Lockdown TV review: Belgravia (ITV)

The first couple of episodes of Julian Fellowes’ latest TV series Belgravia are quite frankly an embarrassment

“How strange that we should be having a ball when we are on the brink of war”

Who knows what hold Julian Fellowes has over the British cultural industries as once again, another major commission comes through for this painfully lazy of writers. I should have resisted Belgravia but with a cast that includes Harriet Walter, Tara Fitzgerald and Saskia Reeves, not to mention Penny Layden and Adam James, curiosity got the better of me and by the crin, I wish it hadn’t. Lucy Mangan puts it scathingly well in her review for the Guardian and I couldn’t have put it any better. Avoid like the, well, plague.

Photo: ITV

Film Review: 1917 (2019)

Sam Mendes’ 1917 is undoubtedly an technically excellent film but the focus on format ends up detracting from the depth of the storytelling

“You’ll be wanking again in no time!
‘Wrong hand’.”

There’s no doubting the technical audacity of Sam Mendes’ 1917. With its ostensibly one-shot, real-time structure (with necessary caveats that it is neither), it is a bravura piece of film-making that elevates this movie from just your average Oscar-baity war flick (cf Dunkirk).

It is clearly a labour of love for Mendes, who directed, co-wrote (with Krysty Wilson-Cairns) and produced 1917, and whose grandfather’s own war experiences inspired the film. And its driving force, following 2 British soldiers tasked with delivering a vital message beyond enemy lines. Continue reading “Film Review: 1917 (2019)”

TV Review: Humans Series 3

I can’t help but think Humans might have run its course as a uniquely intelligent and British sci-fi drama

“…the coming together of man and machine. You can change the course of history…”

I’ve enjoyed where Humans has taken us thus far, and the beginning of a third series seemed promising. But as I got to the end of this season and twist after twist pointed at where the story might well continue, it felt like I might have reached my expiration date with the show.

The human/synth baby that Mattie is carrying, Niska’s transformation into ur-Niska, V’s survival…it’s hard not to feel that any of these feel far less interesting than where Humans are trod thus far in its carefully balanced but uniquely British brand of sci-fi. Continue reading “TV Review: Humans Series 3”

TV Review: Doctor Who Series 11

Series 11 of Doctor Who comes to an end and it’s a big yes from me – a hugely successful refresh for this beloved series

“I have to lay down the rules if someone’s new”

From the opening episode, I knew that Series 11 of Doctor Who was going to do it for me. New head writer and executive producer Chris Chibnall’s reset was most obvious in the casting of Jodie Whittaker as the Thirteenth Doctor but it was his other changes – namely a real widening of the pool of writers and a pronounced shift in tone – that really defined the shape of this new Doctor Who.

For all its sci-fi nature, that shape was decidedly human. The tragic death of Sharon D Clarke’s Grace was a defining moment in that opening episode, providing the trigger for this TARDIS crew to come together. And rather beautifully, the series really allowed for a full exploration of everyone’s different grief at her passing, culminating in the brutal power of Ed Hime’s ninth episode It Takes You Away.

And pivoting away from the oft-times densely packed complexity of the show’s mythology, the storytelling pointed less at grand alien threats but rather to the foibles of human nature – the enemy within. The racism of Rosa, written by Malorie Blackman with Chibnall, Vinay Patel’s exploration of the British colonial legacy around Partition in Demons of the Punjab, this was science-fiction as its most powerful, commenting powerfully on contemporary society (and naturally provoking the kind of outrage you’d expect). Continue reading “TV Review: Doctor Who Series 11”

Re-review: Girl From The North Country, Noël Coward

Poster for the transfer of Girl from the North Country at the Noel Coward Theatre

“What did you expect?”

After a hugely successful run at the Old Vic, Girl From The North Country transfers to the Noël Coward with the majority of its cast and all of its melancholy soul intact. Seeing Sheila Atim transform ‘Tight Connection To My Heart’ into the most heartfelt of laments was one of my highlights of 2017 and seeing it once again made me feel like it could easily be one of the highlights of 2018 as well.

Her performance is symptomatic of what makes this show so fantastic. The secret weapon in Conor McPherson’s production is the arrangement of the Bob Dylan songs by Simon Hale, an interpretative masterstroke which weaves the music into the very fabric of these people’s lives. (Though whether that makes this a musical remains anyone’s guess.)

