TV Review: The English Game (2020)

Not even a precious few shots of rippling abs and a cast full of talent can save the mad folly of The English Game, someone stop Julian Fellowes now please

“Lads, football is not complicated”

Who would have thought it? Julian Alexander Kitchener-Fellowes, Baron Fellowes of West Stafford has zero facility for writing Northern working class characters. (Or on this evidence, any characters at all.) Not having watched Downton Abbey in any meaningful way (though I did suffer through the film), I wasn’t prepared for just how cringeworthily bad it would be in his Netflix series The English Game.

I remembered Lucy Mangan’s excoriation of the show in the Guardian just as the first lockdown kicked in but it has taken me this long to get round to watching it myself, despite Netflix constantly flicking it onto my homepage. And there’s actually something quite magisterial in just how jawdroppingly awful the first episode is, even with the changing room scenes that have somehow been screenshotted here. Continue reading “TV Review: The English Game (2020)”

TV Review: The Crown, Series 4 Episodes 1-3

I ration myself to Episodes 1-3 of Series 4 of The Crown in the first instance but find it is losing its lustre a little

“I’m struggling to find any redeeming features in these people at all”

Kicking off in 1977, Series 4 of The Crown swiftly moves into my lifetime with its second scene taking place in 1979, although not quite into events that I remember, at least in these first three episodes. And with the arrival of both Diana Spencer and Margaret Thatcher on the scene, there’s quite the decade to explore.

But something has gone a little awry for me and The Crown. The sheer scope of Peter Morgan’s writing means that there’s a mahoosive ensemble at work here but the nature of his construction of episodes that drill down to intimate focus means that there’s huge gaps and terrible wastage, particularly of Helena Bonham Carter’s delicious Princess Margaret. Continue reading “TV Review: The Crown, Series 4 Episodes 1-3”

Album Review: Marguerite (2008 Original London Cast Recording)

“Come see the show,
She will neither know nor care”

It is always fascinating to listen to the cast recordings of shows that are regarded to have flopped, to see whether the writing was always on the wall or if some reason was responsible for the magic not happening. Lasting just four months at the Theatre Royal Haymarket in 2008, Marguerite is one such musical, despite (or maybe because of) the weight of expectation behind its writing team.

With a book by Alain Boublil, Claude-Michel Schönberg and Jonathan Kent (from the the Alexandre Dumas, fils’ novel La Dame aux Camélias) lyrics by Alain Boublil and Herbert Kretzmer, and music by Michel Legrand, the demands on these Gallic grandees were nothing short of recreating the exceptional success of Les Misérables (on which Boublil, Schönberg and Kretzmer collaborated) but it wasn’t to be. Continue reading “Album Review: Marguerite (2008 Original London Cast Recording)”

Review: Aladdin, Prince Edward Theatre

“A hundred thousand things to see”

Say Aladdin to most people across the world, and Disney would hope that the first thing that comes to mind is their 1992 animated film. In the UK though, the title is indelibly linked to pantomime and so it feels a little incongruous to have a major musical production of it opening in the middle of June. And whilst Casey Nicholaw’s production hasn’t stimped in any conceivable way when it comes to the look of the show (striking design from Bob Crowley), there’s still a faintly hollow ring to the whole proceeding.

A big hit on Broadway, Aladdin has been pretty much replicated and transplanted into the Prince Edward. Which is good in terms of the undeniable quality of the Disney brand – the family-friendly ethos, the slickness of the design, the unexpected self-referential dips into other Disney musicals. And in the knowing performance of American Trevor Dion Nicholas as the Genie, there’s a respectful homage to the character that Robin Williams brought to life so memorably on screen, which still carves its own identity too. Continue reading “Review: Aladdin, Prince Edward Theatre”

Review: Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, West Yorkshire Playhouse

“Scrumptious as the breeze across the day”

Who knew that Leeds would be a musical theatre hotspot this December but between The Girls and this Music & Lyrics and West Yorkshire Playhouse production of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, it’s been the place to be for big, warm-hearted musical fun. This is the first new version of Chitty Chitty… since its original 2002 West End production and its many regional tours but in James Brining’s clever and wondrous adaptation, it’s thoroughly revitalised and as lovely as any cherry peach parfait.

Ian Fleming’s novel was adapted by Jeremy Sams, via Roald Dahl and Ken Hughes’ own reshaping of the story for the cinema, and with a glorious score from the Sherman Brothers (as if they could do any other kind) beefed up with new songs by them as well, it captures much of the Disney noir feel of the film whilst bringing its own depths too. I’d forgotten how much sadness there was in the tale and that’s something Brining never lets us forget, even whilst delighting us with flying cars and fun. Continue reading “Review: Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, West Yorkshire Playhouse”

Film Review: London Road

“Everybody’s very very nervous”

The theatrical production of London Road was a major success for the National Theatre, the opening run first extending in the Cottesloe and then being rewarded with a later transfer to the much larger Olivier – I was first blownaway by its originality and then later comforted by its message in the aftermath of the 2011 riots. So the news that director Rufus Norris was making a film adaptation was received with apprehensive anticipation, could this strikingly experimental piece of theatre possibly work on screen.

