Murray Gold’s Out of this World Music – My top 20 tracks from a decade of Doctor Who!

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Montage source: israbox.org

This weekend saw the arrival through the post of the latest Doctor Who soundtrack, containing Murray Gold’s music from series 8 and the most recent Christmas special Last Christmas. Across 3 CDs! I’m a huge admirer of film and television composers, whose music I strongly believe is integral to the shows they accompany. None more so than Doctor Who. So many moments of the series over the last decade have been made stronger by Murray’s contribution, whether emphasising a sense of fun and joy or deep sadness and heartbreak. These scenes and the world of New Who wouldn’t be the same without him.

So, as I listened to the latest soundtrack this weekend, reliving Peter Capaldi’s fantastic first series as the Time Lord, while looking forward to next weekend’s Doctor Who Symphonic Spectacular concert, it made me think about all the other musical moments from the eras of Chris Eccleston, David Tennant and Matt Smith and which ones would make my track list if compiling the ultimate soundtrack to modern Doctor Who.

So, here are my top 20 choices (10 was too hard!). Let me know which ones you’d include in your list.

1. “I Am The Doctor” – 11th Doctor’s theme (series 5-7)

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From the moment I heard this piece of music, I knew it was going to be a firm favourite and it came to encapsulate Matt Smith’s time on the series. It is grand and sweeping in scope and exploded this new Doctor on to the screen with fun, fanfare and excitement. Surely no soundtrack or Prom could ever be without it and it’s a shining example of the powerful contribution music can have, to not only a mood of a series, but also to a character. I now cannot imagine the Eleventh Doctor without thinking of this track and it’s certainly my favourite theme of all the Doctors so far.

2. “Doomsday” – Farewell to Rose (series 2)

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The Doctor and Rose’s parting on the beach at Bad Wolf Bay is an iconic moment in modern Doctor Who, which certainly caused quite a lot of tears from some fans. David and Billie are exceptional in this upsetting final scene together (well at the time anyway) and Murray’s haunting theme, accompanied by Melanie Pappenheim’s vocals added a deep sense of heart and emotion to an already intense moment. It’s also quite an interesting track by itself, as the vocals and piano, carrying such sadness mix with the guitar, giving the music a heartbeat of sorts and an edgier tone too.

3. Together of Not At All – The Song of Amy & Rory / Goodbye Pond (series 7)

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This piece of music from series seven’s The Angels Take Manhattan immediately stood out for me on first viewing the episode. Although it begins very creepy in the first few bars, it becomes something altogether different, capturing through the music and the vocals of Halia Meguid the love between the Ponds and how ultimately being together was the most important thing in their universe. As long as they were together they could face anything, even death. The graveyard is perhaps the sad moment for the Doctor (and indeed “Goodbye Pond” is a gorgeous track to go with it), but it was this moment that moved me the most, watching this couple take that leap of faith together. It was a highlight of the last Prom for me and I’m still sad it was one of the sections cut from the televised version. This is one of Murray’s finest tracks so far in ten years and it was always going to make this list.

4. Fear – Clara’s message of strength to a young Time Lord (series 8)

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Listen was one of my favourites of Peter Capaldi’s first year (see my review of series 8 here) and the more I watch it, the more it edges to the top of the list. Despite being such a spooky and scary story, it also had a wonderful message for children (and indeed adults) about how fear is a superpower that we shouldn’t be frightened of, but instead should use to give us strength to achieve things we may not be able to do otherwise. This piece (thankfully on the new soundtrack) accompanies Clara’s speech to the young, scared Doctor. It is some of Jenna’s best work and is a genuinely beautiful piece of music from Murray and highlights how he helps enhance some of the most passionate and crucial scenes and messages in the series through his music.

5. Vale Decem – Goodbye to Ten and Tennant (The End of Time, series 4 Specials)

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Oh how this piece of music will always take me back to New Year’s Day 2010, as we said farewell to the Tenth Doctor and Russell T Davies in The End of Time. Some may think it was a drawn out end, but I loved it and Vale Decem (Farewell Ten in Latin) was the perfect choice to end David Tennant’s incredible time on the series. It was grand and emotional and still provided a sense of hope for the future with the arrival of Matt Smith. Hearing the combination of the music and choir live in the Royal Albert Hall, bringing this moment back to life at the Prom was a wonderful experience.

6. All the Strange, Strange Creatures (series 3 and 4)

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This piece of sweeping music has become a staple of the Doctor Who Prom and although associated with the Tenth Doctor’s time, it can easily be used as the theme for the variety of monsters all the Doctors have faced. It was one of the first pieces of Doctor Who music, within which you could truly appreciate the scope and power of the National Orchestra of Wales that bring each episode to life. Hearing it live is always a joy.

