TV Review: Jonathan Creek, Series 3

Elements of David Renwick’s writing starts to show signs of flagging as the magic starts to fade in Series 3 of Jonathan Creek

“What exactly does all this add up to?”

After a decent first couple of series, the third season of Jonathan Creek sees the show start to wobble a bit as the raft of impossible crimes sways from ingenious plotting to improbably convoluted. Episodes tackle disappearing aliens and a man who thinks he has sold his soul to the devil and it doesn’t always come off.

That said, there’s still some classic tales in here too. The revelation of ‘The Eyes of Tiresias’ is artfully done and ‘Miracle in Crooked Lane’ is properly, admirably fiendish even with its meta-theatrics. Alan Davies and Caroline Quentin both continue in good form but David Renwick’s writing doesn’t permit more than piecemeal character development which, three series in, leaves them a little flat. Continue reading “TV Review: Jonathan Creek, Series 3”

Review: What A Carve Up!

Jonathan Coe’s novel What A Carve Up! is adapted brilliantly into a gripping online play with an excellent lead performance from Alfred Enoch

“Who even reads novels at this point, they’re just an irrelevance”

As the shadow of another lockdown looms, What A Carve Up! shines as an example of what lemonade can be made from those particular kind of lemons. Produced collaboratively by The Barn Theatre, Lawrence Batley Theatre and New Wolsey Theatre and written specifically by Henry Filloux-Bennett for online delivery, this is exciting hybrid thinking.

Based on the novel by Jonathan Coe, Filloux-Bennett and director Tamara Harvey have done a remarkable job here. Covid restrictions aside, it would never have been the most straightforward piece to adapt but reflecting the book’s postmodern structure, this play interleaves multiple layers to build up not just a murder mystery but a damning commentary on the state of the world. Continue reading “Review: What A Carve Up!”

News: casting confirmed for What A Carve Up!

The Barn Theatre in Cirencester, the Lawrence Batley Theatre in Huddersfield and the New Wolsey Theatre in Ipswich have today announced the full cast for the digital world premiere of Henry Filloux-Bennett’s online play What A Carve Up!, based on Jonathan Coe’s critically acclaimed satirical novel.

Casting announced today includes Jonathan Bailey as Henry Winshaw, Samuel Barnett as Michael Owen, Robert Bathurst as Thomas Winshaw, Celia Imrie as Joan Simpson and Dervla Kirwan as the Brunwin Advert. Continue reading “News: casting confirmed for What A Carve Up!”

TV Review: Queers

Mark Gatiss’ Queers – a set of monologues has lost none of its power since premiering in 2017

“He knows me for what I am”

I couldn’t make the theatrical readings of Queers at the Old Vic, so I was glad that filmed versions of them were made (for airing on BBC4). Ricocheting around the decades of the twentieth century, this set of monologues marked 50 years since the Sexual Offences Act of 1967 decriminalised private homosexual acts between men aged over 21, and aimed to celebrate some of the most poignant, funny, tragic and riotous moments of British gay male experience.

Pulled together by Mark Gatiss, these 8 20-minute pieces are ostensibly set in the same bar but run the full gamut of emotion as we shift around in time. There’s exquisite moments of happiness in lives otherwise marked by despair. The fleeting touch from Gatiss’ The Man on the Platform so achingly described by Ben Whishaw, the heady night spent with an American soldier by Ian Gelder’s omi in Matthew Baldwin’s I Miss the War.

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Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 9

“Time will tell, it always does”

Phew, the Doctor Who rewatch comes to an end with the most recent series, another that I hadn’t seen any of since it originally aired. And again it was one of highs and lows, a frustrating sense of pick and mix that never settles. So from the astonishing bravura of the (practically) solo performance in Heaven Sent to kid-friendly quirks of the sonic sunglasses and guitar playing, Capaldi took us from the sublime to the silly. Fortunately there was more of the former than the latter (although it is interesting that my memory had it the other way round).

