recent seasons. As I assume it won’t last, I enjoyed these brief moments of fun, interspersed between all the frustrations set out above.

Oh, and the soundtrack to Suits remains one of the best on television.

So, what’s next?

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I admit I’m less enthusiastic for next week than I thought I would be before watching the premiere. I can only hope the writers start to find their way back to who these characters were at the end of last year and return to the stories aiding their development, rather than reversing it. There is also the arrival of Dule Hill to the show, which I’m hoping will be another positive for next week’s review.

I’ve always loved Suits and even if a storyline hasn’t quite worked out how I wanted it to, I could see the reasoning that had led the creator Aaron Korsh and the writers in the direction they had taken. My biggest concern right now, is that there doesn’t seem to be a logical direction for some of its key players and if previous development is suddenly meaningless, then I start to ask what the point really is.

Suits continues on Wednesday nights on the USA Network. 

 

 

 

 

Theatre Review (Spoiler-free version) – Gloria (Hampstead Theatre)

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As some readers may have seen, I have already posted one review of Gloria on this blog yesterday. As I explained in that post, I felt it was only fair to try and write a spoiler-free review as well. Heck, even the theatre programme to the show has sealed sections, only to be opened at the interval! So, for those unable to see the show, or those looking for more detail as to the storyline of it, then head across to my other, more spoiler-filled review of Gloria here.

Gloria is the latest play by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins and was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize last year and it’s certainly a drama with a sharp, witty edge. It’s also a tale of two halves, through which the playwright skilfully explores ambition and when it becomes something more questionable, when circumstances present us with an opportunity to cash in on our experiences.

Events are set in modern day New York, in the Manhattan offices of a popular magazine. In the culture section, three editorial assistants are starting their day according to their usual patterns. Studious, hard-working Ani (Ellie Kendrick) is already hard at work, a year in to her job and still possessing the positivity and enthusiasm for it. Dean (Colin Morgan) is late, inching towards 30 and five years in, feeling frustrated and hoping a book deal will give him an exit. Kendra (Kae Alexander) is even later than Dean, not that she gives a damn, as she begins what feels like her usual criticisms of her colleagues, their lives and the state of publishing in New York; it’s a place, she says, which used to have opportunities, but now has only the illusion of them.

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Bayo Gbadmosi & Colin Morgan (Photo credi: Marc Brenner)

Together they banter, bicker, sing, mourn the death of a young pop star and deploy their pearls of wisdom to the team’s intern Miles (Bayo Gbadamosi), while driving the team down the corridor crazy by making too much noise, something their older, despairing colleague Lorin (Bo Poraj) regularly reminds them (although I notice Dean’s boss (Sian Clifford), who we hear about, but don’t see until Act Two, never complains)!

It’s an incredibly funny, entertaining start, which has you quickly enjoying watching the exploits of this ambitious bunch and results in quite a lot of laughter. For those of us who’ve worked in an office environment, at least some of this will be familiar, regardless of the industry.

Woven through all of their pranks, stories and discussions about their possible futures, is Gloria. She’s worked there for 15 years or so and is the magazine’s loner; she’s someone you smile at and are polite to, but have no interest socialising with elsewhere. This has only been reinforced by her poorly attended party the night before, at which only Dean and a handful of others made an appearance. Ani feels bad for not going, Kendra does not and Dean just wants to forget he was ever there. As an audience, we feel for Gloria. She also feels a little familiar from our own work lives and it is this familiarity of some aspects of the office dynamics and personalities, that ensures the emotional punch of Jacobs-Jenkins’s work later is all the more powerful. Indeed, the emotional reaction I had to the end of Act One (even though I suspected where it was heading) isn’t one I’ve had at the theatre very often.

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Bo Paraj (Photo credit: Marc Brenner)

The personalities of the characters having been established already, Act Two shows us their world seven months later and what I loved most about Gloria was how the second half builds on everything we have seen in the first half to present an interesting commentary on how events and experiences effect us all in different ways and perhaps sometimes can bring out our less admirable qualities. It’s fascinating to see where these people are now and how they have changed and the writing fantastically mines the humour in some of the seemingly tasteless endeavours that have resulted from the recent past.

