TV Review: It’s A Sin

La. It’s A Sin is a triumphant piece of television written by Russell T Davies, a crucial if challenging watch about how HIV/AIDS cut through the gay community in 1980s London

“We’ve got this great big killer disease and it’s happening in silence”

On the face of it, a five-parter on the AIDS crisis in 1980s London isn’t what you’d necessarily pick to schedule in the depths of a Covid-blighted January. But Russell T Davies and Channel 4 have absolutely hit the mark with It’s A Sin, Dipping every couple of years into the lives of a group of friends who find each other in London’s queer corners, this journey from 1981 to 1991 takes place under the ever-growing and ever-threatening shadow of HIV/AIDS.

It’s the kind of script where you can feel that every word has been intimately felt, with characters based on Davies’ own life, At the heart of it lies Olly Alexander’s Ritchie, an 18 year old would-be law student just waiting to explode out of the closet from his Isle of Wight homelife. It being the 80s, he soon finds himself in a chaotic but fab houseshare in which a new queer family develops – Roscoe (Omari Douglas) escaping his Nigerian family’s plan to straighten him out, the dreamy Ash (Nathaniel Curtis) with his douching advice, quiet Welsh boy Colin (a superb Callum Scott Howells) and Jill (an equally excellent Lydia West) who tempts him over onto the drama course and establishes one of the key relationships of the show (reflecting one of Davies’ own and in a neat touch, the real Jill appears as the fictional Jill’s mum). Continue reading “TV Review: It’s A Sin”

Review: The Life, Southwark Playhouse

“I’ve done everything that a body can do.
But how goddamn much can a body go through?”

There’s a moment early on in The Life where Sharon D Clarke’s been-around-the-block-and-then-some Sonja has a moment akin to Jenna Russell’s ‘The Revolutionary Costume for Today’ in Grey Gardens where she utterly and completely steals the show with an outstanding musical number, the likes of which will scarcely be bettered all year. Here it is ‘The Oldest Profession’, a world-weary but witty run through life working on the streets which is just bloody fantastic. But lest you worry that this is a musical to glamourise prostitution, all that good feeling is instantly shattered by a scene of brutal cruelty from her pimp which leaves you in no doubt as to how (melodramatically) serious The Life is.

Set on the seedier side of 42nd Street in 1980s New York, David Newman, Ira Gasman and Cy Coleman’s book remembers Times Square before it became tourist-friendly and follows a group of people just trying to get by in this callous world. Queen is turning tricks and saving money to move on out of this world but when her lover Fleetwood, a troubled Vietnam vet with a habit, blows half her stash on his stash, it’s clear that something drastic needs to happen. Angered by new arrival from the sticks Mary, aided by longtime friend and co-worker Sonja, and abetted by the malicious Memphis, Queen is spurred onto a course of ambitious but tragic action. Continue reading “Review: The Life, Southwark Playhouse”

Review: Jesus Christ Superstar, Open Air Theatre

“Could you ask as much from any other man?”

Andrew Lloyd Webber sure doesn’t make it easy – for his support of new musical theatre in taking over the St James Theatre to making a transatlantic dash to the House of Lords to vote in support of tax credit cuts for the working poor, it’s hard to know where to stand. His status in the British theatrical establishment remains largely unchallenged though and it is to the 46-year-old Jesus Christ Superstar that the Open Air Theatre in Regents Park have turned for their big summer musical, directed this year by Timothy Sheader. 

And how do you play a 70s rock opera for today? You bring onboard shit-hot creatives like Tom Scutt and Drew McOnie to reinvent it for 2016. Scutt’s design choices make a virtue of the timeless iron structure that edges the stage. The company arrive in luxury sportswear, its loose silhouettes and muted earth tones akin to a Kanye West fashion show with which McOnie’s contemporary choreography meshes perfectly. Later scenes feature the glitter-covered muscularity of something like a late night Brighton Pride, a smattering of Xerxes from the film 300 and all out Sink the Pink excess during the whipping sequence. Continue reading “Review: Jesus Christ Superstar, Open Air Theatre”

Review: Elegies for Angels, Punks and Raging Queens, Criterion Theatre

“Learning to let go”

Just a quickie for this one-off – a fundraiser for the Make A Difference Trust of this late 1980s song cycle inspired by the AIDS memorial quilt. The original London production of Elegies for Angels, Punks and Raging Queens actually transferred to the Criterion – where tonight’s show was – from the King’s Head but it’s a little difficult to see how this production with its nearly 50-strong company could ever have been scaled down to fit into that Islington pub theatre. But given how the show is made up of individual songs and monologues, each inspired by a different panel on the quilt representing the life of someone who has died from HIV/AIDS, its inherent flexibility shows how it can take whatever form is needed.

Here, Stephen Whitson’s production takes on a new 21st century version of the book by Bill Russell, the updating of which has mixed results. Contemporary references clang a little awkwardly but there’s more of a problem in that neither the fast-moving world of medical advancements nor the changing nature of the epidemic itself are really reflected – the show is already a period piece in so many ways that it perhaps would be better to leave it that way rather than trying to chase a relevance that would be better served by a completely separate part two. Continue reading “Review: Elegies for Angels, Punks and Raging Queens, Criterion Theatre”

Review: High Society, Old Vic

“Not bad for a 35 year old”

Kevin Spacey’s swansong as artistic director at the Old Vic doesn’t open officially until next week but I only have a handful of days left for the above quote to remain pertinent to myself so I’m writing up High Society now – the usual disclaimers about previews apply. Maria Friedman’s directorial debut was the highly critically acclaimed Merrily We Roll Along so it makes sense for her to return to the world of musical theatre with this Cole Porter classic, given added spin here as the venue remains in the round.

It’s a funny old piece though, Arthur Kopit’s book is based on Philip Barry’s 1939 play The Philadelphia Story and follows the trials of Tracy Lord (I didn’t know they had Tracys in the 1930s), a rich socialite about to get married who suddenly finds herself with three suitors – her dull fiancé, a charismatic tabloid journalist and her dashing ex-husband. As the pre-wedding parties start and the champagne flows liberally, there’s decisions to be made and some of Porter’s finest songs to be sung but little real fizz, to start with at least. Continue reading “Review: High Society, Old Vic”