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FILM:May 2015

Although slight, TEA AND SANGRIA (cert.15 1 hr. 50 mins.) is a charming film. The one man band that is Peter Domankiewicz, who is the writer, producer, director, editor and main star - and he even writes some of the music - in his first feature film, puts everything into this movie. Having given up his job, his home and everything he knows in England to travel to Spain and be with the woman he has fallen for, is a huge step. Will David (Peter Domankiewicz) regret his move?

It doesn't begin too well with Marisa (Angela Boix) turning up late and, unfortunately, the whole relationship starts to deteriorate to the point that David moves out of the shared apartment. Now homeless in Madrid, with little money and less Spanish, David is forced to rely on friends and find employment.

This is not the usual kind of rom com: instead of focusing just on the romance between the two, we see David coming to terms with the different culture of this Spanish city. The characters he comes across teach him about life in Madrid and, through the eyes of an Englisman we are able to delight not only in the lovely city but also in its special characteristics. At first you can see David translating not just the language but also the customs until he becomes familiar with both. Domankiewicz is not particularly good-looking which makes the romantic part of the story quite believable.

The actor has a natural charm which works well with the very attractive fiery Spanish Boix. The film is light and amusing with a gentle very British type of humour and a welcome change from some of the heavier stuff currently on offer. The title of the two drinks bridges the gap nicely between the countries.

In CHILD 44 (cert.15 2 hrs. 17 mins.) we find an unusual concept turned into an exciting film which doesn't quite hit the right buttons because many of the actors have the most appalling accents. As Russians they converse in a kind of English which is not convincing either as Russians speaking English or just English. Tom Rob's 2008 bestseller is here made into a thriller by screen writer Richard Price.

Director Daniel Espinosa gives us a - seemingly - accurate depiction of the Soviet Union which, under Stalin, deems murder to be a crime which is non-existent in the country. When Leo Demidov (Tom Hardy), a military policeman who is also a war hero, starts to search for the murder of his friend's child, he is made to feel a traitor. This view is enhanced when he protects his wife (Noomi Rapace) after she is accused of being a spy. They are exiled to a small outpost which is ruled by General Nesterov (Gary Oldman). Although his wife really wants to escape, once they discover more dead bodies she decides to work alongside Demidov to find the murderer.

Hardy gives a good portrayal of the hero who begins as a dedicated Communist but as he pursues the killer realises that perhaps the State is wrong. Rapace gives us the woman behind the wife of a military policeman. The grimness of the life led by ordinary people at this time is well depicted.

If only the accents were not so terribly wrong! Just English using regional accents would have been fine.

Although THE GOOD LIE (cert.12 A 1 hr. 40 mins.) 'stars' Reese Witherspoon, she takes a back seat as the movie explores the story of 'The Lost Boys' - children who were orphaned in the war in Sudan in 1983. Witherspoon plays a more minor role.

The film concentrates on the story of brothers Mamere and Theo who lead a group of young survivors away from the village where their families have been slaughtered. The boys' sister Abital is with them. They are joined by two more young boys, Jeremiah and Paul and this little group remain together through their long trek to a refugee camp in Kenya. On the march the Chief, Theo, is taken away by soldiers, leaving Mamere as leader.

Reese Witherspoon & Ger Duany in The Good Lie

Finally thirteen years later, the remaining group of four - now young adults - are able to leave the camp and travel to America. When they arrive in Kansas City, Carrie Davis (Reese Witherspoon), an employment agency counsellor, meets them and, against her will, finds herself not only searching for jobs for them but also helping them come to grips with a whole new way of life in which they have to negotiate light switches, telephones, new food and the whole culture of a different environment. Whilst the boys are happy to be in America they are also saddened by the forced departure of Abital (Kouth Wiel) to Boston away from the boys.

As the boys build a new life for themselves, the differences between then becomes apparent. Mamere (Arnold Oceng) wants to be a doctor while taking his duties as leader of the little pack very seriously. Paul (Emmanuel Jal) finds it difficult to adjust to his new life and his temper sometimes boils over leading to trouble. Spiritually inclined Jeremiah (Ger Duany) tries hard to keep the peace. He believes strongly in doing good and is sacked when he gives away food to the needy in the supermarket where he is employed.

