Views from the Stalls and Views from the Sofa - My reviews and thoughts on all things theatre and television. Follow me on Twitter @LikeTheMonth_

Monday, 20 June 2011

Jekyll & Hyde - UK Tour - Review

Review of the matinee performance on 15-06-11 at The Kings Theatre, Glasgow.

Frank Wildhorn and Leslie Bricusse’s musical version of Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde is currently touring the UK in a new production starring Marti Pellow as the title character/s.

The action takes place in Victorian London, as Dr Henry Jekyll works in his lab to find a solution that will separate the good in a person from the evil, thereby enabling him to eradicate all evil in the world. Mocked by local dignitaries however, Jekyll shuts himself away from society and from his fiancee, Emma, and decides that he must be the participant in his own experiments and Edward Hyde is born.

I find the story intriguing and as a lover of Victorian melodrama, the show certainly held appeal, but I was largely unfamiliar with the music previously. The score is ballad-heavy, a little too ballad-heavy in my opinion (it very much seems to have the idea that ‘All Songs Must End In A Big Note Held As Long As Possible‘), but thankfully there is more variation to be had in the ensemble numbers. The ensemble in this production are very strong and it is a pleasure to be able to sit in the stalls and pick out each voice in songs such as ‘Fa├žade’ and ‘Murder, Murder’. Similar ensemble numbers ‘Bitch, Bitch, Bitch’ and ‘Bring on the Men’ bring literal and metaphorical colour to Act One and are very well executed.

Bricusse’s lyrics are disappointing however, rhyming couplets (or sometimes triplets!) are very much the order of the day here, you will undoubtedly be able to guess the rhyme before the sentences end and this comes across as unimaginative and dare I say it, a bit dull. Sweeney Todd this is not.

One performance in particular stands out as adding some vital spark and energy into proceedings and that is the performance of Sabrina Carter as London prostitute, Lucy. Undoubtedly the best character in the show, Carter relishes her moments to shine, she is feisty where required but has a vulnerability and yearning that the audience immediately empathise with . As Dr Jekyll’s fiancee Emma Carew, Sarah Earnshaw is also impressive and it is a shame that her character is not able to develop more. Both Carter and Earnshaw have terrific voices, that combine to make their duet ‘In His Eyes’ my personal highlight of the show.

I’m sure you have noticed that I am yet to comment on the performance of Pellow as the dual personalities and the simple reason for that is that I’m not sure I ultimately have the heart to be a critic! It is a shame, but Pellow is simply not up to the job of what is a very complicated role. It did not bode well when his delivery of his opening lines ‘Goodbye, Father’ made me involuntarily giggle and it was not the only unintentionally funny moment in the show. For the first forty-five minutes as Dr Jekyll (timing is an estimate, it honestly could be anything!), Pellow was wooden and sadly didn’t inject any personality into the Dr at all. I enjoyed his performance as Hyde much more, because at least it felt like he was making a genuine effort, but I never felt he acted through the songs. He seemed to struggle with his breath control and diction and it is no coincidence that the most ‘pop’ style song, 'This Is The Moment', was his strongest number, although it was sung as if in concert rather than in character.

If the point of his casting was to bring in the crowds, Pellow certainly did so, and those standing at the end of a near sold-out matinee would certainly attest to his appeal. If that is his sole purpose, then his casting has been a success. I do think Pellow is a likeable guy and the way he deferred to Carter and Earnshaw at curtain call indicates he is well aware who saves this show.

Overall, despite my criticisms, it was an enjoyable show, made so by the performances of the two leading ladies and the quality of the ensemble. Pellow’s performance was enjoyable too in some ways, although perhaps not the ways in which he intended. Jekyll & Hyde is yet to have a truly successful production on these shores, and though this tour may be a commercial success it will go down in my eyes as a bit of a missed opportunity. 

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Doctor Who - Series 6 Part 1 - Review


With us Brits now suffering a wait for the rest of Series 6 of Doctor Who, the show having gone all American on us and taken a mid-series break, I thought this would be a good time to look back on the past seven episodes, what they have given us and where they have left us. Spoilers naturally will be forthcoming!

