Review: Only Fools and Horses The Musical, Theatre Royal Haymarket

Perhaps predictably, I have anything but a lovely jubbly time at Only Fools and Horses The Musical at the Theatre Royal Haymarket

“You can’t whack the big pineapple”

Full disclosure – I don’t know if I’ve ever seen an episode of Only Fools and Horses voluntarily. I mean I’ve seen clips and I’ve probably been in a room where other people were watching it, but it was never a show that has figured in my life. So news of Only Fools and Horses The Musical didn’t bring quite the excitement it did for so many others, ensuring that this was a commercial success long before any critics got near it.

And as such, my own reaction can only be viewed through this lens. When people say ‘you don’t have to have seen the TV show to get the jokes’. I can tell you they’re having a laugh. This musical is suffused with injokes, from the pre-show announcements onwards and in some ways, rightly so (having had a similar kind of experience with Acorn Antiques the Musical in this very theatre). Continue reading “Review: Only Fools and Horses The Musical, Theatre Royal Haymarket”

Review: A Pupil, Park Theatre

Strong performances from Lucy Sheen and Flora Spencer-Longhurst make Jesse Briton’s A Pupil an interesting watch at the Park Theatre

“No instrument is more important than the player”

What price genius? We’re often subjected to portrayals of (usually male) creative masterminds that pay little mind to the havoc wrought in the name of their chosen subject. So it is instructive to see the script flipped a bit by Jesse Briton with his new play A Pupil. From its opening moments as former violinist Ye lines up the bottles of pills and whiskey she hopes will end her life, there’s little sugercoating of the weight that talent can bring to bear.

It wasn’t always thus, and it needn’t continue to be. Ye’s involvement in a car crash left her physically incapacitated but she’s slowly mending with the help of landlady Mary. And former colleague Phyllida has lined up a tutoring job for her, helping to prepare the daughter of a Russian oligarch for an audition to the Royal Conservatoire where she teaches. But is talent something that can be nurtured, whether by individuals or by institutions, and is it ever really worth it? Continue reading “Review: A Pupil, Park Theatre”

Review: Unexpected Joy, Southwark Playhouse

I have a gay old time with warm-hearted new musical Unexpected Joy at the Southwark Playhouse

“I wanna show you what a woman can do”

One way to assess whether we’re getting closer to true equality when it comes to telling LGBT+ stories is when we can safely say that there’s a diversity in those stories. I can fully appreciate why some might feel frustrated at the simple primary colours of this coming-out story, of its (relatively) uncomplicated emotion but at the same time, isn’t it great to see a lesbian take on a mainstream rom-com trope, aimed at the silver pound to boot.

The Joy of Unexpected Joy is a baby-boomer era who is marking the one year anniversary of the death of Jump, her creative and life partner. And as she prepares for a concert celebrating his music, she invites her estranged tele-evangelist daughter and grand-daughter to share in the moment. And also to break the news that she is getting married, to a woman – that’s the unexpected bit, testing the familial bonds between these three generations of women.  Continue reading “Review: Unexpected Joy, Southwark Playhouse”

Review: Guys and Dolls, Royal Exchange

“The passengers were bound to resist”

Michael Buffong’s reinterpretation of Guys and Dolls, a co-production between the Royal Exchange and Talawa Theatre, is just that, a bold re-envisioning of the classic musical that consequently comes up with something different. That’s the point. So it may take a second to recalibrate, to adjust to these portrayals of familiar characters but in doing so you get to embrace something fresh and new and really rather exciting.

Moving the show from Times Square to the heart of the Harlem Renaissance in 1939 allows Buffong to employ an all-black cast, infuse Frank Loesser’s score with jazz and gospel (new orchestrations by Simon Hale) and introduce a vibrant choreographic vision (by Kenrick Sandy) that draws on several decades of dance history. The result is less-concept heavy than you might expect and often, explosively good fun. Continue reading “Review: Guys and Dolls, Royal Exchange”

Cast for the Royal Exchange’s Guys and Dolls announced

The Royal Exchange in Manchester have really been upping the ante as far as their Christmas musicals are concerned. Last year’s Sweet Charity was a stonker, their Into the Woods was something special, and 2014/15’s Little Shop of Horrors was basically perfection. This year see them tackle Broadway classic Guys and Dolls in a co-production with Talawa Theatre Company and by the crin (as my Aunty Mary would say – a bit of Wigan dialect for you there…) just take a look at this bushel and a peck’s worth of beauties!  Continue reading “Cast for the Royal Exchange’s Guys and Dolls announced”

