What a muddle: The House of Bernarda Alba, at the Lyttelton Theatre, reviewed

Green, green, green. Everything on stage is the same shade of eau de Nil in the NT’s version of Federico García Lorca’s classic, The House of Bernarda Alba. All the furniture and props are green. The mirrors, the walls, the crucifixes, the clocks and even the bucket and the knife-rack bear the same queasy pigment. The idea, perhaps, is to suggest a lunatic asylum or an NHS waiting room. Lorca’s steamy tale is set in a remote Spanish village in the 1930s where life is dominated by the repressive and superstitious Catholic church. The story opens with a nasty matriarch, Bernarda Alba, celebrating her husband’s death by ordering her five

Cheerful meanderings: Caret, by Adam Mars-Jones, reviewed

The novelistic tube or nozzle through which experience is squeezed in order to be bletted on the page in words, and in turn create the illusion of experience in the reader, is a slender one. Novelists have often perversely focused on the narrowest of lives. Xavier de Maistre wrote an entire travelogue in the 1790s about 42 days spent in his room, while Jean-Philippe Toussaint’s debut novel in 1985 was about a character refusing to leave his bathroom.  Should undertakers ever have suntans? And when does ‘mummy’ become ‘mum’ as a form of address? These spectacular exercises in technique present a parallel to what has always been the case, the

One of the best (if not the jolliest) TV dramas of 2023: BBC1’s Best Interests reviewed

In the opening minutes of Best Interests (Monday and Tuesday), an estranged middle-aged couple made their separate ways to court, pausing outside it to look at each other with a mixture of furious reproach and overwhelming regret. From there we cut to a scene that perhaps overdid the evocation of Happier Times as the same pair laughed endlessly together on a train, before nipping off to the toilet for a spot of giggly conjugal naughtiness. Once they got home and picked up their two daughters from a neighbour, they soon showed what terrific and loving parents they were too – not least to 11-year-old Marnie, whose muscular dystrophy meant she

Trains, planes and wheelchairs: why is this still a route to disaster?

Whenever I take a train journey, I am filled with dread. Despite always booking assistance, I am terrified there won’t be someone at my destination with a ramp to help me and my powered wheelchair on to the platform. Many a time has my travel companion – or a complete stranger – had to straddle the train and the platform to stop the train doors closing with me stuck inside. I have frequently arrived at my destination late and stressed, left with the impression that my time doesn’t matter. What on earth could I be late for – surely nothing important? So I have read with horror, but not surprise,

Relentless and shouty: BBC2’s Then Barbara met Alan reviewed

BBC2’s one-off drama Then Barbara Met Alan (Monday) told the true story of how two disabled performers on the cabaret circuit of the 1990s fell in love and campaigned together successfully for disability rights. Most of the cast and a lot of the crew were people with disabilities themselves, and the programme provided a startling reminder of how recently Britain was still a country that made little provision for the disabled – and, even more startlingly, of how controversial the idea of such provision then seemed. The central performances were rivetingly good, and the overall sense was of a heartfelt tribute being paid to a couple who did much to

Disabled men don’t have a ‘right’ to buy sex

In the latest episode of ‘You couldn’t make it up’, a court has ruled that it is lawful for carers in particular circumstances to assist their clients in paying for sex. The case was brought on behalf of a 27-year-old mentally disabled man who was described as wishing to ‘fulfil a natural desire.’ Since when was paying for access to the inside of a person’s body for one-sided sexual gratification a ‘natural desire’? The ruling, unless successfully challenged, will have major implications not only for carers but for society at large. Government ministers have been granted permission to appeal the decision because it clashes with its aim to eradicate prostitution

What lockdown means for families with disabled children

When lockdown starts, all kinds of things stop. The first one, in March, was the worst time of my life as a parent, not because of my daughter’s severe disabilities, but because of the lack of support. Elvi is 19. She has a mental age of three, sleeps four hours a night and can’t walk. She has to be showered, dressed, fed and physically moved around our home. I have learned so much from my beautiful, funny daughter. She works incredibly hard to achieve the smallest things. We were told Elvi wouldn’t live past two and that she was unlikely to speak. In the summer she said her first five-word

