The Dobermann Always Rings Twice

The Dobermann Always Rings Twice

Switzerland - Ambassadors Theatre

RantPosted by Dobermann Tue, December 04, 2018 21:29:32

The Talentless Mrs Ripoff

Dr Terror eviscerates Switzerland at the Ambassadors Theatre

I hadn’t been expecting such a Doctor Whoish evening: as I sat in seat K9 to watch a play starring Phyllis Logan who is also about to star in the as-yet-unbroadcast season finale this Sunday, in walked Peter Capaldi and sat down five rows in front of me. Is he a good man? I don’t know, but he certainly had a better seat.

This, unfortunately, was the highlight of a distinctly underwhelming evening. Doctor Who had paired up Agatha Christie with a gigantic wasp and, in this lukewarm double-header, crime writer Patricia Highsmith, in the twilight of her years, was visited by a young man keen to get her to write another Ripley book. Author Joanna Murray-Smith has definitely written better stuff. It’s a shame because, as evenings out go, the play had a lot going for it: impeccable research, a fine performance by the aforementioned Phillis Logan and competent if unexciting direction by Lucy Bailey (who directed the superior Christie vehicles Love from a Stranger and County Hall’s Witness for the Prosecution earlier this year). As I always maintain, though, if the script’s not up to much, you’re fighting a losing battle and here the script was so derivative that I began to wonder on several occasions whether I’d actually seen the play before.

The fact that Highsmith was portrayed as so vastly unpleasant tended to be alienating. It might have been an accurate portrayal (hard though it is to imagine anyone quite so bitter and misanthropic) but it was unlikely to win an audience over. A bigger problem, though, was the location – transferred from Bath (where this kind of thing probably finds a more appreciative audience), it has ended up at the Ambassador’s Theatre. Next door, at the St Martin’s Theatre, Anthony Shaffer’s Sleuth was first performed and the similarity is very striking: a young man finds himself in an arrogant and somewhat psychopathic thriller writer’s lair and some pretty metatextual things soon start happening. Interestingly, Highsmith’s habit of collecting snails as pets to watch them mate could well have inspired the scene of snails doing just that in the director’s cut of Shaffer’s The Wicker Man.

It’s hard to say much more without giving it away completely but if you’ve seen, say, David Stuart Davies’s Sherlock Holmes…the Last Act with Robert Llewellyn or perhaps The League of Gentlemen’s Apocalypse, then you’ll spot the twist hurtling towards you like a runaway train. With strangers on it.

Old Vic: A Christmas Carol

RantPosted by Dobermann Sat, December 01, 2018 23:52:46

Being a Ghost Story of Christmas'

Dr Terror reviews A Christmas Carol at the Old Vic

I've never been a soft touch for Christmas sentiment. In 'It's a Wonderful Life' when George Bailey realises how Bedford Falls would look if he had never lived - full of bars, strip clubs and casinos - I'm sure I'm not alone in pausing briefly to consider whether that might be an improvement. Every American who mourns the passing of small towns like Bedford Falls even as they board the plane for Vegas feels the same - the writers of 'Riverdale' realise this only too well.

Furthermore, the Old Vic's refusal to let anyone get to their seats until some ten minutes before curtain up, leading to the theatre lobby resembling a packed tube train, resulted in a lot of us feeling as misanthropic as Ebeneezer Scrooge himself. But fear not, gentle reader: the mood was short-lived. I defy anyone, even the Antichrist Boris Johnson himself, not to have their heart melted by Jack Thorne's innovative and engrossing production.

Thorne, of course, wrote 'Harry Potter and the Cursed Child' so has some form when it comes to the paranormal. He also gave us television's dark and timely 'National Treasure'. This was never going to be sugary mush. It is sometimes forgotten that Dickens wrote the novella in a mood of anger at the injustice of the world, particularly where children were concerned.

The ghosts are genuinely scary: Marley's chains have never felt longer or heavier; a scene in which the Ghost of Christmas yet to come multiplies recalls the Dementors faced by Harry Potter; at one point, a lantern that swings over Scrooge's body reminded me of 'The Pit and the Pendulum'.

