deep-breath

Ten Things… has moved

Over the course of the last full series of Doctor Who, I wrote a series of blog posts here collectively entitled Ten Things About Who, which I then collected into an ebook for Kindle.

I’m going to be doing the same again this series, but rather than on here, I’ve moved such posts to a new blog: TenThings.tv.

The site’s very much a work in progress at the moment, but the first post is ready:

Ten Things About… Deep Breath

 

 

Desperate marketing: Robin Williams Edition

Private Eye magazine has a relatively new, sadly regular column called Desperate Marketing, where corporate marketing communications desperately try and shoehorn themselves into contemporary news stories in a way to attract attention to their product.

I was reminded of this when receiving an email from an otherwise reputable publisher of technology and computing books:

Robin Williams was a great actor and comic, with a singular talent that could make other comics laugh out loud. He would even crack jokes about joking itself. Comedians and actors have long explored the possibilities of meta-dialog, a play-within-a-play, and other higher-level dramatic devices. It’s a world-changing idea.

Metaprogramming can change your programming world, and open up possibilities you may never have known existed. Embrace the new-found freedom and power that metaprogramming can bring to your career.

Author [REDACTED] will show you all the magic, with examples, challenges, and over 30 “spells” that you can use right away. Now in print and shipping from [URL REDACTED]

Usually these sort of things are done in the heat of the moment, aren’t meant to be offensive, and may be meant genuinely (“We’ve been thinking about this topic for a while as this book was being prepared, and this tragic event seems to tie in, so we’ll tell you about it!”)

I suspect the person who wrote those paragraphs is now beating themselves up at the ineptitude. But in case she or he isn’t, if there’s the remotest chance they did so in the hope that it would get their communication talked about more than your average weekly email shot, I’ll refrain from mentioning or linking to the actual publisher.

And I’ll put off buying their book on metaprogramming… for now.

The cast of Thérèse Raquin at the Finborough Theatre. Photo: Darren Bell

A round-up of reviews

While this blog has been quiet for a few weeks, I’ve been writing elsewhere. Below is a collection of reviews I’ve been writing – the most recent at the top.

Relative Values, Harold Pinter Theatre

17 April, The Public Reviews:

…It is the satire of social class and obsession with Hollywood celebrity that helps Relative Values seem relevant today. It’s such a pity, then, that director Trevor Nunn chooses to open every new scene with newsreel footage from 1951, as if to force the play into some status as a historical piece… [it] feels like some bizarre form of theatrical taxidermy, attempting to cement the play into a form which does it an injustice.

ShellShock, Waterloo East Theatre

11 April, The Public Reviews:

What is perhaps most annoying about ShellShock is that one can see the germ of a good idea being strangled by ham-fisted writing and direction. It cannot seem to decide if it is a gruelling family drama, or a children’s musical…

The Beautiful Game, Union Theatre

9 April, Musical Theatre Review:

Where The Beautiful Game works is in those moments where it tries less hard to be a political statement, and more to expose the conflicting emotions felt by a group of young people struggling to grow up in an inner city riven with violence and prejudice. And it is those moments where the intimacy of a fringe space, the performance of the young cast and some spirited direction and choreography works most effectively.

Damn Yankees, Brockley Jack Studio

April 7, Musical Theatre Review:

…It is not the Devil who gets the best tunes, but his subordinate, the sultry temptress Lola (Charlotte Donald), who does her best to get Joe to succumb to her charms while unwittingly falling for his. Her two Latin tempo numbers, ‘Whatever Lola Wants’ and ‘Who’s Got the Pain’… are the highlights of the show’s musical score

Another Country, Trafalgar Studios

5 April, The Public Reviews:

It feels remarkable that this play is over thirty years old… In a year which has seen Russia clamp down on gay rights while England and Wales celebrates same-sex marriage, while government clamps down on benefits cheats but turns a blind eye to a cabinet member cheat her expenses, Another Country feels utterly contemporary, wholly relevant – and completely unmissable.

