Tag Archives: Review

Don’t Miss This Train!

24 Jun

Given the results of yesterday’s referendum, a post about Departures seems apposite, so here’s my review.

I entered the theatre on Wednesday night expecting to like Departures: A Song Cycle.  I didn’t.  I loved it.

The theatre was intimate; the seating comfortable (always a bonus for the audience).  The station platform set was simple but effective.  The musicians were backstage but visible through an ‘exit’.  The music was by turns fun, energetic, moving; the themes were current.

Each story was revealed in song, with characters only really joining in with the ensemble as their particular tale was told, rather like a matryoshka doll in reverse. The songs varied in style and tone, just like the themes.  We were told of isolation and disappointment, but also hope and positivity; by the end there was a coming together as the characters were united by sharing the very things that left them feeling alone in the first place.

I must declare a bias: Alex Cosgriff is my son.  I’ve seen him in almost everything he has appeared in and I have watched him grow as an actor and performer, so I feel qualified to say that he gave a subtle and nuanced performance as Henry, a teenage schoolboy.   His solo Sad To Me was poignant and moved more than one person to tears.

Tom Williams’ solo I Choose Silence was simply beautiful; but mention must also be made of his ability to sit still and unnoticed for almost ninety minutes: not many actors would be satisfied with that but it definitely added to the show’s quality, for it was a physical manifestation of the underlying theme of those we ignore as a society.  I felt the song would have been more effective if it had occurred earlier on, but that’s a minor quibble.

*

In stark contrast came Billy (Will) Taylor’s vigorous characterisation of Trefor the Station Master.  He was hilarious whether moving or still, and often commanded our attention even when he had no lines.  He built a great rapport with the audience and is definitely one to watch.

The real stars of the show, however, were the fabulous score by Matthew Malone and lyrics by Joe Bunce, both of which showed a maturity beyond their authors’ years.  I pay Bunce & Malone the highest compliment I can: I was still thinking about the characters and singing snatches from the show twenty-four hours later.

I strongly recommend that you try to catch this while you can, tonight or tomorrow at the Pleasance, Islington.  No matter how you voted yesterday, this is one departure that will leave you feeling good.

 

The Wind in the Willows

27 May

I’ve never liked The Wind in the Willows.  I always thought it a tedious story about boyish animals in which I have no interest.  I never watched Tales From the Riverbank or those interminable Sunday afternoon short Disney live action films which anthropomorphised mountain lions and zebras; though I did quite enjoy the 1993 remake of The Incredible Journey, thanks to Michael J. Fox and Sally Fields.  But that was it for me as far as animals on film and stage are concerned.

Thus it was with a heavy heart I went to watch Alex play Mole in The Wind in the Willows.  My son was the only reason I considered watching it at all – stupid Alan Bennett with his stupid fake creatures pretending to be human.  

I’m so glad I love my son.  The show was fantastic!

http://theatredelicatessen.co.uk/

The performance space was an old Woolworths, turned into an arts café – a really cool/funky/epic/whatever-the-hyperbole-is-these-days space.  The furniture is unashamedly second-hand, including the bunk beds in the main seating area and old armchairs for the audience in the staging area.  The tables are covered with blackboard paint and there are pots of chalks available for patrons’ use.  Naturally the Hub and I spent a happy half hour scribbling like infants.

About ten minutes before curtain-up, a scruffy little creature began cleaning up, playing Connect-4 with the child (there was only one in the audience; most children clearly feel the same way about performing pretend-rodents as I do) and fussing about, getting in everyone’s way.  That was our first introduction to Mole.

We were ushered into the performance space and – so civilised! – allowed to take our tea with us.  I should say, the first performance space, because this was promenade theatre: the audience followed the cast around from room to room. At one point we sat on a concrete floor.

The use of space and props was clever.  The river was symbolised by a variety of blue material, waved on a string by two of the cast.  Toad’s prison was a stock trolley which Woolworths must have left behind when they cleared out.  As the boat containing Ratty and Mole meandered along (a different trolley, pushed by a different cast member), it was passed by a boat going in the opposite direction – I know this because I noticed it was about ten inches long when it was given to me by the girl on my left and I passed it to the Hub on my right, and so on along the first row.

