Tag Archive | Review

Theatre Review (Spoiler-free version) – Gloria (Hampstead Theatre)

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As some readers may have seen, I have already posted one review of Gloria on this blog yesterday. As I explained in that post, I felt it was only fair to try and write a spoiler-free review as well. Heck, even the theatre programme to the show has sealed sections, only to be opened at the interval! So, for those unable to see the show, or those looking for more detail as to the storyline of it, then head across to my other, more spoiler-filled review of Gloria here.

Gloria is the latest play by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins and was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize last year and it’s certainly a drama with a sharp, witty edge. It’s also a tale of two halves, through which the playwright skilfully explores ambition and when it becomes something more questionable, when circumstances present us with an opportunity to cash in on our experiences.

Events are set in modern day New York, in the Manhattan offices of a popular magazine. In the culture section, three editorial assistants are starting their day according to their usual patterns. Studious, hard-working Ani (Ellie Kendrick) is already hard at work, a year in to her job and still possessing the positivity and enthusiasm for it. Dean (Colin Morgan) is late, inching towards 30 and five years in, feeling frustrated and hoping a book deal will give him an exit. Kendra (Kae Alexander) is even later than Dean, not that she gives a damn, as she begins what feels like her usual criticisms of her colleagues, their lives and the state of publishing in New York; it’s a place, she says, which used to have opportunities, but now has only the illusion of them.

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Bayo Gbadmosi & Colin Morgan (Photo credi: Marc Brenner)

Together they banter, bicker, sing, mourn the death of a young pop star and deploy their pearls of wisdom to the team’s intern Miles (Bayo Gbadamosi), while driving the team down the corridor crazy by making too much noise, something their older, despairing colleague Lorin (Bo Poraj) regularly reminds them (although I notice Dean’s boss (Sian Clifford), who we hear about, but don’t see until Act Two, never complains)!

It’s an incredibly funny, entertaining start, which has you quickly enjoying watching the exploits of this ambitious bunch and results in quite a lot of laughter. For those of us who’ve worked in an office environment, at least some of this will be familiar, regardless of the industry.

Woven through all of their pranks, stories and discussions about their possible futures, is Gloria. She’s worked there for 15 years or so and is the magazine’s loner; she’s someone you smile at and are polite to, but have no interest socialising with elsewhere. This has only been reinforced by her poorly attended party the night before, at which only Dean and a handful of others made an appearance. Ani feels bad for not going, Kendra does not and Dean just wants to forget he was ever there. As an audience, we feel for Gloria. She also feels a little familiar from our own work lives and it is this familiarity of some aspects of the office dynamics and personalities, that ensures the emotional punch of Jacobs-Jenkins’s work later is all the more powerful. Indeed, the emotional reaction I had to the end of Act One (even though I suspected where it was heading) isn’t one I’ve had at the theatre very often.

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Bo Paraj (Photo credit: Marc Brenner)

The personalities of the characters having been established already, Act Two shows us their world seven months later and what I loved most about Gloria was how the second half builds on everything we have seen in the first half to present an interesting commentary on how events and experiences effect us all in different ways and perhaps sometimes can bring out our less admirable qualities. It’s fascinating to see where these people are now and how they have changed and the writing fantastically mines the humour in some of the seemingly tasteless endeavours that have resulted from the recent past.

The use of doubling for the actors in roles across the two halves of the play is also a brilliant choice. It provides a strange sense of continuity to the story, while also being a little unnerving.

The production also benefits from a strong cast. Colin Morgan is perhaps the most well known (last seen on stage in Mojo) and, as usual, he is very very good, conveying Dean’s downward spiral from playful, sarcastic office worker, to someone struggling to put his life back together. Morgan also takes the role later of a frustrated IT guy, resulting in a return to the lighter laughs of the first half.

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Kae Alexander & Ellie Kendrick (Photo credit: Marc Brenner)

I also particularly liked the acerbic character of Kendra, who is both likeable and unlikeable at once, due to her sharp, mean barbs, that often speak more truth than we’d like to admit and Kae Alexander brings her wonderfully to life. Ellie Kendrick (who you may recognise from Game of Thrones) plays Ani, as one of those sweet, hard-working types, who tries to get along with everyone and I also loved one of the other characters she plays, Callie, also an assistant and it is to her credit that each one feels distinct.

Our moral compass is represented by Lorin, whose response to earlier events in the play is much different from the others and I left the theatre truly hoping he was successful. Interestingly, Bo Paraj is also the only actor who plays just one role, which seems to emphasise Lorin’s difference from the others as well.

Director Michael Longhurst captures the brilliant wit of the play and I loved Oliver Fenwick’s lighting, which is used to great effect in the second half, to reflect the recollections of certain characters, slowly dimming at times, before growing brighter again as the moment passed. The settings of each scene are great and set designer Lizzie Clachan has created three different sets, all ideally suited for the play’s story and I particularly liked the contrast of the basic decor in the first office, with the flashy, colour-coordinated look of the later office location; the positioning of the company’s logo in the latter being suitably ironic.