The use of doubling for the actors in roles across the two halves of the play is also a brilliant choice. It provides a strange sense of continuity to the story, while also being a little unnerving.

The production also benefits from a strong cast. Colin Morgan is perhaps the most well known (last seen on stage in Mojo) and, as usual, he is very very good, conveying Dean’s downward spiral from playful, sarcastic office worker, to someone struggling to put his life back together. Morgan also takes the role later of a frustrated IT guy, resulting in a return to the lighter laughs of the first half.

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Kae Alexander & Ellie Kendrick (Photo credit: Marc Brenner)

I also particularly liked the acerbic character of Kendra, who is both likeable and unlikeable at once, due to her sharp, mean barbs, that often speak more truth than we’d like to admit and Kae Alexander brings her wonderfully to life. Ellie Kendrick (who you may recognise from Game of Thrones) plays Ani, as one of those sweet, hard-working types, who tries to get along with everyone and I also loved one of the other characters she plays, Callie, also an assistant and it is to her credit that each one feels distinct.

Our moral compass is represented by Lorin, whose response to earlier events in the play is much different from the others and I left the theatre truly hoping he was successful. Interestingly, Bo Paraj is also the only actor who plays just one role, which seems to emphasise Lorin’s difference from the others as well.

Director Michael Longhurst captures the brilliant wit of the play and I loved Oliver Fenwick’s lighting, which is used to great effect in the second half, to reflect the recollections of certain characters, slowly dimming at times, before growing brighter again as the moment passed. The settings of each scene are great and set designer Lizzie Clachan has created three different sets, all ideally suited for the play’s story and I particularly liked the contrast of the basic decor in the first office, with the flashy, colour-coordinated look of the later office location; the positioning of the company’s logo in the latter being suitably ironic.

I thoroughly enjoyed Gloria for its biting humour and sharp dialogue and I won’t forget the powerful ending of Act One in a hurry. It makes you laugh with recognition, gasp with shock and then smile ironically at the resulting, differing behaviour of the characters. This may have been my first trip to a Branden Jacobs-Jenkins play, but it certainly won’t be the last (in fact I’m off to another one next week and am now looking forward to it even more)!

Tickets are selling fast for this production, so I recommend you buy a ticket quickly before it sells out!

Gloria runs at the Hampstead Theatre until 22nd July 2017. For further information and availability, visit the theatre’s website here.

 

Theatre Review – Office ambition & tension spills over in Gloria (Hampstead Theatre)


On Tuesday night, I took a trip to the Hampstead Theatre for the final preview of their new production, Gloria. It’s a strong piece of theatre, but one that creates a challenge when it comes to writing a review – spoiler-free or not? I usually try and avoid writing spoilers which give away anything significant to a play, particularly a new play, as I’m a big believer in an audience experiencing theatre fresh, without knowing its secrets in advance. However, to write everything I want to say about Gloria will inevitably result in giving away a core element of the story. I’ve therefore decided to try and write two pieces; this one and a spoiler-free review, which will be posted tomorrow.

Warnings taken care of, on to the play itself.

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Dean (Colin Morgan), Kendra (Kae Alexander) & Ani (Ellie Kendrick). Photo credit: Marc Brenner

Gloria is the latest play by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins and was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize last year and it’s certainly a drama with a sharp, witty edge. It’s also a tale of two halves, through which the playwright skilfully explores ambition and when it becomes something more questionable; specifically when ambition collides with the opportunity to cash in on a tragedy.

Events are set in modern day New York, in the Manhattan offices of a popular magazine. In the culture section, three editorial assistants are starting their day according to their usual patterns. Studious, hard-working Ani (Ellie Kendrick) is already hard at work, a year in to her job and still possessing the positivity and enthusiasm for it. Dean (Colin Morgan) is late, inching towards 30 and five years in, feeling frustrated and hoping a book deal will give him an exit. Kendra (Kae Alexander) is even later than Dean, not that she gives a damn, as she begins what feels like her usual criticisms of her colleagues, their lives and the state of publishing in New York; it’s a place, she says, which used to have opportunities, but now has only the illusion of them.

