TV Review: Queers

Mark Gatiss’ Queers – a set of monologues has lost none of its power since premiering in 2017

“He knows me for what I am”

I couldn’t make the theatrical readings of Queers at the Old Vic, so I was glad that filmed versions of them were made (for airing on BBC4). Ricocheting around the decades of the twentieth century, this set of monologues marked 50 years since the Sexual Offences Act of 1967 decriminalised private homosexual acts between men aged over 21, and aimed to celebrate some of the most poignant, funny, tragic and riotous moments of British gay male experience.

Pulled together by Mark Gatiss, these 8 20-minute pieces are ostensibly set in the same bar but run the full gamut of emotion as we shift around in time. There’s exquisite moments of happiness in lives otherwise marked by despair. The fleeting touch from Gatiss’ The Man on the Platform so achingly described by Ben Whishaw, the heady night spent with an American soldier by Ian Gelder’s omi in Matthew Baldwin’s I Miss the War.

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TV Review: Doctor Who Series 11

Series 11 of Doctor Who comes to an end and it’s a big yes from me – a hugely successful refresh for this beloved series

“I have to lay down the rules if someone’s new”

From the opening episode, I knew that Series 11 of Doctor Who was going to do it for me. New head writer and executive producer Chris Chibnall’s reset was most obvious in the casting of Jodie Whittaker as the Thirteenth Doctor but it was his other changes – namely a real widening of the pool of writers and a pronounced shift in tone – that really defined the shape of this new Doctor Who.

For all its sci-fi nature, that shape was decidedly human. The tragic death of Sharon D Clarke’s Grace was a defining moment in that opening episode, providing the trigger for this TARDIS crew to come together. And rather beautifully, the series really allowed for a full exploration of everyone’s different grief at her passing, culminating in the brutal power of Ed Hime’s ninth episode It Takes You Away.

And pivoting away from the oft-times densely packed complexity of the show’s mythology, the storytelling pointed less at grand alien threats but rather to the foibles of human nature – the enemy within. The racism of Rosa, written by Malorie Blackman with Chibnall, Vinay Patel’s exploration of the British colonial legacy around Partition in Demons of the Punjab, this was science-fiction as its most powerful, commenting powerfully on contemporary society (and naturally provoking the kind of outrage you’d expect). Continue reading “TV Review: Doctor Who Series 11”

TV Review: Doctor Who Series 11 Episode 1 – The Woman Who Fell to Earth

Jodie Whittaker more than lives up to expectations as Doctor Who in Series 11 Episode 1 – The Woman Who Fell to Earth – plus Bradley Walsh may well make you cry

“Half an hour ago I was a white haired Scotsman”

“Change my dear, and it seems not a moment too soon”. From the mouth of the Sixth Doctor himself, the very nature of Doctor Who (both the programme and the Time Lord) has always been its infinite variety. So it’s about bloody time that we now have the first female in the role – the excellent Jodie Whittaker – as new show-runner Chris Chibnall makes his definitive mark on the BBC serial.

And on the evidence of this first episode (and, let’s face it, to anyone with common sense), the Doctor’s gender is of little consequence. The ability to act as if you have two hearts knows no bounds, who knew, and the hints of Whittaker’s Doctor that were allowed to peek through the regenerative funk suggest we’re in for something of a real treat with an effervescent sense of personality shining through. Continue reading “TV Review: Doctor Who Series 11 Episode 1 – The Woman Who Fell to Earth”

News: Old Vic bicentenary ambassadors announced

How do you mark a significant birthday? My parents are currently (jointly) turning 140 and are celebrating the occasion with a six month program of events, peaking with an all-day party happening very soon. But if you’re the Old Vic and you’re turning 200, you open your contacts and see who is free.

Turns out a fair few people are, and so their list currently includes Nikki Amuka-Bird, Sheila Atim, John Boyega, Cate Blanchett, Bertie Carvel, Kim Cattrall, Lily Cole, Alan Cumming, Judi Dench, Michelle Dockery, Rupert Everett, Martin Freeman, Tamsin Greig, David Harewood, Derek Jacobi, Toby Jones, Cush Jumbo, Ben Kingsley, Pearl Mackie, Helen McCrory, Ian McKellen, Bill Nighy, Anika Noni Rose, Maxine Peake, Mark Rylance, Andrew Scott, Tom Stoppard, Stanley Tucci and Julie Walters.

