The finalists of The ONCOMMs 2022

The OnComm is the new award for online shows from across the UK (and beyond) and was introduced in
May 2020. 

LIVE STREAM
GAYATRI The Royal Queen Consort of the Majapahit Kingdom /  7evenotes Production / Alexander Triyono & mhyajo / Available via https://res.cthearts.com/event/34:3465/34:59436/
The Black CatThreedumb Theatre / The Space / Unfortunately this show is no longer available.
TrestleOVO Productions / Maltings Theatre / View until 10 April at https://maltingstheatre.co.uk/whats-on/trestle

RECORDED (DIRECT)
A Brief List of Everyone Who Died / Patch of Blue / Finborough / View at https://www.youtube.com/user/finboroughtheatre
Talking Gods (series of 5 plays) / Arrows & Traps / View at https://www.arrowsandtraps.com/talkinggods
Tomatoes Tried to Kill Me But Banjos Saved My Life / Keith Alessi / View at https://online.thespaceuk.com/show/tomatoes-tried-to-kill-me-but-banjos-saved-my-life
Touchy / 20 Stories High / View via https://www.20storieshigh.org.uk/show/touchy/ Continue reading “The finalists of The ONCOMMs 2022”

My 10 favourite shows of 2021

Just a little bit late… Here’s 10 of my favourite shows, both online and onstage but fully acknowledging that I saw a lot less than usual, I might actually have broken the back of this theatre obsession – it just took a global pandemic to do it…!

1. Anything Goes, Barbican
A joyous shot in the arm that felt like the perfect welcome back into the theatre this summer. Naturally, it is coming back next year to the Barbican and a UK tour but will it be led by the irrepressible Sutton Foster? You have to hope so as she was the epitome of Broadway class.

2. The Normal Heart, National Theatre
Almost unbearably moving, Larry Kramer’s 1985 loosely autobiographical play got a masterful revival from Dominic Cooke, making the most of the Olivier being in the round and blessed with a cast full of commitment and compassion.

3. Constellations, Vaudeville Theatre
Perhaps predictable for those that know me, but the four-way revival featuring Omari Douglas & Russell Tovey and Anna Maxwell Martin & Chris O’Dowd and Sheila Atim & Ivanno Jeremiah and Peter Capaldi & Zoë Wanamaker turned out to be a great way to revisit this play.

4. Cabaret, The Kit Kat Club at the Playhouse Theatre
At least there’s a sense that they’re earning a bit of their hugely inflated ticket prices, as Rebecca Frecknall and Tom Scutt’s reinvention of the theatre is matched with a fearless reinterpretation of the classic musical which proves hauntingly effective.

5. What They Forgot To Tell Us (and other stories), BOLD Elephant
One of the more unexpected theatrical experiences of the year. I had no idea of what to expect and no real idea of why it moved me quite as much as it did. 

6. DJ Bazzer’s Year 6 Disco, Golden Goose Theatre
Gently immersive and quietly heartbreaking, this playful and powerful monologue really took me by surprise, totally captivating as Jack Sunderland’s emotionally broken Baz tries to chase the demons of both the past and present.

7. Still Life: Untold Stories of Nottingham Now
5 short stories of lockdown life in Nottingham turned out to be hugely affecting, featuring a wide range of the intimately human stories that make up a global pandemic and star performances from the likes of Frances De La Tour and Julie Hesmondhalgh.

8. Mum, Soho Theatre
Led by a scorching performance from Sophie Melville, Morgan Lloyd Malcolm’s new play took a sledgehammer to Insta-perfect narratives of new motherhood to offer up something of a nightmare of early parenthood. Absolutely exhilarating.

9. Gay Generations, White Bear Theatre
With a loose focus on older LGBT+ narratives, this double bill of new gay plays was quietly impressive and in the case of Michael McManus’ A Certain Term made me sob like a baby

10. Romeo and Juliet
The National led from the front in lockdown, able to parlay its resources into transforming its intended stage production of this teen tragedy into a deluxe filmed version with a delicious cast led by Jessie Buckley and Josh O’Connor.

TV Review: Doctor Who – Eve of the Daleks

As we hurtle towards 13’s incoming regeneration, the Doctor gets stuck in a time loop with Aisling Bea, Adjani Salmon and some Daleks in the entertainingly done Eve of the Daleks

“Is it a toxic, hazardous or radioactive board game?”

