Crucible of the Vampire ~ Film Review

The title itself suggests that there’s a historical genre in store, however it gives little away as to the light erotic LGBT content. It’s a film packed with overt horror, underlying messages, a slightly unstable storyline perhaps yet it’s entertaining and gripping in equal measure. The characters are all purposeful and well-rounded which helps to move the action along in a dark, not entirely vampire-driven film set in Shropshire.

The backstory of the sorcerer’s dark conjuring of the female vampire shows him casting his spell on the owner of a country mansion in the year 1807. At the heart of the story is a character called Isabelle (Katie Goldfinch) – she’s investigating the truth behind the legend of the crucible and is therefore sent to the mansion by her University Professor. Isabelle is your archetypal young woman who’s blissfully unaware of the horrors awaiting her and is easily taken in. She’s a virgin, therefore she’s just the sort of meat the inhabitants of the mansion are looking for.

Karl (Larry Rew) is the owner, he’s almost a caricature of villainy. His wife, Evelyn (Babette Barat) is almost too over the top in her politeness. Their daughter, Scarlet (Florence Cady) is the most openly ‘delighted’ by the visitor. The introductions set the tone for the rest of the movie. There’s also a fairly innocuous gardener whom it’s wise not to take your eye off – played by Neil Morrissey.

Crucible of the Vampire is a hybrid of Hammer Horror and horror comedy Dark Shadows – from my perspective. There are elements that set out to scare and other scenes I can’t quite take seriously. However it’s a compelling watch with a strong cast and Director/Co-Writer Iain Ross-McNamee has certainly embodied an interesting niche.

Crucible of the Vampire is available on Dual Format (DVD & Blu-ray) from Screenbound Pictures. 

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National Television Awards 2019 – Musings of an attendee…

Another National Television Awards ceremony has passed and it was an interesting, slightly controversial star-studded evening.

As an entertainment blogger with big love for all things telly and a working relationship and indeed friendships with a few familiar names from the small screen, I like to attend the awards whenever possible. I was a regular attender of the National Television Awards during the good old days when the Royal Albert Hall was the venue for the event. This year saw my third visit to the show since the move to the O2 and the extortionate charge to meet the celebrities on the red carpet came into being.

I’m often asked if it’s as good to be there as it looks on the telly and whether it’s worth paying for a ticket to go etc. The honest answer is that you do get a better view on your television at home, however I also believe that everybody should experience it at least once. Had the ceremony and set up remained the same as during Sir Trevor McDonald’s tenure – then I wouldn’t have hesitated to recommend that everyone with a passion for television pays a visit and indeed for a ticket, if they can. Every trip to the O2 for me has been widely different, however what stood out this time was the number of people in the audience who were going in and out of the auditorium at regular intervals and not during commercial breaks. This was disruptive to the evening itself for us members of the public. It’s no mean feat going up and down those stairs all the time either, they must have had a great workout!

The basic charge before fees for a red carpet ticket which includes a seat at the ceremony itself is £120. Prior to the move to the O2 it was free to attend the red carpet before and after the ceremony. There was a degree of scrambling which was kept under control by stewards, however on the whole it wasn’t a bad experience and helped to build up the excitement and anticipation before we piled into the venue itself. During commercial breaks inside the Albert Hall the nominees would make their way over to have photos with us and sign autographs too. It felt like we were all in it together, actors, crew members, directors, producers and us, the viewers.

As it’s an awards ceremony voted for by the public, back in those days it truly felt like the public got something back for supporting the various television shows. If you didn’t have an opportunity to see your favourite celebrity before the show or during, there was always a good chance that you would meet them afterwards. Indeed I was able to arrange to meet friends who were nominated and we’d easily find one another amongst the throng. On all three occasions that I’ve been in the audience at the O2 it’s been impossible to meet any nominees in my social and working circle.

So why the big change? Security risks are heightened of course due to a vast number of reasons and social media and all its pitfalls have also added to the mix. There are a few ‘fans’ out there who troll celebrity social media accounts and they could be loose cannons on occasions such as these I expect. It’s such a shame though because the event which I have always loved being a part of now feels like an us and them situation – those who are on TV versus those who aren’t. Separated and kept under lock and key by more security staff than you can shake a stick at – and you’d be wise not to shake a stick or you’d find yourself back on the tube before the stars were in their seats. Which wouldn’t be difficult! At the Royal Albert Hall the nominees were always seated well in advance of the show going live. At the O2 it’s almost more entertaining to watch the celebrities being herded in, rather like cats, than it is to watch the show. As you will no doubt have spotted on your screens this year, they are seldom in their seats ahead of the show being broadcast.