 

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Bayo Gbadamosi & Colin Morgan (Photo credit: Marc Brenner) 

Together they banter, bicker, sing, mourn the death of a young pop star and deploy their pearls of wisdom to the team’s intern Miles (Bayo Gbadamosi), while driving the team down the corridor crazy by making too much noise, something their older, despairing colleague Lorin (Bo Poraj) regularly reminds them!

It’s an incredibly funny, entertaining start, which has you quickly enjoying watching the exploits of this ambitious bunch and results in quite a lot of laughter. For those of us who’ve worked in an office environment, at least some of this will be familiar, regardless of the industry and it is this familiarity which makes what follows all the more frightening.

Woven through all of their pranks, stories and discussions about their possible futures, is Gloria. She’s worked there for 15 years or so and is the magazine’s loner; she’s someone you smile at and are polite to, but have no interest socialising with elsewhere. This has only been reinforced by her poorly attended party the night before, at which only Dean and a handful of others made an appearance. Ani feels bad for not going, Kendra does not and Dean just wants to forget he was ever there. As an audience, we feel for Gloria. She also feels a little familiar from our own work lives.

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Bo Paraj (Photo credit: Marc Brenner)

As the play moved through Act 1, I could see where it was heading, as Gloria sporadically appears, checking if everyone is in yet, growing increasingly erratic with each pass through the cubicles. Maybe it’s the impact of the last few months’s real life events, but the pointers to what was to come seemed clear to me. However, this didn’t detract from the emotional punch of Jacobs-Jenkins’s work, as Gloria’s isolated, unhappy feelings at the office spill over, resulting in violent consequences. It may just be a play, but it was nevertheless shocking to watch and I did find myself closing my eyes, so genuine was my response to the harrowing scene unfolding on stage. Indeed, it’s one of the most shocking ends to an act in the theatre that I’ve witnessed.

The personalities of the characters having been established already, Act 2 shows us their world seven months on.  What I loved most about Gloria was how Act 2 builds on everything we saw in the first half to present an interesting commentary on how horrifying events effect us all in different ways and perhaps can bring out our less admirable qualities.

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Sian Clifford (Photo credit: Marc Brenner)

Dean, spared by Gloria for always being nice to her, has been, understandably, deeply affected by what he witnessed and is trying to piece his life together again, which includes the publication of a memoir, now altered to make Gloria its focus. He’s not the only one looking to cash in on the tragedy though, as we watch others indirectly affected by Gloria’s actions become seduced by the idea of their five minutes on fame (and a big cheque) and the writing fantastically mines the humour in their seemingly tasteless endeavours (including the editor’s fond recollections of the intern, whose name she doesn’t even get right)! The use of doubling for the actors in roles across the two halves of the play is also a brilliant choice, as it provides a strange sense of continuity to the story, while also being a little unnerving, especially with the reappearance of Sian Clifford, who after being Gloria, later returns as the editor we never saw in the first half.

The production also benefits from a strong cast. Colin Morgan is perhaps the most well known (last seen on stage in Mojo) and, as usual, he is very very good, conveying Dean’s downward spiral from playful, sarcastic office worker, to someone still unable to comprehend what he survived and clutching to his book as a way to deal with it. Unlike some of the other characters’s need to make a quick buck off the story, I felt genuinely sorry for Dean, whose writing of his book, although a little possessive of the tragedy, seemed to be driven by his need to heal more than anything else. Morgan also takes the role later of a frustrated IT guy, resulting in a return to the lighter laughs of the first half.

 

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Kae Alexander & Ellie Kendrick (Photo credit: Marc Brenner)

I also particularly liked the acerbic character of Kendra, who is both likeable and unlikeable at once, due to her sharp, mean barbs, that often speak more truth than we’d like to admit, but are possibly more of an act once we see her again in Act 2 and Kae Alexander brings her wonderfully to life. Ellie Kendrick (who you may recognise from Game of Thrones) plays Ani, as one of those sweet, hard-working types, who tries to get along with everyone, which only makes what happens to her more upsetting and it’s great that Kendrick is back in the second half as two further characters, spookily ending back as someone’s assistant and it is to her credit that each one feels distinct.

