Review – Daytona starring Maureen Lipman at the Theatre Royal Haymarket

I had intended to catch Daytona at the Park Theatre earlier this year and so was thrilled to hear it had transferred to the Theatre Royal Haymarket for a short West End run. I have always admired Maureen Lipman as an actress and, although I wash’t a huge fan of A Little Night Music a few years ago, she was great and so the opportunity to see her in something else on stage was quite appealing. I was also interested to learn that actor Oliver Cotton, who has written the play, was also starring in the West End transfer.

Maureen Lipman & Harry Shearer

Maureen Lipman & Harry Shearer

Daytona is a fairly contained play. All the drama takes place in one setting in 1986 Brooklyn, in the home of Joe and Elli, a Jewish migrant couple who have been married and living in the States for decades and who enjoy spending their time competing in senior ballroom dancing competitions. In to their fairly mundane, safe existence appears Joe’s brother Billy, whom they have not seen for almost 30 years. However, this is not a play about a happy, comfortable reunion and as the story progresses we delve in to their past, their secrets and how these have impacted the lives each of the three characters has chosen to live over the decades.

I am cautious not to give too much of the plot away here, as part of the power of the play is discovering truths as you watch it. The first Act focuses mainly on the two brothers and, although crucial for laying the foundations for Act 2, I found this to be quite slow, with the drama picking up more in Act 2, in which Maureen Lipman’s Elli plays a far larger role. The play begins telling one story – that of Billy, who is fleeing Daytona where he has carried out a serious crime linked to their shared past during World War II, but then becomes something different, in which the focus is on the dynamic and connections these three people have shared for years.

All three actors are very good indeed. Harry Shearer (better known here in the UK for his voice work on The Simpsons, where he voices characters including Mr Burns) is strong as Joe. He clearly loves his wife very much and is content with the life they have shared over the years. Oliver Cotton is very good as Billy (a role he didn’t play himself at the play’s run at the Park Theatre). It must be daunting to act in your own play, but he handles it wonderfully. Billy is quite a complicated man, who I both liked and disliked, which made him interesting to watch and he has a great chemistry with both actors, but especially with Maureen Lipman.

Oliver Cotton & Harry Shearer

Oliver Cotton & Harry Shearer

However, the heart of the drama is Ellli and Maureen Lipman is superb in the role. We see her display so many emotions, from affection for her husband, to playfulness, to anger, regret and deep sadness and I couldn’t help but be moved by her character. There is a particular point in which she recalls an emotional memory and as she does so, her accent changes so that her Jewish roots become more strongly recognisable. I assume this is a deliberate choice and it works very well indeed.

Some may say Daytona is a bit too slow, but it’s a very powerful, moving story, which is incredibly well acted by its cast and I would certainly recommend it.

Daytona continues its run at the Theatre Royal Haymarket until 23rd August 2014. For more details visit the Haymarket’s website here.

Headline London Debate: Should Britain Make Eid And Diwali Public Holidays?

Originally posted on Semi-Partisan Sam:

Samuel Hooper London Live Headline London Eid Diwali Public Holiday 2

Yesterday, London Live TV’s Headline London lunchtime news programme covered the Eid celebrations taking place in the capital, and asked whether the UK government should make Eid (and the Hindu festival of Diwali) nationwide public holidays.

The idea was first raised in Parliament last week by Conservative MP Bob Blackman, in response to an online petition signed by more than 120,000 people. I vehemently disagreed with the proposal at the time, for the reasons set out here.

Semi-Partisan Sam was pleased to be invited to debate the issue with poet Mohamed “Mo Rhymes” Mohamed and political activist Peymana Assad on the Headline London panel. The debate was courteous and good-natured, which cannot often be said of debates on religion – but I believe my argument, founded on national unity, church/state separation and the rights of the individual won the day.

London Live’s website only shows the first part of the panel discussion…

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Television Preview – The Driver starring David Morrissey, coming soon to BBC One (Spoiler free)

 

As we move through the summer months, we begin to look towards the autumn television schedule and one of the upcoming dramas coming to BBC One is the three-part drama The Driver, the first episode of which was screened tonight at BAFTA in London.

