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FILM:February 2016

One after the other Oscar contenders are opening in London. THE REVENANT (cert.15 2 hrs. 31 mins.) is not just worth seeing for the performance of Leonardo DiCaprio as Hugh Glass, a fur trapper and guide, who is left for dead after being attacked by a big bear.

Director Alejandro G. Inarritu - who won the Best Director Award at the Golden Globes 2016 - has put together a terrifically visual film which, shot in natural light by cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezeki, shows the vast wilderness of the Upper Missouri River terrain in 1823. Based on a true story, we see Leonardo drag his very injured body over the ground as he sets out to revenge those who left him for dead. Excellent performances by Tom Hardy and the young British actor Will Poulter as the two who left him after being given money by the leader of the expedition (Domhnall Gleeson) to look after Glass.

Leonardo shows that he is an actor who can depict all emotions through his face and body. He suffers bravely for his art in this film! Having won the Golden Globe for Best Actor, Di Caprio is in the lead for the same at the Oscars. The film also won Best Drama picture at the Golden Globes.

Rating ****

For female winner, look to Brie Larson who leads her rivals by her performance in ROOM (cert.15 1 hr. 58 mins.) as the mother of 5-year-old Jack (Jacob Tremblay) who escape from the one 10 by 10 foot room with no windows, just a skylight, where they have been locked up for Jack's whole life. A man just known as Old Nick has kept them confined in this small space so that Jack has never known anything outside. When they do escape he has to get used to a whole new world. The film concentrates throughout on the extremely close relationship between Jack and his mother. Both actors interrelate really well and the performances that director, Lenny Abrahamson has elicited from both are superb. The writing is very well-done too, and as the scriptwriter is Emma Donoghue, based on her original bestselling book, we must assume it is faithful to her concept.

Rating *****

Up for Best Picture and Supporting Actor - Ruffalo and Supporting Actress McAdams - is SPOTLIGHT (cert.15 2 hrs. 9 mins.)

The subject sounds distasteful but the film is actually a true and well-made account of the sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests in Boston, which was brought to light in 2002 by a remarkable team of investigators working for 'Spotlight' at the Boston Globe. The disclosure didn't just shock Boston but had a wider impact on the whole of the USA and indeed on the rest of the world.

It all starts when a new editor Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber) takes over at the Boston Globe in 2001. He identifies the story of a local priest abusing a large number of young children over his 30 years in working in the Church and he wants the Spotlight team to investigate. This means a major job of taking on the Catholic Church in Boston.

From left, Michael Keaton, Liev Schreiber, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, John Slattery,& Brian d'Arcy James in 'Spotlight'

At first some of the team, including the Spotlight editor Walter "Robby" Robinson (Michael Keaton) is concerned at the huge task and the effect it will have on their largely Catholic readership, but he and his team of reporters Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams), Michael Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo) and researcher Matt Carroll (Brian d'Arcy James) approach the job professionally and spend all their time looking first at one case and then at many more as the scale of the paedophilia is realised. They are backed up by the Globe's Deputy Editor Ben Bradlee Jr. (John Slattery)

They speak to the attorney of the victims, Mitchell Garabedian (Stanley Tucci), interview adult victims who were assaulted as youngsters and hear their very sad stories. There is an exciting sequence when Mike Resenedes rushes around to get the court records - which have been removed by the Catholic Church - released to the public. As the team pour over the documents, it becomes obvious that the scale of the abuse is much more extensive than was first suspected. The team support the Editor's view that "We're going after the system."

Obviously the Church officials, under Cardinal Bernard Law, the Archbishop of Boston (Len Cariou), are very much against the exposure, which the Spotlight team learn has been known about for decades. After publication of the true facts, Cardinal Law was forced to apologise and he resigned from his post in December 2002. He was, however, re-assigned by Pope John Paul II to the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome where he still serves!

The Boston Globe published the full article on 6 January 2002. By this time the team had confirmed that more than 70 local priests in Boston, who the Church had assigned to other parishes, were involved. They paid money to the families of the child victims to keep the cases confidential. Most of the youngsters targeted were from broken homes or those without fathers present. The resulting furore led to revelations in more than 200 cities throughout the world. And in 2002, the Spotlight team published nearly 600 stories about sex abuse by more than 70 priests whose actions had been kept secret or covered up by the Catholic Church. At the end we learn that 249 priests have been publicly accused of sexual abuse within the Boston Archdiocese, and, by 2008, 1,476 victims survived priest abuse in the Boston area.

