Thursday, 30 August 2012

Things My Dream Home Must Have

A Library
This is my bookshelf. I'm quite proud of it. It's a decent size, it's got most of my favourite books all in one place and it's where my teddies and toy animals hang out. You are never too old for these! However, as you can see it's overflowing a wee bit and what I'd really love is my own library. 

As far as I'm concerned every true bookworm wants their own library. I remember being blown away as a kid when the Beast gave Belle his library in Disney's Beauty and the Beast. It must be one of the most romantic gestures of all time! I guess that library is the library I've always had in mind for my dream house but I found this pretty cool blog entry the other day that has lots of gorgous photos of real-life libraries from around the world: Have a click on it because the photos are well worth checking out!

A bathroom with lots of natural light and either a standalone, clawfooted bath....

...or a bath that's sunken into the floor.

A spacious wardrobe or better yet, a dressing room.

A lovely, wild garden....

....with a river at the bottom.

A traditional fireplace 
This fireplace would be connected to the Floo network.

A Victorian style room where I can drink tea (not coffee!) with my friends. 

And finally, a secret doorway that leads to an underground passage and my own secret lair (a la Batman, Harry Potter's Room of Requirement and Phantom of the Opera)!

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Phantom of the Opera (2014)? Yeah right!

I found this link on a couple of Phantom fan websites I frequently visit: Basically, someone has put this sentence in the list of Phantom adaptations and it's raised a few eyebrows:

[[Universal Studios}} Steven Spielberg Phantom of the Opera, starring Tom Cruise (December,2014

Ha! I don't believe this for one minute! It's clearly been written by some internet troll who's just trying to wind the fans up, or alternatively it's been written by someone with a serious case of wishful thinking. It's Wikipedia! I love it and it's great for wasting time but anyone can edit the pages and put stuff in. The whole thing is clearly a hoax.

It did get me thinking though because I would love it if a great Phantom adaptation came out. Steven Spielberg wouldn't be the first name to come into my head if someone asked me who I'd like to direct a Phantom film but he is a terrific director and I'm sure he could do a great job. Tom Cruise on the other hand... See, I do actually quite like Tom Cruise as an actor. I think it's kind of a shame that he's probably more well-known for his love life and for following the Scientology cult these days because he's consistently proven that he can act. He was excellent in Rain Man, Born on the Fourth of July, Magnolia, Minority Report, Jerry Maguire, The Last Samurai and Tropic Thunder; and he gave a pitch-perfect portrayal of Lestat in Interview with the Vampire. It wouldn't surprise me if someone asked him to do another musical again either. Sure Rock of Ages flopped but his singing in that film is quite impressive for someone who's never sang professionally or had any kind of training before. So, yeah, I think Tom Cruise is talented. But Tom Cruise as Erik? No freaking way! He'd be completely wrong for the role. It's really not suited to him at all! He's just too... American. And he's too short. And he hasn't got the right voice for it either. Erik should have a very beautiful, gentle, seductive yet slightly creepy, theatrical sort of voice. And would Cruise be able to pull off a French or British accent? I'm not going to get worked up about this because I'm sure it's a hoax but casting Tom Cruise as Erik/the Phantom would be like casting Leonardo DiCaprio or Matt Damon or George Clooney as Quasimodo in The Hunchback of Notre Dame, or Russell Crowe as Count Dracula. The latter is actually a genuine rumour that's going around! Don't get me wrong, these men are all talented actors but they just wouldn't be suited to these particular roles.

Because Erik is such a theatrical, over-the-top sort of character when I think of actors who could do a great job playing him I think of those classic horror actors from the past like Vincent Price, or contemporary classically-trained actors with stage experience - like Tom Hiddleston or Benedict Cumberbatch or Michael Fassbender. Although they're all very attractive with some excellent make-up I think they could be amazing Eriks! Tom Hiddleston and Benedict Cumberbatch are both classically-trained, have both done period dramas, have both done Shakespeare and theatre, and are both very talented actors. Either of these two would be my top choices. I don't think Michael Fassbender has classical training or much stage experience but he was awesome in X Men: First Class and Jane Eyre, and even though Prometheus got mixed reviews all the film critics seemed to think he was great in it and one of the best things about it. All three of these men have great voices too : )

Benedict Cumberbatch and Tom Hiddleston

Tom Hiddleston as Cassio in Othello

Benedict Cumberbatch

Michael Fassbender as Rochester in Jane Eyre
Ooh, I think Richard Armitage has the potential to make a great Erik as well. He's done period dramas, he's done Shakespeare and theatre in the past, and after seeing him in North and South and as Guy of Gisborne in Robin Hood I think he could definitely handle the brooding, mentally unstable side of Erik's character. Another bonus is that he can actually sing and has a great classically-trained voice. He wouldn't need to be dubbed.

Leaving aside my suggestions, any actor who plays Erik has to have a great speaking voice. It would be nice if they had a great singing voice as well but dubbing is fine. They must be tall, not ridiculously tall but tall enough so that they're imposing and have a physical presence. You have to believe that they could be dangerous and capable of violence. Another important factor is they have to be able to act insane. They have to be menacing, they have to be creepy, they have to pull off maniacal laughter. Finally, and this is really important, they have to be able to move the audience. They have to be able to cry and show genuine anguish and emotion. And not just a few tears in their eyes either, they need to do full-on hysterical sobbing!

I know a lot of people are really keen for the Susan Kay Phantom novel to be adapted and I believe Spielberg's production company does actually own the rights to it but I would much rather have a Leroux-based adaptation. I just don't understand the insane amount of love for Kay's book. Yes, the first half is decent and I actually quite like the Rome and Persia sections but everything from when Erik moves into the opera house is just massively disappointing. It's off-canon, Kay completely butchers Christine's character, and the ending is like some 14 year old fangirl's first terrible attempt at fanfiction. I wouldn't be as opposed to a Kay adaptation if it actually ended at the point where Leroux's book begins and was just a prequel to that book but, again, I'd rather have a Leroux-based adaptation. A Kay version would be harder to pull off too because there's a huge amount of settings and Erik ages. You'd need to find at least 2-3 different actors to play the character and you'd need a really good child actor to play Young Erik!

