Monthly Archives: March 2016

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’).

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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


Book review: Avengerworld

avengerworld

I’ve been spending quite a large chunk of February reading through this charity anthology which gives fans and followers of The Avengers (and The New Avengers) centre stage, from those who have created websites on the topic, contributed to the DVD sets and series 1 reconstructions, or attended conventions around the world, to dedicated collectors of all things Mrs Peel, Steed-fashion-followers, admirers of the adventurous Miss Tara King, and those remembering an adolescent crush on Mrs Gale in her leathers and kinky boots.

I’m a casual Avengers fan myself, fond particularly of the Emma Peel era, and the surviving episodes from the lost lamented opening series with Dr Keel, but I am also intrigued by how people around the world come together in praise of a particular fandom, whether through TV showings and video releases, the lure of a particular character, the recording of audio from shows pre-VHS (which I did myself, but for Sherlock Holmes, which was my youthful fandom alongside Monty Python), or the borderline obsessive devotion to the cause enough to set up regular location hunts, episode synopses, or indeed, a collection like this one.

Very readable and full of references to pop culture and the TV culture of the 1980s (which spoke to me closely as I was growing up in that decade), this volume, tightly curated and edited by Alan Hayes, who has concentrated in print until now on that early, out-of-reach, set of 1961 episodes, is entertaining and full of anecdotes from the personal (James Spiers’ diaries and thoughts about Mrs Peel) to the professional (Jez Wiseman’s recollections about Patrick Macnee).

Buying this volume – from Lulu.com – will allow proceeds to be donated to Champion Chanzige, a charity organisation that exists to improve conditions for underprivileged children at a primary school in Southern Tanzania.  You can almost imagine the dapper Mr Steed and his sidekicks appearing there to do their bit to improve the common good, seeing off the bad guys while always having time to stop and show off those marvellous clothes and exquisitely furnished rooms.

 


Why is archive TV not widely regarded?

With the wide variety of television channels now available it is possible to see a wide variety of films from the 1940s onwards (and even, occasionally, one earlier: the 30s films of the Marx Brothers have recently shown on one of our comedy channels).  Films back to the beginning of features just over 100 years ago can be viewed and celebrated, and in the case of silent cinema, new scores and restorations maintain interest.  If you go back to the birth of cinema it is still possible to engage with works back to 1895.

For older television, though, the picture is far different.  There are some repeat screenings on TV for the likes of Dad’s Army (1968-1978), the Blackadder series (1983-1989), Lovejoy (1986-1994), One Foot in the Grave (1990-1995), Porridge (1974-1977), and the revered Pride and Prejudice (1995).  Largely, though, with the exception of cult favourites Doctor Who (1963-1989) and The Avengers (1961-1969), archive TV series are restricted to DVD and Blu-Ray releases aimed at small groups of enthusiasts, or screenings at the likes of the BFI Southbank or events such as those set up by organisations like Kaleidoscope, dedicated to the preservation and sharing of classic material.

Let’s consider the definition of ‘archive television’.  Assuming that the earliest examples of TV broadcasts available in either the UK or the US are from the 1940s (or more likely the 1950s), the term probably encompasses material up to the turn of the century, 2000.  I first found myself interested in older examples of period drama in the VHS age, while simultaneously drinking in the chance to see material such as the work of Peter Cook and Dudley Moore (1965-1966), Monty Python (1969-1974), and the aforementioned Avengers.

For me as a lover of classic cinema, I like to follow the careers of performers, writers and directors in all mediums.  If the likes of Michael Powell, Mike Leigh and Ken Loach made material for TV, I want to assess it alongside their more showy film output.  I want to see the early US versions of material which had a second life in cinema remakes (Bang The Drum Slowly, Marty, Judgment at Nuremberg, Requiem for a Heavyweight).

I want to see small scale material featuring my favourite cinema stars (Richard Harris in The Snow Goose, Richard Burton in The Gathering Storm, Alec Guinness and Lauren Bacall in A Foreign Field, Peter O’Toole in The Dark Angel, Oliver Reed in The Debussy Film, Dan Dailey in The Four Just Men, John Mills in The Zoo Gang, Rex Harrison in Platinov, Judi Dench in Talking to a Stranger).  I discovered Play for Today just after I had lived through the marvellous era of Film on Four, Screen One and Two, Performance, and Without Walls.

If people miss out on black and white TV purely because it is not in colour, they’re missing out on not just The Forsyte Saga (1967) but also two superior Sherlock Holmes series (1954 and 1965), the gritty early episodes of Z-Cars (started 1962), the Northern cobble saga of Coronation Street (1960- ), science fiction like Out of the Unknown (1965-1971), comedy like The Strange World of Gurney Slade (1960), early music shows like Beat Club (1965-1972) and Ready Steady Go (1963-1966), and plays like Armchair Theatre (1956-1974) and The Wednesday Play (1964-1970) (where many cinema directors and performers cut their teeth).

