Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Review: Brendan Cole - Licence to Thrill

Up close, Brendan Cole has a really nice arse.

I know this because, apparently, in Croydon row C of a theatre is the front row and so it was that I found myself getting an excellent view of Mr Cole and all of his appealing features when I saw his tour Licence to Thrill last week.

Now, I’m going to try really hard to not make this post a straight up Brendan’s tour vs Anton’s tour post but – having seen all six of Anton’s tours and being a devoted Antonette – there’s a certain inevitability that that’s what it will become.

So let’s get one thing out of the way first: I preferred and will always prefer Anton’s 100% ballroom tours. Brendan’s tours incorporate Latin and ballroom dances, with an emphasis on the former, and I just don’t like the Latin as much. It doesn’t matter how well they’re danced or who is dancing them, they just don’t do it for me.

That said, if you do want to see a show that incorporates the full range of the dances you see on Strictly then you could certainly do far worse than checking out LTT. It’s a really fun show with a great party atmosphere and some stand out numbers. You have to wait until Act 2 for all of them, but the cape dance (basically a man only paso doble; much like most of the sports in the winter Olympics, I don’t understand the point but man was it fun to watch), the Dirty Dancing tribute number complete with iconic lift and the mind bendingly fast jive to Footloose that closes the show are all fantastic.

Brendan is a great dancer too and you certainly get more of a sense of his personality – and that he’s enjoying himself – in his dances than you do in Anton’s. My dislike of the genre aside, I love watching his fast Latin on Strictly and it’s even better up close and personal. The ballroom numbers were lovely too, especially the simple and romantic waltz.

His supporting cast, including fellow Strictly pro Aliona Vilani (who I was amazingly un-annoyed by) and Brendan’s older brother Scott amongst others – are generally pretty good too. Music is provided by two singers (female good, male a slightly cringey amalgamation of every Heart FM DJ ever who carries a tune quite nicely) and a decent band, under the direction of a delightfully deadpan musical director/pianist/MC.  

For all the fun of the show, it’s definitely not as polished as Anton’s (sorry, I am trying). There were a number of quite noticeable mistakes in the dancing, my favourite being Scott Cole coming very close to dropping his partner at one point, and the music. It’s always awkward when a trumpeter splits a note so badly during a solo that the sharp intake of breath from the audience is audible. There are also, for my money, a couple of pretty ropey routines. The ‘girls vs boys’ section springs to mind, especially the ‘girls’ portion which consisted of a weird burlesque routine, to the strains of a slowed down version of The Locomotion, with a dollop of lipstick lesbianism thrown in for good measure. I didn’t get it and I never want to see it again. I did want to see more of Brendan though – it felt like there was a lot of reliance on the backing dancers to pad out the show and mask costume changes and if I was a diehard Brendan fan I would probably have been a bit pissed off.

The night I saw the show, though, all of my nitpicking was put to one side as we got a massive treat. Sophie Ellis Bextor was in the audience and turned up in the second act Q&A to dance her amazing Charleston with Brendan. If you thought this was a great routine on TV, it was magical in the flesh. I genuinely feel incredibly lucky to have seen it, and it was lovely to see all of the other dancers watching from the wings with proud big brother Scott recording it on his ipad. It may have only been a few minutes in a two hour show, but it was worth the price of the ticket all on its own.

Licence to Thrill is touring the UK throughout February and March and is certainly worth a look. Try and get front row seats if you appreciate a nice arse. 

Sunday, 23 February 2014

Weekend Wishlist

I'm all about the accessories this week...


Givenchy Obsedia tote

Givenchy's bags are to die for at the moment. I love the beautiful detail on the silver catch. The satchel sharp and clean lines make this an object of serious lust for me.

Want? It's from Net-a-Porter for £1650.


Amedeo rose gold-plated, sardonyx shell and diamond monkey cameo ring

I mean it's a monkey in a crown and a ruff. What more do you need to know?! I love the chunky rose gold setting too.

Does this drive you bananas (sorry)? It's Net-a-Porter again and will set you back £1260.


PB0110 leather backpack

I'm a sucker for a good backpack and this cyan leather beauty is just great. The colour and clean lines do it for me, plus the hardy leather would make it an excellent investment piece.

