Network DVD anthology releases #2

The second anthology set I’ll be taking a look at from Network is the twelve disc set released last year to celebrate 60 years of ITV.

Each disc is programmed to represent a typical evening’s viewing, although the earliest title dates from 1955, an episode of ‘The Adventures of Robin Hood’, with the latest programme being an episode of ‘Soldier, Soldier’ from 1994.

The audience for this set is unclear: there are many episodes of series which have been seperately released, with only ten items unique to this collection.  Having said that, the variety here is excellent, and the handful of items from the days of Associated-Rediffussion are well-chosen.

Here’s what is included in this voyage though the first thirty-nine years of ITV:

Disc 1

  • ITV Opening Night Preview (Associated-Rediffusion and ABC), 1955
  • Thunderbirds: Trapped in the Sky, 1965.  A fairly routine example of Gerry Anderson’s puppet series
  • The Army Game: April Fool, 1960.  Painfully dated barracks comedy
  • Man About The House: While the Cat’s Away, 1974.  Fun and games with Robin and his co-lodgers and the Ropers
  • Robin of Sherwood: The Greatest Enemy, 1985.  Michael Praed’s farewell to the role
  • The Prisoner: Checkmate, 1967.  Impenetrable tale already included on the previous ITC50 collection

Disc 2

  • Pathfinders in Space: Convoy to the Moon, 1960.  Sci-fi drama for children
  • The Larkins: Frightful Nightful, 1960.  Things go bump in the night for our comic couple
  • Sunday Night at the London Palladium, 1965.  In which Sid James sings!
  • The World at War: It’s a Lovely Day Tomorrow, 1974.  Focusing on Burma, this is a typical episode of the groundbreaking documentary series
  • Callan: Let’s Kill Everybody, 1969.  Tensions rise as a spy sets to eliminate the enem

Disc 3

  • Catweazle: The Sun in a Bottle, 1970.  Series opener
  • The Arthur Haynes Show, 1962.  Included for a short appearance from Michael Caine, this has some good sketches and items
  • The Avengers: The Winged Avenger, 1967.  Emma Peel in comic-book land
  • Public Eye: My Life’s My Own, 1969.  Downbeat episode featuring a young Stephanie Beecham
  • An Audience with Dame Edna Everage, 1980.  Fun with a starry audience, many long since gone

Disc 4

  • Crossroads, October 1983.  Absolutely terrible but previously unreleased
  • On the Buses: The Strain, 1971.  Amusement as Stan has to wear a surgical corset
  • The Saint: The Contract, 1965.  A typical episode
  • The Tommy Cooper Hour, 1974.  Featuring the Sally the Sailor sketch
  • Auf Wiedershen Pet: The Alien, 1984.  Michael Elphick causes trouble for the gang

Disc 5

  • Rainbow, December 1975.  Ali Bongo joins the regulars at Christmas.  Previously unreleased
  • Pipkins: Cowboys, 1977.  Pip goes bad!
  • Doctor in the House: What Seems to be the Trouble?, 1970.  Early episode showcasing the student doctors
  • The Power Game: The New Boy, 1965.  The opening episode of the boardroom drama
  • 21, 1977.  Otherwise known as 21 Up, the third entry in the Michael Apted series following a group of children from the age of seven onwards

Disc 6

  • Magpie, November 1976.  A mixed bag from the children’s series which was ITV’s answer to Blue Peter
  • Shut That Door!, 1972.  The sole surviving example of Larry Grayson’s variety show
  • Space:1999: Breakaway, 1975.  Nuclear problems hit Moonbase Alpha
  • No Hiding Place: A Bird to Watch the Marbles, 1963.  One of just over twenty surviving episodes from the long-running police series, previously unreleased
  • The Sweeney: Tomorrow Man, 1976.  An episode of the fondly-regarded series about Special Branch

Disc 7

  • Tiswas, August 1975.  Edited version without all the inserts, this features Jon Asher as presenter and is very different to the later episodes we all remember.  Previously unreleased
  • Four Feather Falls: Horse Thieves, 1960.  Nicholas Parsons voices the cowboy in this early Gerry Anderson series
  • The Stanley Baxter Moving Picture Show, 1974.  Comic sketches and music in this dated showcase from the Scots variety performance
  • Gideon’s Way: The Wall, 1965.  A rather dark episode from the detective show with John Gregson
  • Tales of the Unexpected: Royal Jelly, 1980.  Buzzzzzzz

Disc 8

  • The Adventures of Robin Hood: The Coming of Robin Hood, 1955.  Series opener
  • Nearest and Dearest: What Seems to be the Trouble?, 1969.  Dated fun with Hylda Baker and Jimmy Jewel
  • Rising Damp: Black Magic, 1974.  Philip charms the birds
  • Mystery Bag: Lockhart Finds a Note, 1959.  A second look at Chief Inspector Lockhart, previously unreleased
  • Upstairs Downstairs: Miss Forrest, 1973.  A key episode from the period drama series
  • Year Zero: The Silent Death of Cambodia, 1979.  Hard-hitting expose of the Khmer Rouge from John Pilger

Disc 9

  • Ace of Wands: Peacock Pie – Episode One, 1972.  This already appeared on a Look Back volume.  Frustrating not be able to complete the story of Brian Wilde’s creepy hypnotist
  • Coronation Street, May 1964.  Excellent episode following the death of Martha Longhurst
  • Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased): Could You Recognise the Man Again?, 1970.  Mrs Hopkirk is in trouble, and Marty has to try to help her
  • Crane: A Cargo of Cornflower, 1965.  Smugglers ahoy in one of the two surviving episodes from this series.  Extremely poor sound by the way, and previously unreleased
  • Soldier Soldier: Stormy Weather, 1994.  Problems for Robson Green and his wife

Disc 10

  • A Fine Romance: Series 2, Episode 6, 1982.  Nice but rather lame comedy with Judi Dench and Michael Williams
  • World in Action: The Chart Busters, 1980.  Record pluggers who influence the Top 40.  Previously unreleased
  • The Professionals: Blind Run, 1978.  Bodie and Doyle turn bodyguard in an entertaining episode
  • Inspector Morse: Driven to Distraction, 1990.  An episode which has been made available many times before, but doesn’t quite suffer from over-exposure

Disc 11

  • George and Mildred: Moving On, 1976.  The Ropers go house-hunting
  • Jason King: To Russia With … Panache, 1971.  Repeated from the ITC50 set
  • The Main Chance: The Best Legal System in the World, 1970.  Series opener
  • Justice: A Nice Straight-forward Treason, 1971.  Margaret Lockwood as the glamorous Harriet in Chambers
  • The Strange World of Gurney Slade: Episode One, 1960.  Anthony Newley’s inventive comedy series

Disc 12

  • Our Man at St Mark’s: The Facts of Life, 1963.  Leslie Phillips plays a sympathetic vicar in one of a handful of surviving episodes – previously unreleased
  • The Bill: The Short Straw, 1993.  Viv regrets being late for work in this previously unreleased episode
  • Man at the Top: I’ll Do the Dirty Work, 1971.  Joe Lampton gets his hands dirty in this TV series sequel to the classic film, Room at the Top
  • Whicker’s World Aboard The Orient Express, 1983.  Practically a commercial for the train service, and previously unreleased
  • Armchair Theatre: Afternoon of a Nymph, 1962.  There are so few of these officially released, I would have swapped for one which isn’t already on one of Network’s sets, although this is a very good example of the play strand

In summary, and especially now prices have dropped considerably from the initial RRP, this is worth your time if you wish to see a range of ITV product in one place, or want to sample some wider releases like The Power Game, Justice and The Main Chance without investing in the full series.  However the selection could have included more single plays, more period drama, and some more unfamiliar titles.

