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FILM: July 2010

Although the weather is still changeable, we are approaching the summer school holidays. Every so often, we do have some hot days so let us hope for the best. If the weather is inclement or you fancy a break from the sun (!) then head to see SHREK FOREVER AFTER (cert. U 1hr 35mins.). Do make sure you catch the 3D version if possible. The film tells us what has happened to Shrek and his Princess after all his adventures in the other three films. In those we saw Shrek challenge an evil dragon, then rescue Princess Fiona from her prison-like tower and later he even saved his in-laws' kingdom. Now happily married to his Princess Fiona, the two ogres are living a family life with their little ogre children. Shrek suddenly realises that just living in a domesticated way is not sufficiently exciting for him. He used to scare away the villagers and their children, but now he just gives autographs and is pointed out to tourists who travel past on the tour buses. No longer does he voice his mighty roar. Because he wants to be a real ogre again and have more excitement in his life he is talked into signing a pact with the smooth-talking Rumpelstiltskin, who just wants to gain control of the kingdom. Shrek finds himself in a nightmare situation where he is living in a past time period where he does not exist as the Shrek he has become; ogres are hunted, Rumpelstiltskin is king and Shrek and Fiona have never met. Now it really is up to Shrek to save Fiona again and try to restore his world and that of his family and friends that he loves.

Once again, there is a witty script and the characters are voiced by the same actors as in the previous films. Mike Myers is a very Scottish Shrek and the lovely Cameron Diaz voices Princess Fiona. You will love Eddie Murphy's Donkey and Antonio Banderas as the voice of Puss in Boots. The King and Queen are once again John Cleese and Julie Andrews. Because the dialogue is so amusing and well acted by the lively voices of the stars, the film should appeal to those of all ages. This fourth film is supposed to be the Final Chapter. Everyone will enjoy taking his or her children or grandchildren out for this real comedic family film

Woody Allen might be an acquired taste but, apart from a couple of real duds, most of his pictures are well made and amusing. This is so with WHATEVER WORKS (cert.12A 1hr. 30 mins.), the latest of his films to appear on general release. This should appeal particularly to older audiences, as the lead character, Boris (Larry David), is certainly a senior. Speaking directly to us with the words of Woody Allen, the crotchety Boris describes how he was a near genius with a beautiful wife and good job, but in his depression suffered a failed suicide and his wife leaving him. Befriending a very young girl, Melody (Evan Rachel Wood), he gives her many lectures on life. Her parents arrive separately to discover their daughter's new life - she marries Boris - and they, in turn, alter their life-styles. However, as Boris says, "In the end the romantic aspirations of our youth are redirected to whatever works." Well-acted by all, it is good to see an intelligent adult film with witty dialogue above the normal "fart and fall" teenage films that abound now - there, I sound like Boris! Do go, see, and enjoy!

Another amusing film is the surprisingly good and very interesting documentary, GOOD HAIR (cert.12A 1hr. 35 mins.): directed by Jeff Stilson and narrated by Chris Rock, who, visiting hairdressers and hair-product factories, examines the African-American obsession with having straight hair. He looks at relaxer, which straightens hair, weaves (added hair), and later visits India where women sell their hair when it is shorn off during religious ceremonies to supply the US market. He talks to a group of men who explain that you must never touch a black woman's hair as their women have had treatments or false pieces added or woven into their own hair. It is a welcome surprise to find such a witty documentary on an unusual subject.


I had the opportunity to revisit THE JERSEY BOYS (Prince Edward (booking until 24 October). Two of the original cast, Ryan Molloy as Frankie and Stephen Ashfield as Bob Gaudio along with newcomers Jon Boydon playing Tommy DeVito and Eugene McCoy playing Nick Massi now interpret the story of the early life and then stardom for Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons.

The four boys, from white-collar backgrounds and some past criminal activities, who got together in New Jersey and developed a most unusual sound, relate a very interesting musical adventure. They had a number of hits, which, when you hear them, I am sure that you as more mature moviegoers will recognise from the 'pop' charts in the 60s.

We welcome the return of a newly styled TAP DOGS (Novello, until 5 September), which sees very handsome, hunky males perform some loud but invigorating dances - not all tap - to loud applause. The show starts with the lads performing unaccompanied tap on a small platform. They wear taps on the soles of working boots and look like real men, not like many of the West End male chorus dancers. Later the stage enlarges and all varieties of stage layout are used including girders and ramps along with ropes and pulleys to higher platforms. Even blowtorches and water are employed in the numbers!

There are some exciting sequences with a dancer upside down, surrounded by others. Wearing many layers of clothing at the start of the performance, the dancers gradually take off garments to reveal even more of their well-tuned bodies. Some of the dancing looks highly dangerous as a lot of it is performed on a sloping stage. Occasionally the men beat out the rhythm just with their feet. Led by Adam Garcia and accompanied by two female percussionists, it is all super and really makes one want to come out dancing!

