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FILM:June 2015

I recently spent time with swoony Clooney discussing his latest film at a press conference. He seemed pleased with the film as it brings in thoughts about climate change and about the future for all of us and especially the generations to come.

TOMORROWLAND: A WORLD BEYOND (cert.12A 2 hrs. 19 mins.), directed by Brad Bird, has Casey played by Britt Robertson - also at the press conference along with the director and writer - a bright teenager who lives in Florida with her recently made redundant father, (Tim McGraw) and younger brother. She comes across a very strange badge with a big 'T' on it. Trying to find out what it means she meets Athena (Raffey Cassidy) a very unusual young girl (in fact a robot) who is able to fight, but hasn't got any older since the 1960s when she met the young Frank who was attracted to her and now finds himself following a child. It is Athena who takes Casey to Frank (George Clooney) who is now a grumpy pessimist having been evicted from Tomorrowland, an alternative land where everything is wonderful, 50 years before.

Facing David Nix (Hugh Laurie) and his prediction of complete destruction of Earth, Casey and Frank, with Athena's assistance, set about stopping the prediction and saving the world. There is more than a little of ET and The Wizard of Oz in this movie, but nothing too frightening so it is an ideal film for the whole family to see. The two young girls are very good and Laurie and Clooney work well against each other. The message about saving the planet and being alert to the dangers of climate change are strong and will, hopefully, resonate with film goers.

As for swoony Clooney, in interview he said he hoped the message will get across to young people that individuals can change things; look at Rosa Parks on a bus. He points out the future is not inevitable, ordinary people can alter it. Director Brad Bird points out that the film is an idea of what tomorrow can be.

George is pleased that this large-scale film has been made on real sets, not green screen. The girls added that they liked not having CGI but real people to react to. Clooney remarked that young Frank's speech, "I got tired of waiting around for someone else to do it" - so Frank invented a very special back pack - gives us a look at Frank's vision and that's what the film shows. George undertook the film as he wanted to work with the director and writer and loved the script, theme and issues taken up in the film about a good future. Clooney admitted that the endeavors he's taken up won't succeed in his lifetime but are still worth doing.

I asked what the actors found most scary to undertake. Casey: "had to climb up on a platform and then stand on it and struggle with someone." Raffey: "I trained in martial arts and the director made sure I was comfortable." George: "I trained for minutes. I enjoyed getting beaten up."

In answer to George being optimistic, he agreed and said he has had a lucky life, now "A very good time in my life - wife, house." When asked what one image he would take from the film, George said that films are an entertainment and if people can walk away discussing an issue then that's a bonus. "Looking at the future, when I was a boy I thought there would be flying cars but in fact we don't have that now, but I would hope that we can get away from technology a bit - while shaking hands recently every person was taking a film so not really meeting the President; recording rather than watching." George wants less reliance on technology and more on real conversations etc.

Good film and George Clooney still a most handsome man with a lovely chocolatey voice.

Also recommended:

PITCH PERFECT 2 (cert. 12A 2hrs.) a second film about a group of A Capella singing college girls. The misfits including a highly amusing large girl called Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson) prepare for the A Capella World Championship competition in Denmark. Lots of good fun.

TIMBUKTU (cert.12A 1 hr. 35 mins.) deals with the injustices of Sharia law in a place not far from Timbuktu. A powerful very moving film primarily concerned with a farmer, living with his wife and daughter, who comes to grief with the law. Beautifully filmed and directed by Abderrahmane Sissako this Iranian film is well worth seeing.

1971 (cert. 15 1 hr. 43 mins.) is a really interesting film about whistle blowers who break into FBI offices in Pennsylvania and steal documents which they then released to the press. The documents showed details of the illegal surveillance programme against dissidents. Using archive footage and interviews with the now elderly anti-war activists this is a good, powerful film whose contents were previously unknown to me.

