James graham

Voters still don’t know what Keir Starmer stands for

Keir Starmer is frustrated. He wants to talk about the future but interviewers like me will insist on asking him about the past. ‘I can’t believe I’m still talking about my parents when I’m over 60,’ the Labour leader has been heard to complain to his advisers. In my BBC Panorama interview with him, I asked him about his mother’s words on her death bed: ‘You won’t let your dad go private, will you?’ I felt that plea – which he revealed to me in a previous interview – told a great deal about Starmer’s ideological roots. So too does his passionate belief in comprehensive schools. Unlike plenty of senior

The power of restorative justice

In a week when the Chief Inspector of Prisons published an Urgent Notification detailing the horrors of HMP Wandsworth, I found myself revisiting memories of being jailed there for the crime of fraud. Clanging doors, rattling chains, men screaming at night in anguish or despair or because their cellmate was assaulting them. No help coming. Emergencies unattended for far too long, and people dead as a result. No purpose, no hope, not even the possibility of redemption. Wandsworth is a miserable prison, one which does as much as possible to brutalise, punish and hurt those it jails, and nothing to heal or change them for the better. The process does

The rise and fall of Tammy Faye

Tammy Faye Bakker was a chirpy, perky televangelist noted for her lavish mascara and her barrel-stave eyelashes. She once conducted an interview on her PTL (Praise the Lord) chat show for which she remains revered among gays. It was in 1985 and she was talking to Steve Pieters, a soft-spoken church pastor with a soup-strainer moustache. He had Aids, a disease that killed Rock Hudson that year and was scything through Reagan’s America. Tammy wanted to know all about Steve’s faith, his health and his orientation. ‘Have you given women a fair try?’, she asked rather naively. The pastor told his story and the interview deepened into an extraordinary confessional.

A masterclass in evenhandedness: James Graham’s Sherwood reviewed

James Graham has made his considerable name writing political-based dramas of a highly unusual type: non-polemical ones. And this certainly applies to his television work as well as his stage plays. Coalition (about the 2010 Conservative-Lib Dem alliance) and Brexit: The Uncivil War (which gave Dominic Cummings the signal honour of being played by Benedict Cumberbatch) both went so far as to suggest that most politicians try to do the right thing. Even when he abandoned politics to supply the lockdown hit Quiz, Graham’s unfashionable commitment to centrism remained. Rather than taking sides on the ‘coughing major’ scandal, he extended sympathy and understanding to all involved. Quiz was also the

Artless, crude and thuggish: Bridge Theatre’s Book of Dust reviewed

Philip Pullman’s The Book of Dust has been adapted at the Bridge. The yarn is set in Oxford, and the surrounding countryside, and the whole of the first act is devoted to exposition because Pullman’s fantasy world is impenetrably complicated. The chief character, a dim-witted child, wanders around the place and listens while terms like ‘magisterium’, ‘alethiometer’ and ‘daemon’ are explained to him. Meanwhile we’re introduced to Pullman’s range of human personalities. He can do two: first, the ooh-arr yokel who is thick but kind, and secondly, the posh academic who is clever but evil. These archetypes give rise to a total of 32 characters who are represented by 16

Finally a lockdown drama that will endure: James Graham’s Bubble reviewed

Theatres can open if they want to. That’s the current position. The only factor keeping a playhouse dark is a lack of guts or imagination on the part of its leadership. A small pub in Vauxhall, The Eagle, is mounting new plays in its garden space to raise everyone’s morale. Punters must wear masks and sit in bubbles. ‘We’re adhering to the government guidelines,’ announced the artistic director before the start, ‘which are changing all the time.’ The show is a feelgood musical about drifters and dreamers in their twenties trying to make it in New York. Waverley wants to be an actress but her plans are blown off course

Defund theatres – and give the money to gardeners and bingo halls

For nearly six months our subsidised playhouses, notably the National Theatre, have been dark. What have we missed? Not much. Some would say nothing at all. And this has come as a surprise to those of us who were led to believe that the subsidised theatre is critical to ‘the national conversation’. It turns out that the nation can happily debate political and social issues without the help of playwrights or actors. Perhaps it’s time to re-examine our state-funded theatres and the reasons we support them. The National Theatre was set up in 1963, soon after the establishment of the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1961, and both received funding from

James Graham’s small new drama is exquisite: BBC Four’s Unprecedented reviewed

Let’s face it. Theatre via the internet is barely theatre. It takes a huge amount of creativity and inventiveness to make anything remotely like a theatrical drama in the digital sphere. The BBC’s Culture in Quarantine team have invited some talented writers and actors to try and crack it. Unprecedented begins with ‘Viral’, by James Graham, in which three 18-year-old lads enjoy a Zoom chat from their bedrooms. The craftsmanship in this small script is exquisite. The characters are united by a common purpose — creating a globally popular video clip — while each has to grapple with a personal crisis. One has a dying granny, one is coming to

The best theatre of the 21st century

Not looking great, is it? Until we all get jabbed, theatres may have to stay closed. And even the optimists say a reliable vaccine is unlikely to arrive before Christmas. As the darkness persists, here’s a round-up of my leading experiences over nearly two decades as a reviewer. There’s been a surge of output. More theatres have opened, especially on the London fringe, and several have created annexes for experimental work. Musicals have proliferated. The rise of the box-set has been excellent for the West End. Global hits such as Game of Thrones have created a host of British stars with enough clout to sell out a three-month run in