The first of three Doctor Who specials to take us up to Jodie Whittaker and Chris Chibnall’s departure from the show, Eve of the Daleks proved to be one of my favourite festive specials of recent times. Mainly, it has to be said, because there wasn’t anything particularly festive shoehorned into the story, it was just a tightly scripted (mostly) standalone episode that didn’t let itself get too bogged down in series lore or seasonal schmaltz.

Ironically, at the end of Flux I was sure I wanted a proper investigation of the consequences of so much of the universe having been destroyed but apparently I could do just fine without it. Instead, this almost-bottle episode made a virtue of the Covid restrictions it was clearly filmed under by minimising cast and locations and digging into some fairly deep emotional stuff. Continue reading “TV Review: Doctor Who – Eve of the Daleks”

Review: Bring It On – the Musical, Queen Elizabeth Hall

Fabian Aloise’s banging choreography spikes, basket-tosses and split-lifts this cracking production of Bring It On – the Musical at Queen Elizabeth Hall, or catch it on its UK tour in 2022

“Like Hells Angels, but cheerleaders”

In a show that really is about teamwork, it’s a real joy to see a production practising what it preaches. I caught Bring It On – the Musical the night after press night and so saw a couple of understudies in leading roles. Now I don’t know if Oliver Adam-Reynolds (on for Louis Smith as Cameron) and Kenedy Small (on for Chelsea Hall as Bridget) had been on as these characters before but the joy their castmates showed at the curtain call was a truly uplifting thing, even more so than the two high pyramid.

To be honest, I wasn’t sure if I’d like Bring It On. The film is one of my all-time favourites – some might call it a guilty pleasure but for me, it is just straight up pleasure – and so an adaptation that essentially tells a different story (much like Sister Act the Musical, another of my beloved movie choices) carries the danger of not being the same. But Jeff Whitty’s book does a good job of reshuffling the deck to tell a different story but one which carries much of the same spirit (stick). Continue reading “Review: Bring It On – the Musical, Queen Elizabeth Hall”

TV Review: Silent Witness Series 8

Amanda Burton’s departure is smoothly managed as Series 8 of Silent Witness heralds a major new age for the show 

“Hard act to follow…the blessed Sam”

Given that the first 7 series of Silent Witness featured Amanda Burton’s name above the title, it is impressive that the show’s transition to life without her is effected so smoothly here. She leaves after the first story of Series 8 with a return to Northern Ireland and some long held secrets from the past and if her departure comes a little as a surprise, it’s slightly less so given how the first part of that story finishes on quite the cliffhanger.

Harry and Leo then get one story to themselves and their petty rivalries until Emilia Fox’s effervescent Dr Nikki Alexander is introduced to the team. She comes as a forensic anthropologist, focusing on Iron Age facial reconstructions but is soon co-opted into the Lyell Centre’s ways (“Why are they still involved? They’re pathologists”) in a dicey tale of horse racing and helicopters and then a truly harrowing tale of the aftermath of a train crash, stirringly written by Michael Crompton. Continue reading “TV Review: Silent Witness Series 8”

#AdventwithClowns Day 10 – Dear Evan Hansen (2021)

A film version of musical hit Dear Evan Hansen with original Broadway star Ben Platt at the helm proves to be a huge mis-step

“Can we try to have an optimistic outlook, huh?

Oh dear, it really wasn’t meant to be like this. Ben Platt has been intimately involved with Dear Evan Hansen since the start, taking part in every reading of the show through its eventual Tony-winning run on Broadway. So in some ways he’s the perfect guy to star in this cinematic adaptation, which just happens to be produced by his father, among others. But Platt is now in his late 20s, pushing at the limits to play a high-schooler, something director Stephen Chbosky acknowledges a little too blatantly with an almost Frankenstein-like treatment of prosthetics, make-up and filters that make him look like an android.