 


Network DVD anthology releases #1

I’ve been dipping into the anthology releases from Network recently, which collate a number of related programmes together in what might be described as ‘samples’ of full series.

This series of posts will look at seven such releases:

  • Soap Box Volume 1
  • ITV60
  • ITC50
  • Look-Back on 70s Telly (4 volumes)

Soap Box (2011)

Despite being badged ‘volume 1’ it seems unlikely that there will be a further set after five years has elapsed; still, this is a reasonable collection of both daytime and evening soaps produced across ITV.

Over four discs we move from the sole surviving episode of hospital drama ‘Call Oxbridge 2000’ from 1961, through to a 2006 ‘disaster’ episode of ‘Emmerdale’, which, when compared to an episode from thirty years before – when the series was still ‘Emmerdale Farm’ – shows clearly the decline of both focus and writing of one of Yorkshire TV’s most enduring soaps; although it is good to see both Ken Farringdon and Jenny Tomasin in the cast.

From the 1960s we have episodes of ‘Parkin’s Patch’, a police drama; ‘Weaver’s Green’, about a vet; an atypical episode of ‘Emergency: Ward 10’; and ‘Market in Honey Lane’, which makes an interesting comparison to ‘Albion Market’ which also appears here.

Although ‘Coronation Street’ started in the 1960s, the two episodes featured here are both from 1977 – one where Tracy is in peril, and the famous one about Annie Walker and the new carpet.  Well-written, these are an interesting contrast to episodes which can be found on the ‘ITV60’ and ‘Jack Rosenthal at ITV’ sets.  ‘Rooms’, about lodgers and bedsitters, is a bit disappointing; but both ‘The Cedar Tree’ and ‘Marked Personal’ are well worth watching.  The aforementioned episode of ‘Emmerdale Farm’ is something of an odd choice, dealing with a family tragedy right at the end; while from 1972 ‘General Hospital’ and ‘Harriet’s Back in Town’ were worth revisiting.

Into the 1980s there is an episode of ‘Crossroads’, which hasn’t aged well; the opener of ‘From Maddie With Love’, which is well overdue a full release; ‘The Practice’, yet another medical drama, has good production values but is largely forgettable; ‘Gems’ has a bit of sparkle; and the short-lived ‘Albion Market’ shows it might have had legs if allowed to grow.

The 1990s episodes are from ‘Families’, ‘London Bridge’, and ‘Revelations’, all now largely forgotten, and the set is rounded off by the 25th anniversary edition of ‘The Bill’, a live episode which I last saw at the BFI Southbank with cast members including the late Bernie Nolan sitting behind us.  It’s bordering on the hysterical and compares weakly to earlier episodes which can be found elsewhere.

If you like the genre of ‘soap opera’ in its loosest sense you will find much to enjoy here, and it is a varied collection of titles from the various ITV companies, with six examples from Granada, seven from ATV; five from Thames; three from Yorkshire; and one each from Anglia and Carlton.

Network have released ‘Coronation Street’, ‘Emmerdale Farm’ and ‘Crossroads’ extensively, and there are also some releases of available of ‘Emergency: Ward 10’, ‘General Hospital’, ‘Parkin’s Patch’, ‘Market in Honey Lane’, ‘The Cedar Tree’, ‘London Bridge’, ‘The Bill’ and ‘Revelations’.

 

 


The Magic Flute (Budapest Festival Orchestra/Fischer)

The Royal Festival Hall hosted a one-night stop on the current international tour of ‘The Magic Flute’, performed in German with dialogue in English.  Ivan Fischer conducted the Budapest Festival Orchestra with flair, and it was good to see them all obviously enjoying making the most of Mozart’s dazzling score.

In a company of mostly young principals, the soprano Mandy Fredrich navigated the Queen of the Night’s fiendish arias and bursts of coloratura with ease, while Krisztián Cser‘s young and vital bass Sarastro gives a different frisson to his interaction with the imprisoned Pamina (Hanna-Elisabeth Müller).  As Papageno, Hanno Müller-Brachmann‘s bass-baritone fits perfectly with his ridiculous yet lonely bird characterisation, and the scene near the close with his Papagena (Norma Nahoun), leaves a smile on the face.

This is a semi-staged performance, but the use of a video storybook to display the characters as well as the translation.  Actors perform the dialogue for all the major roles and Bart van der Schaff was particularly amusing as Papageno.  The switch between languages worked well and made the opera rather more accessible than a fully German version would be.

Ultimately this is a glorious piece of work, even if the text is rather misogynous in tone, referring to the subjection and inferiority of women – although, as Pamina joins her true love, Tamino (Bernard Richter) in the trials of fire and ice, she would seem to be as strong as any man.

 

 


Book review: The Wacky Man

wacky man

From the Legend Press website:

“Lyn G. Farrell is the winner of the 2015 Luke Bitmead Bursary and The Wacky Man is her debut novel.  Lyn grew up in Lancashire where she would have gone to school if life had been different. She spent most of her teenage years reading anything she could get her hands on. She studied Psychology at the University of Leeds and now works in the School of Education at Leeds Beckett University.”

“The Wacky Man” is by no means a comfortable read.  Its story of Amanda (part drawn from the author’s real life) is one of a disturbed and damaged young woman who rages against her mother, her situation, and sad of all, herself (she smashes mirrors which reflect her ‘pig’ face, she hides her face under her hair so people do not look at her, she classes herself as ugly even when we hear in other parts of the book about what a beautiful child she was).

Amanda’s father, Seamus, is brutal, unfeeling and systematically tyrannical around his wife and children.  His abrasive manner and distorted way of showing a connection or affection for his children through violence (a social worker asks a young Amanda ‘do you love your daddy?’ and she replies ‘yes, but I don’t think he loves me’) is hard to stomach, but he is in no way presented as a monster.  This is a book which gives its characters a fully-rounded approach, and in doing so, makes them believable.

Aside from the chapters which have Amanda’s account of her life in the 1st person, we also have chapters which look in from the outside, including her mother Barbara, who was trapped into marriage with Seamus after a drunken sexual romp which led to him wanting to ‘do the right thing’.  These give a different perspective on the woman who, we might feel when reading the daughter’s account, has failed her child and become a bad mother: conversely, we may feel some sympathy for both Barbara and Seamus, no matter how they have conspired unwittingly to create a daughter who relies on shrinks and self-harm to survive day by day in the world.

I did approach this book with some trepidation given the subject matter, also because I know the author personally having worked with her some years ago and when you know someone, sometimes it feels a little odd spooking into their private memories, even if they are publicly shared in this manner.  Of course Lyn G Farrell is not Amanda, but in reading around her biography I see there was physical abuse in her childhood at the hands of her father, and those issues and those of mental illness and collapse, are portrayed extremely well, while still presenting stories of a growing and evolving family life with some moments of humour.

