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FILM: January 2014

It seems appropriate to be reviewing MANDELA: LONG WALK TO FREEDOM (cert. 12A 2hrs 26mins.) immediately after his death and his funeral. In fact a young friend of mine remarked that it was amazing how a film of Mandela had been brought out so quickly and was surprised when I told her it had been made over the last couple of years!

Although a long film, it is still not enough time to encompass the whole of Mandela's life and some parts are moved over very quickly - 30 minutes are given to Mandela's 27 years in prison. This is an ambitious film in that it tries to tell his story as told in Nelson Mandela's 1994 autobiography.

The next paragraph outlines the story of Mandela, which, if you want the film to surprise, don't read. However, there has been so much about Mandela - his life and death (the only part that is not covered in the movie) - that you must have read in Newspapers or seen on TV or heard on the radio everything about the great South African leader.

Idris Elba as a young Nelson Mandela and Naomie Harris as Winnie in Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom

We first see Nelson as a young lad in rural Transkei, South Africa. He moves on to Johannesburg where he becomes a lawyer. In 1942 Nelson joins the African National Congress (ANC) after a friend is wrongly killed by police. He marries Evelyn and becomes more and more politically active and after the 1948 elections when South Africa is racially segregated, organises direct action. Evelyn is unhappy with his political activities and extra-marital affairs and they divorce. He meets and marries the social worker, Winnie. Following the Sharpeville massacre, Nelson, along with others, publicly burns his passport, then goes into a number of safe houses (run by white supporters) to escape arrest. But in 1962 he is arrested and later sentenced to life imprisonment on Robben Island in 1964. While there he is allowed one letter per 6 months, with over half redacted. He is only allowed to send two letters a year to his young daughters who are not allowed to visit their father until they are 16. Winnie is arrested more than once and badly treated. However Mandela wins the right for black political prisoners to wear long trousers. In 1982 he is transferred to more comfortable quarters and then negotiations to free him and bring about a democratic government begin until President F.W. de Klerk agrees Mandela's terms. At the general election in 1994 Mandela becomes head of a Government of National Unity dominated by the ANC. When Mandela finally walks through the gates to freedom he is hand in hand with Winnie but Mandela is now an old man.

There are some good insights into the character of Mandela and we also see how and why Winnie became in favour of warfare and violence, including "neck lacing" (putting burning tyres around the necks of traitors) those who betrayed their comrades. Winnie is played by Naomie Harris with a good grasp of the character of Mandela's young bride who then wasn't able to touch him until 21 years after he was imprisoned. Idris Elba gives a mightily strong performance as Mandela from a young man until he is very old at the end of the film. The one fault is that of make-up which as the elderly Nelson makes Elba look a bit like an unmoving wax work.

I have visited Robben Island and the area where Mandela worked in the stone quarries is blindingly white in the sunlight. It was working in these harsh conditions that caused Mandela to have serious eye problems and you will see him wearing dark glasses in old age. The light in the film is not sufficiently strong to show this. But as a film that gives a flavour of the great leader's life this one is always of interest although, perhaps, like the Hobbit films, it should have been a trilogy so that we could see the events in more detail! Amandla!

Whilst Elba's performance is good, the film is not the most technically accomplished so Chiwetel Ejiofor in Steve McQueen's 12 YEARS A SLAVE (cert. 15 2 hrs. 13 mins), which has already picked up prizes at other film festivals and has been nominated for various Golden Globes, is the one more likely to win the Oscar for Best Actor this year. First shown at the London Film Festival in 2013, it also stars Michael Fassbender, Benedict Cumberbatch and Brad Pitt. The film, based on the 1853 autobiography of Solomon Northup, is gruelling to watch but very well-made and really moving.

Benedict Cumberbatch and Chiwetel Ejiofor star in 12 Years a Slave

Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) was born a free negro at the time that slavery existed in the Southern States of America, but, as he lives with his family in upstate New York, he is able to lead a reasonable life mixing happily with his white friends. We meet him in 1841, living with his wife and two children and working as a skilled carpenter and also a fiddle player. While he is performing in Washington, he is lured into a drinking session by two men and drugged. He awakens to find himself drugged and chained to a floor.