7. The Doctor’s Theme – Welcome Christopher Eccleston! (series 1)

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The first of New Who’s Time Lords, Christopher Eccleston was superb on the series. His Doctor’s theme was a perfectly otherworldly piece of music, which seemed to speak to the vast time and journey of this 900 year-old alien. It’s haunting and emotive and tinged with sadness, highlighting the great losses he has suffered in recent years. It was an early indicator that the music of the series was not simply going to be background noise, but a crucial thread of the production and this track will forever make me think fondly about Doctor number nine and his arrival in 2005.

8. This Is Gallifrey: Our Childhood, Our Home (series 3-4)

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Another classic piece from Ten’s era of the show is this one, first heard in all its glory during The Sound of Drums as the Doctor described his home to Martha and Captain Jack. The wistfulness is perfectly played by David Tennant and the graphics bringing our first real glimpse of his home were wonderful. However it’s this music that has come to be the biggest association with Gallifrey and is a lovely creation by Murray.

9. Rose’s Theme (series 1 and 2)

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She was the first companion of New Who and integral to the show’s initial success and Rose’s theme was one of the first pieces of Murray’s music to resonate through the episodes. It was such a great decision to have themes for key characters and this is definitely one of my favourites. I love how light the notes of the piano sound, giving it an air of romance and beauty, which matched the heart of Rose perfectly.

10. Four Knocks (series 4 Specials)

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Another tearjerker here in the form of Four Knocks, the heartbreaking music written to accompany the Tenth Doctor’s realisation that he still had to die in order to save Wilf. It’s some of David Tennant’s finest acting and this subtle, gentle, emotionally raw music is absolutely perfect. Well done to Julie Gardner, who I believe fought with Russell T Davies to have music over the scene. My one gripe with Four Knocks now however is the choice to have it play again over the top of Clara’s lovely scene with the old 11th Doctor just before he goes off to meet his fate in the clock tower in Matt Smith’s swansong. I can’t have been the only fan of the music of the series to be taken out of the emotion of the scene by the distraction and surprise on hearing what should always have remained a piece capturing the Tenth Doctor’s sacrifice.

11. A Good Man? (Twelve’s Theme) (series 8)

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I admit, on first watching Deep Breath I was listening for the Twelfth Doctor’s theme and by the end I wasn’t exactly sure what it was. Matt’s Doctor’s theme had been so iconic and stood out immediately. Peter’s theme however, despite being just as strong, somehow seems less obvious. As Murray points out in his sleeve notes to the latest album, the horns that signal the heart of the Twelfth Doctor’s theme do pop up within every episode of series eight, weaving each story to the next. On listening to the theme by itself as part of this soundtrack, it’s power, excitement and beauty shines through the music and it’s a worthy successor to I Am The Doctor.

12. The Life and Death of Amy Pond/Amy’s Theme (series 5-7)

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Yet another theme for a memorable companion. I admit I wasn’t a huge Amy Pond fan, but her theme is lovely piece of music, which captures her special bond with her raggedy Doctor. It carries with it a sense of childlike magic, perfect for the girl who has known the Doctor most of her life and whose story is always a little unknown to the audience. This was expanded on in The Life and Death of Amy Pond track, which plays over the tragic scenes at the end of The Pandorica Opens, as River is trapped in the exploding TARDIS, the Doctor is locked in the Pandorica and Rory unexpectedly kills Amy in his arms and represents some of the most heartfelt music of the series.

13. “This Time There’s Three of Us (The Majestic Tale)” (The Day of the Doctor 50th Anniversary)

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The 50th anniversary of Doctor Who was certainly a proud moment for the BBC’s flagship show and Murray’s music was right at home on the big cinema screen. Capturing the celebration and grand scope of the episode and everything it represented, I loved this track from it, which is equally exciting to hear in its own right without watching the episode. It picks up the emotion of the scene with the Moment, before whisking us up in to the sweeping grandeur of the hero-like fanfare that accompanied the Doctors joining together to save their home. There were three Doctors (and then 13) and what a wonderful team they made!

14. The Long Song / Infinite Potential (series 7)

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Okay so The Rings of Akhaten was not a great story in my view, but I did love the stirring choral singing in this track. It ensures that the end of the episode at least pulls off something lovely, together with the following track, Infinite Potential, which accompanies Clara saving the day with the power of infinite memories in her leaf. It’s an example for me of where the music of an episode is something I enjoy much more than the story itself! Also, it was a magical number to hear live at the Prom.

15. Song of Captivity & Freedom (series 4)

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Most of the attention goes on the Song of Freedom played in Journey’s End as the Earth is towed to safety. However I’ve always liked the other half of this theme, The Song of Captivity from The Planet of the Ood and this track from the series 4 soundtrack wonderfully combines both in to one piece of music. It is tinged with sadness through the incredible voice of Mark Chambers, but it’s a lovely part of the score of the show and was something a bit different in tone.

