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FILM: July09

Ooh ah .yes, it's you know who, Eric Cantona appears as himself to offer advice, anecdotes and words of wisdom to Manchester United football fan Steve Evets - also called Eric - in the Ken Loach directed LOOKING FOR ERIC (cert.15 1hr.56mins.). At the press conference Cantona appeared in a calm fashion explaining how he came to choose Loach to direct his film.

Looking For Eric

It seems he had a list and Loach was top of it. He also said that he played football, then, in his 9 months' suspension, learnt the trumpet (he plays a delightful Marseillaise here) and is now an actor - all games. Ken Loach and his excellent long-term screen writer and associate, Paul Laverty, were also at the press conference and spoke about turning Cantona's original idea into the present film and how they allowed the actors to improvise in this somewhat surreal concept.

Loach used his usual technique of handing over one scene at a time to the performers and orchestrated the first surprise appearance by Cantona so that Evets look of amazement at his first view is absolutely genuine. For once Loach has produced a comedy although, of course, it has underlying messages about the poverty of lives as well as violence with young people using guns against each other. Cantona is.well, Cantona, so that, as with the real one, it is sometimes difficult to know when he is speaking French and when English! However, he is prepared to laugh at himself, "I'm not a man, I'm Cantona" and many of his actual sayings, "to surprise the crowd, I need to surprise myself" become part of the dialogue. A virtually unknown actor, Evets plays the postie, Eric in a realistic fashion and the other male parts appear to be made up of real footballers. There is much here for all, not just football fans.

TELSTAR (cert.15 1hr.48mins.) will attract a different kind of fan. The film, directed by Nick Moran, is both for those who know about Joe Meek, the eccentric, pop record producer, and those who of us who don't. It provides us all with an interesting, rounded portrait of someone who was over-enthusiastic about music until he became depressive and eventually killed his landlady and himself in 1967. With an excellent central performance by Con O'Neill, the film provides the full background to Telstar, the instrumental hit of 1962.

KATYN (cert.15 1hr.58mins.) shows us an incident in Poland which has largely been hidden since it occurred in 1940. The Polish citizens were squeezed on one side by the Germans and the other by the Red Army. The Russians slaughtered soldiers and their officers in a forest in Katyn. The film tells the story of the women left behind who question what has happened and re-act in various ways to the massacre. Great acting and another powerful film by 83 year-old Adrzej Wajda make us see this part of history in a new light.


THEATRE TIP

AS YOU LIKE IT is a delightful comedy about a banished Duke who is joined in the forest of Arden by his daughter, Rosalind, who has been expelled by the same brother who usurped her father. She is joined by her cousin, Celia, and both disguise themselves as country folk and then encourage Orlando, who also finds his way to the forest, to woo the boy, Ganymede, who is actually his love Rosalind, disguised. There are two very different productions around at the moment.

The GLOBE has Naomi Frederick as the most authentic-looking girl dressed up as a man that I have seen. Thea Sharrock's production brings out the references to age: old Adam is 80, Silvius refers to Corin as an old shepherd. The stage is used in a new way with two parts coming out as sort of jetties with steps leading down. There is also an emphasis on gender differences as when Rosalind says, "Know you not I am a woman, when I think I must speak."

As you like it

Falling in love at first sight is well brought out, as it is in the Stratford production. Peter Gale sings well as Amiens, a follower of the exiled Duke. For some reason there was a modern jig at the end before Rosalind's epilogue. But the whole production is full of funny moments which are lapped up by the enthusiastic audience.

A full house, too, for the RSC's Stratford production which, though darker, has Katy Stephens as a feisty, energetic Rosalind. Michael Boyd directs a well-staged production, in which he uses live musicians. He also gives a very clear exposition of the relationships between characters and a realistic wrestling match between Orlando and the Court wrestler. The difference between the courtiers in Duke Frederick's court and the exiled Duke's retinue is highlighted by the regimental march of Frederick's black clothed courtiers and the casual appearance of Duke Ferdinand's followers in the Forest of Arden. This production is not as humorous as that at the Globe and the serious parts behind the lightness are emphasised. While Stephens with a moustache and tiny beard is well disguised as Ganymede, the Celia of Mariah Gale remains the same with only her clothes changing to those of a shepherdess. The emphasis here is on falling in love at first sight: Rosalind and Orlando, Phoebe for Ganymede (Rosalind), Celia and Oliver (Orlando's once wicked brother who is transformed when Orlando saves his life). Unusually Rosalind SINGS the epilogue.