Want it? It's from Selfridges and a relative snip at £340. (My birthday's coming up, by the way.)


Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Review: King Lear

One of the great things about London theatre is the variety of stuff you can see. Variety of medium, variety of tone, variety of theme, variety of story, the choices are endless.

Variety of quality is also sometimes there too. Case in point: having seen the execrable Stephen Ward one night, a few nights later we were off to see the fantastic King Lear.

There were no free seat upgrades this time - in fact it was literally standing room only - as the NT's production is, to use that god awful cliche, the hottest ticket in town. It doesn't take a genius to work out why that might be. Directed by Sam Mendes and starring the phenomenal Simon Russell Beale, the production has awesome written all over it. In large writing. In permanent marker.

And it really doesn't disappoint. The production is staged on a minimalist set, which makes clever use of video and projection (the storm sequence in particular is really well done), in modern dress and casts Lear as an autocratic dictator. The pacing, so often my complaint in Shakespearean productions, is swift and the action positively zips along (which is helpful as the play still comes in with a running time of three hours plus and my attention span is increasingly short these days). 

Mendes' vision of the play and its titular lead character does much to make both accessible. The idea of making Lear the dictator figure gives a modern audience who don't know the play well (eg me) a useful reference point that helps to explain his motivations. Ditto the foregrounding from Act 1 Scene 1 and throughout the play of the idea that Lear's 'madness' is actually dementia. I found the planting of these two ideas about Lear really useful in understanding his actions and the way the story unfolds. 

Of course King Lear is one of the great Shakespearean parts and Simon Russell Beale's incarnation is fantastic. Shaven headed and with an excellent beard, his Lear is a brutal, insecure but ultimately touchingly tragic figure. SRB plays the progression from one to t'other very subtly. Frighteningly angry and violent initially, for me the most effective part of this performance is watching Lear's decay. There are some beautiful moments along the way - the conversation he has with The Fool (Adrian Scarborough on excellent, mischievous form) in which he pleads 'tell me I'm not going mad' - and some incredible details - the nervous scratching that becomes more pronounced as his condition worsens. The final scenes where he is reunited with the exiled Cordelia (another excellent NT Shakespeare showing from Olivia Vinall) are heartbreaking. I think I've read it said somewhere that every generation has its Lear, and if Simon Russell Beale is mine then I'm totally cool with that. 

Elsewhere, the supporting cast is universally strong. And pretty huge - there are a lot of non-speaking soldier/knight roles in this production which really add to it's sense of grandeur and use the slightly cavernous space of the NT's Olivier stage to great effect. Worth particular mention are Stephen Boxer who is fantastic as the Earl of Gloucester, Anna Maxwell Martin on particularly venomous form as Regan, Stanley Townsend mastering various accents and a sense of quiet dignity with aplomb as Kent and Sam Troughton as malcontent Edmund, a bit of a Shakespeare-by-numbers villain but played with evil joy throughout. 

This fantastic production is on an extended - and largely sold out - run at the NT until May and you should definitely try and get one of the few remaining tickets. Even if you have to, like, sell a limb or something. It's definitely worth it.

Monday, 17 February 2014

BAFTAs: best dressed

We're so close to the Oscars now you can almost smell the stylists sweating and this weekend's BAFTA Awards was the final dress rehearsal. And for some ladies it went very well...

Angelina Jolie in Saint Laurent

Stop everything, because this is major. I'm not sure what I love most about this look. The tailoring of the suit is perfect. I adore the faux bow tie detailing on the shirt. The accessories (lack of) just work. But I think the main thing that makes this look rock is the attitude it's worn with. The sheer casualness, the sense of 'I'm Angelina Jolie and if I want to wear a suit then I'm going to wear a fucking suit', is so quietly sexy that it just blows my tiny mind.

Lupita Nyong'o in Christian Dior Couture

Looking better on a red carpet in CDC than Jennifer Lawrence ever has (sorry, J-Law, I still totes love you), Lupita is three for three for awards season fashion hits. Love the colour, love the fit, love the accessories (especially the cute double pearl earrings) and love the smokey eye makeup. I cannot wait to see her Oscars gown.