16. (The Majestic Tale of) An Idiot With a Box (series 8)

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I love what Murray has achieved with this piece from the series 8 finale and reading his sleeve notes makes it all make sense. Apparently Mr Moffat missed I Am The Doctor, associating it with his time as showrunner, whereas Murray associates it with Matt Smith’s era (I agree with Murray). So, as a compromise, this piece incorporates both! You can hear I Am The Doctor, albeit slightly tweaked in style, alongside Peter Capaldi’s Twelfth Doctor theme, with its bold, powerful horn section. What you get is an epic, bold, exciting and glorious number, which had better be played at the next Prom!

17. Up The Shard (series 7)

bellsofstjohnFarewell to the Ponds and hello to Clara in series 7. Her first adventure as an official companion, The Bells on St. John, was bonkers, but lots of fun and I particularly loved Murray’s grand musical choice to accompany the Doctor’s mad motorcycle ride up the side of the Shard, which uses I Am The Doctor as a base and expands it.

18. With Love, Vincent (series 5)

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This is one of my favourites stories of New Who and after the tears are shed after watching Vincent in the museum of his own art, it’s this lovely track which accompanies Amy as, through her tears at knowing she didn’t save Vincent, she sees her sunflowers, now bearing an affectionate message for her. It gives the episode a happier ending, in which the Doctor and Amy can look fondly on the life of an extraordinary man.

19. Altering Lives (The Waters of Mars, series 4 Specials)

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Waters of Mars is a much darker story than most of the Tenth Doctor’s time, deliberately building up to his exit in the following episodes. However, its story is one that on the whole is praised by fans and for me is the strongest of the Specials that year. It’s a story about loss, accepting destiny and sacrifice and this quiet, spiritual track enhances all of those important themes and is most associated with the scene in which the Doctor finally tells Adelaide her fate, as he stands in the airlock, preparing to walk away yet again from a fixed point in time, no matter how painful it is for him.

20. The Cybermen theme (throughout)

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Ever since its return in 2005, there have been two constant enemies, popping up over and over again for the Doctor to defeat. I love Murray’s themes for both the Daleks and the Cybermen, the first with its almost Darth Vadar style evil. However, it’s the Cybermen music, with its eerie strings and bold horns that has always grabbed me, especially once the frantic violins and choir join in and the piece builds to a crescendo. The theme always crops up in some form when the Cybermen appear, most recently of course in the series 8 finale, but I admit this track always makes me think of Rose desperately clinging the the lever in Doomsday!

So that’s my selection. It was a lot harder than I imagined, hence it becoming a top 20 and there were so many other possible candidates (The Impossible Planet suite, The Carrionites Swarm, Boe, Final Days from The End of Time to name just a few)! Now all I need is a re-release of series one and two, which only ever had one CD for both years. That is criminal! Surely others out there would agree that this is a much needed addition to the Doctor Who soundtrack collection? Come on Murray Gold and Silva Screen. You know you want to!

The Doctor Who soundtracks are released by Silva Screen (see their Doctor Who music website here) and are available through all the usual stockists.

Theatre review – American Buffalo starring Damian Lewis & John Goodman

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I have been very strict with myself this year, capping my ticket prices at a lower limit. However that rule was broken this week in order to see this production at the Wyndam’s Theatre, which currently has some of the highest prices in the West End (£127.50 at the top end). I’m a huge fan of both Damian Lewis (especially the relatively unknown series Life) and John Goodman, making his London theatre debut.

The play, written by David Mamet in 1977 is certainly not an easy one to watch and requires a great deal of concentration from its audience, due to the amount of dialogue pinging between the three characters, a lot of which is pretty strong language too. Set in a Chicago junk shop run by Don (John Goodman), we learn that he is planning a robbery at the flat of a local man, who recently visited his shop and bought an American buffalo coin for $90. Feeling short changed, now believing it must have been worth much more than that, Don now wants it back (together with any other valuables on offer) and has enlisted the young, impressionable, drug addicted Bobby (Tom Sturridge) to help. Bobby clearly sees Don as a father figure and will do anything for his approval. In to this situation, enters Teach (Damian Lewis), who soon wants to be in on the job instead of Bobby. Over the course of two hours, we see their relationships shift as the day goes on and the time of the job draws nearer and the play takes on a more dark, disturbing tone.

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John Goodman, Damian Lewis & Tom Sturridge

Although quite a tough play to sit through due to the density of the dialogue (how Goodman and Lewis remember it all I do not know!), you can’t fail to be impressed by the acting of all three actors. Teach is a manic character, whose temper seems constantly on a knife edge. You get the feeling he could erupt over the slightest matter and Damian Lewis is wonderful in the role, talking at a million miles an hour, with anger, sarcasm, humour and frustration all coming to the fore at some point during the play.

