The Western has been a traditionally male genre of film with
men as the protagonists and aimed at the male cinema-goers.
MEEK'S CUTOFF (cert. PG 1hr.44mins.) gives us women as
the leading characters and deals with their take on the masculine
world as well as the way that they cope with the difficult environment.
A group of seven are crossing the Oregon plains in three wagons
on their way to the west in 1845. The film starts in virtual silence
with just the sounds of the creaking wagons as we see three families
making their slow way along the Oregon Trail to the West.
They are led by Stephen Meek (Bruce Greenwood), who
has got them lost, but assures them that he can find a cutoff or
shortcut that will save time.
Thomas Gately (Paul Dano) and his wife Millie (Zoe Kazan) are the
youngest couple and find the whole experience most bewildering.
William White (Neal Huff) and his wife Glory (Shirley Henderson)
are more mature and very religious. They are accompanied by their
young son, Jimmy (Tommy Nelson). The rebel of the group is Emily
(Michelle Williams) married to Solomon Tetherow (Will Patton) who
is not such a strong character as his wife. When a native American
(beautifully played by Rod Rondeaux) is captured, most of the group
realise that he could be a better and more successful guide than
Meek and they have to make a decision about whether to use him or
not. Meek, who has traditional views, including racist behaviour
towards the captive, wants to kill the Indian.
The women work well together as they cook side by side in the near
darkness and later support each other by sharing their meagre rations
and helping to move heavy wagons which after a time have to be emptied
of most of their goods. We observe the women from different angles
as we peek under their big bonnets, which have peaks at the front
and cloth at the back of their necks. The acting is of a consistently
high standard and all manage to convey not only their individual
characteristics, but also the period feel and hope and desperation
of people trying to find a better life.
Kelly Reichardt's real strength lies in her ability to create,
through her use of the huge expanse of land that we see and the
sounds which come to us often in waves from the men in the distance
to the quiet conversation of the toiling women, the feel of hard
living in a very difficult terrain. There are some beautifully placed
and edited shots. Although the film is set in land that makes it
seem a Western, it is far from the usual genre in that what we have
here is the story of a journey of hardship told in a lyrical vein.
The film ranks as one of the best films this year…so far
In a somewhat different vein, the prize winning (London Film Festival,
Cannes) documentary, ARMADILLO (cert. 15 1hr. 40mins.)
shows a group of Danish soldiers as they prepare to go to war in
Afghanistan. They patrol and finally engaging in fighting. Director,
Janus Metz went right into the heart of the forward operating base
of Armadillo, Helmand province and shows the soldiers trying to
get information from the locals. The villagers explain that the
soldiers come asking for assistance and then they go away and the
Taliban appear and inflict deadly harm on them. There has been controversy
about the soldiers shooting the captured, wounded Taliban. Far from
being charged, some received medals and we are left to wonder if
they acted correctly in a war situation.
Worth catching at the end of May is a terrifically acted and photographed
re-issue of Francis Ford Coppola's 1979 APOCALYPSE NOW
(cert.15 2hrs.33mins.) with Martin Sheen and Marlon Brando. The
film is concerned with the war in Vietnam - but has much in common
with our present conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Already re-issued is the USSR's 1925 film BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN
(cert.PG 1hr. 11mins.), which is extraordinarily good. Directed
by Sergei Eisenstein with Edmund Meisel's original orchestral score,
it tells us about the navy mutiny that sparked off the Russian Revolution.
There are many memorable scenes in Eisenstein's innovative masterpiece.
If you have already seen the film in the past, you will no doubt
remember the Odessa Steps sequences. The image of the pram careering
down the steps at the climax of the massacre of Odessa's citizens
will definitely remain with you.
It's a time of austerity and there is a royal wedding looming.
This is the background for BETTY BLUE EYES (Novello
until 22 October). Sounds just like now, doesn't it? Except that
we find talk of rationing, Attlee and the recent war. In fact, this
musical version of the lovely film, A Private Function, is set in
Yorkshire and deals with a pig being illegally reared by toffs for
a wedding banquet in 1947.