As a lyricist, Ian Dury had few equals in the 20th century

The National Theatre’s programme of livestreamed shows continues with the Donmar’s 2014 production of Coriolanus starring Tom Hiddleston. The play is not a favourite. The story concerns a victorious Roman general who accepts the role of consul but when his political career falters he takes revenge by befriending his defeated enemy, Aufidius, and marching on his own city. There’s too much bitterness and aggression here, and no romantic sentiment at all. The only significant male/female relationship is between the great conqueror and his preening, pushy mother, Volumnia, who boasts about her son’s triumphs as if they were scouting badges or gold stars won for laying out the nature table. Coriolanus

Christmas with my brother

Ever since I was a child, I’ve associated Christmas with my mentally disabled brother Chris. Technically, he’s my half-brother — I have four half-siblings and a whole one — but to refer to him that way feels a bit mean-spirited, as if I’m trying to put some distance between us. Is ‘mentally disabled’ the right term to describe him? When I was growing up, the psychiatrists had him down as ‘schizophrenic’, but he was later reclassified as suffering from Asperger’s syndrome. After that particular diagnosis fell out of fashion, he became, simply, ‘autistic’, which is probably accurate, although too vague to convey much about him. Chris has been institutionalised since

Circus routine rather than theatre: Noises Off reviewed

Michael Frayn’s backstage comedy, Noises Off, is the theatre’s answer to Trooping the Colour. Everyone agrees that it’s an amazing display of synchronised choreography but does anyone actually want to see it? Yes, to judge by the press-night crowd at the Garrick. The joint was packed. The show opens at the dress rehearsal of a bedroom farce where an incompetent actress, Dotty Otley, is listening to advice from an exhausted but infinitely patient director. She worries that she hasn’t got her lines right. A lot of them ‘had a very familiar ring’, the director assures her. The gentle wit of these passages is soon overtaken by physical antics as the

I like Brassic but the reason it’s getting such glowing notices is depressing

Brassic (Sky One) feels like the sort of TV comedy drama they last made about 15 years ago but would never get commissioned now, certainly not by the BBC. Almost all of the main characters — apart from love interest Michelle Keegan — are white, male and heterosexual. And it’s set in the kind of Lancashire market town surrounded by rolling sheep country where the opportunities for plausible diversity casting are really quite limited. So how come it has been getting such glowing notices from all the previewers and reviewers? You’ll be depressed when I tell you. Well, it has depressed me anyway. The main character Vinnie — played by

Accidental hero | 28 February 2019

Steve Coogan is back as Alan Partridge but frankly who cares? Like Ali G, I’ve long thought, he’s one of those ‘classic’ 1990s comedy characters funnier in recollection than ever he was in reality. He should have been confined to brief sketches — like Paul Whitehouse and Harry Enfield mostly did with their cheesy has-been DJs Smashie and Nicey — not cruelly exposed in endless TV series where you’ve got the joke in the first five minutes and the rest is pure cringe. Actually, though, This Time with Alan Partridge (BBC1, Mondays) is genuinely funny, clever and enjoyable because finally he has scriptwriters who don’t hate him. For his original

Love, sex, sponges and disability

Hampstead has become quite a hit-factory since Ed Hall took over. His foreign policy is admirably simple. He scours New York for popular shows and spirits them over to London. His latest effort, Cost of Living, has attracted the film-star talent of Adrian Lester, who plays Eddie, a loquacious white trucker from Utah. (His ethnicity is made clear in the dialogue and the relevant lines have been left unchanged.) Earnest Eddie tells us about himself in a 15-minute monologue at the top of the show. Rather a clunky device. He’s a bookish teetotaller with a strong work ethic who appreciates the landscape of Utah, enjoys listening to Erik Satie’s over-played

