Wednesday, 29 May 2013

The Tempest (2013 Shakespeare's Globe Theatre)

I'll be completely upfront and honest here. The main reason why I wanted to see this play wasn't for the play itself - which I wasn't familiar with - but because it featured two actors that I really like: Roger Allam and Colin Morgan. I've become a fan of Roger Allam thanks to my huge love of Cabin Pressure and Colin Morgan played the title role in Merlin which I'm a massive fan of. These two actors are probably the most famous actors in this production although some might recognise the actress who plays Miranda. Her character is played by Jessie Buckley who was a contestant on the Andrew Lloyd Webber show I'd Do Anything, which was that talent show where they were looking for a woman to play Nancy in Oliver! 

After I booked a ticket to see this play I bought a copy of The Tempest so I could familiarise myself with the source material - but I have to say I wasn't overly impressed. I loved the language and I really liked the setting and some of the characters but I also found it boring in places and the Miranda-Ferdinand romance really got on my nerves. But now I've actually seen the play live I can say that it's so much more enjoyable than the written text! I still don't think I'd class The Tempest as one of my all-time favourite Shakespeare plays but when you see it live it's fun, enjoyable, funny and entertaining. The play got so many laughs from the audience and I had a great time. Even the weather was pretty good! This production also featured some excellent musicians and the staging was effective. It was pretty simplistic but there were some nice props and I liked that Elizabethan/Jacobean clothing was actually worn.

The whole cast was terrific in The Tempest and every single actor looked like they were enjoying themselves. The last time Allam performed at the Globe he won an Olivier for playing Falstaff in Henry IV, Parts 1 and 2. Allam was clearly very comfortable with the Shakespearean dialogue and he gave an excellent performance. I really liked the way he played Prospero. From what I've heard Propspero is often played as being quite a dark character but Allam's Prospero was actually very likeable and sympathetic. His scenes with Miranda were quite touching and affectionate. Allam had genuine chemistry with Jessie Buckey and Prospero's relationship with Miranda was very believable and well-done in this production. Colin Morgan was also excellent. Morgan apparently played Ferdinand when he was still at drama school but in this he played Ariel. Considering that Morgan is pretty tall and surprisingly muscular in real life he's very acrobatic! His acting was very physical in this and he moved around the stage a lot! He ran, leapt, climbed and swung around the stage. He even cartwheeled at one point! But his Ariel was also slightly camp, very ethereal and clearly not human. Morgan brought some real vulnerability and innocence to the character as well. The notable exception to this is the scene where Ariel dresses up as a harpy. Morgan is pretty menacing here. Interestingly Morgan also played Ariel as being quite forgetful. When Prospero reminds Ariel of when he freed him from the Sycorax's spell Ariel genuinely doesn't seem to remember what happened to him. Morgan also sings in this production. To be honest he hasn't got a great voice but he still sang in tune and I'm sure he'll get better as the run carries on. Shockingly enough though my favourite actor in this production wasn't actually Allam or Morgan...

As much as I love Allam and Morgan, and as great as they both were in this, it was actually Joshua James and Jessie Buckley who gave my favourite performances in the whole play. I loved them! I really didn't like the Ferdinand-Miranda romance at all when I read The Tempest but it was actually my favourite thing about this production! Their romance was actually really cute and adorable in this and that was entirely down to the acting. James and Buckley were both brilliant and they brought so much personality and likeability to their characters. They had great comic timing and they both made me laugh out loud. On the page Ferdinand is a pretty boring and insipid character but James played him as being a bumbling, hapless posh boy - to hilarious effect! Miranda isn't that interesting on the page either but Buckley's Miranda had really funny mannerisms and was really cute. James and Buckley had great chemistry too. According to the programme they've both recently graduated from RADA so maybe they already knew each other going into this play?

I guess the only other main actor to talk about it is James Garnon who played Caliban. He definitely freaked out some members of the audience! He spent a lot of time hissing and spitting and glaring at members of the standing audience - "the groundlings". If you choose to stand near the stage you have been warned! Garnon had a really odd accent as Caliban - I'm not sure what it was supposed to be - and an odd style of walking which helped to show that the character isn't human. I found Caliban's scenes with Stephano and Trinculo funnier live than when I read the play and the actors did bring humour of their lines. Some of the Trinculo-Stephano scenes were really bawdy - too bawdy for my liking at times to be honest - but the actors were really good and the audience were clearly enjoying it.

I think my favourite moment in the play had to be this big dance scene between the characters where Prospero and Ariel are clearly trying to stop Ferdinand and Miranda dancing together. That might not sound all that funny but it was absolutely hilarious to watch!

The Tempest is currently playing at Shakespeare's Globe Theatre until August and I'd definitely recommend going if you can. Tickets are only £5 if you're willing to stand for three hours. I wasn't willing so I paid £18 for a partly restricted seat on the lower ground. The view was great for the vast majority of the time. Failing that I know the Globe Theatre will occasionally release DVDs of their most well-received productions.

Rating: 4.5/5

Saturday, 25 May 2013

Once Upon a Time (Season One)

Once Upon a Time is an American TV show that's filmed in Canada and features a cast of mostly American/Canadian actors. It's a fantasy drama and its two head writers/executive producers are Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz. The pair previously worked as writers on Lost and occasionally Once Upon a Time makes references to that show. You can see an Oceanic plane at one point and eventually two actors from Lost show up (Alan Dale and Emilie de Ravin). I know Once Upon a Time was a huge hit in the US and I can definitely see why. I love it! It's charming, clever, fun, exciting, really original, big in scope and ambitious. Season one is brilliant and the only other American TV show that I can think of which got off to as great a start as Once Upon a Time is Heroes. I really hope that Once Upon a Time doesn't go the same way!

