TV Review: Gentleman Jack Series 1

Gentleman Jack proves a huge success, for Sally Wainwight, for Suranne Jones, for lesbian storytelling, for everyone

“So much drama, always, with Anne”

Even with as reliably assured hands as Sally Wainwright’s at the tiller, I was a little nervous for Gentleman Jack in the pride-of-place Sunday evening TV slot. But I should have been surer of my faith, for it has been a stonkingly good 8 hours of drama, with an epically romantic lesbian relationship at its heart.

Anne Lister (Suranne Jones) is a wealthy Yorkshire heiress whose uncompromising nature about any and every aspect of her life rubs any number of people up the wrong way. Ann Walker (Sophie Rundle) is most definitely not one of them though, she wants to be rubbed the right way and so we follow the path of true love as it winds through the prejudices of the Yorkshire Pennines and Anne’s attempts to break into the coal mining world. Continue reading “TV Review: Gentleman Jack Series 1”

Review: Pete ‘n’ Keely, Tristan Bates

“It’s us again”

Emily Bestow’s technicolor set design for Pete ‘n’ Keely is one of those which fully exploits the transformative possibilities of the Tristan Bates’ black box, converting the space into a convincing evocation of a swingin’ Sixties television studio. That studio is currently home to pop duo Pete Bartel and Keely Stevens who soared up the charts with their winning charm and captured the hearts of a nation when they got married. Five years down the line though, fame has cooled, they’re divorced and the first time they’ve met up since, they’re filming a live reunion special on TV.

Thus we get a variety show format that allows the pair to fill us in anecdotally on their shared past through the medium of popular song, at least when their barely concealed present animosity doesn’t interfere. For there’s a multitude of unresolved issues that need to be dealt with if they’re to make it to the end of the programme, never mind consider the future beyond it. Appropriately enough for the era, Pete ‘n’ Keely is a rather gentle show and Matthew Gould’s production here possesses a warmly nostalgic glow that is well essayed by performers David Bardsley and Katie Kerr. Continue reading “Review: Pete ‘n’ Keely, Tristan Bates”

CD Review: The Fix (1997 Original London Cast)

“The economy, crime, taxes!”
I’ve seen The Fix twice now – once at the old Union and once at the new and to be honest, it’s not a show I particularly love. With a rock/pop score by Dana P Rowe and book and lyrics by John Dempsey, its political shenanigans schtick has now been overtaken by the real-life ridiculousness in the political spheres on both sides of the ocean and in any case, aimed for a kind of melodrama that never really worked for me as far back as the comparative calm of 2012.
A big issue for me is the score and its magpie nature, beginning with the power-pop chorus of ‘One, Two, Three’ with its forceful guitars and then dipping in and out of the worlds of vaudeville, lounge jazz, straight-up balladry, even folk songs. Sprawling in such a manner means we never really get a sense of the kind of world that the show is trying to conjure – only in Philip Quast’s charismatic ‘First Came Mercy’ with its Kander + Ebb sharpness does The Fix express its identity.

It’s interesting to hear John Barrowman here at an early stage in his career, clearly expressing a rock edge to his voice which has now long been smoothed out in the name of showmanship and Kathryn Evans is a Machiavellian delight as his manipulative mother Violet. Krysten Cummings as the jazz singer mistress also sounds lovely but incongruous, in a cast recording that doesn’t really do it for this listener.

Review: Billy Elliot, Victoria Palace

“What does it feel like when you’re dancing?”

I got to revisit Billy Elliot the Musical as part of its 10th birthday celebrations this year and huge amounts of fun it was too – more than I was expecting actually since having seen the show before. But despite having run for a decade now, the production feels as fresh and exciting as ever, undoubtedly still “one of the best shows in town”. The full review can be read on Official Theatre here.   

Running time: 3 hours (with interval)
Booking until 17th December 2016, for now

DVD Review: Billy Elliot Live

“When the stars look down and know our history”

And what history there is to behold – a run in the West End which has stretched for nearly a decade now, a company that ranges from ages 6 to 84 (surely a record!), a live broadcast to cinemas worldwide which was the first event cinema release to top the UK box office and which contained a finale that brought together 25 young men who have all played the role of Billy. That recording of Billy Elliot the Musical has now been released on DVD so that the theatrical experience can now be recreated in the comfort of your own home and allows to see the detail that you may have missed from your seat in the Victoria Palace Theatre.

That’s the crucial bit really. For all those that worry that filmed recordings are going to replace live theatre, there does seem to be a missing of this salient point that not everyone sees the show from prime seats in the centre stalls. The magic of the theatrical experience can and is tempered by uncomfortable seats and unfortunate viewing lines – so a DVD offering close-ups and other unique shots offers a much-welcomed addition to that experience – and as reasonable a deal as £105 is for a family ticket (the starting price I should add), £15 or so enables a necessary widening of access to a show, which captivate a new audience so much they decide to book tickets – this isn’t a zero-sum game. Continue reading “DVD Review: Billy Elliot Live”