Episodes


It is hard to compare this series to the last, when you consider we are only half way through and splitting the series like this has required a restructuring of the usual formula. It has certainly felt like the show has been moving at a much faster pace this year, with the story arc taking more prominence early on to build to a mid-series cliffhanger. This has meant less stand-alone stories with only ‘The Curse of the Black Spot’ and ‘The Doctor’s Wife’ thus far. And how different could two episodes be? The Doctor’s Wife was a wonderful story, taking the simple conceit of ’What if The Doctor could meet the Tardis?’ and weaving what turned out to be a quite magical love story, with just the right amount of sentiment and a fantastic performance from Suranne Jones that ensured we will never view the Tardis in quite the same way again. Black Spot was the only, well, er…black spot (sorry!) on the opening episodes and even then it wasn’t actively bad, just not as good as we’ve come to expect from the show. Despite it’s faults (and you can’t deny those) Black Spot was at least a good old fashioned adventure story, and I’m sure some children and adults alike enjoyed the break from the series arc and appreciated an episode that excited purely to act as a fun diversion.

Personally however, the series arc is where the real drama lies and thus I have enjoyed the fact the episodes have felt more interconnected and the stories more intricate. The opening two parter, The Impossible Astronaut and Day of the Moon got the series off to a better start than I could have imagined, with a brilliant supporting performance from the always fantastic Mark Sheppard and of course the unthinkable, the death of the Doctor.

Of course we know that the Doctor will not really die there, we know there is a twist to come but there is plenty of fun to be had in thinking up ways out of it. Amy’s story arc was creepy and genuinely shocking, I certainly did not see the end of The Almost People coming at all and it proved that this show can consistently surprise and show a degree of originality and risk-taking that few other shows demonstrate.

Tone

Everything about Series 6 has felt very confident and assured, the monsters have been scarier, the stories clever and compelling. Of course this has led to some branches of the media arguing that the show has become ‘too scary’ or ‘too complex’. This is nonsense. It is beyond ridiculous that those self same parents who reminisce with great fondness about ‘hiding behind the sofas’ from the Daleks (a notion I heard about so much growing up in Who’s wilderness years) then try to attack the show for scaring their own children. Besides, the children I know that watch Who have not been dissuaded from watching it. Yes, they have been scared at times (of The Silence in particular), but they want to watch every week, they still go online and watch the behind the scenes videos and prequels, they still want to chat about the show or play games based around it. If we had to witness a difficult and traumatic birth scene then perhaps there would be reason to complain, but the show knows its limits and instead we were shown the situation and then the aftermath.

The criticism that the show is ’too complicated’ is also unfounded and is a criticism I have only heard from adults or newspaper reviewers that get so many facts wrong in their write-ups that they clearly have not been paying proper attention anyway. Yes, Moffat’s Who in particular and his love of ’timey-wimey’ plots, does require you to listen carefully, to think about the information you’re given, to pay attention. However, this is a show about a time-traveller, how can anyone complain that there is ‘too much’ of it? I for one am pleased to see someone embracing the possibilities that time travel creates, but people far too often confuse ’complicated’ with ’unexplained’ and thus I have no doubt this argument will resurface every year.

Characters/Cast

What I have loved most of all about Series 6 so far however, even beyond the strength of the stories and the atmosphere created, is the cast and the characters they portray. Arthur Darvill as Rory Williams has really started to come into his own, he is no longer just Amy’s ‘Other Half’ but a fully rounded, interesting character in his own right. The poor soul has been through a lot on the show and I would like to see his 2000 year-old memories explored more in the latter half of the series, however Darvill has embodied Rory with such a likeability that surely every girl would like a Rory of their own and the husband/wife team have provided a different dynamic in the Tardis.

I have also grown to love Amy Pond this year, not that I disliked her last year, but this year she has really matured as a character. She is brave with a touch of recklessness, with a great sense of humour and although Moffat likes to toy with us, Rory is definitely the man for her. Amy has become everything I would want in a companion and Karen Gillan has been excellent this year as Amy has faced some of the darkest moments in the show.

