Film Review: Blithe Spirit (2020)

Despite a talented cast including Judi Dench and Dan Stevens, this cinematic version of Noël Coward’s Blithe Spirit is a big miss

“I’ll have a grilled grapefruit and a strong coffee please”

On the one hand, I knew I wouldn’t enjoy Blithe Spirit, Noël Coward’s enduring play offering increasingly diminishing returns every time it reappears. On the other, I don’t think anyone would have predicted how misjudged this film version would be, directed by Ed Hall and adapted for the screen by Piers Ashworth, Meg Leonard and Nick Moorcroft.

Coward’s plays do what they do, offering safe options for audiences (and theatre programmers) and usually attracting top actors (Jennifer Saunders and Angela Lansbury are the last two to have starred in the West End in this play). And on the face of it, the same ought to be true of a filmed version, here with Dame Judi Dench stepping into the feathered caftan of Madame Arcati. Continue reading “Film Review: Blithe Spirit (2020)”

TV Review: It’s A Sin

La. It’s A Sin is a triumphant piece of television written by Russell T Davies, a crucial if challenging watch about how HIV/AIDS cut through the gay community in 1980s London

“We’ve got this great big killer disease and it’s happening in silence”

On the face of it, a five-parter on the AIDS crisis in 1980s London isn’t what you’d necessarily pick to schedule in the depths of a Covid-blighted January. But Russell T Davies and Channel 4 have absolutely hit the mark with It’s A Sin, Dipping every couple of years into the lives of a group of friends who find each other in London’s queer corners, this journey from 1981 to 1991 takes place under the ever-growing and ever-threatening shadow of HIV/AIDS.

It’s the kind of script where you can feel that every word has been intimately felt, with characters based on Davies’ own life, At the heart of it lies Olly Alexander’s Ritchie, an 18 year old would-be law student just waiting to explode out of the closet from his Isle of Wight homelife. It being the 80s, he soon finds himself in a chaotic but fab houseshare in which a new queer family develops – Roscoe (Omari Douglas) escaping his Nigerian family’s plan to straighten him out, the dreamy Ash (Nathaniel Curtis) with his douching advice, quiet Welsh boy Colin (a superb Callum Scott Howells) and Jill (an equally excellent Lydia West) who tempts him over onto the drama course and establishes one of the key relationships of the show (reflecting one of Davies’ own and in a neat touch, the real Jill appears as the fictional Jill’s mum). Continue reading “TV Review: It’s A Sin”

10 of my top moments of the decade

Ever behind the curve, I present 10 of my top moments in a theatre over the last ten years (plus a few bonus extra ones because whittling down this list was hard, and it will probably be different tomorrow anyway!)

© James Bellorini

Extraordinary Public Acts for a National Theatre

The establishment of the Public Acts programme at the National Theatre offered up something sensational in Pericles, an initiative designed to connect grassroot community organisations with major theatres, resulting in a production that swept over 200 non-professional performers onto the stage of the Olivier to create something that moved me more than 99% of professional productions.  A truly joyous and momentous occasion. 

Honourable mention: this year’s musical take on As You Like It proved just as heart-swellingly beautiful over at the Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch. Continue reading “10 of my top moments of the decade”

Review: Edmond De Bergerac, Richmond Theatre

Don’t you love farce? Well turns out I rather did like Alexis Michalik’s Edmond De Bergerac at the Richmond Theatre

“But will the audience come?”

I do love a comedy that unexpectedly makes me laugh a lot. It is a genre, particularly when it leans towards farce, that can be a tricky one to get right and there’s nothing worse than being the only one stony-faced in a theatre full of people roaring their heads off (qv me at One Man Two Guvnors, or most Feydeau plays). But sometimes it works, sometimes there’s a Noises Off in there, and treading a similar-ish path is Alexis Michalik’s Edmond De Bergerac as it tracks the on- and off-stage shenanigans of a theatre company whilst playwright Edmond Rostand struggles to write Cyrano de Bergerac for them.

And I have to say that I chortled merrily through Roxana Silbert’s production, which has popped around the country after a run at Birmingham Rep. It is thoroughly silly, doesn’t take itself seriously for a single moment, and is consequently most enjoyable if just a touch overlong. Freddie Fox’s Rostand is a struggling writer whose last show was a flop and with the bills mounting, is blocked. His artistic juices are only stimulated when his pal Léo commissions him to write a suite of love letters to seduce a new would-be paramour on his behalf and the spark of a new play ignites as life imitates art imitates life and opening night fast approaches. Continue reading “Review: Edmond De Bergerac, Richmond Theatre”

TV Review: Luther Series 5

Luther Series 5 aka the one that maybe goes too far?

“Can we do that?
‘Within parameters…'”

Not quite flogging a dead horse yet, but the much anticipated fifth series of Luther indulges its title character far too much  in the name of shocks and thrills, whilst simultaneously begging us not to misunderstand him, Nina Simone’s glorious voice plays out over the violent wreckage of the final scene.