In contrast John Goodman’s Don is a calmer man, who seems to grow more and more weary by the events unfolding around him. He also has a strange, paternal bond with Bobby, which tends to put him at odds with Teach, who has absolutely no time for the strange boy. Tom Sturridge is very impressive as the damaged and impressionable young Bobby. He is capable of bouts of aggression, but is also at times quite childlike in his behaviour and you sense that he is taken advantage of by a lot of people due to his personality. I’ll certainly look out for Sturridge on stage in future (he’ll be seen on television next year as Henry VI in the new Hollow Crown series).

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Paul Wills’s set is a work of art

Daniel Evans (current Artistic Director of the incredibly successful Sheffield Theatres) directs all three actors very well indeed, ensuring that each of them gives a nuanced and multi-layered performance. The choice of set is also wonderful, with so much effort having gone in to the props used to dress Don’s shop by Paul Wills and his team, so that you genuinely feel that it is brimming with items that have been building up for decades.

Overall, I enjoyed the production, but I can’t say that I think the inflated ticket prices are justified and I would strongly recommend trying for day seats if you are prepared to get up early. Day seats are £20 and I understand from the box office that they are the front row and some boxes. As the stage didn’t appear too high, this seems to be a pretty good deal for atnyone keen to see it for a more reasonable price. I would say though, don’t choose the central front row seats, as a piece of prop may possibly impede your view, so choose the seats slightly off centre.

American Buffalo continues its run at the Wyndams Theatre until 27th June 2015. For more information and ticket availability, visit its website.

Book review – The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

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Another book everyone has been talking about during the last few months is The Girl on the Train, a thriller with a domestic, everyday idea – what if you saw something odd on your regular commute to work?

That is exactly what happens here to Rachel, who travels on the same train in to London each day, passing familiar houses, whose occupants she has started to pay attention to and for whom she has created imaginary identities. However one day, as she passes down the tracks, she sees something strange that doesn’t make sense and which becomes all the more significant when one of the women living in the street goes missing.

I certainly enjoyed this novel and found its gradual puzzle building structure held my interest and attention. You know Rachel must have seen something, but what is it and will she ever remember? Throw in to this the fact that Rachel is a divorced alcoholic and she becomes an even complex character. I know some readers didn’t like her at all, but I couldn’t help but feel sorry for her and her present situation.

The book’s structure also adds to its intrigue, with chapters alternating between the three women of the story – Rachel, Megan (the missing woman, in the months prior to her disappearance) and Anna, the new wife of Rachel’s ex-husband Tom, now living in Rachel’s beloved home. It’s fascinating to see each one of them describing or speculating about the other women and for the reader to then see what the other person’s perspective is, particularly Rachel and Anna’s views on each other. Each woman is very different and it is great to have all three voices heard in their own right. Through their narratives we build up the puzzle piece by piece, as events are mentioned in passing, only to be given more depth later on as the mystery starts to build to a conclusion. Paula Hawkins does well to keep all the plates spinning in terms of plot and know when to provide further clues to the reader.

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Author Paula Hawkins

 

I did however find the book a little repetitive in places. Many of Rachel’s chapters contain her drinking problem, her confused feelings towards Tom and her repeated journeys on the train. To a certain extent this is needed to give us more insight in to Rachel’s state of mind, but I did occasionally find myself getting a bit tired of the same scenarios cropping up. I also thought that the plot did start to become a bit predictable by the end, but despite that, it is well written and had me keen to know the truth of the puzzle.

There are a number of novels that have been released recently and been categorised as “domestic noir” – thrillers that take place within ordinary domestic lives and settings. However, I think lumping so many novels in to a needless category is pointless and potentially suggests they are less credible fiction than other genres. This book has been compared to Before I Go To Sleep, Gone Girl and the recently released Disclaimer (read my review here). For me, Before I Go To Sleep remains the best, as its plot was one I hadn’t come across before and it was truly nail biting, having me unable to put it down. What is crucial, in my view however, is that all these books are extremely well written, plotted, exciting and offer us interesting and multi-layered characters.

If you are a fan of thrillers or books with an underlying mystery at its heart, which keep unravelling, no doubt this novel is already on your radar. I’d certainly say it’s worth reading and you’ll probably never gaze out of the window of  a train in quite the same way again!

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins is published by Doubleday and available from all the usual book stockists.

 

Book review – After The Crash by Michel Bussi

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I wasn’t planning to buy any more books until I’d significantly reduced the pile I already have. However, I couldn’t help noticing this book on a stand in Waterstones and the excerpt from The Sunday Times’ review on the cover tempted me in to buying a copy. I’m certainly pleased I did, as it is one of the best thrillers I’ve read in a very long time.