Our moral compass is represented by Lorin, as the only person who isn’t seeking to profit from Gloria, simply wanting to put it all behind him (interestingly, Bo Paraj is also the only actor who plays just one role, which seems to emphasise Lorin’s difference from the others as well). Now studying for the LSAT exam, this is his second chance in life and you leave the theatre truly hoping he is successful.

Director Michael Longhurst captures the brilliant wit of the play, while also building a subtle unease in the piece, which some of the audience may not even notice, but once you spot, you cannot ignore. This is also enhanced in certain moments (especially in the coffee shop scene) by Oliver Fenwick’s lighting. I loved how as characters started to recall upsetting memories or thoughts in act two, the lights would slowly dim, before growing brighter again as the moment passed. Set designer Lizzie Clachan has also created three different sets, all ideally suited for the play’s story and I particularly liked the contrast of the basic decor in the first office, with the flashy, colour-coordinated look of the later office location; the positioning of the company’s red splash logo on the wall in the latter being suitably ironic (and a little disturbing).

I thoroughly enjoyed Gloria for its biting humour and sharp dialogue and I won’t forget the powerful ending of Act 1 in a hurry. It makes you laugh with recognition, gasp with shock and then smile ironically at the resulting, differing behaviour of the characters. It may also make you think about how you treat the people around you in your own office environment too. This may have been my first trip to a Branden Jacobs-Jenkins play, but it certainly won’t be the last (in fact I’m off to another one next week and am now looking forward to it even more)!

Tickets are selling fast for this production, so I recommend you buy a ticket quickly before it sells out!

Gloria runs at the Hampstead Theatre until 22nd July 2017. For further information and availability, visit the theatre’s website here.

Theatre Review – The Antipodes by Annie Baker (Off-Broadway, New York)

 

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I was very much looking forward to seeing Annie Baker’s latest play off-Broadway during my recent New York trip for two reasons. One being that due to life getting in the way, I’d missed the London runs of two of her previous plays and the other being the fact that one of my favourite actors, Josh Charles, was a member of the cast!

Those familiar with Annie Baker’s work will know that her plays tend to be rather abstract and The Antipodes is no exception, being a play that leaves you thinking about it after you leave and I was pleased to see it twice in order to digest it properly.

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The cast of The Antipodes. Photo source: Joan Marcus

Set entirely in a conference room in an unspecified location in the States, this one act play is a story about telling stories, as we watch a group of writers trying to come up with the next great story; in this scenario for, perhaps, a new television show (although even this isn’t certain from Baker’s text). Over the 115 minutes, they share experiences from their lives, random stories they’ve heard from others, or random facts they’ve read online, all with the goal of finding a story that their boss, Sandy, likes. Just as long as it isn’t dwarves, elves or trolls.

This play won’t appeal to everyone (particularly those who need a clear plot when they go to the theatre) and I imagine those in the script-writing business will connect with it more than the rest of us, but I really enjoyed and was fascinated by its quirkiness. It makes you question how we communicate with one another and how it requires far more work to get right than we may realise (feeding in to the difficulties in communication, I loved the scene in which they try miserably to teleconference with the powers that be!). You learnt more than you might think about the nine individuals in the room by hearing their stories, but also by watching their reactions to the stories told by others. There were those who were happy to share even their most intimate stories, while others struggled to be quite so open, as you observe their various personalities as their never-ending brainstorming session stretches from days to months.

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Josh Charles & Phillip James Brannon. Photo source: Joan Marcus

There is also a lot of humour to be found in The Antipodes (although I sensed, at times, some members of my audience were laughing because others were, rather than because they themselves found it funny). It was the range of humorous moments that I liked, as Baker has written moments that are obviously funny, but also moments that are more subtle in this respect, as well as moments that are so bizarre, you cannot help but laugh.

I loved how Baker and director Lila Neugebauer achieved the passage of time during the play, with scenes bleeding in to the next, giving the play the feel that it is in a time all its own, crucial in a play in which how we think about time is a key discussion point (vertical? horizontal? a spiral?). There were also some time passing markers that seemed to creep up on me – for one, I have no idea where the group’s various takeaway containers kept appearing from!

