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FILM: January 2008

I'm not sure if THE SAVAGES (cert. 15 1hr. 44mins.) is a film that people will enjoy, but it is certainly interesting and, unfortunately, has something for all of us to address as it deals with an elderly parent and the dilemma of what to do with him (a father in this instance) when he becomes incapable of living alone.

The savages

In this film the father and two adult children have become estranged so when the old man needs more help than can be provided in the retirement village where he lives in Arizona his offspring not only have to face how to deal with his future but also their relationship with him and, indeed, with each other as they too have not been particularly close.

It is beautifully acted by Laura Linney as Wendy, an unsuccessful playwright, who has an equally unsatisfactory liaison with a married lover and Philip Seymour Hoffman as her brother, Jon. He too has not managed a satisfactory personal relationship as he veers away from making a commitment to his long-term girlfriend. Jon, however, has employment, as a college professor. When the two siblings get together with their parent who has never shown them much affection they have to cope with him, their own lives and each other.

Philip Bosco depicts the father very well: he shows him as bitter, not asking for sympathy and he becomes more difficult as his dementia worsens. Although there is some humour, I found the film quite depressing and said as much to the director, Tamara Jenkins, when I met up with her. She, in turn, was interested in the seniors that I work with. I thought the observational humour was appropriate but didn't like hearing some members of the audience laughing at the old man wearing nappies.

The Savages

Tamara said that she was interested in middle-aged children and the older father who are all ill-equipped to deal with mortality.

no country for old men

Look out for NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN (cert.15 2hrs. 2mins.) in January: Joel and Ethan Coen direct another drugs trading film, this time set in the modern West with Tommy Lee Jones trying to sort out a man on the run (Josh Brolin) with 2 million dollars in cash being pursued by a mad villain (Javier Bardem). Lots of excitement though a tad long. This film is already being nominated for Awards.

4 MONTHS, 3 WEEKS, 2 DAYS (cert.15 1hr. 23mins.) is a gruelling film about life - or certain aspects of it - during the last years of communism in Romania. A Cannes winner, it will most probably appear in the Oscar nominations as it is well acted and written and directed by Cristian Mungiu in a naturalistic manner.

THEATRE TIP: January 2008

The revival of Alan Ayckbourn's 1972 ABSURD PERSON SINGULAR (Garrick) turned out to be not the uproariously funny comedy I was expecting but a gentler social satire rather than providing belly laughs.

Presented in a more formal three act style than we are used to these days, it shows three consecutive Christmases in three different kitchens belonging to three couples. In the first act we are with an upwardly mobile tradesman, Sidney (David Bamber) and his very nervous wife, Jane (Jane Horrocks), who are entertaining two couples.

Absurd person singular

In the second act we find ourselves in the home of one of the couples, a somewhat lecherous architect, (John Gordon Sinclair) and his wife (Lia Williams), who spends the whole act trying- unsuccessfully - to commit suicide. Finally we are in the banker, Ronald's (David Horovitch) house where he has to deal with his booze-laden wife, Marion (Jenny Seagrove).

As the first couple have risen up the social ladder, so the other two couples have declined. The comedy is well directed by Alan Strachen and beautifully acted by a cast to die for. If you go NOT expecting chuckles throughout I think you will appreciate this character driven play.

I have been more moved in the past by Chekov's play than I was during this lengthy production by the RSC of THE SEAGULL (New London). Frances Barber was suitably over the top as the actress Arkadina, but Romola Garai was disappointing as Nina, the young neighbour driven by passion. While her body movement was expressive with a tentative reaching out for Trigorin, the novelist lover of Arkadina, her voice was too high pitched and unrelaxed. The two best performances were given by William Gaunt as old man Sorin happily sitting in his chair smoking and Monica Dolan as Masha, the daughter of the estate Steward, hiding her love for Konstantin, Arkadina's son.

the seagull

The almost bare stage extends into the auditorium and brings an immediacy to this and also to the RSC's KING LEAR.

King Lear

As with The Seagull, Lear is directed by Trevor Nunn. Rightly receiving praise for the most moving performance by Ian McKellen, the production demonstrates a true ensemble and all the characters interact.

The play is presented clearly so those knowing nothing of the story should be able to follow everything. A too proud Lear turns against his youngest daughter, Cordelia (Romola Garai), when she refuses to gush over him as her two sisters do. Later when Lear is denied the treatment he believes he merits by the same daughters, he takes the tattered remnants of his pride into the stormy elements where he fears for his sanity. He descends into madness but somehow rallies at the end when Cordelia returns to him and he realises that she truly loves him and he her.

All this is portrayed in an agonisingly moving way by McKellen, who seems to have reached exactly the right age and maturity to take on this part. The much heralded nude part where McKellen shows all lasts oh, about 20 seconds and reveals how he is stripped of everything and is vulnerable to the elements. But Garai has more depth than in The Seagull and her Cordelia is a fragile beauty. The scene between Garai and McKellen towards the end of the play really pulls on the heart strings. As in Much Ado there is a illegitimate brother in this play, too - why are they all so venomous? As the two plays are only on till 12 January I recommend getting to the New London Theatre in Drury Lane early in the morning to queue for day tickets - this is a rarity, a play really worth trying hard to see.

The National Theatre continues its run of well-staged plays. The first, a modern interpretation of Euripedes' WOMEN OF TROY directed in a stylish manner by Katie Mitchell, is not really to my taste: I am not a particular lover of modern dress productions where they don't seem to add to the original concept, and I found many of the actresses declaimed on one note

women of troy

However the staging - the women are confined in a ferry terminal - is most imaginative and the pathos of the women as they gradually lose their children, husbands and in the end, themselves into enslavement, is often moving. I didn't feel as though I was watching a great Greek classic - but perhaps that is the point?

Much ado about nothing

On the other hand there is the delicious MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING at the NT in a production which highlights not only the banter and aggressive feeling that turns into love between the two reluctant lovers, Beatrice and Benedict, but also the effect of the balmy weather in Sicily that allows the characters to spend their time chatting, plotting mischief and eating outside. Everything about Director Nicholas Hytner's production is spot-on. The set consists of a revolving turntable which moves from the family eating, to the garden, then a church setting - all fluently executed. The costumes are more traditional, but the lovers certainly aren't. For the first time in my viewing of this play we have a mature Benedict in the shape of Simon Russell Beale with greying hair and an older Beatrice played by Zoe Wanamaker with all the yearning of a woman who feels that she forfeited her last chance of love when she let Benedict go in the past.

Beatrice's first words are about Benedict and when he appears there is an obvious spark between them as they mock each other.

"Lady Disdain. Are you still living?" asks Benedict. The scene where, as they hide, friends persuade each of them that the other loves them is achingly funny and ends with, literally, a splash. Russell Beale and Wanamaker capture the humour and sensitivity of their characters, although the dripping wet RB is no Colin Firth! They are, however, two excellent portrayals. We see Benedict and Beatrice change from a middle-aged bachelor and singleton into a mature man and woman able to finally express their love for each other.

The sub plot whereby Hero is maligned as a whore by Don John, the wicked bastard brother is obviously not humorous but it is well played here and the machinations of those involved clearly explained. Even the small parts are well acted and Mark Addy is most amusing as Dogberry, the constable.

The truly Italian feel of the play is enhanced by subtle lighting which gives a real feel of sunshine and also by the musicians and singers on stage. At a midweek matinee there was hardly an empty seat. Do try to get tickets. You will enjoy the play and wonderful performances. At the NT until 29 March.


Carlie Newman

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