TV Review: Last Tango in Halifax Series 4

“You’re not going down South?”

It’s hard not to be a little disappointed with the fact that Series 4 of Last Tango in Halifax consists of only two episodes. But when the drama is of this good a quality, you can’t begrudge Sally Wainwright taking her foot off the pedal here just a little (her Brontë Sister drama To Walk Invisible is also on over the festive period). And even with just 2 hours of television to play with, she still packs a lot in.

Still mourning the loss of Kate and adjusting to life as a single mother to Flora, Sarah Lancashire’s Caroline uproots her family to the rural outskirts of Huddersfield as she’s taken a new headship at a state school there. And newlywed Gillian is struggling with guilt of what she did to her new husband’s brother, to whom she was also married. Meanwhile, Alan and Celia are sucked into the world of am-dram.

Continue reading “TV Review: Last Tango in Halifax Series 4”

TV Review: Last Tango In Halifax Series 3

“You can’t put a price on avoiding deep vein thrombosis”

I sat down to watch the new episodes of Last Tango in Halifax on the iPlayer but only as it started, did I realise that I had somehow neglected to watch Series 3 when it aired a couple of years ago. So having tracked it down, I indulged in a good old binge of quality Sally Wainwright drama. I loved Series 1 and Series 2 but in the final analysis, found this third season to be a little disappointing by comparison.

Since we’re more than two years down the line now, I think I can safely discuss the main reason for this – the killing-off of Nina Sosanya’s Kate in an unexpected incident of Dead Lesbian Syndrome. It was a high value example of the trope as well, considering it happened on the day after her wedding to Sarah Lancashire’s Caroline and whilst she was heavily pregnant with the child they intended to raise together. Continue reading “TV Review: Last Tango In Halifax Series 3”

CD Review: Derek Jacobi and Anne Reid and Michael Ball and Alfie Boe

“Shall we dance?‘I thought you’d never ask!'”

Though Derek Jacobi and Anne Reid and Michael Ball and Alfie Boe could form a weirdly intriguing supergroup, it’s actually two separate CDs that they’ve released in pairs. Last Tango In Halifax co-stars Derek Jacobi and Anne Reid have their gently swinging You Are The Best Thing… That Ever Has Happened To Me and powerhouse belters Michael Ball and Alfie Boe and come Together for a booming musical theatre extravaganza.

Recorded with the Jason Carr Quartet, You Are The Best Thing… is exactly how you’d imagine an album by two such national treasures would play out. Standards like ‘The Way You Look Tonight’ and ‘I Wish I Were In Love Again’ rub shoulders with lesser known tracks (to me at least) like ‘I May Be Wrong (but I Think You’re Wonderful), and ‘You Haven’t Changed At All’ and the mood is one of exquisitely tailored classiness. Continue reading “CD Review: Derek Jacobi and Anne Reid and Michael Ball and Alfie Boe”

Finalists of 2016 Stephen Sondheim Society Student Performer of the Year

Kirsty Ingram (ArtsEd)
Abigail Fitzgerald (Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts)
Dafydd Gape (Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama)
Tabitha Tingey (Royal Conservatoire of Scotland)
Adam Small (Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts)
Ashley Reyes (LAMDA)
Callum McGuire (Oxford School of Drama)
Lauren Drew (Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts)
Eleanor Jackson (Bristol Old Vic Theatre School)
Emily Day (Performance Preparation Academy)
Edward Laurenson
Courtney Bowman (Guildford School Of Acting)

Host: Julian Ovenden
Judges: Edward Seckerson (Chair), Jason Carr, Sophie-Louise Dann, Anne Reid and Thea Sharrock

Review: Hey, Old Friends, Theatre Royal Drury Lane

Stop worrying where you’re going—move on”

Theatreland does like to make sure every anniversary gets marked somehow and so following on from the celebrations around Les Misérables’ 30th birthday earlier this month is a similar hoohah for Stephen Sondheim’s 85th year on this planet. As is de rigueur for these events, a gala concert has been put on for the occasion with the kind of rollcall you could only normally dream of and naturally, Hey, Old Friends! had the price tag to go along with it.

As with Les Mis (which donated to Save The Children’s Syria Children’s appeal), the show benefitted charitable purposes, specifically The Stephen Sondheim Society and telephone helpline service The Silver Line, harnessing the major fundraising potential of such events. That said, these tickets tend to be so expensive that there’s a nagging feeling that they’re serving a limited audience with few opportunities for regular theatregoers to be a part of them. Continue reading “Review: Hey, Old Friends, Theatre Royal Drury Lane”

DVD Review: The Mother

Would you come to the spare room with me?” 

It is remarkable that even now, 10 years after it was released, it is difficult to name another film aside from The Mother which has dealt so openly with the sexuality of older people, specifically older women. Can it really still be something of a taboo subject? One would like to think not but a sneaking suspicion remains that this might just be the case. Thus this film, directed by Roger Michell from Hanif Kureishi’s story, is all the more special, not least because it is also a rather spectacularly good piece of work.