Uma Thurman in Atelier Versace

Navy blue is such an underrated colour; equally sexy but a bit more interesting than black. This dress is a complete knockout on the statuesque Uma. I love the single string diamond choker which packs a punch whilst still letting this impeccably fitting dress (and her incredible figure) do all the talking. Top marks for the 'undone' hair too. Proof that sometimes less is definitely more.

Amy Adams in Victoria Beckham

I do love me some VB. Not a designer you see that often on the big red carpets, this sexy column gown is 100% grown up, understated glam. It's an interesting choice for Amy A too - you don't often see her in black. The styling is bang on theme - understated, simple, dark - and I love the collar detailing.

Olga Kurylenko in Burberry

It's the sultry, scaly skirt on this beautiful Burberry dress that's doing it for me. I love the bronze and coppery colour and the fit is perfect; contrasted with the cute black bodice the look is dramatic and sleek. Again, the less-is-more approach to the styling is winning me over, especially the barely-there makeup.

Sunday, 16 February 2014

Weekend Wishlist

I'm in love with a coat and I think you need to meet him...

Miu Miu wool-blend jacquard coat

Look at this. Just look at it. LOOK AT IT.
I'm so into this coat that it's getting a Weekend Wishlist all of its own. There's nothing I don't love about it. The colour is bang on trend. The print is adorable. I love the fun oversize buttons and cuffs. And look at those super useful pockets, with the print lining up perfectly. It's perfect and I want it.
You want it too? Good luck. Currently sold out basically everywhere, but theoretically available at Net-a-Porter for £1930.


Friday, 14 February 2014

Review: Stephen Ward

"Car crash (noun, informal): a chaotic or disastrous situation that holds a ghoulish fascination for observers." 

It's rarely a good sign when you walk into a theatre to be told that you're getting a free upgrade on your seats. It's an even less good sign when you're told that everyone sitting in the same tier of the audience is getting a similar upgrade. Even on a school night in the midst of this Game of Thrones style perma-winter, it's not encouraging that any West End show is leaving a whole tier of seats empty.

So it was, then, that we had excellent seats from which to enjoy Andrew Lloyd Weber's new musical Stephen Ward, the story of the society osteopath who was embroiled in, and ultimately destroyed by, the Profumo Affair in the 1960s. It was Ward who 'discovered' Christine Keeler and introduced her to both Minister for War John Profumo and Russian naval attache Yevgeny Ivanov. The show tells the story of how Ward was (allegedly) scapegoated in the ensuing scandal and ultimately took his own life to avoid the disgrace of being convicted and jailed for, essentially, pimping.

It's an interesting story, based on genuine (if contested) historical incidents, and a characteristically odd choice for a musical from a man whose previous work includes shows about cats and trains. And of course a cracking political musical in Evita.  

It's also the worst musical I have ever seen. 

But here's the thing - and here's why I think you should definitely get tickets to see this show before it closes (presumably quite soon) - it's so bad, so mind bendingly awful, that it makes for a very entertaining night at the theatre. 

It's unintentionally hilarious. 

It is the definition of car crash viewing: you want to stop watching, but you just can't.

Where to start on what's wrong with it? Well it's a musical so let's start with the songs. I suppose the first thing to note is how completely unmemorable they are. With one extraordinarily annoying exception (of which more later) I can't remember even a few bars of any of the music. I know that I reached the very certain conclusion that one of the songs in Act 1 - This Side of the Sky - is the worst song ALW has ever written but I can't now tell you why. 

I can make an educated guess, though, as the major problem with the songs in this show is the lyrics. When a show opens - opens - with the lyric "Stephen Ward your friendly osteopath / I can fix your lower back for you" you know you're in for a long night! And that's probably one of the better lines in this clunker of a show, to be fair.  

Not that the music or lyrics really matter, frankly, because most of the cast of this show can't sing. Harsh as this sounds, it's true. If you like shouting to (or should that be 'at'?) music, then this is the show for you! It's genuinely baffling to me that in a West End musical as high profile as this one that the cast is so poor. The most egregious offender on this front is Charlotte Spencer as Keeler who hit maybe three lines all night that didn't make me want to rip off my own ears and throw them at her. Almost all of the male cast spend most of their night shouting vague approximations of notes over music. I rather suspect that somewhere along the line in rehearsal they've been told to make their performances 'emotional' or 'raw' or something. Well it's not working guys. You sound ridiculous. 