We moved from Ratty’s home and Toad Hall to the Wild Wood – a bare, cold room with lighting and imagination the only props – on to Badger’s sett and back to Mole’s home in the café.  Mole and Ratty got into the bunk beds and fell asleep and everyone looked at each other because no one was sure if it was the interval or the end.  I think some people left, believing it was the end of the show, but it was actually the interval.  

http://www.springfield.derbyshire.sch.uk/category/wind-in-the-willows-2015/

The child who had been rather apprehensive of Mole at first thought it would be fun to shout ‘Boo!’ in his ear several times.  If Alex doesn’t have a career in acting, he could succeed as one of those street human statues, because he never moved, not even when he heard his own mother scream as she dropped a large cup of very hot tea all over herself, the table (wiping out some creative doodles, a mean comment and a couple of rather lewd suggestions – made by other people, I swear) and the floor.

I think this was Alex’s best performance yet.  He was sweet, funny and stayed in character the whole time.  I know he stayed in character the whole time because I’m his mother, so of course I watched him to the exclusion of all others when he was on stage.  When he wasn’t part of the dialogue he was scratching at fleas, fiddling and reacting to the other actors.  

To be fair, just about the whole cast was excellent, especially Ratty, who had the best lines and made the most of them and the Judge, who was hilarious.  Another was the Gaoler’s Daughter – the inspired casting of a male in that role paid off, particularly at the end, when he kissed the boys.  The Head Weasel was great and had a compelling but deliberately annoying laugh.

This was a well-directed and well-acted production which made perfect use of the unusual space.  But most of all, it was FUN.

Review: ‘The Tree of War’

9 Sep

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Music & Lyrics by Oliver Mills.  Book & Lyrics by Rachel Mann

On Saturday afternoon, I saw the second-ever performance of The Tree of War.  I mention this because – well, have you ever been in at the start of something big, and known it was the start of something big?  That’s where I was at on Saturday afternoon.

The Tree of War is a musical about life in the trenches in WWI.  Written, scored and directed by a poet priest and a twenty-year-old music student, it was a community theatre project at St Nicholas’ Church in Burnage, funded by Manchester City Council.  A précis: Grandpa Bert tells his granddaughter the story of his time in the trenches.  That’s it; that’s the whole story.  And what a marvellous, rousing, moving story it was.

I had better declare an interest here: my son, Alex Cosgriff, played Young Bert – ladies’ man; loyal son; good friend; cannon fodder.  He played him well: his singing was wonderful; he really can act; I burst with pride.  But he wasn’t the whole play – a strong community choir and a good amateur cast was headed by Mike Law as Grandpa Bert: he was warm and cosy, sad and regretful.  Sam Gilliatt as Bert’s friend Greville has a voice with the sweetest tone, and his duet with Alex was a thing of beauty.  Jamie Rahman played Dougie McBride as a dour Scot; with a gorgeous voice, his solo sent shivers down many a spine.

The exploration of life in the trenches was well conceived – boredom, fear, letters to and from home; and the drinking…ah! the drinking!  The best number among a raft of great numbers was The Lads’ Drinking Song: bawdy, irreverent, rousing and huge fun.

The staging was excellent.  The tree of the title was out in the foyer, and that’s where the action began.  The audience stood to watch until directed to move into the trench area, which was set almost completely in the round.  We were in the trenches with the lads and shared their laughter and tears; their hopes and fears.  We could see their sweat and almost smell their breath.

In any play about the Great War, of course, the lads inevitably go over the top.  They disappeared to the sounds of mortar shells, through smoke and noise; and when it was finished and Young Bert lay huddled, terrified, guilty, sobbing, he had the whole audience riveted.  Tears for all of those boys flowed like their blood, and didn’t stop until after the final, whole ensemble’s rendition, specially arranged by Oliver, of Jerusalem.  As I fruitlessly wiped my own tears I heard a woman behind me say to her friend, ‘I can’t stop crying!’

If I have a criticism of The Tree of War, it is that it needs another twenty minutes and at least one more song – possibly a ballad for Young Bert – because it will have trouble getting to the West End otherwise.  And believe me, this is a play that deserves a wide audience.  If Oliver and Rachel don’t take it to Edinburgh next year, they’re mad.  They could take it at this length and then extend it when it gets picked up.  Look out for Oliver Mills because he is a massive talent.  To write such music and direct with such flair at his age…words fail me. 

After the show, I went up to congratulate Oliver.  I think I frightened him a little because I wanted to throw my arms around him and hug him to death; I settled for grabbing both of his hands and refusing to let them go while I raved about what I’d just witnessed.  I understand the impulse of the woman who clutched Alex’s arm and said, ‘I don’t usually grab strangers but I want to be able to say I touched you before you were famous.’

