News: keep Clowns and carry on

In which I ask WWPD (what would Patti do) and decide to honour my reviewing schedule as best as I can

“A toast to that invincible bunch”

So…what’s a Clown to do in times of Coronavirus, apart from look longingly at this amazing Patti LuPone photoshoot from Town and County Magazine? It’s hard, if not impossible, to know what the right thing to do is at an unprecedented moment like this. When the creative industries that I love and cherish so dearly are under threat of being decimated, when the day job is also wracked by uncertainty, when the act of trying to manage my own anxiety feels hard enough on its own. Heck, even the idea of staying in of an evening feels strange after a decade of intensive theatregoing.

My answer, for now, is to keep busy and to that end, I am going to be honouring my reviewing schedule as it looked for the forthcoming month. Obviously I can’t reviews shows that haven’t happened but I’m going to try to pull together mini-feature pieces for them, to collate any previews and interviews they may have done, to give you the means of staying in touch with the companies and theatres and most significantly, the ways in which any support that you can offer can be given. Obviously, the precariousness of the situation affects so many of us but any assistance that can be offered, in any shape, will surely help in the process of getting through to the other side. Do as Patti says – “everybody rise”.

 

Photos: Douglas Friedman, styled by Ryan Young

Lockdown TV Review: Spooks Series 6

AKA the one that doesn’t work and the one that you should avoid if you’re feeling angsty about the current situation – approach Spooks Series 6 with caution

“The only option will be national quarantine and burial pits”

Series 6 is one of the trickier ones to watch right now so be warned – it opens with a two-parter called ‘The Virus’ which makes for a eerily chilling watch. It’s also a curious season as whilst the introduction of a series-long storyline – Iran seeking to gain nuclear capability – for the first time seems like it should work no problem, the reality doesn’t hang together quite as well as it ought.

The major level conspiracy theory takes too long to click into gear, and never really reaches the high-stakes territory it needs to hit home hard. The ‘mole in MI-5’ thread doesn’t pay off convincingly, recruiting another journalist off the street tests the patience (sorry Ben) and where one fake-out death of a major character might be permitted, two in the space of three episodes feels lazy. A major disappointment following the highs of Series 5.

Nicola Walker-ometer
Absolute zero, it’s as if she never existed. Fucking Harry. Continue reading “Lockdown TV Review: Spooks Series 6”

Not-a-review: CASES, The Other Palace

All things being equal, I would have been reviewing new musical CASES at The Other Palace last night, but here’s some snippets of the show to give you a taster of what we can (eventually) look forward

“I’m frightened with the fear of not knowing”

Written by Dominic Powell and due to star Maiya Quansah-Breed, Sabrina Aloueche, Andrew Patrick-Walker and Adrian Hanse, CASES is a new musical “exploring the triumphs, heartbreaks and sacrifices involved in the pursuit of art, where the commercial world collides with the underground and fame becomes a high price to pay”. It premiered at the Phoenix Arts Club in 2017 but this new production, directed by Grace Taylor, features a new score and new songs and technology being what it is these days, we have a taste of two of them below, which should whet the appetite for when the show is able to resurface.

 

For Cases
You can follow the show on Twitter here, and on Instagram here
You can also find Pioneer Arts Media on YouTube here

For The Other Palace
You can follow the theatre on Twitter here
You can look at ways of supporting the theatre via this page here

Album Review: The Prince of Egypt (Original Cast Recording)

There’s two songs I could listen to for ages on the Original Cast Recording of The Prince of Egypt but I could easily leave the rest

“No power on earth can change that, brother”

There was a moment in the last couple of days as I listened to ‘Make It Right’ for the umpteenth time that I wondered whether I’d been a bit harsh to The Prince of Egypt when it opened in late February. I’d made the note ‘lovely duet’ at the time and on record, the sweet/strong combination of Liam Tamne and Luke Brady’s voices is an absolute winner as their fraternal connection is tested over soaring contrapuntal melodies and an orchestral backing that flows as effortlessly as the Red Sea

So too, the show’s most famous song (so much so that the publicity campaign basically centred on it) ‘When You Believe’ has a choral majesty that is undeniable. Alexia Khadime and Christine Allado lead the company with real style – the interplay of their voices in the middle chorus is spine-tingingly lovely – and the incorporation of the Hebrew-sung bridge (led by Mia Lakha) is a rare graceful moment of geo-specificity that works. Continue reading “Album Review: The Prince of Egypt (Original Cast Recording)”

