Film Review: Mary Poppins Returns (2018)

54 years is quite the wait for a sequel but Mary Poppins Returns is full of nostalgic sweetness and charm  

“Are you sure this is quite safe?
‘Not in the slightest. Ready!'”

54 years is quite the wait for a sequel but the sweetness and charm with which Mary Poppins Returns lands on our screens makes it pretty much worth it. It’s a film that does more than wrap you up in a warm blanket of nostalgia, it tucks you in, throws another log on the fire and makes you a steaming hot chocolate (no marshmallows though!).

Set 30 years after the much cherished original, the story (by David Magee, Rob Marshall and John DeLuca based off of PL Travers’s original tales) sees us rejoin Cherry Tree Lane where the adult Michael Banks (Ben Whishaw) lives with his young family (Pixie Davies, Nathaniel Saleh and Joel Dawson). But much like the other long-held sequel of the year, a sadness fills the house for a mother has died. And Michael’s artistic inclinations and part-time job at the bank aren’t bringing in enough to keep them from repossession. Who could possibly save the day…? Continue reading “Film Review: Mary Poppins Returns (2018)”

Film Review: Lady Macbeth (2017)

Who needs Shakespeare when you have William Oldroyd and Alice Birch to give us a chillingly excellent Lady Macbeth

“I’d rather stop you breathing than have you doubt how I feel”

Based on the book Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk by Nikolai Leskov, William Oldroyd’s Lady Macbeth is a ferocious debut film and written by Alice Birch (no stranger to theatregoers but also making a feature debut here), it is a remarkably forward-thinking piece for that old hoary chestnut that is the British period drama.

Layering in intersectional notions of race and class, not shying away from domestic abuse and violence, it is probably safe to say it is unlike any other film you’ve seen that is set in 1865 England. Trapped into a stifling marriage with a disinterested man with a domineering father and a dour isolated estate in the North East, Katherine resolves not to let this be the sum total of her life. Continue reading “Film Review: Lady Macbeth (2017)”

Album Review: Take Flight (2007 Original Cast Recording)

“What is this impulse that drives otherwise sane men to attempt the impossible?” 

Take Flight was a 2007 musical that played at the Menier Chocolate Factory (before my blogging time) written by composer David Shire, lyricist Richard Maltby Jr and writer John Weidman. Weidman is known for his collaborations with Stephen Sondheim (Pacific Overtures, Assassins) and it is hard to avoid the comparisons to that style of musical theatre here, for it does come across as very much of the same school. 

The musical was inspired by the early history of aviation, weaving together the likes of “the Wright Brothers, Charles Lindbergh, Amelia Earhart, along with such sundry luminaries as Otto Lilienthal, the German “Glider King”; Commander Richard Byrd; French flying aces Nungesser and Coli, and various others”, bouncing around three key narratives as they attempt to…take flight. Continue reading “Album Review: Take Flight (2007 Original Cast Recording)”

Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 9

“Time will tell, it always does”

Phew, the Doctor Who rewatch comes to an end with the most recent series, another that I hadn’t seen any of since it originally aired. And again it was one of highs and lows, a frustrating sense of pick and mix that never settles. So from the astonishing bravura of the (practically) solo performance in Heaven Sent to kid-friendly quirks of the sonic sunglasses and guitar playing, Capaldi took us from the sublime to the silly. Fortunately there was more of the former than the latter (although it is interesting that my memory had it the other way round).

Part of it comes down to knowing in advance how the hybrid arc plays out (disappointingly) and a little perspective makes Clara’s departure(s) a little less galling. This way, one can just enjoy the episodes for what they are, free from the weight of the attempted mythologising. The Doctor raging against the futility of war, the wisdom (or otherwise) of forgiveness, the repercussions of diving in to help others without thinking through the consequences…it is often excellent stuff. It’s also nice to see Who employ its first openly transgender actor (Bethany Black) and a deaf actor playing a deaf character (Sophie Stone). Continue reading “Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 9”

Album Review: Stephen Ward (2013 Original Cast Recording)

“Part of me is saying I should go”

Like many others, I imagine, I did not leave Stephen Ward thinking I particularly want to hear this score by Andrew Lloyd Webber again anytime soon and so three years later, this is the first time I’ve revisited this musical. And as the strange melody of opening number ‘Human Sacrifice’ started, I began to wonder if I’d been overly harsh, Alexander Hanson’s story-telling experience imbuing this prologue of sorts with real interest and setting me up for a potential reimagining of my opinion.

But then track number 2 ‘Super Duper Hula Hooper’ kicks in, that title makes me die a little inside every time I hear it, and you soon begin to realise why the show barely managed 4 months in the West End. Lloyd Webber may have been a teenager in the 60s but he’s looking back at them like a man in his sixties, the air of rose-tinted corrective lenses and musical tweeness proving fatal to conjuring any kind of authentic sense of the period. Continue reading “Album Review: Stephen Ward (2013 Original Cast Recording)”

DVD Review: Da Vinci’s Demons Series 1

“War has always been the handmaiden of progress”

From its opening moments of buttocks and blood (both belonging to an uncredited Hugh Bonneville if that floats your boat), it’s clear that Da Vinci’s Demons is going to have its fun whilst playing fast and loose with the early life of its subject, Florentine polymath Leonardo Da Vinci. Conceived by David S Goyer and a co-production between Starz and BBC Worldwide, it’s a good-natured romp of a drama series much in the mould of Merlin, Atlantis or the lamented Sinbad but perhaps tied a little closer to reality as it dips in and out of the tangled history of the Italian city states. 

