Dealing with the personal life as well as his extraordinary
discovery of how to crack the Enigma code, we learn much about Alan
Turing in the film THE IMITATION GAME (cert. PG
13 1 hr. 42 mins.). The film was a highlight of the London Film
Festival 2014 which has just finished. Benedict Cumberbatch takes
on the role of Turing as an adult after we see Alan as a young boy
(another good performance from Alex Lawther) who has difficulty
forming relationships. The lad already shows his brilliant brain
and exceptional mathematical ability.
Keira Knightley, Matthew Beard,
Matthew Goode, Allen Leech and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation
The film begins in Manchester in 1951, where, after a break in
at his home, Turing is charged and later punished for being a homosexual
which was illegal at the time. The scenes where he is interrogated
by the policeman (Rory Kinnear) start and end the film so there
is not much surprise there. However the bulk of the film is concerned
with Turing's time at Bletchley Park. As at school Alan finds it
hard to make friends but gradually shows and then convinces his
colleagues that he is able to crack the Enigma code.
He makes one friend, Joan Clark (Keira Knightley),
who manages to get into the work although initially dismissed because
she is a woman. At the press conference for the film, Keira said
that Joan was breaking boundaries.
The code breaker actually helped win WW11 and Cumberbatch manages
to show us the all-round personality of the man as far as is possible
for a person who kept his personal life very private. While coming
across as very confident, Turing is also seen to be extremely awkward.
In the press conference Benedict said that he is very keen for history
to be known and audiences to see the film. There is already talk
of an Oscar nomination for his performance. Knightley also gives
a finely nuanced performance and they are backed up by a cast of
British stalwarts including Charles Dance, Mark Strong and Alan
Leech (the chauffeur in Downton Abbey) and are directed expertly
by the Norwegian Morton Tylden. A highly recommended film out now.
Sharon Michaels enjoyed a new documentary. She
Perhaps the days of a great heist have given way to online fraud
and Internet crime but in its day, the robbery of the Royal Mail
train travelling between Glasgow and London has long been one of
the most notorious and intriguing robberies of the last century.
The Great Train Robbery was in a league of its one, hauling the
biggest amount of money ever stolen at that time and commanding
the heaviest sentences the Central Criminal Court had ever imposed
for such a crime.
The film THE GREAT BRITISH TRAIN ROBBERY : TALE OF TWO
THIEVES (1 hr. 9 mins.), directed by Chris Long, tells
how the robbery had been meticulously planned and the majority of
robbers were brought to justice. But the inside man, known as the
'Ulsterman', essential to the whole endeavour. Without him, the
robbery would never have occurred. His identity has been a mystery
This documentary gives the account of the robbery through lengthy
interviews with Gordon Goodie, one of the robbers involved, revealing
a fascinating insight into the planning, investigation and police
tactics employed to ensure convictions were forthcoming. With the
help of private investigators and other professionals, the 'Ulsterman
is exposed, named and confirm by Goodie.
Between Goodie's testimony, 1960's footage and an actor playing
Goodie in his youth, this is a compelling and most enjoyable film
for anyone interested in this infamous robbery and its team of robbers
or merely nostalgic for the bygone days of the age of the heist.
Still available to see either in the cinema or on DVD: WILL
AND TESTAMENT: TONY BENN (cert. 12A 1 hr. 30 mins.). Usually
Tony Benn is one of the few people - especially politicians - who
became more left-wing as he grew older. As one of those quoted says
in the film Will and Testament "He immatures with age." In this
documentary we are shown Benn's personal, political and Parliamentary
life and he comments on the world around him. The difference in
this film is the subject himself. Director has wisely used Benn
to provide an autobiographical account. Benn uses his relationships
and their advice as a basis for his actions, so he quotes both his
parents and his wife Caroline.
