Film Review: 1917 (2019)

Sam Mendes’ 1917 is undoubtedly an technically excellent film but the focus on format ends up detracting from the depth of the storytelling

“You’ll be wanking again in no time!
‘Wrong hand’.”

There’s no doubting the technical audacity of Sam Mendes’ 1917. With its ostensibly one-shot, real-time structure (with necessary caveats that it is neither), it is a bravura piece of film-making that elevates this movie from just your average Oscar-baity war flick (cf Dunkirk).

It is clearly a labour of love for Mendes, who directed, co-wrote (with Krysty Wilson-Cairns) and produced 1917, and whose grandfather’s own war experiences inspired the film. And its driving force, following 2 British soldiers tasked with delivering a vital message beyond enemy lines. Continue reading “Film Review: 1917 (2019)”

10 of my top moments of the decade

Ever behind the curve, I present 10 of my top moments in a theatre over the last ten years (plus a few bonus extra ones because whittling down this list was hard, and it will probably be different tomorrow anyway!)

© James Bellorini

Extraordinary Public Acts for a National Theatre

The establishment of the Public Acts programme at the National Theatre offered up something sensational in Pericles, an initiative designed to connect grassroot community organisations with major theatres, resulting in a production that swept over 200 non-professional performers onto the stage of the Olivier to create something that moved me more than 99% of professional productions.  A truly joyous and momentous occasion. 

Honourable mention: this year’s musical take on As You Like It proved just as heart-swellingly beautiful over at the Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch. Continue reading “10 of my top moments of the decade”

Album Review: Dirty Dancing (2006 London Cast Recording)

“Not a stress or strain is found here for it must be said
Here at Kellerman’s you gladdened, stomach, heart and head”

Would that Kellermans was able to gladden anyone who has bought this cast recording of Dirty Dancing… This album is a bizarre hodge-podge of original songs from the film in their original recorded versions combined with studio recordings of tracks from the musical adaptation, onto which audience noise has been spliced to give the impression of ‘liveness’. And the result is about as good as you might imagine such a thing to be.

 

Album Review: Fame (1995 Original London Cast Recording)

“These are my emotions 
Mine alone to keep”

Some things age well. Music produced in the 90s is not often one of them, and so it is true of the Original London Cast Recording of Fame The Musical. The musical was actually written in the 80s, premiering in Miami before getting its first major production in the West End at the Cambridge Theatre in 1995. Following the hopes and dreams of a scrappy group of drama school brats at the New York High School of Performing Arts, and between the film and TV show, it’s a well-worn story but one told well.

The main problem is that Steve Margoshes’ score really isn’t that strong, failing to come up with anything that is polished and assured as the Michael Gore-penned title song which, to be fair, is a solid-gold pop banger. The Paula Abdul-tinged ‘Let’s Play A Love Scene’ comes closest for me and elsewhere, there’s not much in the way of memorable music, plus Jaques Levy’s lyrics have dated badly, always a problem when trying to be au courant, and David Beer’s musical direction also can’t help but show its age in aiming for a contemporary rock sound. Continue reading “Album Review: Fame (1995 Original London Cast Recording)”

Review: Queer Theatre – The Drag, National

 

#5 in the National Theatre’s Queer Theatre season of rehearsed readings

Last but by no means least in this queer season is the one play written by a straight person and perhaps the queerest of the lot. Mae West wrote The Drag in 1927 where its frankness about gay lives (and once again, drag ball culture!) scandalised its out-of-town Connecticut and New Jersey audiences so that it never made it to Broadway. But Polly Stenham has opted to revive it for this reading and to introduce it to a new (Alaska Thunderfuck-literate) crowd. 

To be brutally honest, it isn’t the greatest play in the world, but what it does do is hold a fascinating mirror to early 20th century attitudes and how tolerance and intolerance existed side by side, then as now; the safe spaces gay men find in order to be their extravagantly true selves equally as timeless. And closet cases in marriages remain a sad truth, if not quite as dramatic as the son of a homophobic judge married to the daughter of a gay conversion therapist that we get here! Continue reading “Review: Queer Theatre – The Drag, National”

Review: Strictly Ballroom, West Yorkshire Playhouse

“I don’t know if you are illusion”

Hoping for a ten from Len and to avoid the dreaded dis-sah-ter from Craig, Baz Luhrmann’s Strictly Ballroom arrives for its UK premiere at the West Yorkshire Playhouse. Best known in its 1992 film version, it actually began life as a play in the mid-1980s when it became big in Czechoslovakia as well as Luhrmann’s native Australia and perhaps appropriately, it is now Drew McOnie who takes the directorial chair, the choreographer-director’s rising star an ideal fit for a musical all about dance.

