Well, what a busy month that was! During April I attended a couple of theatre shows, went out and about with a couple of good friends, had some lovely walks to take advantage of the nice weather, and watched a variety of things at home too.
All of which means there’s plenty to get through in this latest post and video recap. And none of it is sponsored or gifted, apart from a little press event that I’ll mention, and all opinions are my own regardless. So let’s crack on with it, and I hope you enjoy!
- Out & About
- Other Entertainment
Back To The Future: The Musical
It’s been quite some time since I last went to the theatre in December. But I finally returned for the first time this year to see Back To The Future: The Musical. It’s an incredible show, both visually and musically, and it had very useful audio description. But the experience was dampened by the discovery that I had missed out on the touch tour, as I was falsely told it wasn’t happening (which they’ve since apologised for). So it was a bit of a mixed bag in terms of accessibility.
See my blog post about the musical for all the details.
Russell Howard: Live UK Tour
The other show I went to was a live stand-up comedy gig by Russell Howard. I’ve been a fan of his for a long time, having got into him through his Good News show and appearances on Mock The Week in particular. So I’m glad I took the opportunity to see him in person, it was well worth it.
Strangely it also marks the first time I’ve been to the iconic London Palladium since moving to the city over 6 years ago. I went there during my childhood, but somehow I haven’t got back there in more recent years. I’m making up for it now though, as I’ve got another couple of productions booked there over the coming months as well. It is a beautiful venue, and the staff were very friendly and helpful during my recent visit.
The show opened with support act Andrew Bird, who did a nice little 20-minute set, including a routine about having central sleep apnoea, where his body doesn’t breathe properly while he’s sleeping. So that was a fun little warm-up, and he’s doing a full show of his own at the Leicester Square Theatre later this year. I probably won’t bother seeing his full show, but he was good as a warm-up.
Then, after a 20-minute interval, Russell Howard came out and did a brilliant set for about an hour and a half. He always has great energy, and is very adept at bringing people together to enjoy the magical wonders and humorous absurdities of life.
He rightly asserts that we’re all unique and special, gives due praise to heroes of society like NHS staff, has thoughtful respect for those who are worse off than us, and advocates that laughter is a vital tool that can help us get through even the toughest of times. And he doesn’t express all of that in a heavy, preachy, political way, it’s just the underlying point that his comedy makes. He’s a good storyteller and role model.
Some of his material relates to events in the media, including MPs, royalty, celebrities, influencers and the nonsense of so-called “woke culture”, just like in his TV shows but with no restrictions on what he can say. Particularly memorable and amusing moments there include his distinction between the terms “down” and “out”, and some disturbing thoughts about Masterchef star Gregg Wallace!
But for the most part, as is common for his stand-up performances, he has lots of great anecdotes involving him, his family members, his friends, and other random people he’s met or seen. He clearly has fun recalling his various stories, and they’re always very funny.
So all in all it was a fantastic way to spend a Friday night, and he has a nice little tour diary on his Youtube channel that he’s updating every week as well. I do sometimes watch clips from his Sky show The Russell Howard Hour on there too. I don’t watch the full episodes on TV, as it’s never grabbed me as much as Good News did, and there are segments that don’t interest me. But his news monologues are funny, and occasionally there are guest appearances that I like, so I watch a few of those online here and there.
I’m also in the process of rewatching and reviewing his previous DVDs and Netflix specials as well, just like I’ve done for other comedians I’ve seen fairly recently, so there will be a post about those soon.
Sarah Millican: Bobby Dazzler
I’m delighted that Sarah Millican has released her stand-up show Bobby Dazzler on DVD, after heavy demand from her fans. I originally saw this show at the Hammersmith Apollo in June 2022, and then earlier this year I reviewed the video special when it was released online. So do check out both of those posts for details of the show itself.
But the actual DVD has a catchy 3-minute piece of music on the main menu, audio for the show in stereo or surround sound (though the latter’s hardly necessary), and English subtitles. The show lasts for about an hour and 20 minutes, while the extras consist of an interview and a guide for Americans, as mentioned in my review of the online video, plus the clips about her experience on Taskmaster and her dresses that she had already posted on Youtube. So it’s a nice little package altogether.