The film, which is directed by Skip Kite, provides an all-round
view of the life of one of the great politicians of our age, so
we see him smoking in his living room and office - he was a big
smoker and loved his pipe along with a large cup of tea - and with
his family and addressing large meetings of various kinds, from
miners to peace marches. Benn had an excellent memory for dates
and throughout the film gives precise dates of events. He kept a
daily record of what he had done and his opinions, first dictating
then recording - these translated in to the famous books of Benn's
The Benns are a very close family. Tony talks of
his parents and his early life; of his two brothers and the great
loss of his brother Michael during the war. Benn talks a lot about
his wife Caroline, an educationalist and author: he mentions her
views on death as a "great adventure" (she suffered from cancer
and eventually died in November 2000). In the film he says "Caroline
taught me how to live and she taught me how to die." He talks about
how they met and he proposed just nine days after meeting. They
were truly a lovely couple and were still so obviously very fond
of each other when I attended their Golden Wedding anniversary party.
I spoke to Tony quite a few times about the death of his wife when
my own husband was dying of cancer, too, and he was obviously suffering
from the loss of his beloved companion. Speaking emotionally of
her dying Benn says Caroline was, "the most powerful influence in
He speaks about anti-Semitism - how Hitler picked a false enemy
to gain power - and war and the build-up of nuclear weapons. Benn
went from being pro nuclear power for civil use to being against
it. He comments that it is important to recognise not only where
one is wrong but to admit to being wrong. He was completely in agreement
with nationalisation and in supporting the miners saw that as a
class war. His thoughts on 1945 and full nationalisation and the
welfare state ties in with Ken Loach's film Spirit of '45.
Benn reminds us that it was only in 1948 that we got one man, one
woman, one vote - democracy.
He went from being Anthony Wedgewood-Benn to fighting and succeeding
(he saw this as a personal and political struggle), after his father,
Lord Stansgate died, to renouncing his title so that he could continue
to sit in the House of Commons and not in the House of Lords which
he denounced as undemocratic. It is very interesting - as clips
are heard - to hear Benn's voice changing form upper class posh
as Wedgewood-Benn to just ordinary as Tony Benn! His voice, however,
was very powerful and he had the most marvellous way with words;
he truly was the best at speaking in the House of Commons. I liked
the way that he always gave his best, not just at huge meetings
but also when he spoke to small groups of seniors at local meetings.
When I was on the platform with him once he worked out how many
folk in the hall, asked me their average age and added the number
to some terrifically high amount which he then told the audience!
He and Caroline kept everything! At one point he holds up the first
bottle of North Sea oil from his time as a Minister in the Labour
He speaks of the Thatcher years and the injustice of many of her
actions including the miners' strike. Throughout the film we hear
the voices of others and there is a clip from the film Brassed Off
which, when he gave an interview for the Greater London Forum for
the Elderly some years ago, he chose as his favourite film. The
media were very against him for many years, at one point the tabloids
dubbed him, 'the most dangerous man in Britain', harassed his children
and went through his rubbish. Later he became a 'National treasure'
but tells us in the film that he was not sure if he likes that as
it makes him seem a harmless old man. He says he was "chuffed" to
receive a death threat showing that he's still considered not harmless!
Benn is obviously not so keen on Tony Blair's New Labour Party
which he saw as espousing Thatcher's policies. He viewed New Labour
as a centre Party under Blair. On Iraq he expresses the view that
there were never weapons of mass destruction. When he resigns, Benn
announces that he is "leaving Parliament to devote more time to
politics," and he adds, "and that's what I've done."
It is well-filmed with black and white photographs from the past
including film from Benn's childhood and more recent film in colour.
Director Skip Kite shows his admiration for Benn by allowing Benn's
words to be heard throughout; it is Tony who gives the commentary
on his own life and the director skilfully illustrates the points
made, using song and other voices, including Laurence Olivier, as
appropriate. Tony Benn fully believed in following what he thought
was right, 'say what you believe and believe what you say.' He says
that he would be happy to have on his gravestone, 'He encouraged
us.' The film finishes with Tony's funeral in March 2014 at St Margaret's
Church, Westminster. I was inside so it was interesting for me to
see the faces of people - young and old black and white - listening
to the speeches outside the Church. He died aged 88.
