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FILM:May 2012

Paul Raymond was well-known in the 60s and 70s for his fame and for his riches. The story behind his achievements is told in Michael Winterbottom's THE LOOK OF LOVE (cert. 18 1hr.40mins.). It stars Steve Coogan in this true-life portrait of Paul Raymond, the owner of Raymond Revue Bar in Soho and Men Only magazine.

Born in Liverpool, an old Raymond looks back on his life, remembering how he began with an end of the pier mind-reading act. Noticing how his audience seemed very interested in his topless assistant, he progressed to becoming one of Britain's leading nude revue producers. He opened his Revue Bar in 1958, which became known for its nudes, who were allowed to , as it was a private club. He became successful and the Sunday Times called him the Richest Man in Britain in 1992. The film focuses on Raymond's relationships with the three most important women in his life: his wife Jean (Anna Friel), his lover Fiona (Tamsin Egerton) and his daughter Debbie (Imogen Poots).

Selling sex (albeit wrapped up as artistic entertainment) became Raymond's lifestyle, first in his theatres and then, later on, through his almost pornographic publications. His star columnist was his lover, who he called Fiona Richmond. At one time Men Only was seized and banned as obscene. Although Paul had a wife and children, he looked like a typical playboy with expensive, tailored clothes, gold and silver jewellery, pricy, showy cars, and gourmet food and drink. He was a 'good' businessman, though, and invested his money profitably so that by the mid-'90s he was also a property baron, owning so much of the capital's now-lucrative West End that he was named The King Of Soho.

Although Raymond appeared to have it all, he suffered greatly when his only daughter, Debbie, became addicted to drugs and took an overdose. He was extremely close to Debbie and never really recovered from her death in 1992, when she was 36. Paul Raymond never took his fortune for granted and used to say, "Not bad for a lad who arrived from Liverpool with five bob in his pocket."

Steve Coogan appears to have caught the essence of Raymond, who was apparently a very private man in spite of his gaudy lifestyle. His face looks genuinely sad at the inquest of his daughter, Debbie. Coogan also brings humour to the part as his attempts at romance with glamour models are so obviously false. At the beginning and end of the film we see Coogan as Raymond being caring with his granddaughters.

Never less than interesting, the film could have been a bit more subtle in it approach. However, we get a realistic picture of Paul Raymond and a good idea of the entertainment world - especially the sex industry - in Soho at the time. In the week that Margaret Thatcher dies, we see an example of the get rich quick generation and the selfish pursuit of wealth with no regard to the struggling poor people at the time.

Oblivion is obviously the big picture this month. I found the movie rather baffling so I am using the review by a friendly fellow critic. Carol Allen writes :

After making his first feature film Tron: Legacy, Joseph Kosinksi wrote OBLIVION (12A) as a twelve page short story, which he dreamed of turning into a movie. But before that happened, he wrote it as a graphic novel, which also acted as a sort of "promotional story board" to attract investors. With a history like that, it's no surprise that the final product is a spectacular big screen film with a major star in the lead.

Olga Kurylenko and Tom Cruise in Oblivion

Tom Cruise plays Jack Harper, who with his wife/co-worker Vika (Andrea Riseborough) is stationed on the now ravaged earth of the future. As Jack explains in the opening voice over, the planet is now a devastated wasteland as a result of a war with alien invaders known as the Scavs. The last of the human survivors are living on a satellite station out in space. His job is to extract the last of the earth's vital resources for them, (like a sort of space age oil prospector), prior to joining his fellows when they relocate to one of Jupiter's moons. But Jack is troubled by strange dreams about his life on earth before this holocaust, and when he rescues a young woman (Olga Kurylenko), whose space craft crashes in his "back yard", he gradually comes to realise that his reality is not at all what it seems.

