2018 What’s On Stage Award nominations


It’s that time of year again and getting in early with the announcement of their nominees is What’s on Stage. Voted for by the public, they’re often skewed a little towards the bigger ‘names’ but this year’s set of nominations are relatively controversy-free. There’s something a little odd about the way that regional theatre has its own separate category but its actors appear in the main ones – I feel like regional theatre productions should either be considered entirely in or out, rather than this halfway house.

Naturally, big shows rule the roost – 42nd Street and Bat out of Hell lead the lists with 8 nominations apiece – and they’ve even found a way to shoehorn in Hamilton by nominating it for the two new categories of Best Cast Recording (which somehow includes Les Mis??) and Best Show Poster, thus being able to get round it not actually being open yet and grabbing the requisite headlines once it does, inevitably, win.

Andrew Garfield, Angels in America
Andrew Scott, Hamlet
Bryan Cranston, Network
David Tennant, Don Juan in Soho
Martin Freeman, Labour of Love

Eve Best, Love in Idleness
Imelda Staunton, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Olivia Colman, Mosquitoes
Natalie Dormer, Venus in Fur
Tamsin Greig, Labour of Love Continue reading “2018 What’s On Stage Award nominations”

Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 7

“It is known that the Doctor requires companions”

Right – the first season that I haven’t rewatched any of at all. Things get a bit hectic here as once again, the series got split in two, accommodating the mid-season departure of Amy and Rory and the (re-)introduction of new companion Clara Oswald, plus a pair of specials respectively marking the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who and the end of Matt Smith’s tenure as Eleven. It all adds up to a bit of a bloated mess to be honest, though not without its high points.
Amy and Rory feel a little ill-served by their final five, the introduction of Mark Williams as Rory’s dad detracts from their screen-time (yet he doesn’t feature in their farewell?), though the return of the Weeping Angels gives their noirish NY-set exit episode some real heft. And though I admire Jenna Coleman’s confident take on Clara, she’s a hard companion to warm to without any contrasting humanity to go with her intelligence and intensity.
The ‘Impossible Girl’ arc didn’t really tick my box and the grandiosity of Moffatt’s writing for the finale of The Name of…, The Day of… and The Time of the Doctor doesn’t really help (I was curiously unmoved by all the fan-service second time round). Still, Gatiss knocks it out of the park with the superb Ice Warrior tale Cold War and bringing mother and daughter Dame Diana Rigg and Rachael Stirling together on screen for the first time. 

Episodes, in order of preference

Asylum of the Daleks
Cold War
The Name of the Doctor
The Power of Three
The Crimson Horror
The Angels Take Manhattan
The Snowmen
The Day of the Doctor
Dinosaurs on a Spaceship
The Time of the Doctor
Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS
The Bells of Saint John
Nightmare in Silver
The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe
The Rings of Akhaten
A Town Called Mercy

Top 5 guest spots

1 Dame Diana Rigg and Rachael Stirling – together on screen for the first time
2 There’s not much Jessica Raine does that I don’t love and she’s great in Hide
3 Liam Cunningham/David Warner
4 Riann Steele’s Nefertiti
5 Neve McIntosh/Catrin Stewart/Dan Starkey – the Paternoster Gang deserve a shoutout because they really do work well together

Saddest death

Not really any tragic demises that caught my attention – Matt Smith’s farewell speech is probably the moment that moved me the most

Most wasted guest actor

Lots of far too small guest appearances (Tessa Peake-Jones for one) but Jade Anouka’s blink-and-miss-it waitress is a real missed opportunity to utilise such a great actor.

Most important thing that is never mentioned again

Either everything in this series makes complete sense or else I’ve stopped caring… Oh I know, that conference call thing. Just no.

Gay agenda rating

A – Vastra and Jenny’s relationship is proudly out in the air, David Warner hits on the Doctor, and Clara is (at least) bi-curious

DVD Review: A Midwinter’s Tale (1995)

“I’m clean, I’m conscientous and I travel with my own tits”

Where else would you get to see Adrian Scarborough’s Richard III but in passing in a random Kenneth Branagh backstage movie. His movie as a director in which he does not star, A Midwinter’s Tale (or In The Bleak Midwinter as it appears to be known in some places) is a rather sweet comedy that makes for a light-hearted take on the often-time serious Shakespeare for which he was getting increasingly known.
Though fun, it is an acutely observed look at the itinerant life of an actor and the different ways in which people deal with its stresses. Unemployed for a year, Michael Maloney’s Joe offers to help out his sister’s local church by mounting a Christmas production of Hamlet, gathering a cast of similar odds and sods who are also available at the last minute. And together, even with the copious issues this motley crew bring with them, theatrical magic somehow begins to bloom. 