Solomon is shipped to New Orleans, and sold into slavery. Now called "Platt", he is beaten and forced to conceal his identity as a free man. He is purchased by William Ford (Benedict Cumberbatch), a plantation owner, who treats Solomon quite well. Northup assists him by helping to construct a waterway for transporting logs swiftly and cost-effectively downstream. Ford is so grateful that he gives him a violin as a present. However this gives ammunition to the racist John Tibeats (Paul Dano) who already resents Solomon and he harasses him, until Solomon fights back and as a consequence is almost lynched to death. Saved by Ford, Solomon is sold to Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender) who treats all slaves very cruelly. Poor Patsey (Lupita Nyong'o) is the object of Epps sexual appetite and suffers much.

Solomon is thwarted at various plans for escape and fears that he will never be free. When he meets a sympathetic Canadian labourer called Bass (Brad Pitt) he once more hopes for help in getting back to his former life.

McQueen's take on slavery is very different from the usual run of films where a kindly owner looks after his slaves and treats them kindly to earn respect. Even the good one, Ford, won't really listen to his slaves and the cruel Epps as portrayed by Fassbender is a complete horror to live with or work under as a slave. Nor does McQueen make the slaves all wonderful caring, sharing people. They are shown in one scene ignoring Solomon, who is strung up to a tree, and another shows Alfre Woodard, in a very small part, as a slave who lives in comfort in her Master's house and doesn't bother about other slaves.

In fact the small parts are all well played as are the major roles. Among the best are Cumberbatch who gives us just the right mixture of Master slave owner and caring human and Fassbender as the mightily cruel Epps. Quite rightly up for a Best Supporting Actress Golden Globe is Nyong'o showing all the suicidal despair of a sexually abused female slave. And above all we have Ejiofor's Solomon Northup in a remarkable performance in which he seems to inhabit the body and soul of the free man subjected to terrible treatment as a slave. Up for Golden Globes now and very hopeful of the Oscars, this film is one not to be missed.

For something rather lovely to see at the cinema or to rent or buy for those of you who are interested in film, there is the re-release to celebrate its 25th Anniversary of CINEMA PARADISO (cert. PG 2 hrs.), in Italian with English sub-titles. A moving little film which begins with the grown-up Toto (Jacques Perrin) receiving news that his childhood friend and mentor, Alfredo (Philippe Noiret), the projectionist at the little local cinema, has died.

We then get a flashback to the fatherless child, Toto (a very cute young actor called Salvatore Cascio) and how with a mixture of charm and mischief he learns to show and, indeed, make films. There are many lovable characters in this moving but not too sentimental film. The main "part" is actually the tiny Cinema Paradiso and the way in which we are reminded how movies used to be shown before the advent of digital film.

Salvatore Cascio and Philippe Noiret in Cinema Paradiso

Directed by Giuseppe Tornatore and first released in 1988 this new Director's cut version is released now on Blu-ray/DVD. The movie is about loss, about a father and son relationship and about love. Do go to a cinema or rent or buy it!

Also recommended: NEBRASKA, a road movie by Alexander Payne in which an elderly father (a touching performance by Bruce Dern) is accompanied by his middle-aged son (Will Forte) to go and claim his (non-existent) winnings of one million dollars, that he believes he has won in a sweepstake. Often amusing, it also touches a nerve or two when a couple of scenes show the father with his family, who are anxious to get their hands on the money.

THE RAILWAY MAN (out towards the end of January) is a very true interesting story about Eric Lomax (Colin Firth) who was captured by the Japanese and held in a prisoner of war camp, where he is part of a group of prisoners constructing a railway for the enemy and tortured. He suffers from terrible dreams after he returns to civilian life and his new wife (Nicole Kidman) resolves to help him confront his nightmares. Well directed by Jonathan Tepilizky, Firth gives a naturalistic performance as Lomax and Kidman nicely underplays her role.

And if you don't mind feeling a little seasick from time to time, ALL IS LOST shows Robert Redford in an Oscar winning acting role as a man lost at sea after his yacht is badly damaged and he feels unable to survive.

Happy new year and good movie watching to all of you!






I had never seen Matthew Bourne's SWAN LAKE but the interpretation of this ballet at Sadlers Wells (until 26 January and then touring around England until May 2014 box office: 0844 412 4300) is a real joy to behold. Bourne alters the original story but doesn't give us a synopsis as he believes the audience should interpret the story for themselves. The plot of his ballet is built around a young prince and his efforts to get his unaffectionate mother to display her love for him. He wants to be free to discover himself and get away from his boring official duties. When he meets a beautiful swan, a male, he believes that he has found the freedom he seeks. The chorus of swans is made up of bare-chested male dancers.