This book will reward any reader willing to give this the time and attention it deserves.  I found it a very emotional experience in places, a disturbing one in others, but somehow I developed a liking for Amanda in particular, as despite her troubles she shows a deep self-awareness and strength which keeps her going.  She’s a fighter, a survivor, she is plucky and when she rages, she bubbles with life.

The title, incidentally, refers to Seamus as both a violent man and, perhaps, one with some mental issues himself, so ‘wacky’ as in the walking stick he uses to beat his young son across the back, and in the definition of a person as ‘wacky’ in terms of their peculiarity or eccentricity.  This is a book which plays with names, with definitions, and ultimately with memories, which is where the mix of voices is so relevant and poignant in a way.

I felt hints of JD Salinger’s ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ and Holden Caulfield in the anger of the narrator, but that is very much a teenage-focused book for angry young things, just like the contemporary films featuring James Dean.  The strongest links I got from ‘The Wacky Man’, and they are just hints of the books I have loved on topics relating to mental disintegration in particular, are Sylvia Plath’s Esther Greenwood in ‘The Bell Jar’ (who could be a close cousin of Barbara, or her sister), or Susanna Kaysen’s autobiographical ‘Girl, Interrupted’.

Having said this, Farrell has very much developed her own style and tone and I am very pleased to hear that a future novel is in development.  I recommend this title to you wholeheartedly, and thank Lucy Chamberlain at Legend Press for the gratis copy in return for an honest review on this book’s launch blog tour.

 


Six books which shaped my life

The #9albums meme on Twitter made me think about how this might impact on the books which mean the most to me (and which have followed me for a long time, so no recent titles will appear here).  Dates are for the edition I have to hand, not necessarily original date of publication.

Watership Down, by Richard Adams.  Puffin, 1973.

watershipdown

This story, of a group of rabbits finding a new home, is a bona fide classic, which was later made into a rather scary animated film.  Fiver has psychic powers and can sense bad vibes in the warren in which he and his brother Hazel live, but as he is the runt of the litter and not that powerful in the pecking order, the Chief Rabbit doesn’t listen to him with, as we see later, horrendous consequences.   I try to re-read this book each year and never get bored with it.  The rabbits are given distinct personalities and even their own religion, as the Black Rabbit is their demon of death, and El-ahrairah is almost their Christ figure, or at least comparable to that of Aslan in …

The Chronicles of Narnia, by CS Lewis.  Fontana Lion, c.1980.

narnia

Across seven books (The Magician’s Nephew, in which a young boy and girl find themselves witnessing the birth of Narnia; The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, in which four children become kings and queens and see the death and resurrection of Aslan the Lion; The Horse and His Boy, set within the reign of the Pevensie children with a Prince and Pauper theme; Prince Caspian, which deals with a usurper and a rightful king; The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, in which a valiant mouse joins a crew to find a number of lost Lords; The Silver Chair, in which a prince is enchanted; and The Last Battle, which deals with the end of Narnia as a world), CS Lewis’ fantasy series is an endlessly fascinating piece of fiction with prose which generally vivid visually stunning images, and a strong storyline in which talking animals and mythical creatures live alongside swordsmen, warm-hearted dwarfs, and a London cabbie who becomes the equivalent of the Biblical Adam.

The Houses-in-Between, by Howard Spring.  Reprint Society, 1954.

housesinbetween

This sprawling saga follows Sarah Undridge, who tells the story in first person, and her family, friends and acquaintances through many years.  It starts in the Victorian age and ends with the Second World War, and the characters and situations crackle with life, across time, class, and legitimacy.  This book has been comfort food for me for many years, and remains my favourite of Spring’s novels.

Flush, by Virginia Woolf.  Penguin, 1977.

flash

Elizabeth Barrett Browning had a little dog.  A cocker spaniel, to be exact.  And Virginia Woolf was his biographer.  This is slight on first glance, but absolutely delightful, and very perceptive on all manner of external forces which impacted on the poet and her pet.

The Bell Jar, by Sylvia Plath.  Faber and Faber, 1989.

belljar

Plath’s fictionalised account of her own teenage years is a tour de force of confessional writing, and in her character of ‘Esther’ we can follow her dreams, ideals, depressions, sexual awakening, suicide attempts, shock therapy, and more.  This book may have influenced Susanna Kaysen’s own work drawing on her own life and experiences, ‘Girl, Interrupted’, which is in itself an excellent book.  But Plath, being essentially a poet with a great eye for detail and sense of the power of the written word, wrote the stronger of the two novels, and even though it was published more than fifty years ago, it remains a gut-punching read today, while also retaining flashes of black humour which are very refreshing.

Silences, by Tillie Olsen.  Virago, 1994.

silences

From a time when I myself was a writer, and discovering a wide variety of female voices, from the Brontës and Austen through to Ruth Fainlight, Jackie Kay, and my historical fiction writer of choice, Jean Plaidy.  Olsen’s book focuses on the invisibility of the woman writer in the context of wider politic views such as race, class, and ultimately gender.  It is a highly feminist book which is very readable and even now, very perceptive and relevant.

 


Shakespeare 400: Film and TV

There have been many, many screen versions of Shakespeare’s plays – please follow the links below to my lists on Letterboxd to find a range of straight adaptations and versions inspired by the Bard’s work.

Such a rich store of films, television and recordings from the RSC, the National Theatre, the Globe, and Digital Theatre exist to prove the Bard remains relevant 400 years after his passing.

tragedieshamlet

Shakespeare – The Tragedies (http://boxd.it/8yDy), covering 11 of the 37 plays: Antony and Cleopatra, Coriolanus, Hamlet, Julius Caesar, King Lear, Macbeth, Othello, Romeo and Juliet, Timon of Athens, Titus Andronicus, Troilus and Cressida.

Five to try:

  • Antony and Cleopatra (1974, dir Jon Scoffield, with Richard Johnson and Janet Suzman).  This will be released by Network Distributing later this year.
  • The Bad Sleep Well (1960, dir Akira Kurosawa).  A Japanese loose version of Hamlet.
  • Macbeth on the Estate (1997, dir Penny Woolcock, with James Frain).
  • Othello (1990, dir Trevor Nunn, with Willard White and Ian McKellen).
  • Romeo and Juliet (1984, from the Royal Ballet, with Wayne Eagling and Alessandra Ferri, to Kenneth Macmillan’s choreography).

comediescomedydench

Shakespeare – The Comedies (http://boxd.it/8yDS), covering 12 of the 37 plays: All’s Well That Ends Well, The Comedy of Errors, As You Like It, Love’s Labour’s Lost, Measure for Measure, Merry Wives of Windsor, The Merchant of Venice, Twelfth Night, Two Gentlemen of Verona, The Taming of the Shrew, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Much Ado About Nothing.