The basic premise of OUaT is that all of the classic fairytales that you knew as a child really did happen in another world, but most of the characters from these fairytales have lost their memories and now live "someplace horrible" a.k.a. the small town of Storybrooke in Maine, USA. This is because of a curse that was placed on them by the Evil Queen from the Snow White fairytale. The Queen's name is Regina, she's the Mayor of Storybrooke, and she has an adopted son called Henry. In the pilot episode of Once Upon a Time a 28 year old woman called Emma Swan is visited by Henry, who shows up at her apartment door in Boston. Henry explains that he's Emma's biological son whom Emma gave up for adoption 10 years before. Emma is then forced to take Henry back to Storybrooke and meets Regina. Emma doesn't believe in Henry's claims that the people of Storybrooke are really fairytale characters, but she does suspect that Henry is being mistreated by Regina so she decides to stick around for a while and keep an eye on him. What Emma doesn't know is that she's really the daughter of Snow White and Prince Charming and is supposedly the only one who can break the curse. In each episode of the show we watch the characters in Storybrooke but we also get flashbacks of these characters from when they were still living in the other world. This is Lost's main influence on the show.

There are many aspects of OUaT that could have gone disastrously wrong: there are different worlds, a large amount of characters, special effects and a precocious child character. It's even more impressive that season one is as great as it is then! Even the pilot episode of the show is actually really good! What also works in the show's favour is its very impressive cast. Jennifer Morrison (of House and How I Met Your Mother) plays Emma Swan. Morrison is great and there's a real chemistry between her and Jared Gilmore, who plays Emma's son Henry. I actually love Henry. He's the sort of character who could have easily been very irritating but Gilmore is an excellent child actor and keeps the character likeable. Ginnifer Goodwin (of Walk the Line and He's Just Not That Into You) plays Snow White/Mary Margaret. She also does an excellent job. As Mary Margaret she's sweet and gentle but as Snow White she's sassier and a lot more feisty. She also has a lot of chemistry with Josh Dallas who plays Prince Charming/David Nolan. Although that's probably not all that surprising since they're going out in real life. The best actors in the show for me though are Lana Parilla and Robert Carlyle. Lana Parilla plays Regina and makes for an awesome, badass villain. She's a much better villain than the Evil Queens that were played by Julia Roberts and Charlize Theron in Mirror Mirror and Snow White and the Huntsman. Regina is evil but in a multi-layered way and you even feel sorry for her at times. I loved the tension between Regina and Emma as well, it's one of the most enjoyable aspects of the show for me. Robert Carlyle plays Rumpelstiltskin/Mr Gold who's the most interesting, morally ambiguous and complex character of the show. This is why he's my favourite. Carlyle is obviously having the time of his life on the show and you can really tell that he's having a lot of fun with the character. I love the contrast in how he plays Rumpelstiltskin and Mr Gold. In the fairytale world he's entertainingly over-the-top but in Storybrooke he tones it down and is more subtle. I love that they let him keep his Scottish accent as well. OUaT has also got some very impressive guest stars in this season. Amy Acker (Fred/Illyria from Angel) makes an appearance in the episode Dreamy and David Anders (of Alias and Heroes) shows up a few times. My favourite guest stars in season one were Emma Caulfield (Anya from Buffy) and Sebastian Stan. Caulfield plays the Evil Witch from the Hansel and Gretel fairytale in the episode True North. Even though she isn't in the episode for very long Caulfield is terrific and really creepy! I was genuinely disturbed! I absolutely loved Sebastian Stan as well. He plays the Mad Hatter from Alice in Wonderland in the episode Hat Trick, which is one of my favourite episodes from this season.  Stan gives a fantastic performance and I'd love to see much more of him in the show.

Emma Swan
Snow White/Mary Margaret
Henry Mills
Regina Mills/The Evil Queen
Rumpelstiltskin/Mr Gold

Season one of OUaT tackles a number of different fairytales. We get Snow WhiteCinderellaRumpelstiltskinHansel and Gretel, Beauty and the Beast and Little Red Riding Hood. Purists might be annoyed by the fact that some of these fairytale stories are actually closer to the Disney versions than the traditional tales though. There are numerous examples of this. The Dwarves aren't given names in traditional versions of the Snow White fairytale but in this show they have the same names as the Disney film. Snow White also hums "With a Smile and a Song" from the Disney film at one point whilst wearing a red bow in her hair. The Genie of the Lamp mentions that he comes from Agrabah, which is a clear reference to Disney's Aladdin. The fact that Once Upon a Time is on the ABC channel - which is owned by Disney - has resulted in the show being accused of product placement. To be fair though the Disney films are probably the versions that most people are familiar with these days and I personally don't have a problem with the fact that the fairytales tend to be based on the Disney films - but then I'm a huge Disney fan. OUaT doesn't just confine itself to fairytales though. King Midas from Greek mythology makes an appearance. Pinocchio is tackled. The Genie of the Lamp from Aladdin shows up. The Mad Hatter shows up. Jiminy Cricket/Archie's dog is Pongo from One Hundred and One Dalmatians!