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Round-up of August music reviews

 

 

Though I might not have been away for my usual month-long sojourn to France, I kept up with a glut of album reviews to cover the (relatively) quiet period for those of us who don’t put themselves through Edinburgh 😉

Recommended titles
Alan Cumming Sings Sappy Songs – Live at the Cafe Carlyle
Before After (2016 Studio Cast Recording)
Cabaret (2006 London Cast Recording)
Finding Neverland (2015 Original Broadway Cast Recording)
Salad Days (2013 Live London Cast Recording)
The Bridges of Madison County (2014 Original Broadway Cast Recording)
The Hired Man (2007 UK Tour Cast)
The Last Ship (2014 Original Broadway Cast Recording)
The Visit (2015 original Broadway Cast Recording)
War Paint (2017 Original Broadway Cast Recording)

And the rest!
9 to 5 (2009 Original Broadway Cast Recording)
Anastacia (2017 Original Broadway Cast Recording)
Annaleigh Ashford – Lost in the Stars
Ben Forster – Acoustic Covers 
Ben Forster – Acoustic Covers, Vol. 2
Betty Buckley – Quintessence
Big the Musical (2016 Original UK Cast Recording)
Bombay Dreams (2002 Original London Cast Recording)
Bumblescratch (2016 London Concert Cast Recording)
Carousel (1993 London Cast Recording)
Chicago (1997 London Cast Recording)
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (2002 Original Cast Recording)
Comrade Rockstar (2017 Studio Cast Recording)
Crazy For You – (1993 Original London Cast Recording)
Dirty Dancing (2006 London Cast Recording)
Fame (1995 Original London Cast Recording)
Gavin Creel – Get Out
Gavin Creel – Goodtimenation
Gavin Creel – Quiet  / Oliver Tompsett – Gravity
Groundhog Day (2017 Original Broadway Cast Recording)
Half A Sixpence (2016 London Cast Recording)
Helena Blackman – The Sound of Rodgers and Hammerstein
Laura Benanti – In Constant Search of the Right Kind of Attention
Love Never Dies (2010 Concept Album)
Marguerite (2008 Original London Cast Recording)
Marin Mazzie – Make Your Own Kind of Music
Mary Poppins (2005 Original London Cast Recording)
Memphis (2014 Original London Cast Recording)
Noel Sullivan – Here I Go Again
On The Town (2014 New Broadway Cast Recording)
Shona White – I’ll Bring You A Song
Songs From The Musical Wolfboy (2010)
Take Flight (2007 Original Cast Recording)
The Halcyon (Original Music From The 2017 TV Series)
The Route To Happiness (2014 Original Cast Recording)
The Sound of Music (2006 London Palladium Cast Recording)
The Woman In White (2004 Original London Cast Recording)
USHERS: The Front Of House Musical (2014 London Cast Recording)

Album Review: Alan Cumming Sings Sappy Songs – Live at the Cafe Carlyle (2015)

“How could I behave as if we’d never met?”

 Recorded just after he completed his 2014/5 return to Cabaret at Studio 54, Alan Cumming Sings Sappy Songs – Live at the Cafe Carlyle is one of the best cabaret records I’ve had the pleasure of listening to. Surprising but superb song selection, threaded through with a real sense of personality and personal revelation, draws the listener in right from the off, even if he storms just a fraction too quickly through Annie Lennox’s glorious solo hit ‘Why’, he next invests Keane’s ‘Somewhere Only We Know’ with a genuinely rueful quality that hints at what is to come.

And if the label ‘sappy’ might suggest something inconsequential, make no mistake that this is deeply emotional work. From Miley Cyrus’ ‘The Climb’ to the plangent ‘Complainte de la Butte’, to showier material that Cumming more obviously has an affinity with, like Kurt Weill’s ‘How Do Humans Live’ and the utterly gorgeous ‘You You You’ from Kander and Ebb’s The Visit, to the almost unbearable emotion underpinning the likes of Billy Joel’s ‘Goodnight Saigon’ and Rufus Wainwright’s ‘Dinner at Eight’. Continue reading “Album Review: Alan Cumming Sings Sappy Songs – Live at the Cafe Carlyle (2015)”

Review: Cabaret, Studio 54

“Outside it is winter. But in here it’s so hot.”