That the film is so engrossing and runs, at times, like a thriller is due in no small way to the skill of the director, Tom McCarthy, who directs the action so that film speeds along and he uses his actors to get the best performances possible from each one. The underplaying of the Editor is done so well by Liev Schreiber that one can almost miss the subtlety he employs to enthuse his reporters. Rachel McAdams puts in a performance of great honesty as she listens carefully and sympathetically to the victims' accounts of their suffering. Mark Ruffalo is most impressive, too, as he rushes around in a most energetic manner pursuing each lead. While Stanley Tucci has a smaller part, he manages to produce a character that shows just what he has been through and how he now wants to help the journalists.

For most of you reading this, the story is no surprise as we all became aware of what was happening as a result of the Spotlight Team's work. How the film manages to put across the manner of the investigation in such a thrilling manner is not known to most of us. As a result of this film we can learn of the full extent of the investigation into terrible crimes against small children.

Rating *****

The 1991 film, "Point Break" directed by Kathryn Bigelow, was so special that the whole movie and especially the performances of Keanu Reeves and Patrick Swayze remain in our memory. The remake, POINT BREAK (cert.12A 1 hr. 44 mins.), this time directed by Ericson Core, is a big disappointment.

The two main characters are here. Our hero is Johnny Utah (Luke Bracey) who we see suffer a tragedy while taking part in an extreme sport. This causes him to quit his sport and become an FBI agent. Investigating robberies - involving stunts including motorcycling and parachuting - in Mexico and Mumbai, Utah works out that the robbers are practitioners of extreme sports and, in fact, are trying to accomplish the Ozaki Eight - challenges to "honour the beauty and power of Mother Nature." The challenges involve extreme sports which take place in different parts of the world.

With the agreement of his boss at the FBI, Instructor Hall (Delroy Lindo), and looked after by the English FBI contact, Angelo Poppas (Ray Winstone), Utah manages to become part of the gang and joins in with surfing, where at one point he is rescued by Bodhi (Edgar Ramirez), the leader of the gang. Utah remains in conflict with himself, his boss and the gang leader over exactly where he belongs and how to end the adventure.

Although Luke Bracey is very attractive to look at, the acting is pretty poor and the dialogue doesn't really assist. Ray Winstone has the same London accent that he has employed in many films and Delroy Lindo seems to be walking through his part.

The excitement - and indeed there is some - lies in watching the execution of the extreme sports. Well photographed, there are some thrilling episodes of motor bike riding, surfing, parachuting and rock climbing, all photographed well and with some excellent stunt work. I can imagine some of our 16 to 21 year olds really enjoying this!

Rating ***

Also recommended:

THE HATEFUL EIGHT (cert.18 2 hrs. 48 mins.) which is Quentin Tarantino's latest blood-filled film. In a kind of bloody re-enactment of the Agatha Christie story And Then There Were None the film relates how a group of strangers are stranded in a snowbound cabin in a deserted Wyoming. Samuel L. Jackson is mesmerizing as the bounty hunter and Jennifer Jason Leigh is his very feisty captive. Although the film is over long Tarantino keeps the action going and the blood bath is somehow never vicious.

Unusually for me, I'm recommending a film about boxing: CREED (cert.12A 2 hrs. 13 mins.) This one about the son of Rocky's former rival Apollo Creed brought tears to my eyes! Sylvester Stallone, playing an older version of the famous boxer Rocky, is actually good in this. He won Best Supporting Actor at the Golden Globes 2016.

Don't miss THE BIG SHORT (cert 15 2hrs 10 mins.): very well-acted by Ryan Gosling, Christian Bale, Steve Carrel and Brad Pitt, with some amusing lines. This is a tale of individuals betting against the banks in the 2008 crash. Now on a very short list for Best Film.

Well worth catching is the lovely little Icelandic film, RAMS (cert. 15 1 hr. 33 mins.) which shows us two battling brothers who are forced to come together when their sheep stock faces disaster.