Derren Brown: Showman
I thoroughly enjoyed seeing Derren Brown’s show in Birmingham last year, even if I wasn’t able to be an active participant in his tricks. So I was really pleased to learn that one of the other performances had been recorded, which Channel 4 were able to broadcast this month following the conclusion of his tour.
Of course, watching it on TV is a very different experience to being there in person (which I highly recommend), as it can’t possibly capture the full atmosphere and wonder of it all. And inevitably the show has had to be edited a bit to cut out things that wouldn’t work well on TV, and to prevent certain tricks affecting viewers at home, as well as just trimming it down to fit the allocated time slot.
But despite those caveats, it still works very well as a TV special, just like many of his previous stage shows have done. And because he has different people on stage for every performance, it means that every show is unique in its own way. He certainly doesn’t use stooges, because he doesn’t need to. So this special felt enjoyably familiar, bringing back good memories, yet also fresh, because it was fun to see how a different selection of people reacted to his tricks.
As always, Derren Brown has fun manipulating people and messing with their heads, without any harm being done of course. For example, he gives a lady unconscious training to do tricks with money and dice, makes a group of people forget some very basic information, and erases seconds of time for another lady so that she can’t remember performing a card trick. And then there are sweet moments too, such as a young boy and his dad playing for a huge teddy bear that has an impressive secret, Derren’s insightful analysis of sentimental objects that a few people have brought with them, an audience member attempting to save a fish out of water, and moving messages displayed on screen during the uplifting finale.
Being able to watch it on a big TV screen with audio description was also of great benefit to me, as I was able to more fully understand a few bits of the show that had been difficult for me to follow in person, including the instructions given to the audience at the start. It was still well worth attending in person, because you really have to be there to fully appreciate the way he works, and there are bits that aren’t shown on TV. But having an accessible version to watch at home helps to fill in a few little gaps, which adds to my enjoyment of it all the more.
So there’s quite a bit of variety in the show, which is great. And his big take-away message is that the things we perceive as being most isolating in life are so often the very things that link us together, such as the pain of losing loved ones (the show is dedicated to Derren’s father, who died from Covid). There will always be a lot of people out there who have experienced, or are experiencing, the same things as you, so you’re never really alone in that regard. And ultimately Derren is keen for people to think about and embrace what’s important in life.
Out & About
Apart from my theatre trips, I’ve been out to several other places in London as well, by myself and with friends, so here are the main highlights.
Hyde Park & Kensington Gardens
This month I took advantage of the nice weather to explore as much of Hyde Park & Kensington Gardens as I could, before they get really busy with tourists, concerts and other events later in the year. I’ve wandered around those areas in the past of course, but not fully, as it’s such a huge and beautiful space altogether.
So as I’ve been systematically filling in my map of the city using Strava & CityStrides, ever since the first lockdown 3 years ago, I wanted to take the time to walk around them more fully. And given that they’re Royal Parks, including Kensington Palace (which I ought to explore inside one day), and with Buckingham Palace not far away (which I have had a tour of in the past), it seemed appropriate to be somewhere with royal connections given the Coronation.
It took several days to wander around both Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens, spread out across the month when my schedule and the weather allowed. But it was very worthwhile and pleasant to do so, as well as being good exercise, because there’s so much to see – not just the more famous and familiar sights, but I also spotted other things that I hadn’t seen before or paid much attention to in the past.
And naturally I took plenty of photos along the way, many of which you can see on my Instagram. So firstly, for Hyde Park, you can check out photo sets for:
- Marble Arch – Including a glimpse at the nearby gallery of facts and historical images about the arch, in the subway tunnel connected to the Tube station.
- Statues & memorials – A small selection of my favourites from the wide variety in the park, including the 7 July Memorial, the statue of Achilles and the Cavalry Of The Empire memorial.
- Other structures – Apsley Gate (aka the Hyde Park Screen), the bandstand & the Old Police House.