OUaT isn't perfect of course. The special effects aren't always great and there's some very obvious green-screening in places. Adoption isn't presented very well in the show either and I think some viewers will be offended by that. For example: Emma spent her childhood being bounced around from foster home to foster home. She never got to have a real family and she has abandonment issues. And then there's Henry. He can't stand his adoptive mother Regina and he keeps running off to Emma for help. Emma is also supposed to know when people are lying to her but she gets lied to time and time again and falls for them - which is a big plot hole. There's also the occasional bit of silliness and cheesiness. OUaT isn't a painfully cheesy show but the dialogue can get a bit embarrassing from time to time. I wish I had a pound for every time Snow White and Charming's characters kept promising to find each other and Dreamy is a very cheesy episode. That episode also featured dwarfs being hatched from eggs. What on earth?! That's really creepy! And who lays the eggs anyway? Yet despite these faults I still really loved season one and I'm really enjoying season two at the moment. It's easily one of my favourite TV shows that's currently airing. I enjoyed most of the episodes from season one but when push comes to shove my top three are The Heart is a Lonely HunterSkin Deep and Hat Trick. Honourable mentions go to the Pilot episode, True North, Red-Handed, Stable Boy and the finale A Land Without Magic. I was thinking of reviewing my favourite episodes in this post but now I'm planning on doing a separate post at some point.

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Persuasion (2007)

Persuasion is a beautiful book and is one of my favourite Jane Austen novels. ITV's adaptation of Northanger Abbey is excellent and their version of Mansfield Park is decent. So what's ITV's adaptation of Persuasion like then? Atrocious! I hated the script, I hated the acting, I hated almost everything about it! It's by far the worst of the ITV Jane Austen adaptations of 2007! Yes it's got some nice music in places and a couple of the supporting actors are good. And yes some of it was actually shot on location in Bath. But apart from these few positive aspects aside this adaptation is awful!

There's so much that's wrong with this version that I'm not even sure where to begin. The pacing feels very rushed and many great scenes from the book are left out or ruined. Things are changed around for no good reason too. As an example Anne's friend Mrs Smith is called Harriet Smith in this! What?! Was this supposed to be an amusing in-joke?! Well, I certainly didn't find it funny and Mrs Smith's backstory with Mr Elliot was completely cut as well.

The tone of this version is also much too serious and there's no humour whatsoever. That's just wrong.
Persuasion might be one of Austen's more serious works but there are still funny moments in it. The look of this adaptation is too dark and dreary-looking. Apart from a couple of exceptions the cast are all really poor in this version as well. I don't know if it's because of the script or if it's because of the direction they received or if it's simply because the majority of the actors were badly miscast but most of the performances leave much to be desired.

I was so unhappy with Sally Hawkins as Anne Elliot. Hawkins can clearly act but the way Hawkins interprets Anne is completely wrong. She whispers most of her lines and she plays Anne as being a pathetic wimp who's always crying over Wentworth and looking miserable. Anne is never that depressed in the book! Yes, she certainly feels sad and lonely at times but she's also warm, conversational and witty. All of the other characters who have any sense in the book love her. And why is Anne so unattractive in this version?! I've seen pictures of Sally Hawkins in real life where she looks really pretty so why did they make her look so plain in this?! Why did they give her such greasy, messed-up hair and dowdy, ugly costumes! Anne isn't supposed to be unattractive! At first I assumed that they were going to make her up to look prettier and prettier as it went on to show how Anne regains her bloom and health but no, they don't. Anne finally washes her hair at the end but by then it's too little too late. Anne is so unattractive, boring and insipid in this version that I have no idea how Wentworth could fall in love with her -  and still be in love with her - after eight years!

Rupert Penry-Jones as Wentworth is just as bad. He does absolutely nothing apart from brood and shows no charm or charisma. He just comes across as incredibly boring and bland. Why are Anne and the Musgrove sisters so crazy about him?! Also, Penry-Jones' skin is so pale and unblemished that I really couldn't buy him as a sailor who's fought in the Napoleonic Wars for the last eight years!

Most of the supporting cast are really poor in this version too. The worst culprit is Amanda Hale who is just sooo bad as Mary Musgrove! I know Mary is supposed to be a hypochondriac but Hale plays Mary as being mentally unhinged and her line delivery is horrible. In fact there's only a couple of performances that I genuinely liked in this adaptation. I thought Alice Krige as Lady Russell was pretty good and it's a shame that she doesn't get much screentime. I love Anthony Stewart Head and I thought he did a great job as Sir Walter Elliot. I still prefer Corin Redgrave's more humorous performance in the 1995 version but Stewart Head is great too and the only actor who looks like he's having any sort of fun in this thing.

