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FILM:March 2011

Narrated by a grown-up Mattie, the Coen brothers re-make of TRUE GRIT (cert. 15 1hr. 20mins.) pretty much follows the story of the 1969 film directed by Henry Hathaway, which starred Oscar-winning John Wayne as 'Rooster' Cogburn. In Arkansas in 1870 Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld), a 14-year-old girl wants to hire someone to find and capture the employee, Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin), who's just killed her father. The determined young woman sets out to hire 'Rooster' Cogburn (Jeff Bridges), a federal marshal with a gritty reputation of getting the job done but usually with a high body count. She shows how mature she is in negotiations and hires Cogburn with the condition that she travels along with him.

Texas Ranger La Boeuf (Matt Damon) has been tracking Chaney for a long time in order to take the villain, who has also murdered a Texas senator, back to Texas for a handsome reward. He believes that Chaney is travelling somewhere in hostile Indian territory and may have met up with his cohort, Lucky Ned Pepper (Barry Pepper). He knows Cogburn of old and leaves with him. Mattie refuses to be left behind and pursues them until they reluctantly include her on their manhunt. They travel across dangerous lands, getting closer to Chaney.

The directors have captured the spirit of the western but given it a modern take - it is not just guns and shooting and killing but has a real story with dramatic tension and much humour. They are well served by an outstanding cast who seem to actually inhabit their roles. Haillee Steinfeld is just right as the mature, very properly spoken young madam who knows exactly what she wants and how to get it even though she is dealing not just with adults but with men. The part of LaBoef is much stronger in this modern version than in the original film and Matt Damon plays the part in an unflamboyant manner. The opposite can be said of Jeff Bridges who gives the drunken, smoking, swearing Texas marshall a full blown rollicking performance. He has been nominated for Best Actor in the forthcoming Oscars. With excellent photography as well, this is a strongly recommended film.

HIS & HERS (cert. U 1hr 20mins) is a delightful documentary about 70 Irish women and the men in their lives. Directed by Ken Wardrop, the film begins with a young child and then follows through with young women talking of dating and marriage right up to a 90-year-old. Each interview, which takes place mainly in the women's own homes, with a woman exploring her relationship with a man in her life - father, boyfriend, husband or sons.

It's a nice little film, at times moving, at others amusing. I had some difficulty with the strong accents of some of the women, although the very old were fine! The use of subtitles would greatly help. It is a most charming piece of movie making by Ken Wardrop. The voices of the females can be heard - perhaps for the first time - in an intimate and completely fresh way and the manner in which the portrait of each one through the interviews which are given to camera, makes for a satisfying whole. If you are unable to see this at your local cinema, then buy or rent the DVD when it is released in April.

Try to catch Woody Allen's new film: YOU WILL MEET a TAKK DARK STRANGER (cert.12A 1hr.38mins.), which stars a wonderful array of British actors. My former drama school friend Pauline Collins plays Cristal who foretells the fortunes of Helena (Gemma Jones) who has been deserted by her husband Alfie (Anthony Hopkins) who is trying to re-capture his youth. He later achieves this in spectacular fashion by marrying a young woman (Lucy Punch) who he meets when she is working as a call girl! Meanwhile Helena and Alfie's daughter (Naomi Watts) develops a crush on her handsome, rich boss (Antonio Banderas) - who wouldn't? And her husband (Josh Brolin) falls for a young woman (Freida Pinto) who he sees playing the cello in the flat opposite him. If this sounds complicated it doesn't seem so when watching and a huge number of actors appear in tiny two-line parts. All the acting is of a high standard and the Woody Allen touch is still present although this film does not have as much humour as some of his earlier works.

A must-see, too, is the Oscar nominated WASTELAND (cert. PG 1hr. 39mins.). This documentary shows the artist Vik Muniz working with catadores (garbage collectors, or, as they call themselves "pickers of recyclable materials"). Muniz photographs his subjects and then they, along with other co-workers, recreate images of themselves out of garbage materials. The resulting paintings have been shown and sold at prestigious art galleries and some of the subjects have found fame. Absolutely absorbing, about a subject that few of us ever consider, this is a film worthy of an Academy Award.

THEATRE TIP

Now is the time to plan a trip to the theatre. Here are a few worth seeing soon.

GREENLAND (National Theatre booking until 2 April) is a very well meant play about climate change, which is a most important subject. The difficulty is that for much of the show, the audience feels as though it is being lectured at. While the speeches are all interesting, it is not exactly riveting to watch as one often feels that the matter could be more succinctly expressed or that we want more information and therefore need to pause and take it in, or even read further on the subject.;

It has been put together by four playwrights - Moira Buffini, Matt Charman, Penelope Skinner and Jack Thorne. While the various components are seamless, it might have been better to have had one voice here. The sets and production effects, however, with a huge polar bear and snow falling on the audience, are all terrifically managed by director, Bijan Sheibani.