- Natural sights – With flowers, trees and greenery.
- The Serpentine – Photos from around the huge lake, including birds, pedal boats, the Serenity statue of an ibis (which wisely had its name changed from Isis), and the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain.
Then for Kensington Gardens I’ve shared photos of:
- The Italian Gardens – Photos of the ornamental water garden, with its fountains, pump house shelter, stonework and flowers.
- Buildings, statues, etc – A selection from some of the other sights in the park, including Buckhill Lodge, The Arch by Henry Moore, the Long Water, the Peter Pan statue, Queen’s Gate, Kensington Palace, the Queen Victoria statue, and the Physical Energy statue.
- Albert Memorial – The huge, impressive structure on the south side of the gardens.
- Royal Albert Hall – Directly across the road from the Albert Memorial. I went to this majestic venue last year for a Queen tribute concert, and back in 2017 I attended a Christmas charity show. It’s a stunning building.
- Natural sights – Tree lined pathways, the Round Pond and flowers including bluebells.
Danson Park Filming
My new job as a support worker for journalist, blogger and good friend Emily Davison is still going very well. And while I’ve already socialised with her a bit in general this year, during April we had our first work-related outings together.
The first and most important meetup was at Danson Park in Bexley, where Emily filmed an interview and B-roll footage with a visually impaired lady called Taylor Notcutt, who was very generous with her time and was an excellent interviewee. She’s the lead singer and songwriter in a jazz band called Pixie & The Gypsies, as well as being a vocal coach at London College Of Performing Arts and a sustainability campaigner. So do go and check her out, she’s very talented.
The interview was all about the long waiting list for Guide Dogs, which felt appropriate as I got to sit with Emily’s adorable guide dog Rosie for much of the time, keeping her company and ensuring she didn’t get too distracted by other dogs that occasionally wandered by. I did help Emily with various other bits and bobs too of course, such as finding good spots to film, greeting our guest while Emily got the equipment set up, carrying things about, making sure she had all the shots she needed from her list, etc. So I was able to make myself useful. But being paid to dog-sit a beautiful Labrador in the sunshine for much of the time isn’t a bad way to spend an afternoon!
Covent Garden Press Event
My other meeting with Emily was more a mixture of work and socialising, as she invited me to a press event at a pop-up bar in Covent Garden, which was called The Crown Jewels as part of their Coronation events. So that activity is technically gifted, as it was for promotional purposes and had free drinks on offer. On the recommendation of a guy we were chatting to, I tried an Aspall cider, followed by a beer called Offshore Pilsner, and they were both nice and refreshing.
Then, once we’d had enough there, Emily and I went to Pizza Express on the Strand for a nice meal, taking advantage of her student discount (which she gets because of the journalism course she’s studying alongside her job). So it was a lovely relaxing evening, with good company, free drinks and cheap food!
Russell & Tavistock Squares
I also had a lovely catch-up with my good friend Claire as my first walk of the month. We had lunch in Pizza Hut by Russell Square, where I had a tasty BBQ Americano pizza, then we had a little walk around Russell Square and Tavistock Square nearby.
The squares aren’t very big, but they’re nice areas to sit and relax, and each has a couple of things worth looking out for. In Russell Square we had a drink from a nice little café, where they serve quite a variety of nibbles, and we saw a wooden arched insect hotel that had sections suitable for bees, spiders, ladybirds, lacewings, robins and butterflies. And in Tavistock Square there are statues of Mahatma Gandhi and Virginia Woolf. So that was a very pleasant afternoon.
This month I watched two films on Blu-ray that are based on Roald Dahl’s Matilda novel.
The story – as if anyone needs reminding – is about a girl called Matilda Wormwood, whose neglectful parents couldn’t give two hoots about her existence. But she has an exceptional mind, which allows her to retain huge amounts of information from all the books she reads to escape from the world around her, and she discovers that she’s able to control objects and people by thought alone. All of which she’s able to use to her advantage when she’s sent to a school run by the evil former Olympian Miss Trunchbull, who punishes children in extreme ways and makes life miserable for sweet and kind teacher Miss Honey (who we learn is Miss Trunchbull’s niece). Therefore, inspired and assisted by Miss Honey and her friends, Matilda is able to believe in herself, harness her powers and oust their Trunchbull tormentor.
