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Film Highlight: Manchester by the Sea

I first saw Manchester by the Sea as part of the BFI London Film Festival in 2016 and it was, without doubt, my favourite film of the festival and one of my favourite films of 2016. It really struck a chord with me, moved me profoundly, and stayed with me for a long time after. Put very simply, it blew me away. I saw it again last month when it went on general release across the UK, and my initial view of it remains unchanged.

I was delighted to see it win 2 BAFTAs on Sunday (12 February) - Kenneth Lonergan won for Original Screenlay and Casey Affleck won for Leading Actor.

In summary, my strong advice is ... catch this whilst you can ... it is in cinemas now!

Cut and pasted from the BFI London Film Festival website:

Manchester by the Sea
Casey Affleck and Michelle Williams shine in this devastating drama from Kenneth Lonergan, about a man’s painful hometown return.

USA 2016

Tender, brutal and utterly mesmerising, Kenneth Lonergan’s third feature as director is one of the most visually eloquent and emotionally devastating explorations of grief and redemption in recent cinema.

Casey Affleck gives an indelible, career-defining performance as the laconic, calcified Lee, a man whose spare existence is suddenly ruptured when the death of his brother Joe (Kyle Chandler) forces him to return to the hometown he abandoned years before. Rocked by contact with his estranged ex-wife (Michelle Williams) and the revelation that Joe has made him guardian of his teenage son (Lucas Hedges), Lee’s private torment deepens.

Lonergan harnesses all the cinematic potency of the wild and durable Massachusetts locations to magnify the unfathomable inner turmoil of a man so shattered by the consequences of one single mistake that he cannot reverse his retreat from life, even when faced with the responsibility of caring for someone else.

The primary tragedy is revealed through a series of flashbacks that imbue the narrative with a foreboding urgency, often triggered by an emotional response to place, spoken exchanges, or the knowing stares and whispers of the townspeople.

This is exacting filmmaking, profound and overwhelming.
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Winter TV Highlights

January can be a dark and depressing month, so I thought I would promote two new excellent TV drama series (one on the BBC and one on ITV) which have been/will be keeping me going over the Winter.

Taboo, BBC One, Saturdays 9.15pm
1814: James Keziah Delaney returns to London from Africa and is encircled by conspiracy, murder and betrayal.

The Halcyon, ITV, Mondays 9pm
Period drama series about a bustling and glamorous grand hotel in wartime London (World War II).

I am enjoying both Series immensely so I hope you all enjoy them too :)
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Christmas TV Highlight: Grantchester Christmas Special, Christmas Eve, 9pm, ITV

Just promoting my personal Christmas TV highlight which is the Grantchester Christmas Special on Christmas Eve on ITV at 9pm. ITV screening this on Christmas Eve has literally MADE my Christmas!

Grantchester, for the uninitiated, is a crime series/murder mystery series, set in 1950s Grantchester, Cambridge, England, post Second World War, where the crime solving team is made up of a Vicar, the Reverend Sidney Chambers, played by James Norton, and a police officer, Detective Inspector Geordie Keating, played by Robson Green.

If you want to know more about Grantchester and, in particular, why I love it so much, you can read all about it in my special Grantchester feature here:
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Beetles from the West, Hope Theatre - Review

My EQView feature this week is a review of Beetles from the West at the Hope Theatre, a new play that delves deeply into the complex issues of masculinity, men’s health, and prostate cancer. It is an exceptional new play, very powerfully performed, very much from the heart. It is the best of what the fringe has to offer and I am awarding it a maximum five shining stars!

My EQView review of Beetles from the West at the Hope Theatre can be found here:

‪Cut and pasted from the EQView website:


Beetles from the West is a new play that delves deeply into the complex issues of masculinity, men’s health, and prostate cancer.

As you enter the theatre, you walk in on a tense scene. A young man and a young woman are in a hospital waiting room, the young man is pacing the room, and you can cut the air with a knife. Your eyes are drawn to the clock on the wall, as the hands crawl around slowly. You are thrust into the heart of the action before the play has even started.

When the play begins, you learn the two young people are Boyd and his girlfriend, Jenny, who are waiting to hear news about Boyd’s father, who has been rushed to hospital. After what feels like an eternity, a young doctor enters the room to explain what is happening. Boyd’s father is very ill. The doctor is awaiting test results, but it appears likely Boyd’s father has prostate cancer. The doctor needs the test results to confirm the diagnosis and to see how far the cancer has spread.

