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FILM:July 2013

Following on from the first Despicable Me we find Gru (voiced by Steve Carell), who was once evil, is now a kindly family man looking after his three sweet little girls, Edith, Margo and Agnes in DESPICABLE ME 2 in 3D (cert. U 1hr. 38mins.). Aided by his very funny little creatures the Minions, Gru has left his life of crime.

But just as he is settling into his new proper life as a family man, he is recruited into an ultra-secret organisation dedicated to fighting evil around the globe. Agent Lucy Wilde (Kristen Wiig) comes to get him and together they set out to discover who has the special serum which could destroy mankind. Gru and his partner meet with various strange and hilarious characters in their quest to save the world. A host of good actors, including a number of Brits voice these characters.

Ken Jeong voices Floyd Eagle-san, proprietor of the local hair replacement club for men and a key suspect in this despicable crime. Steve Coogan is Silas Ramsbottom, Lucy's boss in the Anti-Villain League and a superspy whose surname offers an endless source of amusement to the Minions; Moises Arias plays Antonio (the young lad who captures the heart of Margo); and Benjamin Bratt is Antonio's father, owner of Salsa & Salsa restaurant, and is also the big villain known as El Macho. Dr Nefario who moves from working with Gru to the other side is played by Russell Brand.

As with the first film this is directed by Chris Renaud and Pierre Coffin. They make good use of the 3D format and have managed to create a film as funny and with as lovable characters as the first film. It is well-written and amusing. Go and see it at one of your local cinemas. Great outing for the whole family!

As I watch Wimbledon - in person or on TV - I can recommend two documentaries about tennis. The first is VENUS AND SERENA (cert.12A 1 hr. 39 mins.), which is the story of the fantastic Williams' sisters from when they were young until today. The most interesting aspect of this somewhat sycophantic film is to see the father in action. He was determined to have a tennis star in his family and pushed Venus, the elder sister, into this role. Little Serena - only 15 months younger - followed her sister, trying to do everything Venus did only better and so far she appears to be succeeding.

The second is THE BATTLE OF THE SEXES (cert. PG 1hr. 32mins.), which has a wider remit than just tennis. It is concerned with the fight for equality of prize money and perhaps more, between men and women tennis stars. Led by Billie Jean King, they formed a separate women's circuit which was aimed at promoting the women's movement. The "battle" referred to is that between Bobby Riggs, who boasted that, although 55, he could beat any female tennis player. He came up against Billie Jean , who won the match in 1973 and did much to improve the lot of all women tennis player. Nowadays they get the same huge financial rewards as their male counterpoints.

Michael Caine makes a brief appearance in NOW YOU SEE ME (cert. 12A 1hr. 55mins. Morgan Freeman has a much bigger part in this story of four magicians who pull off scams, including bank roberies in order to amass a large amount of money. The Four Horseman as they are called (played by Jesse Eisenberg, Isla Fisher, Woody Harrelson and Dave Franco) pull off incredible tricks and manage to get the public on their side by showering them with money. Mark Ruffalo is the FBI Special Agent who is tracking them down - mostly unsuccessfully. Worth seeing for the excitement of the chases, humour and unlikely turn of events.






Set in the dark north of England in the early 1900s, Githa Sowerby's play, RUTHERFORD AND SON at the St. James Theatre (until 29 June 2013) 0844 264 2140, was first performed in 1912. It has been revived by Northern Broadsides and has a surprising relevance in its tale of hard times in the industrial north.

John Rutherford (Barrie Rutter) rules his family with an iron fist. His daughter appears cowed, but later shows her independence by falling in love with one of her father's long-term employees, an ordinary working man rather than a wealthy man of standing as her father wanted. Everyone bowing down to the master of the house is finally challenged when Rutherford's son announces that he is going to leave his father's factory to train for the church.

There is not a lot of humour in the play, but the acting, particularly by Sara Poyzer as the rebellious daughter, is excellent and deserves a wider audience.

RACE has just closed at the Hampstead Theatre, London. A thoughtful play by David Mamet, and directed by Terry Johnson, it deals with justice ("justice not truth") by concentrating on a rich white man accused of raping a black woman. He picks a law firm which has a white lawyer and a black lawyer to defend him. All seems to be going well until their new young assistant, Susan, who is African American, makes two legal errors. The play deals with racial discrimination and while it is strong on racial politics it has long didactic speeches and the heart seems to be missing.

