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

Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Scott & Bailey - Episode 1 - Review

ITV’s new cop drama ‘Scott & Bailey’ kicked off on Sunday night, according to this article from Digital Spy , with a whopping 8.2 million viewers. There is clearly an audience for this style of show then and the pairing of Suranne Jones and Lesley Sharp as the eponymous detectives clearly proved a big draw.

And so it should. Jones and Sharp produce consistently great performances, the presence of one of these actresses in a show will encourage me to watch it and so with both together I had high expectations.

Unfortunately, those expectations were not met, not through the fault of their performances, but because of a cliché-laden script with plot holes galore and some horribly clunky dialogue that really let the programme down.

In this opener, the detectives were investigating the murder (oh, sorry, apparent suicide) of a young, pregnant, Turkish woman. They quickly discovered her husband was having an affair and set their detective noses after the ‘other woman’. Meanwhile, DC Rachel Bailey (Jones) had just been dumped by boyfriend Nick Savage (played by Rupert Graves, who seems to be ever-present at the moment). In case you hadn’t guessed by the use of the surname ‘Savage’, it turned out Nick was A BAD GUY, with Bailey discovering her two year relationship was built upon lies and Savage had another life with a wife and children. Much of the episode was then spent on following Rachel’s turmoil as she decided whether she wanted to take revenge, to tell the wife, before she eventually settled for a little blackmail instead. You see the parallels between her life and her case there? I’m pretty sure you couldn’t miss them. Although lots of shows use this device by relating ‘case of the week’ scenarios to the characters lives, the best scripts integrate them a whole lot better than this did.

Openers are of course notoriously hard to get right for any television show, so a few teething problems are to be expected. Perhaps it was my expectations and my preconceived ideas about what a ‘buddy cop show’ was that clouded my view of the show. I fully expected the two detectives to be polar opposites of each other, (which proved correct,; Bailey the headstrong, feisty, rule-bending one and Sharp’s DC Janet Scott, the calm, detached, rule-book abiding one), I fully expected them to both have dysfunctional and different private lives that impacted upon their cases. I expected these things and I was ok with that. I did however, expect Scott & Bailey to share a friendship that extended above and beyond everything else and an easy banter that was endearing and fun to watch. Whilst watching the episode however, I couldn’t shake the feeling that far from being best friends, Scott & Bailey barely seemed to know each other at times, and barely seemed to even like each other during certain conversations. Scott’s cold ‘You’ve been had, haven’t you?’ speech the moment that stood out as the most bizarre.

Of course, this was a first episode, and some things had to be given more time than others. Lesley Sharp had less screen time to really make an impression with her character and perhaps in the coming weeks the relationship between the two will be shown to grow. I hope so, as despite my criticisms here, I really am willing the show to succeed. I like the idea of a female buddy cop show and Sunday night seems like the perfect place for it, an enjoyable and entertaining hour of television that brings the weekend to a close.
I will stick with the show and if the rest of the 8.2 million viewers on Sunday night do too then we have a sure fire hit on our hands, regardless of any complaints. I just hope that the scripts in the coming weeks do justice to the talents of the two leading actresses, who together could form a fantastic pairing.

Ultimately, with Jones and Sharp on board, Scott & Bailey has potential and plenty of it, but the next few weeks will determine whether the script, direction and performances can all come together to form a top cop drama.

Watch Scott & Bailey, Sunday nights at 9pm on ITV1

Sunday, 29 May 2011

Doctor Who - Series 6 - Episodes 5 & 6 'The Rebel Flesh' & 'The Almost People' - Review

What’s the Story?

The Tardis is caught up in a solar tsunami and lands on an island monastery, where human workers are creating their own ‘doppelgangers’ to do the risky work for them, from a secret programmable matter called The Flesh. As the storm worsens however, the ’Gangers’ come to life without needing their human counterparts, and with the exact same personalities and memories the Humans and Gangers go to war to determine who will survive. As The Doctor tries to maintain peace, the story concludes with a dramatic revelation that changes everything we thought we knew…

What’s the Verdict?