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Brian Miskell & Emily Cass McDonnell. Photo source: Joan Marcus

The cast here are a fantastic team, who together bring so much depth to the material. Will Patton’s boss is a man of few words and who often makes his point by saying nothing at all. I’m not in the writing industry, but from the laughter around me, I sense that this portrayal is one very recognisable to those who are! The cast are all excellent, from Josh Charles’ more confident Dave, to Emily Cass McDonnell’s performance as the sole female voice in this writers’ room (a striking comment on sexism in the industry I assume).

However, one of the highlights for me has to be Nicole Rodenburg’s portrayal of Sandy’s personal assistant Sarah. Constantly in and out of the conference room, she is our link to the outside world and is a constant source of comedy, from her long, drawn-out way of speaking, to her multiple costume changes (I lost count, which only adds to your disorientation of how much time has passed), to her contributions to the discussions in the room itself. The scene in which she recalls a story from her childhood, which has a Brothers Grimm-like quality, in a serious, deadpan manner, before getting back to the matter of lunch orders is truly brilliant.

You only have until Saturday to see this play at the Signature Theatre and I’d definitely say it’s worth the effort. As I’ve already mentioned, it won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, being a bit too weird for some (I admit the more tribal scene towards the end was perhaps too weird for me), but if you are someone who loves strong acting and hearing stories, from the mundane to the fantastical, then do try and pick up a ticket.

The Antipodes continues at the Pershing Square Signature Center’s Romulus Linney Theatre (480, West 42nd Street) until this Saturday 11th June 2017. Although sold out, $40 rush tickets are sold each morning and as there is no admittance once it starts, it’s definitely worth seeing if you can fill any vacant seats just before curtain up, by joining the waitlist an hour before. For more information, visit the website here.

Book Review – Fierce Kingdom by Gin Phillips: a gripping debut thriller

Fierce Kingdom is Gin Phillips’s debut thriller and its powerful story of a mother’s determination to protect her child when faced with unimaginable circumstances will certainly stay with me for quite some time.

Set somewhere in the United States, the book revolves around Joan and her four year-old son Lincoln. He loves the zoo, but on this day they find themselves caught up in a terrifying nightmare scenario, when young men armed with guns open fire just before closing time. Aware both their lives are in extreme danger, Joan knows she must use all of her instincts and courage to keep them alive.

Phillips has written a tremendously gripping book. However, unlike some people I couldn’t read it in one sitting, as I found it much too tense to do that. Although such shootings are almost unheard of here in the UK, you cannot fail to put yourself in to Joan’s shoes, or indeed some of the other characters she encounters and at a time in a world where we are much more aware of our safety being threatened, it’s a story that packs a powerful, emotional punch.

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As a reader, I connected with the character of Joan immediately. She has such a strength about her that you find yourself almost holding your breath as she fights to stay one step ahead of the young men roaming the zoo. I also liked how we learnt more about her and her life as time moved along, seeing a glimpse in to the person she is outside of the world of the book and I may not be a mother, but you cannot fail to be moved by her bond with her son and how that loves fuels her determination to keep them both safe and like Joan, I took comfort in his innocence during such a frightening ordeal.

It’s also a great structural choice to keep all of the story within the walls of the zoo, rather than jump away to those on the outside, for example Joan’s husband or the police. Some writers may have chosen to do this to broaden out the story, but by keeping us as readers inside that small space with Joan and Lincoln, Gin Phillips heightens our connection to them and draws us in much more. Her decision to bring in the point of view of one of the gunmen is also interesting and creeps up on you in a clever way and through those pages we are given an insight in to what may cause someone to cause such harm and whether there is anything that will bring them back from such a dark path.

I don’t want to say too much for fear of giving anything crucial away about the book, but if you are someone who enjoys a strong thriller, that will grip you from the first chapter and hold your attention until you put it down, then I recommend that you add this book to your reading list.

Fierce Kingdom by Gin Phillips is published in the UK on 15th June 2017 by Doubleday and is available from all the usual book stockists.