Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Paul Fuzz's other blog...

Find it here! I don't know if he's keeping it up, but there's loads of good stuff to read on there in any case. I particularly like his 15 Point Plan To Survive Winter.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Doctor Who: The Next Doctor

In a word... underwhelming. In seven... shows that the Doctor needs an assistant.

from TVScoop

Within just four years, the Doctor Who Christmas Special has become embedded in the public consciousness as the thing to sit down and watch together after the turkey and Christmas pudding. It's as important to the Christmas schedules now as Eric and Ernie were in years past, and that means that it comes with a lot of perhaps unrealistic expectations. So would this year's festive outing live up to the hype?

Well, it started out with a mystery, and that's always a wonderful place to start. Our tenth Doctor meets a man who answers to the name 'Doctor', has a companion, talks about the TARDIS and sonic screwdrivers with confidence and is utterly unphased by the prospect of a bizarre cyberman/animal hybrid.

To the Doctor, there is no doubt that this is a future embodiment of himself - but that theory quickly unravels. This Doctor doesn't recognise him, and his screwdriver is only sonic in as far as it makes a sound when you use it to hit something. Oh, and the TARDIS is a hot air balloon, albeit a nice Victorian one like the one in which Dorothy Gale attempts to get home.

The second storyline concerns this year's villain Miss Hartigan, and how she is in cahoots with the Cyberman who fell through space and time during Davros' attempts to destroy reality itself. Their goal is the same as always - to delete humankind, and convert them to the emotionless ways of their metal kind. Miss Hartigan believes that she will be spared from this process... we suspect otherwise.

The two plots are slowly drawn together as our Doctor establishes what has happened to the Next Doctor. He is, in fact, Jackson Lake, one of the Cybermen's first victims: his wife was killed, and his son abducted. When an info stamp streamed images and facts about the life of the Doctor into his mind, he escaped into a fantasy world to avoid facing the grief of reality - and became the Doctor.

The two states of the Next Doctor/Jackson gave David Morrissey free rein to show off his range - one moment he's bouncy, optimistic, brave and just a little arrogant (a true Doctor, therefore); the next, the tragedy that has befallen his family starts to take hold, and he is a broken man. Another great performance came from Dervla Kirwan as the cool but deeply angry Miss Hartigan. Suitably creepy and calm as a human, and immensely masterful as the Cyberking, Kirwan was a classic villain.

Despite the excellent cast, though, this was a Christmas special which, I'm genuinely sorry to say, failed to spark my imagination. If this had been a mid-season episode, I wouldn't have batted an eyelid - it was good, but it was not 'special'. The details of how the Cyberking came about, worked and was destroyed were all sketchy at best, but we've come to expect that with Russell T Davies, and we overlook it when we are gripped emotionally. But it was that very thing that, for me, was sadly missing.

It seems harsh to compare The Next Doctor to The Christmas Invasion (which is not just the best Christmas special, but one of the best New Who episodes overall) but all of things that made that so wonderful - suspense, jeopardy, invention, humour and heart - were in rather short supply here. And I had such high hopes! Last year's blockbuster special The Voyage of the Damned was entertaining, but a bit OTT for me - this, with its Victorian setting and truly impressive supporting cast appeared to be much more promising. It pains me to say, then, that this was something of a swing and a miss.

Just testing my TwitterFeed

Test!

Preview - Flight of the Conchords Series 2 Premier

And it's as good as you'd expect! Check out Episode 1...

Part 1


Part 2


Part 3

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Twittering...

Hi all, and a very merry if belated Christmas! As you've probably established, my course is keeping me just a little busy, (ha!) but I don't like not staying in the loop...

So, you'll see above that I've stuck my new Twitter feed on here, and hopefully the fact that I can send updates from my phone will mean I keep it up. Not ideal, but at least I keep my hand in. Don't worry, it won't be like a Facebook status update feed, just tiny reviews, comments and links to your own lovely posts. And hey, maybe I'll even post here more in the new year any way... maybe ;)

Love to all.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Dean's Election '08 LiveBlog

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Take a look! Myself and others may just contribute too...

Monday, November 03, 2008

What does the Brand/Ross/Sachs affair mean for BBC comedy?

(written for TVScoop.tv)

As Russell Brand cheekily opened his weekly Guardian column - ostensibly about football, though we all know what he's really referring to: "What a palaver". I won't comment on the original incident; lord knows there's been enough comment already without me adding to it (and in any case, it seems that your opinion is immediately invalidated in you are a fan of Brand and/or Ross. Ahem. I’m neutral on the subject, as you can tell.) No, rather than picking over the original phone calls, it is certainly worth considering what the ensuing furore means for comedy on the BBC. Is it all Last Of The Summer Wine and After You’ve Gone from here on in?

Well, as Ian Hislop said on Have I Got News For You last Friday night, the BBC has something of a track record of going from keeping schtum and acting as if nothing has happened (I think he actually used the phrase “breathless arrogance”) to fawning lapdog in the wink of an eye, so it is certainly possible that Aunty will be now be checking up on her comedy performers and writers with an unprecedented vigour - and many would say that that’s a darn good thing.

And of course to a certain extent it is - the BBC does hold a special position thanks to the licence fee and sheer world standing, and so ridiculous lapses in editorial control are not acceptable. And after all, tighter controls in this particular instance would have meant that BBC Radio 2 could have held onto its (by all accounts hugely respected) controller, and one of its most innovative presenters - and this thoroughly bizarre, frenzied week might have been avoided completely.

But while editorial control is one thing, over-zealous censorship is something else entirely, and something to be wary of. As someone who is passionate about her comedy, and who looks to the BBC for breaking acts, intelligence, and something a bit different, I can’t help but be a little concerned that comedy on the Beeb is going to lose its teeth.

It’s clear where the immediate danger lies. Shows such as Mock The Week and Never Mind The Buzzcocks which rely on often acerbic comics will be watched over with a particularly keen eye, despite the fact that sailing close to the wind is precisely what makes them so entertaining to their (probably shared) audience. Editors and producers, you assume, will try to keep Frankie Boyle in particular on a rather short leash, especially as a comment he made about the Queen eighteen months ago, but repeated this week, has already been criticised by certain sectors of the press.

The BBC must remember, however, to assume some intelligence on the part of the audience. They must remember that we are just as able as before to pick up on subtlety, intent, irony, sarcasm and above all context when considering whether something is unacceptable or simply challenging. All of these things must be taken into account - comedy out of context loses 90% of its meaning.

This isn’t to say, of course, that all comedy needs to be cutting edge to be worthy - just look at Beautiful People for an example of a comedy which could easily be tweaked for a pre-watershed slot and yet in my opinion is one of the best shows airing at the moment. But balance is necessary, and not all comedy shown on the BBC can be of this type. It goes without saying that the genuinely offensive should be cut out at source, but the BBC needs to hold its nerve, otherwise it will find itself deserted by its top talent, and - perhaps most worryingly of all - mediocrity will rule.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Some sane words on the Brand/Ross/Sachs affair...

India Knight in today's Sunday Times

I am utterly nonplussed by the Russell Brand-Jonathan Ross fallout. What’s with the insanely disproportionate reaction? Grovel a much-needed apology, by all means, then grovel some more, but why the need for ritual disembowelling?

Brand “resigns”; Ross is suspended without pay for three months; the controller Lesley Douglas, who is revered by her creative stable, falls on her sword; and Radio 2 self-harms in order to assuage 30,000 members of the public - a few streets’ worth - because two clever, talented men made a grotesquely tasteless joke, for which they apologised profusely - if late in the day.

The corporation’s desire to show moral backbone has left it looking spineless. The millions of viewers and listeners who didn’t complain are left deprived of the entertainment that they, too, pay their licence fee for. What on earth is going on?


She also goes on to say how Brand and Ross, while great entertainers, do have the "Achilles' heel", as she puts it, of treating women reductively, let's say. Well worth a read.

I'll be posting a comment on TVScoop tomorrow about what the whole affair means for comedy on the Beeb, so I'll cross-post here. Something to look forward to, eh? ;)

Friday, October 17, 2008

Tim Minchin - Ready For This, Sheffield City Hall

Despite an explosion in the size of his fanbase since standing out a country mile on a distinctly ho-hum Secret Policeman's Ball earlier this month, Tim Minchin is not quite yet at a level to fill the main auditorium of Sheffield's City Hall. As such, he appeared in the small memorial hall at the back of the building last Wednesday (and occasionally fought against the bass-heavy sounds of Level 42 playing next door), an unhelpfully semi-circular room which meant many audience members were looking at the back of his head whenever he was sitting at the piano. "I've done my hair really well so you have something to look at!" he said, with characteristic generosity, "and I'll keep swiveling round."

That bit of housekeeping out of the way, Minchin got stuck into the show proper, which, it has to be said, has come a hell of a long way since it was debuted at the Edinburgh Fringe this summer. In its 60 minute form, Ready For This had a strong theme of humanist rationalism - and fate, religion and spiritualism all still get a musical (and poetic) kicking - but expanded to two hours, the sillier side of the Aussie maestro is allowed to shine through. The show, I think, now gives a more rounded view of the range of material Minchin has to offer, which, as a confirmed fan, is a good thing to see.

