books, not a book

Not a Book: Cabin Pressure

I went to see John Finnemore try out new material this week for his current Radio Four show, and it reminded me that I haven’t written a proper post about Cabin Pressure, my favourite ever radio sitcom and surely one of the best of the last 20 years (at least). So today I’m righting that wrong.

Cabin Pressure follows the exploits of MJN Air, a charter plane company (“I don’t have an airline. I have one jet. You cannot put one jet in a line. If MJN is anything, it is an air dot.”) and its employees as they fly the world on Gertie (so named for her registration – G-ERTI) on an incredibly tight budget, taking any job to keep the business going. Four people work for the airline – Carolyn the owner and chief stewardess, First Officer Douglas Richardson, Captain Martin Crief and Carolyn’s son Arthur general dogsbody and steward.

The set up is great, the joke count is incredibly high and the cast is amazing – John Finnemore created and wrote it and plays Arthur, but Martin is Benedict Flipping Cumberbatch and Douglas is Roger Allam who has been in all sorts including Game of Thrones and the original Javert in Les Miserables. Oh and in the later series it has Anthony Stuart Head aka Giles from Buffy.

There are 27 episodes each named after a different city and taking you the whole way through the alphabet – the first episode is Abu Dhabi and the final two part special is Zurich (part one and two). I’ve got the giggles just thinking about my favourite bits just writing this post. As I mentioned a few years back in my audiobooks post, we have a habit of listening to these on long drives on holidays. Or at least we did before Him Indoors got into Amelia Peabody! Anyway when we drove past Ottery St Mary on our holiday last month all I needed to to was message my sister a picture of the road sign and the words Weasels King Henry and she replied Hedgehog O’Brien and sometimes all you need is some in-jokes and people to enjoy them with and listen to cabin pressure and you’ll understand too. Last time we were down there we stopped there just so I could have my picture taken with the sign:

And now I’m making about as much sense as Arthur when he’s trying to describe his dad so I should probably stop and tell you that you can get Cabin Pressure on Audible and other audiobook platforms and it’s really worth it. Even the audible sample is funny.

Have a great Sunday.

not a book

Not a Book: Drive to Survive redux

It’s that time of year again – the new series of Drive to Survive has dropped on Netflix. Almost a year ago, on last season’s release weekend, I wrote about the “documentary” about Formula One and the accusations of Netflixification of my favourite sport. Well, I didn’t watch the end of last year’s season – because I couldn’t bear to watch the controversial ending to the season again, but I’m back watching the new season, once again to see what storylines they’ve picked – and which they haven’t and to see who it deals with the various controversies that hit the sport last year, including but not limited to all the headlines that FIA President Mohammed Ben Sulayem caused with his various decisions and statements before he decided to take a step back from being directly involved in the sport.

We’re two episodes in as I write this, and not going to lie, it’s tough to watch Lewis Hamilton in the aftermath of losing the 2021 championship and the struggle of the Mercedes team with their new car. However, Haas boss Guenther Steiner remains a delight – and his double act with Ferrari’s Mattea Binotto that opens the series is lovely, although a little bittersweet if you know how the season plays out. The release of the new series has coincided with the testing for the new season which starts next weekend in Bahrain so after a couple of weeks of motorsport deprivation, it’s all roaring back with a vengeance. Great news for petrolheads – but what does it mean for my reading list?! Stay tuned…

not a book, theatre

Not a Book: Post Covid theatre

Writing about Noises Off last week got me thinking about the post-Covid theatre scene and what’s been going on for the last couple of years. I was a big theatre goer before the pandemic and it was one of the things I missed the most, so I was straight back in as soon as I could and I’ve been trying to see as much as I can, but there are definitely some changes – beyond the fact that I changed jobs during the pandemic and work shifts less now which has changed things a bit for me personally.

When the West End first started to reopen, it was mostly just the long runners but it is starting to perk up again now with new stuff coming in – even if it’s revivals or return engagements. I’ve revisited a few of my old favourites, but it’s been quite hard to get good ticket deals, because there weren’t as many shows going – which I’m hoping is because they’ve got lots of demand rather than the fact that the prices are so high now they can afford to not sell as many tickets. Because the prices have gone up, and my ticket budget hasn’t gone up by the same amount.