Next on my list the characterisation which, for all but the lead characters, is just god awful. They aren't so much characters as caricatures, especially in Act 2. There's a scene where the nasty Home Secretary, with his Home Secretary voice, is discussing Ward with the nasty Police Commissioner, with his Police Commissioner voice, and the nasty guy from MI5, with his MI5 voice, that was so awful I genuinely don't know whether it was supposed to be a comedy sketch or a serious scene. The nasty policemen who put pressure on Ward's friends to compromise him appeared to be doing bad impressions of Inspector Grim from The Thin Blue Line (remember that? I loved that show!). Then there's the trial scene (with nasty Judge, with his Judge voice, and nasty lawyer, with his lawyer voice) which is so over the top, and so shouty, that I almost fell out of my chair laughing. I don't think this is the intended response to be honest.

The staging is utter pants too. For some reason, Lloyd Weber has returned to projecting backdrops onto a basically empty stage (what sets and props there are look to have been made by school children) which didn't really work in The Woman In White a few years back. Except this time the projections are on moving surfaces - curtains - which means that you can never really see what's being projected. It's a bizarre choice. 

Finally, there's the attempts at being 'edgy'. There's some utterly gratuitous and boring nudity and swearing throughout but special mention has to go to the 'orgy scene'. A lot has been made of this in the press reviews and I was kind of looking forward to finding out what an ALW orgy was going to look and sound like. The answer, to throw in my own gratuitous swear, is fucking terrifying. I don't think I've seen anything less sexy and more awkward in my entire life! There's some people in leather, some dodgy choreography which I think was supposed to look like people having sex (it didn't) and lots of men in baggy white underwear for some reason. It's about as sexy as Mr Blobby porn. (Which I really hope is a thing that doesn't exist.) This is accompanied by the only song from the show I can actually remember, the excruciatingly catchy You've Never Had It So Good. This is a song of subtlety and depth about upper class hedonism in the 1960s as evidenced by its chorus lyric "You've never had it so good / You've never had it so often". You see what they've done there, right? RIGHT? RIGHT?!?!

In the interests of balance, it seems fair to point out that Alexander Hanson's central performance as Stephen Ward is actually quite good. He has a decent voice and captures the character's loucheness and enigmatic charisma well. It's a shame he's not given a really meaty song to get stuck into but he does the best he can with the material available to him. I think it's his quality that ensures the show remains so bad it's good rather than just so bad it's bad. There's also a good performance from Joanna Riding as Valerie Hobson (Profumo's wife) who can actually sing (hurrah!) and gets a decent - if unmemorable and unnecessary in plot terms - solo to prove it. It's a shame she doesn't have a bigger role. And, if the point of this show is to make us question the official accounts of Profumo, then it has piqued my curiosity sufficiently to read up on it at some point. 

Overall, this show is a complete car crash, an utter mess. It's a hot mess though and I really urge you to see it if you want to have a bit of a giggle. Oddly enough you can get some decent deals on tickets...  

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Review: 12 Years A Slave

Pro tip: do not go and see 12 Years A Slave on a cold and rainy Monday night. It will not make you feel good.

When talking about Steve McQueen films, one phrase never used is 'an easy watch'. One phrase used pretty often is 'really excellent'. 12 Years A Slave is no exception.

Superlatives have been heaped on this outstanding film by people far more eloquent than me already - I like to be fashionable late to the party - so I'll keep it brief. This is an exceptional film; one that merits repeat viewings to fully appreciate its quality but one for which repeat viewings really would be difficult.

I'm sure you know the (true) story by now: Solomon Northup, a free black man living in upstate New York, is kidnapped and sold into slavery. He's passed around and abused by a variety of owners, some relatively benevolent (Benedict Cumberbatch's Ford) some horrific (Michael Fassbender's Epps), until an encounter with a Canadian abolitionist (Brad Pitt's Bass) changes his fate and sees him back to freedom and his family. 