His influence on me was and is tremendous - he was not just an
inspiration but a very kind and honest man. Tony was (and remains)
an important person in their lives for many people. This film succeeds
in catching and passing on his spirit and you can't give higher
praise than that. Tony Benn is no longer with us so do see this
film to help keep his ideas alive.
Referred to in the film Will and Testament: Tony Benn
and fictionalised in Pride, STILL THE ENEMY WITHIN
(cert. 15 1 hr. 42 mins.) gives us a documentary on the miners'
strike of 1984-5. This is the miners' view of what happened and
why and how the communities dealt with it at the time. To many of
us who heard the miners and their womenfolk talking when they came
to speak to groups around the country during the strike, it is no
surprise to hear then clearly articulate their views. In this well-researched
documentary filmed thirty years later we hear first-hand accounts
of events that took place during the 1984-85 strike. There are some
great interviews with ordinary miners as well as clips of news items
including showing Scargill and Thatcher.
We start off with a miner returning to a desolate site and describing
the experience of going below ground and into the mine and working
deep down with his mates. He says there were over 2,000 people in
this pit - breadwinners - in the "bowels of the earth producing
In 1984 160,000 miners went on strike; it was the longest strike
in British history. The Media dubbed them 'Arthur's army' while
Margaret Thatcher, the Conservative Prime Minister at the time called
them 'the enemy within.' Miners talk about the hardships of life
on strike as "living politics" but solidarity was tangible as they
all realised that Thatcher and her Government were out to destroy
the Trades Unions. The film about Tony Benn, 'Will and Testament,
re-iterates this viewpoint and the film Pride gives a fictionalised
account of this real event. Arthur Scargill, the President of the
Miners' union becomes a hate figure and under Ian MacGregor, the
Head of the NCB (National Coal Board), the Government sets out to
defeat the miners by closing coal mines.
As pit after pit closes the miners are very optimistic with pickets
asking their fellow workers to "please don't go to work." Betty
Cook of 'Women against pit closures' says that the Government was
surprised to find women who supported the miners, but there was
no money for the miners' families and so the women organised soup
kitchens., and then later they became much more active: joining
picket lines, speaking at meetings and raising money. There is an
amusing interview with a miner called 'Norman Strike who has to
keep proving that is his real name!
And then the strike became more vicious. First David Jones was
killed protesting then there was a huge confrontation at Orgreave
in June 1984 when the protestors were met by armed policemen with
truncheons. Miners' support groups sprang up around the country.
Mike Jackson of the 'Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners' gives
a real-life account of their meetings with the miners in south Wales.
The story was later made into the film Pride. However,
as winter came many miners, whose marriages were breaking up as
their families suffered, were disheartened and they started to go
back to work. It was a great disappointment for many frontline miners
when the strike was called off in March 1985.
It is important to note, as one interviewee in the film states,
that 1992 saw the closure of pits with huge numbers of miners put
on the dole, never to get another job. Even those who worked through
the strike said "Arthur was right." Within 10 years virtually every
pit was shut down and a whole industry was lost. Communities are
still suffering from the defeat of the miners with people who haven't
worked for two generations and the privatisation of industries whereby
Government assets are sold off. There is a very interesting statistic
given at the end of the film: 80% of coal is now imported (2014).
This is not only a well-made and very interesting documentary by
Owen Gower but of historical importance as it gives personal accounts
of the miners' strike and its consequences. Hopefully we can learn
from it so that history is not repeated.
I don't know why I was surprised to find GREAT
BRITAIN (Theatre Royal Haymarket (until 10 Jan 2015. Box
office 020 7930 8800) so amusing. Its credentials should
have told me that it was going to be funny. Richard Bean, who wrote
one of my favourite recent comedies, One Man, Two Guvnors, is the
writer and the play has transferred from the National Theatre, directed
by Nicholas Hytner.
When it first opened this new political satire was bang up to date,
referencing, as it does, the so-called Rupert Murdoch trials when
former Murdoch journalists were tried on charges of phone hacking.