The Prince is keen on a young woman known as The Girlfriend but she is deemed unsuitable by the Queen and the Private Secretary, von Rothbart. The Queen flirts with men including the son of her Private Secretary, here played by the same dancer, just as the white swan and the black swan are played in the original version. Although the Prince dislikes the sexual antics of the young von Rothbart, he is attracted to him and is aroused to jealousy when he sees the Queen kissing young von Rothbart. When he points a pistol at his mother, the Girlfriend attempts to intervene and is accidentally shot by the Private Secretary.

The Prince is taken away and locked in an asylum. He has a nightmare about the troupe of swans dancing menacingly around him and he struggles to deal with reality and fantasy. His beautiful Swan dances with him and the other Swans attack him as they believe he prefers the Prince to them When the swans attack the Prince, the main Swan saves him but the Prince can't save his friend and the Queen finds her dead son's body and sobs. But in death the Prince and the Swan are together.

The thing that everyone remembers about this ballet is the fact that men play the swans, but there is much more to wonder at here. The chorus of bare-footed swans is impressive and, although they dance as one, they have separate identities. Director and choreographer, Matthew Bourne uses the dancers to enhance their particular skills while putting across his own version of the classic.

The idea of gay love rather than the generally accepted male-female variety works here. According to Bourne, "The idea of a male swan makes complete sense to me. The strength, the beauty, the enormous wingspan of these creatures suggests the musculature of a male dancer more readily than a ballerina in her white tutu."

The dancing is of an extremely high standard. Jonathan Ollivier is superb as the lead Swan, while Michela Meazza as the Queen (a female) manages to express the distance required and Kerry Biggin's Girlfriend has some very amusing moments. The pathos of the Prince who works hard to get his mother to show her love is well put across in the dancing of Simon Williams as the Prince. The themes of emotional isolation and loneliness are well portrayed here. The costumes and music enhance the experience. Catch this if you can.

Howard Brenton's epic play about the partition of India and Pakistan in 1947 DRAWING THE LINE at the Hampstead Theatre (until 11 January box office: 020 7722 9301) is an absolutely absorbing study of a fascinating subject.

Nikesh Patel as Rao V.D. Ayer, Tom Beard as Cyril Radcliffe, Brendan Patricks as Christopher Beaumont

Unusually Brenton takes as his main character not one of the great historically better known subjects such as Nehru, Gandhi or Lord Mountbatten - although all appear in this play - but Judge Cyril Radcliffe, who was more or less plucked from obscurity to be the one to go to India and draw the line (dividing India and Pakistan).

In a play lasting under two and a half hours Brenton and director Howard Davies present Radcliffe in a number of short scenes.

We see Radcliffe (Tom Beard) reluctantly going to a country he knows nothing about to do a job he is not capable of doing which involves drawing up maps, although he knows nothing about cartography. On top of this, Prime Minister Clement Attlee (John Mackay) instructs Radcliffe to work on dividing the country into Muslim land and Hindu land all in five weeks. Radcliffe also has to combat "delhi belly," being thrust into the fall-out of the affair between Lady Mountbatten (Lucy Black) and Nehru (Silas Carson), along with political antagonisms between those sent to assist his work and the leaders Jinnah (Paul Bazeley) and Nehru. One of Brenton's arguments is that Lord Mountbatten (Andrew Havill) rushed the process of partition in order to end the extra-marital affair of his wife, Edwina.

Amongst the large 17 strong cast there are stand-out performances by Beard as the man from England completely out of his depth and from Black and Havill as the Mountbattens in marital disharmony. Directed at a brisk pace by Davies, I came away feeling that I had learnt something about India's past as well as having had a most enjoyable theatrical experience.

Also at Hampstead Theatre, but this time in the Downstairs Studio - this was previewed last month - is FAULT LINES (until 4 January box office: 020 7722 9301), an interesting seasonal play dealing with a charity which has to cope with an emergency over Christmas. It shows how some charities compete to be the first to respond to a disaster in Pakistan and how the staff who seem to work together are actually trying to outdo each other.

The play has various plot lines including an affair between two of the staff, Abi (Natalie Drew) and Nick (Samuel James); a supplier who turns out to be a gun runner and Ryan (Alex Lather), an intern who just wants to do the correct thing and be given a full-time job. Nichola McAuliffe presides over the office as Pat, who is getting on in years and finds the whole event difficult to cope with.