As a crime drama, Neil Cross’ Luther really does manage to come up with inventively appalling serial killers and attackers that seem design to lurk in nightmares (the bus murder here…). But it is also increasingly tied up in the mythology of the show itself, the design here clearly aiming for some kind of apotheosis. Continue reading “TV Review: Luther Series 5”

Not-a-review: Sylvia, Old Vic

I’m opting not to review Sylvia but rather to haul the Old Vic over the coals for a bit of a shambolic handling of the situation

“Time’s up, there’ll be no more waiting”

Hindsight is a great thing but the team at the Old Vic will have to look back at how they handled the difficult genesis of Sylvia and take some severe lessons. Some things were unquestionably out of their control, like the disruption of cast illness, but others were not. The apparent development of the show from a dance-led piece to a full-blown musical did not happen overnight and so to cite that as an excuse for the piece not being ready, to reclassify the production as a work-in-progress midway through the run is disingenuous to say the least, especially when people are still being charged £45 to see it.

It is a piece that is bounding with potential, clicking into a theatre landscape in London which feels unusually switched on at the moment (Misty and Emilia to name but two kicks up its backside), but we do still feel like we’re in rough draft territory here, hence my decision not to review. (It has provoked some strange reactions in the press though – four stars from Billers? Time Out showing their ass about colour-blind casting?) The music by Josh Cohen and DJ Walde and the book by Kate Prince and Priya Parmar both need substantial refinement from its baggy three hours plus, but you can see the work being put in, and which will continue to be put in until Sylvia re-emerges (next year apparently) better equipped to smash that patriarchy.

 

Review: Dick Whittington, Lyric Hammersmith

“Are you fond of cake?

‘Definitely, I’m northern’”

How come there haven’t been any pantomime reviews on here this year?

I’m not going to go to any pantos this year.

Oh yes you are.

Oh no I’m not. Well, maybe one or two. This one is written by Tom Wells after all.

He’s behind you.

No he isn’t, he was sat in the stalls last night though and we were in the circle.

DICK!

Review: Albion, Bush Theatre

“They killed your sister. They took over your karaoke night”

Chris Thompson had a big success with his first play Carthage at the Finborough Theatre which was a… WHY WHY WHY DELILAH. And now his follow-up play Albion has opened at the Bush…. SWING IT SHAKE IT MOVE IT MAKE IT WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE. It’s a bit of a challenging work as it plays with traditional structure to incorporate the fine art of karaoke as a storytelling device…HERE COMES THE HOTSTEPPER, MURDERER…(well, sometimes, and then sometimes it is just karaoke)…NAA NANANANAA NANANANAA NANANAA NANANAA NANANANAAA into its tale of how an extremist right-wing group takes root in an East End boozer.

In an interview about the show, dramaturg Rob Drummer speaks of how “the rise of the far right needs to be understood now more than ever” but it is never abundantly clear how this chosen format is an appropriate or effective one to enable such understanding. As you can see from the opening paragraph, it can be a little disarming to have characters break out into song in the middle of conversations, especially when there is a tenuous link at best but more frustrating is the lack of consistency in the way in which music is used. The interpolation of ‘The Rose’ into a key scene is a genuinely moving moment and with its verses scattered through the company, ‘Seven Nation Army’ becomes a brutally effective rallying call. Continue reading “Review: Albion, Bush Theatre”

Review: I Can’t Sing, Palladium Theatre

“It’s a no, it’s a yes, it’s a no from me”

One of the most profitable television franchises in the UK, a much-loved comedian writing the book, a £6 million budget…there’s clearly considerable heft behind the latest musical to establish itself in the London Palladium. But the marriage of Harry Hill’s bizarre comic sensibility, Steve Brown’s bright if hollow score and the ITV juggernaut that is the X-Factor makes for uneasy bedfellows, Sean Foley’s garish production eschewing any kind of subtlety for the broadest kind of populist swoop.

I Can’t Sing is a show that constantly wants to have its cake and eat it. Faux-Dermot presenter Liam O’Deary gets a laugh by exasperating at one point “I don’t know why you might be charged” when the phone lines have closed, presumably the response “because they continue to make money for the production company” was mixed in previews. The TV show’s heavy reliance on tear-jerking backstories is a running gag yet nothing dispels the myth that that is the way to get noticed on a talent show. Likewise the qualifications of the panel to be judges of a popular music contest are skewered yet they remain feted as a special brand of celebrity. Continue reading “Review: I Can’t Sing, Palladium Theatre”

Review: All My Sons, Royal Exchange

“This thing – this thing is not over yet”

A towering giant of the American dramatic canon, Arthur Miller’s All My Sons rarely lacks for productions on British stages but it can rarely have been delivered as well as it has in Michael Buffong’s production for his Talawa Theatre Company at Manchester’s Royal Exchange. Though written and set in 1947, its story still resonates out across timelines, colour lines and borderlines as the horror of sending soldiers out to combat with sub-standard equipment remains a brutal reality even today. 

Don Warrington’s Joe Keller is a self-made businessman whose proudest achievement has been his gradual progression from humble beginnings to a man of means and thus status. But in order to get where he has, he allowed his business partner to take the rap for a fatal mistake in his factory which led to horrifically tragic consequences and though Joe and his wife have managed a life in denial, a change in their family circumstances forces them to confront the true ramifications of his actions. Continue reading “Review: All My Sons, Royal Exchange”