Henry V (RSC at the Barbican)

The final play in the Shakespeare Tetralogy which has now evolved into ‘King and Country’, so from next month, if you missed the first three plays, ‘Richard II’ and ‘Henry IV parts 1 and 2’, go forth to the Barbican and make good that omission.

This is, surprisingly, the very first ‘Henry V’ I have seen on stage.  Of course I have seen the Olivier and Branagh films, with their rousing St Crispin’s Day speeches, and the BBC Shakespeare and Hollow Crown versions, but have missed out on real life versions.  So even if I hadn’t seen the preceding plays, I would have hot-footed it to this one.

Alex Hassell returns as the king he became at the end of ‘Henry IV part 2’, and he is still not quite the regal or commanding monarch: he had doubts, he shows some emotion at the losses of battle and the tough decisions he has to make to maintain army discipline.  It is an excellent performance, and I believed in him completely.

Also good in this cast are Oliver Ford Davies as a beautifully enunciated Chorus in a cardigan, the ever-reliable Jim Hooper in two roles and two beards (an early scene as the Polonius-like Archbishop of Canterbury pulls the humour out of an Act One scene), a delicate Jane Lapotaire as the Queen of France, and Joshua Richards in a brace of roles as boozy Bardolph and fiery Welshman Fluellen.  The set is rather good, too, with golden beads hanging in chains at each side of the stage, clouds, rain, and, as the Chorus asks us, a set of imaginary horses.

Gregory Doran’s productions often put humour ahead of the more serious aspects of the play, and here there was a bit of what can only be called ‘audience participation’ in Henry’s wooing scene with Katherine (Jennifer Kirby, who runs with both her scenes, playing broken English for fun) which didn’t quite work.  However, post-battle, there was a moment when the balconies and stage filled with mournful singing for the dead which was very moving.

I should also mention Sarah Parks’ Mistress Quickly, and her account of the last moments of the life of the (unseen) Sir John Falstaff, who died ‘babbling o’ green fields’, and Simon Yadoo’s impenetrable Scottish soldier, who offered comic relief in the calm before the storm of Agincourt.

Play for Today: The Slab Boys, 1979

Play for Today: The Slab Boys, directed by Bob Hird.  Starring Gerard Kelly, Billy McColl, Joseph McKenna and Tom Watson.  75 minutes.  1979.

An excellent ‘Play for Today’, this stage to screen adaptation by John Byrne, the first of an eventual trilogy, shows life in a Scottish carpet factory from the floor where the ‘slab boys’ mix the colours for the designers: three lads work there from the dim clown to the sparky fireball and the sarcastic quiff wearer.

When a posh lad comes into the firm straight from ‘uni’ and starts earning more in a week than all three slab boys together they get a glimpse of what could be, and what might be, for one of them. With realistic regional dialogue and some sense of urban working class life, there are watchable and strong performances from Billy McColl (d. 2014), Gerard Kelly (d. 2010), and Joseph McKenna (not seen on screen since Absolute Beginners).

The boss is one Willie Curry, sardonic and nostalgic for his desert war service. Tom Watson reprised the role nearly two decades later for the glossy feature film, but I find his performance here is more spot on.

Finally, the new lad Alan, still in his blazer and polite to a fault, is played by Mark Windsor, who has also disappeared from the screen after a brief flourish in the late 70s/early 80s. I didn’t find him that convincing but you need this kind of character for contrast and conflict, I suppose.

Very watchable and although it betrays its stage origins now and then, it translates well to the screen.

Play for Today: The Muscle Market, 1981

Play for Today: The Muscle Market, directed by Jim Goddard.  Starring Pete Postlethwaite, Alison Steadman, Paul Jesson and Barry McCarthy.  75 minutes.  1981.

A very good Play for Today from the pen of Alan Bleasdale, this provides the missing link between the play ‘The Black Stuff’ which introduced Yosser and the gang, and the subsequent TV serial, ‘Boys from the Blackstuff’. It’s a mystery why this particular play is missing from the DVD release.

This is the story of contractor Danny Duggan (Pete Postlethwaite), who is involved in bad company with some violent and dodgy characters, and the dark situation he finds himself in with books which don’t add up and numerous debts.

It might sound bleak, but there is a lot of black comedy here and a real sense of realism from a master writer. When he has to go serious, he certainly does, that’s the cleverness of the writing.

Strong support from Alison Steadman as Duggan’s secretary, and Terence Rigby as the amiable yet menacing Mr Big owed a lot of cash.

Play for Today: Home, 1972

Play for Today: Home, directed by Lindsay Anderson.  Starring Ralph Richardson, John Gielgud, Mona Washbourne, Dandy Nichols and Warren Clarke.  86 minutes.  1972.

This is a marvellous Play for Today featuring two theatrical giants, Ralph Richardson and John Gielgud, as two residents of a rest home: much of the play is the two of them, talking, which may not sound much but which is absolute gold.

David Storey’s play flourishes in the hands of director Lindsay Anderson (they would collaborate a number of times), and the joy of this piece is just watching two masters at work, while the audience has to work out just how nutty they are and how they interact with each other.