Five to try:

  • The Comedy of Errors (1976, dir Trevor Nunn, with Judi Dench, with music by Guy Woolfenden).
  • McLintock! (1963, dir Andrew V. McLaglen, with John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara).  A Western inspired by The Taming of the Shrew.
  • A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1935, dir Max Reinhardt and William Dieterle).  A Hollywood fantasy with Mickey Rooney as Puck.
  • Much Ado About Nothing (2012, dir Joss Whedon).
  • The Merchant of Venice (1972, dir Cedric Messina, with Frank Finlay as Shylock and Maggie Smith as Portia).

historiesrichardshaw

Shakespeare – The Histories (http://boxd.it/8yEc), covering 10 of the 37 plays: Richard II, Henry IV Part 1, Henry IV Part 2, Henry V, Henry VI Part 1, Henry VI Part 2, Henry VI Part 3, Richard III, Henry VIII, King John.

Five to try:

  • Richard III (1995, dir Richard Loncraine, with Ian McKellen).  Set in the Nazi era with a modern feel.
  • Henry V (1944, dir by and starring Laurence Olivier).  A stirring version made during the Second World War.
  • King John (1984, dir David Giles, with Leonard Rossiter, for the BBC Shakespeare).
  • Henry VIII (2010, dir Mark Rosenblatt, for Globe on Screen, with Dominic Rowan).
  • Richard II (1978, dir David Giles, with Derek Jacobi, for the BBC Shakespeare).

romancestempestglobe

Shakespeare – The Romances (http://boxd.it/8yEw), covering 4 of the 37 plays: Pericles, Cymbeline, The Winter’s Tale, The Tempest.

Five to try:

  • Prospero’s Books (1991, dir Peter Greenaway, with John Gielgud).  Inspired by The Tempest.
  • The Winter’s Tale (1999, dir Gregory Doran, with Antony Sher, for the RSC).
  • The Tempest (1908, dir Percy Stow).
  • Cymbeline (2013, dir Michael Almereyda, with Ethan Hawke).  With an urban gang setting.
  • The Winter’s Tale (1910, dir Thanhouser).

 

 


Shakespeare 400 in images

  • Marlon Brando plays Mark Antony in the 1953 film of ‘Julius Caesar’;
  • Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting in the 1968 film of ‘Romeo and Juliet’;
  • Kenneth Branagh in his 1996 film of ‘Hamlet’;
  • Laurence Olivier in his 1944 film of ‘Henry V’;
  • Wendy Hiller, Cyril Cusack, Michael Kitchen and Roger Daltrey in the 1983 BBC Shakespeare TV version of ‘The Comedy of Errors’;
  • Simon Russell Beale in the National Theatre’s 2012 production of ‘Timon of Athens’;
  • Dumaine (Adrian Lester), Berowne (Kenneth Branagh), Longaville (Matthew Lillard), and Ferdinand (Alessandro Nivola) in the 2000 film of ‘Love’s Labour’s Lost’;
  • Philip Quast as Achilles and Jeremy Sheffield as Patroclus in the RSC’s 1996 production of ‘Troilus and Cressida’;
  • Jonathan and Phoebe Pryce in the Globe Theatre’s 2015 production of ‘The Merchant of Venice’;
  • Judi Dench as Titania in the 1968 film of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’;
  • Antony Sher as Falstaff in the RSC’s 2014 production of ‘Henry IV Part 1’;
  • Ian McKellen in the 1979 TV version of the RSC’s production of ‘Macbeth’;
  • Guy Henry in the RSC’s 2001 production of ‘King John’;
  • Robert Shaw (Leontes), Rosalie Crutchley (Hermoine) and Patrick McNee (Polixines) in the 1962 TV production of ‘A Winter’s Tale’;
  • Paul Robeson in a 1942 stage production of ‘Othello’;
  • Christopher Benjamin as Falstaff in the Globe’s 2010 production of ‘The Merry Wives of Windsor’;
  • Keenan Wynn and James Whitmore in the 1953 film of ‘Kiss Me Kate’ (based on ‘The Taming of the Shrew’);
  • Gary Bond and Irena Mayeska as Benedick and Beatrice in the 1970 Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre production of ‘Much Ado About Nothing’;
  • Anthony Hopkins in the 1999 film of ‘Titus’;
  • Heathcote Williams as Prospero and Toyah as Miranda in the 1979 film of ‘The Tempest’;
  • Romola Garai as Celia in the 2006 film of ‘As You Like It’;
  • Ben Miles as the Duke and Anna Maxwell-Martin as Isabella in the 2010 Almeida Theatre production of ‘Measure for Measure’;
  • Derek Jacobi in the BBC Shakespeare TV adaptation of ‘Richard II’ (1978);
  • Ian Charleson and cast of the BBC Shakespeare TV adaptation of ‘All’s Well That End’s Well’ (1980);
  • The National Theatre of Greece at the Globe in their 2012 production of ‘Pericles’;
  • Tom Courtenay in the Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester, 1999 production of ‘King Lear’;
  • Alan Howard in the RSC’s 1978 production of ‘Coriolanus’;
  • Alan Bates and Frances de La Tour in the RSC’s 2000 production of ‘Antony and Cleopatra’;
  • William Houston as Prince Hal and David Troughton as Henry IV in the RSC’s 2000 production of ‘Henry IV Part 2’;
  • Mark Rylance in the Globe’s 2012 production of ‘Richard III’;
  • Richard Johnson in the BBC Shakespeare TV adaptation of ‘Cymbeline’ (1983);
  • Tommy Steele as Feste in the 1969 TV adaptation of ‘Twelfth Night’;
  • Dominic Rowan as Henry with Amanda Lawrence as his fool in the Globe’s 2010 production of ‘Henry VIII’.

Shakespeare 400: The Complete Walk and Shakespeare Live! (RSC)

The 23rd April is both St George’s Day and the anniversary of both the birth and death of William Shakespeare (1564-1616), and as we have now reached 400 years since the poet/playwright’s death, both the Globe Theatre and the Royal Shakespeare Company have created projects which happened this weekend.

completewalk

The Complete Walk presents all 37 plays in chronological order in a route starting at St Thomas’ Hospital with The Two Gentlemen of Verona and finishing at Potters Fields Park with The Tempest.

We saw eleven of the plays between Hungerford Bridge (Titus Andronicus, with Peter Capaldi, rather battling against the noise of the trains above), to the back of the Oxo Tower (The Merry Wives of Windsor, with Mel Giedroyc).  Three screens (The Comedy of Errors, Henry IV Part 2, and Much Ado About Nothing) were not working as we passed, and I understand technical issues have plagued this project a bit on a windy, cold and showery day yesterday – hopefully today will have more of a hit rate.