But the play is much more than the phone-hacking scandal - it deals
with the relationship between the press, politicians, the police
and the public (or 'civilians' as they are described in the play)
using current news stories and celebrities to show how they interact
in a corrupt manner. Even as we laugh at the very funny lines, we
also squirm as we recognise our part in the scenario. The central
character, the journalist Paige Britain (Lucy Punch) describes directly
to the audience - her public - the role of the tabloid press, "That's
what we do - we destroy other people's lives on your behalf." Here
we see the story of dead twins and their father being used in a
Lucy Punch in putting across the ambitious journo shows how she
will stop at nothing to get to the top of her profession; at one
point she sleeps with the Prime Minister and the smoothly handsome
Assistant Met Commissioner almost at the same time. A lovely exuberant
performance, Punch suits the role - or does the role suit her? Either
way she will make you laugh and at the same time feel uncomfortable
at her antics.
Lucy Punch as Paige Britain
in Great Britain
There are many characters from the different sections
being satirised. One of the funniest is the extremely stupid Met
Commissoner (Aaron Neil) who shows his incompetence through a series
of very amusing gags. Another comic character is Scott Karim as
Marcus Hussein, a freelance undercover reporter who puts on some
awful disguises. There are other characters, obviously based on
real people, who appear exaggerated and yet one can discern truthfulness
beneath the satire. All the parts are very well executed and Hytner
makes sure that the fast pace never lets the words down.
As usual with National Theatre productions, the set is superb with
desks and posters at the back advertising the 'Free Press' tabloid
This very clever satire deserves to be seen and with its transfer
to the Haymarket you now have the chance. Grab it!
It's amazing to find out that that many of the boys in the large
cast of the ballet LORD OF THE FLIES at Sadler's
Wells Theatre (and going on to tour :
Wed, 22nd October 2014 to Sat, 25th October 2014
Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff, Box Office 029 2063 6464
Wed, 5th November 2014 to Sat, 8th November 2014
Theatre Royal, Newcastle upon Tyne Box Office 08448 1121 21
Wed, 19th November 2014 to Sat, 22nd November 2014
Theatre Royal, Norwich Box Office 01603 6300 00
Wed, 3rd December 2014 to Sat, 6th December 2014
Alhambra Theatre, Bradford 01274 43 2000)
are complete amateurs.
At each venue creator Matthew Bourne and his choreographer Scott
Ambler, have recruited and trained local boys aged nine to 22 (some
of whom have had hardly any dance experience) to work with professional
dancers. The show then becomes a community project. This was evident
at the performance I saw at Sadlers Wells where there were many
family and friends of the young non-professionals in the audience.
Bourne has changed the setting from that of a deserted island
in William Golding's novel to a deserted theatre. The basic story
remains however: a group of schoolboys find themselves left unattended
and they create their own rules. But the longer they are there the
more savage their rituals become until the boys begin to harm each
other. One group of young lads, led by the aggressive Jack (Danny
Reubens), attacks the weaker members including poor Piggy (Sam Plant),
who can barely function when he loses his glasses.
The main cast from the New Adventures dancers is well supported
by the local lads and the choreography is exactly suited to the
rising savagery. The energy of the cast, particularly in the drilled
dancing at the beginning and later on as they leap around, is remarkable
and gives this new interpretation of the classic story a vibrant
immediacy. While it is frightening at times it is always mesmerising
to watch. Catch it somewhere!
Ted Craig went to see WAR
CORRESPONDENTS at Stratford Circus.
He writes: Helen Chadwick has created this 'song theatre performance'
from recorded interviews with journalists who covered conflicts
in Afghanistan, Bosnia, Chechnya, Iraq, DR Congo and Liberia to
name a few. These extraordinary stories and life changing experiences
have been fused into an intriguing song cycle performance using
physicality and music. The 29 songs listed in the programme cover
75 minutes of playing time and the cast of five (including the author)
do not stop for a moment. On a simple set with a stretched tarpaulin
at the back, a mass of desk lights and some moveable tables they
focus the stories simply and effectively.