I thoroughly enjoyed Gloria for its biting humour and sharp dialogue and I won’t forget the powerful ending of Act One in a hurry. It makes you laugh with recognition, gasp with shock and then smile ironically at the resulting, differing behaviour of the characters. This may have been my first trip to a Branden Jacobs-Jenkins play, but it certainly won’t be the last (in fact I’m off to another one next week and am now looking forward to it even more)!

Tickets are selling fast for this production, so I recommend you buy a ticket quickly before it sells out!

Gloria runs at the Hampstead Theatre until 22nd July 2017. For further information and availability, visit the theatre’s website here.

 

Theatre Review – Office ambition & tension spills over in Gloria (Hampstead Theatre)


On Tuesday night, I took a trip to the Hampstead Theatre for the final preview of their new production, Gloria. It’s a strong piece of theatre, but one that creates a challenge when it comes to writing a review – spoiler-free or not? I usually try and avoid writing spoilers which give away anything significant to a play, particularly a new play, as I’m a big believer in an audience experiencing theatre fresh, without knowing its secrets in advance. However, to write everything I want to say about Gloria will inevitably result in giving away a core element of the story. I’ve therefore decided to try and write two pieces; this one and a spoiler-free review, which will be posted tomorrow.

Warnings taken care of, on to the play itself.

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Dean (Colin Morgan), Kendra (Kae Alexander) & Ani (Ellie Kendrick). Photo credit: Marc Brenner

Gloria is the latest play by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins and was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize last year and it’s certainly a drama with a sharp, witty edge. It’s also a tale of two halves, through which the playwright skilfully explores ambition and when it becomes something more questionable; specifically when ambition collides with the opportunity to cash in on a tragedy.

Events are set in modern day New York, in the Manhattan offices of a popular magazine. In the culture section, three editorial assistants are starting their day according to their usual patterns. Studious, hard-working Ani (Ellie Kendrick) is already hard at work, a year in to her job and still possessing the positivity and enthusiasm for it. Dean (Colin Morgan) is late, inching towards 30 and five years in, feeling frustrated and hoping a book deal will give him an exit. Kendra (Kae Alexander) is even later than Dean, not that she gives a damn, as she begins what feels like her usual criticisms of her colleagues, their lives and the state of publishing in New York; it’s a place, she says, which used to have opportunities, but now has only the illusion of them.

 

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Bayo Gbadamosi & Colin Morgan (Photo credit: Marc Brenner) 

Together they banter, bicker, sing, mourn the death of a young pop star and deploy their pearls of wisdom to the team’s intern Miles (Bayo Gbadamosi), while driving the team down the corridor crazy by making too much noise, something their older, despairing colleague Lorin (Bo Poraj) regularly reminds them!

It’s an incredibly funny, entertaining start, which has you quickly enjoying watching the exploits of this ambitious bunch and results in quite a lot of laughter. For those of us who’ve worked in an office environment, at least some of this will be familiar, regardless of the industry and it is this familiarity which makes what follows all the more frightening.

Woven through all of their pranks, stories and discussions about their possible futures, is Gloria. She’s worked there for 15 years or so and is the magazine’s loner; she’s someone you smile at and are polite to, but have no interest socialising with elsewhere. This has only been reinforced by her poorly attended party the night before, at which only Dean and a handful of others made an appearance. Ani feels bad for not going, Kendra does not and Dean just wants to forget he was ever there. As an audience, we feel for Gloria. She also feels a little familiar from our own work lives.

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Bo Paraj (Photo credit: Marc Brenner)

As the play moved through Act 1, I could see where it was heading, as Gloria sporadically appears, checking if everyone is in yet, growing increasingly erratic with each pass through the cubicles. Maybe it’s the impact of the last few months’s real life events, but the pointers to what was to come seemed clear to me. However, this didn’t detract from the emotional punch of Jacobs-Jenkins’s work, as Gloria’s isolated, unhappy feelings at the office spill over, resulting in violent consequences. It may just be a play, but it was nevertheless shocking to watch and I did find myself closing my eyes, so genuine was my response to the harrowing scene unfolding on stage. Indeed, it’s one of the most shocking ends to an act in the theatre that I’ve witnessed.

The personalities of the characters having been established already, Act 2 shows us their world seven months on.  What I loved most about Gloria was how Act 2 builds on everything we saw in the first half to present an interesting commentary on how horrifying events effect us all in different ways and perhaps can bring out our less admirable qualities.

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Sian Clifford (Photo credit: Marc Brenner)

Dean, spared by Gloria for always being nice to her, has been, understandably, deeply affected by what he witnessed and is trying to piece his life together again, which includes the publication of a memoir, now altered to make Gloria its focus. He’s not the only one looking to cash in on the tragedy though, as we watch others indirectly affected by Gloria’s actions become seduced by the idea of their five minutes on fame (and a big cheque) and the writing fantastically mines the humour in their seemingly tasteless endeavours (including the editor’s fond recollections of the intern, whose name she doesn’t even get right)! The use of doubling for the actors in roles across the two halves of the play is also a brilliant choice, as it provides a strange sense of continuity to the story, while also being a little unnerving, especially with the reappearance of Sian Clifford, who after being Gloria, later returns as the editor we never saw in the first half.