SALOME (Hampstead Theatre until 17 July) is a play about the step-daughter of King Herod who at first resists her lascivious step-father's demands for her to dance for him, but later agrees on condition that he gives her the head of Iokanaan (John the Baptist). Salome (here played in a voluptuous style by Zawe Ashton) wears a very sexy boiler suit which she has undone part of the way. Jamie Lloyd sets Oscar Wilde's play in a kind of battlefield in the Middle East, where the soldiers strut around in modern battle gear in a land of dirt and grime. Salome first taunts the prophet and later, after she has pushed the very reluctant Herod into agreeing to her demands, dances in a virtually see-through dress to a very loud ghetto blaster as her step-father masturbates. We see Salome pleasuring herself before the soldiers, later on kissing, and licking the severed head as blood drips down.

Although modern audiences will find nothing in the play to ban, as it once was, nevertheless it is not very appealing. The whole show is very loud with some nasty visuals and lacks any real sense of Wilde's poetry. It is, however, well acted and apart from the sexy performances of Ashton and Jaye Griffiths as her equally attractive mother, Herodias, Seun Shote gives us an impressively glistening Iokanaan who comes out chained from a hole in the centre of the stage which belches smoke and light as he bellows his prophesies.

THE COMEDY OF ERRORS (Open Air, London until 31July) Set in Casablanca in the 1940s, the director, Philip Franks has provided his audience with a marvelously humorous production of one of the most delightful of Shakespearean comedies. This is the story of two brothers who are separated at birth together with their servants also a pair of twins trying to find their other halves while their father also tries to find assistance before he is put to death. We can only wonder at how they all come together not only in a final joyous reunion, but on the way get involved in a complete mayhem of mixed identity. To make matters even more confused both brothers are called Antipholus and both servants Dromio. We recognise the difference as one set are based in Ephesus where the play is set and the other two have come from Syracuse.

All is fine except that songs are interspersed from time to time. The other characters join in the choruses and while, the odd one is acceptable there are a couple too many here. They are, in fact, unnecessary as the keystone cops-type chases and the fun when the two Syracusans hide in wicker baskets (see picture) is comedy enough. There is a wonderful joke when a big gorilla enters through the audience to undress and reveal herself as nightclub singer cum Courtesan, Anna-Jane Casey who then belts out a nightclub song to customers at Café Americain. Well-acted by a lively bunch who run around the stage and through the auditorium, Daniel Weyman as Antipholus of Syracuse and his twin brother, played by Daniel Llewelyn-Williams are particularly strong and I was amused at the antics of the two Dromios, Joseph Kloska as the Syracusan and Josh Cohen as the other. Veronica Roberts in the small part of the Abbess shows just how any part can be given a new look by a competent artist. Played as a farce and using the setting extremely well, Philip Franks has used his creative ability to give the audience loads of laughs in a short sharp show.

AFTER THE DANCE (National Theatre until 11 August) is another superb production at the NT. Terence Rattigan was sniffed at when the new kitchen sink dramas held sway in the 1950s but with this play, we see this writing as another example of well-executed studies in human character.

The playwright is particularly sensitive to females, as we can see in The Deep Blue Sea and Separate Tables. It is amazing to discover that, although After the Dance was a great success when originally performed in June 1939, as war loomed audiences stopped coming and the play closed in August the same year. Rattigan excluded the play from his Collected Plays and it has not been performed for 70 years. The play, directed by Thea Sharrrock, shows a group of friends whose chief love is drinking and enjoying the last days before the commencement of war. Rather than working on his book, historian David Faye Castelow and Benedict Cumberbatch

Scott-Fowler (Benedict Cumberbatch) sits drinking with his upper-class friends, some of whom live almost as parasites, off the Scott-Fowlers. Meanwhile his wife, Joan (Nancy Carroll), swirls gaily around full of superficiality until she realises too late that she has lost the husband she actually loves.

As usual the set at the NT, which shows a rather grand living room, complete with windows leading to a balcony, in the Scott-Fowlers flat in London, captures the spirit of the play; a grand piano, that is later played, adds to the ambience. Although there are some amusing lines along with French windows and cucumber sandwiches, this is certainly not a drawing-room comedy. Although warned by a doctor that he will die if he continues drinking. David, "I drink because I like it" continues to imbibe after a brief respite with an adoring younger woman, Helen (Faye Castelow), who has set her cap at him. The actors are pure bliss to watch: Cumberbatch has the right mixture of upper-class laissez faire combined with an underlying sense that he is missing something important. Carroll show the vulnerability of her character who gives the impression of not caring about anything and is struck a body blow when her husband says he is leaving her for Helen; she has realised too late just how important he is to her. Even the minor characters such as John (Adrian Scarborough), who relishes the high life but has no money to run his own affairs and has to rely on the good will of others, give great performances. The production shows just how a good play can be enhanced by an excellent presentation.

Carlie Newman

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