It is 22 years since Sam Mendes debuted his iconic revival of Kander and Ebb’s musical Cabaret with Alan Cumming (re)creating the role of the Emcee and in the hallowed grounds of Studio 54, he is back in that part overseeing a succession of bright young things taking on the equally iconic character of Sally Bowles. Michelle Williams (Dawson’s not Destiny’s) opened up this run and Sienna Miller will step into the shoes next month but it is recent Academy Award nominee Emma Stone was the original choice for this particular revival.

fascinatingly honest interview reveals the reason why she couldn’t open the show but circumstance prevailed to allow her to join the company and ever so pleasingly, right at the moment that I was in town. And she is brilliant in the role, it’s no mean feat putting her own spin on a character that has been so effectively previously immortalised but Stone manages it, finding a real sense of a new, fresh, personality for Sally that is more emotional, fragile even, laying bare all the vulnerability of a young woman aching for a place to belong in a world that is turning its back on her, and so many others. Continue reading “Review: Cabaret, Studio 54”

DVD Review: Emma (1996 Film)

“Badly done, Emma. Badly done”

Written and directed by Douglas McGrath, this 1996 film adaptation of Emma may have had a starrier cast than the television version from the same year but it sadly pales by comparison. Gwyneth Paltrow gives a brittle, aloof performance as Emma Woodhouse, an almost princessy take on the character which may work for the unthinkingness of her actions but something that also detaches her emotionally from her friends and colleagues, robbing the film of the charming resonance it ought to possess as the romantic trials of Highbury unfold around her matchmaking.

This starchiness is something that affects the whole film – Greta Scacchi’s former governess is too mannered for a good friend, Alan Cumming’s Mr Bates just feels wrongly pitched and whilst I normally love any opportunity to see Juliet Stevenson, her arrival as his wife is unbelievable and underplayed, and the delightful Toni Collette struggles with the meek Harriet, her natural ebullience hemmed in awkwardly. Even the normally reliable Jeremy Northam misses the mark as Knightley. (I won’t mention Ewan McGregor’s Frank Churchill to help to erase it from my memory). Continue reading “DVD Review: Emma (1996 Film)”

TV Review: Muse of Fire

We found Shakespeare tough at school” 

What a brilliant little film – tucked away on BBC4 but fortunately on the iPlayer for another few days yet, Muse of Fire: A Shakespearean Road Movie is a one hour documentary by actors Giles Terera and Dan Poole exploring the Bard’s reputation for being difficult to understand. This they do by speaking to an astonishing array of people including “ten Oscar nominees, five Oscar winners, one dame, seven knights” along with some of our greatest actors – it’s one of the most impressive roll-calls you’ll see all year (at least until the NT’s 50th bash next week…) – and some regular people too, from estate agents Cambridge to baffled students. 

This extraordinary depth of collaboration is at once the strength and the weakness of the film. We get such a wide range of insights from luminaries such as Ian McKellen, Fiona Shaw, Michael Gambon, Judi Dench and Derek Jacobi but there’s only time for snippets, the glorious Frances Barber is seen briefly at the beginning never to reappear and the list of credits at the end show all sorts who haven’t made the final cut. There’s so much fascinating stuff that must have been left on the cutting room floor that one can’t help but be a little frustrated – can we get a director’s cut?!  Continue reading “TV Review: Muse of Fire”

Short Film Review #23

  My Dad the Communist from Tuyen Do on Vimeo.

It is tempting to see My Dad the Communist as something of a neat companion piece to Chimerica, featuring a Benedict Wong character responding to the events of Tiananmen Square in a completely different way but in truth, they are separate beasts and the only real thing linking them is the dearth of complex Asian-related stories on our screens and stages (although things do seem to be changing, slowly). This Lab Ky Mo film focuses on a typical British-Chinese family who work in a takeaway (where else?!) – Tony has lived all of his life in the UK yet his father has remained stubbornly, inscrutably Chinese in his behaviour, rarely uttering anything at all or showing any affection to his wife or son.
 
A car accident involving the older man motivates Tony to look back on his 20 year life and reflect on the rare moments that his dad did speak, realising the huge significance of those events, and the ones where he didn’t, imagining the parental figure he craved. Mo utilises the fantasy flashback several times to great effect, we really get a sense of being caught up in Tony’s reverie and it is really quite moving. Wong is customarily excellent as the taciturn father, Siu Hun Li is also strong as the son trying to do things differently, not least with his own new wife, an expressive performance from Tuyen Do.  

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