The centrepiece of the new show (which he performed on Secret Policeman's Ball and therefore was greeted with a ripple of recognition and excitement) is "If I Didn't Have You", and this song is the most wonderful coming together of those two sides. A parodic R&B power ballad, this song explains that if events in his life had occurred even very slightly differently, he may not have married the girl he met as a teenager, and, moreover, he probably would have met someone else and been perfectly happy. "It's obtuse to deduce that I met my soul-mate at the age of seventeen" he says, matter-of-factly. The genius of this song, though, is that it is not just an attack on the idea of fate, but also a veiled love song and includes a silly fantasy sequence in which he outlines the other life he may have lived had things worked out differently.

If I Didn't Have You hasn't changed a bit since Edinburgh, and neither should it have done, but other aspects of the show have evolved massively. In particular, Minchin has tweaked the performance of his technically stunning nine-minute beat poem "Storm" to make his attacks on a ditzy new-ager of the same name less direct, and to make "himself" as much a figure of fun as the hair-flicking hippy herself - less sure of himself, and, importantly, more pissed. On a selfish level, it's a joy to see this poem change in precisely the way I wanted.

It is a testament to Minchin that the highlights of this show are all completely new material, as along with If I Didn't Have You, the song I heard most audience members waxing lyrical about as they left the auditorium is "Prejudice", a song with a killer twist to rival any M. Night Shyamalan flick, and more puns than The News Of The World. This isn't to say, however, that it isn't a delight to see Darkside at the end of the show.

Minchin has clearly gained a lot of confidence as a performer over the last year, and the more audacious he becomes in the ideas he feels comfortable discussing and indeed promoting in his work, the better he is. In the So Rock show from last year, (and especially in the older songs he included) there was a lot of "I's" and "me's" but in fact the less Minchin talks about himself - the less he makes himself a character in his own songs - and the more he discusses things that clearly mean so much to him, the more, I feel, we get to know about him as a person.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Spyski!, Lyric Hammersmith

written for MusicOMH (yes! I'm alive!)

It is easy to get confused when you arrive at the Lyric Hammersmith for this new production by the comedy theatre group Peepolykus. I had been led to believe – not least by the promotional material – that I would be seeing a new play called Spyski!, but on receipt of my tickets and programme, it was clear that something else altogether was going on: the programme has the words “The Importance Of Being Earnest (Absolutely not Spyski!... no way... no spies al all)” on the front, and the cast are listed as playing Gwendolen, Algernon, Lady Bracknell et al. Odd.

As the play gets underway, however, things quickly become (slightly) clearer. The performance of The Importance Of Being Earnest is actually a sham, a cover story, and so as soon as the rather conspicuous guy in the front row sporting a balaclava and walkie-talkie leaves the auditorium, the actors throw off their costumes and tell us, conspiratorially, why they’re really here.

They are going to use their talents to explain to the world, through the medium of a hastily put-together reconstruction, how they became caught up in a global conspiracy involving double agents, intrigue, murder, a genetically modified baby, and a hell of a lot of furry Russian hats. Oh, and some seriously bad accents.

The idea that this reconstruction has been cobbled together by the actors themselves in just three days means that there is a lot of fun to be had in terms of handmade wobbly sets, improvised props (using a brass gramophone horn as a Chinese hat is particularly memorable) and the doubling and tripling up of parts.

Of course, making something look as though it has been thrown together actually takes a lot of effort – the Reduced Shakespeare Company have been masters of this for nearly twenty years now - and while there were a few stumbles over words and names, the technical side of this production worked beautifully.

Spyski! is, above all else, a farce (there is a lot of the obligatory door-slamming and drawn-out misunderstandings) and without that level of rehearsal it would be a seriously clunky production, but as it is director David Farr deserves a lot of praise for such creative use of props, and the cast deserve praise for making it all so slick.

It is clear that real care and joy has been taken in the conception and creation of Spyski!; the energy is sky-high, the pace is lightning-quick, and the sheer inventiveness of the production means that it is a truly enjoyable night out. But I think that is all it is. As light as a feather and as frothy as your morning cappuccino, it is two-hour’s worth of well-constructed silliness, and if you are looking for something to make you think, or hoping to see something, dare I say it, even particularly memorable, then this isn’t for you. If, however, your theatre-going also includes rather more cerebral fare, then there’s no reason not to add this to your wish-list, and just have a jolly good laugh.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Reviews pending...

Under The Blue Sky
The Lion King
The Mighty Boosh Live

All coming once my head is a bit less.... buzzy!!

Friday, September 19, 2008

No Heroics, ITV2

I thought I'd repost my TVScoop review here, as I know at least one of my lovely readers was interested in how it turned out...

You'd think a girl would learn, wouldn't you? This is a sitcom, populated with bit part comedy players, on ITV2, at 10.30pm. The only thing that has ever met most of that criteria in the past and been anything approaching good is the really-very-good Comedy Cuts. Everything else should have led me to the conclusion that it was going to be bad, and yet I still bounded in like an excitable puppy, hoping for my new favourite TV show. You'd think a girl would learn.

This sitcom is based in a world, not too dissimilar to ours in most aspects, but very different in one particular aspect - the fact that, in that world, superheroes exist. Except, they're more like the rubbish X-Men that can be found in the background of Professor Xavier's academy, rather the ones in the jet with the cloaking device and groovy costumes. Not so much superheroes as... people with special skills. They might enhance their CVs a bit, but it certainly doesn't make them good people who are interested in saving others from the brink of destruction. They'd rather be down the pub.

Nicholas Burns plays 'The Hotness', essentially a Marvel-version of his Nathan Barley character. His special power is the ability to control fire, though he doesn't do it especially well, and is horrifically self-absorbed, misogynistic and generally unlikable. Another Barley alumnus, Claire Keelen, also features as Electroclash, and while she's got an infinitely better name, she's no better at being a superhero. She's pretty self-absorbed and unlikable too. Then there's Timebomb, a Spanish washed-up drunk who can see 60 seconds into the future, She-Force, the world's third strongest woman, and Excelsor, who's meant to be the villain of the piece, but they're all pretty horrible so it makes very little difference.

The main problem with this comedy is that the writers have apparently decided to replace the jokes with an unremitting coarseness - the swear word count is impressively high - and to produce characters that no-one in their right mind could give too hoots about. The only performance that has anything going for it is James Lance as Timebomb, as at least he has a bit of whithering, self-deprecating wit about him, but mainly the actors seem to be on autopilot.

And this is all a great shame because it should be a good idea. The likes of Heroes shows that we love our comic book heroes, and showing them on their days off should be a great starting point for comedy. Put this idea into the hands of the creators of Spaced - people who genuinely love Marvel and DC - and this could be a masterpiece. As it is, No Heroics is just another reason why ITV is known as the graveyard of comedy.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

I'm not blog-dead either! Honest!

Well, neither me nor my blogging big sister Lisa are doing all that well, are we? Unfortunately, I don't have the excuse of a broken computer and can only blame a mixture of being very busy and slightly lazy.

Basically, the busy-ness is due to the fact that I am moving down to London at the beginning of October for a 12 week journalism course, and so I've been working out where to live (always fun!), and of course I've had to do a bit more work thanks those rather lovely people at the Guardian. (Such a kiss-ass, I know).

I think that I'm pretty much settled now, though, and know what I'm doing. Living in London is hugely seductive, of course, and I've already spent far too much money on tickets for comedy and music gigs between now and Christmas. But then that's part of the reason for going down (not spending *too much* money on these things, but going to them). Yes, Messers Folds, Minchin, Fielding, Barratt and O'Doherty will all be involved.

What all of this means, of course, is lots of things to blog about! So hopefully this hiatus shouldn't be repeated any time soon.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

My first ever article for the Guardian...

Yup, that's right, I write for the Guardian now. Ha! And, to answer Stu_N's point in the previous post on this topic, I have to admit it's a nice photo :D I'm doing tomorrow's previews as well, and the same two days again next week, and then every Friday in September. Beyond that... we'll have to see.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/culture/2008/aug/21/2

Watch this
Anna Lowman


Olympics 2008
From 6am, BBC1

It's scary to contemplate what percentage of our licence fee is being spent on the BBC's coverage of the Beijing Olympics at the expense of, well, everything else, but when the action is this good, it feels churlish to complain. Pretty much everything has been dazzling, from the sprints to the Greco-Roman wrestling. OK, especially that. Highlights of the 13th day of competition include the modern pentathlon and the sadly Liu Xiang-less 110m hurdles final.

SuperDoctors
9pm, BBC1

Professor Robert Winston is the go-to guy for all things medical on television, so it's no surprise to see him presenting this new three-part series on pioneering doctors and surgical techniques. This fascinating first episode focuses on robotic technology, and Winston is sceptical to say the least - his initial feeling is that robots in theatre, or on the ward, are "completely contrary to what medicine is all about". The research is impressive and it's all scrupulously even-handed, but that suspicious frown is never far away.

