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FILM:June 2011

Parents beware! Although MY DOG TULIP (cert. 12A 1 hr. 22 mins.) is a delightful animated film, it is by no means suitable for young children. My Dog Tulip is an adaptation of the rightly celebrated, semi-autobiographical novel by J.R. Ackerley about his 16-year relationship with his rescued Alsatian bitch, Tulip

Written in 1956 and set in London in the 1950s, the story is narrated by Christopher Plummer as Ackerley (Joe). He describes his wonderful friendship with his dog, but also his difficulties with Tulip's eccentric bowel movements and other excretions and - most particularly - his efforts to mate Tulip so that she produces pups.

A full description of a dog in heat is given - very adult! At one point Joe brings his sister Nancy (a last role for Lynn Redgrave) to look after Tulip while he is at the office in the morning and she and Joe "tussle for custody" of dog. Joe's search for a vet and the various adventures that befall him and his dog are most inventive - or well-depicted, if they happen to be true. Descriptions, both verbal and in images, deal with the minutiae of life such as staying with a friend who has a sofa in every room, including bathroom and kitchen. Unfortunately Tulip defecates in the guest bedroom and the two leave in disgrace. Some of the episodes between master and dog are really moving as Tulip helps compensate for Joe's lonely life.

Plummer has a lovely mature and sympathetic voice as Joe Ackerley and Redgrave plays Joe's sister and also the green grocer's wife both well and very differently. There are mostly coloured pictures but sometimes black and white and all help to give a fairly accurate picture of London in the 50s. There are different animation styles used to show different times and activities, including daydreams, and they all work well together. Very amusing, the style of writing is intelligent and very different from usual animated films. If Brokeback Mountain is a love story which happens to feature two men, then this is most certainly a love story about the mutual devotion of a man and his dog.

A modern day Australian western? This is - sort of - what RED HILL (cert. 15 1 hr. 36 mins.) is! Escaping from the city for the sake of the health of his pregnant wife, young police officer Shane Cooper (Ryan Kwanten) turns up at for his first day working in the tiny town of Red Hill, a suburb of Canberra, Australian Capital Territory, in the hill-country. While being introduced to the town and its inhabitants, his boss, Old Bill (Steve Bisley) is suddenly alerted to a TV announcement about an escaped convict. Bill explains that the escaped convict is an aborigine, Jimmy Conway (Tom E. Lewis). Conway, given life imprisonment for murder, is intent on revenge against the cops who had him imprisoned. The action all takes place during one day as Shane becomes involved in pursuing the escapee alone as well as alongside other cops and local citizens who have been armed and instructed to kill Conway on sight. The action builds up until the final exciting scenes. Lewis portrays the escaped prisoner with truthfulness in showing us his character with particular reference to the plight of the indigenous population. The acting is of a uniformly high standard. Ryan Kwanten is just right as the young cop worried about his wife, yet concerned to do not only his duty but also what he believes to be morally proper. Bisley plays old timer Bill as a man convinced that his actions are correct even when questioned by his new recruit.

The music, composed by Dmitri Golovka, with additional music by folk musician, Charlie Parr, is as beautiful as it is evocative of the mood of the film and of the area. The photography of the landscape is lovely with some great shots of the alteration of the colours of the land which change with the light as the day moves to evening and then night. Red Hill (the place is named after the colour of its soil) is a nail-biting thriller of a movie, which is always engaging, of a good length and keeps the audience guessing about the outcome until the end. Director, Patrick Hughes, can hold his head high as it invites favourable comparison with westerns of a bygone age. The film is highly recommended.

The documentary film, VIDAL SASSOON THE MOVIE (cert. PG 1 hr. 30 mins.90 mins.) has a somewhat pretentious title for what is, after all, a little film about a man who changed the art of hairdressing. For those of you around in the 60s, the name of Vidal Sassoon and his innovative hairstyling should be of interest. For younger folk, it will probably mean hairdressing products, shampoo etc. The film virtually follows Michael Gordon as he documents Sassoon's life in a book. Director, Teper, films Gordon as he interviews those who have been associated with the (self-styled) God of hairdressing throughout his long life. Now 81, Sassoon looks back on his early life from his days in a Jewish orphanage, through his apprenticeship in a local saloon, where he was taken on without paying, to his part in the fight against Mosley and other fascists, to his eventual success. Born in Hammersmith, London in 1928, Vidal was put into the orphanage for seven years after his father left home when his son was three. On his way through life, Sassoon spent a year in Israel, fighting in the Israeli Defence Forces in the Arab-Israeli war of 1948. Although the early marriages are somewhat glossed over, Vidal married his first wife, Elaine in 1956 and Ronnie, who speaks about her husband in the film his fourth in 1992.