Written by Branagh with various of these actors in mind, the film balances its serious consideration of what it means to be an actor, not just for oneself but for one’s loved ones, with a deliciously sharp sense of wit, poking fun at any manner of luvvie pretensions. Whether Richard Briers’ Henry passing as a Shakespearean veteran simply because he’s old, Nicholas Farrell’s Tom fighting over every one of his cut lines or Celia Imrie’s designer Fadge unable to commit to a decision, it is all wittily done.
Joan Collins as Joe’s agent and Jennifer Saunders as a Hollywood producer boosts the name recognition but it is the quality of the cast that really allows the writing to shine through – John Sessions’ old queen Terry revealing aching personal stories, Gerard Horan’s Carnforth unable to admit his drinking problem or Michael Maloney’s Joe running around trying to make it all work whilst also tackling the lead role, A Midwinter’s Tale actually becomes quietly moving as well as noisily funny.

TV Review: Crashing Series 1, Channel 4

“Everyone fucks everyone, eventually”

I wrote here about the first episode of Crashing, Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s sitcom for Channel 4, and though it didn’t really float my boat, I did persevere with the rest of the series. Truth be told though, it was just more of the same – I continued to like what I liked about it and similarly, what substantially rubbed me up the wrong way continued to bug me.
Namely, the thoroughly unlikeable nature of Waller-Bridge’s self-played lead Lulu, crashing into the lives of old friend Anthony and his fiancée Kate and doing her utmost to fuck up their relationship in order to act on their hitherto unexplored lifelong sexual tension. Not that characters have to be likeable to be good but I found nothing redeemable in Lulu, just a thoroughly obnoxious selfishness that turned me off pretty much the whole show.

Which was a shame, as there were bright spots, not least in Damien Molony’s chilled portrayal of Anthony and the frequency with which he was shirtless. And the secondary character plots of double act Jonathan Bailey and Amit Shah’s Sam and Fred and their negotiation of closeted infatuation and jealous boyfriends, and Adrian Scarborough’s hapless divorcé transitioning into artist’s muse were often quite amusing. 


And the level of richly observed detail constantly reminded of Waller-Bridge’s undoubted talent – from the affectations of cutlery-free restaurants to the truths we speak when absolutely hammered – and the guest spots of a lascivious Kathy Burke and a business-like Janie Dee demonstrates the quality of her contacts, I just wish I’d enjoyed the whole thing more. It would be good to see Waller-Bridge expanding the world of her writing.

Photos: courtesy of the Damien Molony forum

TV Review: Crashing, Channel 4

“Someone needs an orgasm”

After the Olivier Award-nominated success of her solo show Fleabag, Phoebe Waller-Bridge has now made the leap to the small screen with Crashing, a new six-part comedy which is airing on Channel 4. Reuniting her with frequent creative partner Vicky Jones, its set-up involves a group of youngish Londoners who have opted out of increasing rental rates and signed up as property guardians for a disused hospital in which they now reside. 
It’s hard to judge a series on its first episode alone but it does feel that Crashing has a way to go if it is going to work effectively. The writing does feel rather derivative – I kept having flashbacks to The One, with its repeated fake-outs – and rather too determined to be bolshy and indeed banterish, instead of, well, funny. The jokes about tampons, lesbian porn et al try too hard, the will-they-won’t-hey trope is deployed twice in this first episode alone, there’s work to be done… 
Where potential does seem to lie is in the quality of the cast. Waller-Bridge’s Lulu is a little too knowing-manic pixie dream girl to really work (that ukulele…) as the presumed spanner in the relationship of her old friend Anthony and his fiancée Kate but a relaxed Damien Molony and a repressed Louise Ford show promise. Adrian Scarborough brings class wherever he treads and I look forward to seeing more of Susan Wokoma’s character too. 
And despite the fact I should know better, the prospect of Jonathan Bailey’s bleached-blond possible closet-case estate agent Sam and Amit Shah’s nerdishly shy Fred maybe getting it on has its perks (thanks to director George Kane for the flash of the former’s abs), though the over-compensatory womanising may wear thin before then. So if nothing else, Waller-Bridge knows the gays are easy to please and we’ll watch the ensuing episodes of Crashing with more interest than this first episode perhaps merits.

Review: The Odyssey, Almeida/Live-stream

“I’m stunned with wonder”

When Rupert Goold first announced the #AlmeidaGreeks season with all its familiar titles, I don’t think anyone could have predicted how genuinely epic a sweep of theatrical innovation it would usher in. From the extraordinary Oresteia to the shattering Bakkhai and Medea, the radical main house programme has been supported by a wide range of supplementary activity, not least the 16 hour, 60+ actor retelling of The Iliad (which can now be viewed in full on the Almeida website).