Samuel James & NicholaMcAuliffe

Alex Lawther, who shone in the West End in The Browning Version and South Downs, gives a most interesting interpretation of the youngest member of the staff, seemingly naïve but perhaps secretly working towards a better life for himself. He is a young actor worth watching out for in the future. McAuliffe puts in her usual strong performance - she is always believable in her roles, whether they are comedy or drama. Drew and James are suitably sex-driven at times while remaining ambitious all the time and they work well together.

The play, written by Ali Taylor has some good comedic lines. "The difference between try and triumph is a little umph" says Abi. Director Lisa Spurling keeps the action going and has lots of movement around the one set, an office.

The Donmar Warehouse has mounted a terrific production of Shakespeare's CORIOLANUS

(until 8 February 2014 box office: 0844 871 7624). This is a difficult play to put on and the intimacy of the Donmar makes the play even more menacing. Director Josie Rourke manages this feat deftly so that the audience feels very much part of the story on stage. For such a blood spouting play it is somewhat strange to be sitting so close, but the audience can actually see the terrifically well-directed fight scenes and appreciate the dilemma of Coriolanus as he rejects the crowds but then later listens to his mother with fatal consequences.

Tom Hiddleston as Coriolanus

Interestingly the programme has a note stating that the first performance of Coriolanus was probably at the smaller indoors space of the Blackfriars Theatre, only a little larger than the Donmar, and yet the play has scenes with crowds and battles alongside more intimate moments between mother and son, mother and daughter-in-law and husband and wife. Although it is such a small stage Rourke makes full use of the space, although personally I find the modern dress actors sitting at the back of the stage - as they do for much of the action - disconcerting. The play has a modern tone about it, too, in the cries of the people protesting against corn shortage and the graffiti on the walls at the back, "Grain at our own price." The director manages the battle scenes simply but effectively with ladders for scaling and chairs moved around the stage.

Here the mother, Volumnia (Deborah Findlay), is no sweet little old woman but a strong dominating personality who revels in her son's battle wounds - "Oh, he is wounded; I thank the gods for it" - and whose entreaties to keep fighting lead to his death. All this is conveyed by Findlay in a rich performance, conveying both her particular kind of maternal love and her ambition for her son.

There is, too, a very different but equally impressive performance by Brigitte Hjort Sorensen as Virgilia, the sensuous wife of Coriolanus. Towering overall is Tom Hiddleston's superb Coriolanus. Full of ambition, ruthlessness and belief in his own superiority, his pride and reliance on his mother lead eventually to his downfall. Hiddleston conveys all this, so that the final scenes are both moving and gut-wrenching. It doesn't hurt that he is handsome with wide-set eyes. Impressive, too, is Mark Gatiss as Menenius, the patrician who advises the younger Coriolanus. He speaks the Shakespearean verse well, as do the rest of the ensemble.

Look out for the broadcast of the play on NT Live on 30 January.

BLOODSHOT (St James Theatre Studio until 25 January. Box office: 0844 264 2140), well-written by Douglas Post, is performed by one man - Simon Slater - and yet so versatile is he that it feels like watching a small cast. Given that it is a thriller, Slater does particularly well to keep the audience so involved from beginning to end.

It's 1957 in London and Derek (Simon Slater) is a photographer without work, who has taken to drinking rather too much. When a somewhat strange assignment come his way in the form of a typed letter from an unknown person, Derek jumps at the well-paid opportunity. The job is to follow Cassandra, a young black woman, who walks from her house to Holland Park every day. He is to remain unseen so that the woman will not know she is being followed and photographed.

Simon Slater in Bloodshot

Derek witnesses the young woman's death and meets the characters he believes to be responsible for Cassandra's murder and earlier reported rape - the owner of the club where she worked, a Russian conjuror, an American saxophone player and an Irish comedian who plays the ukulele. All these people are played by Salter in a wonderful stylisation of their individual styles and talents - so we see him telling jokes and strumming the ukulele, playing the saxophone really well and, most amazing of all, performing conjuring tricks including putting (or appearing to) a knife through his own arm. Some of us looked away at this point!

The author along with his actor and director (Patrick Sandford) manages to convey the seediness of post-war London's Soho; the inherent racism of the time and the atmosphere of the 50s is well portrayed both in the set and by the actor on stage. There is mention of Sputnik, the Coronation and other events including the Profumo scandal and the photographs we see of Cassandra are in black and white.

This is an exciting thriller performed in a small venue where we sit around small tables with candles on them while Simon Slater provides us with a tour de force of acting skills. The evening starts with Derek announcing, "There are two people in every photograph: the subject and the taker," and by the end of the story we get an idea of the meaning behind this statement. The play has a number of unexpected denouements and is certainly worth making the effort to see.

