TV Review: Twenty Twelve (Series 2)

Despite an excellent Samuel Barnett, the second series of Twenty Twelve isn’t quite at the level of the first, though still very enjoyable

“I’m not from the sanitary world, I’m from Yorkshire”

Perhaps inevitably, the second series of Twenty Twelve doesn’t quite live up the revelatory quality of the first, the tinkering with the formula knocking the exact chemistry of the ensemble ever so slightly off-balance. Split into two (although you wouldn’t know it watching it now), the final episode ran just a couple of days before the Opening Ceremony of London 2012, and the show’s success was such that it made the move from BBC4 to BBC2.

In many ways, the recipe for John Morton’s mockumentary series didn’t change. The Olympic Deliverance Commission continued their hapless march towards the opening of the 2012 Olympic Games, battling their own ineptitude and institutitional intransigency as personal ambition sets up against religious rights, the Royal Family, the nation’s comparative lack of interest in women’s football and sportsmen’s innate lack of personality to name but a few. Continue reading “TV Review: Twenty Twelve (Series 2)”

Review: Guys and Dolls, Crucible

Robert Hastie’s production of Guys and Dolls brings all kind of Christmas cheer at the Crucible Theatre

“Call it dumb, call it clever
Ah, but you can get odds forever”

There’s a touch of the predictable about going for a classic like Guys and Dolls as your Christmas musical, but can you blame Sheffield Theatres when its a stone-cold classic like this. And even if I’ve seen it fair few times in recent years (Royal Exchange, West End, Chichester), its joyous spirit is one which is hard to resist.

And that spirit is in fine evidence in Robert Hastie’s exuberant production at the Crucible. In Kadiff Kirwan’s highly personable Sky Masterson and Alex Young’s pleasingly self-assured Sarah Brown, and Martin Marquez’s Nathan Detroit and Natalie Casey’s Miss Adelaide, it has a cracking central quartet who have no problem in whisking us away from our troubles, if only for a couple of hours. Continue reading “Review: Guys and Dolls, Crucible”

Review: Sweet Charity, Donmar Warehouse

Nowhere near enough charm in this Sweet Charity for my liking. Josie Rourke’s farewell to the Donmar Warehouse is grey rather than silver

“I’m always looking for an emotional experience”

When the light lands just right on Robert Jones’ set for Sweet Charity at the Donmar Warehouse, it sparkles like silver; the rest of the time, it is rather grey. Sadly, that’s pretty much rather true as a whole for Josie Rourke’s production here, her farewell as Artistic Director here.

Those bright spots are dazzling. Debbie Kurup and Lizzie Connolly are superb as Charity’s pals and co-workers Helene and Nickie, dreaming their dreams with real circumspection. Martin Marquez’s velvety smoothness is charm personified as movie star Vittorio Vidal. Continue reading “Review: Sweet Charity, Donmar Warehouse”

TV Review: The Crown, Series 2

A quick whip through Series 2 of The Crown

“History is not made by those who did nothing”

Do I still love The Crown? Yes. Do I still find it a little hard to muster enthusiasm about it until I’m watching it. Absolutely. It remains lavish prestige drama that carries little excitement about it and that’s perhaps inevitable as it trundles through the decades of the second half of the twentieth century, little dramatic surprise can really be sprung.

Instead, the thrills come from the script of Peter Morgan’s fantasia into the emotional life of our monarch, and a production that looks like the multi-millions of dollars that have been spent on it. Oh, and the cream of British acting talent popping in for a scene or two at an astonishingly high rate. Continue reading “TV Review: The Crown, Series 2”

Review: Imogen, Shakespeare’s Globe

“Is there no way for men to be, but women must be half-workers?”

Whichever way you cut it, I still find that Cymbeline is a tough play to love and it’s not for a lack of trying on my part. I struggled with it at the Sam Wanamaker earlier this year and I’ll be trying out the RSC’s version once it hits the Barbican later this month. As for now, it’s Matthew Dunster’s turn to have a go at the play, this time outside at the Globe and in keeping with the new regime, the play has been “renamed and reclaimed” as Imogen, as befits the part of Cymbeline’s daughter who has in fact twice as many lines.

Even with Maddy Hill (an unexpectedly moving Titania, among others, in Go People’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream) in the title role and a wonderfully diverse ensemble incorporating a signing deaf actor among others, Imogen remained difficult. For all the contemporary gangland setting (Jonathan McGuinness’ king is now a drug lord), Imogen’s o’er-hasty marriage to the feckless Posthumus (a good Ira Mandela Siobhan) and subsequent devotion to him even as he proves himself to be a righteous cock doesn’t quite fly. That said, the energy in the show is one that proves largely irresistible as sexy shenanigans, modern sounds, and kick-ass choreo combine to memorable effect. Continue reading “Review: Imogen, Shakespeare’s Globe”

CD Review: From Here To Eternity (2014 Live Cast Recording)

“All along knowing that no-one has returned to care”