The production also benefits from a strong cast. Colin Morgan is perhaps the most well known (last seen on stage in Mojo) and, as usual, he is very very good, conveying Dean’s downward spiral from playful, sarcastic office worker, to someone still unable to comprehend what he survived and clutching to his book as a way to deal with it. Unlike some of the other characters’s need to make a quick buck off the story, I felt genuinely sorry for Dean, whose writing of his book, although a little possessive of the tragedy, seemed to be driven by his need to heal more than anything else. Morgan also takes the role later of a frustrated IT guy, resulting in a return to the lighter laughs of the first half.

 

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Kae Alexander & Ellie Kendrick (Photo credit: Marc Brenner)

I also particularly liked the acerbic character of Kendra, who is both likeable and unlikeable at once, due to her sharp, mean barbs, that often speak more truth than we’d like to admit, but are possibly more of an act once we see her again in Act 2 and Kae Alexander brings her wonderfully to life. Ellie Kendrick (who you may recognise from Game of Thrones) plays Ani, as one of those sweet, hard-working types, who tries to get along with everyone, which only makes what happens to her more upsetting and it’s great that Kendrick is back in the second half as two further characters, spookily ending back as someone’s assistant and it is to her credit that each one feels distinct.

Our moral compass is represented by Lorin, as the only person who isn’t seeking to profit from Gloria, simply wanting to put it all behind him (interestingly, Bo Paraj is also the only actor who plays just one role, which seems to emphasise Lorin’s difference from the others as well). Now studying for the LSAT exam, this is his second chance in life and you leave the theatre truly hoping he is successful.

Director Michael Longhurst captures the brilliant wit of the play, while also building a subtle unease in the piece, which some of the audience may not even notice, but once you spot, you cannot ignore. This is also enhanced in certain moments (especially in the coffee shop scene) by Oliver Fenwick’s lighting. I loved how as characters started to recall upsetting memories or thoughts in act two, the lights would slowly dim, before growing brighter again as the moment passed. Set designer Lizzie Clachan has also created three different sets, all ideally suited for the play’s story and I particularly liked the contrast of the basic decor in the first office, with the flashy, colour-coordinated look of the later office location; the positioning of the company’s red splash logo on the wall in the latter being suitably ironic (and a little disturbing).

I thoroughly enjoyed Gloria for its biting humour and sharp dialogue and I won’t forget the powerful ending of Act 1 in a hurry. It makes you laugh with recognition, gasp with shock and then smile ironically at the resulting, differing behaviour of the characters. It may also make you think about how you treat the people around you in your own office environment too. This may have been my first trip to a Branden Jacobs-Jenkins play, but it certainly won’t be the last (in fact I’m off to another one next week and am now looking forward to it even more)!

Tickets are selling fast for this production, so I recommend you buy a ticket quickly before it sells out!

Gloria runs at the Hampstead Theatre until 22nd July 2017. For further information and availability, visit the theatre’s website here.

Theatre Review – Dear Evan Hansen (Broadway, New York): Heartbreaking & hopeful, it reminds us we are never alone

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Dear Evan Hansen is undoubtably the show that everyone is talking about in New York and demand to see it is now resulting in people queuing overnight for the chance to get in, just as they still do with Hamilton.

I’ve yet to see Hamilton (I’m waiting for its London arrival), but curiosity had me buying a ticket to see Dear Evan Hansen during my recent NYC theatre trip, especially with its much-praised original cast. Was the hype justified? Absolutely yes and its success and ability to affect so many people, so profoundly, is something special that doesn’t come around very often.

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Connor (Mike Faist) & Evan (Ben Platt). Photo source: Matthew Murphy

Dear Evan Hansen is the story of a shy, socially awkward seventeen year-old, Evan, who struggles to fit in and seems isolated from the people around him. Evan’s life changes when one day, a fellow teen at his school, Connor, commits suicide and the note of Evan’s he stole from him the day before, suggests to Connor’s grieving parents that their son had a friend they never knew about, one who may be able to help them learn about the son they struggled to connect with. What follows is a truly heart-wrenching journey of a young man, who is caught up in a lie, but who along the way, gives all of the characters, all of us watching and indeed himself a sense of hope and the comforting message that we are never alone, no matter how hopeless life seems. It may sound cheesy, but I promise you that the emotional response you’ll have to this story will be very real indeed.

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Evan (Ben Platt) & Zoe (Laura Dreyfuss). Photo source: Matthew Murphy

So relevant to today’s society is the story and the emotional experiences that the characters experience, that you could easily forget that they are indeed characters. It is an incredibly believable story, coming at a time when, despite the increased amount of ways we have to communicate with each other, so many people feel that they have no voice and are incredibly alone. The show has certainly captured the hearts of a generation of young people, who see themselves in Evan. However, the brilliance of this musical is that it has the ability to connect with all ages. Whether you are a teenager, or in your mid-30s, or older, we’ve all had times in our lives when we’ve struggled to keep going, to ask for help, or have been scared that no one is there for us. For this reason and the richness of its characters other than Evan, Dear Evan Hansen connects with everyone.

Steven Levenson (book writer), together with Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (music and lyrics) and its director Michael Greif, have created a brilliantly contemporary show, drawing on the social media world we live in (which is also woven wonderfully in to the set). The characters within it are fully realised individuals. Evan is at its heart, but each one adds to the overall magic of the show and that is strengthened by the superb ensemble that brings them to life.

