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FILM:July 2011

A very quiet, slow, lyrical film, LE QATTRO VOLTE (cert. U 1hr. 28mins.) deals with the almost religious theme of dying and being born again. With no actual dialogue and mostly concerned with the sounds of the countryside in Calabria, Southern Italy where the film was shot, it shows an old man who is obviously very unwell in his last days of caring for his goats on the hillside at the edge of the small village. Each day he goes to the church and collects dust which he mixes with water to make his night-time medicinal drink to treat his cough. When he dies the villagers carry him to the church. Director, Michelangelo Frammartino then moves on to the second stage which is about a kid born and then, when left behind by the herd, now being looked after by a new goatherd, takes refuge in the nook of a fir tree.

We then become involved in the life of the tree, which is cut down and then resurrected in the village for a celebration. The fourth phase of the little story shows the tree being cut up for logs, which are subsequently collected and transported to a different area by charcoal-burners. There is a scene showing the wood being turned into the charcoal, for which the area is famous and finally we see the charcoal brought back to be used by the villagers.

There is an amusing scene where a village dog frees the goats who roam the village. Frammartino is interested in the Pythagorean theory of the transmigration of the soul and his film presents us with a simple vision of one soul moving through four lives (which can be animal, vegetable or mineral). Here we have a goatherd, a newly born kid, a tree and lastly charcoal.

The film is shot like a documentary with non-actors. It will not please those who like action films with lots of car chases and battles, but will surely appeal to filmgoers who are looking for a beautiful filmic experience, which often looks like an old Italian painting, where the sounds and pictures speak to our inner emotions.

Almost exactly the opposite, Fred Cavaye's film POINT BLANK (cert. 15 1hr 30mins) starts off in a most exciting manner and then continues after a slight pause to catch our breath, with a nail-bitingly suspensful French thriller. Samuel (Gilles Lellouche), a nursing aide has his life turned upside down when Nadia (Elana Anaya), his pregnant wife, is kidnapped. He is given just three hours to get Startet (Roschdy Zem), a man who is wanted by the police, out of the hospital. Highly recommended.

The lovely Johnny Depp and the equally beautiful Penelope Cruz (shown in the picture alongside Ian McShane) star in the latest film in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN:ON STRANGER TIDES 3D (cert.12A 2hrs. 16mins.).

We find Captain Jack Sparrow (Depp) forced on to the ship owned by the villainous Blackbeard (Ian McShane) by Angelica (Cruz). As he has some knowledge of the map showing the location of the legendary Fountain of Youth, Blackbeard and his (claimed) daughter Angelica, want Jack to lead them there. Jack has past history with Angelica and they find they are still attracted to one another in spite of Angelica's hostile treatment of him on Blackbeard's boat.

The crew of near zombies are almost roused to mutiny at one point but Jack doesn't know if he has more to fear from Blackbeard or the somewhat aggressive Angelica.

Add to this the involvement of the indestructible Captain Hector Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) and the appearance of Keith Richards and Richard Griffiths in small but telling cameos and you have the continuation of the earlier Pirates films with a new adventure, In addition to the hazards of Blackbeard's ship, the "Queen Anne's Revenge," Jack and his men have to cope with the cunning, but beautiful and enchanting mermaids, who lure the sailors to their doom. Amongst those on board is a virtuous clergyman, played by young, good-looking Sam Claflin, who tries to help a captured mermaid (Astrid Berges-Frisbey), who could possibly turn out to be a 'goody.'

The photography is dark for much of the time and, perhaps, the 3D glasses make it worse, so it would be possible to enjoy this film in 2D - but it must be on a big screen. I think the 12A certificate is about right here, as the film would be much too long for small children and although there is not much actual blood, we do see violent action and there are many sexual innuendoes in the dialogue. Depp is not so over the top in his acting here as in the second and third Pirates films and Cruz makes for a feisty companion. All in all, director Rob Marshall has made the film more like the first of the series, and it is good family entertainment and still showing around the country.






