Review: The Tell-Tale Heart, National Theatre

Edgar Allan Poe via Anthony Neilson might not seem the typical recipe for your festive fare but The Tell-Tale Heart proves a gory and gothic delight

“I will do anything to make you happy”

Edgar Allan Poe via Anthony Neilson might not seem the typical recipe for your festive fare but The Tell-Tale Heart proves a gory and gothic delight. Marking Neilson’s National Theatre debut, it is a typically free-wheeling affair, a playfully post-modern take on Poe.

The Writer wins a major playwriting award but declines it publicly and to escape the outrage caused, decamps to Brighton to write her second play. She’s looked after there by a delightfully offbeat Landlady who, while she keeps half her face hidden with a mask, opens up her heart and home.  Continue reading “Review: The Tell-Tale Heart, National Theatre”

TV Review: Mrs Wilson

Ruth Wilson excels in the intriguing Mrs Wilson, a drama that couldn’t possibly be true…

“You know all you need to know”

Mrs Wilson begins with ‘the following is inspired by real events’ but the truth is even more than that, as main protagonist Alison Wilson is played by Ruth Wilson, who just happens to be her granddaughter. For the story is taken from the extraordinary revelations of her own family history and adapted into a three-part serial here, which is marvellously tense and beautifully filmed.

We begin on an ordinary day in the early 60s as Alison nips home from her job to make a lunch of cold cuts for her novelist husband Alec. He doesn’t make it down to the table though as he’s kicked the bucket and instantly, hints of mystery abound as she hides his wallet and makes a surreptitious phone call. What she doesn’t expect is the knock on the door a few days later from a woman who claim to be his wife. Continue reading “TV Review: Mrs Wilson”

Review: The Cane, Royal Court

Powerfully acted by Nicola Walker, Alun Armstrong anf Maggie Steed, Mark Ravenhill’s cleverly written The Cane is bracing stuff at the Royal Court

“These children now can hunt out anybody’s grievance and claim it as their own…they want to be offended”

Inspired by Mark Ravenhill’s realisation that some teachers retiring now would have been active when corporal punishment was outlawed in 1986, The Cane is his first new play for a goodly while. And directed by Vicky Featherstone, it is a strikingly intriguing piece of drama which has as much to say about contemporary outrage culture as it does the abuses of the past.

Edward is marking 45 years as a teacher and preparations for his retirement do are in full swing. A mob has trapped him and his wife Maureen in their own home though, inflamed by his past use of the cane, and the arrival of their daughter Anna is little comfort as she is long-estranged. And as it turns out she has both a personal and professional interest here, the atmosphere within proves no less febrile than without. Continue reading “Review: The Cane, Royal Court”

Album Review: The Grinning Man (2018 London Cast Live Recording)

I thoroughly enjoy getting to revisit the dark delights of new British musical The Grinning Man

“Laughter is the best medicine”

I loved The Grinning Man in both its incarnations – from Bristol’s Old Vic to the West End – and so I was most pleased to hear that it would be immortalised in vinyl, or whatever the digital equivalent is… A new British musical (book by Carl Grose, music by Tim Phillips and Marc Teitler, lyrics by all three plus Tom Morris) is always a thing to cherish, even when it is a queerly dark a thing as this. 

It’s a live recording which has its pros and cons. Personally, I like hearing the response of a live audience, particularly in response to the devilishly dark humour of Julian Bleach’s Barkilphedro. And the raw passion you hear in the voices of Louis Maskell and Sanne den Besten as tragic lovers Grinpayne and Dea feels all the more urgent for not having that studio polish to rub off some of the more emotional edges. Continue reading “Album Review: The Grinning Man (2018 London Cast Live Recording)”

TV Review: Humans Series 3

I can’t help but think Humans might have run its course as a uniquely intelligent and British sci-fi drama

“…the coming together of man and machine. You can change the course of history…”

I’ve enjoyed where Humans has taken us thus far, and the beginning of a third series seemed promising. But as I got to the end of this season and twist after twist pointed at where the story might well continue, it felt like I might have reached my expiration date with the show.

The human/synth baby that Mattie is carrying, Niska’s transformation into ur-Niska, V’s survival…it’s hard not to feel that any of these feel far less interesting than where Humans are trod thus far in its carefully balanced but uniquely British brand of sci-fi. Continue reading “TV Review: Humans Series 3”

Review: Drip, Bush Theatre

Tom Wells and Matthew Robins’ sweetly wonderful one-man musical Drip returns to the Bush Theatre

“Eat some toast, then eat more toast
(I love toast)”

In events I can’t imagine being repeated anytime soon, I was the nominated ‘audience hunk’ for this performance of Drip., and far be it from me to review my own performance but never has a wind-chime been tinkled so beautifully… This kind of light-touch audience interaction is threaded throughout the show and really helps to set the mood of slightly bemused wonder.

