FILM: January 2011
There are lots of good films coming up at the beginning
of 2011. Let's start with Danny Boyle's 127 HOURS
(cert 15 1hr. 34mins.), which tells the true story of climber Aron
Railston's (James Franco) ordeal. This is a very well made film
that shows the climber in a canyon with his arm stuck under a boulder
struggling to free himself. Boyle has shot the film almost entirely
in the confined space that formed Aron's virtual prison, and almost
entirely with the one actor.
At the press conference for the film, James Franco told how, with
the help of Boyle, he had learnt to challenge himself and grow out
of his comfort zone. The film was shot pretty much in the order
that events took place which made it easier for the actor to develop
his character in the extreme conditions in which he found himself.
Franco said that the film was given authenticity by him actually
experiencing the physical demands on his body. Don't let all the
publicity which tells you what happens put you off seeing this film.
This has been nominated for best actor, best screenplay and best
As has a cracker of a film: THE KING'S SPEECH
(cert.12A 1hr. 40mins.), which deals with the unknown story of how
King George V1's nervous stammer was virtually cured by an Australian
speech therapist. The King's Speech also receives nominations for
best picture, best director, best supporting actress (Bonham Carter)
and best supporting actor (Geoffrey Rush).
The leading actor, Colin Firth is excellent as the diffident Duke
of York, known as Bertie, who has to deputise for his father, King
George V and finds the experience so excruciating as he stammers
his way through the speech, that his wife, Elizabeth (Helena Bonham-Carter)
is moved to tears. They both search for cures and are introduced
to all kinds of quacks until eventually Elizabeth discovers Lionel
Logue (Geoffrey Rush), an unorthodox speech therapist who insists
on using an informal way of address. He works the future King hard
so that by the time he is made King, on the abdication of his brother,
Edward, who quits the throne to be with his American divorcee, Wallis
Simpson, he is able to perform his public duties.
There are towering performances by the main actors and Colin Firth
has already been put forward for best actor in the Golden Globes.
Bonham Carter gives good support as Queen Elizabeth (our Queen's
mother). There is also a lovely cameo by Jennifer Ehle as Logue's
wife, who doesn't know that she is meeting royalty when introduced
to her husband's patient.
And then we have one of the highlights of the recent London Film
Festival, which is said to be a shoe-in for Awards in the coming
months, BLACK SWAN (cert.15 1hr. 50mins.), which
is also out in January. It is up for best actress, best supporting
actress, best director and best picture for the forthcoming Golden
Globes. A piece that works as a thriller, a psychological fantasy
and a drama about the world of ballet, this film should appeal to
a range of tastes. Natalie Portman plays Nina who is finally given
her chance to be the star in a new production of Swan Lake. With
both real and imagined trouble at the hands of her rival (Mila Kunis)
and struggling with a range of sexual feelings for the artistic
director (Vincent Cassell), Nina is beset by twisted thoughts and
actions. Director, Darren Aronofsky, has fashioned a really well-crafted
film that scores high with its lighting, music (well, you can't
go far wrong with Swan Lake), casting and photography.
Let's start celebrate the end of 2010 and the start
of the new year with LOVE STORY (Duchess Theatre
booking until 30 April 2011). Far from the cloying sweetness of
the 1970 film of the same name, this one is produced simply, in
an almost concert performance, which works well on the smallish
Director, Rachel Kavanagh, has fashioned a delightful
musical out of Erich Segal’s best-
selling novel. Events take place in 1963-1968 and the musical tells
the same story of how the very different Jenny Cavilleri and Oliver
Barratt IV meet, fall in love and then have to prepare themselves
for the inevitable when Jenny is told she has a fatal disease. Oliver
(Micheal Xavier) is the preppy Harvard scholar from a traditional
family, where he addresses his father as “Sir” while
Jenny (Emma Williams) is American, of Italian descent, and calls
her father by his first name. By dint of her musical excellence
she is studying at Radcliffe.