Also, I would definitely rather have a TV adaptation of Leroux's book rather than a film adaptation because listening to the Big Finish radio play adaptation of Leroux's book - which was commissioned by the BBC - has really made me want the BBC to tackle the story and turn into a TV drama. The BBC are usually really good at turning novels into TV dramas and I really think they should do Phantom of the Opera at some point. I'd want it to be filmed on location in Paris and I'd prefer it if they did it as a straightforward period drama but having said that even a modern-day update of the story by Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss could be potentially excellent. I'm a huge fan of everything they've done together: Jekyll, Doctor Who, Sherlock. I'd love it if if one of the potential Eriks I mentioned above was cast but I'm not too sure which other actors I'd like to be cast. I think Romola Garai could have made a great Christine about five or six years ago. She's beautiful, she's talented, she's blonde, she's practically the princess of period dramas. At 30 she'd be too old to play the character now though. Christine Daae is supposed to be a very young and innocent girl so an actress playing her would really need to be in her late teens, or in her early twenties at the most. I think it would be best if an unknown actress played her character. I'd like Christine to be blonde too. I don't care if the actress is a natural blonde or not, they can always use a wig. In the vast majority of Phantom adaptations Christine's character is a brunette. The only versions in which I've seen a blonde Christine are the Claude Rains and Charles Dance versions. I think this is probably due to how blondes are stereotyped in this day and age. In 1911, when Gaston Leroux's book was first published, blonde hair was still associated with virtue and purity but now it's associated with the exact opposite. In our time blonde hair is associated with stupidity and sluttishness. I guess film-makers think that by having Christine as a blonde we'll see her as just some dumb blonde girl. Well, someone needs to buck this trend! I have no suggestions for Raoul so I think I'd prefer to see an unknown actor play him. One actor that I would like to see in a Phantom film is Ramin Karimloo starring as The Persian. I really liked Alexander Siddig's Persian in the Big Finish version but someone online suggested that Ramin Karimloo could play the character and I really like that idea. Karimloo lives in Britain and was brought up in Canada but he is actually Persian-born. And his acting is great on the 25th anniversary concert and I definitely think he could do a non-singing role. Actually he has done a couple of non-singing roles. I know he's got a role in some short, indie film called The Rain - which I think comes out in November - and he played a Scientologist in some Ricky Gervais show. Ah well, this is all very unlikely to happen but it's fun to imagine!

Friday, 24 August 2012

Les Miserables (2000)

This particular adaptation of Victor Hugo's novel is weird. Very weird. There are even two versions of it. There's a six hour miniseries that was made for French TV (in French obviously), and a shortened three hour version that was intended for American TV and had the same actors speaking in English. I saw the French-language version with English subtitles, a while ago actually but I've only got around to reviewing it now. The majority of the actors in this are French but it does feature several actors who are likely to be known by viewers outside of France. Gerard Depardieu plays Jean Valjean in it (and also acted as an Excecutive Producer). Charlotte Gainsbourg plays Fantine. The Italian actress Asia Argento plays Eponine. The most famous star in this version though is probably the American actor John Malkovich who plays Javert. The reason why I say that this version is weird is because in some ways it's an accurate adaptation of Hugo's novel - and in other ways it mangles the book to pieces! This is why you'll find plenty of positive, warm reviews online that praise this version for being faithful to the book and plenty of passionate reviews which argue that it's the exact opposite. Personally I really do not think that this version can be called a Hugo-faithful adaptation. Yes, this version does stick very closely to the book at times. It's got Eponine, Enjolras, Sister Simplice, Azelma, Petit Gervais, Monsieur Gillenormand and even Felix Tholomyes (in a very brief scene). You get to see the Thenardiers after the inn. Marius and Cosette first glimpse each other at the Luxembourg Gardens. Marius is cold towards Valjean once he finds out about his convict past. And now I'll explain why in other ways this version tears Hugo's novel to shreds...
  • I don't think this version can be called a faithful adaptation of the book because the characters often act completely out-of-character and it makes far too many stupid, random and completely unnecessary changes and additions to the source material. First of all, I'm extremely curious as to what drugs the screenwriters were smoking for them to think that making Valjean be obsessively in love with his adopted daughter Cosette was a good move. What were they thinking?! That is so wrong! Why did they feel the need to overcomplicate Valjean and Cosette's relationship? It doesn't need it! VALJEAN! It's your DAUGHTER! Yes, Hugo does say at one point that Valjean loves Cosette more than as a daughter in the book but he wasn't saying that he lusts after her! What Hugo was getting at was that Cosette is everything to Valjean. She's his whole world. I could have given the screenwriters a good slap for making Valjean's love for Cosette seem creepy and semi-incestuous! It's wrong, so very wrong!
  • There's also a very weird scene where Valjean announces to Monsieur Gillenormand that he's heard about Javert's death and is upset about it because, apparently, Javert was the one person who really knew him. What?!
  • Gavroche never ages. We first see his character in the scene where Valjean and Young Cosette arrive in Paris. He isn't the Thenardier's son in this version although, to be fair, this tends to be quite common amongst Les Mis adaptations. Gavroche is about 14 in this scene. When we see his character again, almost 10 years later, he's still 14! What?! Why?! Did they think we wouldn't notice?! Could they not be bothered to pay two different child actors to act the part? This is a major plot hole! 
  • We're told that Thenardier spent time in prison for selling Cosette to Valjean. Why? Was that their way of explaining why the Thenardiers are broke?
  • In the book, Fauchelevant dies while Valjean and Cosette are still living at the convent. In this version he doesn't and goes off to join the National Guard, only to get shot by Enjolras at the Barricade. Why?! This is so random!
  • Valjean and Cosette's servant at Rue Plumet, Toussaint, has been inexplicably changed from a woman with a slight stutter to a mute man. Why??? What purpose does this serve?!
  • Eponine is sometimes called "Ponine". This is just a blatant rip-off from the musical!
  • Marius agrees to sleep with Eponine in exchange for Cosette's address. I don't think I'll ever get over the shock of this!
  • Javert infiltrates the Sorbonne to spy on the students and bumps into Marius. For some inexplicable reason he proceeds to give Marius a birds and the bees talk and then tells him that he has to marry and make lots of children for the good of France. Huh?
  • Eponine is the one who arranges for Valjean and Cosette's house at Rue Plumet to be attacked in the first place but changes her mind later on. Why?!
  • Enjolras and Marius have a pyjama party.  
  • When Enjolras is told by Gavroche that Javert is a spy he does absolutely nothing about it! His reaction is basically "Yeah, so what? I thought they'd be a few traitors hanging around the Barricades. I'm not bothered about him. He can do what he wants. Leave me alone, you little brat!" In one swift move, the screenwriters turn the badass leader of the students into an incompetent dumbass! Woop de doo. And again, why?!
  • Enjolras agrees quite happily for Marius to leave the Barricade because his love life is more important. He even smiles. He freaking smiles! At this point my head almost exploded! Since when did Book Enjolras act like such a complete prat?! 
  • We don't get to see the Barricade fall and we don't see Enjolras or any of the students die. 
  • Javert's suicide scene is terrible and is absolutely nothing like the the suicide scene in the book.
  • Madame Thenardier doesn't die in prison like she does in the book either.
In fact the only addition that this version made which I actually quite liked was a scene where Thenardier talks about selling Cosette's teeth at the Inn. I thought it was a great not-in-the-book made up detail. It was plausible and was still in keeping with Thenardier's character.

