Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 4

“Donna Noble has left the library. Donna Noble has been saved”

And here we are, my favourite series of Doctor Who. So much huge wonderfulness and even its less good moments are still more than halfway decent. Key to the series’ success is Catherine Tate’s Donna Noble – gobby and one-dimensional in her introductory episode the Christmas special The Runaway Bride, her character journey throughout this season is magisterially constructed, a true awakening of self (with thankfully no romantic inclinations towards our Time Lord) and one given unbearable poignancy due to its frustratingly tragic end.

It’s also one of the best constructed series in terms of its over-arching season arc, its warnings and clues layered meaningfully into several stories and building into a momentous and properly climactic finale, which lands just about the right level of grandiosity. There’s also the first companion-lite episode (the superbly creepy Midnight) to go with the Doctor-lite one (the achingly beautiful dystopian Turn Left); a typically brilliant Moffat double-header in  Silence in the Library and Forest of the Dead with gorgeous work from Alex Kingston as the soon-to-be-hugely-significant River Song; and if the return of Rose undoes some of the emotional impact of the Series 2 finale, Billie Piper’s work is spikily powerful. These are episodes I can, and have, watched over and over again.

Continue reading “Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 4”

TV Review: Ripper Street Series 4

“Edmund Reid did this”

As I might have predicted after the soaring heights of Series 3, the fourth season of Ripper Street didn’t quite live up to its forerunner. Then again, how could it after the epic sweep of the storytelling had so much of the finale about it in terms of where it left its key characters – Matthew Macfadyen’s Reid, Jerome Flynn’s Drake, Adam Rothenberg’s Jackson and MyAnna Buring’s Susan – picking up the pieces to carry on was always going to be difficult.

To recap, Reid had given up the police force after being reunited with his previously-thought-dead daughter Mathilda, and Susan’s momentous struggle against the patriarchal strictures of society (and also the nefarious entanglements of her actual father) saw her and Jackson end up behind bars, having also drawn Reid and the promoted Drake into the exacting of an individual kind of justice.  Continue reading “TV Review: Ripper Street Series 4”

Review: The Audience, Apollo

“A good Labour woman…”

Not content with becoming a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire earlier this year, Kristin Scott Thomas was also awarded an upgraded Légion d’honneur (from chevalier to officer to be precise) in what has become something of a banner year for her. She’s also completing the not-inconsiderable feat of stepping into Helen Mirren’s award-winning shoes as Her Royal Highness Elizabeth II in Peter Morgan’s The Audience, whilst Dame Helen reprises the role and the award-winning on Broadway.

Morgan’s revival has updated the play a little from its first outing – Tony Blair is in, Jim Callaghan is out, the recent election gets its mention with a barbed Miliband joke, but essentially it remains the same non-confrontational easy-Sunday-evening –television style viewing. The parade of PMs mostly play off a sole predictable character note, the Queen gets an easy ride of it with a strange intimation of where her personal politics might lie, there’s not a dramatic surprise to be had in here nor anything truly arresting through all its luxuriousness. Continue reading “Review: The Audience, Apollo”

TV Review: Coalition, Channel 4

“No Lib Dem leader has ever had this kind of exposure and opportunity”

James Graham definitely seems to be having a moment – the noted playwright has been branching out into film and TV and with some serendipitous timing, is showcasing his talent in all three avenues. The Vote will soon be hitting the Donmar, X&Y is in cinemas as we speak, and his television film Coalition aired on Channel 4 last night. I’ve yet to catch X&Y but if Coalition is anything to go by, then there’s absolutely no fear that he is overstretching himself as it was a cracking bit of telly.

