Film Review: The Levelling (2016)

Hope Dickson Leach’s The Levelling is a haunting film debut, and a grim one too

“There’s nothing for you here anymore”

Eee, it’s grim to be a farmer in the UK right now, if we’re to believe what we see in the cinema. At least in Yorkshire, there’s the chance of some hot gay sex but in Somerset, things look decidedly worse with not even that relief as an option.

Writer/director Hope Dickson Leach finds something more desperate in the unforgiving land of the Somerset levels, as she explores the fracturing of a family farm in the aftermath of the death of the son and heir. Trainee vet Clover returns for the funeral of her brother but is shocked at what she discovers.

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Review: Flowers for Mrs Harris, Chichester Festival Theatre

Some of the beauty of Flowers for Mrs Harris gets lost at Chichester Festival Theatre but it remains a striking new musical

“It’s a work of art… something not real, made to make you feel”

I had much love for Flowers for Mrs Harris when it premiered in Sheffield a couple of years ago, and so I was delighted to see Daniel Evans deciding to revive it at his new abode over in Chichester. My only cavil came with the placing of this most heartfelt musical in the vast space of the Festival Theatre rather than the intimacy of the Minerva where it might perhaps have been better served.

So much of the beauty of the show (book by Rachel Wagstaff from Paul Gallico’s novel, music & lyrics by Richard Taylor) comes from the fact that it isn’t a bells and whistles epic. It is something far more subtle that truly celebrates the ordinary in extraordinary, as Clare Burt’s charlady Ada Harris dares to dream of owning a Christian Dior dress and in working to achieve that dream, illuminates the lives of those around her.

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Review: Miss Littlewood, Swan Theatre

A hugely fascinating new musical from the RSC, Miss Littlewood impresses at the Swan Theatre – might we see it London before too long?

“I’ve come about the theatre”

The last musical to come out of the RSC is a little know thing that is still kicking around somewhere, Matilda I think it’s called… So Miss Littlewood might have a little expectation carrying on its shoulders, although it is clearly a completely different kettle of fish.

In the Swan Theatre, Sam Kenyon (book, music and lyrics) tells us the story of Joan Littlewood. Or rather, given the format of the show, hands the reins over to Joan to tell her story. Clare Burt stars as an older Littlewood who acts as a narrator, a maestro, as she directs six other performers, all of whom take turns in donning the blue cap to embody this most totemic figure of British theatre.  Continue reading “Review: Miss Littlewood, Swan Theatre”

The 2016 fosterIAN nominations

The end of year round-up continues with the acting performances that stood out for me, the ones that made me sit up, and sometimes stand up. As ever, I have used the label ‘best’, the categories should really be considered ‘favourite’ as that is what the fosterIANs (fos-tîr’ē-ən) are – my favourites. So please find below the 2016 fosterIAN award nominations, categories expanded to 7 nominees (and sometimes more!) because I am that indecisive, winners to be announced in the coming days. 

Best Actress in a Play
Uzo Aduba/Zawe Ashton, The Maids
Gemma Arterton, Nell Gwynn
Linda Bassett, Escaped Alone
Helen McCrory, The Deep Blue Sea
Maxine Peake, A Streetcar Named Desire
Juliet Stevenson/Lia Williams, Mary Stuart
Harriet Walter, The Tempest

Best Actor in a Play
Phil Dunster, Pink Mist
Paapa Essiedu, Hamlet
O-T Fagbenle, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Rhys Isaac-Jones, Jess and Joe Forever
Lucian Msamati, Amadeus
Lucian Msamati, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Danny Sapani, Les Blancs Continue reading “The 2016 fosterIAN nominations”

CD Review: Annie (1995 London Studio Cast Recording)

“Betcha they’re good

Why shouldn’t they be?”
I’ve never actually seen Annie on stage. I would have gone to the recent UK touring version but I was too annoyed by the cast of Craig Revel Horwood as Miss Hannigan to even contemplate booking. For me, taking away any of the few opportunities for older actresses without substantially making up for it elsewhere is unforgivable. Yes, you could point to his alternate being Lesley Joseph, or Jodie Prenger, which simply reinforces the pointlessness of the exercise, pushing it too close to stunt casting.
So I was interested to actually listen to Charles Strouse’s score for the first time since becoming a blogger and I opted for this 1995 studio cast recording as it had names like Ruthie Henshall, Kim Criswell and Clare Burt attached to it. I really wish hadn’t though as it is a dated, lethargic run through the music that lacks any kind of real energy at all. It is sung perfectly proficiently – Sarah French’s Annie, Criswell’s Miss Hannigan, Henshall’s Grace, Ron Raines as Daddy Warbucks – but this recording is as dusty as a relic and should be left on a shelf to collect more dust.

Review: Flowers for Mrs Harris, Crucible

“There is more to life than you ever knew, than you ever dreamed,”

Sheffield feels the right place for Flowers for Mrs Harris to come into bloom, its delicately understated charm and musicality making this a world away from the brash, cut-throat commercialism of West End musicals. That’s not to say I wouldn’t love to see this show come down to the capital, for it does deserve such wider attention, but rather to celebrate the creation and nurturing of musical theatre from all parts of the country, a recognition of a theatrical ecology that thrives far beyond the M25.

Daniel Evans’ artistic directorship of Sheffield Theatres, which ends with this production, has been a key part of that over the last few years and it is pleasing to see that his presence in the overall picture will continue as he departs for Chichester Festival Theatre. As for now, we get a gorgeous piece of unmistakably British musical theatre that is as heart-warming and tear-jerking as they come, a tenderly sentimental exploration of far-fetched dreams and earthily real friendships. Continue reading “Review: Flowers for Mrs Harris, Crucible”

TV Review: Cuffs Episodes 5-8

“Are you one of those? They’re everywhere in Brighton aren’t they.
‘Yeah, not so many in Halifax though, cos of the weather’”

I really enjoyed the opening half of new BBC police drama Cuffs and so whacked up a review of those four episodes whilst they were still watchable on the iPlayer. The show has now finished its run, 8 episodes being the default setting for a ‘long’ series here in the UK, and whilst it may have lost a little of the fast-paced energy that characterised its arrival, its bevy of boisterous characters ensured I was fully engaged right through to the end of the last episode.

With such a large ensemble making up the South Sussex team, Cuffs did sometimes struggle in giving each of them a fair crack of the whip. For me, it was Amanda Abbington’s Jo who got the shortest end of the stick, too much of her screen-time, especially early on, being taken up with the fallout of her illicit affair instead of showing her as the more than capable police officer we finally saw in the latter episodes. Continue reading “TV Review: Cuffs Episodes 5-8”

TV Review: Cuffs Episodes 1-4

“All we can do is hang on”

Rather incredibly, given the number of crime dramas there are, Cuffs is actually the BBC’s first police procedural since 2007’s Holby Blue (according to Wikipedia at least), but a rather good one it is too. Creator Julie Gearey has set the show in Brighton and its environs, the territory of the South Sussex Police service, and the first four episodes (which entertained me on a train journey back from Amsterdam) started Cuffs off so strongly that I wanted to recommend it now whilst you can still catch them all on the iPlayer.

The opening episodes are jam-packed with incident, the first part alone crammed child abduction, stolen JCBs, stabbings and a racist released from prison to give a strong sense of the relentless pace of life in the force but the writing has been particularly strong in demonstrating the peculiar demands of modern policing. Traditional boundaries of respect have been torn down so we see the police punched, spat on, and kicked in the face and also having to deal with rubberneckers filming accident scenes on their phone, and members of the public chancing their arm with harassment claims. Continue reading “TV Review: Cuffs Episodes 1-4”