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FILM: June / July 2021

Finally, most cinemas are open again. You can still see films at home if you are worried about going out, but all cinemas have social distancing in place currently.

AFTER LOVE (cert.12A 1 hr 29 mins)

It is good to see the excellent actress, Joanna Scanlon, being given a main part in a worthy film. At first Mary (Scanlon) is very unhappy when her husband, Ahmed (Nasser Memarzia) suddenly dies. She has been living a comfortable life with him. But as she goes through his things, she finds many references to someone called Genevieve in France and so she decides to cross the channel from Dover to Calais to find out all she can about his other woman. Her husband worked on the cross-channel ferry so was constantly between the two countries. Just 21 miles across the channel, Ahmed had a whole different life as a still-in-shock Mary soon finds out.

When Mary finds Genevieve's house, she prepares to talk to her, but before she can say anything, Genevieve (Nathalie Richard) takes her to be her new cleaner and Mary finds herself assuming a different identity. She is even more disturbed when she finds that her husband, Ahmed, has fathered a son (Talid Ariss). Although dressed as a Muslim, Mary has, in fact, converted.

After Love

Joanna Scanlon is exactly right as a woman who finds herself in the middle of a situation that is really difficult for her to comprehend, let alone deal with, as she tries to come to terms with her husband's secret life. Scanlon portrays with very moving truthfulness the agony of a woman whose whole life has been suddenly turned upside down.

Good too is Nathalie Richard as 'the other woman.' Not having a clue as to the identity of the Muslim woman she assumes is the new cleaner, she treats Mary kindly but as her servant. Mary has to confront the truth of her discovery. She fears that her whole married life has just been a sham. What is her life now she knows all? There is a compellingly honest scene where Mary looks at her body in a mirror.

The film has lots of very realistic touches and is a most interesting take on race, love and adultery.

Besides films, there were also a number of special events at the LFF held in 2020. One such was a webinar case study on the film AFTER LOVE with Aleem Khan talking about his debut feature as writer director.

In addition to being on at cinemas, the film is also available on digital download now.

THE HUMAN VOICE (cert.15 30 mins.) is Pedro Almodovar's latest film and his English language debut. The very short film shows a woman (Tilda Swinton), on the verge of suicide, waiting for her lover to telephone her. She becomes more and more distressed. Her isolation resonates with our present situation in the midst of a pandemic. A tremendous performance by Swinton highlights Almodovar's themes of passion and heartbreak.

Available on digital download now

Directed with great sensitivity by Harry Mcqueen (who also wrote it), SUPERNOVA (cert.15 1hr.33mins.) has beautiful performances by Stanley Tucci and Colin Firth. The two who have been in a long-term relationship, suddenly find themselves coping with Tuscan (Tucci)'s growing dementia. Sam (Firth) wants to take care of his love, but Tuscan wishes to stay in control of his own life. A very moving film and a superb love story.

On at cinemas now

ANOTHER ROUND (cert. 12A 1 hr. 57 Mins.) is a delightful film. Four friends who all teach in a secondary school and are kept going with alcohol, decide to up their intake of alcohol to better their lives. The bulk of the film is concerned with how they cope with being drunk virtually all the time and still taking their classes. Some amusing parts and other sections are more serious. Winner of the LFF Best Film Award. Directed by Thomas Vinterberg.

On at cinemas now

NOMADLAND (cert 12A 1 hr. 48 mins.) *****

This excellent film is now on at your local cinema - don't miss it!

The non-actors (apart from the actor Straithairn) and the whole cast portray the real nomads with clarity and conviction.

The film is highly recommended and, as the cinemas have now re-opened, you can actually see this on a lovely big screen. Let's finish, as the nomads, who don't say goodbye to each other on parting, but "See you down the road!"

Nomadland

AMMONITE (cert 15 1 hr. 58mins.) *****

The closing night gala of the London Film Festival 2020 was Francis Lee's AMMONITE. The film tells a fictionalised account of an actual segment of the life of 19th century palaeontologist Mary Anning. Directed by Francis Lee, the movie looks at the fossil collector, Mary (Kate Winslet) and weaves in a story about a visit from Charlotte Murchison (Saoirse Ronan) and her geologist husband, Roderick Murchison (James McArdle). Mary and Charlotte are from two different worlds. While Charlotte and her husband are wealthy and have a house in London, Mary struggles to make ends meet and lives in a small cottage in Dorset.