The acting in this version is a mixed bag too. Some of the actors are good, some of the actors are OK and some of the actors are bad. I'll start with the actors who were good. Asia Argento gives a surprisingly decent performance as Eponine in this version. She was definitely better in this miniseries than she was as Christine Daae in her dad's appalling Phantom of the Opera film two years before. Perhaps because her dad wasn't around to perv on her? I thought the actors who played the Thenardiers (Christian Clavier and Veronica Ferres) were really good, if a bit too good-looking, and the kid who played Gavroche was good. They should have really cast an different and younger child actor for the scene when Valjean and Young Cosette first arrive into Paris though!

The very best actor to star in this miniseries though is Virginie Ledoyen as Cosette. She is by far the very best thing about this miniseries! Whereas Claire Danes portrayed Cosette as being an annoying, bitchy modern teenager in the 1998 film - mind you, that was probably because of the script - Virginie Ledoyen captures Cosette's character incredibly well! Not only does she look the part, she gives an absolutely wonderful performance. She's cute, adorable, passionate, lively, clever... and is clearly innocent and naive without coming across as whiny or annoying. It's a shame that she spends almost all of her scenes crying and moping in bed after Cosette gets married to Marius although, to be fair, I think I'd be crying and moping in bed if I was married to the Marius of this version.

The OK actors in this version were Charlotte Gainsbourg and Gerard Depardieu. Gainsbourg isn't bad as Fantine. Her acting's OK and she was still a lot better than the actress who played the character in the 1978 film. It's just that she isn't blonde and the way that she played Fantine wasn't particularly how I imagined the character when I read the book. I thought this when she played Jane Eyre four years earlier as well. Gerard Depardieu never really convinced me as Jean Valjean either even though he didn't really do anything wrong as such. Well, apart from perving on Cosette but I suppose that's not his fault. Wait! Maybe it is his fault! Depardieu helped to produce his film after all!

Now for the bad actors... Steffan Wink was very poor as Enjolras in this version. Although he is blonde (which is nice) he isn't good-looking enough, he's far too smiley and jovial, and he basically acts nothing like the Enjolras of the book. And as for John Malkovich, well, I thought he was just shockingly bad as Javert! He's completely lifeless! He's dead-eyed, he never emotes and he speaks in a flat monotone all the time! Come on Malkovich, I know that Javert is a cold and stern character but he does have some emotions! And the way that Malkovich would s-l-o-w-l-y annunciate every single word almost drove me mad! At least with Geoffrey Rush you know that he would have probably made a great Javert if he'd been given a good script. Anthony Perkins still remains my favourite Javert in a screen adaptation!

Another major problem that I have with this version is that it features the most poorly cast Marius you will EVER see! I'm of course speaking of the controversial face of Enrico Lo Verso. Oh dear, oh dear! Who on earth thought that he would make a great Marius?! For one thing he's far too old and is clearly in his thirties! Eddie Redmayne might be 31 but at least he doesn't look it! And I do realise that this is probably going to sound quite offensive and bitchy but Lo Verso is the least attractive Marius I have ever seen! He's got a long and crooked nose, an afro, a creepy smile, and in some scenes he even wears eyeliner (which he can't pull off). It really doesn't help matters that Virginie Ledoyen is so gorgeous either because it just makes him look even more unattractive! This version has my favourite Cosette but it also has my least favourite Marius!

So yeah, as you can probably tell I'm really not a fan of this miniseries at all. It's just as bad as the 1998 film. It had the potential to be an excellent adaptation but it makes too many random and completely unnecessary changes from the book. The acting is a mixed bag and it has some very poor dialogue in places too - like when Valjean tells Cosette that the reason why her mother called him Monsieur Madeleine is because that was her name for God. Or when Valjean tells Cosette that Marius has been injured at the Barricades and all Cosette seems to care about is that Valjean has finally accepted him. The only things that I would really say that this miniseries has got going for it are Virginie Ledoyen's Cosette and the brief scene with Felix Tholomyes. To round off this review, I'll include this YouTube video. The girl who made it has seen the whole of this miniseries as well and has put all of her least favourite bits in the video. I saw it before I watched the miniseries which you'd think would have put me off it completely but I wanted to see it just so I could say I'd seen it.

Thursday, 16 August 2012

'Dracula' by Bram Stoker (1897)

Synopsis: the young solicitor Jonathan Harker is sent by his employer to a remote castle in Transylvania, in order to arrange a London house sale for its inhabitant Count Dracula. On his way to the castle, Harker is unsettled by the region's foreboding landscape and the cryptic and mysterious warnings that he keeps receiving from the Transylvanian natives. When Harker eventually does arrive at Dracula's castle he's initially charmed by the gracious manners of his host and his mind is put to rest. But as the days go by, Harker becomes uneasy all over again because of Dracula's odd behaviour. He then realises that he's being effectively kept prisoner at the castle. As he witnesses increasingly horrific events there, Harker begins to suspect that Dracula may not even be human at all. He barely escapes from the castle with his life. The action then shifts to England, with Harker's
fiancĂ©e Mina becoming increasingly concerned by the lack of communication from Harker. Mina is also worried about her best friend Lucy's mysterious illness. She and her friends try to help Lucy and are assisted by the mysterious Dutch professor Abraham Van Helsing.

Despite what some people believe Dracula wasn't actually the first vampire novel ever to be written. In 1819 John Polidori wrote a vampire novel called, erm, The Vampyre. Polidori was a friend and personal physician to Lord Byron and the vampire of the book, Lord Ruthven, is believed by many to have been directly inspired by Byron. Then in 1872 Sheridan Le Fanu - Bram Stoker's friend and fellow Irishman - wrote the lesbian vampire novel Carmilla. Stoker's book Dracula didn't come along until 1897. However, Dracula is by quite some distance the most famous and influential out of all of the vampire books that came before and after it. It's one of the most adapted and parodied books of all time. The most famous adaptations are probably the silent film Nosferatu, the Universal and Hammer Horror movies, and the Francis Ford Coppola film. Dracula is the book that laid down the vampire rules. Wooden stakes through the heart, the fear of crosses, the inability to be seen in mirrors, sleeping in coffins, the term "The Un-Dead"... they all come from Stoker's novel. Every single vampire novel and screen version that has come along since owes this book some kind of debt. Having said that, as influential as this book is I think it might still come as quite a shock to some people. Like Van Helsing's character for example... although Hugh Jackman played the character in that disastrous Van Helsing film, he's not attractive or sexy. He's an old man! Also, because of the recent vampire romance novel trend, vampires are often depicted as being sexy, brooding creatures. When they kill someone they feel bad about it. But that's not true of Stoker's novel. Vampires are truly evil monsters in this book and there's nothing particularly sexy about Dracula's character. Another thing that might surprise many is that sunlight isn't fatal to vampires in this book. Sure they're nocturnal but it's never once mentioned that a vampire will explode into a pile of dust if he steps out into the sunlight.