The Most Stupid Scenes in Persuasion!
Because I still don't think I've conveyed just how appalling this adaptation really is I've decided to give a run-down of its most stupid scenes in the order they appear - the scenes that had me sighing or facepalming.
  • This version of Persuasion begins with Anne rushing around Kellynch whilst the servants are packing up. She seems to be taking an inventory but she doesn't seem to be writing anything down. She just makes random scratches every now and again. Anne then runs out of ink but there just so happens to be a servant standing in the hallway with some ink for Anne to take a refill. What?! Was this servant just told to stand there all day and wait for Anne to take her refills?
  • When Charles Musgrove Jr dislocates his collar bone, Anne then rushes to help despite being in the middle of getting dressed for a party. She doesn't seem to be even the slightest bit embarrassed to be standing in her underwear in front of her nephew and brother-in-law and they don't seem to be embarrassed about it either! Anne then sets Charles' collarbone back into place. What?! I know Anne is a very competent and capable woman but since when has Anne had medical training?! And why couldn't she have put some clothes on?!
  • When Wentworth asks Louisa Musgrove when her brother Charles proposed to Anne, Louisa's response is "I do not exactly know, but before he married Mary". Well, duh Louisa! 
  • In the book there's a scene where some of the characters go out walking and Wentworth realises that Anne is tired. He asks the Crofts to give her a ride home, and then gallantly picks Anne up and helps her into their carriage. It's a really touching scene and it's when Anne begins to think that perhaps Wentworth does still care for her at least a little bit after all. Is it a touching and romantic scene in this version? Ha! Wentworth doesn't ask the Crofts to take her in the carriage, they ask him. And Wentworth doesn't gently pick Anne up and put her down. He handles her about as tenderly as you would with a shopping bag! This scene isn't even the slightest bit romantic! It's just really awkward.
  • In the book Anne has a conversation with Wentworth's friend Harville in Bath. They talk about love and the constancy of women. Wentworth overhears this conversation and is really moved by it. He writes his famous love letter to Anne and the two are reconciled. This scene happens towards the end of the novel. This is completely ruined in this version! Anne's conversation is with Mr Benwick in Lyme Regis instead and Wentworth is well out of earshot. There's absolutely no way he could have overheard this conversation! Why would you change this?! Why, why, why?!
  • Louisa Musgrove's fall in Lyme Regis is completely wrong. You don't even see her fall and the panic that everyone apart from Anne is supposed to be feeling is completely gone. In this version nobody panics or cries. They're all calm! This scene is supposed to show how Anne can keep a level head in a crisis but since no-one panics this scene is completely unnecessary. After this scene the characters seem only mildly upset about what's just happened.
  • The waters in Bath really do have healing powers because Mrs Smith makes a miraculous recovery in this and arrives just in time to tell Anne about Mr Elliot's plans. In this he'd planned to marry Anne and make Mrs Clay his mistress afterwards.
  • And now I've come to the most hated and ridiculed scene in this entire adaptation - the Bath Marathon. They completely ruined the ending of the book! Firstly Wentworth comes over to Anne's house and she tells him that she isn't engaged to Mr Elliot. He then leaves the house. Anne is then briefly interrupted by Henrietta Musgrove and her mother. Wentworth is then nowhere in sight when Anne leaves the house despite him leaving only 8 seconds before! Yes, I did time it! Anne then decides that the logical thing to do is to RUN, yes, RUN all over the city like a headless chicken to find Wentworth. She then bumps into Mrs Smith (see above). Anne then runs over to where Wentworth is staying. Wentworth is no longer there but he still found the time to write his letter and entrust it to Harville. Anne then reads the letter, whilst running, to find the Crofts because Wentworth left with them. But when Anne finally finds the Crofts they say he's gone back to her house! When Anne finally finds Wentworth he's standing outside her house and is casually chatting away with Charles Musgrove. WHAT?! All of this is just so, so, so wrong! It's completely out-of-character and inappropriate for Anne to be running all over the city! No respectable woman in Austen's time would have done this! And how did Wentworth have the time to go home, write a letter, go out with the Crofts, and make it back to Anne's house without even breaking into a sweat whilst Anne is running for her life?! Is that Wentworth's super-power?! And then, just when you'd think things couldn't get any worse, Anne and Wentworth come to an understanding and kiss. But it's not remotely romantic. It's disgusting! Anne is sweaty from her run and is surely in dire need of a shower and a drink. And the kiss is ridiculously drawn-out! They hover around each mouth's for a whopping 24 seconds! Yes, I timed that as well! This scene alone is an abomination! 
  • And now I've finally come to the ending. Anne finally gets a better hairdo in this scene so you might think I'd like it but no. In this version Wentworth actually buys Kellynch as a wedding present for Anne! WHAT?! Kellynch is entailed away to Mr Elliot! 
This adaptation is absolutely dreadful and I don't understand how anyone could prefer it over the 1995 version. In that version there's far more chemistry between the leading actors, the acting is better all-round, the cinematography is much nicer, the pacing is much better, and it's much more faithful to the book. Instead of watching this adaptation watch that instead, or better yet read the book if you haven't already. This version is a trainwreck and I'm sure Jane Austen must be spinning in her grave.

Rating: 1/5
Film Certificate Rating: PG

Monday, 20 May 2013

Cabin Pressure (Series 1-3)

Cabin Pressure is a radio sitcom about a one-airplane airline called MJN Air and the hilarious escapades of its staff. It's played on BBC Radio 4 and every single episode is written by John Finnemore. Cabin Pressure first started airing back in 2008 and it has a very young fanbase for a Radio 4 show. Why? Because Benedict Cumberbatch is in it! Cabin Pressure has always been well-reviewed but John Finnemore himself has said that the fanbase for the show pretty much tripled overnight when Sherlock first started airing on TV. Finnemore also noticed that the fans who turned up at Cabin Pressure's live recordings started to get younger and more female. In fact a whopping 17,000 people applied for tickets to Cabin Pressure's series four recordings which only goes to show just how popular the show has become.

I freely admit that I would have probably never even heard of Cabin Pressure if Benedict Cumberbatch wasn't in it. The only other radio drama that I've listened to is a version of Phantom of the Opera by Big Finish Productions (which is excellent BTW). Now that I've actually heard Cabin Pressure from series one to three I completely recommend it. It's brilliant! It's an absolutely hilarious sitcom and is genuinely laugh-out-loud funny. And by laugh out loud funny I don't mean little giggles and sniggers funny. Oh no! I have actually howled with laughter at some episodes! The show is THAT good and it's seriously one of the best sitcoms I've ever heard! The episodes are brilliantly-written by John Finnemore and his writing is hilarious in a very witty, sharp, dry way. Cabin Pressure is a clever sitcom and the episodes are well-plotted and stand up to repeat listenings. I love the adventure feel of Cabin Pressure as well. The characters actually get to travel around the world!