The look of the film is, as I say, spectacular. The vast barren landscape; the futuristic plane cum helicopter in which Jack travels the planet in the course of his work; intriguing glimpses of what is left of Earth - well New York - as it once was; and the Skytower, where Jack and Vika live and from where she navigates his expeditions and communicates with their controller Sally (Melissa Leo) in outer space. Perched on stilts high above the wasteland, their base is an impressive and beautiful piece of imaginative domestic architecture as it might be some sixty years from now.

And we also have Morgan Freeman, not playing God this time, but somewhat underused as the voice of truth, who leads Jack to discover the truth behind the illusion.

The true nature of the situation, which is gradually revealed to Jack is actually an intriguing Isaac Asimov type meditation on love, reality and the nature of humanity but as the film progresses it all gets rather overwhelmed by the spectacle and hardware - more aerial battles than even Top Gun managed, explosions by the score and noise drowning out some of the more philosophical plot points. The most successful sequences are the intimate scenes between Vika and Jack in the Skytower. The technology that film makers now have at their disposal to feed cinema audiences' ravenous appetite for spectacle can sometimes work against the human drama, as it does here. In many ways the more primitive resources used by say Stanley Kubrick in 2001: A Space Odyssey

     
     
     
     
     
     

 

 


 

THEATRE TIP

ONCE was a delightful film and now makes a very good impression as a musical at the Phoenix Theatre (booking until 30 November 2013).

Fresh from winning eight Tony Awards, including best musical, ONCE now has a British cast who put across the story in a sincere, sweet and non-sentimental manner.

The story remains, as in the low budget little film, about a vacuum cleaner repair man who is also a singer-songwriter and busker in Dublin. Sinking into a deep depression after his girlfriend moves away to New York, he is accosted by a Czech woman who is impressed by his singing. Offering to exchange a tune on the piano as payment for his mending her hoover, they become close and write and sing songs together. All is not plain sailing, however, as she has a husband, from whom she is separated and a young daughter. He is obviously still yearning for his old girlfriend.

Declan Bennett and Zrinka Cvitesic in Once

The couple are never actually named and are just called Guy and Girl. The book by Enda Walsh and John Carney's screenplay form the foundation for John Tiffany's production. Where the film seemed more of a story with music, here it has become a musical with the music very much to the forefront. The songs are by Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová, who starred in the film, and, whilst they are melodic, don't make you want to hum along or even remember them much afterwards.

The set, an Irish pub, is very well reproduced with mirrors on the walls. Before the show commences members of the audience are free to join the singing musicians on stage. When they leave the lights gradually dim and we move seamlessly into the actual show.

The joy of the show is that the cast are all musicians and each member plays at least one instrument and generally more than one part. Declan Bennet has a pleasant singing voice but not a lot of charisma while Zrinka Civitesic is livelier. They work well together and in fact the whole cast gel in a most attractive way. One can believe both in the characters and in the growing love between the two leads.

Box office 0844 871 7629

UNTOLD STORIES (Duchess Theatre booking until1 15 June) is a gem of show, or should that be two jewels as there are two short plays on view here? The double bill of plays shown here was written by Alan Bennett in 1997 based on autobiographical material culled from Bennett's diaries and other writing.

Alex Jennings as Alan Bennett in Untold Stories

In HYMN Alan Bennett remembers how his father tried to teach him the violin and the disappointment felt when his son failed to learn. The words are accompanied by music by George Fenton, played beautifully by a string quartet. The musicians illustrate and take part in the little play including the violinist playing badly as 10-year-old Alan.

Alan Bennett (Alex Jennings) speaks directly to the audience about his young life. Lighting and a simple set contribute to the very well-written play which has genuine wit and is well-directed in a very simple style by Nadia Fall.

Alex Jennings is excellent as Bennett and really looks like the young author.

The second play, directed by Nicholas Hytner, is COCKTAIL STICKS, in which Bennett regrets the way that he treated his unworldly parents, especially when he was at Oxford and he was ashamed when his parents visited him. His parents are so pleased to see him as a writer, although never quite grasping exactly what he is doing, and Alan regrets how he looked down on them. He was always correcting his mother such as her mispronunciation of 'cocktail' with her emphasis on the second syllable. Gabrielle Lloyd and Jeff Rawle are very good as Alan's parents.

