Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 4

“Donna Noble has left the library. Donna Noble has been saved”

And here we are, my favourite series of Doctor Who. So much huge wonderfulness and even its less good moments are still more than halfway decent. Key to the series’ success is Catherine Tate’s Donna Noble – gobby and one-dimensional in her introductory episode the Christmas special The Runaway Bride, her character journey throughout this season is magisterially constructed, a true awakening of self (with thankfully no romantic inclinations towards our Time Lord) and one given unbearable poignancy due to its frustratingly tragic end.

It’s also one of the best constructed series in terms of its over-arching season arc, its warnings and clues layered meaningfully into several stories and building into a momentous and properly climactic finale, which lands just about the right level of grandiosity. There’s also the first companion-lite episode (the superbly creepy Midnight) to go with the Doctor-lite one (the achingly beautiful dystopian Turn Left); a typically brilliant Moffat double-header in  Silence in the Library and Forest of the Dead with gorgeous work from Alex Kingston as the soon-to-be-hugely-significant River Song; and if the return of Rose undoes some of the emotional impact of the Series 2 finale, Billie Piper’s work is spikily powerful. These are episodes I can, and have, watched over and over again.

Continue reading “Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 4”

Film Review: Mr Turner (2014)

“There’s no room for cynicism in the reviewing of art”

One might equally say there’s no room for cynicism in my reviewing of Mike Leigh’s work, such a fan of his oeuvre am I and the laidback, gruff charms of Mr Turner are no exception, confirming the iconic director in the full flush of his prime. Timothy Spall has already been deservedly rewarded for his wonderfully harrumphing performance of the last 10 years of the life of this most famous of painters and it is a compelling portrait, of a man established in his world as a bachelor, a master painter, and later a lover. Leigh’s episodic style fits perfectly into this biographical mode, dipping in and out of his life with the precision of one of Turner’s paintbrushes, colouring in a captivating collage of his later life.

Spall is excellent but around him, the women in his life provide some of the most hauntingly beautiful moments of the film. As Sarah Danby, the mistress and mother of the two daughters he would not recognise, Ruth Sheen is piercingly vivid, her barely contained fury resonating deeply. As Hannah Danby, her niece who was Turner’s long-suffering and long-serving housekeeper, Dorothy Atkinson is painfully brilliant as a woman subjugated and subdued by his wanton sexual advances, the psoriasis that afflicted her, and her deep love for the man. As “self-taught Scotswoman” and scientist Mary Somerville, Lesley Manville near steals the film in a simply beautiful self-contained vignette. Continue reading “Film Review: Mr Turner (2014)”

DVD Review: Stage Beauty

“A woman playing a woman, where’s the trick in that” 

Any film with Clare Higgins yelling ‘give me back my merkin’ is surely destined for stone cold classic status but 2004’s Stage Beauty seems to have slipped from people’s minds whereas I always remembered it as a film I really enjoyed, more so that Shakespeare in Love. Much will depend on your opinion of Claire Danes but this tale of the rapidly changing world of the theatre during Charles II’s reign proved much more enjoyable than Shakespeare in Love ever did, and offers a fascinating, even-handed look at how both the men and women of the stage were affected by the decision to ban the former from playing the latter.

Billy Crudup’s Ned Kynaston has become one of the top actors in town, specialising in female characters like Othello’s Desdemona in which he frequently steals the show and aided by his faithful dresser Maria, played by Danes. She has a burning desire to act on the stage herself but since the Puritans outlawed such a thing in professional theatres, she’s limited to appearing in grubby pub theatres on the fringe (plus ça change…). The thespian desires of Charles’ ambitious mistress Nell Gwynn seem set to change that completely though, along with the fortunes of all concerned. Continue reading “DVD Review: Stage Beauty”

Fed up with football? World Cup theatre offers

“Football crazy, football mad”

The World Cup kicks off on Thursday 12th June in São Paolo and will run for a goodly month as 64 games are played throughout Brazil (I’m tipping Bosnia and Colombia to do well, and Rooney to get sent off in his first game). Television and work schedules will be all askew as people try and wrestle with the time difference so the people at Theatre People have teamed up with a starting squad of West End stars to highlight a month of offers and discounts to wide range of shows which offer an alternative to sitting in and watching men in shorts on telly.  Continue reading “Fed up with football? World Cup theatre offers”

Re-review: Handbagged, Vaudeville Theatre

 “One had to laugh”

Definitely something of a luxury revisit this one, my third time seeing it. But as Moira Buffini’s Handbagged has grown from a sketch as part of the Tricycle’s 2010 Women, Power and Politics season through to an Olivier-winning full length play which has now transferred into the West End, the chance to see its third incarnation was one I couldn’t resist. Not just seeing it on a larger stage, the one change to the cast from last year’s Tricycle production was what sold it to me. 

Lucy Robinson may not be the most recognisable name out there but she played the first Lady Macbeth I ever saw on stage (at the Bolton Octagon) and she also starred in the most amazing schlocky late-night soap called Revelations back in the 90s which I was obsessed with at the time. She replaces Clare Holman as the younger version of the Queen (Liz) who locks horns regularly with Fenella Woolgar’s awesomely impressive Thatcher (Mags), in a hugely entertaining manner.  Continue reading “Re-review: Handbagged, Vaudeville Theatre”

Radio Review: The Boy At The Back / Chiwawa / Silk: The Clerks’ Room, Jake

“Literature doesn’t teach us anything”

Juan Mayorga’s The Boy At The Back turned out to be one of my favourite radio dramas that I’ve listened to this year so far. A canny choice for producer/director Nicolas Jackson as Mayorga is one of Spain’s most highly renowned contemporary writers (which makes me a little sad that this is the first I’ve heard of him) and this play proved to be a most effective psychological drama as a precocious pupil and deluded teacher play out a dangerously voyeuristic pas-de-deux that threatens many people around them.

