January into Feb watchlist

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

The Lehman Trilogy. Director Sam Mendes. Michael Balogun, Hadley Fraser Nigel Lindsay, Pianist Yshani Perinpanayagam

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!

TV Series:

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.

Happy Valley

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.

16 thoughts on “January into Feb watchlist

  1. MI6 says:

    Espionage is all so topsy turvy and confusing! If Kim Philby had never been caught there would never have been a postage stamp made after him or even a monument of him in Moscow and most of us would never have heard of him even though he was a cousin of Field Marshal Montgomery. If only he had read the epic spy novel Beyond Enkription in The Burlington Files series! It’s about Pemberton’s People in MI6 and is a must read for espionage cognoscenti. Have a look at a recent intriguing news article in TheBurlingtonFiles website dated 31 October 2022 about Colonel Pemberton’s People in MI6, John le Carré and Kim Philby. You may be gobsmacked.

    See https://theburlingtonfiles.org/news_2022.10.31.php.

  2. A Life in Books says:

    I watched the National Theatre’s The Lehman Trilogy at my local cinema, a bit put off by how long it was at first but it passed in a flash. This new production sounds great!

    • AnnaBookBel says:

      It was wonderful. I’d scooped up a lone seat in the third row, and to see all the nuances in the actors’ facial expressions was superb. I have a huge earworm with The Beat Goes On though now which isn’t fading!

  3. Janakay | YouMightAsWellRead says:

    Looks like you had a great month! Enjoyed the list, as I always get ideas for things to watch. I’ve been interested in The Gold, but don’t know how available it is in the U.S. (think I read somewhere it was recently canceled). I really like Jack Lowden, who’s great in the (great) Slough House series; since this is Apple Plus it IS available to me to me in the U.S. Have you read the books by Mick Herron BTW? They’re fabulous. Spy Among Friends also sounds quite interesting, particularly as I’m a big admirer of both stars.
    Are you a Simon Russell Beale fan? I was lucky enough to see him twice (only twice, alas) on stage. He’s wonderful! I can imagine how great he’d have been in the Lehman Trilogy, although it sounds as though you saw a wonderful performance regardless!

    • AnnaBookBel says:

      I love Slow Horses, and have read the first four of the books. (Going to see Mick Herron at the Oxford Lit Fest next month). I’ve followed Simon Russell Beale’s career for ages – seen him in quite a few at the RSC/NT – Loves Labours Lost (’91), Konstantin in the Seagull (’92), Edgar in Lear and Ariel in the Tempest (’94), Mosca in Volpone (’95) then a child-rearing sized gap to Lear (2014)!!! The Lehman Trilogy new cast was simply superb – I didn’t miss SR-B!

  4. kimbofo says:

    Oh, jealous you got to see Stewart Lee. I’m also a long time fan and seen him three or four times. Such a brilliantly clever comedian… quite meta in places !

    Thanks for the TV recommendations… they’ll probably land in Australia in about two years’ time, so something to look forward to 😆

    • AnnaBookBel says:

      ITVX is a free streaming service replacing the ITV Hub – you may be able to get it – all of their dramas based on real events were worth watching – even with adverts.

      • kimbofo says:

        I’d need a VPN and I watch so little TV I’m not sure it would be worth the effort / cost. British shows turn up here regularly on other streaming services (Binge, Stan, BritBox etc) so I’ll see them eventually. Happy Valley has turned up but not sure I want to watch… I didn’t get on with first season and I’ve grown sick of the normalisation of violence against women as entertainment. I’m reading fewer crime novels for the same reason.

  5. Calmgrove says:

    I too enjoyed ‘A Spy Among Friends’ though I dearly did want the female interviewer Mrs Thomas (played brilliantly by Anna Maxwell Martin) to be real and not a fictive device! The Stonehouse series was entertaining though I’d have preferred it if they hadn’t played it for laughs, but we can’t have it all, can we? I’d forgotten he’d introduced the two different classes of stamps. Not seen ‘Nolly’ yet…

    The end of His Dark Materials turned out to be even more moving than I thought – we watched in week by week rather than bingeing on it just to spread out the drama and the heart-wrenching bits. A triumph, I thought. I see Bad Wolf is going to be producing Doctor Who in future – good, I might start watching it again as it all got a bit too hectic and knowing for me, much as I liked Jodie Whittaker as the Doctor.

    • AnnaBookBel says:

      I wanted Mrs Thomas to be real too. You must watch Nolly! I binged HDM so saw the last episode so long ago, but I cried buckets. I have no idea who Bad Wolf is… but I stopped watching Dr Who during the Capaldi turn, I shall watch the bridging Tennant episodes though, I’m sure. Hang on – it’s coming back to me – ROSE!

      • Calmgrove says:

        Bad Wolf is the Welsh production company that made HDM down in Cardiff and which even filmed the Trollesund locations in a quarry a mile or so as the dæmon flies from us!

  6. JacquiWine says:

    Very much enjoying The Gold at the moment. I’m about 2/3rds of the way through the series, so getting to the business end now! Happy Valley 3 was excellent, wasn’t it? I think Siobhan Finneran remains somewhat underrated as an actress – I’d love to see her in more high-profile stuff.

    • AnnaBookBel says:

      The Gold was fab. I’m loving this trend to dramatise real events (with artistic licence of course) – cf the ITVx offerings. On Happy Valley, I’m with you completely with Siobhan Finneran. I loved all the build-up to the ending and the speculation, and Wainwright came up with a perfect defying all the odds one.

  7. madamebibilophile says:

    I love Stewart Lee 😀 There’s no-one really like him.

    I’ve just got the last episode of The Gold to watch today – it’s been so much better than I thought! Great to see Hugh Bonneville in quite a different role for him.

    • AnnaBookBel says:

      I loved it when the Customs & Excise man joined the team and was able to explain the cleverness of the scheme to us all. Bonneville was great, as was Charlotte Spencer.

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