Clarke Peters as the black lawyer and Jasper Britton as the white acquit themselves well and Nina Tuissant is promising as Susan It is worthy of a longer run.

The Open Air Theatre, Regent's Park continues its run of bringing novels to the stage with a sensitive production of PRIDE AND PREJUDICE (until 20 July 2013) 0844 826 4242,

The essence of Jane Austen's well-known book is captured in Regent's park. It tells the story of Mrs Bennett's efforts to marry off her five daughters. Elizabeth is an independent spirit and will not be pushed into any marriage, particularly not to her smarmy, conceited relation, Mr Collins who is due to inherit her father's estate as he has no other male heir. Elizabeth meets her match in Mr Darcy who is visiting his friend, Mr Bingley (played charmingly by Rob Heaps) who is as proud and snooty about the poor country folk as Elizabeth is prejudiced against him when she hears tales - lies - from Mr Wickham (Barnaby Sax) against Darcy.

Jennifer Kirby as Elizabeth & David Oakes as Mr Darcy

While her sister Jane (a sweet Yolanda Kettle) falls immediately in love with Bingley and he with her, Elizabeth Bennet and Mr Darcy battle for some time against their real feelings for each other.

In her debut performance Jennifer Kirby is not only lovely to look at but puts across the wit and intelligence of the heroine. David Oakes, while no Colin Firth, is good looking, smart and sufficiently proud looking to be convincing. Ed Birch's Mr Collins, moving like a stick insect, is all spindly legs and pompous manner. I enjoyed the quiet, contemplemptative style of Timothy Walker's Mr Bennet (who admits he fell in love with his wife's youth and beauty) and the way in which Jane Asher's Lady Catherine De Bourgh dominates the stage whenever she appers. It's a pleasure to hear Asher's clear diction and excellent projection. The smaller parts were all well-played and Deborah Bruce has directed a smooth production in which the revolving stage allows scene changes to take place with the minimum of fuss. This is, indeed, a production to relish.

Lenny Henry is proving to be an actor of worth. In FENCES now at the Duchess Theatre (until 14 September 2013) 0844 412 4659 he gives a superb performance as a garbage man dealing with his present day life and comparing it to the past when he was a famous baseball star.

Lenny Henry as Troy Maxson, Tanya Moodie as his wife

Set in Pittsburgh in 1957, Fences, written by August Wilson as part of his ten-play cycle about the African-American experience in the USA, won the the Pulitzer Prize for drama in 1987. The part of Troy is one of those towering roles where actors are always being compared to others who have played the same part. Henry, however, more than holds his own.

He manages to convey all of 53 year-old Troy's disappointment with the way his life has turned out. There are a lot of "if only s" in Troy's life: he is angry at the way the white world prevented him becoming a huge star of the baseball game because he was black, he resents having such a lowly job while white folk forge ahead and always receive better treatment and he is aggrieved by his poor existence with little money to spend on home improvements. He ignores the fact that he has a criminal record: he spent 15 years in prison. He does, however, acknowledge the love and companionship of his wife, Rose (Tanya Moodie), to whom he has been married for 18 years. He pushes his son Cory (a sensitive portrayal by Ashley Zhangazha) to achieve. The trouble is he wants Cory to undertake jobs in exactly the way he says rather than acknowledging the path that his younger son wants for himself. When he has to confess to a new sin to his wife, he is distraught at the anguish he causes her. They never really recover from his betrayal and the play shows how they learn to deal with the consequences.

Paulette Randall has given us a fine production with all the characters carefully drawn. The acting is consistently good with Moodie's wife particularly heart-rendering in her key emotional scene with Henry. The set gives a good picture of the era and the place - all the action takes place on the front porch of Troy's house.

Above all we are privilaged to be present to see Henry's portrayal of Troy as a man who never fulfilled his dreams. All his emotions are on show here, humour, anger, hurt and guilt, as he builds a fence around his house - to keep people out, or perhaps to stop the devil entering.

BRACKEN MOOR is now at the Tricycle Theatre (until 20 July 2013) 020 7328 100 but it might tour later so keep an eye open. It is a Shared Experience production, directed by Polly Teale. A ghost story with a touch of horror, some tantalysing thriller elements and also a very sad tale of a mother and father who lose their son in a tragic accident.

