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FILM:June 2009

Those of you who only really like loud action films are unlikely to find LAST CHANCE HARVEY (cert.12A 1hr.32mins.) appealing. But this character study of two lonely people in a late middle-age romance in London is a nice, quiet enjoyable production.

Emma Thompson plays Kate, an unmarried middle-aged woman constantly plagued by her mother and friends trying to get her involved with a man and, as far as her friends are concerned, any man will do as some of her blind dates prove! Her mother (a good performance here by Eileen Atkins) is intrusive and telephones Kate all the time with both imaginary and real concerns and her work, collecting information from passengers at the airport is often difficult.

Last Chance Harvey

One of these passengers turns out to be Dustin Hoffman as Harvey, who comes to his daughter's wedding in London under a warning by his New York boss that he has to deliver a good jingle for a client or he will lose his job. Harvey is surprised to find that his daughter's stepfather (Josh Brolin) is to accompany her down the aisle. It is as Harvey is absorbing this news, plus the fact that he is unable to get back to New York as his boss demands, that he meets Kate. As the couple wander around London, they find they can laugh together and a real friendship develops. Director, Joel Hopkins, has elicited sensitive, humorous performances from his leads and worked well with the London scenery. You can witness a lovely light comedic touch in the well-written script.

Fermat's Room

FERMAT'S ROOM (cert.12A 1 hr.28mins.) is a nail biting Spanish thriller (with English sub-titles) about four mathematicians who are invited to spend time together to work out a very important enigma. They find themselves locked in a room being given a series of logical problems to solve in one minute each or the room shrinks in on them! To avoid being crushed to death they need to discover what connects them and why someone seems to be trying to kill them.

Starring Elena Ballesteros, Santi Millan and Luis Homar, it is written and directed by newcomers Luis Piedrahita and Rodrigo Sopena. Always exciting and well acted, you should enjoy the tension and trying to work out the twists in the plot.

FUGITIVE PIECES (cert.15 1hr.46mins.) is another film about guilt and the holocaust, but just as every story of that terrible period is different, so is this story. Based on the novel by Anne Michaels (it won the Orange prize), it tells of Jacob who is haunted by what happened to his family in Poland during WW2. Rescued by a Greek archaeologist (the excellent Rade Sherbedgia), Jacob is taken to a Greek island and later to Canada where he finds it hard to fully love and commit himself to his wife (Rosamund Pike).

Fugitive pieces

As a writer Jacob struggles to remember and interpret what happened and is unable to find peace until his traumas have been dealt with. Director, Jeremy Podeswa, himself a holocaust survivor deals sensitively and imaginatively with the issues and elicits an amazingly good performance from Robbie Kay as the young Jacob. Stephen Dillane, whilst not striking one as typically Polish or Jewish, demonstrates Jacob's angst. Not a lot of laughs here but a worthy addition to the group of films on this subject. The film moves between different time zones.


THEATRE TIP

As does our first theatre piece under review. JB Priestly plays around with time in a most interesting way in TIME AND THE CONWAYS (National Theatre until 27 July).

Time and the Conways

Director, Rupert Gould carries this concept into his production with some excellent uses of technology to show time passing backwards and forwards. Unusually for these times the play is in three acts and, even more unusually, the first and third acts take place in 1919 and the middle act in 1938. We first meet widowed Mrs Conway (Francesca Annis) and her six children as they celebrate the 21st birthday of Kay (Hattie Morahan).

They are carefree and full of what they are doing and how their futures will develop. Most are scornful of the somewhat unattractive Ernest Beevers (Adrian Scarborough) who is from a lower class and rather uncouth in manners. He is obviously smitten with beautiful Hazel who is resolved to have nothing to do with him. Kay wants to be a writer and Madge (Fenella Woolgar) professes herself a socialist. Only the youngest daughter and the nervous brother (Paul Ready) are satisfied with their lot.

In the second act we see how things turned out for the family: Kay is now celebrating her 40th birthday and is a journalist for a daily paper writing trivial articles while Madge is a senior teacher at a private school and the shy brother is still content in his lowly job. The family are living on a much lower income and turn to Edward Beevers to assist as he is now married to Hazel. He refuses and when we return to 1919 in the last act we see why through the behaviour of the Conways, in particular the mother. The movement between different time zones needs a delicate touch which the director and cast have managed. There are some good theatrical touches at the end of the second and third acts which show how time not only passes but how the future and the past are part of the present.

