TV Review: Last Tango in Halifax Series 2

If she’s sat through King Lear, she’ll want to lie down”

Series 1 of Last Tango in Halifax really was a piece of great British television and so it was most gratifying to see it receive critical and commercial acclaim and thus be recommissioned for a second series. And clearly conscious of what made it such a success first time round, Sally Wainwright hasn’t changed much at all, especially not the quality of her writing, or the show’s (sadly) remarkable focus on the older generations.

We left Series 1 with (almost) childhood sweethearts Alan and Celia reunited at his hospital bed after her homophobia and his heart attack but moving swiftly on, the focus of this new set of six episodes subtly shifted towards their daughters – Sarah Lancashire’s somewhat prim Caroline and Nicola Walker’s earthy Gillian. And the show really benefitted from this I think, these two superb actresses relishing the richly complex characterisations of two richly complex women. Continue reading “TV Review: Last Tango in Halifax Series 2”

TV Review: Last Tango in Halifax Series 1

“We’re not burglars, we’re pensioners”

Going to the theatre as much as I do means that there’s a limit to the number of TV shows that I can watch as they air and so I have to make choices. And opting not to watch Sally Wainwright’s Last Tango to Halifax was one of the poorer decisions of recent times as I soon found out from the rapturous reception from many around me. But lucky boy that I am, the DVD of the show was one of my birthday presents and so I was able to binge on the six episodes over a weekend.

And of course it justified its Best Drama Series BAFTA within its opening minutes and completely entranced me with its world-beating quality and utter classiness. Its main premise is the reconnection between childhood sweethearts Alan and Celia who are now both widowed, in their 70s and just discovering the joys of Facebook. When their IT-literate grandchildren engineer a meeting between the pair, the old flame splutters back into life and we follow the gorgeously sensitive and romantic road that they tread to try and recapture that youthful happiness. Continue reading “TV Review: Last Tango in Halifax Series 1”

2013 British Academy Television Awards nominations

Leading Actor
Sean Bean – Accused: “Tracie’s Story” (BBC One)
Derek Jacobi – Last Tango in Halifax (BBC One)
Toby Jones – The Girl (BBC Two)
Ben Whishaw – Richard II: “The Hollow Crown” (BBC Two)

Leading Actress
Rebecca Hall – Parade’s End (BBC Two)
Sienna Miller – The Girl (BBC Two)
Anne Reid – Last Tango in Halifax (BBC One)
Sheridan Smith – Mrs Biggs (ITV) Continue reading “2013 British Academy Television Awards nominations”

Review: Serjeant Musgrave’s Dance, Royal Court

“We have to be remembered”

This rehearsed reading of Serjeant Musgrave’s Dance was held at the Royal Court in memory of its playwright John Arden who passed away in March of this year. I decided to attend as he’s not a writer I’m familiar with and the little reading I about him that I did in advance seemed to suggest that he’s possibly due a Rattigan-like revival. Though now apparently considered a highly significant British playwright, his work hasn’t really been in fashion in recent decades and his was a career marked with frequent clashes with the theatrical establishment which has possibly led to his oeuvre being a little neglected.

The journey of the play Serjeant Musgrave’s Dance itself seems archetypal in this respect. It was received badly by both critics and audiences on its opening in 1959 but is now considered to be his best play and a modern classic. The process of exactly how something like this happens is something I’m very interested in discovering more about, (a short programme note explains the Royal Court themselves published a leaflet for audiences asking ‘What kind of theatre do you want?’ to get to the bottom of the issue) but on the evidence of this play, it is a little hard to see why it was not a success. Continue reading “Review: Serjeant Musgrave’s Dance, Royal Court”

2012 Laurence Olivier Awards nominations

Best New Play 
Collaborators by John Hodge – National Theatre Cottesloe
Jumpy by April De Angelis – Jerwood Downstairs, Royal Court
One Man, Two Guvnors by Richard Bean – National Theatre Lyttleton
The Ladykillers by Graham Linehan – Gielgud

Best New Musical
Betty Blue Eyes – Novello
Ghost – Piccadilly
London Road – National Theatre Cottesloe
Matilda – Cambridge
Shrek – Theatre Royal Drury Lane

Best Revival 
Anna Christie – Donmar Warehouse
Flare Path – Haymarket
Much Ado about Nothing – Wyndham’s
Noises Off – Old Vic Continue reading “2012 Laurence Olivier Awards nominations”

2012 What’s On Stage Award nominations

BEST ACTOR IN A PLAY
James Corden – One Man, Two Guvnors at the National, Lyttelton & Adelphi 
Benedict Cumberbatch – Frankenstein at the National, Olivier 
Jude Law – Anna Christie at the Donmar Warehouse 
Kevin Spacey – Richard III at the Old Vic 
David Tennant – Much Ado About Nothing at Wyndham’s
James Earl Jones – Driving Miss Daisy at Wyndham’s 