Mary has made some important finds, but she is largely overlooked by the male establishment. She now lives in Lyme Regis with her elderly infirm mother (Gemma Jones). They run a little shop selling various tourist bits and pieces including seashells.

When the ill Charlotte her husband says she is suffering from melancholia - is left alone with Mary while her husband goes away on a trip, Mary nurses her when she gets a fever. Charlotte joins Mary in collecting specimens on the beach in Lyme Regis. Starting off as a brittle pairing, the two very gradually form a lesbian relationship.

Ammonite

There are two magnificent portrayals here. Kate Winslet shows once again just how well she can enter into a character and show us a rounded performance. The change from her very brittle persona in the early part of the film to a woman finding love as she shows tenderness to another later on is most moving. And Saoirse Ronan is also an actress who can show us almost her inner soul as she walks in the shadow of her husband and doesn't have a life of her own let alone an independent voice. Mary acts completely independently. She and her mother are self-sufficient, albeit with not much warmth between them.

The film includes some interesting information. The reasons 'blacks can't swim' is nothing to do with their colour but all to do with culture.

Blacks Can't Swim: The Sequel is available now on digital platforms.

Carlie Newman

     

 

 


 

THEATRE TIP

Well, it’s good to announce that theatres are really opening up.  Many more in London and around the UK have realised that they need to open now or very shortly even if it means playing in a socially distanced way at under 50% capacity.

In London in the last two weeks' we have had a number of shows re-opening after more than a year's hiatus. Below you can see reviews of three musicals, a play with lots of carnival music, and two plays. Plus news of some openings around the country.

RAYA **** at Hampstead Theatre Downstairs, London until 24 July

One of the best things about this new play in the Studio theatre at Hampstead, is the discussion on the menopause. It is good to see one of the troubling aspects of women's lives referred to in a mature way.

Following a re-union of University students, Alex (Claire Price) goes back with Alex (Bo Paraj) to his student lodgings. He is emptying the lodgings which have been rented, in preparation for selling it. The pair had a relationship 30 years previously and Claire is keen to re-ignite the sexual chemistry. Alex, however, holds back and it is not clear why until the end of the play. As they explore their past lives, with different memories from each of them, a third person appears. She is Alannah (Shannon Hayes), a student who used to live in the house. She has broken in as she needs somewhere to stay and believes it to be empty. Alannah had formed a relationship with Alex's wife, Raya, although never met her as they communicated on-line. She mistakes Alex for Raya and both Alex and Jason go along with the mistake.

A generally on point script by Deborah Bruce occasionally over does the explanatory elements but much of the dialogue is realistically put across and always intriguing. Absolutely real is the depiction of Alex's menstrual problems. Director, Roxana Silbert captures the relationship between the two in an at times humorous manner. There is a surprising twist at the end.

Raya

Good, simple set with effective lighting.

Nicely acted by all the cast, there is an obvious chemistry between the two main characters and both Price and Paraj fit their parts and portray the middle- aged couple re-uniting well.

On a beautifully warm sunny day there is nowhere better to be than at the Open Air Theatre in Regent's Park, London. ROMEO AND JULIET**** (until 24 July) is a good play to see at this theatre and at the present time when teenagers are being thwarted of their natural pursuits while they are locked at home.

And it's a very young Juliet here she is said to be nearly 14 and although serious, we can believe in the age of Isabel Adomakoh who plays Juliet. More carefree is her Romeo (Joel MacCormack) in this modern production under the direction of Kimberley Sykes. Sykes brings out the speed in which the two young people fall in love. We can believe in this too as the two lock eyes and are very obviously smitten with one another. Good that both speak clearly so that we can always understand what they are saying not always the case in modernised Shakespearean productions.

The two sides are distinguished by their costumes: Montague in white and Capulet in black. The nurse is well characterised by Emma Cuniffe, who although a chatterbox, seems to really love Juliet. Tybalt becomes a female as does Benvolio (now called Benvolia) doesn't seem any real reason to make them women other than to give the actresses good parts!

Romeo and Juliet

The set is made up of an elaborate scaffold and the young actors run up and down. Quirky costumes provide a different view from the traditional one and the fires around the tomb look most impressive. It's great to have the play run through in under two hours. No interval to disturb the momentum and finished before it was even completely dark!

