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FILM:February 2015

We are in the middle of Awards season. Last Sunday saw the London Critics Circle Awards ceremony and we are soon to have the Academy Awards and BAFTA.

Let's start with the 35th LONDON CRITICS' CIRCLE FILM AWARDS WINNERS. These went as follows: FILM OF THE YEAR Boyhood; FOREIGN-LANGUAGE FILM OF THE YEAR Leviathan; BRITISH FILM OF THE YEAR Under the Skin; DOCUMENTARY OF THE YEAR Citizenfour;

ACTOR OF THE YEAR Michael Keaton - Birdman; ACTRESS OF THE YEAR Julianne Moore - Still Alice; SUPPORTING ACTOR OF THE YEAR JK Simmons - Whiplash; SUPPORTING ACTRESS OF THE YEAR Patricia Arquette - Boyhood; BRITISH ACTOR OF THE YEAR Timothy Spall - Mr Turner; BRITISH ACTRESS OF THE YEAR Rosamund Pike - Gone Girl & What We Did on Our Holiday;

YOUNG BRITISH PERFORMER OF THE YEAR Alex Lawther - The Imitation Game DIRECTOR OF THE YEAR Richard Linklater - Boyhood; SCREENWRITER OF THE YEAR Wes Anderson - The Grand Budapest Hotel; BREAKTHROUGH BRITISH FILMMAKER Yann Demange - '71; TECHNICAL ACHIEVEMENT AWARD Under the Skin - Mica Levi, score; DILYS POWELL AWARD FOR EXCELLENCE IN FILM Miranda Richardson.

Both the British Academy Film Awards (BAFTA) and the Academy Awards (Oscars) have a number of the same films in the same categories. Rather than go through them all, here are MY Oscar predictions: Best Actor: Edddie Redmayne for The Theory of Everything; Best Actress Julianne Moore for Still Alice; Best picture Boyhood; Best Director Richard Linklater for Boyhood; Best Supporting Actor JK Simmons for Whiplash; Best Supporting Actress Patricia Arquette for Boyhood.

WHIPLASH (cert. 15 1hr 45mins.), tells the story of Andrew Neyman (Miles Teller) , a gifted drummer who attends the Shaffer Conservatory. His main teacher is the conductor Terence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons) who behaves in a brutal and physically abusive manner as well as denigrating the efforts of his students. The inter-action between the two develops into an almost war-like confrontation as Fletcher works to improve Andrew's performance and Andrew suffers harm from the teacher's behaviour.

Miles Teller plays a student jazz drummer with JK Simmons as his teacher in WHIPLASH

The film is well-directed and filmed and the score, in particular the drumming episodes, is fantastic. Whiplash is the name of a piece of music. Simmons is excellent as the sadistic teacher and gives an Oscar-worthy performance. Young Teller is also good in the less showy role. Highly recommended.

ALSO RECOMMENDED:

THE LAST OF THE UNJUST (cert. PG13 218mins.), is a documentary by 87-year-old Claude Lanzmann about the fate of Jews in the Holocaust, World War 11. The film is mainly a long interview with Benjamin Murmelstein. Lanzmann filmed Rabbi Benjamin Murmelstein in 1975 in Rome. Murmelstein was the last President of the Jewish Council in the Theresienstadt ghetto. He was the only surviving Jewish Elder. Theresienstadt was the model concentration camp, to which the Red Cross and high up Nazi officials were brought to view the ideal conditions in which the Jewish prisoners were housed. In reality it was a death camp. Lanzman also visits sites associated with the story of the inhabitants of Theresienstadt. It is a difficult film to watch - long and full of terrible facts about the Jews who perished under Hitler's command.

As Holocaust Memorial Day, which this year marks the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp is 27 January, may I add a personal note.

My neighbour the pianist Alice Sommer, who died last year aged 110, was the oldest Holocaust survivor in the world. She was in the Theresienstadt concentration camp with her son aged 6. They were both in the camp orchestra, he in the children's choir and thus escaped removal to extermination in Auschwitz.

