If you want to have an enjoyable evening watching
a group of senior British actors show with some humour their life
as middle-income unwanted oldies in modern Britain, then head immediately
to THE BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL (cert.12A 2hrs.
4mins.). We observe the old folk - Maggie Smith, Judi Dench, Bill
Nighy, Tom Wilkinson, Celia Imrie, Ronald Pickup, Penelope Wilton
- in England as they attempt to cope with modern technology, the
diminution of income, the loss of family contact, illness and the
general tribulations of old age.
The seven strangers separately find a very attractive advertisement
for a retirement home in India. The first time that they meet is
at the airport when they are forced together by their circumstances.
Dev Patel plays Sonny, the young owner of the "Best Exotic Marigold
Hotel for the Retired and the Beautiful" in Jaipur. Each of the
retired British folk is played extremely well and all are very different:
each has their moment of pathos as well as humour.
Best for her comic timing and wonderful sense of
her elderly cockney character, initially with racist and very closed
ideas, "If I can't pronounce it, I don't want to eat it" is Maggie
Based somewhat loosely on Deborah Moggach's novel, director John
Madden has given us some lovely pictures of India with warm sunshine
and interesting locations. This is a film that doesn't require a
lot of deep thought, but will make you laugh with the odd tear in
Hyperactive 9-year-old Oskar (Thomas Horn) had a very close relationship
with his father. In EXTREMELY LOUD & INCREDIBLY CLOSE
(12A 2 hrs. 9 mins.) we observe Oscar in the aftermath of 9/11 when
his father is killed. Wealthy jeweller, Thomas Schell (Tom Hanks)
used to go on quests with his son and after what Oskar calls "The
Worst Day" little Oskar is heartbroken. A year after the attack
on the World Trade Center in New York, Oskar discovers a key in
his deceased father's belongings. He believes that finding the lock
that his father's key will open will bring him closer to his late
He sets off on his own personal quest to find the right lock.
Devising a system of dividing New York into its five boroughs and
searching through all the clues around the name Black which was
attached to the key, Oskcar is sure that he will find the answer.
Joining him is the strange mute man (Max von Sydow) who rents a
room in his father's house. While his mother (Sandra Bullock) is
concerned, she lets her son get on with his search.
Stephen Daldry directs this film, which is based
on Jonathan Safran Foer's 2005 novel. Daldry - following his success
with the young boy playing Billy Elliot - uses Thomas Horn in the
role of Oskar with extreme sensitivity. Although the story is seen
from the child's point of view, Oskar is suffering from a type of
Asperger's - we never see him playing with other children - so very
often there is an adult's perception. Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock
play well together and alongside the young lad.
There are some images such as smoke coming from the twin towers
which remind us (of course, those in New York today need no reminders
of this terrible event) of the reality behind the fiction. Well
photographed by Chris Menges, the story is always interesting, although
about half an hour too lengthy, but whether it is aimed at children
or adults is debatable; it falls somewhere between the two.
Alma Har'el's documentary BOMBAY BEACH (no cert.
1 hr. 20 mins.) gives us a good picture of some of the 100 people
living in one of the poorest communities in southern California.
As we are shown in an excerpt from a 1950s newsreel advertising
Bombay Beach, it was once part of the American dream: a new development
and vacation destination located on the shores of the Salton Sea,
a man-made sea in the middle of the Colorado Desert.
Director Alma Har'el focuses on the stories of three of the inhabitants
of this run-down area. We first meet Benny Parrish, who became "difficult"
and "different" when he was returned to his parents after their
prison sentences. At only three weeks he was taken away and fostered
for two years. Now suffering (probably from bipolar disorder) he
finds it hard to fit in at school and with his playmates. His family
appear loving but they were originally investigated for having a
dirty house and neglecting their children.
On investigation father, Mike, was found to have
an arsenal of weapons and small bombs. Refused entry to the army
because of his lack of educational qualifications, he developed
a hobby of filming his explosions. Unfortunately his wife was put
into custody as well.
They are trying to turn their lives around and do their best for
their kids, particularly Benny, who is taken to a variety of doctors
and consultants. He is given Ritalin to calm him down. When he develops
petty seizures he is given more drugs! Although they have little
to offer, the family now appear loving and caring.
