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FILM:August 2014

Full of amazing special effects with the actors undergoing extraordinary performance motion capture work, DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (cert. 12A 2hrs.11 mins.) is a truly epic movie.

The story takes place 10 years after the end of Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Rise finished with the apes breaking free from their human captors just as a fatal virus created by human scientists spread throughout the whole world. Caesar (Andy Serkis), their ruler, has led the other apes to woods outside San Francisco where the very young Caesar spent time with his human friend.

In this film we see that the apes have built a successful community in the woods. At the same time a huge proportion of the human population has been killed by simian flu. So while the apes have growing freedom the humans are facing virtual extinction

When a handful of humans led by Malcolm (Jason Clarke) come into the apes' territory, Caesar is forced to try to reach peace with the group of survivors living in the ruins of an area of San Francisco. The leader of this community is Dreyfus (Gary Oldman). Malcolm's group wants to activate a hydroelectric dam to generate power.

Caesar is not just leader of the apes he is also husband to Cornelia (Judy Greer), who gives birth to a second son for Caesar who already has the teenage Blue Eyes (Nick Thurston).

Malcolm is in the throes of a new romance following the death of his wife. His new partner Ellie (Keri Russell) is also struggling with bereavement after the death of her daughter. Malcolm, too, has a teenage son, Alexander (the young Kodo Smit-McPhee, who was so good as the boy in the film The Road).

So Caesar and Malcolm have much to gain and a lot to lose if their attempts at peace misfire. Unfortunately Caesar has rebel apes within his group, chief among these is Koba (Toby Kebell) who spent a lot of his younger life imprisoned and subject to scientific experiments by humans, so now really hates them.

Once again Andy Serkis gives a remarkable performance, which is caught by motion capture cameras and transformed into a very realistic ape with eyes which must surely be actual human eyes.

As most of the film is shot on exterior locations the realism is enhanced. Director Matt Reeves has pulled together a remarkable cast of actors as apes and humans and put them in an interesting and absorbing story, which is well told and visually exciting - especially in the 3D version. The surprise here is that although the apes use sign language to each other, they actually speak to the humans…and ride horses!

BOYHOOD (cert. 15 2 hrs. 46 mins) This is innovative filmmaking at its very best. Filming in Texas for three to four days every year for 12 years, Richard Linklater, the director, follows the same actors in their parts. We see Mason Jr (Ellar Coltrane) grow from a six year-old child until he goes to college at 18. His sister Samantha is played by the director’s daughter Lorelei Linklater and his divorced parents by Ethan Hawke as his father, Mason, and Patricia Arquette as Mason Jr’s mother Olivia.

The emphasis is on the characters rather than the story and, although various incidents occur, we are always more concerned with how the children - in particular the young lad- deal with what is happening. We see the family move home. The mother marries twice more and separates from both. One of the stepfathers is actually over-harsh with young Mason. Most of the time the children live just with their struggling single mother while their father pops in and out of their lives.

The years segue into each other and often the only way we know it is a different year is by the clothes the boy wears and his different haircuts and little references to games and the current President of the USA. From being just a little boy we see Mason develop into a young man gaining and losing a girlfriend on the way.

Arquette gives a moving performance as the mother trying so hard to do the best for her children but also give herself an education as an adult and have a love life. Hawke plays the father as someone who would like to be with his kids more but somehow loses his way frequently. When he is with the children he is a great dad, but he spends insufficient time with them. Lorelei shows a very real teenage girl developing and it must have been very hard for her father to keep her going as an actress over all the years. Linklater has drawn out a stupendous performance from Ellar as Mason Jr. We seem to see a real boy face all the difficulties of growing up and coping with the fun times as well as the difficult times in his life. A tremendous film - go see!

Also recommended: the documentary I AM DIVINE (cert.15 1 hr. 30 mins.), directed by Jeffrey Schwarz. This is the story of how Glenn Milstead changed from being a bullied and mocked over weight child in Baltimore to become an international drag artist - still rather fat. As a cult star he worked closely with film director John Waters and the two are most famous for a scene in the movie Pink Flamingos (1972) where Divine eats dog shit.

Another fascinating documentary is FINDING VIVIAN MAIER (cert. 12A 1 hr. 24 mins). The movie tells how Vivian, a secretive and somewhat mysterious nanny took over 100,000 photographs which were never shown to anyone and hidden in storage boxes until they were discovered by filmmaker John Maloof. Maloof and Charles Siskel have made this film which shows how the phots were found, developed and eventually exhibited.

