At the theatre:
Stewart Lee – at the Oxford Playhouse
You either get Lee, or you don’t. He’s unashamedly literary and intellectual for a comedian and I’ve been a fan for years of his TV shows (a couple of his shows are available on BBC iPlayer), but this was the first time I’ve seen him live. I haven’t laughed so much for years!
He has a unique schtick – in that he usually takes a starting point at the top of the show, and very cleverly through the rest of the show takes you round and round to bring you back to where he started. His latest tour is entitled ‘Basic-Lee’ and the premise was to take the very first sketch he performed live at a Hackney comedy night and to analyse the art of comedy through it. The sketch was all about an encounter with a religious type that knocked on the door who says ‘Jesus is the answer. What is the question?’ Cue much hilarity from Lee with possible questions and he went on from there – for an hour and a half (with interval). FANTASTIC!
The Lehman Trilogy at the Gillian Lynne Theatre
I would have loved to have seen the original London run of this play with Simon Russell Beale et al at the National Theatre, but missed it in 2019 – then it went off to Broadway, but hurrah, it’s back in the West End at the renamed New London Theatre (where Gillian Lynne choreographed Cats) with a new cast.
The play in three acts follows three generations of the Jewish Lehman brothers who arrived from Germany in the late 1800s, and built up their original fabric business to become cotton brokers in Alabama, then bankers – which as we all know, ultimately ended up going bust in the 2008 financial crisis some years after the last of the Lehmans died.
Directed by Sam Mendes, Nigel Lindsay (r), Michael Balogan (l) and Hadley Fraser (c) (left) play the three brothers in age order – and then all other parts in between, children, wives and colleagues. They’re all there right from the beginning in the glass, chrome and leather NYC revolving set (below), full of filing boxes, which they move around to become whatever is needed. They were accompanied throughout by a live pianist who was sat just in front of the stage. The projected backdrop changes to reflect the times and locations.
There is a scene at the end where ‘Bobby Lehman does the twist’ which was sheer genius in which the three guys twist to ‘The Beat Goes On‘ – the All Seeing version of the Sonny & Cher original (listen here)
It was really funny and a bit sad, and IT WAS BLOODY BRILLIANT! The three guys were amazing, and the pianist was wonderful. My third row seat let me see all the nuance in the actors’ faces so well.
Go if you can before the run ends, but smuggle in your own refreshments – a can of gin and tonic was £8.50!
I’ve been discovering ITVx – and they’ve launched with some great short series all based on real stories (with dramatic licence taken) – see below. I love the vogue for shorter series these days – a maximum of 8 episodes, but preferably 6 or even fewer.
The TV highlight of the year so far has to be Happy Valley though. Sarah Lancashire was so believable and vulnerable and strong. James Norton was the ultimate baddie with a Jesus complex. Sally Wainwright is a genius.
I also watched:
- The Gold – BBC1 – I binge watched all six episodes – fascinating and a great series. (6 episodes)
- A Spy Among Friends – ITVX – Damien Lewis and Guy Pearce as Kim Philby – both leads are fantastic, with Anna Maxwell Martin supporting as a British agent investigating.
- Stonehouse – ITVX – Matthew MacFayden as MP John Stonehouse who faked his own death in late 1970s. John Preston wrote it – but fictionalised large chunks to make him look very silly. (Stonehouse’s daughter Julia who was in her 20s when he went missing was appalled apparently!) (2 episodes)
- Nolly – ITVX – Helena Bonham Carter is Noelle Gordon – charting the rise and fall of Crossroads – a role she was made for! (3 episodes)
- Litvinenko – ITVX – David Tennant virtually unrecognisable as the poisoned Russian dissident. (4 episodes)
- Suspicion – AppleTV – A staged kidnap of a US businesswoman’s son puts four Brits with nebulous connections to her company in the frame – hasn’t stuck in my memory.
- The Rig – Prime – can’t wait for Series 2. Iain Glen, Owen Teale, Mark Bonnar, Martin Compston and more stuck on an oil rig being colonised by an ancient plant thing. (6 episodes)
- The Traitors US – BBC – More of the same but also a bit different, as the ‘cast’ included several reality TV contestants. Alan Cummings hosts in the same Scottish castle.
Notable films (seen on the small screen):
- My Policeman – (Prime) based on the novel by Bethan Roberts (reviewed here). It stars Harry Styles as the young policeman of the title with Emma Corrin and David Dawson. Linus Roache, Gina McKee and Rupert Everett, play the older versions of the three protagonists respectively. The film does different things with the timeline (like Mayflies) but was very touching.
What have you seen since the New Year – do share your recommendations.