Some songs just put the words of the journalists into music form
which I thought was a little redundant at times (the recordings
being so powerful in themselves). But at its best, the music underlines
and comments on the journalists' words in a gentle and very touching
way. One song with the lyric: 'On The Day That You Killed Me'
was particularly effective and quite Sondheimesque.
There was a memorable story from one of the journalists:
he was taking a walk in a deceptively quiet part of a village when
a bullet suddenly whizzed over his head, then another shot just
missed him and he managed to scramble back into the house in which
he was staying. Later a young man came to visit his hosts and although
the journalist could not understand what was being said, he kept
hearing the word 'sniper' and realised that this was the man that
had been shooting at him. As the visitor got up to leave he asked
the reporter to share a toast with him. "Why should I toast a man
who was shooting at me?" the reporter said, to which the visitor
replied: "Because I'm such a bad shot!" This is a thought provoking
and enjoyable evening which is much recommended.
WAR CORRESPONDENTS is composed by Helen Chadwick,
Co-directed by Steven Hoggett and Helen Chadwick, Sceneographer
and Creative Associate Miriam Nabarro Produced by Penny Mayes for
The production is on tour and will be playing at:
Tues 21 October Aberystwyth Arts Centre 01970
Weds 22 October The Stables, Wavendon, Milton
Keynes 01908 280800
Thurs 23 to Sat 25 October Salisbury Playhouse
Another touring play is PITCAIRN, which has moved
from successful runs at Chichester and the Globe theatre and now
October 21-24, Warwick Arts Centre, Coventry
October 28- November 1, Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford
November 4-8, Devonshire Park Theatre, Eastbourne
November 11-15, Oxford Playhouse
November 18-22, Malvern Theatres, Malvern
It tells the story about the mutineers on the Bounty, after the
well-known incident, when they come ashore on the very small Pitcairn
Island in 1789 where they become part of the population with Tahitian
wives and servants. Written by playwright Richard Bean (of One
man, Two Guvnors fame) it is always interesting with some lively
moments. Directed by Max Stafford-Clark the play is not as funny
as Bean's best play or more recent Great Britain. Tom Morley makes
a strong Fletcher Christian. As usual there was a final dance at
the Globe theatre - but this time performed in the Polynesian fashion!
In quick succession we find two new Chekhov productions in London.
'New' here being exactly the right word as both have been given
modern settings and some modernisms of language. The first to come
to public view is UNCLE VANYA (St James Theatre
(until 8 Nov Box office 0844 264 2140). The translation
by Anya Reiss has transferred the action from rural Russia to a
farmhouse in England (which, for some reason has a corrugated iron
background). She introduces many modern idioms such as web sites
and I-Pads, “I’ve got internet.” Says one and
“blur on every speed camera” another, while someone
else remarks, “I wanted to show him the web site on the I-Pad.”
These are all somewhat at odds with the play’s themes which
remain as in the basic Chekhov play.
Vanya's brother-in-law, Serebryakov (Jack Shepherd) returns with
his young wife to the estate where Vanya (John Hannah) lives with
his niece, Sonya (Amanda Hale) and elderly housekeeper Marina (Amanda
Boxer). They have two frequent visitors: Astrov (Joe Dixon) and
Telygin (Alan Franceis) who strums his guitar with a kind of rock
music from time to time. The big moment comes when the elderly professor
announces he wants to sell the estate.
Alan Francis as Telygin and
John Hannah as Vanya
All wear very ordinary clothes. Hannah appears in
torn long denim shorts and bare feet. He and the rest of the competent
actors perform well but the play, in Russell Bolam's production
is out of tune with Chekhov's original. The actors use a variety
of accents so that the play is not a consistent entity.
The other play is Chekhov's THE CHERRY ORCHARD
(Young Vic Theatre until 29 November. Box office: 020 7922 2922)
which also uses a modern translation, this time by Simon Stephens.
