TV Review: That Day We Sang

“We want all the spirit of Lancashire, but not the accent” 

One of the most anticipated bits of TV this Christmas was surely Victoria Wood’s adaptation of her musical That Day We Sang, featuring a Sweeney Todd reunion with Imelda Staunton and Michael Ball taking on the lead roles of Enid and Tubby. The show is a wonderfully heart-warming tale of extraordinariness coming out of the ordinary as Wood does so well, following two lonely middle aged Mancunians who dare to dream of love when life offers them a second chance.

They’re initially brought together at a special event in 1969 to celebrate the 40th anniversary of The Manchester Children’s Choir recording Purcell’s Nymphs and Shepherds (a real life event). Having lost touch and been ground down by the drudgery of life, each puts a long awaited sparkle in the other’s eye though as ever, the path of true love ne’er did run smooth. And Wood contrasts this story with a 1929 narrative that follows the experiences of the choir as they build up to their momentous day. Continue reading “TV Review: That Day We Sang”

Review: That Day We Sang, Royal Exchange

“It’s not exactly Roman Holiday, is it?”

Victoria Wood’s That Day We Sang premiered at the Manchester International Festival in 2011 and it fair near captured my heart with its archetypal northern charm and its determination to find the special in the mundane. I wrote about the show back then but Sarah Frankcom’s production for the Royal Exchange features a reworked and recast version of this play with songs which has proven to be a canny choice indeed for the Manchester venue’s festive offering.

The show tells the story of how a group of Mancunian schoolchildren ended up performing with the Hallé Orchestra in 1929 on a Purcell recording and also the results of a get-together 40 years later for a Granada TV documentary. The two strands interweave and overlap as two of the choir engage in a putative romance after the reunion, the aspirations of their younger selves contrasted with the drabness of the older and the potential spark ignited after the long-awaited meeting. Continue reading “Review: That Day We Sang, Royal Exchange”

DVD Review: Ballet Shoes

“Who knows what you three could achieve”

It’s lovely the way things fall together sometimes. Noel Streatfield’s book Ballet Shoes is a huge favourite in the Clowns family household – my mum enjoyed reading it as a girl and it was one of those books I loved to read and re-read in my own childhood. And whilst I was initially filled with trepidation at the prospect of a television adaptation, the cast that was announced was like something out of a fantasy dream team of dames and dames-to-be. From Eileen Atkins to Lucy Cohu, Victoria Wood, Harriet Walter and Gemma Jones, this is the kind of female cast I dream about seeing and for it to be in a story so dear to me felt just right.

That story concerns the three Fossil sisters – all adopted as young girls by Gum, a wealthy palaeontologist and adventurer, but raised by his niece Sylvia and Nana. When he fails to return from an expedition, the family are left to fend for themselves in increasingly straitened circumstances and in his absence, decide to sell off some of his extensive collections of fossils and artefacts and take in a variety of boarders. And this injection of new life into the household offers up a whole new world of opportunity for Pauline, Petrova and Posy who until now had previously been home-schooled as Posy receives the training to become the ballerina she is fated to be, Pauline is able to develop her interest in becoming an actress and Petrova can follow her passions of mechanics and following in aviator Amy Johnson’s footsteps. Continue reading “DVD Review: Ballet Shoes”

TV Review: Loving Miss Hatto

“Young people make promises because they don’t know what life is like”

Housewife, 49 was one of the highlights of my TV viewing last Christmas, quite how I had missed it first time round I do not know and so once I saw that Victoria Wood had penned a new drama, Loving Miss Hatto, I was determined not to leave it quite so long this time round. Based on a story from the New Yorker on the strange but real-life case of classical music fraud around pianist Joyce Hatto, this was a beautifully modulated piece of drama with a light sweetness and just enough of the trademark Wood humour, interwoven with such melancholic depths of human tragedy.
 
Starting in the 1950s, we meet Joyce Hatto as a rehearsal pianist in whom self-described musical impresario William Barrington-Coupe (or Barrie for short) spotted much potential. But as something of a wideboy and of a conman, his dreams of moulding Joyce into a top-rank concert pianist never quite came to fruition, something exacerbated by her stage fright. The story then flicked forward to the 2000s where embittered by the frustrations of life, Joyce is now dying of cancer and unable to play. With the dawn of the digital age and in light of a flurry of interest in Hatto on a messageboard, Barrie hit upon the idea of satisfying the demand for recordings of her work by releasing a series of CDs. Only problem was, there were no recordings and Barrie was passing off other pianists’ work as his wife’s.

Continue reading “TV Review: Loving Miss Hatto”

DVD Review: Housewife, 49

“What actually is mass observation?”

I have no earthly idea how this passed me by first time round containing as it does, two of my favourite things: the experience of everyday people in the Second World War and national treasure Victoria Wood. That Housewife, 49 was also written by Wood makes it even more remarkable I missed it, but catching it on the tv was one of those experiences that simply filled me with warmth, joy and a fair few tears as I utterly loved it.

