Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 4

“Donna Noble has left the library. Donna Noble has been saved”

And here we are, my favourite series of Doctor Who. So much huge wonderfulness and even its less good moments are still more than halfway decent. Key to the series’ success is Catherine Tate’s Donna Noble – gobby and one-dimensional in her introductory episode the Christmas special The Runaway Bride, her character journey throughout this season is magisterially constructed, a true awakening of self (with thankfully no romantic inclinations towards our Time Lord) and one given unbearable poignancy due to its frustratingly tragic end.

It’s also one of the best constructed series in terms of its over-arching season arc, its warnings and clues layered meaningfully into several stories and building into a momentous and properly climactic finale, which lands just about the right level of grandiosity. There’s also the first companion-lite episode (the superbly creepy Midnight) to go with the Doctor-lite one (the achingly beautiful dystopian Turn Left); a typically brilliant Moffat double-header in  Silence in the Library and Forest of the Dead with gorgeous work from Alex Kingston as the soon-to-be-hugely-significant River Song; and if the return of Rose undoes some of the emotional impact of the Series 2 finale, Billie Piper’s work is spikily powerful. These are episodes I can, and have, watched over and over again.

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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.

My top 10 favourite Doctor Who guest star appearances

With the new series of Doctor Who almost upon us, I thought I’d look back on some of my favourite guest spots on the show since it has come back on air, as it has become quite the magnet for actors to get on their CV. Have a look at my top 10, well 11, here and let me know who you think should have been on there instead.

Suranne Jones (The Doctor’s Wife)
This is probably my all-time favourite moment out of all of the new Doctor Who episodes. Neil Gaiman’s conceit was brilliantly simple, to bring the TARDIS to life, but Jones’ performance elevates it to something extraordinary, I get goosebumps just thinking about it and this scene, from near the end, is just perfection. As Matt Smith’s lip starts to wobble, we see the Doctor at his most affectingly human.


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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”

2014 What’s On Stage Award nominations

BEST ACTRESS IN A PLAY
Helen Mirren – The Audience at the Gielgud 
Anne-Marie Duff – Strange Interlude at the NT Lyttelton 
Hayley Atwell – The Pride at Trafalgar Studios
Suranne Jones – Beautiful Thing at the Arts 
Tanya Moodie – Fences at the Duchess 

BEST ACTOR IN A PLAY
Daniel Radcliffe – The Cripple of Inishmaan at the Noël Coward 
Ben Whishaw – Peter and Alice at the Noël Coward and Mojo at the Harold Pinter 
James McAvoy – Macbeth at Trafalgar Studios 
Lenny Henry – Fences at the Duchess 
Rory Kinnear – Othello at the NT Olivier  Continue reading “2014 What’s On Stage Award nominations”

Review: From Here To Eternity, Shaftesbury Theatre

“Don’cha like Hawaii?”

From Here to Eternity marks the return of noted lyricist Tim Rice to the London stage with this new adaptation of this World War II story, probably best known in its film incarnation and its iconic shenanigans in the surf. This treatment harks back to the original novel to introduce darker elements to the story yet it has also been transformed into a traditional West End musical, which brings with it a certain style that doesn’t always sit too well together with the material.

Set in the adulterous, misogynistic, homophobic, racist and bullying atmosphere of the G Company barracks in Hawaii in the summer of 1941, Bill Oakes’ book – based on James Jones’ novel of his own experiences – has a strangely disjointed quality as it struggles to weave together its three main strands. First Sergeant Milt Warden is hot for his captain’s lascivious wife; new arrival Private Robert E Lee Prewitt is less concerned about joining the corps’ boxing team and falls in love with call girl Lorene instead; and Private Angelo Maggio spends his time ducking and diving, making a quick buck by fraternising with the island’s gay population. Continue reading “Review: From Here To Eternity, Shaftesbury Theatre”

Review: Talk Show, Royal Court

“I am sure you can all tell we’re going to have a great show tonight”

‘The show must go on’. Rarely can the oft-glibly offered aphorism have possessed such poignant resonance as at the Royal Court over the past week. Alistair McDowell’s Talk Show should have marked the end of the hugely ambitious weekly rep season, with a company of fourteen actors working their way through six new plays with just a week’s rehearsal for each. But instead, the news that company member Paul Bhattacharjee had gone missing during rehearsals, being followed by the discovery of his body a week later cast the most tragic sheen over the show.