  1. Titus Andronicus (under Hungerford Bridge).  Filmed in Rome, this shows a different side of Capaldi than is familiar to most these days from Doctor Who.
  2. Henry VI Part 2 (under Golden Jubilee Bridge).  Filmed at Spitalsfield Market, this was a very modern take of a little-known history play.
  3. Romeo and Juliet (opposite Royal Festival Hall).  Filmed at Verona with Jessie Buckley and Luke Thompson in glorious blue tints in the closing tomb scene, this was well acted and also featured scenes from the Globe’s production with Ellie Kendrick and Adetomiwa Edun.
  4. Richard III (next to Waterloo Bridge).  Filmed in the Tower of London, with a glorious monologue from Claire Higgins, Queen Margaret’s speech from Act 4.
  5. Love’s Labour’s Lost (in front of the National Theatre).  Filmed in Navarre, with Gemma Arterton and David Dawson.  Beautifully shot but the volume made it hard to follow.
  6. King John (in front of the National Theatre).  The Hubert and Arthur scene, filmed a the Holy Sepulchre, with the right amount of murderous intent and tension.
  7. Richard II (Observation Point).  Filmed in Westminster Hall, with James Norton in the abdication and ‘I have wasted time’ scenes.  An actor I don’t care for, but I wanted to see more of this.
  8. A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Gabriel’s Wharf Bandstand).  Filmed at Wilton House, with the Theseus and Hippolyta scenes, and the wall scene with ‘the rude mechanicals’.  Funny but lacking the play’s magic.
  9. The Merchant of Venice (Riverside Slice).  Filmed in the Jewish Ghetto, Venice, with Jonathan and Phoebe Pryce reprising their roles as Shylock and Jessica alongside scenes from the Globe production.  Looks great but the sound was drowned out by an adjacent screen.
  10. Henry IV Part 1 (Bernie Spain Gardens).  Filmed at the George Inn, Southwark, with Toby Jones as a drunken Falstaff we first meet passed out in a cubicle in the Gents.  Very funny but far too loud.
  11. The Merry Wives of Windsor (behind the Oxo Tower).  The scene between the Mistresses discussing Falstaff and the basket, with one of them in drag.  Plays like a comedy sketch.

It’s a varied project, and an accomplished one.  The YouTube channel for Shakespeare’s Globe includes trailers for Timon of Athens (with Simon Russell Beale) and King Lear (with Kenneth Cranham).  I hope this project – which also ran in Liverpool this weekend, but mainly in interior locations – has an additional life beyond the opportunity to see the films in situ.

shakespearelive

In the evening, there was a television broadcast live from Stratford-upon-Avon which mixed music (excerpts from West Side Story and Kiss Me Kate, opera and ballet, jazz and hip hop, and appearances from Rufus Wainwright and tenor Ian Bostridge), comedy (a delightful ‘nine Hamlet’ sketch which includes Cumberbatch, McKellen, Dench and others, including Prince Charles, advising on how to speak the classic ‘To Be or Not To Be’ soliloquy), speeches (Ian McKellen as Thomas More, Roger Allam as Lear, Judi Dench as Titania with Al Murray as Bottom, Rory Kinnear and Ann-Marie Duff as the Macbeths) and filmed inserts (Joseph Fiennes within the Shakespeare Trust properties at Stratford, and Simon Russell Beale doing part of the John of Gaunt speech from Richard II).

Uneven at the start, this settled into a classy piece of live theatre, although it was not quite as good as the earlier ‘National Theatre at 50’.  Appearances from the likes of Helen Mirren, David Suchet, and the aforementioned Dame Judi and Sir Ian interested me more than a group of students performing Bernstein or a poorly spoken Juliet in the balcony scene.  Still, there was a good range of plays represented, and a strong sense of how Shakespeare has moved into many areas of popular culture.

olivierhamet

To close this post, I will share the costume from the 1948 film of Hamlet, starring and directed by Laurence Olivier, which can be found in the BFI Southbank’s small Shakespeare on Film exhibition in their Mezzanine (above the box office), which accompanies their rather populist season of screenings.


The Taming of the Shrew (Above the Arts Theatre)

Custom/Practice’s flagship production at the heart of the Verve Festival (a month-long exploration of shifting relations between minority groups and the theatre) is ‘The Taming of the Shrew’, which is in itself an interesting addition to the wide variety of productions being staged for Shakespeare 400.

The difference in this production is that all the male characters are played by women, and all the female characters by men.  This allows some interesting ideas to be explored – as the Shrew Katharina, Kazeem Tosin Amore may cause some amusement in his bride’s veil, but also a moment of shock when he strikes the boisterous Petruchio (Martina Laird) during their first explosive meeting.

It isn’t just gender-swap casting which is being portrayed here: Petruchio, Baptista, Tranio, Hortensio, Gremio and Biondello become women, and so the balance of power shifts in that they inherit fortunes from their mothers and take the lead in romantic relationships, engaging in physical and cultural behaviours quite unthinkable in a usual 16th century society.

In contrast, Katharina and Bianca become men, in high heels, corsets, and in Bianca’s case, with a mouth smudged in lipstick.  They are made submissive and powerless while the strong and powerful female characters roister, make plans for their future, and wager on their obedience, while they stand quietly by.

Where the switch from male to female worked well in the other characters, I felt that the weakness of this production was in the depiction of the sons who were sought out as husbands.  It was an interesting idea on the surface but in Bianca’s case in particular, the characteristics which made the young girl endearing in Shakespeare’s original simply made ‘him’ tiresome here, and unworthy of so many suitors.

The staging is interesting – this is a very small theatre space, using the most perfunctory of set dressing, but a sense of place, time and travel was very well done.  The programme mentions help from a number of well-known names to bring this production to fruition, and it is clearly money well-spent.

This is a clever and in some way subversive show which turns some ideas of what is one of the Bard’s most problematic plays on its head, especially in the famous speech of Kate’s near the end, in which ‘he’ speaks of offering his hand under his wife’s foot to give her ease.  I found this touching, where usually the speech can cause a modern audience to cringe because of the very gender politics this festival seeks in part to address.

The diversity in terms of ethnicity is also on display here, with Trinidadian Laird in the pivotal leading role, surrounded by Nigerian Karlina Grace-Paseda (Baptista, whose reactions in the ‘Kate is sweet’ scene were delightful), and other actors of colour, including the vibrant Kayla Meikle as Tranio.

Director Rae McKen has created an excellent production of an enduring classic in which the company’s stated belief that ‘anybody, whatever their class, background or education can create, access and enjoy theatre of the highest quality’ is definitely vindicated.

Other standouts in the cast include a Gremio from Brigid Lohrey who goes from the waspish old man of the original to a rather bitchy and scene-stealing mature lady, and Lorenzo Martelli’s grumbling Gromio (we will forgive him for showering us with water at one point, which gives a whole new meaning to integration of stage and audience).

Laird’s Petruchio is a delight and worth admission in itself, while Tosin Amore is an excellent Kate, whether shaking in rage at the audacity of a mother seeking to rule his future life, to his eventual placidity as part of a loving couple.

A solid company, a literate reimagining of a source product, and a good fringe venue make this a highly recommended outing.  Book until 1 May at https://artstheatrewestend.co.uk/whats-on/the-taming-of-the-shrew/.


The Father (Richmond Theatre)

Florian Zeller’s emotional and difficult play, translated into English by Christopher Hampton, had its UK premiere in October 2014 at the Theatre Royal Bath.

father

Since then it has been to London on three occasions, and in all its versions Kenneth Cranham has been the cornerstone of the cast as André, the eighty-year old whose life starts to fracture because of the Alzheimer’s which causes his memory to fail.  As he states himself at the devastating close of this 85 minute play, he is losing all his leaves.  His is a towering masterclass in acting, destructive, playful, irritable, confused, and ultimately vulnerable and locked in his own collapsing universe.

