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FILM:November 2014

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 Game

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 writes:

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 until now.

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 diaries.

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 my life."

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 Government.

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 coal."

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.

     
     
     
     

 

 


 

THEATRE TIP

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 hacking episode.

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 offices.

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 Dramatic Solutions

The production is on tour and will be playing at:

Tues 21 October Aberystwyth Arts Centre 01970 623232

Weds 22 October The Stables, Wavendon, Milton Keynes 01908 280800

Thurs 23 to Sat 25 October Salisbury Playhouse 01722 321744

Another touring play is PITCAIRN, which has moved from successful runs at Chichester and the Globe theatre and now continues:

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 arrive.

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.

Also recommended:

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 to London.

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 forced apart.

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 different colour.

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 night out.

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 from diversions.

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 cast members.

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.

     

Carlie Newman

   
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