The only real pleasure in this TV version of Four Weddings and a Funeral is hearing Alex Jennings say “Yes, I suppose you were somewhat of a basic bitch” with a straight face
“You’re insane and watch too much TV”
This lockdown has seen me sign up to too many free trials on various online TV services and so I’ve been ripping through some of the shows newly on offer to me. Over on STARZPLAY, first up for me was the TV adaptation of Four Weddings and a Funeral which I’m not sure if I ever knew actually existed until now.
Created by Mindy Kaling and Matt Warburton and airing in the US in the summer of 2019, the show is an inexplicable riff on Richard Curtis’ 1994 film. Ultimately it is nothing like the film, which is probably for the best, emerging instead as a ridonkulous Jilly Cooper-esque rom-com in a fantastical version of London (and beyond). Continue reading “TV Review: Four Weddings and a Funeral”
“Oh yes it’s not that I want to stay.
It’s just that I don’t want to go”
My heart jumped for joy when the Union Theatre announced their revival of Salad Days as the Julian Slade and Dorothy Reynolds classic is probably one of my favourite musicals (and following on from their production of The Hired Man too, another of my absolute faves). I loved being being able to revisit the evergreen perkiness of the show onstage and it also reminded me that I hadn’t gotten round to listening to this cast recording in a while.
My love for Salad Days started upon seeing Tête à Tête’s production of the show at the old Riverside Studios in 2010 which was such a success (eventually) that it returned in subsequent years and it is from that 2012/3 reprise that this live recording was made (which sadly means no Sam Harrison or Rebecca Caine) but it does capture so very much of what worked so well in Bill Bankes-Jones’ production and under Anthony Ingle’s musical direction. Continue reading “Album Review: Salad Days (2013 Live London Cast Recording)”
Rob Edwards, in Duet For One and Separation, at the Octagon Theatre, Bolton
Michael Hugo, in Around The World In 80 Days, at the Royal Exchange
Harry McEntire, in Billy Liar, at the Royal Exchange
Dan Parr, in Britannia Waves The Rules, at the Royal Exchange
Michael Shelford, in Early One Morning, at the Octagon Theatre, Bolton
Clare Foster, in Duet For One and Separation, at the Octagon Theatre, Bolton
Natalie Grady, in Hobson’s Choice, at the Octagon Theatre, Bolton
Suranne Jones, in Orlando, at the Royal Exchange
Maxine Peake, in Hamlet, at the Royal Exchange
Lauren Samuels, in Love Story, at the Octagon Theatre, Bolton Continue reading “The 2014 Manchester Theatre Awards nominations”
“You’ll need a clean shirt, they don’t have dirty necks on the BBC”
Hmmm. Trekking my way through this list can prove a little hard-going when it throws up plays like these… Keith Waterhouse and Willis Hall’s Billy Liar might have been acclaimed as a Great British classic but in Sam Yates’ production for the Royal Exchange, its charms weren’t immediately clear to me. Much of it lies in the play itself I feel, a slice of late-1950s northern life from which dreamer Billy frequently escapes through the flights of fancy in his mind.
Trapped by immutable social strictures and parental expectation, he fantasises and lies his way through the day, as he dreams of leaving the day job (at the undertakers) and moving to London to become a writer for comedians. But the excitement is in the dreaming rather than the doing, so a strange state of affairs exists where he spins and invents and even destroys his actual world without any real sense that he might actually get up and go. Continue reading “Review: Billy Liar, Royal Exchange”
“There is joy in the air so begone with dull care”
There’s always something of a delicious pleasure in being able to revisit much loved productions and so it proved with Tête à Tête’s production of Salad Days which proved to be a slow-burning but considerable success at the Riverside Studios two winters ago. The Julian Slade and Dorothy Reynolds penned musical is a true old-school English classic, highly tuneful (even if you don’t know any of the songs before you go in, I guarantee you’ll be able to hum at least of three of them as you leave) and somewhat barmy in its daffy plotting which takes one of the most unexpected turns I think I’ve ever seen in a show.
But what makes it soar into musical theatre heaven is the entirely straight bat with which Bill Bankes-Jones directs the whole affair. There’s not a drop of cynicism to be found in this Hammersmith studio, from the cheery earnestness of Timothy and Jane, its leading couple who leave university to find love through a magic piano (I did say it was daffy) to Quinny Sacks’ wonderfully effervescent (and inclusive) choreography to the joy of hearing such a large ensemble singing entirely unmiked. It is simply just joyous. Continue reading “Review: Salad Days, Riverside Studios”
“Better drowned than duffers”
Originally a big success for the Bristol Old Vic last Christmas, Swallows and Amazons was revived for this festive season and has just spent a month in the West End at the Vaudeville Theatre ahead of an extensive UK tour. Starting off here in Chichester, Arthur Ransome’s 1930 novel has been adapted by Helen Edmunson, sprinkled with songs from The Divine Comedy’s Neil Hannon and directed by Tom Morris, it emerges as a delightfully inventive and highly imaginative production.
