Television Review – Suits 7×14 “Pulling The Goalie”

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After last week’s episode, in which there were some significant leaps forward in terms of character development (I’m looking at you, Harvey) and relationships (you know who I’m talking about), the big question was what lay in store this week in the unusually titled “Pulling The Goalie.”

Overall impressions, this was a decent episode of Suits, which reminded me of all the various elements of the series that made me start watching it when it first aired. Practically all the pairings and duos you love on the show had scenes together this week, which was both wonderful to see, but also a little bittersweet, as it only reminded me that in a week’s time so many of these relationships and friendships will come to an end (on screen anyway). Also, ironically, with so many enjoyable storylines this week, I realised my least favourite scenes in 7×14 were the Darvey ones (don’t all gasp at once!) for reasons I’ll explain a little later.

So, as we dig in to the detail a little more, there’s only one person to start with……

Is this the beginning of real happiness for Louis Litt? I’m still not certain, but I sure as hell hope so!

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Louis’s storyline in this episode was probably my favourite and unsurprisingly, Rick Hoffman was on fine form, filling his performance with all the passion, determination and emotion that makes Louis such a memorable character.

I wasn’t a huge fan of Louis’s choices last week and watching him sneaking around with Sheila did not sit well with me, as it was clear it would all end in tears. It also made me start to dislike Sheila, a character I’d always enjoyed being part of the show before. I hoped this episode would turn things around somehow and by the end, it had, maybe not totally where Sheila is involved (her treatment of Louis seemed very unfair for most of this episode), but there is hope of happiness again for Mr. Litt and who doesn’t want that for him?

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Sacrifice was a hot topic this week and Louis continued to show remarkable growth by realising it was time to let Sheila go; to sacrifice their unhealthy relationship so that he could find some peace after all the misery his actions were causing him. With the help of Dr. Lipschitz (he gets a special mention later), we watched Louis act not like himself. Instead of humiliating Sheila’s fiancé, both professionally (through the case he was ready to destroy him with) and personally (by telling him about his affair), he was the bigger man. He sacrificed the satisfaction he’d feel at sticking it to Xander F*ckface, for Sheila, because her happiness mattered more to him. Wow! Louis Litt, I’m impressed. It really must be love for you. I just hope it’s reciprocated.

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If Sheila doesn’t work out, I could get behind this! 

It certainly seems to be for now, with Sheila realising that the person who excited her, went to battle for her and was willing to sacrifice something for her was the person she truly loved. Harvey and Donna could really learn from these two with a simple concept – honesty.  Louis and Sheila were honest with each other. He was honest about his feelings for her. She was honest about not wanting commitment and he thought he could accept that. On realising he couldn’t, he was again honest. The scene in which he expresses his need to regain his honour because he knows he doesn’t get the girl or get to be happy, was incredibly moving. Then, on realising the truth of her feelings, she told him the truth. Radical, I know, for this show!

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Louis happy at long last! 

As Louis struggled with his feelings and his decisions, we were also treated to seeing him turn to two friends. The first was Katrina, played brilliantly as usual by Amanda Schull (who will step up to be a regular next season), who supported Louis in his mission to win back his professional honour (even though it wouldn’t heal his heartache). Hoffman and Schull have superb chemistry and I admit, were I willing to invest in another ship for this show, I’d be tempted to back these two. Sheila, watch how you treat our Louis, there could be another choice!

The second was Harvey. The scene in 6×13 where he asked for Harvey’s advice was lovely and this week we were treated to something similar and even more heartfelt. The moment Harvey said “Then, my friend,” brought a lump to my throat. Seeing these two as a strong team, but also good friends too, gives me hope for season 8. More of this please.

Dr.Lipshitz – therapist of the year (not that he had much competition)! 

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Another big part of Louis’s storyline this week was his loyal and supportive therapist and I think he needs a big round of applause (and one for the wonderful Ray Proscia too) ! Bravo to a therapist who speaks about his oath to his profession being greater than his words to his patient, not to mention this gem: “Louis, I don’t say it lightly, but I have taken an oath to do no harm and lately, I have been feeling that our relationship is doing harm………” Are you there, Dr. Agard?! Can you hear that? I’m not sure if the writers are deliberately paralleling two very different therapist relationships, but this little speech made me laugh at the irony!

Donna and Rachel – the fabulous team we should have seen much more of in seven seasons 

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Don’t mess with the women of Specter Litt!

I’ve commented before that Donna and Rachel don’t have nearly enough scenes together. Their friendship has been such a lovely element of this series, but it’s not had that much screen time when you really think about it (plus, the DVD deleted scenes highlight this too). This week it was as though the writers were making up for lost time with four scenes between Sarah Rafferty and Meghan Markle in one episode!

We’ve seen Harvey and Mike teaming up to kick ass for years, but this week we were able to see how awesome the team of Paulsen and Zane are, as Rachel helped Donna out of a sticky situation she’d landed herself in, which could have cost the firm its offices. Their final scene in 7×14 as they show Specter Litt’s landlord who’s boss, before sauntering out side by side was glorious. We should have had so much more of this! Sure, I’m not convinced air rights work quite that way, but it’s Suits. None of us actually watch this for accurate legal detail, do we?!

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Also, although I agree that the show had to comment on Donna’s inexperience at her new role (it would have been silly if they hadn’t), I’m ready to see her shining in the role now. She could have found a way to thank Harvey that didn’t start with her making a mistake and being made a fool of. I don’t know about you, but I’m ready to move on! Season eight better have some meaty stories for Specter Litt’s COO.

Even more of TV’s greatest bromance! 

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Why on earth have we not had more of this?!

A highlight of last week was a return to one of the show’s fundamental foundations – the Mike and Harvey bromance and this week saw even more of it. There was banter, arguments, confessions, apologies and batting practice. Yes, I admit, I enjoyed the batting practice scene. I’m only human after all!

As with Donna and Rachel’s scenes, having so many to enjoy this week again highlighted to me how much I (and indeed the show) will miss Marvey. Mike has always managed to help Harvey be a better version of himself when it comes to his career and I do wonder if that will change once he’s gone. I also enjoyed the added insight in to Anita Gibbs. Tapping their phones is so something I can see her doing! Plus, it was about time, Mike used the “I went to prison for you” line on Harvey. I’m amazed it hasn’t happened earlier!

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Mike – both thrilled and terrified by what he helped cause! 

The promo last week had us all wondering how Mike was going to move forward with his mission to get his “parents” together and it was fantastic to see him admit to Harvey his part in Donna’s actions and press his friend on whether Donna was “the One”. Harvey still says no. But, Harvey, you just said that Donna kissing you ultimately led to you realising Paula wasn’t the One. I think you may need to go away and think about that some more. I’d expected Harvey to be angrier than he seemed at Mike, so their later argument was another episode highlight, quickly turning from the case to Harvey blaming Mike for Donna kissing him and with sacrifice the theme of the week, we had Harvey declare, incredibly passionately, that he’d sacrificed everything that week, which I assume, in his mind at the moment, is Paula, who he saw as his chance at a real relationship and a possible future. Ouch! We wouldn’t want Donna to overhear that…….oh……never mind…….

Yet, by the end they were best friends again, with Harvey even allowing Mike to officially declare his allegiance to Team Darvey. Welcome aboard Mike.

Which leads me to my least favourite element of Pulling the Goalie………

Darvey – Have I actually reached my limit? Not quite, but I’m getting close.

Look, I love this couple and I still think they are meant to be together. There have been too many markers along the way for the narrative to not eventually be heading there. Yet, it seems that this won’t be happening any time soon if 7×14 is anything to go by.

