Ten Things About Who: The Unquiet Dead

And a very Merry Christmas to you! Yes, it’s technically midsummer outside, which naturally means the threat of rain hangs overhead. But in the world of Ten Things About Who, we’re simultaneously back in April 2005 and Christmas 1869.

God bless us, every one!

1. The stiffs are getting lively

And so we get the first real emergence of the pre-credits sequence as it has become used. A peril, often Doctor-less, that sets the tone for the rest of the episode. Here, Mr Sneed’s “Oh no” when faced with a revived brings with it a weary familiarity that tells us that while we are in a story from the past, this is not your average historical story.

League of Gentlemen fans will, of course, have known of Mark Gatiss’ delight in lacing elements of historical horror with humour. It’s a vein he’s returned to, of course – most recently with The Crimson Horror. It’s when he steps away from this template (Cold War, and The Idiot’s Lantern, which is horrific but in a very different way) that things go awry for me.

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Paul Sinha: Last Christmas, Soho Theatre Upstairs

Paul Sinha’s latest warm and self-deprecating comedy show brightens a London in August that’s normally depleted of top-flight comedians

In August, most British comedians move up to Edinburgh. It’s a huge part of the comedy year – several comedians will spend the months preceding to try out their new material and hone it, deliver it once a night at the Fringe, and then spend the next few months reusing that material wherever they can until it’s time to start the cycle again.
Paul Sinha has, in the past, done a similar pilgrimage to the Edinburgh Fringe. Being a renowned sports fanatic, though, he chose to forego that experience this year in order to attend the London Olympics. And that means that, in a month where London comedy is usually running on depleted stock, we get his new show, “Last Christmas”.

Now the last time I saw Sinha live was at Comedy Camp, back when the bar on Archer Street that is now an identikit wine bar was a gay venue called Barcode and had regular comedy nights every Tuesday. This was probably at least ten years ago now, but Sinha’s relaxed, self-deprecating warmth hasn’t changed.

Introduced by a cheesy acoustic version of Wham!’s Yuletide hit, Sinha – an inveterate quizzer, ranked 20th in the UK and now a regular on ITV1’s The Chase – treats us to some trivia about the pop tune, before revealing that has no basis for the rest of the show: instead, it is about his own last Christmas, during which he found himself joining his family on a jeep trip through the Himalayas and genuinely thought he was going to die.

What follows is an exploration of what is necessary to have led a satisfying life, and around that hang various anecdotes from Sinha’s own life.

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The most wonderful time of the year?

As people who regularly read my blog will know, I do review quite a bit of theatre for The Stage, as well as off my own back. I won’t kid anyone – I’m hardly in the first or second tier of reviewers, and the shows that get passed to me are often those that our more regular reviewers aren’t able to make.

When it comes to Christmas shows, it’s all hands to the pumps, though. The paper reviews hundreds of Christmas shows around the country – over 130 in the last fifteen days alone. I’ve been to what seems a higher number than usual, as my usual beat (Aylesbury, Rickmansworth and Chesham) has been supplemented by High Wycombe this year as well as several London-based shows.

This year’s reviews (all of which link to the review page on the Stage website):

In addition, I also went (in a non-reviewing, enjoyment-only capacity) to Robin Hood: Queen of Thieves at Above the Stag, a gay-themed panto for adults that was such enormous fun we’re going back to see it again on Friday.

Seeing so many similarly themed shows in such a short space of time usually exhausts me by this point in the run-up to Christmas. This year, though, with the great Potted Panto (which summarises six key pantomime plots with more panache than most shows manage with just one), Queen of Thieves and the big budget Cinderella at Aylesbury, I’m still feeling a little Christmassy. Which is nice.

Joy to the World, Pink Martini

Oregon-based jazz group Pink Martini have over the years become one of my favourite groups. Every CD release of theirs brings fresh surprises, as the musical magpies fuse influences from Europe, the mid-East, America and the far East.

They have just released their first album of Christmas songs and, as you’d expect, it’s an eclectic mix. Along traditional songs – White Christmas, Little Drummer Boy, We Three Kings, Santa Baby – are some songs from around the globe. The Ukrainian ‘Carol of the Bells’, Shchedryk, is perhaps the best known. It is joined by a Chinese New Year song, Congratulations and Hebrew prayer song Elohai N’tzor.

Even the more well-known songs are given a twist. Silent Night being sung in both German in English is nothing new, perhaps, but it is given a verse in Arabic. We Three Kings is given an Africa-inspired makeover, and the whole album concludes with Auld Lang Syne performed to a Samba tempo and with lyrics in English, French and Arabic.

It’s a little demented in places, but also extremely beautiful in others – and a cut above the usual Christmas albums which churn out bland covers of the usual standards.

You can use the little Flash-based widget below to hear samples of each track, or on the Amazon MP3 download page. It’s also available as an audio CD and on iTunes.

Panto season again (oh yes, it is)

While everybody else is winding down in time for Christmas, every year The Stage offices get busier and busier. The reduced amount of time available to get our end-of-year issues out is compounded by the fact that, for our reviews section, we’re hitting the busiest time of the year.

We try and cover as many of the professional Christmas and pantomime shows from around the UK as we can, and as they all tend to bunch their press nights into these first couple of weeks in December, it can prove a logistical nightmare.

This year, I’m doing the same three Buckinghamshire venues as I have done in previous years, but they’re also supplemented by a couple of London ones. This time last week, I saw Leicester Square Theatre’s pantomime Sinderfella. My review reflected, as best one can in 200 words, the overall sense of disappointment and frustration at a production with so many things wrong that could easily have been fixed at rehearsal stage. Unfortunately, the writer/director/producer/dame disagreed with my review.

Thankfully, since then the shows I’ve seen have been much more well-rounded. It’s never nice seeing a poor show, and with just a couple more on my list to see, it looks like my first panto of the review will be the exception rather than the rule.

This year’s panto bunch (links to the remaining shows will be added once they’re published):

  • Sinderfella, Leicester Square Theatre Basement, London

One of the keys to a raucously successful pantomime is a portrayal of barely controlled anarchy, which in turn needs a firm grasp on the reins. Unfortunately, adult panto Sinderfella has none of this…

There is something inherently difficult about turning an established stage play for children into a knockabout panto. Chesham’s effort just about manages to straddle both types of source material, but on occasion one wishes it would make up its mind what it wants to be…

Continued delays to Aylesbury’s Waterside Theatre mean that the nearby Civic Centre is now on its third, and probably final, ‘last’ pantomime before demolition. It certainly has produced one enabling the venue to go out on a high…

There is something gloriously childlike about the glee with which CBBC presenters Dan Clarkson and Jeff Turner throw themselves into their reduced retelling of JK Rowling’s series of Harry Potter books. Not for them the faux seriousness of the ‘adult’ hardback editions: they are devotees of the novels as children’s fare, and quite right too…

The importance of warming up a panto audience is highlighted by Rickmansworth’s latest rendition of Snow White, where the first act played out to a crowd seemingly unable to give anything back to the onstage cast…

All the above reviews, along with every other review I’ve written, are on my theatre reviews index page.