I want to be able to say I reviewed Rachel Mann’s and Oliver Mills’ premiere production of The Tree of War before it was a massive worldwide hit. 

You read it here first.

 

 

 

 

Review: Breaking Dawn Part 2

16 Nov

There are no spoilers in this post.  If you want spoilers, read somebody meaner.

A bit of history for new followers:

Old followers, please bear with me: you’ve read enough about KStew’s and RPatz’s hair here to know that if a superhero needs to kill me, Twilight is my weakness.

I don’t like vampires or vampire movies.  I refused to watch the Twilight films when they came out.  The Hub liked them, enough that our boys had great fun offering to buy him Robert Pattinson posters and bobby socks (something teenage girls wore in the Fifties and with no link to the films, but the boys didn’t seem to care).

Last Christmas, I bought him the Twilight films trilogy box set.   He insisted I try to watch the first one with him, further insisting that they were neither scary nor gory.  He was right.  After the first one I insisted he was horrible for not insisting that I watch these films the minute they came out and I had to have the books immediately or he was going to suffer a long and terrible moan on my part.

I’m not ashamed to admit I loved the films and devoured the books.  I didn’t get to see Breaking Dawn Part 1 in the cinema, even though it was showing last Christmas.  You can read all about how that nearly killed our marriage and what the Hub had to do to save it here.

I was a little disappointed in Part 1 because I read the book before seeing the film and I didn’t like the changes that were made, though I understood why they were necessary.

I read the first three books after seeing the films and was pleased that they more or less stuck to the story.  I liked Part 1 better on second, third, eighth viewing, so I expected to feel the same way about Part 2.

The Review:

I really enjoyed it.  Some changes were made from the original story but it did stick to the spirit of the book.  The main change in particular caught me by surprise and, while I mourned the loss of an element I love in the novel, I believe the change worked really well, and was necessary for the film to work for a wider audience.

As with the other films, a lot of detail had to be omitted but there was enough to satisfy this  – alas, I cannot deny it – Twihard.

The Hub thought it was the best one of the series.  I wouldn’t go that far (Twilight will always my favourite film; Breaking Dawn is my favourite book) but as I didn’t need to fill up on any of the snacks I had sneaked into the cinema in my handbag, I acknowledge that it kept me gripped throughout.

Everyone is gorgeous.  The Hub thought young Renesmee was funny-looking (quote-that’s the ugliest kid I’ve ever seen-unquote) but I couldn’t take my eyes off Jasper’s peculiar hair long enough to notice – what was that all about?

The acting, as usual, was as usual (see here for my review of Kristen Stewart’s facial expressions) but good enough, and I enjoyed the nice touch in the end credits, where all of the main actors from the earlier films were acknowledged.

I would definitely watch it again.

But you knew that: I already have the DVD on order.

One more thing:

It cost us nothing to go: Tesco have an offer until the end of November – you can exchange your vouchers for cinema tickets at the rate of £3 in vouchers for one adult ticket.  As the going rate for an adult cinema ticket before five p.m. is £7.60, it’s an excellent deal.

The film opened today and, as it was my first time going to the cinema on a film’s opening day, I think it counts as a new experience for my 101/1001 challenge. However, I was disappointed to find there was no red carpet.  I felt a little overdressed in my floor length frock.  

Review: Skyfall

27 Oct

Skyfall 007 Movie (click to view)

I haven’t seen it yet, but Spud has.  He is sixteen and unimpressable, so consider the value of this Six Word Saturday:

*

Spud says:

Best Bond film ever.

*

*

*

For more 6WS go here.

The Jubilee Concert: A Review

5 Jun

 Diamond Jubilee concert fireworks

I watched the Jubilee Concert last night.  I wasn’t there, of course;  I watched it on telly, but I figure if I can review movies after seeing them on screen, why not a music show?

I had better state my credentials so you can see how serious I am about this review: the last concert I attended was Right Said Fred in Johannesburg.  In a club, not a stadium; and in the afternoon.  It was so hot in there, Fred’s lead singer shared his bottle of water with the audience.  Sweet.  At least three people managed a drink before it ran out.   By the way, he really was too sexy for his shirt; he had to take it off.

I bought a RSF shirt and wore it to death, it was so comfortable.  It was only when a young couple passed me on the street and I overheard one of them say, ‘Right Said Fred?  Are they still alive?’ that I decided to retire it.

It was on the way home from that concert that I realised cars have waists.  We were in downtown Joburg traffic during rush hour, when a car overtook us from behind as another approached us head on.  I swear our car sucked in its breath to avoid being hit.  The Hub maintains it was his skillful driving but he’s just a Hub, so I don’t believe him.