Then we have CeeJay Thompson, a black teenager who has moved to
Bombay Beach from Los Angeles where the murder of his cousin by
a gang of youths made him determined to get away from the violence
and drugs of the big town. He wants to play professional football
and has come to live in Bombay Beach full of hope. If he can win
a football scholarship then he will be the first in his family to
go to college. We see him fall in love and witness the courtship
rituals of the young couple including a lyrical dance where the
teenagers wear white masks.
Finally an old man, Red, smoking constantly, remembers his past
life, wife and children that he hasn't seen for many years. Born
in Kansas, Red left home at 13 to go and work in the oil fields.
From then he has spent his life living in many different places,
travelling around in his trailer. Now living at Bombay Beach, he
has found an Indian reservation where he can buy cigarettes without
tax. He then sells these on at Slab City, 24 miles from Bombay beach.
After suffering a "baby stroke" Red finds himself carted off to
hospital, but fights to return home.
Har'el spent four months living in the local community and she
has certainly given us an in-depth study of the residents she has
documented in her film. She uses music - by singer Zach Condon and
his band Beirut and Bob Dylan - and there are some choreographed
dances which blend seamlessly into the rest of the documentary.
The one thing that lets down the film is the sound. That the director
knows this is shown by her use of sub-titles for some of the film.
Unfortunately at other times - whether because of the quality of
the sound or the lack of clarity in the speakers' voices - it is
difficult to understand what they are saying. This is a pity as
the film has a number of interesting things to communicate about
poor communities in America, the health service and living in a
Starting like the usual type of rom-com, THE VOW
(cert. 12A 1 hr. 44 mins.) develops quite soon into a different
genre altogether. Perhaps because it is "inspired by true events"
it has a real vein of truth running through it. We first meet the
married couple who are obviously happy and very much in love as
they set off in their car on a very snowy night. As they stop to
spoon, their stationary car is knocked into from behind and while
Leo (Channing Tatum) is alright, Paige (Rachel McAdams) suffers
a very bad head injury which makes her lose all memory of the last
five years and her relationship with Leo.
With a voice-over by Leo, we flash back four years to the start
of the couple's relationship. We see them fall in love and marry
using their own vows. Back to the present where Paige wakes up after
the crash and doesn't recognise Leo at all. She remembers the time
before she met him and believes that she is still studying at law
school, living with her parents and engaged to good-looking business
man, Jeremy (Scott Speedman). Her parents (Jessica Lange and Sam
Neill) are pleased to welcome back the old Paige from whom they
have been estranged for some while (we learn why some time later).
Leo is very anxious when he sees Paige look at Jeremy with admiration
and her husband with bewilderment. He tries to interest Paige in
the things she used to enjoy - her art work, her studio and their
old life together, but seems to have no success in making his wife
fall in love with him again. He battles on for some while and courts
her afresh believing that the vow he made to her on their wedding
day must be kept. When he still has no success, he despairs of ever
winning her again.
Set in Chicago, director Michael Sucsy shows an appreciation of
the city in various seasons and the city itself forms a good background
to the story. Neill portrays the father who cares for his daughter
but is keener on getting her back into the family and confirming
to his idea of what her life should be like rather than allowing
her to re-discover her old life when she was truly content.
The film will work or not work for you according to whether you
can believe in the coupleas a romantic pair. While McAdams is charming
in depicting Paige's early days with her future husband, Tatum finds
it harder to show his romantic nature. Always having been known
for his action parts, it is more difficult to accept him in a romantic
guise. However the story holds one's attention.
Michael Fassbender deservedly won the British Actor of the Year
award at the London Critics Circle Awards for his performance as
Brandon in Steve McQueen's compelling SHAME (cert.
18 1hr. 40mins.). Fassbender gives a strong performance as the sex-addicted
man who is in danger of falling to pieces when his sister (another
exceptional performance by Carey Mulligan) comes to stay bringing
her own problems associated with the inability to form long-lasting
If you have enjoyed "Strictly Come Dancing" or appreciate Latin
American dance forms, then MIDNIGHT TANGO (Aldwych
Theatre until 31 March then touring) is for you.
Starring Flavia Cacace and Vincent Simone and set in a Buenos Aires
bar, it has a story of rivalry between Vincent and the dancer who
plays the villain of the piece for the lovely Flavia, and a mildly
funny sub-plot concerning the bar owner (Teddy Kempner) and his
wife (Tricia Deighton).