One of the reasons it worked so well for me was its basis in more-or-less contemporary events. His play This House was a sterling piece of political theatre but for someone who had no knowledge of the 1970s politicking it portrayed, there was always a sense of catch-up whereas the more august members of the audience could enjoy the nuances of Graham’s skilful writing and observations without the niggle of also trying to work out just what was going on.  Continue reading “TV Review: Coalition, Channel 4”

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”

DVD Review: Nicholas Nickleby

“You must bear up against sorrow my dear”

Douglas McGrath’s adaptation of Nicholas Nickleby manages the not-unimpressive feat of condensing Dickens’ weighty novel into a two hour film, and whilst much must have been jettisoned (I’ve never read the book so I couldn’t tell you what) it still hangs together as a cohesive story with much to recommend it. McGrath also directs and remains very much faithful to the spirit of Dickens with a straightforward aesthetic that takes a few artistic liberties but whose heart is very much in the right place.

After the death of Nickleby senior, Nickleby junior is thrust into the role of head of the family but with the dastardly deeds of their unscrupulous Uncle Ralph, Nicholas has to work extremely hard and keep his wits about him in order to protect his friends and family from the misfortune around them. Those misfortunes are many and varied but entertainingly portrayed here as there’s a good deal of humour and pathos mixed in with the grimness. Continue reading “DVD Review: Nicholas Nickleby”

Review: Flare Path, Theatre Royal Haymarket

“I always thought our private happiness was more important than outside things”

Flare Path marks the second of 3 Rattigan plays this month for me as his anniversary year really gets into swing with two major London productions opening this month, joining the fringe and regional shows that have already begun to celebrate the work of this most English of writers. It also marks the first production of Trevor Nunn’s artistic directorship at the Theatre Royal Haymarket. Written in 1941 it is drawn from Rattigan’s own RAF experience in the Second World War

Set over a 1942 weekend in a hotel occupied by fighter pilots and their visiting wives, near an airbase in Lincolnshire, the story centres on Patricia, an actress who although she has married the affably handsome Flight Lieutenant Teddy after a whirlwind romance, has been tempted back by her former lover, film star Peter Kyle and she intends to tell Teddy of her intent to leave him. But the war waits for no woman and as Teddy serves his country alongside his fellow men and she is left waiting with the other wives, all struggling with the different pressures the war is placing on their own marriages, Patricia’s resolve is weakened and the her dilemma becomes more pressing. Continue reading “Review: Flare Path, Theatre Royal Haymarket”

fosterIAN awards 2009

 WinnerRunner-upOther nominees
Best Actress in a PlayRachel Weisz, A Streetcar Named DesirePhoebe Nicholls/Lisa Dillon, When the Rain Stops Falling; Chris Nietvelt, The Roman TragediesImelda Staunton, Entertaining Mr Sloane
Juliet Stevenson, Duet for One
Anna Chancellor, The Observer
Best Actor in a PlayHans Kesting, The Roman TragediesJude Law, Hamlet (Donmar)Dominic Rowan, The Spanish Tragedy
David Troughton, Inherit the Wind
Dan Stevens, Arcadia
Henry Goodman, Duet for One
Best Supporting Actress in a PlayRebecca Hall, The Winter’s Tale (Bridge Project)Kate Fleetwood, Life is a DreamJessie Cave, Arcadia
Michelle Dockery, Burnt By The Sun
Alexandra Gilbreath, Twelfth Night
Ruth Wilson, A Streetcar Named Desire
Best Supporting Actor in a PlayAndrew Scott, CockSimon Paisley-Day, Entertaining Mr SloaneMark Dexter, Inherit the Wind
Tom Goodman-Hill, Enron
Ethan Hawke, The Winter’s Tale (Bridge Project)
Barnaby Kay, A Streetcar Named Desire
Best Actress in a MusicalSamantha Spiro, Hello, Dolly!Julie Atherton, The Last Five YearsMelanie Chisholm, Blood Brothers
Donna King, Frank’s Closet
Patina Miller, Sister Act
Tamzin Outhwaite, Sweet Charity
Best Actor in a MusicalSimon Burke, La Cage aux FollesCarl Mullaney, Frank’s ClosetRoger Allam, La Cage aux Folles
Mark Umbers, Sweet Charity
Aneurin Barnard, Spring Awakening
Tony Sheldon, Priscilla Queen of the Desert
Best Supporting Actress in a MusicalJosefina Gabrielle, Hello, Dolly!Sheila Hancock, Sister ActJosefina Gabrielle, Sweet Charity
Tiffany Graves, Sweet Charity
The Lovely Debbie McGee, Frank’s Closet
Jodie Prenger, Oliver!
Best Supporting Actor in a MusicalOliver Thornton, Priscilla Queen of the DesertDaniel Crossley, Hello, Dolly!Rowan Atkinson, Oliver!
Clive Carter, Priscilla Queen of the Desert
John Marquez, Annie Get Your Gun
Jason Pennycooke, La Cage aux Folles

