TV Review: Jonathan Creek Specials (2009–2013)

The Jonathan Creek specials from 2009–2013 undo much of the damage from Series 4, with Sheridan Smith largely to thank for that

“I’ve got a very important presentation to Weetabix in five minutes”

After the horror show that was the fourth series, Jonathan Creek disappeared from our TV screens for five years and for the subsequent five, returned only intermittently for three feature-length specials from 2009–2013. And I think the break did everyone a world of good as these episodes rival some of the show’s best in recapturing the sense of investigative fun that lay at its heart.

Chief in this is the casting of Sheridan Smith as wise-cracking paranormal investigator Joey Ross. Their buddy relationship is well drawn, wisely kept clear of any romantic entanglement and yet still deeply affectionate at its heart. Complex, multi-faceted mysteries are allowed to unfold more effectively in the longer format, although Renwick can’t help himself with women as porn stars and clod-hopping trans jokes. For the most part, everything just hangs together  better – until Jonathan get a wife that is…More of that in Series 5. Continue reading “TV Review: Jonathan Creek Specials (2009–2013)”

TV Review: Jonathan Creek, Series 1

I turn to a rewatch of Jonathan Creek to get me through Week 2 of Lockdown #2 and enjoy the freshness of the first series

“No one could have killed your husband and then left this room”

Starting in 1997 and memorably co-opting Saint-Saëns’ renowned ‘Danse Macabre’ for its theme tune, mystery crime thriller Jonathan Creek occupies a happy place in my TV memories, so I was a little hesitant at first in case it didn’t match up to how I remembered.

From cracking seemingly impenetrable alibis, to working out how to escape a nuclear bunker, to locked room mysteries of all sorts, it turns out David Renwick’s writing holds up rather well. The plotting is sufficiently twisty that it is nigh on impossible to figure out who and certainly howdunnit and I remembered none of the important details so it was like watching it anew. Continue reading “TV Review: Jonathan Creek, Series 1”

Album Review: Chicago (1997 London Cast Recording)

“A lot of people have lost faith in America”

I quite like the film version of Chicago but was surprised by the extent to which I had internalised its soundtrack upon listening to this London Cast Recording from 1997. Part of that lies in the fact that it is good few years since I’ve seen it onstage but there’s no excuse really, for a theatre nut like me. And sure enough, surrendering to the thrill of Ruthie Henshall and Ute Lemper here was a genuine pleasure and a great way to revisit Kander & Ebb’s score.

Henshall’s Roxie and Lemper’s Velma are surely among the best that these characters have ever been sung. The unrelenting stunt casting that kept the show a West End presence perhaps devalued the music a bit but in these hands, with these voices, you come to really appreciate the emotional complexity and proper darkness of these women and what they’re forced to do in order to keep their head above water and then some. Continue reading “Album Review: Chicago (1997 London Cast Recording)”

Album Review: Wit and Whimsy – Songs by Alexander S Bermange

“If only I were famous from the telly”

Across its two discs and twenty-three tracks, there’s an awful lot of whimsy to Alexander S Bermange’s latest compilation album Wit and Whimsy and not quite enough wit to sustain it. Bermange is a composer who has had as much success writing comic songs for radio as he has in straight-up musical theatre (the two shows of his that I’ve seen – The Route to Happiness and Thirteen Days were both part of festivals).

That said, he has an impressive contacts list as evidenced by the range of people who have joined in on the action here – Laura Pitt-Pulford, Tracie Bennett, David Bedella, Cassidy Janson, Emma Williams, even Christopher Biggins. And with a guest list of this quality, naturally there are moments that shine here. Continue reading “Album Review: Wit and Whimsy – Songs by Alexander S Bermange”

DVD Review: I Give It A Year

“Is it possible that some people just aren’t supposed to be married”

Joseph Millson having a threesome and Jane Asher swearing are the main high points in Dan Mazer’s I Give It A Year, a film that could do with a whole lot more. The sheen on Nat and Josh’s whirlwind marriage has worn off a little, leaving them facing serious questions as they approach their one year anniversary. With former loves reappearing, new current attractions popping up and friends and family placing bets on whether they’ll make it to the landmark 12 months, the odds seem unlikely.

Which adds up to the film’s major problem, a distinct lack of any real dramatic imperative in hoping that Nat and Josh stay together. Rose Byrne does her best with a thanklessly constructed part who seems solely designed to frustrate Rafe Spall’s hangdog novelistic intentions but as the film opens with a fast-forward through the heady days of early romance, we’re not left with anything to convince us that we should be rooting for them to actually make it to a year, hell, even the end of the film! Continue reading “DVD Review: I Give It A Year”

Album Review: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory Original London Cast Recording

“That’s my Charlie, that’s my son”

At a time when big new musicals have been dropping like flies, the mere fact that Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is still open is something of an achievement, never mind its actual enduring success. And with a major cast change soon to take place (featuring the likes of Alex Jennings and Josefina Gabrielle, just to make sure that I have no choice but to return), it seemed as good a time as any to give the soundtrack a listen.