Mona Washbourne and Dandy Nichols have lesser roles, but are both good, while Warren Clarke has an early role as a simple-minded clot who is simply tolerated by the elderly pair of chatterers. The dialogue is very naturalistic, the set is purely theatrical, but the effect is one of being an audience member on the very front row.

Play for Today: Dinner at the Sporting Club, 1978

Play for Today: Dinner at the Sporting Club, directed by Brian Gibson.  Starring John Thaw, Billy McColl, Maureen Lipman, Jonathan Lynn, and Ken Campbell.  63 minutes.  1978.

“I married a ladies raincoat manufacturer, not a sportsman”.

Maureen Lipman and Jonathan Lynn as a bored and sniping couple are on the sidelines of this sharp and compact play featuring John Thaw as a boxing promoter and Billy McColl as his prizefighter, acceptable to the sporting club fraternity because he isn’t ‘chocolate’.

This is a sparkling character study in many ways – here’s the marvellous Ken Campbell propping up the bar in suit and bow tie, wondering whether to take a flutter on the boy.

“They get enough money for a down-payment on a bungalow out in Ongar and they’re satisfied”.

An on-the-surface romantic view of the boxing ring soon evaporates into the loss of hope in seedy surroundings as McColl’s fighter fails to reach his potential.

Gloriously un-PC, too, with lines like ‘He doesn’t drink, funny being a Mick’. Thaw and McColl are good, and this has a definite whiff of realism with the blood, sweat and tears of the fighting ring.

Wuthering Heights, 1962 TV version **1/2

Wuthering Heights, directed by Rudolph Cartier. Keith Michell as Heathcliff, Claire Bloom as Cathy, Patrick Troughton as Hindley, David McCallum as Edgar, Jean Anderson as Ellen,  and June Thorburn as Isabella.  95 minutes.  1962.

An early TV attempt to do justice to the classic novel in 95 minutes doesn’t quite come off, although it has the correct Gothic chills by the end.

Claire Bloom is a radiant, free-spirited Cathy, although her accent is a bit wayward. As her Heathcliff, Keith Michell smoulders with rage, passion and arrogance, but he would improve in acting range over the next decade.

Rounding out the cast, David McCallum as Edgar, June Thorburn as Isabella (her decline from flighty and flirty to desperate is sad to see), Jean Anderson as Ellen, Patrick Troughton as Hindley, and Ronald Howard as Mr Lockwood.

This Rudolph Cartier production was showing as part of the BFI Gothic season and can now be found in the BFI Mediatheque.

Wuthering Heights, 1992 film ***1/2

Wuthering Heights, directed by Peter Kosminsky.  Ralph Fiennes as Heathcliff, Juliette Binoche as Cathy/Catherine, Jeremy Northam as Hindley, Robert Demeger as Joseph, Jason Riddington as Hareton, Simon Shepherd as Edgar, Janet McTeer as Ellen, Jonathan Firth as Linton and Sophie Ward as Isabella.  105 minutes.  1992.

I’m a Brontë nut, and ‘Wuthering Heights’ was my Gothic go-to book as a teenager. However when this film came out I was nineteen, it had several poor reviews, and I dodged it rather than going to have a look.

Therefore I didn’t see this film until about four years ago for the first time, and was pleasantly surprised to find that it is not at all bad – Juliette Binoche is unquestionably French, but she does portray the sense of a Cathy who veers between being lost in the emotions of her strong connection to Heathcliff, as rough and as wild as he is, and her need to become a respectable woman of means, as Mrs Edgar Linton.

Ralph Fiennes might not be an obvious choice as Heathcliff, but he has the romanticism of a Gothic hero, and if there is a slight misstep in the casting of Sophie Ward as Isabella (not the right type of woman for the role), it is balanced by Janet McTeer’s Nellie Dean, Jeremy Northam’s pathetic Hindley, and Simon Shepherd’s snooty Edgar. Kudos too for Jonathan Firth (brother of Colin) for his portrayal of the sickly Linton Heathcliff, child of a destructive and loveless union.

You get a sense of the Linton parents, too, in the persons of Simon Ward (father of Sophie, so perhaps a bit of stunt casting) and Jennifer Daniel. They are refined enough to see beyond Cathy’s dirty face to her family’s reputation and breeding, but too inward looking to accept the bond she has with her friend.

Wuthering Heights, 1998 TV version ****

Wuthering Heights, directed by David Skynner.  Robert Cavanagh as Heathcliff, Orla Brady as Cathy, Ian Shaw as Hindley, Peter Davison as Joseph, Matthew Macfadyen as Hareton, Sarah Smart as Catherine, Crispin Bonham-Carter as Edgar, Polly Hemingway as Nelly and Flora Montgomery as Isabella.  113 minutes.  1998.

This adaptation of Emily Bronte’s classic Gothic romance of the Yorkshire moors has something of an Irish feel (thanks to the casting of Orla Brady as a spunky Catherine, and Robert Cavanah as a brooding and menacing Heathcliff).

