Lockdown TV Review: Spooks Series 5

Full of shocks that actually mean something, Series 5 of Spooks is one of its absolute best

“The British people will accept anything if you serve it up with a picture of Will Young in the shower”

A cracking series of Spooks that starts off with a series of bangs, robbing Colin of his life and Juliet Shaw of her ability to walk, the introduction of Ros Myers to the team is an invigorating success, particularly as she inspires Jo to become more badass too. This incarnation of the team really does click well, responding smoothly to the enforced changes in personnel, though newly single father Adam’s mental health crisis too often feels like a plot device rather than a genuine exploration of PTSD.

Subject-wise, the relevance level remains high, particularly pertinent when it comes to national crises with panic buying and over-stuffed hospitals feeling all too real. The role of fundamentalist zealots is shared equally between Christian and Islamic believers over the series and even if the finale underwhelms somewhat, the eco-terrorism theme hasn’t become any less significant.

Nicola Walker-ometer
I’m still not over it, the defenestration of Ruth Evershed. Having finally made it to a date with Harry, which went about as well as could be expected, she runs up against a murderous Oliver Mace conspiracy and ends up having to fake her own death to protect Harry and ends up fleeing the country. An ignominious end for the heart of the team.  Continue reading “Lockdown TV Review: Spooks Series 5”

Album Review: Andrew Lloyd Webber Unmasked: The Platinum Collection

Andrew Lloyd Webber, Unmasled

Andrew Lloyd Webber marks his 70th birthday with a new musical anthology –  Unmasked: The Platinum Collection – taking in shows new and old with some surprises along the way (Beyoncé, Lana del Rey, Duncan from Blue )

“Oh what a circus, oh what a show”

Upon reaching 70 this year, Andrew Lloyd Webber is clearly in a reflective mood and hot on the heels of his autobiography Unmasked released last week, comes this new compilation album Unmasked: The Platinum Collection. Available physically as a 2CD or 4CD version (the latter with a 40 page book of liner notes and tributes), this collection looks back on a career spanning nearly 50 years and features some new twists on the material as well as reminding us of the old favourites.

Over the four discs, 17 of Lloyd Webber’s shows are represented here (Jesus Christ Superstar tops the list with 8 tracks, Evita and Phantom just behind), alongside assorted one-off songs (such as ‘Amigos Para Siempre’ from the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, the Gary Barlow co-write ‘Sing’ from the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee). But for ALW fans it will be the unreleased stuff that makes the mouth water – five new orchestral suites and a smattering of new recordings featuring the likes of Lana del Rey (a winsome ‘You Must Love Me’ and Gregory Porter (a spirited ‘Light At The End Of The Tunnel’. Continue reading “Album Review: Andrew Lloyd Webber Unmasked: The Platinum Collection”

Andrew Lloyd Webber celebrates 70 years with ‘Unmasked: The Platinum Collection’

In celebration of his 70th birthday this March, new compilation ANDREW LLOYD WEBBER: THE PLATINUM COLLECTION will be available March 16th through UMC / Polydor.  

The collection is personally curated and overseen by Lloyd Webber to include classics from his earliest work starting with 1968’s Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat through his most recent School of Rock. 

Newly recorded songs from superstar artists Nicole Scherzinger (“Memory”, Cats), Gregory Porter (“Light at the End of the Tunnel”, Starlight Express) and Lana Del Rey (“You Must Love Me”, Evita) add to the collection of his cherished works from the past five decades. 

The set also contains recordings by world-class performers such as Barbra Streisand, Madonna, Michael Crawford, Sarah Brightman, Michael Ball, and released for the first time, Beyonce singing “Learn To Be Lonely” from the 2005 Academy Awards with Lloyd Webber accompanying on piano. 

UNMASKED: THE PLATINUM COLLECTION is available as 2 CD and 4 CD editions. The 4-disc version contains an exclusive 40-page book with a personally penned introduction from Lloyd Webber and more in-depth notes on each track, written by respected theatre critic and Lloyd Webber biographer Michael Coveney, together with personally written tributes from Barbara Streisand and Glenn Close among others. 

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Continue reading “Andrew Lloyd Webber celebrates 70 years with ‘Unmasked: The Platinum Collection’”

TV Review: Scott and Bailey Series 4

“This is something I can’t ignore”

Typical really, the first series of Scott & Bailey that I actually get to watch live on air and it’s the first one that disappointed me. I caught up quickly with the first three over the last few weeks so that I would be up to speed with Series 4 but all in all, I didn’t feel like it was up to the standard. No real overarching story emerged across the eight episodes and without the heightened drama that would have added, this just felt like a retread of some of the same old plot points.

An ill-advised affair with a colleague, a promotion not taken due to personal circumstances, Janet’s kids playing up, tough but tender relations with Gill…it does feel like we’ve been here before. And though there are new twists, none of them really took flight – Rachel’s step up to sergeant never really foregrounded, a hint of romance for Janet left until the very end. The individual cases that came up maintained the usual level of interest but something was lacking in the end. Continue reading “TV Review: Scott and Bailey Series 4”

Review: Love’s Labour’s Won (Much Ado About Nothing), Royal Shakespeare Theatre

“I did not think I should live till I were married”

In a brief programme note, Gregory Doran declares he’s “sticking his neck out” to suggest that Much Ado About Nothing may also have been known as Love’s Labour’s Won during Shakespeare’s lifetime and thus makes a novel yet inspired partnership with Love’s Labour’s Lost in an RSC double bill. Whether true or not is by and by in the end (though Shakespearean scholars will doubtless disagree) as Christopher Luscombe’s cross-cast productions combine to great effect as well as standing proud in their own right in the Royal Shakespeare Theatre.