Just from that paragraph the strength of the story is clear. And McQueen tells it without an iota of sentimentality. There are some truly brutal (and long) scenes in this film - the overseer who 'saves' Solomon from a hanging only to continue to leave him dangling there standing on tip toe and on the brink of choking for hours as normal life continues in the background and the brutal whipping of Lupita Nyong'o's Patsey spring to mind - which are terrifically hard to watch. There are also some beautifully shot, silent, lengthy closeups of Solomon's face which are equally compelling. The use of sound and music throughout is also incredibly clever, especially when music and dialogue conflicts as in the scenes which underscore Cumberbatch's religious services with slave songs.

The quality of the acting on display here is also outstanding. Chiwetel Ejiofor is magnetic as Solomon. This is a career making performance - and thoroughly deserves an Oscar win, even more than Matthew McConaughey who I awarded it to last week! - most amazing for me because of what Ejiofor is able to say when he doesn't have any lines. Those long lingering close ups that are so effective can only claim to be so because of the emotion he is able to convey through his eyes. You can't stop watching him, as much as you might want to in some places.

He is backed up by an extremely weighty supporting cast on uniformly excellent form. Of particular note as Lupita Nyong'o who is heartbreakingly perfect as the desperate Patsey (I can't conceive of the idea that there's been a better supporting actress performance this year, I really can't) and Michael Fassbender at his frightening and unhinged best as the evil Epps. Brad Pitt (who is aging so damn well, by the way) and Paul Giamatti are also on excellent form in their small but important roles. Benedict Cumberbatch is good too, but his patchy attempt at a southern drawl distracted me a bit.

Trying to think of criticisms, I found the film a touch too long but I think that's due to how harrowing it is - an hour and a half in and I just wanted to be at home, curled up in the fetal position rocking back and forth with a cup of tea! - and the fact I went on a Monday night. As mentioned above, a rookie error. As he's one of my favourite actors, I also would've liked to have seen a bigger part for Michael Kenneth Williams (Boardwalk Empire's Chalky) who was excellent in his tiny but important cameo. 

Overall 12 Years A Slave is by some margin the best film I've seen in a long time and deserves to win many, many awards. But do I want to see it again anytime soon? Probably not.

Monday, 10 February 2014

Book club - Mary Berry: Recipe for Life

I adore Mary Berry. 

Genuinely, I absolutely love her. If, in 50 years time, I'm anywhere near as talented, as active and as glamorous as she is I will consider my life well lived. She's awesome.

Up until I read her autobiography - Recipe for Life - I would've said that I love literally everything about her and it would've been true. But I did not love this book. In parts I didn't even like this book. 

See, here's the thing: Recipe for Life is just not that interesting. I think there are three main reasons for this. 

The first is that, if you watched the BBC documentary about lovely Mary's life (The Mary Berry Story), there's not a lot that's new in the narrative of the book. The narrative is interesting - especially the parts about Mary's early battle with polio and, later, the tragic death of one of her sons - but if you watched the documentary you know all of this already. Yes, you get more detail but it's difficult to get too excited about a story you already know.

Especially as the style that story is written in is so saccharine it'll strip the enamel from your teeth. I feel genuinely quite harsh saying this, as the style and voice are very authentically and recognisably Mary. Words like 'dishy', 'scrummy' and 'gosh' are one of the things that make Mary so, well, Mary. But what is so appealing and sweet over the course of an hour long episode of Bake Off becomes pretty grating over the course of a 350 page book. Maybe it's just me (it usually is, I find) but it's all just too Jolly Hockey Sticks for me. 

I also have issues with some of the content selection. There's one chapter - out of I think 19 - about Bake Off and, frankly, it's just not very interesting. If you're looking for backstage gossip or interesting 'making-of' tidbits then go elsewhere. There's also one chapter entirely devoted to Mary's love of gardening which is, at least to me, mind-numbingly dull. And should gardening really get the same number of chapters in this book as Bake Off? I rather think not.  

There's also a running theme of 'I hated school and reading' running through the book which sometimes reads like disdain for people who liked school and enjoy reading. I don't think this is intentional - if it is, writing an autobiography is weird! - but it irked me sufficiently for me to notice.

It's not that this book is bad, and if you haven't seen that documentary it's probably really interesting, but it's not great either. Which is a shame. Because criticising Saint Bezza makes me feel like an utter shit.