The Cup
9.30pm, BBC2

BBC2's often troubled quest to prove that Thursdays Are Inherently Funny continues with this, a strangely unnatural-looking mockumentary based on a kids' football team in Bolton, and one particularly monstrous football dad. The quest will, alas, have to continue, as apart from an all-too-brief appearance from the team's intense coach and a brilliantly sweary little girl, The Cup is a largely joyless affair filled with thoroughly dislikable people.

The Edinburgh Festival Show
11.20pm, BBC2

Last week's edition of the Culture Show's yearly jaunt to the Scottish capital included reports on the Tracey Emin retrospective and the Guardian critic-bashing (and brilliant) comedian Tim Minchin, proving that the programme's usual eclecticism is well suited to the chaos of the Fringe. Tonight, in the second of just three measly hours' worth of television dedicated to the world's largest arts festival, Lauren Laverne talks to Fight Club author Chuck Palahniuk.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

If.comedy award nominees

And all round wonderful list, I'd say! (Yes, I know I gave Russell Kane a rather middling review, but he's a great performer) I'm sure Dean will be giving his reaction over on FringeBlogs real soon.

Main Award:

David O’Doherty: Let’s Comedy
Kristen Schaal and Kurt Braunohler: Double Down Hearts
Rhod Gilbert and the Award Winning Mince Pie
Russell Kane: Gaping Flaws

Best Newcomer:

Mike Wozniak
Pippa Evans and Other Lonely People
Sarah Millican’s Not Nice


Go DOD!

Ben Folds and Regina Spektor: You Don't Know Me

Not only do they not know me, but that is also the name of their collaboration on Benny's forthcoming (and so far excellent-sounding) album, Way To Normal. The track is currently on Folds's myspace. Have a listen!

Check your Guardian TV listings tomorrow...

...and you might just see a familiar name. And, mortifyingly, face.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Intermission

Hey all, more of those wondrously exciting Fringe reviews to come, but for now here's a link to a rather long but intermittently entertain podcast that me and Dean did just before Edinburgh - http://www.deanlove.co.uk/AnnaDeanPodcast1.mp3

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Bitesize Fringe Review #3: David O'Doherty - Let's Comedy

When a comic can make your jaw ache from laughing before they even take to the stage, you can pretty safely put large amounts of money on the fact that you're in for a good night. David O'Doherty sets the bar high right from the off, very conscious, I think, of the rather soulless and sterile room he has been placed in this year. He explains that when he'd been asked whether he'd like to perform in a basement, he had visions of The Beatles at the Cavern in '62, not conference chairs and a doctor's surgery-esque entrance.

Perhaps the feeling that he has to work that little bit harder to keep the audience onside has been a blessing in disguise, however, as this is a massively fun show that never falls from those initial off-stage heights. When I've seen O'Doherty before he's always been utterly laid-back, and the perfect fulfillment of his promise of "very low energy musical whimsy." But no more - just like Dylan and his own new toothbrush, O'Doherty has gone electric. He's still the charming, thoroughly likable performer he has always been, but this year he has turned things up to eleven, and it really works.

The territory that O'Doherty covers may not be especially innovative, but he moves from topic to topic, gag to gag, and witty observation to witty observation with such ease and joy that you simply don't care. This is a comedian hitting his stride, and I feel that an if.comedy nomination could easily be forthcoming - and would be thoroughly deserved.

Bitesize Fringe Review #2: Tim Minchin - Ready For This?

Tim Minchin, AKA the coolest rock and roll nerd in the western world, has come to the Edinburgh Fringe with a completely new show, but the themes that we have come to expect from this astonishingly talented entertainer - comedian doesn't quite cover it - are all in evidence. Ready For This? is an unashamed love letter to rationalism; nothing gets this Aussie going like facts, evidence, and methodical analysis (except being thoroughly silly once and a while, of course, and thank goodness for that).

Among the topics suffering the slings and arrows of Minchin's musical ire this year are those who refer only to the Bible for their moral compass because they've been told that "it's a Good Book, and it's good, and it's a book", and the idea that love is anything other than a combination of shared experience and circumstance. When you realise that Minchin has actually been with the same woman since the age of 17, the song "If I Didn't Have You (Someone Else Would Do)" instantly takes on an extra piquancy, but it is testament to his lyrical dexterity that a song which contains the line "I don't think you're special" can also be touchingly romantic.

The only slight quibble one could have about this show comes, I think, from a quirk of the British psyche as much as any flaw on Minchin's part. It can be quite hard, sometimes, to have a guy with a microphone telling you how right he is about certain things, without a really healthy sprinkling of "but what do I knows" and "I could be wrongs". We just don't trust it. I suspect, however, that this minor issue will be sorted out on tour when the show is lengthened, and perhaps a couple of Minchin's self-parodistic songs are added.

But in the end, there's no real need for Minchin to be modest. This show is achingly funny and thoughtful, with a good dose of frivolity, and to watch Tim Minchin, one of comedy's most gifted performers, is always as much a privilege as a joy.

Bitesize Fringe Review #1: Russell Kane - Gaping Flaws

In a recent interview, I heard Russell Kane say that he's happy to do work for anyone kind enough to offer it to him, whether it's E4 or BBC Four - "I have the hair for one and the mind for the other" he said, with a flourish reminiscent of his namesake, Mr Brand.

I was looking forward to this then, expecting some wonderful collision of high and low culture, and while that's clearly what Kane is aiming for, I'm not sure it really comes off. The show's title refers to the fact that we British like people to be imperfect, in direct opposition to, say, Americans, who openly strive for perfection in all walks of life. When you're taking this rather commonplace conceit as the focus of your show, you've got to be pretty darn innovative in how you expand on it, and I just don't think Kane went far enough beyond the obvious.

This isn't to say that Kane isn't incredibly fun to watch, however. The most energetic comic I have seen at the Fringe, he bounces around the stage constantly, matching every line to a physical movement - related or not. He's clearly a talented performer who delights in letting his intelligence slip through in little asides every now and then, but he is here unfortunately restricted by a rather uninspiring theme.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Hamlet, RSC, 4/8/08


Even for a theatre-lover, seeing in the programme that you have three and half hours' worth of tragedy to sit through can be a slightly daunting prospect, especially if, like me, the last tragedy you saw was a particularly grisly and downright difficult production of Edward Bond's Lear. But when you're in the hands of such a confident production, of such a beautifully written play, and of such an engaging, mad, hilarious Hamlet, you should believe me when I say that three and a half hours can fly by in a moment.

I've never seen or studied Hamlet, (although I knew the storyline - thanks Reduced Shakespeare Company! - and the key speeches, like all good English students) and so I was fully expecting to have to listen very carefully to follow the thread of conversations and soliloquies. In fact, Gregory Doran's production is a breeze to watch and follow, easy on the ear as well as the eye. Much of this is down to the fact that this version of Shakespeare's great tragedy is not afraid to draw out humour from every available source. And why not, when you have a master of comic timing as your lead?

David Tennant's Hamlet, I have no doubt whatsoever, will be remembered as the wittiest, silliest, and most intelligent in years. When we first meet Hamlet, as his mother and uncle celebrate their marriage, he is small, neat, and quiet; stood in the corner of the stage, an audience who is generally here to see him and him alone barely notice him. This is a genuinely depressed man who has been emotionally drained white by his father's death and the perceived treachery of his mother. When he starts his first speech ("Oh that this too, too solid flesh would melt/ Thaw, and resolve itself into a dew"), he is balled up on the stage, howling with sorrow, but sighing the words. He is not angry here, he is just grieving, and broken.

The anger comes when the Ghost of his father (Patrick Stewart, who also plays Claudius) tells him of his murder by his brother's hand. Suddenly, Hamlet is alive again. He jokes with Horatio and the guards, bounds around the stage, animated by the adrenaline caused by fury and a newfound mission. From this point on, we get the impression that this Hamlet is much closer to the one who hung around with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern at university than the shadow of a man we met at the start of the play. With an added, mad, 10%, of course. He is cleverer than everyone else in the court put together, funnier too, and more agile in both body and mind. Rather than his madness being tragic, it is here a release for him, and his genius mind flows out, uncensored by etiquette or regulation.

Tennant's quick and witty Hamlet has clearly been taken as a keystone of the production, as humour can be found everywhere. Polonius, for example, far from a wise if doddery old sage, is absolutely a comedy character. His whole demeanour, from the ruffled hair to the teacher-ly cardigan he wears, is one of an academic, whose voice can't quite keep up with his intellect. His speeches trail off into silence, as he tries to unpick his arguments and advice which really did make sense in his head. Hamlet loves debating with Polonius because he can mimic him - and outwit him. When Polonius announces "Though this be madness, yet there is method in't", he delivers the line as if impressed with a particularly gifted student. Which, of course, in another life, is exactly what Hamlet should have been.