Not quite the disaster that some forecast, DAD'S ARMY can be much enjoyed particularly by those who were not great fans of the original or who are new to the story. Not a marvelous script but so well acted by Toby Jones, Michael Gambon, Bill Nighy and lots of good British actors, that one can overlook this.

Not quite up to the standard of AMY, the documentary about Amy Winehouse, nevertheless JANIS: LITTLE GIRL BLUE (cert.15 1 hr. 47 mins), directed by Amy Berg, has some very telling interviews with Janis herself, family members and friends. Along with letters written by Janis and archive material this provides a real insight into the iconic singer who died much too soon.






The musical GUYS AND DOLLS, which is the same production that Gordon Greenberg directed at the Chichester Festival Theatre, is now on at the Savoy Theatre London (until 12 March 2016 then touring * Box office: 0844 871 7687). It is something very special. The songs and music are well-known and beautifully put across by a cast full of actors who sing (unlike many musicals which have singers who also act). As a result the story comes across very well and the songs are integrated into the tale so that it is all one delightful whole.

Sky Masterson (Jamie Parker, now with more confidence and a more definite personality than at Chichester) responds to a bet which forces him to seduce and take a Salvation Army girl, Sarah Brown (Siobhan Harrison), on a date to Havana in return for having 12 "sinners" attend the Army's prayer meeting. There is a lot of fun with the group of card players, an amazing set of gamblers, who have been given descriptive names like Nicely-Nicely Johnson. There is also a sub-plot with the showgirl Miss Adelaide (the outstanding Sophie Thompson) and her fiancÚ of 14 years Nathan Detroit (a charming performance by the wonderful David Haig).

Sophie Thompson & David Haigh

Chichester has an apron stage, so the production design has altered to a proscenium arch setting for the Savoy but satisfactorily the surrounding area of the stage still has advertising all over it and bright lights. The music seems to swell up from within the set. Director Gordon Greenberg manages the set and the actors deftly and he is greatly helped by the lively choreography of the great Cuban dancer Carlos Acosta who really comes into his own in the Havana scene. There are some very athletic dancers who move deftly around the stage.

Based on the story and characters written by Damon Runyon with music and lyrics by Frank Loesser, this production exactly captures the New York speech of the guys and their dolls as written by Runyon. All the lines are well and amusingly put across. "I never want to see him again and have him call me here," says Miss Adelaide when Nathan lets her down once again.

It is really good to see Big Jule actually played by someone genuinely very tall and Nic Greenshields (who continues in the new production) depicts Big Jule's limited intelligence very well. All the well- known songs are put across with great musicality and lots of humour. I very much like Nicely-Nicely Johnson (Gavin Spokes)'s spiritual sounding "Sit down, you're rockin' the boat.

The star of the show is undoubtedly Sophie Thompson. Her Miss Adelaide is a tremendous comic performance. She manages to put across each of her songs in a different way so that her song about developing a cold through lack of commitment from her fiancÚ Nathan varies considerably from her rendition of "Take back your mink" which she sings with her Hotbox Girls. Her whole body shows her emotions. She gives a fine comic performance in a superb musical.

*Wed 16 - Sat 19 MAR 2016 - Liverpool Empire

Tue 12 - Sat 16 APR 2016 - Edinburgh Playhouse

Tue 07 - Sat 11 JUN 2016 - King's Theatre, Glasgow

Tue 14 - Sat 18 JUN 2016 - Milton Keynes Theatre, Milton Keynes

Tue 12 - Sat 16 JUL 2016 - Bristol Hippodrome Theatre

Tue 26 - Sat 30 JUL 2016 - New Victoria Theatre, Woking

Rating *****

Important notice: The cast for the transfer to the Phoenix theatre has changed. Samantha Spiro will join the cast as Miss Adelaide, alongside Richard Kind as Nathan Detroit and Oliver Tompsett as Sky Masterson. Continuing in their roles from the Savoy to the Phoenix Theatre are Siubhan Harrison as Sarah Brown, and Gavin Spokes as Nicely Nicely Johnson.