So the first adaptation I saw was the 1996 comedy film, which I’ve seen before but not for a little while. So it was good to watch it again, it’s still enjoyable and funny. There are great performances by Mara Wilson as the title character, Pam Ferris as the headmistress and Embeth Davidtz as Miss Honey, along with Danny DeVito and Reha Perlman as Matilda’s parents. And Danny was very busy, as he was also the director and co-producer of the film.
There are plenty of memorable moments, including Matilda pranking her parents, Bruce being forced to eat a massive chocolate cake, Matilda and Miss Honey breaking into Miss Trunchbull’s house, Matilda getting to grips with her powers, and the comeuppance of the headmistress at the end.
I’d forgotten that Miss Trunchbull calls Matilda a “piss worm” in one scene too, which is quite a surprise for a family film! In the context of Trunchbull’s character it’s one of many moments that befits her and justifies the revenge bestowed upon her, and Pam’s delivery of the line is great, so I don’t have an issue with it. It just caught me by surprise, as you’d never get a line like that in films aimed at children now!
The special effects are a bit dated as well of course, especially when people and objects are flying through the air, as those tricks would look better if the film had been made today. But they serve their purpose well, and the whole thing is silly fantasy anyway so it doesn’t matter. And the music is good too, including the songs Send Me On My Way by Rusted Root and Little Bitty Pretty One by Thurston Harris, alongside David Newman’s original score.
The film lasts just over 1½ hours, and has audio available in 4 languages (English, Italian, Spanish & French), plus subtitles in many more, but no audio description. And it’s accompanied by several extra features. In particular, there’s a 16-minute look at how the stunts and special effects were achieved, and a 21-minute reunion feature where members of the cast and production team reminisce while having afternoon tea. Those are the most fun and insightful bonuses, but there’s also a cute little video diary by Mara Wilson, a mini-feature extolling the virtues of libraries and reading for children, and a spoof guide to good manners using clips from the film.
Matilda The Musical
Following on from the old Matilda film, I then watched Matilda The Musical for the first time, which I hadn’t seen when it was in cinemas last year. But given that I love the theatre show on which it’s based, and as it seemed to be getting very good reviews, I was prepared to take a punt and get the Blu-ray.
And the 2-hour film is indeed very enjoyable. There are great performances by Alisha Weir as Matilda, Emma Thompson as Miss Trunchbull and Lashana Lynch as Miss Honey, along with the rest of the cast, especially the amazing child actors.
It’s difficult to compare people in the 1996 and 2022 films really, as they’re both very different in style, but if I were forced to choose I would probably say that I prefer the 1996 Trunchbull and the 2022 Matilda, and I would possibly favour the 2022 Honey. And I prefer the 1996 Bruce, because he looks much more like a kid who stuffs himself with cake at any opportunity, but his song in the musical version is brilliant.
I like the librarian character Miss Phelps (Sindhu Vee) in the musical film as well, and the visualisation of the story that Matilda tells her about the acrobat and the escapologist. Indeed, the look of the whole film is really captivating, with lots of bright and vibrant colours for the most part, or a suitably dark and dreary palette when Trunchbull’s in charge.
And the songs by Tim Minchin, available on the soundtrack album, have all been very nicely adapted from the stage show and choreographed for the screen, and are excellently performed by the cast. During Naughty, I like the way Matilda does the hands-on-hips stance in front of the glowing sunshine, which is instantly recognisable from the theatre show posters. And for When I Grow Up, there’s a fun look at the children enjoying their fantasy careers.
Then, once Miss Trunchbull is defeated, I love the epic performance of Revolting Children, with seemingly hundreds of children involved, and even a few additional lyrics compared to the stage version. And that’s followed by a very sweet closing song called Still Holding My Hand, written especially by Tim for the film.