In fact the lighting, by my former classmate Hugh Vanstone, is a triumph. Its many lanterns show some similarity to his design for Patrick Marber's 'Closer', itself set in the City of London, and are just as powerful. Everything else follows suit: the bell-ringing and singing of not just Good Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen but many carols, the utterly convincing acting - not least by Stephen Tompkinson as Scrooge - and the very immersive nature of the staging.

Not only might Scrooge actually shake your hand, you're likely to be offered a mince pie, be snowed on from above wherever you sit and maybe even catch a parachuting Brussels sprout.

I left the theatre a man transformed. I can't recommend it strongly enough.

A Very Very Dark Matter

RantPosted by Dobermann Sun, November 11, 2018 07:46:09

Run Up Another Three Billboards

Dr Terror reviews A Very, Very, Very Dark Matter at the Bridge Theatre

Well, well, well! This one has certainly split the critics, hasn't it? Where next for the author of Hangmen (reviewed elsewhere on this website), the year's Oscar-winning Best Picture and that thing where the Poldark guy rips his shirt off again but this time on stage? Why, a time-travelling tale involving atrocities in the Belgian Congo, a foul-mouthed, hard-shagging Charles Dickens and Hans Christian Andersen keeping a female pygmy whose foot he has sawn off and who has Tom Waits's voice in a small box in an attic. I would have thought that went without saying.

The critics are naturally gobsmacked. Some object to its historical inaccuracy: the fact that the master story-teller ACTUALLY kept a pygmy in a box and, furthermore, that she wrote everything for which he took the credit didn't really happen. Or, if it did, it was very well hushed up. So let's be perfectly clear: Pythonesque it is; politically correct it ain't.The fact that it managed four stars out of five in The Guardian is a small miracle. But it got them on merit - it is without question very, very, very funny. And very, very, very dark.

Plus no other critic seems to have spotted that the blood-spattered Belgian twin brothers with the handlebar moustaches are obviously Thompson and Thompson from the Tintin books which links directly to Warren Zevon's song of the Congolese wars, Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner. Honestly, you have to spell it out for people these days. No one's got a clue.

Night of the Demon - When Halloween Started

RantPosted by Dobermann Mon, October 29, 2018 23:41:00
I'm enjoying making my way through Indicator's new Night of the Demon BluRay. With Four different versions of the film and a pile of special features, it's certainly eating through my time.

I've listened to the authoritative commentary by Tony Earnshaw (whose Beating the Devil seemed like the last word on the movie back in 2005). I've also taken in the discussion by Christopher Frayling (who points out that the view from Dana Andrews hotel suite in the Savoy takes in the Festival Hall and the Shot Tower -which was supposedly demolished after the Festival of Britain.) I've also appreciated the two analyses of Clifton Parker's score (by David Huckvale and Scott McQueen) which highlight just how intricately thought out the music is.

As the film is also scheduled to play on Talking Pictures TV in the run-up to Halloween, (at midnight on the 30th and 3.25 am on the 31st) it also struck me that it is exactly 50 years since Night of the Demon played its part in the establishment of Halloween in the modern British consciousness. People complain that Halloween isn't really a British festival, and that it's just been brought over from America. It's true that the wholesale commercialisation of Halloween probably started with ET-The Extra-terrestrial back in 1982 with its scenes of wholesome daylight Trick or Treating.

But I'd argue that the gradual expansion of Halloween began on Thursday 31st October 1968 when ITV ran a Tyne Tees documentary called The Evil Eye which "explored the lingering spell of witchcraft".

The documentary was publicised with an article in the TV Times illustrated by a still from Witchfinder General then on general release. While not all regions showed the documentary (Yorkshire TV preferred to go with an edition of Cinema for instance) it was followed at 11pm by an episode of The Eamonn Andrews Show in which the guests explored the subject of Halloween with tale tales and jokes. For an audience already attuned to import copies of Famous Monsters of Filmland this was probably the first time that the ritual of Halloween had been validated by a celebrity like Andrews.