Keeping to Alan Bennett's satire, the show covers
small-town snobbery, the difficulties of feeding a family on post
war rations and the greed of local bigwigs for status and gratitude.
It is very well performed, particularly by Reece Shearsmith and
Sarah Lancashire as the chiropodist and his wife, who steal Betty,
the pig (a fantastic animatronic creation complete with fluttering
eyelashes) when they are denied an invitation to the banquet. Adrian
Scarborough is very funny as the meat inspector who prowls around
like Inspector Clouseau. While this is no Billy Elliot, the music
is tuneful and the choreography inventive.
Another full-of-fun musical is Gilbert and Sullivan's IOLANTHE
(Wilton's Music Hall, E1, until 7 May: box office 020 7702 9555).
Presented by the all-male company who staged the wonderful Pirates
of Penzance the cast still have male haircuts and make-up and no
bosoms, but wear women's clothes and - if they are playing females
- sing soprano.
Sasha Regan once again directs with great enthusiasm and the
choreography, although simple, is effective and the dances and songs,
such as "We are dainty little fairies" are performed very slickly.
Shaun McCourt as the Lord Chancellor and Christopher Finn Iolanthe
(see picture) perform well together, while Alan Richardson manages
the high falsetto for Phyllis almost all the time.
Alex Wetherill is an outrageously camp Fairy Queen. The costumes
and lighting and general effects are devised to bring out the humour
and it is, indeed, all great fun. Christopher Mundy, the pianist,
who is the sole musician and all the actors perform extremely well,
and, of course, we have the terrific music and lyrics of G & S.
Closing early as it has been panned by most critics, THE
UMBRELLAS OF CHERBOURG (Novello until 21 May) is a completely
sung musical - but without any particular hummable tunes - based
on the lovely 1964 film, which was directed by Jacques Demy and
starred young Catherine Deneuve. It tells the story of young lovers,
20-year-old garage mechanic, Guy and 17-year-old Geneviève, who
works in her widowed mother's umbrella shop.
Guy vows to remain true when he leaves for a two
year stint in the army in Algeria. However, when she realises she
is pregnant with Guy's child, Genevieve has to choose between waiting
for him or marrying a rich diamond merchant.
I came out wanting to re-visit the original film. But the show
looks good and the two leads, Carly Bowden as Genevieve and Andrew
Durand as Guy, sing and perform sweetly and Joanna Riding gives
a good performance as Genevieve's still amorous mother.
It is a great pity that the excellent SHARED EXPERIENCE
have lost their Arts Council funding. The theatre company appears
to tick all the right boxes: innovative, new writing performed by
a dedicated experimental group. An example of their work, BRONTE,
written by one of the artistic directors, Polly Teale, and directed
by the other Nancy Meckler (with whom I learnt Yoga in an adult
education class many moons ago!)
can be seen at the Tricycle Theatre (until 30 April,
then touring Richmond Theatre, 10-14 May, Box office 0844 871 7627
Theatre Royal Bath 17-21 May, Box office 01225 448 844 West Yorkshire
Playhouse 24-28 May, Box office 01132 137 700 Glasgow Citizen 1-4
Jun, Box office 0141 429 0022 and Yvonne Arnaud Theatre 7-11 June,
Box offfice 01483 440 000).
The play gives an insight into the lives of the three sisters,
with particular emphasis on the descent into alcoholism of the only
boy, Branwell (Mark Edel-Hunt), who is not able to match the creative
genius of his sisters. Showing the individual characteristics of
the sisters are Elizabeth Crarer as Emily (although I didn't like
her urchin haircut), Kristin Atherton as Charlotte and Flora Nicholson
as a very young Anne.
For Neil Diamond fans, a show based on his album, BROTHER
LOVE'S TRAVELLING SALVATION SHOW is now touring in its
own big top. Starring Brian Conley as Brother Love, the show celebrates
the songs of the singer in a concert form. Directed and choreographed
by the excellent Craig Revel Horwood, it has much of his outrageous
camp theatrical flourishes. It is difficult to make every song different
and yet Revel Horwood's staging manages to achieve this. Darren
Day shows that he can act a song as well as just sing and Ben James
Ellis also does well in the musical stakes. The real star is, course,
Conley, who is one of the most exuberant performers around.