Just out in time for the school holidays, EARTH TO ECHO (cert. PG 1 hr. 31 mins.) is almost an updated version of E.T. Here three boys, later joined by a girl, follow signals on their mobile phones until they come across a little alien creature who wants their help to build a spaceship to get home…to outer space. All established by beeps signalling yes or no.

The boys are spending their last night together before they are parted as their homes are coming down to make way for a super highway. One of the boys videos the whole adventure. Good to see a girl outwit the boys!

     
     

 

 


 

THEATRE TIP

Here is a round-up of what is new in the theatre:

There is a surprise when one goes to the Tricycle's latest production. Famed for dealing with the nitty gritty of life in plays with messages such as Red Velvet and Handbagged, we find ourselves in a completely different milieu in THE COLBY SISTERS OF PITTSBURGH, PENNSYLVANIA (Tricycle Theatre, London until 26 July 2014. Box office 020-7328 1000). Playwright Adam Bock captures the glamorous lifestyle of the five Colby sisters and some of the underlying anxieties and traumas within the family.

The five Colby sisters, Willow (Claire Forlani), India (Isabella Calthorpe), twins Gemma (Charlotte Parry) and Garden (Patricia Potter), and the youngest, Mouse (Alice Sanders), have the most glamorous social life, seemingly composed of endless parties and being photographed in beautiful dresses such as those shown in this picture.

The sisters desperately try to put on a brave face to the outside world, helped by Gemma's personal assistant, Heather (Ronke Adekoluejo). But Garden's husband has been having an affair for three years. When she finds out Garden is devastated and does not want to do as her twin Gemma suggests and leave him. Mouse is caught up with yet another disposable boyfriend and is unable to form a permanent loving relationship. Gemma is so caught up in her wealthy husband's world that she displays no emotion at all. Willow is actually poor as her husband can't find work and she relies on hand-outs from her sisters while having to put up with Gemma's snide remarks when she talks of finding a job.

When a major tragedy strikes the sisters they come up against the real world and the result is a change in attitude for all those who remain. The sisters no longer live in Pittsburgh but bring their privileged upbringing to their life in New York. Their Pittsburgh roots are a distant memory and they now inhabit a world of glossy privilege.

The acting is good and we learn not only about the girls but about the high society in which they live and a little too about the 'servant' class in the way Gemma treats her ever-watchful black assistant. Although the play does in fact have a message or a number of messages if we look at the five sisters as individuals, there is not much development in the hour and a quarter running time and it still feels slight and we wish for a deeper play. But director Trip Cullman has certainly brought glamour to the Kilburn Tricycle!

THE GLASS SUPPER (Hampstead Downstairs, London until 26 July 2014. Box office 020-7722 9301) starts off as one kind of play, with two gay men who have chosen to live in the country away from noise and far away from people in general, discussing the possibility of Jesus being in the house, and then morphs into something completely different when they are invaded by three visitors.

L to R Steven, Jamie, Wendy, Marcus

Steven (Michael Feast) together with his young special friend, Jamie (Alex Lowther) and Wendy (Michelle Collins) arrive on their way to a holiday. We gradually find out that Marcus (Michael Begley) and Owen (Colin Sharpe) met the other two men while on holiday the previous year. We also learn that Wendy is Steven's ex-wife (they divorced when Wendy realised he was homosexual), but appears to still be close friends with him. Steven refers to Jamie as "little tart." The hosts have cemented their twenty year relationship by marrying.

As all the revelations come out, the characters, apart from Marcus, drink deeply and get somewhat drunk. Wendy becomes very irate and spills wine on the hosts' beautiful new carpet! The verbal spat between Wendy and Steven escalates into a full physical confrontation and the play now reminds us of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf.

Although a mixture of styles, this is an interesting evening with first rate performances. Collins in particular goes full tilt as Wendy, tottering around on very high silver stilettoes and raging at her ex-husband. Feast is good too as a seemingly cordial man who becomes morose as he sees Jamie having sex with Owen. Begley and Sharpe are also fine as the two gay men suddenly invaded by the trio of very loud assertive folk. But there is a new star here: Alex Lowther - so good in South Downs - is tremendous as Jamie, showing just the right mixture of knowingness and the arrogance of youth with an air of sexuality just waiting to be used by those around him.

Another amazing play at the Hampstead Theatre is WONDERLAND (until 26 July 2014. Box office 020-7722 9301), Beth Steels' new play about the miners' strike in 1984-5. The set is absolutely marvellous - a mine with a deep underground area and cage above (both worked by hydraulic lifts) which takes the miners down. There are also upper walkway levels on which the politicians walk and discuss the strike and how to deal with it. It is just such a pity that the play is having such a short run - the magnificent set should be seen by many more people and perhaps it will be if, as Chariots of Fire did, it transfers to a larger space.