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So, after all the emotional trauma of Inevitable, it was to be expected (or, indeed inevitable) that the focus would shift and these two confused souls would have time to regroup. My biggest moan about their relationship this week was that it just felt repetitive. If the writers aren’t wanting to put them together for fear the audience will get bored and switch off, well, newsflash, having yet another Donna and Harvey have drinks together and ignore the feelings swirling around them (which are now more obvious than ever before) scene is boring too. We’ve seen this so many times now. As Donna said, they drink, they flirt. Wake up already! Go and borrow some honesty from Louis and Sheila!

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I haven’t seen this before! Oh…wait….

We also had the amusing declaration by Harvey that he doesn’t want to be with anyone romantically right now. That makes sense. He did just break up with someone and I probably wouldn’t have wanted these two to be cheapened by leaping in to bed immediately, but what’s the next scene – Harvey heading to spend time with Donna, so they can gaze at one another across the rims of their scotch tumblers. I could actually strangle both of them at this point. Oh, and I may be in the minority, but having Donna refer to herself as something Harvey had decided to keep really didn’t do it for me either.

Does Harvey honestly still think the kiss meant nothing to her? Is he really this dumb, or was Agard right and he, on some level, enjoys being the focus of Donna’s attention and affection and doesn’t want it to stop and furthermore cannot face what he really feels? We need to see some acknowledgment from him soon, even if it’s not to her yet, before this gets even more infuriating. Will we get it this season? I’m not convinced, but there’s only a week to wait.

Speaking of the finale…..

Next week – A final goodbye (I’ll have my tissues ready)

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So, with 7×15 and 7×16 being shown back to back, we only have one week left of Suits season 7. From the tidbits we’ve learnt so far, it seems there is a lot to pack in to 90 minutes. There’s the introduction of Jessica’s spin-off in Chicago, the return of Scottie (let’s face it, that could go anywhere. I’m not even going to try and guess), the beginnings of Louis and Sheila’s romance, a clinic case involving Oliver and a certain wedding, which will no doubt be an emotional affair.

I’m making my prediction that, with Rachel and Mike heading off in to the sunset and Louis now happy (for the moment at least) with Sheila, any progress of the Darvey train will be slow. We know there are glances and dancing, but is that going to be it, with the hint of possibly more to come in season eight? Knowing this show, I’m going to guess yes. At least there isn’t long to wait!

Suits continues next Wednesday night on USA Network in the U.S and next Thursday on Netflix in the UK, with 7×15 “Tiny Violin” and 7×16 “Goodbye.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Television Review – Suits 7×13 – It was Inevitable (and Emotional)!!

So, the third episode of Suits season 7B has been one that fans of the show (okay, mainly Darvey fans) have been anticipating for a few weeks now. As the airdate neared, there was talk this episode would be a game changer for the series. Having finally seen the episode, it may not have provided the explosions I had started to imagine were coming, but Inevitable was nevertheless a brilliant hour of the show and continues this incredibly strong run, as we reach 7B’s halfway mark.

Let’s get stuck in shall we?

The exquisite pain of Donna and Harvey’s relationship on full display

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The fact that, although it took half the episode to even touch on Donna and Harvey’s complicated, nuanced and utterly compelling relationship, this will be what stays with you by the end, says a great deal about the writing and acting on display this week. It was never going to be straightforward with these two and I for one am glad about that. It makes the narrative and the emotional centre of the show so much richer this way. There’s a lot to unpack here, so here goes! (Thanks to @lovedarvey for the collage picture above).

Sarah Rafferty’s Powerhouse Performance

Sarah Rafferty is always fantastic and has helped shape her character so much over the last seven years and Inevitable is one of her finest performances to date. We saw Donna at her most vulnerable and yet also at her bravest too.

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After displaying yet again her strengths in her role at the firm, combined with some flirtatious banter with Stu (I do love Stu – more of him please), Donna was faced with a truly heartbreaking experience; the betrayal of a friendship she had treasured and indeed held above all else for 13 years. You couldn’t fail to ache for her, as she stood before her friend (and let’s face it, the man she now knows she loves) and asked him to stand by her, stand by their bond and their history. Rafferty squeezed every drop of emotion out of that scene and had me wanting to simultaneously hug her and slap Harvey in the face (more on him shortly).

We then had to watch her plead with Paula to not force her to give up the career she loves. I really really felt so much anger towards Paula here, but I’ll save that for later. I’ll also put aside for the moment that it was ludicrous that Harvey firing Donna for this reason was a possibility from an employment law perspective (Suits isn’t legally realistic anyway, right?). It was another powerful moment in a very heavy, emotionally charged episode, where we also saw Donna’s inability to hide the fact that she has feelings for Harvey. Literally everyone knows that now other than him!

Yet, after thinking of herself for once by kissing him, she returned to her usual state of being this week – putting Harvey and his happiness above her own. Do I wish she didn’t always do this? Of course, but humans are complicated creatures, especially when feelings (whether acknowledged or not) are involved. Under the clearly false impression that Harvey doesn’t want more with her, she took the only route she could see to try to give them both a chance at moving on. Seeing her leave and hearing her resignation letter was beautifully handled by Rafferty and director Christopher Misiano and will stand out as one of my favourite sequences in Suits (top marks on the song choices too). She hadn’t counted on the unexpected though – Harvey’s emotional growth!

Harvey Specter’s emotional development is almost complete (and about time too)!

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True, I spent most of season 7A wanting to run Harvey over with his car, but 7B is shaping up to be the crowning glory of his growth as a man. Think back to the person we met in the pilot and compare him to the man we see at the end of Inevitable. It’s quite a transformation and the writers and Gabriel Macht should be very proud of what they have achieved with his character.

Was Harvey an ass for initially choosing Paula? Of course! He hurt the closest person he’s ever had in his life and I hope that will be acknowledged in the coming weeks. However, I don’t think he found it easy to do it; it clearly hurt him to be faced with the choice.

It also needs to be put in to context. This is a man, who, after years of casual sex and failed relationships due to his inability to open up for fear of getting hurt like his father, is finally ready to love someone and be loved. A large section of the audience may well be yelling “Wake up Harvey! It’s Donna!” at their screens (yes, including me), but he hasn’t been ready to see it. Add to that Donna’s recent lie – that she felt nothing when she kissed him and he is left with one horrible option – try and hold on to Paula and the stability she brings to his life, at the expense of his one constant. That would mess you up and let’s face it, he’s already a mess. Should he have said no immediately to her awful ultimatum? YES! But then we’d have no drama/story. Going behind Donna’s back to Stu was cowardly, but he was trying to ensure she had a future, which may result in him never having to choose at all and would still give her a positive professional life.

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Yet, by the end, choose he must and on being faced with the reality of a Donna-less existence, his action and his choice was clear immediately.

He chose Donna.

He chose to end a relationship he thinks is his best chance for love in order to hold on to his friend and show how important she is to him. There was no guarantee she’d come back to the firm and he has no expectation of anything more. Yet, finally, he truly fought for her and it was glorious to watch! Those closing moments were superbly brought to life by Rafferty and Macht and I truly felt all the emotion they poured in to it.

And thanks Suits writers for not choosing the obvious ending. Harvey could have easily gone inside Donna’s apartment; the old Harvey Specter would have. The new Harvey Specter knows he needs to process the pain, confusion and guilt that he feels (regarding both how he has treated Donna and Paula) and it was absolutely the right decision to have him walk away. I don’t want a cheap resolution to this complicated relationship and by ending Inevitable the way they did, both characters have time to heal and face the truth of their feelings (hopefully with some help from a certain couple), before taking a step towards one another. Speaking of that couple…….

