Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 5

“I’ve seen many things, my friend. But you’re right. Nothing’s quite as wonderful as the things you see”

So as David Tennant’s Ten regenerates into Matt Smith’s Eleven, Doctor Who also changed showrunner/lead writer/executive producer/oddjob man as Steven Moffat took over the reins from Russell T Davies. The pressure was on both to deliver – the relatively unknown Smith had low expectations, Moffat had sky-high ones due to his much-garlanded writing – and I don’t think you can argue that they didn’t. Smith revealed an impossibly ancient soul to his youthful frame with a Doctor unafraid to be as angrily dark as hyper-actively quirky. And Moffat constructed a complex series, introducing the depths of new companion Amy Pond slowly, and building to a multi-stranded timey-wimey finale that makes the head hurt just to think about it.

Elsewhere, the overused Daleks returned in multicoloured format, the Weeping Angels were much more successfully reprised in a stonking double-header, the Silurians also came back, and Arthur Darvill’s Rory grew in stature to become an effective second companion as opposed to a third wheel. Oh, and Helen McCrory stole the show, but then you knew I’d say that didn’t you 😉 Continue reading “Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 5”

Review: Orca, Southwark Playhouse

“One girl, against the happiness of the whole village. Can you not see it has to be done?”

The Papatango prize has unearthed some fascinating new writing over the last few years, Luke Owen’s Unscorched, Louise Monaghan’s Pack and Dawn King’s Foxfinder to name just a few, and it is to the last play there that this year’s winner bears some thematic similarity. Mining a vein of dystopian folklore clearly gets you far in this competition and Matt Grinter’s Orca proves itself an interesting winner.

Directed by Alice Hamilton at the Southwark Playhouse, Orca works best as a skin-crawling pseudo-thriller, the ominous weight of something terribly wrong weighing down this community. On a remote island, an isolated village goes through the same ritual they’ve carried out for years – selecting a young girl to enact a mock sacrifice to disperse the orca pods who decimate the fishing stocks on which the community relies so heavily. Continue reading “Review: Orca, Southwark Playhouse”

Album Review: American Psycho (London Cast Recording)

“Let’s be clear, there’s nothing ironic
About our love of Manolo Blahnik”

So in a slightly odd turn of events, as Rupert Goold’s American Psycho opens for previews on Broadway, the London Cast Recording of the Almeida’s Winter 2013/14 production is finally released. That London run was well-received by me, so much so that I went back (not just to post the pics of one of its nifty ad campaigns) twice and Duncan Sheik’s music was a big part of that, very much appealing to the 80s kid in me.

Sheik’s score is bathed in a glossy sheen of electronica, predominantly made up of original songs but also featuring covers of some 80s classics – Human League, Tears for Fears, even Phil Collins in radically reharmonised version of ‘In The Air Tonight’. And it’s the ideal partner for this adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis’ novel and surprisingly, it holds up really well, even without the vivid visuals (not least of Matt Smith’s abs). Continue reading “Album Review: American Psycho (London Cast Recording)”

Review: Around the World in 80 Days, St James

“A well-used minimum suffices for anything”

The festive offering from the St James Theatre this year is a new version of classic adventure story Around the World in 80 Days. Laura Eason’s adaptation from Jules Verne’s novel has a playful sense of invention about it – a company of 8 actors take on more than 50 characters – but with an abundance of festive frivolity available in pantomimes across the land, Lucy Bailey’s production falls a little flat, lacking the necessary sparkle for real theatrical magic. 

Providing an alternative to standard Christmas programme makes sense though, and the travels of English adventurer Phileas Fogg are a good fit for this family-based entertainment. The epitome of the Victorian gentleman, Fogg takes on a wager from his club buddies that he can’t circumnavigate the globe in less than 80 days and bets his whole fortune on it. With just his trusty valet Passepartout by his side to get them through the many scrapes in which they find themselves, the race is on. Continue reading “Review: Around the World in 80 Days, St James”

DVD Review: Da Vinci’s Demons Series 1

“War has always been the handmaiden of progress”

From its opening moments of buttocks and blood (both belonging to an uncredited Hugh Bonneville if that floats your boat), it’s clear that Da Vinci’s Demons is going to have its fun whilst playing fast and loose with the early life of its subject, Florentine polymath Leonardo Da Vinci. Conceived by David S Goyer and a co-production between Starz and BBC Worldwide, it’s a good-natured romp of a drama series much in the mould of Merlin, Atlantis or the lamented Sinbad but perhaps tied a little closer to reality as it dips in and out of the tangled history of the Italian city states. 

And it is its historical connections that serves as a main driver for the technological innovations for which Leonardo is famed and which form the ‘issue of the week’ around which most of the episodes hang. So as Da Vinci climbs into bed with the ruling Medici family, he’s sucked into their political machinations whilst battling rival families in Florence and the ever-present threat of the Catholic Church in Rome. Alongside this sits a more fantastical series-long arc about the mystical Book of Leaves and the Sons of Mithras who believe Da Vinci has only just begun to tap into his true power. Continue reading “DVD Review: Da Vinci’s Demons Series 1”

Review: Things We Do For Love, Richmond Theatre

“Generally…I just look at them, generally”

And so once again I find myself drawn to the theatre to see an Alan Ayckbourn play despite the fact I know it is most likely to be a big mistake. The assembly of a good cast is something I’ve always found hard to resist – in this case it was the glorious Claire Price and Ed Bennett, plus the slightly left of the middle choice of Natalie Imbruglia, making her stage debut here. Plus there was the general assertion that the near-twenty year old Things We Do For Love is ostensibly one of his better plays, though on this evidence I don’t quite know why and thus I wouldn’t want to give you the wrong impression, this play left me far from satisfied.