This tragedy is not the fall of Hamlet - his progression is too engaging, too active, too much fun to be a fall - but of the collateral damage caused by his own behaviour, and that of his uncle. It is Gertrude's death which is sad, and Ophelia's; Hamlet was on a destructive path from the moment he found out that Claudius had killed his father, but they didn't need to die. Ophelia (Mariah Gale), in particular, is where the real tragedy lies in this production. Her descent into madness is like a horrible parody of Hamlet's - she too bounds around the stage, singing and waving her arms in the air, but this is in no way a release. It's just disturbing and sad.

Claudius, in this production, is the anti-Hamlet. Dull, smarmy, and above all unnervingly calm at all times, he does what he has to out of a desire to cover his tracks. He doesn't hate Hamlet so much as see him as a nuisance, and whether he is killed or sent to England makes very little difference to him. You think that perhaps he really does love Gertrude, but when she drinks from the poisoned cup, he says "it is too late" with little more than a shrug.

It was interesting, however, that Doran decided to keep in the secondary storyline concerning Denmark's constant battles with Norway in his production. It seemed, at first, to have little bearing on the main plot, but by the end we found that maybe the point was being made that while Claudius's coldness was a failing in familial relations, it was exactly what was needed in international relations. We hear that before Claudius became king, Norway was eating away at Denmark's borders, but Claudius sends a pair of diplomats to Prince Fortinbrass and the dispute is settled quickly. It is only when Claudius is dead that Fortinbrass arrives at the palace - and all the courtiers bow to him, quickly understanding where power now lies. Perhaps Claudius is a very bad man, but a very good king.

The set and lighting were impressive and creatively used, too. Great mirrors at the back of the stage are shattered when the first, and most critical death occurs - that of Polonius, which of course drives Ophelia to madness and suicide and in turn Laertes to murder. And right at the beginning, the mirror-like flooring is used to bounce the guards' beams of light onto each other's faces.

But really, this is a production which showcases some outstanding performances. Gale's Ophelia is heart-breaking, Penny Downie's Gertrude is agonisingly torn apart by conflicting loyalties, and Oliver Ford Davies as Polonius is a wonderful comic turn. And Tennant's Hamlet is everything we would expect - energetic, big hair, clever, messy, occasionally bound with fear and anger, and above all very, very funny. Doran's Hamlet is a tragedy you watch with a smile on your face, and that's absolutely no bad thing.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

I have seen Tennant!Hamlet

And it is goooooood. Review tomorrow :)

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Not long now...!

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And I'm just a little excited. Just a little. Honest.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

SHARKS KILLED AS CAR PLOUGHS INTO HOUSE

Now *that's* a headline I can aspire to! I mean, who could read that headline and not read the story?! Basically, a stolen car was driven into a house (by mistake, I assume), smashing a shark tank, and "dazing a parrot by striking its cage". Which is just as brilliant as the shark bit. [Guardian]

David O'Doherty does a blog

David O'Doherty NEVER does a blog!
Here's what the man has to say...

EDINBURGH FRINGE AND MY NEW JOKE

members of team o'doherty

I have a new thing. I've had new things before like trying to have better posture and not spending so much time looking at youtube, but this one is for reals. (I still spend too much time slouched over looking at youtube.)

Here is my new joke. (You will only get this if you are from Ireland/UK as it features a word you don't have in your countries. Sorry about that dudes.)

QU: What did Jay-Z say when his ice-cream van ran out of chocolate flakes?
Ans: I've got 99 problems.

I have a less good international version for all nations:

QU: What did Jay-Z say after he had fixed his bicycle puncture?
ANS: Well now I only have 98 problems.

Less good, I know.

Here is my new thing. I am going to be more organised. I tidied the bathroom this morning. I have just done washing. I feel so bloody productive. Later on I might grow some carrots or knit a jumper or invade a small country or make someone pregnant or something. WHO KNOWS

Well with this in mind I have decided to write a message about the things I'm doing for next while.

Tomorrow I am going to Edinburgh to take part in the Fringe. I am doing a show for grown-ups at 9 pm at The Stand on York Place called Let's Comedy. It's talking and songs on a tiny piano and you get to sit in a chair and I get to have lights pointed at me. I think it's pretty funny. I bet that sounds arrogant but I taped a preview the other night and listened back to it and it was pretty good. And that's coming from someone who usually hates comedy. It officially starts on Friday but there are megacheap previews Wednesday and Thursday. Here is a link about the show:
http://www.thestand.co.uk/fringe2008/shows/davidodocherty.aspx

I've also written a show for children that I'm doing everyday at The Assembly Rooms at 2.20 pm. My friend Maeve Higgins and I are in two beds on stage and the audience is keeping us awake. That's basically the entire script. We've done some previews around Ireland over the summer and I think it might be more fun than anything else I've ever done. It says it's for 6 and up but you'll get it if you're a smart 4 year old. Also there are some jokes for grown ups in it. Here is a link about that:
http://www.edfest.com/shows/I_Cant_Sleep_by_David_ODoherty

I am doing a big UK tour in the Autumn so I will put up dates for that on here soon and I am in a feature film that is coming out soon called 'A Film With Me In It' with my brother Mark and Dylan Moran.

This is pretty much everything for the moment. Thank you very much for reading this far.

do'd

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Irregular Update

Hello all!

What is it with real life getting in the way of blogging, eh? Most rude, I'd say. So here's one of my increasingly frequent apologies for being so absent, and a little catch up on what's going on in my life that you might be at all interested in.

1) In terms of work, the temping's going well, and I'm being given more and more responsibility and a wider range of things to do; from writing up dictated medical letters to basically running the office! I've found that I'm actually quite suited to office life, as you get to chose to do things in the order that you feel is most important - as the daughter of two teachers who don't have that sort of freedom, it's quite refreshing, actually. I would also like to take this opportunity to thank whoever invented the Post-It, and apologise to future generations for destroying the rainforests through my constant use of them.

2) TVScoop's going well - I interviewed Guy Jenkin and Andy Hamilton the other day, as the second series of their wonderful sitcom Outnumbered will be broadcast in September. Thankfully, it seems that this series will be given a weekly 9.30pm slot rather than being shown on consecutive days as before. I'm also excited about talking to a certain, rather brilliant actress in the Autumn who created one of comedy's greatest ever characters...

3) I cannot believe that it's Mercury Music Prize nomination time again! Incredible. Can't say I'm especially struck by this year's line-up, so I hope that my music guru Lisa can point me in the direction of a couple of great albums on there that I might have missed!

4) Dean and I are hoping to put together a podcast this week, thanks mostly to his technical know-how! So look out for that soon... Dean is also hoping to launch FringeBlogs in earnest this year, so hopefully we'll have more to tell you about that between now and August.

5) DAVID TENNANT IN HAMLET! I didn't even know I was going to the Press Night until I saw that fact on Lisa's blog, so I'm even more excited about this than I already was. Because everyone loves a bit of celeb-spotting, right?!

6) Me, my parents, Paul Fuzz and his partner Becca and (for half the week at least) one of my very best friends Sabina are all holing up in Edinburgh for the Fringe from the 10th to the 15th, and all really, really looking forward to it. Last year, we were so impressed by the relaxed, friendly atmosphere of the festival and the city as a whole, and so know that while there might be a bit of rushing about between venues, it will be a *proper* holiday. This will also be helped by the fact that, as we're in an apartment, we won't have to get up for breakfast...! Tim Minchin, David O'Doherty, Mark Watson and the Amnesty Stand Up For Freedom are all on the list so far.

7) Conde Nast's Wired Magazine, which has been out in the US for years, and concentrates on how technology affects politics, culture, entertainment etc, is launching over here in 2009. Clearly, it's inhabiting a world that fascinates me, so I shot off an email to them this morning to ask about the possibility of working with them when I've completed my course....!

8) Check out a couple of the saddest cartoons in the world, and then have a look at this one to cheer yourselves back up:


9) Check out what Lisa will be blogging about soon.


10) Tell Marie that, yes, she should get that kick-ass hairstyle.


10, I feel, is a very satisfying place to end. So I will.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Rose Tyler: Earth Defender

Can someone explain this to me, please? I'm sleepy and confused... (from sylvestermccoy.com)

Rose Tyler: Earth Defender:
War Part 1 and Part 2
by Russell T Davies

The 2 Doctor Who telemovie scripts have been completed and centre around Rose Tyler, Earth Defender, trying to track down the Doctor who's caused some problems in the past, which are affecting the present. Billie Piper returns.

The Boosh Fest - a personal view...

For ages I said that I wouldn't go to this, but let's face it, everyone knew I'd succumb in the end, and I did. And I'm so glad.

By that point, Aoife (who you'll remember from my BBC Three Boosh Documentary Adventure) had arranged to stay with another Boosh forummer Becky, and bless her she let me stay too. I realised what a different world it is living in London when we managed to blag tickets for an Ed Byrne gig which just happened to be taking place in a pub on the way from Kentish Town tube to Becky's flat. That just doesn't happen in Doncaster.