Witherspoon is just right as the reluctant helper who finds herself drawn into the lives of the young Sudanese refugees. She is completely un-showy in the part and we feel sympathy for her character just as she grows to feel responsible for her charges. The adult refugees are played by young actors who all have experience of the war and life in the Sudan.

Director Philippe Falardeau brings life to this fictional story based on the real experience of the Lost Boys. This is a beautifully shot film which is moving, educational, exciting and all-absorbing.

Also recommended:

If you didn't see the original film, I would recommend watching FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD (cert. 12A 1 hr. 59 mins). While Carey Mulligan is by no means the assertive headstrong heroine that Julie Christie portrayed, Mulligan's Bathsheba Everdene, the heroine of Thomas Hardy's novel, is pretty enough to make us believe that she could attract three different men. The male leads are all individuals but I missed the sparkiness of Terence Stamp's womanising Troy and the very hurt William Boldwood (now played by Michael Sheen) who is driven by love of Bathsheba to commit a terrible act. Here Tom Sturrudge as Troy is somewhat subdued and courts Bathsheba by whirling his sword around but without the charisma of the original. An admirer of Peter Finch's middle-aged wealthy widower Boldwood, I was not entirely convinced by Sheen. As for the very English Gabriel Oak, I so missed Alan Bates. Instead we get the non-English Mathias Schoenaerts. The lovely Dorset scenery is well photographed, the background music swirls around and director Thomas Vinterberg tries hard but misses some key moments including my favourite bit of dialogue from the book:

Oak: And when the wedding was over, we'd have it put in the newspaper list of marriages.

B: I should like that!

Oak: And the babies in the birth - every man Jack of 'em!! And at home by the fire, whenever you look up, there I shall be -and whenever I look up, there will be you.

But why undertake a re-make? What will we have next? A new Dr Zhivago?

ROSEWATER (cert. 15 1 hr. 43 mins.) is the dramatic story of an Iranian journalist imprisoned for writing and speaking out about the Iranian people who are against the current regime in 2009. Starring Gael Garcia Bernal as Maziar Bahari and based on his memoir Then They Came For Me , this is well directed by John Stewart with good acting from all.

 

 


 

THEATRE TIP

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

It was one of my favourite musicals last year and I was absolutely delighted to learn that the Chichester Festival Theatre's production of GYPSY was coming to the Savoy Theatre in London. Well, it is now here (booking until 28 November. Box office: 0844 871 3046) and, if anything, even better in the smaller proscenium theatre than on the bigger apron stage at Chichester. The musical is a delight in itself and with the talents of composer Jule Styne, book by Arthur Laurents and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and the added performance of Imelda Staunton as the extremely ambitious mother of two girls in show business; it is definitely one to see.

Momma Rose is a character of such immense power that she threatens to dominate the play - actually in the person of Staunton she does but that is not to say that the other characters disappear. While it is June (Gemma Sutton) who Rose pushes, it is in fact Louise (Lara Pulver) who becomes a world-wide success as the lady-like stripper, Gypsy Rose Lee .

With the change of venue, Peter Davison has taken over the role of Herbie, the girls' manager, who really loves Rose but is pushed aside when her daughters' careers are being pursued. He is a sympathetic character who works well with the more abrasive Mamma Rose. I think Lara Pulver is stronger here than in Chichester: She is more confident in the part and this gives her a certain aura once she becomes the star of striptease.

Pulver develops her character nicely and there is good support all round, particularly the lively chorus who produce a variety of styles which are all beautifully executed.

Staunton, however, is the real star of the show and well deserves all the praise heaped on her performance. Not only can she act to show the pathos behind the mother's seeming strength but she puts across the well-known songs so that they are always meaningful as well as tuneful. What strikes me is Imelda Staunton's ability to remain in character; she doesn't 'perform' the songs as much as inhabit them as Momma Rose. If I gave stars - out of five - I would give six for this wonderful show! When can I see it again?