The other major problem is that this is a full-on adaptation of the musical, snatching us away from the suspension of disbelief of the stage to the harsh realities of a US high school drama. And without the fantastical flights of fancy that accompany the show’s theatrical journey – the transportative magic of Pasek and Paul’s soaring score, the ingenuity of David Korins’ digital-inspired set design  – we’re left examining Steven Levenson’s reworking of his own book with much greater scrutiny and I’m really not sure that its use of suicide and mental health hold muster in this IRL context. Continue reading “#AdventwithClowns Day 10 – Dear Evan Hansen (2021)”

TV Review: Silent Witness Series 1

Is Silent Witness the new The Bill in terms of most actors having a credit on their CV? I start a rewatch of the last 24 years with Series 1…

“They say a victim dies only once, but a scene can be murdered a thousand times”

As it approaches its 25th anniversary, and since the BBC have kindly put all 219 episodes on the iPlayer, my infinite wisdom has decided that I’m going to do a watch/rewatch of Silent Witness. I can’t be fully precise because I don’t really remember exactly when I started watching the show – it arrived on BBC1 in 1996 but my first clearest memory is actually of the brilliant, and sadly not online, French and Saunders spoof Witless Silence. (Seriously, if anyone can point to where I can watch it again, get in touch!)

Creaated by former police officer Nigel McCrery, Series 1 introduces us to the world of forensic pathology through the eyes of the Northern Irish Dr Sam Ryan, Amanda Burton getting her name above the title in the iconic leading role. And as she moves to Cambridge to take up a position aiding the police with their enquiries and also to be closer to her mother who is ailing with dementia, there’s something really quite bold in just how chilly and spiky Ryan is as the central figure. Uber-professional to be sure but defiantly uncompromising with it. Continue reading “TV Review: Silent Witness Series 1”

TV Review: The Long Call (ITV)

Gays. Juliet Stevenson. Anita Dobson. Sarah Gordy. The Long Call is practically tailor-made to my interests, and it’s also a pretty darn good TV show too

“Let’s find out if we’re dealing with a revenge killing”

With its soaringly emotive soundtrack and stunning vistas of the southern English coastline, you’d be forgiven for thinking The Long Call is something of a Broadchurch redux but its pedigree is actually something much more established. Novelist Ann Cleeves has seen two of her detective series be adapted into long-running TV shows – Vera and Shetland, both of which I’ve never seen and will doubtless get around to one day… – and so eyes are definitely on future possibilities here.

And featuring a gay male detective lead, who gets to snog his husband in the first episode no less, it is breaking boundaries (albeit the kind of ones you would have thought were broken a fair while ago). Ben Aldridge plays DI Matthew Venn, a policeman who is naturally being forced to confront his past at the same time as solving a crime which is somehow linked to that past. Raised in an Amish-like sect from whom he is now long estranged, the funeral of his father coincides with the discovery of a body on the beach and investigating the crime means dealing with his upbringing. Continue reading “TV Review: The Long Call (ITV)”

Review: Lady Chatterley’s Lover – stream.theatre

John Robinson and Phil Willmott’s musical adaptation of Lady Chatterley’s Lover is sadly uninspired and somewhat directionless

“Nothing will come between us”

Whether unfairly or not, Lady Chatterley’s Lover carries with it a degree of steamy notoriety which you might have thought would give it a leg up (or leg over) in the streaming market. But instead of taking a steer from what Sean Bean did to my teenage loins, John Robinson (music and lyrics) and Phil Willmott (book) have filleted out any hint of impropriety which rather flattens out this new musical into something a bit too dull.

Shifting the focus so fully onto the class struggles of the story, something hammered home a little too much on the nose with an undoubtedly effective split-level set from Andrew Exeter, robs it of all the emotional texture that comes from DH Lawrence’s exploration of love in its different forms. Neither book nor lyrics show any interest in the psychology of it all, instead ending up functional in the extreme and consequently not engaging enough. Continue reading “Review: Lady Chatterley’s Lover – stream.theatre”

TV Review: Too Close (ITV)

Emily Watson and Denise Gough both excel in chilling TV psychodrama Too Close

“Grief can be its own kind of hell”

Too Close comes to ITV with Clara Salaman adapting her own pseudonymous novel and Susan Tully directing the 3-part series. And rather impressive it was too, continuing to buck the (possibly unfair) preconceived notions about ITV dramas that persist in my mind. 

Emily Watson plays Dr Emma Robertson, a forensic psychiatrist returning to work after a personal tragedy, whose first case back is that of Denise Gough’s Connie Mortensen, a woman accused of a horrific case of attempted murder whose fitness to stand trial Emma must declare. Continue reading “TV Review: Too Close (ITV)”