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FILM:July 2015

We are in 1947 in MR HOLMES (cert. PG 1 hr. 44 mins.) and Sherlock Holmes (Ian McKellen) is now in retirement in Surrey, helped by his housekeeper Mrs Munro (Laura Linney). He retired thirty years before after he felt that he had failed in his last case.

Now 93, he is rather grumpy and not a very happy man. His former colleagues - Dr Watson, Mrs Hudson - have died and Sherlock feels even more alone. His main joy is beekeeping which also interests the widowed Mrs Munro's young son, Roger (Milo Parker). He recognises that Roger is very bright and, in his direct manner, tells Mrs Munro, "Exceptional children are often the product of unremarkable parents." Holmes ponders on his last case remembering Ann Kilmot and her husband's instruction to follow her to see what she is up to. Through his detective work Holmes manages to work out that although Ann seems to be plotting to kill her husband in fact she intends to kill herself. The rest of Ann's story is harder to discover and it is that which makes Holmes admit failure. He does not agree with Watson's written story in which Sherlock becomes the hero of this particular case.

At the beginning of the movie Sherlock has just come back from a trip to Japan where his host Umezaki Tamiki (Hiroyuki Sanada) tells him that he believes Holmes was involved in the disappearance of his father in England. This is yet another mystery for Sherlock to solve as his formerly strong memory has deteriorated and he can't even remember meeting Umezaki's father.

There are a number of well-known actors in small parts in the film - including Roger Allam as Sherlock's doctor, Frances de la Tour as a kind of mystic who mentors Ann Kilmot, Phil Daniels as a police inspector and Hattie Moran as Ann.

Laura Linney manages an impeccable English accent and, as usual, gives a most sensitive performance. The boy, Milo Parker, is just right as young Roger and he and McKellen work very well together. Of course the film belongs to McKellen who embodies the ageing detective in a realistic manner. In fact he plays two different ages - younger Sherlock in the scenes showing his interaction with Ann and the present day 93-year-old. This is a gentle character driven movie, well directed by Bill Condon, about the older and then very old Sherlock Holmes. It has a lot to say about ageing and nearing the end of life and also about love - the love of Mrs Munro for her son and her memories of a loving relationship with her husband and now being without him and the deep affection of Sherlock for young Roger.

Also recommended: AMY (cert.15 2 hrs. 3 mins.), the poignant documentary by

Asif Kapadia (who made the highly praised Senna), manages to give an all too realistic portrait of a young girl with the most marvelous voice descending into drugs and alcohol abuse and an unhappy relationship with Blake Fielder-Civil, the young man who introduced her to drugs and also led to the hit album Back to Black in 2006. No surprise to find Amy's father distancing himself from the film as he is shown introducing a camera crew into her private time and encouraging his obviously very sick daughter to continue her tour.

Two more rather special documentaries this month: THE FIRST FILM (cert. PG 1 hr. 46 mins.) tells the remarkable story of Louis Le Prince who was the first - says director David Nicholas Wilkinson - to film moving images with a single-lens camera. Surprisingly this took place in Leeds in 1888. The documentary tells how the film was discovered and its background and locations. More surprisingly and, rather like a mystery tale, the film also details the disappearance of Le Prince in very mysterious circumstances and the efforts made to discover how he died…or if he was murdered!

MAGICIAN: THE ASTONISHING LIFE AND WORK OF ORSON WELLES (cert. 12A 1 hr. 31 mins.) is an interesting and most informative documentary about the man, his films and his acting career. That he was a child prodigy you might know and that he became famous through his broadcast of The War of the Worlds, and of course, you know that he directed the excellent Citizen Kane but did you also know that the examination of his private life by the McCarthy Inquiry led to him leaving America for Europe? He left a few unfinished movies, but one of the outstanding ones which we can see now remains,

TOUCH OF EVIL (cert. 12A 1 hr. 50 mins.) is re-issued in a restored version with Welles' requested editorial changes. Directed by Orson Welles, he also takes the main part of Hank Quinlan, a corrupt homicide cop working at a US border town. A young Charlton Heston is the honest Mexican narcotics policeman with Janet Leigh - getting into a number of scary situations, but at least she doesn't go into a shower - as his new wife. Marlene Dietrich is dramatic in her role as a confidante of Hank and Zsa Zsa Gabor appears briefly.