Written and co-created by BAFTA-winning writer Danny Brocklehurst and Jim Poyser and co-produced by the successful RED Production Company (whose successes include Clocking Off, Single Father, Queer As Folk and Scott & Bailey), The Driver introduces us to Manchester cab driver Vince McKee, played by David Morrissey. Vince is feeling increasingly frustrated with his life and one day, after always trying to do the right thing just seems to backfire, he makes a decision that will affect his whole life. His old friend (played by Morrissey’s real life close friend Ian Hart) is just out of prison and knows a man looking for a driver who won’t ask questions.

This drama starts as it means to go on, with the opening minutes grabbing the audience’s attention and keeping it throughout the rest of the hour. Vince is clearly a good man, who has become increasingly low, possibly due to the mystery circumstances of his son’s absence from the family home. As David Morrissey said in this evening’s Q&A, although he knows what he is getting in to is wrong, he has lost his masculinity and it makes him feel alive again. Morrissey is superb as Vince. I always find him to be a very real, believable actor – no matter what the role, I always believe David Morrissey as the character and The Driver is no exception. He plays Vince as a very ordinary, simple man, who is just trying to make a living and be happy in his life. Although you find yourself frustrated by his choices, you can’t help but understand why he is ultimately making them. David Morrissey spoke about wanting the audience to be empathetic towards Vince rather than sympathetic and I certainly found that to be the case for me.

The rest of the main cast are also very good. Colm Meaney (perhaps now best known for Star Trek), in his first British television role since 1982, is perfectly cast as “Horse”, the head of the criminal gang Vince encounters. He brilliantly walks the line between friendly, jokey bloke and someone who won’t hesitate to make you pay for your mistakes. He also has great dynamics with the rest of the gang. Claudie Blakley is also good as Vince’s wife Ros, although I imagine she will continue to develop over the remaining episodes.

One of the aspects of The Driver that I most enjoyed was the fact that, although being quite tense, there are also wonderfully humorous moments too (a scene involving the gang’s tea mugs was a favourite of mine) and the script is skilfully written to bring both the humour and the high drama across in a realistic way.

I don’t want to give too much away about the story and I have no idea where it is going. What I can say is that I thoroughly enjoyed episode one of this series. It is a brilliantly scripted piece of drama, that is brought to the screen so well by its director and cast. It’s certainly not relaxing television, but it is high quality British drama at its best and I’m looking forward to seeing the rest of it in the autumn.

The Driver will be screened on BBC One this autumn, so keep an eye on the television schedules for details and have a look at the trailer via this link: The Driver Trailer

 

 

Sherlock (BBC) – Happy 4th Anniversary to a British television triumph!

If we used the Doctor’s TARDIS and travelled back in time four years to 25 July 2010, we would find ourselves in a world in which the recognisable image of Sherlock Holmes was one of an older gentleman in Victorian London, driving through London in a Hackney cab through foggy streets. We would also be in a world in which only theatre enthusiasts and watchers of the odd BBC drama would have heard of a young actor with an unusual name.

What a difference a night makes! After 90 minutes of BBC1 drama on a summer’s evening (never an ideal time for a new series to start), the UK had a new obsession and the BBC had an instant hit on its hands. It has been referenced in numerous interviews how that night changed the lives and careers of those involved – none more so than its lead actors Martin Freeman and Benedict Cumberbatch and Benedict in particular.

The Sherlock gang

The Sherlock gang

In the four years since it began Sherlock has gone on to success few could have imagined. After 7.5 million watched A Study in Pink in 2010, its UK audience has grown impressively, with the series 3 opener drawing 12.7 million viewers and the third series overall becoming the UK’s most watched drama series since 2001 and the most requested drama on BBC iPlayer to date. This would all be incredible on its own, but Sherlock has also achieved international success (being sold to 224 countries in the last year) and critical respect, with a raft of award nominations and wins from BAFTAs to Emmys. It has one of the strongest and most loyal group of fans of any show, who have taken the series, its cast and crew to their hearts (mine included). It’s almost unbelievable to think all it has achieved in so short a time, raising the profiles of not just Martin and Benedict, but others from Andrew Scott and Louise Brealey to the team at Hartswood Films.