As we enter the Open Air Theatre at Regent's Park for the first play in this summer's season, the audience are amazed to see the wreckage of a plane with clothes and luggage strewn not just over the stage but in the surrounding trees. It is an evocative start to LORD OF THE FLIES (until18 June), which depicts a group of school boys who have survived being shot down by the enemy in WW2 (although the period is somewhat mixed here).

There are no surviving adults around on the desert island where the plane has crashed and the boys soon break into two gangs: Ralph (Alistair Toovey), who tries to establish order and a democratic way of functioning and Jack (James Clay) who leads his band into tribal savagery as they hunt for an animal to kill. Unfortunately the boys also persecute Simon, one of the weaker boys and later the chubby boy, Piggy (George Bukhari). (The picture above shows Ralph (left) and Piggy)

Apart from the somewhat vague update of William Golding's novel, Timothy Sheader's production is full of exciting movement and he gets tremendous performances from his young cast, with a number making their professional debut. While Clay as Jack really wants to be in charge and shows this in his constant jockeying for leadership, Toovey's Ralph depicts his character with believable clarity, "I was voted for and that was democratic." Bukhari makes an excellent Piggy, particularly when his glasses are taken and he flounders around.

The music and sounds in the background aid the atmosphere and Jack's group of boys' war-dance is quite frightening. As night falls and the boys descend into matching darkness, we are riveted by this depiction of a group of young lads who show their worst characteristics when faced with a most unusual situation.

Having heard that the CHERRY ORCHARD (National Theatre in rep until 4 September) was full of anachronistic phrases, I was surprised to find that apart from a few obviously jarring expressions, such as 40K and ""I've told you a thousand, bloody, frigging, bloody, frigging times," it is actually just a pedestrian translation by Andrew Upton.

The Cherry Orchard was first staged in 1904 and is very much of its time with references to landowners and their serfs and the beginnings of profound social change in Russia. Ranyevskaya (Zoe Wanamaker) is one of the doomed landowners. After 10 years away, she returns to her once beautiful estate, with its central but useless cherry orchard, to face bankruptcy.

The aristocratic family will not consider wealthy merchant, Lopakhin's (Conleth Hill) advice to sell the estate in order for it to be developed as holiday homes. (The picture shows Lopakhin and Ranyevskaya).

Apart from the lapses in the script, this is a vibrant production in which director Howard Davies keeps what is essentially a play of words moving as characters come to the fore with their own speeches giving their opinions on how to save the estate.

There are stand-out performances from Wanamaker, whose beautiful voice is full of variety and Hill, who has to deliver much of the slang, is just right as the newly rich entrepreneur he has the sturdy build of a peasant and the mind of a businessman (a kind of John Prescott look-alike). There are also lovely characterisations from Claudie Blakeley showing the poignancy of Ranyevskaya's adopted daughter, Anya, yearning for a marriage proposal from Lopakhin, which never materialises and from Mark Bonnar's Trotsky-like eternal student Petya. The wide set is beautifully designed - a wooden, dilapidated house that we see from the outside as well as its interior.

Kara Tointon, who until now has been chiefly known for TV performances in Eastenders and Strictly Come Dancing makes her West End debut in PYGMALION (Garrick until 3 September), directed by Philip Prowse. She looks lovely and gives a good performance especially when she develops the skills of a lady after she has been trained to speak 'proper' by Professor Higgins.

We see the difference when she sits with her legs open on her first visit to Prof.Higgins and then puts them neatly together once she has been trained to be a lady. As her teacher Rupert Everett (who seems to have lost the very good looks of his youth) is a little dark, and frightens those who think he is a policeman when he comes out of the shadows at the beginning, in the scene at Covent Garden, writing in his little notebook and Diana Rigg shows that she is still a classy actress as she brings style and presence along with her lovely voice to the role of Prof. Higgins mother. Michael Feast, who took over the part of Alfred Doolittle, Eliza’s father, just before the press night, did a good, although at times hesitant, job of delivering Alfred’s speeches about enjoying being “one of the undeserving poor.” Peter Eyre displays suitable gravitas as Colonel Pickering.