He created his famous short "bob" haircut in 1963 and is best known for devising the geometric cut whereby after the hair has been cut, one only had to wash and let dry - without the huge rollers which many of us used in the 50s! He says that he cut hair in the way he thought was right for each person. Vidal's haircuts not only changed the look of women but, particularly with Mary Quant, ushered in the "swinging sixties." This pioneering hair fashion made him famous virtually throughout the world and he was able to set up schools, teach and pass on his extensive knowledge. The film over-praises Sassoon - at one point talking of "how one man changed the world with a pair of scissors" - but yet he was very successful and those of us around in the era of change will remember the time in a glow of nostalgia. For others: the documentary is a film showing one aspect of the fashions of this particular period.







Hooray, summer has arrived! How do I know? Why the SHAKESPEARE GLOBE has its first play of the season, ALL'S WELL THAT ENDS WELL (in rep until 21 August)

While this is an interesting play with a story that needs following carefully, it does not exactly charm. The chief male character, Bertram (Sam Crane) is a snobbish young man who refuses to marry Helena (Ellie Piercy) after she has cured the King and asked for him in marriage as her reward. When he realises that he cannot avoid his bride he tells her that he will only be her husband if she can get the ring from his finger and prove that she is pregnant with his child.

How she manages this and is reunited with her husband involves some devious plotting, but all's well that ends well. Well, only if you believe that the virtuous Helena should accept such a weak, disdainful partner. There is an amusing sub-plot whereby Bertram's friend, the braggart Parolles (a delightfully robust performance by James Garnon), is tricked by the lords into betraying his companions. Janie Dee gives a forthright portrayal (although the actress is younger than usually played), of the Countess of Roussilon, Bertram's mother, who supports her ward Helena in her pursuit of Bertram. Sam Crane looks too sweet for us to believe in his nastiness. Piercy shows Helena's strength of character and is able to outwit Bertram. As usual the Globe audience treats everything as a joke so that some of the more moving passages lose their impact. Director, John Dove keeps the staging simple but provides a clearly spoken, easily understandable version of the play and it is a reasonable length!

The National Theatre presents a revival of Clifford Odets' 1938 play ROCKET TO THE MOON (until 21 June). In these days of shows with ambiguous endings and musicals galore, it is good to have a play with a consistent story - one that surprises us right to the end. Life as they know it changes for dentist Ben Stark (Joseph Millson) his domineering wife Belle (Keeley Hawes) and her wealthy father Mr Prince (Nicholas Woodeson) when beguiling Cleo Singer (Jessica Raine ) takes a job as Ben's dental secretary. The play is set in Ben's dental waiting room over the summer of 1938. We understand that Belle's father has provided cash to allow his son-in-law to set up the practice, but Belle controls his day-to-day business affairs. She doesn't get on with her father, who announces himself as the "American King Lear". Ben sees Cleo as a way to freedom, while Mr Prince hopes she can help him stay alive. The two men, along with a third in the shape of impresario, Willy Wax (Tim Steed), compete for Cleo's affections.

Although Cleo wants to escape from her poverty-stricken family life, she also believes in true love and her decision will affect all the characters. Odets is a left-wing writer and is aware of the Depression outside the dental practice. He has to work with his hero and heroine to ensure that his views fit in with the actions of his main characters. The chief players deliver their scenes with passion and look just right in their parts. Odets has written an actors' play in that the other small parts also have a number of telling speeches and those involved put the playwright's words across in a meaningful way.

The delightful PRINT ROOM THEATRE in London (info 020 7221 6036) has mounted a revival of a little know Tennessee Williams play of 1968, KINGDOM OF EARTH (until 28 May). Although not one of Williams' better efforts, it contains ideas that come to the surface more fully in his better written, A Streetcar Named Desire and Suddenly Last Summer. Set in the 1960s in the about-to-be flooded Mississippi Delta, the action takes place in a dilapidated farmhouse. Lot returns in a very ill state to the house where he was born and where he lived with his adored mother. His mother is now dead and he brings his new wife, Myrtle to live with him in order to secure ownership of the house.

Myrtle soon discovers the resentful half-brother, Chicken, skulking in the kitchen. He, too, wants the farmhouse, which he considers to be rightfully his as he has worked the land for his mother. Chicken is of mixed race and Williams confronts the racism of the South in his depiction of Chicken, especially in his gradual sexual conquest of his brother's wife, Myrtle.

David Sturzaker is just right as the rugged almost savage Chicken and Fiona Glascott gives an often moving performance as the squeaky speaking, trashy blonde young woman who believes that she has had a life in show business because she once appeared as a headless woman in a carnival act. Joseph Drake combines the horror of the young man in Psycho dressing up in his dead mother's clothes with the vulnerability of a tuberculosis sufferer, while at the same time combating his brother's taunts about his sexuality. Lucy Bailey, the director, has made the play into an energetic work that engages the audience throughout. The audience sits on two side of the well-designed set which shows the run-down farm in detail including the dripping water.