This Heathcliff is not the romantic hero we saw in the Olivier-Oberon version in the 1930s; he’s bitter, tiresome, grotesque, unsympathetic, and yet his great love for Cathy shines through.

Matching the novel pretty much chapter for chapter, this version does more with the last third of the book that most other attempts have – the understanding between Hareton and Catherine comes through much more strongly.

It also muddies the waters slightly with respect to the conflict between Heathcliff and Hindley – although we can see why Heathcliff acts as he does, this version doesn’t necessarily excuse him.

This Wuthering Heights is uncompromising, dark, and violent. This possibly contributed to its fate at the time, as the acting is largely fine (including Ken Kitson as Mr Earnshaw, Ian Shaw as Hindley, Matthew MacFadyen as Hareton, Tom Georgeson as Joseph, and Polly Hemingway as Nellie). It represents a decent attempt to get Emily Bronte’s vision on film – it doesn’t work, but it comes very close.

Poems archived from Stride Magazine

The original URL http://www.stridemagazine.co.uk/2004/jan/colepoemshtm doesn’t really exist any more, so archiving the poems here.  They were published in January 2004. Stride editor Rupert Loydell wrote to me that he ‘didn’t really like them, but he couldn’t find a reason to reject them’. LOL.

This one is about the Arthurian legend and the Lady in the Lake.


It is hard work being in this lake,
my clothes always wet and shrinking,
feet and fingers wrinkled like raw steaks.

He comes along, all gold coronets and smooth words,
to swim in my waters and grab a hold of my sword,
takes his trophies from the reedy banks to throw over me.

And I must hoist Excalibur from the waters,
breathe my own brand of magic on the waves,
let my lovely hair stream in the sun just once.

At the river bottom I lie in his arms,
he promises me a world of caves and ice,
I bubble the spawn of freedom over him.

Come, Arthur, claim the prize that is yours,
meet my eyes with a bewildered gaze,
metal clad warrior, I blow kisses down your neck.


This is from a set of film poems, some of which developed into a larger project.


The first time he travelled, the streets were wider,
and more people came to drink the water,
stroll on the pavements, look at the dark river;

the play was all about dying, and romance,
and obsession. A step on from those wartime
steel cathedrals young Dirk noted down –

he’s grown up too far now with nothing
left but the chatter of the tourist trade
and the heart that was Venice, close to tears.
When he visited cities, it was always to look
up at their skylines, the buildings built before
any of us thought of planes or trains:

he rides the gondolas now in the dead of night,
alone under the twisted ghost of the moonshine.
He wouldn’t remember his name if you called it

so let him stay there with the boys reclining
and playing, those detached notes of music
advancing. He knows where he’ll be happy.

This is another film related piece.


You certainly were one of a kind, a fantastic island of sounds
and visions, a canopy of words, charisma, anger, attraction.

Let me view you over and over on my private movie screen,
revel in your fabulous love of life, your damn-it-all wit.

I watch all the ships rage in their wind-strewn waters,
they call to the earth to unleash its own special spirit.

Not too long ago you waded here, back to nature,
a river god returning to his murky covered throne.

Gone now. And the world rocks silently and surely
in a sparking firecracker of memories of you.

And so is this one.


There was a thin glow of white covering each of our tracks;
we wondered why the sunset bled away into the blue-white sky,
and the horses raged across the rooftops –

we closed our eyes tight and remembered the clatter of the chariots,
the vocal confirmations of the bleak summer breeze across the roses
in the garden, the tight perfume of the herbs under the canopy.

Who won?
I stop to refill the salt shaker, stoop to kill the weeds
again, listen to the cool clack of the magpies.

She kneels down
with urgency, her anxious breath chilling my face.
I shake my head.
We watch the last light creep over the horizon.

This one was written on a writers’ programme in Leeds where over a couple of days working with Rommi Smith I was inspired to write a lot of stuff which seemed to work quite well.


You were my coffee cup,
I the spoon.

we clashed as the hot
liquid scorched us.

We always matched,
a set, one and two.

I’d slosh in the sink
beside you, sometimes
getting left behind
in the dirty whoosh of water.

Your side showed
a hairline crack
I’d brush when milk
and sugar were added.

Then you held tea,
and I remained sadly behind.

Back in the cupboard you’d doze
as I raged in the drawer
above you,
in the hope I’d keep you awake.

Once I was left in you
on the drainer,
stained but content,
we snuggled together.

You were home, a shelter,
cool, sleek, and practical.

We belonged.

Randy Newman (Royal Festival Hall)

Randy Newman has been in the singer-songwriting business for close to fifty years now, and here he is at the Royal Festival, with just his piano for accompaniment, sharing in excess of thirty songs with us over two hours, ranging from his one hit, ‘Short People’, through to classics like ‘I Think It’s Going To Rain Today’, ‘Political Science’, ‘You Can Leave Your Hat On’, and my personal favourite of his songs, ‘Feels Like Home’, which closed the concert and sent us home.