Alice Herz-Sommer at home in Belsize Park, London

WILD (cert. 15 1hr. 55mins.) is worth seeing for the remarkable performance by Reese Witherspoon (nominated for an Oscar for Best Actress) who plays Cheryl Strayed. Fleeing from bad memories of a failed marriage and the tortuous death of her mother (the excellent Laura Dern) from cancer, Cheryl undertakes a hike of more than 1,000 miles on the Pacific Crest Trail in the US.

EX MACHINA (cert. 15 1hr. 48mins.) is worth seeing for its well-made quality of filmography, production design and actors. All contribute to this sci-fi tale of a beautiful robot (Alicia Vikander) and the man (Domhnall Gleeson) who is sent to test her abilities. Oscar Isaac plays the CEO who conducts the experiment. All beautifully realised by Alex Garland.

     
     

 

 


 

THEATRE TIP

A round-up of shows which have recently started:

Originally on at Waterloo Station in 2010 and 2011 the wonderfully realised site-specific production of THE RAILWAY CHILDREN can now be seen at King’s Cross Station (until 6 September 2015. Box office 0844 871 7604). Adapted by Mike Kenny and directed by Damien Cruden from E. Nesbitt’s well-known children’s book, this has all the original well-drawn characters from the book and film and places them in the specially constructed King’s Cross Theatre, a 1,000-seat theatre, complete with a railway track and platforms which have been built for this production

The children look back on their adventures when their father (Andrew Loudon) went to prison and they became “poor.” Seated on raised banks of seats at either side of the tracks, we see Roberta “Bobbie” (Serena Manteghi) tear off her red petticoat to wave it at an on-coming train to warn it of disaster ahead. The highlight is the arrival of a live steam locomotive and a vintage carriage, originally built in 1896.

It is politically more aware than the film of the same name about the miscarriage of justice and the differences between rich and poor, and it is not afraid to use emotion to illustrate Mother’s illness as well as the heart-wrenching scene of Father’s return. We see him coming through the steam from the train at the same time as his daughter, Roberta, recognises him. I think the whole audience is moved by Bobbie’s “Oh daddy! My daddy!” as her father appears.

The cast perform well. Caroline Harker is a sympathetic Mother while Mr Perks is played by one of the Downton Abbey actors, Jeremy Swift. Jack Hardwick and Louise Calf play Bobbie’s brother Peter and sister Phyllis. All are good including the numerous children and adults around. The star of the show is, of course, the train! Not to be missed.

First on at the National Theatre, then Apollo and now at the Gielgud Theatre, THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME (booking until 22 October 2015. For group bookings 020 7452 3010) remains an exciting production.

From a novel by Mark Haddon told in the first person to a stage play is a fair leap, but it is successfully managed by having Christopher's story, which he has written, being read out by his teacher Siobhan (Sarah Woodward) as the incidents are acted out by the cast most of whom play multiple rolls.

An exceptionally agile Graham Butler plays 15 year-old Christopher, who, while suffering from a form of autism, nevertheless is a brilliant mathematician. He is obsessed with facts and organised data and finds it hard to relate to people in a social context and dislikes being touched, even by his parents. When the neighbour's dog is found dead, Christopher undertakes his own forensic enquiry into who killed the dog, which leads him out into the wider world.

Having been told by his father that his mother died two years ago, Christopher is amazed to discover a different scenario and wants to discover the truth about that, too.

Director Marianne Elliott uses choreography, lighting and sound effects to depict the movement and characters of the people and objects Christopher comes across. At one point he climbs the wall; at another there is a tiny moving train which is lit up as are the houses that are all over the floor of the stage. Later a live dog makes some of us emit an "Ah!" Fluorescent numbers glide across the back and sides of the stage.

The adaptation of Haddon's book by Simon Stephens has been undertaken with extreme sensitivity so that we get a real feeling for the boy's limitations but also an awareness of the special qualities which make him the hero of his own tale.

