DVD review: Nativity 3 – Dude, Where’s My Donkey

“I said hip, hop, Santa’s gonna stop”

Has ever a movie franchise fallen from grace quite so sadly as Debbie Isitt’s Nativity films? It was made worse for me as I watched them all for the first time this year and so the decline has been compressed into a couple of weeks. The first film utterly enchanted me, the second somewhat disappointed by the third – Nativity 3: Dude, Where’s My Donkey – thoroughly junked everything that worked about the original.

Once again, a new teacher is introduced to St Bernadette’s (this time, Martin Clunes’ Mr Shepherd) and once again, inimitable (and irritating) teaching assistant Mr Poppy (Marc Wootton) is on hand to cause mayhem with his unruly antics leading his class astray. But where the first film was rooted in the universal appeal of school nativities, this sequel opts for the bandwagon-jumping of focusing on flashmobs, which meant it was probably out-of-date as it arrived in cinemas last winter, never mind now in 2015. Continue reading “DVD review: Nativity 3 – Dude, Where’s My Donkey”

Re-review: Bull, Young Vic

“Don’t you feel any guilt?”

So having succumbed to the temptation to see Jim Broadbent in A Christmas Carol despite vowing not to do Christmas shows this year, I also went back to see the vicious Bull at the Young Vic for my fourth time in seeing Mike Bartlett’s drama. Recast since its first run at this theatre, I couldn’t pass up the chance to see actors as fine as Max Bennett, Susannah Fielding, Nigel Lindsay (in a suit!), and Marc Wootton and at just £10 for the ringside standing spots (which is the only way to see the show), I’d recommend catching it before it closes. See more about the show in this post.

Running time: 55 minutes (without interval)
Photo: Manuel Harlan
Booking until 16th January

DVD Review: Nativity 2 – Danger in the Manger

“You can be our Justin Bieber”

After being pleasantly surprised by how much fun Nativity was, it seemed only natural to watch the sequel Nativity 2 – Danger in the Manger when it appeared in the festive TV schedule too. Sad to say it didn’t live up to its predecessor, its attempts to replicate the formula losing much of the charm that made the first movie something of a real treasure. Writer and director Debbie Isitt returned to the improvised style that saw her company of kids and adults work without a script or advance knowledge of how the plot would unfold, but the problem lies in that uninspired narrative. 

We’re still at St Bernadette’s, but Martin Freeman’s Mr Maddens has been replaced by David Tennant’s Mr Peterson, the school nativity has been replaced by a national ‘Song for Christmas’ competition and Marc Wootton’s irrepressible teaching assistant Mr Poppy remains very much in situ. And it is the nonsense that his actions provokes that proves the tipping point here – from purloined babies and donkeys to reckless child endangerment and the very fact that he’s teaching a class alone, Poppy’s character is a huge ask even when not taking it too seriously and for me, he was too grating too often. Continue reading “DVD Review: Nativity 2 – Danger in the Manger”

DVD Review: Nativity

“As if Hollywood would come to Coventry”

For whatever reason, I hadn’t ever gotten round to watching festive film Nativity since its release in 2009 but its broadcast on BBC1 meant I finally got the opportunity to be thoroughly won over by its lo-fi festive spirit. Written by Debbie Isitt but also partially improvised by the cast, it nails that typical (successful) Brit-flick style with all its deprecatory charm and underdog spirit, along with an unexpectedly effective original musical score.

Nativity centres on an inter-school rivalry in Coventry, where private primary school Oakmoor consistently produce the best-received nativity show. This year, the headteacher of St Bernadette’s has something to say about that and so puts curmudgeonly Christmas-hater Paul Maddens (Martin Freeman) in charge of their show, aware that his old drama school friend and rival Gordon Shakespeare (Jason Watkins) is the one succeeding at Oakmoor, Continue reading “DVD Review: Nativity”

Review: The Same Deep Water As Me, Donmar Warehouse

“I’m exhausted, sweating like a fucking dyslexic on Countdown”

The Donmar Warehouse has two levels, stalls and a circle. It’s fairly obvious, you can’t really miss it – about half the audience is upstairs. Yet watching The Same Deep Water As Me, directed by John Crowley and designed by Scott Pask, you’d think they’d forgotten that simple fact, or else considered that those in the ‘cheap’ seats would simply have to make do. Pask’s reconstruction of a non-descript office stops at room height, as does the second half’s courtroom and Crowley has much of the action throughout inward-facing, somehow contriving to make even this intimate studio feel as distant as a West End house. 

Perhaps you just get what you pay for – I opted for a £7.50 standing ticket in the circle and was promoted to front row circle for the second half but the nagging feeling of neglect never left me, as I gazed on the wiring in the ceiling for the lights in the office below and the backs of many peoples’ heads during the courtroom conversations. And as a ticket-payer (even at that price), it’s hard not to feel a little disheartened at what feels perilously close to disregard with a set that simply stops at stalls level. It is somewhat of a shame that this is the primary thought in my head after seeing Nick Payne’s new play but I have to be honest about what my experience was like. Continue reading “Review: The Same Deep Water As Me, Donmar Warehouse”

Review: Season’s Greetings, National Theatre

“Now we don’t want to start Christmas like this, do we?”

Slotting into rep in the Lyttelton for the next few months is Marianne Elliott’s production of Alan Ayckbourn’s Season’s Greetings, a play set during the festive period but by no means your average cheery Christmas show. Set in 1980 in the home of Neville and Belinda Bunker, this show shines a light on what happens when a group of nine people gather on Christmas Eve to spend the next few days together in festive harmony. The veneer of civility is soon shattered as we come to see that the various relationships, between friends, family, would-be lovers, husbands and wives, are all under huge strain and as events unfold spurred on by the arrival of a newcomer, home truths are exposed and the misery of human existence confronted.

It isn’t a comedy per se, rather a play with many farcical elements which come from the interactions between this group of people thrown together for Christmas as they tiptoe around fragile egos, unspoken truths, rampant libidos and frustrated ambitions. But it is also somewhat grim in its outlook: unhappy marriages, lack of career fulfilment, sexual frustrations are all themes that emerge time and time again, making for an uneasy mix. As an early preview, performances were impressive across the board but the pacing of the first act in particular needs a lot of work. With three scenes to Act II’s two, it is naturally somewhat longer but began to feel interminably long: around 15 people near me didn’t return after the interval, which was a shame as it did sharpen up quite a lot. Continue reading “Review: Season’s Greetings, National Theatre”