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FILM:March 2015

With all the publicity and praise for Still Alice it has been easy to overlook STILL LIFE (cert.15 1 hr 32 mins.). In this little British gem, Eddie Marsan plays John May, a council officer charged with arranging the funerals of those who have died without relatives around. John has worked in the same office for 22 years. He researches the past lives of the deceased and tries to find anybody who has known the dead person in the past. Once these labours are complete John writes the funeral oration for the vicar to read out and finds appropriate music to suit the deceased.

John lives alone, eating the same food for lunch each day and the same evening meal at home. He always wears the same clothes and has a set routine for everything he does. When he finds that a neighbour has died, John realises that he didn't know anything about the dead man, Billy Stokes, an alcoholic and that he is in a similar position in that noone knows or cares about him. An uncaring new boss in the department dismisses John saying that he is being made redundant as the department is downsizing.

John continues to work on his last case, Billy, and while doing his research on Billy's background, finds his estranged daughter, Kelly (Joanne Froggatt). The two lonely souls begin to form a relationship. Just when all seems to be brightening up for John May - who even tries out some new food and changes his clothes for casual attire - disaster strikes.

Eddie Marsan is known for his fine performances, generally in smallish parts in good, solid British films such as Vera Drake with Imelda Staunton and the uptight driving instructor in Happy-Go-Luck. In this film he is finally given the main part and he brings a wonderful combination of vulnerability, loneliness, a conscientious work ethic together with truthfulness to the role which is rare these days. Joanne Frogatt gives a tender performance as Billy's daughter and the two share some sensitive moments together. Director Uberto Pasolini has given us a good picture of lonliness. I found the ending unsatisfactory, but, apart from that, Marsan's outstanding performance, together with a sensitively directed and well-written story which manages to be moving but never sentimental, makes this a must-see film. It can still be found on limited release or buy/rent it on DVD.

You can finally see what, as I expected, turned out to be the Oscar winning performance of Julianne Moore in STILL ALICE (cert. 15 1hr 45mins.), a very moving story of a highly literate 50-year-old woman, Alice (Moore) who gets early-onset Alzheimer's, which is genetic and can thus be passed on to her children. We see the effect on her husband, children and colleagues and Julianne Moore presents all the various stages that Alice goes through in a very moving and sincere manner. Excellent performance in a film which is hard to watch but worth the effort.

Following the enormous success of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel we now have THE SECOND BEST MARIGOLD HOTEL (cert. PG 2hrs 02mins.). Director John Madden has gathered the same senior actors as in the first Marigold film. The first film showed the older residents settling into their new lives - escaping from the harsh British climate to live out their final days in sun-filled India at the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. Only they didn't live quietly. Relationships were formed and most found employment.

This sequel continues virtually from where the first film stopped. Muriel (Maggie Smith) is now in partnership with Sonny (Dev Patel) and running such a successful hotel that they wish to expand. The beginning of the film shows the two of them in San Diego, USA, trying to get a business man with cash to invest in expansion.

Much of the film is taken up with the relationship between Evelyn (Judi Dench) and Douglas (Bill Nighy) and it's a will-they-won't they situation which is (almost) resolved by the end.

The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Norman (Ronald Pickup) and Carol (Diana Hardcastle) are now living together but have not completely got to grips with their monogamous arrangement. Madge (Celia Imrie) is still unattached but now juggling two very wealthy suitors and telling all her secrets to her driver. A handsome stranger (Richard Gere) - who might or might not be a hotel inspector - comes to stay and forms a friendship (or more) with Sonny's mother, (Lillete Dubey). Tamsin Greig also comes to stay, but, sad to say, her part is really nothing other than the recipient of some amusing lines.

Our hero here is Sonny whose wedding ceremonies take pride of place. He is still not able to concentrate completely on his pretty fiancée Sunaina (Tina Desai) as he is too busy planning his second hotel. Muriel is very ill but while she hears the secrets of others remains silent on her own troubles.

There is some good acting here, particularly from the two Dames, Judi and Maggie and Bill Nighy also comes across well. The special thing about the first film was its joy, and we have to ask - does this film bring the same joy? And while it has many serious moments, the script is amusing and yes, it is joyful.






A round-up of shows which have recently started:

Let's start with the magnificent performance by Mark Strong in A VIEW FROM THE BRIDGE. This is one of my favourite plays by Arthur Miller and the spectacular production which was on at the Young Vic and has now come to the West End and can be seen at Wyndhams Theatre (until 7 June. Box Office 020 7922 2922) brings out all the power of Miller's play, written in 1955.