It's a dark, all-absorbing film noir and well worth seeing in this new version. As Tanya Dietrich) remarks at the end about Hank, "He was some kind of a man. What does it matter what you say about people?" could equally be said about Welles.

     
     

 

 


 

THEATRE TIP

Here is a round-up of what is new in the theatre:

Bobby Davro - who I'm afraid I only know from his hilarious exploits on Dancing on Ice - puts in a magnificent performance in the revival of Simon Block's NOT A GAME FOR BOYS (King's Head Theatre until 5 July).

Davro is not the only performer worthy of comment. He plays Eric, one of three taxi drivers who meet to play in a table tennis league. The other two are Oscar (Alan Drake) and Tony (Oliver Joel). Although they are supposed to be playing together as a team, each brings his own troubles to the match.

Eric is the team captain but he has a difficult wife and home life and feels envious of Oscar's bachelor existence, as does Tony who has committed adultery and been found out by his wife. Oscar, himself explains to the others that life is not all sugar for him; he is alone while they have partners in life.

A very well-written play is brought to life by the three actors with the comedian Davro showing that he can deliver humorous lines as we expect, but also very emotional speeches about how much the time he spends playing table tennis with his mates means to him. I enjoyed the sharp repartee between the characters. The men are well- differentiated both in the writing and acting.

Simon Block's play stands up as well now as when first performed in 1995. He is well served by his actors and the production is well staged by Jason Lawson at the charming King's Head Theatre in London. If you haven't been able to catch it during this run, watch out for its next revival.

A lovely set in a leafy Regent's Park. Matthew Dunster makes full use of the natural surroundings in his production of THE SEAGULL at Regent's Park Open Air Theatre (until 11 July. Box Office 0844 826 4242). Torben Betts new version of Anton Chekhov's play brings an easy-to-understand quality to the work. For once Sorin's country estate is believable with a lake of real water at the back - the servants actually swim in it.

The characters remain recognisably intact, although we are given a different interpretation of the author Boris Tregorin (Alex Robertson) who here comes across as an egotistical young man only out for his own pleasure. He is doted on first by Irina Arkadina (Janie Dee) and later by the young budding actress Nina (Sabrina Bartlett) who follows him to Moscow.

The new translation gives us an elderly Peter Sorin (Ian Redford) who is unhappy about the ageing process and Masha (Lisa Diveney) who can't bear the teacher, Simon (Colin Hoult) who, while complaining about his lack of money really loves her. Masha, however, even though she marries him, can't bear his touch and adores the suicide-prone Konstantin (Matthew Tennyson) the son of Arkadina, who loves Nina.

I thought that Janie Dee wouldn't be flamboyant enough for Arkadina, but she manages to portray the actress as lively, selfish and completely self-absorbed. Her little parade around the stage to show off her fine figure is both amusing and sad in a way as she tries to recreate her youth. The other actors give very good portrayals as the various characters that cross each other and bring out the play's country estate mannerisms. Colin Hoult is particularly good as the teacher regretting his constant lack of money and desperate to turn his wife - a fine portrayal by Lisa Diveney - into a traditional wife and mother. I enjoyed, too, Ian Redford's characterisation of Sorin who has regrets over his lack of a fulfilled life. And the young ones Nina and Konstantin, who we hope will become lovers, are very well acted by Sabrina Bartlett and Matthew Tennyson.

The Open Air Theatre attracts many first-time visitors to a Chekhov play and it is good to see them here obviously fully understanding and following the various strands. Well worth a visit.

You can book now for the wonderful musical Seven Brides for Seven Brothers which is coming to the Open Air Theatre soon and runs from 16 July to 29 August.

Lenny Henry as Frank, the jaded lecturer teaching a very ordinary hairdresser in the revival of Willy Russell's well-written play Educating Rita, sounds exciting. In the event the new arrival Lashana Lynch as Rita proves the most attractive element in EDUCATING RITA (Minerva Theatre, Chichester Festival Theatre until 25 July. Box office 01243 7813120). Lashana, with a great Liverpool accent, brings freshness to the part of Rita that goes a long way to explaining why Frank, tutoring his first Open University course, is so attracted by her and willing to spend his time helping her to achieve her aim of getting an education as the main part of discovering her true self. The play takes place over January to December 1983.

