Or to give it its true title, Ruth Wilson in His Dark Materials, the BBC scores big with Jack Thorne’s crafty and considered adaptation
“They speak of a child who is destined to bring the end of destiny”
There was never really any chance that I wouldn’t like His Dark Materials but as Series 1 draws to a close, I’m still amazed by how much I loved it. Given the complexity of Philip Pullman’s world-building as written, Jack Thorne’s adaptation of the first novel Northern Lights cleverly opted to tread its own path, moving revels and plot points here and there, plus weaving in elements of The Subtle Knife (the second) to wrongfoot and thrill anyone who thought they knew what they were expecting. With some stonking production design and top-notch VFX bringing the daemons (and more) to life, it has been simply fantastic (read my thoughts on episode 1 here).
Dafne Keen has been a revelation as Lyra Belacqua, the girl on whom so much rests in a world not so different from our own. So adult in so many ways as she battles everything to save her friend Roger (Lewin Lloyd – heartbreakingkly good), she’s also touchingly young in others (especially where Pan – voiced so well by Kit Connor- is concerned), as her understanding of the world can’t help but be coloured by her comparative inexperience, buffeted by devastating waves of parental ineptitude and cruelty. Revelations about those parents, about the mysterious substance Dust too, underline the sophistication of the writing here,never once looking down at its audience,no matter their age. Continue reading “TV Review: His Dark Materials Series 1”
Don’t you love farce? Well turns out I rather did like Alexis Michalik’s Edmond De Bergerac at the Richmond Theatre
“But will the audience come?”
I do love a comedy that unexpectedly makes me laugh a lot. It is a genre, particularly when it leans towards farce, that can be a tricky one to get right and there’s nothing worse than being the only one stony-faced in a theatre full of people roaring their heads off (qv me at One Man Two Guvnors, or most Feydeau plays). But sometimes it works, sometimes there’s a Noises Off in there, and treading a similar-ish path is Alexis Michalik’s Edmond De Bergerac as it tracks the on- and off-stage shenanigans of a theatre company whilst playwright Edmond Rostand struggles to write Cyrano de Bergerac for them.
And I have to say that I chortled merrily through Roxana Silbert’s production, which has popped around the country after a run at Birmingham Rep. It is thoroughly silly, doesn’t take itself seriously for a single moment, and is consequently most enjoyable if just a touch overlong. Freddie Fox’s Rostand is a struggling writer whose last show was a flop and with the bills mounting, is blocked. His artistic juices are only stimulated when his pal Léo commissions him to write a suite of love letters to seduce a new would-be paramour on his behalf and the spark of a new play ignites as life imitates art imitates life and opening night fast approaches. Continue reading “Review: Edmond De Bergerac, Richmond Theatre”
“Do you want puppets?”
No matter the weather, as you walk into the Lyttelton’s auditorium for Pinocchio, you’ll find that it is snowing. A simple trick but one that inspires just the right childlike wonder for an adaptation of such a popular fairytale, but it is also a sense of magic that John Tiffany’s production of Dennis Kelly’s adaptation sometimes struggles to hold onto, as darkly disturbing as it is exuberantly heartfelt.
That darkness comes from several directions. The narrative cleaves closely to the moral instruction of a fable so Pinocchio’s struggle with the dark side is presented as a straight-up choice between good and evil – make the wrong choice in dealing with the Fox or the Coachman and things could end up pretty grim, as we witness in a particularly brutal bit of puppet mutilation (it shocked even me!). Continue reading “Review: Pinocchio, National”
“You are the chief executive officer of the human race”
It was quite interesting to rewatch Series 8 of Doctor Who, one which I hadn’t revisited at all since it originally aired, as my memories thereof were not at all positive. And whilst disappointments remained – Robin Hood, 2D cartoons, the treeees! – there was also much to enjoy that I’d forgotten about. The smash-and-grab of Time Heist, the simplicity of ghost story Listen, and the ominous darkness of the finale.
I’m still in two minds about Peter Capaldi’s Twelve though, I want to like him so much more than I do, and I think you do get the sense of him feeling his way into his irascible take on the role. Jenna Coleman’s Clara benefits from being released from the yoke of impossibility to move to the forefront of several episodes and if she’s still a little hard to warm to, that finale really is superbly done. And then there’s Michelle Gomez, stealing the whole damn thing magnificently! Continue reading “Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 8”
“No… it can’t be… is it gravity I am feeling?”
It’s been a goodly time coming, just over two years since it opened actually, but the Original Cast Recording of The Light Princess is finally here. Finely crafted by writers Tori Amos and Samuel Adamson with the original cast from the National Theatre production and recorded entirely under studio conditions, this double CD a triumphant achievement. It simultaneously acts as a perfect tribute to a much-loved show (one I saw five times during its too-short run #1, #2, #3, #4, #5), it also advances the score, refining its musicality into a more intense yet accessible experience.