Newman has quite a range of songs even if his delivery and vocalising is much the same throughout – there are love songs like ‘I Miss You’ (written for his first wife when he was with his second) and ‘She Chose Me’, more jokey numbers like ‘The World Isn’t Fair’ and ‘My Life Is Good’, serious pieces like ‘Rednecks’, and fun pieces like ‘Simon Smith and His Amazing Dancing Bear’.

There was even a bit of audience participation in ‘I’m Dead (But I Don’t Know It)’, while the song Newman claimed was his personal favourite, ‘My Country’, came across well.  Toy Story’s ‘You’ve Got a Friend In Me’ was perhaps more commercial than pieces like  ‘Where’s My Wandering Boy Tonight’ or even ‘I Love To See You Smile’, which opened the concert.

What I like about Newman is the way he can change the mood of a room from amusement at clever lyrics, to emotional engagement, to shock at more edgy and sarcastic material.  His voice may have weakened, but even in this large space it felt like an intimate occasion in which one person engaged with many in a way which transcended the venue.  Pricey it may have been, but this was a show well worth catching.

London Literature Festival: Terry Gilliam and Tom Jones

Two very different nights out last week in the company of two very different chaps, both born in 1940, at the London Literature Festival at the Southbank Centre.

‘Inside the head of Terry Gilliam’ was a conversation between the American film director, artist, and ex-Python; and Arts Editor of the BBC, Will Gompertz.  Starting with the young Gilliam’s childhood in Minneapolis and working through his start in animation, through to his breakthrough at forty years old as an international film director, this conversation – supporting the publication of ‘Gilliamesque: a pre-posthumous memoir’ – was engaging, informative, and funny.  It also included a rather beautiful montage of scenes from his feature films, and a chance for audience members to ask questions.  Sad to say, with John Hurt’s recent illness it seems that the Don Quixote film is again stalled.

‘A conversation with Tom Jones’ was a night of two halves; first an opportunity for the Welsh singing legend to talk about his life and work, with Matt Everitt from BBC Radio 6, using photographs displayed as slides on a big screen to illustrate the tale and promote his ghostwritten autobiography, ‘Over the top and back’, and then a concert in excess of an hour which opened with ‘It’s Not Unusual’ and then settled into tracks from his new album, ‘Long Lost Suitcase’, proving that the ‘Voice’ was very much present and correct.  We even got an outing of his 80s hit, ‘Kiss’, but thankfully not with the thrusting around of old.  My favourite tracks of the night were Gillian Welch’s ‘Elvis Presley Blues’, Bob Dylan’s ‘What Good Am I’, Leonard Cohen’s ‘Tower of Song’ (and I’m a big Cohen fan, but this was a good version), and John Lee Hooker’s ‘Burnin’ Hell’.

Sunset Boulevard (Geoids Musical Theatre at the Bridewell Theatre)


Amateur theatre can sometimes be hit and miss, but recently it seems that there is work going on in this sector that is close to professional standard in places.  So it is with this version of the Andrew Lloyd Webber/Don Black musical, the first amateur production of ‘Sunset Boulevard’ to be staged, and with the announcement of the ENO version coming next Spring, one may view this version as an appetizer.

My husband attended with me, and he is not familiar with the show at all.  I am, both film and show are firm favourites of mine, and so we were both coming to this show with different expectations.  What struck me first was the rather odd idea of having every sequence performed as if it was a shot within a film, with cameramen, clapperboards, cuts and steps out of character.  As this is based on an iconic film, it didn’t bother me, but it was really just a way to distract the audience from stage and set changes.

As Norma Desmond, Susan Booth was terrific, especially in her second act solo ‘As If We Never Said Goodbye’ which gave me goosebumps.  She was touching in her madness and her vulnerability, too.  Patrick Harrison, as Max, was note perfect as an actor, if not quite as a singer (but his solo number is a notoriously difficult song to put across, and his interpretation was valid enough), and his loving guardianship of the woman he still saw as his teenage wife, the ‘greatest star of all’ was well-defined.

Michael Stacey’s Joe was just the right mix of self-absorption and opportunitism, and his voice was fine in both his solo number ‘Sunset Boulevard’ and in his desperate duet with Betty, ‘Too Much in Love to Care’.  Betty was played by the sparkling Nikki Davison, as an ingenue who would be spat out by the Hollywood system she didn’t quite understand.  The company, too, threw themselves into the ensemble pieces with their heart and soul, whether welcoming a New Year, offering beauty treatments or new suits to the principals, or setting the scene for a dog-eat-dog movie wonderland which had seedy edges of disappointment.

The set and staging, too, was effective, from the glow of Norma’s swimming pool in the opening scene, the iconic staircase from which she descends for her ‘close-up’, the rolled-out tiles on which Valentino once tangoed, to the car in which Joe drove from his debtors through dark and dreary streets in a filmed backdrop.

Sarah Burrell’s orchestra also deserve a nod, although at times they overpowered the singers, especially in ensemble pieces.  Overall, though, this was an excellent version of one of my favourite shows, which made me laugh, moved me, and kept me watching.  My husband also liked the show despite knowing nothing of the plot, so I would also give it a nod for newbies unfamiliar with the source material.