Lockdown TV Review: Spooks Series 5

Full of shocks that actually mean something, Series 5 of Spooks is one of its absolute best

“The British people will accept anything if you serve it up with a picture of Will Young in the shower”

A cracking series of Spooks that starts off with a series of bangs, robbing Colin of his life and Juliet Shaw of her ability to walk, the introduction of Ros Myers to the team is an invigorating success, particularly as she inspires Jo to become more badass too. This incarnation of the team really does click well, responding smoothly to the enforced changes in personnel, though newly single father Adam’s mental health crisis too often feels like a plot device rather than a genuine exploration of PTSD.

Subject-wise, the relevance level remains high, particularly pertinent when it comes to national crises with panic buying and over-stuffed hospitals feeling all too real. The role of fundamentalist zealots is shared equally between Christian and Islamic believers over the series and even if the finale underwhelms somewhat, the eco-terrorism theme hasn’t become any less significant.

Nicola Walker-ometer
I’m still not over it, the defenestration of Ruth Evershed. Having finally made it to a date with Harry, which went about as well as could be expected, she runs up against a murderous Oliver Mace conspiracy and ends up having to fake her own death to protect Harry and ends up fleeing the country. An ignominious end for the heart of the team.  Continue reading “Lockdown TV Review: Spooks Series 5”

Lockdown Theatre Review: One Man, Two Guvnors, National Theatre at Home

I really love National Theatre at Home
I really don’t love One Man, Two Guvnors 

“I’ve paid for these sausage rolls, so why waste ’em”

To start on a positive, I think we can agree that National Theatre at Home is a huge success. The type of scheme that only large institutions can hope to really pull off but even so, managing the kind of appointment-to-view occasion that was its debut with One Man, Two Guvnors was still a remarkable achievement. Because it is more than just releasing digital versions of plays on streaming services, it is about trying to capture just a spark of that special charge of electricity that comes with going to see live theatre.

Whilst that particular pleasure is denied us during the Covid-19 crisis, this strategy of drip-releasing the NT’s considerable archive on a weekly basis feels like an extremely canny move. Clamouring voices have been demanding that every production they can think of be released but a mass dump of everything would be counter-productive, too easily forgotten once the initial excitement has passed. Heck, even I was excited for this Thursday to arrive to take part, despite being no lover of One Man, Two Guvnors or James Corden. Continue reading “Lockdown Theatre Review: One Man, Two Guvnors, National Theatre at Home”

Lockdown TV Review: Spooks Series 4

With the loss of its original core cast and the destabilising presence of Martine McCutcheon, Series 4 of Spooks struggles to find its feet

“You’re up against the British state…who do you think is going to win that particular battle?”

This season of Spooks struggles quite badly amidst all the upheaval of Series 3 in which in the entire original team departed Thames House. Tom’s identikit replacement Adam does well enough but somehow, something goes terribly wrong with the introduction of his wife and fellow spy Fiona (Olga Sosnovska). They sadly lack chemistry and their domestic drama just doesn’t translate well into the business of saving the country on a weekly basis.

The tone is set by the randomly chaotic energy of Martine McCutcheon’s guest spot in the opener two-parter and from then on, as we cover people smuggling, the rise of far right political movements, cultists and the ethics of releasing terrorist suspects, the series jerks along rather, Raza Jaffrey’s Danny-a-like isn’t given anywhere near enough to do and the snaffling of Miranda Raison’s Jo off the street is as bizarre an advert for recruitment as any.

Nicola Walker-ometer
It’s a pretty low-key series for Ruth – hints of her passion for Harry come through whether in romantic feeling or rebelling against him a bit. She comes into her own in the final episode with the revelation of a step-brother who killed himself but has never been mentioned before putting her in the line of fire but all in all she deserves better. Continue reading “Lockdown TV Review: Spooks Series 4”

Lockdown TV Review: Spooks Series 3

It’s all change at Thames House as Series 3 of Spooks sees the original core team leave the security service one way or another 

“We cannot have another Tom Quinn”

I’d forgotten just monumental this series of Spooks was, as first Matthew MacFadyen’s Tom took his leave after getting a conscience, then Keeley Hawes’ Zoe was shunted off to Chile to evade justice and then David Oyelowo’s Danny shuffled off this mortal coil thanks to bloody Fiona and an annoyed Iraqi terrorist. Rupert Penry-Jones was drafted in as Adam, a friendly MI6 type who fits the Tom mould perfectly, though we could have done without his wife (more of that anon).