So it’s only natural that as the season draws to an end, it is bookended by another Homeric extravaganza in The Odyssey, again with 60 odd actors participating in a 12 hour non-stop feat of major storytelling which was live-streamed on t’internet. And conscious of raising the ante, directors Rupert Goold and Robert Icke took us on a literal journey, putting the players in taxicabs, boats, buses, trekking across rooftops and down busy streets to bring Ithaca to Islington as Odysseus winds his way home.

The Iliad took place on the day I came back from holiday so I was only able to watch the tail-end of it so I was determined to catch more of The Odyssey, intending to drop in and out of it all day (as technically I was at work…) but it was so seductively brilliant and relentlessly interesting that there was barely a moment I was able to tear my eyes away. From an impassioned Simon Russell Beale beginning at the fall of Troy to the glorious Lia Williams bringing us to the climax 10 years later, it was an absolute triumph.

Highlights from this treasure chest of wonders were many and varied – Ian McKellen giving forth from the Council Chamber of Islington Town Hall, Stanley Tucci orating on the choppy waters of the Thames, Miranda Richardson, Janet Suzman, Toby Jones… But The Odyssey really came into its own when certain actors had to deal memorably, and unbelievably professionally, with the vagaries of live performance combined with the unpredictability of a city that doesn’t stop for anyone, not even Juliet Stevenson.

Stevenson delivered her Cyclops-bashing segment from a capsule on the London Eye and tussled magnificently with the automated voice in there, reminding her to smile and take her belongings with her to which the text gave her the perfect riposte. And a medal should also be awarded to Stephen Fewell who came up against a jobsworth who wouldn’t let him on the boat he was due to take yet barely batted an eyelid. Andrew Scott and Anna Madeley also both stood out with fiercely committed recitations, bringing blistering life to the text. Another stunningly audacious theatrical treat from what has been a five-month-long highlight of the year.

DVD Review: To Kill A King

“This is not war…”
As with many historical films, it is easy to get caught up in matters of accuracy with To Kill A King’s portrayal of Oliver Cromwell and the puritan movement he led with Thomas Fairfax which ultimately saw the trial and death of King Charles I. The casting of Tim Roth instantly points toward the direction Mike Barker’s film leans in and before even a word is spoken, we’re left in no uncertain terms about the psychopathic tendencies of this interpretation of Cromwell. But written by Jenny Mayhew, the film’s focus is actually on the relationship between the two friends and the strain it faces as they set about rebuilding a nation.
And in that respect I think it is quite a successful piece of work. Roth’s furious intensity as he fights for a republican ideal is tempered by Dougray Scott’s intelligent ambivalence as Fairfax, less inclined to shake up the societal order that is such a major part of his and his family’s life, not least his wife Lady Anne, played excellently by Olivia Williams. The way in which the two are slowly pulled apart as their political ideals are twisted by the realities of negotiating with a recalcitrant Parliament and a manipulative King, active even after his deposition, is compellingly told and engagingly performed.
Scott is particularly good when examining the ramifications of his actions through the reluctant eyes of his wife and he has a genuine chemistry with Williams that makes their scenes a joy. She remains a monarchist and thus is a major force in Fairfax’s own ambivalence, his preference is for a limited monarchy rather than its entire abolition, and this dilemma is the film’s driving force. With Cromwell on the one side and Charles on the other – Rupert Everett has rarely been this good as the king utterly convinced of his divine right – it’s a fascinating struggle, whether true or not.
The cameo hit rate is quite good in here. Finbar Lynch glowers excellently as a key member of the republicans, Adrian Scarborough is an endearing soldier and Steven Webb, Jonathan Coy and Benedict Cumberbatch all pop up at various points. Your enjoyment of To Kill A King will be dependent on your inclination to forgive historical liberties – not being a period of history I know too well, it didn’t bother me so much and crucially, the story it does tell is an interesting one. 

Radio Review: Time and the Conways / Jailbird Lover / The Benefit of Time

“You don’t know what day it is today”

It’s been a while since I’ve listened to any radio drama but the prospect of an all star cast doing JB Priestley’s Time and the Conways was something I couldn’t resist and under David Hunter’s direction, it was a truly beautiful piece of work. The aching lyricism of the play and its innovative (extremely so for the time) non-linear structure have long been a favourite and so to see them get the luxury treatment here, headed up by Harriet Walter as Mrs Conway, is just fantastic.

The play looks at the fortunes of the Conway family as they celebrate the 21st birthday of one of the daughters Kay in 1919 and then flicks forward 19 years where we see straightaway what has become of them. And as their lot mirrors that of the class system in Britain, it isn’t a happy one. Walter’s brittle blitheness as she tries to ignore the financial situation is blissful, Anna Madeley and Rupert Evans are just gorgeous as Alan and Kay – the two decent ones out of the whole bunch – and Colin Guthrie’s piano adds an elegiac beauty. Sublime

Craig Hawes’ Jailbird Lover made for quite the change in pace, a ditzy comedy about Gwilym, a confirmed bachelor who lives a hermit-like existence in a Welsh village, venturing out only to the postbox to send love letters to female convicts across the globe, safe in the knowledge that their long sentences mean he’d never actually have to ever meet them. So sure enough, one turns up on his doorstep – Claire-Louise Cordwell’s Layla – and his life is turned upside down. It’s all rather charmingly done, Charles Dale is a goofy hero, and it all makes some decent entertainment.

