Finally. After all the pandemic restrictions and my recent health problems, it’s such a joyous relief to be out and about properly again, doing the things I enjoy.
So there’s quite a lot to mention in this month’s post and video, as I’ve been attending theatre shows for the first time in ages, taking nice walks, and enjoying a mixture of films, dramas, comedies and music at home. Plus I bought the new iPhone 13, which I’m very happy with as explained in my review, so the photos and videos you see going forward will be taken using that.
Apart from the theatre show States Of Mind, for which I was given complimentary tickets to go along and review, nothing else in this post involves any gifting or sponsorship. And all opinions are my own throughout. So I hope you enjoy!
20 months after I last set foot in an auditorium, it was wonderful to return to the world of theatre again for 2 very different shows, both of which I wrote extensive blog posts about.
States Of Mind was a production by Extant at the RADA Studios, featuring visually impaired performers Gillian Dean & Robin Paley Yorke, with integrated audio description, all led by visually impaired writer and director Christopher Hunter. It was a contemporary dramatization of Shakespeare’s poem Venus and Adonis, his first ever published work, and was a powerful exploration of the conflicting feelings brought on by love and lust.
In complete contrast, meanwhile, The Rocky Horror Show needs very little introduction. I’d been wanting to see this classic cult musical live for many years, and finally got the opportunity this month when an audio described performance was put on by Sadler’s Wells at the Peacock Theatre, with Strictly Come Dancing winner Ore Oduba in the role of Brad. Suffice to say it was enormous fun, and I happily joined in with the audience participation, as well as dancing along to the Time Warp.
So to celebrate losing my Rocky Horror virginity at long last, I posted a special Halloween trilogy about the show, where you can see my reviews of:
- The movie on Blu-ray & other filmed productions
- The soundtrack albums & cover songs
- My live show experience & merchandise
Thank you to my friend Claire for recommending the Talk Description To Me podcast about the film as well, which was also posted on Halloween weekend. Host JJ, who has been in a shadowcast and stage adaptation himself, goes into great detail about the film and the Rocky Horror phenomenon in general, and it’s fun to listen to. So do check that out, along with their other episodes as well.
I am of course looking forward to seeing other shows in the months ahead, although it’s not always easy to get through to access booking lines at the moment. In many cases they’re still the only way for disabled people to book for accessible performances and other access requests, as we’re often not given the facility to book online like everyone else. So when people aren’t answering the phones or responding to emails, we’re unable to see the shows we want, meaning we’re excluded through no fault of our own.
For example, I was unable to see the audio described performance of the new Back To The Future musical, because LW Theatres closed all of their booking lines, and there’s no facility to book access tickets on their website (although they keep promising it for the future), and they’ve been very unresponsive to emails (as many people on social media have complained about). Even when I did finally get a reply to my email query, I was given a number to call for a different musical instead, and they never responded to my follow-up tweet about it. So it seems impossible to have any proper contact with them via any route, and clearly I just need to avoid booking any LW shows for a while until they’re ready to welcome disabled people again properly. It’s a shame, but if they don’t want my money, so be it.
Still, mini-rant aside, there are plenty of things I have been able to book elsewhere that don’t have or need audio description, and therefore I’ve been able to buy tickets through the websites directly. I could still have phoned up to try and get concessionary rates, but the tickets were cheap online anyway so it wasn’t worth it. And booking online means I can look at the seating plan and choose the best available seat for me, which I obviously can’t do with phone bookings. So my calendar is starting to fill up nicely:
- In December I’m going to see a parody version of a Christmas Carol, where one of the performers has a lot to drink just before the show. So that should be enjoyably chaotic, their shows have had lots of good reviews.
- Then for next year, I’ve booked to see some of my favourite stand-up comedians. I hadn’t got around to doing that in London before the pandemic, as you have to book far in advance if you want a good seat, but I’m grabbing the opportunity now. So at the Leicester Square Theatre I’ve got front row seats to enjoy blind comedian Chris McCausland and Mock The Week regular Maisie Adam (who I saw online last year when she hosted a comedy fundraiser). Then at the Hammersmith Apollo I’m going to see Sarah Millican (I managed to get a third row seat) and Dara Ó Briain (seated further back but still in the stalls). So I’m really looking forward to all of those.
