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FILM: January 2009

Full of surprises - or should I say shocks - THE READER (cert.15 2hrs. 3 mins.) stars Ralph Fiennes and Kate Winslet. In 1995 Michael (Ralph Fiennes) remembers back to when he was 15 and met Hanna (Winslet), a woman of 36.

The Reader

They have a passionate and secretive affair until Hanna mysteriously disappears. While together Hanna's great joy was to listen to Michael reading to her. The film moves to eight years later when Michael, now a student of law, discovers Hanna, a former SS prison guard, being tried for Nazi war crimes. The film covers different periods and moves between them.

Directed by Stephen Daldry, from a script by David Hare based on the best seller by Bernard Schlink, the film deals with the next generation in Germany coming to terms with the terrible crimes of their parents' generation.

At a press conference Winslet spoke about the harrowing process of researching for the film then discussing the incidents with the committed German film-making crew. Apparently David Kross who plays young Michael had to turn 18 before being allowed to film the sex scenes with Winslet. She also had to endure four hours in the make-up chair to be turned into middle-aged Hanna and later the 65 year-old. It was a difficult shoot for Kate as she was unable to draw on her own life for this role. The film is extremely well-acted and Winslet is very likely to be nominated for an Oscar and the film, too, may well gain a nomination for best film.

RACHEL GETTING MARRIED (cert.15 2hrs.) sounds like the usual romantic light weight film, but, in fact, has more depth to it. Directed by Jonathan Demme the film deals sensitively with a young woman with substance abuse health issues who returns to the family home for the wedding of her sister. Anne Hathaway is Kym, going home after a stay in a residential rehab facility, and the other parts, including Debra Winger, as her mother, are all well played in a film which is sometimes highly amusing and at other times is emotionally painful. The ensemble acting is like a Robert Altman film where everyone acts separately but yet the whole comes together. The film manages to cover a number of important areas with great subtlety.

You would think Nicole Kidman ideal as the female lead in a film called AUSTRALIA (cert.12A 2hrs. 45mins.), wouldn't you? Well, here she plays Lady Sarah Ashley, an English aristocrat who travels to Australia to see what her errant husband has been up to. When she finds that he has been killed, she is forced to turn to the Drover (a very handsome Hugh Jackman) to help her with her sheep and save her property and also to defeat the wicked cattle king (Bryan Brown) who was responsible for her husband's murder.

Australia

Director, Baz Luhrmann, has set his film in the lead-up to World War 11. The couple come to care for a half-caste Aboriginal boy, Nullah (an enchanting performance from Brandon Walters).

The film develops in a pale copy of the Katherine Hepburn/Humphrey Bogart relationship in African Queen. With a touch of Rhett Butler at the ball, it segues into Gone With the Wind later on with a burning Darwin behind her as Sarah searches for Nullah, plus a little of From Here to Eternity. The sexist and racist society we have observed at the beginning starts to change. Rather a strange mixture of genres, the film is interesting as a romantic tale, but very little of it seems to relate to Australia in particular - if you walked into a cinema in the middle of it, apart from the accents, one might think it was set in the USA West.


THEATRE TIP

To start the year with a big joyous musical, go to CAROUSEL (Savoy). You will be greeted by a lovely set showing a carousel at a fairground and later other video filmed backgrounds.

Carousel

We get a very good picture of a Maine fishing village. The story of the two mill girls and their loves is full of drama and, in particular, we focus on Julie and her great love for Billy, who proves a ne'er do well. Later after he has been killed he goes up to heaven, (in a fantastic elevation which takes him to 'Deliveries') and sees the effect his life has had on Julie and their young daughter.

There are some great songs and, as with other West End musicals currently on offer, they are all beautifully sung. Alexandra Silber, Julie, gives a lovely rendition of If I loved you in which she is joined by the equally melodious Jeremiah James as Billy.

The music should always be the most important ingredient of a musical and here we not only have wonderful singers but a chorus of young men who not only sing but dance in a most energetic manner. Adam Cooper, the choreographer, has achieved wonders on this fairly small stage.

Lesley Garret

Lesley Garrett, as Nettie, Julie's cousin, has an American accent that wanders from Maine somewhat, but sings You'll Never Walk Alone like an angel.