My love of these characters and this Tardis Team does make me worry about how Series 6 will end. One of the things I have always enjoyed about these companions is that I feel we know so much more about them than we usually do. Amy can never just be a girl that travels with the Doctor for a while and then goes. Due to the superb introduction in The Eleventh Hour, we know that Amy has waited for the Doctor her entire life, you get the sense he has always been her best friend, even in those absent twelve years. I’ve always thought it would take something special for Amy to leave the Doctor and now we may just have that in Melody. It feels a little like Amy and Rory’s tenure in the Tardis is coming to an end and surely everything will depend upon what happens in the latter half of the series and if they get baby Melody back. Of course, River presumably knows how she spends her childhood, but she will never tell…! Unless The Silence got to her of course….

I think the main reason the Amy/River reveal worked for me, is that I have always enjoyed watching the relationship between the two. Amy could occasionally be stroppy or petulant in Series 5, but there was never any hint of jealousy of River, this mysterious woman who waltzed into her life with The Doctor and seemed to know everything about him. Instead, Amy was intrigued and there always seemed a genuine affection there, they appeared to warm to each other instantly, they shared conspiratorial glances about The Doctor and have the same sense of humour. The ‘fez’ scene always stood out as showing the connection between them, Amy throws it as River automatically shoots it. It is brilliantly seamless and so it makes sense to me that there should be a natural connection between them. It leads me to wonder just how long Moffat has been planning this reveal, I suspect from The Eleventh Hour. I think it was always going to go this way and that is why we have seen such a warm relationship develop between them. Hopefully when it is all over, Moffat will tell all about how much of a plan he has had all along!

Anyone that thought River’s story would end when her identity was revealed was wrong, she continues to grow as a character and there is so much we are yet to learn about her. Alex Kingston is fantastic and she ensures we look forward to every appearance from River. Of course, the more we learn about her, the more tragic her story seems and re-watching her death scene now is heartbreaking, although an utterly perfect way for the character to go (so please writers, don‘t change it!). River’s flirtations with the Doctor have been extremely entertaining to watch and of course there is nothing to say they do not go on to have a relationship in the future, with Amy as the Doctors future mother-in-law! Finally I think there is a character that I can genuinely see being a match for the Doctor and Kingston works so well with Matt Smith they are a real joy together on screen.

And so to the man himself, who has surely silenced any lingering doubters whether he was up to the job of replacing David Tennant. In my opinion, Matt Smith has surpassed everything Tennant and in fact all others have done before, cementing his place as my favourite Doctor with never less than brilliant performances that capture every essence of the Time Lord. Smith captures the weariness in the Doctor; he truly seems like he has lived hundreds of years and yet at the same time he has a boyish charm, an eccentricity and excitement about the world that is so endearing to watch. With perfect delivery, Smith wrings every drop of humour out of each script, creating by far the funniest Doctor. Yet The Doctor’s sadness or anger is equally believable and you just have to sit up and take note when Smith delivers one of the Doctor’s great speeches.

I’d love this Tardis crew to remain for at least another full series, it really feels like we have got to know each person and it is nice to see how the relationships develop and strengthen over time. It is hard to imagine Eleven with another companion and hard to imagine such a creative way of introducing a replacement. It feels like this crew has become more involved in the Doctor’s life than almost all of those that have gone before, leaving them behind and just starting again with a new companion seems odd and unlikely.

Ultimately, though some sections of the media may like to create a sense of impending doom around Doctor Who, with Matt Smith on board and the quality of Steven Moffat’s writing, I believe the show is in fantastic shape. I can’t wait to hopefully have that claim proven in the final six episodes of Series 6!
 

Doctor Who - Series 6 Episode 7 - A Good Man Goes to War - Review

What’s the Story?

With Amy and her new-born daughter imprisoned by Madame Kovarian at Demons Run, Rory and The Doctor call upon the help of a few old friends to stage a rescue. It soon appears however, that The Doctor is walking into a trap. After a battle is fought and lives are lost, River reappears and finally reveals her true identity….

What’s the Verdict?


After last weeks stunning cliffhanger, anticipation could not be higher for Doctor Who’s mid-series finale and ‘A Good Man Goes To War’ delivers a rollercoaster of an episode that answers some questions but poses so many more.