Beautifully supported by their company of 10 tango dancers, Vincent
is quick footed and an ideal partner for the graceful Flavia with
her lovely arms and swift foot movements. It would be even better,
however, to have a pure 90 minutes dance show rather than a somewhat
cumbersome scenario built around the dances.
Alan Ayckbourn's plays always have something truthful
to tell us about human interaction and the revival of ABSENT
FRIENDS (Harold Pinter Theatre booking until 14 April)
has a magnificent cast who interpret the play with gusto. Recently
bereaved Colin is invited to a tea party by friends who then spend
their time bickering with each other and their spouses.
Diana (Katherine Parkinson), the over-wrought, somewhat emotional
hostess, is convinced that her husband, Paul (Steffan Rhodri), a
bit of a bully, is having an affair with one of the guests, Evelyn
(Kara Tointon), a very laid-back mum, reluctantly at the party with
her baby, but keener on reading a magazine than joining in with
the conversation. She is married to David Armand, who plays the
cuckolded John in a restless, constantly moving around manner. He
becomes almost visibly white-faced at any mention of death. Also
at the party is Marge who, childless, bustles around everyone and
ministers to her (constantly) sick husband over the telephone.
Surprisingly it is Colin (Reece Shearsmith) who is the most sanguine
of the lot. He mourns his drowned fiancée in a very positive way,
remembering the good times they had together and trying to show
his photos to his disinterested friends. Full of optimism, Colin
believes he knows the characteristics of those present and in a
most insensitive manner succeeds in making matters worse.
Reece Shearsmith as Colin
with Kara Tointon as Evelyn
Jeremy Herrin's revival of Ayckbourn's 1974 play catches the
comedy in the writing and he is also able to point the audience
in a different direction when the play calls for a deeper, sombre
response as the couples dissolve into emotional disarray.
All the performances are very good and we are moved between a lot
of laughter and quite a few almost tearful moments.
The play is a comic take on bereavement that actually
works well and it is certainly one of Ayckbourn's finest. This production
shows the playt at its best.
Based on a class given by Maria Callas at the Juilliard School
in 1971, MASTER CLASS (booking until 28 April)
shows Callas (Tyne Daly) conducting the class and at the same time
reminiscing about her past life on stage and with her first husband
and then her lover, Aristotle Onassis.
Callas addresses the audience directly, telling us that "this
is not a theatre. This is a master class." So that tells us what
we are to expect! She talks about the importance of listening to
the music, knowing the story of the opera and the emotions behind
the words and being an actress as well as a singer when interpreting
the great roles - exactly what Callas herself did so brilliantly
as we are reminded when she talks about the past and we hear Callas'
Naomi O'Connell as Sharon
Graham and Tyne Daly as Maria Callas in Master Class
Callas talks to her pianist and makes feeble attempts
at humour. She is quite fierce to the three students who appear
before her, criticising their dress and their manner of singing,
telling one girl she needs to know her Shakespeare before attempting
Verdi's Lady Macbeth and another that a singer needs good diction
and to put their own deep feelings into every performance, like
she does. While repetition in a real class can be interesting, it
becomes a bit tiring here. Callas praises her third student, a tenor,
who is pleased he managed to sing further than the soprano who preceded
While Daly has a touch of the renowned singer she has neither her
beauty nor her charisma - although, to be fair, she is actually
playing the older Callas here. It is a good touch to have Daly in
the same black trouser suit throughout and not to wear a different
outfit just for the sake of change.
Director, Stephen Wadsworth, has tried to bring some variety to
the play and to a large extent succeeds. It was interesting that
while some of the audience said they liked the parts where the singers
are being coached best, others of us found the tales of her younger
self both on and off the stage more enthralling.
THE PITCHFORK DISNEY (Arcola Theatre until 17
March) is a play which remains in one's mind long after its end.
In the intimate setting of the small Arcola theatre, the revival
of Philip Ridley's frightening story with its images of a scary
serial killer, fear of foreigners and a kind of sexual hysteria
is very much in the audience's face.
We meet Haley (Mariah Gale) and her twin Presley (Chris New),
who, although adults, are agoraphobic, use a variety of medicine
left some time ago by their parents, love buying and eating chocolate
and make up a fantasy existence: that they are the only ones left
in the world following a disaster whereby the world around them
is reduced to a wasteland. They are disturbed by the outside world
in the form of Cosmo Disney (Nathan Stewart-Jarrett), a physically
beautiful showman who enters their home and kills cockroaches and
encourages Presley to do the same. He brings in the very weird Pitchfork
who is dressed all in black, with a rubberised mask covering his
face: most menacing.