J'OUVERT **** is about to close at the Harold Pinter Theatre, London but it can still be seen at Theatre Royal Nottingham 21-24 July 2021. It is also available to watch now and for the next 9 months on the BBC Lights Up so more people will be able to get to see the production on screen.

With just three actors plus a DJ playing loud carnival music (sometimes too loud to hear the dialogue properly!), we find ourselves in the middle of the Notting Hill Carnival in London. The atmosphere is brought to the stage in such a manner that we really feel we are seeing a small part of the exciting event.

Meeting Jade (Saphire Joy) and Nadine (Sharla Smith) in colourful carnival costumes, we learn a little of their lives as Black Britons. While Nadine is keen to win a prize for dancing and a magazine shoot at the festival, Jade is more political and when they are joined by Neisha (Annice Boparai), an Asian girl who tries to integrate into the lives of the Afro-Caribbean friends, we get a glimpse of their interactions with men around them. The women act the parts of the men, often in hilarious scenes. As we watch the friends, we begin to understand something of the sexual politics that young women have to contend with.

J'Ouvert

Using the ghost of past people associated with Carnival, in particular Claudia Jones the founder, writer Yasmin Joseph brings the festival to life, ably assisted by director Rebekah Murrell who interprets the play with dramatic effect.

The audience enthusiastically joined in at the socially distanced performance I attended. Even fully masked they managed to clap and cheer as the young women danced in true carnival style. Lively and most joyful, try to see and enjoy!

And three joyful musicals. First up is Hairspray ***** at the London Coliseum (until 29 September 2021). Another musical that began life as a film: Hairspray is based on the 1988 John Waters' film. It was originally on in 2007 with Michael Ball as Edna. I attended the launch of this new production in February 2020 and, at that time, we had Paul Merton as Edna's husband. Owing to a number of postponements of the opening date, the part has now been taken over by Les Dennis, as Merton is no longer available.

Tracy Turnblad (Lizzie Bea) is a large girl who dreams of stardom. At first, her loud mother, Edna (Michael Ball) thinks she can't make it and then she and her husband, joke shop owner Wilbur (Les Dennis, back her.

Hairspray is set in 1962 when racial segregation was still happening in many parts of America. Tracy and her friend are against this and through her work on the TV show she fights for it to be abolished. She comes up against Velma Von Tussle (Rita Simons), a very aggressive, bigoted woman who pushes her daughter Amber (Georgia Anderson) forward at every opportunity.

Hairspray

Marisha Wallace plays Motormouth Maybelle who has a couple of emotional songs concerning the racial barriers that her son, Seaweed (Ashley Samuels) and his white girlfriend Penny (Mari McGinlay) will face.

Tracy falls for Link Larkin (Jonny Amies) and continues her battle to bring all teenagers of whatever colour together.

Michael Ball is just terrific as Edna not only can he deliver a song but he is a really good actor and gives his character true meaning. Lizzie Bea makes a wonderful Tracy Turnblad. She has a good voice and the sass to go with it, and she looks just right with her bang-on beehive hairstyle which, obviously, needs lots of hairspray! The trendy costumes seem authentically 1960s.

Wallace had a mid-show standing ovation for her moving rendition of "I know where I've been," her solo spot. There was just not enough of Wallace as she is very fine artist.

This is a lovely, lively well-sung and acted show under the enthusiastic direction of Jack O'Brien and worthy of its five stars. Michael Ball summed up the feelings of the audience during the curtain call on opening night:

"There are a thousand of you here. There should be three [thousand], and you've made the noise of ten!"

And then we have

AMELIE The Musical **** (Criterion Theatre, London, booking until 25 September 2021 Box Office: 020 7839 8811).

I first saw Amelie The Musical when it was on at The Other Palace at the end of 2019. The musical is based on the 2001 film. Now it is at the Criterion Theatre, London and is as impressive as at the original showing.

Amelie Poulain (played again by the lovely Audrey Brisson) is as charming as ever. She organises little touches of joy in the lives of those around her. Amelie manages this unobtrusively so that her friends don't even realise what she has done.

Director Michael Fentiman manages Amelie's journey alongside the most gifted set of actors/musicians since the wondrous Once.