Anne Reid plays May, a Northern grandmother in her sixties who finds herself bundled down to London where her two children live, after the sudden death of her husband. But metropolitan life leaves her nonplussed and in the face of her children’s disinterest in her welfare over the dramas of their own lives, she finds herself spending more and more time with Daniel Craig’s Darren. He’s building a conservatory for her son and is sleeping with her daughter, but an irresistible connection grows between the pair which eventually turns into a sexual affair, the fallout from which scatters its shockwaves far and wide. Continue reading “DVD Review: The Mother”

DVD Review: Song for Marion

“I am a bit scared”

I wanted very much to like Song for Marion, the Paul Andrew Williams film retitled Unfinished Song for the North American market (was that purely because the Diane Warren-penned Céline Dion song that unexpectedly plays over the end credits has that title?), but its generic tear-jerking qualities which seem to borrow from any number of recent heart-warming Brit-flicks fall flat in the face of its good intentions. Vanessa Redgrave plays Marion, terminally ill but determined to live what life remains to the full by singing in a local choir called the OAPz. Her husband Arthur is diametrically opposed though, Terence Stamp characterising excellently his emotional repression and unspoken grief at the way in which life has turned out and only grudgingly prepared to build the bridges he needs to carry on life without his wife in the way she wants him to.

Stamp and Redgrave pair beautifully as this mis-matched couple – his gruffly taciturn nature keeping a constant edge in the saccharine morass, her instinctive vivacity tempered by a wonderful sense of the ordinary – and their family dynamic, along with divorced son (Christopher Eccleston) and granddaughter, is well-drawn, most affecting as they come to terms with the speed of her demise. But the focus of the film settles on the music group led by Gemma Arterton’s relentlessly perky Elizabeth and it is here that Williams comes undone when dealing with his older company. Elizabeth has her choir singing rap and rock songs like Salt’n’Pepa’s ‘Let’s Talk About Sex’ and Motörhead’s ‘Ace of Spades’ but there’s never any emotional connection to the material. It’s just there for the shock value and so there’s an uncomfortable feeling that we’re closer to laughing at than with the choir.  Continue reading “DVD Review: Song for Marion”

Radio Review: The Oresteia – The Libation Bearers / The 40 Year Twitch

“Kill her and be free”

Greek tragedies are never a light affair but The Libation Bearers, the second part of Aeschylus’ Oresteia trilogy is particularly brutal. Following on from the vengeful fury of Clytemnesta slaying her husband Agamemnon for sacrificing their daughter Iphigenia to the gods, the thirst for revenge switches to her other children Electra and Orestes, the latter of whom returning from exile to kill his mother for murdering his father. He’s got his own permission from the gods so it’s ok and urged on by a viciously determined Electra to conquer his nagging doubts, he sets about steeling himself for such a deed.

Ed Hime’s new version is highly atmospheric and swirls effectively on the edge of the mystical. His Chorus of slave women are voiced by Amanda Lawrence, Carys Eleri and Sheila Reid, their cracked voices recalling Macbeth’s Weird Sisters in urging Will Howard’s solid Orestes towards matricide. Lesley Sharp is strong again as Clytemnesta, haunted by her misdeeds and Electra is given a chilling intensity by Joanne Froggatt – I just find it interesting that there is no attempt to understand her mother’s actions, instead Agamemnon is venerated as the greatest leader ever despite the fact he had her sister killed. Continue reading “Radio Review: The Oresteia – The Libation Bearers / The 40 Year Twitch”

TV Review: Last Tango in Halifax Series 2

If she’s sat through King Lear, she’ll want to lie down”

Series 1 of Last Tango in Halifax really was a piece of great British television and so it was most gratifying to see it receive critical and commercial acclaim and thus be recommissioned for a second series. And clearly conscious of what made it such a success first time round, Sally Wainwright hasn’t changed much at all, especially not the quality of her writing, or the show’s (sadly) remarkable focus on the older generations.

We left Series 1 with (almost) childhood sweethearts Alan and Celia reunited at his hospital bed after her homophobia and his heart attack but moving swiftly on, the focus of this new set of six episodes subtly shifted towards their daughters – Sarah Lancashire’s somewhat prim Caroline and Nicola Walker’s earthy Gillian. And the show really benefitted from this I think, these two superb actresses relishing the richly complex characterisations of two richly complex women. Continue reading “TV Review: Last Tango in Halifax Series 2”

Review: Marple – Nemesis

“How do you know?”

Working my way through the works of Ruth Wilson, I came across an episode of Marple in which she appeared, but the most striking thing about was the name of the director – Nicolas Winding Refn. Yes, the man better known for films such as Drive, Pusher and Only God Forgives once directed an episode of Marple for ITV back in 2008 when Geraldine McEwan was playing the role of the intrepid sleuth, a choice he now admits was made entirely because he was broke and one which was full of frustrations for him. And as you can see for yourselves on the YouTube clip below, it isn’t really the finest of works.

For those familiar with the novel, this adaptation takes huge liberties with the story as to be almost unrecognisable from the source. And sadly, it never feels like any of the changes were worthwhile, strictly necessary or indeed effective. In this version of Nemesis, Marple is still invited to solve a murder by an old colleague John Rafiel by taking part of a Daffodil Tour Company mystery tour with a carefully selected group of people who, as always, are more connected that first impressions reveal. Continue reading “Review: Marple – Nemesis”