Lockdown film review: Red Joan (2018)

My lockdown watching doesn’t get much better with the horribly dreary Red Joan which sorely misuses the treasure that is Dame Judi Dench

“You did this, didn’t you”

Hurrah, you might think, a film with Dame Judi Dench in the lead part. But hold on a mo, Red Joan is also a Trevor Nunn film – take that as you will – and should it ever have reached award conversations, Dench would surely have had to be in the supporting actress category, such is her role in the way the story is lugubriously doled out like a barely dripping tap.

She plays Joan Stanley, a character loosely based on Soviet spy Melita Norwood who passed on details of the British nuclear programme to Moscow, who finds Special Branch knocking on her door and muttering treason. But the majority of the film is told in flashback, as Sophie Cookson plays the younger Joan who back in the 1940s, had her head turned at Cambridge University by the flirty Leo (Tom Hughes with an unconscionable accent) and her politics turned by the horrors of war. Continue reading “Lockdown film review: Red Joan (2018)”

TV Review: Sticks and Stones

Mike Bartlett adapts his play Bull for the TV in the form of Sticks and Stones, with mixed if enjoyable results

“Maybe it’s banter”

I had clocked that Sticks and Stones that a new TV drama written and created by Mike Bartlett, hence it appearing pretty high on my to-watch list. What I hadn’t realised was that it is an adaptation of his cracking 2013 play Bull, which I have seen a fair few times, dating back to a reading in 2010. Given that the play was less than an hour and this serial was three (ITV) hours, I was intrigued to see how an extended version of this workplace bullying drama would work and I was pleased to see Ken Nwosu leading the cast, which included an alumni of the Young Vic production in Susannah Fielding.

And in line with the way his TV writing has been skewing, the result is something far more melodramatically silly than you’d ever expect from Bartlett in a theatre. I don’t say it as a particularly negative thing, more a statement of fact. The tautness of the play’s running time meant that once teeth were bared, it was one vicious snarl through to the end, heart-racingly menacing in its cruelty. Here, there’s much more time to fill and so it is more of slow build, as nice guy Thomas is essentially gaslit by his cut-throat team of property mangers (“we’re now able to offer a bespoke office solution”). Continue reading “TV Review: Sticks and Stones”

Album Reviews: The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 ¾ / Heathers / Calendar Girls 

A trio of quick London cast recordings – The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 ¾, Heathers and Calendar Girls 

“For a greasy little nobody, you do have good bone structure”

I was delighted to see a belated West End transfer for this lovely new musical by Jake Brunger and Pippa Cleary. I’ve loved every step of its journey and The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 ¾ (Original London Cast Recording) proves the perfect accompaniment as it captures so much of the energy of this most British of tales and sparky performances from the likes of John Hopkins and the luminous Kelly Price.

I didn’t however make it to Heathers, it just not appealing to me at all. With Heathers (Original West End Cast Recording), the opportunity to listen to this high school musical is now ours but I have to say, its charms elude me. There’s a fatal mismatch between the darkness of the source material (it really is a brutal film) and the breeziness of Laurence O’Keefe and Kevin Murphy’s pop-rock score that not even the quality of Carrie Hope Fletcher, Jodie Steele, Sophie Isaacs and Jamie Muscato’s strong performances can overcome.

And I thought I’d pay another visit to Yorkshire for Calendar Girls (Original London Recording) to see whether it stands the test of time. It proved an amiable if short-lived presence in the West End and listening to it again, I’d argue that there’s a gentleness to it that doesn’t quite linger long enough. Gary Barlow’s tunes are undeniably pretty but ultimately, they don’t really call out to be listened to over and again.

The Curtain Up Show Album of the Year 2018 winners

Best UK Cast Recording
Broken Wings – Original Concept Album
Calendar Girls – Original London Recording
Everybody’s Talking About Jamie – Original West End Cast Recording
WINNER: Six The Musical – Studio Cast Recording
Working: A Musical – Original London Cast Recording
Young Frankenstein – Original London Cast Recording

Best American Cast Recording
Frozen – Original Broadway Cast Recording
WINNER: Mean Girls – Original Broadway Cast Recording
My Fair Lady – 2018 Broadway Cast Recording
Once On This Island – New Broadway Cast Recording
Pretty Woman – Original Broadway Cast Recording
The Prom – Original Broadway Cast Recording

Best Solo Album
Audra McDonald – Sing Happy
WINNER: Carrie Hope Fletcher – When The Curtain Falls
David Hunter – Silver Linings
Louise Dearman – For You, For Me
Natasha Barnes – Real
Sutton Foster – Take Me To The World

The Curtain Up Show Album of the Year 2018 nominees

Best UK Cast Recording
Broken Wings – Original Concept Album
Calendar Girls – Original London Recording
Everybody’s Talking About Jamie – Original West End Cast Recording
Six The Musical – Studio Cast Recording
Working: A Musical – Original London Cast Recording
Young Frankenstein – Original London Cast Recording

