Wednesday, 28 October 2009

The BFG @ New Theatre, Cardiff


Children and adults often marvel at the wonderful books written by the late great Roald Dahl and it is always quite an occasion when one of his books is translated into another medium be it for film, television or stage play.

The story of The BFG (Big Friendly Giant) is no exception, brought to life here by a multi- talented cast and an exceptional production team.

When orphan Sophie is snatched out of her bed in the dead of night by the BFG she fears the worst. Her grisly neighbours the Bloodbottler and the Fleshlumpeater love swalloping human beans, especially nice little chiddlers, but the Big Friendly Giant is a dream catcher, not a man –eater and takes Sophie on a journey of a lifetime!

Anthony Pedley leads the cast as the BFG bringing Dahl’s literal larger than life creation to the stage complete with whizpops and jumbly words. Becky John captures Sophie’s innocence which endears her to both children and adults.

There is also a further cast of 8 multi-talented actors who all play multiple parts as well as provide appropriate sound effects and music in relevant parts.

A colourful set and a life size talking model of the BFG were further highlights in this marvellous production of which, at its culmination my 6 year old daughter informed me “I enjoyed all of it!”

Film Review: The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (2009)


I approached Terry Gilliam's new film with excitement and caution. Knowing this would be Heath Ledger's final film role seems to have cast a sense of doom over it's initial release. Ledger had only completed several of the shots before his tragic death earlier this year.

However; with scenes cleverly written for Ledger's character, Tony, which entail him changing his appearance when entering the imaginarium. The films scenes are linked seamlessly and add much to its character and humour.

The Plot of The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus

The plot follows the immortal 1,000-year-old Doctor Parnassus who leads a traveling theatre troupe, which includes a sleight of hand expert, Anton, a dwarf, Percy and the Doctor's beautiful daughter Valentina. From place to place Doctor Parnassus offers audience members a chance to go beyond reality via a magical mirror in his possession.

This has been made possible through a deal Parnassus made with the Devil,who has now returned to collect five souls by arrangement, targeting the Doctor's daughter, Valentina.

The troupe happen upon a mysterious outsider named Tony who has a secret past but may be able to help the Doctor save his daughter through the parallel worlds the mirror leads him to.

The Cast Of The Imaginarium Of Doctor Parnassus

Christopher Plummer is wonderful as Parnassuss, immortal wizard seeking a solution of trying to escape from his pact with Tom Waits devil, but frequently succumbing to the temptation of the bottle. Equally entertaining is Verne Troyer as the comedic dwarf Percy who makes up for in character presence in what he lacks in height.

Lily Cole and Andrew Garfield steal the film as Valentina and Anton. Cole has some wonderful scenes both as the Doctor's daughter wanting to find her own feet in the world and pursuing a life of ideal home happiness and the heroine in constant danger of been seduced by the Waits devil or indeed Ledger's own anti-hero.

Garfield shows heroic tendencies from the outset, Anton although often rebuked by the other members of the troupe, comes across as a believable fighter and certainly the hero of the hour.

A classic mix of ancient and modern imagery , The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus is a joy to watch and yes, Terry Gilliam's influence shines throughout, particularly the scenes set behind the mirror where people experience their imaginations in alternate universe. Singing Policeman and exploding old ladies are reminiscent of the Monty Python TV sketches that so prominently featured Gilliam's own animations 40 years ago.

The Imaginarium Of Doctor Parnassus Is A Phoenix Rising From The Flames

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus will no doubt be remembered as Heath Ledger's epitaph, but should also be regarded as a phoenix rising from the flames. Other films have suffered similar predicaments by losing core cast members during production , few of those have enjoyed memorable success, yet I think this film ticks all the right boxes and will be remembered for all the right reasons when other current greats have been long forgotten.
  • The Imaginarium Of Doctor Parnassus Directed by Terry Gilliam Starring Heath Ledger, Christopher Plummer, Lily Cole, Andrew Garfield, Verne Troyer and Tom Waits

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Review: Hi-5 Surprise Party, St.David’s Hall, Cardiff


I first became aware of the phenomenon know as Hi-5 nearly 6 years ago when my daughter first discovered children’s television.

The band, originating from Australia, comprising of 2 boys and 3 girls frequently captivated my daughter with half an hour of songs stories and imaginative dancing, always encouraging the viewer to join in. It seems the success of Hi-5 also took the band by surprise, embarking on a UK tour a few years ago, it seemed it was impossible to fulfil touring demands in both the UK and Australia as well as creating new TV shows, so a UK equivalent of Hi-5 was created.

So it was Hi-5 UK version, Cat, Chris, Emma, Jenny and Luke that visited St David’s hall on Sunday afternoon for their surprise party show and judging by the reception they got when appearing on the stage, not one child minded a bit.

The special stage performance comprised of everything you would expect from the TV show with much in the way of song dance and storytelling. Hi-5 were preparing a surprise birthday party for their friend Chat the Caterpillar and for nearly 90 minutes the group kept every child and dare I say most parents mesmerised, encouraging interaction through dancing and singing along.

