Thursday, 27 November 2014

Competition: win Billy Elliot The Musical Live on DVD

Recorded a couple of months ago, Billy Elliot The Musical Live has now been released on Blu-ray, DVD and digital download and I have 3 copies of the DVD to give away to you lucky readers. You can read my review of it here and find out more about it here but in order to win, you just need to answer this simple question.

Which former Prime Minister has a song about them in Billy Elliot which begins ‘Merry Christmas…’
a) Tony Blair
b) Margaret Thatcher
c) Clement Attlee

To enter, send your answer by email to ianfoster32 at gmail.com, including your name and postal address by 3rd December. Successful entries will be notified by email by 5th December.

Terms and conditions 
I ain’t grand enough to have terms and conditions – just do as the good lady RuPaul says and don’t f*ck it up. 

Competition: win Michael Flatley’s Lord of the Dance – Dangerous Games on DVD

Michael Flatley’s Lord of the Dance – Dangerous Games took the London Palladium by storm earlier this year and will be returning to the West End in March next year at the Dominion Theatre as part of its world tour. If you’re a fan of the fleet-footed Flatley then this new staging of the show will be right up your alley and is available on Blu-ray, DVD and digital download. I do however have 3 copies on DVD to give away to you if you can answer the following question correctly. 

Which former Girls Aloud singer is a part of Dangerous Games
a) Nadine Coyle
b) Cheryl Tweedy-Cole-Fernandez-Versini
c) Sarah Harding

To enter, send your answer by email to ianfoster32 at gmail.com, including your name and postal address by 3rd December. Successful entries will be notified by email by 5th December.

Terms and conditions 
I ain’t grand enough to have terms and conditions – just do as the good lady RuPaul says and don’t f*ck it up. 

Review: Theatre Uncut 2014, Soho Theatre

“Knock knock,
Who’s there,
The Welfare State…”

The Theatre Uncut initiative was set up in 2010 as a response to the proposed government cuts in arts spending as it invited a number of playwrights to write short plays which would then be available to download and perform “rights-free in a week of mass theatrical action”. An impressive array of writers – Neil LaBute, Mark Ravenhill, Lucy Kirkwood - have gotten involved across the past few years and one of this year’s best new plays – Clara Brennan’s Spine – started life in this format in 2012.

Devised as a way of creating a rapid response to current political concerns, this year’s theme has coalesced around the provovation ‘Knowledge is Power, Knowledge is Change’ and the five writers collaboratively involved are Anders Lustgarten, Clara Brennan, Inua Ellams, Vivienne Franzmann and Hayley Squires. And a motley crew they make up, punching hard with a raw energy that is variable and visceral and vocal and vibrant.

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Review: The Hypochondriac, Richmond Theatre

“Keep your sex and rock'n'roll
But leave the drugs, I'll take them all"

Queer, faggot, poof, shirtlifter…it’s the kind of language that is thankfully becoming rarer in public discourse and yet, it still creeps in with an alarming regularity that means it will be a long time before it truly becomes verboten in a similar manner to the n-word. I raise this as Richard Bean’s recent playwriting is particularly guilty of this – Great Britain had multiple references (though with no published script, I can’t quote ‘em), Made in Dagenham had a handful of faggots and his version of The Hypochondriac features poofs and AIDS jokes, delivered without irony in front of a replica of Gilbert and George’s Spunk Blood Piss Shit Spit

The arguments are easily made – ‘oh, that is what people said in today’s tabloid offices/1970s factories/sixteenth century France’ – but the worry, for me, comes in the audience reaction and the legitimisation that is implicit in the inclusion of such language in a comedic environment. It is an assumption I’m making but it really doesn’t feel like the laughter that comes from a character being labelled a faggot or poof comes from a good place, or any kind of interrogation of what it means to use such words.

Short Film Review #59

Toilets from Gabriel Bisset-Smith on Vimeo.
Gabriel Bisset-Smith’s Toilets is a great twist on your average rom-com, focusing on the people that just pop into your life every now and again but leaving such lasting impressions that one always wonders what if… For George, it is the American Fee who is his recurring theme, always appearing when he’s in the middle of something with his almost-out lesbian friend Link, and these fleeting moments are brilliantly conceived. Centring these encounters around conveniences is a neat way of linking them and the common threads of sex, drugs and dance music add an entertaining edge to this almost-love story.

Monday, 24 November 2014

DVD Review: Billy Elliot Live

“When the stars look down and know our history”

And what history there is to behold - a run in the West End which has stretched for nearly a decade now, a company that ranges from ages 6 to 84 (surely a record!), a live broadcast to cinemas worldwide which was the first event cinema release to top the UK box office and which contained a finale that brought together 25 young men who have all played the role of Billy. That recording of Billy Elliott the Musical has now been released on DVD so that the theatrical experience can now be recreated in the comfort of your own home and allows to see the detail that you may have missed from your seat in the Victoria Palace Theatre. 

That’s the crucial bit really. For all those that worry that filmed recordings are going to replace live theatre, there does seem to be a missing of this salient point that not everyone sees the show from prime seats in the centre stalls. The magic of the theatrical experience can and is tempered by uncomfortable seats and unfortunate viewing lines – so a DVD offering close-ups and other unique shots offers a much-welcomed addition to that experience - and as reasonable a deal as £105 is for a family ticket (the starting price I should add), £15 or so enables a necessary widening of access to a show, which captivate a new audience so much they decide to book tickets – this isn’t a zero-sum game.