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The superb cast of Dear Evan Hansen. Photo source: Nathan Johnson

Rachel Bay Jones is wonderful as Evan’s mother, doing her best to raise him alone, while Michael Park and Jennifer Laura Thompson portray Connor’s parents sensitively and with such realism, dealing with their grief in different ways. As Connor’s sister, Laura Dreyfuss has the complex role of a girl trying to reconcile grief with the fact she didn’t really like her brother as a person, while Mike Faist portrays two versions of Connor, the person he was before his death and then who he is in Evan’s imagination, ensuring he remains an important part of the story. The show could have become much too sad and so the inclusion of Alana Beck (Kristolyn Lloyd) and Jared Kleinman (Will Roland) classmates of Evan, is vital as they bring a great amount of humour to the show (especially Jared, with Will Roland’s performance being one of my favourites).

Then of course, there is Ben Platt at its core. He was the reason I wanted to see the show and his performance exceeded all of my expectations. Having been involved with the character of Evan since the workshop stage of this musical, means that he is intrinsically linked with him and as you watch him on stage, you sometimes forget it is a performance. Every nuance of Evan’s character, from his shy awkward mannerisms to the tone of his voice is perfectly crafted and seem to come from deep inside Platt. It’s a heartbreaking, visceral and yet at times funny performance, that truly brings Evan to life before the audience and the sheer force of the emotion he gives on stage took my breath away.

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Ben Platt as Evan Hansen – a performance I will never forget. Photo source: Matthew Murphy

I’m not a big musicals fan and so for me to truly connect with one requires not just a good story and strong characters, but also songs that really resonate with me and Dear Evan Hansen’s soundtrack is one of the few that I can listen to in its entirety. Every song has an emotional truth to it because each one fits the point in the story in which it falls, but also crucially feels natural coming from the character singing it in that moment. They never feel shoe-horned in for the sake of it and move the story forward without losing any of their emotional power. From Ben Platt’s superb opening in “Waving Through a Window”, to the playful fun of “Sincerely, Me”, to the uplifting anthem that is “You Will Be Found” (a song I’ve started playing when I need a pick-me-up), to “So Big/So Small”, it’s a truly beautiful collection of songs and I am not ashamed to admit that I shed tears through almost all of them (and it seemed everyone else in the Music Box Theatre did too).

I cannot recommend Dear Evan Hansen enough and if you are able to see this original cast, then don’t hesitate. I feel very lucky to be seeing it again in October and am so pleased that, in this case, all of the praise and superlatives I’d heard about it were fully justified. It’s a show that will definitely make you cry, but it’s also one that is giving people a sense of togetherness and the hope that everything will be alright, which is surely a message we all need to hear.

Dear Evan Hansen continues to run at the Music Box Theatre (239 West 45th Street). There is limited availability for the rest of 2017, but if you can treat yourself to the premium band, those tickets come up last minute, so keep checking Telecharge. A small number of standing room tickets are released each morning at the box office (the queue starts early) and there is also a daily online lottery for $40 rush tickets. For more information, visit the website here.

 

Theatre Review – Come From Away (Broadway, New York): an uplifting story of the good we are all capable of showing to others

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“Because we come from everywhere, we all come from away.”

I recently spent a week in New York, specifically to see as much theatre as possible and one of the shows on my must-see list was Come From Away. I read about the show months ago when it was playing in Washington D.C and had been looking forward to finally seeing it for myself. It was therefore the first show I saw on this trip and was a wonderfully uplifting first night on Broadway.

For those unfamiliar with the show, Come From Away is set on 11th September 2001 and yet, despite all of us being so aware of the terrible events of that day, the story of the people brought to the stage in this new musical are very likely unknown to most of us. Set in Gander, which lies on the northeastern tip of North America, on the Canadian island of Newfoundland, we discover that amid the tragedy of 9/11, in this small remote community, the good we are all capable of was shining through, when 38 planes, carrying 6,579 passengers and crew had to land at Gander following the closure of U.S airspace.

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The cast of Come From Away

Personally, I had never thought about the immediate ripple impact of the tragedy for other aircrafts in the sky that morning and I was stunned by how this small community and those of the surrounding area, pulled together to help the stranded passengers and crews, who effectively doubled their population within hours. From providing food, clothing, medicine, shelter and someone to talk to, it’s incredible to see just how much was done to welcome an international group of strangers to their island. Indeed, it carries more resonance at a time when refugees from around the world are facing greater barriers and hostility to settling elsewhere.

Through Come From Away, we see the lives of people thrown together, far away from home and without any of their possessions (bags remained on the planes, as these were all initially viewed as potential bombs), who over the next five days form friendships, relationships and a special bond between themselves, but also with the people of Gander, that continues to thrive to this day; there are reunions and Newfoundland is the only place outside the USA which has steel from the World Trade Centre.

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Sharon Wheatley & Lee Macdougall

 

Writers David Hein and Irene Sankoff interviewed thousands of people and have skilfully woven these stories together to create a musical that provides moments of joy, hilarity and fun, as well as its emotional moments. With so many stories available to them, the small cast of just 12 find themselves switching roles (and dialects) multiple times in order to provide us with a glimpse in to the forms of generosity that took place during those days in September. Whether playing the locals going about their daily lives until everything changed, to the passengers left cut off and unaware of what was happening (remember back then, fewer people had mobiles), to the captain of one of the planes, the strength of this ensemble is a huge asset of the show.