Lend me your ears | 22 February 2018

Audio description, or AD, as it is fondly called, is coming of age. Once consigned to the utility room of grey voices reading boring cues to inform blind people what was going on on stage or screen, AD is now a dynamic narrative form that is findinga presence in almost all the arts (from opera, theatre and film to art galleries and museums). It is so widespread and well done that many consider it an art form in itself. For the uninitiated, audio description simply provides a listener, through headphones or a TV speaker, with the essential details of the action and events in a film or play during a

Bah, humbug!, Tiny Tim

Here we go again. Partridges in pear trees. Lovely big Christmas turkey. The Queen’s speech. And then, at some point during the Yuletide season, some version or other of Dickens’s ghost story A Christmas Carol. This year’s glut of Scrooge stories includes the Old Vic’s major production starring Rhys Ifans (reviewed by Lloyd Evans in last week’s Spectator) and Michael Rosen’s retelling of the tale, Bah! Humbug! There is a new film, The Man Who Invented Christmas, featuring Christopher Plummer as Scrooge and Dan Stevens, he of Downton Abbey fame, as Mr Dickens himself. It plots the months running up to the publication of A Christmas Carol in Yuletide 1843.

Laura Freeman

Oh, what a circus

‘There’s a sucker born every minute.’ That was the P.T. Barnum battle cry. It has come to have a ring of contempt, but no one loved a sucker more than Barnum. Entertain them, he said. Thrill them, shock them. Make ’em laugh, make ’em cry. Give ’em the old razzle-dazzle. And if, in the course of the evening, you extract from them a penny, a shilling, a dollar… Well, have you not given them a story to tell their friends tomorrow? His critics called him a scoundrel, a humbug, a con man. To the Times he was ‘the most adventurous and least scrupulous of showmen… an apotheosis of notoriety’. His

Bring up the bodies | 9 November 2017

The moment you invite friends to some new ‘cutting-edge’ disability theatre or film, most swallow paroxysms of social anxiety. What if it’s dull? Am I allowed to yawn? What if I hate it? How interminably politically correct will it be? Do I want to think about ‘disability’ on a fun night out? While most objections can be overcome by a convincing performance, it is interesting to ask whether disability makes a difference to art, or does art transcend disability? If the current crop of plays and films, not to mention disability production companies, is anything to go by, the answer is yes to both, and we should want more of

Changing of the Bard

Hamlet was probably written sometime between 1599 and 1602. The Almeida’s new version opens with a couple of security guards watching surveillance footage taken in a corridor. Well, of course it does. Nothing says ‘late medieval Denmark’ like closed-circuit television. Hamlet (Andrew Scott) appears. His black shirt and matching trousers suggest a snooker pro at the Crucible or a steward on a Virgin train. Scott is known as a ‘character actor’ (code for ‘baddie’) rather than a leading man. His petulant, squelched-up face and his Ronnie Corbett physique make him perfect casting for Third Crackhead in a squat melodrama but he hasn’t a chance of capturing Hamlet’s lordly despair, his

Barometer | 3 November 2016

Strike force Nissan is to expand its plant in Sunderland, building two new models there. The Japanese company is praised for not losing a day to strikes in three decades in the city. But labour relations weren’t always so good. — In 1953, when part of Nissan’s business was assembling Austin cars in Japan under licence, the company suffered a bitter 100-day strike. Occupying US forces became involved, helping the Japanese government to arrest union leaders. — As a result of the strike, a new, less militant union was formed, with a Harvard-educated leader. The union accepted job losses but became involved in discussions over new technology. Global race And where

Why isn’t Shami Chakrabarti campaigning for Lord Shinkwin’s Abortion Bill?

Lord Shinkwin’s Abortion (Disability Equality) Bill has its second reading in the Lord next Friday. I hadn’t heard of it either, and the campaign behind it, ‘We’re All Equal’, had passed me by, until a friend with an interest in disability issues told me about it. The gist is that it would remove the following bits of the 1967 Abortion Act – section 1 (1) (d) and section 5 (2)(d). Which means what? Why, that the most egregious piece of discrimination in law against disabled people would be done away with, viz, that there’s one cutoff point for normal foetuses to be aborted, none at all for disabled ones. Right