Rita starts off as an uneducated young woman whose husband disapproves of her taking the course. She is anxious to learn everything that Frank can teach her. And Frank knows a lot. True his reliance on alcohol can interfere with his teaching but he certainly knows all about Chekhov, Yeats and Shakespeare's plays, not forgetting E.M. Forster's Howards End. Rita is 26 and now keen, "to learn everything."

Rita is always natural and chats to Frank not only about the clients in the hairdressing salon where she works but also about his private life. Through her questioning we learn that Frank and his wife parted and he lives with an ex-student, now a tutor at the University. He used to write poetry but gave it up as he wasn't good enough. Rita enjoys speaking to him in contrast to those around her; "We've got no culture, the people I live with, work with," she says. Her husband at one point burns her essays and books because, Rita says, he is afraid of her becoming stronger.

As the two progress in their teaching time together, Rita finds an inner strength and becomes more confident in her abilities, while Frank descends into an alcoholic stupor.

Lenny Henry's performance wasn't helped on press night by the sudden forgetfulness of his lines. About half an hour in he began a speech, stumbled and started again only to come to a full stop. Asking permission from the audience, he left the stage followed by his young co-star. He was out for a very few minutes and having gathered himself, came back and continued with word perfect accuracy in a somewhat subdued performance. I don't think he is helped by a rather strange wig which although tinged with grey isn't really necessary as Henry is actually the right age for Frank and so his own appearance would have been fine! Both actors bring out the humour in the lines.

Lashana gives a lively and very attractive portrayal of a young woman growing as she becomes educated. Finding herself leads to greater independence and the young actress puts all this across in a performance, under the direction of Michael Buffong, that is truly memorable.

It's a pity that LUNA GALE (Hampstead Theatre , London until 18 July 2015. Box Office 020 7722 9301) is not set in England. The insight the new play by Rebecca Gilman gives into how social services (or the US equivalent) deals with a complex issue is fascinating but somewhat different from the way that UK social services operates.

Caroline (Sharon Small), a social worker in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, is confronted by the case of six months' old baby Luna Gale (the title of the play) whose young parents, Karlie (Rachel Redford) and Peter (Alexander Arnold) are meth addicts who can't look after their baby in a suitable manner. Step in Cindy (Caroline Faber) assisted by her pastor (Corey Johnson). Cindy wants to look after her daughter's child and all goes well until she starts to inflict her religious beliefs on the child and moreover wants to adopt Luna permanently. Desperate to have their baby back, the parents work to overcome their drug addiction and stop Cindy from indoctrinating their child. Caroline is shocked to discover that her own boss is part of the evangelical church attended by Cindy. Facing the dilemma of who is best for Luna's future, Caroline has to deal with her own problems as well as weighting up the advantages of the grandmother against those of the child's actual parents.

There is a sub-plot concerning one of Caroline's former cases. This seems superfluous to the main thrust of the play.

This is a play which challenges one's own feelings and intellect. What would we do in similar circumstances? The direction by Michael Attenborough is sharp and the play is extremely well acted by the whole cast. The writing is realistic and often humorous. It is most certainly well worth a visit.

Sharon Small as Caroline in Luna Gale

Rory Kinnear comes across just right as an Everyman who finds himself in the middle of a nightmare situation in the Young Vic's THE TRIAL (until 22 August 2015. Box Office 020 7922 2922). Franz Kafka's classic play has been adapted by Nick Gill and is presented in an imaginative way by Richard Jones. Kinnear plays Josef K who is arrested on his 35th birthday. He doesn't know why he has been arrested and, although allowed to return to his office, is followed and taken on a nightmare journey.

Jones shows us that K is on a journey by having a travelator in the centre of the stage. K moves along this until he comes to a set and at each set it is stationary while a scene is played out. K is helped or hindered along his way by a variety of characters - all played by 11 other actors. Of note is Kate O'Flynn who plays the females with whom K has sexual encounters. Also very good is Hugh Skinner (Will in the TV series W1A), virtually unrecognisable in his two roles. I liked too Marc Antolin who has a huge beard which dominates his character of the Flogger and another member of the ensemble who makes her mark is Sian Thomas as the lawyer in K's case.

Kinnear is always watchable and, although he speaks in a strange sort of babble at times, he comes across as a convincing young man as he sweats through his travels as an ordinary man caught up in a series of extraordinary events.