I have seen another very interesting production at Stratford-upon-Avon this season: The RSC's JULIUS CAESAR brings out the political nuances in a very clear way and, as we view it, can find references to Gordon Brown, his cabinet and the Opposition (although of course there is no physical assassination). Impossible? Sure, but go and see it and judge for yourself. There is a strong Brutus and Cassius played by Sam Troughton and John Mackay respectively in director Lucy Bailey's production and Julius Caesar (Greg Hicks) comes across as somebody who believes in sticking to what he believes is right even though it might be dangerous for him. Video projections are used to great effect to give the impression of a crowd of people around the main protagonists.

Do pull out all the stops to see the two plays which start off the Bridge project's season at Kevin Spacey's Old Vic (until 15 August). Bringing together an equal number of American and British actors, the first play shown is A WINTER'S TALE in which Simon Russell Beale plays the King Leontes, who wrongly accuses his pregnant wife, Hermione (the emotional intense and moving Rebecca Hall) of being sexually involved with their friend. Time plays a part here as we move on 16 years in the middle of the play to find the baby now 16 and returning to court. Ethan Hawke, best known to us as an American film star, is humorous as well as meaningful in the part of Autocolus, which also allows him to sing and strum his guitar. Sinead Cusack gives a sensitive portrayal of Hermione's friend, Paulina. Sam Mendes uses his actors most effectively except for a boisterous dance with balloons used as penises which takes place in Bohemia. Unfortunately the audience didn't find it very funny. Simon Russell Beale is a wonderous actor who should give lessons in how to speak Shakespeare as though it's a living language - not as some of the actors declaim it in ALL'S WELL THAT ENDS WELL (National Theatre), which is the first time I have seen something here for ages that is not performed perfectly.

As usual the setting which is like a children's book and general look of the production are fine, it is just that the way some of the actors deliver their lines is substandard. However, I liked the way director, Marianne Elliott has told the story as though it is a fairytale - Little Red Riding Hood springs to mind, with a touch of Cinderella. Claire Higgins shows the Countess' determination that her son should do the right thing and Oliver Ford Davies gives another of his superb performances, this time as the dying King who is cured by Michelle Terry's Helena and dances a jig with her to show his good health and his pleasure.

To return to the Old Vic: Sinead Cusack is very different as Ranefskaya in Chekhov's. THE CHERRY ORCHARD, which is the other play in the Bridge project. Translated by Tom Stoppard and directed, as is A WINTER'S TALE, by Sam Mendes, we see Ranefskaya mourning the imminent sale of her beloved estate. Russell Beale also has a main part in this production. He plays the wealthy business man attracted to Ranefskaya and set to purchase the cherry orchard. Rebecca Hall is excellent, too, as Varya who yearns to become Lopokov's wife but he fails to propose. Both plays continue until 15 August.

TAKING SIDES and COLLABORATION (Duchess until 29 August): Ronald Harwood's plays - set in Germany during the last world war - deal with how people survive when they are faced with tyranny, as shown here as the major horror of recent times, Hitler's control of Germany and the persecution of Jewish people. Should famous people pretend to support those in command or stand up and be counted even if it means others suffer? David Horovitch and Michael Pennington appear in both to great effect.

Arcadia

ARCADIA (Duke of York's, until 12 September) deals with 2 time zones: we see Thomasina (young Jessie Cave) and her tutor (Dan Stevens) discussing mathematical theories in a stately country house in 1809. Side by side in the present and in the same setting we have Hannah (an earnest, intelligent performance by Samantha Bond) with her somewhat nerdy fiancÚ, Valentine (Ed Stoppard) and researcher Bernard (Neil Pearson) who believes he has discovered that Byron lived in the same house. Tom Stoppard's witty, erudite play provides much to think about in this well-directed revival by David Levaux.

And how does SISTER ACT (London Palladium) fit into this illustrious list? Well, it's a big musical keeping to the same story as the film and stars Patina Miller as the night club singer, Deloris, who hides in a convent and teaches the nuns to sing in a choir. Sheila Hancock brings humour to her role of Mother Superior. Miller, who has a good voice and acting ability, is definitely a star to watch. The set is well-designed with a revolving stage on which scene after scene appear seamlessly.