Matthew Graham, writer of ‘The Rebel Flesh’ and ‘The Almost People’, has previously brought us the much maligned David Tennant episode Fear Her and the much loved cult tv favourite Gene Hunt in Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes. So where do these two episodes fit within the spectrum of his past work? The answer seems to be somewhere in between.

After the wonderful ‘The Doctor’s Wife’, ‘The Rebel Flesh’ had a lot to live up to and probably wisely adopted an entirely different tone. This episode took it’s time to stoke up the atmosphere, slowly building a dark and creepy thriller with hallmarks of many sci-fi programmes and movies that have gone before. For the most part this worked, we had time to get to know the characters and their backstories, but at other points it felt a little too ponderous and too light on action.

The ‘Gangers’ were intriguing ‘villains’ and I was impressed by the creepy visual effects creating the rubbery facial features, if less so by the head of Jennifer upon an elongated snake-like neck, which erred a little too far to the silly side. I love the name ‘Ganger’ (surely someone has used it before?) and it created an interesting morality tale. Rory was given the chance to branch out on his own and it was interesting to see the dynamic between Rory and Amy shook up like this.

My main problem with ‘The Rebel Flesh’ however, was that it all felt just a little bit too predictable. Cleaves was the obvious choice to be the one to break the already fractious peace and we have seen this plot device many times to create a war in Who and many other programmes and movies. The Ganger Doctor likewise was signposted from the moment he touched The Flesh, and the whisperings of ‘Trust Me’ throughout the episode only served to confirm it. Again the visual effects were nicely done however and seeing Matt Smith in Ganger form was still a highlight even if it was expected.

It is virtually impossible to judge a two-part episode on the first part alone and this is why I have chosen to review both together, as after ‘The Almost People’, the events of both episodes take on a far greater significance. I’ll try and think about the episode without THAT ending first…

Matt Smith produced another of his finest performances to date (although it is possible to say this every week) and the Two Doctors were a lot of fun to watch. Hearing the catchphrases of previous Doctors was a lovely touch and the dialogue sparkled between The Doctor and his Ganger.

It felt like the ‘monster’ of this story took a back seat to the morality play, sometimes this was a bit heavy handed (I think we all got the ‘humans are the villains’ angle) and I can’t help wondering if the episode needed a monster at all. Especially as the CGI work again looked more silly than scary (the concept art displayed on Confidential, looked scarier than the real thing, perhaps they needed to give the creature Jennifer’s features without just plonking the whole head on the end!).

The Jennifer-Ganger and Doctor-Ganger switcheroos were again a bit predictable, not because of any physical clues, more because ‘It’s The Sort Of Thing They Do’. It did provide an interesting way to explore the Doctor and Amy’s relationship and a nice way to really prove that Gangers and their human counterparts cannot be differentiated (*FORESHADOWING ALERT*).

Most of the guest actors were given a chance to shine and they all did so, Mark Bonnar’s Jimmy was particularly moving in ‘The Almost People’, Sarah Smart did a great job with a difficult part(s) (though it was a shame the Jennifer/Rory subplot didn’t amount to more) and Raquel Cassidy and Marshall Lancaster were memorable as Cleaves and Buzzer respectively. Leon Vickers, as Dicken, should perhaps be feeling a bit short-changed through no fault of his own, underused to the extent that I had to check the credits to learn the character name.

Unfortunately, the ending did feel a little too neat. Dicken appeared to exist purely to pointlessly sacrifice himself, leaving one Human and one Ganger version of each person. It might have been more interesting to see how they would have coped with two versions of themselves, but perhaps time didn’t allow for a deeper exploration of this.

The death of the Ganger Doctor surely dispels the theories it is the Ganger Doctor that died in ‘The Impossible Astronaut‘, but with The Doctor’s parting words about molecular memory, it is possible it is not the last we will see of him.

Now we come to THAT final scene, which really puts the events of the past two episodes (and perhaps the whole series) into perspective. With Amy revealed as a Ganger all along, we understand why it was so important to slowly build the story, to learn so much about the Gangers last week. Where it felt ponderous or like being hit over the head with a hammer? Well there was a reason for that. The Gangers aren’t just monsters of the week(s) but in fact so significant to the plot that they have changed everything we thought we knew.