The company opted to continue, initially recasting his (relatively small) role and then dedicating the remainder of the run to him. An incredibly tough decision at the best of times but sitting through the play and realising it touched so deeply on the emotional inarticulacy of generations of men, to the point where suicide becomes a viable option, there’s an almost incomprehensible poignancy about the determination to honour a colleague’s memory. Continue reading “Review: Talk Show, Royal Court”

Review: Pigeons, Royal Court

“Shit that went wrong right wrong (again)”

Spin number three on the Royal Court’s weekly rep wheel focuses on a new British writer Suhayla El-Bushra. Much of her previous work has been teen-focused, including Hollyoaks, and so it is little surprise that her play Pigeons centres on two childhood friends as they make the difficult transition into manhood in a world that dreams of multiculturalism. Through the haze of casual drug use, furtive blow-jobs under the counter, bunking off schools and listening to some bangin’ choons, Ashley and Amir find their lives inexorably pulled apart on different paths yet fatefully destined to clash together again. 

El-Bushra has fractured her timeline so that her play starts at the end and then moves back and forth in time to show the boys in the various stages of their relationship. A product of the care home system, Ashley loves playing the Sarf London wideboy with Ryan Sampson affecting some wonderfully vivid street speak, but he finds a kind of contentment in Amir’s family home. And along with Nav Sidhu’s Amir, they both enjoy the teenage rites of passage – Angela Terence’s Leah delivering their sexual awakenings – and the journey into something darker as the spectre of racial prejudice rears its ugly head.  Continue reading “Review: Pigeons, Royal Court”

Review: The President Has Come To See You, Royal Court

 “Do you know what is going on in Georgia?”

In a bold move as her opening salvo as incoming Artistic Director of the Royal Court, Vicky Featherstone has reimagined the way in which theatre is consumed in this venue with a range of innovative approaches suggested by a group of over 140 writers. The biggest of these is probably the Weekly Rep, a company of 14 actors and 4 directors performing 6 plays by new writers over 6 weeks, which started tonight with Georgian playwright Lasha Bugadze’s The President Has Come To See You, previously seen here as a rehearsed reading earlier in the year.

Knowing my all-or-nothing tendencies, I had hoped that the ensemble would be full of actors I did not care for so that I’d be able to resist booking, but it was not to be with the likes of a re-bearded Ferdy Roberts, Ryan Sampson, Laura Elphinstone and Siobhan Redmond luring me to Sloane Square, even though the prospect of the play itself did not really appeal. And it was that inner voice nagging away that I ought to have paid more attention to, as the bizarre twists and turns of this post-Soviet surrealist adventure left me cold. Continue reading “Review: The President Has Come To See You, Royal Court”

Review: Floyd Collins, Southwark Playhouse

“Even Floyd knew somethin’ wasn’t right”

I don’t normally read much about shows before I go in especially if they are new to me, as I do like that element of surprise and novelty that is increasingly rare. But had I read that Floyd Collins, just opened at the Southwark Playhouse, was a musical containing a song that Stephen Sondheim wished he had wrote and is routinely described as complex, demanding and jagged, I might have been a little better prepared for it. Tina Landau (book and additional lyrics) and Adam Guettel’s (music and lyrics) musical really is a daring piece of work which challenges and provokes, though in this case ultimately frustrates.

Using the depths of the converted Vault space and a lot of ladders, James Perkins’ design seems ideally suited to recreating 1925 Kentucky and its system of inter-connected caves which our eponymous leading man is famed for exploring. But as he searches for more fame and fortune in new caves, he gets trapped by a rockfall 55 feet under the ground but it is the efforts to try and release him end up and the huge media circus that forms around it that makes up much of the show, exposing the effects on Floyd, his family and those trying to rescue him. Continue reading “Review: Floyd Collins, Southwark Playhouse”