And it is its historical connections that serves as a main driver for the technological innovations for which Leonardo is famed and which form the ‘issue of the week’ around which most of the episodes hang. So as Da Vinci climbs into bed with the ruling Medici family, he’s sucked into their political machinations whilst battling rival families in Florence and the ever-present threat of the Catholic Church in Rome. Alongside this sits a more fantastical series-long arc about the mystical Book of Leaves and the Sons of Mithras who believe Da Vinci has only just begun to tap into his true power. Continue reading “DVD Review: Da Vinci’s Demons Series 1”

Album Review: Merry Wives the musical (2006 RSC Cast)

“He stinks of drink and urine
And thinks he’s so alluring”

One might have hoped that a musical version of William Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor by the RSC with a cast that includes Dame Judi Dench, Haydn Gwynne, Simon Callow and a Strallen (natch) would be an enjoyable thing to experience to but on listening to it, it’s clear there is abundant reason I was able to pick up the CD of the live recording for the princely sum of £1 in the RSC shop.

Paul Englishby’s score is an unholy mess of a pick’n’mix bag that someone else has chosen for you – its conflicting styles a dizzying confection that sprawls across the narrative rather than supporting it. Not knowing whether the next song is going to be a tango or a madrigal, take its cues from Big Band or Brecht, or recall Andrew Lloyd Webber or an East London music hall is a most bizarre experience and the cumulative effect is extremely wearying – I have to say it was a real struggle to listen to the whole album in one go. Continue reading “Album Review: Merry Wives the musical (2006 RSC Cast)”

Film Review: London Road

“Everybody’s very very nervous”
 
The theatrical production of London Road was a major success for the National Theatre, the opening run first extending in the Cottesloe and then being rewarded with a later transfer to the much larger Olivier – I was first blownaway by its originality and then later comforted by its message in the aftermath of the 2011 riots. So the news that director Rufus Norris was making a film adaptation was received with apprehensive anticipation, could this strikingly experimental piece of theatre possibly work on screen.
 
Writer Alecky Blythe uses a technique whereby she records interviews with people which are then edited into a play but spoken verbatim by the actors, complete with all the ums and aahs and repetitions of natural speech. And in 2006, she went to Ipswich to interview a community rocked by a series of murders, of five women in total, all sex workers, and set about telling a story not of salacious deaths but of a community learning to cleave together in trying times. Oh, and it’s all set to the most innovative of musical scores by Adam Cork, elevating ordinary speech into something quite extraordinary. 

Continue reading “Film Review: London Road”

Review: Stephen Ward The Musical, Aldwych

“Manipulation, that’s the technique, 
This conversation must not leak” 

It’s a curious thing, to take a relatively obscure figure, base a musical on him that is then named after him, yet leave a vacuum where his central presence ought to be the driving force. For all that Andrew Lloyd Webber, Don Black and Christopher Hampton place the character of Stephen Ward at the centre of Stephen Ward the Musical, he remains far too inscrutable, far too unexplored for us to buy into the main premise of the show which is that Ward, who committed suicide after being made the scapegoat for the Profumo scandal of 1963, is a tragic victim of Establishment hypocrisy.

But for all Alexander Hanson’s sterling efforts as the osteopath-turned-social fixer who engineered the first meeting of Secretary of State for War John Profumo and wannabe showgirl Christine Keeler, the show suffers from making him narrator as well as protagonist. So he is lumped with huge swathes of exposition, made increasingly worthy due to a slavish attention to real-life events, as a huge cast of characters flash by momentarily in the service of telling a story, but leave us none the wiser as to what Ward was like as a person, what motivated him, what moved him. Continue reading “Review: Stephen Ward The Musical, Aldwych”

Preview: Stephen Ward The Musical

“I invented a new way of lie, some might call it unconventional,
All that stuffy post-war Englishness, I liked something more consensual”

With such a busy couple of weeks, I’ve only just gotten round to having a listen of the sneak preview of four songs offered at the launch of Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s new musical Stephen Ward. I was prompted by an offer to download two of them for free (for a limited time only) but you can also listen to them online and/or watch the videos below. The story is undoubtedly a little niche, exploring the 1963 Profumo scandal from the point of view of Ward who was smack bang in the middle of it, he being the one who introduced MP John Profumo to Christine Keeler and setting in motion events that rocked the government.

As for the music, there’s something rather endearing about Lloyd-Webber’s continued contributions to British musical theatre, he could so easily have decided to retire yet he carries on writing to the beat of his own drum, safe in the knowledge that a devoted fanbase will lap it up. Unsurprisingly, the four songs previewed do not reveal any major change in direction and so it will be interesting to see if the show is able to transcend the attentions of musical theatre devotees and appeal to a wider audience. Joanna Riding’s simple ballad ‘Hopeless When It Comes To You’ is the pick of the bunch but Alex Hanson, playing Ward himself, runs her close with the sinuous storytelling of ‘Human Sacrifice’. Continue reading “Preview: Stephen Ward The Musical”