TV Review: Years and Years

Years and Years sees Russell T Davies take on dystopian near-future sci-fi to startling effect

“We’re not stupid, we’re not poor, we’re not lacking. I’m sorry, but we’re clever. We can think of something, surely.”

What if…? What if…? What Brexit happens, what if Trump is voted in again and fires a nuclear bomb towards China, what if global warming happens today and not tomorrow, what if Lee from Steps is the most successful one…? Such is the world of Years and Years, Russell T Davies’ latest TV venture, a six-part drama that dares to ask what if it is already too late.

He uses the Lyons family as a prism to explore what the next 15 years of human history might look like, as technological advances make leaps and bounds alongside the political and social upheaval that strikes at the very heart of this sprawing middle-class Manchester-based family. It’s a daring piece of drama, full of Davies’ typically big heart and bold emotional colours and I have to say I rather loved it. Continue reading “TV Review: Years and Years”

Re-review: Romantics Anonymous, Sam Wanamaker

“Je suis émotif

I’m a big fan of chocolate and an even bigger fan of Romantics Anonymous so naturally I had to head back to the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse for second helpings (and with somewhat less calories than your usual festive chocolate offerings!). Not too much more to add to my original review and I’d recommend booking in before it closes next week but there’s not a ticket to be had! Returns queue…?

Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 6th January

Review: Romantics Anonymous, Sam Wanamaker Playhouse

“Prenez vos chocolats…et mangez-les”

Like the squares of chocolates handed out for us to magically access automatic translation, there’s a bittersweet note to much of Romantics Anonymous. And it is perhaps predictably that Emma Rice scores one of her biggest hits on Bankside with a musical that couldn’t be more Emma Rice if it tried. As it is, it fits perfectly into the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, shaking up the established order once again as she brings amplification and neon lights along with the huge generosity of spirit of this show, uncompromising to the end in her relationship with the Globe.

Romantics Anonymous was adapted by Rice from the French-Belgian film Les Émotifs Anonymes, and takes a wonderfully Gallic spin on your typical romantic comedy. Jean-René has inherited a chocolate factory, Angélique is a chocolatier par excellence in need of a job, they seem perfectly suited for each other but both are chronically, painfully shy. She faints if she has to speak to people, he has precisely zero confidence and even in the act of finally striking up a relationship together, both working and personal, their awkwardness is a constant threat to their happiness.

Continue reading “Review: Romantics Anonymous, Sam Wanamaker Playhouse”

Album Review: Bend it like Beckham (Original London Cast Album)

“It’s a little bit Punjab
And a little bit UK”

It’s been just about a month since Bend it like Beckham heard the final whistle at the Savoy so I thought I’d cast a reviewer’s eye over the Original London Cast Album which was released last year. I’ve long been a fan of Howard Goodall’s work and this score was no exception, hooking me from the first time I saw to the show to the second and the third with its fusion of his own inimitable British style and the Bhangra influences drawn from Gurinder Chadha’s book, aided in authenticity by co-orchestrator Kuljit Bhamra. 

Recorded live in the theatre (although there’s minimal sound from the audience until the very end), it sounds a real treat and it really does give the best of both the worlds it represents. Whether individually as in Sophie-Louise Dann’s ‘There She Goes’ or Rekha Sawhney leading the bridal party in the gorgeous Punjab lament ‘Heer’, or multiculturally as the majority of the music, it is always highly tuneful and musically interesting, highlighting styles of music that are too rarely seen in the West End. Continue reading “Album Review: Bend it like Beckham (Original London Cast Album)”

Re-review: Bend it like Beckham, Phoenix

“Just look at them now”

A third trip back to UB2 and Bend it like Beckham remains a real pleasure (original review / preview). It’s interesting how the release of a show’s cast recording can impact my feelings towards it – being a big Howard Goodall fan, I’ve listened to this OCR a lot and fallen more in love with its music than ever. And in this age of playlists, it’s quite easy to come up with edited highlights that skate over some of the weaker moments to give an idealised version of the production.