THE GLASS PROTEGE (just finished its run at the Park Theatre, London)is written by Dylan Costello and directed by Matthew Gould.

It is hard to believe that only some sixty years ago, society in UK and USA was so intolerant to homosexuality that lives and careers were destroyed to ensure 'secrets' were hidden securely under the carpet . In this delightful small theatre, the full impact of the issues people had to deal with if in love and gay unfolds as the life story of Patrick Glass (Paul Lavers ) is told.

The play is set in two places and in different decades, Patrick's bedroom in 1989 and a Hollywood Film studio in 1949. The elderly Pat is looking back on his life as he nears the end. Alternating between the two places and times throughout the play is extremely effective in showing the profound impact on Patrick's life by his love affair with Jackson (Alexander Hume) a movie star who is forced by the norms of the day to be firmly in the closet. The film studio cast young Patrick (David R. Butler) and Jackson in a film and their association explodes but the studio boss is ruthless in ensuring that that the movie's success and profits is not going to be affected by any 'unacceptable' behaviour.

The supporting cast all act extremely well underpinning this poignant play of love denied, though never ended, and of the choices and decisions made because of the demands of society.

If the subject matter offends and male nudity censored then this is not the play for you. If not, congratulations to Giant Cherry Productions, Costello and the cast of the play in providing a challenging and meaningful production.

I held back the following review until I could also write about The Merchant of Venice.

Not just as a foretaste of Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice but a worthwhile play in its own right, Christopher Marlowe's THE JEW OF MALTA (RSC's Swan Theatre, Stratford (until 8 September 2015. Box Office 0844 800 1110) is given a full-bodied production.

Jasper Britton is Barabas, a Jew who is tormented by the Governor of Malta (Steven Pacey) and his gentlemen. Barabas is very rich and tells the audience this. Christian Malta is being attacked by the Turks and the nobles want the Jewish merchants to give them money but Barabas refuses and the fiercely anti-Semitic Maltese punish him. First by having his riches taken away from him and then spitting on him. Like Shylock, Barabas is moved to revenge by the actions of the Christians.

Lanre Malaolu (Ithamore) and Jasper Britton (Barabas) in The Jew of Malta

When he loses his daughter as well as his money he kills his tormentors without any mercy. As with Shylock, Barabas mourns the loss of his daughter and his treasure, "O, my ducats! O, my daughter," he cries. Presumably he loved his daughter but has no hesitation in punishing her along with the other nuns and friars. To help him, Barabas has a servant, Ithamore (Lanre Malaolu).

The stereotyping of the Jewish merchants gives the play more than a touch of anti-semitism. Jasper Britton plays his part well and it is good to find his daughter Abigail (Catrin Stewart) at least looking Jewish. However, Britton with long hair, gives a powerful yet moving performance whose feeling for revenge leads him to commit atrocious acts.

Good, too, to see the play set in the right period and hear the klezmer music at the beginning setting the tone. Matthew Kelly and Geoffrey Freshwater play not very righteous friars. It is a very well-produced production which brings to the fore the various elements so the that an audience unfamiliar with the play can follow it.

Clear in its production values, too, is the Shakespeare's Globe, London production of THE MERCHANT OF VENICE (until 8 September 2015. Box Office 0844 800 1110) which under the lively direction of Jonathan Mundy brings out all the humour as well as the pathos of Shakespeare's play. The Globe audience always responds to any glimpse of fun and here they get maximum pleasure from the casket scene where Portia's suitors have to choose a box which, if it contains her picture will give them her hand in marriage. The vivacious Portia (Rachel Pickup) watches and is visibly happy when all three choose the wrong casket.

Pickup is good too when, disguised as a lawyer, she has to act against Shylock who is after his pound of flesh from the best friend of her new husband, Bassanio( Daniel Lapine).

Jonathan Pryce shows us just why he is so vengeful as he reacts to the taints and spitting of the anti-semitic Christians in Venice. We glean some idea of the reasons for his actions. Pryce doesn't put on a silly Jewish-type voice; he is an ordinary man wearing a small soft red hat. It's a really good touch to have Pryce's real-life daughter, Phoebe Pryce, as Shylock's daughter Jessica. The two work well separately and are great together. Phoebe puts across the well-known 'Quality of mercy' speech as a realistic speech about mercy and justice.