Whether you are into buying shoes or not, SHOES, a delightful, sexy (in the Sun Page 3 sense) musical, which was originally at Sadler's Wells, is now at the Peacock Theatre (until 3 April) and is worth a visit.

Richard Thomas has written and composed the various sketches which include songs and dancing, and the director and principal choreographer is Stephen Mear. We find a group of musicians seated on a raised platform and with singing by four singers and 14 dancers who introduce us to a full, albeit brief, history of shoes, on to a full description of the different types of shoes we have today.

All this is illustrated in a variety of song styles and, in particular, a complete cross section of different types of dancing from classical to tap to jazz.

The standard of song and dance is high, although some of us found it hard to understand the words sung by the soprano and, as the words are very important here - mainly humorous in a satirical or straight-on jokey fashion - it is important to understand everything. The shoes are all interesting with some very strange styles and others new to me with obviously famous names to which eulogies are given. The costumes also vary from lovely and appropriate to a rather strange flesh coloured corset-type body cover worn by the male dancers, which are neither erotic nor, to my eyes, attractive. Extra worn by the male dancers, which are neither erotic nor, to my eyes, attractive. Extra choreographers including Sidi Larbi, who uses great movement for two pieces called Salvatore Ferragamo and Old Shoes) and Aletta Collins in her inimitable modern style. The show should appeal to those who enjoy quirky musicals and/or dancing and , of course, to those obsessed by shoes!

A ghost story with an intimate setting is found in Alan Ayckbourn's play which has not been seen in London previously. SNAKES IN THE GRASS at the delightful Print Room Theatre, London W2 (until 12 March) shows us three women - Annabel (Susan Wooldridge), her sister Miriam (Sarah Woodward) and Alice (Mossie Smith.) Annabel returns to the family home to be re-united with her sister, Miriam after the death of their father who has been ill for many years.

This tyrannical man was nursed by Alice until Miriam made her leave. Alice now accuses Miriam of murdering her father and tries to blackmail the sisters; threatening them with exposure and consequent prison for Miriam. Ghosts of the past come back to haunt the sisters and also new ones seem to be present. This dark play is given its sinister atmosphere by the excellent setting: the disused tennis court in the overgrown garden of the neglected family home. The audience sits on either side and we can also see the side of a summer house built over an old well, whch will be used later in the play. play. Atmospheric lighting and some creepy music assist in frightening the characters (and the audience) Lucy Bailey directs this London premiere and is well served by her cast of experienced actors. Sarah Woodward gives us a good picture of the quiet, repressed sister, a woman in her forties who has stayed at home to care for her horrid father. We can well believe the touch of madness that she later reveals. There is a good contrast in the older sister, Annabel, who has had a career and a marriage and Susan Wooldridge brings this out very well. While Mossie Smith's character is somewhat exaggerated, it fits in with the black comedy and altogether this is an enjoyable, if somewhat disturbing, production. I left this attractive little theatre with a rather sore behind from the hard chairs and grass from the tennis court on my coat.

Just like the Greek myth of Penelope, who waited for her husband, Odysseus, to return from the Trojan wars, the eponymous heroine of PENELOPE (Hampstead Theatre until 5 March) has been courted by 100 suitors. Now there only remain four who live in an old disused swimming pool converted into a living-room, which is the focal point for the audience. It is so hot that they sit on sun loungers in swimwear.

Director Mikel Murfi and his Druid Company have come up with a lively very Irish production. Written by Enda Walsh, verbose is an understatement. However, it is good to hear intelligent dialogue well put across by the four actors.

The excellent Niall Buggy, whose bald head shines in the stage lighting, gives an authoritative portrayal of the elder statesman, Fitz. Karl Shiels shows us a brash young man proudly exhibiting his (fairly) fit body in his swimming briefs. It's a good, well-acted, fluently written play - rush along to see it while you can.

There are currently many musicals in London's West End but, I promise you, none like SHOWSTOPPER! THE IMPROVISED MUSICAL

(Ambassadors Theatre every Tuesday until 29 March and touring Thurs 17 March, 7.30pm - The Lighthouse, Poole 0844 406 8666 / www.lighthousepoole.co.uk, Friday 18 March, 8pm - Selby Town Hall, Selby 01757 708449 / www.selbytownhall.co.uk, Saturday 19 March, 7.45pm - Mill Arts Centre, Banbury 01295 279002 / www.themillartscentre.co.uk, Thursday 24 March - Komedia Brighton 0845 293 8480/ www.komedia.co.uk/brighton, Friday 1 April, 7.30-Tolmen Centre, Constantine 01326341353/ww.constantinecornwall.com/tolmencentre, Thursday 7 April, 7.45pm - The Lights, Andover 01264 368368 / www.thelights.org.uk, Saturday 23 April, 7.30pm - Georgian Theatre Royal, Richmond 01748 825252 / www.georgiantheatreroyal.co.uk, Thursday 12 May 8pm - Komedia Bath 0845 293 8480 / www.komedia.co.uk/brighton).