That said, going back to the Phoenix Theatre was still highly enjoyable and it’s always fascinating to see how different emphases come through after repeated views. For me, it has been the realisation that the heart of the show lies as much with Jess’ parents, the under-rated Natasha Jayetileke and Tony Jayawardena making us care so deeply about their experiences that have allowed second-generation Jess to reach for the freedom she craves. Continue reading “Re-review: Bend it like Beckham, Phoenix”

Review: Bend it like Beckham, Phoenix

“Who wants to cook aloo gobi when you can bend a ball like Beckham”

As anyone who has ever been to my parents’ annual Bonfire Night party can attest, a good aloo gobi is nothing to be sniffed at (nor my mum’s lamb saag for that matter) but when you’re a teenager, such things are far from your mind. So it is for Jesminder Bhamra – her older sister has just gotten engaged, her parents are keen for her to keep close to her Punjabi Sikh heritage but all she wants to do is play football in the park. And when she gets spotted by the captain of the local girls’ team, Jess finds herself torn between her family and following her heart’s desire.

Based on Gurinder Chadha’s enormously successful film of the same name, this musical version of Bend It Like Beckham is a ball-bouncing, cross-cultural match-up of a show. Adapted by Chadha and Paul Mayeda Berges, the story maintains its vivacious energy as Jess weaves her way through wedding prep and vibrantly staged parties with the extended family whilst tackling the rigours of life with new pal and teammate Jules in the Hounslow Harriers where her footballing prowess is soon spotted by the keen coach Joe, someone else Jules also has her eye on.  Continue reading “Review: Bend it like Beckham, Phoenix”

(P)review: Bend it like Beckham, Phoenix

“Who wants to cook aloo gobi when you can bend a ball like Beckham”

The musical of Gurinder Chadha’s Bend it like Beckham, with music by Howard Goodall and lyrics by Charles Hart, has quite a long preview period – no surprise for a brand new piece of musical theatre – but having been along, I thought I’d jot down some of my thoughts as opposed to writing it up fully – somewhere between a preview and a review to give you a taster of the show. I’d also recommend having a look for tickets now because there are some great bargains to be had in the stalls, seats as cheap as £15 for row E and a barely restricted view. Continue reading “(P)review: Bend it like Beckham, Phoenix”

Review: Takeaway, Theatre Royal Stratford East

“What makes an Eddie Woo”

Eddie Woo is stuck working in his dad’s takeaway, having failed his A-Levels yet again, but frequently escapes to his daydreaming world where he is the New (Chinese) Tom Jones. Back in the real world though, he is juggling two girlfriends, a best friend who might be drifting away from him and a full-time job though when a talent show seems to offer a potential way out, it leads to yet more confusion as Eddie is finally forced to decide what it is he really wants from life. Such is the set up for the Theatre Royal Stratford East’s new show Takeaway, music by Leon Ko and book and lyrics by Robert Lee, which makes the claim to be the first ever British-Chinese musical.

There is just so much going on in here that the overwhelming impression is that I suspect Lee and Ko might actually be certifiably insane. The manic way in which the show rockets around its different subject areas and formats is breathtaking and not always in a good way. Talent shows, racism, the pressure of working in family businesses, the Chinese immigrant experience and generation gap, frustrated youth dealing with the lack of opportunities, the questioning of sexuality and much more beside are all thrown into the melting pot alongside a structure which throws in songs in the most arbitrary of manners: as Eddie’s internal monologues, insane fantasy sequences, romantic ballads, storytelling songs, comedy numbers, Tom Jones pastiches. Everything is whirled together and so we ricochet from plot strand to plot strand with dizzying speed, resulting in a show that, however well-intentioned, ends up as something of a mess. Continue reading “Review: Takeaway, Theatre Royal Stratford East”