This is actually quite a difficult book for me to review. I first read this book in my last year at Uni for a Gothic Literature class that I was taking. I remembered liking the book so I decided to re-read it fairly recently. However, when I did I realised that this book wasn't as good as I remembered. I guess this is a good argument for re-reading books (or maybe not?) Dracula is a book that has some fairly major flaws. Apart from a few cool moments the second half of the book is actually really boring and... lame. The pacing really drags in the middle section of the book and it's mostly very slow and tedious. The characters don't do anything apart from reading each other's diaries, and weeping over Lucy's death and the horror of it all. This gets old very quickly! It took me weeks to get through this section because I kept getting bored and could only read 5-10 pages at a time. Funnily enough, the closing section of this book suffers because it goes to the other extreme and is too fast-paced and rushed. Considering how powerful Dracula is supposed to be, the protagonists were able to defeat him so easily in the end that it was ridiculous! It was a huge anti-climax! Also, I did get a bit fed up of the male characters going on and on about how wonderful Lucy and Mina are throughout the book. The book has a big bee in its bonnet about the "New Woman" that was emerging in Victorian society, and the male characters' constant referring to the traditional virtues and purity of Mina and Lucy's characters was something that got really annoying after a while.

It's a real shame really because when this book is good it is so, so, so good! Dracula is a well-written book on the whole and Dracula himself is a fascinating character. Even though you never actually learn all that much about him he's still a very interesting character and you can see why he's one of the most iconic and memorable villains ever created. The story is definitely at its best whenever Dracula himself is around - whether he's directly on the page interacting with the other characters or just when the characters are picking up on when his evil presence is lurking around. The book just comes alive whenever Dracula shows up. The menace just drips through the pages. The opening section of the book, when Jonathan Harker is writing his diary entries in Dracula's castle, is actually quite incredible. Stoker creates such an atmosphere of doom and dread and it's all very creepy and mysterious and suspenseful. It's genuinely chilling and eerie... just fantastic stuff. This opening section was the best part of the book for me but there are other great sections as well. The diary entries from the ship's captain which explains how Dracula made his way over to England and what he did to the crew, the cemetery scene with Mina and Lucy, some of Mina and Lucy's dreams, the early chapters with Dr Seward observing his patient Renfield, the scene where the protagonists go exploring in Carfax Abbey, the scene where the male characters discover Dracula in Mina's bedroom.... all of these scenes were really thrilling and fun to read. And if there'd been more scenes like this, more scenes where we had Dracula lurking around and interacting with the other characters then this book would have been absolutely brilliant. The book loses its power when his character isn't around. As it is, the basic plot of the book is brilliant and certain sections of the book are brilliant. But I don't think the book is brilliant on the whole.

For all of the flaws in its second half, the seriously cool stuff in the first half of the book and the occasional flashes of cool stuff in the second half make Dracula definitely worth a read. It's still a much better Gothic-horror classic than Frankenstein. If you're only going to read one vampire novel in your life then it should probably be Dracula although I personally much prefer the TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer. 

Rating: 3.5/5

Saturday, 11 August 2012

Merlin (Series Four)

The fourth series of Merlin begins with the two-parter episode The Darkest Hour, which takes place one year after the events of the series three finale The Coming of Arthur. Uther Pendragon is a broken-hearted man after the betrayal of his beloved daughter and ward Morgana and is now suffering from severe depression. As a result of Uther's condition, Arthur is now king in all but name and is acting as Prince Regent of Camelot. And as for Morgana, she's still on the loose and is more than determined than ever to make herself Queen. She's even willing to sacrifice her own half-sister Morgause in order to do it. Morgana's magical powers have grown considerably over the past year and she's now a much more dangerous and threatening villain. She's even had her own badass makeover too! In the first three series of Merlin, Morgana usually wore colourful and fabulous dresses such as these:

But now Morgana looks like THIS:

As you can plainly see, Morgana now looks like a younger and hotter version of Bellatrix Lestrange! Unfortunately for her - since she's no longer at Camelot and is stuck all by herself in her Cottage of Doom all day - there's no-one around to appreciate how glamorously evil she's become. That can't be fun for her. Say what you like about Morgana but you have to admit she's got style! Morgana has also gotten herself her own spy to feed her information and stir up trouble in Camelot. This is Arthur's uncle Sir Agravaine (I like to call him "Sir Aggravate") and he's now working as Arthur's chief adviser at Camelot. He's a man that's so shifty looking that you can just TELL he's up to no good even before it's revealed that he's in cahoots with Morgana! You might be interested to know that Agravaine is Arthur's nephew in traditional Arthurian mythology but he was still sort of evil.

Merlin and Gaius both suspect that Agravaine may be Morgana's spy but can't really do anything about it due to their lack of proof. Yet despite the fact that Morgana is more dangerous than ever before, she becomes increasingly paranoid and scared about Emrys after she receives a series of warnings that this extremely powerful sorcerer is destined to be her doom. Morgana becomes obsessed with Emrys but she has no idea that Emrys is actually the druid's name for Merlin. It's quite satisfying to see Morgana being scared-stiff of Merlin without actually knowing it's him!

Now that I've watched all of its four series I can't believe that I initially dismissed Merlin all those years ago. It's a wonderful TV show and is vastly, VASTLY superior to all of its post Doctor Who rivals. Up until Doctor Who arrived back on our TV screens in 2005, fantasy/sci-fi shows were a rare thing on British TV. But Doctor Who's huge success proved that there was still a big market for this sort of show. The BBC and ITV then produced several others to try and cash in on Doctor Who's success - shows such as Robin Hood, Demons and, Lord help me, Primeval. (shudders) When Hannah from S Club 7 is the best actor in your show you know you've got problems!