The pre-titles sequence really set the scene and Arthur Darvill made a great impression as Rory, dressed as a Roman once more, standing alone before a group of Cybermen delivering a message, angrier than ever before. The absence of the Doctor meant that when he did appear it became more of a spectacle, taking on a room of soldiers armed only with his sonic and his wit.

Smith really seems to thrive on these moments and we were shown many different sides to the Doctor in this episode. He was charming, affectionate and funny at times but overconfident, disconsolate and angry at others. His taunting of and disdain for ‘Colonel Runaway’ was a standout scene of the episode, Smith has always excelled at switching between the humour and tragedy of the Doctor and allowing the anger to overcome him in this way showed just how far he would go to protect his friends.

This certainly felt like a ‘kitchen sink’ episode, with everything thrown in and the action moving at a frenetic pace. There was a lot to love about it; THAT ending (which I’ll come to later!), Amy and Rory’s joy at parenthood, sharp and witty dialogue and a great selection of supporting characters. Some of these were given more opportunities to shine than others; we had Sontaran Commander Strax, crime-fighting lesbian Silurian Madame Vastra (someone give that reptile a spin off!) and Lorna Bucket, who we were made to feel like we knew in a remarkably short space of time, rendering her death all the more poignant.

However, with the relentless pacing of the episode it sometimes felt like there was just too much in there; it would have been nice to explore some of the moments and characters a bit more. We learnt that Amy was taken sometime ‘before America’ and that she remembered the adventures of her Ganger, but it was such a brief scene that could have given more information, although that may of course be still to come. Similarly, we did not get to know much about Frances Barber’s Madame Kovarian, other than that she wanted baby Melody to use as a weapon against the Doctor. I never really felt like the Doctor ‘fell further than ever before’, it’s a nice line but it doesn’t feel accurate given the adventures we have seen in the past.

My favourite episodes are those that tell an intricate story, this is why I loved ‘The Big Bang’ last year, and so from my perspective A Good Man Goes to War felt like a bit too much action and not enough plot. This is a personal preference of course and if the intention was to set up the latter half of the series, then Moffat certainly achieved this. My personal favourite parts of the episode however were the smaller, character moments. Karen Gillan was absolutely fantastic throughout, giving without doubt her best performance in the series to date. You really felt that she had bonded with baby Melody and it was utterly heartbreaking to watch the baby turn to Ganger Flesh in her arms. Amy, Rory and The Doctor standing over Melody was quite enchanting and the Doctors conversation with Melody funny and charming. The dialogue in this episode was fantastic, with some wonderfully poetic character monologues from River, Amy and The Doctor and plenty of sparkling one-liners.

There was always a sense however that everything was just a preamble to what was about to come, that the episode was building to a conclusion that would change everything. Personally I felt the ending to ‘The Almost People’ was more of a cliffhanger, this more of a revelation. We finally found out the identity of River Song; Melody Pond, part time lord, Amy and Rory’s daughter. With the mystery of her true identity spanning three years now, every possible theory has been discussed, so it is unlikely this reveal came as a huge surprise to anyone. Plus of course, she may still go on to marry the Doctor, who knows?! I’m sure there will be some that hated this development, but I think it is interesting and original and I for one am prepared to go with it and see what it leads to. I’ve always really enjoyed watching the relationship between Amy and River, they seemed to like each other instantly and it makes sense that there is a natural connection there. It fits with everything we know about River too and leads me to suspect Moffat has had this twist in mind since The Eleventh Hour (surely not before that? Surely?!).

As a whole, A Good Man Goes To War felt like a good but not great episode, sprinkled with moments of brilliance that really elevated it onto another level. I have no idea whatsoever where it is going to go from here, it seems as if Amy and Rory may be coming to the end of their time in the Tardis, a thought which makes me realise how much I have grown to love this set of companions. Although billed as a finale, we still have six episodes of Series 6 to go and it really feels like the possibilities are endless. First, ’Lets Kills Hitler’ shall we? (Best. Episode. Title. Ever!)