This news hits Boyd like a bombshell. His father is the one who has brought him up and who has always been there for him. Boyd’s father is his rock and the firm foundation on which his life has been built. Boyd looks up to his father and idol worships him. His father was a soldier, and he has always been tough, fit and strong – he has never been sick in his whole life. He is a giant in Boyd’s eyes and invincible. Boyd is very suspicious of the diagnosis – he simply cannot believe his father has cancer.

As the news sinks in, Boyd’s initial denial turns to anger. He is angry with his father for ignoring the warning signs, for not talking to him about his illness, and for not seeking medical help earlier. And Boyd is angry with himself for not noticing something was wrong. If only, if only …

Throughout the play, each of the characters is given a monologue, and each of the monologues is a vivid memory from their childhood or from their teenage years, which gives us a real insight into their characters and their relationship with their fathers. The monologues are very tender, moving and powerful, and allow us to see into the character’s soul, enriching our knowledge and understanding of the character. The monologues added real value to the play, making it a much more rewarding experience.

Beetles from the West explores many of the complex issues surrounding cancer. At first, Boyd says his father is a soldier and he will fight cancer and win. But cancer should not be seen as a battle to be fought and won, because this diminishes those whom it kills, implying they are weak. Some cancers are passed down through the generations, and cast a long shadow over the lives of children, who worry about their genetic inheritance. Despite all the recent scientific and medical advances, the C word continues to strike terror into people’s hearts and remains a disease that is greatly feared.

One of the play’s real strengths is the portrayal of the relationship between Boyd and Jenny. As they wait for the test results, they pass the time by playing a game of monopoly. This enables us to see the dynamics of their relationship, which is very modern, and grounded in equality. Boyd and Jenny have a strong, loving and fun relationship. We see the genuine love they have for each other, even when put to the test under stressful circumstances. We know Boyd’s dad really loved Jenny as a daughter, because he welcomed her into the family, and asked her to look after his son.

Jenny’s monologue gives us an insight into what makes her such a strong woman. As she recalls her childhood and her teenage years, we learn her father had clinical depression, and Jenny had to care for him and support him as best she could. It was almost as though she were the parent in that relationship, taking care of her father, not vice-versa. This is the mirror image of Boyd’s relationship with his father during his formative years.

The doctor returns to confirm the devastating news – it is cancer, the cancer has spread, and the illness is terminal. Boyd’s father has been living with the illness for a long time. He has been experiencing problems, but has kept these hidden, not sharing his burden, not talking to anyone, and not seeking medical help. This has meant the disease has taken root, has spread, and is now terminal. Boyd’s father will die, and this death could have been prevented, if his father had only sought medical help sooner.

Boyd is devastated to learn the diagnosis and the prognosis, and the news is even harder to bear knowing his father could have had a very different outcome if he had only spoken to someone or sought medical help earlier. Boyd is grief-stricken, holding on to Jenny for comfort and support.

There are two incredibly powerful performances in this play – from Ryan Penny playing Boyd and Shian Denovan playing Jenny. Both actors are exceptional in their individual roles; bring real depth and warmth to the relationship between Boyd and Jenny, making it very believable; and perform their monologues from the heart. They were both outstanding.

Beetles from the West observes the classical or Aristotelian unities for Drama – unity of action, a play should have only one main plot/storyline; unity of place, a play should occur in a single physical place; and unity of time, the action in a play should take place over no more than 24 hours. The play’s focus is on the prostate cancer diagnosis for Boyd’s father and its effect on Boyd and Jenny; the play takes place in a hospital waiting room; and the action takes place over one afternoon. This makes the play much more hard-hitting and immediate.

In summary, Beetles from the West was an exceptional new play, very powerfully performed, very much from the heart. It contained important messages about masculinity, men’s health and prostate cancer, highlighting the need for men to talk about their health problems, and to seek medical help when needed, without seeing this as a sign of weakness.

I think this is what theatre should be all about – sharp new writing, powerfully performed, immediate and impactful, tackling current social issues, and seeking to make a difference. This is the best of what the fringe has to offer and I am awarding it a maximum five shining stars!

Beetles from the West by Falling Pennies Theatre Company plays at the Hope Theatre (Islington) until Saturday 23 July.