Tom Wells’ Drip popped up briefly in the library at the Bush Theatre last year, played Edinburgh over the summer and returns to W12 in the studio where its idiosyncratic charms prove well suited. A one-man musical, we follow 15 year old Liam as he makes a presentation to his school assembly in an attempt to win the annual Project Prize and more importantly, win back his friend Caz, Continue reading “Review: Drip, Bush Theatre”

Film Review: Lady Macbeth (2017)

Who needs Shakespeare when you have William Oldroyd and Alice Birch to give us a chillingly excellent Lady Macbeth

“I’d rather stop you breathing than have you doubt how I feel”

Based on the book Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk by Nikolai Leskov, William Oldroyd’s Lady Macbeth is a ferocious debut film and written by Alice Birch (no stranger to theatregoers but also making a feature debut here), it is a remarkably forward-thinking piece for that old hoary chestnut that is the British period drama.

Layering in intersectional notions of race and class, not shying away from domestic abuse and violence, it is probably safe to say it is unlike any other film you’ve seen that is set in 1865 England. Trapped into a stifling marriage with a disinterested man with a domineering father and a dour isolated estate in the North East, Katherine resolves not to let this be the sum total of her life. Continue reading “Film Review: Lady Macbeth (2017)”

Review: Nine Night, Trafalgar Studios

The first play by a black British female playwright to make it into the West End is an absolute corker in Nine Night booking now at the Trafalgar Studios

“Breast milk at nine months?
Poor thing must be longing for a nice piece of chicken”

One day – you hope – we won’t have to comment on such things, but not now, not yet. So we celebrate the fact that Nine Night is the first play by a black British female playwright to make it into the West End, as Natasha Gordon’s debut play makes the move from the National’s smallest space in the Dorfman Theatre to the Trafalgar Studios in one giant leap.

And it does so with a wonderful, well-earned sense of confidence that ought to see the play thrive. I adored it in its run at the National Theatre (where I even predicted the West End transfer) and Roy Alexander Weise’s production has lost none of its power here. Indeed it has even gained some, as Gordon now joins the cast replacing Franc Ashman as Lorraine. Continue reading “Review: Nine Night, Trafalgar Studios”

Album Review: My Fair Lady (2018 Broadway Cast Recording)

I succumb to the charms of My Fair Lady once again with this 2018 Broadway Cast Recording

“I’ll be off a second later and go straight to the theatre”

I wasn’t expecting to like this 2018 Broadway Cast Recording of My Fair Lady half as much as I did. Rumblings of discontent about Lauren Ambrose’s casting as Eliza stuck in my mind, as did the unlikeliness of Harry Hadden-Paton being her Henry Higgins, and who wants American versions of English accents? (I’m sure they feel the same!)

But there’s something rather delicious about this recording that makes it really shine. It helps of course to have a score and lyrics as gloriously evergreen as Lerner and Loewe’s, MD Ted Sperling’s treatment of the original orchestrations making them feel as fresh as a cockney sparrer, and his orchestra sound like a dream. – you really could listen to them all night.  Continue reading “Album Review: My Fair Lady (2018 Broadway Cast Recording)”

Album Review: Summer – The Donna Summer Musical (2018 Broadway Cast Recording)

Is there a market for cast recordings from uninspired jukebox musicals. On Summer – The Donna Summer Musical’s evidence, I find it hard to think so.

“Enough is enough is enough is enough”

Yeesh. Summer – The Donna Summer Musical may have wasted no time in releasing a cast album but it really does point up some of the problems with the market’s increasingly reliance on jukebox musicals. As good as the performances by the likes of LaChanze and Ariana DeBose are and make no mistake, they are two sensational singers who fully deserve their Tony nominations, who is a record like this really aimed at?

It’s no great leap to suggest that fans of Donna Summer will always turn to her albums. For there’s nothing here in the vocal arrangements or the instrumentation that actually elevates it above and beyond a conventional covers album. There’s no narrative through-thread that can be gleaned from the sequencing, no startling insight that makes you reconsider the music anew, it all feels – sadly – rather pointless. Continue reading “Album Review: Summer – The Donna Summer Musical (2018 Broadway Cast Recording)”