Fentiman is greatly helped by the ingenious set which transforms quickly and easily from a bistro to Amelie's attic room, which she reaches by holding on to a lampshade which lifts her up to her room. The various places shown all have a real Parisian feel.

We first meet the child Amelie as a puppet who witnesses her mother's death. Later she leaves home and becomes a waitress in 1975 Paris. Here she helps those who are lonely or suffering from unrequited love. Amelie, herself, falls in love with Nino (Chris Jared), who is obsessed with photo booths.

Amelie

The music - all played by the actors on stage is mostly very jolly and excellently played by the actor-musicians who at times rather swamp the stage, which is somewhat smaller than the one at the Other Palace.

The French accents and very particular charm and interpretation by Brisson give the musical a touch of real authenticity.

I asked film critic Matthew Turner, who accompanied me and is a fan of the film what he made of the show. Here is his response:

"I thought the play was a terrific adaptation of the film. I particularly enjoyed the imaginative staging and the way the actors all played instruments on stage. I thought the songs worked well, although I missed the music from the score - it's a shame that couldn't have been incorporated in some way, even if it was just as music played during the interval. Overall, I thought the whole thing was very charming, with strong performances from the lead and the supporting cast in the cafe.

I also liked how the play incorporated lots of little moments you'd only spot if you were a big fan of the film, particularly the moment with the raspberries.

Also, it was wonderful to be in the theatre again, the significance of which was acknowledged by the cast during the curtain call, making it an extra special occasion."

The other musical based on a film is HEATHERS the musical ****(Theatre Royal Haymarket until 11 September 2021)

Christina Bennington (Veronica), Jodie Steele (Heather Chandler), Bobbie Little (Heather Duke) & Frances Mayli McCann (Heather McNamara) Pamela Raith

It's 1989 and we are at Westerberg High School. New girl Veronica (Christina Bennington) goes all out to become part of a small group of three nasty very close friends all called Heather. They are distinguished by the different colour clothes they wear. Heather Chandler (Jodie Steele), Heather Duke (Bobbie Little) Heather McNamara (Myli McCann) in red, green and yellow.

Heathers

When Veronica becomes friendly with JD (Jordan Luke Gage on a break from & Juliet) the musical becomes altogether darker as JD sets about organising killings.

There is a good little performance by Madison Swan as Martha, Veronica's former best friend who she now neglects in favour of her three new Heather friends.

The real stars are Veronica and the Heathers. All four perform well and put across the songs - which are sometimes repetitive with charm and enthusiasm. The rock musical is based on the 1989 film and reminds me of the music of & Juliet.

AROUND THE UK

Heathers the musical (reviewed above) is on tour and booking now. The show will open on tour on 5 August at Leeds Grand, before visiting Liverpool, Nottingham, Newcastle, Sheffield, Birmingham, Canterbury, Manchester, Belfast, Dublin, Brighton, Wimbledon, Bristol, Milton Keynes, High Wycombe, Cardiff and Edinburgh.

DIANA VICKERS TO JOIN STRICTLY WINNER TOM CHAMBERS IN

Dial M for Murder

DIRECTED BY ANTHONY BANKS

Dial M for Murder is to resume UK tour dates this autumn with The X Factor songstress - now renowned for her acting roles - Diana Vickers joining the production alongside Tom Chambers, Christopher Harper and Michael Salami as they resume their roles in the genre-defining thriller.

Performances begin on Tuesday 31st August at Leicester's Curve Theatre. The show then plays at the Theatre Severn, Shrewsbury; Playhouse Theatre, Liverpool; Churchill Theatre, Bromley; Theatre Clwyd, Mold; Everyman Theatre, Cheltenham; Lyceum Theatre, Sheffield, Milton Keynes Theatre; New Theatre, Cardiff; Palace Theatre, Southend; The Lowry, Salford before concluding its run at the Malvern Theatre in December.

TV and stage favourite, Tom Chambers, (Top Hat, Strictly Come Dancing) stars as the charismatic and manipulative Tony Wendice, a jaded ex-tennis pro who has given it all up for his wife Margot, played by Diana Vickers. When he discovers she has been unfaithful his mind turns to revenge and the pursuit of the 'perfect crime'.