Each actor brings something special it and is likely to portray a character you will remember. There are too many to talk about them all, but I particularly enjoyed Chad Kimball and Caesar Samayoa’s lovely portrayal of a gay couple, whose relationship is gradually put under strain due to how 9/11 has affected them, Petrina Bromley’s vet, who took it upon herself to ensure that any animals being transported on the planes were cared for and Lee Macdougall and Sharon Wheatley whose characters include American Diane and Brit David, who were on the same plane and through such tragedy find love. There is also Q. Smith’s moving performance of a mother desperately waiting to her news of her son, a firefighter in New York, which felt even more emotional seeing the show in the heart of the city and Jenn Colella’s lovely performance as Captain Beverley Bass, a female pilot trying to comprehend that her beloved planes have been used to create such horror.

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Jenn Colella

Such a story needed to be told with the right balance of entertainment and sensitivity and this is something the creators certainly achieve. There are moments of great humour  intermingled with moments that have you shedding a tear and I particularly loved the smaller moments of human kindness, such as a local man who communicated to a non-English speaking couple not to be afraid through highlighting passages in their bible.

What also struck me about Come From Away was that it’s not your typical musical, which is something I loved about the show. It doesn’t have your typical musical structure. There aren’t show tunes between spoken scenes as such, but a series of stories that happen to be told through moments of spoken verse and singing. I’ve heard some people comment that the show needn’t have been a musical, but I disagree, as it is through the musical element that the emotional depth of these individuals and what they experienced can be truly told. Having the characters sing how they are feeling allows them to express to us emotions that would have not have come across as vividly through just words. It also means we are treated to the talent of the musical’s band, who through drum, fiddle and pipes bring Newfoundland’s signature style of music to life for a wider audience.

I thoroughly enjoyed Come From Away and would recommend it to anyone making a trip to NYC, especially those who perhaps don’t usually like musicals. Having won the Drama Desk Award for Best Musical this week, it is also a strong contender in this year’s Tony Awards and I for one think that there is no better time than now, to see a show that reminds us of the goodness in the world and how even in the face of tragedy, people will always come together to give each other strength and love.

Come From Away is currently running at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre (236 West 45th Street). Running Time: 1 hour 40 minutes. For more information and ticket availability, visit its website here. $38 rush tickets are available from the box office every morning.

 

 

Who’s Who? – My suggestions for the next Doctor!

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Peter Capaldi has announced that he will leave Doctor Who during this year’s Christmas special. Personally, I’m disappointed Capaldi isn’t staying for longer. He’s a great Doctor, but I think the episodes he’s had under Steven Moffat have been somewhat patchy and I would have liked to see his Doctor under Chris Chibnall’s new era. Sadly it’s not to be.

The announcement has unsurprisingly been followed by speculation as to who should replace him. I’ve seen some rather wacky suggestions over the last few days, including actors far too famous (and therefore expensive) to take the role and so it made me start to think about who I’d like to see. Yes, I agree some of the names flying around would be great (Ben Whishaw, Bill Nighy, Rory Kinnear etc.), but I just don’t think they are realistic and so I’ve tried to keep this list within the realms of possibility!

I’ll start with a disclaimer – Personally, I don’t see the Doctor as a woman. I know not everyone agrees with this and I respect that, but for me, the Doctor is a man and I don’t see myself as doing a disservice to my gender by saying that. My list therefore reflects my view.

  • Kris Marshall

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I’ve been a big fan of Kris Marshall for years and now he’s leaving Death In Paradise, having him become the next Doctor would keep him on my television screen! He’s quirky, capable of comedic and serious work and would bring a new sparkle of fun to the TARDIS. He’s therefore top of my wish list. He also left Death In Paradise to be nearer his family, so regular work in the UK would be perfect for him.

  • Bertie Carvel

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Bertie Carvel is a fantastic actor, whose stage work is always a joy and although he’s started to be seen more on television (most recently in Doctor Foster), he’s not too famous that having him join Doctor Who doesn’t seem farfetched. I could easily see him handling both light-hearted and darker stories and I can already picture him doing a kick-ass “I’m the Doctor” speech.

  • John Heffernen

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John Heffernen has been one of my favourite actors since I saw him on stage in 2010 in After The Dance. Why would he make a great Doctor? The answer is his versatility. I’ve seen him tackle all manner of roles on stage and each time he brings a new energy to his work. Although this would take him away from the stage, I’d be willing to accept it if he was swapping this for such a plum television role!

  • Rafe Spall

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I’ve included Rafe Spall on my list, but I already accept he may already be too famous to be in the position to be open to taking such a role. As his current role in the National Theatre’s Hedda Gabler proves yet again, he has a wonderful way of being able to pivot effortlessly from a playful to dark (and often chilling – did you see The Shadow Line?!) personality and he’s already proved he can take on strong roles in BBC drama.

  • Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje

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I first came across Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje as Mr. Eko in Lost and loved the air of mystery he brought to that role. It’s that sense of being a bit of an enigma that I think he’d be able to bring to Doctor Who. With recent Hollywood films Concussion and Suicide Squad on his CV, as well as a brief spell in Game of Thrones, he’s not an unknown, but is still growing in exposure. He’s probably also a good age for the iconic Timelord.

  • Sacha Dhawan

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Sacha Dhawan is steadily building up a solid television career, which has included roles in a two of Mark Gatiss’s projects (the creepy The Tractate Middoth and the story behind Doctor Who, An Adventure in Time and Space), not to mention a role in the latest series of Sherlock, as well as Line of Duty and Mr Selfridge. He’s certainly an actor on the rise, but someone not too well known, meaning he could bring something fresh to the series, while at the same time building his own profile.

  • Stephen Mangan

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Stephen Mangan’s name has come up in connection with the role of the Doctor in the past and I have to admit, I quite like the idea. If the BBC are wanting a more established name, he provides that, while also bringing a solid career of work with him of roles that don’t just include comedy. He’s also suitably quirky (and his friendship with David Tennant could lure the latter back for the odd cameo)!

  • Jonjo O’Neill

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Another theatre favourite of mine is Jonjo O’Neill, who has impressed me on stage with some unforgettable performances. He is also building his television career, with roles in the last series of The Fall and even a small part in the 50th anniversary special of Doctor Who. Jonjo has an energy that not all actors possess (anyone who saw him as Mercutio for the Royal Shakespeare Company or in the recent Royal Court play Unreachable with Matt Smith, can attest to this). Anyone taking on the Doctor needs to have a strong screen presence and someone with the mesmerising quality he has would be an ideal choice.

……

So, those are my top choices to be the next inhabitant of the TARDIS. What do you think? It’s certainly going to be an interesting time for Doctor Who fans as we await a new series this Spring, as well as any information on what Chris Chibnall has in mind (will he have a writer’s room and who will he pick for it? will he turn to some directors from RTD’s era of the series?).

One thing is certain, it’s Doctor Who’s ability to constantly refresh itself with each new Doctor that makes it so fun to watch!

Top Television to watch in 2017!

I can’t believe it’s the end of the year already, which means it’s time to look ahead to the top television choices for 2017. Personally, I think 2016 was a superb year for television, whether returning shows or new ones (my look back at 2016’s excellent television will be posted in the next few days) and the new year is already looking rather promising.

So, here are the 17 programmes that I’m most excited about tuning in to in 2017 (well it’s 18 actually, but I’m sure you’ll let me off). As I’m in the UK, air dates and channels are those for the UK.

Sherlock (series 4, BBC One, starts 1st January)

Sherlock S4 - GenericWell, Sherlock was always going to be on my list of hotly anticipated television for the new year! After last Christmas’s slightly bizarre special, series four arrives and from the trailers promises to be a much darker affair. With Toby Jones on board to play this year’s baddie and Andrew Scott making an appearance (in flashback? still alive? who knows), I have high hopes. Sherlock deserves its hype thanks to its strong cast, direction, writing and music and I hope the next three episodes will only leave us wanting more!

Broadchurch  (series 3, ITV, expected Spring 2017)

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Returning in early 2017 for its third and final series is one of ITV’s strongest dramas for years. I know I’m in a minority when I say I really did enjoy the second series of Broadchurch (it really does benefit from a rewatch), but even if you preferred series one, the partnership of David Tennant and Olivia Colman is always a joy and I’m intrigued to see what drama awaits the residents of this Dorset community.

Suits (Dave, series 6B returns 29th January)

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I’ve recently started watching Suits again and had forgotten how much I loved it. Now up to date, I’m looking forward to seeing the continuation of series 6 when the series returns in 2017. One of the show’s biggest strengths is how it continues to adapt the focus of the series as it goes along and after quite a few changes over the last couple of years, it will be very interesting to see what’s next for the gang. I’d quite like to see Harvey’s mother make an appearance, to see how he copes with that emotional hurdle, but we’ll have to see. Oh, and more hand holding with Donna please Harvey!

Taboo (BBC One, starts 7th January)

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A new eight part drama for BBC One is Taboo, created by Peaky Blinders’ Steven Knight, British actor Tom Hardy (whose international reputation continues to grow following his Oscar nominated performance in The Revenant) and his father, writer Chips Hardy. Set in 1814, Hardy plays James Keziah Delaney, a man believed to be dead who returns to London from Africa to inherit his father’s business and avenge his death.  With a supporting cast including Mark Gatiss, Tom Hollander and Jonathan Pryce and with Ridley Scott on board as an executive producer, this will certainly be an epic start to BBC One’s year.

24: Legacy (FOX, starts 15th February)

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I admit I struggled with the idea of 24 without Jack Bauer and I’m still sceptical, but I’m willing to give this reboot of one of my favourite series a go. Yes, there’s no Kiefer Sutherland, but if the storylines continue to grab my attention and interest with the help of 24’s signature real-time format and if the acting is up to scratch, this could be very enjoyable indeed. I really do hope it proves to be worthy successor to the original run.

Making A Murderer (Netflix, date TBC)

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The first series of this documentary in to the case of convicted murderer Steven Avery and his nephew Brendan Dassey both shocked and infuriated me and millions of other viewers. I’ve continued to follow the events online and it will be fascinating to get under the skin of this continuing case, as those representing Avery and Dassey continue to fight to unearth the truth behind the tragic murder of Teresa Halbach.