Mention of the Profumo case brings us nicely to STEPHEN WARD (Aldwych Theatre, London booking until 1 March 2014. Box office: 0844 847 2379). This musical, directed by Richard Eyre with music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and book and lyrics by Don Black and Christopher Hampton, tells us the story of Christine Keeler, Mandy Rice-Davies and the high class folk involved in a huge scandal in the early 1960s

Unusually this story revolves around society osteopath Stephen Ward, who was depicted as the villain by the media at the time, but is here shown to be a more sympathetic character, who was made a scapegoat mainly to satisfy a public searching for someone to blame.

Charlotte Spencer as Christine Keeler & Alexander Hanson as Stephen Ward

Stephen Ward (Alexander Hanson) was a personality at the top of his profession. He had a number of very rich and famous people as his clients, including Elizabeth Taylor, Frank Sinatra and Winston Churchill and enjoyed his life of luxury. He enjoyed, too, enabling some of the top people he knew to meet and form liaisons with pretty young girls, who, they and he insisted, were not prostitutes as they didn't accept money, only gifts.

The parties held on the Cliveden Estate were also famous - for the wild abandon and dubious goings-on there. It was at one such party in 1961 that Ward introduced the Conservative Politician, John 'Jack' Profumo, the Secretary of War, to the young Christine Keeler (Charlotte Spencer), who Ward had met performing in a night-club. There would have been no scandal if he had been the only man that Keeler dated, but at the same time she was having an affair with Yevgeny Ivanov (Ian Cunningham), a Russian Soviet naval attaché and also with two dubious characters called Lucky Gordon and Johnny Edgecombe; the latter tried to shoot Keeler at Ward's flat, where she was staying with Mandy Rice-Davies, who was also close to Ward.

Unfortunately Profumo was caught lying to the House of Commons when he declared that there was no impropriety in his relationship with Christine Keeler. The link between the various characters emerged and Ward was arrested and charged with living off immoral earnings in 1963.To his great disappointment he found that he was deserted by Bill Astor and his other important friends and he faced the charges virtually alone. Profumo was forced to resign and nearly brought the Government down. In fact Harold Mcmillan resigned a few months later and the Party lost the next election a year later. But for many the main victim was Ward who suffered as a kind of human sacrifice and this is what the musical brings out.

Lloyd Webber's music captures much of the 1960s sound in his musical numbers and gives us some amusing moments. There is a lively rendition of You've Never Had It So Good, You've Never Had It So Often with toffs dancing around in sexy underwear. One of those who did suffer in the fall-out from the Profumo scandal was his wife Valerie Hobson. She is portrayed by Joanna Riding who sings just one song alone, and does that beautifully. There are echoes of Aspects of Love and a couple of other Lloyd Webber musicals. Spencer and Blackledge as the two girls at the heart of the story do not have the same powerful voices and although the look of Keeler and Rice-Davies is captured in their hairstyles and costumes, they do not have exactly right look either.

It is good to see the very competent actor Hanson finally getting his chance to really shine. He has a lovely voice and is able to act as well. Ward's fall from grace is admirably caught by Hanson and the beginning and end of the show, when Ward is shown as a Madam Tussaud's figure in the Chamber of Horrors in Blackpool, is chilling.

Back projections move the story along at a brisk pace and it is more accessible than say Phantom of the Opera in that the dialogue is not all sung. In setting out to prove that Ward suffered what many considered "a gross miscarriage of justice," Lloyd Webber and his team have given us a very interesting story with a lot of good music and songs to accompany it. It was interesting to hear the reaction of those under 50 who had never come across this before. To them it is a completely new story which I trust they now know something about.

Not just an ordinary show at the Young Vic, BEAUTY AND THE BEAST offers so much more. It does, indeed tell the story of Beauty, the dutiful and loving daughter who goes to the very scary Beast to save her father's life and there forms a close and eventually loving relationship with him.

It also offers a discourse on disability, as experienced by those with a disability and the rest of the population. This is articulated very clearly by real life couple Mat Fraser and Julie Atlas Muz who play the main parts. The two are helped by Jess Mabel Jones and Jonny Dixon who manipulate puppets, hands for Mat and generally assist. All four are naked at various times. Although Fraser has foreshortened arms (due to his mother taking thalidomide during pregnancy) he performs a most erotic striptease, as he explains, "I'm small and perfectly deformed." This is not a show for children or those who don't like sexual activity on stage.