Continue reading “Re-review: Girl From The North Country, Noël Coward”

The Curtain Up Show Album of the Year 2017 nominees

Best UK Cast Recording
42nd Street – 2017 London Cast Recording
Bat Out Of Hell The Musical – Original Cast Recording
Dreamgirls – Original London Cast Recording
Everybody’s Talking About Jamie – Original Concept Recording
Girl From The North Country – Original London West End Cast Recording
The Wind in the Willows – Cast Recording

Best American Cast Recording
Anastasia – Original Broadway Cast Recording
Come From Away – Original Broadway Cast Recording
Dear Evan Hansen – Original Broadway Cast Recording
Hello, Dolly! – New Broadway Cast Recording
Spongebob Squarepants – Original Cast Recording
Sunday in the Park with George – 2017 Broadway Cast Recording

Best Solo Album/Non Cast Recording
Collabro – Home
Leading Ladies – Songs From The Stage
Marisha Wallace – Soul Holiday
Patti LuPone – Don’t Monkey With Broadway
Rachel Tucker – On The Road
Sheridan Smith – Sheridan

Re-review: Girl From The North Country, Old Vic

“There’s something I’ve got to do tonight”

I’m going to call it taking one for the team. Faced with the prospect of Girl From The North Country disappearing into the ether (albeit having left an excellent cast recording behind), I took the plunge and booked myself back into the Old Vic in the show’s final week. So of course, a West End transfer has now been announced, which is great news for something which (spoilers) is likely to figure highly in my end-of-year round-up. It will open at the Noël Coward Theatre in December (casting news still to be announced though) and will be well worth the trip.

Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 7th October

Album Review: Girl From The North Country (Original London Cast Recording)

The pure quality of the Original London Cast Recording of Girl From The North Country means it is almost as good as the show itself

“And I wait for them to interrupt
Me drinkin’ from my broken cup”

The very notion of a Bob Dylan musical was one about which I couldn’t help but be sceptical but the Old Vic’s Girl From The North Country completely confounded me, emerging as a powerfully moving piece of musical theatre (even if it is determined to label itself a play with songs). And whether that success had been predicted or not, we have been given the gift of a cast recording to tide us over while we queue for returns and/or pray for a West End transfer.

For myself, I’d argue that Bob Dylan songs are best sung by other people anyway, so I should have maybe clocked that this show would be right up my street. And it remains the case here – listening to the original of ‘Tight Connection to My Heart’ suggests nothing of the transcendent beauty that Sheila Atim’s interpretation lends it, the spine-tingling ache in her voice supported with skill and sensitivity by some perfectly arranged backing vocals from the ensemble. Continue reading “Album Review: Girl From The North Country (Original London Cast Recording)”

Review: Girl From The North Country, Old Vic

“Everything’s a little upside down
As a matter of fact the wheels have stopped”

I’m no great fan of Bob Dylan, heretical as it may be to certain elements of the theatre clique. But I don’t mind his songs when they’re sung by other people, so a musical featuring his work seems just the ticket. Or is it a musical? Girl From The North Country comes attached with that most tiresome of sobriquets, ‘a new play by Conor McPherson with music and lyrics by Bob Dylan’, as if musical is a dirty word.

Semantics to one side though, I absolutely adored this. Within a couple of songs I had already made a mental note to work out who to invite when I go again; within three, I had decided who was going to get next year’s Olivier for Best Actress in a Musical (Sheila Atim); by the interval, I was texting all and sundry to get themselves booked in whilst half-decent seats are still available. And all to see a Bob Dylan musical!

Continue reading “Review: Girl From The North Country, Old Vic”

CD Review: Departure Lounge (Original London Cast Recording)

“He was in a right state, well he’s a lightweight”

Dougal Irvine was recently in town with The Buskers Opera at the Park but the first of his shows that I saw was Departure Lounge, back in 2010 at the Waterloo East Theatre. A rowdy tale of four British teenaged lads delayed in Malaga Airport’s departure lounge, reflecting on the past week’s drunken shenanigans, the quartet come to realise that their trip has actually been a real rites of passage job, in more ways than one.

Scored for acoustic guitars yet still managing to pull in a wide range of musical influences, Irvine’s music stands up to the test of time pretty well. He clearly knows his way around a hummable melody with a raft of catchy choruses and with his four strong singers in Chris Fountain, Jack Shalloo, Liam Tamne and Steven Webb, takes full advantage of the close harmonies that simultaneously master and mock boyband clichés.

Listening to the recording though, it’s interesting that a couple of key pieces of plot aren’t contained here in the music, referenced to slightly but dramatically absent in the main. Which isn’t a problem per se in the flow of the album especially for those who haven’t seen the show – you don’t miss what you don’t know after all. But it does mean that there’s a certain lack of heft to the music, when such key revelations are left in the book.

That said, the mixture of Britpop, flamenco, a bit of Country & Western, barbershop quartets, beatboxing and some serious power-ballading has the special allure of a Duty-Free Toblerone 3 for the price of 2 offer with all the nougaty promise inherent in such a purchase. A nice holiday treat.