Directed by Katie Mitchell the play has been condensed into a two
hour run without an interval. Intense and very well acted, we are
able to understand both the end of an era as the Cherry Orchard
is sold - the set is an almost empty house even before the visitors
Even with the modern language and modern dress used, we are able
to get an idea of the conflict between new ideas and traditional
ones. The only difficulty is with references to distance - one of
the characters is said to be going 50 miles away, which when the
play was conceived, was a long distance to travel but, of course,
nowadays is little.
Kate Duchene's Ranevskaya is a mature woman who shows a lot of
emotion as she recalls her dead, drowned child. Physically she is
demonstrative as well as she sinks to the floor or throws herself
on the bed. Good too is Gawn Grainger as a very old Firs, the servant.
Go to the Young Vic to see what can be done in modernising Chekhov.
Just time to rush to the Chichester Festival Theatre to catch this
gorgeous production of the musical GYPSY (until
8 November. Box office: 01243 781312). 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
delight of Imelda Staunton as the extremely ambitious mother of
two girls in show business, it is worth the effort of making your
way to Sussex. Actually it is so good that I am sure - like other
Chichester musicals- we won't have to wait too long before it comes
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. As children
there is a tremendous performance by young June (Georgia Pemberton
on the night I saw it) who kicks her legs so high that we can only
look on in amazement. 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, Louise.
Kevin Whately (Herbie) and
Imelda Staunton (Rose) in Gypsy
Kevin Whately could have been stronger as the girls'
manager, who really loves Rose but is pushed aside when her daughters'
careers are being pursued. 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.
Stanton, 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.
Another good musical where we have a great opportunity to see fine
performers in a super new musical is MEMPHIS (Shaftesbury
Theatre booking until 28 March 2015. Box Office: 020 7379 5399.)
Beverley Knight plays Felicia, a very proper black girl who sings
in a small black club in Memphis. It is the early 1950s in America
which still has racial segregation so, when Felicia is spotted by
the white DJ Huey (Killian Donnelly), who wants to promote her on
his show, there is bound to be trouble.
Huey himself is no ordinary DJ. He plays rock 'n' roll records
and introduces black music to his radio audience. Felicia is watched
over by her brother who is as against the relationship between his
sister and her white admirer as Huey's mother is.
The play deals neatly with the era when black music became popular
with music lovers of all races. Through the story of the two main
characters we are shown what happened during this period. At times
the couple experience such extreme acts of violence that they are
Although Knight is not the best of actresses, she manages to
convey the plight of a black singer struggling in a predominantly
white world. Her voice, however, is absolutely terrific and she
belts out each song with real emotion. It is surprising to learn
that she is actually British and was born in Wolverhampton! Killian
Donnelly puts across his character well - he shows the audience
a pleasant chap simply in love with someone who happens to be a
The music and songs are a mixture of different musical
genres but all work well together in director Christopher Ashley's
fast paced production. The musical is actually thrilling to watch
with high energy from the whole cast. It will provide a most enjoyable
A star of the screen but she has never before attempted to tread
the boards, Lindsay Lohan comes across a bit like a schoolgirl in
a play in front of an audience of family and friends. Although she
might not have so many friends in London as in the early days people
were afraid that she wouldn't turn up to perform. To date she hasn't
missed a performance of SPEED THE PLOW (Playhouse
Theatre, London until 29 Nov Box office 020 7492 9930)
so that says that she is now serious in her acting career and free
The story suits Lohan. Lohan plays the new temporary secretary
to Bobby Gould (Richard Schiff), who wants to produce a play which
he is sure will be a success. He lets in his old friend Charlie
Fox (Nigel Lindsay) as a co-producer and both men are excited. Charlie
gives Karen (Lohan) another book to read and she persuades Bobby
to go with that. The two men argue about the merits of both plays.
Lindsay Lohan & Nigel Lindsay
in Speed-the-Plow at the Playhouse
David Mamet's play in this production by director
Lindsay Posner gets a very straightforward showing. Lohan has a
lovely husky voice and looks pretty but has very basic acting skills.