I saw Sylvia at the Old Vic the other week, which had a run as a work in progress there in 2018 but is now back as a full production – which I think shows you the effect on the time line of shows that the pandemic has had. New musicals often take a couple of years to make it to the West End (if they make it to the West End) because there is a process of workshopping and looking for backers that takes place as well as potentially trying it out out of town. And because everything has been closed, that hasn’t been going on at all. Hopefully we’ll start to get some properly new stuff soon – maybe some of the stuff that was workshopping when everything shut down in 2020 will make it’s way through. So far there have been plenty of plays (particularly plays with small casts) but not so many musicals. The good news is that transfer of the Tony winning Oklahoma revival started its West End transfer this week – after a Young Vic run last year. And it’s definitely encouraging that that Chichester Festival Theatre has announced a full programme for this year this week, including new plays, old plays and a revival of Stephen Sondheim’s Assassins, which is one of his shows that I haven’t seen so I’m seriously hoping that it is good and gets a London transfer.

Outside the West End though it is still a little slow. I used to see a fair bit of cabaret and comedy in the off-West End scene, and that really hasn’t come back much yet. Whether it’s the fact that the margins are too small, or the venues have closed or even that there aren’t as many people around in London I don’t know, but it’s been a struggle to find stuff that I want to go to so far.

Regional theatre is running on a slower time table too. We used to see quite a bit at our local theatres, but most of what has been coming through so far has been touring productions of shows that we’ve already seen – either in the West end or on previous tours. Northampton’s Royal and Derngate used to be a reasonably big regional production house, but that hasn’t properly come back into gear yet, and the artistic director has announced that he’s leaving this spring, so that may also have put a crimp on things. Fingers crossed that the new artistic director brings as many good productions as the last few have and we’ll see some new shows in Northampton that eventually make their way into the West End or national tours the way they used to.

But there definitely seems to be light at the end of the tunnel at last – and if some more tourists come back to London, maybe we’ll be back to what used to be normal by the end of the summer.

not a book, theatre

Not a Book: Noises Off

Happy Super Bowl Sunday everyone. Its not an NFL themed post today – but if you want some American football action, may I point you at last year’s post. Instead I am back at the theatre where I’ve had a good week – in the space of seven days I’ve seen Sylvia, the new musical about Sylvia Pankhurst and Noises Off, Michael Frayne’s classic comedy about a touring production of a farce. I’m writing w the latter because I love a book within a book and this is a play with in a play. And it made me laugh until my sides ached.

Noises Off follows a theatre company as they put on a production of a sex farce called Nothing On. Each of the three acts is the same act of the play – starting with the disastrous final rehearsal, then the backstage view several weeks into the tour and finally the last night of the tour from the front. I don’t know what else to say without ruining it. Tempers fray? Personal relationships… sour? Anyway as the play goes on you see the show descend into chaos as the actors’ personality quirks and flaws slowly but undermine the show.

The play has just turned forty and you don’t really get sex farces any more, so on that front it is a bit dated, but I think it still works, especially as Frayn apparently has been lightly revising it over the years. I saw it a decade ago at the Old Vic and I think it was just as funny this time around. We went for my mum’s birthday (happy birthday Jo!) and she thinks she’s seen it about every ten years since it was new – and thinks this one is the best she’s seen. And I can vouch for the fact that she laughed until she cried! I think the second act is my favourite, because I love the backstage view, as you hear the action out front while the actors frantically mime out their issues behind the scenes. Although the final pay off is just genius and build on everything that you’ve seen all evening.

It’s not cutting edge or avant garde, but it is very funny and sometimes the old ones are the best ones aren’t they? And it’s got lashings of slapstick humour as the cast hurl themselves around trying to keep the show going in increasingly difficult circumstances. Just brilliant.

Happy Sunday everyone.

not a book, tv

Not a Book: Wednesday

Back at Halloween last year I wrote about the Addams Family films from the early 90s and now I’ve watched the new Netflix series about Wednesday and can report back!