- And for next November, I’ve secured a front row seat at the Royal Albert Hall for Symphonic Queen, where the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra will be performing many of Queen’s hits. So that looks like a lot of fun!
And there are various other shows and comedians I’m interested in seeing of course, so that is by no means a final list. That’s just what I’ve booked so far!
Frieze Sculpture Trail
My longest walk this month was a lovely stroll around Regent’s Park, where once again they had a Frieze Sculpture Trail (just like one I saw in 2019), showcasing many pieces of modern art by various artists. There’s a full guide on their website, with the text from all the signs and audio tracks about each sculpture.
The artworks include a stack of colourful boulders, a large white pineapple, and a huge bullet-like structure, among lots of other random things. The wording on the signs isn’t always easy to understand and can sometimes come across as a bit pretentious, at least to those of us who aren’t art experts. But the sculptures were all interesting to look at, as they were all so varied.
It was also my first opportunity to try taking photos with my new iPhone 13. And it’s a big improvement over my old iPhone 6, as the pictures came out much sharper and more vibrant, and it was a lot easier for me to see the screen in the sunshine.
And of course the park itself is just beautiful to walk around as well, I happened to pick a lovely day for it. You can see more of my photos of the Frieze sculptures and other sights on my Instagram page.
This month I decided to try a couple of foreign dramas on Netflix that people have been raving about on social media. They both revolve around the same basic premise – that a group of people are forced to play a series of games in a strange new environment, and the stakes are high because the losers die.
This inevitably results in a lot of drama, tension, suspense and distress, along with a great deal of action, violence and gore, as the participants do whatever it takes in order to survive the games, even if that means betraying or killing other players in some cases. And that means no characters are safe, even if they’ve been recently introduced in the story. There are also dangerous investigations to try and discover who is running the games and why. So there are lots of twists and turns throughout.
Squid Game is the newest of the two, having only been released in September, and it’s been the talk of the internet ever since. In this survival drama from South Korea, the contestants are a large group of people who are heavily in debt, and they are persuaded to compete in deadly variations of children’s games for a huge jackpot that will set them up for life. So the players have all volunteered to take part of their own free will because, with their prospects in the outside world looking so bleak, it’s really the only hope they have of moving on with their lives. There are 9 episodes, each about an hour long – apart from episode 8, which is only half an hour, but it’s an important prelude to the finale. And there is a second series on the way.
Alice In Borderland, meanwhile, is a Japanese thriller series that premiered in December 2020, where we find the victims involuntarily transported to an abandoned version of Tokyo. The deadly competitions they have to endure here are a bit more numerous and varied than in Squid Game, and each event’s style and difficulty is determined by a playing card. People who survive the games are granted temporary visas to continue living in the city, but if a player’s visa expires then they are immediately executed. So they have to continue playing the games to try and stay alive. There are 8 episodes of around 40-50 minutes each, and a second season began filming in the second half of 2021, so that will probably appear next year.
They’re both unusual shows in many ways, and it takes an episode or two for the action to really kick in, as we get to know the characters and the basic premise of the action. But they are quite compelling. The games are inventive and entertaining, and the psychological impact on the contestants is a crucial part of the drama of course. Visually both shows look stunning in their own styles too, with Squid Game particularly notable for the bold and vibrant colours used during the events, contrasting vividly with other darker scenes, while Alice In Borderland takes place over a wider geographical area and has some stunning day and night views as a result.
If I had to pick a favourite, I would say that Squid Games wins out, because it has a more consistent style and story arc that kept me hooked in better, and it looks great visually too. Alice In Borderland is still good, but it has a big change halfway through the season, and it doesn’t really work quite so well after that. I would have preferred it if it had kept the same style as in the first half, as that just seemed to keep me engaged better and I liked the characters more, plus there was more focus on the games aspect. Nevertheless, it is worth sticking with until the end, for the final revelations that set up the second season, which I might take a look at when it comes out.