Stephen Rahman-Hughes in cabaret, London Hippodrome

March 31, Musical Theatre Review:

The audience at the Hippodrome’s Matcham Rooms was not quite as packed for Stephen Rahman-Hughes’ cabaret gig on Saturday night as it has been for other, perhaps better known, faces from the world of musical theatre. But for anybody who stayed away, it was their loss, for they missed a soulful, inspirational, unpretentious performance.

Thérèse Raquin, Finborough Theatre

March 21, Musical Theatre Review:

This is not a show that contains stand-out solo numbers, preferring instead ensemble recitative, repetition upon repetition building up tension. The result is a show that sounds musically different from much of today’s musical theatre – but at the risk of understanding characters’ internal struggles that much less.

David Cardy in the 2011 production of Ghost Stories

Review: Ghost Stories, Arts Theatre, London

Editor’s Rating
Rating

Written for The Public Reviews

“Please keep the secrets of Ghost Stories,” implores a tannoy announcement at the end of Jeremy Dyson and Andy Nyman’s show. What is no secret is the production’s undoubted success, from its first days at the Liverpool Playhouse, to a record-breaking 13-month run at the Duke of York’s Theatre, and international performances since. Now the show returns to the West End, at the rather more boutique Arts Theatre.

And certainly the smaller auditorium, creaking seats and all, lends itself to the air of apprehension and suspense. Dyson and Nyman’s play comprises a series of short, seemingly unrelated stories, which form part of a presentation by a slightly nervy professor who seeks to suggest that “percipients” – people who believe they have had supernatural experiences – are, in fact, more likely to have other, more mundane, reasons for their encounters with ghosts. As Professor Goodman, Paul Kemp is a genial and engaging host, combining wit and warmth with elements of the sinister that set the tone for the evening.

The stories themselves are, save for discussions with Goodman at the start of each, solo performances – one person, on a mostly darkened stage, with the dread that he may not be alone as he thought… While the structure of each story is, in hindsight, pretty similar, there is enough variety of character and performance to stop the simple formula from interfering with the audience’s enjoyment.

As one might expect, the stage lighting – or lack of it – adds substantially to Ghost Stories’ sense of atmosphere. Many a scene is played in near darkness, illuminated only by a single torchbeam. Combined with some impressive audio – and, at one point, olfactory – cues, the principle that “less is more” certainly plays out here, allowing the audience’s imagination to fill the dark onstage void.

As the play progresses, clues begin to surface that these stories may not be as disparate as first suggested. Naturally, to say more would be to give away too many secrets, but the show saves its most chilling, most gruesome visual trickery for last. It’s also the portion of the play that is the creepiest, while being the least engineered for the quick shock reaction – and becomes all the more effective for that.

The lack of an interval means that Ghost Stories’ pace never lets up. And at under an hour and a half, nor does it overstay its welcome – instead, delivering a steady, heady mix of spooks, chills and macabre comedy, with plenty of chance to recover one’s composure before bedtime.

Just, you know, remember to check under the bed when you get home. You never know what may be lurking there…

Photo shows David Cardy in the 2011 production of Ghost Stories. Photographer: Helen Maybanks

Review: Ghost Stories, Arts Theatre, London3.5Scott Matthewman2014-03-17 23:58:55Jeremy Dyson and Andy Nyman’s spooky play returns to London
Craven

Radio 4′s Craven: how drama takes on cyberbullying

Friends and followers will know that I’m a long-time fan of audio drama, be it on radio (most often Radio 4) or via other commercial outlets, such as Big Finish.1

In recent years, the regular slots that Radio 4 has for dramas has accepted more and more returning series – one of the reasons why those strands were renamed two years ago – the Afternoon Play becoming the Afternoon Drama, and so on. One of my favourite regular schedule slots is the 15 Minute Drama, short serials taking up the last quarter of Woman’s Hour from Monday to Fridays and which are now, as a matter of course, repeated in the evening and with an omnibus on Saturdays at 12pm on sister digital station Radio 4 Extra.

