Saturday, 20 September 2014

Review: Pedal Pusher, Theatre Delicatessen

“I’d forgotten how beautiful it was, riding a bicycle”

First performed in 2009, Theatre Delicatessen’s Pedal Pusher took a searing look at a crucial five year period in the Tour de France when a doping scandal threatened this most noble of events but the sport managed to find a saviour to take them into the brightest of futures – a cyclist by the name of Lance Armstrong… With subsequent real life proving to be more theatrical (or soap opera-like tbh) than anyone could ever have foreseen, the production has been “reworked and re-imagined” to more fully explore the lengths people will go to in order to succeed.

The focus falls on three cyclists who all had the potential to become legendary but ended up infamous due to their various demons. Marco Pantani suffered career-threatening injuries after being hit by a car, Jan Ullrich experienced crippling depression, Lance Armstrong battled pervasive testicular cancer and as we’ve come to see, all three used performance enhancing drugs to carve their niche in a sport riddled with the practice. Conceived and scripted by Roland Smith from a variety of found texts, it fashions a most compelling story that is gripping in its intensity.’

Saturday afternoon Evita treats

With Evita about to open once again in London, this edition of Saturday afternoon treats is a Perón spectacular.

First up is a collection of 'Don't Cry For Me's' - I love the newer versions of Madalena Alberto (the incumbent Eva) and Elena Roger which are more subtle (at least at first) interpretations but there's also something thrilling about the full-on diva mode it provokes in Patti LuPone and Elaine Paige and their wardrobes.

But then I delved a little deeper and was simply blown away by the clips of LuPone's performance in the first Broadway production so there's a hugely charming take on 'Buenos Aires' and a scorching version of 'A New Argentina' that is breathtaking. The stirring choreography of Elena Roger's own 'Buenos Aires' remains an absolute delight so I thought I'd stick that on the end too.



Thursday, 18 September 2014

Review: Macbeth, Tobacco Factory

“Full of sound and fury”

For those in the know, Filter’s reinterpretations of Shakespeare’s work can be an anarchic delight but for those coming to them for the first time, as I suspect a deal of this matinée audience for Macbeth might well have been, their approach can prove a little disarming. It does presuppose a solid working knowledge of the play and an affection for the anarchic working practices of the company comes in handy too as the sound desk once again becomes an additional member, working overtime to create the truly unique soundscape of this strangely enchanting world.

I’m going to hold off too much comment about the piece as it would appear to be a bit of a work-in-progress. This is cited as the premiere of the piece here in Bristol with a UK tour coming in the new year and one imagines that changes and development will occur, it does have a rawness to it albeit one that is most appealing. More significantly, it is brimming with huge invention – the witches are brilliantly, the way that dialogue is toyed with brings a new psychological depth to play and it feels utterly contemporary in its different attacks on the main characters.

DVD Review: What You Will

“It’s brilliant not to be me”

On my way to Bristol to see Filter take on Macbeth, I thought I would take the opportunity to watch What You Will, a mockumentary that follows an innovative theatre company as they put on a touring production of Twelfth Night. It comes off a little like the behind-the-scenes episode of Acorn Antiques as actors play actors who are in turn acting, so Ferdy Roberts plays a guy called Greg who plays Malvolio in the show – it’s a disarming and discombobulating approach which never quite settles in my opinion.

This devised approach clearly has great appeal for the Filter company and the way they work but it is hard not to think that it overcomplicates the matter somewhat. For when it just plays out, it is really very amusing. The trials of a touring theatre company - the precious egos, the heavy drinking, the thwarted ambitions, the strained relationships, the poor ticket sales, the last minute crises, all are played out as they travel the country touring their show professionally but barely holding it together personally.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

TV Review: The Secrets 1 – The Dilemma

“I was wondering if you would help me to die”

It’s kind of an accepted truth now that if Olivia Colman has been cast in something, it is usually in order to win a Bafta for the unerringly heart-breaking way that she breaks a nation’s heart by crying. Whether her performance here in The Dilemma, the first instalment of The Secrets, wins another is for the future to know but be warned, it is an extremely compelling example of this truism.

The Secrets is a series of stand-alone dramas commissioned by the BBC and featuring four “upcoming” writers although in the case of this first one, Nick Payne could well be considered to already have upped and came in the world of theatre (Constellations being his most famous and awarded work). And it will come as little surprise to regular theatregoers that his first piece is a musing on mortality, following hard on the tear-soaked heels of The Art of Dying.


TV Review: The Secrets 2 – The Conversation

“He was mad and French and horny”

Part 2 of The Secrets failed to live up to Nick Payne’s opening salvo if I’m completely honest. Sarah Solemani’s The Conversation, in which she also stars, centres on a young couple on the eve of their wedding as an ill-advised secret sharing session opens up a whole can of worms as Charlotte’s revelation that she once had a threesome is blown out of the water by her discovery that Tom was once accused of rape.

That then sets Charlotte off on a spiral of reflection and recrimination as she throws her whole relationship under the spotlight, something aided by the late arrival of her sister who may or may not know more than she is letting on. Something just didn’t click for me in the way that Charlotte unravelled, Solemani bravely leaving the detail of her plot quite sketchy but consequently leaving her characters to make somewhat improbable leaps.