I read on an archive TV forum today that there is little chance of a wide population being interested in this stuff because it is only of interest to small and discrete cults.  I disagree – the releasing schedules of the likes of Network, Acorn, Simply, DD, Delta, Second Sight, and more have shown there is an appetite for the likes of Roots (1977), The Lotus Eaters (1972-1973), Lost Empires (1986), Hancock’s Half Hour (1956-1961,which I discovered from TV repeats in the 90s that would likely not happen now), Mystery and Imagination (1966-1970), Pipkins (1973-1981), Elizabeth R (1971), I Claudius (1976), Two’s Company (1975-1979), Crown Court (1972-1984), Public Eye (1965-1975), Tales of the Unexpected (1979-1988, which does get regular repeats, still), Ghost Story for Christmas (1971-1978), and Marriage Lines (1963-1966).

Interest in these titles is not exclusive.  One may enjoy Widows as much as Rock Follies, Callan as much as Emmerdale Farm, Steptoe and Son as much as Justice, Outside Edge as much as Mr Rose, The New Avengers as much as The Duchess of Duke Street, Poldark as much as The Singing Detective. You may see a different side of a favourite performer by reaching back to their earlier work, or appreciate a fledgling writer’s lesser known screenplays.

While one can still enjoy and appreciate (although with increasing difficulty, often requiring a need to purchase DVD material or assess material via the grey market of YouTube, bootlegs, or torrents) a range of films made for the cinema, archive TV is often derided as cinema’s poor relation, stilted, badly made, unwatchable for recent generations. This is simply not true – yes, not everything is great, but this is also true of material released to the big screen, and one person’s highlights will be another’s rubbish.

Much of it prior to the 1980s is not simply unavailable, but lost due to videotape wiping.  In comparison to films from the same era so much has gone – although perhaps not forever, as material does occasionally come back to join the creative ranks once more.  You may have to dig hard to locate some material, but there is pleasure in the chase and the discovery of something fresh and new.

So I would say to you if you come across this post and like the old films for their performances, direction, charm, humour, tension or entertainment – you may be pleasantly surprised if you make the acquaintance of the material made for the days where a TV screen was the size of a postage stamp.  For me much of this programming is ground-breaking, well-written, beautifully made, and intelligent material.

Don’t let this material disappear to become the preserve only of an elitist group who are ageing and, in the words of some of them, becoming more split into cult factions.  Don’t let the huge fandom of Doctor Who swallow up the recovery and rehabilitation of other contemporary material.  Don’t allow TV to become isolated as a present and ephemeral medium unable to set itself within the canon of the past.  Discover and celebrate the material broadcast on the small screens of the golden age of television and, like me, you might never look back.

 

 

 


is there room for me to sew?

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Opinions on Classic Hollywood , B Movies, Grindhouse, SF film , Classic Horror, Film Noir, Books, and related subjects by Canadian film guy TERRY SHERWOOD. (This site is not affiliated with author Charles Foster and his book Stardust and Shadows.)

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

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Spectacular Attractions

film in all its forms

is there room for me to sew?

Quilting, Reading and the Movies

Jaime Rebanal's Film Thoughts

Cinema - moving around life one film at a time.

The Case for Jeanette and Nelson

"Whaddya gonna do? I love her. I think she loves me." -Nelson Eddy on the Jack Parr Show, 1960

STARDUST AND SHADOWS

Opinions on Classic Hollywood , B Movies, Grindhouse, SF film , Classic Horror, Film Noir, Books, and related subjects by Canadian film guy TERRY SHERWOOD. (This site is not affiliated with author Charles Foster and his book Stardust and Shadows.)

The Wonderful World of Cinema

This blog is all about cinema, movies and stars of every decades. It's wonderful!

Movie classics

Thoughts on older movies, especially those from the 1930s to 1950s.

Hiss and Tell

Featuring Gryff, the angry diabetic cat, and the humans who serve him

TESSA BARRIE'S LOST BLOGS

Random Blogger from Jersey, Channel Islands, UK. Not Noo Jersey, USA. Expect the unexpected. Life's too short to be niche.

[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

West End Blog

Bringing you independent, honest, experienced reviews of current theatre shows. We believe theatre is something truly magical and can be enjoyed by everyone.

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

The Film Colony ♛

with Alicia Mayer

Spectacular Attractions

film in all its forms

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