Friday, 30 July 2010

No Shit Sherlock

Turn off your 'phones and your computers, ignore your loved ones, do whatever you have to do to ensure yourself an uninterrupted hour's viewing of BBC1's Sherlock Holmes on Sunday. It's the best tv drama I've seen in ages, aeons, and any other word you can think of that means a very long time indeed.

The brains behind the modernistation of Jekyll and Hyde last year have scored another winner with their modern day version of the classic Conan Doyle character, and unlike any other version I've seen, it actually makes me want to go back and read the original novels.

It's stuffed full of marvellous actors, the wonderfully named Benedict Cumberbatch (I know, sounds like a vicar from a Jane Austen novel, doesn't he?), Martin Freeman, and the woefully underused Una Stubbs does a comic turn as the duo's landlady. Not to mention Rupert Graves as the clueless Inspector Le Strade, and last week's villain, the lovely Phil Davis.

All the cast, but especially Freeman and Cumberbatch, play with an energy that shows they know this is the good shit. It's good to see Freeman play an everyman with a bit of an edge for a change, with his portrayal of the grumpy, post traumatic stress suffering Dr. Watson, and Cumberbatch is a revelation. I last saw him as a nerdy IT genius in some nonsense about government surveillance and a rampant man made virus, on BBC1 last year. But his sociopathic Sherlock, with flowing Byronesque coiffure, is knee weakeningly hot stuff. He could show Luther a thing or two about deduction...

The pace is fast and assured, with fantastic hurdy gurdy accompanying music that evokes Victorian London. There are new televisual touches too, with text messages and Holmes' deductive reasoning displayed on the screen for the viewer to share. There's even a website, which is worth a look.

My only concern (a minor one after just one episode) is that all the flash and swagger overtakes the plots, this Sherlock needs a challenge, and stories that unfurl over two or three episodes, not the detective story equivalent of a Guardian quick crossword.

But all in all, my brain fizzed with ideas and energy after watching this show, the way it does when inspired by television/cinematic fabulousness (so not too often then...). As I said at the start, don't miss it, you'll be amply rewarded. It's elementary, my dears.

Monday, 19 July 2010


It's surprising how much French you can learn watching a footy match with a French commentary. Our arrival in Corsica for our summer holiday coincided with the World Cup final, in front of which we collapsed with a bottle of local plonk. Additions to my vocab included 'contre attaque' (counter attack), 'un frappe' (a shot on goal) and 'hors jeu' (offside). Unfortunately none of these proved particularly useful during the rest of the week.

Corsica is a gorgeous island, with masses of lovely sandy beaches, clear seas and stunning mountains, all of which we thoroughly enjoyed. It was surprisingly green, with trees and flowers everywhere. Meadows are covered with what is known as the Maquis, a pungent mixture of wild herbs including rosemary and oregano. Corsica also the birth place of Napoleon Bonaparte, but apart from a few plastic statues at the airport and a Rue Bonaparte in a town we visited, this didn't seem to be particularly celebrated.

Highlights of the hol included a boat trip to a blue grotto, a welcome refuge from the heat of the day, and a walk in the Col de Bavela, a mountain pass with awe inspiring views, including the Bavela Needles, granite formations which do indeed look like needles. I was also dragged around the Corsican version of Stonehenge, at place called Filitosa where prehistoric menhirs have been excavated and are now on display. They are alleged to have faces but they looked more like giant phalluses to me. But the place did have an eerie vibe, enhanced by the orchestral music piped out around the site.

We were there for Bastille day, and joined the locals of Porte Vecchio in celebrating, by wandering around the pavement cafes and bars, listening to bad live music and not watching fireworks (scroll right to the bottom of this page to see a photo) . We joined hundreds of others waiting down by the harbour for the firework display, which despite much tooting of boat horns, did not materialise. We learned later that there'd been a fire nearby which had demanded the services of the local fire engines, which presumably resulted in the fireworks being called off.

And what was my holiday reading? Well, I entertained myself on the beach with Audrey Niffenegger's Her Fearful Symmetry, which has been out a while in hardback but has only recently been issued in paperback. It was an ok holiday read, despite being 400 and odd pages I whizzed through it due to the very large print. It's undemanding enough, if depressing, featuring as its main location Highgate cemetery, and various ghosts, including one of a kitten which I found very upsetting. I don't think it's a patch on The Time Traveler's Wife, either in terms of the plot or the depth of the characterisation. Must be hard to follow up such a world wide best selling smash though, let's hope I get to find that out for myself one day...

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Beating Berlusconi

Oh dear, I'm slipping. Almost a week has gone by since I saw the production I'm about to review and I haven't got round to writing about's certainly not a reflection on the quality of the play, it's probably the heat. Speaking of which, a boiling hot evening is probably not the best time to visit an un air conditioned fringe venue, but we tried not to let that ruin our enjoyment of Beating Berlusconi, which is quite simply the funniest thing I've seen on stage since I went to see Zodiac Mindwarp and the Love Reaction, and I don't think the latter were even trying to be funny...

Beating Berlusconi is based on the true story of a Liverpool fan who blagged his way to the 2005 Champions League final in Istanbul (where we of course won on penalties). But the play is so much more than that; it's like a distillation of finest scouse spirit, comprising elements of politics and humour along with the footy. It describes the life of a fan, viewed through the lens of his football club, taking in the historical milestones such as Heysel and Hillsborough along the way.

It brought back so many memories of living in Liverpool, and visiting Anfield, an awareness of that intense tribal loyalty, to which I wanted to belong but didn't really feel entitled to (having been born 20 odd miles away). It took me right back to Liverpool in the 80s, when the city was a last bastion against Thatcherism, and a beacon of hope and humour. I think scousers invented and lived the idea that politics is personal way before any feminist theorists, in Liverpool, it doesn't matter what your status, politics is the bread of daily life. I remembered the garden festival, and actually heckling Margaret Thatcher, who unfortunately chose to visit the same day.

And for anyone who loathes united and that scottish prat, there is a fantastic scene at Manchester Airport, where the scouse hoards depart for the final, and while waiting for their flights mercilessly bombard the mancunian security stafff with jokes about united, ferguson, and all things Manchester in general.

And all this is delivered by just one of Paul Duckworth according to my quick google search, who has the most mobile and emotive face I've every seen. He single handedly portrayed a huge variety of characters, including the protagonist's wife, his two best mates, his dad, not to mention the aforementioned Manc airport staff. Duckworth's energy is awesome, by the end of the first act his shirt was soaked with sweat, and the one he changed it for at the interval was equally drenched by the end of the evening. He delivered humour, energy, anger and pathos.

The play has now finished its run at the King's Head in Islington, but do google it and go and see it if it comes on again, or is playing elsewhere. More fun than the Liverbirds, Bread and Brookie combined.

I'm also thinking of instituting an award, the Brew Award, for those who introduce me to worthwhile artistic and cultural experiences. So the initial Brew award goes to my mate Ali, who saw this, got the tickets and generally organised me into going to see it. Nice one!