So after dumping our stuff, we basically turned around and went back out again, and it has to be said that I enjoyed Ed Byrne's set a hell of a lot more than when I last saw him at the Just The Tonic Christmas Show. (But then he was usurped as headline act by Mr Fielding, so maybe he had a good reason to be grumpy.) He was trying out material for Edinburgh - the most memorable bit being a section on how the video for Thriller is a Horror, not a thriller - and seemed really happy with how it went. As were we, but it's hard to be disappointed when you only found out you were going to see such a top class comedian about an hour beforehand.

The fourth member of our little clan, Nic, arrived during our post-gig Chinese, and she drive us to the Hop Farm in the morning.

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Aoife and brekkie!

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Becky carefully applying Nic's fake eyelashes

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The little clan

If any of you were in the area, you'll know that it absolutely threw it down up until about 11am, but when it cleared up it was actually perfect festival weather from there on in - sunny, but a nice breeze too. We were pretty darn lucky in that respect. Ok, so my lovely wellies weren't exactly necessary but I kinda liked them.

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When we arrived, it was clear that this was going to be a really relaxed affair - there were families with (some very) young children, older couples, picnics, loads of places to eat, loads of space, and the all important bouncy castle.

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It wasn't at all busy, and maybe the organisers would have been disappointed that it wasn't a sell-out, but for those of us who were there it was just right. First up were Robots In Disguise - the Boosh's Electro/Goth Girl - who I'll happily admit I'd have never given a second listen if it weren't for the Boosh connection. They write amazingly catchy - but pretty intelligent - songs which are among the most dance-along-able to in my entire record collection. Maybe they're more suited to a sweaty club than a sunny field, but the Boosh connection did mean that they did a great job of uniting the crowd early on in the day.

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The big forum meet-up came next, and despite our worries that we'd never be able to get everyone together in the same place at the same time, it happened incredibly easily. There were photos, hugs and squees a-plenty, as you can imagine, and it really was a joy to spend the day with such a lovely laid-back and friendly group of people.

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The whole group (think I took this one...)

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Emmy-lou, Sam and me

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Aoife, me and Jake, and the avatars of a couple of lovely forummers who sadly couldn't make it!

The fuzzy/bluesy/really rather good White Denim did their scuzzy thing on stage as we chatted and mingled, and after a performance from The Kills which I'm afraid completely passed me by (and a rather nice burger) Aoife and I headed for the comedy tent in the hope of seeing David O'Doherty, Matt Berry and Mark Watson who were scheduled one after the other. The comedy tent was a bit of a disappointment though, as the organisers seemed to miss the fact that a crowd united by a love of the Mighty Boosh would probably be pretty hot on their comedy. It was a tiny little marquee, and we only managed to squeeze in to see DO'D finishing up, really, but it was great to see Matt Berry do a couple of songs from Garth Marenghi's Darkplace and Snuff Box. Mark Watson must have been bumped up the bill as he appeared hours later, I think.

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The comedy tent

In the early evening, Aoife, myself and Jake wandered up to the front to watch The Charlatans (and hang about near the entrance to backstage where we met Berry, and saw Julia Davis and, randomly, Alan Davies). They were my music highlight of the day by far, but then I've always been a fan. Having an indie older brother who was in his teens in the 90s means that songs like The Only One I Know are pretty much emblazoned on my brain, but then they *are* good songs. I'll do a post with just videos soon - the first of which will be a clip of that very song - but for now, here's a piccie of Tim Burgess et al.



Next up was the unfathomable (and for a lot of the set very nearly naked) Har Mar Superstar, and after a brief DJ set from Peaches (the American singer, not Bob's daughter), it was time for the main event. The Mighty Boosh: The Band.

And for that, as my fingers and wrists are hurting something rotten, I shall cut and paste from my "proper" review.... sorry :P

The original idea was, I think, for the band to be made up exclusively of members of the Boosh family (Bollo on drums, etc), but Julian – the true music aficionado of the bunch – wanted, and I quote "the backbone to be shit hot", and so professional musicians were brought in on bass and drums. Apart from Fielding (Naboo) though, the others still played their part. Noel/Vince was on lead vocals (who else?!), Julian/Howard displayed impressive skills on lead guitar, Dave Brown/Bollo/Joey Moose added percussion to the mix, and Rich Fulcher bashed on the keyboard with characteristic gusto. And it worked. They functioned as a band fantastically well because the set up is already there, ingrained in Boosh mythology. Vince was born to be the strutting, posturing, Jagger-esque front man and Howard was born to be the jazz-inspired muso at the side, stroking his guitar. And so were their real-life alter-egos, of course.

But this was more than a set from a band; it was, and had to be, a proper show. The Moon introduced the Boosh (and later appeared as Jay-Z; "I got 99 problems, four of 'em are catering") and there was plenty of trademark banter between Julian and Noel. They were hugely generous to their audience too, as they threw in everything from their most famous crimp about soup (it's an odd world, that of the Boosh, but go with it) to a song only heard by their most ardent fans in a late-night radio interview. Vince appeared on stage on a huge pirate ship, while Howard had a little blow up dinghy, but he got his moment later on when performing New Sound and Isolation on his own - and blowing the audience away with a killer guitar solo.

There were costume-changes a-plenty, a dance-off between Har Mar Superstar and Bob Fossil (Rich Fulcher), sweary punk tracks, a nu-rave song about eels and thrash metal performed by grannies. Would this have made any sense whatsoever to someone who had never seen The Mighty Boosh? Of course not, but then you don't usually judge a gig on what it offers people who aren't already fans. And even if there were some Boosh virgins in the audience, I'd hazard a guess that they were swept away by the spectacle and joy of it all anyway.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Doctor Who: Journey's End

I've literally just finished watching it as I was at the Boosh Festival (on which more later, of course) so I haven't read any reviews whatsoever, and I kinda like that.

Davros, Daleks, whatever. That storyline wasn't important to me - we've had the near-end of the Earth and universe so many times before that I'm not suddenly going to be shocked by the prospect of destruction of Reality Itself - not least because that's never going to happen. We knew how *that* storyline was going to end all along - the Earth would be saved, and on a macrocosmic level everything would go back to how it should be. But the personal, character level, that's where we had no idea what was going to happen - look at all the theories, we *really* didn't know what was going to happen. But the DoctorDonna - how could we forget? It was there all along. Thank the Ood.

So there's the three-fold Doctor: one full Doctor with all his complexities, one brilliant human time-lord that just cannot be, and one merciless time-lord/human, who did what was needed, and what the full Doctor would never be able to do - he couldn't bring himself to halt their creation, and neither could he be their destroyer. He's "the man who never would", remember? But a Doctor with a bit of that very human, Harriet Jones-esque ruthlessness? He would.

I can imagine that this episode will provoke an ambivalent response, but I think that's because it was an episode that has ambivalence - absolutely intended by RTD - at its very core. Reality might be saved, but this was far from all wrapped up. Take Rose. She has a Doctor. A Doctor who can say the thing that a full time lord just can't, who has that humanness in him that means he can respond to her in the way that she has so longed. A Doctor with added human, what could be more perfect, right? Right? Of course not. He's not her Doctor. And no matter how much she teaches him, he never will be.

So there's ambivalent ending number one.

Then there's Donna, or DoctorDonna, who was so charismatic, so brilliant, and such a proper Doctor! She was the most important woman in all creation! Not that it does her much good now. Everything she's learnt, everything she has gained, gone. The Doctor might have saved her, but in another sense he has condemned her to the life she was so ready to leave behind. As Gramps said, she *was* better with him.

So there's ambivalent ending number two.

And the Doctor is on his own, again, forced to consider all the people who have fallen in his name, forced to recognise that it was a being that came from him who destroyed the entire Dalek race (until the next time they pop up, of course). His look at the end said it all - this wasn't a happy ending.

Which is why, of course, it is an episode that - literally ten minutes after watching - is not easy to love. It was clever and subtle and contradictory and ambivalent enough to mean that this blog has been a breeze to write, but you don't exactly come out of it buzzing. And the strange thing is, everything points to that being RTD's precise intention. If we were meant to think that Rose can be happy with her Doctor then why did she run after the Tardis as it left? If we're meant to be pleased that Donna is alive, then why is Gramps - who has always been right in all things - so upset?

This is how it's meant to feel. And that's just... an odd place to be.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

SUDDEN REALISATION

I'LL BE AT THE BOOSH FESTIVAL WHEN THE DOCTOR WHO SEASON FINALE AIRS. Ok, so there's worse things I could be doing, but still! :P

Doctor Who - The Stolen Earth

C'mon guys, I *know* you can pretty much write this review for me, because I *know* you know what I thought. I loved it. Of course I did!