Continuing the story begun in Hope and Glory, John Boorman directs QUEEN AND COUNTRY (cert. 12A 1 hr. 59 mins), which shows young Bill (based on John himself) 10 years later. It's 1952 and 18-year-old Bill is called up to do his National Service. He makes friends with Percy (Caleb Landry Jones) and the two of them undergo various mishaps and adventures together in the Army. There is a very good characterisation of a work-to-rule Officer played by David Thewlis. The film gives a good idea of what army life was like for many conscripts at this time.

Not many people seem to have heard or seen the next film, which has now come out on DVD. In GREYHAWK (cert. 15 1 hr.33 mins.) we are helped to consider the difference in coping with blindness that you have had since childhood and finding yourself blind as an adult. Unfortunately Mal is one of the unlucky ones who has to deal with blindness when he loses his sight fighting in Afghanistan.

Returning as a wounded veteran, Mal (Alec Newman) lives with his guide dog on the tough Greyhawk council estate in a terrible area in London. His Labrador dog, Quince, is now everything to Mal. But one day, after an argument with a group of lads, the dog disappears. Not only does Mal lose his guide dog but he is hardly able to function without the dog's assistance and we feel for him as he stumbles from his local café to his home. He finds his old walking stick and gets help in working out his route. Mal knocks on flat doors to try and find the dog and is befriended by Paula (Zoe Telford) who has trouble keeping her teenage son out of trouble. She helps Mal produce leaflets which he distributes. An Asian neighbour is kind to him and tries to help as does his pub drinking companion, the elderly Howard (Jack Shepherd).

Mal starts off brusque and bad-tempered. He hates the estate he lives on and is about to move to a cottage in the country which he has bought with compensation money for the loss of his eyes. He gradually softens up with the help of single mother Paula who brings a little gentleness into his life and touches his more humane emotions. He is also grateful for the attentions of Howard and even appreciates the interest taken by his Asian neighbour.

Director Guy Pitt, together with his brother Matt, who wrote the screenplay, has given us a moving, always interesting story. The small parts are well portrayed and Newman is very convincing as a blind man already struggling to cope with the difficulties of living in a sighted world and then suddenly facing a major disaster with the loss of his dog. He has obviously done his research well and we notice how he puts out his hand as though holding the dog's lead before he finds a stick to use. The electronic music is in keeping with the film's tense heart-thumping moments as Mal searches for his dog. This is a good British drama, which is at times tense but with a truthfulness around the central character - with an exceptionally good performance by Alec Newman - which gives us a real taste of what it feels like to be blind in a hazardous, unkind environment.






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

McQUEEN (St James Theatre until 27 June 2015. Box Office 0844 264 2140) shows fashion designer Alexander McQueen towards the end of his too short life. While the play, by James Phillips and directed by John Caird, is beautifully presented, with imaginative choreography and entrancing production design, it's not entirely clear what view the playwright is taking and what message he wants the character of McQueen and the play to put across.

As Lee (McQueen's real name) contemplates his new designs, we see a succession of female models with two males, moving gracefully around the stage. A young American fan, Dahlia (Dianna Agron) breaks into Lee's workshop and announces she is there to steal a dress. Is she a manifestation of one side of Lee's character? It's never quite clear.

Stephen Wight as Lee and Dianna Agron as Dahlia in McQueen

As McQueen guides Dahlia around London we learn a little more about his life and background. One of the most interesting bits is when the designer actually constructs a dress on Dahlia - mind you, it's not a particularly spectacular garment! McQueen also goes to a men's tailor and remarks, "Everything I do is based on tailoring." He tells a story, which may or may not be true, about sewing the words, "I am a cunt" secretly into the lining of a jacket made for Prince Charles.

Tracy-Ann Oberman puts in an appearance as Isabella Blow, who discovered McQueen and bought his entire graduate fashion collection. Once again the actress shows her ability to produce a range of voices as she presents here an over-exaggerated woman in manner and voice. Oberman is lovely to look at in her amazing dress and she drawls in a manner which is so strange that it must be accurate! In a scene with Isabella, Alexander remarks sadly, "I'm not going to make it, Is…I'm not well."

