Tag Archives: comedy

TV Review: Bad Education (BBC Three)

19 Sep

Image: New Statesman

Since the disappointing third series of Outnumbered, I’ve been searching for a new British comedy to sink my teeth into. Not searching very hard perhaps, distracted by trying to catch up on seven seasons of How I Met Your Mother, but searching all the same. So when Bad Education, Jack Whitehall’s latest comedic endeavour, appeared in my iPlayer recommendations, I decided to give it a shot.

Despite Whitehall being the star of the show, as posh and clueless history teacher Alfie Wickers, it is the supporting cast who really shine. His class, including flirtatious Chantelle (Nikki Runeckles) who spends her time dropping not-so-subtle hints about age gaps in relationships, outrageously camp Steven who attempts to come out during sex education class and wonders why no-one is surprised, and Joe (Ethan Lawrence) who constantly finds himself being talked into Alfie’s hare-brained schemes. Whilst they steal the show, Alfie moons after the boring Miss Gulliver (Sarah Solemani) and indulges in horesplay with Fraser (Matthew Horne), the school’s headmaster, who is so uncool that it’s actually painful to watch. The star of the teachers is terrifying deputy Miss Pickwell (Michelle Gomez), one of whose star moments involves taking her class to an abattoir on a school trip.

Some of Bad Education‘s jokes do fall flat, but those are the ones which are pushed too forcefully upon the audience. Those which were introduced a little more subtly, such as the wall display featuring Anne Boleyn and Princess Diana under the heading ‘Hot Babes Through The Ages’, did succeed in raising a laugh. In fact, the three episodes of Bad Education which I watched raised enough laughs that I will be watching until the end of the series. It’s not a patch on Outnumbered, but it’s enjoyable all the same.

All six episodes of Bad Education are available on iPlayer. Episode 1 expires on September 26.

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Theatre Review: Fawlty Towers

25 Jun

I originally wrote this review for Durham Theatre Review, but due to technical problems it was never uploaded onto their site.  Undeterred, I decided to put it on here instead, in the hope that if any of you happen to be in the North East, and see that Ooook! Productions are putting on a play, you might go and see it! (And I don’t like my writing being hidden away either. Hey, I never said I was perfect…)

***

Fawlty Towers, once voted Greatest British Television Programme, is an ambitious project for any director to take on. But Michael Nower, producer Harriet Allen, and the rest of Ooook! Productions did an admirable job in bringing it to the Assembly Rooms stage, providing the promised ‘evening of exquisite hilarity.’

For the performance two episodes from the first series of Fawlty Towers were chosen, ‘Gourmet Night’ and ‘The Germans’. In the first half hour, hotel owner Basil Fawlty (Neil Robinson) attempted to put on a gourmet night, but spent most of the evening running across town to his friend’s restaurant after his chef passed out drunk. But it is after the interval that the cast really got into their stride as they acted out ‘The Germans’, the most famous of all the Fawlty Towers episodes, in which a concussed Basil tried (and failed) not to insult a group of German guests.

It is Neil Robinson who had the largest shoes to fill, and it is he who stood out most of the cast members, dominating the stage with his movements and facial expressions as well as the delivery of his lines. Nick Jennings (as Manuel) and Claire Bonello (as Polly Sherman) succeeded in capturing the essence of their characters, and Georgia Cassarino managed to make Sybil Fawlty’s laugh even more grating than I remembered it to be. With the help of heavy stage make-up to age his face, Alex Morgan made a convincing and hilarious Major, and despite having few lines to say, Abigail Hooper and Hannah Ryan adopted wonderful old lady walks to play Miss Gatsby and Miss Tibbs. There were also several supporting cast members who were required to play multiple characters, all of whom performed well and contributed to the humour of the production. There were a few minor slip-ups with lines being fluffed, but these were quickly recovered from, and may not even have been noticeable to those not scrutinising the performance in order to review it.

Perhaps the most impressive thing about this production was the set. The Assembly Rooms stage was transformed into a hotel, complete with reception desk, kitchen, dining area and bar, and even a car below the stage in the first act. This did admittedly make the stage feel a little crowded at times, especially when action was taking place in both the kitchen and the dining area simultaneously, but this problem relates more to the size of the stage than anything else.

The tech team had also pulled out all the stops, lowering subtitles from the ceiling for the Germans’ first scene, and creating a remarkably convincing kitchen fire during the second half, complete with smoke wafting into the front rows of the audience. The scene changes were sometimes a little slow and the interval certainly seemed overly long given that the play itself was only an hour long, but hopefully timings will be tightened up in the next performances.

First night hiccups detracted a little from the quality of this production, and the attitude in the box office was slightly frenzied, with no tickets or programmes to give out. But many of these kinks will undoubtedly be ironed out in the next two nights’ showings, and the amount of laughter and applause throughout the evening is testament to how much the audience enjoyed the show despite the problems. Fans of the original Fawlty Towers, and anyone who enjoys good old-fashioned British humour ought not to miss out on this!

 

TV Review: The Bleak Old Shop of Stuff (BBC)

21 Dec

I used to be a big fan of Dickens. I was eight at the time, and while the rest of my classmates were reading Jacqueline Wilson books, I was ploughing through David Copperfield. But then I went to secondary school and English Literature classes infected me with a healthy loathing for anything which I might be expected to analyse. Given that we’d actually studied Great Expectations (with special emphasis on two particular scenes, which we must have read at least forty times); Dickens went straight to the top of my blacklist.

Luckily for me though, I had read just enough during that early Dickens obsession to not only be amused by but to understand most if not all of the satirical references in the first episode of the BBC’s new Dickens parody The Bleak Old Shop of Stuff. And after what has been so far a quite frankly dire offering of Christmas television (at least that which my family have chosen to watch), this was a breath of fresh air.

Alright it may not have been exactly subtle, either in humour or in plot, which the main character, Jedrington Secret-Past (Robert Webb) turning out to have a secret past, one which lands his wife Conceptiva (Katherine Parkinson) and two children Victor (Finlay Christie) and Victoria (Ambra Lily Keegan) in The Skint prison. This necessitates a visit to the home of his adoptive maiden aunts (and uncle), the four of whom each epitomised a Victorian virtue, from chastity to writing prompt thank you cards, and eventually leads him to the attic inhabited by the mysterious Miss Christmasham (Celia Imrie) – anyone who like me was forced to study Great Expectations will no doubt be shuddering at the reference! Along the way he is aided by a group of urchins, led by the Artful Codger (Johnny Vegas) who can be summoned by a cry of “Urchins, ho!”. It’s all decidedly silly, but in a good way, and just what returning students like me need to rest their essay-fried brains.

The series also has a great cast. Alongside Webb, Imrie and Vegas, we have Stephen Fry as the evil lawyer Malifax Skulkington and David Mitchell as Jolliforth Jollington, the most joyful man in the world – and who better to play him than Mitchell, who never seems to stop smiling? Also notable in the first episode is Terrence Hardiman, as a madman with a goose on his hat, a necessary addition to any television show, as I’m sure you’ll agree.

All in all, The Bleak Old Shop of Stuff may not be the best parody show ever to grace our screens, but if you’re looking for a little light-hearted entertainment this Christmas, I’d certainly recommend tuning in!

A repeat of The Bleak Old Shop of Stuff: Christmas Episode will be aired on Tuesday 29th December at 10pm on BBC2.