And for the touring version: Richard Fleeshman and Louise Dearman are to lead the cast of Guys and Dolls on its forthcoming tour of the UK. Fleeshman will play Sky Masterson with Dearman playing Miss Adelaide in the Chichester Festival Theatre production, which will begins its tour at the Liverpool Empire on March 16. Dearman will perform in the show until April 30, however the tour continues until July 30. Anna O'Byrne and Maxwell Caulfield also join the cast as Sarah Brown and Nathan Detroit respectively.

RABBIT HOLE (Hampstead Theatre, London until 5 March 2016. Box office: 020 722 9301) is a most moving play about loss and the way that those remaining deal with that loss and their continuing relationship with each other.

A number of critics didn't really like this play by American playwright David Lindsay-Abaire - which actually won a Pulitzer Prize and was premiered in New York. Their complaint seems to be that not much happens in the play. I would take issue with this as everything that is said has an underlying currant of coping with the loss of a child. There is a lot going on, only it doesn't manifest itself in large action pieces or indeed dramatic occurrences. Director Edward Hall has brought out the moving story in a very clear, well-designed production.

Tom Goodman-Hill as Howie & Claire Skinner as Becca in Rabbit Hole

Some eight months' later Becca (Claire Skinner, better known now for her TV appearances in Outnumbered) is suffering from the loss of her four-year-old son who was killed by a young driver as he ran into the road chasing the family's dog. Her way of dealing with it is to get rid of her son Danny's clothes and possessions. She wants to move. Her husband, Howie (Tom Goodman-Hill looking completely different from his part in Mr Selfridge), however, wants to stay in the house. He finds it eases his pain to watch home movies showing his son playing with his parents.

Becca's sister is not a great help. Becca is upset when her younger sister, Izzy (Georgina Rich), a flighty, very chatty girl, casually announces that she is pregnant with her musician boyfriend. Becca's mother (Penny Downie) is not that much better; she talks about her own bereavement in the past and equates her daughter's with that and then she talks casually about the Kennedys and all they have suffered. The mother tries, but not very effectively to help her daughter cope.
"This feeling - does it ever go away?" Becca asks.
"No" replies her mother.

Meanwhile Danny's accidental killer, young Jason (a nice quiet performance by Sean Delaney) comes to the house trying to find peace for himself but also believing he can help Becca and Howie. It is Jason, telling a story he has written about a warren leading to parallel universes which gives the play its title. Becca tries to help Jason by telling him that it was an accident.

The evocative set shows the house the couple live in - the living area with kitchen behind and stairs going up where above we see the little boy's room.

There are many very truthful moments in this play which, I am sure will resonate with those who have lost someone close to them: the inability of the couple to make love, to lead a normal life and for ever coming back to their loss in their conversation. There is good use of humour in the writing - which again is what people use to deal with their grief. Both Skinner and Goodman-Hill are just excellent in this play. They capture the continuous pain which bereaved people carry around with them - even when they are not speaking, you can see it in their eyes.

It is sometimes a hard play to watch as losing a child is probably the greatest loss of all. Because of this I am not sure whether this play is destined for the West End. I would like to see it have legs, but have my doubts because of the subject matter. It is, however, most certainly worth a visit.

Rating ****

Adrian Lester inhabits the character of Ira Aldridge, the black American actor who performed in Othello in the London theatre for two nights at Covent Garden Theatre in 1833 in RED VELVET (Garrick Theatre, London until 27 February 2016 Box Office: 0330 333 4811)

The play by Adrian Lester's wife, Lolita Chakrabarti was first presented at the Tricycle Theatre, London. It has already been seen on Broadway and now comes to a most appropriate theatre, the Garrick in London. Lester brings the character to life. We see him arrive in London and astonish the theatre company at the Covent Garden theatre when he is called upon to play Othello - "What, a black Othello!" the company exclaim! Aldridge is to replace the famous actor Edmund Kean who has collapsed on stage.

It is not just his colour that upsets the company but the fact that he is trying to bring realism into the exaggerated gestures as used on the London stage. Ira himself, of course, would look false to our modern eyes but he brings much more reality into his performance than the other actors.

Director Indhu Rubasingham brings out the culture of the time and elicits strong performances from the whole company. We really believe in what we see on the stage. There is much to learn about the racial prejudice of the era but a lot of it is prevalent and relevant today.

