Archive for June, 2018

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Ok so this one is coming a bit a late, but last weekend, after an awesome time at West End Live, I caught Strictly Ballroom at the Piccadilly theatre. It was the perfect end to a super-stagey day.

Knowing nothing about the film, I didn’t know what to expect, but it was a fabulous evening of comedy, campery and sequins galore that followed.

Will Young headlines the stage version of the Baz Luhrmann film, in the brand new role of Wally Strand; a sort of omniscient character who guides us through the love story between Scott and Fran with a selection of familiar musical numbers.Image result for strictly ballroom musical

Young’s distinctive singing voice provides an entrancing soundtrack to the story, though it’s the dancers that really shine during this production. Jonny Labey and Zizi Strallen are fantastic as Scott and Fran, performing many fast-paced, eye-popping moves with ease. They are joined by a super-talented cast of dancers who perform with an energy that makes you want to join in (before you realise you are a rubbish dancer and settle back down with your glass of pino).

This version has had a bit of makeover from the touring production, with chart classics by artists such as Cyndi Lauper, Whitney Housten and David Bowie, included to take us through the story. Although Will Young sings the bulk of the songs, the small bit of singing by Strallen and Labey is lovely, and the cast once again support Young fantastically.

There’s a lot to be said for the way music is used in the production. The styles of classic pop songs are played with, so at first they appear unfamiliar, and then suddenly you’re hit with that moment of recognition. Songs are also very rarely sung all the way through, with Young weaving in snippets of familiar hits and mash-ups to illustrate the story.

It’s not just about the love story between Scott and Fran. The subplot of the romantic breakdown (and then regeneration) between Scott’s parents is also surprisingly touching, as Scott’s overbearing mother and his mild-mannered father rediscover their passion for one another.Image result for strictly ballroom musical

I was also really surprised by how funny the show was. Anna Francolini was a dream as Scott’s ballroom-obsessed mother, providing many comedy moments in an over-the-top, hilarious style. Strallen also delivered as the clumsy wannabe-dancer Fran, who transforms into Scott’s dream partner. Stephen Matthews also gave a wonderful performance as Scott’s oddball dad, who turns out to have a heart-breaking back story.

Strictly Ballroom is a vibrant, energetic production with some hilarious and touching moments. I definitely think this is a production which deserves more recognition so, if you’re in the west end, go and see it!

Watch Strictly Ballroom’s performance at West End Live 2018 here.

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Would I go to West End Live again? HELL YES!

I’ve wanted to go for years and this year I finally made it happen, and after following the hype on twitter for weeks, I was more than ready to soak up the stagey awesomeness in Trafalgar Square on Saturday.

Thankfully, I was up early and had my place in the queue just after 8am (two hours before the gates opened). Apparently, the queues were soon stretching right up to Leicester Square and when I left the event at 2.30pm, there were still people waiting to get in, which is a testament to the popularity of the event.

Just like Comic Con, West End Live has a very comfortable vibe. Everyone there loves theatre and no one is there to judge. You can belt the words to ‘Defying Gravity’ or join in with the exact choreography to ‘All That Jazz’ (and people did) and no one will bat an eyelid.

My early start paid off as I managed to grab an excellent spot. Sitting on the wall of a fountain I had a clear view of everything happening on the main stage and the stage right screen. Presenters Tom Price and Ruthie Henshall did a great job introducing all the acts, starting with the cast of Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, who kicked the day off with a burst of energy and fabulousness.

It’s impossible to choose a favourite act. Adrienne Warren from Tina was a highlight, fully embracing Tina-isms to a point where a passer-by would have been forgiven for thinking Queen Turner was performing. Trevor Dion Nicholas from Aladdin knows how to work a crowd and whipped the excitement up with his trademark charisma. (How is he not constantly exhausted?) The Dreamgirls cast delivered powerful vocals, particularly as they passionately sang ‘Listen’. Then there was the cast of Mamma Mia who had the whole crowd singing along to ‘Dancing Queen’ in a moment of pure, unapologetic campery that had everyone waving their arms in the air. Alice Fearn delivered an incredible ‘Defying Gravity’ from Wicked and the audience went crazy when she walked on stage in full Elphaba costume.

It was the cast of Bat of out Hell who really rocked Trafalgar Square though, with an energetic medley of songs from the new hit musical. Andrew Polec was fantastic and proved to be very charming during an interview after his performance. Bat of out Hell is definitely high up on the list, now.

Will Young introduced his show, Strictly Ballroom, and lead performers Jonny Labey and Zizi Strallen who wowed with their impressive moves….but more on that next week!

There was also a surprise appearance from Matt Willis who has joined the cast of Little Shop of Horrors as the evil Dentist, Orin. There was also serious Ab-envy towards most of the cast of Chicago who, in my opinion, where too greedy with their ab muscles and should consider sharing them with the ab-less, such as myself.

Each performance was so amazing – even the very few shows that were at the bottom of my ‘to-see’ list have risen to the top thanks to their routines. Unfortunately, I had to leave at 2.30, but thanks to the wonder of youtube I was able to catch the acts I missed and the quality certainly did not diminish as the day went on.

Of course, no visit to London would be complete without a pit stop at the theatre café and I celebrated in style with a green tea in a Wicked cup (well what else would you put in a Wicked cup?)

So after years of planning to go and not quite making it due to one thing or another, I finally made West End Live. Celebratory jazz hands all round!

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‘Life….er….finds a way,’ says Ian Malcolm, making his much anticipated return.

And Hollywood have found a way to continue the Jurassic Park franchise.

I love these dino-films. With the exception of Jurassic Park 3, which I think we all know is a bit naff, I think they’re bloody brilliant! And when Jurassic World came out in 2015 I was super excited, if not a little bit disturbed by the mosasaur (see my previous blog).