Miller really knows the area in which the play takes place. Instead of the tenements it is set in a kind of boxing ring and the antagonists face each other as though about to have a real fight. Most of it is in the dialogue, however, which shows how Eddie (Mark Strong) is over-fond of his niece, Catherine (Phoebe Fox), to the detriment of his marriage to Beatrice (Nicola Walker) and resents Catherine's involvement with a young Italian immigrant, Rodolpho (Luke Norris). Belgian director Ivo van Hove has interpreted the play in an entirely new way.

Phoebe Fox, Mark Strong & Nicola Walker in A View from the Bridge

The cast is outstanding: Nicola Walker shows the struggle of Eddie's wife, Beatrice, who loves her niece but can see how her husband gives his affection to her rather than to his wife. Phoebe Fox is delightful as young Catherine who is unaware of her growing body and its attraction for her uncle. In fact all the actors are good and they work really well together.

Mark Strong's Eddie is a revelation after his somewhat mediocre film parts. He stands tall and gaunt and showers his niece with love. But, as the narrator (the lawyer) notes, we see his intensity through his eyes. "His eyes were like tunnels" remarks the lawyer. His antagonism to the young immigrant is plain for all to see but Eddie can't admit anything wrong. Strong gets our sympathy even though we know the terrible deed he is about to commit. The play runs for two tense hours with no interval. This is one not to be missed.

If you move quickly you should be able to catch RADIANCE: The Passion of Marie Curie (Tabard Theatre, London until 28 February. Box Office 0208 995 6035), hopefully it will re-appear somewhere else in the near future as it is so good to see Cathy Tyson on the London stage. She plays Marie Curie and gives a luminous portrayal of the scientific genius who suffered from the public's antagonism when she began an affair with Paul Langevin after her husband's death.

Written by the actor, Alan Alda, the play leaves a lot to be desired in terms of the way it is presented -a lot of very short scenes and the writing is not wonderful. However, what the play lacks in structure it more than makes up for in Tyson's moving portrayal of the scientist. She manages to show us the intelligence and diligence of the working wife and mother as well as the need to have a lover and at the same time remember her dead husband.

Clive Moore as Pierre Curie & Cathy Tyson as Marie Curie

Hampstead Theatre has put on a string of hits in the last year. They have been mostly serious subjects but also lighter fare such as Sunny Afternoon. Many, however, have been surprised by HELLO/GOODBYE (until 28 February. Box office: 020 7722 9301). Expecting something more serious, especially as it is a transfer from the Hampstead Downstairs space, they have instead been confronted by this light romantic comedy. Taken for what it is, this is an enjoyable, quite amusing first play by Peter Souter.

Directed by Tamara Harvey it shows the first and last hours of a relationship. Juliet (Miranda Raison) is a young, somewhat promiscuous woman who has just left her boyfriend to live in a flat by herself. The trouble is the flat is already occupied by nerdy Alex (Shaun Evans), who collects things, including children's toys given away by McDonalds in their kids' meal packs. He, too, believes he has rented the flat alone. After much verbal sparring, the two are drawn together.

The second act takes place 10 years later when the couple meet in the flat to sort out their possessions before separating. The two actors work well together and deal well with the other people who come into their lives and then leave. There is obvious chemistry between the actors and some witty lines. But it is a slight play and provided you are prepared for an easy evening watching a play that won't tax your brain too much, then there is much pleasure to be had from a night saying Hello/Goodbye.

A musical about women with cancer doesn't sound very enticing, does it? It was the idea of a musical that made me go to it. Surely that would jolly it up? Well, yes and no! If it had been a lively musical it might have been a happier experience, but rather in the manner of Once (though without the special qualities of that production) it is a play with some songs thrown in.

Anat Gov's play HAPPY ENDING (Arcola Theatre, London (until 7 March. Box office: 020 7503 1646), originally written by the late Israeli playwright set in Israel, is here performed in the English adaptation by Hilla Bar and director Guy Retallack which comes across as a not very amusing black comedy about a famous actress, Carrie (Gillian Kirkpatrick) joining three other patients for her first chemotherapy session in a hospital ward.

We learn a little about the other patients - a religious Jewish woman (Thea Beyleveld), a holocaust survivor (Andrea Miller) a hippy (Karen Archer) - and there is a kindly nurse and a handsome doctor. The main concentration is on Carrie who is unwilling to submit her body to the treatment.

The little musical content here is well done and the actresses all perform competently. However, it is a very hard play to take for those of us who have been affected by the death of someone through cancer. While one can say it has a fairly well-written script, it is not recommended for those dealing with cancer as a carer or patient.

Two very different plays at the Park Theatre, London. The first MUSWELL HILL (until 14 March. Box office: 020 7870 6876) is well written and well-acted but didn't have a lot to say and so was not very satisfactory. The second KILL ME NOW (until 29 March. Box office: 20 7870 6876) is also very well-written and tremendously well- acted and is a play that no one should miss.