Guerilla (Sky Atlantic, date TBC)

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Written by John Ridley (who won an Oscar for the 12 Years A Slave screenplay), this drama set in the 1970s London revolves around black activism, when a young couple liberate a political prisoner from an underground cell. The couple’s ultimate target becomes the Black Power Desk, a secret counter-intelligence unit within Special Branch dedicated to eradicating such activism. Starring Idris Elba, together with a very strong cast for theatre lovers like me, including Rory Kinnear, Daniel Mays and Denise Gough this powerful series is near the top of my list for 2017.

Stranger Things (Netflix, date TBC)

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Stranger Things’s mix of spooky, supernatural and classic 80s nostalgia was a real highlight of television this year and I’m already looking forward to seeing where the characters are a year on, when series two returns in 2017. We don’t know much yet, but set in 1984, it’ll be lovely to see what nods to the films of that era make it in to the series (it has already been said that Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom will be an influence). With all the wonderful kids returning (including Millie Bobby Brown as Eleven), as well as the other regulars from series one, this is sure to be as addictive as series one.

Prison Break (series 5, channel and date TBC)

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It’s time to break out of yet another prison! I’m still surprised about the return of this series, which did get rather bonkers by the fourth series. However, as we left the show with Michael supposedly dead, it will be interesting to see how they explain away his reappearance back behind bars! Those behind the show have said that this is a one-off event series, which will conclude the Prison Break story and as most of the original cast are back, I’m very curious to see it. Hurry up UK and announce how I can watch this!

Big Little Lies (Sky Atlantic, date TBC)

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Remember when people were shocked at the idea of a successful film actor choosing to do a TV series? Thankfully this is now commonplace and 2017 sees the arrival of HBO’s new series based on Liane Moriarty’s novel, starring Reese Witherspoon, Nicola Kidman and Shailene Woodley, as mothers of children at the same kindergarten. As their children become friends, their lives are apparently turned upside down as secrets are revealed. HBO and Sky Atlantic (who are airing it here in the UK) are doing a great job of not giving too much away as yet!

Game of Thrones (series 7, Sky Atlantic, summer 2017)

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Let’s face it, Game of Thrones will be on this list for the next two years before the series ends! After moving past the books, the thrill now when tuning in to Game of Thrones is that anything really could happen and whether you’ve read them or not, all of its fans are now in the same boat. As Daenerys makes her way across the sea with her army and her dragons, it’ll be fantastic to see some of our favourite characters hopefully come together at long last. Will Jaime have to kill Cersei? Will Jon and Sansa finally reunite with Arya? Will the game of thrones really matter if the White Walkers breach the Wall? I can’t wait to find out!

Twin Peaks (series 3, Sky Atlantic, date TBC)

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I remember dipping in and out of Twin Peaks when I was younger so that I could see David Duchovny playing Denise. To my shame I’ve always intended to revisit it and give this cult classic the attention everyone tells me it deserves. I now have the boxset and what better time to watch it than now, before David Lynch and Mark Frost’s series returns after 25 years?! With Kyle MacLachlan back as Dale Cooper and many others returning (including, I hear, Mr Duchovny!), together with actors such as Jim Belushi and Laura Dern said to be making appearances, this is sure to be one of the most talked about series on television in 2017.

Riviera (Sky Atlantic, date TBC)

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Another film actress leading a new television drama is Julia Stiles in Riviera. Created by writer and director Neil Jordan (based on an idea by Paul McGuinness and co-written by Booker Prize-winning author John Banville), this thriller is set on the French Riviera. When her husband is killed in a yacht explosion, Stiles’s character sets out to uncover the truth of what happened to him, only to discover the truth about the activities he was really involved in. It sounds as if this could be this year’s The Night Manager (pity there is no Tom Hiddleston though)!

Death In Paradise (series 6, BBC One, starts 5th January)

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I do love Death In Paradise! What better winter pick me up is there than the glorious island life of Saint Marie (actually Guadeloupe) and the lovely Humphrey Goodman played by Kris Marshall? Yes it can be a bit silly, but that’s part of its charm and these murder mysteries are always great fun. Also, series six apparently includes a two-part story set in London. It’ll be brilliant if we get to see the rest of the gang trying to adapt to Humphrey’s world for a change!

Doctor Who (series 10, BBC One, date TBC)

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After no new series of Doctor Who during 2016, I’m looking forward to the return of Peter Capaldi aboard the TARDIS during 2017. With a new companion Bill Potts (played by Pearl Mackie) who we’ll meet on Christmas Day, it will be interesting to see a new duo flying through time and space having adventures. Rumours are circling that Capaldi may call it a day after this series to make way for a new Doctor when Chris Chibnall takes the helm. I hope he doesn’t leave, but either way, I intend to enjoy a new set of episodes of this BBC classic.

Fearless (ITV, date TBC)

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We still know very little about this new ITV drama. However, the simple fact it stars Helen McCrory is enough for me. Also starring Sir Michael Gambon, all we know at the moment is that it is a six part legal conspiracy thriller in which McCrory plays a solicitor determined to free a man she believes was wrongly convicted of the murder of a child. However, it seems forces in the police and intelligence community are just as determined to stop her. Written by one of the writers of Homeland, I have high hopes for this series.