Showstopper! is improvised by a group of actors with two musicians working alongside them, the cast presents a different show each performance. Built around the idea of a writer having just one night to create a hit show to impress his producer, he asks the audience to suggest a title, storylines and musical styles that they'd like to see in the show. The Showstoppers then create a musical from scratch based around that structure.

On the night I went, we had "Caesar's Salad," the story of the olive picker's daughter and her love affair with Julius Caesar set in Rome and employing the musical styles of Les Miserables,Bob Fosse (which I suggested) and others. The actors could actually sing and there was an attempt at dancing - probably most successful in a Fosse routine. Created by Adam Meggido and veteran improviser Dylan Emery (who acts as MC, co-ordinating the action as the show progresses), the actors are most talented and the show is a lot of fun. The audience engages and responds with gales of laughter and even the songs are bouncy.

And for book-ahead suggestions: a must-see during the summer months in London is a play at Shakespeare's Globe Theatre. Its 2011 theatre season 'The Word is God', celebrating the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible and the enduring power of dramatic language, commences with a cover-to-cover reading of The King James Bible (17-25 April) and a touring production of Hamlet, presenting a rare opportunity to experience the two foundation stones of the modern English language back-to-back. The Bible will be recited by 20 actors - including many Globe regulars - in five teams of four over the course of 69 hours, spread across eight days between Palm Sunday and Easter Monday. The small-scale production of HAMLET (on tour from 13 April; at the Globe from 23 April), directed by Dominic Dromgoole, stars Joshua McGuire and opens at the Globe on Shakespeare's birthday, 23 April, before travelling to Theatre Royal Margate, Georgian Theatre in Richmond and Bath and finishing in Elsinore.

The first large-scale production at the Globe will be the premiere of ALL'S WELL THAT ENDS WELL (27 April - 21 August), directed by John Dove. This production will be followed by Shakespeare's bright, witty comedy, MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING (21 May - 1 October), from acclaimed director Jeremy Herrin with Eve Best as Beatrice and Charles Edwards as Benedict. 'The Word is God' theme will continue with Christopher Marlowe's DOCTOR FAUSTUS, the greatest tragedy in English before Shakespeare. Directed by Matthew Dunster, Paul Hilton takes the main role. In August, the Globe will celebrate the British medieval tradition with THE GLOBE MYSTERIES in a new version by poet and playwright Tony Harrison, directed by Deborah Bruce. ANNE BOLEYN, directed by John Dove, returns to the Globe following its 2010 sell-out run. The season will be brought to a rude and rowdy climax with THE GOD OF SOHO by Chris Hannan, directed by Raz Shaw - a wild satire on modern living, set in contemporary, suburban England. Box office: 020 7401 9919 or online: www.shakespearesglobe.com. Worth going just for the lively young audience - groundlings stand for only 5.00 with hundreds of tickets available.

The other real winner for summer theatre in the capital is sure to be the 2011 season at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre. William Golding’s gripping drama, LORD OF THE FLIES, directed by Timothy Sheader opens the season on 19 May (– 18 June). Lucy Bailey injects her unique visual dynamism into John Gay’s original text of THE BEGGAR’S OPERA 23 June (until 23 July). This comically corrupt satire is packed full of lewd songs and low ballads recreated from the original pastoral score and played on authentic instruments.

&Continuing the successful series of Shakespeare plays for younger audiences, PERICLES will be re-imagined for everyone aged six and over from 2 July (until 23 July). The final production is George and Ira Gershwin's hit musical comedy, CRAZY FOR YOU (28 July to 10 September) which is packed full of Gershwin classics including "I Got Rhythm", "Nice Work If You Can Get It." Timothy Sheader directs, with choreography by Stephen Mear. Box office: 0844 826 4242 or online: www.openairtheatre.com

It is worth noting that the Royal Shakespeare Company celebrates its 50th Birthday with a season of nine plays in the newly transformed Royal Shakespeare Theatre and the Swan Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon. Opening with MACBETH on 16 April (- 6 October), and continuing until November, the season includes THE MERCHANT OF VENICE, A MIDSUMMER'S NIGHT'S DEAM, MARAT/SADE, Pinter's THE HOMECOMING

 

 

   

Carlie Newman

   
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