Last performance is on tonight.

Remembering Graham Chapman


The wildest, funniest, most bizarre of the Monty Python team left us on 4th October 1989 when he died of cancer at the age of 48.

The most talented actor in the group – he played the title role in Life of Brian and King Arthur in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Chapman was also a hedonist who overindulged in many things, notably alcohol (gin was his drink of choice) and, according to his tongue in cheek book, A Liar’s Autobiography, sex.


Openly gay, he was something of an activist, funding the fledgling publication Gay News.  He was also sharply intelligent behind the silliness: a qualified doctor and a man who, in an appearance on the Channel 4 show Opinions, railed against gender stereotyping and dealt with the issue of death in a matter of fact way.

His contribution to Python has been downplayed over the years, with writing partner John Cleese claiming he ‘carried’ Chapman: yet many of the quirks and ideas which made Python sketches special came from the quiet and contemplative pipe smoker in the corner.


His outrageous side was legendary, whether sticking a part of his anatomy into a stranger’s drink in a pub, appearing full frontal nude as Brian, or fully embracing a spoof advice page on masturbation for the team’s second book, The Brand New Monty Python Papperbok.  (This last item was said to be ‘upsetting to Gray’s fans’ when I shared on a Facebook page yesterday, which surely misses the point that this chap pushed the boundaries each and every day of his life).


An attractive man, Chapman was probably just as aware of his appeal to fans of both sexes as he was of his ability to appear outrageous (he was the Python who looked best in a dress). His enduring (but open) partnership with David Sherlock lasted more than twenty years, during which time they adopted teenage runaway John Tomiczek.

After Python his career was not that successful,  although he starred in two feature films – The Odd Job, which had previously been a vehicle for Ronnie Barker; and Yellowbeard, a sort of mad pirate saga.  His last professional appearance was in an Iron Maiden video called Can I Play With Madness.

Chapman died on the eve of Python’s 20th anniversary – a true case of ‘party pooping’.  At the memorial service his colleagues took the opportunity to be outrageous and offensive on his behalf.   Since then he has been a regular participant in their shows right up until their ‘farewell’ shows at the O2 in 2014.

He will always be my favourite of the Pythons: the one who makes me laugh, and makes me think.


Jane Eyre (National Theatre)

First presented in two parts in Bristol, this version now playing at the National Theatre has been reduced to a more manageable three and a quarter hours (including interval) in which to tell the story of Jane Eyre from birth to happy ending.  Topping and tailing the main story with the words ‘It’s a girl!’ makes this a strictly feminist reading of the novel on the surface, although the focus remains on the love story between the plain and insignificant Jane and her employer, the troubled Mr Rochester.

jane eyre

Playing Jane from childhood onwards, Madeleine Worrall is absolutely excellent, a wild haired dervish of a troubled girl whether crying out ‘unjust’ to her life, running on the spot to represent the journeys between Mrs Reed’s home and Lowood Institution, Lowood and Thornfield Hall, and climbing ladders within the set of wood and metal to show passages of place and time.  Rochester (Felix Hayes) does not overdo the bluster or sharpness of his role, instead finding a connection with his new governess and an opportunity to escape his desperate situation.

Craig Edwards has three roles – Mr Brocklehurst, Rochester’s dog Pilot, and Mason (brother to the shadowy Bertha Mason, who appears now and then in the person of Melanie Marshall’s singer who interjects ‘Mad About The Boy’ and ‘Crazy’ – the Gnarls Barkley one, not the Patsy Cline one – into proceedings), and he works hard, especially in the comic role of the faithful pet.

Other performers who deserve to be mentioned are Laura Elphinstone (Helen Burns, Adele, and a particularly sanctimonious St John Rivers), and Maggie Tierney (Mrs Reed and Mrs Fairfax), but the whole ensemble come together in a beautifully choreographed set of scenes, perfectly timed and probably testament to a long period of gestation and rehearsal.

Set pieces, too, work well in places – the cavernous grave which swallows Jane’s parents, her Uncle Reed, and Helen in quick succession as they leave her life, her Aunt Reed’s promise to bring up her baby niece as one of the family and then shaking the baby bundle with distain into the plain dress in which the young Jane is garbed, little more than a servant.

I do feel, however, that Sally Cookson’s production assumes a prior knowledge of the story that many audiences might not have, and that there are some bad decisions, including the aforementioned Bertha, who is too smooth and measured to represent a mad woman who burns, stabs and bites.  The one thing that made me cringe was Rochester’s descent from his horse in a flurry of f- words, which was unnecessary: this man is no gentleman and not worthy of Jane.  The book’s Rochester may have a certain brusqueness of tone but he would be unlikely to swear in the company of a woman; even that other Gothic hero, Heathcliff, never did that.

A Jane which perhaps fails to fully gel, could do with being cropped by around half an hour, but which nevertheless remains true to its source and its heroine, and ends up being effective and moving despite itself.