If any television series deserved to reach such heady heights its this one. The writing is superb, with each script zipping along with pace, intelligence, humour, heartfelt emotion, fun and action. The direction is inventive and exciting to watch. There are fews shows where the choices made by a director seem to jump off the screen. It’s beautifully lit by the director of photography, not to mention the costume departments success in creating one of the most iconic outfits on television (why on earth Balstaff discontinued that coat is beyond me!). Then of course there is the acting. It’s not just the leads that make Sherlock what it is, it’s everyone. The core supporting cast are wonderful, from Rupert Graves’s Lestrade, the lovely Louise Brealey as Molly and Una Stubbs as Mrs Hudson, to Amanda Abbington’s Mary Morstan, Andrew Scott and Mark Gatiss, not to mention all the guest stars that have added to the quality of each episode.

The Hartswood Films team

All these components work together seamlessly to make Sherlock a programme of the upmost quality in every respect. If only all dramas could be this good. Then again, if they were, it would lessen the joy and excitement at finding a new gem.

I now just need to decide on my order of these nine super episodes. That will be tough and deserves a separate post of its own! So as I watch A Study In Pink tonight, four years on from the first time, this post is a thank you to all those who have worked so hard to bring Sherlock to our screens. Long may it continue to shine!

Television Nostalgia – Cosmopolitans and Manolos with the women of Sex and the City!

 

“Once upon a time on a small island not too far away, there lived four smart, beautiful women who were all very good friends.”

After looking at the shows currently covered by my Television Nostalgia posts I noticed another glaring omission of one of my favourite television series of the last 20 years and that’s Sex and the City (it’s hard to believe it’s already been a decade since it ended). Sex and the City arrived on television screens in 1998 and soon had everyone talking. Unlike any other show, it wasn’t afraid to talk about sex from a woman’s perspective. Its four leads were strong, intelligent, sexy women, through whom the audience saw sex from a new viewpoint on television. Not only that but the writing was always brilliant – sharp, witty and intelligent, which made the show about so much more than sex and at its heart its success came down to the audience’s love of Carrie, Samantha, Miranda and Charlotte. We cared about them and wanted to spend time in their lives (not to mention seeing their gorgeous clothes and shoes)!

As usual, here are my ten favourite episodes of the series. I’ll caveat the list by saying I always loved Carrie and Big and therefore there may be a slight bias towards key episodes for them above those of the other girls. As always let me know your favourites.

1. I Heart NY (season 4 finale)

This is an easy choice for my favourite episode of Sex and the City and always has been. More than anything else the episode has a sense of hope about it that I love (made all the more poignant in hindsight by 9/11). We see Miranda and Steve become parents and the departure of Mr Big from NYC after one last night of Old New York style with Carrie. Watching them dance to Moon River (one of my favourite songs) is a lovely moment, as is watching Carrie walk down the street in that gorgeous coat in to a new season in the city.

2. A Woman’s Right to Shoes (season 6)

This episode always sticks in my mind and the older I get the more I appreciate it. After spending yet more time and money celebrating another baby shower Carrie’s shoes are stolen at the party. The judgemental attitude of her friend in the cost of her shoes and her life choices has always annoyed me and Carrie’s response – to tell her she is marrying herself and her gift list is at Manolo Blahnik, so that she has to buy her replacement shoes is a joyous moment!

3. The Drought (season 1)

This is probably my favourite season one episode, in which Miranda is sexually frustrated, Samantha is attempting tantric celibacy for a man and Carries farts in bed. The jokey relationship between Carrie and Big was always one of he highlights for me and his trick with the woopey cushion is still very funny and was probably when I hoped they’d stay together. Throw in the sexual escapades of Carrie’s neighbours, who provide an incredible show for the girls and you have an episode that never fails to make me laugh.