Sunday, 9 February 2014

Weekend Wishlist

I've been trying to think of a regular weekly post to keep this blog ticking over. Something that's a bit different from my usual selection of reviews and requires minimal effort, since I'm very lazy.

This is the thinking behind Weekend Wishlist. Essentially, these posts will be about the clothes, shoes, bags and accessories that I would buy if I was rich, thin and could change my shape and colouring at will. Oh, and could walk in heels.

I'm going to try and limit myself to three pieces each week, for my benefit and yours, and they will all be designer. I mean it's a Wishlist. What's the point in having things I could actually buy in real life on it?!

So here we go...

Lanvin Trilogy leather shopper

I'm having a real moment with grey bags at the moment and this one's stunning. Nice and big too, certainly room for all my essentials. I love the clean lines and simple detailing.


Giuseppe Zanotti Coline cutout suede sandals

I'm so obsessed with the colour of these. So obsessed. Thoroughly impractical, ankle breakingly high and utterly gorgeous. Love them.
As into them as me? They're Net-a-Porter again, £895.


Piers Atkinson Scrummy!! cupcake and veil headband

How cute is this?! I'm not sure exactly what occasion calls for such excellent headwear but I am sure that I could find one. Auditioning for The Great British Bake Off maybe? I just love it.

Another Net-a-Porter find, it's yours for £380


That's it for this week. If you want more of my fashion ramblings, then check out my Fashion Wishlist board on Pinterest.


Friday, 7 February 2014

Review: Dallas Buyers Club

Here's a sentence I never thought I'd write: 

Matthew McConaughey deserves to win an Oscar.

I mean how crazy is that? Matthew McConaughey, star of such trite drivel as Fool's Gold, Failure to Launch and Sahara, deserves to win an Oscar. It's true though. Turns out dude can actually act.

To be fair, there have been hints at this in the past (Dazed and Confused, The Lincoln Lawyer, Mud) but nothing to demonstrate the fact so clearly as Mr M's powerhouse performance in Dallas Buyers Club. 

Dallas Buyers Club tells the story of Ron Woodroof, an electrician and rodeo rider with some serious issues with alcohol, drugs and casual sex, in 1980s Texas. Ron is a typical macho cowboy with a southern drawl, a ridiculous mustache and some pretty unpleasant views about gay people who finds out he has HIV and is give 30 days to live. After finding out that the drugs he believes will save him are unavailable in the US, he heads to Mexico where he learns about alternative - and ultimately less dangerous - treatment and begins smuggling them back over the border. With the help of transsexual fellow AIDS patient Rayon (Jared Leto), Ron starts a buyer's club where people pay a monthly subscription to get (technically free) access to Ron and Rayon's supply of drugs. In the process, he tackles the US government, the drug companies and his own prejudices and becomes an underground hero. 

A story with such a huge element of character metamorphosis and redemption as this film has requires a very intelligent and nuanced performance to avoid becoming twee and McConaughey delivers big style. His physical transformation for the role has got a lot of attention - and it is incredible - but it's actually the least interesting aspect of his performance. Everything he does with Ron is done expertly. The scene where, after hours of studying in the library, he finally realises how he's caught Aids and accepts that he has it is particularly raw and heartbreaking. The development of his relationship with Leto's Rayon is also incredibly touching, from initial revulsion to eventual love of a sort. 

Jared Leto is excellent too. It would be easy to allow a character like Rayon to descend into a predictable stereotype but Leto deftly avoids this. Watching his health slowly decline is achingly sad and his final scenes are an incredibly hard watch. In support, Jennifer Garner as the doctor/friend to both characters is also very good and uses the relatively small amount of screen time she has to full effect.

There are some minor niggles - some of the symbolism is laid on with a shovel (the opening scene with the bareback rodeo riding/unprotected sex juxtaposition is as subtle as a brick to the face) and in a movie all about Aids it seems weird that there's not a single mention or sighting of a condom, or indeed any notion of safe sex for people with HIV - but overall this film is genuinely fantastic.  

Highly, highly recommended. 