Best Scene


Again, there’s only one real contender here, and after three years of build up, the reveal of River Song’s identity was always going to be something special. The question was, whether it would be a disappointment or a triumph. As a scene, I thought it was executed superbly, keeping you guessing right up to the moment River said the words, ’I’m Melody’. As she and the Doctor gazed at his cot, there were still a few options open and their dialogue was wonderful, drawing out the mystery but confirming the truth all at once. Smith and Kingston have a great chemistry together and the Doctor’s reactions were perfect. Incredulity, happiness and then brief concern, as he looked back at Amy and Rory and realised he’d been kissing their daughter! Amy and Rory’s stunned expressions were the right place to leave it, but with the Doctor’s departing full of joy, rather than despairing for the characters loss, we can go into the break feeling that things will all work out in the end.

As a scene therefore it was perfect, we now know River’s identity and how she knows the Doctor’s name. Revealing River’s identity could have ended her mystery and thus made her redundant as a character, but in fact, it has only created more questions and ensures we keep looking forward to her appearances.

Best Lines

River  :  Demons run when a good man goes to war. Night will fall and drown the sun when a good man goes to war. Friendship dies and true love lies. Night will fall and the dark will rise when a good man goes to war. Demons run but count the cost; the battle's won but the child is lost’ - River does make wonderfully poetic speeches doesn’t she?

Thin One  -  But what's he like, The Doctor?
Lorna -    He said, "Run"

Thin One  -  Just "Run?"
Lorna  -   He said it a lot.

The Doctor  -  Hello everybody! Guess who?! Please, point a gun at me if it helps you relax.  You're only human. The Doctor: (to Melody) That's okay, she's still all yours. And really, you should call her "Mummy," not "Big Milk Thing."
Amy: Ok, what are you doing?
The Doctor: I speak Baby.
Amy: No, you don't.
The Doctor: I speak everything. Don't I, Melody Pond? (adjusts bow-tie) No it's not, it's cool.

Lorna: Well, how else do you meet a great warrior?
Amy: He's not a warrior.
Lorna: Then why's he called the Doctor?


The Doctor: Well, how would I know? That's all human and private stuff. It just sort of goes on. They don't put up a balloon or anything.
Vastra: Could the child have begun on the TARDIS? In flight, in the Vortex?
The Doctor: No, no, impossible! It's all running about; sexy fish vampires, blowing up stuff, and Rory wasn't even there at the beginning.Then he was dead, then he didn't exist, then he was plastic, then I had to reboot the whole universe. Long story. So, technically, the first time they were on the TARDIS together in this version of reality was on their...
Vastra: On their what?
The Doctor: On… their… wedding nigh
t

Amy: Rory, no offence to the others, but you let them all die first, ok?
Rory: You're so Scottish.


Strax  -   I have gene-spliced myself for all nursing duties. I can produce magnificent quantities of lactic fluid.
 
The Doctor: Hello.
River
: Hello.
The Doctor: But that means!
River: I'm afraid it does.
The Doctor: Oo. But you and I, we've...

River: Yes.
The Doctor: How do I look?
River: Amazing.
The Doctor: I better be.
River: Yes, you'd better be.


River -  
Except they don't have a word for pond. The only water in the forest is the river. The Doctor will find your daughter. And he will care for her, whatever it takes. And I know that. It's me. I'm Melody. I'm your daughter.




Most of the questions we’ve had all series still apply but now we can add lots more…Who kills the Doctor and how does he presumably survive? Who is Madame Kovarian, is she working for someone or alone? How did she know to take Amy’s baby? Will Amy and Rory get Melody back (you know, to maybe take some photographs?!)? If Melody is the girl in the spacesuit does she shoot the Doctor and has she always spent her life away from her parents? If she is the girl in the spacesuit, did River remember as she watched the Doctor be shot? How did Melody/River spend her childhood? How strange must Amy and Rory feel knowing River is their daughter?! There always seems to have been ‘something about Amy’, is there more to her? Are The Silence still around and if so what are they plotting? Will we perhaps meet Lorna Bucket’s younger self, given that River must have spent time in the Gamma Forests in order to take the name River Song? Ultimately, just how much more tragic and heartbreaking does River’s death seem knowing what we know now?
I can’t wait to see just how many of these questions are answered in the second part of the series…
Questions
Rory  -  'Would you like me to repeat the question?