Going around London with Dahlia and on the tube, a series of street scenes are shown on a back screen and we continually flash back to incidents in McQueen's life. Contemporary music illustrates the scenes. At the beginning and end of the piece we hear, "Relax, don't do it," on Lee's phone as he talks to the milliner, Philip Treacy. On enlarged photos we can see scars on McQueen's arms.

In a party scene, Lee dances with the male dancers. We are shown a range of dancing styles including bare feet and points.

We see where the designer got his bird themes from - he would watch birds as a hobby when young; he was a 'birder.'

Stephen Wight puts across the character of Alexander McQueen well and we see his torments as well as his roots and the conflict between his background and the design world. While great to look at, the play lacks a substantial centre.

Don't expect the usual version of Peter Pan when you go to the Open Air Theatre, Regent's Park. This PETER PAN (until 14 June. Box Office 0844 826 4242) is very different, although the main story of Peter and the Lost Boys is still here. Wendy and her two brothers are still in this version, but there is no Nana the dog!

Timothy Sheader has set this Peter Pan story in World War One. The play, based on JM Barrie's story, starts and finishes with injured soldiers in a military hospital. Wendy is a nurse and we see how Peter takes her to Neverland where she becomes a surrogate mother to the group of lost boys, telling them a bedtime story each night.

The highlight remains the flying sequences with members of the cast operating the equipment. They also control the puppets. Making the huge crocodile - made from two lamps and a stepladder - move.

Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie at Regent's Park Open Air Theatre.

The cast work well together. Wendy Darling (Kae Alexander) is a tough little cookie and Hiran Abeysekera's small light Peter Pan is a delight. Mischievous and curious about Wendy's world, he flies and moves around the stage in a most athletic manner. There is lively music and singing throughout the show.

Although the play finishes very soon, I am sure that it will be brought back just as William Golding's Lord of the Flies a terrific production - is returning to this theatre 3 September to 12 September.

I can't think of a jollier way to spend an evening than to be at the Old Vic's production of HIGH SOCIETY (until 22 August 2015. Box office: 0844 871 7628). Maria Friedman has directed a show that not only has beautifully sung songs and really good acting but also the loveliest of frocks currently on show in any musical in London. The Cole Porter musical - most memorable for its 1956 film version with Bing Crosby, Grace Kelly and Frank Sinatra - is itself based on Philip Barry's The Philadelphia Story.

We find ourselves on Long Island where Tracy Lord (Kate Fleetwood) is about to marry boring George Kettredge (Richard Grieve). Out of the blue C K Dexter Haven (Rupert Young), Tracy's first husband, appears at her home and proceeds to disrupt proceedings. He still likes to drink, but professes love for Tracy, who realises that George is perhaps not the right one for her as she dances and drinks and swims naked with Mike Connor (Jamie Parker), one half of a pair of gate-crashing journalists who spy on the proceedings, and then re-captures some of the magic she first shared with Dexter.

Lovely songs including Who Wants to be a Millionaire, True Love, Let's Misbehave and, of course, High Society are performed with style and gusto. In fact, Let's Misbehave which opens the second act, is performed by the musician and singer Joe Stilgoe on one piano and the musical director Theo Jamieson on the other, although, to be absolutely accurate, the two move between the two pianos in a most exhilarating manner. There is also a tap dancer (Omari Douglas) who performs on the top of a piano in a very exciting way!

High Society at Old Vic

All the choreography is most competently executed, especially when you consider that the staging is in the round and so set pieces are particularly difficult and are, of necessity, circular.

Kate Fleetwood shows that she is not only a fine actress - she captures the snobbery as well as the delightful drunken behaviour of Tracy in a very natural manner, but she also has a great singing voice. As do Jamie Parker and Rupert Young. Lovely characterisations from Ellie Bamber as Tracy's younger sister and Jeff Rawle as Uncle Willie show just what a good cast can achieve with a lovely musical under good direction. This is very highly recommended for groups and individuals.