Although there is a notable barrier between Joe public and the television greats, there are a handful of stars who like to boogie with the warm up man and get the crowd ready to party. This year Brendan O’Carroll and Jennifer Gibney aka Mrs Brown and Cathy Brown were having a dance and cheering with the audience before Dermot came on to do his thing. Last year we had Ruth Langsford and Alison Hammond strutting their stuff. The various television theme tunes are blasted out and we can see footage from the red carpet to spark our enthusiasm. It’s after that I feel the show becomes something of a damp squib.

The positive side of the night for me personally is that I go with friends and we have a brilliant time. This year we were treated to a ‘red carpet’ make over by Bobbi Brown UK in John Lewis and Partners, Oxford Street ahead of the show and spent our time enjoying a good catch up. It is what you make it, and if you want to spend the big bucks to meet the stars on the red carpet, the opportunity is there. It’s not what we’re keen to do but it would certainly be an experience not to be forgotten I’m sure. You can book tickets for next year so if you feel it’s time to see what all the fuss is about and see the inside of the awards for yourself, book now: www.nationaltvawards.com/

Photo Credits: National Television Awards/ITV

The Snowman ~ Birmingham Repertory Theatre

Star rating: *****

It’s the stage spectacular that’s certain to make you feel like you’re walking in the air with its feel-good yet beautifully moving story, choreography and music. In its 25th anniversary year, the live version of the stage show based on the Raymond Briggs classic is heart-warming and brings tears to the eyes in equal measure!

The atmosphere of the piece is created from a combination of stunning ballet, beautiful, believable characterisation and the strength of the story alone which is told so brilliantly by the utterly incredible cast. The stage version dovetails with the film in that we follow the friendship between an over-excited boy waiting for Christmas and even more enthralled to see its snowing. His glorious snowman comes to life in wondrous fashion as the pair embark upon a marvellous adventure. Together they make a formidable team as they combat a cat attack, encounter dancing fruit from the fridge who limbo dance and even brave a trip to mum and dad’s bedroom to dress up the frozen wonder. However it’s when the pair take flight into the night sky that the piece reaches its crescendo. The party that ensues with a selection of other snowman, animals and Father Christmas himself can’t fail to put a smile on your face. Punctuated by the sensational music and lyrics from Howard Blake.

Martin Fenton astounds in the title role, he plays the Snowman as if he were wearing a second skin and every move is measured, precise and engaging. Lewis Chan gave a superb performance as the boy, the chemistry with Fenton was stunningly palpable. Ruben De Monte was extraordinarily impressive as Jack Frost, commanding the stage and leaving us under no misapprehension as to who the baddie of the piece was. The penguins were my favourites though, comical, exact movement and a real double act – kudos to Ami Tollin and Kimberly Lawrie.

A family evening out at the theatre doesn’t come in any better packaging than this – it’s the perfect post-Christmas treat. Book your tickets to see The Snowman now: www.birmingham-rep.co.uk/

Borg vs. McEnroe – Film Review

The rivalry between tennis greats Björn Borg and John McEnroe was one for the ages and it was no doubt made for theatre. Here were two of the sport’s finest — both immensely talented and massively driven by the pursuit of greatness. But one, McEnroe, was fierce and volcanic; the other, Borg, was suave yet stoic. They were fire and ice, perfect dance partners for the sport of tennis.

That rivalry is the one Borg vs. McEnroe revisits over three decades later. Directed by Danish filmmaker Janus Metz Pedersen, Borg vs. McEnroe is a biographical sports drama that chronicles what is arguably one of the sporting world’s fiercest — and most evenly matched — rivalries. The biopic revisits a compelling clash of titans, and it does so with aplomb (though it is not without its flaws).

Borg vs. McEnroe illuminates the essence of Borg (played by Sverrir Gudnason), whose ice-like demeanour concealed an inner cauldron fuelled by a burning desire to win and a manic obsession for detail. The Guardian notes that Gudnason is remarkable in this biopic, and that is a accurate observation. The Swedish actor recreates in compelling detail everything that made his compatriot a tennis legend, and in doing so nearly steals all the thunder from Shia LaBeouf, his equally talented co-star.