By comparison, Melissa Murray’s Chiwawa might have felt a little bit tame, but its tale of a self-important author trolling around on the internet, leaving anonymous reviews slagging off his rival’s work and bigging up his own, has a deliciously biting contemporary feel. Michael Bertenshaw’s writer is lots of pompous fun but the real joy comes from Fenella Woolgar as his manipulative wife and current RSC darling Pippa Nixon as the PA she forces to shoulder the blame for the mishaps, with unpredictable consequences. Continue reading “Radio Review: The Boy At The Back / Chiwawa / Silk: The Clerks’ Room, Jake”

DVD Review: Silk, Series 1

“245 women silks ever, out of tens of thousands”

I do love a legal drama and so too does Peter Moffat. I’m forever grateful for him for the Helen McCrory-starring joy that was North Square and I’ve recently caught up with the two series of Criminal Justice that he was responsible for, so it was only natural that I should be a big fan of Silk. But as the time pressures of a busy theatre schedule rarely let go, it wasn’t something I had time to watch live and it was only with its arrival on Netflix that I was able to catch up with it. The show focuses on a single chambers with two leading lights both hoping to be appointed Queen’s Counsel, “taking silk” as it were, and dealing with the pressures of life at the Bar.

Casting Maxine Peake and Rupert Penry-Jones as the rivals Martha Costello and Clive Reader works extremely well – her fierce intelligence and emotional counterbalance being perfectly portrayed by the ever-strong Peake and Penry-Jones making Reader something of an arrogant buffoon yet one with some redeeming qualities as he competes and consoles, seduces and shines his way through life. Over the six episodes, the focus is mainly on Martha and her dilemmas as she finds herself pregnant at a time of huge professional significance, but the series as a whole makes for a modern and exciting version of a legal drama. Continue reading “DVD Review: Silk, Series 1”

Radio Review: Pride and Prejudice, Radio 4

“I think the temptations will be too strong in Brighton”

 Just a quickie for this 3 hour adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice which was spread over 3 weeks and so proved to be quite a drawn-out experience. Charlotte Jones’ dramatisation, directed by Sally Avens, worked extremely well, thanks to a spiffingly high-quality cast. Current RSC darling Pippa Nixon ad Jamie Parker took on the leading couple, Samantha Spiro as Mrs Bennett, Toby Jones as Mr Collins, Fenella Woolgar as Miss Bingley…the list goes on. And narrated by Amanda  Root, it was practically tailor-made for me.

Which made the scheduling a tad frustrating, the week-long gaps a little too long for my apparent attention span these days whereas I would have rather binged on the whole thing in one go. But it was good. Parker taking a little getting used to as Darcy but getting there, connecting well with Nixon’s vibrant Elizabeth. Lydia Wilson making a compassionate Jane, Michelle Terry the same with Charlotte Lucas, David Troughton’s Mr Bennett resignedly pleasant against Spiro’s over-exuberant wife. A genuine pleasure.

fosterIAN awards 2013

 WinnerRunner-upOther nominees
Best Actress in a PlayMarianne Jean-Baptiste, The Amen CornerMichelle Terry, A Midsummer Night's Dream (Globe)Lucy Ellinson, Grounded
Stella Gonet/Fenella Woolgar, Handbagged
Lesley Manville, Ghosts (Almeida)
Shuna Snow, Iron
Best Actor in a PlayPhilip Duguid-McQuillan & Jamie Samuel, Jumpers for GoalpostsAl Weaver, The PrideBrian Cox, The Weir
Hugo Koolschijn, Scenes from a Marriage (Toneelgroep Amsterdam)
Benedict Wong, Chimerica
Best Supporting Actress in a PlayLinda Bassett, RootsDeborah Findlay, CoriolanusAnna Calder-Marshall, The Herd
Isabella Laughland, The Same Deep Water As Me
Hadewych Minis, Scenes from a Marriage (Toneelgroep Amsterdam)
Cecilia Noble, The Amen Corner
Best Supporting Actor in a PlayPearce Quigley, A Midsummer Night's Dream (Globe)Roeland Fernhout, Scenes from a Marriage (Toneelgroep Amsterdam)Richard McCabe, The Audience
Jeff Rawle, Handbagged
Andy Rush, Jumpers for Goalposts
Alexander Vlahos, Macbeth (MIF)
Best Actress in a MusicalRosalie Craig, The Light PrincessCynthia Erivo, The Color PurpleZrinka Cvitešić, Once the musical
Anita Dobson, Carnival of the Animals
Scarlett Strallen, A Chorus Line
Charlotte Wakefield, The Sound of Music
Best Actor in a MusicalKyle Scatliff, Scottsboro Boys Declan Bennett, Once the musicalDavid Birrell, Sweeney Todd
Nick Hendrix, The Light Princess
Matt Smith, American Psycho
Michael Xavier, The Sound of Music
Best Supporting Actress in a MusicalLeigh Zimmerman, A Chorus LineNicola Hughes, The Color PurpleAmy Booth-Steel, The Light Princess
Katie Brayben, American Psycho
Cassidy Janson, Candide
Sophia Nomvete, The Color Purple
Best Supporting Actor in a MusicalKit Orton, The Hired ManMichael Matus, The Sound of MusicBen Aldridge, American Psycho
Christian Dante White, Scottsboro Boys
Kane Oliver Parry, The Light Princess
Gary Wood, A Chorus Line