There is a play which is full of sound on at the Hampstead Theatre, The play is, ironically, called SILENCE (until 28 May), but made with the combined efforts of the experimental company Filter and the RSC, there are noises of all kinds produced on stage by sound engineers as the actors move and speak in their roles. A somewhat complicated tale follows a few different story lines:

Michael (Oliver Dinsdale) and Kate (Katy Stephens) are married, (picture above) living in Battersea, when we meet them in 2010 but Kate returns to Moscow to find a long-lost love. Michael, a documentary film maker, is following a story about a police surveillance unit working secretly in the early 1990s to nail the perpetrators of a riot against the poll tax. There are also some lovely little scenes with Michael's sound man, Peter (Jonjo O'Neill) yearning after the young woman next door and recording the sounds she makes as she eats her toast and answers the phone. They nearly speak to each other, but never quite achieve a full conversation

The action moves between the 1990s in Berlin, Moscow and around the area in Russia and London in the present day. The stage is completely exposed with the sound men sitting in the front and raised behind the actors, who wait at the sides to make their entrances and assist in the very simple scene changes. It is great to see the RSC actors, who performed in Stratford and London in Shakespearean parts, showing their skills in this most unusually devised and presented show.

The RSC's new theatres at Stratford-upon-Avon are set in a lovely site beside the river. There are many features from the original theatre and more than a touch of similarity with the temporary Courtyard Theatre, which, I thought, delightful. The Swan Theatre hosts two excellent productions of rarely seen plays.

CARDENIO (in rep until 6 October) is being presented under the heading of "Shakespeare's lost play re-imagined." In the most interesting programme which accompanies the play, it is claimed that Cardenio was written by Shakespeare and Fletcher based on the Cardenio story in Don Quixote. It is admitted that it is difficult to know how much of it is by Shakespeare himself, but there are certainly elements of a number of his plays in the text and in the story itself.

The language, however, is not the richest Shakespearean speech and Cardenio himself comes out with some strange metaphors and similes, but the characters are well-defined, the story - certainly as interpreted by the Director, Gregory Doran and cast in this production - engrossing.

The Duke's son, Fernando (Alex Hassell) pursues and, by promising marriage, tricks a wealthy farmer's daughter, Dorotea (Pippa Nixon) into having sex with him. After callously leaving her, he falls for his best friend Cardenio's fiancée, Luscinda (Lucy Briggs-Owen) and gains her snobbish father's consent to marry her. Rather than marry him, Luscinda who is in love with Cardenio (Oliver Rix) hides herself in a convent. Cardenio almost loses his mind in the country. The picture is of Oliver Rix as Cardenio and Lucy Briggs-Owen as Luscinda. Alex Hassell is a most attractive rogue while we feel for Rix as poor Cardenio, who has been so badly betrayed by his noble friend. Dorotea pursues her "husband" Fernando and… but it is worth seeing for yourself how it all works out.

The advantage here is that, because the play is not well-known like other Shakespearean works, the audience can watch it without preconceived ideas about how it should be presented, and, more importantly, enjoy discovering what happens as the production rolls along in a most satisfying manner.

THE CITY MADAM (in rep until 4 October) is also a little gem to be savoured. Again it is not really the writing by Philip Massinger (1632), as much as the lively production, directed by Dominic Hill and the all- round excellence of the RSC company of actors which is so satisfying. The characteristics of the seventeenth century society depicted here share much in common with those in the spotlight today.

This is highlighted in one scene showing a prostitute in bed reading Hello! magazine.

Sir John Frugal (Christopher Godwin) rescues his brother, Luke (Jo Stone-Fewings) from prison and brings him home to live with him, his wife and two daughters (Matti Houghton and Lucy Briggs Owen). Somewhat like Cinderella's awful stepmother, Lady Frugal (Sara Crowe) treats Luke as a servant and encourages her daughters to do the same and also to demand luxuries from their suitors. We see Luke turn from a most caring, humble recipient of his brother's kindness to a real villain once his brother has left home to live in a monastery, leaving Luke in charge of his riches.

Luke not only treats the three women (shown in the picture above) parsimoniously but is also really cruel to his brothers' debtors and the low life who he befriended when he was poor. This satirical comedy draws attention to fashion and material consumption. The play also highlights the importance given to astrologers and to the difference between country and city, between servant and masters and the snobbish behaviour of a family whose only reason for having a title is because of the wealth of the man of the house.

The director gives us a most lively production with disguises, puppetry, masks and magic (albeit of a very basic kind). It is also fascinating to see many of the same actors from Cardenio embrace their very different roles here. Sara Crowe (originally best known for her work in cheese adverts) is just right as the lady with airs who really believes she could "pass for a young virgin." Of course the play has a moral, which is pointed out very clearly at the end.

Both plays have the most beautiful costumes. The exaggerated attire of the three Frugal (in name but most certainly not in character) women before Luke strips them of their rich clothes, is completely over the top with many frills and flounces. There is great music and singing in both plays currently on offer at the Swan.

Carlie Newman

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