I’ve seen the show a couple of times now and even in the couple of months between those viewings, it was clear that my original thought, that Marc Shaiman’s score might possess longevity that wasn’t initially obvious, wasn’t too far off the mark. The tunes worm their way into your head under the cover of the cuckoo in the nest that is the late-arriving ‘Pure Imagination’ which predictably is what most people will leave the Theatre Royal Drury Lane humming.  Continue reading “Album Review: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory Original London Cast Recording”

2014 Laurence Olivier Awards nominations

Best New Play 
Chimerica by Lucy Kirkwood – Almeida / Harold Pinter
1984 by George Orwell, adapted by Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillan – Almeida
Peter and Alice by John Logan – Noël Coward
The Night Alive by Conor McPherson – Donmar Warehouse

Best New Musical
The Book of Mormon – Prince of Wales
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – Theatre Royal, Drury Lane
Once – Phoenix
The Scottsboro Boys – Young Vic

Best Revival 
Ghosts – Almeida / Trafalgar Studios
Othello – National Theatre Olivier
Private Lives – Gielgud
The Amen Corner – National Theatre Olivier Continue reading “2014 Laurence Olivier Awards nominations”

2014 What’s On Stage Award nominations

BEST ACTRESS IN A PLAY
Helen Mirren – The Audience at the Gielgud 
Anne-Marie Duff – Strange Interlude at the NT Lyttelton 
Hayley Atwell – The Pride at Trafalgar Studios
Suranne Jones – Beautiful Thing at the Arts 
Tanya Moodie – Fences at the Duchess 

BEST ACTOR IN A PLAY
Daniel Radcliffe – The Cripple of Inishmaan at the Noël Coward 
Ben Whishaw – Peter and Alice at the Noël Coward and Mojo at the Harold Pinter 
James McAvoy – Macbeth at Trafalgar Studios 
Lenny Henry – Fences at the Duchess 
Rory Kinnear – Othello at the NT Olivier  Continue reading “2014 What’s On Stage Award nominations”

Review: Votes for Women/The Magnificent Andrea, Radio 3/4

“No decent woman will be able to say suffrage without blushing for another generation”

Part of a series of radio dramas looking at contemporary responses to the increasing emancipation of women at the turn of the twentieth century, Votes for Women is a 1907 suffragette play by Elizabeth Robins, one of the most forthright actresses of the time who allegedly pulled a gun on George Bernard Shaw when he made a pass at her. Her play looks at women who were equally bold at a time when the movement for women’s suffrage was beginning to stagnate, paralysed by the filibustering efforts of the men in Parliament. Where some were content to continue the same path and attempt to win them over, others were adamant that direct action was the only course of action and Robins neatly explores this schism in the movement.

In Marion Nancarrow’s production, Zoë Tapper plays Vida Levering, one of the activists determined to take things further whose zeal sweeps up those around her, including the youthful heiress Jean Dunbarton, voiced by the delicately effervescent Charity Wakefield, who is newly engaged to Sam West’s Tory MP Geoffrey Stoner, who in turn has his own connection to Vida. This tangled relationship provides the melodramatic meat for the final third of the play and if not quite brilliant, it is certainly engaging. Robins is much more successful at the dramatisation of the crusading spirit and enthusiasm of the time. Continue reading “Review: Votes for Women/The Magnificent Andrea, Radio 3/4”

Re-review: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Theatre Royal Drury Lane

“So we’ve lost a few children along the way, we’ve all learned something though”

One of the hottest tickets of the year is a golden one. London gets its second major adaptation of a Roald Dahl story into a big budget piece of musical theatre as the long-awaited Charlie and the Chocolate Factory finally opens its gates at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane. And taking his cue from Willy Wonka, director Sam Mendes has mixed it with love and made it taste good, displaying, along with designer Mark Thompson, just as much wit and invention as the candyman himself in bringing this world to such entertaining life on the stage.

David Greig’s book remains largely faithful to Dahl’s novel, but expanding the poverty-stricken domestic set-up of Charlie Bucket and his extended family as the young boy dreams of finding one of five elusive passes into Wonka’s mysterious factory. As the tickets are found one by one in a series of vividly realised tableaux, his hopes recede but the presence of a shadowy tramp-like figure ensures that there’s soon a golden twinkle in Charlie’s eye and a life-changing journey can begin. Continue reading “Re-review: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Theatre Royal Drury Lane”