Coincidentally, at 8pm on Saturday 19 October 1968, Yorkshire TV had screened The Night of the Demon. Probably the first time the film had been shown on British TV. I can still recall my mother describing the 1957 cinema release to me and the collective gasp from the audience when a hand suddenly appeared on a staircase.

I was already one of those Famous Monsters buyers, even though the films weren't being shown on TV. A concerted effort by cinema chains to buy up and restrict the supply of Hollywood movies to television had only recently been overturned and it would only be in 1969 that the classic Universal horror movies would be screened on ITV. Until then only a few oddities such as King Kong in 1965 had slipped through.

But Night of the Demon was pre-sold to me as a film I had to see. For anyone who knew about the film its TV premiere was an event. I can't recall after all this time if Night of the Demon was cut at the end - if the full power of the demon was allowed to make its way on the screen - but I believe it played its part in fostering that mood of Halloween as the season of witches. And I'm glad that 50 years later it will still be out there on British TV.

Mystery In The Air

RantPosted by Dobermann Sun, October 14, 2018 08:42:11

Mystery On Air at the Theatre Royal, Windsor

Dr Terror checks out the latest cutting-edge trend in entertainment: the wireless

NB: This is a review of the final performance - tour to be announced

It takes a brave man to enter Windsor on an unseasonably hot autumn day immediately after a royal wedding. ‘Terror’ is an unfortunate misnomer for I am the mildest of men. Nevertheless, this engrossing recreation of a late forties radio studio was enough to persuade me, performed as it was by what used to be the Agatha Christie Theatre Company before it ran out of plays by Agatha Christie. It was not without precedent: the very similarly titled Murder on Air had been very successful, memorable for a climax in which the sound effects guy – or Foley artist as they are now known – hammers a nail into a melon representing someone’s head (this wasn’t Miss Marple, you understand). In fact, this sort of performance has been everywhere in recent years, taking in shows where you watched the likes of Dad’s Army and Round the Horne being recreated as radio productions before your very eyes, not to mention the comedy Murder Most Foley in which the entertaining creation of sound effects was taken to ridiculous lengths.

The crème de la crème of character acting talent was all present and correct, not least Jenny Seagrove and Dalgleish himself, Roy Marsden, who introduced the proceedings by evoking 1953. Being in Windsor might have reminded everyone of the coronation but he was quick to point out that, as far as he was concerned, the fact that the post-war rationing of sweets ended was at least as memorable. It was also the year that sales of television sets overtook those of radios for the first time.

The production was actually set slightly earlier and the extent to which it will tour and who will be in it is still to be pinned down by the look of it. There wasn’t even a programme – practically unheard of! - and the presence of Matthew Cottle and Elizabeth Payne, who joined a cast also including Marsden's The Sandbaggers co-star Sue Holderness (she played Miss Moneypenny to Marsden's Bill Tanner in the 1970's show) and MidsOmer Murders ' Daniel Casey, was announced very late on.

Nevertheless, it unrolled deliciously. Set in and around Soho, The White Rose Murders was all the more unsettling for having inspired a series of real copycat killings, while The Most Dangerous Game and House By The River were pitch-perfect, quite an achievement when the originals starred Orson Welles and John Gielgud respectively. Still it was, as always, the Foley artist who stole the show, rapidly opening and closing an umbrella to simulate the flapping of a falcon’s wings and dropping a heavy weight into a tub, soaking the front two rows (my Tarot deck had warned me to sit in the third).

I just can’t get enough of this kind of thing. Maybe I’m getting old. I must watch more Riverdale

Vulcan 7 - Coming to a Theater Near You

RantPosted by Dobermann Sun, September 23, 2018 11:06:51
Guest Review by Doctor Terror at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford as Vulcan 7 starts its tour:

Just as writers never seem happier than when writing about writers (witness, for example, the joyful venom JK Rowling injected into her second Strike mystery, The Silkworm) so actors love portraying actors. Thus it is that Nigel Planer and Ade Edmondson find themselves playing ‘a pair of dinosaurs’ stuck on location up the side of an Icelandic volcano filming Vulcan 7. It’s hard to know just how bad the final film is set to be but you can bet it’s one of what John Landis has called those ‘multi-million dollar B-movies’ that never seem to leave my local Odeon these days. In fact, I fully expect the monster in whose costume Edmondson flails about for the first act to appear at my nearest Disney Store very soon.