Part of it comes down to knowing in advance how the hybrid arc plays out (disappointingly) and a little perspective makes Clara’s departure(s) a little less galling. This way, one can just enjoy the episodes for what they are, free from the weight of the attempted mythologising. The Doctor raging against the futility of war, the wisdom (or otherwise) of forgiveness, the repercussions of diving in to help others without thinking through the consequences…it is often excellent stuff. It’s also nice to see Who employ its first openly transgender actor (Bethany Black) and a deaf actor playing a deaf character (Sophie Stone). Continue reading “Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 9”

CD Review: The Fix (1997 Original London Cast)

“The economy, crime, taxes!”
I’ve seen The Fix twice now – once at the old Union and once at the new and to be honest, it’s not a show I particularly love. With a rock/pop score by Dana P Rowe and book and lyrics by John Dempsey, its political shenanigans schtick has now been overtaken by the real-life ridiculousness in the political spheres on both sides of the ocean and in any case, aimed for a kind of melodrama that never really worked for me as far back as the comparative calm of 2012.
A big issue for me is the score and its magpie nature, beginning with the power-pop chorus of ‘One, Two, Three’ with its forceful guitars and then dipping in and out of the worlds of vaudeville, lounge jazz, straight-up balladry, even folk songs. Sprawling in such a manner means we never really get a sense of the kind of world that the show is trying to conjure – only in Philip Quast’s charismatic ‘First Came Mercy’ with its Kander + Ebb sharpness does The Fix express its identity.

It’s interesting to hear John Barrowman here at an early stage in his career, clearly expressing a rock edge to his voice which has now long been smoothed out in the name of showmanship and Kathryn Evans is a Machiavellian delight as his manipulative mother Violet. Krysten Cummings as the jazz singer mistress also sounds lovely but incongruous, in a cast recording that doesn’t really do it for this listener.

TV Review: Humans Series 1

“You’re just a stupid machine aren’t you”

I wasn’t going to write Humans up but I’ve spoken so enthusiastically about it with several people since I watched the whole thing in three days and so thought I’d better recommend it even further. If there’s any justice in the world, Gemma Chan will win all sorts of awards for her performance as Anita (later Mia), the Synth or human-like android that has become the must-have accessory for domestic service in this parallel present-day universe. 

Anita is bought by the Hawkins family who soon start to twig that something isn’t right in the way she is behaving and as Sam Vincent and Jonathan Brackley’s drama continues over its 8 episodes, we come to see that the lines between human and machine have been considerably blurred by technological advancement and its potential to be exploited identified as a key priority for the nefarious powers-that-be.

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CD Review: Company (1996 London Cast Recording)

 “It’s things like using force together,
Shouting till you’re hoarse together,
Getting a divorce together”

Sam Mendes’ production of Stephen Sondheim’s Company was a big success at the Donmar Warehouse in 1995 and subsequently transferred to the Albery Theatre (now the Noël Coward). A recording of the show can be found in full on YouTube at the moment but I restrained myself to just listening to the cast recording, which I have to say was something of a disappointment in the end despite seeming promising.

It’s quite an odd thing to listen to, often frustratingly inconsistent as in the normally reliable Anna Francolini’s ‘Another Hundred People’ in which a broad Noo Yoik accent fades in and out in a most distracting manner. Sophie Thompson battles gamely with ‘Getting Married Today’ but without the assured brilliance of her acting to complement it, the vocal alone doesn’t really pass muster. Continue reading “CD Review: Company (1996 London Cast Recording)”

TV Review: Death Comes to Pemberley

“We must stay positive my dear, and hope that he at least died in a duel”

The jewel in the BBC’s Christmas programming for 2013 was the adaptation of PD James’ Death Comes to Pemberley, her continuation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice but in the vein of her own murder mystery style. Stripped over three days (because schedulers don’t seem to believe we can wait between episodes any more), the trio of hour-long, lusciously-filmed episodes were perfect for plumping in front of the telly for, without having to engage the brain too much, and proved an interesting exemplar of both the weaknesses and strengths of James’ enterprise.

The story begins six years after the wedding between Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy as the preparations for their annual ball are rudely disrupted by the wayward arrival of Lydia’s coach and her breathless announcement of murder. An investigation into the woods around Pemberley soon reveals a body and it is Lydia’s husband the dastardly Mr Wickham who is suspected of the deed. Thus follows a crime procedural (of sorts) as Lizzie and Darcy try to get to the bottom of who exactly killed the man, whilst negotiating their tangled history of their families and trying to avoid social shame.  Continue reading “TV Review: Death Comes to Pemberley”