We've had Moffat's ridiculously clever plots and mythology-creating, we've even had RTD going a bit subtle on us, but now it's time for - take a breath - millions of Daleks, Harriet Jones former Prime Minister (yes we know who you are), UNIT, bizarre bee-based epiphanies, emotional manipulation, The Medusa Cascade, a hysterical Dalek Caan, Jack being understandably scared, Donna being impressed by Jack, the Doctor's phone number, funny Ianto, brave Gwen, The Shadow Proclamation, Martha AND Freema being bloody awful, Martha's mum, Davros, "death for the most faithful companion", a possible regeneration, and Rose with a big-ass gun.

Time for everything, in other words. It was the best Bombastic-Who since The Parting Of The Ways, and I sat there with a big, dumb smile on my face (until the last few minutes when I was crying, obviously), lapping up, unquestioning, everything that RTD was throwing at me. You like Ianto making a little joke, right? Here you go! You kinda liked Harriet Jones and thought the Doctor was a little over-rigid in his morals, didn't you? Well, here she is being the hero. Want a big surprise at the end? Have one of those, too. Roll on next week.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Today's most squee-enducing picture...

*Squee*

Mark Watson might not be doing a 24 hour show this year but...

This might just make up for it...

Event Info
Host: The Mark Watson Long Show Community
Type: Party - Reunion

Time and Place
Start Time: Tuesday, August 12, 2008 at 9:00pm
End Time: Wednesday, August 13, 2008 at 5:00am
Location: Pleasance Courtyard
City/Town: Edinburgh, United Kingdom

Description
As there is no long show planned for this year, a few of us lifers thought it would be nice to meet up at the usual time anyway for a few drinks. And possibly the odd rendition of the anthem. Oh and some ballads. And some art. And maybe some games. There could even be a few comedians around....

Monday, June 23, 2008

Funny the things you find when you Google your name...

Or, more correctly, your mum does. Remember I did a review of the Rhod Gilbert gig in Doncaster? Well I also sent a cut-down version to my local paper, but as their regular gig reviewer had also been to the show, obviously that review was printed. What I didn't realise was that they had actually put it on their website! Yay!

Doctor Who - Turn Left

Like Rob, the thing that really struck me about this episode was how very dark it was, but again, as he said, it's not the first time that RTD has done dark - and he's always done it very, very well. He really does go by the philosophy that with kids it's only gore (along with sex and swearing of course) that's off the table. Kill off the Doctor, kill off Sarah Jane, kill off the kids from Sarah Jane Adventures, kill off the Torchwood team. Kill 'em all.

The wartime-esque scenes in (gasp) Leeds were wonderfully bleak too - it's amazing that a line as simple as "It's happening again" could have me and mum both reaching for the tissues, but the fact is that RTD can make us care deeply about characters in a matter of minutes. We were genuinely sad to see the man who had let Donna's family and so many others into his home taken away to such an abhorrent fate, and yet we knew next to nothing about him - we didn't need to, because what RTD had told us was more than enough to know that his death would be a tragedy and a disgrace.

As for Rose's return, I won't be the billionth person to mention her bizarre speaking style, and instead say that this wasn't really her story, it was Donna's, and it was very creepy. Rose will only be back in earnest when she's face to face with the Doctor or Jack - she has no relationship with Donna, other than recognising how important she is, but with those there is history and emotion. It was telling that we only really saw the old Rose, the one who isn't quite so cold, when she was talking about the Doctor's hair...

Overall, a brilliant episode that was as much straight drama as it was sci-fi (so often the best) , and a brilliant taster of things to come, you imagine. Here's a question though: since when did Bad Wolf mean the end of the universe? It was a good thing in the first series, wasn't it...? I clearly need something explaining... :P

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Doctor Who Catch-Up!

What with being busy and spending rather more time in the bathroom than I would have liked (lovely stomach bug) I haven't had chance to talk about the second episode of Moffatt's two-parter or RTD's standalone thriller. I loved both, boringly, and both were fantastic examples of the writer doing what they do best. For Moffatt, that's plot - twists, turns, the complete inability to work out where things are going - and for RTD that's dialogue and a great central idea.

Moffatt, as brilliant as he is, isn't infallible when it comes to the words he puts into his character's mouths (I'm sorry, but the Doctor should NEVER have said the phrase "I'm all over it" or "Are we good?"), but in terms of intelligent, creative plotting he just can't be beat. I can't think of a single other writer working in the UK at the moment who could have come up with such an original concept as Donna's dream-life - and, as I had suspected, he *did* get me crying in the second episode, especially when Donna's "husband" tried to call after her back in the real world...

As for Midnight, it was just wonderful to have an episode set in one place - no running down corridors, no outlandish monster, just a wonderful psychological thriller for all the family. As Paul Fuzz said in our usual post-DW phone-call, it was great to see the Doctor under such pressure, not from an alien threat, but just from the people he was trying to help - and whom, it must remembered, he *didn't* help. As the Fuzzster said, he didn't save, he was saved. The central idea of repeating was sinister enough in itself without the need to really be explained, and brilliantly realised by Lesley Sharpe and our lovely DT.

Obviously, I cannot wait for next week's Doctor-lite episode and the return of Ms Tyler - but will it be the same? Will it be a let down? Will, as I hope, the Doctor fall over a bucket in a slap-stick style way when he sees her again for the first time? What is the Medusa Cascade? AND WHAT IS ON DONNA'S BACK? So many questions...

Monday, June 09, 2008

Live At The Chapel: Tim Minchin, Simon Day, Tony Law and Arthur Smith (MC)

The Union Chapel in Islington is a working chapel, so it's a testament to the liberalism of some corners of the Anglican church that Tim Minchin - a committed sceptic - should be invited to play there. But in fact comedians perform at the Union Chapel on a regular basis (along with bands, artists and speakers) and it must be a wonderfully symbiotic relationship: artists get a fantastic, intimate space in which to perform, and the Union get a healthy income which no doubt helps towards the building's considerable upkeep.

Tim Minchin was the headliner on Saturday, but the whole night boasted an impressive line-up; Canadian stand-up Tony Law was on first, then Simon Day as his Fast Show idiot of a character Billy Bleach, and Arthur Smith MC's the evening.

Taking the stage in a white linen suit with knee length shorts, he was the sort of MC you want, as he clearly has decades' worth of material stored up in his head, and is hugely confident without you being left with the feeling that he really felt he should be on the bill proper. There is a huge stone pulpit right slap bang in the middle of the stage, which he had been told he Absolutely Must Not climb up to. He did, naturally. I mean, when they have dry ice coming out from underneath it, how could anyone resist?

I'd heard of the first act, Tony Law, but apart from the name ringing distant bells, I really didn't
know anything about him. Suffice to say I'll be trying to find out as much as I can now. His act, you'll be understandably dissatisfied to learned, is one that is really hard to put down in words. He hops from subject to subject, twists the ordinary into the extraordinary, and switches from accent to accent with apparent ease. Now he's frenetic and verbose, then he's speaking slowly and deliberately, like the voiceover from some late night infomercial. He talks about how to get the very best fight between a shark and a bear (a bear of your choice, he says, generously) and then sticks the microphone in his mouth to make a sound like a didgeridoo.

I might not be able to describe it all that well, but I know it was absolutely joyous to watch. He doesn't appear in the Edinburgh Fringe programme, which is a shame, but then again there is a rather large Fringe shaped hole in his gig listings at the moment...

Simon Day's character Billy Bleach is the default setting that many of his other characters on The Fast Show sprang from, but which can be seen in its purest form in the pub sketches, where he tried to help other punters, but ends up simply ruining their evening. If only he'd been rubbish, I could have made a wonderful link there... but alas he was good.

I'm assuming that he hasn't done stand-up in a while, because he seemed very nervous, and anxious to acknowledge that his new material took all of about five minutes - it did boast one of the best jokes though: "Barack Obama is the first black Presidential candidate in America; Jay Z is supporting Shakin' Stevens at Glastonbury. It's one step forwards, two steps back, isn't it?" His comedy is of an old-fashioned school, I'd say, and not entirely to my taste, but even with the prospect of Mr Minchin coming onto the stage, I definitely wasn't clock-watching.

When I saw Minchin last Autumn, I was pretty unwell, and didn't even blog it, let alone embrace him as my new favourite thing in the whole wide world. But those clever lyrics, that potty-mouth, that hair and those heart-breaking chord progressions were still there waiting for me when I was ready. And at about Christmas time, I was. Now I consider Tim one of my favourite artists as well as comedians, and have spent a good few hours getting to know some of his biggest fans on forum.

So I was particularly excited for this gig, as although I'd heard a lot of the songs from his two albums live, I didn't know them at the time, so this would actually feel like the first time. I was thoroughly anticipating - indeed hoping - for him to try new material out in advance of his Edinburgh run, but I've gotta say that my heart leapt at the words "If you really loved me..." which opened the show, and can be seen in full here. He also performed the lyrically-complex beat poem Mitsubishi Colt, and his Peace Anthem For Palestine.