Amanda Drew plays his daughter Anne, who may or may not be divorced, moving to London, living in her father’s flat, taking him into her own flat, or finding carers to help her cope with an increasingly difficult existence. It’s a nuanced performance

Rebecca Charles, who has been with the play since the start as well, appears as Anne, as a carer, as a nurse, as a face André clearly remembers, but from where?  And Jade Williams remains as a sympathetic Laura, a young lady who jokes with a mischevious André in a moment of lucidity (although claiming he was once a tap dancer), but who also has a second where she cracks at a revelation about the unseen daughter, Elise (‘the one I love’, says André, in the presence of the long-suffering Anne).

Daniel Flynn and Brian Doherty round out the cast as men who may or may not be Anne’s husband Pierre or her boyfriend Antoine, or is it Pierre?   They present an unsympathetic side of observers outside the immediate space, although whether simply frustrated or openly hostile is not clear.

I went to this with my husband, who was himself a carer for a parent with dementia.  This play stirred some deep-seated memories, and he found it a disturbing and upsetting experience and said afterwards he would have walked out of the play had he felt able to do so.  This is not a reflection on the quality of the production, just on how it made him feel on a personal level.

For myself, with experience of a grandparent who was eventually put in a home when she could no longer look after herself or process her short-term memories, and with a parent who is increasingly frail and elderly, I found that many aspects of the play rang true and that the ultimate and inevitable conculsion was heartbreaking.  It upset me for quite a while afterwards, which is a reflection on the quality of the cast and the writing, and the ability of both to reach across to engage and move an audience.

The sound and staging design uses the repetition and sticking of a musical coda to represent the mind of the central character, as indeed does the play itself, with scenes repeating with different focus, sometimes different actors playing the roles, and other interesting flourishes.  Furniture disappears between scenes – indicating the loss of areas of the brain which happens during Alzheimer’s, perhaps, as well as highlighting the sense of confusion.

One of the reviews of this play called The Father ‘immersive theatre’, and I see what they mean.  It should – and in our experience did – make an audience think and reflect, and to linger for longer than the short running time.  I think it achieves both the aim and the definition.

 


Rolling Stones: Exhibitionism (Saatchi Gallery)

Londres-Rolling-Stones

The whole of the Sloane Square Saatchi Gallery has been given over to this major exhibition of one of the UK’s most enduring bands, The Rolling Stones.  Even the area outside the gallery on the King’s Road is home to a group of ceramic tongue logos for the six month duration of this hot ticket.

stones

Stones’ fans will know the basics about how the band was formed (although here the focus is on Mick and Keith’s childhood friendship, rather than Brian Jones and his advert for band members), and how they grew from Edith Grove flatmates to billionaire corporate businessmen over a period of fifty years.

Even casual observers will know the iconic logo, the album covers, and the songs which, for their first twenty years at least, were part of the regular musical tapestry we all grew up with.  It’s no surprise that the final showpiece in this exhibition is a performance of ‘Satisfaction’ from Hyde Park in 2013, rendered into ‘Real 3-D’.  We pass from a mock-up of the backstage area through to a darkened room where, with the help of strobe lights, we feel kind of part of the show itself, with a strutting Jagger, a wrinkled Keef, and a crowd bordering on hysteria.

By this time we’ve watched a video wall retrospective of concerts, news items, interviews, press footage, and more; seen guitars and stage costumes up close; experienced recreations of that first filthy flat with its death-trap cooker, mouldy wallpaper, and half-eaten tinned goods; played producer with a mix-desk mock-up; seen a set of artworks which became iconic album covers, and models of sets such as the Lotus Flower and the Bridges of Babylon (a laconic quote on the wall states this cost a cool £1million); and squinted at documents such as Keith Richards’ surprisingly articulate diary, that first contract signed by Brian Jones as group founder, and handwritten lyrics by Jagger.

The sense one gets is of a slick, corporate machine with no personal insight whatever.  This is a money-making enterprise which long ago moved away from ‘six boys playing the blues’.  The exhibition has more of Mick and Keef than anyone else, although Brian is there if you look for him (there are clothes of his, and he is in photos, and notably looking spaced out and bored in the clips from Godard’s ‘Sympathy for the Devil’).  Bill and Charlie are there, but they were the quiet ones, and it shows, although interestingly early fan club guff on the band claims Wyman was born in 1941, when it fact it was 1936.

Collaborators get their own small gallery, too, although the story around Ian Stewart’s demotion from full band member to road manager and session pianist is not fully explored (he was inducted with the rest of them to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame).  Was he really deemed too square, or too old (he was younger than Bill)?  I would have liked to have seen more about how Brian Jones’ vision of the band gave way to Mick Jagger’s, and the story around how the rebellious young men got to the point that the souvenir book which accompanies ‘Exhibitionism’ has an insert which is a letter from the corporate sponsor, DHL.

There’s also little on the women who were alongside the Stones.  Marianne Faithfull and Mick’s wedding to Bianca is on the video wall, and Anita Pallenberg is namechecked in the costume section alongside two of L’Wren Scott’s creations, but the women you might go away remembering the most are the groupie who cavorts naked in the clips shown from the film ‘Cocksucker Blues’, and the lady whose full frontal inspired an album sleeve.

Video and film get relatively short shrift: promos get a confused compilation and the concert films and documentaries get a hagiography from uber-fan Martin Scorsese, who caught them himself in his own ‘Shine A Light’ (2008).  The Stones are two things, when it comes down to it, a slicky protected image (no photos allowed throughout the exhibition) and a vibrant live presence, although this has both faded and tipped into caricature over the years.

 


Sunset Boulevard (ENO Coliseum)

sunsetprog

The posters proclaim ‘The theatrical event of 2016’ and indeed, bringing Glenn Close across for her London stage debut more than twenty years after she played the role of Norma Desmond on Broadway is quite a coup.

This is one of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s best scores, based on the superb Billy Wilder film which starred Gloria Swanson as Norma and William Holden as Joe, narrating the film opener as a corpse face down in a swimming pool.  This production takes its own opener from that, with a dummy which is highlighted in what is usually the orchestra pit in cool blue light, and then hoisted to hang prone above proceedings for the whole show.

joesunset

Joe Gillis (Michael Xavier) is a studio hack, a writer who hasn’t had that much success but who knows a lot of young and hungry performers and creatives who litter Tinseltown, waiting for their big breaks.  Early on his script pitch is knocked back by Betty Shaffer (Siobhan Dillon), a twenty-two year old idealist who grew up on studio lots, and so it is that trying to escape from loan sharks, he drives his car into the vast palazzo of fading star Norma Desmond, Cecil B De Mille’s ‘young fellow’ (the name De Mille in fact gave Swanson in their days of collaboration).

Glenn Close’s Norma starts as big as she is, the star who may not always hit the notes but can certainly put across the key numbers, and her ‘With One Look’ rightly gets the first huge audience response of the night.  Later, when we know Norma better, and when we have seen how she has manipulated Joe into enjoying both her and her life of luxury, she is both luminous and delicate in ‘As If We Never Said Goodbye’, on the Paramount lot where the gateman and the lighting tech remember her, but the studio runner estimates she ‘is about a hundred years old’.

