Film Review: Death on the Nile (2022)

Kenneth Branagh returns to Poirot with Death on the Nile but for all its starry cast, it does feel rather hollow

“Mother doesn’t approve of anyone born outside of Mayfair

With Maggie Smith, Bette Davis and Angela Lansbury among the company in the 1978 film version, Kenneth Branagh was always going to be up against it in remounting Death on the Nile. But even as he assembles the compelling (Sophie Okonedo, Annette Bening), the curious (Dawn French AND Jennifer Saunders) and the controversial (Armie Hammer and Letitia Wright both having their own issues post-shoot), the end result is something quite trite.

I wasn’t much of a fan of his Murder on the Orient Express and there’s a number of the same issues that recur here. A heavy reliance on CGI is painfully conspicuous throughout which really flattens out so many scenes. And it is all very well gathering an all-star cast but if they’re not given the material to work with, then it is hard not to feel like it is a waste of their talents. Agatha Christie may bear a little responsibility in gathering such a disparate motley crew here but Branagh show no interest in helping to create more rounded characterisations. Continue reading “Film Review: Death on the Nile (2022)”

Lockdown treat: All That Jazz

Supporting the COVID-19 Emergency Relief Fund Featuring over 150 performers and musicians, reunited from across the world to present a truly unique, memorable and breath-taking performance of ‘All That Jazz’ from the legendary Kander and Ebb musical Chicago. Bringing together former Broadway, West End and International Tour company members, ‘All That Jazz’  provides plenty of razzle dazzle, featuring award winning stars that played the roles of Velma Kelly, Roxie Hard and Billy Flynn including Ute Lemper, Sally Ann Triplett, Debbie Kurup, Bonnie Langford, Sue Kelvin, Ian Kelsey, Michael Greco, David Hasselhoff, Annette McLaughlin, Gaby Roslin, and many more.

Text “SUPPORT” to 70111 to donate £5, or 70007 to donate £2 (UK ONLY) or donate any amount at www.madtrust.org.uk/covid 

News: cast albums for The Little Prince, HouseFire and Treason

A trio of cast album announcements from the last couple of weeks offers a different way to help support theatres in these trying times

Nicholas Lloyd Webber and James D. Reid have launched a crowdfunding campaign to raise £200,000 for a special recording of The Little Prince musical album and provide over 70 people in the theatre industry with jobs during the current COVID-19 pandemic

Richard E. Grant, Kevin McKidd, Sierra Boggess, Tracie Bennett, Amara Okereke and Lorna Want will all lend their support to the project by playing principal cast members. Emma Lindars, Emma Harris, Sarah Ryan, Alison Arnopp, Janet Mooney, T’Shan Williams, John Addison, Oliver Lidert, Michael Pickering, James Gant and David Durham will also be part of the cast.

Audiences can choose from a range of available rewards from the crowdfunding campaign whilst also creating essential jobs. The full list of awards can be found here: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/the-little-prince-the-album Continue reading “News: cast albums for The Little Prince, HouseFire and Treason”

Review: Chicago, Phoenix

Chicago returns to the West End at the Phoenix Theatre but is this the ideal 21st birthday present?

“He had it coming”

There’s a lot to like in this revival of Chicago (Josefina Gabrielle, Sarah Soetaert) but not quite enough to get the heart pounding (an ill-at-ease Cuba Gooding Jnr). Take a read of my 3 star review for Official Theatre here.

Running time: 2 hours 25 minutes (with interval)
Photos: Tristram Kenton
Chicago is currently booking at the Phoenix Theatre until 23rd June

Album Review: Love Never Dies (2010 Concept Album)

“The world is hard, the world is mean
It’s hard to keep your conscience clean”

I hadn’t listened to Love Never Dies since seeing its very first preview (oh how we laughed when ALW ran furious from the stalls when the set broke down) and having popped on the concept album that was released in tandem, I was soon reminded why. The not-a-sequel to Phantom of the Opera too often feels like a lazy retread of familiar ground, demonstrating zero musical progression and revealing a stagnation where there once was innovation.

The Coney Island setting undercuts any attempt to get close to the gothic horror of the opera house, the ‘freak show’ elements are desperately tame there. The swerves into rock are ill-advised in the extreme. Lyrically, there’s no ingenuity here at all, the words play second fiddle to the music to their peril And above all, the interpolation of themes from Phantom serve as a constant reminder of what this is not, and also the ultimate folly of the enterprise. Continue reading “Album Review: Love Never Dies (2010 Concept Album)”

Album Review: The Phantom of the Opera at the Royal Albert Hall

“We had such hopes…”

To celebrate its 25th anniversary, The Phantom of the Opera decamped to the Royal Albert Hall for 3 performances, the highlights of which were spliced together to give a full CD/DVD release package which contains as full a rendering of the entire score as it currently available. Maybe it was a rush job though as the sound quality on this CD really isn’t good enough for it to be genuinely recommendable, even for a live recording. 

