TV Review: Trying Series 2 (Apple TV)

Rafe Spall and Esther Smith continue to be charm personified in the second series of Apple TV’s Trying

“No-one’s laminated my life story yet”

As Apple TV continues to try and meaningfully break through, its commitment to its original series is commendable. Ted Lasso is riding the slowburn train to award success and also getting a second series if somewhat more under the radar, sweet comedy Trying has also returned.

The show centres on thirty-something Camdenites Nikki and Jason and their efforts to grow their family. The first series tackled their (lack of) fertility and the start of their journey through the adoption process and this second sees them continuing to navigate this bureaucratic and emotional minefield. Continue reading “TV Review: Trying Series 2 (Apple TV)”

TV Review: Trying (Apple TV)

Rafe Spall and Esther Smith impress in British comedy Trying, helped by the likes of Imelda Staunton and Cush Jumbo

“Hitler?
‘Badminton?'”

Just a quickie for this, as I’ve only just started to actually have a look at what is on AppleTV since they decided to extend my free trial. Created and written by Andy Wolton, Trying is a rather sweet and very typically British sitcom that follows Jason and Nikki, a 30-something couple as they struggle to conceive naturally and decide that they would like to adopt. Led by Rafe Spall and Esther Smith, the show is lots of fun and is blessed with some wonderful supporting performances.

Forever skirting that comedy/drama line, Trying is unafraid of tackling some rather meaty issues. Infertility and what that does to a couple, the inequities of the adoption system, funding for ESOL classes… And even the simplest idea of how relationships grow and are tested by the act of self-reflection – how do you measure achievement when London property prices lock you into renting forever and opportunities to climb the job ladder are way too few and far between. Continue reading “TV Review: Trying (Apple TV)”

TV Review: Jonathan Creek, Series 5

Series 5 of Jonathan Creek is an ignominious end to a show that started out so well

“Why do I know I’m going to regret this”

It started with the 2013 Easter special but the refresh of Jonathan Creek that characterises Series 5 is a spectacular misfire. Jonathan leaving the world of magic is understandable but making him a mid-level advertising executive is just baffling. And that’s before you add in the wife who appears from nowhere, Sarah Alexander’s Polly, and  a move to the countryside to a rural village.

It’s a reset that makes little sense – there is ZERO chemistry between Jonathan and Polly and little evidence to convince of their relationship especially as he now directs his patronising non-explanations at her – and ultimately adds little value. The village setting adds a Midsomer Murders/Marple-ish vibe to the mystery solving which detracts from its USP and also means that there has to be increasingly convoluted ways in which to fold Jonathan back into the world of impossible crimes that he’s ostensibly left behind.

All told, there’s too little sense of fun about the whole enterprise, writer David Renwick’s inspiration perchance finally running dry unlike his continued misogynistic tendencies. An ignominious end to a series that started out so well. Continue reading “TV Review: Jonathan Creek, Series 5”

Radio Review: The Oresteia – The Libation Bearers / The 40 Year Twitch

“Kill her and be free”

Greek tragedies are never a light affair but The Libation Bearers, the second part of Aeschylus’ Oresteia trilogy is particularly brutal. Following on from the vengeful fury of Clytemnesta slaying her husband Agamemnon for sacrificing their daughter Iphigenia to the gods, the thirst for revenge switches to her other children Electra and Orestes, the latter of whom returning from exile to kill his mother for murdering his father. He’s got his own permission from the gods so it’s ok and urged on by a viciously determined Electra to conquer his nagging doubts, he sets about steeling himself for such a deed.

Ed Hime’s new version is highly atmospheric and swirls effectively on the edge of the mystical. His Chorus of slave women are voiced by Amanda Lawrence, Carys Eleri and Sheila Reid, their cracked voices recalling Macbeth’s Weird Sisters in urging Will Howard’s solid Orestes towards matricide. Lesley Sharp is strong again as Clytemnesta, haunted by her misdeeds and Electra is given a chilling intensity by Joanne Froggatt – I just find it interesting that there is no attempt to understand her mother’s actions, instead Agamemnon is venerated as the greatest leader ever despite the fact he had her sister killed. Continue reading “Radio Review: The Oresteia – The Libation Bearers / The 40 Year Twitch”

DVD Review: Hey Mr Producer

“Do something special, anything special…”

This charity shop malarkey is proving to be a veritable treasure trove of theatrical goodies, of variable quality I should stress, but after the delights of Ms Paige – which will be continued shortly with an upcoming DVD review – I was given this DVD of the 1998 Cameron Mackintosh extravaganza Hey Mr Producer which cost a whole 99p from a British Heart Foundation shop in north west London. A benefit concert ostensibly put together for the RNIB but also honouring and celebrating the work of producer Mackintosh (although oddly he was involved in putting the show together – honouring himself…) by bringing together excerpts from many of the most famous shows he has been involved in and pulling together an extraordinary cast of the musical theatre glitterati, many of whom originated the roles, the like of which has rarely been seen since.

