TV Review: Unforgotten Series 2

“You might put me in prison but let me tell you this: you can’t judge me unless you’ve had it done to you.”

Blimey, I knew Unforgotten was good (here’s my Episode 1 review, and my Series 1 review) but I wasn’t expecting it to be this soul-shatteringly excellent. More fool me I suppose, Nicola Walker is a god among mortals and her presence alone is reliably proving a harbinger of excellence, but allied to Chris Lang’s scorching writing, it’s hard to imagine that we’ll see much better television than this before the year is out. 

That it managed this by using elements that have been seen recently (historical child sex abuse as per Line of Duty; the Strangers on a Train twist featured in Silent Witness just last month) and imbuing them with a compelling freshness is impressive enough, but the way in which it revealed this at the mid-point of the series and yet still had hooks and surprises aplenty to keep me gripped right until the bitterly haunting end.  Continue reading “TV Review: Unforgotten Series 2”

DVD Review: Moulin Rouge

“I’m paid to make men believe what they want to believe” 

‘Spectacular, spectacular!’ It’s donkey’s years since I’ve seen Baz Luhrmann’s 2001 hit film Moulin Rouge, I probably watched it too many times in a short period of time so I remember declaring myself over it but for a goodly while, I was very much under its spell. And giving it another spin now reminded me why. Its bold and brash vision is just as arresting today as it was over a decade ago and the sheer cinematic vision that it indulges in as sumptuous and inventive as any pastiche-jukebox musical (gotta love a Wikipedia descriptor!) made since, managing that rare feat for a musical of being nominated for best film at the Oscars.

From the fiercely romantic and indeed passionate love story between penniless writer Christian (a fresh-faced Ewan McGregor) and ailing star courtesan Satine (a luminous Nicole Kidman, to a soundtrack that iconoclastically cherry-picks musical snippets from the entire 20th century to create a fabuous collage of sonic invention, the film leaps from the screen with glitter and glee. The costume and production design (Angus Strathie, Catherine Martin and Brigitte Broch) is lavish beyond belief, the choreography recalls a marvelous sense of Parisian decadence and the whole thing constantly teeters on the brink of overwhelming. Continue reading “DVD Review: Moulin Rouge”

Review: Cabaret, New Wimbledon

“Start by admitting from cradle to tomb, it isn’t that long a stay”

Perhaps with a nod to the fact that it isn’t that long since it was in the West End, the touring production of Kander and Ebb’s Cabaret directed by Rufus Norris is just playing a few days at the New Wimbledon Theatre before touring the country. It was a production that I enjoyed when I saw it back at the Savoy and crucially, it has made the one casting change it needed to really improve. Despite her best efforts, Michelle Ryan never felt really at home as Sally Bowles and the introduction of Siobhan Dillon is a clever one as she embodies the simultaneous fragility and strength of this most iconic of characters.

Otherwise, there isn’t too much more to say about it that wasn’t already said in that previous review. Will Young is a genuine revelation as a chilling Emcee, Matt Rawle’s bisexual writer Cliff exudes chemistry all around and the older lovers torn apart by the encroaching regime hits a real chiming note – Lyn Paul taking over from Siân Phillips against Linal Haft. And Valerie Cutko is an inspired casting choice for Fräulein Kost, a character I always end up wanting to see more of. Continue reading “Review: Cabaret, New Wimbledon”

TV Review: Ripper Street Series 1

“Whitechapel calls you back”

Victorian crime procedural Ripper Street burst onto our screens at the beginning of this year with a blood-spattered élan and a perhaps more violent streak than many were expecting, but it grew to be a most successful series with audiences (and me) and has since been renewed for a second series. Set in Whitechapel, the first episode had a Jack the Ripper focus, which with the title of the show, proved a bit of misdirection in terms of the series as a whole as the crimes that H Division ended up investigating were of a hugely wide-ranging nature and not just focused on the notorious serial killer (although the Ripper’s exploits did form a backdrop to part of the series-long arc).

It’s a period of history, and particularly social history, that I have long found interesting (I studied it as part of my degree) as notions of crime and punishment were rapidly changing and the nature of policing was also changing with the introduction of a more scientific approach to solving crimes. So Matthew Macfadyen’s DI Reid and Jerome Flynn’s DS Flynn are joined by US army surgeon Captain Jackson, played by Adam Rothenburg, as they work their way through the serious crimes, civil unrest, and personal vendettas that crop up on a weekly basis. Continue reading “TV Review: Ripper Street Series 1”

Review: Cabaret, Savoy

“You should have known by now you’d every cause to doubt me”

Rufus Norris’ restaging of Cabaret was a big hit a few years back (although I never quite managed to make the trip) and it now receives a revival which has toured the UK (where most of my family caught it at the Lowry before me, how very dare they!) in advance of arriving at the Savoy Theatre. Given the high-profile nature of the show, it seems surprising that the lead casting comes somewhat out of left field – the part of the Emcee is taken on by Will Young and the iconic role of Sally Bowles by Michelle Ryan – and it is a gamble with varying results.

Young actually fits this production like a glove. His sinister, rapacious air as he manipulates the Kit Kat club in a striking rendition of Tomorrow Belongs to Me never lets us forget that this is no light-hearted piece of musical theatre fluff but a snapshot of a highly disturbing moment in world history as the German population fell under the spell of Nazism. Kander + Ebb’s deliciously dark musical was based on John Van Druten’s I Am A Camera which could be recently seen in glorious form at Southwark Playhouse, but that in turn was based on Christopher Isherwood’s short story Goodbye to Berlin, his semi-autobiographical account of living in 1930s Germany. Continue reading “Review: Cabaret, Savoy”

Review: Burlesque, Jermyn Street

“What are you going to do, tap dance me to death?”

Burlesque is a new musical with book and lyrics written by Adam Meggido and Roy Smiles and music by Meggido as well. Adam Meggido might well be a recognisable face as he is part of the Showstopper! ensemble, a team that improvise a new musical from scratch every night, but he finally decided to write one down and over several years, Burlesque has developed into its current format at the Jermyn Street Theatre where it now has its world premiere. Set in 1952 America, it looks at how the culture of fear encouraged by McCarthy’s anti-Communist witch-hunts impacted on the lives of a set of performers in a burlesque show.

At the heart of the story is Johnny Reno, a comic trying to keep his head down after being black-listed due to his father’s connections and his unwillingness to co-operate with the FBI. His girlfriend, one of the dancers, has just announced she’s pregnant, his comedy partner Rags is hitting the bottle way too hard and the lusty theatre owner Freddie is struggling to find financial backers whilst being distracted by one of his new recruits. With the pressure on him increasing on all sides in an increasingly paranoid society, Johnny is forced to decide what, and who, is most important to him. Continue reading “Review: Burlesque, Jermyn Street”