And in that slot, one of my favourite returning serials is Craven, a crime drama starring Maxine Peake as DCI Sue Craven, heading up a murder investigation team including Michael Obiora (Hotel Babylon, Casualty) and David Crellin (Emmerdale, The Cops). While DCI Craven herself had a tendency to sound unremittingly grim in the first few episodes, by its just-completed fifth series2 it’s settled into an analysis of grim (and sometimes topical) murder cases by a team that has settled into a pattern of occasionally prickly professional relationships that are nevertheless imbued with mutual respect.

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Review: Secret Theatre, The Rag Yard, London E1

Note: Because of this play’s supposed “secret” nature, I should warn that this review talks about specifics of the play, including its title and characters. I also explain why, but if you want to see a spoiler-free review you should go elsewhere.

The Lyric Hammersmith has been running a series of “secret theatre” projects recently – encouraging people to book tickets without knowing what they’ll be seeing, and as a result come to a piece with little to no preconceptions built up in their heads.

This Secret Theatre project is not like that. It was, I was told by the PR, more modelling itself on Secret Cinema. This series shows movies in suitably appropriate surroundings, but also with a deeply immersive experience that is just as entertaining, if not more so, than the film itself. So The Shawshank Redemption is presented in an old prison, Bugsy Malone in a speakeasy, Blade Runner in a grimy, industrial near-future where oriental noodle bars rub shoulders with security agents scanning all visitors for signs of replicant behaviour.

So we were expecting a similarly immersive experience for this piece, and notifications of dress codes and secret identities fed into this.

What we got instead was a straightforward play. A truly immersive piece needs to do more than say, “Oh, this piece about the aftermath of a botched heist is set in a warehouse, so let’s stage it in a warehouse”. Especially when that warehouse already hosts events, drama classes and art exhibitions, and the play itself is staged so conventionally.

So the failed promise of an immersive experience was a huge let-down. And that was a shame, because the play itself – an adaptation of a justly popular film – has the potential to be a great stage piece. As presented here, it’s still some way from that – but I think the false promise of an immersive experience will cloud the audience’s judgement of what this show has the potential to be.

And it’s all the more bizarre that the “secret theatre” concept also robs this production of its biggest appeal. I’m not going to beat about the bush any longer: if you go to this play knowing what it is, if you read about this play knowing what it is, it’ll be better for everybody.

Because I, for one, would bite someone’s hand off if they offered me the opportunity to see a stage adaptation of Quentin Tarantino’s first feature film, Reservoir Dogs.

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Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, Aylesbury Waterside Theatre (and touring)

Editor’s Rating
Rating

I must admit, the original MGM film version of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers was never among my favourites of the era. That was probably because I was never particularly taken with Westerns, and back then all the singing and dancing in the world couldn’t counteract all that gingham.

Older and wiser (and less Western averse), I found the current touring production of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers a delight. As an adult, there are story points that one should certainly feel dubious about: it’s basically about a group of uncultured heathen brothers who decide to abduct the women they want to marry – and whose crime is mitigated by the women collectively and conveniently falling in love with their abductors. It’s only down to the no-nonsense attitude of eldest brother Adam’s new wife Millie that the brothers have any redeeming qualities at all, as her place as a surrogate mother for the brood civilises them so that they can, in effect, rejoin society.

You could spend ages discussing the sociopolitical aspects of the story. Or, you could sit back and enjoy a riot of dance and song that can’t help but lift the spirits. Leading the cast as Millie is Helena Blackman – a friend who I’ve had the pleasure of knowing for several years, including working on Rodgers and Hammerstein in London together. Helena’s voice is perfectly suited to this era of musical, her soprano belt coming to the fore several times throughout. She also lends a calm determination to Millie, balancing the character’s independence and spirit with a genuine affection for her new husband and his unruly brothers.