In a much smaller space there is an equally well-sung - except for the Madame Armfeldt of Maureen Lipman, who more than makes up for it in the acting stakes - A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC at the Chocolate Factory Menier Theatre. With music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and direction by Trevor Nunn, we are promised a delicious evening and so it proves. A good story with lovely songs sung with gusto by Hannah Waddington as Desiree Armfeldt, the older woman who gradually realises her love for Frederik (a sensitive, well-sung performance by Alexander Hanson) and then sees that he really loves his young wife (Jessie Buckley, playing the right age for her musical theatre debut after coming second in the choosing Nancy reality TV show). Send in the Clowns is not only beautifully sung but also performed with an underlying sadness. And Lipman? A great performance in the Lady Bracknell style. Her daughter, Desiree, shows distinct signs of following in her mother's footsteps: She tells Countess Charlotte who is suffering from hiccoughs, "May I suggest you hold your breath.for a very long time."

Another small theatre, Hampstead, has THE LITTLE PRINCE (until 10 Jan.) adapted and directed by Anthony Clark. Children at the performance I saw enjoyed the audience participation moments and there was a lovely overhead moving mobile. In fact, the sets and lighting were fine, but having a young woman as the little Prince didn't quite work and there was a Sarah Palin moment when someone announced, "This is Africa." Not very instructive for the ethnically mixed kids in the audience.

LOOT at the Tricycle (till 31 Jan.), which I suppose holds about the same number as Hampstead, has a good version of the play by Joe Orton. I think that David Haigh is one of the very best comedy actors around at the moment and his depiction of Inspector Truscott of the yard is a cornucopia of delights. While nurse Fay (Doon Mackichan) gets ready to depart, leaving a corpse behind a lot of mishaps occur as the son of the family and his friend try to hide their money in the coffin. The two young men, Matt Di Angelo and Javone Prince, do not come across strongly but the rest of the cast are fine with Mackichan putting on a brave show as the nurse whose seven previous husbands have all died in somewhat strange circumstances! The play, although a little dated, stands up well and the sardonic mockery of Church and the law plays as well today as it did in 1964.

And there is a jolly version of DICK BARTON: the Devil Wears Tweed (until 22 Feb.) at an even smaller theatre - the Warehouse, Croydon. A cast of seven act all parts and play musical instruments as well. While the singing, apart form Elizabeth Park, is very ordinary and the dancing not in the Strictly Come Dancing mould, the actors, well-directed by Ted Craig, perform energetically on the small stage and it is a real fun evening. Apparently 60% of the audience come from the Croydon area but as it is only 2 mins. from the station, everyone should be able to get there.

Well

Back to the West End and WELL (Apollo) which has a good idea somewhere behind the story of Lisa Kron who explores her own relationship with her mother and her conflict between being ill all the time like her mother or healthy like most other people. Though quite well-written the theatre's posters describe it as being a "righteous comedy" and it is only amusing in parts. Apparently it was a great success in New York and, perhaps, it does not translate well to our London stage.

It is good to see Sarah Miles (Ann Kron) back in the theatre as Lisa's mother, but her American accent gets a little squeaky from time to time. Natalie Casey (Lisa Kron) gives a very American interpretation of the fast-talking daughter into allergies and their cures, and the other actors play all the other characters that appear in Lisa and her mother's lives. There is a Pirandello touch as the actors address Lisa about the play she has created. But it does not have his skill and although it only runs for just over an hour and a half with no interval, is never really absorbing.

We also have Derek Jacobi giving a magical display of acting skills in Shakespeare's TWELFTH NIGHT (Donmar season at Wyndham's). Jacobi's Malvolio, Olivia's Steward, who is tricked into exposing his vanity by wearing strange clothes and believing his mistress fancies him, might seem to dominate over-much, but that is only because Jacobi is so superb in the part that one can't take one's eyes off him.

Twelth Night

But Michael Grandage has directed a sharp, carefully constructed production and all the parts add up to a most satisfactory whole. Guy Henry as the very tall Sir Andrew Aguecheek along with a nicely rounded Ron Cook as his constantly drunk companion Sir Toby Belch and Samantha Spiro as the maid, Maria, who devises the plot against Malvolio, work very well together. As does Mark Bonnar's Orsino who gradually falls in love with Viola dressed as a boy. As with other current West End productions Zubin Varla is in great voice as he sings "O Mistress Mine." The evening really belongs to Jacobi who shows Malvolio's vulnerability whilst bringing out the humour in the part, in particular when he practises his smile before presenting himself to Olivia. It plays until 7 March so do try to see it!

     
     

Carlie Newman

   
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