News: Michelle Collins fundraises #ForTheLoveOfArts

A new series of monologues, curated and produced by Michelle Collins alongside the Equity Benevolent Fund, has been released online for charity. Entitled “#FortheLoveofArts”, the scheme sees acting talent come together to raise funds for beleaguered artists and individuals during the ongoing pandemic.

Appearing in the series are Lesley Manville, Ian McKellen, Adjoa Andoh, Miriam-Teak Lee, Derek Jacobi, Layton Williams, Sue Johnston, Jason Watkins, Sanjeev Bhaskar, Pearl Mackie and more. Some of the monologues are brand new works penned especially for the series.

The monologues can be viewed on the Equity Benevolent Fund’s YouTube channel.

Not-a-Review: Madame Rubinstein, Park

“You can screw my husband but nobody screws my business”

Short on time this week and Madame Rubinstein finishes its run this week so I’m cheating with this one and just going to say that it is a shame that John Misto’s starrily-cast three-hander isn’t as much fun as the photo might suggest.

Running time: 2 hours 10 minutes (with interval)
Photo: Simon Annand
Booking until 27th May, returns only

Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 6

“Demons run when a good man goes to war”

And here it is, the point at which I stopped loving new Doctor Who, even in a series that has two of the best episodes it has done, and the first series that I haven’t ever rewatched in its entirety. I do enjoy Matt Smith’s Eleven immensely but the writing across this season – which was split into two for transmission – was just fatally erratic for me. Alongside the innovative work from Neil Gaiman in The Doctor’s Wife and Steve Thompson in The Girl Who Waited, two contrasting but superlative pieces of writing, stories such as The Curse of the Black Spot and Night Terrors took the show to a less sophisticated place – (or do I really mean that I started to feel that this version of Doctor Who wasn’t necessarily aimed at me…?)

Even the big finales (for there were two, one for each half) fell a little flat. The premonition that the Doctor would “fall so much further” than ever before in A Good Man Goes to War raised expectations only to be dashed by an overloaded episode with little emotional heft aside from the River Song reveal, and The Wedding of River Song suffered from the general over-use of the characters dying-but-not-really-dying trope (poor Arthur Darvill…). That said, the high points of the series are so very good – the striking US-set opening double-bill, the Doctor finally meeting the TARDIS, and brain-scratching sci-fi with real heart. Frustratingly inconsistent. Continue reading “Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 6”

Album Review: Closer to Heaven (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)”

TV Review: Silk, Series 3


“It’s not what any of you want”

And so it ends. A little unexpectedly, it was announced by creator Peter Moffat that this third series of Silk would be the last and whilst I would love to say that it was a fitting finale to the joys that were Series 1 and 2, I have to say I was quite disappointed in it. After showcasing Maxine Peake marvellously as the driven QC Martha Costello, here the character was barely recognisable; after securing the fabulous Frances Barber as a striking opposing counsel as Caroline Warwick, her incorporation into Shoe Lane Chambers neutered almost all the interest that had made her so fascinating; and with Neil Stuke’s Billy suffering health issues all the way through, the focus was too often drawn away from the courtroom.

When it did sit inside the Old Bailey, it did what the series has previously done so well, refracting topical issues through the eyes of the law – the kittling of protestors, Premiership footballers believing themselves beyond justice, assisted suicide, the effects of counter-terrorism on minority communities. And it continued to bring a pleasingly high level of guest cast – Claire Skinner was scorchingly effective as a mother accused of a mercy killing, Eleanor Matsuura’s sharp US lawyer reminding me how much I like this actress who deserves a breakthrough, and it always nice to see one of my favourites Kirsty Bushell on the tellybox, even if she melted a little too predictably into Rupert Penry-Jones’ arms. Continue reading “TV Review: Silk, Series 3”

DVD Review: Silk, Series 2

“People are saying you only made silk because you’re a woman and from Bolton”

The joys of Netflix allowed me to quickly move onto Series 2 of Silk in perfect time before the third, and final, series hit BBC1, and it remains an excellent piece of television, a quality legal drama blessed with some cracking writing, a stellar leading cast, and a revolving ensemble which continues to draw in the cream of British acting talent to give their supporting roles and cameos. The series kicks off with Maxine Peake’s Martha having ascended to the ranks of QC whilst Rupert Penry-Jones’ Clive languishes in her slipstream, and the dynamics of their relationship form a major driver of the narrative. 

