2019 BroadwayWorld UK Awards Shortlist

Best Actor in a New Production of a Musical
Andy Nyman, Fiddler on the Roof, Menier Chocolate Factory
David Hunter, Waitress, Adelphi Theatre
David Ricardo-Pearce, Kiss Me, Kate, The Watermill Theatre
Kayi Ushe, Kinky Boots, UK Tour
Tom Bennett, Only Fools and Horses: The Musical, Theatre Royal Haymarket
Tyrone Huntley, The View UpStairs, Soho Theatre

Best Actress in a New Production of a Musical
Amara Okereke, Oklahoma!, Chichester Festival Theatre
Audrey Brisson, Amélie The Musical, UK Tour
Caroline Sheen, 9 to 5 The Musical, Savoy Theatre
Rebecca Trehearn, Kiss Me, Kate, The Watermill Theatre
Samantha Pauly, Evita, Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre
Sheridan Smith, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, London Palladium Continue reading “2019 BroadwayWorld UK Awards Shortlist”

August theatre round-up

I might have taken a break from reviewing for the last couple of months, but I didn’t stop going to the theatre. Here’s some brief thoughts on most of what I saw in August.

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, aka the Sheridan Smith show
Queen of the Mist, aka the surprisingly affecting one
Appropriate, aka all hail Monica Dolan
Waitress, aka ZZZZZZZOMGGGGG STUNT CASTING oh wait, Joe Suggs hasn’t started yet
The Doctor, aka all hail Juliet Stevenson
A Very Expensive Poison, aka it was a preview so I shouldn’t say anything
Blues in the Night, aka all hail Broadway-bound Sharon D Clarke (and Debbie Kurup, and Clive Rowe too)
The Night of the Iguana, aka justice for Skyler Continue reading “August theatre round-up”

Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 9

“Time will tell, it always does”

Phew, the Doctor Who rewatch comes to an end with the most recent series, another that I hadn’t seen any of since it originally aired. And again it was one of highs and lows, a frustrating sense of pick and mix that never settles. So from the astonishing bravura of the (practically) solo performance in Heaven Sent to kid-friendly quirks of the sonic sunglasses and guitar playing, Capaldi took us from the sublime to the silly. Fortunately there was more of the former than the latter (although it is interesting that my memory had it the other way round).

Part of it comes down to knowing in advance how the hybrid arc plays out (disappointingly) and a little perspective makes Clara’s departure(s) a little less galling. This way, one can just enjoy the episodes for what they are, free from the weight of the attempted mythologising. The Doctor raging against the futility of war, the wisdom (or otherwise) of forgiveness, the repercussions of diving in to help others without thinking through the consequences…it is often excellent stuff. It’s also nice to see Who employ its first openly transgender actor (Bethany Black) and a deaf actor playing a deaf character (Sophie Stone). Continue reading “Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 9”

TV Review: Inside No. 9 – The Devil of Christmas

“They film Doctors in much the same way nowadays”

Just a quickie for this as I’ve never actually watched Inside No. 9 before, but enough people were making positive noises about its festive episode The Devil of Christmas that I found it hard to resist giving it a try, especially as it had Jessica Raine in the cast. And not knowing what to expect only added to the fun of a piece of television that revelled in wrong-footing its audience again and again.

Opening as a pastiche of 1970s Play for Todays as an English family arrive in an Austrian chalet for a skiing holiday, all plummy accents and stilted camera moves, the first rug pull comes with the arrival of a director’s commentary over the top, arch remembrances and bloopers pointed out in real-time. And as the folktale horror of the story kicks in, based around the legend of Krampus, actual horror replaces it, more than once. Continue reading “TV Review: Inside No. 9 – The Devil of Christmas”

Review: The Dresser, Richmond/Duke of York’s

“Hate the critics? I have nothing but compassion for them. How can one hate the crippled, the mentally deficient, and the dead?”

The outdated ramblings of a doddery old man – funny how art can reflect life… Any opinion I might have had about Ronald Harwood’s The Dresser inevitably comes tainted with his apparent inability to open his mouth without spouting some kind of crap or other. Last month it was claiming casting women in male Shakespearean roles as “astonishingly stupid”, earlier this year it was using his will to ban women from playing the lead role in this very play. At 81, he’s clearly of a different generation but I’m certainly not inclined to indulge him in a way one might one’s own casually intolerant older relations.

His 1980 play The Dresser is based on his own experiences as a personal stagehand to actor-manager Sir Donald Wolfit and closely too. Wolfit was known for his wartime Shakespearean tours, particularly his King Lear, and so Harwood gives us an increasingly decrepit thesp (Ken Stott) on an interminable regional rep tour in the midst of the Second World War. ‘Sir’ is due onstage (in Lear, natch) and his long-suffering dresser Norman (Reece Shearsmith) is the only one who can get him there, for he is caught in the throes of mental and physical disintegration. Continue reading “Review: The Dresser, Richmond/Duke of York’s”

CD Review: Cool Rider (Original Studio Recording 2015)

“Don’t get sore when you lose tonight”

Cult status is a funny thing, depending on which side of the coin you fall, it can either rescue diamonds in the rough or just further expose them. For me, Cool Rider comes down heavily on the latter though it must be said, there’s plenty who would argue the former, not least those who contributed over £12 grand to the Kickstarter to get this recording made. Hey, it’s their money right?!

Cool Rider is perhaps better known as the stage adaptation of ill-fated film sequel Grease 2. Staged in a concert version in 2014, the popularity of which saw it return for a week of performances at the Duchess Theatre, the fans are clearly there but quite for what, I couldn’t really say. The plot is little more than an retread of the original but with the roles reversed but the main problem lies in an inconsistent and uninspired score. 