Real actors are frequently skewered in the script (‘…even Broadbent was in Economy’; ‘Ayckbourn, is it? Are you giving them your Peter Bowles or your Richard Briers?’; ‘Daniel fucking Day fucking hyphen fucking Lewis?’) but the two key characters are evidently no adverts for the profession. Both are alcoholics – though one largely because of the networking opportunities offered by AA – and both stand a fair chance of being the father of their young runner. Planer, despite an MBE (‘it’s not a knighthood…’) is reduced to playing a succession of English butlers while Edmondson is a clapped-out hellraiser with no possessions save his memories, largely long speeches from former roles he can’t forget.

It's all very funny but more meandering and less manic than The Young Ones or Filthy, Rich and Catflap. Like Terry Johnson’s Carry On tribute Cleo, Camping, Emmanuelle and Dick, it’s set in a trailer and it shares the themes of petty rivalries and lost opportunities but, because the characters are fictional, you’re never quite sure where it’s going. You’ll get no spoilers from me on that one but I’d very much urge you to go along. It’s totally absorbing, very cleverly staged and the script, by the pair themselves is no less amusing for being suffused with real melancholy.

The Yvonne Arnaud Theatre can be quite traditional about what it stages. You can buy a cookbook there with recipes suggested by the likes of Penelope Keith and Felicity Kendall. During the interval, I heard the cut-glass voice of one regular theatregoer pronounce ‘…of course, it’s all very clever but it’s really not my kind of thing.’ You could just smell them pining for Ray Cooney.

Ken Reid's Power Pack

RantPosted by Dobermann Sat, September 08, 2018 12:33:19

I've spent some time reading through The Power Pack of Ken Reid a magnificent two volume reprint of the comic strips which Ken Reid created in the 1960's for Odham's Power Comics. Even among the inspired energy of Power Comics, Ken Reid was a genius sharing a taste for the macabre with his young audience* - like The League of Gentlemen performed by Les Dawson.

*As his son points out in the introduction, there was no wholesale commercialisation of Halloween in the 1960's and people like Reid who liked creepy things had to make their own entertainment.

The books were published and printed in Lithuania by Irmantus Povilaika, a cartoonist and fan of British comics. Just holding it in your hands shows the positive benefits of the internet, crowdfunding and even the EU. This is the kind of project we all dreamed about but publishers never believed there was a market for. If you can get enough punters to put their money behind a project with a few clicks on their phones the future really is here (that overlooks the hard graft that was necessary for Irmantus to negotiate the rights with the current copyright holders, source the artwork and oversee the production - but then it goes without saying that any pronouncement about the internet always overlooks the difficult stuff).

There are two volumes - the first collects Reid's Frankie Stein and the short-lived Jasper the Grasper(from1965). The second brings together Queen of the Seas, The Nervs, and my own particular favourite Dare-A-Day-Davy.

Dare-A-Day-Davy preceded, or maybe foresaw the likes of Noel's Houseparty, The Word, Jackass and any other reality TV where idiots are challenged to perform outlandish stunts for public amusement. In the example below (from a November 1967 Fireworks Night issue of SMASH!) Davy has been challenged to blow up the Houses of Parliament. As you can see from the dialogue, Ken Reid built upon this concept by having Davy personalise this with an evocative grudge against the Prime Minister for not banning school homework.

While Dare-A-Day-Davy often appeared in black and white, this particular strip was published on the back page in a very crude letterpress colour separation process. The version in the new hardback is printed in black and white. There's an argument that the publisher should have tried to reproduce the artwork in colour, although that creates more disputes: do we want to see the original crude colour (historically accurate) or a computer generated approximation of "what the artist intended"?