When it came to the new stuff, he asked whether it was ok to play half-finished works. He hadn't meant it to be a rhetorical question so he had to take the silence as a sort of dubious consent. There weren't many whole new songs, but he finished with "Bears Don't Dig On Dancing" - clearly intended to be his new Canvas Bags, now that that particular issue is all sorted and that. He added a new verse to a song childishly and sublimely slamming Guardian comedy critic Phil Doast, though, (something that made me half want to give him a bad review...) and got us all singing "I love Jesus/I hate faggots". You could see a few people looking sheepishly around at the gorgeous ecclesiastical surroundings, but most joined in.

The set was not exactly what you'd call coherent - he clearly hadn't set in stone what he was going to play - but Minchin's winning persona (an indistinguishable mix, I suspect, of his actual personality and one he assumes on stage) meant that the audience happily stuck with him, even down to accepting Drowned as his encore, a song that, while still quirky, could never be described as comedy. He said he played it partly because he knew that the girls down the front wanted him to push the boundaries, and, charmingly, Minchin was more than happy to acknowledge his most committed fans who had bagsied the front row, throughout the set. When he was expressing annoyance at having to drink Day's beer, for example, a lady known to me as Shell threw him a bottle of water. "Thanks Sheila from Liverpool!" he said, and then added "I remember people from the internet."

This proved absolutely true when I met him after the gig, and he said hi without me even having to say who I was. He remembered that I'm a big Ben Folds fan, hummed Annie Waits, and had his photo taken with me:
(Lisa does stripes, I do checks!) For all his many talents, Tim (yes, it's Tim now; proper review is over!) just doesn't seem to be able to be big-headed or stand-offish, and instead stood and talked to people - some of whom he knew from many gigs gone by, others he didn't know at all - for ages. An actor, a singer, a comedian, a lyricist, a pianist and a gentleman, I've decided that it's my mission to find something that he sucks at...

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Paul Fuzz on the pointlessness of Acoustic Versions...

Acoustic Versions are popular for a bunch of reasons. The main reason they're popular is that they allow people who like Scouting For Girls but find their regular electrified output too loud and rocking the chance to own quieter, less engaging, less intrusive versions of Scouting For Girls records. Another reason is that bands themselves like doing Acoustic Versions because they think doing Acoustic Versions makes them look more like Proper Artists and less like Scouting For Girls, which is especially useful in Scouting For Girls' case. From Woodie Guthrie to Craig Mclachlan, the Acoustic Guitar has been the symbol of Serious Adult Rock Music.

Read more here...

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Doctor Who - The Silence In The Library

The positives about this episode are self-evident - it looks classy, and there are at least three storylines which we have basically no idea about. The girl, Donna and River Song. All equally intriguing, and all equally unfathomable.

But but but.... did it make you *feel* anything? It was very clever, and I loved the fact that I was left with no clues as to how any of the stories will work out, but it didn't move me to any emotion other than bafflement and interest. And that's just not enough, is it? Nor is it what we expect from Moffatt - yes, he's the master plotsman, and messing with timelines is absolutely his thing, but so is humour and joy and heartbreak. You could say that that is all to come - and believe me, I have no doubt whatsoever that we will get them all in bucketloads next week, and that the stories will tie up in ways that none of us could imagine - but The Empty Child wasn't devoid of those things, so being the first episode of a two-parter is no excuse.

And if I was waiting for my pulse to raise a little, what must have it been like for kids? They might have liked the skeleton zombie, but that didn't come until late on and otherwise I worry that they might have found it (hush now) a little dull.

Now I didn't dislike this episode by any means - it truly is fascinating, and I've been trying to work out who River is as much as anyone (another Time Lord? His daughter? His mum? Himself...?!) but I thought it'd be worthwhile to play Devil's Advocate, and expand on the niggles that I did have about this episode.

So, ladies and gentlemen - discuss.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull

Saw this on Thursday, and I pretty much agreed with every review I've read (you know, the ones I trust; not The Mirror or something which no doubt said it was the best film ever made). During the first hour Spielberg evokes 1950s America brilliantly - the fact is he's so huge that you forget that he's actually a decent director... but it's fun and colourful without being too Happy Days. Oh, and there's one set piece involving a village of mannequins and an atomic bomb which is one of the most awesome things I've seen on screen in a long time.

But then the story moves to classic Indiana Jones territory - a temple in Deepest Darkest Peru, and things started to go downhill pretty quickly. There's an awesome twenty-minute fight scene in the Peruvian jungle which kicks ass, but other than that it's pure silliness, and while I normally consider that a good thing, it just gets ridiculous.

As for the performances, Harrison Ford can still do withering sarcasm brilliantly and still convinces during the fight scenes; and Shia Le Beouf as Mutt Williams is a fantastically charismatic addition to the franchise. The chemistry between himself and Indy is probably the highlight of the whole film. Oh, and Cate Blanchett clearly has loads of fun as the Russian femme fatale Irina Spalko.

It's not great - it's far too unbalanced for that - but I'm happy to have seen it on a big screen, it's better than Temple of Doom (imho and all that), and basically I'm just glad to have Indy back.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Want a sneak preview of the Fringe line-up...?

Chortle's got it! Not all the comedy acts by any means (no David O'Doherty yet for a start!) but a great start with over 400 shows listed. Tim Minchin (9.45 Pleasance Courtyard), Rhod Gilbert (8pm Pleasance Courtyard) and Mark Watson (*also* 8pm Pleasance Courtyard, but a different room, presumably) can all look forward to seeing me looking over-excited in the audience....

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Dot To Dot Festival - Nottingham

I combined a visit to one of my very best friends who's at Nottingham Trent with the lazy-kid's festival option: Dot To Dot, a Camden Crawl-style event where one wristband gets you into lots of music venues across the city. With the weather being a bit rubbish (VERY windy) we didn't do as much wandering about as we perhaps might have done, and instead just headed for the people we really wanted to see.

The Saturday afternoon though, we did just pop into Rescue Rooms to get a taste of the atmosphere. It was obvious that the young teenagers who can't normally get into gigs were having an absolute blast (with their clothes and hair as well as the music) and they seemed to be loving a band called Cazals. A bit emo, a bit electro and with a keen ear for an anthemic pure-indie chorus, their sound is so zeitgeisty it's more tomorrow than today, and I've no doubt that the kids will go mad for them if they get any bigger. Not my thing, perhaps, but fantastic at what they do. Next door in Stealth were The RGBs - a band so Hoxton that the lead singer wore just a sparkly leotard and rosette. Pure electro, they're a band that CSS should be personally blamed for.

In the evening the big draw were Dirty Pretty Things at Rock City, and I can't imagine that anyone - fan or casual audience member - went home disappointed. Carl Barat clearly has thousands of killer tunes stored up in that head of his, and some of the best were on show this Saturday. The new single Hippy's Son didn't sound nearly so aggressive live, and was all the better for it, and the big tracks from their first album - especially Deadwood and Bang Bang You're Dead - went down a storm. The great thing about seeing this band live is that every member is fun to watch. Carl is a wonderful front man of course, Anthony Rossomando is cool personified, moustachioed Didz Hammond looks like he's having a blast the whole time, and drummer Gary Powell drives everything forward with a real intensity. A proper rock and roll band.

On the Sunday, we saw Thomas Tantrum at The Social. With a female singer fronting the otherwise-male group, they were certainly the tightest, most accomplished non-big-band we saw over the weekend. When I saw them live, I thought I detected a slight 50s Rockabilly sound which was really endearing, but when I've listened to their tracks on MySpace that doesn't seem to come through at all. In the early evening we returned to Rock City for Mystery Jets, who I found quite disappointing, actually. I'd always been led to believe that they're quirky and different from most other middle-of-the-road indie bands, but for the most part I didn't find them all that different at all. When they did do something a bit out of the ordinary - such as a touch of reggae, or doo-wop during a big ballad - they definitely turn into a much more interesting band, but otherwise I was rather underwhelmed.

In the evening we trekked to Nottingham Trent for a performance from the newly revived (in more senses than one) Spiritualized. Back from a life-threatening illness, Jason Pearce led an epic performance of drones, gospel, tunes and drums that felt somewhat out of place in what must have been a sports hall. Everything that was done was done beautifully, from the two-minute Stones-esque pop songs to the ten-minute, sprawling psychedelia. In the afternoon we'd seen Micachu use toy instruments and a hoover at Rescue Rooms, and watching Spiritualized you couldn't help but want to tell them to stop messing about, go away for ten years, live a bit, and come back when their vision is a bit more akin to Pearce's. But then it takes all sorts I guess, and that's what Dot To Dot is all about.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Doctor Who: The Unicorn and the Wasp

Look, you know me, and therefore you know I enjoyed this episode. Didn't *love* it - it's no Tooth And Claw or anything - but there was some fun dialogue, nicely farcical, and some great performances. I've read a few reviews which have said that THIS IS MEANT TO BE SCI-FI DAMMIT WHAT'S GOING ON I CAN'T COPE WAAAAAHHHHHH (or words to that effect), but hasn't Doctor Who *always* been more than sci-fi? One-off episodes like this are what makes it more than a niche show and turns it into something special and unique. Basically, you can read Marie's review to get an idea of how I felt about it!