Barely managing six months in the West End in 2013/4, I think it’s fair to say the musical adaptation of From Here to Eternity underwhelmed. And though I was reasonably fair to it at the time, I can’t say that it has aged well, upon returning the live cast recording that was made before the final curtain fell, blame seeming to fall evenly between composer Stuart Brayson, lyricist Tim Rice and book writer Bill Oakes. 
And with weaknesses on all sides like this, very much exposed in the medium of record, it’s not too hard to see why the show didn’t achieve anywhere near the levels of success it was aiming for. There’s so little sense of the main thrust of the story coming through, or indeed any of the strands put forward being sufficiently developed, to make you care about any of the relationships or the plight of the men. 
Oakes’ book moves inconsistently around all of them and Brayson’s score does little to provide any covering connective tissue. His musical influences pull from too broad a canvas to provide aural cohesion and far too few of the songs are focused on advancing narrative – the coupling of Warden and Karen (whose surf-soaked bodies provide the iconic image) are given hardly any musical time together, quite Darius Campbell and Rebecca Thornhill are meant to do to generate chemistry in solo numbers is beyond me. 
Robert Lonsdale and Siubhan Harrison as the other couple fare a little better but again, are more apart than together musically. What we’re left with is a grab-bag of tunes, barely scratching the surface of anything, least of all the men of G Company whose tragic fate ends up feeling like divine retribution for being horrific human beings. There’s undoubtedly some halfway striking musical moments – the startling melody of ‘Thirty Year Man’ provides real interest, Ryan Sampson’s sardonic ‘I Love The Army’ threatens to show some character but all in all, it’s little surprise we’ve gone from here to obscurity.

How-could-it-be-a-review: The National Theatre Theatre Quiz 2015

“It’s from that play with lots of words…”

My first ever trip to the institution that is the National Theatre Christmas Quiz saw teams of four from current shows Husbands and Sons and wonder.land doing battle for the honour of, well, several bottles of fizz as it turned out. With Emma Freud as Quizmistress and Angus Deayton keeping the scores, it was a light-hearted 45 minutes of festive fun.

Rounds varied from odd-one-out, working out song lyrics from a dry line reading by Deayton, guess which NT show the costume was from, to Taboo-style-guessing-games, and a surprising array of knowledge troves and hidden talents soon came to life – Anne-Marie Duff was very up on her theatrical knowledge, Julia Ford is clearly itching to do a musical and Anna Francolini bossed everything (apart from Katie Mitchell…). Continue reading “How-could-it-be-a-review: The National Theatre Theatre Quiz 2015”

Review: Husbands and Sons, National Theatre

“How is a woman to have a husband when all the men belong to their mothers?”

You have to respect the huge ambition behind Husbands and Sons, Marianne Elliott and Ben Power’s adaptation of three DH Lawrence plays which sees each of them run simultaneously in the round in the Dorfman. It manages this by taking the Holroyds from The Widowing of Mrs Holroyd, the Gascoignes from The Daughter-in-Law and the Lamberts from A Collier’s Friday Night and imagining them living on the same street in the East Midlands village of Eastwood. And spread over three weeks in October 1911, the interlocked, if not intersecting, dramas of their lives play out, dominated by the long shadow of the pit. 

Initially it’s a dizzying affair, as the eye and the ear deals with the three separate domestic establishments. Bunny Christie’s design takes a visual cue from the Lars von Trier film Dogville with the fully furnished houses demarcated by white lines on the floor and labelled by name, doors (and coats, weirdly) are mimed with accompanying sound effects. And with a nod to the fixedness of this arrangement, ticket-holders in the pit swap seats at the interval, getting to sit in the corresponding place on the other side of the auditorium, offering an alternative perspective on the goings-on. Continue reading “Review: Husbands and Sons, National Theatre”

Review: Ah, Wilderness!, Young Vic

 “You don’t suppose he’s been…
‘No, that’s love not liquor'”

It’s a little surprising and indeed disheartening to see that not even the cachet of two multi-award-winning productions in the last year can guarantee bums on seats on a Friday night at the Young Vic. We must have had 8 empty seats on our row for Eugene O’Neill’s Ah, Wilderness! which is sad to see though to be fair, it wasn’t anywhere near that bad in the rest of the theatre. It just goes to show the unpredictability of the British theatre audience, especially when the lure of a Hollywood star isn’t there.

Personally, I rather enjoyed Natalie Abrahami’s production of this precursor to Long Day’s Journey Into Night, an imagined idealised version of his childhood that is given a further push into a dreamworld by the presence of an adult author-figure interwoven into the action, filling in minor roles where necessary, a persistent reminder that this is the realm of the memory play. It’s a gently intriguing choice, one underlined by the imaginative slant of Dick Bird’s sand-strewn set design and Charles Balfour’s evocative lighting, but it is one which works. Continue reading “Review: Ah, Wilderness!, Young Vic”

Re-review: From Here To Eternity, Shaftesbury

“I got the ‘ain’t where I wanna be’ blues”

Suffering the fate of a fair few musicals that have taken up residence in the slightly-too-out-of-the-way Shaftesbury Theatre, From Here To Eternity announced its early closing last year and since then the end has drawn even closer with the final date being moved from the end of April to 29th March. I wasn’t blown away by it on first viewing but I had thought I might be tempted to see it again to see how it stood up to repeated viewing and also to get another listen to Stuart Brayson’s naggingly persistent score. But to be honest, it didn’t really work out that well. 

A sadly small audience robbed the theatre of atmosphere despite the cast’s best efforts – it was however nice to see Marc Antolin doing well standing in for Ryan Sampson as Maggio – and there is no escaping the strange weighting of the show towards trying to make empathetic figures out of a largely objectionable group of people, especially in the racist, adulterous, misogynistic, homophobic bullying G Company.  Continue reading “Re-review: From Here To Eternity, Shaftesbury”