There is a lovely speech by Alan describing how his dad always used to be left outside the ladies' toilets holding his wife's handbag. Altogether a delightful play both poignant as when Alan describes having a cocktail of drugs in his treatment for cancer and most humorous in the author's description of his mother and her behaviour. A theatrical experience, with a marvelous performance by Jennings, and very well worth spending your money on.

Box office: 0844 412 4659

And now for two plays reviewed by TED CRAIG:

MR HOLGADO (Unicorn Theatre, London until 28 April) by Christopher William Hill

Conrad believes there is a tiger by the name of Sigmund with a penchant for champagne truffles living in his wardrobe in Christopher William Hill's delightful and sometimes gleefully grotesque new play.

Set in the fictional town of Schwartzgarten it centres on Conrad's (Daniel Naddafy) obsession with his wardrobe which proves not only to be possibly inhabited by the tiger but a stranger called Mr Holgado!

Things get worse for Conrad when his father (an excellent Sandy Grierson) apparently drowns in the Penguin pool at the zoo and a Mr Van der Bosch comes to stay with Conrad and his up-tight mother (a strenuous Cath Whitfield). Sandy Grierson, doubling as Van der Bosch, has hilariously modelled his creation on Alec Guinness's character in The Ladykillers and when we were told that he likes anchovy and herring Paste the reaction (yuck!) to this startling news united all of the audience and made us sympathise even more with Conrad's dilemma.

Daniel Naddafy is splendid as Conrad who provides bags of energy and a total belief in the existence of his tiger and although over-characterised, Cath Whitfield manages to keep the plot going at a pretty pace. Mark Melville's music composition is a delight with delicious quotes from Danny Elfman's film music, and a practical, good looking set by Kai Fischer allows the action to flow smoothly in Matthew Lenton's playfully macabre and exuberant production. Mr Holgado is highly recommended - take the grandchildren: they'll have a terrific time, and so will you!

Box Office: 020 7645 0560

PROJECT COLONY (Trinity Buoy Wharf 64 Orchard Place London E14 until 27 April) by Franz Kafka, written and directed by Hamish MacDougall and James Yeatman

This immersive project by Fourth Monkey, based on Kafka's short story, has a 52 strong ensemble cast performing this site specific spectacle at Trinity Buoy Wharf, said to be one of London's most atmospheric dock side spaces. (In the summer may be, but absolutely freezing cold on the opening night due to our inclement Spring weather).

We were ushered into a large warehouse space decorated with balloons where young women welcomed us and offered us bags of sweets and conversation - this is a 1950s era colonised holiday camp on a tropical island. The rather awkward 'partying' went on and on until suddenly the doors opened, and a troop of young men entered and wordlessly made half of the audience exit with them. My group was left behind to wonder what was going on and made to play party games - a sense of filling-in was the overall impression of this boring twenty minutes or so.

Finally it was our turn to be ordered out. We trecked into the freezing cold across courtyards and to a basement of a wharf building to witness the execution of a condemned prisoner by an elaborate torture and execution device. The cast were sincere and disciplined and the action was engaging.

Kafka's story is a complex hall of mirrors. Was this a brutal murder or a sacred tradition that's been eroded by modernity? We were left to ponder as we were ushered back to the party. We had been exposed to life on this island from both sides. I could have done with just one to be honest.

This was an interesting experience but needed a tougher, tighter concept to make use of its interesting potential.

Box office: 020 7478 0170 TED CRAIG

It's amazing to remember that this play was first in the West End 20 years ago. BEAUTIFUL THING has now returned to the Arts Theatre (until 25 May). The climate for Jonathan Harvey's gay love story was very different twenty years ago and we should rejoice that, at least for this issue, we now have acceptance - up to a point.