I watched both programmes with English dubbed audio – which a lot of purists on social media seem to take great offence to, saying that the voice acting isn’t as good, and a lot of the emotion and meaning is taken away. And maybe they have a point, I don’t know, although there are reports that the subtitles aren’t fully accurate translations anyway. But in any case, subtitles are difficult or impossible to read for people who are visually impaired like me, along with others who are dyslexic or have other conditions that make reading difficult. So I have to use dubbing, and it worked well enough for me to be honest, the story made sense and felt suitably gripping that way.
There are still subtitles that appear on the screen though, to translate any foreign text that appears. I managed to read some of them, but it wasn’t easy and I missed quite a few of them – especially in Alice In Borderland, which has scenes displaying lots of text messages and newspaper reports on screen, for example.
Unfortunately there was no audio description in English for either show, which would have really helped in those situations and with other aspects of each series in general. However, I am happy to report that Squid Game does now have English descriptive audio for those who need it. Fortunately I had enough vision to figure out the most important aspects without it, pausing and rewinding a bit if necessary to look at things more closely. But it would have been preferable to have it from the outset of course, as I’ve no doubt there were lots of little details I missed that would have enhanced it further. However, I’m very grateful that the effort has been made to add it. So if I decide to watch it again one day, it’s good to know that the facility is now there.
And overall I’m glad I gave both shows a go to see what all the fuss was about. They are both very well made without a doubt, and it was great to try something different.
On a related note to the above, I also rented Escape Room: Tournament Of Champions on Amazon Video, the sequel to Escape Room that I watched on Amazon earlier in the year. As the names suggest, these films put people into very elaborately designed rooms, where they have to work together to solve puzzles in order to move on to later rooms. And these are deadly puzzles, so most of the contestants don’t make it through alive. The end of the second movie also sets things up intriguingly for a possible third film in the series.
And on a related theme, I saw an American action comedy film called Game Night on TV, starring Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams, plus Irish comedian Sharon Horgan who I recognised. Here the players of a specially arranged murder mystery night get more than they bargained for when one of the group is kidnapped for real, and the others end up on a dangerous journey to find and rescue him. It’s very silly, a bit crude and deliberately far-fetched, and there are a few plot twists throughout as well. I wouldn’t be bothered about seeing it again particularly, but it was a fun way to kill an evening, so to speak.
I did also watch a few horror films for Halloween of course, all of which the BBC had available on iPlayer. It’s been a very long time since I last watched The Exorcist for a start, so I figured I’d see that again while it was on. And it is fairly entertaining, with the little girl becoming possessed and increasingly violent, and the attempts by others to figure it out and stop it. And you can’t fault things like the performances and the music. But a lot of it feels quite boring with not a lot happening, so it does drag a bit sometimes. And overall I’ve never got wrapped up in all the hype surrounding it. It’s well worth watching once, but I don’t want to buy it on DVD or see the sequels.
To be fair, however, I’ve seen a lot of other horror movies, mostly more modern ones, so it doesn’t particularly stand out to me. But when it was originally released, a decade before I was born, there had been nothing like it. So it had a huge impact on audiences at the time, with some people even fainting or vomiting or worse. And it’s also influenced countless horror movies in the decades since then, some of which might never have been made without The Exorcist as an influence. So, while it doesn’t excite me to the huge extent that it clearly does for some other people, I do have a lot of respect for its creation and the impact it’s had, and it does still have some good moments.
I found The Conjuring and its sequel more interesting though. They’re not quite as good as the Saw films by the same director (James Wan), and they don’t really add anything original or sensational to the horror genre as a whole. But they are still enjoyably scary, as the families in each movie struggle to deal with the erratic events and demonic possessions that haunt them, while the visuals and music are very atmospheric and effective. I like the fact that the second film is set in London as well. I’m not going to bother watching all the prequels and spin-offs in the franchise, as they haven’t had great reviews and I don’t feel strongly committed to all of it. But I might check out The Devil Made Me Do It, the third film in the main series, at some stage.