Undeterred by my fear of big fish, I went to see the latest offering, Fallen Kingdom, last week. Unfortunately, lots of people get swallowed whole in just the first few minutes which didn’t bode well for my nightmares. I honestly can’t think of anything worse. Being swallowed. Whole! *shudders*

I’ve read a lot of mixed reviews online but I have to say, I really enjoyed it. Any fan of the franchise will. We get treated to a final visit to Islar Nublar in the first act but it’s no longer the island we know. The first ten minutes are genuinely terrifying and much darker than the first part of the reboot. The first flashes of the T-rex creeping up on the clueless IT guy are iconic, especially when intercut with the poor blokes fishing out the Indominus bone from the mosasaur tank.

A bit later we see the sad destruction of the island, but there’s plenty of tense action sequences before we get chance to get emosh, and when the times comes, it hits you right in the gut. I won’t spoil it, but look out for that brachiosaur *sniff*.

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The second part of the film is something new for the Jurassic films. It takes the action to a remote mainland mansion and we get a much more claustrophobic feel. OK, some of the villains in this part feel a bit 2D and make some ridiculously stupid mistakes and you really have to try not to shout at the screen. From this point on, you can kind of see where it’s all going, but that doesn’t make it any less entertaining. Many people have commented that the idea of the dinosaurs being sold off to different countries is ridiculous but, really, I think it’s quite plausible. Humans are horrible and will do anything for profit.

Fallen Kingdom uses some new dinosaurs, such as the pachycephalosaurus launching a rescue mission (a cool mini-plot strand) and the vicious carnotaur making several appearances. There are also new characters such as Franklin, who provides some light comedy, and Zia, who kicks ass.

Fallen Kingdom is a decent sequel, but its biggest problem lies with the trailer. There are so many moments that would have been amazing…..if they hadn’t been included in the trailer! The obsession with packing the trailer with the best parts of the movie only leads to disappointment. Unfortunately, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is just an extended version of the trailer. There are even parts of the final sequence in the trailer. What the hell?! Still, if, like me, you’re fan of dinos, it’s worth a watch.

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Image result for the handmaid's talePraise be and blessed be the fruit, for I have arrived late to the party of The Handmaid’s Tale.

In need of some half-term binge watching and aware of the arrival of season two on channel 4, I stumbled upon The Handmaid’s Tale this week. I’ve heard a lot about it (mostly from Twitter) but, surprisingly, knew very little of its content. I didn’t for example know it was set in the future. From the publicity shots and ads I think I can be forgiven for thinking this was a period piece. The way the Handmaid’s dress and the bleak images of the promos create a disturbing and dystopic not-too-distant future. I also thought it might have been Chaucer. Which I must not be forgiven for.

Based on the novel by Margaret Atwood (note: Not Chaucer), the concept itself is terrifying. Most of the women on the planet have become infertile. Desperate to see the survival of the human race, (and more so, to continue their family lines) men in power use religious texts as propaganda and enslave those women who are still capable of pregnancy. There are grim scenes aplenty and the regular use of awkward, almost business-like sex between the reluctant but downtrodden handmaids and their Commanders, in the presence of the men’s wives, always makes for uncomfortable viewing. The story is mostly told from the point of view of Offred, a rebellious handmaid determined to flee the system and track down her husband and daughter. We like Offred. The juxtaposition of her life as a handmaid with flashbacks to her previous life seem strange and distorted, almost like they should be switched and her Handmaid’s life should be the flashback. It’s weird to see the world we are so familiar with today used in flashback, particularly when the ‘future’ seems so bleak and archaic.

Whilst Offred provides an empathetic way in for the audience, another interesting characters is Aunt Lydia. I love a complex villain. Someone who skilfully dodges the line between good and evil and leaves you guessing all the way through (see Juliet Burke in Lost). Aunt Lydia is a classic case. She starts off as a ranting religious nut, spouting off propaganda, utterly convinced the handmaids are ‘lucky’ and their task is a blessing. She’s a cold hearted bitch who dishes out electric shocks and removes the eyes of anyone who stands up to her. But midway through the series, she shows just a flicker of warmth. In the episode where Ofwarren is asked to leave the handmaid’s dinner party, (darkly staged to convince a neighbouring country to enter into a trade deal), Aunt Lydia empathises with the childlike Ofwarren and you can see she is visibly moved by Ofwarren’s protests of it not being fair. Later on, she is devastated when Ofwarren tries to take her own life. Is this a bit of foreshadowing to exploring a softer side of Aunt Lydia?  Or is she really just a wicked tyrant?

The later episodes of season one are stunning. Beautifully shot with a gorgeous colour pallet. Offred’s desperation as she is denied a reunion with her missing daughter and forced to watch as Serena Joy (the wife of Offred’s commander) chats to the child is heartbreaking. Serena Joy presenting Offred with a music box featuring a tiny mechanical doll is also a nice touch, comparing Offred to the doll, who comes out of her box to entertain and is then locked away, but also a way for Serena Joy to subtly remind Offred of her place.

What’s most uncomfortable about this series is the control the characters have over women. It’s all about the control. Even Serena Joy, who is controlled by her husband, demonstrates her control over Offred by locking her in the car and forcing her to watch her child through her window. Every woman in this programme is under control in some way. After just a few minutes we’re desperately hoping these women break free of their confinement. However, any hope of a resolution is well and truly doused by the finale of season one.

My only advice: watch it at night. A lot of the scenes are so dark I had to wait until sunset to see what was going on. Still, a programme about an oppressive patriarchy, the oppression of women and a glorified sex trade was never going to be full of sunbeams and rainbows, was it?

Under his eye.