DVD Review: Wimbledon

“Four million tennis players in the world, and I’m 119th. But what that really means is this – 118 guys out there are faster, stronger, better and younger.”

It seems most unlikely but I don’t think I’ve ever seen 2004 romcom Wimbledon or if I have, I’ve erased every trace of it from my mind. And as it is that time of year again in SW19, it seemed as good a time as any to load it up for a spot of viewing on a train journey this past weekend. Whilst it is no great shakes as a tennis film or really does much as a ‘com’, it has a sweet charm to it with no small thanks to a likeable Kirsten Dunst as a tennis brat of a heroine and the slightly odd decision to Hugh Grant-ify its leading man Paul Bettany, clearly the only option for a British romcom.

Bettany plays Peter Colt, a Henman-esque figure of a nearly-there British tennis number one whose recent poor form has seen him plummet in the rankings and consider retirement. A chance meeting with upcoming US player Lizzie Bradbury puts a fizz in his step and the swing back in his serve and his wildcard for Wimbledon suddenly looks like an unlikely opportunity to go out in a blaze of glory. With his barely supportive family on the sidelines and Jaime Lannister himself as a hitting partner who looks good in a sauna, it seems Centre Court is beckoning him for one last hurrah. Continue reading “DVD Review: Wimbledon”

Review: Dear World, Charing Cross Theatre

“She’s not that innocent, she keeps rabbits”

This is actually the UK premiere of Jerry Herman’s 1969 musical Dear World and reading the programme notes about the tortured history of the show – the unhappiness of the writers at how the first production was taken out of their hands, the subsequent numerous rewrites, the competitive and changing musical theatre environment of the time – one could justifiably ask why the decision has been made to put it on now. Seasoned director/choreographer Gillian Lynne has been the one to take it on though, providing a refreshed take on both book and score, and in perhaps the biggest coup, attracting musical theatre legend Betty Buckley to the lead role of the Countess Aurelia.  

The story is based on a 1945 play by Giradoux called The Madwoman of Chaillot and is a rather whimsical, you could say bonkers, tale of ecologically-minded community action rising up against exploitative capitalism. A group of avaricious financiers have been led to believe that they can excavate oil from beneath the boulevards of Paris and are willing to do anything – including knocking down the Café Francis – to get at it. And plotting to stop them and save their café, city and the world they hold so dearly, are a ragtag band of odd individuals with the not-quite-as-eccentric-as-all-that Countess Aurelia.


The air of whimsy that prevails is a difficult one to get accustomed to and I am not sure that I ever really got there with this show. It feels dated and insubstantial and more than once, I was left feeling that perhaps this show should have been left on the shelf. Its message is a naively compelling one though and Herman can certainly compose a decent ditty or three and along with Lynne’s choreography, the show is rarely dull. Buckley commands the stage wonderfully and has an elegant presence which finally lets rip at the end of Act 1 when she unleashes that famous belt and demonstrates why she has such a reputation as she does.

But so much of the show is indubitably quirky, almost to distraction. The story doesn’t necessarily strain credibility but the garishly outlandish characters that populate this world are somewhat baffling. The show describes itself as a fable but doesn’t quite feel fantastical enough to really fly to such fairytale-ish imaginative heights in the way that say, Salad Days does. Instead the feel is more of a slightly warped version of our own reality, generally full of batshit crazy people and thus rather ridiculous. It may seem a little harsh but it is symptomatic of a show that doesn’t really know what it wants to be even after 40 years’ worth of tinkering. 

Dear World is not without charm though, especially in the efforts of much of its company. Despite the remove of the idea of the fable, moments of real emotion come shining through, most frequently with Buckley’s Countess and And I Was Beautiful, a heartfelt duet with Stuart Matthew Price’s kindly Julian, is a gorgeous moment. Katy Treharne’s Nina also impresses. And on the comedic side, there is neat work from Annabel Leventon and Rebecca Lock as a pair of batty friends of the Countess but the whimsy  reached overload for me with the overtly vaudeville stylings of Paul Nicholas’ Sewerman which felt largely uninspired.

The show does gather steam in the second half and though I was sceptical for large swathes of it, the finale, which brings together excerpts from so many of the songs that have preceded and a jaunty full cast dance routine which would challenge any of the Globe’s jigs, has a persuasively delightful quality that ensured I left the theatre smiling. It’s by no means a classic, but an intriguing curio that is worth hunting down a bargain for for its charm and cast. 

Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes (with interval)

Programme cost: £3
Booking until 30th March

DVD Review: North Square

“Do the thing you have to to get your client off”

Helen McCrory first came to my attention as one of the lead characters in legal ensemble show North Square. Broadcast on Channel 4 in 2000, it featured a cracking ensemble that also included Rupert Penry-Jones, Dominic Rowan and Phil Davis, yet it only had the one series which I don’t think you can get on DVD but it is available to watch on Channel 4’s 4 On Demand service.

Written by Peter Moffat, North Square is a drama set in a criminal chambers in Leeds and centres on a group of young, irreverent barristers all determined to make their mark by using unorthodox methods and unconventional approaches to counter the dusty practices of a legal profession they want to lead into the twenty-first century. They are led by their chief clerk, the highly manipulative Peter McLeish played brilliantly by Phil Davis, who is determined to make a success of this enterprise and has no scruples about negotiating with the criminal families that rule Leeds in order to maximise business opportunities even as it poses a moral quandary for some of the lawyers. Continue reading “DVD Review: North Square”

Review: Perchance to Dream, Finborough

“If you run out of words, just burst into song”

The Finborough Theatre in West London has had an excellent record in reviving British musicals as part of their “Celebrating British Music Theatre” series and marking the 60th anniversary of the death of composer Ivor Novello is Perchance to Dream, sliding into the Sunday/Monday slot there for the month of September. It is the first professional London production for 25 years of this show devised, written and composed by Novello himself, the only show for which he wrote the lyrics.

It is an unashamedly romantic musical, centring on the country pile Huntersmoon and the tangled love affairs of its residents as we glide from the Regency era, through Victorian times and to WWII as the ghosts of the past continue to haunt future generations. But it is the glorious music that commands the attention as Novello’s score incorporate such classics as ‘Love Is My Reason’, ‘A Woman’s Heart’ and ‘We’ll Gather Lilacs’: classic songwriting close to its best. Continue reading “Review: Perchance to Dream, Finborough”

Review: Pillars of the Community, National Theatre

From where preconceptions come I am not entirely sure, but I’ve never been a fan of Ibsen’s plays even when they come as highly recommended as this production of Pillars of the Community at the National Theatre. The play marks the centenary of Ibsen’s death and is apparently one of his lesser performed works, something that doesn’t always inspire the greatest of confidences.

The play centres around Karsten Bernick, an avaricious and deceitful man who has climbed the greasy pole to become something of a bigwig in his small Norwegian town and managed to create an allure of benevolence and good standing in the community. But skeletons in the closet have a way of re-emerging and when two members of his extended family, who know all of his dirty secrets, return from America, Bernick is challenged to discover just how far he is willing to go to protect his reputation and continue to ignore his conscience. Continue reading “Review: Pillars of the Community, National Theatre”