My three children particularly loved the show and it was certainly the most pleasant of rainy Sunday afternoons they had enjoyed in a very long time!

Monday, 12 October 2009

REVIEW: Mugenkyo Taiko Drummers @ Newport Riverfront


Celebrating their 15th birthday with an extensive UK tour of 44 concert dates, the Mugenkyo Talko Drummers performed an energetic and powerful concert at Newport Riverfront on Saturday evening.

Setting the tone for the evening with Belenos, the Drummers tribute to renewal, it became apparent that the six strong group consisting of Neil Mackie, Miyuki Williams, Teresa Brookes, Fiona Stoddart, Shonagh Walker and Jennifer Minto were hugely talented, both in musical precision and choreography from the way they moved from one drum to another. Fast and furious rhythms were displayed with music such as Tojimbo and Todoroki painting an image of intense concentration and movement.

The drummers were accompanied on several numbers by dance artist Lale Sayoko, who contributed a diverse range of Egyptian and Turkish dance styles complimenting the drummers’ musical style beautifully.

After the interval, the pace lightened and the audience were encouraged to join in with several numbers by clapping hands, shouting out and stamping their feet. It was clear that the group clearly were enjoying themselves too, which encouraged the audience to participate even further.

Finishing on the powerful track Phoenix, dedicated to the bands teacher Masaaki Kurumaya Sensei, audience appreciation was so much the drummers returned for a startling encore.

I found that the Mugenkyo Talko Drummers were as inspirational as they were entertaining and would highly recommend going to see them to anyone who has a passion for real music. Be sure to catch them when they next return to Newport!

Andy Howells

Friday, 9 October 2009

Audio Book Review: Doctor Who: The Ambassadors of Death by David Whittaker (Classic TV Soundtrack)

Caroline John narrates the original Television soundtrack of this Doctor Who adventure featuring Jon Pertwee in the role of TV's most famous time traveller.

Several months after leaving the red planet, the Mars Probe 7 space capsule still hasn't returned to Earth. The Doctor and his assistant Liz Shaw join the investigation as a second capsule, Recovery 7, is sent to discover what has happened.

However; when the capsule returns, something has gone terribly wrong with the three astronauts that occupy it. The space-suited figures are kidnapped and Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart leads UNIT in a rescue attempt - whilst Liz finds herself captive by dangerous fanatics. Only a solo space flight by the Doctor can break the deadlock surrounding the crew of Mars Probe 7.

The Ambassadors of Death was originally broadcast in 1970, at a time when the world was fascinated with the space race and its own journeys to the moon and beyond. Curiously the original broadcast of this adventure coincided with America's own ill fated Apollo 13 mission, so the storyline involving Astronauts stranded in outer space had a touch more poignancy than writer David Whittaker could ever have imagined.

Originally the Doctor's assistant in this story, Caroline John (Liz Shaw) has been drafted back in to provide dramatic narration for this gripping tale keeping it fast paced and exciting to listen to. As a bonus there is also an interview with the actress giving an insight into how the story was made at the discs climax.

Nearly 40 years on from its original broadcast, The Ambassadors of Death has become a classic sci-fi tale and certainly worth a listen for any fan of the genre.


Doctor In The Groove - Bond Street Parade


The theme tune to Doctor In The House was written by composer and arranger Alan Tew in 1969. Given the title Bond Street Parade the theme would shift through various arrangements throughout all the Doctor... series (with diverse arrangements from the original during Doctor at Sea and much later Doctor at the Top).

Tew started out as the pianist and arranger for the Len Turner Band based in London, in the 1950s. He has also led his own orchestra, and with full orchestra at his disposal, shows a gift for judicious use of instrumentation.

Other compositions from Tew included the theme from Mother Makes Three. A track entitled "The Big One", which was used in an episode of the British detective show Van der Valk. Music for the series, The Hanged Man, some of which has been used as incidental music for The Two Ronnies, The Sweeney and would eventually become the intro music for the American TV show, The People's Court.

The Doctor In The House theme tune has received several releases on TV Theme compilation albums over the years. One of it's earliest releases (titled : Doctor At Large) credited to the eponymous titled Pandora Orchestra on Regal Starline's Top T.V. Themes album (SRS5143) in 1972. This version is very close to the TV original, as are all tracks on the album to their counterpart series making this album well worth tracking down.

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Concert Review: Andy Fairweather Low (2009)

Forget Strictly Come Dancing on the box, Saturday night was strictly good music at Newport Riverfront when former Amen Corner front man Andy Fairweather Low and his band The Low Riders rode into town.

Opening with his early 70s classic Natural Sinner, Andy performed a wide variety of musical styles including Jazz, Blues, Gospel and pop. Amongst his tributes to heroes such as Les Paul and Elvis Presley were classic renditions of Just Because, Mystery Train and Travelin' Light.