So I’m really glad I’ve seen the film version of the musical at last, it’s good fun. There’s even an audio description track as well, which is fantastic, although I didn’t personally feel the need to use it as I could see what was happening sufficiently on my big screen TV anyway.
There are no bonus features though, apart from a sing-along version of the film where the lyrics appear on screen – yet there is about half an hour’s worth of extras with the downloadable version from the Apple TV store. I’m not going to buy the film a second time just for those, as they’re not that important, but it’s a shame they didn’t include them on the disc, as there would easily have been enough room. But the film’s the most important thing anyway, so I’m pleased I have that now.
Apart from the special by Derren Brown and Sarah Millican’s DVD that I mentioned above, there are various other shows I’ve watched at home this month.
- Doctor Who: Series 1 – As we gear up for the 60th anniversary of the show later this year, with the return of Russell T Davies as showrunner and David Tennant as the Doctor, and as it’s now 18 years since the revival of the series that Russell masterminded, it gives me the perfect excuse and opportunity to go through my Blu-rays of the modern series, and write detailed review posts about them. I won’t finish them all in time for the anniversary, but I hope to get to the end of all the Tennant episodes by then. But before that, of course, we have the fantastic Christopher Eccleston as the Doctor in the first series, and it’s been a joy to go through the Blu-ray steelbook of his episodes again. So do check out my lengthy review of Series 1 for all the details.
- Wild Isles – I already talked about this beautiful series in my March post, but I enjoyed watching the last couple of episodes this month, about freshwater and ocean wildlife. There’s also an extra spin-off documentary on iPlayer called Saving Our Wild Isles, produced by the RSPB, WWF and National Trust, about the people who are working to restore and reinvigorate our natural habitats. I didn’t bother watching that, as I was only interested in the main episodes about the wildlife itself, but it is wonderful and really important that there are people who are passionate about nature and are working hard to encourage and preserve it.
- Taskmaster – The new series of this game show is as hilarious as always. The line-up this time doesn’t feature anyone whose comedy I’m hugely into, but that doesn’t matter with this show, as the tasks always bring out interesting and amusing character traits, and challenge them in all sorts of ways. Frankie Boyle was good on Mock The Week, for example, but I never got into his stand up, TV or radio shows beyond that. I know of Ivo Graham & Jenny Eclair, but have never got into any of their stuff either. Meanwhile I’d never heard of Kiell Smith-Bynoe or Mae Martin before at all, and I’m not interested in checking out their other work, but they’re fun on this show.
- In terms of other TV comedies, as usual I’ve been enjoying the new episodes of Have I Got A Bit More News For You, Would I Lie To You? & QI XL on the BBC, along with Alan Davies: As Yet Untitled & Whose Line Is It Anyway? USA over on Dave.
- You Heard It Here First – This is a new panel game on BBC Radio 4, which was commissioned after last year’s pilot. It’s hosted by blind comedian Chris McCausland, and the panel have to guess from sound alone what some adverts are trying to sell, people’s ages, pictures being described by children, and all sorts of other noises. It’s been alright, because Chris is an enthusiastic host, there are some amusing moments, and it’s great for making people think a bit more about living in an audio-only world. But it does start to feel a bit repetitive somehow, the guests are a bit of a mixed bag, and there are just other things I’m much more interested in watching or listening to. So I probably won’t stick with it if there are any further series, but it was well worth a listen.
- Just A Minute – There’s been another new series of this classic game show on Radio 4 with Sue Perkins, who has settled into her hosting role really nicely now, as she seems much more confident and relaxed compared to when she first took it on. And the series was notable this time around because they released all of the episodes on BBC Sounds at once instead of a single one each week. Mum and I have still stuck with tradition and listened to one new episode per week though. And we’re still listening to old episodes hosted by Nicholas Parsons sometimes, over on Audible, as they’re nice and easy to listen to together when we have our dinners.
And that’s it, I hope you enjoyed reading about that eventful month. It looks like there will plenty to mention for May as well, including the big Royal event that has just been and gone after all the build-up, and another theatre show that I’m really looking forward to. So I’ll see you again soon for that and more, and I hope you have fun this month as well!