The Crown (series 2, Netflix, hopefully late 2017)

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After all the hype, it was thrilling to discover that Netflix’s drama documenting the early years of the reign of Queen Elizabeth II was utterly superb. The writing, direction, costumes, realistic sets, stirring score and excellent acting from the whole cast means that series two can’t come quickly enough. We don’t yet know how many years the series will cover, but it’s already been confirmed that it’ll be the last series with the current actors, before older actors move the decades forward as the Queen’s reign unfolds.

Line of Duty (series 4, BBC One, date TBC)

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Okay, so this makes 18, but on hearing that the new series of Line of Duty will likely air in 2017, I really couldn’t leave it out. Without a doubt, this has been one of the greatest dramas of recent years, with each series building on the success of the first. After the nail-biting end to series three, it’ll be interesting to see what’s in store for the team of AC-12 when the show moves from BBC Two to BBC One. If you haven’t watched it, then get catching up fast!

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So those are my picks for 2017 and that’s only based on what has already been announced, so who knows what other shows we’ll be enjoying over the next twelve months! For now though, enjoy the Christmas television offerings!

Theatre Review -Political games aplenty as James Graham’s This House returns to the stage!

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One of my theatre highlights of 2012 was standing behind the back benchers in the House of Commons (well the National Theatre’s Cottesloe Theatre really) and watching James Graham’s superb new play This House; a play that made politics come to life and sparkled as the razor sharp dialogue pinged across the aisle of the House.

After the tumultuous political year we have seen in Britain, where unimaginable events have followed at each others’ heels as if episodes from a new television drama, there seems no better time for this brilliant production to return and this weekend saw me take a trip to Chichester to see This House once again, prior to its arrival at the Garrick Theatre in London next month.

The play begins in the Britain of 1974, after the February election resulted in a hung Parliament. Labour took power from the Conservatives as the biggest party, but without a majority. As Labour’s Chief Whip puts it – “we’ve got the bigger boat, but they’ve got more oars.” Over the course of the play, we watch as each side makes side deals and promises aplenty with the “odds and sods” MPs in order to try and topple the numbers in their favour and as the votes on each Bill before the House grow ever tighter and the gloves come off, it is the job of the whips to do everything in their power to see that their side is the winner.

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Steffan Rhodri & Nathaniel Parker (Photo: Johan Persson)

 

It’s a testament to the writing that this play seems as pertinent today as it did the first time around and in some instances even more so; the discussion as to whether to go for an EU referendum vote or not being particularly ironic in our Brexit world (I must check if Mr Graham has rewritten any of the dialogue in light of June’s events). It’s also Graham’s ability to write so brilliantly, the many characters of differing backgrounds, ideals and personalities across the aisle that results in so many ridiculous arguments, all of which are a joy to watch. The desperate lengths the whips go to, to ensure every MP is present for crucial votes as Labour cling to power, seem a work of fiction, except you can’t help but imagine that similar events probably did happen!

Some of the original cast have returned to the play including Phil Daniels as Labour’s Chief Whip Bob Mellish and Lauren O’Neil as Ann Taylor, the woman determined to fit in to the boys’ club. However, what’s wonderful here is how the new additions to the cast have blended in seamlessly. I did love Philip Glenister originally, but Steffan Rhodri is excellent in the role of Walter Harrison, the best deputy whip the House has ever seen. He also has a fantastic chemistry with his opposite Tory number Nathaniel Parker as Jack Weatherill. Parker is a fine stage actor and a worthy successor to Charles Edwards. He brings a great deal to his role and despite their differences, the mutual respect these two men have for each other is clear.

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Photo: Johan Persson

 

Malcolm Sinclair is superb as the upper-class Tory Chief Whip Humphrey Atkins and he adds an extra layer of dry-humoured, elitism to the character, which made me laugh on many occasions – his utter horror at the thought of watching Coronation Street just one example of his ability to bring humour through Atkins’s disdain!

As well as a strong cast and a tautly written script, the other star of This House is Rae Smith’s set, which adds a further dimension with the inclusion of its Commons audience seating. It remains an excellent way of not only replicating the image of the Commons and its packed benches, but also drawing the audience further in. You are literally part of the furniture, watching the back room deals up close!

Whether or not you think politics matters to you, it undeniably affects us all and this play shines a light on a particularly interesting period of political history in an incredibly entertaining way. With such a talent for making politics fresh and engrossing (since This House premiered, Graham has brought us the wonderful The Vote on stage as well as Coalition on television), I can only imagine what James Graham could create if he ever writes about the politics of 2016!

No matter your political leaning, you’re sure to enjoy This House. It is witty, engaging and rather touching in places and with such a strong ensemble, it is yet again guaranteed to take London by storm. Buy your tickets while you can (and if possible make it a Commons seat too)!

This House continues at the Festival Theatre, Chichester until 29th October. It then transfers to the Garrick Theatre in London from 18th November – 25th February 2017. For more information visit the theatre websites:

Chichester: https://www.cft.org.uk/whats-on/event/this-house

London:  https://www.nationaltheatre.org.uk/shows/this-house

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