All Our Yesterdays – Blackmore’s Night (CD review)

The tenth studio album in eighteen years from the folk-rock team of Ritchie Blackmore and Candice Night (and friends) follows the now familiar formula of crowdpleasing singalongs, powerful rock-influenced instrumentals, wistful ballads, and cover versions (in this case, of Mike Oldfield’s ‘Moonlight Shadow’ and Sonny and Cher’s ‘I Got You Babe’).

It is a strategy which has served the team well in Germany and Austria in particular, where they now have their biggest following, while, ironically for a couple based in Long Island (although Blackmore is British-born) they seem to have eluded success in the United States.

For me, I have been following the now married couple since their first album in 1997, ‘Shadow of the Moon’, which represented the twenty-six year old Night’s first leading vocals in a project, after providing back up on the album and subsequent tour of Blackmore’s reformed Rainbow two years earlier.  Blackmore at that time was fifty-two, trying a new musical path away from the hard rock he had been involved in since the early 1960s (although throughout his work with Deep Purple and Rainbow there had always been hints at a softer and perhaps more romantic side than he could indulge).

Now Night is forty-four, Blackmore is seventy, and they have two young children under six, so ‘All Our Yesterdays’ would seem to be coming from a very different place to ‘Shadow’.  The opening track, the title one, though, is fairly standard for the team, Night’s vocals taking the lead into a plantive ballad which opens into ‘hey hey’ type chorus.  This is followed by a couple of instrumentals, of which I liked ‘Darker Shade of Black’ and its – maybe overproduced – soaring melodies the most.

‘Long Long Time’ has some nice musical touches, while ‘Moonlight Shadow’ is a rockier version of what was a classy ballad with Oldfield’s style of guitar playing back on its release in the early eighties.  I am not sure about the changing of the fade-out coda though.  As for ‘I Got You Babe’, Night sings this well with the accompaniment to bells and the now ubiquitous drum machine, but the fact this was written as duet makes it fail at the last, despite attempts to muddle through.

In other tracks, 2003’s ‘Where Are We Going From Here’ is given a new, revised version (something the team have a habit of doing), and it has a pleasingly rocky feel, while the standout album track for me is ‘Will o’the Wisp’ with its pounding chorus and musical vibes.  ‘The Other Side’ seems throwaway, with pipes, drums and double-tracked vocals in Mary Ford-style.  ‘Queen’s Lament’ is a typical Blackmore guitar instrumental, musically beautiful and technically accomplished, but all too short.

It seems clear with the progression of this team’s work that Candice Night is taking more and more centre stage, and she has certainly vastly improved as a singer in both vocals and confidence since she started out.  However, the last couple of albums have started to weaken a bit against their predecessors and the formula, for what it is worth, may now need a shake-up so as not to make work feel stale.

Track listing:

All Our Yesterdays
Allan Yn N Fan
Darker Shade of Black
Long Long Time
Moonlight Shadow
I Got You Babe
The Other Side
Queen’s Lament
Where Are We Going From Here
Will o’the Wisp
Earth Wind and Sky
Coming Home

Mr Foote’s Other Leg (Hampstead Theatre)


A dark dramedy at the Hampstead Theatre passed the time this afternoon, in the story of Samuel Foote, low comedian, crossdresser and media-bait.  Played with flair and fuss by Simon Russell Beale, Foote could slump into caricature but does not, mainly due to the skill of both actor and writer in making the character a rounded one, in some ways a fool but in other a figure of sympathy.

We first find Foote in a backstage elocution class with the other major characters of the play – Midlands-accented David Garrick (Joseph Millson, who catches at chances of comedy and moments of pathos with ease), Irish Peg Woffington (Dervla Kirwan, vulgar and finally pathetic), Scots Jock Hunter (Forbes Masson, who perhaps overdoes the accent), and mute Miss Chudleigh (Sophie Bleasdale).

Their coach, Charles Macklin (Colin Stinton, who reappears later as Benjamin Franklin and is good in both roles) quickly tarnishes his character by accidentally killing a fellow actor, and Foote and friends start their own company, with Jenny Galloway as their jaded tour manager and Micah Balfour as proud free-man and former Jamaican slave Frank Barber.  Foote plays grotesque distaff roles while Peg plays young britches parts or gartered tarts (and off-stage works her way through the beds of various luminaries including the eldest son of the King, Prince George, who is played by the play’s writer, Ian Kelly).

This is a strange play, one which has ribald belly laughs alongside moments of desperation, and one gut-churning scene which deals with the aftermath of a horse-riding accident which leads to Foote having his leg amputated in graphic (verbal) detail on stage.  The tensions between the comedy and the tragedy may not always work, although in pockets and scenes the mix is effective (for example, a piece of tenderness between Garrick and Peg).

Directed by Richard Eyre, it is not a typical piece you would expect from him, and some may balk at the large use of profanity throughout the play, but with a little tightening of scenes and a slightly less sluggish pace this could be an extremely successful production.