The actors present not only characters but also the objects encountered by Christopher, almost all in mime. The whole cast is good with sensitive portrayals of Christopher’s father and his teacher by Nicolas Tennant and Sarah Woodward. Gay Soper is particularly good as an elderly neighbour. She later told some of us that each of the actors playing Christopher (there is an alternate for each of the main actors) is completely different in the part and certainly Butler does not give the same performance as Luke Treadaway, who I saw at the Apollo Theatre in 2013. Butler is remarkable in his depiction of the young boy with Asperger’s syndrome who is frightened of any physical contact or conversation with strangers and yet so gifted intellectually (he gets an A* in Maths A level). I liked the way he is able to draw perfect circles on the wall at the back and on the floor. His ability to move around the stage in an awkward but at the same time fluent manner is amazing to watch.

Backstage tours of the National Theatre are also available to book.

Awaited with great anticipation WOMEN ON THE VERGE OF A NERVOUS BREAKDOWN : THE MUSICAL (Playhouse Theatre , London until 9th May 2015 Box Office 0844 871 7631 ) couldn’t live up to Pedro Almodovar’s most amusing film of the same name which was a hit in 1988.

The play, based on the film, keeps to the same story – women who have been mistreated by their menfolk. Tamsin Greig plays Pepa, a voiceover star who has been dumped by her faithless lover Ivan (Jerome Pradon). In Madrid, we also meet his abandoned wife, played by leggy Hadyn Gwynne as a woman suffering delusions and carrying a gun. She has spent a large part of her 20 years apart from her husband in a mental hospital. There is, too, Candela (Anna Skellern), a lovely-looking model who has fallen for an Islamic terrorist who hops from her bed leaving a cache of guns under it. And then we meet Ivan’s son (Hadyn Oakley), who becomes sexually attracted to Candela, and his virginal fiancee (Seline Hizli) who manages an orgasm after consuming gazpacho laced with valium - one needs to forget Antonio Banderas who was the son in the film.

The wife’s lawyer is yet another woman (Willemijn Verkaik) but the men also make an impact particularly Ricardo Afonso as the taxi driver who Pepa confides in. The actors are lively and play their parts well. But it is Greig who keeps the show alive and moving forward. She has a pleasant but not fantastic voice but in all her body movement and acting she is superb. Her amazement when she discovers that at 42 she is pregnant is moving and funny at the same time.

Tamsin Greig, in red, with the cast of Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown

One questions why a musical? Yes, there are few good songs – Gwynne singing ‘Invisible’ and Greig’s ‘The view from here,’ but on the whole they don’t add to the story or the production as an entity.

Costumes and sets evoke the late 1980s and it is a most attractive show to watch. Director Bartlett Sher keeps the whole piece moving and the pace, particularly in the second half, buzzes along. It’s really good to see women in the lead roles and they seem to relish the opportunity. Do see it to enjoy the star performance by Greig.

Following a lot of women we have a show with an all-male cast. Looking at the predominantly very masculine audience MY NIGHT WITH REG (Apollo Theatre, London booking until 25th July 2015 Box office 0844 482 9671) is to be equally welcomed.

First performed in 1994, the play deals with four years over the 1980s as a group of male friends gradually come to terms with the impact of Aids on their lifestyle and deal with loss as friends are affected. The recent Donmar Theatre hit has now transferred to the Apollo Theatre, where, hopefully, it will have a long run.

Geoffrey Streatfeild as Daniel L. Jonathan Broadbent R. as Guy in My Night With Reg

Author Kevin Elyot has exactly caught the speech patterns and way of behaviour of the group of gay friends who meet in the flat of one of them Guy (Jonathan Broadbent) a number of times over the years all together or just one or two of them at a time. The first setting is the housewarming party which house-proud Guy throws for his old university friends. John (Julian Ovenden) for whom Guy nurses a secret loves comes along with Daniel (Geoffrey Streatfield) who lives with the absent Reg. Richard Cant and Matt Bardock are also part of this group. They play Bernie and Benny and quarrel constantle in a rather too obvious manner. Observing their antics and later joining in is young Eric (Lewis Reeves) the good-looking decorator.