After The Crash is a thriller / mystery, which weaves the past and the present together to set out the central mysteries of the novel. Without giving too much away, the story centres around a plane crash in December 1980, in which all but one of the passengers were killed. The survivor, a three month old baby girl, was heralded as a miracle child. However, there were two similar-aged babies on board and at the time before DNA testing, a battle began as to which French family she belonged to – was she Lyse-Rose, from the wealthy De Carville family, or Emilie Vitral whose family came from a much poorer background.

We see the events of 1980 and beyond through the journal of private detective Credule Grand Duke, employed by the De Carville’s to find out the truth. However, in 1998, as “Lylie” is turning 18, Grand Duke is about to give up and end his life, when he suddenly has a breakthrough, which could solve the mystery at long last – that is until he is murdered.

The mystery of who killed him and why is only one puzzle, together with the central question of who is Lylie. Michel Bussi’s writing moves at a brilliant pace, drawing you in from the first chapter. I loved the use of the journal to set out the past, as it made it feel present and exciting, as we read and discover these events alongside Marc Vitral, possibly Lylie’s brother, to whom she has given the journal to read. It also helps maintain the story’s momentum – the nearer to the end of the journal Marc is, the closer we are to solving the puzzle.

I can see how the novel is compared (as the Sunday Times does) to Stieg Larsson. It is after all a thriller that is also a puzzle about events of the past, which have consumed the lives of others and which are now about to be solved. However, I think Larsson’s writing still captures a tone and depth of intrigue that was not as strong in Bussi’s novel. After The Crash is however filled with some interesting characters, particularly the emotionally damaged Malvina and Grand Duke, who we get to know through his book. I would agree with other readers that it’s a shame we don’t hear more from Lylie herself. She is around whom everything revolves and yet our connection to her as a character is solely built through the view of others, particularly Marc. Perhaps this was designed to maintain the mystery as to her identity.

I did also think that the book’s conclusion seemed to lack the pace of the novel as a whole. After so much momentum and frantic page-turning, it seemed to come to an all too sudden conclusion. However, this did not detract from my overall opinion of the novel. It is a thrilling and interesting story and contains some well written and fascinating characters. I love a book I can escape in to and After The Crash is certainly such a novel, that had me hooked until the very last page. I certainly hope more of Michel Bussi’s work will be translated and make its way to my local bookshop soon!

For anyone who enjoys an excellent mystery or thriller, this comes very highly recommended.

After The Crash by Michel Bussi is published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson and available through all the usual book stockists. 

Theatre Review – The Vote at the Donmar Warehouse

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So, I failed in the ballot for tickets for James Graham’s new play, but thanks to a generous friend who queued this morning, I managed to get a standing ticket for tonight’s performance and I’m so pleased I was able to enjoy the experience of seeing this production live in advance of tomorrow night’s broadcast on More 4.

Created by James Graham and the Donmar’s Josie Rourke and written by Graham, whose previous work has highlighted an interest in politics (the brilliant This House at the National in 2012 and the recent Coalition for television) and also his flair for bringing something a little different and quirky to the stage (such as last year’s Privacy, also at the Donmar), The Vote is a wonderfully funny farce, set in the last hectic 90 minutes of polling on election day. Staged in real time (as will be the case tomorrow night), he brings the audience through the doors of a typical polling station in a South London marginal seat, managing to bring an incredibly funny and entertaining show to the stage while also highlighting the importance of each of us playing our part in deciding how our country is run, by casting our vote tomorrow. In fact, I can even say I’ll have voted twice this year, as before taking our places in the circle tonight, I lined up with the rest of the audience to hand in my polling card, be issued my ballot paper and vote within the Donmar’s very own polling station! This was a wonderful way to start the evening and draw the audience in to the atmosphere of the show.

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My very own Donmar polling card!

Much has been said about the huge cast of actors in The Vote. Most of these are small roles, of those simply coming in to vote, but who bring with them a quirky story or glimpse in to their lives outside the world of this school hall. The play however centres around the polling station staff, presiding officer Steven Crosswell (Mark Gatiss) and poll-clerks Kirsty (Catherine Tate) and Laura (Nina Sosanya) and how the last 90 minutes of voting become far more stressful and farcical than they could ever have imagined. Everything is going smoothly, the day is almost over and the station is determined to beat one of its rivals in completing its count in this marginal seat. That is until an old man (played by the wonderful Timothy West) arrives and votes….for the second time…..! You can imagine the hilarity of events that follow and I won’t spoil them before tomorrow night’s live broadcast. Suffice to say, the eccentricities of the British public and the voting system are used to full comedic effect.