The characters in Cabin Pressure are all extremely likeable and the acting in the show is as brilliant as the writing. Benedict Cumberbatch plays Martin Crieff who's the captain of the airline. Martin really couldn't be any more different to Sherlock Holmes. He's uptight, insecure, bumbling and just-about-competent. He's always getting outwitted by his first officer Douglas Richardson. Cabin Pressure really shows off Cumberbatch's comedy range and he's been in every episode of the show apart from Newcastle. He was unwell at the time so they got in the actor Tom Goodman-Hill to play Martin for that episode. Goodman-Hill does a decent job but you can tell that Martin is being played by a different actor. Martin's first officer Douglas Richardson is played by Roger Allam. Douglas is a very sarcastic and cunning character. He's always scheming and plotting and he reminds me quite a bit of Edmund Blackadder at times. Roger Allam is probably most famous for originating the role of Javert in the West End production of Les Miserables and he does get to show his singing voice off in a few episodes. Allam was also in Parade's End with Cumberbatch and I got to see him play Prospero in The Tempest just last weekend. The owner of the airline is Carolyn Knapp-Shappey. Carolyn is a middle-aged, battleaxe divorcee and she's pretty cunning herself in her own way. She's played by Stephanie Cole who has been in Doc Martin and Coronation Street. The final main character of the show is Arthur Knapp-Shappey. He's the steward of the airline and is Carolyn's well-meaning, enthusiastic, dim-witted son. He's played by Finnemore himself. Most of the humour in the show comes from the bickering between Martin and Douglas, Carolyn's penny-pinching ways, and Arthur's idiocy.

The main characters are extremely likeable and funny and they have quite a lot of depth. For all their clashes and disagreements it's obvious that they like each other deep down. They really do seem like an (admittedly weird) family and the show can be pretty heartwarming. In addition to the main actors there's also been some very impressive guest stars in the show: Helen Baxendale, John Sessions, Mark Williams, Alison Steadman, Ben Willbond, Phil Davis and Anthony Stewart Head.

It's difficult for me to narrow down what my absolute favourite Cabin Pressure episode is. I love all of the episodes but Ottery St Mary, Qikiqtarjuaq, Paris, Cremona, Ipswich, Helsinki, Newcastle and St Petersburg especially. Sherlock fans should love Paris in particular! This is a detective episode in which Martin goes all Miss Marple on us! This episode is really a hilarious homage to Sherlock of course. Apparently this episode took ages to record because the audience were in hysterics and could not stop laughing, and Cumberbatch kept throwing them some Sherlock Holmes facial expressions.

I bought a disc set of Cabin Pressure on Amazon, which included series one to three of the show plus the Christmas special episode Molokai. It only cost me about £10 which is a bargain. I've ordered series four of the show and I'm waiting for that to arrive. Again, I completely recommend Cabin Pressure. It's hilarious, clever, great fun, heartwarming, and brilliantly written and acted. The episodes are recorded in front of a live audience so all the laughter that you hear is genuine. Even if you've never really listened to radio drama before then give it a try!

Rating: 5/5

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Why I'd Like 'Oliver!' to Be Remade

About three or four months ago the Daily Mail announced that Cameron Mackintosh is planning on bringing Oliver! over to Broadway with Samantha Barks starring as Nancy. This was then reported elsewhere. The Mail also announced that Mackintosh then wants Barks to star in a movie adaptation of Oliver! to be released in 2016. If this story is true then it's great news! I saw Samantha Barks in Oliver! last year and she gave a brilliant performance. I'm sure her Nancy would be very well-received if she went over to New York. When I reviewed the show last year I couldn't find any audio clips with Barks singing but a YouTube user has now put some videos up if anyone wants to hear her sing : )

Oom Pah Pah

As Long As He Needs Me

I'd love a remake of the stage musical as well and normally I'm not in favour of remakes at all! I know I'm in the minority here but I've never been a huge fan of the 1968 film. What?! Are you crazy?! some might say, The film's a classic! It won six Oscars! Well, that might be the case and I do feel like I'm one of the few people in the world who doesn't like the film all that much. Nevertheless I still stand by my belief that the 1968 film is very overrated and that it's nowhere near approaching the quality of My Fair Lady and The Sound of Music. OK the music and the story is great but the film is still very flawed. The tone and look of the film is nowhere near as dark and gritty as it should be given the story's subject matter and the Victorian East-End setting. It's just too family-friendly. The direction is stagey. Great songs from the stage musical are left out: I Shall ScreamThat's Your Funeral, My Name and the reprise of A Fine Life. Shani Wallis gives a good performance as Nancy but she's too old for the role. The single most annoying thing about the film for me though is Oliver himself. Mark Lester is badly miscast in the role and is a really poor child actor. His acting is just so bland and wooden. Lester didn't even sing in the film either! Due to the fact that Lester was tone-deaf his voice was dubbed by a 20 year old woman! How stupid is that?! You're telling me that they couldn't have found a single Boy Soprano in the whole of Britain, let alone the world, who couldn't have sang the part better?! There were probably hundreds of boys out there who could have sang and acted the role justice! So basically, what I'm saying is that the stage version of Oliver! is better than the 1968 film in every way. And I think a new adaptation of the stage musical could be excellent if they made the film darker and if they got a great director and a great cast.