Obviously I generally attend the theatre in order to review the production. Imagine my surprise, therefore, when I found myself on stage "volunteering" during DERREN BROWN: ENIGMA, directed by Andy Nyman. I am further in difficulty in that Derren Brown asked us not to reveal any of the events that took place on stage! Suffice it to say that Mr Brown is a master magician, mind-reader, hypnotist and showman. One can sometimes work out - or partially guess - how he does some tricks but most, especially the mind-reading episodes, come under the heading of 'magic.' And to answer how I ended up on stage: Brown threw Frisbees into the audience and I picked one up from the floor and was landed with becoming an Assistant! This show is well worth a visit; do let us know your opinion.

The Warehouse, Croydon, is to be praised for giving space to the group of deaf and disabled artists who present film, music, song and sign dancing in their SIGNDANCE COLLECTIVE programme, DANCES FOR A LOST TRAVELLER (until 12July). Unfortunately while the singing in the first piece is good and the choreography for the arguing couple in the last one is also effective, the rest of the dancing leaves a lot to be desired. David Bower presents a story in the centre of his production explaining how he attended a benefit gig for miners when he was 16 and from then on suffered from terrible tinnitus which, we assume, made him deaf. He reproduces this awful high-pitched sound and bounds around the stage in movement that can only be described as like a 9 year-old child choreographed by a clumsy 7 year-old. The one redeeming feature is the small but terrific group of musicians.

CARRIE'S WAR (Apollo) is a stage adaptation of Nina Bawden's novel. Carrie takes her son back to a Welsh village where she was evacuated with her brother Nick during World War 2 and tells him her experiences. A great set, mainly showing the two houses which, on one side is occupied by the family with whom 14 year-old Carrie and her younger brother find themselves and on the other side, Druid's Bottom, inhabited by Dilys Gotobed (a frail looking Prunella Scales), plus her carer, Hepzibar (a sensitive performance by Amanda Symonds) and the disabled Mr Johnny (James Beddard, a disabled actor) with whom their new friend, Albert is billeted.

Carries War

Albert is luckier than Carrie and Nick who are put with cantankerous Mr Evans (Sion Tudor Evans managing not to caricature the role) and his timid sister, (delightfully played by Kacey Ainsworth). Although I find it somewhat difficult to accept grown men as young boys, the cast manage to deceive us most of the time. Carrie is well played by Sarah Edwardson and is suitably small. Director Andrew Loudon manages to bring together the elements of thriller, ghost story and coming of age well, together with observations about people who seem different from the norm, with conviction.

And to go back in time to World War 1, HAMPSTEAD THEATRE has come up with a revival of OBSERVE THE SONS OF ULSTER MARCHING TOWARDS THE SOMME (until 18 July). First seen at this theatre in 1986, Frank McGuiness' play shows 8 'loyal sons of Ulster' preparing for 'the final push' - the tragedy of the battle of the Somme, We see them cope with living together, facing battle, their sexuality and also the obvious conflicts between Protestants and Catholics, which were strong at the time and are still not forgotten. A simple but appropriate stage set changes from one place to another - at one point the men spend some time back in Ireland. The acting is uniformly fine and director John Dove has managed to transmit the power of the writing, the build up to the battle of the Somme and the whole atmosphere of the period. The audience were spellbound with tears shed by a number at the end. I found it most moving and it deserves a successful run at Hampstead.

One can't go far wrong with THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST and the Open Air Theatre ,Regent's Park gets a lot right in its presentation. The setting, however, doesn't always work and the silver wall at one side in the first Act has a light shining on it and into the audience's eyes. Oscar Wilde's play exposing the hypocrisy of the mannered upper classes in the late 1800s comes across clearly and there are some good characterisations, particularly by Julie Legrand as Miss Prism - whose loss of the bag containing a baby - leads to misunderstandings by other people and Richard O'Callaghan as Rev. Canon Chasuble who pursues the elderly spinster.

Susan Wooldridge is strangely subdued in the interview with her prospective son-in-law and although the audience laughs in advance of, "found...in a handbag," in trying not to exaggerate here, Wooldridge underplays it. Director Irina Brown has introduced some amusing business such as Lady Bracknell's shout of "Sit down" to her daughter, and, when there is nowhere to sit, Gwendolyn collapses on the ground. Mostly Wilde's sharply observant writing wins through and the audience are in gales of laughter. (Until 25 July).

     
     
     
     

Carlie Newman

   
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