The main events of the play - the few days that Ira is at the Covent Garden theatre - are bookended by scenes in Ira's dressing room in Lodz, Poland at the end of his life when he is being interviewed by a pushy journalist. These didn't work as well as the rest of the play.

The whole cast perform well, and we can see in their reaction to Ira when he tries to encourage them to make their performances better and bring some meaning into their work just how they treat him. There is an excellent portrayal by Mark Edel-Hunt of Charles Kean, who shows his anger and disappointment at Ira's arrival as he expected to get his father Edmund's parts when he collapsed. Charlotte Lucas shows us the actress Ellen Tree who actually listens and tries to learn from Ira as he helps her to put across Desdemona. And in the small but telling part of Connie, the black maid, Ayesha Antoine gives us a young woman who listens quietly but shows she is obviously adversely affected by her treatment by others. As the Manager, Pierre Laporte, Emun Elliott presents a determined man who pushes the others into working with the outsider and hopes they will learn from him. But he has to tell Aldridge to go when the critics tear him to pieces.

The star of the show is, of course, Adrian Lester who is superb as the outsider who comes into a theatre expecting to become an equal part of a renowned company, and instead finds that most of the others believe he is to be feared and that basically he is inferior.

It only has a short run, but I urge you to make an effort to see the play and enjoy Lester's wonderful portrayal of the travails of a black actor in 19th century London.

Rating ****

Just closed at the King's Head, London, I would be surprised if THE LONG ROAD SOUTH doesn't return to this theatre or another in the near future.

It's extremely hot Indiana in the summer of 1945, both weather-wise as well as politically as it's the time of the civil rights marches. Andre (Cornelius Macarthy), the black gardener, is using all his efforts to get to Alabama to take part in the protests but mainly to see his daughter who is in an Institution. He is kept in his post by the young daughter of the family who needs him for support.

This is a well-developed production by Sarah Berger, with good performances from Imogene Stubbs as the mother and Michael Brandon as the father. The servants are well played too by Macarthy and Krissi Bohn as his feisty girlfriend. Let's hope we see more of this play.

Rating ***

Just closed too is 4,00O DAYS (Park Theatre, London). Alistair McGowan plays Michael who has been in a coma for three weeks.

On waking in hospital he finds his mother Carol (Maggie Ollerenshaw) fussing over him. They are joined by his partner Paul (Daniel Weyman). While Paul and his mother argue over who should look after him, Michael cannot remember his last 10 years with Paul. Paul wants to continue their relationship but Carol encourages her son to abandon his boyfriend. Peter Quilter has written a fascinating play with lots to say about relationships - that between a mother and her son, that between a man and his male partner and that between a mother and her son's boyfriend. It's a situation we can recognise even though our circumstances may be different. Michael's mother has always been close to her son and with his illness and loss of memory she sees the chance to get control of her son's life again. Michael, who used to paint but gave it up to work in a steady job, now finds that he really wants to be an artist once more.

Those used to seeing McGowan just as an impressionist will be impressed at his skills as a formidable actor as displayed here. He is able to portray a man just waking from a long sleep and then re-establishing his relationship with his mother, but most of all coping with how to respond to the obviously very keen Paul, whose existence he has forgotten and making the big decision about how he is to lead his life in the future. Meanwhile he has to deal with the contest between his mother and former partner.

Excellent supporting performances by Daniel Weyman as the kindly supportive lover who has to face new challenges when he realises that his erstwhile partner has forgotten him. Maggie Ollerenshaw is able to move her face to show a range of expressions, from loving care for her son to an angry disapproving face when she looks at Paul. It's worth trying to catch this play if revived or put on at another theatre.

Rating ****

Also recommended

Using many of the same theatrical devices that he used in The Father Florian Zeller's companion play,

THE MOTHER (Tricycle Theatre, London until 5 March 2016. Box office: 020 7328 1000), translated by Christopher Hampton as in the other play, shows us a mother who is very distressed by her two children moving out of the family home. She is particularly close to her son (William Postlewaite) and misses him dreadfully. As in The Father scenes, and even lines, are repeated, generally in a different manner. As the play progresses we learn a lot about Anne (Gina McKee) who suffers not only from her children having flown the nest but also from her deep suspicions that her husband (Richard Clothier) is having an affair. The play has many dramatic moments, all put across well by the cast, particularly McKee.