Merlin is different. It's entertaining and ridiculously addictive. It has clever and interesting plots. It has magic and exciting action scenes. It's very well-written and it has a superb cast: Colin Morgan, Bradley James, Katie McGrath, Angel Coulby, Richard Wilson, Anthony Stewart Head and John Hurt. And the show has extremely likeable protagonists that you can genuinely care about. As cheesy as it might sound there have been many times when I've found myself wanting to hang out at the pub with Merlin and Arthur! Even Merlin's weakest episodes have some merit to them. And the quality hasn't declined! It's a show that just keeps getting better and better! Series Four is the best series of Merlin yet. In fact it's so good that it makes series one seem almost crap by comparison! And I really loved series one! This improvement in quality might be the reason why the show has had increased ratings. Something...just seemed to happen with this series. Merlin has always been a popular show but for some reason there was a big boost in ratings with series four. Was it a word-of-mouth thing? The BBC had originally planned on Merlin being a teatime show but they then decided to give the show a prime-time Saturday night slot for its fourth series. You'd think the BBC's decision to put it in direct competition with ITV's The X Factor might have harmed the show's ratings but that wasn't the case at all. In fact the finale of Merlin series four only got half a million less viewers than the finale of Doctor Who series six! This is a huge achievement! Now Merlin is the only fantasy show in the UK that can genuinely claim to be a rival to Doctor Who, and it's picked up a small but passionate cult following in the USA due to it being shown on the cable channels NBC and Sy-Fy.

As I've already mentioned series four is the best series of Merlin so far and this is due to several different reasons. One of the reasons why it's the best yet is because of these guys (see left). Although a couple of them are basically glorified extras - I'm looking especially hard at you, Percival! - the Knights of the Round Table really are a great addition to the show and provide a lot of fun. The production values for this series are higher than they've ever been before too. Although the dodgy dragon CGI suggests that the show doesn't have a massive budget it's still quite clearly an expensive show to make and it does have a very cinematic look and feel to it at times.

Another great thing about series four is that it has the best storylines so far and even the standalone "filler" episodes are great. There isn't a single bad episode. Also, series four is definitely the darkest and most mature series of the show yet. You know it's going to be almost straight away because the opening narration from John Hurt refers to Merlin as a "young man" instead of a "young boy". The darkest episode in the series is, well, the series opener The Darkest Hour. It has moody visuals, a genuinely eerie atmosphere and some unsettling scenes. I wouldn't be at all surprised if some of the younger viewers were sent to bed early by mum and dad! I thought it was a great move to hold off showing the Darocha for as long as possible and to let the scary sound effects do all the work. Tellingly the series four boxset is the only series of Merlin to receive a 12 certificate. It really is more grown-up!

The characters feel more mature in this series too and they all develop. It was nice to see Merlin take on Gaius's medical duties in Lamia and he even becomes Arthur's speechwriter! Merlin develops in other ways in this series too but I'll come to that later. And judging from the episode The Hunter's Heart Gaius and Sir Leon would make a pair of excellent detectives. Somebody get them their own spin-off show! The character who develops and matures the most in this series though is probably Arthur. Because of Uther's condition he's been forced to step up and become the ruler that Camelot needs. It's great that he's finally become comfortable with the idea of being King. Later on he gets to be the King of Camelot officially. Yep, Uther actually dies in this series! Hurrah! I'm sorry, Anthony Stewart Head. You're a legend and I love you but I'm not going to miss you in this. As a king Arthur isn't perfect. He sometimes listens to bad advice (courtesy of Agravaine) and I reckon he should have been more pro-active in trying to deal with the threat of Morgana. But he's still a far nicer person and a far more open-minded king than his dad ever was. He manages to win over people who had previously held him in contempt (Queen Annis, Tristan) and he even promises to end the persecution of the Druids. His decision to exile Gwen from Camelot was pretty shocking but at least he had the decency to reverse that decision later on.

I especially loved Morgana's character development in this series too. One of my gripes with series three is that the writers made her character too evil too soon. They really should have included a couple of scenes that had Morgana questioning her motives and expressing self-doubt with her evil plans. She was just too unrecognisable from the character of series one and two. But I have no such complaints about Morgana in this series. In my mind, series three should have had Morgana teetering on the brink of evil and series four should have her be totally committed to the dark side. And in this series she is. Morgana is just awesome in series four! I loved her and hated her at the same time. At first I was gutted when Morgause was killed off because she was a great villain and Emilia Fox did a great job playing her. But it was all for the best really. With Morgause no longer around the writers have made Morgana into a much more badass and capable villain in order to compensate. Katie McGrath does a brilliant job playing her too. You can really tell that she's having the time of her life playing a villain! There's far less evil smirking from her than there was in the last series (I think that was due to the writing and direction) and far more actual evil doing. As always there are some impressive guest stars in this series too. A number of talented character actors appear in this series. Gemma Jones (of Sense and Sensibility and Bridget Jones's Diary) plays the Cailleach. Phil Davis, who you may recognise as the taxi cab driver from the first episode of Sherlock, plays as assassin. James Callis, who was in Battlestar Galactica and played Bridget's gay best friend in the Bridget Jones films, features in an episode as an old pupil of Gaius's called Julius Borden. Lindsay Duncan plays Queen Annis and Gary Lewis (who was the dad in Billy Elliot) plays Alator.

The Cailleach

The Assassin

Julius Borden

Queen Annis


Another great thing about this series is that it's darker than its predecessors but not too dark. One of my major problems with the final two seasons of Buffy was that it became too dark and serious but that's not true of Merlin. It still manages to be very funny and entertaining. The comic highlight of the series for me was the episode A Servant of Two Masters. When it starts off though it would be an easy mistake to think that it's going to be a serious episode. Merlin gets injured on a quest and Arthur is obviously concerned because he finally confesses to Merlin what we all knew. He doesn't really think Merlin is a coward. He thinks he's brave and loyal and a great servant. Aww! Then Merlin gets separated from Arthur, is knocked unconscious and is taken by Morgana's henchmen. Morgana then tortures Merlin - Bitch! How dare she?! - and brainwashes him with a magical snake called the Fomorrah, so that Merlin will kill Arthur and therefore enable Morgana to take the throne of Camelot. Now this really shows just how evil Morgana has become in my opinion. Believe me, if I had Colin Morgan tied up in my house then taking over Camelot would be the last thing on my mind! Merlin then goes back to Camelot and makes several bizarre and hilarious attempts to kill Arthur. Merlin makes for a surprisingly terrible assassin! He's then temporarily brought back to his old self by Gaius and Gwen and then battles Morgana in his old man Merlin disguise. Old Merlin is hilarious and there's a very funny scene with him and the Knights. Merlin then defeats Morgana with a very nifty spell and destroys the Fomorrah for good.