It works so well because it captures a long-lost spirit of play so very genuinely. From beginning to end, the show exudes a joyous playful spirit that almost immediately makes us forget we’re watching adults pretending to be kids. As the four Walker children set off to set up camp on an uninhabited island near their holiday home, they are whisked into a thrilling adventure beyond their wildest imagination and we are there with them for every beautifully-realised step. Continue reading “Review: Swallows and Amazons, Chichester Festival Theatre”
“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”
Best Actress in a Play
Michelle Terry, Tribes
Michelle Terry and Nancy Carroll have swapped between these two places so many times since I started this decision-making but ultimately Terry edged by virtue of her performances elsewhere this year. Bringing an intelligently thought-through depth to a paper-thin character in London Assurance and flexing the acting muscles in Caryl Churchill’s Light Shining in Buckinghamshire were both great turns, but it was in Nina Raine’s Tribes that she just blew me away with a richly nuanced and deeply emotional interpretation of her character and revealing herself to be a beautifully natural signer (not as easy as it sounds). The poise with which she tolerated the madness of the dinner table at her boyfriend’s table and the grace with which she defended her choices and explained the frustrations of someone going deaf and all that they lose just broke my heart with its simple elegance and touched me very deeply. Not sure what Terry’s next move is, but I’ll be sure to keep you posted.
Honourable Mention – Nancy Carroll, After the Dance
As mentioned, this was my most closely contested category this year between these two, but Carroll’s performance in After the Dance really was a thing of wonder. The way in which she sketched Joan’s journey through the complex feelings for husband David was simply heartbreaking and the depth of emotion she evoked with her back to the audience at the end of Act II was just sensational.
Zoë Wanamaker, All My Sons
Helen McCrory, The Late Middle Classes
Miranda Raison, Anne Boleyn
Sophie Thompson, Clybourne Park
Daniela Denby-Ashe, Love Love Love; Lucy Cohu, Broken Glass; Linda Bassett, The Road To Mecca; Kim Cattrall, Private Lives/Antony & Cleopatra
Best Actress in a Musical
Tracie Bennett, End of the Rainbow
Quite simply one of the most jaw-dropping experiences on stage for quite some time. Bennett doesn’t so much perform the role of Judy Garland as inhabit her in End of the Rainbow, unafraid to show the depths of her addiction and the tragic effect it had on her stage act, as well as the stellar performances that brought her such renown. Bennett plays both the acting and singing scenes with such conviction that the weaknesses in the play are just overcome by the force of her performance. And what better ending than a practically unanimous and instantaneous standing ovation which was received with such humility that one just wanted to go up there and hug her. Just outstanding, and still playing at the Trafalgar Studios so make a trip if you haven’t planned one already.
Honourable Mention: Emma Williams, Love Story
Never having had the pleasure of seeing Emma Williams perform on stage, I can’t think of a better introduction than the gorgeous Love Story in which she captures hearts as the ballsy no-nonsense heroine Jenny whose untimely end brings forth both tears and well deserved standing ovations. She has such a lovely voice that is so well suited to Howard Goodall’s music that from the moment I left the Duchess theatre I have been eagerly anticipating the cast recording. You can still catch Williams in Love Story now.
Cora Bissett, Midsummer [a play with songs]
Sheridan Smith, Legally Blonde The Musical
Katie Moore, Salad Days
Kirsty Hoiles, Spend! Spend! Spend!
Cassidy Janson, Avenue Q; Rebecca Hutchinson, Once Upon A Time at the Adelphi; Lisa Baird, Just So; Victoria Hamilton-Barritt, Flashdance The Musical
“We mustn’t say these are our happiest days, but our happiest days so far”
Despite leading with the tagline of ‘one of Britain’s best loved musicals’, I must admit to never having heard of Salad Days before this Riverside Studios and Tête à Tête production. Composed by Julian Slade and with book and lyrics by him and Dorothy Reynolds, it was apparently the longest-running musical in the West End until My Fair Lady so quite how it has passed me by until now I do not know, but I am ever so grateful that its cheery optimism is now in my life .
Set in 1954, Timothy and Jane have both just graduated from university and are facing pressure from their respective parents for him to find suitable employment through one of his influential uncles and for her to find an appropriately advantageous marriage. But anxious to make their own way in the world, they decide to get engaged to each other and to accept the first job that comes along, which just happens to be…looking after a mobile piano that when played, makes people dance uncontrollably. Predictably, the government in the form of the Minister of Pleasure and Pastime want to get their hands on this instrument of social disruption but in their efforts, the piano disappears and then events take an even more wonderfully insane turn. Continue reading “Review: Salad Days, Riverside Studios”