It is interesting that many of the audience are too young to have known the time when this massive strike took place. It is now 30 years since the strike which had such a disastrous effect on the energy supply in Britain. Arthur Scargill proved to be correct when he forecast the closure of almost all coal mines.

Steel, as the daughter of a miner, seems to know what she is writing about. The mine not only looks like a real mine and the actors are suitably coal-covered as miners, but there is also the smell of coal in the air. We follow the fortunes of two new recruits to a group of Nottinghamshire miners below ground while above the politicians discuss how to thwart Scargill and kill the strike.

Although there are no women in the play, emotion is provided through director Edward Hall's use of song as the men work and the choreographed movement of the miners. There are some moments when the men are in danger and the set conveys this in very real imagery. The play shows how the men rely on each other down the mine, "Down here your life is always in another man's hands."

The actors put across the various characters involved with realistic acting and interact well with each other. Andrew Havill is convincing as the Energy Secretary, Peter Walker and I liked Michael Cochrane's portrayal of the National Coal Board chairman Ian MacGregor. Simon Slater and Paul Brennan also give convincing portrayals of Tilsey, the Pit Manager and Colonel, the Deputy respectively.

An ex Miner sitting near me was quite moved by the play and it has relevance for many of us who met with those on strike who were housed throughout London.

It has just been announced that Wonderland will be live-streamed on Saturday 26 July 7.30pm over the internet worldwide and free on hampsteadtheatre.com and theguardian.com. An on demand version of the Wonderland live-streaming will be available for 72 hours immediately after the live stream on Hampstead Theatre and the Guardian's website.

It's unusual to see Maureen Lipman in a non-comedy role. But in DAYTONA (Haymarket Theatre, London until 23 August 2014. Box office 020-7930 8800) she shows what an excellent straight actress she is.

Here she plays Elli, one half of a couple in their early 70s who live in an apartment in Brooklyn. It is 1986 and Joe (Harry Shearer) is still working as an accountant, but they also have time to spend on their hobby - ballroom dancing

They are faced with a moral dilemma when Joe's brother, Billy (Oliver Cotton) who they haven't seen for some 30 years, suddenly turns up. Billy relates the story of what happened when he was on holiday with his wife in Daytona, Florida. Billy recognised one of the guests around the swimming pool as a former Nazi. How he reacted to this discovery and what happened next is the main theme of this play. But there is also something to be discovered about the personal relationships between Joe, Billy and Elli.

Harry Shearer as Joe and Maureen Lipman as Elli

Oliver Cotton, who also wrote the play, takes the part of Billy, who is unrepentant about his recent activities but nurses a secret passion. Joe is confused about what action he should take while Elli, as directed by Davis Grindley, and movingly portrayed by Lipman, has her own guilt and longing to contend with.

This is a straight play, not a comedy, although there are a number of amusing moments. The excellent cast transcends the, at times, somewhat mundane dialogue and the audience remains intrigued as to what will happen next.

And now for something completely different: FORBIDDEN BROADWAY (Menier Chocolate Factory, London until 30 August 2014. Box office 020-7378 1713) is a delightful musical satire on current West End and Broadway shows.

The Forbidden Broadway version of Les Miserables at the Menier Chocolate Factory

A cult hit in America where it has been playing since the early 1980s, the show has managed to cross the Atlantic gaining, rather than losing, admirers on the way. The director and choreographer Philip George, together with the show's creator and writer, Gerard Alessandrini, have included material that is so up to date it is a wonder how the new stuff was able to be composed in time.

There are some excellent pastiche moments. I particularly liked the parodies of Julie Andrews (although a little cruel bearing in mind her recent illness) and Elaine Paige, with a very good look-a-like who exactly captured her way of speaking. The Billy Elliot sequence with one of the cast in a tutu and a very funny excerpt from Matilda along with songs sending up Mama Mia, Miss Saigon, with a little helicopter which was almost as good as in the real show and, of course, Les Mis all appealed to me. The very recent re-cast of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory also came under fire.

Great lines abound, "a new show with no imagination…with Matilda imitation," with the original music re-interpreted by Musical Director Joel Fram who plays the piano enthusiastically on stage. Remarkably fast changes of costumes and a cast - Anna-Jane Casey, Sophie-Louise Dann, Damian Humbley, Ben Lewis - who can not only sing well but act the parts with which they are presented, seguing quickly from one character to another. Initially sold out it has now been extended to the end of August - try to catch it at the delightful Menier Theatre.