Since this film isn't scheduled to come out for at least three years, and might not even happen, it seems pointless to speculate on who might be cast - but I'll do that anyway! I can see them going for Sacha Baron Cohen for Fagin, and possibly Rowan Atkinson as well since he's played the role before. I don't think Samantha Barks is as likely to get the role of Nancy in a film despite what Mackintosh is supposed to be planning. After Anne Hathaway's Oscar win for Les Mis I'm sure they'd be loads of Hollywood actresses who'd want to play Nancy in the film and they might end up going for a bigger name. But you never know, several big-names auditioned to play Eponine in the Les Mis film (Taylor Swift, Lea Michele, Scarlett Johansson) and Barks still got that role. Finally, I think Richard Armitage could make a brilliant Bill Sykes. Armitage started his career off doing musicals and he's got a excellent classically-trained baritone voice. I'm sure he could act the role brilliantly too - although it would cause me some pain to see an actor I love playing such a horrible person!

Sunday, 12 May 2013

Downton Abbey (Series Two & Christmas at Downton Abbey)

Series two of Downton Abbey picks up in 1916, two years after the end of series one. WWI is now raging and life at Downton Abbey has been turned upside down. Matthew Crawley and the footmen Thomas and William all find themselves fighting in the war. Meanwhile everyone else is doing their part for the war effort back at home. Lady Sybil is working as a nurse, Anna and the other maids are having to fill in for the footmen, and Isobel Crawley is helping out at the local hospital. In Episode Two Isobel manages to persuade the Crawley family into making Downton a convalescent home for wounded soldiers. But there's romantic drama going on in this series as well. Just when it looks as if Anna and Mr Bates will be able to get married after all, Bates's vindictive wife (Maria Doyle Kennedy) shows up. She refuses to grant Bates a divorce and threatens to bring scandal on the Crawley family. Matthew has seemingly moved on from Mary. He's now engaged to a lovely young woman from London called Lavinia (Zoe Boyle). Mary, on the other hand, is considering whether to accept an engagement from a shrewd and powerful newspaper owner called Richard Carlisle (Iain Glen). Sybil is also torn. She has a growing love for her family's chauffeur Branson but she knows her family would be disappointed with her if she was to accept him. In addition to all this, Lord Robert is feeling useless in this time of war and the new housemaid Ethel (Amy Nuttall) finds herself in a difficult position. And Lady Mary's secret from series one keeps threatening to expose itself.

I really enjoyed series one of Downton Abbey. A few minor flaws aside it was undeniably excellent. Does series two hit the heights of series one? No. WWI is very poorly handled in this series. In fact I got the distinct impression that Julian Fellowes wanted to get the war stuff over and done with as quickly as possible so he could get to the roaring 20s. There's very little drama in the WWI scenes of series two; in particular the episode where Matthew and William go MIA is very rushed. This could have been easily stretched out for another episode and I didn't doubt for a second that they were in any real danger. It really doesn't help matters that Matthew keeps returning to Downton Abbey all the time either. An episode will start with Matthew in the trenches and then five minutes later he's back at Downton! Don't get me wrong, I really like Matthew. He's actually one of my favourite characters in the show and I liked seeing him... but the fact that we saw so much of him when WWI is on is a bit of a joke. I know that Downton Abbey isn't a war show but it still needs to handle its subject matter responsibly.

Series two has other bad points as well. The show basically becomes a historical soap opera in this series. We get melodramatic soap opera clich├ęs in series two like amnesia, miraculous recoveries and adultery. I got really annoyed with some of the characters as well. I got bored of the Anna-Bates stuff. I got fed up of Daisy moaning about how she doesn't want to marry William when he's dying. I became very disappointed with Lord Robert in the final couple of episodes. It felt like Fellowes didn't really know what to do with Isobel in this series either. In series one she clashed with Violet and in series two she clashes with Cora and then goes away.

I should make it clear that I didn't hate series two by any means though. I still like the show even if it's a guilty pleasure. The production values of Downton Abbey are still excellent, it's still extremely well-acted, there's still a lot of humour, and I still like and care about the majority of the characters. Violet continues to get some hilarious one-liners. My favourite being "You're not Toad of Toad Hall!" to Edith when she finds out that she's been driving tractors :) There's much less bitchiness and tension between Mary and Edith in this series too (that was one of my issues with series one). I suppose this isn't very realistic at all when you consider how nasty they were to each other in series one but I was just so relieved to see the end of their sibling rivalry. Mary's character, in particular, was far more bearable.

I'll mention the 2011 Christmas episode in this review too. It's called Christmas at Downton Abbey and is a 90 minute, movie-length episode. It takes place over the Christmas holidays of late 1919 to early 1920. Almost every character on the show is involved in this story and gets something meaningful to do, apart from Sybil and Branson who are both in Ireland. I loved this special episode! It's very strong and is better than any of the episodes of series two. It's very well-plotted, is great fun and really feel-good. I did miss Sybil and Branson and I didn't like the Ouija board stuff but everything else is great. I liked the different opening credits and it was really nice that Robert's sister Lady Rosamund (Samantha Bond) got more to do than usual.