Nathan Stewart-Jarrett and
Chris New in The Pitchfork Disney
The play comes across as a gothic nightmare and the
actors, led by director Edward Dicks, put across the atmosphere
well. The audience is in close proximity to the stage, which makes
some parts even more frightening. All the actors are good although
Stewart-Jarrett is a little on one note. Chris New (from the film
"Weekend") plays the main character and is an actor to look out
for in the future.
Travel a little further from London - or perhaps nearer where you
live when it is on tour - and see the new play by the Royal Shakespeare
Company currently at Stratford-upon-Avon. My colleague GEORGE
SAVVIDES reviews it below:
THE TAMING OF THE SHREW: ROYAL SHAKESPEARE THEATRE
A giant bed fills the entire stage of the RCS's wonderful new
theatre in Stratford-Upon Avon in Lucy Bailey's impressive production.
Christopher Sly (Nick Holder) lies comfortably in the enormous bed
as he watches the action unravel.
Padua gentleman Batista (Terence Wilton) is desperate to find a
suitor for his elder daughter Katherina (Lisa Dillon) before he
marries off his younger daughter Bianca (Elizabeth Cadwallader)
but no one would touch Katherina with a barge pole until Petruchio
(David Caves) arrives from Verona with his loyal servant Grumio
Caves is tall and muscular and makes it clear from the very first
moment that he lays eyes on Kate that he fancies her and sets about
a most unusual seduction.
Dillon's feisty Kate is very effective and conveys beautifully
her independence and love for Petruchio in the famously difficult
speech in the final scene.
The Bianca subplot is muddled and not very well realised with three
lazily sketched suitors but is balanced by Wilton's strong performance
as the long suffering father. Gregor gives also a very physical
performance and matches that of his master in an impressive double
act. It is an enjoyable production despite Ruth Sutcliffe's impractical
Plays until the 18th of February then tours:
- NEWCASTLE THEATRE ROYAL 23 FEB-3 MARCH
- MILTON KEYNES THEATRE 6-10 MARCH
- THEATRE ROYAL NOTTINGHAM 13-17 MARCH
- RICHMOND THEATRE 20-24 MARCH
- THEATRE ROYAL BATH 27-31 MARCH)
What a glorious feeling! Yes, you will certainly come away from
this show full of light and happiness. Hopefully not too wet, although
be warned: the first few rows of the stalls are liable to be splashed!
SINGIN' IN THE RAIN (Palace Theatre booking until
29 September), while closely based on the well-known film, is a
worthy musical in its own right.
Tying in nicely with the current popularity of silent films, including the BAFTA winning The Artist, this musical tells of Don Lockwood (Adam Cooper) who stars alongside Lina Lamont (Katherine Kingsley) in silent films in 1927. When talkies come, the film they are making is transformed first into a talkie and then into a musical. Unfortunately Lina cannot speak in anything but a terribly grating screeching voice. Don has become friendly with Kathy (Scarlett Strallen), who has a lovely singing voice and she is persuaded to act as the speaking and singing star of the new film, while Lina acts on stage. When she discovers that the film-makers have not used her voice, Lina is furious and puts out publicity saying that she has performed everything herself. This seems to have the effect of forcing Kathy to continue as Lina's voice for ever, thereby giving up her own career.
The songs from the film are all in the stage show and the chorus along with the three main stars perform really well, putting flesh on to such numbers as "Moses Supposes" and "Beautiful Girls." Don's friend Cosmo Brown (Daniel Crossley) is very funny in "Make 'em Laugh" with inventive choreography by Andrew Wright, who has assembled a very talented group of dancers - the chorus taps its way fluently and speedily through many numbers. Strallen and Cooper are delightful together as they fall in love crooning "you were meant for me" to each other. Cooper is an ex-Royal Ballet dancer and his singing is not as strong as Strallen's, who can dance as well as sing sweetly, but his dancing is very graceful and he extends (as they say in Dancing on Ice) right to his finger tips.
Director Jonathan Church together with the choreographer has given us a show with much that is gorgeous for the eyes, the ears and even the senses - as the water pours down. The highlight of the first half is Cooper's splashing through gallons of real water on the stage for the title song and then the whole cast get wet in the final moments of the show as it rains down again. I haven't seen so many happy faces leaving a show for a long while! Hurry and book your tickets now!