The National Theatre has a new play which, while dealing with a far country, gives us insight into the behaviour of the British, in particular how they deal with the affairs of others. THE OBSERVER (until 8 July) by Mark Charman, has an international observer, Fiona, who has been undertaking the role of monitoring elections for a number of years, finally realising that it is not enough to just observe elections taking place in this (fictitious) West African country, but it is now time to help people exercise their democratic right to vote. Director, Richard Eyre is able to bring out the conflict between Fiona and those with whom she deals as well as that between those who live there and a foreigner coming in to tell people what they should be doing and how to do it. Anna Chancellor puts across Fiona's dedication and belief that she is doing what is best for the West Africans in their first democratic elections while Chuk Iwujki as her translater questions her actions with conviction.

A young, lively production of ROMEO AND JULIET (until 23 August) starts the GLOBE THEATRE's Young Hearts season. At the press conference to launch this year's performances, we questioned the very young-looking Ellie Kendrick about her age. It was surprising to find that she is 18. She looks 13, the right age for Juliet and the right looks for Anne Frank who she portrayed on TV recently. As a very young, inexperienced actress she has advantages of youthfulness and enthusiasm but not always the strength to show the nuances of the character or enough variety in her voice. Here is an intelligent reading, though, and probably the best interpretation of the innocence of Juliet since Claire Bloom at the Old Vic in 1952. She is matched by the enthusiasm of Adetomiwa Edun's Romeo. Why, if the play is announced as "two hours traffic of our play" does it run for three hours?

WAITING FOR GODOT (Haymarket) has four actors who provide us with a master class in acting. Of course, we all go to see Sir Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart in the main roles but stay to be enchanted by the quality of performance given by Simon Callow, as an exaggerated ringmaster Pozzo, and Ronald Pickup as his servant, Lucky.

Waiting for Godot

Director Sean Mathias has given the production a comic flavour and McKellen as Estragon and Stewart as Vladimir enhance every amusing line and the close relationship between the two tramps works well. I was not keen, however, on the set which, although illustrating the possible vaudevillian background of the two tramps, seemed a bit out of place. The requisite tree stands in the middle of a stage with old fallen masonry on the ground and stage boxes on each side.

I was more affected by DUET FOR ONE (Vaudeville) the first time I saw it in 1986, probably as it was nearer the death of my own father from multiple sclerosis. MS is, of course, what the violinist is suffering from as she visits a psychiatrist for help with her depression. Juliet Stephenson gives a most intelligent reading of the musician, based on Jacqueline Du Pre, for whom playing and performing has been her whole life. All her emotions flick across Stephenson's face so that even when she professes to being absolutely fine, we know that the opposite is true. In the more subdued role of the analyst, Henry Goodman shows that he is more than capable of dealing with a serious role - some of you may remember his lively Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof. Tom Kempinski manages to insert some humour in his play and director, Matthew Lloyd, has put movement into what is essentially two people talking.

Amongst Friends

Hampstead Theatre's productions always look magnificent and the venue itself is welcomning and comfortable to visit. The play now on is no exception and the set for AMONGST FRIENDS (until 13 June) is beautifully executed: the penthouse of a gated complex in south London, where Lara (Helen Baxendale), a column writing journalist lives with her ex-MP writer husband (Aden Gillett). When they invite former neighbours, the kindly Caitlin (Emma Cunniffe) and husband (James Dreyfus) to dinner, we hope for another Abigail's Party.

Instead, with the arrival of Shelley (an over the top Vicki Pepperdine) we get a kind of sub-Six degrees of Separation comedy that has some good lines, but doesn't ring true even in the satirical style in which it is staged. There are topical references and yet Shelley lights a cigarette with no mention of whether her hosts smoke or not. We see again how very difficult it is to write a play, yet continue to hope that Hampstead can again produce a new play that is worthy of their fine setting.

     
     

Carlie Newman

   
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