Album Review: Joel Harper-Jackson – So What Happens Now? / Makerman – Grove Hill / Rob Houchen

An album review of Joel Harper-Jackson’s So What Happens Now? and inspired by Marry Me A Little last night, I explore Makerman and Rob Houchen

“I don’t care if it hurts
I wanna have control”

Released just as the second lockdown kicked in, Joel Harper-Hackson’s debut album has ended up with a painfully apposite title – So What Happens Now?. I first spotted Harper-Jackson a few years as a standout in a middling new musical and have enjoyed following his career since then, not least in the Hope Mill’s gorgeous production of Little Women. Interestingly, this album largely eschews the world of musical theatre for the world of popular music, albeit reimagined through the wonderfully moody arrangements of Greg Morton.

Piano, guitar and cello thus come to the fore to underscore mournful takes on ‘Jolene’ and ‘The Man That Got Away’, the quavering vocal at the beginning of ‘Another Suitcade in Another Hall’ really refocuses the song’s emotion, and the shivering sparseness of ‘Wicked Game’ hits harder than usual, especially once the dramatic stakes are raised. Unexpectedly effective though is the duet on ‘Tragedy’ with Jodie Steele which utterly reinterprets the rueful acceptance of the song in a way which makes complete sense. ‘Creep’ with Lauren Byrne is pretty damn good too. If ever there was an album to cry-listen to whilst looking through a rainy November window and eating a packet of biscuits, this is that album and this is that moment. Highly recommended. Continue reading “Album Review: Joel Harper-Jackson – So What Happens Now? / Makerman – Grove Hill / Rob Houchen”

News: The Royal Variety Show 2020 is confirmed

Comedian, actor and singer Jason Manford is to host The Royal Variety Performance at the historic Blackpool Opera House in the Winter Gardens Complex. His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales will deliver a special message to the charity and the artistes performing in the show, as he looks forward to this exceptional evening of entertainment.

Returning to the North after nine years, the show promises to be an unforgettable evening of exceptional performers, world class British theatre and superb comedy, plus some exciting surprises. Continue reading “News: The Royal Variety Show 2020 is confirmed”

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”

TV Review: Jonathan Creek Specials (2009–2013)

The Jonathan Creek specials from 2009–2013 undo much of the damage from Series 4, with Sheridan Smith largely to thank for that

“I’ve got a very important presentation to Weetabix in five minutes”

After the horror show that was the fourth series, Jonathan Creek disappeared from our TV screens for five years and for the subsequent five, returned only intermittently for three feature-length specials from 2009–2013. And I think the break did everyone a world of good as these episodes rival some of the show’s best in recapturing the sense of investigative fun that lay at its heart.

Chief in this is the casting of Sheridan Smith as wise-cracking paranormal investigator Joey Ross. Their buddy relationship is well drawn, wisely kept clear of any romantic entanglement and yet still deeply affectionate at its heart. Complex, multi-faceted mysteries are allowed to unfold more effectively in the longer format, although Renwick can’t help himself with women as porn stars and clod-hopping trans jokes. For the most part, everything just hangs together  better – until Jonathan get a wife that is…More of that in Series 5. Continue reading “TV Review: Jonathan Creek Specials (2009–2013)”

TV Review: Jonathan Creek, Series 4

Series 4 sees Jonathan Creek lose its way badly as chauvinism slides into misogyny amid Alan Davies and Julia Sawalha’s strange chemistry

“Now it’ll save your time and mine, I think, if I truncate”

I found series 4 of Jonathan Creek surprisingly difficult to watch. Even if the quality had started to taper off over the course of the previous three seasons, something critical had been lost at this point, far over and beyond the departure of original star Caroline Quentin. Her replacement was Julia Sawalha’s Carla, introduced in the 2001 Christmas special and though she shares a screwball-ish energy with Alan Davies’ duffle-coated protagonist, she’s been married off to Ade Edmondson’s svengali Brendan.