The future looks golden for Mike and Rachel

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This week proved to be another fantastic episode for the future Mr and Mrs Ross. While Donna and Harvey continue to flounder in fear and miscommunication and Louis continues down the road to disaster (more on him later), Mike and Rachel prove to be Suits’ shining example of how to make a relationship work.

Everything they have been through has only made them stronger and despite a small stumble in this episode on the road to their future, by the end of the hour, they had demonstrated yet again that they are the couple in the show with a mature, grounded relationship. Will it be San Diego? Iceland (was anyone else waiting for Rachel to use Game of Thrones to convince Mike to consider it?!) or somewhere else? We don’t have long until we find out, but as I’ll truly miss them both, I’m going to enjoy every scene we get before we have to say goodbye to them.

Oh, and Aaron Korsh, you’ve shown us that you can write a strong couple in your show, who work together and love each other, without being boring. Remember that for season eight. You can absolutely do it again! You know who I’m talking about!

A return of the best bromance on TV!

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When Suits began, its cornerstone was Mike and Harvey’s relationship and this week we were treated to a return to the fun, light, comedic banter of earlier seasons. I particularly enjoyed the superhero moment. Nothing lasts forever, Harvey told Mike and the audience are aware that this is more true than ever with Mike’s impending departure. I’m still not sure I can imagine the show without Patrick J. Adams and the witty, affectionate, brotherly scenes we had this week are one of the biggest elements that I’ll miss.

Lily beginning to redeem herself by dropping the “Someone Special” bomb!

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All is forgiven Lily! Well, okay, maybe not quite yet after all the pain you caused your son, but I’m starting to like you after the most awkward dinner conversation imaginable! No, Lily, your son’s girlfriend is not the someone very special he told you about. Confused? Welcome to our world. It’s incredibly satisfying to see the writers pulling together story strands from the past with the present and having Harvey’s conversation with his mother from 6×12 come back to haunt him was inspired. How Paula didn’t end it right there and then, I have no idea!

That revelation aside, it was lovely to see Harvey more at ease with his mother after so many years of her shadow hanging over his life, even able to reminisce with her about his father. I was truly happy for both of them. Now, we just need Lily to meet the woman she really has to thank, because she needs to be educated about who the real “keeper” is in Harvey’s life!

Bye, Bye Paula. I can’t say it’s been a pleasure! 

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The re-introduction of Paula Agard in 7×01 will forever grate on me. The fact she was Harvey’s therapist meant I would never have agreed with such a narrative, one only made worse by the lack of any reference to her in season six, before that stupid first scene of the season seven premiere. Has her inclusion this season mainly driven me crazy? You bet, but at least these last few episodes have given a purpose to her existence – helping Harvey realise what really matters in his life. Hey Paula, you could have avoided a lot of pain if you’d simply stuck to being his therapist. For that reason, I have little sympathy for the inevitable heartbreak that hit her this week.

Taking a step back, can I understand Paula’s actions? To some extent, yes. She has clearly had a terrible romantic past, which has deeply affected her and needs help of her own to deal with that pain. I also understand her feeling threatened by Donna following that kiss. She is only human after all and although this ultimatum in the context of the show was farfetched and ludicrous, I’ve certainly heard of women telling their partners to have nothing to do with women in their lives because of their insecurities.

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Was Donna wrong to kiss him? Yes. I love her and it was right for her, but it was hurtful to Paula (forgetting for a moment her past professional role in Harvey’s life). Was Donna right to apologise to Paula? Again, I’d have to say yes and by doing so, Donna showed how her actions weren’t intended to hurt anyone. Was Paula’s demand right taking all of this in to account? OF COURSE NOT! She was expecting a man with issues she was well aware of due to her former role in his life (as his therapist, who was meant to help him), to separate himself from one of the most important relationships in his life! On reaching that point, she should have bowed out. If there is no trust, what do you have?

Christina Cole however, did a fantastic job with the material she had, meaning I couldn’t totally hate Paula and her scene with Rafferty was so painful to watch, but superbly handled by both actresses, as was her final scene with Macht, in which Harvey was finally honest with Paula – he really had wanted it to work, but he could never choose her over Donna.

I was worried she may still be around in 7×14, but I think we’re all safe now. You can mail the apartment key back Paula. No need to drop it off in person.

Being the bad boy does NOT suit you Louis! STOP! NOW!

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While Donna and Rachel have been pre-occupied in recent weeks, they haven’t been on hand to stop Louis from heading down the path to pain and disaster. Turn back now Louis! Before it’s too late!

Yes, I love Rachael Harris and Rick Hoffman together, as the result is always a joy to behold, but this storyline is anything but joyous, as they sneak around days before Sheila marries another man. Louis may have told Rachel he now feels like a king, but I have a feeling the crown is about to slip, as Louis realises that he really isn’t a bad boy. Listen to your therapist Louis and Gretchen. They really do know what’s best for you. It was strange watching these scenes in Inevitable, starting to laugh at the lunacy of their role-play, before remembering the context in which it was taking place and feeling annoyed.

I want better for Louis and I don’t like the fact I’m now really starting to dislike Sheila. Come on Suits writers, make this right!

Coming next week – The Parent Trap (the Suits version)! 

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We don’t know as much about what’s coming next week as we’d deduced before this week. We only have the short synopsis, which tells us Mike is trying to distract Harvey with a case. I assume that’s distracting him from the emotional turmoil he is now in, post break-up and post-betraying Donna. We also know Louis is struggling to keep up his affair with Sheila and we all know things never end well when Louis is unstable. The promo showed Katrina is back by his side in court, so hopefully she provides some support. It seems next week will also see Donna finally confide in Rachel about what has been happening with Harvey (about time!).

Then there is the main promo moment – Mike Ross finally speaking aloud to Harvey and not as a joke, the possibility that Donna is “the One”! Does he know Donna was lying to his friend at this point? Are him and Rachel trying to give their friends a wedding gift of their own? We can but hope! This is the brilliance of season 7B – every episode makes me excited for the next!

Suits continues next week with 7×14 “Pulling the Goalie” on Wednesday night on USA Network in the USA and next Thursday on Netflix in the UK. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Television Review – Suits 7×12 “Bad Man”

 

 

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After the superb start to Suits’ back six episodes last week, my excitement to see what happened next was incredibly high and Bad Man, although not as strong an hour as Hard Truths, was still a decent episode of the series and, crucially, continued to move the narrative forward down a path I understood (even if I didn’t enjoy some of it). Provided the show and the characters’ actions make sense, I’m going to try and enjoy the ride.

Louis Litt – can he ever really be a bad man?

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Throughout my frustrations with 7A, the shining performance across all ten episodes for me, was Rick Hoffman and so far, we are continuing to see Louis on a positive, mature, named-partner worthy professional trajectory in 7B. His personal life however is more complex and 7×12’s main focus was on Louis and how his past has shaped him in to the man he is and the decisions he makes when it comes to affairs of the heart.

This episode saw the return of Sheila Sazs, played brilliantly as always by Rachael Harris. I loved their dynamic in the past and was sad when they parted, each wanting different things from life. Sheila has always seemed to be a better match for Louis, compared to others, especially Tara (I really couldn’t warm to her) and seeing these two actors playing off one another is always a joy.

However, Sheila’s reappearance in Louis’s life may not necessarily bring happiness for him and I really think he’s had enough heartache. Would I love to see them work out? Absolutely. Yet, they both still want different things and so, I’m not clear how this could work, unless we are honestly going to see Louis happy with simply being something on the side. She’s currently leading Louis down a emotionally dangerous path and I admit, even though I cheered his assertiveness at the end, Sheila is still causing him to behave in a way I expect he’ll regret.