Gorgeous! A somewhat strange way to describe a play, but that is exactly what the production of SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE (Noel Coward Theatre, London until 25 October 2014 Box office 0844 482 5141) is.

This joyful romp through the part of William Shakespeare's life when he wrote Romeo and Ethel, the Pirate King's Daughter (which became Romeo and Juliet) has been adapted from the film's original screenplay written by Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard by Lee Hall, who has kept the fun and turned the film into a play that retains the backstage story as well as the onstage shenanigans.

Tom Bateman as Shakespeare and Lucy Briggs-Owen as Viola

We see Will (Tom Bateman) falling for Viola de Lesseps (Lucy Briggs-Owen), an aristocratic lady who so loves the theatre that she dresses as a boy in order to go on to the stage as no females were allowed to perform at this time. Those who know Romeo and Juliet well will gain additional pleasure from recognising the changes that Will makes helped by Marlowe (David Oakes) who generously provides Shakespeare with some lines when he is stuck for words.

The real life of Will and his pursuit of Viola mirrors in many ways that of the tragedy he is writing but we don't see a sad end here. A number of the men who are pursuing theatre Manager Henslowe (Paul Chahidi) for money are given parts in various plays and there is a very funny Master of the Revels, Tilney (Ian Bartholomew) as Malvolio, complete with yellow stockings. One of the actors is John Webster, who likes gory stuff - there is a knowing hint at his later blood-filled plays. Queen Elizabeth (Anna Carteret) turns out to be a secret feminist. We see real female assertiveness in the character of Viola who, as portrayed by Briggs-Owen, comes across as a young woman determined to lead her own life even though she has to fight against the male attitudes of the day. She and Bateman make a good pair in their obvious chemistry which comes through in their scenes together.

Excellently directed by Declan Donnellan, using a galleried set, there is also superb music with songs from different Shakespeare plays, and a great counter-tenor in the shape of singer, Charlie Tighe and some pretty choreography by Jane Gibson. However this is certainly not a musical but a play which uses music and dance in small doses for dramatic effect.

The poor Globe theatre had to cope with a number of disasters in the way of illness and accidents in the company, but nevertheless manages to put on a more than adequate production of Shakespeare's JULIUS CAESAR (until 11 October Box Office 020 7401 9919)

This is a lively show, exactly suited to the Globe's younger audience, the majority of whom pay £5 to stand as "groundlings." I consider them to be the best audience in town as there are frequently people present who have never see the play on offer before and "ooh" and "ah" at what is happening on stage. Dominic Dromgoole directs and we see his mark before the play starts in the actors milling around outside the auditorium as drunks and other ruffians participating in the feast of Lupercal. The stylised battle is also visually interesting.

In Renaissance costume, the play is acted in a straightforward style with no very unusual innovations. George Irving plays Caesar as a fairly ordinary guy who believes that he is right in not giving in to the fears of his wife and others about what might happen to him. And, of course, disaster occurs and he is chopped down by those who he considers supporters. The chief one being Cassius (Anthony Howell) - well portrayed as an ambitious leader out for fame. Brutus, played by Tom McKay, comes across as sure of himself and justifies the actions of the killers to the crowd. We need a noble Mark Antony and in Luke Thompson we have one. He uses his oratory skills in moving the crowd against Brutus and Cassius. The women come across more strongly than we generally see: Katy Stephens is a caring Calpurnia, wife to Julius Caesar and later plays a boisterous First Citizen and Catherine Bailey portrays the self-mutilating Portia effectively.

As usual the audience is quick to laugh at anything even slightly amusing and it is sometimes disconcerting to find what we normally consider serious come across as humour.

This must be one of the best plays on offer at the moment. THE CRUCIBLE (Old Vic Theatre, London until 13 September 2014 Box office 0844 871 7628) by Arthur Miller is so beautifully written that it can be almost guaranteed a successful production but here Yael Farber brings something extra to the story of the Salem witchcraft trials in 1692. In the fearsome anti-communist era in America, the play was taken to be a commentary, almost a judgement, against those who cooperated and those who refused to give evidence at the Joseph McCarthy Committee trials in 1952. It still resonates today, however, with acts of violence taking place all over the world and the media's interpretation giving rise to the question of who is in the right and who is the aggressor.

Surprisingly Farber has the cast speak English without an American accent, which I gather is more akin to how people used to speak in that part of the country.

Even knowing the play well and sure of the outcome, we are still deeply moved by the accusation of witchcraft against upright citizens by young girls moved to joint action by hysteria. Combined with this is the more intimate story of John Proctor who is aware that he has sinned by committing adultery with his servant Abigail and now has to face his wife who, for the first time in her life, lies to save her husband only to have this rebound in the most terrible manner against them.