Saturday, 11 May 2013

'The Tempest' by William Shakespeare (1623)

Synopsis: Prospero is the exiled Duke of Milan and he's lived on a remote, enchanted island for many years. The only people he has for company are his teenage daughter Miranda and his servants Ariel and Caliban. But then Prospero finds out that the men who betrayed him - his usurping brother Antonio and Alonso, the King of Naples - are sailing on a ship nearby. Prospero has learnt magic on the island and he uses his powers to summon up a tempest that makes the ship crash on the island. He has the men from the ship scattered across the island and then proceeds to manipulate everyone in order to achieve his goals. He sends Ariel out to haunt the men who betrayed him and pretends to distrust Alonso's son Ferdinand whilst secretly matchmaking him with Miranda. Prospero has also got to deal with Caliban, who is now plotting against him with the aid of Alonso's servants Trinculo and Stephano.

The Tempest is believed by most to be the final play that Shakespeare wrote by himself. It's widely considered to be one of Shakespeare's best too, due to its maturity and beautiful language. The Tempest was also drawn on when Kenneth Branagh read a piece from it during the 2012 Olympics opening ceremony. During the play Miranda utters the phrase "Oh brave new world that has such people in it" which inspired the title of Aldous Huxley's novel Brave New World. And an alien race was named after the Sycorax (Caliban's mother) in the Doctor Who episode The Christmas Invasion. The Sycorax were referred to again in a Doctor Who episode where the Doctor actually meets Shakespeare, The Shakespeare Code. These are just some interesting facts I thought I'd mention!

I've been wanting to read The Tempest for a while but it wasn't until I booked a ticket to see a production of it at the Globe Theatre that finally spurred me onto reading it. The production has Roger Allam and Colin Morgan starring in it and I'm very excited about it! I wouldn't call The Tempest one of my favourite Shakespeare plays though, at least not just yet. I suspect that this play is probably a lot more fun to see live.

It's not that I didn't enjoy reading The Tempest but there are other Shakespeare plays that I enjoy more. The play is supposed to be a comedy but it's not really laugh-out-loud funny like Much Ado About Nothing. Also, the whole true-love-at-first-sight romance between Ferdinand and Miranda is sappy and annoying. I'm not a fan of love-at-first-sight romances anyway but their romance was just so sickly-sweet and roll-your-eyes-inducing that it was hard to stomach. They meet, fall in love, swear their undying affection for each other, and get married on the very same day!

There is a lot that I liked about this play though. There are other Shakespeare plays that I like more but there are other Shakespeare plays that I like less. The Tempest has got a very interesting story and the magical island setting is really cool. Prospero, Ariel and Caliban are all very interesting characters. Prospero's final speech in the Epilogue is very bittersweet and there are hints of Shakespeare's retirement in it. The outcome of the play is nice and cheerful too. Prospero could have very easily used his magic to kill his enemies but instead he just wants to teach them a lesson. At the end everyone lives and all is forgiven. As you'd naturally expect from a Shakespeare play The Tempest is brilliantly-written too and there are some fantastic quotes:

“Be not afeard; the isle is full of noises,
Sounds, and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not.
Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments
Will hum about mine ears; and sometime voices,
That, if I then had waked after long sleep,
Will make me sleep again: and then, in dreaming,
The clouds methought would open, and show riches
Ready to drop upon me; that, when I waked,
I cried to dream again.” 

“Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp'd towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.” 

Rating: 3/5

Sunday, 5 May 2013

Wicked (Stage Musical)

Wicked is a musical that I have a huge amount of love for because it's the musical that made me a fan of musicals. Wicked is also the first musical I ever saw live. I first saw the musical live in London back in January 2010 and I saw it again last month. I'm also hoping to see it again when it comes to my hometown on tour next year. As you can probably imagine Wicked holds a special place in my heart even though I wouldn't call it my favourite musical anymore. My favourite musical ever is Les Miserables with my second favourite being Andrew Lloyd Webber's Phantom of the Opera. Wicked is still absolutely in my top five though.

The musical of Wicked is very loosely based on the book of the same name by Gregory Maguire and is a prequel to The Wizard of Oz. It tells the story of Elphaba (the Wicked Witch of the West) and how she became close friends with Glinda (the Good Witch of the North) when they met at University - despite them being very different people and sharing the same love-interest, Fiyero. The two witches then discover that The Wizard, the ruler of Oz, is deeply corrupt and is persecuting Talking Animals. Elphaba then rebels against the Wizard and in return he uses propaganda to convince almost everyone in Oz that she's wicked. We also find out how Elphaba's younger sister Nessarose became the Wicked Witch of the East and the origins of the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Cowardly Lion. Wicked came out in New York in 2003. Its critical reviews were mixed but the public loved it and it was an instant smash-hit (not unlike Les Mis). It was also a smash-hit when it came to London in 2006. The musical is still running in both cities and ticket sales are still extremely strong, with no sign of its run ending any time soon. Wicked has also been performed in other countries including Germany and Australia.

Wicked is a fantastic musical and I love it for lots of different reasons. As a show it's visually stunning. It has amazing sets, costumes, lighting and special effects that really add to the magic of the show. In terms of spectacle Wicked is right up there with Phantom of the Opera and The Lion King.

Wicked has a great story too and you really don't need to be a Wizard of Oz fan in order to enjoy it. To be honest I've never really been a huge fan of the classic film and when I was a child I actually preferred the sequel Return to Oz - despite the Wheelers giving me nightmares! You really don't need to be fan of Maguire's novel to enjoy the musical either. The musical has almost nothing in common with that book - apart from sharing the names of the characters, the same settings, and a couple of plot points. I read the book after I first saw the musical and I hated it. The idea behind it is fantastic of course and I'm grateful that Maguire wrote it because we would never have had the musical otherwise - but the book itself is really boring and frustrating! It's poorly-paced and the story really drags at times. The characters are all really unlikeable and underdeveloped with even Elphaba leaving me cold. The book is far too preoccupied with sex as well. I don't necessarily have a problem with sex scenes being in books if they're not too explicit and there's an actual point to them, like them being used to drive the plot forward or to show the relationship between the characters. But with Wicked it felt like they were there just for the sake of it. The book is packed with sexual innuendo and sexual references and I REALLY hated the Philosophy Club scene! How many people would enjoy reading about a man and a Tiger engaged in some weird sex act?! (If you would then you need psychiatric help. Seriously) OK it was implied that a character picked up an STD at this sex club but it was a very minor character and it didn't have a significant impact on the story. I would not recommend the book AT ALL but I would recommend the musical to just about anyone.