Muswell Hill shows us a well- heeled couple, Jess (Annable Mates) and her husband Mat (Jack Johns) throwing a dinner party on 13 January 2010 for a disparate group of friends. There's Simon (Ralph Aiken) who has mental health issues and comes across as very disturbed. Then there is Karen, who, we learn is a widow after her husband committed suicide. We also get to know a little about Jess's sister Annie (Nicole Abraham) who wants to be an actress. She is accompanied by a man she introduces as her fiancé, middle-aged, very married Tony (Gregory Cox).

Just before the dinner party commences Mat, an unsuccessful novelist, reveals to his accountant wife that he knows all about the affair she's having. To add to the mixture, the guests talk about the 2010 Haitian earthquake which is happening on the day they meet.

Set in the round the first act is rather slow. The second act has a series of revelations but we have not been given the chance to really engage with the characters. The earthquake which forms the backcloth to this story is a far more interesting potential subject than how the characters resolve their issues.

The other play at the Park Theatre, Kill Me Now has the audience quietly mesmerised by what is going on and - when I saw it - at the end of the show half the audience just carried on sitting in their seats until the stage manager asked people to leave as they wanted to clear the set!

There is a dramatic start when Jake (Greg Wise) gives his disabled son Joey (Oliver Gumm) a bath in an actual bath with real water and foam.

Brad Fraser's play, directed by his frequent collaborator Braham Murray, comes across as the story of a father, who has given up his own work as a novelist, in order to care for his disabled son after the death of his wife. Although various other characters come in and out of their lives, the play remains essentially that of the love by the father for his son and also the growing pains of the 17-year-old boy who also has a deep love for his dad.

Greg Wise (Jake) and Oliver Gomm (Joey) in Kill Me Now

Jake's sister Twyla (Charlotte Harwood) looks after her nephew when Jake takes time off to see his long-term girlfriend Robyn (Anna Wilson -Jones) although he pretends that he is going to play hockey. There is also Rowdy (Jack McMullen) who describes himself as, "I'm mildly retarded and well-hung." Rowdy chats with Joey and offers him a way out of living with his father.

Everything changes when Jake becomes disabled and Joey has to think about caring for his dad.

Greg Wise, who returns to the stage after a long break shows us just what we have been missing as he demonstrates the great love of a father for a child combined with the ultimate sorrow of facing a life that for him and his son is not altogether satisfactory. All the parts are well characterised but in particular Oliver Gum, who most of the audience deemed to be a disabled actor, rose up at the end with all his limbs intact and, one presumes, able to talk normally.

Although the romance between Rowdy and Twyla is not very believable, the rest of the play is a finely tuned tale of coping with disability and the growing sexual awareness of a disabled person and how one deals with that. It also looks at euthanasia and brings all these ideas into a well-put together piece which is beautifully crafted, directed and acted.

And now two musicals - one a classic and the other new. From the first few notes of the overture to OKLAHOMA! we know that we can settle back and enjoy one of the classic musicals of our time.

Starting its UK tour at the Royal and Derngate Theatre in Northampton*, this new production has good singers and some old timers in a delightfully directed and choreographed show.

Ashley Day is no macho Howard Keel, but he does have a very pleasant voice and can put across a song well. Charlotte Wakefield finally gets the chance to star - and she grabs the part of Laurey with both hands - and her feet work well too! It is unusual to see the couple do their own ballet dancing in the Dream sequence, but this pair manage it.

Director Rachel Kavanagh puts across the story well and there is a strong, and quite scary, Jud Fry (Nic Greenshilds) who is tall and menacing and frightens us as well as Laurey! Gary Wilmot puts in an attractive cameo performance as Ali Hakim and Belinda Lang is a rather subdued Aunt Eller.

Virtually every song is a winner and all are well-presented here. It's a toss-up which one you will come out singing - Oh What a Beautiful Morning? No? Then it must be the title Oklahoma! And keep your eyes open for yet another Strallen girl: here we have Sasi Strallen (youngest of the Strallen sisters, whose aunt is Bonnie Langford) as one of the girls in the show.

*It is certainly worth catching at one of the venues:

2015 Tour Schedule

  • February 19-28, Royal & Derngate, Northampton
  • March 3-7, Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton
  • March 17-21, The Lowry, Salford
  • March 24-28, Bord Gais Energy Theatre, Dublin
  • April 14-18, Alhambra Theatre, Bradford
  • April 21-25, Festival Theatre, Edinburgh
  • April 28-May 2, Theatre Royal, Nottingham
  • May 5-9, Mayflower Theatre, Southampton
  • May 12-16, The Hawth, Crawley
  • May 19-23, Theatre Royal, Bath
  • May 26-30, Hall for Cornwall, Truro
  • June 2-6, Everyman Theatre, Cheltenham
  • June 16-20, Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury
  • June 23-27, Theatre Royal, Newcastle
  • June 30-July 4, Hippodrome, Birmingham
  • July 14-18, Hippodrome, Bristol
  • July 21-August 1, Lyceum Theatre, Sheffield
  • August 4-8, Wycombe Swan.