Richard Armitage as John Proctor & Samantha Colley as Abigail

Farber's realistic set and the performance in the round bring the action close to the audience. The orchestrated movement of the girls led by Abigail (Samantha Colley) lends an extra dramatic effect to the tension and Anna Maddeley is so moving and truthful as Elisabeth Proctor that we wonder how anyone could judge her other than noble. But it is Richard Armitage as John Proctor who provides the core to this production - strong yet admitting his weakness - he puts across a man completely agonised over his wrong actions and mindful of the trouble he has brought to his wife and their family. Colley gives a strong performance as 17-year old Abigail. She shows that she is a most capable actress and we can look forward to great things from her. There is good support from all other members of the cast, in particular Adrian Schiller who starts off as an accuser and then realises he is wrong.

I cannot recommend this theatrical event too highly.

It proves difficult to accept Martin Freeman as a wicked person. He tries very hard to portray the villainous Richard and in a way succeeds although there is always a niggling doubt when one looks at his kindly face. In fact this suits some of the way that director Jamie Lloyd has approached Richard 111.

This RICHARD 111 (Trafalgar Studios, London until 27 September 2014 Box office 0844 871 7632) is set in the 1970s, with tables for a conference, TV and so on. There has been a military coup but the play also references the winter of discontent before Margaret Thatcher and her Government took control. This makes Richard's "Now is the winter of our discontent," which he speaks on a microphone, particularly relevant and brought a titter from the press night audience.

The audience sits on two sides of the stage and some are seated on it. The set (designed by Soutra Gilmour) is the same throughout which means the battle scenes take place within and around the area of the desks. There is a lift on each side of the stage. Queen Margaret (Maggie Steed) is already seated at the side of the stage when the audience arrives and, in fact, she remains in or at the side of the stage throughout.

Martin Freeman as Richard & Lauren O'Neil as Lady Anne

Martin Freeman's Richard has only a small lump on his back and one withered arm. As a smooth talking villain, the production makes use of Freeman's softer attributes - this is no raving King but a psychotic villain who is able to smooth talk the widow, Lady Anne (Lauren O'Neil) when he is responsible for the murder of her husband, into marrying him. Although Freeman manages the devilish attitude of the King, he lacks the sexual power of the best Richards.

One of the best moments, when the setting comes into its own, is Richard's killing of Lady Anne in a chase around the desks culminating in his strangling her with a telephone cord. Another electric moment is submerging Clarence in a fish-tank which gradually fills with blood. There is actually a lot of blood around and those sitting near the front are advised to cover their clothes!

Those who complain of the long running time of the RSC and Shakespeare's Globe productions will be pleased to learn that this Richard has been immensely cut and only lasts two and a half hours!

The Clod Ensemble's RED LADIES (http://www.clodensemble.com), which I caught at the Purcell Room as part of the Southbank Festival and is now touring, is a strange beast. Led by choreographer/director Suzy Wilson, it features 18 women, identically dressed in red headscarves red stilettos, black trench coats and sunglasses. The women perform a lot of different pieces including being a battalion. The best of these is a kind of 50s pastiche with the women wearing print dresses of the era and portraying women dong tasks such as reading, knitting and so on. A number of the items have speech where the women share microphones, but it was difficult to hear and so understand what they were saying.

While the dance is interesting to watch, it is often hard to understand just what they are getting at.

Those hoping to see a good performance of Oscar Wilde's delightful play will be disappointed as will those expecting a comedy take on the play by a so-called am-dram group. THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST (Harold Pinter Theatre, London until 20 September. Box office: 0844 871 7615), is a very strange hybrid. The director Lucy Bailey has set Wilde's play in a framing device of an amateur dramatic company putting on a performance. There is almost a complete performance of the play within this device but the framing with dialogue written by Simon Brett, doesn't work at all well.

The idea, I presume, of having an amateur company, is to allow all the parts to be played by older actors so Nigel Havers is Algernon and Martin Jarvis is John Worthing. The only character that works well is Sian Phillips as Lady Bracknell.

In fact the issue that worried me most before seeing this production was the age of the actors portraying Wilde's young lovers, but actually that didn't matter- what did was the poor quality of the writing which topped and tailed and generally interfered with Wilde's very funny play.

Martin Jarvis and Nigel Havers in The Importance of Being Earnest

While it started as though it was a take on Michael Frayn's Noises Off, it became a somewhat poor rendition of Wilde's most famous comedy and didn't work as either.

     
     

Carlie Newman

   
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