The musical is a MASSIVE improvement upon the book. It has a much tighter and more focused plot. The characters are much improved and are far more likeable and engaging. Musical Elphaba is clearly a misunderstood person with a good cause. She's a lot more relatable and she's a character that you can really root for and get behind. I also loved Elphaba's friendship with Glinda. In the book Glinda is a fairly minor character and she and Elphaba aren't close. But in the musical Glinda is a great character and has a far more prominent role. She's funny and quirky and I loved her character development. Glinda is very shallow and vain when Elphaba first meets her but over time she develops and becomes a better person. I much prefer Elphaba's romance with Fiyero in the musical as well. Fiyero is actually married to another woman in the book and has an affair with Elphaba - which makes it rather more difficult to root for them as a couple. There's no sex in the musical either and it's far more family-friendly. As far as I'm concerned the musical is everything the book should have been. And I haven't even got to the music itself yet! The score and lyrics for Wicked were written by Stephen Schwartz who wrote the musical Godspell back in the 1970s. He also wrote the music and lyrics for the Dreamworks film The Prince of Egypt and provided the lyrics for the Disney films PocahontasThe Hunchback of Notre Dame and Enchanted. The songs in Wicked are brilliant and are often quite emotional: Defying GravityNo Good DeedFor GoodNo One Mourns the WickedThank GoodnessPopular, One Short Day, What is This Feeling?, Wonderful... the show is packed with great, memorable tunes.

Of course Wicked isn't without its faults. What exactly does Elphaba do in the one year gap in-between Acts One and Two? How is she defying the Wizard? What good is she doing? It's never explained and I find that very odd. The Something Bad and A Sentimental Man songs are also quite boring and Fiyero could have really done with getting his own solo song to sing. Wicked can't compete with Les Mis or Phantom when it comes to emotional depth either. However Wicked is still a brilliant musical. Its songs are great. It has a very interesting storyline. Its characters might not be as well-developed as the characters in Les Mis but they're still likeable. There's a lot of humour in the show but it's also quite touching in places. I'd definitely recommend seeing this show live or at the very least listening to the original Broadway cast album. There's even talk about Wicked getting adapted into a film as well and I'm sure that will happen at some point. In fact Wicked was originally planned as a movie musical by Universal Studios but they decided to make it into a stage musical first. Despite my love of the musical I'm much less excited about a Wicked film than I was about a Les Mis film thoughI think I'd rather they simply filmed the stage version of Wicked in front of a live audience. They could simultaneously screen it live into cinemas and then release it on DVD a few months later, similar to what they did with the 25th anniversary concerts of Les Mis and Phantom or Love Never Dies (despite my dislike of that musical). There are a few reasons why I'm apprehensive about a film adaptation but I've decided to cover that more in a separate post. To end my review of the musical I thought I'd comment on some of the performers that I've seen in the show.

I didn't buy a programme when I first saw the show back in 2010 - but I do know that Alexia Khadime played Elphaba, Dianne Pilkington played Glinda, and Oliver Tompsett played Fiyero. Khadime and Pilkington were both really good but my favourite performer was Oliver Tompsett. He had a great voice, he acted the role really well, and he was even quite attractive : )

More recently I saw the musical on the 15th of March. This will be in a lot more depth because it's more recent and I remember it better. My favourite performer this time was Gina Beck who played Glinda. I was really looking forward to seeing her and she didn't disappoint! Beck is one of my favourite Christines from Phantom of the Opera and now she's one of my favourite Glindas. Beck was funny but she didn't go completely over-the-top like some stage Glindas do. She's very pretty and she looked lovely with blonde hair. She has a fantastic voice too and she sang everything really well.

I was supposed to see Louise Dearman play Elphaba. Dearman recently made history as the first stage actress to play both Glinda and Elphaba. I didn't see Dearman perform though, instead I got her understudy Hayley Gallivan. She was sensational and is easily the best understudy I've ever heard! Unlike Beck, Gallivan did seem to be struggling at times though. Gallivan sounded quite strained during the choruses of Defying Gravity where she has to sing in head voice. Her voice cracked once or twice. But Gallivan has an amazingly powerful belt and her versions of The Wizard and I, No Good Deed and the belting sections of Defying Gravity were stunning. She should definitely take over the role full-time. Another performer that I really liked was Katie Rowley Jones as Nessarose. According to the programme she previously played Nessarose two years before and she seemed very comfortable with the character. The  ensemble was brilliant too and I was only really disappointed with Ben Freeman as Fiyero. I didn't really like his portrayal of the character. I didn't find his Fiyero particularly likeable, he didn't have any chemistry with Gallivan or Beck, and I didn't really like the tone of his voice. Oliver Tompsett was so much better.

So that's my review of the West End's Wicked! Hopefully I'll be seeing the show on tour next year as well and if it's noticeably different to the West End version - different sets, etc - I might do a separate review for it.