Sunday, 19 July 2020

Stage-to-screen review: Reasons to be Cheerful

Punk and jukebox musicals don't seem obvious bedfellows, unless the music comes from Ian Dury and the Blockheads and the theatre company doing the adaptation is Graeae, who champion the work of D/deaf and disabled actors and creatives: Not only did Dury himself have disabilities caused by childhood polio, but he regularly referenced them and celebrated his difference in his songs (most famously "Spasticus Autisticus.") Paul Sirett's book for Reasons to be Cheerful keeps the story very simple as a hook to hang the songs on - not a bad move, given what can happen when a jukebox show overcomplicates its story - and follows Vinnie (Stephen Lloyd) and his best friend Colin (Stephen Collins) as they try to get tickets to a sold-out Blockheads gig in Hammersmith, at the height of their popularity in 1979.

Saturday, 11 July 2020

TV review: Talking Heads - A Chip in the Sugar /
The Outside Dog / Bed Among the Lentils

It's hard to separate Alan Bennett's Talking Heads from their original performers but my next selection of remakes sees their actors put a new stamp on them. In among the collection of current and future dames each of the two original series had one male monologue, and the original series opened with Bennett himself in A Chip in the Sugar. So if any piece is associated with the writer's distinctive voice even more than the others it's this one, and Martin Freeman is the actor taking on the role of Graham for director Jeremy Herrin. Like most of the actors in this remake Freeman isn't trying too hard to emulate the original accent, which might lose something in authenticity but helps avoid too many direct comparisons. Graham is a closeted middle-aged man who lives with his mother, having had trouble living alone in the past due to paranoid schizophrenia. He's now on medication but his mother's chance meeting with an old boyfriend from her youth unsettles his routine and he starts to think the house is being watched again; except maybe this time it actually is.

Wednesday, 8 July 2020

Radio review: I Am the Wind

I guess we're now reaching the point where I'm starved enough of theatrical content to be seeking out stuff I strongly suspect I won't like: Nearly ten years ago the Young Vic staged an elaborately designed and directed production of Jon Fosse's I Am the Wind, which came with much discussion of how the Norwegian playwright was one of the most frequently staged throughout Europe, except for the UK where he was virtually unknown. Well in the subsequent decade I haven't seen another Fosse play, nor do I even think I've heard of any major production being staged, so it's probably safe to say the play wasn't the hoped-for London breakthrough. I think the reviews were generally scathing, and my own opinion was that while the production was spectacular I remained unconvinced that there was much of substance underneath it. Now the same English version by Simon Stephens gets a radio production from Toby Swift, and what better way to see if my opinion's changed than by stripping the play down to just words and sound effects?

Sunday, 5 July 2020

TV review: Talking Heads - Her Big Chance /
Playing Sandwiches

Of the collection of current and future dames in the new version of Alan Bennett's Talking Heads the most zeitgeisty is surely Jodie Comer - even with the discussion about Killing Eve largely focusing on how much it falls foul of the law of diminishing returns, she's still one of the biggest names to emerge in recent years. The other big name she replaces in these monologues is Julie Walters, as Comer takes on Her Big Chance. She plays young actress Lesley, who's not very bright but still isn't quite dim enough to fool herself that she's not really being used and abused by the film industry she's trying to break into: More by luck than judgement she lands a role as the villain's mostly-naked girlfriend in a low-budget German crime thriller being filmed in Lee-on-Solent, a distinctly chillier location than the Riviera setting it's meant to be. Her Big Chance is a very cleverly balanced tragicomedy - there's a profound sadness to the inevitability with which every man Lesley meets uses her for sex while pretending to help her career, not just on a one-to-one level but the entire cast and crew barely registering her as a person and walking out on her the morning after the night before.