With no less than 10 different contributors named, and the legacy of an absolute classic to live up to, Lee Freeman’s orchestrations valiantly try to elevate the 80s take on 60s pastiche but finds that no time period can make it sound good. It’s awkwardly dated and cringe-worthily written – “we’re gonna rock, we’re gonna roll, we’re gonna bop, we’re gonna bowl” is no “rama lamma lamma ka dinga da dinga dong” that’s for sure…

More crucially, there’s too little charm to balance what comedy there is. Ashleigh Gray does a commendable job as the go-getting Stephanie, the title track is strong and her side of climactic duet ‘(Love Will) Turn Back The Hands of Time’ is excellent but opposite her, Aaron SIdwell is lacklustre in a largely insipid part. Reece Shearsmith’s romp through a sex-ed class in ‘Reproduction’ is another example where the recording falls flat, though I can appreciate that prior knowledge of the scene might well make it work.

So Cool Rider might well be one for the fans, for whom seeing and hearing the show live will have been a dream. For the more casual listener, there aren’t many more worse things you could do.

Review: Hangmen, Royal Court

“Don’t worry. I may have my quirks but I’m not an animal. Or am I? One for the courts to discuss.”

The term ‘dark comedy’ is much abused but there really is no better descriptor for Hangmen, Martin McDonagh’s long-awaited return to theatrical writing. Set (mostly) within the tobacco-stained walls of a proper boozer in Oldham in the 1960s on the day that Britain has abolished the death penalty, landlord Harry’s (the excellent David Morrissey) past comes back to haunt him in a big way. For he was the last hangman in the country, as evinced by a cracking prologue (that isn’t for the squeamish) that sees him and his assistant Syd go about their business.

The arrival of enigmatic Londoner Mooney (Johnny Flynn never better) is the catalyst for the plot, as Harry’s disaffected daughter becomes easy prey to his professed affections and disappears with him, round about the same time Syd reappears in Harry’s life to say something rum is going on with a serial killer who has a Southern accent. But the real joy is in the motley crew of grizzled regulars who gather in the pub and the cracking dialogue McDonagh gives them as they dance around the morbid curiosity that has called them to this pub rather than any others.  Continue reading “Review: Hangmen, Royal Court”

DVD Review: Birthday Girl

“Are you a giraffe?”

Birthday Girl is a rather odd little thing, a 2001 film from Jez Butterworth (he of Jerusalem) that seemed to slip under the radar somewhat. It’s not brilliant but by the same token it isn’t terrible either and plenty worse films have made bigger waves. Ben Chaplin’s John is hapless in St Albans (is there anything else you can be there? ;-)), having no luck in love and so resorting to getting himself a Russian mail-order bride called Nadia. She turns up in the form of Nicole Kidman, who else, and though she can’t speak a word of English, she indulges his S&M fantasies and so job’s, it would seem, a good’un.

But it’s no happily ever after, Nadia’s two rough cousins soon turn up on the doorstep (played by Frenchmen Vincent Cassel and Mathieu Kassovitz, assumedly because the Russians were out on the day they were casting?) and John’s job as a bank clerk turns out to be rather important. Their unpredictable violence pulls John deep into a morass of deception and criminality but after the mid-film twists take place, the movie runs out of energy and trundles towards a rather uninspired ending that no amount of random Brit cameos (Ben Miller, Reece Shearsmith) can rescue. Continue reading “DVD Review: Birthday Girl”

TV Review: An Adventure in Space and Time

“No-one knows how long it is going to last. No-one’s irreplaceable.”

Originally broadcast around the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who, Mark Gatiss’ docudrama about the creation of the long-running sci-fi TV programme was repeated over Christmas and so I couldn’t resist watching it over again. The programme itself ends up being a little constrained by its format at times like these, the expectations of a ‘special’ sky-high when the strength of the show (for me) is in its richness over the length of a series. And so the anniversary ‘special’ (and indeed the regeneration episode in the Christmas ‘special’) operate almost as stand-alones which aren’t always as successful as a storyline built up over numerous episodes.

And in the case of the anniversary, this was exacerbated by the sheer quality of Gatiss’ An Adventure in Space and Time which told the story of the birth of the series, from its genesis at the BBC, through the young guns who drove it to transmission and the tale of William Hartnell, the actor who took on the unknown role and started one of the enduring successes of the televisual era. It was full of details and grace notes that would have delighted the fanbase but more importantly, it also worked for the uninitiated as a powerful piece of drama with huge emotional impact (its finale was more moving than anything given to the real Doctor Who). Continue reading “TV Review: An Adventure in Space and Time”

TV Review: The Hollow Crown, Henry IV Part II

“I’ll tickle your catastrophe”

I was mildly disappointed by the second instalment of The Hollow Crown, Henry IV Part I and so it was pretty much a given that I’d feel more or less the same about Henry IV Part II and so it came to pass. In some ways, little changed: Walters and Russell Beale continued to be themselves, Heffernan continued to be neglected as a simple serving boy, the women continued to get a raw deal of it only this time Niamh Cusack got in on the action with a mere handful of lines as Lady Northumberland (and admittedly Maxine Peake rightly got a bit more screentime as Doll Tearsheet), Hiddleston and Irons continued to be epically good and it all felt a bit too theatrical for my liking.

I did like that we got more Dominc Rowan in this one, though his hair still caused me consternation, Iain Glen and Pip Carter were great additions to the cast as Warwick and Gower respectively – Glen was particularly sonorous when speaking – and everyone has got to love a scene that looks like it could have been set in a gay sauna đŸ˜‰ And though they lacked a certain something, the rural scenes with David Bamber and Tim McMullan as Shallow and Silence, were largely well-played. Continue reading “TV Review: The Hollow Crown, Henry IV Part II”