Monthly Archives: April 2014

Kiss Me Kate, 1964 – ★★★½

Charming piece of early television, this musical, starring Howard Keel (who of course starred in the Hollywood film) and Patricia Morison (who was the lead in the original stage production, later filmed for US television). They are joined by Millicent Martin, an English singer best known at that time from That Was The Week That Was, a satirical television programme.

Clocking in at just 95 minutes, this loses a few snippets of dialogue and a song or two, but good to see Brush Up Your Shakespeare, for one, has survived (with a pre-Last of the Summer Wine Bill Owen as one of the gangsters). Keel and Morison are fascinating to see together even in a muddy archive copy of this, and for lovers of the musical this is a version to seek out (as is the shorter US TV version with Morison and Alfred Drake).

Vía Letterboxd – loureviews

A Small Family Business (National Theatre) review

This revival of Alan Ayckbourn’s 1987 play no longer has the bite it had on first run, but it still a powerful blend of farcical humour and dark family politics.  In Nigel Lindsay’s moral compass Jack McCracken we have a businessman who starts with strong words and then sees his values slowly eroded as the dealings of his family and their associates the Rivetti brothers begin to unravel.

True, these days it might not be startling to see a sulky teenager become embroiled in the power of drugs, or a bored wife spending her free time in leather corset and boots, but take this with the 1980s spirit and it is still an enjoyable romp through a truly terrible family which, in this new staging from director Adam Penford, reaches a conclusion which is still hard-hitting.

The Olivier’s revolve is well-served by the set which has the front of a suburban house slowly turning to reveal a network of rooms which represent scene changes and location changes; the same house for all, hallway, bathroom, kitchen, bedroom, living room.  The characters may have a hint of the stereotype about them but they are well-written within the confines of the plot and along with Lindsay, there are good turns from Debra Gillett as Jack’s wife, Niky Wardley as the fetishistic sister-in-law, Neal Barry as Desmond who lives for his sub-par culinary experiments, and Matthew Cottle as the oily blackmailer.

It isn’t as obviously funny as Ayckbourn’s better known titles (like Absent Friends or Season’s Greetings), but it is fast-paced, well-performed and is worth a look, even if it doesn’t quite reach the heights of a perfect-ten production.

Brimstone And Treacle, 1987 – ★★★★

Play for Today: Brimstone and Treacle.  Directed by Barry Davis.  Written by Dennis Potter.  Starring Denholm Elliott, Michael Kitchen, Patricia Lawrence, Michelle Newell.  First shown on television 25th August 1987 (originally scheduled for 6th April 1976, then banned).

This review reportedly contains spoilers.

*reviewed in 2008*

I remember being extremely disturbed by this play on first seeing it twenty years ago, and it has not lost any of its power to shock.

A young man, who we know right from the start to be the devil, coolly chooses his victim on the high street, foisting himself on the nervous and racist Mr Bates by his supposed friendship with Bates’ handicapped daughter, Pattie.

As the devil (here called Martin) Michael Kitchen is menacing and also very funny, while Denholm Elliott plays the father very well. Michelle Newell and Patricia Lawrence complete the cast as the girl vegetated by a car accident and her put-upon mother, destined to care for her forever.

This film was banned by the BBC for a decade, mainly because the basic message of the play is that as the devil rapes Pattie, so her restores her power of speech and the quality of her existence.

But the play is much more profound than that, although some of its message is muddled and not fully developed. Potter himself claimed that ‘Brimstone and Treacle’ was a religious parable about good and evil – if so, it raises some interesting questions while being both distasteful and compelling to watch.

Vía Letterboxd – loureviews

Christy Moore (Royal Festival Hall) review

Last night’s concert (the second of two) was the first appearance in two years of Irish singer-songwriter Christy Moore and his accompanists Declan Sinnott and Jimmy Higgins to the Royal Festival Hall,  and his brand of Irish folk tunes and raucous sing-alongs seemed to go down well with a capacity crowd.

Moore has never been a household name but he’s been around close to half a century now and his blend of melody and political statement makes for an interesting and varied set, with some stunning musicianship (simply using a collection of different guitars and percussion).  Fan favourites made their appearance (‘Black is the Colour’, ‘Ride On’, ‘The Voyage’, ‘Sweet Thames, Flow Softly’, ‘City of Chicago’, ‘Beeswing’) alongside songs about Mandela (‘Biko Drum’), communication (‘Natives’), the Hillsborough and Artane disasters (‘Does This Train Stop At Merseyside’ and ‘They Never Came Home’), the Spanish Civil War (‘Viva la Quinta Brigada’), solid Irish folk numbers (‘The Rocky Road to Dublin’, ‘A Pair of Brown Eyes’, ‘Well Below The Valley’, ‘Nancy Spain’) and more upbeat fun titles (‘Joxer Goes to Stuttgart’, ‘Lisdoonvarna’, ‘Don’t Forget Your Shovel’, ‘Delirium Tremens’).

Nice to see a crowd singing along with gusto where required, and soft accompaniment for the ballads.  A heckler or two aside, this crowd was good natured and despite the size of the Festival Hall the trio managed to make this concert feel intimate and involving.  Highly recommended for connoisseurs of the folk tradition.

Lest We Forget (Barbican Centre)

This four-part dance show in remembrance of the First World War is a bit of a mixed bag, with some excellent moments (notably in the first sequence, ‘No Man’s Land’, choreographed by Luke Scarlett, where the women wrap their arms round the men’s shoulders in mimicry of the straps of kit-bags, and where the yellow hands of the women workers flash around the ghosts of their men-folk following battle in the trenches; and in the last sequence, ‘Dust’, choreographed by Akram Khan, which uses snatches of the recording of Cpl Edward Dwyer from 1916 singing to the tune of Auld Lang Syne to accompany a powerful duet between soldier and nurse, poignant even more so when you realise Dwyer was only twenty years old when he died in combat shortly after making the recording), and some mis-steps – Russell Maliphant’s ‘Second Breath’ uses a distortion of Richard Burton’s reading of the Dylan Thomas poem ‘Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night’ which simply jars and distracts from the formation of bodies within the routine; George Williamson’s ‘The Firebird’ is beautiful and engaging, but does not belong here, within this theatre of war.

Tamara Rojo, artistic director of the English National Ballet, dances a major role in ‘No Man’s Land’, and she has the style and authority of the great classical tradition to work with – making her character very touching and memorable.  Scarlett’s choreography is by turns gentle and aggressive, and his male duets work well to depict the scale of the conflict.  In ‘The Firebird’, the dancing is centred by the damaged bird and the men who conspire to remove her finery.  ‘Second Breath’ is an ensemble piece, well punctuated by recordings from the audio archives, snatches of which set the scene – “constant bombardment”, for example.  ‘Dust’, however, is a stunning and powerful piece of work which stands well on its own, and has the most to say in tribute to those who lost their lives in the Great War; it also states a truth that women in munitions were building material that would kill other women’s husbands, fathers, sons, and the disconnect between this role and the one genetically expected of women, to care and nurture other people.

Happy Thoughts, Darling

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