Review: Off the Page – Microplays 1-3 from the Royal Court and the Guardian


“I smoke fish...all the time” 

The Guardian have partnered with the Royal Court to create a series of what they are calling microplays (short films by any other name, and I assume they’re trying to differentiate this from the short films that are being done in collaboration with the Young Vic…) on a range of six subjects. Each one – food, fashion, music, sport, education and politics - has seen a Guardian journalist work with a playwright to gain inspiration to create a minutes-long microplay which is then rapidly brought to life by some high-class directors and actors and hosted on the Guardian’s website. 

The most recent of these is Death of England, written by Roy Williams and directed by Clint Dyer after a discussion with the Guardian’s Barney Ronay. It features Rafe Spall in scintillating form as a grieving working-class son at his father’s funeral who makes an ill-advised attempt at a eulogy which quickly degenerates into a rant about football and race, conflicted ideas about English identity and the state of the national team and notions of what loyalty really means. It couldn’t be a more hot-button topic if it tried (due to the efforts of my hometown team) but it is Spall’s captivating performance of Williams’ insightful script that really grips. 

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Review: Sheltered, Tabard

“This is the only reason I look forward to Christmas Day”

Those looking for a little counterintuitive Christmas theatre programming could do worse than head over to Turnham Green where a middle class Christmas Day dinner descends into a cross between Abigail’s Party and The Hunger Games. Greg A Smith’s Sheltered is a spikily amusing play about “the homeless and the heartless” and delivers its twists and turns with skill in Stuart Watson’s production for Against the Grain at the Tabard Theatre.

From the outset, it’s clear that this isn’t going to be your traditional Christmas Day as would-be YouTube celebrity Jenna sets up a hidden camera in anticipation of some major pranking, and her parents Tamsin and Harry welcome in their special guest – a homeless guy called Rory, the fifth such person they’ve invited in in what has become an annual tradition, goodwill to all men indeed. As the goose roasts, the parsnips get honeyed and the party games come out, the atmosphere becomes increasingly charged and we soon find out why.

Review: Man To Man, Park

“It was risky, but I had no choice”

There’s something truly extraordinary in Tricia Kelly’s performance in this one-woman play Man To Man. As Elsa Gericke, she plays a woman who chooses to abandon her identity and take on her recently deceased husband’s, along with his job, in order to achieve a measure of independence and a shot at surviving through the harsh times of economic depression in 1920s Germany. This decision affects the rest of her life, or his life, as she maintains the deception at great cost during the troubled history of the following decades.

Caught between who she is and who she was, Kelly never lets us forget that her whole persona is a performance - something being acted as a disguise - with aching hints of that sublimated femininity everpresent. The play is told by Gericke looking back on her life, slipping effortlessly betwixt past and present through a sozzled haze of schnapps and from the collapsed armchair of Eleanor Field’s design and the dim richness of Sarah McColgan’s lighting, Kelly utterly owns the smaller of the Park’s theatres with a fearsome display of acting.

Preview: Assassins, Menier Chocolate Factory

“Angry men don't write the rules and guns don't right the wrongs”

The season to be jolly is fast approaching but if the idea of Christmas cheer in the theatre leaves you, well, less than cheerful, then the Menier Chocolate Factory's festive offering this year may well be up your street. The highly prolific director Jamie Lloyd is taking on Stephen Sondheim's Assassins, which sees Sondheim's music and lyrics coiled around John Weidman's book exploring the men and women who tried (whether successfully or not) to assassinate a President of the United States.

It's hardly the most Christmassy of shows and I think that is pretty much the point. And Sondheim's enduring popularity (especially at this venue) makes it a safe bet even before the luxurious quality of the cast and company comes into the equation. I saw the first preview on Friday, my booking radar having gone a little awry as I was away when the tickets were released, so instead of reviewing the production, I'm offering you 10 things to look forward to and look out for and if I get to see the show later in the run, I'll review it 'properly' then. Here be mild production spoilers (all hidden behind links).    

Saturday, 22 November 2014

Review: Girlfriends, Union

"I’ve left my job and my boyfriend called Bob"

The Howard Goodall season at the Union Theatre, soon to move to new premises, has been one of its more enterprising moves in recent times. Love Story and the dreaming both had their moments but the third piece in the trilogy – Girlfriends – feels like the weakest of the lot. Bronagh Lagan’s production can’t do much to disguise the reasons that the show was a commercial flop on its 1987 debut but also adds its own complications with a truly unnecessarily awkward staging choice – how this wasn’t picked up on earlier on is baffling.

The show itself suffers from promising one thing – looking at the experience of working women in the Second World War – and delivering another – the romantic travails of two of them. The company is even split 10 to 2, women to men, and yet the focus settles firmly on this pair of love stories to the severe detriment of many of the supporting characters who remain scarcely sketched caricatures. That three men collaborated on the book – Richard Curtis and John Retellack along with Goodall – might be part of the problem.

Saturday afternoon music treats

Bonnie Langford – Puttin’ On The Ritz
Huge amounts of fun and footwork from a woman who amazingly looks pretty much the same now, nearly 20 years later.


Cassidy Janson – Nightbird Cries (from Cheri the Musical)
Gorgeous, just gorgeous.