The bromance between Merlin and Arthur is just as amusing as it's ever been in this series. In fact it's actually more so! This is because there's now an increased homoerotic subtext to many of the conversations! Ever since Merlin has started there have always been fans who've shipped Merlin and Arthur as a couple, the Merthur fans. If the final episode ended with Merlin and Arthur declaring their unspoken homoerotic love for each other they'd be very pleased! In fairness there have been moments in the previous three series that have had a (presumably) unintentional homoerotic subtext so the fans are only responding to what they see. To moments such as THIS:

With this particular series of Merlin it seems as though the writers have finally discovered the existence of these Merthur fans and have decided to throw in some scenes with a deliberately homoerotic subtext to entertain them. I mean, just look at these scenes! I absolutely refuse to believe that the writers didn't know what they were doing!

The most slashy and hilarious scene of them all....

Ha ha! And even in real life Colin Morgan and Bradley James seem to have something going on! Do I detect some sexual tension in this video? ; )

We see more elements of the traditional Arthurian legends in this series as well. In the episode Lancelot du Lac the show finally gets round to tackling the Arthur-Guinevere-Lancelot love triangle. The adulterous love affair of Lancelot and Guinevere is of course one of the most famous stories in Arthurian mythology, possibly the most famous. Merlin's treatment of this didn't disappoint and and it made for an extremely moving and powerful episode. Even though Merlin isn't a show that takes itself too seriously it can still pack a hefty emotional punch when it needs to! I know that it annoyed some that Lancelot and Gwen's affair was simply a single, passionate kiss in a dark room on the night before Gwen's marriage to Arthur; and that it annoyed many that neither Lancelot nor Gwen were to blame for their actions. The resurrected Lancelot was actually a mindless shade of his former self and was being controlled by Morgana, and Gwen was enchanted by a magical bracelet. But I'm going to stick up for Merlin's depiction of the affair. Although Merlin has gotten darker with each series it still remains a family show so of course the writers wouldn't have wanted to show an adulterous sex scene. And as for the fact that Gwen was enchanted, well, because of the way her character has been written throughout the entire show I've always found it VERY hard to imagine her ever one day cheating on Arthur. She just doesn't seem like the type. If the writers had had Gwen cheat on Arthur of her own volition then it would have been far too out of character. And the fact that Lancelot and Gwen weren't responsible for their actions didn't make the episode any less powerful. In fact it added to it in my eyes! It was heartbreaking that everyone, including Gwen herself, thought that she'd willingly betrayed Arthur. It doesn't look as if anyone ever will find out either. Also, the episode really shows just far the show has come. If this episode had happened back in series one the outcome would have been completely different. Merlin would have found the bracelet, exposed Morgana's plot and exonerated Gwen. The episode would have then finished with the uplifting sight of Gwen getting married to Arthur. But now the writers are bolder and are unafraid to mix things up a bit. Sure they had Arthur eventually forgive Gwen a few episodes later but they still kept us on our toes for a while! Bradley James and Angel Coulby deserve much praise for their acting in this episode too. They both acted their hearts out. There's an extremely emotional scene between them that got them a round of applause from the crew members. You'll know it when you see it! You know, I've never really been a huge fan of the idea of Arthur and Gwen as a couple before. It might have something to do with me being more entertained by the fact that there's more sexual tension between Merlin and Arthur than there is between Arthur and Gwen. But the scene between Bradley James and Angel Coulby completely changed my mind about Arthur and Gwen as a couple and made me support their love!

The series finale The Sword in the Stone also featured some traditional Arthurian elements and it was a fantastic two-parter episode. On paper it would have been easy to dismiss it as being too similar to the series three finale The Coming of Arthur. Once again we had Camelot falling to an enemy army, Morgana becoming Queen, and Arthur and Merlin being forced to go on the run before they were able to rally the troops and reclaim the throne. But The Sword in the Stone was better than The Coming of Arthur. It was bigger and even more epic - and it was surprisingly funnier too. Seeing Arthur as a tree-hugging simpleton had me in stiches. Another great performance from Bradley James! I was also very much entertained by the scenes between Morgana and Gwaine in this episode as well. Just look at how flirty Morgana is in this scene! And she's got him fighting shirtless! Oh Morgana, you've got it bad haven't you?

As for the actual sword-pulling, I know that some viewers have objected to the fact that Merlin used his magic to help Arthur pull the sword out but I disagree. I know it annoyed many but I thought it was an excellent scene. After all, Merlin was the one who put the sword there in the first place so it makes sense that Arthur wouldn't be able to get the sword out without Merlin's permission. It may not be 100% faithful to the myth but Merlin has always played fast-and-loose with Arthurian mythology from the get-go. It seems a bit late to complain about that now! Also, I think some viewers have forgotten that Arthur is a humble servant boy who is unaware of his true noble origins in most interpretations of the myth. Pulling the sword out of the stone proved to the people of Camelot that Arthur was the one true king and the rightful heir to the throne. But that wasn't necessary here. Arthur is already king. He already has the love and respect of his people and they would gladly fight and die for him. Pulling the sword out was never about proving anything to them. Merlin engineered the entire situation as a means of eliminating Arthur's self-doubt and restoring his self-confidence. And I think people still sometimes forget that there isn't really a "correct" version of Arthurian mythology. They're tales with obscure, mysterious origins that have been rewritten numerous times over the centuries.

The only thing that really disappointed me about The Sword in the Stone was the introduction of Tristan and Isolde. They were given the Merlin treatment in this and were reinvented as a pair of Bonnie and Clyde-like smugglers but that's not the reason why I didn't like them. I disliked them because they were just so annoying! Tristan was annoying because he was an annoying prat. Isolde was annoying because she was a crap fighter and had an absurdly impractical, revealing costume. It seemed like the only reason why the writers even put Tristan and Isolde in the episode was just so they could give Arthur more motivation in getting back together with Gwen, and so they could have a scene where one of them dies in the other's arms. But I wasn't moved at all by Isolde's death. If the writers had wanted me to be moved by it then they should have given her an actual personality and not just treated her as token eye-candy. I was just annoyed that Isolde didn't die sooner and that Tristan didn't die as well. I really hope we don't see Tristan again in the next series!  Tristan and Isolde's characters were one of the few things that I found disappointing about this series of Merlin. I also feel that the writers could have explained Agravaine's motives more clearly as well. Why is he so loyal to Morgana? Why does he hate his own nephew so much?