2009 Best Supporting Actor in a Play/in a Musical


Best Supporting Actor in a Play

Andrew Scott, Cock
In a late challenge for this award, Andrew Scott’s performance in Cock was truly astounding for me: I’ve rarely seen an actor so fully at ease with his lines that it feels genuinely like he’s not even acting. In the strange cock-fighting-inspired pit, there was nowhere to hide, for actor nor audience, meaning we could bear witness to the considerable intensity of this performance down to the last tear on his cheek.

Honourable mention: Simon Paisley-Day, Entertaining Mr Sloane
The sight of the closetted Ed salivating over the leather-trouser clad Mr Sloane was a highlight of the year even back in February and Paisley-Day’s chemistry with Dame-to-be Imelda Staunton made this play crackle with more twisted hilarity than even Joe Orton might have dreamed of.

Mark Dexter, Inherit the Wind
Tom Goodman-Hill, Enron
Ethan Hawke, The Winter’s Tale
Barnaby Kay, A Streetcar Named Desire


Best Supporting Actor in a Musical

Oliver Thornton, Priscilla Queen of the Desert
Threatening to steal the show with his every number, Thornton’s camptastic Felicia is a sheer riot to watch. Perfectly toned, shockingly limber, obsessed with Kylie and armed with the most vicious of tongues, we also never lose sight of the boy beneath the make-up and his growing chemistry with Tony Sheldon’s Bernadette is a thing of beauty to watch through its ups and downs.

Honourable mention Daniel Crossley, Hello, Dolly!
As is probably apparent by now, I loved practically everything about Hello, Dolly! And as Cornelius Hackl, Daniel Crossley was a delight. His learning to dance scenes were hysterical and ‘Put On Your Sunday Clothes’ with its choreography is close to being one of the happiest thing I’ve ever seen.

Rowan Atkinson, Oliver!
Clive Carter, Priscilla Queen of the Desert
John Marquez, Annie Get Your Gun
Jason Pennycooke, La Cage aux Folles

Review: Inherit The Wind, Old Vic


“I don’t want to believe that we come from monkeys and apes, but I guess that’s kinda besides the point”

Inherit The Wind is a courtroom drama, based on the true life story of a Tennessee schoolteacher who was threatened with imprisonment for teaching Charles Darwin’s ideas on evolution, in direct contravention of school policy. A highly strung court case then follows, pitching creationists against evolutionists, and bringing two legal titans to a small town in Tennessee to argue the case, the ramifications of which clearly extend beyond that classroom in the Deep South. Its timing seems uncanny: even on the 150th anniversary of the publication of On The Origin of Species, a highly recommended (by me at least) film Creation, about Darwin’s struggles with his own faith as he wrote it, has not been able to find a distributor in the US because it is considered too ‘controversial’ in a country where allegedly barely a third of the population actually believe in evolution.

The scale of this production really is admirably epic: the staging is superb, with the Old Vic’s stage being opened up to a great depth (you could probably fit the stage for Annie Get Your Gun on there 15 times over!), the already healthy cast is ably bolstered by a phalanx of supernumaries, bringing the total company to 50 bodies who bring an authentic air of claustrophobic small-town living to several scenes, most notably the prayer meeting just before the trial. The use of hymns sung by the company during scene changes further reinforces this strong sense of a community joined by the power of their faith. Continue reading “Review: Inherit The Wind, Old Vic”