On a completely different and much lighter note, however, as a Toy Story fan it’s interesting to see that Pixar have released a teaser trailer for Lightyear, the spin-off prequel coming out next year. It looks like that might be fun, to learn about Buzz Lightyear’s origin story.
Season 7 of The Flash has now come to an end. And I must admit, while it’s had a few good moments here and there, I’ve ultimately reached a point now where I’ve lost interest in the series. I know the production was screwed up by the pandemic, resulting in a shorter run for Season 7, and the first few episodes of that had to finish the story from the truncated Season 6. So I appreciate they were very limited this time around. However, it had been past its peak for a while already, with some aspects feeling too repetitive or outlandish or just not very exciting, so I’ve been gradually drifting from it anyway.
I think the clincher for me has been Cisco Ramon‘s departure this season, as he was one of my favourite characters. With him and Harrison Wells now out of the picture as regulars (even if they make later guest appearances), a lot of the original chemistry and humour from the show has gone, and the newer characters just aren’t grabbing me in the same way. Even Barry Allen, the central character, doesn’t feel as likeable these days, he gets a bit too bossy and full of himself sometimes. The show feels very different from when it started.
Their increasing reliance on crossovers with other shows in the Arrowverse franchise also makes it harder to watch, as I’ve tried those other shows and never got into them in the same way. So I don’t know who all of the other characters are, and there are a lot of references that I just don’t understand. And the first 5 episodes of Season 8 are going to be an epic crossover event. So, while The Flash was fun for a while, now feels like the right time for me to step aside. That’s the way it goes sometimes, not every series can keep you hooked until the very end. And I’ve got plenty of other things to watch anyway!
Despite all the dramas and films mentioned earlier, the most entertaining games of the month have inevitably come courtesy of Taskmaster. And the current series is a cracker as usual, particularly with Victoria Coren Mitchell and Alan Davies as I’d hoped. But all the contestants are great. They’ve got a really good mix this series, with a variety of approaches to the tasks and enjoyable chemistry between everyone in the studio. They also recorded the next Champion Of Champions special in September, featuring the winners of series 6-10, so we have that to look forward to after this series has finished as well.
And Greg Davies is also the new host for the revival of Never Mind The Buzzcocks on Sky. The show had never been as good on the BBC after Mark Lamarr left, as Simon Amstell just came across as irritating to me, the guest hosts were a very mixed bag (David Tennant did the best job among them I think), and Rhod Gilbert didn’t make it beyond a single series when he took over as host.
But the 7-year hiatus and change of broadcaster seems to have helped, I’m quite enjoying it. Greg is great as the host, and it’s wonderful to have Noel Fielding returning as a team captain. New opposing captain Daisy May Cooper and regular panellist Jamali Maddix are good too. Daisy’s laughter is a bit over the top sometimes, granted, but it can also be quite catching at the right moments. And the guests are fun as well, they all get involved and are game for a laugh.
The show still has the same style of questions that are designed to bring out humorous banter, which works very effectively. And there are familiar rounds like Intros, Identity Parade and Next Lines, as well as some new games too. It all works nicely and it’s been making me laugh a lot, so I’m glad to have the show back.
Beyond that, I am of course still enjoying the latest series of The Last Leg and Have I Got News For You, and it’s great that they both have studio audiences again now. Have I Got News For You already had its audience back earlier in the year, but this series of The Last Leg marks the first time they’ve had members of the public back in the studio since March 2020, so it’s great to have the full atmosphere restored on a Friday night.
I’ve bought a couple of box sets and a Queen-related album this month.
Firstly, I bought the 50th Anniversary Super Deluxe Edition of Let It Be, which was the final album by The Beatles. And this new box set is a brilliant package that includes a big hardback book with interesting information and great photos, a nicely remastered mix of the album on CD & Blu-ray, the original Glyn Johns mix of the album when it was called Get Back, a 1970 EP with a few more alternate mixes, and 2 discs of fascinating session outtakes, rehearsals and jam. It’s the 4th box set of this nature they’ve released in recent years, and I’ve now done a combined review post for all of them.