Another thing that I'm getting peeved about now is the fact that it's now been four series and everyone at Camelot (apart from Gaius) is as clueless as ever when it comes to Merlin's magical powers. It really makes me miss Lancelot. When is Arthur ever going to find out about Merlin's powers?! I mean it's getting a bit silly now. There's only so many times the writers can have Arthur failing to notice when Merlin is muttering magical spells behind his back. It's especially frustrating because Merlin has actually moved forward in so many significant ways since the start of series one. We've had Morgana turning evil, the Knights of the Round Table being set up, Uther dying, Arthur becoming King, Arthur getting Excalibur, Gwen marrying Arthur, Gwen becoming Queen. Yet, the writers still insist on keeping Merlin trapped in the magical closet. Actually, I CAN understand why the writers chose not to have Merlin reveal his powers to Arthur in The Sword in the Stone. Arthur had spent the last two episodes brooding about people betraying him (Morgana, Gwen, Agravaine). The last thing he needed to hear was that Merlin has been lying to him for all these years! Arthur isn't like Uther and he wouldn't want Merlin put to death but he'd still view it as a massive betrayal. He'd be hurt and angry. Arthur learning about Merlin's magical powers is a HUGE deal and there wouldn't have been enough time to deal with that properly. It was great to see the look on Agravaine's face though when he realised that Merlin is Emrys! That was an awesome scene! We got to see Merlin take charge and use his magic to kill Agravaine and all of his men. He didn't hold back. It's not the first time that Merlin has killed someone of course but it was still quite shocking to see him kill a load of people all in one go. And so easily too. It was a gutsy move on the writer's part to have the adorable hero of a family show do that and Colin Morgan was just fantastic in that scene - but then he always is really! In this series we get Merlin battling Morgana in his old man disguise, Merlin manipulating the Sword in the Stone, Merlin pulling off his most badass piece of magic yet, and there's also the fact that Merlin can control dragons. It makes me really excited to think what Merlin might get up to in the next series!

As a result of watching Merlin I'm now far more interested in Arthurian mythology and I'm really looking forward to series five, even though I've got next to no chance of watching it on Saturday nights. My family are big X Factor fans : ( I hate that show even more now! True there's always BBC iPlayer but it would make my Saturday nights so much more fun if I could watch Merlin.      
So far not all that much has been revealed as to what we can expect from this upcoming series although some things have been announced. It's going to take place three years after the events of series four, the biggest time jump yet. Merlin's character is apparently going to be much more powerful, focused and ruthless. Yay! Anthony Stewart Head is going to make an appearance. Since Uther's dead I'm guessing that this will be a flashback or a scene where he comes back as a ghost or something. Mordred is going to be in this series too and is going to be working alongside Morgana. About time! We haven't seen Mordred since series two! He's not going to be played by Asa Butterfield though. This time he'll be played by the adult actor Alexander Vlahos (see photo). It would have been really nice to have seen Asa Butterfield one last time but I guess he would be too young to play the character now. If Mordred was 12 when we last saw him he'd be about 18 in series five. Hopefully Vlahos will be as good as Butterfield was. The BBC have also released some promotional pictures for the next series and have released a trailer. Judging from the picture of Morgana her look in series five is going to be the same as her look in series four only more cleavagey. I especially love the shot of Merlin banging his hands on the ground in the trailer. Hopefully he's about to perform a badass bit of magic. And I really like the little scene with Arthur and Merlin towards the end.

My wishlist for the next series of Merlin: 
  • PLEASE can Merlin's magic be revealed to Arthur early on?! I really can't see the writers being able to stretch this out for much longer - and if, after the first four or five episodes, Merlin's magical powers still aren't known to Arthur then I'm going to scream! Well, I probably won't scream but I'll definitely let out a very loud groan! I want Merlin to finally get the credit he deserves for the countless times he's saved Arthur's life and prevented the Kingdom from collapsing. And if Merlin's magical powers are revealed early on it means that we can have Arthur gradually coming to terms with it throughout the entire series. I'm so afraid that they might not reveal Merlin's magical powers until the final episode!
  • I don't want any more spys and traitors in this series. It's been done now and the show needs to move on.
  • Can we get another Gwaine-focused episode? I love Gwaine! He's by far my favourite out of the Knights and I'd love it if Merlin did their own spin on the Green Knight story. Gwaine's character is used too much as the plucky, comic relief.
  • I want the series to focus on the birth of Albion and to see Arthur becoming High King. 
  • It was nice that we got to see Merlin meeting his mother again in The Sword in the Stone. I think the last time we saw Hunith was in the series one finale Le Morte d'Arthur. But Merlin needs to have a long overdue conversation with her about his father. Does she even know that Merlin met him? Does she know that he's dead?
  • It would be nice to learn more about Avalon. 
  • It would be nice if Gwen and Elyan got more scenes in this series too. They got so few scenes together in series four that you'd never guess they were brother and sister.
  • I'd like to see Gwen maturing and becoming a great Queen.
  • I'd love another Merlin-Morgana battle, this time without Merlin using his old man disguise.
  • I have a feeling that Gaius is going to die in this series and I have mixed feelings about that. I do love his relationship with Merlin. The banter between them is almost as amusing as the banter between Merlin and Arthur. But just as Uther's being killed off forced Arthur to mature, killing off Merlin's father-figure would force him to mature. Without Gaius's help he'd be completely self-reliant then and would have to make all of his own decisions. And I'm sure Gaius's death scene would have us seeing some fantastic dramatic acting from Colin Morgan.

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Oliver! (UK Tour 2012)

I saw Oliver! in March earlier this year at the Birmingham Hippodrome. I had a week off work at the time and I felt like treating myself so I decided to see a show. Then I thought about seeing Oliver! I'd heard that it was coming to Birmingham and I quite liked the idea of seeing a show in my hometown for once. So I went onto the Hippodrome website and found out that Samantha Barks was going to be playing the role of Nancy. I'd loved her Eponine in Les Miserables and thought it would be great to see her in something else. I'm also a Charles Dickens fan - although I haven't yet read Oliver Twist - so that was another factor that spurred me onto getting a ticket.

So what did I think? Well, I loved it! I was quite surprised at how much I enjoyed it actually since I've never been a particularly huge fan of the film! I won't go into the story of the musical in too much detail, since it's so famous that practically everyone knows that it's about a young boy called Oliver who runs away to London to seek his fortune and falls in with a gang of pickpockets. Everyone knows who Oliver, the Artful Dodger, Fagin, Nancy and Bill Sykes are.

Oliver! is a true classic and even though the musical is over 60 years old the music still sounds great and fresh. Almost all of the songs are memorable and brilliantly-written and could be written today. They're timeless. I thought the show was an excellent production too. The sets were fantastic and the production values were some of the highest that I've yet seen. It was obvious that Cameron Mackintosh had spent a lot of money on the show! It was a really big production, especially for a tour, and looked incredible.