The play has a number of strands - the economic crisis of the late 1930s when the play is set, the themes of grief and loss and the overwheming pain associated with losing a child and the deniel of that loss and the cutting off of a normal life. Two families come together 10 years after the tragedy of the dead son of the hosts, Elizabeth and Harold Pritchard. The son of the visitors, Terence, takes on the life of the dead boy and is warmly greeted by Elizabeth, but terrifies his own mother. The play is consistently well acted, particularly by Helen Schlesinger as the mother and Joseph Timms who, very movingly, portrays her dead son.

Helen Schlesinger and Joseph Timms in 'Bracken Moor'

Another show that has, unfortunately, just closed at the Riverside Studios is PAYBACK The Musical written by Paul Rayfield. This new musical is worthy of a longer run or transfer to a larger theatre. It is very hard to write a new play, let alone a musical, but Rayfield has given us a good tale with a story that is worth listening to and a few good musical numbers. It is all about a reality TV show - a kind of Judge Judy meets Jeremy Kyle in which children set out to find their real fathers. At a brisk two hours, the cast are lively and perform well. It could do with a bigger acting area than that provided in the small studio theatre, so let's hope it gets a further run somewhere larger.

Shakespeare's Globe Theatre has an interesting and somewhat different A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM (in rep until 10 October 2013) 020 7401 9919 . It seems strange not to see it in the leafy setting of Regent's Park theatre but this original Globe theatre production suits the play well. The set might not have much greenery but in a simplistic way, it is interesting, with rope hanging from columns which is made use of by various actors.

Hermia (dark-haired Olivia Ross) and Helena (blonde Sarah MacRae) are nicely contrasted and I really liked the livelines of Luke Thompson's Lysander. The actors playing Oberon and Titania are younger than usually depicted but all works well. There is a nice bit of magic when Oberon (John Light) appears to throw a flower (but doesn't actually throw anything) and Puck (Matthew Tennyson) catches it.

The mechanicals are also presented in a fresh way: for a start they enter clog-dancing, and continue to dance throughout the show, so we can always hear them before we see them! A huge ass's head covers Bottom's face when he is "transformed" but we then miss seeing his face as only the ears move.

The staging of the little play put on by the workmen is hilariously performed on a tiny stage that is erected, with lots of physically comedic moments. Just right for this audience.

All the actors put across the narrative clearly so that the story is comprehensible to new audience members and foreigners alike (of which there are plenty of both seated and as groundlings).

It is not often that an audience gets to enjoy a show and do good at the same time, but with WEST END HEROES at the Dominion Theatre on 23 June this is exactly what happened. A goodly number of stars came together to support this Gala fundraising event in support of the charity Help for Heroes. Under director Tim Marshall and choreographer Matt Flint with Brian Conley a most charismatic Master of Ceremonies, we enjoyed singer Rachel Tucker, who has a lively voice; Matt Little who gave a dramatic performance of a Les Miserables song and Stomp, who gave their usual exuberant performance. We enjoyed sets by Some Like It Hip Hop with excellent street dancing. Other acts that stood out for me were Gloria Onitori's rich, beautifully full singing voice giving a rendition of a song from the musical The Bodyguard; Geronimo Rauch's version of Bring Him Home from Les Miserables - gorgeous! A worthy cause which was well produced and performed.

It's been a long wait but finally CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY has arrived at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, London (booking until May 2014 0844 858 8877). I must say that it is a super show - with lots of magical details and the production design shows just what our British technicians can achieve, Sam Mendes has managed to bring Roald Dahl's story to the stage keeping the wizadry but also maintaining the heart of the story. The latter is really down to Douglas Hodge who portrays Willy Wonka as a magician who can give life to children's wishes but also be stern and show who is boss when it comes to dealing with those who disobey him.

Most of the first half is taken up with showing us Charlie Bucket's home life and the poverty is emphasised. Four actors play young Charlie and on the night I went Jack Costello gave a lovely portrayal of the boy whose dearest wish is to win a golden ticket to visit Willy Wonka's sweet factory not for his own greed but because it will please his Grandfather Joe- a charming Nigel Planer.

Once we get into the factory after the interval, set upon set just amazes one as Wonka leads the children through the various sweet making areas. Here we find the little Oompa-Loompas (and Mendes has given them a special sort of tricky life) and later on puppet squirrels. The loss of the winning children always seems rather brutal to me, but I must say the kids all round me enjoyed every disappearance of a child!