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As part of Louis’s story this week, we were also treated to young Louis (if he’s 17ish in 1986, that makes Louis a lot older than I thought he was, but I’ll let that go). The casting director did a great job finding a young actor to play teenage Louis, who is cruelly taken advantage of by his first infatuation, just as Sheila is doing to him now. It was also lovely to see young Esther sticking up for her brother too.

Helping Louis navigate his past, his present and his emotions in Bad Man was Dr. Lipschitz, who I honestly feel has been around for years, due to how wonderfully Ray Proscia plays him. His mudding relaxation tape was wonderful. Suits marketing team, you really should release one of these for all of us! In the meantime, Ray Proscia kindly provided me with my own Lipschitz meditation session via twitter! Thanks Ray!

Seeing Louis’s therapist truly help him through his issues and confusion only highlighted all that is wrong with the other therapist’s role in this show.

Bad Man – the episode where I finally can’t stand Paula. At all!

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Let’s be clear, I cannot stand how Paula Agard has been used as the plot device in season 7, but I’ve not been fully on board the “She’s evil” train that has many passionate supporters online. Yes, she’s a disgrace to her profession, dating a former patient, admitting to fantasising about a patient and pretending Harvey’s issues no longer exist, but I have been trying to see her as human and capable of making a mistake.

Bad Man however, was the hour where I finally gave up trying to have any understanding for her behaviour. How on earth can she be surprised that Donna and Harvey have a sexual history? How can she be surprised that he hid that from her, knowing all she learnt about their unusual relationship in his therapy sessions – which he only needed because of the effect Donna has on him. Come on now, Paula. You really aren’t this stupid, are you? Why are you still with this man? He was an emotional mess and he clearly still is. You cannot therefore be mad that he is not functioning the way you want the fantasy Harvey you have in your head to act! She did at least finally admit she’s threatened by Donna. What a shocker!

I just hope that this mess dies a death very soon (although, Christina Cole is doing a great job driving me nuts in the role)!

Harvey Specter – annoying, but I at least understand him again!

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My biggest complaint with early season seven was how out of character Harvey was. It made liking him or caring about him extremely difficult. Yet, so far in 7B, I understand him again. I certainly don’t enjoy seeing him still blind to the obvious, but I can understand what is going on in his head again. After all, Donna said she felt nothing during that kiss and he has always been emotionally dumb, so I can believe that he thinks she’s telling the truth and is therefore focussing on trying to make his relationship a success, for fear of never having that connection with someone in his life, which he does finally seem ready for.

As for the final scene with Paula – Harvey, who really helped you make up with your mother? Do you really think it was Paula? We all saw The Painting where you were pretty clear who the special someone in your life was, who helped get you to Boston and it wasn’t Paula Agard. I hope realisation, on this point at least, dawns next week (more on that below).

It was also lovely to see another glimpse in to his past with his dad, as it’s always such a rich emotional aspect of his character and it was a relief that his relationship with Jessica seems to have survived the damning statement we saw him sign last week. One niggle though – Harvey has his father’s master tapes after tracking them down in season 4, so is that different music to the records that will now never see the light of day? I guess that isn’t really important.

Pearson & Paulsen – I need more of that!

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Gina Torres and Sarah Rafferty never had enough scenes together in the series and so the call between these two strong women was a fantastic addition to this week’s episode. We know we’ll see more of Jessica as her spin off is set out, but this was a nice nod to how important she remains to the PSL family (it’ll always be PSL to me). I also liked the foreshadowing of Donna mentioning it being time to move on, seeing as I think that’s what she decides to do next week.

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Sarah Rafferty also had some wonderful moments this week, albeit not as powerful as 7×11.

Donna and Harvey are still keeping some distance following last week’s events, which is understandable, but we still saw Donna doing what she has always done – being there to support Harvey professionally and personally. It’s Donna who makes him face the fact he has to give up his father’s legacy for Jessica. It’s also Donna who tries to support him with his relationship, by encouraging him to reach out to Paula, while respecting his decision to not have a drink with her. The fact it is Harvey who changes his mind in this scene was very interesting to me. He can see the danger of spending such intimate time with Donna and yet he can’t stop himself. I’m looking forward to seeing if this emotional push/pull continues next week.

Mike Ross – working within the law for the second time in two episodes! 

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He may have done a lot of questionable things during the show so far and has certainly acted as though he was entitled to do so on more than one occasion, but I’ve enjoyed seeing Mike grow up this season. There was a good part of 7A where he was the only decent male character when Louis and Harvey were acting like idiots and as we near the end of his time in the show, we are now getting to see Mike use that brilliance of his to be successful within the bounds of the law.

That’s two weeks now where he has not resorted to shady behaviour to succeed. Well done Mike! Having him also “pull a Harvey” on Oliver (who I find so irritating!) and bring him down a peg or two was also fun and he clearly learnt a valuable lesson. Will he ultimately choose the clinic, or something similar as a reason for leaving? Possibly and seeing him act in a more legitimate way gives me hope he’ll make a success of whatever awaits him, especially with Rachel to guide him (as she did again this week). I really will miss these two.

Next week – It’s “Inevitable” and I’m very very excited!

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To say I’m desperate to see 7.13 is an understatement. From all the rumours and vague comments from those who have seen it already, I’m preparing myself for a pivotal episode. The title is exciting in itself – Is it inevitable that something happens again between Donna and Harvey? Inevitable that Donna has to leave? Inevitable that Paula Agard realises she is kidding herself? The possibilities are endless.

There is much we don’t know, but what we do know already has me guessing and second guessing. We know Harvey’s mother is in the episode in some capacity. Whether that’s meeting Harvey and reminding him about who his someone special was, who knows, but I really hope so! We know Paula is going to try and guilt Harvey in to not working with Donna anymore and that Donna is going to feel Harvey has failed to be there for her in some way. Does she resign and go to work for Stu (who appears in the promo photos)? Does Harvey go after her? Does he go inside her apartment and if so, does something happen?

I honestly haven’t been this impatient for the next episode of a show since the early days of The X-Files! Roll on next week!

Suits season seven continues on USA Network next Wednesday night in the USA and next Thursday via Netflix in the UK. 

 

 

Television Review – Hard Truths all round as Suits returns!

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When it comes to my favourite television shows I have been facing my own hard truths this week, after finally watching the very-likely end to The X-Files (watch this space if you want to know my thoughts about that, but be warned, it ain’t pretty). With that in mind, I took a deep breath before pressing play on Netflix today to watch the brand new episode of my current favourite series, having waited over six months to see the consequences of the mid-season finale.

Unlike the overwhelming sense of frustration and disappointment I felt with The X-Files, episode 7.11 of Suits left me feeling excited for this all too brief run of six episodes, that will close out season seven! There was so much great material in “Hard Truths” it’s difficult to know where to start…..okay….maybe it’s obvious where to start……

A kiss with LOTS of consequences!

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So, many of us have been waiting anxiously for months to find out the aftermath of Donna’s impulsive, but inevitable, kiss and it seems Harvey has been standing frozen to the spot for the last six months too, with 7.11 starting right where it left off, with him standing in Donna’s office in shock.

Seeing Harvey’s emotional side develop has always been one of my biggest wishes for the series and 7A was very frustrating watching him seemingly go backwards in that department. Now, Donna’s actions are forcing him to face some of his own hard truths, which will likely play out over the next few weeks – how that kiss made him feel about Donna; what those feelings say about his relationship with Paula; how he feels about Donna saying she actually didn’t feel anything after all (yeah, right) and that’s just the headliners!