The other close relationships explored are that of Oliver and his
difficult-to-get-close-to father and Jenny's close warm friendship
with her father. As the play runs for only one and a half hours
without an interval, we are not allowed to see very deep into these
pairings. The couple are both good singers and look comfortable
in their roles and with each other. Jenny has more feisty lines
than her partner and Emma Williams delivers them wittily. She has
a sweet singing voice. Michael Xavier is good looking and the right
age to convince us that he is a student. Although they have small
parts Peter Polycarpou as Phil, Jenny’s father and Richard
Cordery as Oliver’s are well contrasted and performed.
Although love and bereavement do not necessarily
fit in with the modern idea of a jolly musical, by starting with
Jenny's funeral, the audience is well prepared for the final ending.
Stephen Clark, who has written the book and lyrics for this show,
has added the character of Jenny's dead mother. This is effective
as Jenny is able to talk to her. The music, composed by Howard Goodall,
works well with the words and there is a particularly amusing pasta
song, in keeping with Jenny's cooking based on her Italian background.
The intimate setting and staging, with the musicians on stage, means
that the audience feels close to the action and can thus become
really involved in what is frequently, an emotional journey.
As reported last month, The Royal Shakespeare Company has taken
up residence at the Roundhouse Theatre in London. The layout virtually
replicates the interior design of the Courtyard Theatre in Stratford
and so the plays, which now come to London, work very well here.
First out is ROMEO AND JULIET (until 1 January)
and under director Rupert Goold once again comes across as a full-bodied
production with robust performances by all.
The young lovers actually seem like adolescents as they discover
their mutual attraction and can't wait to be married and spend the
night together. While all around them are dressed in Renaissance
costume, the two young ones wear modern clothes to emphasis their
Juliet (Mariah Gale) wears trainers, Romeo (Sam Troughton)
wears a hoodie and he and his friend Mercutio ride around on bicycles.
This works well until the final scene where everyone appears in
modern dress. The scene between Juliet and her father when he orders
her to marry Paris is most reminiscent of a rebellious teenager
arguing with her dad.
The set is terrific with lots of fire and fights arranged around
and, seemingly, through the flames. A very boisterous Jonjo O'Neill
as Mercutio virtually steals the early part of the show with his
showmanship and charismatic portrayal. The dancing at the ball goes
on rather too long and a lot of the dialogue is shouted except for
Lady Capulet (Christine Entwhistle) who is too soft to hear. But
I enjoyed the performances of the young lovers, particularly the
post-wedding scene where one could really believe that they had
just come from bed. It is, after all, an Italian tale, and the whole
production reminds me of Zefferelli's modern take of the play, in
The next RSC transfer from Stratford is ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA
(until 30 December). I was not at all keen on Kathryn Hunter's portrayal
of Cleopatra, so, this time round, GEORGE SAVVIDES
writes for us:
Michael Boyd's uneven modern dress production arrives at the Roundhouse
despite a lukewarm reception when it first opened in the summer
at Stratford's Courtyard Theatre. Tom Piper's copper barrel set
suits perfectly this recently refurbished theatre and it represents
the smouldering climes of Egypt versus the cool senate of Caesar
- sultry turquoise colour of the east versus the crisp suits of
Rome. Acclaimed actress Kathryn Hunter brings the necessary fire
and passion to Cleopatra despite the fact that she is not the obvious
choice for the stunningly beautiful Queen of the Nile. Darrell D'Silva
brings power and a sense of a trapped animal to his Antony but shares
zero chemistry with Hunter. He is dressed in combat gear and feels
more comfortable in the desert rather than the Roman government
while Hunter unwisely falls into comedy in certain scenes. There
is a touching moment when Caesar (John Mackay) kisses his sister
Octavia (Sophie Russell) goodbye knowing that he has pushed her
into an unhappy marriage to Antony, but overall it is difficult
to care much about the characters. Boyd's production lacks urgency
and danger and by the end we are certainly not moved by the death
of Antony and his Egyptian Queen.
Just right for the holiday period are two really excellent shows
for the whole family. They are very different but both exciting.
There is a small production of BEASTS AND BEAUTIES (Hampstead Theatre,
London until 31December), Small in scale, it may be, but big in
scope as it covers eight traditional stories retold by Carol Ann
Duffy and dramatised by Tim Supple and Melly Still, who also directs.