Julie Atlas Muz & Mat Fraser

Although this show has now closed at the Young Vic, you would do well to look out for performances by this husband and wife team. As it happens both star in a documentary just released. EXPOSED: BEYOND BURLESQUE directed by Beth B goes behind the scenes and has artists who perform in burlesque explaining their art and why they perform. Here as in Beauty and The Beast, Mat and Julie express their views clearly.

THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS is such a great story and productions are usually delightful. However this production at the Duchess Theatre, brought from the Royal Opera House (until 1 February. Box office 0844 482 9672) is rather disappointing.

For those expecting a lot of dancing, there is too little. The narrator, although well performed by veteran actor, Tony Robinson, speaks too much for children to take in and the show is somewhat stretched out with an interval. Although the set is good, it is too crowded on the small Duchess stage for effective dancing and the dancers seem to struggle to jump between the furniture.

Director and Choreographer Will Tuckett does manage to get good character-filled performances from his cast. There is the boastful, pompous Toad of Chris Penfold and the excellent know it all Ratty of Will Kemp, a long thin animal with the most expressive face and energetic dancing. A number of audience members left in the interval and the magic of Kenneth Grahame's book is not realised.

Not just one Peter Pan but two versions appear at almost the same time. However, WENDY AND PETER PAN at the RSC in Stratford -upon-Avon will continue for some time while PETER PAN - THE NEVER ENDING STORY, which I saw at Wembley Arena in London, was only around for a few days and is now touring.

The RSC's Wendy and Peter Pan (until 2 March 2014 Box Office: 0844 800 1110) looks at the old tale in a fresh way. The emphasis is on Wendy and even her mother attends a suffragette meeting. The whole production is slanted towards a feminist point of view so that Wendy starts off by attempting to rebel against her role of damsel in her brothers' war games. She is later leader to the group of Lost Boys and is always in charge of her brothers, although in both cases she is obviously a female and even wants to be mother to Peter Pan's father.

While Wendy (Fiona Button) is a feminine girl, Tink (Charlottte Mills) is played here as a large aggressive female who is very against Wendy becoming the close companion to Peter, who she thinks is hers. Tiger Lily (Michelle Asante) is also a young woman not to be trifled with - she wears a hoodie and fights Captain Hook alongside Peter - and has some way to go before accepting Wendy as a friend.

Sam Swann as Peter and Fiona Button as Wendy

Ella Hickson has written this and she has gone back to Barrie's book for the story. In this version there is an additional brother Tom, who dies, and Wendy goes to Neverland with Peter and her two bothers to find Tom.

Peter Pan (Sam Swann) remains a boy who doesn't want to grow up and when he enters Wendy's life is happy to be around the normal people but will always choose to remain young forever rather than have an ordinary life even with Wendy as a wife and a nice family. He is accompanied by 5 young male shadows - which seems a bit excessive.

In this production, Captain Hook (Guy Henry) who looks suitably impressive as a pirate with a hook as one hand, envies Peter his immortality but remains the villain of the piece. There is an enormous moving pirate ship and indeed the whole production design is absolutely splendid. The flying, while it works well is hampered by the need to don harnesses but the actors move around in the air with confidence.

Wendy is played nicely by Button, although if one thinks carefully about it, she doesn't really look like a thirteen-year-old. I liked the determination of this Peter and the louche quality of Hook. The boys are well-characterised, too.

There is much of the well-known play here but also some new parts mainly emphasising Wendy's role. Too long for tiny children it is admirably suited to the 7 year old upwards and there is a lot for the whole family to enjoy. Could we be looking at a West End transfer?

The production of PETER PAN - THE NEVER ENDING STORY that I saw at the Wembley Arena is very different. It is expanded to have a dancing chorus at every possible moment. There are huge back projections setting out the venue of each scene and elaborate costumes and extravagant set pieces, including fire.

The performers give us acrobatics, gymnastics, juggling, break dancing, trapeze as well as more traditional singing and dancing. The international cast certainly provide a range of skills. Interwoven into all this is the original story of Peter Pan although it gets somewhat lost amidst all the rest of the production. The star of the show is Stacey Solomon who only has one song alone, You raise me up, and she certainly performs this well while flying across the stage.

While all the rest of the cast fly wearing harnesses there is one exceptional performer who rises from the back of the stage and flies with no attachments…amazing.

So, all in all, a great spectacle which has the (mainly family) audience enthralled, but it is somewhat lost in the huge Wembley Arena.

Carlie Newman

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