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Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Cilla ( ITV1 )


Forgive me. Life has been quiet on here for a little while. Not a thing since Aspects of Love and not a lot for me on the horizon. Can’t stand the library theatre so swerved The Ladykillers, am giving our local musical a miss for the usual reasons, and much as I fancy TADS On Golden Pond with its equally fancy Rep players, Toddington is a bloody long way for a lazy old wotsit. And everywhere else in the usual locations seem to be doing The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Don’t grab my Rattigans, play snob that I am. I should get out more some say, especially in a late summer of warm September sun, and I will dip my reviewing pen into the Rep’s Table Manners. That should be interesting. I am an expert on Ayckbourn, can spell his name anyway, and recently directed this one. So Mr O’Leary’s slant should induce the theatrical juices. But staying in as opposed to wandering the evening streets of local theatricals can have its compensations. Stuck by the box of general awfulness and triviality I got to watch Cilla.

Sounded my sort of thing. I grew up in the age of Billy J Kramer, Gerry and the Pacemakers, and the cloakroom girl who was a friend of the Beatles. The Liverpool sound swamped my teenage days and in a couple of vibrant years eclipsed America and its fifties rock n roll. The Cavern Club and all it spewed out became pop’s hottest tickets. And obliquely and distantly, me and my teenage friends were part of it. It was the same all over England. When Brian Epstein, The Beatles manager, died at his own hand at the height of their fame we all shared in the sorrow. If we’d had facebook or twitter we would have swamped them in mournful return.

I watched it for two principal reasons. The young Cilla Black was good, not Dusty Springfield or Connie Francis (google them), but the one true female Liverpool sound. She transmogrified (google that as well) into Surprise, Surprise and Blind Date for the later masses but at her young height she was magnificent. I still tingle at Anyone who had a Heart and, rightly or wrongly, think of her as the female Beatle. The second reason, yes I am coming to it, was Sheridan Smith. This lady is a sublime actress and she digs so deep into her characterisation of Cilla you can almost smell the Mersey. Watch her and you feel you know this feisty young cloakroom girl who writ large in your teenage life. She traces the emotional ups and downs with awesome skill and sincerity and, for good measure, she sings the trademark songs magnificently.

The subject and her performer would probably have been enough on its own to keep this old curmudgeon gripped, shamelessly wallowing in his lost youth, but ITV’s latest flagship drama comes with a battalion of bonuses. Personally I thought the limited Beatles portrayals a bit one dimensional and the Epstein gay scenes a bit Tom of Finland ( yes all right, google him as well if you dare) but the central family performances were absolutely spot on. John Henshaw and Melanie Hill turn in richly rounded portrayals as Priscilla White’s parents and Mr Henshaw is particularly good at conveying fatherly concern and mystification on his Cilla’s rise from the typing pool. A man truly, and touchingly, out of his depth. But best of all is Aneurin Barnard’s portrayal of the hapless Bobby Willis, erstwhile Co-op bakery man and budding entrepreneur. A beautiful performance which captivates for its realistic simplicity. The relationship between him and Miss Smith’s Cilla rings so true you could wrap it up and eat it. Add in Andrew Schofield’s raw and impressive Willis father and Ed Stoppard’s enigmatic and brooding Brian Epstein and you can see why I am hopelessly hooked.

One episode to go and I cannot wait.

Super TV drama.

From ITV.

And when, folks, did I last say that.

Roy Hall

Cilla – Episode Three ITV (Monday 29th September – 9.00pm)