Gabriel Macht and Sarah Rafferty are always superb together (they are the only pair to ever excite me the way David and Gillian did on The X-Files) and they had so many fantastic scenes in this hour – arguments; pettiness; an actual conversation about their history and blurred lines and the fragile re-setting of their friendship. The fact that the lovely little hug they shared was only shown from a distance gives me hope that we’ll get a juicier close up of something later down the 7B road. Their storyline had logical, realistic progress and that’s very exciting to see. Long may this continue.

Mike & Rachel – a great team, professionally and personally

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I’ll miss Patrick J. Adams and Meghan Markle when they leave the show, as their relationship has always been one of the loveliest constants of this series. No matter what has been thrown at them, their relationship has survived and seems stronger than ever.

This week gave Mike and Rachel the chance to realise the importance of the other in their lives. They know each other so well and when they work together, they’re a strong team (sound like another pair on the show…). Will they leave to set up their own clinic, travel the world to help important causes? Who knows, but with both actors leaving, a happy ending is clearly the only choice and the scene is being set for them to go off as a united force to be reckoned with, which is fine with me!

Louis Litt – the voice of reason…..(how long will this last?!)

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Rick Hoffman had by far the strongest run of episodes in 7A, with Louis having quite an emotional time across the ten episodes. It was refreshing to see him as the voice of reason this week, first wanting to talk calmly and clearly with Harvey about Jessica the moment he heard, then trying to do all he could to help secure a dignified exit for a woman he has always admired, before presenting the hard truth to Harvey that there was no easy solution. He even had time to give Donna some sensible advice about her situation with Harvey. Clearly his therapist is good for him. Perhaps that’s because he’s providing him therapy and not adding to the reasons why he needs therapy, unlike his fellow named partner! Bravo Louis! Now, you just need to go and get Sheila so we can see you basking in happiness.

Paula Agard facing her own hard truth – professional codes of conduct are there for good reason! 

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Oh, Paula, I really do want to feel sympathy for you and maybe I do a little. I mean, we’re all human and fallible and you’ve clearly had some tough times with guys in the past. I understand you wanting to meet a decent guy, who treats you with respect. The big problem – it should never have been your former patient, Harvey Specter!

This episode had Paula yet again acknowledging Harvey and Donna have feelings for one another and that’s BEFORE she learns about their history! It was interesting to see Harvey do exactly the same thing in 7.11 as he did in 7.01; make a knee-jerk decision involving Agard as a result of Donna’s actions. In the former it was randomly turning up at her house, saying she’s all he wanted in life (please, that scene is still the most ridiculous in seven seasons) after Donna said she wanted more. Now, it’s asking her to move in, after two months, after Donna kisses (and confuses him). I get it Harvey, you don’t want a relationship like your parents, one that fails, causing hurt and pain, so you are terrified of trusting your feelings.

I just hope he faces another hard truth soon – that being with someone for the wrong reasons will only lead to heartbreak later, which is exactly what happened with his parents. Hey! Maybe I could be his therapist!

The hardest truth of all – Harvey & Jessica will never be the same again 

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I may have tuned in to this episode expecting all the emotional weight to come in the Darvey scenes and there was certainly rich material there, but, by far, the biggest emotional punch for me this week was what happened to Jessica. Not only did she take the bullet for Harvey at Mike’s hearing, only to have Mike and Harvey’s testosterone-fuelled game with Malik cost her her license in NYC, but now, we have to see her friend throw her under the bus in such a brutal way.

Yes, there perhaps was no other way to solve their immediate problems, but I’m not sure I could ever do to a friend, especially one who was as important to me as Jessica was to Harvey, what Harvey did here. The wording of that press statement was damning – (“selfish,” “reckless,” “unethical,” “disgraceful chapter,”) and as Harvey admits, is describing him and his actions, not the woman who gave him his big chance and has been closer than family for years.

Gabriel Macht was superb in the final scene with Rick Hoffman, as he signs his name to ruin the reputation of his mentor. His voice cracking slightly in the voiceover was a lovely touch too. Good luck getting over that guilt Harvey! We were all worried about how Harvey and Donna would move past the kiss. The bigger question now for me, is how Jessica will be able to forgive Harvey for this. Yes, she can use it as leverage, but I can’t see their friendship (always a Suits highlight) coming through this without some serious cracks.

Bad Man next week……

I assume this is referring to Louis and his involvement with Sheila, but it could be a reference to Harvey’s decision this week, resulting in Jessica demanding some shady request for money (if she’s getting in to the political world, shady dealings makes sense). What really matters though, is that Hard Truths was one of the strongest mid-season openers the series has had and I’m incredibly optimistic about what lies ahead. Maybe the creator and writers really do have a master plan after all (unlike the guy running the show I mentioned at the beginning of this review)! Is it next Thursday yet?!

Suits season 7 continues next week with Bad Man on Wednesday night in the USA and Thursday via Netflix in the UK.

 

My 2017 Theatre Review – Memorable Moments

I’ve already set out my favourite productions of 2017, so this post will look back on the my most memorable moments, whether a performance, a scene, or a personal experience during a show, these are the moments that I’ll remember most from the last 12 months of theatregoing.

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1. David Tennant declaring he was “magnificently f*ckable” as Don Juan in Don Juan in Soho!

A theatre year is always a little more special for me when Mr Tennant is on the stage and earlier this year he took on the lothario Don Juan. It may not have made my favourite productions list, but he had some wonderful dialogue, this being my personal highlight!

2. The continued excitement and joy of the audience at Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

Next spring Broadway will finally welcome the Harry Potter play to the stage (with me in the audience), but until then the only place to see it remains London and being lucky enough to return to see the show a few times this year (including the final show of the original cast and a trip to see the new one), I continue to love the atmosphere in the Palace Theatre. It’s one of the two happiest theatres in town and you can feel the buzz of excitement from everyone around you. It’s simply magical.

3. Realising about 15 minutes in to Hamilton that I was under its spell

The Palace is one of the two happiest theatres in town and since early December, the other is the Victoria Palace Theatre, now home to the mighty Hamilton. You can read my review and my end of year review for thoughts, but I will always remember the feeling of knowing that not only was the hype justified, but that I was watching something very special indeed.

4. Getting to see another of my favourite actors on stage for the first time

I made two trips to NYC this year, but the first was driven by one aim – to see Josh Charles on stage! I’ve been a fan of his film and TV work for quite a while now and couldn’t miss the chance to see him in The Antipodes at the wonderful Signature Theatre. And the cherry on the cake – getting a chance to speak to him afterwards, plus an autograph and photo. He was one of the most genuine actors I’ve ever had the pleasure to speak to and it made my trip!

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5. A final trip to Groundhog Day and frustration that Broadway didn’t appreciate it more

Poor poor Groundhog Day. If only it had stayed here in London. I know it’ll be back here soon enough, but I’ll always be a little sad that Andy Karl won’t get longer in the role of Phil Connors. He really was wonderful and I’m so pleased I had one last chance to see it earlier this year in NYC.

6. Ian McKellen bringing Gandalf back to life for a few minutes on stage!

In July, Ian McKellen helped raise money for the Park Theatre in London through a week of special performances on a one-man show about his life and career. It was a very special experience, the highlight being the opening: a pitch black theatre, Howard Shore’s Lord of the Rings score playing and the voice of Gandalf, as if back in the Mines of Moria, coming out of the darkness as McKellen walked on to the stage. Unforgettable!