4. Belles of the Balls (season 4)

I think most fans of the show wanted to see Big and Aidan confront each other and this episode was a great way to do it. Seeing them roll around in the mud in the countryside together is such a great scene. It’s so childish but appropriate. I also love how they then simply move on, with Big hung up over the way another woman is treating him, telling all to Aidan.

5. The Big Journey (season 5)

Samantha and Carrie take a train to San Francisco, which isn’t as luxurious as they expected and Mr Big ruins Carrie’s plans for sex, by revealing he’s read her book and wants to talk through how he treated her! It’s nice to see Mr Big finally growing up a bit and I loved Carrie being upstaged by a dog!

6. Where There’s Smoke (season 3)

This opener to the third season has a lot of my favourite moments in it. Samantha and the fireman in the fire station will always be memorable, as will drunken Charlotte’s declaration that she’s getting married that year. Steve looking after Miranda after her eye operation is also a very sweet storyline and Carrie shouting she lost her Choo on missing the ferry is a great example of the superb, witty quality of the writing of the show.

7. An American Girl In Paris (season 6/series finale)

It may be a bit cheesy but I still love the season finale and would have been happy for Sex and the City to end here. Yes, the show had celebrated women’s independence, but I always hoped for a romantic ending for Carrie and Big and I’m thrilled with the ending. For better or worse they were meant to be together. After six years all the girls have moved forward and end in exactly the place they should be – Miranda happier in her work and home life, Charlotte and Harry awaiting the arrival of her adopted daughter and Samantha enjoying life with Smith Jared. Plus what better way to end than with Carrie swinging a Manolo bag down Manhattan?!

8. The Good Fight (season 4)

I loved Aidan and Carrie’s fight in the bathroom as it always seemed very real and true to life in its ordinariness. Then there is the astonishing choice of Trey to buy Charlotte a cardboard baby – who would ever do that really?! The episode also ends with one of my favourite Samantha moments, when we see her dance with Richard by the poolside as Sade plays on the soundtrack.

9. The Domino Effect (season 6)

Mr Big returns to New York for heart surgery and Carrie is determined to take care of him. It’s again a lovely episode in which we see just how close they have always been. Then there is the superb moment when Steve walks in on Miranda having hot sex with Doctor Robert and ends up with a tampon up his nose and Samantha finally starts to settle in to life with Smith Jared.

10. Ring A Ding Ding (season 4)

Charlotte has always been my least favourite of the girls in terms of personality and I love this episode in which Carrie needs money to stay in her apartment and is hurt that Charlotte doesn’t offer to help. As she says, she wouldn’t have taken it, but she could have offered. It’s such a real, honest argument between them and the end where Charlotte gives Carrie her ring is a lovely gesture of friendship. Plus the line in which Carrie says she will literally be the old woman who lived in her shoes is a classic!

As with most shows, picking ten is not easy so I have to give honourable mentions to A Vogue Idea (“I’m drunk at Vogue”), The Real Me (where Carrie falls on the cat walk), Splat! (in which Carrie decides to leave NYC), The Catch (Charlotte’s wedding to Harry), Cock A Doodle Do (where Carrie & Big take an unexpected plunge in to the lake), What Goes Around Comes Around (Sam Jones meets Sam Jones) and The Baby Shower (Sam takes booze as a gift!). Sex & The City throughout its run always remained thought-provoking, entertaining and highlighted the importance of good friends. It will always be one of my favourites, which I’ll return to for years to come.

Feel free to comment on your own favourite episodes.

Review – Great Britain by Richard Bean at the National Theatre

The National Theatre’s latest offering by playwright Richard Bean (whose One Man, Two Guvnors went on to West End and Broadway success), couldn’t be more current. Deliberately timed to coincide with the outcome of the recent newspaper/hacking trials, the play opened without previews and on very short notice on 30th June (where it runs until a swift West End transfer in September). I’d heard the rumours that Mr Bean’s latest play would be a satirical look at the hacking debate starring Billie Piper and Oliver Chris and so had high hopes.