It’s an odd choice that unsettles the whole rhythm of the show, as it devotes way too much time to the uneasy relationship between the pair. And as David Renwick’s writing fully immerses itself in its worst male chauvinist excesses – just look at how women are presented in the first episode, from the prizewinner presented as a grotesque to Anna Francolini being done dirty as a ditzy assistant – the idea that the majority of female characters now have to throw themselves at Jonathan’s feet, is delusional nonsense. Continue reading “TV Review: Jonathan Creek, Series 4”

TV Review: The Crown, Series 4 Episodes 1-3

I ration myself to Episodes 1-3 of Series 4 of The Crown in the first instance but find it is losing its lustre a little

“I’m struggling to find any redeeming features in these people at all”

Kicking off in 1977, Series 4 of The Crown swiftly moves into my lifetime with its second scene taking place in 1979, although not quite into events that I remember, at least in these first three episodes. And with the arrival of both Diana Spencer and Margaret Thatcher on the scene, there’s quite the decade to explore.

But something has gone a little awry for me and The Crown. The sheer scope of Peter Morgan’s writing means that there’s a mahoosive ensemble at work here but the nature of his construction of episodes that drill down to intimate focus means that there’s huge gaps and terrible wastage, particularly of Helena Bonham Carter’s delicious Princess Margaret. Continue reading “TV Review: The Crown, Series 4 Episodes 1-3”

News: #CheerUpCharlie & West End Friends release ‘You Will Be Found’

You Will Be Found by #CheerUpCharlie & West End Friends, a fundraising charity single in aid of youth charity The Diana Award, has been released today by Auburn Jam Music to tie in with the start of National Anti-Bullying Week, which runs from 16th-20th November. 

The star-studded single is led by ten-year-old Charlie Kristensen from Wokingham, whose experience of being bullied started the viral #CheerUpCharlie campaign. Charlie is joined on the song by numerous stage and screen stars including Wendi Peters, Layton Williams and Michael Xavier, with Iain Armitage, Michael Ball, Rufus Hound, and Faye Tozer amongst many famous faces reading their supportive messages on the song’s video. Continue reading “News: #CheerUpCharlie & West End Friends release ‘You Will Be Found’”

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”

TV Review: Jonathan Creek, Series 2

The second series of Jonathan Creek continues the good form of the first, even if the writing starts to verge on the misogynistic

“There’s always an explanation”

After the success of its first season, Series 2 of Jonathan Creek followed in short order in early 1998. And having firmly established its modus operandi of impossible crimes and simmering but awkward sexual chemistry between Akan Davies’ Jonathan and Caroline Quentin’s Maddy, it carries on ploughing that same furrow.

This series sees Stuart Milligan added to the mix as Adam Klein, replacing Anthony Head who got the job as Giles on Buffy and whilst he is a vividly entertaining character, his presence seems to allow writer David Renwick to indulge in some misogynistic touches over and above what might be ‘forgiven’ for being 20 years old, just look at the way Adam and indeed Jonathan treat the majority of the women in their life…  Continue reading “TV Review: Jonathan Creek, Series 2”

TV Review: Jonathan Creek, Series 1

I turn to a rewatch of Jonathan Creek to get me through Week 2 of Lockdown #2 and enjoy the freshness of the first series

“No one could have killed your husband and then left this room”

Starting in 1997 and memorably co-opting Saint-Saëns’ renowned ‘Danse Macabre’ for its theme tune, mystery crime thriller Jonathan Creek occupies a happy place in my TV memories, so I was a little hesitant at first in case it didn’t match up to how I remembered.

From cracking seemingly impenetrable alibis, to working out how to escape a nuclear bunker, to locked room mysteries of all sorts, it turns out David Renwick’s writing holds up rather well. The plotting is sufficiently twisty that it is nigh on impossible to figure out who and certainly howdunnit and I remembered none of the important details so it was like watching it anew. Continue reading “TV Review: Jonathan Creek, Series 1”