Rating ****

Not a concert and not really a play in the normal sense, THE PIANIST OF WILLESDEN GREEN (St James Theatre until 27 February. Box office 0844 264 2140) has elements of both. Telling the story of her mother, Mona Golabek acts out the parts as she speaks. She also plays the piano and the whole event is so moving that the audience is absolutely absorbed. Over 90 minutes Mona tells how her mother escapes to England from Vienna on the Kinder transport in 1938 and was moved around. She remained passionate about playing the piano and lived through a number of homes until she was sympathetically received in a refugee home in Willesden Green. Here she was able to play the piano and studies and plays until she makes her debut in London's famous Wigmore Hall.

Peter Brook's productions are always visually exciting and so it is with BATTLEFIELD (Young Vic Theatre until 27 February). Working with Marie-Helene Estienne he manages to show the essence of the Mahabarata following the end of the major war. With an almost bare stage and few props and just four actors and a musician, Brook presents some simple truths about war and death and coming to terms with the end of life on earth. Speaking in English, the actors illustrate some fables, acting out the parts of the creatures including a worm and a falcon and pigeon. The actors make contact with the audience; at one point divesting themselves of the many scarves they have used and passing them on to 'poor people'.

"Are you poor?" The actor asks a member of the audience. "No" is the answer. "Well, you look poor," the actor says to another and gives him a scarf.

The Japanese drummer, Toshi Tsuchitori who illustrates all the stories, is amazing and we listen in rapture as he executes a solo at the end which leads into silence.

Rating ****

Although THE WINTER'S TALE (Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, London until 22 April 2016. Box office: 020 7401 9919) is not one of my favourite plays - not least because of the middle part which is set in an idyllic countryside where the old shepherd lives - director Michael Longhurst does stirling work in this lovely candle-lit theatre. He manages to bring out the comedy as well as the tremendous pain suffered by Hermione (gracefully played by Rachael Stirling) as the wife wrongly rejected by her husband, Leontes (John Light) in his extreme jealousy. He accuses Hermione of adultery with his friend Polixenes (Simon Armstrong).

Almost in darkness as the candles dim, the bloodied Hermione, who has just given birth to Leontes's daughter, appeals to him. She is backed by the feisty Paulina (Niamh Cusack) who tries to thrust the baby into Leontes's arms. The scenes between the grown Perdita (Tia Bannon) and Florizel (Steffan Donnelly), son of Polixenes, are well calibrated. Florizel is pretending to be just an ordinary man and not of high birth. The old shepherd is well played by Sam Cox and the rest of the cast work well together and enter into the spirit of Longhurst's production. There is an amusing portrayal of the villainous yet comic Autolycus by James Garnon.

Niamh Cusack as Paulina, Rachael Stirling as Hermione & John Light as Leontes in The Winter's Tale

The ending, as always is preposterous, but in the beautiful candle lit setting of the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse we can almost believe that dead Paulina comes to life.

Rating ****

THE RESTORATION OF NELL GWYNN (Park Theatre, London) is the first of two plays in London about the mistress of Charles 11. This amusing little play, shows Nell (Elizabeth Mansfield) waiting for the King to die. As she is refused permission to visit him all she and her maid Margery (Angela Curran) can do is to discuss what will happen to Nell when he dies. The political climate of the time is almost ignored except for little lectures that the two women give to the audience. There are some lovely songs by Purcell beautifully sung by Mansfield.

It is good to see the revival of Stephen Sondheim's ROAD SHOW (Union Theatre until 5 March. Box office 020 7261 9876). Telling the story of two brothers who leave home to make their fortune, Road Show shows us how they travel the country looking for the right jobs and life style. The brothers are very different and this is well brought out in director Phil Wilmot's production, as indeed is the difference in characters by the two actors, Howard Jenkins as Addison and Andre Refig as Wilson Mizner. Joshua LeClair is good as the very young wealthy Hollis, Addison's lover.

A pleasant score and some easy choreography - difficult on the small stage - make this an enjoyable show.

Rating ***


Carlie Newman

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