TV Review: The Secrets 3 – The Visitor

“…something inside of me, it’s just been missing”

Ben Ockrent’s contribution to The Secrets is the rather tender The Visitor, the third in the series, where Dean’s life in his adoptive home is rocked when a young woman tracks him down and claims to be his sister. The cosy domesticity of his middle-class existence is thus challenged by the revelations that spill from her mouth but is her desperation rooted in complete honesty or something more calculating. 

Ockrent explores the tension at the heart of Dean’s life beautifully, torn between the present and the past, questioning the strength of blood ties, and layering in the aspects of class and race that figure into the equation. Paige Meade’s Cassie is a Southend girl through and through and her rough edges clearly ruffle the liberal well-to-do consciences of Helen Baxendale and Anthony Flanagan’s parents Julie and Nigel. 

TV Review: The Secrets 4 – The Lie

“Are you in a relationship now?”

The Secrets now turns to Elinor Cook’s for The Lie as once again marriage falls under the scrutiny of our young writers. Here, Lexie’s domestic bliss is shattered when an inopportune phone call reveals that her husband is hiding something from her, a double life as she quickly finds out. And as with all such things, she visits the other woman’s house, who turns out to be a counsellor, and pretends to be a client in need of help.

Thus Lexie tries to explore what her husband has been up to and why, whilst not letting on to him that she knows, Joanne Froggatt’s brittle intensity perfect for the role as she comes up against the comparative glamour of Emilia Fox’s Zara. Their shared scenes are excellent and the hints of psychodrama that creep in here are amongst the story’s highlights. Ben Chaplin’s Philip isn’t quite the draw he needs to be though, the character never really suggesting adequate appeal.

TV Review: The Secrets 5 – The Return

“I’m trying to tell you something for your own good”

Last but by no means least in The Secrets is The Return, which sees Nick Payne return to the writing table along with Dominic Savage who masterminded the whole shebang as one of the executive producers and director of all five. In this case, matters of the heart were involved once again as Ray and Lorna struggle to tell Ray’s brother Anthony, who has just done time, that they are now together and engaged, the complicating factor being that Anthony was with Lorna before he went inside.

Once again, an impressively slow-burning atmosphere prevails as the secret is kept as long as it can be for fear of unleashing Anthony’s rage, Tosin Cole’s focused anger feels genuinely threatening, and the good intentions of the thoroughly decent Ray and Lorna shine through in Ashley Walters and Pippa Bennett-Warner’s performances – there’s no malice here, just an unfortunate turn of circumstance and the consequences of not facing an awkward truth. Simply but powerfully done.


Review: Tess of the D'Urbervilles, New Wimbledon Studio

“I deal in ideals”

Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D'Urbervilles may not seem like the first choice for a musical adaptation as Hardy subjects his literary heroine to several worlds of wrongdoing, mainly at the hands of men, so it is hardly a barrel of laughs. But it is (hopefully) well established now that musical theatre isn’t always just about jazz hands and writing and directing brothers Alex and Chris Loveless are exponents of this, a recent production of The Remains of the Day being a case in point and if this production may overemphasise the archetypal Hardy mood of relentless gloom, it is fitfully intriguing. 

The central relationships between Jessica Daley’s Tess and the men in her life, Martin Neely’s Alec D’Urberville and Nick Hayes’ Angel Clare are powerfully done and gripping as all three performers deliver the kind of tortured intensity of which Hardy would surely have approved. Daley brings a spritely spirit to Tess which acts as a useful balance to the misery around her and her emotional connection with Hayes’ romantic Angel is delightful to behold. 

Web Sitcom Pilot Review: Queers

“Come to think of it, I’ve never actually played bingo”

A teaser of what might be to come, this five minute pilot is an entry into the Raindance Dailymotion Web Series Pilot Competition, in which the winning short will receive a full series. Created, written, directed and produced by Guido Lippe, it features the fortunes of an ailing gay bar – for which WestFive Bar in Ealing stands in excellently – as its owners look for ways to perk up business. The main point of interest for me was familiar faces Adam Lilley (The King’s Speech) and Simon Wegrzyn (Grimm’s Tales) as the squabbling couple at odds over what lengths they should go to save the bar and sure enough they make an endearing pair. Lippe’s writing has its funny moments and it would be interesting to see how it would develop without the constraints and pressures of the competitive pilot environment so have a watch of it below and just like with Scottish independence (or otherwise) if you like it, vote for it! 

 

Short Film Review #50

Passenger from HMT Productions on Vimeo.
Aaaarrgghhh – proof positive as if it were ever needed that you shouldn’t ever talk to strangers on the tube. Ed Rigg’s Passenger follows a couple at the end of a long day as they catch the Victoria Line up to Walthamstow Central and make the fatal mistake of making eye contact with the guy sitting opposite after a mildly amusing episode. Sara Vickers and Mark Quartley do a great job at capturing the helpless awkwardness of the situation but Samuel Edward-Cook really excels as the ex-serviceman who won’t leave them alone, invading their headspace as well as their personal space as the encounter becomes more and more chilling. Great work.