Flare Path (Richmond Theatre)

I hadn’t come across The Original Theatre Company before but I read they have been putting on shows for eight years, and I do like a bit of Rattigan, so this was a ‘must-see’ at Richmond this week: after this week it continues on tour.

Terence Rattigan’s ‘Flare Path’ was only professionally revived in 2011 after quite a while in the wilderness, and at that point it had a rather starry cast with Sienna Miller, James Purefoy, and Sheridan Smith.  This time around we have a couple of familiar faces from television – the very, very good Philip Franks (of ‘Heartbeat’ and ‘The Darling Buds of May’) as Squadron Leader ‘Gloria’ Swanson, and Leon Ockenden (Mr Selfridge’s Russian) as Hollywood idol Peter Kyle (who is fine in a part which has to go from rather unsympathetic to something different and take the audience with him).

A lesser-spotted cast often makes a fine play, and so it proves here.  I’d been familiar with some of this production from the reworked plot which appeared in the film ‘The Way to the Stars’, but much was different in the original, which largely focuses on a love triangle between Kyle, Flight Lieut Teddy Graham (played by company artistic director Alastair Whatley, whose portrayal of the flyer my audience companion referred to as ‘Tim Nice But Dim’), and Graham’s glamourpuss wife Patricia Warren, actress and secret adultress (played by Olivia Hallinan, brittle as glass).

On the fringes are Rattigan’s beautifully drawn character parts – Jonnny the Polish count (Adam Best, who I remember seeing in the film ‘Cup Cake’, impressive then as here) and his slightly common but caring wife Doris (Siobhan O’Kelly, convincingly portrayed), ‘Dusty’ Miller the gunner (Simon Darwen, a good piece of comic relief) and his laundress wife Maudie (Shvorne Marks, good in a part which could have been written for a Thora Hird type); hotel manageress Mrs Oakes (Stephanie Jacobs, rather wonderful in her disapproving bustle), and waiter Percy (James Cooney, lots of fun).

This is a fine revival, with its one set and four acts, its aerodrome with the idea of flights using light and sound design, and a beautiful script peppered with cinematic references (‘do you know Dorothy Lamour’, ‘have you met Alice Faye’) and some real knockout moments (notably a translated letter).  The character of Patricia may be overacted, but I feel that is deliberate, and Hallinan handles the contradiction well,

Three Days in the Country (National Theatre)

An afternoon at the Lyttleton, National Theatre, where we find Patrick Marber’s new version of the lengthy Turgenev play ‘A Month in the Country’, now around half the length and retitled ‘Three Days in the Country’.

This production, with a minimalist set (painted backdrop of trees etc, and red doors leading nowhere), has the accent on comedy with the best performance coming from Mark Gatiss as the doctor who is a ‘maestro of misdiagnosis’ with a dodgy back.  His proposal to a disinterested Lizaveta (Debra Gillett) is most amusing.

At this performance Amanda Drew, who plays Natayla, was indisposed, so her understudy Cassie Raine stepped in and was very good in what is perhaps the key role of the play, the wife who seeks distraction from a stale marriage to the rich Arkady (John Light) who has stopped seeing her rich qualities as his partner in life.  On the fringes is their longtime friend Rakitin (john Simm), hopelessly in love with Natayla but finding his attentions unrequited.  Simm, to me, was too over the top and lacking a sense of the tragic, which was a shame.

Natayla is in love, though, with the young tutor Belyaev (Royce Pierreson), a man who seems rather fickle as we see him flirting with the maid Katya (Cherrelle Skeete) while leading on the young Vera (Lily Sacofsky), ward to Arkady and Natayla.  Sensing a rival for the youth she craves, Natayla plots Vera’s marriage to an old neighbour, Bolshintsov (Nigel Betts) to remove the girl from her house.

Rounding out this rich cast are Lynn Farleigh and Gawn Grainger, and the whole ensemble works well together, presenting an entertaining two hours which punctuates laughs with moments of emotional pathos and Russian songs.  Marber directs as well as writes with a sure hand, and the design work of Mark Thompson and Neil Austin is well worth a mention.

Dusty (Charing Cross Theatre)


Dusty Springfield is one of my favourite singers.  Therefore a jukebox musical based on her life sounds appealing.  By the time I attended the show I was aware of the various problems which have affected proceedings; press night being postponed until over three months after opening (it is set for early September), technical issues causing performances to be cancelled and curtailed, a change of director, and tales of actors being forced to rehearse changes they will perform that very night.

Last week, it was announced that nine members of the cast will leave this show (out of sixteen – a spokesman for the show claimed there were nineteen cast members, which is worrying in itself).  So three cast members leave on the 8th August and the remainder on the 22nd August.  There’s talk of trouble behind the scenes.

So, what’s the show like?  It is a fusion of live performance from the actors, dancers and band, film clips of Dusty performing (of which more later), and the much-hyped holograms which apparently took four years to develop.  The show itself has been in planning for nine years (although it seems this is not the show pitched to Dragons’ Den back in 2009), but little of that planning, or indeed any professionalism, shows on stage.