And equally amusing was Terri-Ann Brumby’s The Benefit of Time featuring a class duo – Samantha Spiro and Adrian Scarborough – as a dowdy office worker and an unscrupulous hypnotist respectively who are taken by surprise when a session together reveals that she was Anne Boleyn in a former life. It has the potential to be daft as a brush but Brumby keeps things on an intriguing level – at first it seems obvious that he is taking her for a ride but increasingly, it feels like she who is milking the situation as her personal and professional life take an unprecedented turn for the better. In the end, well you’ll find out for yourself, but with these two having great fun with a fun script, it’s a pleasure to listen to.

DVD Review: Delicious

“A lot of testosterone flying about but that’s kitchens for you”

Louise Brealey really does seem like she’d be a brilliant friend, having navigated the potential pitfalls of starring in a hit TV show to forge a fascinating career as an actor and playwright and being a wonderfully, refreshingly honest presence on Twitter. So I was more than happy to take in her recent film role in Delicious, an indie Brit-flick from 2013 written and directed by Tammy Riley-Smith, available on DVD and also on iTunes.

It’s an admirably spiky little thing, diverging from its apparent rom-com/family reunion beginnings into something altogether darker, a contrasting layer of sharp lemon under the sweet meringue if you will. So handsome Gallic chef Jacques arrives in London looking for a job and his biological father, conveniently finds both in the same restaurant and when he’s offered a flat-sitting arrangement, meets an intriguing young woman Stella who is living one floor down.

But nothing is quite as easy as that, right down to the rain that pours as Jacques disembarks at St Pancras. Though clearly talented in the kitchen, his training is not so much the cordon bleu he claims as convict cuisine and Stella’s reticence is rooted in deep emotional problems that manifests in bulimia. The film builds to a trickily weighted climactic scene where Nico Rogner’s highly charismatic Frenchman decides to help Brealey’s superbly brittle Stella by cooking her the best meal she’s ever had and essentially forcing her to eat it…

Riley-Smith just about pulls it off – her two leads are blessed with oodles of charm and a palpable connection that smooths over what might otherwise have been (and perhaps still is) a questionable plot device. Supporting roles have also been astutely cast, offering their own little thrills. Adrian Scarborough’s profanely capricious head chef is good fun (and I loved getting to see the younger pictures of him in the photo album) and any film that has Sheila Hancock as a kindly neighbour referring to herself as a “wrinkly old duffer” deserves plaudits. 

Both parts could perhaps have been developed a little further to allow both actors more room to shine (likewise Nicholas Rowe and Finty Williams have brief shining moments as colleagues in the kitchen) but as it is, they allow the film to set its focus firmly on Jacques and Stella and their quirky pseudo-romance. The film looks beautiful, shots of London elegantly framed and the soundtrack is cracking, Michael Price’s score blending well with Cicero Buck’s delicately crafted songs. Well worth watching.

Short Film Review #33


Responding to the work of Belarus Free Theatre, Connection is part of the continuing short film work that the Young Vic are producing in collaboration with the Guardian in response to their theatrical work. Written by Nicolai Khalezin and Laura Wade, it features Khalezin and Jude Law playing thinly veiled versions of themselves, both stuck at a London airport but for very different reasons. It’s an engaging, moving little tale and if the parallels that are drawn between the pair stick in the craw a little, Law’s ongoing work with BFT ought to silence any naysayers.

Columbite Tantalite
Another of the Young Vic/Guardian films is this Chiwetel Ejiofor short, which arose from the experiences of his starring in A Season in the Congo last summer. Ejiofor is genuinely hot property now as his performance in 12 Years A Slave has now been rewarded with an Oscar nomination but whether an Academy Award ends up on his shelf or not, his talent as a film-maker is no question here. Exploring how the exploitation of the mineral coltan touches all of us, not least the Congolese from whom it is extracted, the film touches on the inter-connectivity of the world and how we’re all complicit in the murkiness around it no matter how far in time or space.

The Martyr’s Crown

Flann O’Brien’s The Martyr’s Crown is a rather typical Irish short – set in a pub, full of storytelling and blarney. It’s well done though not particularly essential inthe end.

A rather delicately lovely thing – Vanessa Caswill and Jenefer Hughes’ film Magpie is about how even the most difficult times in life can be worked through with a little love, light and friendship. It looks beautiful, is well written and features cameos from Adrian Scarborough as a hapless delivery man and Tom Riley in a Batman costume. Nice 😉