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FILM:April 2015

Here are some recommendations for films that have recently been released:

I suppose I can't pass on FAST AND FURIOUS 7 (cert. 12A 2hrs. 17 mins.) which you will certainly enjoy if you liked any of the first six of the franchise! There are lots of male bodies doing their action stunts and lovely women helping them on their way and cars - lots and lots of cars - and much noise. I saw it on an IMAX screen and got the full right-in-your-eyes effects.

It amazes me how the characters can have the most terrible accidents in the cars and not only come out walking but in the next scene appear without a scratch or any terrible bruises showing! More dangerous car chases and set pieces here than in previous films so full of excitement for those who appreciate this kind of film – I don’t and I didn’t! Jason Statham as the bad guy joins Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson and the very handsome Paul Walker, who very sadly died during the shooting of the film.

A couple of fine documentaries caught my attention. DIOR AND I (12A 1 hr. 29mins.), gives an insight into how a fashion director works as it focusses on Raf Simmons who came to Dior as its artistic director in 2012. We follow his day to day work as he prepares for his first collection. We meet many of the workers in the House of Dior and hear them tell stories of their working lives. Archive footage is interspersed with the build up towards the presentation of Raf's first collection. It's a fascinating and engaging film for those interested in fashion.

I found ALTMAN (cert.15 1 hr. 35 mins.) equally interesting, although a very different study. This documentary about the film director has a lot of stars and other directors talking about Altman and the meaning of 'Altmanesque.' Most of the interest lies in seeing early films and home movies made by the director and we get a feeling of the director's history as well as a flavour of his most famous films including Mash, McCabe and Mrs Miller and, of course, Nashville and The Player.

Coming across as a documentary but actually a drama, THE DARK HORSE (cert.15 2hrs. 5 mins.) is based on the life of Genesis Potini, the Maori chess player who taught children to play high class chess.

Played by Cliff Curtis we see how the chess genius is bipolar and comes across as a threat to the uninitiated. He takes a group of difficult children and helps them to enter a chess tournament. A wonderful performance by Curtis (will we see him featuring in next year's Oscars, I wonder?) makes this a most compelling film to watch.

It is good to see a film aimed at the adult world rather than teenagers: WHILE WE'RE YOUNG (cert.15 1 hr. 37 mins.) is such a film. Sharply directed by Noah Baumbach, it stars Ben Stiller as Josh and Naomi Watts as his wife Cornelia (see picture). They are a couple who can't have children and rely on each other while their friends are caught up in their individual families.

They make friends with a young couple, Jamie (Adam Driver) and Darby (Amanda Seyfried), who begin by flattering documentary film director Josh and then involve the older couple in their activities in a manner that Josh and Cornelia find most flattering. The older couple find, however, that just as they don't fit in with their same-age friends with young children, they don't fit in with the lifestyle of the youngsters either.

The movie also looks at different types of documentary film makers and whether a director should film exactly what he sees or - as young Jamie does - alter scenes to present the viewpoint that the director wishes to put across.

So, a thoughtful film with lots of amusing dialogue; it is well-written and very well acted. It is directed by Baumabach who shows real feeling for the characters as well as the meaning behind the often glib words.

COBAIN: MONTAGE OF HECK (cert.15 2 hrs. 16 mins.) is a fascinating documentary using the Cobain family's personal archive of films from his earliest childhood through to his adult life. The lead singer in Nirvana led a troubled life both as a child and later as a drug addicted famous musician. Brett Morgan uses family members to give details of this life and leads some way towards understanding the troubled artist who killed himself aged 27.

Dealing with one of the most interesting cases arising from the Nazis appropriation of works of art belonging to Jews, WOMAN OF GOLD (cert.12A 1hr. 49 mins.) tells the true story of Maria Altman's fight to retrieve the paintings by Klimt, including his painting of her aunt, Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer, known as The Woman in Gold, stolen from her family home in Vienna. Maria (Helen Mirren), now living in Los Angeles, is greatly assisted by the young lawyer, Randy Schoenberg (Ryan Reynolds), himself the son of Austrian immigrants. A fine performance from Mirren whose appearance is greatly changed not just by the wig she wears but the shape of her face. Reynolds presents a more subtle character and the two work well together.






If you haven't yet been to the new…ish Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, London, which is on the same site as Shakespeare's Globe Theatre, but indoors, you have a treat awaiting you. It is a lovely little theatre with seating all around the stage. The whole stage is lit by candles and it is very atmospheric. Exactly right for the new play on there: THE BROKEN HEART (until 18 April. Box office: 020-7401 9919).

When Penthea (Amy Morgan) is forced by her brother Ithocles (Luke Thompson) to marry the elderly, very jealous Bassanes (Owen Teale) the result leads to bloody consequences, including a lethal trick chair. Her adored suitor Orgilus (Brian Ferguson) disguises himself as a scholar in order to gain access to her house. At the same time brother Ithocles is fighting for the hand of Princess Calentha (Sarah MacRae). The two women both suffer dreadfully from a broken heart while Orgilus takes his own revenge.

Owen Teale as Bassanes & Amy Morgan as Penthea in The Broken Heart

As directed by Caroline Steinbeis the play has many laugh aloud moments which, to my mind, do not always blend in with John Ford's language. The play, written around 1630 takes place in Sparta and is a good example of the Jacobean revenge tragedy.

Well acted by all, it is beautiful to look at and for anyone interested in the theatre and its history a visit to this little gem of a theatre is recommended.

Personally I could watch Zoe Wanamaker in anything - even reading the proverbial telephone book! She shows her skills as an actress almost to perfection in STEVIE (Hampstead Theatre London until 18 April. Box office: 020-7722 9301).

Zoë Wanamaker as Stevie Smith

The poet Stevie Smith became famous in her time and then lost popularity so that only poetry lovers will know her these days.

She led three virtually separate lives - as a secretary in a publishing company, someone who loved going out but relied on friends to drive her to the venues and a quiet character who wrote poetry while living with her 'Lion Aunt' in Palmers Green, North London.

Christopher Morahan's production of Hugh Whitemore's play, written in 1977, manages to weave Stevie Smith's poetry naturally into the play like songs become an integral part of a good musical. Here poetry and prose are used together with the narrative to form the highlights of Stevie's life as part of the whole. The poetry is spoken by Zoe Wanamaker as Stevie and also by Chris Larkin who plays some men in Stevie's life.

By learning more about the poet's personal life we are able to understand her poetry better, while sharing the poetry and prose she wrote illustrates important moments in her life.

The set design exactly captures the house where Stevie lives. From the leafy garden and the back of the house with a glimpse of a patio to the 60s furniture we get a real feel for an actual home at a particular time.

The play has no big dramatic events; it's a quiet contemplative piece showing the character of Stevie and glimpses of her past and present life. The three actors involved portray the essence of the play extremely well. Lynda Baron shows us the full devotion of Stevie's aunt for her niece. With her battle cry of, "Stuff and nonsense," she morphs into dependant old age with accuracy on the state of an elderly person who doesn't want to be a burden but is truly grateful for her niece's care. Chris Larkin has a somewhat thankless task portraying first a young man who wants to marry Stevie but is turned down after an unsuccessful sexual coupling. While this portrait is OK, his turn as a camp friend who drives her to a party doesn't work well. However, his reciting of Stevie Smith's most well-known poem, 'not drowning but waving' is fine.

The production's chief virtue is Zoe Wanamaker's portrayal. Devoted to her aunt, she exclaims, "I love aunt and aunt loves me." Wanamaker walks in a somewhat strange manner with slightly humped shoulders. In her white blouse and red pinafore dress, she embodies the character, putting across the sensitivity of the poet together with her somewhat bossy manner in getting friends to do what she wants. We see how her poems on death reflect her occasional very morbid feelings.

Don't see this if all you like are loud musicals or thrillers with lots of action. Do see it if you can relish a tremendous performance by an actress of the highest quality.

Deposit and Game

Both plays deal with the difficulty of finding affordable housing and both feature a young couple trying to cope with getting somewhere to live in London, which is one of the most difficult places to find anything.

In DEPOSIT (Hampstead Downstairs, London (until 11 April. Box office 020 7722 9301) a young couple, Ben (Ben Addis) and Rachel (Akiya Henry) want to save up to buy their own place. So do their friends Sam (Jack Monaghan) and Melanie (Laura Morgan), but rents are so high that they cannot afford to rent on their own. They devise a scheme to share a one-bedroom flat with one couple using the living-room and the other the bedroom. There is no door between but the optimistic friends feel sure they can manage.

From L .to R: Jack Monaghan (Sam), Laura Morgan (Melanie), Ben Addis (Ben), Akiya Henry (Rachel)

Lisa Spirling has interpreted Matt Hartley's new play in a most imaginative way. The set is simple as the audience in the tiny Downstairs theatre sit on all sides. The director has lots of choreographed movement with the cast lifting the bed and the sofa and their bodies moving around with and under the furniture and between each other in scene changes. The actors move well and don't lose their individual characteristics as they do so. Mike Hartley shows how living at such close quarters destroys friendship and has a huge effect on the individuals. It's an innovative scenario and well performed by the four actors.

Perhaps there is a little too much moving around but the play remains interesting and shows some horrendous aspects of joint living arrangements. There are some light moments and the play is not heavy at all.

Much stronger is GAME which has just finished its run at the Almeida Theatre London, but I am sure we shall see it somewhere else in the not too distant future. Another way of coping with the housing crisis is depicted here. The play focusses on the very frightening idea of a kind of Big Brother reality show. In Mike Bartlett's new play the audience is split into four groups and shown into four separate zones.

We look into the set when the blind in front of us rolls up and when it is down, watch the action in different parts of the stage on screens, all the while wearing headphones to hear what is happening. We see a young couple, Ashley (Mike Noble) and Carly (Jodie McNee) moving into a lovely apartment.

But just as we are watching the play, they are also being observed by people who pay money to watch them at all times and in all their activities including love-making and washing! The customers can also purchase guns with tranquilising bullets to fire at the couple and also later at the child they have.

The play lasts just an hour and is very strong meat. Looking into the house makes voyeurs of us all.

Just right for this week or next week, in fact all the weeks until we have established a new Government, THE THREE LIONS (St James Theatre, London (until 2 May 2015. Box office 0844 264 2140) depicts the two days that David Beckham, David Cameron and Prince William spent in a hotel room discussing how best to present England as the host for the 2018 World Cup.

As the somewhat intellectually challenged David Beckham (Sean Browne) remarks, "Football runs through our D and A". Although David Cameron (Dugald Bruce-Lockhart) and Prince William (Tom Davey) disagree with Beckham's choice of vocabulary they support the premise.

In Bruce-Lockhart's portrayal, Cameron is shown as having more than a little of John Cleese in him. Beckham is rather dim-witted and makes mistakes in his pronunciation, use of grammar and vocabulary. He is, however, very well dressed and covered in tattoos! Prince William is depicted as a toff and shows his upper class credentials with his constant "Yah."

Séan Browne (David Beckham), Dugald Bruce-Lockhart (David Cameron) & Tom Davey (Prince William)

Bruce-Lockhart captures Cameron's voice but doesn't look very much like him, while Tom Daley's Prince looks somewhat like the real William but is not so broad shouldered. His wig has thin hair on top which serves well. The best look-alike is Browne's Beckham. He captures the Essex voice really well. He is well-dressed at all times and his lack of intellect is finely caught, although probably not strictly accurate.

There is a nice cameo from Antonia Kinlay as Perry, David Cameron's assistant who is overcome with her adoration of Beckham and there is a lot of fun in Ravi Aujla's characterisation of identical Indian twins working at the Swiss hotel, although one is a spying journalist.

Director Philip Wilson gets the most out of this farcical play, and keeps a sharp pace to the proceedings. There is a lot of amusing dialogue. We can see Cameron practising his promotional presentation; Beckham slowly working out how old he will be in 2018 [43] and Prince William wearing Boris's trousers which are too tight for him and he clutches his balls in pain! This is an amusing, light play: well worth a visit.

If you want an evening that is not demanding and lots of fun, you won't go far wrong with HARVEY at the Haymarket Theatre (until 8 May Box office 020 7930 8800).

The film starring James Stewart is a delight and it is hard for the theatre to capture its magical qualities. However, Lindsay Posner's production of Mary Chase's play makes a brave stab at it. Mary Chase wrote HARVEY to cheer up a very dear friend whose husband had recently died. Apparently the friend loved it!

Desmond Barrit, James Dreyfus & Maureen Lipman in Harvey

The story is charming: Elwood P. Dowd (James Dreyfus) has a best friend, who he takes with him everywhere. The only trouble is it's a white rabbit over six feet tall named Harvey. As if that is not enough the rabbit is invisible to all except Elwood. His sister, Veta (Maureen Lipman) and niece (Ingrid Oliver) find the whole situation highly embarrassing, while Elwood has no hesitation in introducing his best friend to everyone he meets including his sister's society friends.

Farcical scenes take place at an asylum where Vita tries to have her brother admitted but the psychiatrist mistakes her for the paranoid patient. When a cab driver warns Vita that if Elwood has injections to cure him he will become a normal human being - without warmth or generosity - she has second thoughts about committing her happy brother to this fate.

Dreyfus is not James Stewart, but he does manage to portray a man who has full belief in his enormous rabbit friend: in all other ways he is absolutely normal. Maureen Lipman gives a charming performance as Vita. Her comic timing is superb and she lights up the stage whenever she is around. This is a delightful production - bring your family and friends!

OPPENHEIMER (Vaudeville Theatre until 29 November. Box office: 0844 482 96750)

Transferred from the RSC's smaller Swan theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon, the play, written by playwright Tom Morton-Smith, will particularly appeal to those of a scientific mind. But there is more to OPPENHEIMER than just the story of the man who led the development of the atomic bomb and had moral qualms about the victims.

We are shown the man behind the scientist. J Robert Oppenheimer has many communist friends and promotes left-wing ideas to his students. It is left open as to whether he himself belonged to the Party, but as his career progresses, he distances himself from those closest to him including his brother Frank (Michael Grady-Hall) and sister-in-law in order to keep clear of the investigations of J Edgar Hoover's House Un-American Activities Committee.

John Heffernan as J Robert Oppenheimer & Catherine Steadman as Jean Tatlock

Oppenheimer can't resist the call to work on the ultimate weapon that would end all wars.

Although he marries Kitty (Thomasin Rand), he carries on a relationship with his former lover Jean Tatlock (Catherine Steadman). Both women give us well-rounded portrayals: both complete individuals, very different from each other. John Heffernan gives a strong, yet nuanced performance as the great scientist doomed to be hated as the inventor of the huge nuclear weapon which caused so much destruction. At the end of the paly Oppenheimer admits that he "Left a loaded gun in a playground."

Known as the 'father of the atomic bomb," Oppie - as he was called by his friends - was always really keen on nuclear physics and his work on the ultimate nuclear weapon was governed by his belief that because the bomb would be so devastating the result would be increased safety for everyone and lead to the end of all wars. He certainly was right about there being no WW111. Actually, these days we can only hope that this continues.

The Park Theatre, London has come up triumphant yet again. DEAD SHEEP (until 9 May 2015. Box Office: 020 7870 6876) depicts the time leading up to Geoffrey Howe's virulent anti-Thatcher resignation speech in the House of Commons in November 1990.

The play, written by Jonathan Maitland and directed in his usual flamboyant style by Ian Talbot, hops about a bit between 1981 and 1990 but we get a good idea of the pressures that Geoffrey Howe (James Wilby) was under both from his boss, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher (Steve Nallon) and, to a lesser extent, his wife Elspeth Howe (Jill Baker) who, as Chair of the Equal Opportunities Commission, didn't see eye to eye with Thatcher.

Steve Nallon (Margaret Thatcher), Jill Baker (Elspeth Howe) & James Wilby (Geoffrey Howe) in Dead Sheep

Although Elspeth did not write his speech, it is shown that she greatly influenced Howe's actions and fully supported him when he decided to quit. All the parts are well presented and most of the actors get a real flavour of the Government Ministers even if they don't look like them. There is a nice little cameo from Tim Wallers as Alan Clark.

Jill Baker is good as Howe's wife - not merely the compliant housewife which Margaret would have preferred but a woman with her own views who is not afraid to stand up for herself on occasions. Although the wig is not completely right, Steve Nallon exactly captures the tone of voice and the mannerisms of Thatcher.

The title comes from Denis Healey's remark, "Being attacked by Geoffrey Howe is like being savaged by a dead sheep." In his final House of Commons speech though, Howe shows that even a dead sheep can turn. There are a lot short scenes and we move constantly between different periods - this would make a very good TV play. There is some good writing but the because of the bitty nature of the construction, it doesn't quite make a whole. Always amusing with some lovely, almost farcical, touches, the cast and director present an engaging play.

DEATH OF A SALESMAN is now on at the RSC's main theatre in Stratford (until 2 May Box office 0844 800 1110) after which it transfers to the Noel Coward Theatre 9 May until 18 July 2015. Box office 0844 4825140).

It's a really great production. Antony Sher is tremendous as Willy Loman, the born salesman who is coming to the end of his working life and director Gregory Doran has put together an excellent cast to interpret Arthur Miller's dramatic story. Although he has been working hard all his life, Willy Loman has no money and is sad to see that his eldest son Biff (Alex Hassell) is not going down the path that his father wants. There is constant conflict between Willy and his son and, although she tries to intervene, his wife Linda (Harriet Walter) is not listened to by her husband and is not able to help in the tragedy that gradually unfolds.

Antony Sher and Harriet Walter in the RSC's Death of a Salesman

A good set of tenement housing rising around Willy Loman's home, reflects the low neighbourhood in which Willy reluctantly lives while dreaming of better places and a higher quality of life. The jazz music in the background helps interpret the mood.

Walter is exactly right as the supportive wife who realises that her husband is never going to achieve his dreams and is merely driving his son Biff away from him. Hassell shows once more that he is a rising star - keep your eye on him. While Sher, who was recently a rumbustious Falstaff, now gives us a magnificent portrait of one of the great tragic figures of modern drama.

I urge you to pay a visit to Stratford or book now for the London transfer, but don't miss this!

There is a somewhat quirky play on at the Tricycle Theatre, London now. AFTER ELECTRA (until 2 May Box office 020 77328 1000) is billed as a comedy and there are indeed some amusing moments, but it is a very black comedy dealing with serious issues. Virgie (Marty Cruickshank) at 81 has made a very rational decision: she has had enough of life and decided to end it. To announce this, she has brought together her daughter, Haydn (Veronica Roberts), a 56-year-old bereavement counsellor, her sister Shirley (Rachel Bell), who sits in the House of Lords and her two old friends Tom (Neil McCaul), an actor and husband to Sonia (Kate Fahy). Later they are joined by Virgie’s son, Orin (James Wallace). They all express deep dismay at her intention and try to dissuade her and then think of ways to prevent her leaving them by drowning.

April de Angelis's play also considers the needs of Virgie as a woman artist over what is the right way to act as a mother.

There are echoes of the Electra story but nobody gets killed here; Virgie just wants to be allowed to commit suicide in a way that she chooses at a time to suit her. A taxi driver (Roy (Michael Begley) is brought in in the second act and he also comments on the situation.

Marty Cruickshank as Virgie in After Electra

While all the parts are well characterised - and particularly so by Cruickshank - and the play is very powerful in the first act, it somehow meanders away in the second act when Virgie becomes less capable.

Carlie Newman

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