And what dance it is. We’re in the world of competitive ballroom dancing and we’re treated to a wide range of routines from rehearsals to all-out performances and much inventive work in-between, especially where mirrors are involved. And in all this freedom of expression, there’s a crystal-clear distillation of the story’s message in the sheer joy of dancing for fun and the power of following an individual path. But the show isn’t just dance, it’s words and music as well and there, it is less sure-footed.

Continue reading “Review: Strictly Ballroom, West Yorkshire Playhouse”

Review: Home Chat, Finborough

“I’ve got to convince you of my complete innocence and I don’t know how”

It’s a mystery really, how a playwright as renowned as Noël Coward can have a play that few have heard of and even fewer have actually seen. But it’s a genuine marvel that that play turns out to be a sparkling diamond, the Finborough once again coming up with the goods in exploring deep into the dustier realm of the literary canon. Home Chat has not been seen in the UK for nearly 90 years but on the evidence of Martin Parr’s revelatory production here, you wouldn’t be surprised to see it take it place alongside the more familiar of Coward’s works that frequently pepper the repertoire.

Not least because it contains a corker of a female lead in the figure of Janet Ebony, a garrulous gutsy character who tosses contemporary notions of morality under the microscope and finds British society to be severely lacking. Home Chat begins with a train crash, wittily mounted here in miniature, but it’s not the disaster that is the focus, rather the scandalous implications for its survivors. For it is revealed that Janet and her best friend Peter Chelsworth, who both escaped unscathed, were sharing a sleeping car and their family and friends back in Chelsea are simply outraged. Continue reading “Review: Home Chat, Finborough”

Album Review: Just So (2006 Chichester Festival Theatre Cast)

“The questions raised at every turn show there’s always more to learn”

This production of Stiles + Drewe’s Just So, their musical adaptation and conflation of Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories was a well-received one at Chichester Festival Theatre, coming almost a decade after the show was originally written. Their historically family-friendly back catalogue has served them well over the years – and is bearing significant fruit now in their Trio of Trios, and some elements of this well-cast recording are just lovely.

The heartfelt simplicity of ‘Does The Moment Ever Come?’ is perfectly suited to Richard Dempsey’s sweetly earnest Elephant Child, Julie Atherton might never have sounded better (or more wonderfully northern) on the nervously apprehensive ‘Wait A Bit’ and John Barrowman’s Eldest Magician has the charisma to make his life lessons a little more holistic than hectoring. His singing on ‘Just So’ and ‘If’ wisely warm-hearted. Continue reading “Album Review: Just So (2006 Chichester Festival Theatre Cast)”

Review: A Damsel in Distress, Chichester Festival Theatre

“I’m a poached cake without a piece of toast
Yorkshire pudding without a beef to roast”

It’s no secret at all that I love a good old-fashioned musical but it is hard to feel that we need more of them in the world. PG Wodehouse’s A Damsel in Distress started life as a novel in 1919, has been adapted on both stage (with Ian Hay) and screen, where it was augmented by a suite of songs by George and Ira Gershwin, and now finds itself as a piece of musical theatre with a new book by Jeremy Sams and Robert Hudson and vibrantly directed and choreographed by Rob Ashford. 

With a cast that contains Richard Dempsey, Isla Blair, Nicholas Farrell, Sally Ann Triplett, plus the requisite Strallen (Summer, in this case), there’s little about which to complain. Yet I find myself grumbling a little, the bar at Chichester has been set so extraordinarily high with their recent successes, that even a very good production can seem a little lacklustre by comparison. And with so many great ‘traditional’ musicals of this form in the canon, do we really need new ones to be constructed?  Continue reading “Review: A Damsel in Distress, Chichester Festival Theatre”