Dusty herself is played by new stage school graduate Ellie Ann Lowe, and she does work hard, although any resemblance to the subject is nil, and we never believe in her character for a moment.  The show is put together with the framing device of an interview with Dusty’s ‘best friend’, the fictitious Nancy Jones, who seems to have gone through life with the same dress and without getting any older.  Nancy and Dusty’s relationship is played like one of the worst kind of teen dramas, where kids always pledge to ‘look after each other, no matter what’.

As Nancy, Francesca Jackson is good enough to carry a thankless role, but her presence is superfluous when there was enough real drama in the life of Dusty Springfield nee Mary O’Brien without creating fake friends.  Still, there has to be some semblance of a plot (and of a script), although Kim Weild (from Broadway) has not written anything particularly groundbreaking – one scene only worked dramatically, and that was when Dusty took her new friend Norma to the popular lesbian club The Gates and on to the dancefloor, leading into ‘All I See Is You’.

Those film inserts at least give us a sense of the real Dusty – but they are often out of synch with the sound and overshadowed by the backing band and singers who are so often sadly intrusive, with arrangements that do not fit the vocals in the original broadcasts.  What should be a powerful moment the first time we see Dusty as a solo artist on screen is marred by these irritating technical issues which should surely have been ironed out by now.  However, I would question the artistic choices which meant we saw a reproduction of the famous Motown show where Dusty duetted with Martha Reeves, rather than the far superior film sequence itself.

As for the holograms – the first one is in black and white and vaguely works as a curiosity, but the colour one which opens the second half (‘Spooky’) is atrocious, and if the lack of usable footage means we have to resort to a body double ‘singing’ with her back to the audience for half the song, it is time to give up.  There’s another one which segues from an excellent quality colour film clip of the real Dusty into this jerky, blurry travesty.  I was totally bemused as to why anyone thought this was a good idea.  And finally, there is a hologram performance of ‘Son of a Preacher Man’ which just falls flat.

If I try to be kind to this show, I will say that the beleaguered cast work hard, although there is little atmosophere or enjoyment visible to the audience.  The whole thing is a major car crash which commits the unforgivable sin of making Dusty Springfield look as if she was a bit rubbish, which I am sure is not the creators’ intention.  Money has been clearly thrown at this show, but it hasn’t stuck, leaving a poorly directed and scripted mess which overreaches itself by trying to do too much and fails on nearly every front.

A show which resorts to getting the audience to sing along (to ‘In The Middle of Nowhere’) for no reason at all, is showing signs of desperation in my book.  Were it not for the fact that Dusty’s talent does shine through despite all the odds being against her (dodgy cutting of clips, that synch problem, dancers blocking our view of the clips, awful arrangements), I would give this even more of a negative review.  There’s a nice moment at the end where Dusty appears to be signing off ‘love and thanks’ on the see-through curtain which separates show from audience.  It’s the equivalent of being given a medal for endurance.

Those of you who got 50% off tickets as we did, from LoveTheatre, be aware that the venue will not accept your paper tickets and you will have to swap them for proper tickets at the box office.  Given that every other West End venue manages to deal with printed tickets, this just seems churlish to me, and the lack of customer care at the door in refusing our barcoded printouts did not impress. In other examples of over-pricing, a small bottle of water will set you back over £2 and a programme/brochure combo £8.

Do not waste your money on this show.  I would instead urge you to check out performances from the lady herself on YouTube, and to invest in a copy of the DVD collection ‘Dusty at the BBC’.  Miss Springfield, I am truly sorry your memory is being subjected to such rubbish as I saw last night.  Here, dear readers, have a look at what I am really talking about.

The producer of this show is seemingly planning a 3D hologram show about Jimi Hendrix.  On the evidence here I would urge him to reconsider, and I would advise audiences to ignore any such plans.

The Complete Adrian Mole (Network)

adrian-mole-the-complete-seriesNetwork catalogue no: 7953736.  2 disc set.  Released 2/7/12.

I have fond memories of both the Adrian Mole series from their first transmission in the 1980s.  However until this DVD was released in 2012 I had not seen either series for over twenty-five years.

The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 3/4  was shown from September 1985, with The Growing Pains of Adrian Mole following in May 1987.  Although Gian Sammarco appeared in both series, there was a casting change relating to Mole’s mother Pauline: in the original series, she was played by Julie Walters, but was portrayed by Lulu in the later series.  Surprisingly this change did not hurt the show in any way.

The theme song ‘Profoundly in Love With Pandora’ by Ian Dury was indicative of the time, and Sue Townsend’s books were done proud by these adaptations which pull out the quiet comedy and pathos of growing up as an 80s teenager.

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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 ♛

by Alicia Mayer

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.


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

Something Like a Storybook

The personal literary blog of Morgan E. Bradham.


A Trawl through my VHS library

How do you eat an elephant?

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reflections on my training offering

Libraries, Information Literacy and E-learning

reflections from the digital age

Ink Drops Reviews

My thoughts on TV shows, books and movies. Not spoiler-free.


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The Elbow Patch

Where higher education and sociology meet


Where Suspense Lives!


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