LaBeouf doesn’t disappoint either as McEnroe. The biopic redefines McEnroe’s character, making a case that the American’s gifts were also his curse. McEnroe has been widely reviled for his hot-headed, tantrum-throwing ways, but Borg vs. McEnroe contextualises this volcanic temper. It wasn’t so much that McEnroe was forever full of vitriol; rather, his outbursts were manifestations of his own burning desire to win and his own manic obsession for detail. To this end, Pederson juxtaposes the two icons in a different light far apart from the fire vs. ice comparisons. The film’s message, it seems, is this: Despite their outward differences both players have a lot more in common than meets the eye. Those commonalities, in turn, are what made this Borg vs. McEnroe the rivalry that it was.

If anything, though, LaBeouf, despite his riveting performance, is left underused, and not by his own doing. The Independent’s review of the biopic rues this very same aspect, noting how Ronnie Sandahl’s screenplay hands the lion’s share of screen time to Gudnason. It is not a bad call per se, especially given Gudnason’s own spotlight-stealing greatness; but LaBeouf himself boasts acting pedigree, and he sure could have used more screen time.

Now, for the match point: Borg vs. McEnroe is an ace of a film, with a climax that artfully recreates the epic 1980 Wimbledon finals between the two icons. This biopic is an enthralling look-back at a tête-à-tête that remains the standard bearer for a sport that has had plenty of rivalries. The most recent of these rivalries, in the estimation of tennis great Pete Sampras, is the one between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, whom Sampras says “carried the torch for a couple of years” — in much the same fashion that Borg and McEnroe did from 1978 to 1981. Ranked 1 and 3 in Coral’s list of highest earning tennis players, Federer and Nadal have faced off 38 times (16 times more than Borg-McEnroe), with 24 of those showdowns for a championship.

While the Telegraph’s Charlie Eccleshare hails Federer-Nadal as one of the sport’s greatest rivalries, making a strong case that the two “have taken tennis to new heights,” the film thinks otherwise. Borg vs. McEnroe illustrates how the rivalry between Borg and McEnroe was one of a kind, and sheds light on what made it the true greatest rivalry in tennis.

Image Credit: Pinterest

Guest Post from Mary Williams

Maid Marian and the Merry Men ~ Worcester Swan Theatre

Star rating: *****

One of the best pantomimes I’ve had the pleasure of seeing this season – Maid Marian and the Merry Men at Worcester Swan Theatre. Last year’s version of ‘Sleeping Beauty’ which saw my little boy and I visit the theatre for the first time, was a real revelation so I was looking forward to this season’s effort and it absolutely did not disappoint.

Chris Jaeger, who is Chief Executive and Artistic Director at the theatre, has written the script and it’s a traditional one through and through yet cleverly doubles as a modern day take on the art of pantomime. With Maid Marian at the helm instead of Robin Hood, the show has moved with the times whilst keeping the usual quick-fire gags, opportunities to boo the baddie aka boo til you’re blue and audience participation encouraged at all times.

The story is not dissimilar to the well-known tale of Robin Hood and he does feature in the show, however incarnation is based around a feisty, independent Marian. She’s under the protection of the evil Sheriff of Nottingham who’s squeezing taxes out of the local residents and desperate to marry off Marian to Guy of Gisborne so that Marian’s money will stay in the Sheriff’s family. Cunning eh? Meanwhile there’s a half-soaked Friar Tuck eager to re-join Robin Hood’s band of merry men, Dame Ginny is on hand for madcap antics together with Willy the Wally and there’s Robin himself of course, he’s a bit of a dim-wit and head over heels in love with the leading lady. No I don’t mean Dame Ginny, she’s on the search for a husband from amongst unwitting male members of the audience. Watch out! The merry men are a bit on the young side, so they’re helped (or hindered) by the other characters as they endeavour to bring about the downfall of the Sheriff of Nottingham and help Marian to shake off Guy of Gisborne too.

Genevieve Lowe is extraordinary as Maid Marian, she’s a performer de force and her vocal ability is stunning. Tom Riddell gives a humour-filled performance as Robin, he had the audience on side from the outset. Heidi Gowthorne was a fabulously sparkly Fairy, quirky and gentile in equal measure. John-Robert Patridge shone as Dame Ginny, ably filling the shoes of Ben Humphrey who directed this season’s extravaganza but was notably absent from the pinny. Patridge was hilarious in the role, Humphrey was missed but his personal stamp on the overall show was evident. Jamie Kwasnik made the role of Friar Tuck his own and his comic timing was superb. Wilf Williams managed to make Guy of Gisborne a dashing yet clumsy oaf who was completely under the spell of the Sheriff. Charlie Ryan was quite the clown as Willy the Wally and his facial expressions alone were comedic. Liz Grand commanded the stage as the Sheriff of Nottingham, fierce, no-nonsense and extremely happy to receive as many boos and jeers as possible, she is a one of the jewels in Worcester Rep’s crown.