Best American Cast Recording
Frozen – Original Broadway Cast Recording
Mean Girls – Original Broadway Cast Recording
My Fair Lady – 2018 Broadway Cast Recording
Once On This Island – New Broadway Cast Recording
Pretty Woman – Original Broadway Cast Recording
The Prom – Original Broadway Cast Recording

Best Solo Album
Audra McDonald – Sing Happy
Carrie Hope Fletcher – When The Curtain Falls
David Hunter – Silver Linings
Louise Dearman – For You, For Me
Natasha Barnes – Real
Sutton Foster – Take Me To The World

Review: 3Women, Trafalgar Studios 2

Katy Brand’s 3Women plays at the Trafalgar Studios 2 but doesn’t quite live up to expectation

“Raise a glass to female family bonding and buried resentment”

I do love me a bit of Anita Dobson so I was pleased to see her name appear in the cast for 3Women, a new play by Katy Brand playing at the Trafalgar Studios 2. An intergenerational take on women’s experience over the last 60 years or so, it promises a lot but doesn’t quite carry through.

Set in a hotel suite on the eve of a wedding, Debbie Chazen’s Suzanne has cracked open the booze and settled in for the night with her mother, Anita Dobson’s gin-soaked Eleanor and her daughter, Maisie Richardson-Sellers’ gender-fluid Laurie. They have a lot to talk about. Continue reading “Review: 3Women, Trafalgar Studios 2”

Re-review: The Girls, Phoenix

“There is nothing in Nepal
More scary than the step from the kitchen to the hall”

So having not gotten round to seeing The Girls for whatever reason (mainly that I didn’t want to), I finally bit the bullet last week and within 24 hours, the show posted closing notices for its West End run. The Girls will then head out on a two year national tour from August 2018, aiming to visit 42 theatres across the UK and if that does perhaps seem a little ambitious, it is hard to shake the feeling that the musical might be more suited out on the road.

Gary Barlow and Tim Firth’s show started life in “the regions” – I saw it in Leeds and my family saw it in Manchester – and away from the cut-throat economics of the West End, it may well thrive again. The instant recognition of the Calendar Girls story has a different currency when there’s only a week’s worth of performances to sell; one gets the sense that the maxim about familiarity breeding contempt may have come into play at the Phoenix. Continue reading “Re-review: The Girls, Phoenix”

Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 4

“Donna Noble has left the library. Donna Noble has been saved”

And here we are, my favourite series of Doctor Who. So much huge wonderfulness and even its less good moments are still more than halfway decent. Key to the series’ success is Catherine Tate’s Donna Noble – gobby and one-dimensional in her introductory episode the Christmas special The Runaway Bride, her character journey throughout this season is magisterially constructed, a true awakening of self (with thankfully no romantic inclinations towards our Time Lord) and one given unbearable poignancy due to its frustratingly tragic end.

It’s also one of the best constructed series in terms of its over-arching season arc, its warnings and clues layered meaningfully into several stories and building into a momentous and properly climactic finale, which lands just about the right level of grandiosity. There’s also the first companion-lite episode (the superbly creepy Midnight) to go with the Doctor-lite one (the achingly beautiful dystopian Turn Left); a typically brilliant Moffat double-header in  Silence in the Library and Forest of the Dead with gorgeous work from Alex Kingston as the soon-to-be-hugely-significant River Song; and if the return of Rose undoes some of the emotional impact of the Series 2 finale, Billie Piper’s work is spikily powerful. These are episodes I can, and have, watched over and over again.

Continue reading “Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 4”

2017 Laurence Olivier Awards nominations

Best New Play 
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child – Palace
Elegy – Donmar Warehouse
The Flick – National Theatre Dorfman
One Night in Miami – Donmar Warehouse

Best New Musical
Groundhog Day – The Old Vic
Dreamgirls – Savoy
The Girls – Phoenix
School of Rock – New London

Best Revival 
Yerma – Young Vic
The Glass Menagerie – Duke of York’s
This House – Garrick
Travesties – Apollo Continue reading “2017 Laurence Olivier Awards nominations”

Review: A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur, Print Room

“Everyone is sensitive to something”

Given the amount of writing that Tennessee Williams produced – not a year goes past without a premiere of some new short play or other by him – it’s no surprise that there’s a good deal of his work that falls into the little-performed category. A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur is one such play, written in 1976 and now revived at Notting Hill’s Print Room, directed by Michael Oakley.

In a St Louis, Missouri apartment sometime in the 1930s, a group of women spend a sweltering Sunday preparing for a picnic, illuminating as Williams so often does, the precarious nature of women’s place in society. All four are single but at different stages in their life and naturally it is the youngest – civics teacher Dorothea – who is the driving force, believing she has the most at stake. Continue reading “Review: A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur, Print Room”