While the music is perhaps the weakest part of the show, Hodge has a very pleasant voice which is in particular eveidence when he sings Pure Imagination. It is good, too, to see Myra Sands in a substantial role in a major West End show as one of the grandmothers. There is plenty of time to book tickets to see this amazing production, which I am sure will be around for some time to come.

Edward Hall once again brings his all-male company, Propeller to the Hampstead Theatre, where he is the Artistic Director. The ensemble perform THE TAMING OF THE SHREW and TWELFTH NIGHT until 20 July 0844 858, two very different plays which are played in different styles but both with a sense of cruelty in a number of key scenes and both lending themselves to men dressing as women - as of course happened in Shakespeare's day.

The Taming of the Shrew is a very physcial production, not just Petrucio's beating and general abuse of his new wife Katherine but also the the way Petrucio parades around when drunk at his wedding or ordering his servants about. Vince Leigh as Petrucio is handsome, loud and boisterous and portrays the determined braggart extroardinarily well, while Dan Wheeler as Katherine has to show the feisty character at the beginning of the play and the much humbled woman at the end. He manages both of these very well. The cruelty comes out in Petrucio's treatment of his wife whch goes beyond teaching her to be obedient and becomes enjoyment of physical abuse for its own sake.

The lively company even came out in the interval and sang and played instruments around the bar area.

The much quieter TWELFTH NIGHT has a more poetic quality. The cruelty here lies in the treatment of Olivia's servant, Malvolio, who is deceived into believing that his mistress is secretly in love with him. This is amusing but when the poor man is put into a dark cellar and hurt physically as well as mentally, it is not quite so funny. The difficulty I find is that having sen Mark Rylance as Olivia gliding along the floor dressed as a woman along with her maid, Maria, I find it hard to accept obvious males in these roles in Propeller's production. Also there is no Stephen Fry as a sad but funny Malvolio here.

Chris Myles as Malvolio

The modern dress used for Twelfth Night and The Taming of the Shrew suits the men disguised as women playing men (Viola wears a lounge suit) very well and also when they act as women. This remains an interesting company although I found the livelier Shrew more amusing and also more enjoyable.

ALSO RECOMMENDED: SWEET BIRD OF YOUTH (Old Vic until 31 August 0844 871 7628).

Kim Cattrall's fading star, Alexandra Del Largo "The Princess Kosmonopolis" starts off rather over-melodramatically, but as the play progresses Cattrall manages to show us the pain she suffers by realising that she is ageing along with the determination to still live life to the full. Seth Numrich is a most handsome hulk and his interpretation of Chance, the young man on the make, getting whatever he can from the aged star is just right. An assured interpretation by director Marianne Elliott, with excellent sets makes this one to relish.

PRIVATE LIVES (Gielgud Theatre until 21 September 0844 482 5130).

Anna Chancellor and Toby Stephens in Private Lives

There have been many productions of Noel Coward's play and the difficulty lies in making them different enough to be interesting and having a really good Amanda and strong Elyot in the leads. I think this succeeds on both accounts: Anna Chancellor has just the right amount of histrionic flair combined with an attractive quality of presentation so that one can understand what made Elyot and later her new husband fall for her. Toby Stephens brings humour and liveliness to his interpretation of Elyot.

But above all they have a really good chemistry between the two of them and , although the cruelty of their fights is not quite strong enough, we can understand something of what makes them unable to live together, or to live apart.

A MAD WORLD MY MASTERS (RSC at the Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon until 25 October 0844 800 1110 ). Sean Foley has directed an uproariously funny re-interpretation of the Jacobean comedy by Thomas Middleton. Updated to Soho in the fifties and illustrated by a great mixture of jazz and skilffle in the background, the story is basically the same as the original: dashing young man about town, Dick Follywit, who is trying to get his great uncle's money, disguises himself many times, while sad Mr Littledick is so paranoid about his obsession with his wife's fidelity that he is deceived by Master Penitent Brothel. There are more plots and sub plots but mainly we listen with absolute delight as double entendre follows downright lewdery!

The cast, without exception, give their all and Foley is the right person to direct this play. The whole perfomance is really bawdy and I was surprised to see the mainly elderly matinee audience screaming with laughter. Go see for yourselves!


Carlie Newman

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