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Finty Williams & mother Judi Dench are among the wonderful ensemble cast

Mark Gatiss is perfect for the part of Steven, the man in charge of running a tight ship and a stickler for the rules and order, who slowly starts to crumble as he loses control of events around him. We watch with sympathy, as his morals are tested to the limit by circumstances and the actions of others, particularly Catherine Tate’s Kirsty. She clearly loves the status of being a polling agent, but soon her desperate attempts to rectify one mistake snowball in to some of the funniest scenes I’ve seen on stage for a while and it’s lovely to have Catherine and Mark on stage together again after 2010’s Seasons Greetings. Catherine is always superb at comedy and that is still the case here. Kirsty feels incredibly believable, as she stumbles chaotically through events, desperate to make things right again, but managing to only make everything worse and her relationship with Nina Sosanya’s Laura works very well indeed.

Josie Rourke has done a brilliant job in directing such a big cast and ensuring that almost every bit part adds another dimension to the world of the play, adding to its depth of realism. Personal favourites of mine were the young cycling couple – he is so oblivious to her lack of joy at cycling, Hadley Fraser’s drunken voter, the first time teenage schoolgirls, whose grasp of what they are actually doing made me feel quite ancient (I loved the line about using a pencil feeling like they were in the 90s!) and Paul Chahidi’s Independent candidate, whose passionate outrage about punctuation is very funny indeed. Then of course there is the duo of Dame Judi Dench and her daughter Finty Williams, playing mother and daughter here as well. Judi is always on top form and although this isn’t a huge role, along with Gatiss, she certainly receives some of the biggest laughs of the evening.

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Catherine Tate & Timothy West

James Graham clearly understands the intricacies of British politics incredibly well and is therefore able to present something that is not dry or dull, but that instead highlights the common flaws of the system (such as people who don’t understand how to vote or who they are actually voting for), as well as the quirks of our democratic process, that when you think about it are hilariously old fashioned and eccentric in this modern age – as we all head to school and church halls, to place a  cross in a box using a pencil, in a room where phones and conversation are against the rules. After seeing it, I’m surprised no one has thought to set a farce in a polling station before. However, I loved that despite the calamities that befall Gatiss and his team, you cannot deny that everything they do is to try and preserve the integrity of the system, no matter how strange it may seem (as highlighted by the bemused attitude of a Swedish reporter).

The Vote is certainly an interesting and fun theatrical experiment, which I thoroughly enjoyed. It has a sense of humour and a sparkle to it, while also managing to bring a sense of importance to our democratic system (something most of the politicians seem unable to achieve). As the play was devised to work both on stage and screen, it will be interesting to watch it from my sofa tomorrow night and see it again from this different perspective. I encourage everyone to sit down at 8:25 p.m. and turn on More 4 to see it. I guarantee it’ll most likely be the most fun part of this entire election campaign!

The Vote will be broadcast tomorrow night (7th May) on More 4, starting at 8:25 p.m and will be available on All 4 from 8th May. View the trailer here. A digital copy of the theatre programme can also be downloaded via the Green Room app available on iTunes here.

Television Nostalgia – Heading Due South with Paul Gross!

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Another classic television show from the 1990s was the wonderfully entertaining Due South. Created by Paul Haggis (in the days before he became an Oscar winner), it centres around the unlikely partnership of a Canadian mountie and a Chicago police detective. RCMP Constable Benton Fraser (together with his deaf wolf Diefenbaker) travels to Chicago to track down his father’s killers and in doing so he meets Detective Ray Vecchio and they form a partnership and friendship as Benton remains in Chicago and regularly becomes involved in Ray’s cases.

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It sounds like a bizarre concept for a drama series but it worked brilliantly, bringing both humorous and more serious storylines in equal measure on to our Saturday nights on BBC One. For two series, the leads were played by Paul Gross and David Marciano. Gross brings Fraser to life perfectly – he was such a different character and his quirky, polite, principled, kind-hearted mountie was a joy to watch. It made you wish everyone could be a bit more like him (and yes, he was also gorgeous)! Bringing the other side of the duo to life was David Marciano’s Ray, who with his Chicago Italian upbringing and cynical, sarcastic and streetwise personality he was the perfect balance to Fraser and David Marciano was superb in the role.

Crucially too they had such great chemistry together. You genuinely believe they are great friends who would be there for one another and over the years you see their caring, comedic and affectionate friendship develop. They make each other better people. Another key component of Due South was the strength of the supporting cast. Beau Bridges was excellent as Ray’s boss, bemused by Fraser’s constant presence in his station. Ramona Milano added a touch of flirtatious fun as Ray’s sister Francesca, clearly besotted with Fraser, together with Catherine Bruhier as Elaine Besbriss, who also seemed to be attracted to the handsome mountie (who wouldn’t be?!). We also saw Gordon Pinsent in the recurring role of Fraser’s dead father (bonkers I know), whose relationship with his son improves now he’s dead!