While the main Hampstead Theatre is just finishing a run of the
interesting play about creative writing, SEMINAR
starring Roger Allam, Hampstead Downstairs continues to present
experimental drama. Sometimes it is a new director, others show
a new play and occasionally there is the first opportunity for a
new actor to shine.
The latest one - also just finishing its run - FOUR MINUTES
TWELVE SECONDS - puts forward a new concept which is very
much of today: that of filming on mobile phones. A somewhat compromising
on-line video is found in 17-year old Jack's room. The parents try
to stop the video being seen for fear of it ruining Jack's career
prospects. Interestingly although the play, written by James Fritz,
and runner-up for the 2013 Verity Bargate Award, is all about Jack,
he never appears. Well-acted, the play deserves a wider audience.
Although the auditorium is decorated with cobwebs and creepy crawlies,
GHOST STORIES (Arts Theatre, London until 18 Jan
2015 Box office 020 7836 8463), which has returned for another season,
is not very frightening. There are some thrills and some good special
effects - which I can't write about as that would spoil the mystery!
The audience in the 80 minutes show (no interval) can enjoy some
laughs, however, mostly around the scream-in-horror moments.
This revival of EAST IS EAST (Trafalgar Studios,
London until 3 Jan 2015 Box office 0844 871 7632), is somewhat
of a disappointment for those who remember the film which starred
Om Puri and Linda Bassett. Here Ayub Khan Din takes the part of
George Khan, who, although he has been living in Britain since 1936
- the play is set in Salford in 1971 - and is married to an Englishwoman,
Ella (Jane Horrocks) for some 25 years, is very set in traditional
Pakistani male customs.
East is East with Ayub Din
Khan & Jane Horrocks
The couple have six sons and one daughter and there are a number
of tensions within the family including one son who is estranged
and two more who vehemently object to the arranged marriages that
their father has planned for them. Basically the father wants his
children to be good British Pakistanis while the kids just want
to be English teenagers
There are some amusing scenes around the discovery
that the youngest son, 13-year-old Sajit (Michael Karim) is uncircumcised.
Not so funny is George's treatment of his wife. Not only does he
verbally abuse her, but also slaps her around and even punches her
in the stomach much to the concern of his children.
While Horrocks gives a terrific portrayal of the loyal, yet defensive
wife who is sometimes scared of her husband and at other times ready
to defend her children even if it means she will be chastised by
George. For some reason Khan Din gives a distinctly underpowered
performance and seem unable to go full throttle in a role he wrote.
The children are all good and the play gives an interesting view
of the lives of a section of Britain in the not so distant past.
In Ian Rickson's production of Sophocles' ELECTRA
(Old Vic, London until 20 December Box office: 0844 871 7628) Kristin Scott Thomas does all the right things as the tragic Electra
and the rest of the cast and indeed the whole production are more
than competent, the whole play is intellectually satisfying without
being emotionally involving. Scott Thomas shows the daughter who
hates her mother, Clytemnestra (Diana Quick), who killed her adored
father. She is also distressed that her mother is now involved with
the man who actually killed her father.
There is an impressive chorus of three women dressed in black.
Up and coming star, Jack Lowden shines as Electra's brother, an
Orestes who enables the murder of his mother and I really liked
Peter Wight as the loyal servant to Orestes.
Kristin Scott Thomas as Electra
at the Old Vic
But it is Scott Thomas who draws the audience. She looks very
good in the part - bedraggled with straggly hair and she emotes
well with a strong voice. She is not afraid to get herself even
dirtier and at one point buries her face in the sand. The problem
may well lie in her passion, which never dims so that we are not
aware until the very end that there is a quieter, more thoughtful
Electra underneath the bombast.
A most unusual play can be seen at the Tricycle,
London. THE HOUSE THAT WILL NOT STAND (until 22
November Box office 020 7328 1000) is a kind of ghost story
as well as dealing with racial prejudice in New Orleans. Marcus
Gardley has written an absorbing story, which takes place over one
summer Sunday in 1836 in New Orleans, Lousiana, about the mistress
of a rich white man coping with the aftermath of his death and trying
hard to keep her three daughters from following her way of life.