He also showcased many of his own compositions made famous by artists such as Joe Cocker and Richie Havens including a track which took Havens over 3 decades to cover, Standing on the Water.

The Low Riders themselves Paul Beavis on drums, Dave Bronze on Bass and Nick Pentelow on Saxophone formed a very tight backing, enabling Andy to perform many classics in the style they are accustomed to be heard. Particular stand out tracks were rousing instrumentals of Peter Gunn and Lightnin’ Blues.

The best though, was still to come, as the band revisited four Amen Corner Classics Gin House Blues, If Paradise Is Half As Nice, Hello Suzie and Bend Me Shape Me as well as Andy’s Solo hit Wide Eyed and Legless.

Anyone who may have doubted they had been listening to Andy Fairweather Low for nearly two hours had their minds put at rest when he performed these tracks with the same impeccable vocal style he delivered when they topped the charts four decades ago.

Closing on a rendition of When You’re Smiling, Andy left the audience still wanting more, showing that you can’t keep a good musician down!

TRACKS PERFORMED INCLUDED: Natural Sinner / Travelin' Light / Just Because / Mystery Train / Matchbox / My Baby Left Me / When Things Go Wrong / Zazzy / Lightnin Boogie / Peter Gunn / Hello Susie / Gin House Blues / Booga Looga / If Paradise Is Half As Nice / Bend Me, Shape Me, Wide Eyed and Legless / When You're Smiling

Monday, 5 October 2009

It’s… Monty Python’s Flying Circus!


Amazing to think of all the great comedy series that came out of the 1960s, the last one of the decade to materialise became perhaps one of the most influential.

Monty Python's Flying Circus began 40 years ago today on BBC1. Initially it was hidden away in the schedules, the resounding sound of The Liberty Bell so much associated with the show signified the beginning of classic sketches, dead parrots, spam, films, spam, records, spam, spam, secret policeman's balls, theatre shows and more spam.

I've just had a great weekend looking over some of these classic shows again, as I'm sure have many other viewers with either a passing interest or a total addiction to all things Python. Even BBC2 had a Python night with a new documentary and several repeats...

Fascinating as it is though, another interesting thought struck me that probably everyone has at one time seen at least one Python sketch or indeed something featuring, written or created by Graham Chapman, Terry Jones, Michael Palin, John Cleese, Eric Idle or Terry Gilliam. A feat taking the team well into the heights popular culture influence which can possibly be only rivalled on a worldwide scale with The Beatles.

Anyway, enough random comments, they probably don't need it, after all, the Internet is littered with them.

But as you go about your everyday business booking holidays to Whicker Island, eating your daily portion of spam or indeed purchasing cheese or a dead parrot, raise a glass to dear old Monty, may he continue to rerun!

Sunday, 4 October 2009

Doctor In The House - Pass or Fail

Doctor In The House – Pass or FailBy Graham Chapman & Barry Cryer
Based on the books by Richard Gordon
(Broadcast: ITV, 4 October 1969)
Producer: Humphrey Barclay
Director: Mark Stuart & Bill Turner
London Weekend Television


Enjoying another night out, Mike and his fellow students fun is brought to an abrupt halt when they realise they are all but two weeks away from their qualifying exams.

As both Mike and Duncan begin to panic, Dick is much more laid back, especially as he knows that their examiner - Professor Loftus will be away in New Zealand. However; Loftus sends someone else and informs the students he will be present, causing further panic and mayhem.

As examination day arrives both Duncan and Mike are not confident, and despite advice from fellow students, further complications arise in the examination room and the laboratory.

This final episode of the first series of Doctor in The House was handed back to the writing mantle of Graham Chapman, accompanied with the writing talents of Barry Cryer. All in all it's a good episode too, our central characters discarding the first year hi-jinx in favour of actually been serious about becoming Doctors. There are also some well written and intelligent lines here, particularly when it comes to pronouncing medical terms. However its evident in places that some of the cast appear to stumble on these!

There is a wonderful slapstick moment when the students are performing a practical part of their exam in the laboratory, it is here Robin Nedwell seems to be brought to the forefront as opposed to Barry Evans, and it's a wondeful scene too, just for his reactions.

Michael Harbour who played Smoothie in the first episode "Why Do you Want to Be a Doctor?" reappears here, this time with the name of Holdsworth. Michael Mckenzie also returns as Mickleton having previously played the second medic in "Getting the Bird".
Martin Shaw and Yutte Stensgaard make their final regular appearances as Huw and Helga here. Though both would appear in the All Star Christmas Special insert of Doctor In The House broadcast on Christmas Day 1969. Martin would later reappear as Huw in the 1971 Doctor at Large episode "Mother and father doing well".

Look out for an early TV appearance of Patrick Fyffe as Tonie Poitrine, the club drag artiste at the beginning of the episode. Patrick would later reach greater popularity as Dame Hylda Brackett, one half of the musical comedy double act Hinge and Brackett.

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