Right from the opening bars of the ‘Prologue: Once Upon A Time’, Katherine Rockhill’s piano playing sounds amazing and is rightfully forefronted here as the cornerstone of Amos’ wide-ranging compositions, the lushness of the strings sound pretty special too. And with Rosalie Craig’s astonishing performance as Althea – the light princess herself – liberated from the constraints of this most physically demanding of roles (both for her and for us too, goggling at the inventiveness with which her floating was essayed), her vocal interpretation deepens into something even more affecting, impossible as it may seem to anyone who saw her amazing work onstage. Continue reading “CD Review: The Light Princess (Original Cast Recording)”
“Give me hope
Give me all your love”
Everything is better with Frances Barber in it, it’s kind of a mantra for life. The Union Theatre’s recent production of Closer to Heaven shifted its entire allocation of tickets before it had even started but I wonder if that would have been the case if people had had a sneak preview of it. Despite its hard-working cast, it didn’t quite hit all the bases that would have warranted a sell-out success from after press night but you can’t begrudge them for that, the producers clearly tapped into a desire to see the show revived.
Its original run at the Arts Theatre was not a runaway hit, being curtailed after lacklustre sales (blamed in part on 9/11 affecting tourism) but an original cast recording of the soundtrack, featuring studio versions of the songs, was released, helping the show to maintain and even build on its cult status. And listening to the album, you can see why people were keen for it to return. Shorn of most of Jonathan Harvey’s lumpen book, the focus falls squarely on the cracking score by Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe and the real depth of feeling that the cast bring to the material. Continue reading “Album Review: Closer to Heaven (Original Cast Recording)”
“Thanks for all the pies and adventures”
The big family-oriented show at the National Theatre this winter is Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island (though as it runs in rep right through to April, one hopes Spring will have sprung by then) which has been adapted for the stage by Bryony Lavery. But whilst Polly Findlay’s production has some very definite plus points, not least in an inspired design by Lizzie Clachan which utilises so much of the Olivier’s potential, it doesn’t quite have the full shiver-me-timbers factor to make it an undoubted success.
Clachan frames the theatre’s large revolving drum with a set of lowering curved ribs which suggest all kinds of mystical maritime adventures – the frame of a trusty ship, the ribcage of a giant whale, the quivering trees of a strange island. Deep in the revolve is where the real treasure is though, a warren of cabins that reflect the social hierarchy of the time and later on the maze of tunnels in which the gold can be found. Combined with the sensational starry skyscape up above, Bruno Poet’s lighting looking stunning, this is the National doing what it does so well. Continue reading “Review: Treasure Island, National Theatre”
“Now we can go straight into the middle eight”
Now that Spamalot has left the West End (again) (and may well pop up once again given its reliability as a stand-by for quickly vacated theatres), I thought I would give the soundtrack a listen, not least because it has languished on my hard-drive for a good couple of years now without me actually getting round to it. Recorded in 2010 at the Churchill Bromley, the album features the UK cast from that touring production of this Eric Idle and John Du Prez show.
It’s a live recording which means the first thing we hear is applause, something which annoys me disproportionately – why can’t, or don’t, they edit it out – as I don’t want to hear anything that isn’t the people on the stage. Likewise with the laughter throughout, I’m glad the audience were finding it funny but that’s not why people buy soundtracks, to hear others having a good time – is it too much to expect a recording unsullied by the great unwashed?! Continue reading “CD Review: Spamalot UK Cast Album”
“See these tears flow, this H2O”
There’s not really much more to say than to bid a fond farewell to this most beloved of shows. Despite the fierce love it engendered in its devoted fans, I personally don’t think a transfer would have necessarily worked so well. There’s something wonderfully neat about its life at the Lyttelton, the length and nature of its run in rep meaning that Rosalie Craig was able to make every single performance – an impressive feat even before one touches on the extraordinary demands of the lead role. And getting to see the final show, with a large group of people who had been equally (if not more) touched by the work – and that includes the extraordinary cast and company, I don’t think I’ve ever seen so much visible emotion at the end of a run – was a genuine privilege.
Since the show shone so brightly, yet so briefly, it has left the kind of indelible impression that will be impossible to shift. I saw it five times in total – you can read about visits one, two, three and four – and each time, it surprised me, its densely complex nature revealing something new each time with different musical motifs becoming prominent, the various themes shifting in emphasis, the texture of the show almost malleable in its changeability. So now we have to wait for the soundtrack and dream of once upon a once a, once upon a time.
“What you have done, has brightened the world”
A review of the fourth time I went to see The Light Princess at the National?
What I will say though, is that it was my first time seeing it from the circle and it really did give a different perspective to some of the more expansive scenes in the Wilderness, the illusion of flowing water much more effective. And Althea’s floating also felt different from afar, the magnificent facial hair less of a distraction from further away… Just one more trip booked now before it ends 🙁