Beartrice (Martina Laird) has enjoyed her time as a wealthy woman
but now has to cope with the fate of her unmarried daughters as
well as the likely loss of her home. The daughters, however, have
their own agenda - the ambitious and flirty Agnès (Ayesha Antoine),
more spiritual Maude Lynn (Danusia Samal) and romantic Odette (Ronke
Adekoluejo), who suffers by being very dark-skinned. Their views
do not correspond with their mother's antagonism to the system of
'plaçage', (being the mistress of a white man). She wants them to
be free but their ideas include being wealthy.
Very well acted in director Indhu Rubasingham's spectacular production,
we get a real feel of the time and setting. Highly recommended.
I first saw OUR TOWN in a school production, following
which my cousin, who starred, had to explain who and what the characters
were doing! There is no such difficulty in the Almeida Theatre's
production (until 29 November. Box office 020 7359 4404),
which gives a very clear demonstration of Thornton Wilder's piece
about life, marriage and death in a small American town in 1938.
David Cromer's production - which follows Wilder's rules about
virtually no props or setting - allows the British actors to keep
their own accents and wear their own clothes. Apart from the narrator,
who also directs, there are a variety of different accents which
I found somewhat disconcerting especially when references are made
to the place where the play is set.
It is a simple, straight forward production and apart from the
disconcerting voices comes across very well and has more than stood
the test of time.
I have been known to criticise a musical for crowding a small stage
and not allowing the actors sufficient room to move, but I need
to eat my words when it comes to the amazing SWEENEY TODD
which is currently being performed at Harrington's Pie and Mash
Shop, London SW17 (until 29 November www.tootingartsclub.co.uk/sweeneytickets
to buy tickets). The 106 year-old pie shop in Tooting, along with
the barber shop opposite where the audience gathers must be one
of the tinniest venues I have been to and yet it is the ideal setting
of this tale of a barber out for revenge on the judge who sentenced
him and has also taken his daughter away.
Despite only seating 32, the production by Bill Buckhurst presents
the complete show in a way that gives us the complete Stephen Sondheim
musical performed brilliantly by a cast under the auspices of the
Tooting Arts Club.
I doubt if I have seen a better Sweeney than Jeremy Secomb, who,
in close up, is very frightening and Siobhan McCarthy is excellent
as Mrs Lovett. I was impressed, too, by Tobias Ragg as the innocent
apprentice who is really fond of Mrs Lovett.
Siobhan McCarthy & Jeremy
Secomb in Sweeney Todd
The singing, too, by the whole cast is most musical - do go to see this uniquely brilliant show; it is an exceptional little gem.
Robert Homan's play, following on from the impressive revival of
David Hare's VERTICAL HOUR, is JONAH AND
OTTO (Park Theatre, London until 23 November Box office
020 7870 6876) a play that showcases Peter Egan as Otto,
a lone older man and Alex Waldman as Jonah, a young man pushing
a shopping cart containing his baby in a park in a seaside town.
The two talk about their lives, their romances and ambitions and generally interact and much of it is well done. It is a little lengthy but the actors put across their roles well and have a good relationship with each other. There are amusing moments as well as some more reflective issues explored in a quieter manner.
Showing just what a group of older actors can produce WHO
DO WE THINK WE ARE (Southwark Playhouse, London SE1 until
23 November Box office 020 7407 0234) looks at history
over the last 100 years of history from WW1 to the present day using
the words and real-life stories from the actual lives of the 10
So we see a Siberian prisoner of war camp, the Indian childhood of one and the London experiences of another. Directed by Sue Lefton and written by Sonja Linden and the company it is frequently very moving and always a wonderful example of how the experience of life translates into the creative work of mature actors.
84 year-old Ruth Posner has exceptional ability and is still able to move her limbs in an amazingly supple manner. The company, Visible Theatre, an ensemble of older international performers debut the piece which is highly recommended.