Then we have the brand new musical about the life and songs of Carole King, directed by Marc Bruni: BEAUTIFUL - The Carole King Musical (Aldwych Theatre, London (booking until 13 June 2015. Box office: 0845 200 7981). Katie Brayben is exactly right as the singer-songwriter Carole King and the audience certainly feels that they are seeing the birth of a new star as she plays the legend with the skills of the actress which she is (last seen as the ghost of Diana in King Charles 111) combined with a great musical voice.

Katie Brayben as Carole King in Beautiful - The Carole King Musical

Brayben is certainly the main attraction as the show begins with her as Carole King playing at Carnegie Hall and then goes back to tell the story from when she was 16 and just starting off, not helped very much by her mother, Genie Klein (Glynis Barber). The main part shows her partnership and then marriage at a very young age to Gerry Goffin (Alan Morrissey). We see them work together producing lots of hits, then when his philandering becomes too much of a burden for her, Carole going it alone and finding true stardom as singer presenting her own songs to a growing appreciative audience.

Good performances, too, from Morrissey as Goffin, who helped establish Carole, and from Lorna Want and Ian McIntosh as Carole and Gerry's great friends and song-writing rivals Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann. Both of whom sing and act well.

Towards the end of the show, the story-line becomes buried under the need to move through Carole King's repertoire in a hurry and although we get a feeling for other artists of the time and their songs, we miss out on the further personal life of Carole including her other husbands.

But one can't fault the songs and once again we see how important it is to have an actress playing the main part in a musical - but an actress who can sing well of course, and Katie Brayben certainly ticks all the right boxes. The show has done really well on Broadway and judging by the enjoyment of the people around me, looks as though it will be very successful here too.

Mark Rylance is the draw to the production of FARINELLI AND THE KING (Sam Wanamaker Playhouse at the Globe, London (until 8 March. Box office: 020 7401 9919). There is, however, much more to the play than this actor.

Written by composer Claire van Kampen, Mark Rylance's wife, she tells how Philippe V she tells how she tells how King Philippe V of Spain (Mark Rylance), who suffers from bi-polar disease, is cured by the singing of the leading castrato of the day, Farinelli.

Philippe, the grandson of Louis XIV, suffers from acute depression and has bouts of violence when he hurts his long-suffering but very supportive, wife, Isabella (Melody Grove). Farinelli (Sam Crane) gives up his life in the public view to perform basically for one man - the King - and he even accompanies him and his wife when the King decides he would be happier living in a forest.

Rylance, who has an increased following after his bravura performance in Wolf Hall on television, brings a wry humour to the much quieter role of Philippe. We first see him talking to a goldfish in a bowl and follow his antics as he refuses to take on the full powers of King. Rylance manages to show how his character is capable of brilliant thought but also extreme moods when he is without Farinelli's singing.

As Farinelli, Sam Crane brings simplicity to the private person behind the voice. However when the voice is required, counter-tenor Iestyn Davies steps seamlessly into the role and we thrill to the sound of his beautiful counter-tenor voice.

This is a beautiful show to watch, taking place, as it does, in the candle-lit space of the intimate Sam Wanamaker Theatre. If you can get a ticket - I urge you to go and see this.

HAPPY DAYS is revived at the Young Vic (until 21 March Box office: 020 7922 2922). With a magnificent Winnie, played by Juliet Stevenson, and a production which captures the essence of Samuel Beckett's words, the play deserves to be seen at least once.

Winnie is buried in gravel to just below her waist. The gravel falls from an impressive rock formation behind her. Separated from her husband Willie (David Beames) who is entombed in a hole some distance away from her, she nevertheless carries on a conversation with him. He gives monosyllabic responses or just grunts or gives no reply at all.

Winnie remains decidedly cheerful even in these dire circumstances and chats as she takes objects out of her large bag and she even brushes her teeth. As she notes toothpaste and other stuff running out she merely comments, "This is a happy day."

In the second act we find Winnie buried up to her neck in the gravel. Her hair is now drab and she has no make-up on. She still talks of "great mercies" but screams to her husband who neither she nor we can see now. He appears from the hole eventually dressed in wedding attire.

Juliet Stevenson puts across movement with her upper body in the first act using her arms and hands to illustrate her feelings. Even in Act 2 when all we see is her head, Stevenson manages to display full emotions as she remains upbeat. Stevenson interprets Beckett's prose in his 1961 play, rhythmically and with feeling. Greatly assisted by the non-showy performance of David Beames and the set designed by Vicki Mortimer as well as Natalie Abrahami's direction, this is well worth a visit. Go see!


Carlie Newman

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