BEST ACTRESS IN A PLAY
Vanessa Redgrave – Driving Miss Daisy at Wyndham’s 
Eve Best – Much Ado About Nothing at Shakespeare’s Globe 
Kristin Scott Thomas – Betrayal at the Comedy 
Ruth Wilson – Anna Christie at the Donmar Warehouse 
Samantha Spiro – Chicken Soup with Barley at the Royal Court Downstairs
Tamsin Greig – Jumpy at the Royal Court Downstairs Continue reading “2012 What’s On Stage Award nominations”

Album Review: Betty Blue Eyes Official London Cast Recording

“He has magic fingers”

Before it came to an untimely end, the cast of Betty Blue Eyes were able to put down their vocals for an official live cast recording which provides something of a legacy for this Stiles + Drewe show. I went to see the show two times – reviews here and here – and loved it on each occasion as a fine exponent of a truly British new musical, but I have to admit I didn’t race to buy the soundtrack when it was first released. Part of it was due to the free taster CD that was released with the Evening Standard one Friday afternoon which meant I already had just under half the songs and though I enjoyed listening to it a couple of times, it was not one to which I returned.

Though I found it to be musically a very strong show, for some reason it doesn’t quite come across as well on the recording. Whether it was the lack of accompanying visuals to up the ante or the fact that I’d seen the show quite recently, the joy I got from watching the show didn’t quite translate into the listening experience I thought it would be. In its entirety, I found it to be so retro-infused and nostalgic as to almost be too much to listen to in one go, it doesn’t quite hit the same spot although there are moments of individual brilliance in some of the songs. Continue reading “Album Review: Betty Blue Eyes Official London Cast Recording”

Re-review: Betty Blue Eyes, Novello

“Pig! No pig!”

Not too much to say about revisiting Betty Blue Eyes as most everything I wanted to say was covered in my original review, and although I’m sad to say there was no Liza at this performance, I was joined by someone even better! I really enjoy watching shows I love with people experiencing them for the first time and seeing what they respond to and I was pleased to hear Aunty Jean chuckling away next to me for most of the show. But it was also interesting to see that there were sections I’d forgotten (one of the dangers of having an album sampler rather than the whole show I think) and how my emotional reactions differed: ‘Magic Fingers’ brought proper tears down my cheek and being somewhat prepared, I was able to look a bit more at the pig without being too freaked out 😉

Aside from the replacement of the lightsabers with paint brushes in ‘Painting By Heart’, I can’t say I noticed any significant changes since the preview I saw. I can’t even really say that I thought the cast looked more comfortable or polished onstage as they were in pretty good shape when I saw them. There’s still the slight feeling that a couple of the roles could be sung by stronger voices, but I would wager that it would rob the show of much of its quirky charm. Continue reading “Re-review: Betty Blue Eyes, Novello”

Review: Betty Blue Eyes, Novello

“Another little victory for little England”

With a book by Ron Cowen + Daniel Lipman, adapted from the story of the film A Private Function by Alan Bennett + Malcolm Mowbray and with a score by George Stiles + Anthony Drewe and marking a rare excursion back into producing from Cameron Mackintosh, Betty Blue Eyes is a new musical at the Novello Theatre with a lot of names credited on the poster! Set in Shepardsford, a Yorkshire town in 1947 at the height of post-war austerity (and previews, which this was, are being sold at austerity prices!), the plot follows Gilbert Chilvers a chiropodist and his frustrated wife Joyce, chafing under the restrictions of the time and who yearns to be accepted into the higher echelon of society where she believes they belong. They are not having much joy until they happen upon a secret plot by the town council to hold a feast for this elite in honour of Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip’s impending marriage at which an illegally kept pig will be the star of the banquet. So, this being a comedy, they steal the pig.

But it is about something more too, over and above the farcical shenanigans with Betty the pig, especially in the more reflective first half. This is a society struggling to come to terms with the enduring impact of the Second World War, the melancholy ‘Magic Fingers’ in particular looking at the wives left behind, as rationing hits hard, threatening to dampen the spirit of those just trying to carry on living in hard times yet still nurturing their own dreams and ambitions. And this is where Stiles + Drewe’s score comes into its own, suffused with a beautiful warmth: it really is stuffed full of tunes, their comical songs are deliciously witty whilst advancing the story, there’s simple but affecting emotion in the balladry and more than once, I found myself just swaying along with a grin on my face (and not just because Liza Minnelli was just a couple of seats away from us). It all has that kind of nostalgic feel that makes for easy recognition and it is a score I wanted to hear again from the moment the show finished. Continue reading “Review: Betty Blue Eyes, Novello”