TV Review: Cuffs Episodes 5-8

“Are you one of those? They’re everywhere in Brighton aren’t they.
‘Yeah, not so many in Halifax though, cos of the weather’”

I really enjoyed the opening half of new BBC police drama Cuffs and so whacked up a review of those four episodes whilst they were still watchable on the iPlayer. The show has now finished its run, 8 episodes being the default setting for a ‘long’ series here in the UK, and whilst it may have lost a little of the fast-paced energy that characterised its arrival, its bevy of boisterous characters ensured I was fully engaged right through to the end of the last episode.

With such a large ensemble making up the South Sussex team, Cuffs did sometimes struggle in giving each of them a fair crack of the whip. For me, it was Amanda Abbington’s Jo who got the shortest end of the stick, too much of her screen-time, especially early on, being taken up with the fallout of her illicit affair instead of showing her as the more than capable police officer we finally saw in the latter episodes. Continue reading “TV Review: Cuffs Episodes 5-8”

TV Review: Cuffs Episodes 1-4

“All we can do is hang on”

Rather incredibly, given the number of crime dramas there are, Cuffs is actually the BBC’s first police procedural since 2007’s Holby Blue (according to Wikipedia at least), but a rather good one it is too. Creator Julie Gearey has set the show in Brighton and its environs, the territory of the South Sussex Police service, and the first four episodes (which entertained me on a train journey back from Amsterdam) started Cuffs off so strongly that I wanted to recommend it now whilst you can still catch them all on the iPlayer.

The opening episodes are jam-packed with incident, the first part alone crammed child abduction, stolen JCBs, stabbings and a racist released from prison to give a strong sense of the relentless pace of life in the force but the writing has been particularly strong in demonstrating the peculiar demands of modern policing. Traditional boundaries of respect have been torn down so we see the police punched, spat on, and kicked in the face and also having to deal with rubberneckers filming accident scenes on their phone, and members of the public chancing their arm with harassment claims. Continue reading “TV Review: Cuffs Episodes 1-4”

Re-review: Jane Eyre, National Theatre

“I remember when, I remember, I remember when I lost my mind”

I hadn’t intended to go back to Jane Eyre, having already spent a day in Bristol watching it in its original two-part format, but after a rather revelatory experience at Hetty Feather of all places, my new-found appreciation for director Sally Cookson demanded a revisit. Cookson’s adaptation of Charlotte Brontë’s well-loved novel has been conflated into one single performance now, stretching out to three hours and thirty minutes but bursting with theatrical invention that just shimmers with freshness.

To carp about this or that being lost from the novel seems to be to spectacularly miss the point of what is being done here. Cookson and the company devised this production themselves and so it is clearly an interpretation of the material to suit a different medium but also one to carefully avoid any connotations of dourly faithful period drama. Iconoclastic music springs from its very soul (Melanie Marshall remaining as wonderful as I remembered), its spirit delightfully free from start to finish. Continue reading “Re-review: Jane Eyre, National Theatre”

Review: Yarico, London Theatre Workshop

“And so poor Yarico for her love, lost her liberty”

When a show openly acknowledges that it is a work-in-progress, you could be forgiven a certain degree of scepticism but on entering the London Theatre Workshop – perched above a Fulham pub – and seeing the size of their marimba, there can be no doubting the seriousness of the intent behind Yarico. A musical treatment of the opera Inkle and Yarico, itself based on the historical writings of Richard Ligon in A True and Exact History of the Island of Barbados, it’s a fascinating look at an interesting time in a difficult piece of history.

For though the slave trade forms the backdrop for the story, the opera came at a time when anti-slavery sentiment was on the rise and this sense of being on the cusp of the abolition era adds an thought-provoking texture to the production. Yarico, a young Amerindian woman with a yen for Shakespeare, has her life turned upside down when English ne’er-do-well Thomas Inkle washes up onshore. The only one able to communicate with him due to her studies, she pleads for his life against her hostile fellow islanders and they soon fall in love – so far so happy. Continue reading “Review: Yarico, London Theatre Workshop”