7. Being on the front row of the first official performance at the new Bridge Theatre!

I’ve been looking forward to this new theatre opening ever since it was announced and being able to be at the first official performance (there were two soft opening performances put on early) of a new London theatre was quite a thrill. The smell of fresh paint and new leather and a whole new building to explore. I look forward to many more visits to come.

8. My front row seat experience for Network and having Bryan Cranston look me straight in the eyes from mere inches away

Network is on my list of favourites of the year and not only did I enjoy the play and its commanding lead actor’s performance, but this was made all the more special, when Mr Cranston ended up sitting behind me during one of the scenes, resulting in him giving a direct performance to those of us sitting around him for a few minutes.

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9. The brilliance of the final scene of Out There on the Fried Meat Ridge Road at the Trafalgar Studios

I won’t ruin it for those yet to see this lovely show, but the final moments were so clever and fun that it had me smiling long after I’d left the building. It’s a show that I’m so pleased I didn’t miss.

10. The OTT reaction of the Broadway audience to Bette Midler in Hello Dolly

Now, first things first, I enjoyed the show and I thought Bette Midler was fantastic, but what wasn’t quite as enjoyable was the reaction of the audience during the show. I know the NYC custom is to applaud the famous names on their first appearance on the stage (as annoying as I find it), but every time she appeared, everything she said or did, was met with prolonged applause and cheers. Ultimately it distracted me from the show and drove me crazy!

11. Witnessing Ben Platt sob his way through “Words Fail” in Dear Evan Hansen

Hello Dolly may have been a less than satisfying theatre experience, but the same couldn’t be said for Dear Evan Hansen (on both visits). I will never forget watching Ben Platt’s performance and Words Fail in particular, as he managed to sing so beautifully through sobs, as the audience sniffled along with him.

12. The thrill of the unexpected in Robert Icke’s Hamlet, particularly Laertes in that final duel

I’ve talked enough about how much I loved this production, but it was filled with moments that surprised me, despite having seen Hamlet quite a few times now. No moment sums up the freshness of this production more than when I realised that Laertes doesn’t want to have the duel at the end! I have never seen an interpretation where Laertes has had second thoughts and when asking for a new foil is wanting to swap the poisoned one for another. It changed how I saw that character and made the end so much more powerful. Such unexpected thrills at the theatre are what make it such a wonderful experience.

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13. The RSC’s sound effect of the year that made an auditorium gasp

I only made one trip to Stratford-Upon-Avon this year, which was to see the RSC’s latest production of Julius Caesar and the moment I have not been able to forget was the moment a young boy seemingly had his neck broken. Yes, I know nothing is real on stage, but the sound effect used to create the illusion of murder in that moment was quite shocking!

14. Andrew Garfield bringing a tear to my eye, as he bid the audience a final farewell at the last performance of Angels in America in London

I loved this production, as I’ve already mentioned in my annual round-up and it was very special to be in the audience for the last performance (I was in good company as Mr Cumberbatch was there too). It’s a powerful piece of theatre, but watching Andrew Garfield give those final lines as Prior Walter, talking directly to us, was something I’ll never forget: “The world only spins forward. We will be citizens. The time has come. Bye now. You are fabulous creatures, each and every one. And I bless you: More Life. The Great Work Begins.”

15. Experiencing the wonderful staging of The Great Comet from a stage seat

I didn’t love The Great Comet as a musical, but I could certainly appreciate the staging and the fun of the interaction with the audience when I watched the show from a banquette seat earlier this year. I wasn’t in a position to be picked on, thank god, but I did enjoy some fresh bread to eat and my own little egg shaker to join in with the percussion during the show, not to mention a close up seat for Josh Groban’s gorgeous singing!

16. My horror at the result of my audience’s vote on letting latecomers in to The Majority at the National Theatre

The Majority was a fun theatre experience, requiring each of us in the audience to engage directly in the journey of the performance through a series of votes on our keypads. The most horrifying for me? The narrow victory of those who voted to let latecomers in to the auditorium once the show had started! Fools!

17. My first ever time leaving a show at the interval

I know some people do this often, but I’ve never left a show early. I usually hold on, in the hope I’ll enjoy the second half more. However, on one trip this year, I just couldn’t face it. Ironically, Travesties was a show most people loved and many will no doubt say it was a travesty that I left, but it just wasn’t funny to me and I was bored. Maybe it caught me on an off day.

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So, what were your most memorable, personal theatre moments this year? I’d love to hear them and look forward to finding out what’s in store next year in theatre land!

Photo credits (besides me!): Don Juan In Soho = Helen Maybanks; The Antipodes = Joan Marcus; Groundhog Day/Hamlet = Manuel Harlan; Ian McKellen = Mark Douet; Network = Jan Versweyveld; Out There on the Fried Meat Ridge Road = Gavin Watson; Dear Evan Hansen = Sara Krulwich/The New York Times; Julius Caesar = the RSC; The Majority = Ellie Kurttz; Angels in America = Jason Bell; 

 

 

 

 

 

My 2017 Theatre Review – Productions of the Year!

It’s hard to believe it’s that time again, when I look back at my theatregoing year and look forward to the year to come (that’s coming soon in another post). I’ve seen a slightly smaller number of shows in 2017, with a total of 56, but with repeat viewings of 13 shows, I’ve actually visited a theatre 80 times in the last twelve months, which isn’t too bad!

Although I’ve seen fewer productions, 2017 has struck me as a fantastic year in theatre land. I’ve seen far more hits than misses and choosing a top ten is practically impossible, so this list is going to run a little longer. The other interesting aspect of the year (well, for me anyway) is, as someone who tends to prefer plays to musicals, I’ve seen more musicals this year than any other, with a total of 12 of 2017’s list. This is undoubtably helped by my two trips to NYC, where Broadway continues to showcase far more musicals than plays.

So, after looking back through programmes, my reviews and most crucially, my memories, these are the standout productions for me in 2017!

1. Hamlet (Almeida/Harold Pinter) & Hamilton (Victoria Palace Theatre)

There was one production, for which I had huge expectations and on first seeing it in February, was so impressed by, that it seemed certain to claim my top spot. Well, that was until three weeks ago when I finally witnessed the newest musical to hit London. Therefore, this year’s top spot has to be shared between the Almeida’s utterly stunning production of Hamlet and Lin Manuel Miranda’s incredible musical, Hamilton. It was impossible to choose between them, as they both took my breath away in a way nothing else matched in 2017.

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Photo credit: Manuel Harlan

Hamlet is my favourite Shakespeare play and Robert Icke’s production managed to exceed my expectations. You can read more thoughts in full on this here, but in short, it is a production that made Hamlet new again. It was thrilling, original, emotional and exciting, pulling new people to the theatre and Shakespeare and had me seeing scenes I know so well in a whole new light. Supported by a strong ensemble cast, led by the incredibly talented Andrew Scott, this was a sheer joy each and every time I saw it. It will be airing on the BBC in 2018, so don’t miss it!

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Photo credit: Matthew Murphy

And then there was Hamilton. Everyone has heard of it, whether you know all the words, or nothing other than the hype. Crucially for me, a Hamilton newbie on my first visit, it more than lived up to the hype. My first visit was the 2nd preview and already the cast was so good, you could believe they had been performing it for years. You can read my full review, but in summary, it’s an intelligent, exhilarating and unforgettable theatrical experience that you will want to relive over and over again.