Writer Alecky Blythe uses a technique whereby she records interviews with people which are then edited into a play but spoken verbatim by the actors, complete with all the ums and aahs and repetitions of natural speech. And in 2006, she went to Ipswich to interview a community rocked by a series of murders, of five women in total, all sex workers, and set about telling a story not of salacious deaths but of a community learning to cleave together in trying times. Oh, and it’s all set to the most innovative of musical scores by Adam Cork, elevating ordinary speech into something quite extraordinary. Continue reading “Film Review: London Road”

Review: Sweeney Todd, West Yorkshire Playhouse

“You shouldn’t harm nobody”

It is always good to hear that major UK theatres are co-producing shows, especially with the trans-Pennine co-operation between the West Yorkshire Playhouse and the Royal Exchange on this production of Sweeney Todd – The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. I couldn’t help but wonder though how the show will make the leap from Leeds to Manchester, from the vast expanse of the Quarry to the intimacy of being in-the-round. Director James Brining has form though, this adaptation was first mounted at the Dundee Rep (and will undergo an additional transformation next year to fill the Wales Millennium Centre) and as a debut for this newly installed Artistic Director, it does feel like a canny choice.

He relocates Sondheim’s musical to the early Thatcher years, arguing her particular brand of socially transformative politics gave rise to as desperate a despondency as is familiar to us from Dickens. But what moving it out of its original Victorian context to something altogether more modern really achieves is to create an altered, and more chilling, sense of horror. It becomes a scarier psychodrama which is light on laughs and somehow more realistic as a serial killer thriller, although one does have to suspend a little disbelief when it comes to some of the finer points of transportation. Continue reading “Review: Sweeney Todd, West Yorkshire Playhouse”

DVD Review: Ballet Shoes

“Who knows what you three could achieve”

It’s lovely the way things fall together sometimes. Noel Streatfield’s book Ballet Shoes is a huge favourite in the Clowns family household – my mum enjoyed reading it as a girl and it was one of those books I loved to read and re-read in my own childhood. And whilst I was initially filled with trepidation at the prospect of a television adaptation, the cast that was announced was like something out of a fantasy dream team of dames and dames-to-be. From Eileen Atkins to Lucy Cohu, Victoria Wood, Harriet Walter and Gemma Jones, this is the kind of female cast I dream about seeing and for it to be in a story so dear to me felt just right.

That story concerns the three Fossil sisters – all adopted as young girls by Gum, a wealthy palaeontologist and adventurer, but raised by his niece Sylvia and Nana. When he fails to return from an expedition, the family are left to fend for themselves in increasingly straitened circumstances and in his absence, decide to sell off some of his extensive collections of fossils and artefacts and take in a variety of boarders. And this injection of new life into the household offers up a whole new world of opportunity for Pauline, Petrova and Posy who until now had previously been home-schooled as Posy receives the training to become the ballerina she is fated to be, Pauline is able to develop her interest in becoming an actress and Petrova can follow her passions of mechanics and following in aviator Amy Johnson’s footsteps. Continue reading “DVD Review: Ballet Shoes”

Review: The Magistrate, National Theatre

“It’s the little lies that get you into trouble”

Aged 36, the widowed Agatha Posket feared for her re-marriage prospects so when the genial Aeneas Posket, the magistrate for the Mulberry Street Police Court, arrived on the scene, she lopped 5 years off her age and promptly became Mrs Posket. The only trouble is her 19 year old son Cis whom she tells the world is actually 14 in order to make her fib fly. The farcical trials that follow as he continues to act as a 19 year old and the arrival of his godfather threatens to undo the whole deception make up the plot of Arthur Wing Pinero’s rather delightful play The Magistrate, which takes up residence at the Olivier as the National’s Christmas offering in place of The Count of Monte Cristo.

Nancy Carroll is simply sensational as Agatha, an actress in full control of her considerable gift and razor-sharp throughout. Whether layering in real pathos in lamenting the lot of a middle-aged widow, working in genuine comedy whilst extemporising wildly as chaos surrounds her or managing to make the spitting out of some bread into a moment of sheer genius, she is never less than unmissable. And she supported excellent by Joshua McGuire as her son Cis, who has a wonderful physicality and gleeful sense of timing in his teenage rampaging and Jonathan Coy’s family friend Colonel Lukyn who is pretty much scene-stealingly fantastic, a true master of comic acting which fully deserves the mid-show round of applause he received. Continue reading “Review: The Magistrate, National Theatre”

Review: His Dark Materials Part II, National Theatre

Most of what I wanted to say about His Dark Materials have been made in the earlier review of Part I, but I wanted to separate the reviews out as they are treated as separate plays although I can’t imagine anyone would just see Part I, especially with its cliff-hanger ending, and I know I couldn’t have waited any longer than the couple of hours that we did to see Part II on the same day.

This part is where some of the more obvious changes to the original books are more evident. Much of the third book has been excised, the character of Mary Malone not used here and the amber spyglass becomes less important as a result. But the story still works nonetheless, and the trip to the Land of the Dead has to rank as one of the most beautifully realised pieces of theatre I’ve ever seen, haunting and incredibly moving. Likewise, the ending to the whole story was devastatingly done, leaving me crying for a good 10 minutes after we had left the theatre even though I knew what was coming. Continue reading “Review: His Dark Materials Part II, National Theatre”