Xavier may be a little too chiseled, and although his Speedo appearance in Act 2 gives a bit of comedy, it is out of place for the period.  I enjoyed his singing, but the gold standard for this part, for me, remains John Barrowman who was close to perfect in his fatalistic attitude to the only way he can survive in the fake world of Hollywood.  Norma Desmond exists in a false sense of reality, kept there by her devoted servant (and ex-husband) Max (Fred Johanson, who I saw years ago when he played Judas in ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’).

Max’s solo song of obsession, ‘The Greatest Star of All’, is a big ask for any singer, with its large range and soaring line endings, and if Johanson didn’t quite nail the ‘fade’ line, it didn’t matter.  His acting, always in the background, observing, and, in this production, perhaps calling up the ghost of Young Norma from the past (she appears, touchingly, when Norma’s ‘Joan of Arc’ film is screened, and at the New Year’s Eve ball).  For him, his job is to keep the young girl he once knew alive, and happy.

Semi-staged as this production is, the orchestra (the ENO’s own) are centre stage, with metal staircases and walkways which double as different locations as we progress through the tale.  There’s a sofa for Norma to lounge on, a car for Max to drive on to the lot, and a bar for the bright young things to celebrate life in.   There’s also the love story which blossoms between Joe and Betty (they have their big duet ‘Too Much In Love To Care’, but they are within the cardboard lot and frontages, and we know that Norma is unbalanced, tragic, and jealous, and that their young love is doomed.

Joe said it himself in the title number which opens Act 2: “You think I’ve sold out?  Dead right I’ve sold out”.  And so, like half-forgotten director William Desmond Taylor, he winds up shot in the back and in a watery tomb, while a distraught Norma gets ready for her close-up and her devoted Max calls the invisible cameras to ‘action’ one last time.

Is this production worth your time?  Absolutely yes.  This musical demands a ‘Star’ and La Close is very much it.  But there are many other pleasures to enjoy as well in this excellent revival.


Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds (Dominion Theatre)

You may be familiar with the 1978 album which brought the progressive rock bombast to the words of HG Wells to tell the story of the journalist George Herbert’s encounter with invading martians threatening the Earth.

To give it its full title, ‘Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of War of the Worlds’ has had several years touring arenas, first with a kind-of hologram presentation of an actor impersonating Richard Burton and mouthing his narration, and more recently, with screen presence of Liam Neeson, allowing additional segments of text to be included and the plot, such as it is, to be developed further.

Don’t expect a full musical presentation here.  What you do get is Jeff Wayne on stage with an all-female string ensemble and a rock band led by Chris Spedding on bass, driving through the familiar instrumental backing and synth wailing you’ll remember from that album.  You’ll get Neeson’s narration, sometimes as video inserts on cloth backdrops, sometimes as full holograms.

The on-stage cast includes Michael Praed (if you’re a certain age, you will remember him as Robin of Sherwood) as the journalist, singing ‘The Eve of the War’ and ‘Forever Autumn’, the musical’s two big numbers.  You have David Essex, there for nostalgia’s sake as he was the original recording’s Artilleryman, voice not quite there anymore but appearing as the ‘Voice of Humanity’ with Chris Thompson’s shoes to fill in the Thunder Child number.

The Artilleryman in this production is Daniel Bedingfield, but he was off the afternoon we saw this and we enjoyed understudy Simon Shorten’s performance instead, especially in the staging of a rather Village People-ish ‘Brave New World’, with a troupe of lads and lasses stomping around with shovels and rhythmic steps.  There are leading ladies, too, with Madalena Alberto as Carrie (a much extended role from the original), and Sugababe Heidi Range in Julie Covington’s old role as the Parson’s wife, Beth.

And then there’s Jimmy Nail, as the Parson, and he overacts like crazy whole trying to sing the role the way the late lamented Phil Lynott did back then.  The singing is OK, but he needs to tone down his portrayal, especially in one of the two new superfluous songs, ‘Life Begins Again’, which takes a musical coda from the original recording and develops it into a bloated number which works about as well as the intrusion of a group of candle-holding children signalling to the alien craft in Act One.

There is a bit of CGI, and a real cylinder and Martian pod, and a bit of artfully choreographed red weed, and, of course, autumn leaves.  There are tongues of fire which shoot up as fireballs at alarming close quarters to the cast, and a bit too much smoke spilling over the edge of the stage.

But you can’t fault this on spectacle, and you can’t fault Wayne on his rockingly good creation.


a-ha (o2 Arena, North Greenwich)

Just over thirty years ago a trio of Norwegians hit the charts with a synth-pop tune with a quirky and clever video which was shown a lot on MTV: the song was ‘Take On Me’ and they were a-ha, Morten, Mags and Pal.

Fast-forward to 2016 and they are back together again following their retirement in 2010 as a band, and in their video projections and tightly professional set they are still highly entertaining.  Hits and familiar songs (‘Crying in the Rain’, ‘The Sun Always Shines on TV’, ‘The Living Daylights’, ‘Cry Wolf’, ‘Hunting High and Low’) are mixed with the new (‘Cast in Steel’) and some solo efforts (‘Velvet’, ‘Lifelines’).

aha1

Morten’s voice is still reaching the high notes, and if he is still aloof and leaving the interaction with the crowd to Magne, then that’s OK.  The set is short – less than 100 minutes – but is crowd-pleasing, and even veers into the ‘getting the arena to sing’ and ‘getting the arena to wave their phones’ territory.

An enjoyable evening.

 


Hidden London: Charing Cross – access all areas

There’s something oddly interesting about disused, abandoned, or dormant spaces on the London Underground.  There are several stations which are completely closed and which survive in various states of repair, but Charing Cross is of course a working station still, home to the Northern and Bakerloo lines, and, until 1999, to the aborted final section of the original Jubilee line (formerly Fleet).

charingcross4

Where the line now goes from Green Park on towards Waterloo it once terminated here, and the station itself came about from a combination of the old Trafalgar Square (Bakerloo) and Strand (Northern) stations.  (Strand, you may recall, was the original name of the station which became Aldwych, which was itself closed in 1994).

charingcross1

This tour takes in the former Jubilee platforms (with the fake adverts set up for filming, and the lighting and decorating experiments), including the escalator where Daniel Craig slid down for Skyfall.  We also visit the ventilation tower (which you can see from the outside, on Craven Street), and the construction tunnel where the spoil from the creation of the Jubilee extension was taken away by narrow gauge rail under Trafalgar Square.

charingcross2

The guides are enthusiastic and knowledgeable, making even the wearing of hard hats or the passing through louvre doors interesting.  The world behind closed doors, and above working platforms, is there to be explored.  Highly recommended.

charingcross3


Beautiful: The Carole King Musical (Aldwych Theatre)

The pop music written by teenagers Carole King and Gerry Goffin contribute heavily to the great American songbook as it applies to number 1 hit records, and here we are treated to a parade of them, alongside songs by another pair of talented Brill Building songwriters, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil.