All in all, it’s a fast-paced, humour-packed affair with exceptional scenery, excellent choreography and a lot of fun for all the family. The musical numbers all fit in brilliantly with the plot and there’s a fantastic disco medley to put you in that party mood.

If you want to try and get your hands on a ticket before Maid Marian and the Merry Men closes, you can do so here: Worcester_Live

Emily Brown and the Thing ~ Birmingham Hippodrome Theatre (Patrick Studio)

Star rating: *****

Emily Brown and the Thing, from the pen of popular author Cressida Cowell, has landed at the Birmingham Hippodrome Theatre Patrick Studio and it’s a deliciously glorious theatrical experience for children and grown ups alike.

With a set which is deceptive – appearing to look like a basic backdrop until the action begins and the multi-purposes become evident and awe-inspiring to watch. It’s an innovative integral part of the story and integrates smoothly and seamlessly.

Tall Stories have produced this riveting incarnation of the book and their cast are incredible. Sophie Alice is highly believable and engaging in the title role of Emily Brown and her energy is almost infectious. She is joined on her adventures by Stanley the grey rabbit and when he’s not in miniature puppet form, he’s played by Jordan Turner – notably, Turner is also the puppeteer responsible for Stanley the puppet and his skill is extraordinary. The cast of three is completed by Sam Buitekant who plays the Thing (as puppeteer and actor, depending on the scene) as well as a witch who’s contemplating giving up spells, a lonely polar bear and a troll who’s taken a fancy to the Thing’s cuddly. Buitekant’s range of different voices and accents is one of the many highlights of an exceptional show.

You don’t need to have read the book to be able to immerse yourself in the adventures that Emily Brown and Stanley take as they set off on a number of quests to silence the Thing’s grumblings. After all, they can’t get to sleep unless it’s really quiet, can they?

Catch this insightful masterpiece while you can, it’s a superb introduction to theatre for young audience members and encompasses all the best elements of live theatre in one 55 minute long show with no interval.

Book your tickets here, the show runs in Birmingham until 6 January 2019: https://www.birminghamhippodrome.com/calendar/tall-stories-emily-brown-and-the-thing/

Dick Whittington and His Cat ~ Oxford Playhouse

Star rating: ****

The age old tradition of pantomime is not only alive in Oxford but it’s revitalised, re-energised, refreshing and stands a good chance of attracting new audiences in to the theatre. There aren’t many (if any) pantomimes that offer up a version of the popular Nirvana hit ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ among their musical numbers and there are also inspired incarnations of show tunes from ‘Hamilton‘ and ‘Les Miserables‘ too. Of course there’s a spot of ‘Baby Shark‘ because it’s been the gimmick hit of the year, however on the whole ‘Dick Whittington and His Cat‘ is pushing the boundaries, breaking the norm and with a punchy script courtesy of Steve Marmion – and he’s directed this fast-paced festive treat too.

Dick Whittington Oxford Playhouse CREDIT Geraint Lewis

Like every good pantomime, there’s a Dame, in this case Sarah the Cook played by the effervescent Paul Barnhill. There’s a ‘thigh slapping’ male lead who has a penchant for remote controlled cars, naturally given the pantomime title, he’s called Dick, played by returning leading man, Ricky Oakley – it’s easy to see why he was a hit with last year’s audience, this genre of theatre appears to come very naturally to him. There’s Fairy Bowbells played by Waterloo Road alumni, Rebecca Craven, she’s a power vocalist and her energy is infectious. As Alice Fitzwarren, Adrianna Bertola isn’t your typical leading lady, she’s feisty, full of attitude and knows what she wants – exactly the sort of role model that kids ought to see, in my humble opinion. Max Olesker cuts a menacing figure as King Rat, the audience were quick to boo him and his performance of ‘Bad Rodent’ was one of the many highlights of the panto. Stealing the show with his incredible dance moves, slick style and gift guarding was Alessandro Babalola as the cat. A more groovy cat you couldn’t wish to meet!

It’s a bolshie, ballsy jingle bow bells ball – it made a real change to see a unique take on the traditional script. It might have been slightly too radical for my septuagenarian parents, however my 4 year old was in his element and I had an amazing evening at the theatre.