Putting those issues aside, my overwhelming feeling is that it's great to see this stuff back in print in a hardback collection. They show just how inventive Reid was - not just the way he'd take the basic humorous theme of the strip and develop it within each panel (rather like Harvey Kurtzman in MAD) - but the eloquent, but down-to-earth rhapsodising of his dialogue (rather like the comic monologues Les Dawson would develop on TV a few years later). And all the time, Reid was pushing the envelope. It wasn't just the Houses of Parliament that Dare-A-Day-Davy was going to blow up - or A Prime Minister - it was Harold Wilson, "with his best pipe blasted to charred cherry wood."

In the book we're able to watch Reid develop the character over the weeks. Danny begins as a boy who cannot resist a dare, fully aware that he's a character in a comic, despising the editors who pass on the readers' challenges. Gradually, his "will-power" manifests itself in the strip - a cloud creature, easily overwhelmed by the ferocious Hyde like manifestations of the readers' Dares. Eventually, the conflict with "will-power" was picked up Davy's "inner-Demon", while Reid opened each strip with a caricature of the "inner-selves" of the readers who had dreamed up Davy's latest mission.

In the "bonfire night" strip, we see a rare attempt at co-operation by Davy's "will-power" and "inner-demon" as they realise that his Guy Fawkes act will get Davy shot (endangering their own existence). Inevitably, their attempt to divert Davy results in him blowing up a fireworks store and being hurtled into the evening sky. The inevitably punchline of each strip was Davy being bruised, battered or even hospitalised in grotesque fashion.

Queen of the Seas and Frankie Stein contain a similar blend of slapstick violence, inventive situations and grotesque caricatures. The Nervs was a curious counterpoint to Power Comics own Georgie's Germs set within the body of a greedy schoolboy and using a combination of visual puns and distorted whimsy to visualise a Fantastic Voyage that Hollywood could never better.

This collection concentrates on Reid's own work, so it doesn't include the Frankie Stein strips drawn by other hands while Reid was forced to take a break from the character. In a way, that's a pity because while amusing, and while competent, the relief strips aren't as consistently inventive and surprising and funny as Reid's. You can buy the two volumes separately or as a complete "Power Pack" from the publisher at

League of Gentlemen Live Again

RantPosted by Dobermann Wed, September 05, 2018 22:09:37

The League of Gentlemen LIVE Again! gives fans of the TV show a chance to see the stars of the TV show re-united on stage, recreating their most famous characters. The new show repeats the format of their 2001 stage show with a first half of plain-clothes sketches , before returning after the interval to the town of Royston Vasey for a series of quick-change costume performances, picking up the continuity from last year's Christmas Specials.

The Hull performance saw the team returning to Reece Shearsmith's hometown for one of the first performances at the city's new "Bonus Arena", where a mural of "Hull icons" saw Royston Vasey next to Amy Johnson and "American chip spice".

With body scans before you even got into the building, and beer at £5.50 a pint, the Bonus Arena brought a taste of metropolitan living to the North East. There was plenty of "League of Gentleman" merchandising to be bought, including T-Shirts bearing fan's favourite catchphrases, although for this tour maybe promoter Phil McIntyre should have printed up some, "Fifteen Pounds for a Bloody Programme!£15!" T Shirts.

Unless my memory is playing tricks, back in the 2001 tour the first half had more standalone sketches (such as Shakespeare fans behaving like football hooligans), whereas the new tour sticks firmly to the TV characters and situations. Of course, the success of each sketch depends on the tastes of the audience - the Pam Doove audition sketch sent a woman near me into such hysterics that I was worried she'd have a heart attack before we got to the punchline. But of course, Steve Pemberton's parody of a Hull accent during a Legs Akimbo performance provoked as much laughter from Reece Shearsmith - especially when Steve pushed it further by talking about a "Whaat Pheun Box".

The second half kicks off with the final moments of the Christmas TV special being projected onto the backdrop, before dropping us firmly back in the town of Royston Vasey. It would be unfair to give anything away, except to say that the script cleverly uses a combination of flashbacks and new material to satisfy most fans. Once again, the transition from one costume to another is choreographed so well that you lose track of the fact that it's the same three actors playing all the parts. I've seen some reviews taking the team to task for not taking enough risks, but playing to a packed arena the show seemed perfectly pitched on the night.

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