Film Review: Last Christmas (2019)

Any film with Patti LuPone has to be a winner, even if Last Christmas only features her for 90 seconds or so. Nowhere near as bad as they’d have you believe…

“Before we eat lesbian pudding…”

There’s always a measure of slight disappointment when something doesn’t live up to its billing. To look at most of its press coverage, you’d think Last Christmas was ZOMG WORST FILM IN THE WORLD™ (a title it might have held at least for the four weeks before Cats came out…). But the reality, as per usual, is something much more mundane – it’s a perfectly serviceable piece of festive fluff, hardly ground-breaking but then what rom-com is?

Obviously I’m biased since the great Patti LuPone makes a random cameo early on, but I found the whole thing to be quite watchable. Its guest cast is a winner from start to finish – Michelle Yeoh! David Mumeni’s inexplicably rebuffed pub guy, Anna Calder-Marshall’s spiky homeless woman, Lydia Leonard and Jade Anouka as a lesbian couple, Amit Shah’s bumbling estate agent…and that joy of trying to work out which bit of London is being used at any given time. Continue reading “Film Review: Last Christmas (2019)”

Review: MilkMilkLemonade, Ovalhouse

“Boys have to be boys”

I knew I’d like MilkMilkLemonade from the moment I read the publicity which introduced the word ‘bittersilly’ into my lexicon, a twist on the bittersweet realities of growing up different that reflects the persuasive, almost daft charm of Joshua Conkel’s writing. From the outset, it’s clear we’re in for something alternative (alt-country, even) as James Turner’s design has us sat on a circle of haybales with chickens made of balloons all around and a nervy narrator introducing us to the homespun delights of life on the chicken farm for Emory and his Nanna.

Except those delights are few and far between. Emory is a gay fifth-grader who loves nothing more than twirling his ribbon, playing with his doll Starlene and his best friend Linda (who just happens to be a giant chicken) and rehearsing his unique routine to ‘Anything Goes’ for the talent show that will be his ticket outta Hicksville. But that’s not how a boy’s supposed to be as the grim-faced oxygen-mask-guzzling Nanna constantly reminds him, Emory ought to spend more time with bullying pyromaniac Elliot from down the road, a true man’s man in the making.

Naturally it’s not quite what it seems as Elliot and Emory do play together but not in the heterosexual way Nanna demands, but rather playing a twisted version of house in which they experiment sexually and socially with their gender roles. This is something Rebecca Atkinson-Lord’s production plays up beautifully in its casting choices – Benedict Hopper drags up brilliantly as the vehement Nanna but Sophie Steer brings a real thought-provoking quality to Elliot, asking questions about how gender roles are constructed for boys (and for girls) in the desperation to present a butch façade.

But for all the serious issues flying around, it is the humour that brings the boys to the yard as Conkel lets his imagination run riot. Georgia Buchanan’s lady-in-leotard is the most blessed recipient here as she variously fulfils the role of narrator, the deadly but darling spider Rochelle, the parasitic twin living in Elliot’s thigh, the translator of Linda’s chicken-speak and the living embodiment of Starlene who near steals the show with a fabulous rendition of ‘I’ve Never Been To Me’. Released from the confines of the narrative, Buchanan truly revels in the playful freedom accorded to her.

Even within the play, Daniel Francis-Swaby finds an innate sweetness as Emory and there’s something lovely about a play about a young gay protagonist who has already accepted his sexuality thus freeing up the writing to focus elsewhere. Laura Evelyn’s Linda has squawking good fun too even as Conkel never quite lets us forget the darkness in the drama, it is processing day at the chicken plant after all, and even in the brilliant humour of the Blanche DuBois pastiche – the best bittersilliest moment – there’s a poignancy that lingers long after the laughter.

Running time: 75 minutes (without interval)
Booking until 25th October

Review: Once Upon A Christmas, Covent Garden

“Christmas may be cancelled!”

Billed as “a theatrical adventure in Covent Garden”, the details of which we’re urged to keep secret so that future participants can experience it unspoiled, Once Upon A Christmas is Look Left Look Right’s contribution to this year’s festive fare, and what an appetising treat it makes. An interactive experience for pairs (although it can be experienced solo as well), the adventure begins at a nondescript address, tucked amongst the shops and bars of this bustling part of London, but it soon becomes clear that there’s more than meets the eye here.

For this is the elf-run headquarters of Pantoland who have been forced to walk amongst humankind in order to avert the biggest crisis of them all – the cancellation of Christmas itself. This has been caused by the shocking break-up of Cinderella and Prince Charming and the only people that can -help – well, you’ve guessed it, it’s you and your friend. And so begins a helter-skelter journey of one-on-one encounters through the nooks and crannies of Covent Garden – some considerably more salubrious than others – accompanied by some extremely familiar faces, although they might not always act exactly as you might expect.

It is a hugely charming enterprise and its fast-flowing nature – as you’re gently moved on from pillar to post to pumpkin – means that it is akin to tumbling into a winter Wonderland. A cast of eighteen excellently facilitate the journey constructed by writers Morgan Lloyd Malcolm and Katie Lyons and they offer an amusingly modern take on fairytale life – a bit of vicious gossip and tweeting here, some heartbroken necking of shots there, a wickedly amusing barrow-boy monk giving excellent banter. The show envelops you in its tinsel-clad embrace from the off and though the happy ending might never really seem in doubt, why on earth would you want it to be?


Those in search of earth-shattering drama or life-changing experience might need to recalibrate their expectations for a warm-hearted daftness in what is in store here and Once Upon A Christmas is all the stronger for it. Director Mimi Poskitt has marshalled her resources excellently, there’s some genuinely striking moments of acting alongside some excellent people management – Brandy Butter definitely wins the prize here – and that it all takes place in plain sight in so public an arena lends a marvellous sense of complicity to the whole affair, weaving it seamlessly into the fabric of the long-established entertainment in the square. Great fun.
Running time: 70 minutes (without interval)
Booking until 15th December


Originally written for The Public Reviews