On a related issue, Paul Fuzz has written a piece about critical responses to Doctor Who which should get us all talking :)

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Doctor Who - The Doctor's Daughter

Did anyone else feel their stomach flip when the Doctor pointed a gun at that guy? Because mine did, and the fact that I felt that shows just how far this episode came.

Cos, at first, I was completely underwhelmed. How could you fail to be, when you'd been told that an episode called The Doctor's Daughter did exactly what it says on the tin? I mean, c'mon Rusty, no it doesn't! Don't make a thing of it being exactly how it sounds because when we find out, with a rather dull inevitability, that it isn't, well that just engenders a big old case of... underwelm. So Jenny's a product of asexual reproduction and so "technically" she's his daughter. Whatever Greenhorn, she's essentially a clone. A very pretty clone, admittedly, and a feisty, really rather likable one, but a clone nonetheless.

At least, that's how it felt at first. And so it made the first fifteen minutes sit at the boring end of the 'meh' scale. Didn't stay like that, though did it? Ah, is there any more beautiful thing to be seen on screen in the early 21st century than David Tennant acting. Not shouting (not all the time, anyway), not making annoying faces - just acting. His conversation with Donna about losing his family in the Time War was stunning, and of course the scene at the end with a dying Jenny in his arms - and then a gun in his hands - was the first time DW has really punched me in the gut in a long time. That's a good thing, obviously.

And Jenny? Well I liked her a lot. I don't want to, particularly (because she looks too perfect, to be honest), but that little Moffett girl's got something about her. And it seems that we'll be seeing her again which I'd be very happy about.

Can I just point out one thing -the Doc's hand. It was focussed on in Utopia, but never referred to, and now it's been mentioned again apparently for no reason in particular. But with RTD at the helm, does *anything* happen for no reason in particular? Not usually...

Friday, May 09, 2008

My Top 5 Kids' Shows

I've done a Top 5 Kids' Shows from *my* childhood (ie circa. 1985-95) over on TVScoop, and your comments and suggestions would be VERY welcome!!

Thursday, May 08, 2008

A little catch-up

Oh Em Gee as the youngsters say, I haven't blogged in ages, have I? Unfortunately that pesky real life has been getting in the way again, but now I'm actually pretty settled and know where I'm headed so that's all good. Specifically, I'm headed towards a magazine journalism course in London in the Autumn, to my temping job everyday (half days to keep up the old TVScoop-age), and to the Fringe in the summer. With a sprinkling of Simon Amstell, the Nottingham Dot To Dot Festival, Tim Minchin and even Mr David Tennant in the meantime - and maybe the Boosh, depending whether they get their act (and more importantly, acts) together for their festival.

So there you have it. My TVScoop review of The Poison Sky is a little long and involved for here, but suffice to say the episode was fine - very good (and actually very funny) in places, with a couple of wholly unnecessary scenes and overall very Helen Raynor-on-a-good-day-ish. An improvement, then, but can we stop with the Raynor two-parters nonetheless?

The Apprentice continues to be rather wonderful, and a joy to write about every week. Last night's was amazing, and I'm very happy with my review.

Over in DeanLand, there's a review of a Daniel Kitson gig which y'all should enjoy.

Oh, and, well, I bought fetching hat today:Nice, huh?

Saturday, April 26, 2008

My Family's Nick, Peep Show's Jez and Gavin and Stacey's... Stacey. Live on stage!

Well there's a line up for ya!

Doctor Who - The Sontaran Stratagem

Well if Marie can admit to finding David Tennant rather annoying, then lord knows I can. Cos he *is* annoying at the moment, isn't he? Say a line straight, for goodness sake! Just one! Please? When he gets a decent dramatic scene he'll ace it again, I know that, but for now - just turn it down a tad, eh?

Anyway, as for the episode overall - well, it had Helen Raynor written all over it, didn't it? Painfully slow, dull as very old dishwater, and some lines that had me laughing out loud. Not the ones that were *supposed* to be funny, you understand. Just normal dialogue. Marie has already mentioned the scene with the two UNIT guards as being particularly bad, and she's absolutely right. And it went on for bloody ages. Just because you've got an hour and a half to fill, doesn't mean the audience wants to spend ten minutes listening to mind-numbingly boring speech being uttered by UNIT's answer to Dumb and Dumber. A serious low-point. As for the Sontarans, when they first emerged, I felt how I often feel - that I don't actually like Doctor Who at all. Not proper Doctor Who, with funny little aliens and no Jackie Tyler. But they grew on me, actually. They're not scary opponents in any sense - I quite warmed to them - but I can see why, with all their quasi-Viking devotion to honour and "glorious warfare", they've been brought back. Oh, and is it just me, or did their ship look distinctly Dalek?

The episode picked up, certainly, but it was as Helen Raynorish as I'd expected and that's not a good thing. But I have to admit that surely only Russell T Davies could have come up with the idea of WHEN SAT-NAVS GO BAD. So we'll forgive her that one.

Oh and Martha? Well, she was just... Martha, wasn't she? And that's about all you can say.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Doctor Who - The Fires Of Pompeii

I'm still not entirely confident in my analytical skills for Doctor Who after being totally thrown by much of last series, but I'm pretty sure this was really good... wasn't it? At least the dramatic, emotional bits were really good, and Donna is proving to be a brilliant companion for this Doctor in particular, who "used to" have so much mercy, remember. He needs someone, and the someone he needs right now, when he's a bit confused, still grieving for Rose, and still feeling guilty over Martha, is Donna. He needs a strong hand, and he certainly gets that with her. I've got to say that I was *very* happy when she told him not to tell her to shut up. Damn straight.

There were a couple of brilliant scenes: when Donna and the Doctor's identities were revealed by the soothsayers; and when the volcano was erupting, and Donna begged Pompeii's citizens not to head to the beach - and the Doctor not to let them all die. In the first, everyone viewing the show must have been tripped up by the announcement that Donna has "something on her back", but - just as Derren Brown knows - it was forgotten as soon as it was said (though not by Scott). It's an odd, deliberate thing to say, and it must have significance in the future.

The Mill did a good job with the Magma Men (as I've decided to call them because I can't be bothered to look up their names), but the sci-fi part of this episode was, I think, weak in comparison with the drama, delivered wonderfully by Tate 'n' Tennant. They're one hell of a partnership, and what the show needs, as well as the little lost Doctor.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

More Oliver casting news

Nick Knowles as Bill. Reportedly. It's not April 1st again, is it?

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Sunday, April 06, 2008

I am...

Watching Mark Watson's 24 hour show online! It's quite bizarre - he's so far away and yet... he's just there. Being shambolic and entertaining. They're currently casting an impromptu soap :)

Saturday 5 April: A good day

Lisa had a good day yesterday, and so did I. It started with an acceptance letter from the noSWeat magazine journalism course, and a lovely personal one, too, that quoted specific things I'd written. Then I picked Comply Or Die for the National (the winner, if you missed it), as it sounded like something a Dalek would say; and then Doctor Who was all... cuddly and warm. Brilliant.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Doctor Who in a time-warp...

Is it just me, or did Partners In Crime feel very... Christopher Eccleston series-esque? It's clear that RTD had the words "gotta bring back the fun" in his mind when he wrote this episode - soapy, set in the UK, fully comedy. He was rocking it like it was 2005. When we were dragging ourselves through Daleks In Manhattan, the wheelie-bin-burping business of Rose felt a very long way away... a good thing? For some people, definitely. But you all know that I *like* silly, soapy DW. It's what got me hooked in the first place, and it's what we got tonight. This was pure RTD - forget the plot, enjoy the dialogue (and especially the lack of it, during Donna and the Doctor's reunion). That's not to say it was particularly good, of course, I could never argue that, but heartening. Certainly heartening. And who could hate an episode that featured a glimpse of (a very pensive) Rose? Not me, anyway.

P.S. my usual post-DW blogsearch threw up a few gems, especially this. I like that she says "I think I must have a thing for anything that isn't canon" - you and me both. But I do need a bit of help with some of her terminology: "I suddenly ship Doctor/Donna". "I feel all OTPish about them". Ship? OTP? Suddenly I feel very old....

P.P.S. Urban Dictionary says that OTP is "One True Paring. Used in fandoms to espress what charaters you ship. (put together romanticly)" So that helps on both counts. Well I certainly don't ship them... but they are a bit OTP-ish, in a platonic way. (Am I doing it right?)

P.P.P.S. Marie's wonderfully positive review.

P.P.P.P.S. Rob's also positive review!

P.P.P.P.P.S. Lisa's also *also* positive review!, and good day all round.

P.P.P.P.P.P.S. Not everyone's so happy with the episode, though. John had good words for it over on TVScoop, but commenters are dissenting...

P.P.P.P.P.P.P.S. I'm so happy Doctor Who's back... when else do you get posts like this??!

P.P.P.P.P.P.P.P.S. Rosby's review! Spoiler-avoiders beware - there's a biggie in there.