After spending some of this review complaining about the predictability of certain plot points across these two episodes, I have to admit I did not see this ending coming at all (I’m sure some clever people out there predicted Ganger Amy, well done you :-) ). One of the reasons I love Doctor Who is that although this twist knocked me for six, it actually makes complete sense when you look back at what has gone before. Eyepatch Lady specifically said Amy was ‘dreaming’ and we have had two whole episodes about how the Gangers are exact duplicates of the Human. This isn’t a magic pool of light or an ethereal higher power, the writers have shown great skill in signposting the truth while still managing to surprise.

To conclude, I think that without that ending, these episodes would have been viewed as solid, enjoyable if not remarkable episodes of Doctor Who. With a cliffhanger like that however, anticipation for the mid-series finale cannot be higher, although I imagine the wait until the next set of episodes will be tough I'm sure we will be given enough to speculate about in the meantime!

Best Scene

Well, there’s only one contender really here isn’t there? As The Doctor, Amy and Rory stepped into the Tardis, we knew something pivotal was about to happen. Matt Smith switches brilliantly from the humour and flippancy of his Doctor to the serious resolve, and seeing the hard look of resolution upon his face here, the sadness tinged with anger; it was clear to Amy and to the audience what he was about to do. Karen Gillan gave a fantastic performance also and you could really feel her fear and bewilderment, the two men she loves most in the world backing from her. Amy seeing that look in the Doctors eyes, knowing what he was about to do and confessing that she was frightened; it was a gripping and heartbreaking moment and one of the stand outs of the series. And then the Doctor kills her. And then she wakes up. A mind-bending but completely gripping cliffhanger that leaves me with genuinely no idea at all about how events will go in the finale. Just the way I like it. :-)

Best Lines

From 'The Rebel Flesh'

Jennifer - ‘I thought I was going to die’
Rory - ‘Welcome to my world’ - surely this confirms we are being toyed with over Rory’s frequent ‘deaths’.

 The Doctor - ‘Human lives are amazing, are you surprised they walked off with them?’
The Doctor - ‘Has anyone got a pair of shoes I could borrow? Size 10. Though I should warn you I have very wide feet’. - it’s all in the delivery!  

The Doctor - ‘Eeeeee byyyyyy baaaaah gum’
Ganger Cleaves - Oh great, you see that is just so typically me’

From ‘The Almost People’

Doctor 1 - ‘Is that what you were thinking?’
Doctor 2 - ’ Yes it’s just so inspiring to hear me say it’.

Doctor 1 - ‘I’m starting to get a sense of just how impressive it is to hang out with me’
Doctor 2 - ‘Do we tend to say Yowza?’
Doctor 1 - ’ That’s enough, let it go, we’re under stress.’

The Doctor - ‘Tough old Sexy’ - I was particularly pleased to hear this line, as I felt a pang of horror seeing the Tardis sinking into the acid last week and thought at the time The Doctor would have reacted more than he did, turns out he wasn’t worried!

Rory - ‘I’ll break out the big guns’
Jimmy - ‘I look quite handsome from this angle’ - ah humour in death, so very Doctor Who!

 Amy - ‘You’re twice the man I thought you were’
The Doctor - ‘Given what we‘ve learnt I‘ll be as humane as I can, but I need to do this and you need to STAND AWAY.
*Rory lets go of Amy‘s hand*
Amy - ‘Doctor, I am frightened. I’m properly, properly scared.
The Doctor - ‘Don’t be. Hold on. We’re coming for you, I swear, whatever happens, however hard, however far, we will find you.’
Amy - ‘I’m right here’
The Doctor - No you’re not. You haven’t been here for a long, long time’
*The Doctor steps away. He points his sonic at her*
Amy - ‘Oh no’
*The Doctor sonics Amy and she disappears*’

Oh so many questions! When was Amy switched? (and is this why she has been wearing the same shirt!!??) We first saw Eyepatch Lady in Day of The Moon so was it before then? How long has The Doctor known? Who is she giving birth to (the regenerating child?) and who is the father (if there is one as such!)? What happens now The Doctor knows he will die? Or has he always known that too? Who has kidnapped Amy and why her? The Silence? Or someone else entirely? Oh yeah, and on top of that we still have the small matters of who kills The Doctor, how does he (presumably) survive and the old favourite, who is River Song? It is highly unlikely we will get the answers to all of these next week, we may not even get the answer to one, but regardless of whether we end the episode with answers or just more questions, it is shaping up to be an absolute cracker!