There’s also the upcoming Get Back documentary by Oscar-winning filmmaker Peter Jackson to look forward to, which has been created using unseen footage of the band working on the Let It Be album in 1969. Judging by the trailer and Peter’s reputation, it looks like it’ll be very good. The 3 episodes, each 2 hours long, are being released on Disney+ on 25, 26 & 27 November. It’s also reported that the 1970 Let It Be documentary film will be getting a remastered release as well.
I also got the 40th Anniversary Super Deluxe Edition of Tattoo You by The Rolling Stones. This reissue of their 1981 album comes with 9 previously unreleased tracks, including the wonderful Living In The Heart Of Love, plus a live concert from Wembley in 1982. It’s a good collection of songs altogether, some of them are quite catchy. And an early version of the album’s biggest hit, Start Me Up, is included among the bonus tracks, with more of a reggae style that makes it quite interesting to listen to. I didn’t buy the physical box set for this album, because it includes a 12″ vinyl picture disc which I have no use for and it pushes up the price quite a bit, and I was able to get all the tracks from the CDs as a box set download from iTunes instead.
And my other purchase was Outsider by Roger Taylor, which is his first new solo album in 8 years. It was inspired by the Covid lockdowns, and features a few tracks that have been previously released, including Journey’s End from 2017, Gangsters Are Running This World from 2019 (in 2 mixes), Isolation from 2020, and this year’s summer single We’re All Just Trying To Get By with KT Tunstall. It also features a cover of The Clapping Song, originally by Shirley Ellis, which is an unusual choice but sounds ok.
I’m not as big a fan of his solo material as Freddie Mercury or Brian May’s work, and this doesn’t feel particularly cheerful or exceptional. But it is nevertheless a nice album of thoughtful and poignant songs, especially given the context in which it was produced during the pandemic.
On Youtube you can also see him performing a few songs on BBC Radio 2’s House Music – his solo track We’re All Just Trying To Get By, plus the Queen hits Radio Ga Ga & These Are The Days Of Our Lives.
And finally, it’s worth giving a respectful nod to Alan Hawkshaw, who passed away aged 84 in October. He was a prolific composer who worked with The Shadows as well as other artists, and recorded a lot of stock library music. You may not recognise his name, but if you live in the UK you absolutely know some of his tunes that were used as TV themes, such as:
- Best Endeavours – Used for Channel 4 News.
- Chicken Man – Used for the school drama Grange Hill from 1978-1989, before being replaced by a Peter Moss composition from 1990-2007, and then returning in a shortened edit for the final series in 2008. A different arrangement was also used for the first few series of the game show Give Us A Clue from 1979-1981, a rare and confusing occurrence of the same tune being used for two programmes simultaneously.
- Promenade from Pictures At An Exhibition – An arrangement of the Modest Mussorgsky composition that was used for Rik Mayall’s great sitcom The New Statesman.
- Studio 69 – Used for The Dave Allen Show & Dave Allen At Large.
- Countdown Theme & Clock Music – Composed initially for the game show Calendar Countdown, for which there was a never-broadcast pilot, followed by a single series shown only on Yorkshire TV. The format was then refined to become the long-running Countdown on Channel 4, which kept the tune. Alan generously donated a big portion of the royalties to Leeds College Of Music, so they get a bit of money every time it’s played – which must be quite a lot considering the programme’s aired every weekday since Channel 4’s launch in 1982! There’s a great remix by Spiritman on Youtube as well.
And that’s it, I hope you enjoyed that bumper selection. I’ll be keeping busy in the run-up to Christmas, of course, so there’ll be plenty more to mention over the next couple of months. And I’m being suitably careful, as best I can. Thankfully my mother’s had her flu jab and Covid booster now, so she’s well protected for the winter.
So I hope you’re able to stay safe and well, and have fun too. And I’ll see you for more posts very soon, now that I’m back to blogging a bit more regularly again!