He prances around the stage and talks to the audience
from time to time. He also conducts a general participation song
and everyone waves their arms to "Sweet Caroline." Whenever he is
on stage, there is certainly an extra buzz.
There are some lovely instrumentalists, led by the Musical director,
Richard Weeden. Although the costumes are, at times, over the top,
they seem to suit both the performers and the overall staging. The
big top travels with the company so everyone can enjoy the setting
of a concert tour with an additional zing. Although I didn't start
out as a Neil Diamond fan, by the end of the show, the songs were
buzzing in my head and I felt very much a part of this flamboyant
celebration of 60s music.
Following performances at Leeds Castle and Cheltenham
Racecourse, the nation wide show travels on to:19-24 April Beaulieu,
Hampshire; 6-30 April Woburn Abbey, Bedfordshire; 3-8 May Rockingham
Castle, nr Corby, Leicester; 10-15 May Goodwood Racecourse, West
Sussex; 17-22 May Royal Sandringham Estate, King's Lynn
THE COMPLETE WORKS OF SHAKESPEARE has arrived
at the New Red Lion Theatre under the direction of Henry Filloux-Bennett.
Amazingly this loud, somewhat drama school type show has already
been extended until August 2011. This is a new version by Red Lion
Theatres, and features all 37 Shakespeare plays and some sonnets
in just 110 minutes,
complete with Titus Andronicus re-imagined as Gordon
Ramsey's The F Word, all of the history plays as a Rugby match,
and the world's shortest performance of Hamlet, at just 43 seconds
long. The three actors, James McNicholas, Owen Roberts and Lucy
Wooliscroft emote for all their worth, but some of the shouting
is a bit too much to bear, especially the repeated screams by the
actress. I must admit, however, that those around me seemed to derive
a great deal of fun from the show and as it is sold out, perhaps
there is something there that I have missed!
Hampstead Theatre's production of Mike Leigh's ECSTASY
has transferred to the Duchess Theatre (until 28th May).
The RSC now brings its company's two plays to Hampstead. The
first of these is Rona Munro's LITTLE EAGLE (until
7 May), which celebrates 50 years since Yuri Gagarin went into space.
Unusually Munro's play concentrates on the life of the rocket designer,
Sergei Korolyov, who we first see a prisoner in the harsh environment
of the gulag in 1938.
Needed to oversee the construction of inter-continental long-range ballistic missiles, Korolyov is moved to Moscow. In addition to his contracted work, he also designs what is to become Russia's first space rocket. Yuri Gagarin is chosen from the small group of trainee pilots, who Korolyov dubs his "little eagles" as they have to be small enough to fit into the space capsule. In 1961 Gagarin, a tractor driver's son, (considered a more appropriate candidate than a better educated cosmonout) becomes the first man to orbit the earth. We learn something of Korolyov, the man as well as the chief designer who strives to perfect his space rockets and at the same time take care of his young cosmonauts.
The play begins with Stalin delivering a political speech and the second act opens with Khrushchev (an imposing Brian Doherty) addressing the United Nations about Cuba and the need to avoid war. While Khrushchev supports the space programme with enthusiasm, his successor, Brezhnev, is far from happy about the money and effort being expended while the Americans forge ahead. The stage is basically one design, but there is a lovely effect when the men are hoisted aloft into space and stars twinkle around them. The picture above shows a model of the spinning Sputnik.
The play is well-written and director, Roxanna Silbert manages to invest sufficient interest into the diverse elements so that it is always interesting and we learn about the space race and the politics - particularly the Soviet relationship with America. Darrell D'Silva delivers another of his energetic performances and once again Greg Hicks mesmerises in two small parts (a fellow prisoner in the gulag and an anti-space work General in Moscow). There is also an effective cameo by Noma Dumezweni as the doctor who enables the prisoner Korolyov to survive in the gulag and later treats him for heart attacks in Moscow.