Sunday, 2 February 2014

Review: Henry V

Here's a thing. In April I'll be 28. When Kenneth Branagh was 28 he was starring in and directing his definitive film version of Henry V and getting Oscar nommed in the process. It's hard for me not to find this fact a bit depressing.

I love KenBran's Henry V. It's a fantastic film, not least because of his powerhouse central performance. It's one of the roles I feel belongs to KB (in some ridiculous fangirl way) and I feel like it should be jealously guarded from other, inevitably lesser, actors.

Jude Law is someone who I would have described as very definitely a lesser actor. I know he's done Shakespeare before and been well received, I know his theatre performances have been generally highly praised and I know he's been Oscar nommed twice but I've never been a fan. I was therefore very sceptical of his version of Price Hal closing the Michael Grandage season at the Noël Coward theatre.

Sometimes it's really lovely to be proved wrong.

Jude Law is an excellent Henry V. Not only are his set piece speeches perfectly delivered (and this is important in a play with a couple of biggies - who wants to see a HV with a crappy St Crispin's day?) but he brings out the complexities on Henry's character with a deftness and lightness of touch rarely seen in such an iconic character. There are moments of real vulnerability - his pre-Agincourt soliloquy is particularly effecting.

What was more revelatory for me though was the comedy he got from the character. HV is not a character I've ever really associated with the lolz but Law's HV was genuinely very funny in places. The courting scene with Princess Katherine (very charmingly played by Jessie Buckley, who's apparently come rather a long way since not winning I'd Do Anything some years ago) was hilarious - if slightly long - but it was the throwaway lines in other scenes that worked particularly well. I loved the 'Fluellen take this glove' part in particular (apologies for people who don't know the text and have no idea what that means).

The whole production was extremely classy. Simply staged in a plain wooden semicircular set with almost no props, the editing and directing made for a quick, slick and focused production supported by an excellent ensemble cast. Even the frankly slightly tiresome jokes about the Welsh seemed funny.

All in all, a top night at the theatre and a fantastic ending for the Michael Grandage West End season. There are still a couple of weeks left of this production and I'd highly recommend you get yourself a ticket.

Saturday, 1 February 2014

Review: Anton du Beke - Ballroom to Broadway

It's that time of year again...

For the sixth year in a row lovely Anton off of Strictly is on the road independent of the official Strictly tour, taking his brand of shtick, fleckles and excellent suits on tour. So what's new?

Well, first things, first he's on his own. Pro partner Erin Boag is, selfishly, pregnant meaning that her role in the tour is limited to some choreography and wardrobe advice (she still gets a whole page in the programme, mind). Instead, lovely Anton is joined by Summer Strallen aka current darling/superstar of the West End aka the one that Andrew Lloyd Weber inserted into a lengthy Hollyoaks storyline to publicise her run in his production of The Sound Of Music.

Is Erin missed? To be blunt, not really. See, the thing about Summer Strallen is she has an incredible voice AND is an incredible dancer. She partners lovely Anton in all of the 'Broadway' numbers in the show and does so faultlessly. She also has a couple of show stealing solo numbers, including belting out All That Jazz whilst hanging upside down in a box split suspended between the shoulders of two male backing dancers. She's magnificent and, to be honest, I'm a bit sad that she won't be on the tour next year when Erin comes back (according for the advert in the programme).

The absence of Erin also makes for a cheekier lovely Anton. As well as his usual line in Strictly anecdotes, verdicts on the other contestants ("Susanna Reid was a bit annoying") and musings on his own attractiveness ("I know, I've got a mirror") we were also treated to jokes about his sexuality, how many menopausal women were in the audience and 'shoe' size.

The quality of the dancing was no lower either. As well as the 'Broadway' routine with Summer, there were also a number of proper ballroom routines with Burn The Floor alumnus (am I the only person in the world that hasn't been in that show?!) Faye Huddlestone. A highlight of her involvement was a mind blowing quickstep with a series of frightening lifts.

Music-wise, the excellent Lance Ellington was back for another year. Criminally underused in the Strictly band, Lance was as cool and accomplished as ever; a cracking version of This Is The Moment was a definite highlight for me. He also got to dance a bit too, and did very well in a trio rendition of (the frankly not very good) Steam Heat from The Pyjama Game.

All in all a great night out, as lovely Anton tours always are. Recommended.