CHARLIE & STAN

A silent comedy about the greatest comedy duo that nearly was. Told by An Idiot's Production to tour: National Press Night at the Minack Open Air Theatre Cornwall on 2 August 2021

Olivier and Tony Award-winning producer David Pugh, the renowned theatre company Told by an Idiot and Theatre Royal Bath Productions present the Silent Comedy CHARLIE & STAN, written and directed by Paul Hunter, with an original piano score played live.

Due to the actor playing Charlie Chaplin in the original production becoming pregnant, Charlie Chaplin will now be played by Danielle Bird, joining Jerone Marsh-Reid as Stan Laurel, Nick Haverson as Fred Karno and Sara Alexander playing all the other parts, including Chaplin's mother, and the piano! They will be joined by Reggie, making his stage debut as Scraps the Dog. Reggie will not play Sundays something to do with Elaine Paige and, at those performances, the part of Scraps will be played by a puppet.

In 1910, the then unknown Charlie Chaplin and Stan Laurel set sail on board a tramp steamer from Liverpool to New York as part of Fred Karno's famous music hall troupe. On the voyage, they shared a cabin, they shared comedy routines, they shared laughter, but, by the end of the journey, they hated each other... yet they would both go on to become two of the biggest stars of the age.

Inspired by real life events, Told by an Idiot's acclaimed production of CHARLIE & STAN is the remarkable story of the greatest comedy double act that nearly was. With an original piano score played live at every performance, CHARLIE & STAN is a hilarious and deeply moving homage to two men who changed the world of comedy forever.

PIAF (Nottingham Playhouse, July 2-17, opens July 6; followed by a run at Leeds Playhouse's Quarry Theatre, from July 23-August 7) Jenna Russell stars in the title role of Pam Gems's play, joined by Sally Anne Triplett as Toine Edith Piaf's best friend and confidante. They are joined by Laura Pitt-Pulford as Marlene Dietrich, Garry Robson as Louis Leplee the nightclub owner who discovered Piaf. and Louis Gaunt as Piaf's husband Theo.

HAMLET (Windsor Theatre Royal, June 21-September 4, press night July 20,). Ian McKellen, now aged 81, returns to a role he previously played fifty years ago, in a new production by Sean Mathias that is age, colour and gender-blind. The company also includes Steven Berkoff, Jenny Seagrove, Francesca Annis and Jonathan Hyde. The company will also perform The Cherry Orchard from September.

SOUTH PACIFIC (Chichester Festival Theatre, from July 5-August 28, streamed as live, August 4, 9, 14, 18, 21, 26, 31 and Sept 3). Artistic director Daniel Evans directs Gina Beck as Nellie Forbush, Julian Ovenden as Emile de Becque in a new production of the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic, originally planned for last summer and now being staged this year. Owing to the news that Gina Beck is pregnant, she will now share the role of Nellie with Alex Young from August 5, who will then take over full-time from August 23 for the remainder of the run.

THE COMEDY OF ERRORS (Lydia and Manfred Gorvy Garden Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon, July 13-September 25, then touring to Nottingham Theatre Royal, Canterbury's Marlowe and Bradford's Alhambra. Philip Breen's new production, which was due to be part of the RSC's 2020 season but was postponed owing to the COVID pandemic, is now launched in a specially constructed outdoor performance space (shown above), located in the Swan Theatre Gardens, flanked by the river Avon. After Stratford, it will tour to indoor venues, with a London run at the Barbican now confirmed for November.

THE DRESSER

Written by Ronald Harwood, Directed by Terry Johnson.

Theatre Royal Bath Productions and Everyman Theatre Cheltenham confirm new tour dates for Ronald Harwood's highly acclaimed drama The Dresser starring the much loved UK entertainer Julian Clary as Norman and Olivier Award winner Matthew Kelly as 'Sir'.

Directed by Olivier Award-winning Terry Johnson, The Dresser will run at Theatre Royal Bath from 9 September 2021, before dates at Cheltenham Everyman Theatre, Theatre Royal Brighton, Norwich Theatre Royal, Cambridge Arts Theatre, Theatre Royal Plymouth, Richmond Theatre and Marlowe Theatre in Canterbury, with further tour dates to be announced.

The Dresser

Inspired by memories of working as Donald Wolfit's dresser as a young man, Ronald Harwood's evocative, affectionate and hilarious portrait of backstage life is regarded as one of the most acclaimed dramas of modern theatre.

     
     
     
     
     

Carlie Newman

   
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