Directed by Nikolai Foster the story is basically about two teenage boys discovering their true sexuality and coming to realise that they love each other. Jamie (Jake Davies) aged 15 lives with his 35-year-old mother, Sandra (Suranne Jones) who enjoys a sexual relationship with Tony (Oliver Farnworth).

Tony tries to befriend Jamie, who shares a spiff with him but otherwise seems too used to his mother's change of partners to be overly impressed by this particular one.

Jake Davies and Danny Boy Hatchard in Beautiful Thing at Arts Theatre

Jamie is far more interested in his best friend, Ste (Danny-Boy Hatchard), who is 16 and lives next door with his abusive father. Ste frequently comes to Sandra's house to escape from his father and shares a bed with Jamie, sleeping top to tail.

The boys are frequently joined by their other neighbour, Leah who seems keen on Ste until she later realises he is only interested in Jamie. She is a devoted fan of Mama Cass and there is an amusing scene when she is high and dressed as her idol. Sandra doesn't understand that her son prefers Ste to any girly and at one point gives him Ł5 to buy flowers and a gift for his 'girlfriend'.

It is a well-written comedy with very serious undertones, particularly when Jamie sees the results of his father's beatings on Jamie's body. Very well acted, the play certainly appealed to the very gay audience who were present on the night I saw the play!

THE ARREST OF AI WEIWEI is similar to the documentary-style plays frequently put on at the Tricycle theatre, London. It can be seen at Hampstead Theatre (until 18 May). A documentary film about the Chinese artist has also been released recently and shows him with his wife, his lover and their child. The play - which is based on Weiwei's own account of his imprisonment given in Barnaby Martin's book, Hanging Man and so is likely to be accurate - deals with his more recent difficulties with the Chinese authorities.

Benedict Wong as Ai Weiwei

On 3 April 2011 Ai Weiwei was arrested at Beijing Airport as he was about to board a plane for Taipei. He was taken into custody and kept in prison for 81 days. Howard Brenton's new play is based on Weiwei's interviews given to Barnaby Martin. Initially the conceptual artist is told, "You are not allowed to leave because travel may endanger security." And with that, Weiwei is detained.

We observe numerous interrogation scenes of Weiwei by the 'Professor' (David Lee-Jones) about killing someone. With a guard on each side for hours and lots of silence, we feel time go by and note Weiwei's confusion over why he has been imprisoned. The Professor does not like Ai's description of himself as 'artist' and insists that he is an 'art worker.' He accuses Weiwei of being a swindler, a con man as his prices are too high. The artist attempts to educate his interrogators about the nature of art. They throw at Ai the fact that he has had a child by a woman who is not his wife.

The 'Professor' and the 'Minder' (Richard Rees) question Ai over many days and in between he is watched and followed closely by the two guards, who, at the army base where he is later taken, even accompany him to the toilet.

Weiwei is asked to admit to crimes, but he cries out in frustration, "What crimes? Why won't you say exactly what the crimes are? Admit what? What? What?"

Now the 'Sportsman' (Orion Lee) interrogates Ai and has a discussion with him about art, insisting that, "Art is a tree that looks like a tree." Although Ai attempts to explain how he wants "art to mean everything" the others won't accept this.

Weiwei is well known for his blogs, many of them against his Government's treatment of artists. The Sportsman comments on a photo that appeared on one of Ai's blogs, showing Ai's wife lifting her skirt and displaying her knickers in Tiananmen Square.

Weiwei is accused of subverting State power and finally a crime that Ai can admit to, "You violated tax laws." After his release from prison on 22 June 2011, there is a powerful final scene of Ai (and the magnificent Benedict Wong manages to look very like the real Ai) speaking publicly but stating that he cannot actually say anything as he is on bail. He pleads for freedom of speech.

There is a simple but versatile set with a large box brought in and opened to reveal the place where the scene is set. Scene shifters who are also participants/actors in the scenes sit each side and bring on props and furniture as needed. Director James Macdonald gives us a vibrant play with tension, humour and good acting particularly from Benedict Wong as Ai Weiwei.

     

Carlie Newman

   
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