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FILM:February 2014

THE WOLF OF NEW YORK (cert. 18 3 hrs.) is a tale of greed, living to excess, fraud, drink and drugs, with a bravura performance from Leonardo DiCaprio. Based on a true story, DiCaprio plays Jordan Belfort, the New York stockbroker who made a huge fortune by defrauding investors out of millions of dollars.

He begins as an ordinary Wall Street stockbroker who does really well through his ability to sell anything to even the most sceptical of buyers. He quickly moves upwards until he owns a company, Stratton Oakmont, which just gets bigger and bigger. On the way he recruits a band of people - his main assistant being Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill) - who are only too happy to make the money with him and enjoy spending it. And how Jordan spends it!

Jonah Hill & Leonardo DiCaprio

He goes overboard by indulging in alcohol and drugs which he gives out freely to his mates. He also lays on hedonistic parties and activities for his employees and they enjoy a wild life on a lesser scale than their boss but still use drugs and enjoy sex with good-time girls.

On the way up Jordan dumps his wife and marries a lovely blonde supermodel (British Margot Robbie). He employs his father (Rob Reiner), who sees what is going on but is powerless to stop his now extremely rich son and even has a rather bizarre conversation about prostitutes with him.

Director Martin Scorsese brings to life the dissolute life of this multi-millionaire who purchases luxury cars, goods and a huge yacht and flaunts his riches. Jordan's wealth is, however, built on illegal trading practices and eventually the FBI start to investigate led by Agent Patrick Denham (Kyle Chandler) who resists all attempts by Jordan to corrupt him. Of course the all too easy rise of Jordan Belfort leads inevitably to his downfall and we see how the fall hits him very hard.

Scorsese has caught the atmosphere of Wall Street and the luxurious life led by Jordan and other wealthy stockbrokers very well and he gets tremendous performances out of his cast. Chief amongst these is, of course, DiCaprio who captures the avariciousness of the stockbroker and his indulgence in everything that pleases him without bothering how he achieves his aims or by what means. He has rightly been nominated for an Oscar but my money - if I had any - goes on Chiwetel Ejiofor for his performance in 12 Years A Slave.

The film, although a tad long (probably due to the fact that DiCaprio is one of the producers) is very well made with a good cast and an excellent performance by DiCaprio in the lead. Highly recommended.

Also recommended: INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIES (cert 15 1 hr. 45 mins.) is a gorgeous film about a struggling folk singer in the 1960 Greenwich Village scene. Having lost his singing partner, Llewyn Davies is loth to compromise in any way and ambles along without committing himself to his former folk singer lover, played in a foul mouth manner by Carey Mulligan.

Oscar Isaac gives a wonderful performance as the eponymous singer and the film is beautifully directed by Joel and Ethan Cohen and photographed by Bruno Delbonnel. And, of course, we have authentic folk songs. This is one of the few films that I chose to view a second time and I relished it even more and watching the cat sequences gave me a lot of laughs!






Telling spooky tales to a group of mates in an Irish pub was just right for the intimate setting of the Donmar Warehouse Theatre, but now THE WEIR has moved to the larger Wyndham's Theatre (Until Apr 19. Box office: 0844 482 5120), and in the process loses its closeness to the audience and the feeling we had of being right inside the pub, almost eavesdropping on its inhabitants. I was glad to smell the wood-burning stove as I entered the auditorium and once the play starts the audience once again becomes spellbound as it listens to the tree men and one woman talking about their lives and telling each other ghost stories.

This finely written play by Conor McPherson is directed by Josie Rourke and has a near-perfect cast of actors, who put across all the loneliness of their individual characters.

Taking place in a rural setting in 1977 (the year the play was premiered), Brendan's pub welcomes three men to their evening pint or three. Joining them this evening is a stranger, a woman who asks for white wine. As each of the men tell their stories Valerie, who seems, impressed, listens carefully before topping them with a chillingly tragic tale of her own.

From left: Dervla Kirwan, Brian Cox, Ardal O'Hanlon and Risteard Cooper in 'The Weir'

Brian Cox as Jack, Ardal O'Hanlon as Jim, Risteard Cooper as Finbar work well together and are believable as mates. They are supported by ever-helpful Barman, Brendan (Peter McDonald). Dervla Kirwan displays the right mixture of awkwardness and city sophistication as she joins in the banter. Unused to ladies in his bar, Brendan takes Valerie into the house to use the toilet.