2. Ink (Almeida Theatre)

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Photo credit: Marc Brenner

Next on my list is another success from the Almeida Theatre, which continues to go from strength to strength under Rupert Goold. Having missed this show in Islington, I’m so pleased it moved to the West End, as it’s just too good to miss. The play, written by James Graham, whose previous work I’d thoroughly enjoyed (This House, The Vote & Privacy), shines a light on the first year of  The Sun newspaper under Rupert Murdoch’s ownership. You may not think it’s your cup of tea, but it’s a fascinating insight in to the creation of the tabloid, which manages to be sharp, gripping and incredibly funny during its running time. I didn’t expect to laugh as much as I did and that’s thanks to the brilliant writing, but also the calibre of the acting, with two superb central performances by Richard Coyle as editor Larry Lamb and Bertie Carvel (who just doesn’t look like Bertie Carvel!) as Murdoch. It closes on 6th January, so if you can still make time to see it, I urge you to do so.

3. Angels In America (Lyttelton, National Theatre)

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Photo credit: Helen Maybanks

There was huge anticipation before Tony Kushner’s groundbreaking American play returned to the NT 25 years after its original production, with tickets selling out almost instantly. I had never read it, nor seen the HBO miniseries, but I knew this was a must-see due to the casting choices and was lucky enough to experience two separate “two-play days” over its run. It was not a comfortable play to watch, set in America during the mid-1980s, as AIDs caused the deaths of so many in the gay community, but was a sweeping theatrical epic, told across eight hours, which laid bare the horrors of the disease, the pain of those suffering from it and those who love them, as well as highlighting the difficulty many had in accepting their sexuality.

Marianne Elliot, one of Britain’s finest directors, ensures this is a powerful production, which takes hold of your emotions and holds on to them until the very end. The cast was also a treat, with Nathan Lane shining as the equally humorous and vicious Roy Cohn, Russell Tovey impressing as the ambitious Republican lawyer confused and afraid of his true sexuality, together with Denise Gough as his fragile, yet often darkly humorous wife, James McArdle as the man struggling to cope with the possibility of watching his lover die, Nathan Stewart-Jarrett as the wonderfully supportive and witty friend Belize and Andrew Garfield, as Prior Walter, trying to cope with his diagnosis and illness, the loss of his partner and the strage dream-like visitations from a rather scary looking angel. It was sensational and I’m thrilled to be able to see it again on Broadway next spring (with most of the London cast). Ticket details can be found at: http://www.angelsbroadway.com

4. Dear Evan Hansen (Music Box Theatre, NYC)

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Photo credit: Matthew Murphy

Dear Evan Hansen was another show I had heard a lot of buzz about, but had managed to avoid listening to, before my trip to NYC in May. Personally, I prefer to see a musical fresh, without knowing all the lyrics in advance. I therefore didn’t know what to expect and a few hours and a few tissues later, I had another highlight of my year in the bag. The story of the show may be a little uncomfortable when you hear it – a shy teenager, isolated from the world because he feels he doesn’t fit in, finds himself at the centre of a local tragedy and its aftermath, through which he is able to find his place and his voice, as well as love and a family environment he feels he has never had.

Why did I love it so much? Well, the songs are rather lovely, the acting is superb (I saw the original cast on both of my two visits) and its central message that no one is alone; that we just need to reach out for help, is one that is more important than ever in the crazy world we live in now. However, on top of all of that was the simply breathtaking Ben Platt as Evan. It was an emotionally raw, incredibly moving, vulnerable performance, during which you truly believed Evan was real. How Platt was able to give such a performance emotionally and vocally (his voice reminded me of the first time I heard Josh Groban on Ally McBeal) through tears, I will never know. Yes, I cried. A lot. It was a privilege to witness something that will be talked about for years to come. Read my full review if you want to know more.

5. An Octoroom (Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond)

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Photo credit: The Other Richard

After years of meaning to visit, I finally made it to Richmond’s wonderful Orange Tree Theatre this year and what a show to start with! Brandon Jacobs-Jenkins’ play (more from him later) was one I heard about through word of mouth. Everyone I knew who saw it, loved it and it was easy to understand why. Shows like this one are what theatre is made for; a show that was so original, inventive, powerful and funny and which turned stereotypes on their heads and made you laugh one moment, before being deeply moved the next. The play uses the plot of the Irish playwright Dion Boucicault’s 1859 melodrama The Octoroon to shine a light on identity, race and culture in a way I hadn’t experienced before. The cast were wonderful, including Ken Nwosu, who has three different roles to tackle, sometimes two at once, Celeste Dodwell as Dora and Iola Evans as Zoe. Luckily, for anyone who missed it (or, those of us desperate to go again), it will have a run at the National Theatre next year, so add it to your must book list!

6. Consent (Dorfman, National Theatre)

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Photo credit: Tristram Kenton

Another favourite from early in the year was Nina Raine’s new play, which dealt with the difficult and emotive subject of assault and the perceptions and attitudes that surround what is and what is not consent, made all the more fascinating by having the key characters be criminal barristers, now experiencing the issues from a very personal perspective. It was strongly written, superbly acted (including Anna Maxwell Martin and Adam James) and gave me plenty to think about for quite a while afterwards.

7. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (Harold Pinter Theatre)

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Photo credit: Johan Persson

Otherwise known as Imelda Staunton’s first hit of 2017, this was my first time seeing a production of Edward Albee’s play and it will take some beating, as Staunton unleashed her incredible force on to the stage, as the domineering Martha. Her chemistry and interplay with Conleth Hill, as her husband George was at times deeply uncomfortable to watch, as they emotionally attacked each other, but three hours have never flown quite so quickly. You can read my full review for further thoughts.

8. Follies (Olivier, National Theatre)

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Photo credit: Johan Persson

To say I’m not a huge musicals fan, the fact three are in this list says quite a lot about how much I enjoyed Follies, especially as, I admit, I’m not a huge Sondheim fan either! A musical that takes a nostalgic look back at a different time, through the eyes of its four central characters, I loved the blending of the past and present, to highlight young hopes and dreams and how life changes us, as we grow older. The central performances, particularly Janie Dee and Imelda Staunton were phenomenal, yet, it was the entire ensemble that brought the story to life so vividly on stage, from Tracie Bennett and Di Botcher, through to Josephine Barstow and Alison Langer’s incredible operatic duet. Combine this with a live orchestra and the glorious utilisation of the Olivier stage to put on a true spectacle and this was a show I enjoyed so much, that I had to go back and see it for a second time.

9. Gloria (Hampstead Theatre)

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Photo credit: Marc Brenner

The second entry for Brandon Jacobs-Jenkins in my list was the heart-stopping Gloria. With a pre-interval twist (well, I admit, I did see it coming) that required a sealed section in the programme, it provided one of the most shocking theatre moments of the year, whether you were expecting it or not. Jenkins’s writing brilliantly lays the foundations for that moment from the start (on a second visit, I was able to appreciate this even more), but this didn’t make it any less traumatic to watch, turning the second half in to an analysis of how we all deal with trauma differently. Would it break you, or would you capitalise on it for personal, monetary gain? This question is answered with dark humour, as we see how the characters are changed by what has gone before. Director Michael Longhurst did a superb job with the staging (including that pre-interval moment) and the acting was fantastic (including Colin Morgan and Kae Alexander to name just two). You can read both my spoiler and spoiler-free reviews for more details.

10. Oslo (Lyttelton, National Theatre)

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Photo credit:Brinkhoff/Mögenburg

I had wanted to see this Tony award-winning play in New York, but decided to wait for its arrival at the National Theatre, where a ticket would cost me a fraction of the price. It was certainly worth the wait, proving to be an insightful, intelligent, engaging play about the lead up to the 1993 Oslo Peace Accords between Israel and Palestine; a story I knew almost nothing about. It may have been long, but it certainly didn’t feel it, as JT Rogers’ script moved us through the ups and downs of the behind the scenes negotiations, where a Norwegian couple unexpectedly found themselves at the centre of such important talks. The acting was very good (putting aside Toby Stephens’ wavering accent) and I left the theatre keen to learn more about the subject matter, which, following recent world events seems more relevant than ever. Oslo finishes tomorrow (30th December), so you still have a couple of days left to catch it if you are quick.