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As the series grew, so did the cast of regulars, as we got to know Fraser’s no-nonsense boss Meg Thatcher played by Camilla Scott and the police duo of Huey and Gardino (or Luey) (and then later Dewey)! Not to mention Fraser’s wonderful deaf wolf Diefenbaker! After being cancelled in America the show was rescued and given a new lease of life through its popularity overseas – primarily here in the UK, with the BBC co-funding series three and four (packaged in DVD form as just one series three). Sadly, however Marciano had already committed to new projects and so Callum Keith Rennie joined the gang as Fraser’s new partner, Ray Kowalski. Theirs was a new dynamic but enjoyable in a different way, although I personally missed the original duo and tend to prefer episodes from the early seasons when reaching for my Due South boxset. Then there were also one of the best theme tunes and all the wonderful songs and artists the series introduced me to, none more so than Sarah McLachlan and I still listen to the two soundtracks released to accompany the series.

Each week the cases varied from those with a serious and sometimes emotionally dramatic resonance for the duo, to the utterly ridiculous, but that was all part of its charm. It was something for a family to watch together, that always seemed to make you smile. Sadly Due South ended after four seasons (or three depending on where you watched it and how they chose to transmit it) in 1999. It would be lovely if we could have a one off special and return to these brilliant characters. It probably won’t happen though, so if you missed this sometimes overlooked gem at the time, please go and watch it now.

And of course here are my favourite ten episodes:

1. Victoria’s Secret (series 1)

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This two-part story was a slight departure from the usual light-hearted tone of the series, as we learnt that in his past Fraser had been in love with a woman, who also happened to be a criminal. His world is turned upside down when she comes back in to his life. The question is whether she has left her criminal past behind. The story gave Paul Gross the opportunity to play another dimension of the character we knew so well and his friendship with Ray is tested in a way it hadn’t been before, as Ray distrusts Victoria’s motives. It also introduced me to Sarah McLachlan’s music as “Possession” features in this episode. The story builds to the point where you have no idea what the outcome will be and the ending between Ray and Fraser at the station is one of the pivotal and poignant moments of the whole series.

2. Juliet Is Bleeding (series 2)

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Another more serious episode, this time focussing on Ray, as we see the return of mafia player Frank Zuko. However what makes the episode interesting is that his sister Irene is the childhood love of Ray’s life. As her brother is implicated in some terrible events (one which impacts on the whole cast) their love becomes stretched to its limit, as does Fraser’s friendship with Ray, as he starts to question Zuko’s guilt. There is some lovely acting from David Marciano here in one of the series’ most moving episodes. It also contains one of my favourite songs “Full Circle” by Loreena McKennitt, which plays during one of the series’ most poignant scenes.

3. Pilot (series 1)

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Not all first episodes get it right, but for me Due South’s opening Pilot is brilliant. Opening with the murder of Fraser’s father, we are soon introduced to Constable Benton Fraser and his unique way of seeing the world, which in Chicago is as alien as it could be and by the end his friendship with Ray is already firmly established. It has some lovely scenes as Fraser learns more about the father he never really knew. Also throw in some very funny moments in the Canadian wilderness, as Ray joins Fraser to rebuild his father’s cabin and brings along his all-American arsenal of weapons and this is a wonderful 90 minutes of television. I couldn’t wait to see more of this series after watching it all those years ago and it’s an episode I tend to return to often.

4. North (series 2)

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The first episode of series two is set in the Northwest Territories after Ray and Fraser’s plane is high-jacked and crashes, leaving Fraser with a serious concussion. It is then up to Ray to take charge and try and get them to safety, with comedic effect. It’s also a lovely episode that sees them rebuilding their partnership after the events of the last series. It’s one episode that really captures what wonderful chemistry Paul Gross and David Marciano had.

5. The Duel (series 2)

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A tense cat-and-mouse game between Ray and Charles Carver, a parolee who Ray helped catch years earlier, but who he could never prove committed a separate murder, brings added drama to this episode, as both Fraser and Ray as well as their loved ones are put at risk by Carver’s determination to get revenge on Vecchio. The episode has a slightly darker tone to some of the lighter episodes of the series, which always makes it stick out in my mind, as Carver leaves little clues for Ray as to who he is going to target next. Plus it has one of my favourite exchanges between Ray and Fraser about Ray’s dislike of maths logic problems!

6. All The Queen’s Horses (series 2)

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The RCMP’s famous equitation team are held ransom on board a train in this bonkers episode which sees Fraser grow closer to his boss Meg Thatcher and the glorious return of Leslie Nielsen’s Buck Frobisher, who gets the shock of his life in the form of his old dead friend Bob Fraser. With Ray’s help they need to save a whole train of unconscious mounties! Totally barmy, including a good sing song, but certainly good fun.