In contrast, her fellow lead, Sam Attwater as Adam, has rather less opportunity for comedy or character, although he makes excellent use of what he’s given. Vocally, he has a much more contemporary vocal style – but whereas this might work against him in a staging of a 1950s musical, the stage production includes a number of additional songs which themselves feel more modern in style, and so the casting feels particularly astute.

However good Blackman and Attwater’s singing and acting, though, it will be the dancing for which audiences will remember this show. The town dance number that forms the climax of Act I in particular, which sees the Pontipee brothers compete in a game of choreographed one-upmanship with their competitors for the ladies’ hands, is that rarity in modern musical theatre: a large group number which is visually thrilling, technically daring, and yet which also manages to propel the storytelling.

With a large ensemble cast performing so well, this is the sort of show that demonstrates the virtues of touring theatre. And for a show that’s set in the Oregon winter, it brings an awful lot of sunshine to Aylesbury Vale.

Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, Aylesbury Waterside Theatre (and touring)4Scott Matthewman2013-10-29 09:17:19I must admit, the original MGM film version of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers was never among my favourites of the era. That was probably because I w…

Thriller: Live – 2,000th performance



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Last night, Steve and I went to the Lyric Theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue to see Thriller: Live, which was celebrating the show’s 2000th West End performance.

It was not my first visit – as with my others, we were guests of the show’s PR company – but it was Steve’s. It’s always interesting to revisit a show with someone seeing it for the first time; all the more so with one that traverses Jackson’s career from the early 1970s onwards when your friend is 16 years younger than you, and for whom anything before Bad is a historical document rather than the soundtrack to one’s childhood.

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Strictly Come Dancing: Why the new trailer is so good

People who know me – and many who don’t – know that I’m a big Strictly fan. In the battle of the Saturday night TV voting shows, I’m far more likely to be watching Brucie than Dermot. When we started TV Today at The Stage, the weekly blogs were more to do with encouraging the celebration of dance, which at that time was under-served on television. The notion of celebrity involvement was tolerated rather than embraced, I’d say – but my summaries always tried to look dispassionately at how well the amateur dancers were learning (or not), as a direct response to blogs and message boards which cultivated fandoms around the famous participants.

After a few years, I had to give up the weekly summaries as they just took far too long to put together. But I’ve never stopped loving the show, have been lucky enough to be in the studio once or twice, and have seen many of the live stage shows which have capitalised on the BBC show’s popularity, whether drectly under the Strictly banner or by virtue of the programme’s pro dancers gaining their own celebrity status.

And that’s at the heart of the new teaser trailer’s genius. In previous years, we’ve been shown coy shots of the celebrities – whose head is that the back of? Whose ankle? Whose midriff, improbably squeezed into a sequinned bodice?

This time round, the trailer team have focussed on the dancers. The clever visuals, which render each dancer’s celebrity partner invisible, highlights that we don’t yet know the full roster of amateurs for this year’s series. But the emphasis is on dance – professional dance at that. Ultimately, it’s a celebration of talent. And yet, it’s still a celebrity-laden trail, because one of the strengths of Strictly is that it brings professional dancers into the spotlight and and makes them nationally recognised figures.

Compare that with the X Factor, whose pre-series publicity always tends to emphasise the bitchiness of the judges, the toe-curling awfulness of the preliminary audition rounds.

I know which one I’ll be watching this autumn.

Reviewed: Saucy Jack and the Space Vixens

Over on Musical Theatre Review, I’ve reviewed Saucy Jack and the Space Vixens, currently playing at the Leicester Square Theatre Studio.

This is no murder mystery, no ‘The Mirrorball Crack’d’ – the killer couldn’t be more obvious if he were twirling a moustache. And this is a show so unsubtle that it’s almost a surprise that he doesn’t.

The characters are almost uniformly one-dimensional, drawn in crude, glitter-speckled strokes, a comic strip writ large. But all the actors know exactly what it is, ensure their performances are as broad as the characters are shallow, and encourage the audience to buy into just how ridiculous – and fun – the show can be.

Musical Theatre Review: Saucy Jack and the Space Vixens

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