This is a very well-written play with a great setting - it looks as though the characters are sitting in a genuine pub. Cox is excellent as the seemingly gruff Irishman who expresses his loneliness in a magnificent speech at the end.

George Savvides reviews THE PARDONER'S TALE at the Unicorn Theatre (until the 31st of January. Box office 020 7645 0560).

"People are very impressed if you speak foreign words" the enigmatic pardoner of Geoffrey Chaucer's creation announces after his grand entrance. He is accompanied by two musicians and all three first introduce the Latin terms of the seven deadly sins before they go through each one of them in English. "Greed is the root of all evil whereas Lust is not a subject for seven-year-olds so let's just say Desire for the time being" Gary Langden's impressive pardoner says mischievously.

This adaptation by Tangere Arts is based on "The Pardoner's Prologue and Tale" from Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. 600 years ago Pardoners were men working for the church who were selling pardons, supposedly written by the Pope, to god-fearing people. These tricksters were making a lot of money for the church by taking advantage of simple folks' superstitions and their fears of hell and purgatory.

"Although I am a dishonest man I will tell you a moral tale" the Pardoner begins his tale of three men who once set out on a journey to kill Death and get rich quick. Gary Langden is an excellent performer and manages to hold his audience from his very first entrance. He is a powerful presence and effortlessly switches voices as well as accents in order to play various different roles. He is well accompanied by the talented musicians -Christopher Preece and Hannah Marshall- who provide the music, the sound effects and animate the impressive shadow theatre scenes.

Director Lewis Gibson who also adapted and composed the music delivers an attractive and very enjoyable production.

THE BLACKEST BLACK on at the Hampstead Theatre Downstairs (until 8 February Box office: 020 7722 9301) is not such a good play as the other have been this season. While interesting it is not compelling enough to give one more than passing pleasure.

While working as an intern at a space station on the Arizona desert, English artist, Abi (Charity Wakefield) has formed a sexual relationship with the married, but cold and introverted scientist, Martin (John Light). She is friendly with the somewhat shy technician Chuck (Ian Bonnar) and gets him to deviate from his work to show her the pictures of Saturn on the giant telescope.

Charity Wakefield & John Light

Abi, an artist, clashes with Martin as she views the world very differently from the astronomer's take on life. Chuck gets caught up in the drama between these two loud characters and disappears.

While the first act is set in the confined space of the space station with computers, scientific instruments and office equipment all around, the second act takes place in Abi's unkempt room where she has no food and no proper bedding. As usual Hampstead has impressive sets and design. We see this to great effect in a sequence where Abi and Martin work together on a piece of abstract art. A rather strange, unsatisfactory ending does not help this piece, but the actors are good and the audience can learn something about space and the study of planets and stars.

In the main Hampstead Theatre (until 22 February. Box office: 020 7722 9301), RAPTURE, BLISTER, BURN has an impressive cast in another interesting play, although somewhat disappointing in that it comes across as a discourse on feminism and feminist literature rather than a study of human relationships.

(from left) Shannon Tarbet, Polly Adams & Emilia Fox

American dramatist Gina Gionfriddo brings together in a small New England town three friends who were at grad-school together. Their lives have taken very different paths. Catherine (Emilia Fox) comes to visit Don and Gwen Harper, who are a couple with two children. All are in their early 40s and we learn that Catherine and Don were once an item. While Catherine is a successful academic with a high media profile, Don is a junior dean at a local college, who feels disappointed with his life and takes pot and drinks a lot and also watches internet porn.

His wife Gwen, who was once Catherine's close friend, now looks after her children with no outside job. She envies Catherine her working lifestyle while Catherine feels she has missed out on a husband and children.

In a series of seminars that Catherine gives to the very small group, she, her mother, Gwen (Polly Adams) and Avery (Shannon Tarbet), the modern young babysitter, with boyfriend trouble of her own, discuss a woman's place in the home, in love and out in the world. As part of their discussions they talk about pornography and the rise of "degradation as entertainment." They also talk about their own lives and what they should do.

Catherine, who has come home to see her mother who has had a heart attack, finds that she is still attracted to Don and believes she could change his attitude to work and life. When Gwen learns of this she devises a plan to swop places with her friend. But is the grass always greener on the other side?

