TV Review: I Hate Suzie

Billie Piper and Lucy Prebble reunite and collaborate to great success with the sharply funny I Hate Suzie

“I’m sorry the world’s seen your dick, but also – fuck off, slightly”

Lucy Prebble and Billie Piper’s creative relationship has covered TV (Secret Diary of a Call Girl, the first season at least) and theatre (the excellent The Effect) and was recently reignited with Sky series I Hate Suzie. Drawing something of personal history, the show follows a former teen pop star turned sci-fi actress as she deals with a phone hacking incident which leaves problematic intimate photos of her scattered on the internet.

The eight episodes cycle through, and are titled after, stages of trauma – Shock, Denial, Fear, Shame, Bargaining, Guilt, Anger, and Acceptance – representing the indubitably self-centered Suzie’s processing of her experience. And it is a highly entertaining, linear journey, one which Suzie barrelling forward with an interesting lack of recurring characters – even her family members only get the one episode in which to appear, such is the pace of the high-maintenance that she is alternately trying to salvage and sabotage. Continue reading “TV Review: I Hate Suzie”

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”

July theatre round-up

I might have taken a break from reviewing for the last couple of months, but I didn’t stop going to the theatre. Here’s some brief thoughts on most of what I saw  in July.

On Your Feet, aka the rhythm will get you, sometimes
the end of history…, aka how can you get cheese on toast so wrong
Equus, aka hell yes for Jessica Hung Han Yun’s lighting design
Games for Lovers, aka straight people be crazy
Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, aka the one that got my goat
The Girl on the Train, aka Philip McGinley in shorts
A Midsummer Night’s Dream, aka Another Dream? dream on
Uncle Vanya, aka I really need to stop booking for plays like this with casts like that 
Jellyfish, aka justice for the second best play of last year
Sweat, aka Clare Perkins should always be on in the West End
Sue Townsend’s The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 3/4 The Musical, aka yay for lovely new musicals in the West End
The Light in the Piazza, aka Molly Lynch fricking nails it
Jesus Christ Superstar, aka was third time the charm?
Continue reading “July theatre round-up”

Review: Strictly Ballroom the Musical, Piccadilly

Baz Luhrmann’s Strictly Ballroom the Musical may not be the strongest musical in the world, but it’s a stronger piece of musical theatre, thanks to Drew McOnie’s choreography

“Pam Shortt’s broken both her legs, and I wanna dance with you”

It is fascinating to be able to follow the development of a show, particularly one that has morphed as much as Strictly Ballroom the Musical. I saw it at the West Yorkshire Playhouse the winter before last, where it didn’t quite set my world on fire, so I was intrigued to hear that its arrival in the West End at the Piccadilly would be accompanied by quite the overhaul, still directed and choreographed by Drew McOnie.

The major change to this adaptation of Baz Luhrmann’s 1992 cult hit movie comes with the introduction of bandleader Wally Strand, played by Will Young, an MC figure and human jukebox who takes on the vast majority of the evening’s singing. And as we skip from Grace Jones to Billy Idol, via Bowie, Whitney and Cyndi, it’s a real pleasure to hear him sing Marius De Vries’ brilliant new arrangements. Continue reading “Review: Strictly Ballroom the Musical, Piccadilly”

Review: Strictly Ballroom, West Yorkshire Playhouse

“I don’t know if you are illusion”

Hoping for a ten from Len and to avoid the dreaded dis-sah-ter from Craig, Baz Luhrmann’s Strictly Ballroom arrives for its UK premiere at the West Yorkshire Playhouse. Best known in its 1992 film version, it actually began life as a play in the mid-1980s when it became big in Czechoslovakia as well as Luhrmann’s native Australia and perhaps appropriately, it is now Drew McOnie who takes the directorial chair, the choreographer-director’s rising star an ideal fit for a musical all about dance.

And what dance it is. We’re in the world of competitive ballroom dancing and we’re treated to a wide range of routines from rehearsals to all-out performances and much inventive work in-between, especially where mirrors are involved. And in all this freedom of expression, there’s a crystal-clear distillation of the story’s message in the sheer joy of dancing for fun and the power of following an individual path. But the show isn’t just dance, it’s words and music as well and there, it is less sure-footed.

Continue reading “Review: Strictly Ballroom, West Yorkshire Playhouse”

Review: Sunset at the Villa Thalia, National

“Something Greek sounds good”

It’s the ideal isn’t it, shipping off to a Greek island to escape grey clouds in June and point-settling about plus ones, and its what Charlotte and Theo have done in Alexi Kaye Campbell’s new play Sunset at the Villa Thalia. He’s a playwright seeking inspiration, she’s an actress who loves him very much, and so they’re renting a cottage on the idyllic isle of Skiathos. But the year is 1967, a momentous year in Greece’s political history, and the American couple they’ve bumped into at the port aren’t quite as benign as they might seem.