And it really does come across as something special, at times a little frustrating but it is often the way with concerts like these that tantalise with little glimpses of shows and when the calibre of performer is such as it is here, one barely minds as there is much pleasure to be had. It is impressive how much was packed into the single evening, multi-song sections from shows were interspersed with single songs from others meaning that over 20 shows were showcased here. Whether it was shows I love – Little Shop of Horrors, Oliver!, Les Mis, ones I’m ok with – Phantom of the Opera, Company or even ones I’ve never actually seen – My Fair Lady, Miss Saigon, Martin Guerre, Carousel – the sequences that had more than one song worked surprisingly well, getting across something of the flavour of the shows even with the rapid pace and semi-staging. I would have loved to have seen and heard more from Anything Goes, Godspell and The Boyfriend and for Salad Days, Mackintosh’s favourite show apparently, to have gotten a proper treatment, but then I guess the three hour show would have gone on for days. Continue reading “DVD Review: Hey Mr Producer”

Review: Bea, Soho Theatre

“I want to be free. And I want you to be free too.”

When Bea, a young woman stricken with an unidentified but horrifically debilitating and incurable condition, has a new carer employed by her over-protective barrister mother, she sets about getting him to help her write the most difficult letter possible, stating her desire to die and asking for the help necessary, from her mother, in order to make that happen. Thus Gordon explores the boundaries of human kindness especially towards loved ones and empathy for those suffering from any range of conditions and diseases that render them helpless. For Bea’s particular condition is never identified (though ME is hinted at), meaning that instead of being a specific debate about assisted killing in relation to a certain disease, this is a more nuanced look at the relationships that exist in Bea’s life, such as they are, and the life that Bea wishes that she could have, were she not trapped in her failing body.

Pippa Nixon is beautiful at illuminating the indefatigable inner self of Bea, wonderfully eloquent in the reasoning behind her choice to end her life, an irrepressible spirit that is hard to resist and made all the more painful by the moving scenes when she was portraying the disease-ravaged reality of Bea’s condition. Paula Wilcox’s mother is beautifully observed: stridently over-protective of her daughter but there was a real honesty to the way in which she portrayed the dilemmas of her character, finding refuge in the legal language of her job but slowly becoming accustomed to the new presence in her household as she recognises how Bea responds to her new carer. And Al Weaver as Ray, said carer and more accurately named Not Gay Ray, is simply outstanding, with several monologues including a frenetic and hilarious run through a scene from A Streetcar Named Desire, the touching revelation of the truth behind his choice of profession and excellently demonstrating the depth of the compassion he develops for Bea as she makes requests of him that he struggles to deny. Continue reading “Review: Bea, Soho Theatre”

Re-review: La Cage aux Folles, Playhouse

“Judas…Traitor…Het-er-o-sexual!”

When it was first announced that John Barrowman would be taking one of the lead roles in La Cage au Folles, many, including myself, instantly called this a crazy decision. Having seen this show twice already with different casts, and it remaining one of my favourite things I have seen on the stage this year, I had my doubts about this particular casting decision but when a family delegation (including 3 major Barrowman fangirls) expressed their interest in coming down to see the show, tickets were booked.

The obvious criticism is that John Barrowman is too young and good-looking to play Albin, especially given the actors who have played the role here previously, but by casting an equally younger-looking and handsome Simon Burke as his lover, this production has been cleverly reconceived. Instead of being a meditation on a drag queen at the end of his career, the focus here is more on Albin’s insecurities about his relationship with Georges, the comment about not being able to play Salome any longer becomes more of a bitchy aside than a sad statement of truth. There has been a considerable injection of raunchiness into this production, with some very suggestive croissant eating that was dangerously close to the bone (fnarr fnarr) for a family show. However this more overt sexuality played very convincingly with the younger coupling and led to some hilarious scenes. Continue reading “Re-review: La Cage aux Folles, Playhouse”

Re-review: La Cage aux Folles, Playhouse

Visit number two for me to La Cage aux Folles at the Playhouse Theatre for a number of reasons. My first trip earlier this year was an absolute hoot but perhaps a little more wine-soaked than was advisable, I wanted to surprise Aunty Jean with a fun night out (as opposed to the previously advertised Aunt Dan & Lemon) and finally I wanted to see Philip Quast and Roger Allam as I had heard great things about their performances. I saw Douglas Hodge and Denis Lawson in the main roles last time, and could not imagine them being bettered, such was the quality of their ‘turns’.

However I am pleased to say that Allam and Quast were equal to the task, and I think I might even actually have preferred these two. The key to this musical is that it is actually the sweetest love story between Albin and Georges and so the relationship between the two has to be spot on and I think this is where they edge it this time. There’s such a great sense of shared romance onstage and the two actors are so comfortable with each other, you can really believe that they have spent a lifetime together.

Continue reading “Re-review: La Cage aux Folles, Playhouse”

Review: La Cage Aux Folles, Playhouse

I saw La Cage aux Folles last Friday, and so was lucky enough to see the penultimate performance with the original cast, and no disrespect to the incoming performers, I am extremely glad for that since it was good to see the production people have been recommending for ages now and this was probably the most fun I have had in the theatre in such a long time.

That may have had something to do with the insane amount of wine me and my friend Julia drank in lieu of eating dinner, but the show really was excellent (from what I remember). The big bouncing balls were good fun; les cagelles were beyond excellent, eye-wateringly so at times during the splits; Douglas Hodge was superb throughout, just the right side of camp buffoonery yet still real enough for Jean-Michele’s misguided decision to have real emotional impact; the cabaret tables were a genius idea, though I imagine a little frightening to sit at.

Continue reading “Review: La Cage Aux Folles, Playhouse”