So the premise of this, as you can probably tell is Wednesday Addams Goes to Boarding School – and it’s a boarding school for outcasts. Now given my fondness for boarding school stories I could very much get on board with this. And obviously because this is Wednesday we’re talking about – allergic to colour, incredibly morbid, not really into emotions – this is going to pose some challenges. On top of that, this is the school her parents attended and to say there is some history there is to understate the situation. And then there’s the fact that there appears to be a monster killing people and the pupils of the school, with their special powers/skills are the prime suspects. So a fish-out-of-water school story with a murder mystery/thriller twist, brought to you by Tim Burton. Sounds good right?

There is also good news for those of you who are as sentimentally attached to the Julia/Huston Gomez and Morticia as I am, that although the parents appear in the show, they are only in a couple of episodes. And though I have a few issues with Catherine Zeta Jones’ Morticia (not least the wandering accent), Luis Guzman’s Gomez is brilliant in a different way to Raul Julia and I really, really liked it. And as Wednesday, Jenna Ortega is fabulous, she’s got the creepy, disconnected affect down as well as the deadpan delivery. And the plot and script are really clever too. There are nods and winks to the various different incarnations of the family previously (not least Christina Ricci as Wednesday’s dorm mother) whilst still making it feel its own thing.

Wednesday has Thing with her at school – which shows how far CGI/Special effects have come in the last 30 years that it’s now super easy to have lots and lots of Thing, and Uncle Fester pops up too. But for most of the characters are new – Enid, Wednesday’s roommate, a crowd of popular kids including a siren and a pupil whose drawings come to life and a group of townies who have a very, very mixed relationship with the boarding school on their doorstep which adds another level of tension to everything. And then there is Wednesday’s special gift – which causes her even more issues. In short – plenty of plot strands to keep everything moving along and to keep you guessing about how it all might tie together.

We watched it across about four days – there are eight episodes – and were really sad when it was over. And clearly we’re not the only people who have made it to the end of the series (which seems to be the metric which Netflix bases stuff off) as they announced a second season last month. I’m interested to see where they take the show next, as the plot for this was self contained enough that it wouldn’t have left viewers mad if it didn’t get a second series but equally left you with a tease for what might happened next. And don’t worry, the teaser trailer below doesn’t give any spoilers away.

So if you need something to binge watch, and you haven’t already, I recommend this for your next duvet day on the sofa.

Happy Sunday everyone!

not a book

Skating Sunday!

It’s been an excellent weekend for Team GB in winter sports – with a whole bunch of medals on snow and in sliding. But it’ll be no surprise to you that the medal I’m most excited about is the silver that Lilah Fear and Lewis Gibson got at the European Figure Skating in Espoo in Finland. I saw Lilah and Lewis at Sheffield back in December where they got beaten by Charlene Guignard and Marco Fabbri – the same couple who won the European title. So have some skating to brighten up your Sunday afternoon!

And as a bonus, here’s the Italians too:

film, not a book

Not a Book: Glass Onion

Happy Sunday everyone, another Netflix recommendation this week – but this time it’s a film not a documentary series so I am mixing it up a little bit, even if it doesn’t look like it on the surface of it.

Glass Onion is the sequel to Knives Out, which you don’t need to have seen to understand this because it’s standalone and the only character who carries over is Daniel Craig’s Benoit Blanc. If you haven’t seen is well worth a look though. Anyway moving on: the plot. A tech billionaire invites his closest friends to a party on his private Greek Island. He’s planned a murder mystery weekend and famed detective Benoit Blanc is invited too. Then a real murder happens and that’s about all I can tell you without spoilers because I double checked the trailer!

It’s very funny and more than a little bonkers – Daniel Craig’s southern accent is as mad as it was in the first film – and as well as him it has a great ensemble cast who seem to be really enjoying themselves. And contrary to the usual thing of fun shoot bad film the movie is really good. Or at least we enjoyed it! And if you want to draw some comparisons with real life figures, then that’s your prerogative.

Anyway if you’ve got Netflix, it’s a good way of spending a couple of hours. It did have a limited cinema release – but I missed it because work was insane at the time. I think it would have looked really good on the big screen too. And in a fun connection between a couple of my interests, director/writer Rian Johnson (of Last Jedi fame) is married to Karina Longworth, who wrote former Book of the Week Seduction and is the writer/presenter/creator of one of my favourite podcasts – You Must Remember This – which is one of the ones I save for running. Except for the Erotic 80s series which we binged on our last holiday – the 90s series is coming soon too.