****

We looked ahead to a long evening with a potentially difficult story to grasp. What transpired with ORESTEIA (Almeida Theatre, London until 18 July. Box office: 020 7359 4404) was certainly different from our expectations.

Sure, four acts running for 3 hours 40 minutes is a long time but the trilogy of plays was so beautifully executed that time didn't really bother most of the audience. Robert Icke presents a completely new version of Aeschylus' tragedy. It is both written and directed by Icke who directs his cast of ten in an updated, strong, dramatic play showing how Agamemnon (Angus Wright) sacrifices his daughter Iphigenia to fulfil the prophecy and bring about the end of war. He considers it a supreme act of sacrifice and ignores the pleas of his wife Klytemnestra (Lia Williams) who detests his act and later kills her husband. She herself is killed by her son Orestes (Luke Thompson) with encouragement from his sister Elektra (Jessica Brown Findlay from TV's Downton Abbey).

Lia Williams & Angus Wright in Oresteia

So lots of murder going on but Icke also manages the domestic scenes beautifully. There is a well-acted and designed scene of the family of four - with daughter Elektra coming in late - at dinner arguing like many ordinary families do.

Strong on character and presentation, the production can be criticised for its over emphasis on time. Each interval had a countdown clock and ushers telling us in very strict tones to return to our seats. On the positive side there is no chorus and, thankfully, no masks on view.

The acting from all is excellent with Lia Williams giving a very strong, particularly moving performance as Klytemnestra, a mother who has lost her child and subsequently takes enormous revenge on her husband. Jessica Brown Findlay shows the strength of Elektra as she works to avenge the death of her father at the hands of her mother. Ann Firbank as the elderly servant shows the real ageing woman as she has difficulty going down the stairs.

*****

Oresteia will be followed by Bakkai with Ben Whishaw and Bertie Carvel form 23 July to 19 September. I suggest you book now for both.

It is always difficult to follow a successful film. However, BEND IT LIKE BECKHAM (Phoenix Theatre, London until 24 October. Box office: 0843 316 1082) is not just a re-make of the film. It's a brand new musical telling basically the same story as the film, directed by Gurinder Chadha, who directed the film. Composer Howard Goodall with lyrics by Charles Hart, along with contributions from a pioneer of the British Bhangra sound, Kuljit Bhamra, enhance the content with lively music and songs.

We meet Jess (Natalie Drew), the daughter of Punjabi parents, living in Southall. She is mad keen on football in general and David Beckham - who could 'bend' a ball past the opposition team members - in particular. Jess joins a women's football team but has to keep this secret from her parents, who are keen on her being a good Indian girl who should be preparing herself to be a proper wife with the necessary housewifery skills after she has finished her education. Jess is helped by her new friend, Jules (Lauren Samuels). A further complication arises when Jess and the white coach Joe (Jamie Campbell Bower) become attracted to each other, even though Jules also fancies him. Jess has to hide all her football related activities from her family who are in the midst of preparing a huge traditional Sikh wedding for their other daughter, Pinky (Preeya Kalidas).

The choreography, under Aletta Collins, is lively with a mixture of different styles from the Asian culture as well as British pop. Songs include some memorable tunes and lyrics and the show is distinctly upbeat even when Jess appears to face the loss of her dream.

Young Natalie Drew is most effective and believable as Jess and works well with Lauren Samuels in the part created by Keira Knightly in the 2002 film. Lauren as Jules has to show her great friendship with Jess which is tested as both of them fancy the same bloke. And Jamie Campbell Bower as Joe, the chap in question, gives a worthy interpretation of the good looking coach. I liked, too, Tony Jayawardena as Mr Bhamra, Jess's dad, who wants only the best for his daughter but fails to realise that what he considers the best is not the same as what Jess desires. There is a particularly strong song by Sophie-Louise Dann as Jules' mother who sings There She Goes, a moving mother and daughter number.

Bend it Like Beckham at the Phoenix Theatre

Gurinder Chadha has given us a lively, most enjoyable show. If we miss any reference to the hardships suffered by many Asian families both in terms of racist behaviour from others as well as cultural difficulties, then we can overlook this as we enjoy the rest of this exciting show full of lively music, song and good acting.

It was great to see many Asian groups in the audience. This is a super multi-cultural show which I am sure will inspire many young girls to take up football and strive to join the England women's national team which is currently so successful. Take your friends and go see!

****

     

Carlie Newman

   
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