Book your tickets here: Oxford_Playhouse

Snow White & The Seven Dwarfs ~ Malvern Theatres

Star rating: *****

Our pantomime season has kicked off late this year, however the first of the festive treats that we’ve been able to attend has surely set the bar high, as a five star extravaganza and perfect family pantomime – Snow White & The Seven Dwarfs at Malvern Theatres is not to be missed.

Starring the wonder that is Hi De Hi! star, Su Pollard, as the Wicked Queen, the show transported me back to the traditional pantomimes I was brought up watching. Thanks to exceptional comedy performances from Pollard, Mark James as Muddles and Philip Meeks as Dolly, there were plenty of laughs to be had and the jokes worked on every level, too. My four year old son all but rolled in the aisles with mirth at the physical comedy from Mark James, while I was entertained by the tongue in cheek, political references and occasional overt smut from Philip Meeks who shone in an amazing array of outfits! He was certainly the mistress of quick changes too. Francesca McKean was a gentile and sweet Snow White, she was the epitome of easy-going, naive Princess. Aidan Banyard possessed the stance, winning smile and qualities of the dashing Prince. The Dwarfs were all glorious, too with Soppy (Charlotte Fawbert) being my favourite. However it was Pollard who stole the show, a wicked laugh like no other, commanding the stage in her unique way and her vocal ability when it came to the musical numbers was quite extraordinary.

There were numerous songs moving the action along, a nod towards The Greatest Showman, Shrek the Musical and the hugely successful and popular artist, George Ezra as well as Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Choreography courtesy of Alastair Bull, was eye-catching and befitting for the genre. The scenery provided an atmospheric backdrop suitable for the story and moved seamlessly.

My personal highlight was the Twelve Days of Christmas, performed by Muddles, Dolly, the Prince and Grouchy the Dwarf (Craig Salisbury), it never fails to be a favourite pantomime tradition of mine. The mayhem and chaos of the scene had the audience in fits of laughter. The five toilet rolls gag proved as popular as ever.

UK Productions really know their stuff when it comes to the simplicity and heart of the genre of pantomime and Snow White & The Seven Dwarfs left my party feeling like Christmas had finally begun. Book your tickets now: Snow White & The Seven Dwarfs

Claire Richards ~ Town Hall, Birmingham

Star rating: *****

Claire Richards has long been my best-loved member of of pop band Steps, her vocal ability is so extraordinary that waiting for her signature ‘belt’ to make an appearance in the back catalogue of Steps hits has become rather customary. When I knew she was planning to go solo it was quite a moment, I was so excited to hear her album and the tour has been on my hit-list since back in the summer. The album ‘My Wildest Dreams‘ has been delayed until 1 February 2019, but she promises it will be worth the wait – and from the sound of the various numbers the singer treated us to during her solo gig, it definitely will be worth the wait!

Looking the epitome of chic elegance, Claire sang us through numerous songs from her album, some I was familiar with and already love listening to and the others that were new to my ears I already know I will want to play over and over. This incredible lady has created a perfect first solo album in my humble opinion. She was nervous, at least that’s what she told the audience, but she’s the master of hiding nerves if she truly felt that way! As one number rolled into another the atmosphere buzzed and every member of the crowd was on her side willing her to be as brilliant as she absolutely was.

With Christmas just around the corner, ‘My Heart Is Heading Home (This Christmas)’ was a welcome choice on the set list, you can download that ready for the festive season too – I highly recommend you do. ‘End Before We Start’ which already has an official video was sensational live, ‘On My Own’ is equally moving and I feel it represents the star’s solo journey. The title track ‘My Wildest Dreams’ is also lyrically heartfelt and yet another song which was performed beautifully live. ‘Deep Waters’ is gloriously upbeat and upped the vibe in the venue. ‘Brave’ is the only self-penned tune and possibly one of my overall favourites, I can identify with the message and it’s a fitting tribute to her children and to motherhood.

Of course there was a nod towards Claire’s ‘day job’ as a member of Steps with stripped back versions of ‘Deeper Shade of Blue’ and ‘One for Sorrow’ which were a welcome addition to the set. However, it was her performance of Ike and Tina Turner’s ‘River Deep, Mountain High’ which was the biggest revelation of the night and rocked Town Hall, Birmingham.

If you have the chance to see Claire Richards performing her solo gig, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend that you go. It was an amazing evening of wonderful music and there’s no doubt that this path is right for her, it’s about time!

Check out Claire Richards’ website for all the latest news: Claire Richards Website

Pre-order the album ‘My Wildest Dreams’ here, just click the image:

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