Anyway, have a great Sunday everyone.

not a book

Not a Book: Madoff – Monster of Wall Street

The latest entry in my catalogue of media about scams is the new Netflix documentary about Bernie Madoff which we binged last weekend.

If you’re not old enough to remember (lucky you!) Bernie Madoff was a Wall Street financier who was sentenced to more than a century in prison after it was discovered that the investment business that he had founded and ran was just a giant Ponzi scheme.

A Ponzi scheme (named after an Italian businessman who ran a fraud on this basis in the 1920s) is a scheme were early investors are paid dividends using money from new investors. The investors obviously don’t know this – and the schemes can keep going as long as new investors keep bringing in money. In the case of the Madoff scheme, he took in billions of dollars from investors and kept the scheme going for close to 20 years (in its final form at any rate) despite nearly being caught by regulators at various points.

This is a four part Netflix documentary that takes you through Madoff’s entire business career, complete with interviews with people who worked at the firm, investors and people who tried to expose what he was doing. It’s a mix of dramatisation, interviews and archive footage and it has one of the clearest explanations that I’ve seen of exactly how he pulled the scam. It should come with a warning though: at one point it shows the attack on the World Trade Centre on September 11 2001, which is not something you see often on TV here in the UK and I find really quite upsetting every time I see it.

Anyway, that aside (and I really don’t think they needed to show it), it’s an excellent documentary about one of the biggest financial scandals in history, but also about how it fits into the wider financial system of the time. Very much worth your time.

film, not a book

Not a Book: Singin’ in the Rain

I have series of films that I always watch at this time of year, so I thought I’d feature them here too. And as I kicked off my Christmas by watching this last weekend, we’re starting with the immortal classic: Singin’ in the Rain.

In case you’ve never watched it, it’s the story of a Hollywood leading man as the movie business transforms from silent films to talkies. Don Lockwood is an ex-Vaudeville song and dance man who got his start as a stunt man who then got paired up with a glamorous leading leafy, Lena Lamont. Lockwood and Lamont have been a marquee double act ever since. The problem is that Don can’t stand Lena – and now the bigger problem is that Lena’s voice is… not suitable for the talkies. Early in the film Don meets Cathy Seldon, a hopeful actress with a great singing voice, searching for her big break. And it all goes from there.

This has a great cast – Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds and Donald O’Connor – a great story and some of the best song and dance numbers you’ll see – and not just from Gene Kelly.

And the final sequence – starting with Lena’s attempts to take over the studio (I will never tire of Jean Hagen as Lena saying “detrimental and deleterious”) all the way through to the end is just *chef kiss*. And like many of these old Hollywood movies, you can dig into the making of it and the stories behind it and it just gets more fascinating. I’m not going to say any more here though – because I know some people think that spoils the magic.

It’ll definitely be on TV at least once over the next month, but you can rent it from all the usual places too



Not a Book: Best of Enemies

Getting this in quickly before the barrage of Christmas posts as I went to see this the other week when it was in late preview stages and it’s now open and has been reviewed.

Best of Enemies is a new play by James Graham about the televised debates between Gore Vidal and William F Buckley Jnr at the Republican and Democratic conventions of 1968. The two men represented the new left and the new right respectively and hated what each other stood for. In real life, they remained enemies for the rest of their lives – with lawsuits and counter suits – extending even beyond Buckley’s death when Vidal was still happy to insult him. The play uses transcripts of the dialogue from the TV debate for those sections and imagines what was going on behind the scenes.

In the play Buckley is David Harewood and Vidal is Zachary Quinto. Casting a black actor as the white Buckley does highlight the times when Buckley is talking about race – but that’s not the main focus of the clashes between the men shown in the play. Quinto is excellent as Vidal – arch and snarky and supremely confident in his own abilities and beliefs. The staging – as you can see from the photo has TV like windows – that can show you the control room behind or be used as TV screens to project the actors during the debates, or the sections of rival newscasters talking you through the events of the day.

The play is making the argument that the debates are the start of the commentator-led, TV politics that has turned into the polarisation you see on social media – and while that may sound like a bit of a reach, the debate sections of the play feel very timely – almost spookily so at times. I thought it was really, really good – and if you’re in London before the 18th of February and fancy a show, this would be a good pick.