Back to the concert.  It was fun.  I enjoyed it.  I can’t share any of it because I still can’t upload videos for some reason that no one can fathom, so I will add links to the names of the acts I mention (where available), in case you are interested.

There were performances from artists from every decade of the Queen’s reign – literally, in the case of Rolf Harris, who arrived in the UK from Australia in 1952.  I expected more Commonwealth artists.  There weren’t many, though we sneaked in a couple from the States, or ‘the Colonies’, to give them their real name.

The comedians who hosted weren’t particularly funny, especially Rob Bryden, who made a couple of dated jokes about queens, which made him sound a little homophobic.

Cheryl Cole proved she really doesn’t sing very well.  It was embarrassing.  Ruby Turner proved she is a fabulous singer.  It was fabulous.  I couldn’t help wondering why Cheryl is such a massive star and Ruby Turner isn’t.  I had never heard of her before last night; though her Wikipedia page is impressive.  I think it’s because Cheryl looks like this:

English: Cheryl Cole wearing a Lurex dress whi...

English: Cheryl Cole wearing a Lurex dress whilst performing with Girls Aloud at Battle Abbey, Hastings. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 And Ruby doesn’t:

Ruby Turner with Jools Holland and his Rhythm ...

Ruby Turner with Jools Holland and his Rhythm and Blues Orchestra (Photo credit: Man Alive!)

Even Zemanta favoured Cheryl – look at the difference in the size of the photos.  And I could find a You Tube link for Cheryl but, surprise, surprise, not for Ruby.

Skinny beats talent every time in this shallow, celebrity-obsessed world of ours. Mind you, a lot of last night’s talent, no matter how skinny, was, um, past its prime.  Paul McCartney, Cliff Richard, even Rolf Harris, all sounded croaky.  And was it me, or was Elton John lisping?  He sounded bizarre.

Perhaps it was nerves: even pianist Lang Lang (I thought they were introducing one of our new pandas) hit a bum note; and Paul McCartney called Prince Charles’ wife the Duchess of Cornwell.

Madness weren’t bad, up on the palace roof.  The projections onto the front of the palace were impressive.  Kylie and Stevie Wonder were great.

My favourite act of the night, however, was Grace Jones.  She wore an anemone hat, a plastic swimming costume and hula hooped while singing Slave to the Rhythm.  Utterly bonkers and therefore quintessentially British, even though she isn’t:

If you didn’t watch the concert, at least click on Grace’s link; and take a look at the photos at Sky News, where you will see Annie Lennox in wings and Kylie as a pearly queen.

It makes you proud to be British.

The Hunger Games: Another Review

19 Apr

Of the movie, this time.  Go here for the book review.

Please note:

NO PLOTS ARE SPOILED IN THE MAKING OF THIS REVIEW.

I took time out from my little project to go and see The Hunger Games last night.

It wasn’t the worst film I’ve seen.

The casting:

  • Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen…yeah, why not?  Can’t see what the fuss is about her, but she was okay.
  • Josh Hutcherson as Peeta Mellark.  Not bad.  He grew on me, just like Peeta in the book.
  • Liam Hemsworth as Gale Hawthorne.  All he had to do was look gorgeous.  What great acting.
  • Stanley Tucci as Caesar Flickerman.  Excellent; but when is he not?
  • Alexander Ludwig as Cato.  Good.  Gave his character a little dimension.
  • Amandla Stenberg as Rue.  Adorable.

I enjoyed the film.  I did.  It stuck to the book – it helped that the author was involved in the script – but…there was something missing.

The certificate meant that the violence was muted.  Fair enough.  But a better director could have shown us the horror of children [tributes] fighting to the death in another way – even a cutaway to the Capitol audience’s gleeful reaction would have helped.  What we were given was hide-and-seek.

The scene with Peeta, Katniss and the bread was mawkish – obligatory rain, anyone? – and failed to show Peeta as he truly is.  0/10 for that one.

Another problem: the tributes are on television the whole time – where was the Capitol audience?  We never saw them.  In the book, they matter; they and the sponsors affect who survives.

The best I can say of it is that it was a faithful rendition of the story, but lacked its tone, its themes, and its heart.

I wouldn’t say don’t watch it: if you haven’t read the book, you’ll probably enjoy it (may the odds be ever in your favour). 

It just didn’t have the energy of the novel.  Not so much The Hunger Games; more The Slightly Peckish Games.

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