A cynic might question the prominence of such songs as ‘On Broadway’, ‘You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling’ and ‘We’ve Gotta Get Out of This Place’ when they have nothing strictly to do with King, but in shaping the story of her rise to fame from humble Jewish beginnings (with Diane Keen playing the archetypal ambitious Momma) through to bubblegum songwriting, difficult marriage, and eventual breakthrough as a solo performer, this show delivers.

We first meet ‘Carole’ on the stage of Carnegie Hall, where she is about to perform her Tapestry album.  On the night we saw the show, understudy Joanna Woodward was playing the lead, and despite a dodgy wig or two, she is very good indeed at both putting across the songs and the situations in which the songwriter finds herself.  Her lack of piano playing ability is well disguised (there’s a small but hardworking band in the pit to drive things along), and her delivery of ‘You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman’, to pick just one, is excellent.

The ensemble don’t disappoint either: Alan Morrissey as Goffin, weak with women but talented with words; tough cookie with the soft centre, Cynthia, played by Lorna Want; hypocondriac Barry, played by Ian McIntosh; and on the night we were there, understudy David O’Mahony as Don Kirshner.  Gavin Alex is an hilarious Neil Sedaka, and a powerfully voiced Bobby Hatfield (not Bill Medley, as the programme claims).  Matt Nalton has fun in a variety of roles, and ever-extending hair.  And The Drifters (as portrayed by Dom Hartley-Harris, Leo Ihenacho, Earl R Perkins, Jay Perry) put across the classic hits of the Rudy Lewis-led era with some style.

I love the music of this era, so could appreciate both the rough versions sung by ‘Carole and Gerry’ or ‘Cynthia and Barry’ just as much as the full versions depicting The Sherelles, The Chiffons (with the fictional Janelle on lead vocals).  There are inaccuracies here, from the idea that Carole’s first song sale at sixteen was ‘It Might As Well Rain Until September’, to Goffin’s affairs with ‘Janelle’ and ‘Marilyn’, to the very idea that it is so easy to write a song that it is done in one take (just as it was done in the Hollywood films about classical composers).

That being said, this is a very good show which manages to be both fun and an emotional powerhouse, with moments which will make you smile and others which might start a lump in the throat (the aforementioned ‘Natural Woman’).

 


Cyrano de Bergerac (Southwark Playhouse)

Coming to the end of its run in this charmingly quirky fringe theatre, an all-female version of the classic Edmond Rostand play (adapted by Glyn Maxwell) is not without interest.

What makes it special is the casting of that little powerhouse, Kathryn Hunter, in the title role.  I’ve seen her play Lear before, and Mother Courage, and she never disappoints, her tiny frame bristling with physicality, and her quavering voice pulsating with poetry.  She is worth the entry price alone – although I also enjoyed the quiet bravado of Ellie Kendrick as Christian, and Tamzin Griffin is a swashbuckling Duc de Guiche, while Sabrina Bartlett is sweet as Roxanne.

While some of the fight scenes lacked bite (the hundred men Cyrano dispatches in Act One), the quieter scenes are quite special – that balcony scene, where Cyrano, eyes full of love, feeds Christian lines which speak directly to his cousin, who only sees him as a relation with bravado; the end sequence, where Roxanne clocks that the letter writer was not the pretty boy she has mourned for years.

The scene where Cyrano goads the Duc about finding the words to describe his comically large nose, however, worked better with the Anthony Burgess translation in the 1990 film.  Maxwell’s version lacks that finesse, and, to quote Cyrano himself, panache.


Mr Axelford’s Angel, 1974 – ★★★★½

This is an absolutely adorable comic play in which Michael Bryant’s stuffy executive Boris Axelford gains a new and clumsy secretary called Angel Roper, played by a delightfully dotty Julia Foster.

There are some real laugh out loud moments in this play, including the revelation that Angel’s mother died ‘tripping over a bus’. There’s good value from Lally Bowers as the office manager and Bryant and Foster are a lovely mismatched pair, who enter into an unlikely romance simply because she is so sweet and he is so taken aback.

I won’t give away any more. This is a play which is a real pleasure to watch (and it has other hidden pleasures, such as a very young Donald Sumpter in a small role years before he was a corrupt policeman in ‘Our Friends in the North’), and one I highly recommend.

Vía Letterboxd – loureviews


Flickers, 1980 – ★★★

Bob Hoskins and Frances de La Tour join forces as Arnold Cole and his new wife Maud in the early days of moving pictures, aka the ‘flickers’.

With a motley crew of actors, directors, and crew (including a short and ageing comedian, a singing family with an permanently juvenile daughter, a foppish director, and a love-struck cameraman) they attempt to make money in a business they don’t quite understand.

A chirpy comedy written by Roy Clarke, this sits on the ability of its well-known lead performers and those further down the cast (Philip Madoc and Sheila Reid, Granville Saxton (the director), Jim Hooper (the cameraman), Dickie Arnold (the comedian), Patrick Gordon, Maxine Audley, and Teresa Codling (the juvenile)) to give a flavour of what it might have been like to work on the lowest rung of Poverty Row.

Those who like the earliest films, and who like a bit of gentle comedy without too much conflict, might want to give this a go.

Vía Letterboxd – loureviews


Lillie, 1978 – ★★★★

The sparkling story of Lillie Langtry, who rose from an innocent in Jersey to become the favourite mistress of the Prince of Wales and, in time, a feted actress on both sides of the Atlantic.

Francesca Annis’s Lillie is perfectly judged, and presents a more rounded character than other actresses might have given. As her put-upon husband Edward, Anton Rodgers is also very good, as a fish out of water who declines from yacht-racing champion through to drunken cuckold. And with Denis Lill as Bertie, the Prince, and Peter Egan as Oscar Wilde, this benefits from excellent supporting players too.

These days period dramas are done and dusted in a few short parts, but here we have ten hours of solid drama which takes Lillie from the age of fifteen in St Helier through to her time as a grandmother in the teens. Beautifully written, light in tone, and extremely enjoyable.

Vía Letterboxd – loureviews


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TESSA BARRIE'S LOST BLOGS

Expect the Unexpected (or you won't find it)

[insert title here]

just one of many things i'm still trying to figure out

buchanblog

A trip down Memorex lane

The Phantom Frame

Information about the creative works of Gareth Preston

WestEnd_blog

Reviewing the quality of the stagey experience. What makes a theatre experience? People, show and music.

Archive Television Musings

"To waste one second of one's life is a betrayal of one's self! I wonder what's on television?"

The Actor's Advocate

In defence of acting

Ritchie Blackmores Rainbow

Ritchie Blackmore's Rainbow - the ultimate resource

So much content, so little time...

Just another review blog

Hollywood Essays ♛

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Spectacular Attractions

film in all its forms

Mingled Yarns

Anyone who says they have only one life to live must not know how to read a book

The Play's The Thing

Thoughts on theatre, scribblings on the stage, commentaries on culture.

Travalanche

Being a web log for the observations of actor, author, cartoonist, comedian, critic, director, humorist, journalist, master of ceremonies, performance artist, playwright, producer, publicist, public speaker, songwriter, and variety booker Trav S.D.

Jordan and Eddie (The Movie Guys)

Australia based film fans - Like Margaret and David, only so much younger

VHiStory

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How do you eat an elephant?

Beating depression bite by bite

Constructivist

reflections on my training offering

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