I'm not sure if I like Launcelot Gobo (Stefan Adegbola) getting audience members up on the stage as it introduces a very modern element to this ancient story. But he works well as does Dorothea Myer-Bennett as Nerissa, Portia's maid and the three suitors for Portia's hand.

The packed audience responded well to the humour but were also quiet in the moving scene at the end when we see Shylock forced to become a Christian and Jessica lamenting by singing a Yiddish song.

Where Helen Mirren acted regally, Kristin Scott Thomas inhabits the character and is magisterial as the Queen in THE AUDIENCE (Apollo Theatre, London until 25 July. Box Office 0844 482 9671). Each week Queen Elizabeth 11 holds a private audience with the Prime Minister of the day. Stately with Churchill as a new Queen following her father, King George's death, Elizabeth has developed her own style and has met with every Prime Minister.

Although no one knows what is discussed at these audiences, Playwright Peter Morgan has imagined the conversations.

We meet the very intelligent Harold Wilson (Norman Woodeson) in middle-age and see him again as his intellectual capacities decline when he suffers from early Alzheimer's and retires. When he is visiting Balmoral Wilson demonstrates his amazing memory which sadly leaves him as he becomes ill.

The Queen (Kristin Scott Thomas) with Prime Ministers in The Audience

John Major (Michael Gould) admits that he left school with three O levels and the Queen comments that she got less and yet they are running the country! She tries to help Major come to terms with the antagonisms from his own Party.

Although most of the meetings take place inside Buckingham Palace, we also visit Balmoral as does Harold Wilson who notices how cold it is and can't believe that visitors are being asked to join in a picnic outside in inclement weather.

The set of Buckingham Palace is particularly impressive: a kind of trompe l'oeil effect as we look from the front where the Queen and her PM sit, down a long corridor from the centre of the stage to thrones at the back. Balmoral is much cosier with a particular Scottish look to the set, with, of course, lots of tartan. Scott Thomas's costume changes are managed so slickly that she changes from era to ear seamlessly.

The line of Prime Ministers passing through results, of necessity, in a great number of short scenes. Most of the actors sound like rather than look like the PM they are portraying. Gordon Brown is an exaggerated figure - big and bumbling. Gordon Kennedy is a good look-a-like. Tony Blair, played by Mark Dexter (who is also David Cameron) is a good speech-a-like. The stand out performers are Norman Woodeson as Harold Wilson: he is amusing and insightful and come across as an endearing character and one of the Monarch's favourites. Michael Gould puts across John Major's quiet dullness, along with his worried persona, well. Sylvestra Le Touzel comes in as an angry Margaret Thatcher who appears to question the Monarch's judgment. Rising naturally above the throng is Kristin Scott Thomas who manages in a few subtle touches to interpret the mannerisms of the Queen as the public see her. Helen Mirren acted the Queen, Kristin Scott Thomas IS the Queen.

The Queen has audiences with 12 Prime Ministers, "From Churchill to Cameron and beyond" as she says. Well, we shall now have to wait longer to see who succeeds Cameron. This play is a good follow up to The King's Speech, which dealt with the present Elizabeth 11's father's period as King. Highly recommended.

Also recommended

A bright and breezy evening spent at Hampstead Theatre, London watching MATCHBOX (until 6 June. Box Office 020 7722 9301), 20 plus short plays, was enjoyable but not all laughs. What should have been a series of funny sketches often petered out. While the six actors involved - Esther Coles, Tim Downie, Mark Hadfield, Chris Larner, Felicity Montagu and Nina Wadia - performed well ,the material, based on Michael Frayn's book of the same name, is not all worthy of a full-scale theatrical presentation.

The stage has been re-configured so that it is now completely in the round which makes it difficult to catch what some of the actors say when they have their backs to you.