7. Perfect Strangers (series 3)

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This episode has a few elements that bring together everything that made Due South so good. The story is interesting (two murders, two suspects, but with tight alibis) and it also requires Ray and Fraser to travel to Canada, resulting in Ray being exposed first hand to the politeness of Canadians in their home territory. His reactions to that always make me laugh! It makes a change for him to be the odd one out and not Fraser, who also finds himself in an awkward situation with Inspector Thatcher, as she starts to want a child and wants him to be part of the process. Good fun all round.

8. The Man Who Knew Too Little (series 1)

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This series one episode never fails to make me laugh, as Fraser escorts an uncooperative witness back to Canada to testify and poor Ray ends up tagging along, despite his holiday plans. The banter between Ray, Fraser and Ian (Rino Ramano) is very funny, as are the scenes where Ray and Fraser have to track Ian on foot (the duck line is a Due South classic). Episodes like this one had such great material for David Marciano. Then of course there is the fate of Ray’s precious car. Poor poor Ray.

9. Call of The Wild (series finale)

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I was quite sad when Due South ended. It had been saved with help from the BBC before but the end of the third (split in to two series for the UK) saw us bid farewell to our favourite mountie. It was lovely to see David Marciano back as the real Vecchio, as I doubt it would have felt right without him. Watching Fraser say goodbye to his parents was very poignant, as his father finally moves on to the next life with his wife, while Fraser and Kowalski head off for more adventures.

10. A Cop, A Mountie and a Baby (season 1)

Benton Fraser with a baby. I needn’t really say more about this episode in which a mother scared for her child leaves him in the back of Ray’s famous green Buick. Seeing Fraser and Ray looking after the baby is just too cute to not be included here!

Hopefully this post will make those fans out there reach for the DVDs to watch their favourite episodes and hopefully I have tempted those new to the show to give it a go. Here’s a great youtube video of the show’s opening and closing theme and titles to get you in the mood!

That’s all from me, but in the words of a mountie we all know and love – Thank you kindly!

Theatre review – Imelda Staunton’s Incredible Gypsy (Savoy Theatre)

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Gypsy was one of the productions on my Chichester list last year but it was one that I failed to see. I had a second chance last week, due to the show recently opening in London’s West End at the Savoy Theatre, to universal praise.

It is certainly a less light hearted musical in comparison to many of the big name shows in London at the moment and to some extent, is a lesser known show in the UK (it has not been seen in the West End since its premiere in 1973). The show is based on the memoirs of famous stripper Gypsy Rose Lee, turned in to a musical by Stephen Sondheim, with music by Jule Styne. However the musical’s focus is on her early life as a childhood vaudeville performer, together with her younger sister June, steered by their mightily determined mother Momma Rose (Imelda Staunton). It’s certainly not an easy life, fighting for every booking to make money, which becomes even more intense as the vaudeville scene starts to fade and June, her mother’s favourite and focus, leaves the act. It is then that she (real name Louise, played by Lara Pulver), becomes the central focus for her mother’s ambitious plans.

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Lara Pulver & Imelda Staunton

I admit I did find it rather slow to begin with, but the sheer force of Imelda Staunton soon had me drawn in. She is absolutely brilliant in this production. I thought she was at her finest in Sweeney Todd, but clearly not – some of the songs she belts out and the notes she hits are astonishing! Rose is not really a likeable character – she’s domineering, pushy, quite cruel (in her lack of affection towards Louise), but you cannot help but admire her determination, fiery spirit and nerve to take a risk and with Staunton in the role, you are even touched by her vulnerabilities and are cheering for her by the end (almost certainly standing up with the rest of the theatre).

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Peter Davison & Imelda Staunton

Lara Pulver handles the character of Louise well, although it’s a bit of a strange role, as she spends quite a lot of time being overshadowed and in the background, which makes her feel a bit flat as a character. It’s when she comes in to her own as Gypsy that she becomes much more interesting and I wish the musical had spent more time on this part of the story. However Pulver has a great voice and chemistry with both Staunton and Peter Davison’s Herbie, their loyal agent. Davison doesn’t have the strongest voice (but I knew that from Legally Blonde). However, he has a charm and a tenderness that works well for Herbie, who at times you’re astonished is willing to put up with Momma Rose’s single-mindedness.

The sets aren’t as elaborate as some musicals, but they certainly work wonderfully at helping to capture the essence of vaudeville at that time and the musical has some lovely musical numbers.

I can’t say it’s the best musical I’ve ever seen, but it’s a superb production of this, perhaps, lesser known show and I’d recommend everyone try and see Imelda Staunton in what will no doubt be another (deservedly) award-winning performance.

Gypsy continues its run at the Savoy Theatre in London until 28th November 2015. For more information and tickets, visit the show’s website.

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