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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 original score.

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.


THEATRE TIP

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 stage here.

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 difference.

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 his film.

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 farce.

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, makes sense:

    Hermione: Tell's a tale
    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.

     
     
     
     

Carlie Newman

   
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