Follow the links for more details:
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Odd Shaped Balls, Old Red Lion Theatre - Review

My EQView feature this week was a review of Odd Shaped Balls at The Old Red Lion Theatre, a new play which tackles the complex issue of homophobia in sport. Short, sharp, and powerful – it packs a punch! The writing was sharp as a pin, Matthew Marrs gave a truly exceptional performance, and the very clever set simply took my breath away. One of the best fringe shows I have seen in a long time. 5 shining stars!

My EQView review of Odd Shaped Balls at The Old Red Lion Theatre can be found here:

‪Cut and pasted from the EQView website:


Odd Shaped Balls is a new play, a one-man show, which tackles the issues of homophobia and sexuality in sport, and the pressures of intrusive press and social media attention into the private lives of our sporting heroes.

The play opens with a win for the Chiltern Colts and promotion to the Premiership. James Hall is one of their star players, popular with his coach, his team mates and the fans. As the team celebrates its promotion down the local pub, you get a real sense of the macho locker room culture that exists, orientated around drinking and women. Premiership rugby stars are expected to be straight, and to either be a womaniser or to have a beautiful girlfriend/wife in tow.

James’s personal life at this point is … complicated. He has a steady girlfriend, but he has also embarked on a relationship with a man. With the team’s promotion to the Premiership, media interest in the players rises. Stories start to circulate on social media that James is in a relationship with a man, and there is a danger the press will follow the lead and break the story.

James’s life is turned upside down overnight, as he has to consider whether he is going to make a statement and go public, and what he is going to say. He also has to deal with the repercussions of the breaking story and his “outing” with his girlfriend, his parents, his family, his teammates and his friends. Is he gay?, how long has he known?, has he been living a lie?, and why hasn’t he said anything sooner? are questions now directed at James by his nearest and dearest. James’s instinctive reaction is to run and hide, but he knows he has no choice but to stand and fight. He does a media interview and confirms the story.

James and his coach decide to try and ride out the storm, and James plays in the match on Saturday. Whilst progress has been made, homophobia still lurks in sport and rugby, amongst players and fans. James’s forced disclosure puts him under a lot of pressure, and his performance is under the microscope. Homophobic chants emerge from the terraces, making James lose his concentration and focus, and putting him off his game. At the end of the match, the coach decides he has no choice but to rest James for the next few matches. James can no longer play the game loves and he is cut off from the world he knows. Realising everything he has lost, James breaks down and cries.

The play explores the idea of whether it Is possible to be a successful out gay rugby player, or whether you have to hide your sexuality if you want to succeed in the game. Times moves on, James overcomes his baptism by fire, and is able to return to the game, recover his form, and succeed again. James asks people to judge him by his performance on the pitch in the game that he loves. James emerges from the scandal as someone with integrity, who is true to himself, and who can be a role model for others coming up through the game.

Sport in general, and rugby in particular, holds absolutely no interest for me, but I was gripped from start to finish by this play because of the quality of the acting and the storytelling. The production only runs for an hour but it packs a lot of content into its short running time, and explores complex themes with sensitivity and depth.

This is a one-man show and the play rests on the very broad and capable shoulders of Matthew Marrs. Marrs is exceptional in this piece, playing all the characters – James, his Dad, his coach, his teammate, his boyfriend, his girlfriend, the press pack, and everyone else! He changes, chameleon like, from one character to the next in the blink of an eye, but you are never in any doubt which character he is playing. And each character has real-depth. Despite the serious subject matter, there is a lot of comedy in the piece, and Marrs is able to capitalise on all these comedic opportunities. Marrs’s performance is a real tour de force.

I also have to give a special mention to the very talented set designer as the set was ingenious. The theatre space was very small, and yet the set incorporates a pub, a locker room, a living room, an office, and a rugby pitch – all the key locations needed for the play. It was an incredibly clever set, and was one of the best set designs I have seen on the fringe circuit.

If I have a minor gripe with the production, it was the lighting, which was a bit too frenetic for my taste. I found the constant lighting changes distracting, and it made it harder for me to focus on the content of the play.

In conclusion, I thought Odd Shaped Balls was stunning. The short play explored the complex issue of homophobia in sport with real depth. The piece was short, sharp, and powerful – it packs a punch! The writing was sharp as a pin, Matthew Marrs gave a truly exceptional performance, and the very clever set simply took my breath away. One of the best fringe shows I have seen in a long time and I have no hesitation in awarding it a maximum 5 shining stars!

Odd Shaped Balls is playing at the Old Red Lion Theatre until Saturday 25 June 2016.

Follow the link for more details: