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FILM:August 2013

MONSTERS UNIVERSITY (cert. U 1 hr. 40 mins.) in 3D is a super film, just right for the whole family to see together or kids with their grandparents! It is a Pixar prequel to the very successful 2001 Monsters Inc. Once again it stars the voice of Billy Crystal as Mike Wazowski and John Goodman as James P. Sullivan known as 'Sulley.' It is directed by Dan Scanlon

Mike - a one-eyed blob - is desperate to become a professional scarer and is told he must study at Monsters University to achieve his dream. Sulley - a large monster with a loud voice - is much lazier and, although he too wishes to join the Monsters Inc as a scarer, believes he can do it in a more laid back fashion. He thinks he can cruise along on the legacy of his father who was a famous scarer. The two become rivals at Monsters University in Monstropolis.

However, when they are both in danger of being dismissed from the scaring programme, they have to work together to win the competition to be crowned the scariest students in order to remain at the University. The only team left for them to join is one of seeming losers called The Oozma Kappa fraternity. Lots of incidents occur in which the two set out to prove to the Dean (an intimidating Helen Mirren) that they are worthy of remaining. If you have seen Monsters Inc you might already know what happens but there is still much to enjoy for those who have seen the first film and those who haven't or have forgotten it - after all it was 12 years ago that we first become aware of Sulley and Mike. I like the way Mike has a brace on his teeth, it makes him into a genuine teenager.

Billy Crystal and John Goodman work really well together. Apparently, unlike the usual way that artists voice the characters in an animation film - separately and often in different studios - these two chose to work together and bounce the (often very funny) dialogue off each other. And it certainly works: there are lots of laugh-aloud moments as well as some that show quite human characteristics beneath the monster appearances.

There is a beautifully shot little animation shown with this film: the Pixar short The Blue Umbrella. The story of two umbrellas, a red and a blue, falling for each other has some of the qualities of The Red Balloon and is absolutely worth seeing.

Also recommended: BLANCANIEVES (cert. 12A 1hr. 45 mins.), This is a beautifully shot black and white silent film giving a Spanish slant to the Snow White story, which is here re-located to 1920s Andalucia by director Pablo Berger. Snow White still has a wicked stepmother and six friendly dwarfs (she makes up the seventh member of the team). She becomes a matador like her father, who teaches her his trade before dying. It's not funny in the manner of The Artist, but charming in its own way.






SHARON MICHELS enjoyed this new musical with me at the Riverside Studios. She writes:

CARNIVAL OF THE ANIMALS at the Riverside Studios had a too short, limited run of only 14 performances but given the quality of this new family musical I am sure it will and certainly ought to return to a bigger venue and for longer. This delightful musical is well worth seeing when it comes round again.

Based on the music of Camille Saint- Saens, Carnival of the Animals, the performance of the animals opens with Mademoiselle Parfait (Anita Dobson) inviting the audience into the small Paris Square with her pronounced and seductive French accent. She explains how the animals, in harmony with humans, are to put on their magnificent show. She is not, however, the person she purports to be and her sinister motives towards the animals are eventually revealed.

It is indeed clear that the animals' performance has lost its soul and zest. The Lion, Henri (Jacob Chapman) now only cares to eat; the Ass (Stephen Webb) is consumed with jealousy and cannot concentrate and Emilie (Claire Machin), the hugely talented elephant cannot remember her words nor steps. Even Cygnet (Bronte Barbe) the leader of the troupe has lost all confidence and is desperate. A turnaround in fortunes begins when Shake (Liam Doyle) the Chimpanzee and his gang persuade the group to allow them to join the performance.

This is a toe tapping, lively and very entertaining production. The cast is strong as are the lyrics and dancing. Composer Gavin Green reworks the music well and there is skilful direction from Thom Southerland. With an excellent and extremely funny performance from the star, Anita Dobson, and a hard-working and talented cast, this show will not fail to please.

A SEASON IN THE CONGO at the Young Vic (until 24 August Box Office: 020 7922 2922) brings Chiwetel Ejiofor back to the London stage after a too long absence.

Here he excels as Patrice Lumumba who for only a very brief period occupied the position of Prime Minister in the Democratic Republic of Congo during 1960. He was the first democratically elected Prime Minister, but according to this play (and to history) by Aime Cesaire, written in 1966 he had a very quick rise and fall.

Co-directed by Joe Wright and choreographer, Belgian-Moroccan Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, we are taken into the heart of the action in designer Lizzie Clachan's vibrant, atmospheric set. The story of how Patrice rose to become the leader of his country, and, indeed, a hero to many both inside the Congo and looking at the events from other parts of the world, is told in a number of short scenes, delineated by the year written on a blackboard, starting with 1955, until we get to 1960 and then it is the month and finally day by day until in 1961 Lumumba is shot dead (allegedly by the CIA).

Chiwetel Ejiofor as Patrice Lumumba & Joan Iyiola as Pauline Lumumba

In this all-black production we are presented with a fantastic range of costumes, music and dance and there is excellent puppetry with the talking heads of bankers and Americans, depicted as the enemy. The cast manage to convey the characteristics of each person they portray. Towering above them is Ejiofor who shows that he is now one of our top stage actors. He has to show us his reaction when Lumumba ministers closest to him lock him in prison and try to take away his leadership role. Joseph Mobutu (Daniel Kaluuya), his army chief, does in fact succeed.

The only difficulty I have with the production is that at times it is hard to follow the story-line. The play seems to assume that we all know the incidents and how and when they occurred, but for those of us who do not know our history of the area or can't remember the events chronologically it is sometimes difficult to follow.

But for a vibrantly exciting evening at the theatre and a master class in acting from Ejiofor, do make your way to the Young Vic.

THE AMERICAN PLAN (St James Theatre until 10 August. Box office 0844 264 2140) is a touching, engrossing little gem of a play written by Richard Greenberg.

Luke Allen-Gale and Emily Taafe in 'The American Plan'

David Grindley directs with a most sensitive touch, so that the characters that could have been unbelievable are made real both by the director's staging and his casting which provides a high quality of acting.

Set in a large holiday resort in the Catskill Mountains in the early 1960s - the place where a large number of the Jewish population of New York congregate for their summer holiday, traditionally to escape the heat and pollution of the city.

It is here that Eva (Diana Quick), the German-Jewish mother of Lili (Emily Taaffe) has come with her daughter to their lakeside home. They are near but not actually staying in the resort. Eva has come to the US as a political refugee so is not one of the moneyed families who are visitors in the main hotel. Lili is anxious to escape from her overpowering mother who directs all aspects of her life .

When Nick (Luke Allen-Gale) enters their lives, Lili is enchanted when he becomes her suitor, but Eva sees Nick as a threat. He, like the other characters, has something to hide and we feel sympathy with him to start with but gradually change our opinion as the play progresses. Equally Eva, who seems to want to protect her daughter, is also confining her to a life without a partner. There is also the black maid (Dona Croll), who keeps her personal life to herself and tries not to get involved too much in the arguments between mother and daughter. The larger moral issues are addressed in a more subtle way ; Greenberg's title for his play refers to the eat-all-you-can (a bit like the modern "all inclusive" concept) that was available under the American plan at the Catskills' hotels, and also to the idea of deception which seems to be encouraged amongst middle-class Americans. There are amusing lines in the early scenes but the play sobers up later on as the play darkens.

Taafe gives a good portrayal of a young woman who is not only eccentric but fantasises about how her life will be with her new boyfriend. It is good to see Quick in a substantial role which she gathers up and inhabits with her whole body and voice. Allen-Gale puts in a brave performance from when he first comes out of the water to greet Lili as if by pure chance to his realisation towards the end that he has a flaw which will prevent him from making a life with the wealthy young woman he coverts.

This is a play which will engage you when watching it but will also make you ponder on the issues raised. Do try and catch it while it is still at the St James theatre.


Carlie Newman

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