Not quite up to the high standard of Gypsy, Chichester Festival Theatre's latest musical A DAMSEL IN DISTRSS (until 27 June. Box Office 01243 781312) is still very enjoyable. It is the musical itself which is not of the quality of Gypsy - certainly not the performances and production which, being Chichester, are absolutely excellent. Having said this A Damsel in Distress has some good numbers and opportunities for lovely singing. I think it is the story which is a bit daft whereas Gypsy is more truthful and certainly more believable.

Adapted from the novel by PG Wodehouse, with music by George and Ira Gershwin, we first see George Bevan (Richard Fleeshman) rehearsing the musical he's written at a small theatre. Suddenly Maud Marshmoreton (Summer Strallen) rushes in and sets in motion a whole sequence of events as she is first chased by her Aunt Caroline (Isla Blair) who wants her to marry her son Reggie (Richard Dempsey) and then by George who has fallen for her. Maud herself fancies Austen Grey who she believes to be an impoverished poet while Reggie has his heart set on a maid, Alice Keggs (Melle Stewart).

As Maud lives in a castle with her dragon aunt dictating her every move, there is much talk of the damsel needing to be rescued - in this case by George. There is also the touching story of the older Lord Marshmoreton (Nicholas Farrell) finding love with Billie Dore (Sally Ann Triplett), the showgirl of his dreams, who understands all about his love of roses and gets filthy in his actual pigsty.

Matt Wilman, Sally Ann Triplett & Matthew Hawksley in CFT's A Damsel in Distress

Some good songs illustrate the story including Things Are Looking Up, Nice Work If You Can Get It and A Foggy Day which is beautifully sung by Fleeshman.

Apart from Summer Strallen whose long legs propel her around the stage and who sings with a very sweet voice, there are nice performances by Farrell, who speaks rather than completely sings his songs and a lovely pair of colleagues in the French chef and his under cook (David Roberts and Chloe Hart), who execute a very funny tango. Fleeshman, Dempsey Triplett and Stewart are all on top form and there are lovely voices and good choreography throughout. The director and choreographer is Rob Ashford.

I was pleased to see coaches full of people coming to the matinee I was at and would strongly recommend this to coach loads as well as individual visitors.

Also recommended:

HAY FEVER (Duke of York's Theatre, London (until 1 August. Box Office 0844 871 7623)

Felicity Kendal plays an actress who is always performing to an audience. If she is not on stage then she uses whoever is around - mainly her family but also their guests.

In Noel Coward's play, Hay Fever she is Judith Bliss, who once ruled the London stage, and now rules her family in Cookham. In this play which take place consecutively over a weekend she has invited an admirer for the weekend. Unfortunately her daughter Sorel (Alice Orr-Ewing) has also invited a guest and so have her son (Edward Franklin) and even her husband David (Simon Shepherd). There is lots of room for comedy as they fight over who should have the best room and, in the process neglect all their guests who can't understand the family and their constant squabbling.

Felicity Kendal as Judith Bliss in Hay Fever

There are many witty one-liners, but written in 1925 and set in the 1920s, appear dated in this production. While some of the actors struggle with the Coward period comedy style, Kendall displays perfect comic timing.

The Shakespeare's Globe theatre remains bang on form in Blanche McIntyre's very witty production of AS YOU LIKE IT (until 5 September. Box Office 020 7401 9919).

With Michelle Terry's romantic Rosalind, almost fainting at the sight of Orlando's bare chest and later really fainting at the sight of blood when she is supposed to be a boy pretending to be a girl and Ellie Piercy's skipping, bouncy Celia, we have a lively show to watch.

Michelle Terry as Rosalind & Simon Harrison as Orlando in As You Like It

Although there are some anachronisms including a not really Shakespearean tap dance, the evening is always jolly and the audience loved it!


Carlie Newman

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