Her adjustments to her new role and responsibilities are fascinatingly drawn, especially as she negotiates the ethics of working with a notorious crime family and their shady legal representation. And his pursuit of that exalted status of QC as he stretches himself professionally to take in prosecutions, as well as Indira Varma’s attractive solicitor, is challenged when he overreaches himself in a particularly pressing case. As ever, individual cases fit into each episode as well, but these wider storylines are where the real interest comes.  Continue reading “DVD Review: Silk, Series 2”

DVD Review: The Nativity Story (2006)/The Nativity (2010)

“Joseph, please don’t hate me”

As one of those stories that so many of us learnt whilst very young, the tale of the Nativity occupies a near-unassailable position in the cultural consciousness and so it is unsurprising that it has received the odd televisual adaptation or two. But both versions that I watched this week suffered criminally from a po-faced seriousness, trying to create a literal interpretation of the Biblical story despite the ever-so-tiny possibility that it might not necessarily be based in deep realism…

The Nativity Story, the 2006 film version, written by Mike Rich and directed by Catherine Hardwicke, is particularly onerous, deadly serious in tone and mostly traditional in its storytelling, so that Keisha Castle-Hughes’ Mary unblinkingly accepts the arrival of the Angel Gabriel and the news that she’s gonna be expecting. Yet Hardwicke can’t resist a little of the Bella Swan stroppiness as Mary gets to complain (unrealistically) about her enforced betrothal to Joseph.

Continue reading “DVD Review: The Nativity Story (2006)/The Nativity (2010)”

TV Review: Muse of Fire

We found Shakespeare tough at school” 

What a brilliant little film – tucked away on BBC4 but fortunately on the iPlayer for another few days yet, Muse of Fire: A Shakespearean Road Movie is a one hour documentary by actors Giles Terera and Dan Poole exploring the Bard’s reputation for being difficult to understand. This they do by speaking to an astonishing array of people including “ten Oscar nominees, five Oscar winners, one dame, seven knights” along with some of our greatest actors – it’s one of the most impressive roll-calls you’ll see all year (at least until the NT’s 50th bash next week…) – and some regular people too, from estate agents Cambridge to baffled students. 

This extraordinary depth of collaboration is at once the strength and the weakness of the film. We get such a wide range of insights from luminaries such as Ian McKellen, Fiona Shaw, Michael Gambon, Judi Dench and Derek Jacobi but there’s only time for snippets, the glorious Frances Barber is seen briefly at the beginning never to reappear and the list of credits at the end show all sorts who haven’t made the final cut. There’s so much fascinating stuff that must have been left on the cutting room floor that one can’t help but be a little frustrated – can we get a director’s cut?!  Continue reading “TV Review: Muse of Fire”

Short Film Review #23

  My Dad the Communist from Tuyen Do on Vimeo.

It is tempting to see My Dad the Communist as something of a neat companion piece to Chimerica, featuring a Benedict Wong character responding to the events of Tiananmen Square in a completely different way but in truth, they are separate beasts and the only real thing linking them is the dearth of complex Asian-related stories on our screens and stages (although things do seem to be changing, slowly). This Lab Ky Mo film focuses on a typical British-Chinese family who work in a takeaway (where else?!) – Tony has lived all of his life in the UK yet his father has remained stubbornly, inscrutably Chinese in his behaviour, rarely uttering anything at all or showing any affection to his wife or son.
 
A car accident involving the older man motivates Tony to look back on his 20 year life and reflect on the rare moments that his dad did speak, realising the huge significance of those events, and the ones where he didn’t, imagining the parental figure he craved. Mo utilises the fantasy flashback several times to great effect, we really get a sense of being caught up in Tony’s reverie and it is really quite moving. Wong is customarily excellent as the taciturn father, Siu Hun Li is also strong as the son trying to do things differently, not least with his own new wife, an expressive performance from Tuyen Do.  

Continue reading “Short Film Review #23”

Review: Present Laughter, Radio 4

“There’s something awfully sad about happiness isn’t there”

Casting is everything and Celia de Wolff hits the jackpot with her radio production of Noël Coward’s Present Laughter for Radio 4 by putting Samuel West into the main role of Garry Essendine, the self-obsessed actor at the centre of a social maelstrom caused by his imminent departure on a theatre tour of Africa. West perfectly captures the outraged vanity of a man upset by the temerity of life letting him turn 40 and exasperated by the endless roll-call of people who either want to bid him farewell or can’t bear to see him go.

And what a roll-call it is – from top quality classic actors to top notch fresh talent, it sparkles from top to bottom as characters rattle in and out of the offices and spare rooms of Essendine’s house, marshalled by his ever-tolerant secretary Monica, voiced beautifully by a purring Frances Barber. Janie Dee shines as his estranged wife; Susannah Harker is raucous fun as the woman married to Jonathan Coy’s Henry, having an affair with Anthony Calf’s Morris and determined to philander her way into Garry’s bed; and Lily James and Freddie Fox are both good as a pair of besotted youngsters, the former an aspiring actress and the latter a would-be playwright, both determined to have their way with him. Continue reading “Review: Present Laughter, Radio 4”