As usual there is more behind Shaw than just a comedy about a young flower girl wanting to be a lady, and we see the difficulties of trying to make a living on the streets in 1912-13. The proscenium arch setting and plush red curtains put an extra distance between the cast and audience. The white wedding dress scene, with confetti coming down, gives a pantomime finish to a good production and is superfluous, but Shaw's writing conquers all.

The revival of BUTLEY (Duchess Theatre until 27 August) gives Dominic West a chance to shine in the part of Ben Butley. We see University lecturer, Butley face a number of disasters all on the same day. A minor irritation sees him unable to work his table lamp in the midst of his very messy office.

His wife, Anne (Amanda Drew), from whom he has been separated for a while, tells him she wants to divorce him in order to marry a man who Butley considers the most boring man in London. Then he learns that his best friend, Joey (Martin Hutson) is going to move out of the home they have been sharing to live with his male lover, Reg (Paul McGann). While all this is going on, Edna (Penny Downie) a colleague, is angry that Butley is poaching her students and appears in his room to berate hime from time to time. He is too busy to hold tutorials with his students, he says, when they knock at his door.

It appears that Butley has repressed homosexual leanings and there is a good scene between the excellent self-assured Reg and Butley, where they discuss their mutual friend. Hutson is just right as the quieter colleague who keeps his half of the shared office tidy while Butley spews papers and books all over the room. West gives a showy but telling performance as a man dissatisfied with how life is treating him and turns to drink to alleviate his woes without making any effort to understand anyone else's point to view. It is a huge part which West seizes seemingly without effort. (The picture shows Dominic west as Ben Butley). First staged in 1971, director, Lindsay Posner's revival of Simon Gray's comedy, does its best to give movement and variation of mood so that the play is not too dated and just talk. There is a lot of humour in the writing, and the play h is intelligently crafted.

A somewhat different type of show, MERCHANTS OF BOLLYWOOD (Peacock Theatre, London until 3 July) is an all-dancing and speaking (with background vocals) is a big musical about the end of one era for the Merchant family and the rise of the granddaughter in a new adapted version of her grandfather's legend, a choreographer of Hindi films in the 70s and the rise of his granddaughter, Vaibhavi Merchant, a young Bollywood choreographer.

In this stage version we see grandfather Shantilal (Chander Khanna) trying to get young dancers to continue his tradition. His granddaughter, Ayesha (Carol Furtado) clashes with him and leaves to make her way to Bombay and work in films. She later returns to meet up with her childhood sweetheart Uday (Deepak Rawat) and make peace with her grandfather.

When the show sticks to traditional music and dancing it is most moving and interesting, but much of the time it takes on modern dance and gives a kind of jazzed-up version of Hindi dances. Writer/director Toby Gough has produced a colourful show on a well-lit stage with attractive costumes (with western clothes in some scenes) and a couple of comedy routines. There is good dancing by the large group and with a sparkling performance from Furtado, who is called upon to act as well as sing. The many Asians in the audience obviously related to parts of the show and there was a lot of audience participation in the form of hand-clapping and at times dancing with chorus members in the aisles.

The very hip production of Tarell Alvin McCraney's new play AMERICAN TRADE (Hampstead Theatre until 18 June) will not please everyone.

It's a sharp, fast-moving show with many short scenes. Pharus (Tunji Kasim) - shown in the picture on the left with his new friend Ragiv (Dharmesh Patel) - leaves New York when his rent-boy activities become too dangerous for him to stay. He comes to London where he is taken up by his aunt - the somewhat unlikely Aunt Marian (diminutive Sheila Reid), who sets him up in her model agency.

There are a number of lively performances - all very loud - by the talented cast who play a number of parts. Jamie Lloyd directs this play full of obviously exaggerated characters which are really caricatures of those we can find on the streets of New York and London today. Short, modern, with some good mood music, once again the audience in the main appeared to be having a great time. It is not exactly a deep play but fun to watch - at the time.

Carlie Newman

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