Harvey and June are swiftly invited over for drinks on the terrace and as tongues are loosened on the ouzo, we discover that he works for the US government in a shadowy role. With these heavy hints of the CIA, we discover what Kaye Campbell is up to as it was American intervention – in aid of stifling the threat of Soviet expansion – that arguably partly facilitated the military coup that’s about to happen. And it’s not just nations he’s manipulating but the people around him, as he convinces Charlotte and Theo to buy the cottage from its desperate owners who are emigrating to Australia. Continue reading “Review: Sunset at the Villa Thalia, National”

Review: In The Heights, King’s Cross Theatre

 

“Since when are Latin people scared of heat?”

There’s something about a really good musical that makes it a pleasure to go back and revisit and so it is with In The Heights, its fresh contemporary edge hugely exciting to witness and so full of visual and lyrical interest that re-viewing brings up many things that I missed first time round. My 5* review for Cheap Theatre Tickets can be read there and I urge you to book as soon as possible, if only because Victoria Hamilton-Barritt is getting increasingly pregnant (funny how that happens!) and she is unmissable in the role of Daniela (although equally, it will be interesting to see how whoever covers the role performs it once she leaves).

Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes (with interval) 
Photo: Robert Workman
Booking until 3rd January

Review: In The Heights, King’s Cross Theatre

“Well you must take the A Train
Even farther than Harlem 
To northern Manhattan and
maintain 
Get off at 181st, and
take the escalator 
I hope you’re writing this 
Down, I’m gonna test ya later” 

Lin-Manuel Miranda’s stock could not be higher with his new show Hamilton taking Broadway by storm so it’s an apposite time for this belated transfer of his earlier musical In The Heights, with book written by Quiara Alegría Hudes. Undoubtedly one of the best shows of 2014, Luke Sheppard’s production blew the roof off the Southwark Playhouse and is now poised to do the same at the King’s Cross Theatre with many of the original cast and creatives returning to give us a slice of life from the New York Hispanic community of Washington Heights. 

Nothing has been lost in the move, the whole production just sparks with vivid life. From takis’ effective sidewalk design (now with added movable fire escape) to the pure joy of Drew McOnie’s choreography, the reconfigured staging releases a newer, raw energy that blooms into the space. And with Gabriella Slade’s day-glo bright costumes, the vibrant splashes of Howard Hudson’s lighting and the crispness of Gareth Owen’s sound design, complemented well by Phil Cornwell’s musical direction, Sheppard keeps the show firing excitingly at full throttle throughout. Continue reading “Review: In The Heights, King’s Cross Theatre”

Review: Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris, Charing Cross Theatre

“Quand on n’a que l’amour

A s’offrir en partage”

No he’s not. Jacques Brel is dead and buried in French Polynesia next to Paul Gauguin but his unmistakable spirit is to be found in the oddly sterile surroundings of the Charing Cross Theatre in this revue of the music that made a maître of the world of chanson. Comprising nearly 30 of his songs performed by a company of four, director Andrew Keates has made a determined choice to avoid the concert-type presentation often associated with revues for something much more theatrical.

It is a choice that mostly works. Brel’s music explored the length and breadth of the human condition and Keates uses this to offer a wide variety of staging choices for the material, treating each song almost as its own little world whether it is love lost, love found, sailors drinking or funerals watched. They come in different forms too, a music hall vaudeville turn here, a dramatic scene played out amongst the cabaret tables up front there, and some pure uncomplicated singing for good measure too. Continue reading “Review: Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris, Charing Cross Theatre”

Re-review: In The Heights, Southwark Playhouse

“Since when are Latin people scared of heat?”

I can’t remember the exact moment when I knew I would book to see In The Heights again but it would definitely be somewhere in the first 10 minutes of watching it the first time. There was a certain amount of expectation resting on the shoulders of this production – the show was brand new to me but it was impossible to ignore the excitement of those were previously familiar with it – and so I had a little trepidatious fear that I might be swimming against the tide with this one. But I could not have been more wrong – as my original review will attest – and so I nabbed a pair of tickets for the final week within minutes of getting home!

There isn’t really too much more to say about the show than to commend it for maintaining such a magnificent level of energy throughout its run, it feels as fresh and punchy as it did last time and that is no mean feat with such a physically demanding piece as this. There’s a wonderfully teasing note on their website which says sign up here to be kept informed of the future of this production and it would be a well-deserved success for all concerned if a transfer was secured. I really hope they find a space suitable though, as whilst many may cry ‘it should be in the West End’, so much of its unique joy comes from the intimacy of this studio configuration.  

Photo: Robert Workman