I also had mixed feelings about the production itself. I just can’t get on with Sierra Boggess’ voice, her soprano voice always erring to the too shrill for my liking and the vibrato she employs has all the subtlety of a jackhammer. Christine isn’t the strongest-written of roles at the best of times and Boggess just feels too emotionally vapid to be the inspiration of such all-conquering adoration as she is served with in this story. Continue reading “Album Review: The Phantom of the Opera at the Royal Albert Hall”

CD Review: Evita 2006 London Cast Recording

 “Just a little touch of star quality” 

 
I haven’t done many reviews of soundtracks to shows since starting to cover CDs on here, focusing more new writing and solo albums from MT performers, but I don’t know why not as I listen to them just as much. The first I’ll cover will be the OLCR of the 2006 revival of Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s Evita, a production which revitalised this stalwart of a show in a way that I didn’t think possible and introduced me, and the rest of London’s theatregoers, to the glories of Argentinean star performer Elena Roger.

 The soundtrack, edited highlights rather than the full score, captures much of what made that production so vibrant so that it doesn’t really matter that we don’t have any of the striking visuals and choreography that accompanied this Latin American infused remounting. The orchestrations have been totally refreshed in line with this re-envisioning and with Roger’s singing leading the company, there’s just a greater sense of authenticity about the whole shebang. Continue reading “CD Review: Evita 2006 London Cast Recording”

Review: Rattigan’s Nijinsky, Chichester Festival Theatre

“The English vice is that we don’t own up to our emotions…we think they demean us”

Rattigan’s Nijinsky is something of a companion piece to the production of The Deep Blue Sea with which this is playing in rep at the Chichester Festival Theatre and sharing much of its cast. Looking to make their own unique tribute in the centenary year of Rattigan’s death, new pieces have been commissioned to play alongside his plays and here, Nicholas Wright has embroidered a story around the mystery of Rattigan’s 1974 unproduced and unpublished screenplay about ballet dancer Nijinsky and his passionate affair with Ballets Russes impresario Diaghilev.

Having been able to examine images of the original work, Wright has incorporated scenes into his own play, so we get to see Rattigan’s version of the tumultuous love affair between the older Diaghilev and his protégé, the man often cited as one of the greatest dancers ever, and the strain it was placed under due to Nijinsky’s mental fragility, something exacerbated (or even caused by?) falling into marriage with a woman. These scenes are interspersed with a modern-day (1974) narrative with an ailing Rattigan sequestered in his suite at Claridges and having to deal with Nijinsky’s widow, Romola, who is virulently objecting to his version of the events of her earlier life. Continue reading “Review: Rattigan’s Nijinsky, Chichester Festival Theatre”

Re-review: Salad Days, Riverside Studios

“It’s true I’ve been led an amazing dance,
but why should I ever complain?
If I could be given a second chance,
I’d live it all over again”

One of the greatest pleasures of writing this blog has been being able to really champion the shows that really move me, the ones that I heartily recommend to everyone in my phonebook the moment I come out of the theatre and so it was in early December with this delightful musical. The ‘little show that could’, Salad Days has risen from fairly quiet beginnings to becoming one of the hottest tickets in town and their last few weeks have been playing to packed houses. Whether it was the snowy weather in December, or the length of time it took to persuade critics to visit Hammersmith I don’t know, but the press reviews took a long time to emerge and trickled out slowly from late December onwards. What impact this had I don’t know, but this has been, from my point of view, a genuinely huge word-of-mouth success which I think is testament to just how good a show it is.

It really is so very well put-together in all aspects: the book is genuinely funny which helps of course and delivered so cleanly and earnestly by all concerned, the songs are catchy and tuneful and the structure of the show with its plentiful brief reprises lends an air of familiarity with the music even on first listen, the costumes feel authentic and the design pitched just right. And as commented before, Tête-à-Tête’s casting has been spot-on in gathering an ensemble capable of singing beautifully, un-miked into the large auditorium whilst executing Quinny Sacks’ inspired choreography. Every single aspect of this production from the entrance to the breakfast eating sequence, the people walking through the park, the club scenes and Mark Inscoe’s interval patter, feels carefully thought through and perfectly judged. Continue reading “Re-review: Salad Days, Riverside Studios”