But even besides all the personnel shifting, the writing is shit-hot in this season, especially when the focus is on the morality of security service actions. Targeted assassinations on North Sea ferries, honeytrapping members of the Turkish mafia, these are meaty issues with some real consequences for all concerned. 

Nicola Walker-ometer
Now firmly established in the team, attention turns to her trying to get some, in the most Ruth-like possible way, ie stalking someone illegally and sharing a carbonara with a traitorous ex-colleague, this is prime Ruth territory. Continue reading “Lockdown TV Review: Spooks Series 3”

Lockdown TV Review: Spooks Series 2

Now this is more like it, Series 2 of Spooks settles into the classic feel that works so well

“This ridiculous James Bondery…do we need it?”

With this second season, Spooks really gets into its stride I think, recognising that it is an ensemble show at heart (and a rolling ensemble at that, although it’s a shame new recruit Sam doesn’t get more to do) and nailing the variation in tone and style of episodes which largely remain self-contained. Also, Nicola Walker finally arrives as Ruth, which is good news for the audience, Harry and the nation.

Topics-wise, we touch on hacker kids, Irish republicanism, Islamic radicalisation and Anglo-American relations among others. But it is ‘I Spy Apocalypse’, written by Howard Brenton and brilliantly directed by Justin Chadwick with a smothering sense of claustrophobia that really gets the pulse racing as a fire drill for a terrorist incident gets very dark very quickly – it’s possibly one of the best ever episodes of Spooks.

Nicola Walker-ometer
Praise the Lord – analyst Ruth Evershed finally arrives in Episode 2 in all her long cardigans and flowing skirts and though initially viewed with suspicion coming from GCHQ as she does, she soon wins over the team with her knowledge of Greek mythology, Russian crucifixion practices and much more besides. Continue reading “Lockdown TV Review: Spooks Series 2”

Lockdown Theatre Review: Memoirs of an Asian Football Casual, Curve Leicester

Hareet Deol and Jay Varsani excel in a highly physical adaptation of Memoirs of an Asian Football Casual, streamed online from Curve Leicester

“Break the cycle. Find what unites us. It ain’t rocket science.”

Just a quickie for this, a show from Curve Leicester which is being streamed for the next week. Memoirs of an Asian Football Casual is an interpretation of Riaz Khan’s book about his experience as a football hooligan in the 1980s which adaptor Dougal Irvine and director Nikolai Foster have reworked into a two-hander which bursts off the stage with enough energy to reach your screen.

Hareet Deol and Jay Varsani play brothers Riaz and Suf who, in their search for a sense of belonging, wind up in the tight-knit community of Leicester City’s Baby Squad, a multicultural gang who more than squared up to the threat of far-right racism. And as they also take on the tens of other roles in the story with lightning quick precision, there’s a powerful tale of a particular shade of British masculinity that has shaped so much of the attitudes that still prevail in dark corners today. It’s well worth the watch over the coming weeks.

Running time: 1 hour 50 minutes
Photo: Ellie Kurttz
Memoirs of an Asian Football Casual is available to watch until Friday 24th April

If you’ve watched Memoirs of an Asian Football Casual, please consider making a donation to Curve by clicking here.

News: #HampsteadTheatreAtHome launches this week

The latest venue to announce the opening of their digital archive in order to satisfy our theatrical cravings is the Hampstead Theatre who, in partnership with The Guardian will re-release the live stream recordings of Mike Bartlett’s Wild, Beth Steel’s Wonderland and Howard Brenton’s Drawing the Line for free.

Available to watch on theguardian.com and hampsteadtheatre.com, the three productions will be made available, on demand, over three consecutive weeks as part of the theatre’s #HampsteadTheatreAtHome series and the first of these – Wild – is available now. And once you’ve watched it, take a look at the ways you can support the Hampstead Theatre here. Continue reading “News: #HampsteadTheatreAtHome launches this week”