It is based on the real-life wartime diaries of Nella Last (played here by Wood herself) , a Barrow-in-Furness housewife recovering from a nervous breakdown who participates in a national scheme to document the lives of normal people – Mass Observation – as a way of helping her recovery. Society is rather unforgiving of her inability to ‘cope’ especially as war starts, her marriage to the taciturn ’Daddy’ is constrictive and it is only when she is persuaded to give voluntary work a try by her younger son, that she finds the opportunity to slowly flourish as her confidence is built and she becomes an integral and vital part of the community. Continue reading “DVD Review: Housewife, 49”

Review: The Day We Sang – Opera House, Manchester

“I’ll never have a box of sex tricks
Or be made to hum like a Scalextric”

It’s part of the unwritten contract of being a Northerner (by birth at least in my case) that you love Victoria Wood. Her status as national treasure is sometimes debated as her particular style of retro-comedy doesn’t always appeal to everyone and is met by not a little snobbery, but it has never bothered me as I find her genuinely hilarious. I have never come so close to having to leave a theatre because of laughing so much as I did in Acorn Antiques The Musical, me and the gentleman next to me (who I didn’t know) were in hysterics pretty much throughout that show and I still love watching it today. Wood has now written a new show, The Day We Sang, as one of the pieces premiering at the Manchester International Festival and though it didn’t quite reach those same giddy heights, I still loved it.

Wood has taken a real story as her starting point, that of the Manchester Schools Children’s Choir joining forces with the Hallé orchestra to record a highly successful version of Purcell’s Nymphs and Shepherds at the Free Trade Hall in 1929, and whilst we see the kids gearing up to this momentous occasion, she has spun off her own narrative to create the show. Some members of that ensemble gather to make a documentary to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the recording and whilst there’s much amusing snobbery at a reunion where people’s lives have taken vastly different turns, a relationship starts to form between two of them, Tubby and Enid, as they reflect on how disillusioned with life they have become since that early high point. Continue reading “Review: The Day We Sang – Opera House, Manchester”

Review: Acorn Antiques The Musical, The Lowry

Having seen and loved Acorn Antiques The Musical when it played in London, despite a few misgivings about the first half, I was keen to ensure that we saw the touring version when it was announced and it fit in well with my Christmas plans to go and see it at the Lowry in Salford. Victoria Wood had obviously taken the (somewhat harsh) reviews to heart though as she has performed some major surgery on the show and the whole conceit of the first half has been removed: we open straight into Manchesterford and the goings-on at the antique shop.
Some of the songs from that original first half have been shoehorned into the story, the tap number is great fun though a bit of a stretch having the am-dram society rehearsing in the shop and other ones shifted around a bit. It still made me laugh, but I must admit to not finding it quite as funny as I did the first time round. And I suppose this is largely to do with the fact that this is a new cast that has been put together for this tour, which features none of the main principles.

And I know it shouldn’t matter, the strength of the show should mean that any good actors can take us through it, but so much of the pleasure of the original was seeing the famous, familiar faces from the TV show reprising their roles, in particular Celia Imrie and Julie Walters, the latter’s Mrs O being so intertwined with herself that I found it impossible to imagine anyone else ever being able to perform the role. And I think that is what the producers also thought as Ria Jones who takes on the role here plays it as close to Walters as possible, which is probably for the best as she can really pull it off. I was less convinced by Sara Crowe’s Miss Babs and Teddy Kempner’s Clifford, but Lisa Peace’s Miss Berta and Beverly Rudd’s Mimi were good fun.

Expectations are often a killer and I think I let them get the better of me here, working myself into a state of excitement that was always unlikely to be matched. Though as the dvd of the original cast is now available, I might add that to my Christmas present list and see if it really was as good as I remembered first time round.

Review: Acorn Antiques The Musical, Theatre Royal Haymarket

Some shows you just know are going to get bad reviews but these are quite often shows that certain people are going to love no matter what and so it was with me and Acorn Antiques The Musical. I loved Victoria Wood’s sketch show from the moment I remember seeing it (I’m northern, it is in the contract) and so when I heard that she was writing a musical based on it, there was no doubt what my request for a birthday present would be: tickets to see it at the Theatre Royal Haymarket.

Directed by Trevor Nunn, Wood took on sole responsibility for the show, writing book, music and lyrics and managed to persuade many of the original stars from the show to reprise their roles: Celia Imrie, Duncan Preston and of course, Julie Walters. And when the show focuses on recreating the hilarity that was Acorn Antiques the show as we remember it, this has to be one of the funniest nights I have ever had at the theatre, I was helpless with laughter for so much of it. Continue reading “Review: Acorn Antiques The Musical, Theatre Royal Haymarket”