It's worth hurrying along to catch AH WILDERNESS! At the Young Vic, London (until 23 May. Box Office 020 7922)

Eugene O'Neill's play deals with a young person's life in Connecticut, happy but with a distinct grimness hidden underneath. His only comedy, O'Neill gives an idealised version of childhood which descends into tragedy in his play Long Day's Journey Into Night. New film star, George MacKay stars as Richard Miller, a young lad discovering love and booze at the same time. Arguing with his mother (sensitively portrayed by Janie Dee, showing motherly anxiety when her son is late home) and giving his views on life,Mackay shows all the behaviour traits of a teenager.

Ashley Zhangazha (left) with George Mackay in Ah Wilderness! at the Young Vic

While the joint production by Cheek by Jowl and the Pushkin Theatre Moscow of MEASURE FOR MEASURE has now finished at the Barbican it is worth trying to catch it as it tours. With surtitles this sharp version of Shakespeare's play (it runs for under 2 hours with no interval) has the actors forming beautifully choreographed set pieces as they move into formation as the appropriate scenes for each person crops up. They all remain on stage all the time and just move as required.

Another one worth hurrying to see is the somewhat fanatical SHOCK TREATMENT (King's Head, London until 6 June. Box Office 020 7226 443) Originally unsure if it was a prequel, the show has now declared itself a sequel to the Rocky Horror Show. Very much in the same genre as Richard O'Brien's original cult creation, it has its own story. The hero and heroine from the first show, Brad and Janet (here played by Ben Kerr and Julie Atherton) are facing a break-up of their marriage. As they present a reality show it means that when they split the show must change.

Lots of extraordinary business as the members of the exuberant cast - all very exaggerated - parade up and down the tiny auditorium that makes up the King's Head pub theatre, you are in for a very funny and most enjoyable evening here, with much sexual innuendo and lively songs.

To welcome the newly redeveloped Lyric Hammersmith there is a delightful production of BUGSY MALONE ( until 5 September 2015. Box Office 020 8741). It is just great to see the youngsters dancing and singing their way around the stage. They put this youthful energy to good use as the characters are bang-on.

On the night I went, there was a most impressive Tallulah from Asanda Jezile, who brought a strong sensuous voice to her character. The somewhat more subdued role of Blousey Brown was taken by Zoe Brough who was well up to the mark in the delivery of her soul number. I liked, too, the Fat Sam of Jenson Steele and, in particular, a huge black Leroy who rescues Bugsy from muggers. Sasha Grey is a cute Bugsy Malone.

The show is a re-creation of the stage version of Alan Parker's spoof gangster film of 1976. It has good choreography - the best bit being the boxer sequence shown in the picture- and ingenious sets and all the children in the cast look just right in their speakeasy-style costumes, and the men with plastered down hair and the girls as molls but without bosoms.

Just right for an outing for the whole family - go see.

Although it should be a really sad play, the powerful performance of Kenneth Cranham ensues that we are so mesmerised by his extraordinary performance that we are unable to look away In THE FATHER (Tricycle Theatre, London until 13 June. Box Office 020 7328 1000) Cranham plays 80 year-old Andre who has a past that we are never quite sure of as accounts by him and by his daughter, Anne (Claire Skinner) vary.

He is unsure of his surroundings but we see that he has difficulty with establishing not only where he is - his own flat or that of his daughter - but also who the various people are that enter his home. He even gets confused about his daughter and at one point believes that another woman is she.

Andre is sad about his other daughter who we never see, but he talks about her lovingly.

The clever device of playwright Florian Zeller is to make us, the audience, equally confused: where indeed are we and who are the two men who appear beside Anne? We do realise that Andre, who wanders about in his pyjamas, is more than forgetful and we sadly agree with Anne that his mind is deteriorating and he needs constant supervision and care.

Director James Macdonald balances the various elements of the play and allows the actors to develop their characters.

Claire Skinner is just right as the daughter, who is caring, yet realises that looking after her father is more than she can manage if she wants to hold down a job and a relationship. And surely Cranham will get some award for his portrayal of a man who is slowly losing his mind as he loses his bearings. He is subdued and honest without any mannerisms. A real lesson in acting: don't miss this!

     

Carlie Newman

   
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