The most famous actor in the show was undoubtedly Neil Morrissey because he's been in Men Behaving BadlyBob the Builder and various other things on the TV. He played Fagin. Now perhaps it's not nice of me to start off with a criticism but... in one scene he did something that I really didn't like and found annoying. There was this one bit in the show where Morrissey's Fagin was holding a jewellery box and from it he took out a pearl and a crystal. He started messing around with them by saying "Crystal, meet Pearl. Pearl, meet Crystal." Then he mentioned that the Crystal was from a broken chandelier. Then Morrissey gave a slight pause and said, slowly and for emphasis, "Can We Fix It?" At this point the audience went into hysterics and everyone seemed to find it hilarious... but I wasn't laughing because I didn't find it funny. I don't really like it when actors do "Nudge nudge wink wink" moments like this. It's just too pantomime-ish and silly. It completely took me out of the show when Morrissey said that. Apart from that though I thought Morrissey was actually really good. He was funny and he worked well with the children.

The role of Bill Sykes was played by Iain Fletcher. He gave a really good performance as well even though he wasn't an especially strong singer. He pretty much sang-spoke his way through My Name. Yep, Bill Sykes actually sings in the stage version which was a bit of a surprise to me. But even though Fletcher didn't have the best voice in the world I really liked his acting. He brought menace to the part and was a really good villain. I'm sure he could terrify younger children! He had good chemistry with Samantha Barks as well, erm, despite the fact that Bill beats Nancy up.

The star of the show for me though was Samantha Barks. Nancy is the best and most well-developed character in the show and Samantha Barks did an absolutely brilliant job playing her. I won't usually go to see shows just because it features a certain performer. There have been times in the past when that's been the case like when I saw Much Ado About Nothing because David Tennant was playing Benedick - but usually I go because I want to see the show for itself. I did really want to see Samantha Barks though and I was praying that she wouldn't get sick. She wasn't sick and was absolutely sensational. Her acting was great, her cockney accent was really good, and she sounded just as comfortable singing the belty power ballad As Long As He Needs Me and the up-tempo songs like A Fine LifeI'd Do Anything and Oom Pah Pah. She really has come such a long way since being on the BBC's I'd Do Anything four years ago! Playing Eponine in Les Mis has really improved her voice and seems to have given her a lot more confidence. There is a version on YouTube of her performing As Long As He Needs Me from the I'd Do Anything final but that really doesn't do her justice because her version of that song in the show blew that version out of the water! Jodie Prenger probably deserved to win I'd Do Anything back then but if Samantha had been as good then as she is now, well, she would have won! I'm so glad that I got to see her perform in Oliver! before her commitments to the Les Mis film meant that she had to leave the tour early, and of course I'm looking forward to seeing her in the Les Mis film. I'm sure she'll do a fantastic job, although when she first shows up in the film it will be hard for not to think "Ooh, I've seen her live! Twice!"

The ensemble cast in Oliver! was very strong as well. Jack Edwards played Mr Bumble and his vocals on Boy For Sale were stunning. Emma Dukes was pretty good as Bet, Nancy's best friend. Unfortunately I can't remember who played the Artful Dodger and Oliver but they were great too. The kid who played Oliver in the show certainly did a far better version of Where is Love? than the kid in the film!  All of the kids in general were great though. They were full of energy and enthusiasm and you could really tell that they were having a good time!

The only warning that I would give about this show - and it's not really a criticism, just a statement - is that I really don't think it's something that children should be seeing. Or at least not very young children anyway. When I saw Oliver! I spotted quite a few secondary school children on what looked like a school trip and that made sense to me: a Dickens based musical, teachers trying to get their students into classic literature, yadda yadda yadda. But I'm also aware that Oliver! is generally considered a family friendly musical and I really don't see why. I think it's because it has upbeat, cheerful tunes like Consider Yourself and Who Will Buy? and has a large cast of children in it. People seem to forget that the show also features starvation, poverty, child abuse, pickpocketing, domestic violence and murder! Admittedly, Nancy's murder in the show wasn't graphic. Sykes knocked Nancy down and she fell behind something - I can't remember what it was now - so only her legs were sticking out. Bill dived down, the orchestra made banging sounds, Nancy's legs jerked around, and then Bill got up again looking shaken. I still think it's something that would freak some younger kids out though. There were some sexual innuendoes going on Oom Pah Pah as well, although saying that I think most of it would have gone right over the heads of any younger children in the audience.

Again, I was really surprised at how I much I enjoyed the show and now I would actually consider it one of my favourite musicals. I had a great time and the production was a very fitting tribute to both Dickens and Lionel Bart. I didn't know much about Lionel Bart before but the programme had a two-page biography about him. After writing Oliver! Bart wrote the musicals Blitz! and Maggie May and achieved modest success with those. He then decided to write a Robin Hood-themed musical called Twang!! but it was a complete and utter disaster. Hmm, that seems to be a pattern with Robin Hood! Apparently, Bart was too demanding and insisted on being in control over every single aspect of the production. Eventually the big West End backers got word of the troubles that were going on and backed out. Bart then rashly put his own money into the show to keep it running, but the opening night was dreadful and the reviews were catastrophic. Twang!! only lasted 43 performances and his next musical La Strada did even worse, lasting for just one night! Bart was heavily into drugs and alcohol at this point and it was clearly affecting his music and business judgement. Because he was so much in debt, due to his last two musicals being major flops, Bart was forced to sell the rights to Oliver!, but in doing so he gave away his one guaranteed royalties-earner. He then fell even further into drugs and alcohol and got even more into debt. But then in 1994 Cameron Mackintosh produced a new production of Oliver! - and because he now co-owned the rights - he gave Bart a share of his royalties back. I think Mackintosh deserves an enormous amount of credit for this. Shortly before Bart died in 1999 he was even talking about a return to writing musicals.

When I saw this musical I was in the stalls, not right at the front but I still had a great view. I'm seeing Phantom of the Opera at the Hippodrome in May 2013 with Earl Carpenter as the Phantom and I'm really looking forward to that. The Hippodrome isn't as fancy as most of the theatres on the West End are but it's a nice venue nonetheless and, well, I always look forward to seeing Phantom! It will be the 25th anniversary tour version which has gotten a very mixed response from fans of the West End version but I really liked it when I saw it. It's not as good as the West End version no but I still think it's an interesting alternative. I'll probably review it when I see it for the second time. Interestingly, both Oliver! and the 25th anniversary tour of Phantom were both directed by Laurence Connor. Mackintosh is clearly a big fan!

Rating: 5/5

I think the musical is still touring so if you want an idea of what the show is like...