Peter DuBois directs his excellent cast with a strong sense of the meaning behind the words. Emilia Fox shows that a female academic can be sexy and sharp as well as an intellectual. Emma Fielding is very good at showing her unhappiness and discontent with her present life, while Adam James portrays the boozy, drug-fuelled lazy guy to the manner born. The surprise is young Shannon Tarbet, giving us a good picture of a sparky young woman who knows more about some aspects of life than her elders. I like, too, Polly Adams as the old mother who insists she is not going to die and provides wise words based on her own life.

Intelligent and witty it may be, but the play feels as though one is at a seminar on gender politics at times. It is frequently static, more like a lecture. Would women like this more than men? That, in itself, provides a different argument.

Every time I see GHOSTS, now on at the Trafalgar Studios (until 22 March. Box office: 0844 871 7632), I vow that I won't see it again as I find it so harrowing to watch. However, news of Lesley Manville's stupendous performance brings me to the Trafalgar Studios where the play has transferred from its run at the Almeida theatre. And, indeed, Manville, is really great. She brings a powerful, yet, on the whole, quiet passion to the role of the mother who loves her son with all her heart, but has to face the fact that he has inherited his father's venereal disease.

Henrik Ibsen wrote this paly in 1881 and apart from the costumes and some of the ideas, the meaning behind the play as it deals with male dominance, incest, syphilis, social repression and motherly love, resonates today. Director Richard Eyre operates a tight ship and the play, thankfully, runs without an interval for 90 minutes.

Lesley Manville as Helene & Jack Lowden as Oswald Alving

We, the audience, are gripped from start to finish as we observe Helene Alving (Lesly Manville) , now an attractive middle-aged, rich widow following the death of her husband, as she tries to re-ignite the passion that once flowed between her and Pastor Manders (a suitably cold Adam Kotz), only to be rejected. We watch in horror as her son, Oswald (Jack Lowden) flirts with the maid and seems to be re-playing the past behaviour of his lecherous father.

Using a very well-designed set which allows us to see what is happening behind the glass sliding door panels towards the back, the director shows us gradually over a number of scenes what is happening in the household. So we see the maid Regina (Charlene McKenna) with her father, Jacob Engstrand (Brian McCardie), who wants her to work in a kind of brothel for seamen as well as the gradual deterioration, both mentally and physically of Oswald, excellently put over by Lowden who shows the boy in a most distressed state.

Throughout all this the actors keep to the spirit of Ibsen and put across his dialogue, in a good flowing translation from the Norwegian. And the wonderful Manville - well, she deserves all the praise already heaped on her. Take the opportunity to go to this as soon as you can.

For once it is the theatre that gets most praise. The Sam Wanamaker Playhouse at the Globe has just opened with a most original production of John Webster's Jacobean play, THE DUCHESS OF MALFI (until 16 February. Box office: 020 7401 9919). The theatre has been beautifully built as a Jacobean indoor theatre and is completely lit by candles in huge candelabra which are continually lit, extinguished and then re-lit. Inside is nice and warm but although it is a bit more comfortable and certainly warmer than the Globe, it is not that comfortable. The seats are cushioned but many of the benches have no backs and where there is a back there is a ledge half way up. The auditorium seats 340 people with a pit and two tiers of galleries, as well as a balcony over the stage for the musicians. The ceiling is beautifully painted with a view of the heavens and there is a lot of mellow oak-wood. All the audience are near to the stage which makes us feel much more involved in what is going on.

Not one of my favourite plays, it gains by being played in this beautiful setting and the costumes look absolutely scrumptious. The musicians in the gallery are most impressive as is the score by Claire van Kampen.

While Arterton looks lovely, she is a somewhat mild Duchess and you don't feel her great love for Antonio (Alex Waldman) or indeed her anguish at the death of her children or her anger at the terrible behaviour of her two dastardly brothers.

Gemma Arterton plays the Duchess in the Globe's artistic director Dominic Dromgoole's production.

David Dawson is most sinister and scary as Ferdinand, who has an incestuous passion for his sister, the duchess and later goes mad. James Garnon, the other brother, is a most corrupt cardinal and Sean Gilder gives a strong performance as the villainous Bosola, who develops a conscience when it is almost too late.

However, the production looks wonderful and I happily await more in this lovely little gem of a theatre.


Carlie Newman

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