Robert Glenister and the team at The Free Press

Robert Glenister and the team at The Free Press

Set at the tabloid newspaper The Free Press, we are introduced to a motley gang of characters, none of whom are particularly likeable. The central focus is Paige Britain (Played by Piper), the news editor. She is ambitious, devious, intelligent, sexy and is biding her time before the editor’s job is hers. In the midst of searching for the next big story, it becomes clear that voicemails can be hacked – the pool of stories just became so much bigger – and it’s all for our benefit as Paige tells us in her side chats to the audience in Richard III-like fashion.

Over the course of the play a number of issues straight from the recent news are referred to. We see everything from The Free Press’s owner trying to buy a commercial TV station, expenses scandals, the racial bias of police, to the actual hacking itself, which becomes, as it did in reality, much more distasteful when the focus shifts from shallow celebrities to the phones of missing schoolchildren.

Richard Bean highlights wonderfully the question as to who is really in control of the country when the power and corruption of the political elite, press and police are so inextricably linked. It’s frightening to see how much power Paige and her boss manage to wield amongst those in roles so fundamental to the running of our nation.

Billie Piper & Oliver Chris

Billie Piper & Oliver Chris

The acting is very good indeed. Robert Glenister is wonderful as the coarse editor, who ends up at Downing Street, Aaron Neil is superb as the ridiculously hopeless Police Commissioner (whose public gaffes steal a lot of the laughs) and Oliver Chris is on fine form as usual as his frustrated deputy, who is drawn to Paige’s charms. I still think he is wasted here though, as despite a great performance, it saddens me to think he may not appear in the West End transfer of King Charles III, a play which truly allows him to shine (I am keeping my fingers crossed that this isn’t the case). It is however Billie Piper’s show – she is absolutely brilliant as Paige – utterly underhanded in her actions, but remaining an interesting character who almost wins you over with her persuasive charm.

Nicholas Hytner’s production is very well staged and fast paced. The video screens with hilarious headlines are very entertaining (with nods to The Guardener, The Dependent and The Daily Wail, the latter of which seems obsessed with immigrant scare stories) and perfectly move the action from one scene to another via the sliding  screen sets.

Aaron Neil is fab as the hopeless Police Commissioner

Aaron Neil is fab as the hopeless Police Commissioner

For me though, the play tries to do too much. Its broad plot, containing so many issues begins to feel a bit cluttered and possibly less would have been more. Also despite being rather long, the end still managed to feel rushed (perhaps due to the fast release of the play). I did also think some of the jokes were a bit too uncomfortable (as an example, as it’s set in the 90s, a reference to to likelihood of Jimmy Saville being a child abuser felt a bit too much). Then again, that is partly the point Bean is making – the sometimes uncomfortable content and actions of the media forces its audience to see its own culpability in the rise of tabloid sordidness – if the public did’t read it, it would’t be profitable and people who seemingly delight in the dirt of others would have a far dimmer spotlight in which to stand. I also found some of the obvious caricatures a little distracting (the nods to certain real life people are hard to miss) and I would have perhaps preferred less of these references.

Overall, this is an enjoyable, entertaining production – the black humour is for the most part on the money and despite its rather too broad content, the overall production is wonderfully acted. You’ll laugh, you’ll feel bad for laughing and you’ll cringe. It’s a great addition to the theatre scene in London and it’s great to see something as topical as this reaching a wider audience.

Great Britain continues its run at the National Theatre until 23rd August 2014 before transferring to the Theatre Royal Haymarket from 10th September 2014. For more information visit the National Theatre’s website at: http:www/nationaltheatre.org.uk

 

The Imitation Game starring Benedict Cumberbatch – First trailer released!

There are a handful of films every year that I look forward to with an added level of expectation and excitement and probably at the top of the list for this year has been The Imitation Game, the film based on mathematician Alan Turing’s crucial role in the code breaking of World War II. This feels like a role made for Benedict Cumberbatch to play and with support from Charles Dance, Mark Strong and Keira Knightley this could be in line for accolades galore next awards season.

Today has seen the release of the first teaser trailer. My expectation level was just raised!

First Trailer here: http://youtu.be/Fg85ggZSHMw

 

 

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