Friday, 6 May 2011

Kerry Ellis & Brian May - 'Anthems The Tour', The Sage, Gateshead - Review

The Sage, Gateshead  -  5th May 2011

West End singing sensation Kerry Ellis and legendary Queen guitarist, Brian May, brought their combined talents to a sell-out audience at The Sage, Gateshead this week in their touring version of hit album ‘Anthems’. 
It may seem an odd combination, a musical theatre star with a member of one of the biggest bands in the world, however they have a long history of collaboration, beginning when May picked Ellis to star in his new West End musical, ‘We Will Rock You’.   Fast forward nine years and Ellis has a large fanbase of her own following her starring role in the musical ‘Wicked’ in the West End and on Broadway. 
If you have made your way to read this however, chances are you know all this already, and what you really want to know is how their ‘Anthems’ CD translates to the stage.  The answer is, of course, brilliantly.   
Ellis and May, along with an excellent live band, perform almost all of the CD tracks (the only omission I noticed was ‘You Have To Be There’, unless I had a complete black out for three minutes!) with added Queen classics, ‘Somebody To Love’, ‘We Will Rock You’ and ‘We Are The Champions’. 
Kerry's theatre background shone through as she acted many songs, the emotional intensity in her rendition of ‘No-one But You’ was probably my personal highlight, heralding an impromptu standing ovation and though some remained seated, a quick glance around indicated it was because they were too busy drying their eyes!  

After the big rock numbers, an acoustic section provided an interesting change of pace, peeling back the layers to just a voice and a guitar and some audience participation, which was by far the most tuneful I’ve ever heard and sounded quite lovely as the voices reverberated around the auditorium. 
On this night I felt there were perhaps more Queen fans in than Kerry fans however I am sure she will be winning more admirers at every venue they visit.  The show does a good job of balancing the interests of both the theatre fans and the Queen fans; as a fan of the former I would naturally have loved more theatre tracks ('Anthems' and of course 'Defying Gravity' were other highlights) but it is impossible to complain when the Queen tracks are so universally crowd-pleasing.  Turning and seeing the entire audience on their feet, arms waving and singing along to ‘We Are The Champions’ was quite a spectacular sight and I’m sure was even more so for the performers. 
I distinctly remember the first time I heard Kerry Ellis; it was her performance of ‘The Wizard & I’ from Wicked on ITV’s Loose Women which I am sure is familiar to many of you reading (and I know, still a bit late to the party!).  I loved the character of Elphaba and of course that fantastic voice, but I was also struck by how surprised she seemed to be by the rapturous audience reaction.  It was very endearing and despite all the acclaim that has come her way since, watching ‘Anthems’ I still got the impression that Miss Ellis doesn’t quite realise how good she is.  She occasionally seemed genuinely overwhelmed by the reactions she received and it remains as endearing as ever. 
It was wonderful to see Kerry Ellis the person, dancing across the stage and truly having fun, as herself, rather than a character.  Her voice is incredibly powerful and she has wonderful control, effortlessly hitting notes most singers would never even attempt. Ellis has a real stage chemistry with Brian May, and they form a great partnership, both commanding the stage and knowing every riff and beat of the music. 
With the whole audience on their feet regardless of whether people had attended primarily for Ellis or May, everyone was united in their praise by the end of the show and left on a high, ears possibly ringing slightly, but having certainly had a great time!  How welcome it was also to have the opportunity to see the show at The Sage, for us Northerners that struggle to get to London as often as we would like.  ‘Anthems’ is a fantastic opportunity to see two unique talents sharing the stage and should the tour be coming to a town near you, I recommend going along!