Starting today at Richmond Theatre after a tour that has taken in many a UK city, Laurence Boswell’s Theatre Royal Bath production is certainly handsomely mounted in Giles Cadle’s perfectly designed set which reflects the demands of one of Ayckbourn’s rare forays into specifically end-on work. Set in the Fulham home of frustrated career woman Barbara which has been partitioned into three flats, we see the entirety of her middle floor home but only a couple of feet into those of her tenants – creepy handyman Gilbert below and old school friend, and new affiancéed, Nikki. Continue reading “Review: Things We Do For Love, Richmond Theatre”

Re-review: American Psycho, Almeida

“Is everything alright Patrick?”

Third time round for this show, so little to add to my original review and then the subsequent brief re-review. One of my new year’s resolutions is to embrace seeing the shows I love more than once – there’s so much theatre in London and beyond that it has often felt like a crime to view things again rather than going to see something new and though that hasn’t changed, the joy of rewatching things recently has been particularly great. In that spirit, when a random cheap ticket popped up on the Almeida’s website, the prospect of seeing American Psycho again was irresistible. 

Some pieces of theatre impress with the depth of their profundity, whilst others glisten with their immediacy, and American Psycho most definitely fits into the latter category. It’s almost like an extended music video with its 80s pop score, extraordinary visual impact and kinetic choreography (I’m on the lookout for a club in which people actually do that ‘hands in the air’ dancing) and the fast-moving pace of Rupert Goold’s production means its thrills are akin to the rush of a rollercoaster and for me, endlessly reconsumable. 

Running time: 2 hours 40 minutes (with interval)
Programme cost: £5, and worth the purchase for its great content
Booking until 1st February, run sold out but day tickets and there’s often returns available on the website, checking late at night works

Re-review: American Psycho, Almeida

“You’ll see why Santa loves the snow”

It’s turning out to be quite the month for revisits of shows – I had a pair of tickets for American Psycho which I passed onto a friend after I was lucky enough to be invited to the press night, thinking it would be fairer to let someone else get to see the show as it was sold out. But after a drunken night out and some research on my phone, we discovered a few stray tickets (assumedly returns) were available for purchase on the Almeida’s website and after an evening of lemonades, my benevolence wasn’t quite so persistent…

My companion hadn’t seen it so I didn’t feel quite as guilty as I might have, and I really enjoyed the show so was looking forward to seeing it again, even after a relatively short interval. My thoughts from last time are here and so I’ll just concern myself with a few observations here. Matt Smith clearly loves an adlib, the revolve broke down again and he flirted a little with the stagehand trying to fix it; in the final number, it is actually Ben Aldridge doing a lot of the heavy lifting with the singing; and it really is impressive how effective Sheik’s score is in focusing almost entirely on setting the mood of the piece rather than furthering the narrative. Continue reading “Re-review: American Psycho, Almeida”

Review: American Psycho, Almeida

“But the truth is no-one ever dare says,
You can never go wrong with the right Hermès”

The prospect of a musical version of Bret Easton Ellis’ cult classic of a novel American Psycho, already memorably filmed with Christian Bale, was enough to get the tastebuds salivating, well before it was announced that outgoing Doctor Who actor Matt Smith would be taking on the lead role which meant that tickets were suddenly like gold dust. And it is rather pleasing to be able to say that they are rightfully a hot ticket – not just because of an excellent lead performance by Smith as the nihilistic serial killer Patrick Bateman, but because this production – an Almeida Theatre and Headlong co-production in association with Act 4 Entertainment – is imbued with sheer quality from top to pert bottom.

Set in the midst of late 80s consumerism gone mad, Bateman is a New York banker obsessed with living the high life and living it better than his colleagues as they try to out-do each other with their ability to get tables at the hottest restaurants, work out to get the tightest abs, dress in the coolest designer clothes and win the all-important battle of the business cards. He’s got a society girlfriend too, Evelyn, but all the superficial glamour and glitz disguises a hollow core, emptier than his beloved 80s power tunes, and in order to fill the void within himself, Bateman has become a serial killer on the sly, butchering his way through any number of people that annoy him but still never really finding satisfaction. Continue reading “Review: American Psycho, Almeida”

TV Review: Ripper Street Series 1

“Whitechapel calls you back”

Victorian crime procedural Ripper Street burst onto our screens at the beginning of this year with a blood-spattered élan and a perhaps more violent streak than many were expecting, but it grew to be a most successful series with audiences (and me) and has since been renewed for a second series. Set in Whitechapel, the first episode had a Jack the Ripper focus, which with the title of the show, proved a bit of misdirection in terms of the series as a whole as the crimes that H Division ended up investigating were of a hugely wide-ranging nature and not just focused on the notorious serial killer (although the Ripper’s exploits did form a backdrop to part of the series-long arc).

It’s a period of history, and particularly social history, that I have long found interesting (I studied it as part of my degree) as notions of crime and punishment were rapidly changing and the nature of policing was also changing with the introduction of a more scientific approach to solving crimes. So Matthew Macfadyen’s DI Reid and Jerome Flynn’s DS Flynn are joined by US army surgeon Captain Jackson, played by Adam Rothenburg, as they work their way through the serious crimes, civil unrest, and personal vendettas that crop up on a weekly basis. Continue reading “TV Review: Ripper Street Series 1”