It gradually turns out that virtually all present have had an affair or at least spent a night with Reg who dies from Aids and thus worries most of the remainder who fear for their own mortality. What starts as a comedy develops into somewhat darker scenario as friends die from the dreadful disease. On show is some of the best ensemble acting in the West End. Individually and collectively the cast act superbly. What a pity that Elyot died in 2014 and can’t enjoy this great production.

ALSO RECOMMENDED:

SHAW’S WOMEN (Tristan Bates Theatre, London until 31 January 2015 Box office 020 7240 6283 ) is composed of two plays by George Bernard Shaw. Little known Village Wooing and How He Lied to Her Husband both have women at the centre.

In VILLAGE WOOING we see (Madeleine Hutchins) gradually seduce A (Mark Fleischmann) into marrying her much to his reluctance right up to the end At first she 5 drives him mad by chattering when he is trying to work on a pleasure cruise and then when he turns up at her village shop she wants him to work alongside her. Director Mark Fleischmann extracts lots of humour from Shaw’s lovely writing and the little play is well acted by Madeleine Hutchins and Mark Fleischmann.

HOW HE LIED… is very different. Viss Eliot Safavi plays Aurora who has a young lover but is fearful that people will find out and her reputation will be destroyed. She is particularly disturbed when she discovers that verses addressed to her have gone missing. She persuades her lover, Henry (Josh Harper) to lie to her husband about the recipient of the poems. However when her husband (Alan Francis) doesn’t believe the young man, the results are quite unexpected. It’s a nice little play with not as much meat as the other short play but again well performed in the very small stage space which has very good sets for both plays.

Rather in the same style as Urinetown, BAT BOY (Southwark Playhouse, London until 31 January 2015 Box office 020 7407 0234). Played in a kind of rock-opera style, it is about a half-bat half- boy creature and his adventures once he is discovered in West Virginia and taken home to live with a family. It reminds me very much of Edward Scissorhands with the towns people baying for blood when the creature misbehaves.

The set design and the whole layout of the stage area is great – with a small rock band at the top and a kind of well-like structure below. Luke Fredericks brings excitement to his production. Lauren Ward plays the adoptive mother with a good voice and sympathetic characterisation Rob Crompton is an amazing creature with great mobility, a curling body and lovely singing voice. Go see for yourselves!

Rob Compton as Bat Boy

Office politics brought into a bull ring – not so outlandish a concept when you consider some of what goes on in the city today. Set around a ring with part of the audience standing and the rest above looking down not only on the bull ring stage area but also on 6 the spectators, BULL (Young Vic, London until 14 February 2015 Box office 020 7922 2922) is an exciting production played for all its worth by the actors and given a boost by director Clare Lizzimore.

Two office colleagues Isabel (Eleanor Matsuura) and Tony Adam James) gang up on Thomas (Sam Troughton) when all three are told that one of them will be made redundant. As Thomas gradually disintegrates we watch with amazement as the other two push him and bully him to his limits so that he is a sitting victim for the CEO (Neil Stuke) when he arrives.

BAD JEWS (St. James Theatre, London until 28 February 2015 Box office 0844 264 2140)

When their grandfather dies two cousins discuss his funeral, the absence of a third member of the family and the heirloom – or trinket – that the grandfather has left. Jenna Augen plays Daphna, an acerbic lady with definite views on everything, particularly the Jewish religion, Joe Coen is Jonah who is not over-enthusiastic about anything and doesn’t disagree when Daphna says she intends to have the grandfather’s Chai (a medallion) on a chain that he kept with him throughout his incarceration in a concentration camp. Things go awry when Jonah’s brother, Liam (Ilan Goodman) enters with his non-Jewish girlfriend. He and Daphna have a number of fierce arguments as he too wants the chai to give to Melody as an engagement present.

Jenna Augen and Ilan Goodman

Director Michael Longhurst brings the words of Joshua Harmon to life and although the exchange of dialogue should be faster at the beginning, the actors perform well and the piece has some interesting things to say about our past, religion and relationships.

     

Carlie Newman

   
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