Children from eight upwards will get great enjoyment from the stories
- some are very gruesome, like The Juniper Tree where the wicked
second wife kills her stepson and serves him up as a stew to his
father! Others including The Husband Minding the House outright
The Emperor's New Clothes is pure fantasy combined
with much humour as the Emperor covers his private part with a variety
of objects that come to hand!
The set is simple but by re-grouping items of furniture and props
it is transformed into a magic wood, a palace, a kitchen or anywhere
the designers fancy and the audience is more than happy to follow.
The small band of actors move from role to role with ease and the
audience sees them transform into different characters. Jack Tarlton's
beast in Beauty and the Beast is terrifying but undergoes a simple
on-stage transformation into the prince. That it all works comes
to fruition at the end when the cast hands around invisible food
and drink and some of us try to swop our G &Ts for champagne!
The musical adaptation of Roald Dahl's MATILDA
(Courtyard Theatre, Stratford until 30 January) is worthy of a West
End stage. The story of Matilda who is a bookworm in a house filled
with TV watching, junk food guzzling near morons, who finds that
she has magic powers to overcome her own troubles and those of her
beloved teacher, Miss Honey, is enchantingly brought to life. She
defeats the evil Headmistres, Miss Trunchbull in the process.
The musicians are high up at the back of the stage and can be
(just) seen throughout, There are some great songs, simple choreography
and excellent acting by the children, Bertie Carvel gives a tour-de-force
as horrid Miss Trunchbull. Although he is in women's clothes he
is not a drag artist and combines the two sexes with ease. Lauren
Ward is a sweet-faced and voiced Miss Honey and (on the day I went,
Adrianna Bertola) gave a mature and nuanced portrayal of Matilda,
the 10-year-old. The numerous children in the audience sat silently
in the sentimental parts and laughed in the amusing ones.
The set is cleverly designed with changes executed
quickly and in character with what is taking place on stage. Little
touches of magic within the show enhance the feeling of wonderment
that this show induces.
There is a short run for the RSC's production of THE WINTER'S
TALE now at the Roundhouse (until 1 January 2011). Not
so many people know this play as well as Othello, although, like
Othello, the King of Sicilia is suspicious of his wife but here
he builds it up in his own mind just by watching his wife, Paulina's
kindness to their guest Polixenes, the King of Bohemia without any
Iago to influence him. His servant Camillo tells him it is untrue
as do all the other courtiers he asks and even when he consults
the Oracle of Apollo Leontes refuses to accept the answer. The great
tragedy occurs when pregnant Hermione is thrust into prison and
following her trial has the baby girl taken from her as Leontes
insists the child is not his but Polixenes'. However Antigonus saves
the baby and leaves her in a forest as he "exits pursued by a bear"
- in this case a giant puppet, which looks as though it has been
made from papier mache.
When we are suddenly 16 years forward in time, Perdita, who has
been found and brought up by an old shepherd, is a lovely young
lady in love with Florizel, Polixenes' son. Back at the court Paulina
is said to be dead, however there is a statue in her likeness…but
go and see it for yourselves, especially if you have never seen
it before. The play is directed by David Farr in a very clear manner
so that the conversation between the Queen and her son, Mamillius,
Mamillius: Merry or sad shall it be?
Hermione: As merry as you will.
Mamillius: A sad tale's best for winter.
||ACT 2 SCENE 1
Kelly Hunter is very moving as Hermione particularly at her trial when she appears immediately after giving birth in a dress with blood on it and there is a lovely performance by Noma Dumezweni as Paulina, who is not afraid to show the baby to her father in an attempt to persuade Leontes to believe in his wife. And both she and Greg Hicks bring the audience close to tears in the final scene. While cute, Samantha Young's Perdita looks somewhat older than 16. Once again the scene of revels in Bohemia is somewhat coarse - it is obviously meant to be but seems not to fit in with the rest. Greg Hicks manages to portray well Leontes anguish at his own jealous behaviour. Hicks, an underrated actor who, is at last coming into prominence, gives a sincere performance and although he performs a number of horrendous deeds one can't help feeling sympathetic to him. At Stratford this was a very good production, at the Roundhouse it is an excellent one.