11. The Ferryman (Royal Court Theatre / Wyndham’s Theatre)

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Photo Credit: Johan Persson

It’ll come as no surprise that Jez Butterworth’s latest play makes my list, as it is appearing on every 2017 theatre list at the moment and with good reason. Following the wonderful plays Jerusalem and The River, his latest success tells a powerful story, set in Armagh, Northern Ireland in 1981, which weaves The Troubles in to the history of one family and their struggle to confront the past and move forward. This may have been Paddy Considine’s stage debut, but he was superb and had fantastic chemistry with Laura Donnelly. I laughed, I gasped and held my breath as the tension grew. The Ferryman continues to run at the Wyndham’s Theatre until at least May 2018 and it is certainly worth a visit.

12. Network (Lyttelton, National Theatre)

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Photo credit:Jan Versweyveld

I had never seen the film the play is based on and so didn’t really know what to expect, my excitement peaked by the chance of seeing Bryan Cranston on stage and he certainly didn’t disappoint, as the news anchor, who has finally had enough of the world and decides to let everyone watching know exactly how fed up he is. The production’s staging is quirky, but the on-stage audience restaurant did feel a little unnecessary to me. However, with such a powerful, commanding central performance from Cranston, you couldn’t help but be drawn in. Plus, hearing almost 1000 people shouting “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!” in unison was quite a unique experience, which in 2017 couldn’t have been more timely. Although tickets are scarce, you have until 24th March to try and see this production.

13. King Lear (Minerva Theatre, Chichester)

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Photo credit: Manuel Harlan

There had to be some Shakespeare in my top productions of the year list and this year it was Chichester’s production of King Lear, which I admit isn’t one of my favourite Shakespeare plays. However, this version, with such a brilliantly talented cast, managed to bring both intimacy and a sense of vast scope to the small space of the Minerva theatre. Ian McKellen was excellent in the lead role, clearly revelling in having a second chance to take on Lear and he had strong support from a cast that included Kirsty Bushell, Dervla Kirwan and Danny Webb.

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So, those are the productions that truly stood out for me in 2017 and which I’d happily see again in a heartbeat. Special mentions also to The Girls (a musical that deserved a longer London life), Jodie Prenger’s heartwarming Shirley Valentine and a final visit to Groundhog Day in NYC (Broadway, I’m still disappointed in you for letting this one go so soon).

I’d love to hear your highlights! Over the next couple of days I’ll be continuing by look back at the theatre year, with my most memorable theatre moments from the last twelve months and my favourite performances.

 

 

 

 

Tips for First Time Visitors to the Victoria Palace Theatre for Hamilton

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Hamilton has finally arrived in London, with previews beginning a few days ago. In 2015, I wrote a post on this blog containing tips for those travelling to London to see the Barbican’s Hamlet and as so many found it useful, I thought I’d try and think of some helpful tips for anyone new to the area, coming to see Hamilton. As I’ve already seen the show twice here, I can also give some insight in to the entry process. Oh and I’ve also written my thoughts, as a newcomer to the show, which you can read here if you’re interested.

1. Getting There

The Victoria Palace Theatre is very easy to get to, due to the fact it is located so close to the Victoria underground station! If you want to go straight to the theatre on arrival in Victoria, take the Cardinal Place exit from the underground station and you will exit on the same side of the road as the theatre, which will be to your right. The photo below shows this exit and the theatre is just hidden by the station itself. It is also worth downloading the Citymapper app to your phone, as this is an easy way of finding out the best route to somewhere in London.

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There is also a useful map via the Delfont Mackintosh website here: Area Map

and another here: Victoria Palace Theatre – Google Map

2. When to arrive?

The theatre recommends that you arrive 60 minutes beforehand, although it is opening 90 minutes before the performance time (6 p.m. for evening shows and 1 p.m. for matinees). The queue to enter does move quickly (provided you have the right documents ready – more on that below), but the advantage of arriving early is that you have more time to join the merchandise queues! There are kiosks on stalls and circle levels, but the queues do get quite long, so make time for it if you plan to buy anything. Hopefully an online shop and perhaps even a physical shop, as in NYC will open in the future, but for the moment, the kiosks are the only option.

3. Meeting the rest of your party?

As all of your party must be together before you are allowed to enter the theatre, you should arrange to meet at a designated spot. The area in front of the theatre can get quite busy the nearer it gets to show time, so I’d suggest standing to the side, or meeting outside the tube station.

4. What do you need to bring with you to enter?

On both of my trips to see the show this week, the process for entry has been very strict, but very efficient too. Unlike other shows where you are told you’ll need ID and then no one checks it, the Victoria Palace is very serious about its requirements, to try and dissuade people from buying inflated tickets on a secondary market.

Only join the queue to enter once all of your party has arrived, as you won’t be allowed entry until then. You will be asked to present your email ticket confirmation, photo I.D (passport or driver’s licence) and the credit/debit card that you paid with. After documents have been checked, you’ll be directed to a door to enter, on which your bag will be checked. Following the bag check, you’ll enter the theatre and your credit/debit card will be swiped and your souvenir ticket slip will be printed. At that point – you’re in!

5. Inside the theatre / Seating chart?

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The newly refurbished Victoria Palace Theatre is a lovely theatre, with plenty of bars on its various levels, as well as lots of toilets! Above is the Ticketmaster seating chart and a couple of my photos from the inside of the auditorium are below. I’ve also added a link to the indispensable resource that is Theatremonkey, which offers insight in to seats and their views of London’s theatres and will become very helpful once seat reviews of the newly refurbished building start to be submitted.

 

 

6. Food & Drink

There are plenty of places to eat around the area of the theatre, thanks to the regeneration that has been taking place for the last few years. There is everything on offer, no matter your budget or taste, for example sandwiches and snacks from Pret, Costa and Eat, or various restaurants including Bills, Browns, Jamie’s Italian, Zizzi, Wagamama. Oh and there’s also a Shake Shack for those in need of a good burger! A great site on the Victoria area can be found at the Create Victoria website: https://createvictoria.com/food-and-drink

7. Stage Door

The stage door itself is out of sight at the moment, due to the on-going building works. However, for those hoping for autographs, there is an area behind some barriers at the side of the theatre, where fans can gather to wait for any actors who exit that way, but there are no guarantees of who you will see and whether they will stop to sign. Wrap up warm though, as it gets very cold!

8. Still looking for tickets?

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Although most tickets for the first block of dates have been sold, you can still pick up tickets in a variety of ways:

(a) Official Website – Keep checking the website for availability, as the odd ticket is still available for certain performances until June 2018. Tickets for the next booking block (from July 2018 onwards) will be released in the next booking period. Visit the website here: Tickets

(b) Daily lottery – £10 tickets are available every day via the Hamilton lottery. To enter, you need to download the official Hamilton app from the website, or enter online. Lotteries open at 4 p.m. and close at 2 p.m. the following day. You can enter for a maximum of two tickets in each lottery draw.

(c) Late Release Premium Tickets – A limited number of premium-priced tickets will be released online at 12 noon every Monday for all of the following week’s performances.

(d) Standing Tickets – As yet, there are no standing tickets available, but the website refers to further details of the Grand Circle (top tier) stand-in tickets being announced at a later date.

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If I think of anything else that may be useful, I’ll be sure to add it to this post! Enjoy the show!