Where Love’s Labour’s Lost was set just before the outbreak of the Great War, Love’s Labour’s Won picks up English society as peace has finally been achieved and the Christmas of 1918 might at last be a merry one and from the outset, it feels like a more fitting interpretation. Beatrice’s independence of mind having been nurtured by the freedom of being able to work; Don John arriving as a soul-weary, battle-scarred PTSD sufferer; the rush of Claudio, Benedick, even Pedro to thoughts of marriage an emotional response to an unimaginably traumatic conflict – there’s a pleasing fit to it all. Continue reading “Review: Love’s Labour’s Won (Much Ado About Nothing), Royal Shakespeare Theatre”

Review: Love’s Labour’s Lost, Royal Shakespeare Theatre

“The words of Mercury are harsh after the songs of Apollo. You that way: we this way”

Always a fan of a project, the RSC have paired up Love’s Labour’s Lost and Much Ado About Nothing – which they posit may have been once known as Love’s Labour’s Won – relocated the plays to an England either side of the First World War and let Christopher Luscombe loose at them with a single company, led by Edward Bennett and Michelle Terry. The RSC have hit on a cracker in uniting this pair, reuniting them in fact as they are RADA chums of old, with the wry looks and crackling tension between Berowne and Rosalind clear from the off.

A truly excellent comic actor, Bennett has the wonderful gift of always seeming on the verge of corpsing and for Berowne, it really works. The last to be co-opted into the King of Navarre’s aesthetic scheme of abstinence for him and three buddies, the first to point fingers when incriminating love poems start to appear once ladies arrive on the scene, Bennett shows us that this is a man well aware of the daftness of the enterprise he’s gotten swept up in. But he’s also an actor of much depth as he conveys the genuine sense of surprise that accompanies his own unexpected tumble head over heels and the crushing heartbreak of the play’s end. Continue reading “Review: Love’s Labour’s Lost, Royal Shakespeare Theatre”

DVD Review: Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

“Eminently practical and yet appropriate as always”

I’ve been experimenting with a few DVD reviews over the past weeks –theatrical ones, charity shop bargain ones and I’ve been longing to revisit film versions of several shows that I’ve seen recently. In some cases, I knew the show before seeing the film, but in others, my first contact was on celluloid (or whatever it is they use these days) and Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street was one of these. I actually saw it at the BFI when it was first released, with a Q+A with Tim Burton at the end of it (which was rather cringe-worthy with every question starting with ‘I love your films…’, ‘I love your work…’, ; ‘I love your socks…’). I came out of the film having rather loved it but it was only this autumn that I finally got round to seeing it on the stage at Chichester in a sensational production which has finally announced its transfer to the Adelphi from March next year.

As to be expected, it is an overtly Burton-esque piece of work with its desaturated palette allowing the red of the blood to pop even more than usual and the focus being on psychologically disturbed character. Frequent collaborators Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham-Carter take on the lead roles of Sweeney Todd and Mrs Lovett and though neither of their voices are particularly strong, especially when up against Sondheim’s challenging score, Burton manages to make that much less of an issue than one might have thought. There’s a brooding intensity to the whole affair, a sense of drained weariness which subsequently finds strength in the vocal frailties. Alan Rickman makes a perfect Judge Turpin, his sonorous malevolence a highlight of the film especially in the ‘Pretty Women’ duet; Timothy Spall’s Turpin makes a strong impact too as does Sacha Baron Cohen’s would-be manipulator Signor Pirelli. Continue reading “DVD Review: Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street”

Review: And The Horse You Rode In On, Told By An Idiot at the Barbican Pit

“Enlightenment by demonstration”

Trotting into the depths of the Barbican Pit, And The Horse You Rode In On is the latest piece by innovative company Told by an Idiot. Conceived by Hayley Carmichael and Paul Hunter and created by the company, the show has the subtitle ‘a sequence of serious follies’, mixing together as it does five different narratives, weaving them together in an unlikely mishmash. These influences range from Hitchcock’s film Sabotage to a Dario Fo hostage story, from Are You Being Served to Bugs Bunny, taking in the Baader-Meinhof Gang and some of Günter Grass’ writing, this latter two pointing most directly (to my eyes at least) to what is being examined here, namely what drives people to commit extreme acts for their beliefs and the relative powerlessness we have to stop them.

Told by an Idiot have been working long enough to allay any suspicions about whether their approach works and it really does, but unlikely as it may seem, the strongest part of the work is the humour: this is deeply, belly-achingly, funny stuff, there was one point where I was near-helpless with laughter. I am loathe to give things away here and words could not do them justice anyway, but Are You Being Served played in German was hysterical, followed by a sequence of scenes that were acted by three actors but voiced-over by two off-stage and riotously funny with it. The story of the Italian circus troupe making a perilous journey across the Alps and then being taken hostage, singing cheerily all-the-while was another triumph with a conclusion which, though ridiculous, made perfect sense. Continue reading “Review: And The Horse You Rode In On, Told By An Idiot at the Barbican Pit”