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FILM:October/November 2018

The London Film Festival 2018 has just finished. There were some terrific films. Too many films to cover all here. Some have now been released but others will come out in 2019 and will be reviewed then. Here are some of the top picks!

The first gala saw a new film by Steve McQueen.

There are three main things going for WIDOWS (cert. 15 2 hrs. 10 mins.), which is on release now. Firstly, it is very well directed by Steve McQueen. Secondly, the movie has a terrific cast of mainly women. And lastly, it has an excellent script written by McQueen together with Gillian Flynn (Gone Girl).

Set in Chicago, we are in the midst of criminality today. Only this time we are looking at a different type of crime.

Viola Davis & Cynthia Erivo

After her husband, Harry Rawlins (Liam Neeson), is killed along with other members of his gang during the execution of a violent crime, his widow, Veronica Rawlins (Viola Davis) learns that he owes some gangsters a lot of money, which she is expected to pay. Finding Harry's notebook with details of the next job he was going to do, she sets about recruiting the other wives of her husband's dead crew members. They are a formidable trio, Alice (Elizabeth Debicki), who is much more than the dumb blonde she first appears to be and Linda (Michelle Rodriguez), who makes friends with anyone. Later on they are joined by the clever, streetwise Belle (Cynthia Erivo), as their driver.

At the same time the city itself is gearing up for an election. Jack Mulligan (Colin Farrell), the son of a corrupt politician (played by Robert Duvall) is up against Jamal Manning (Bryan Tyree Henry), who is assisted by his very violent brother, Jatemme (Daniel Kaluuya)

Based on the 1983 TV series by Lynda La Plante, director Steve McQueen has successfully transferred the location from London to Chicago. There is lots of excitement and a few unexpected twists.

The main actors are spot on. Viola Davis gives another dramatic performance. She is an excellent actress who has waited a long time to get the kind of parts she deserves. This is a terrific part and Davis grabs it with both hands. She and Liam Neeson form a believable if unusual pair as the mixed-race married couple. The other stand-out performance is from Cynthia Erivo, who has muscles and a sharp mind to match. In smaller but telling roles, Colin Farrell and Robert Duvall as his father give good characterisations.

The photography is mostly grey in tone with some unusual shots such as the drive from one poor area to another richer one showing the passing landscape from the inside of the car.

I would have liked more of Liam Neeson - but then, who wouldn't?

Rating ****

Look out for the following, which were shown at the LFF 2018:

WILDLIFE is Paul Dano’s first film as director. Great performance by Carey Mulligan as a wife left with a teenage son when husband (Jake Gyllenhaal) goes away to work fighting fires.

The title of the film, THE BILL MURRAY STORIES: LIFE LESSONS LEARNED FROM A MYTHICAL MAN tells you all you need to know about this film which has many amusing anecdotes about the actor.

JOY is a drama which often seems more like a documentary as it deals with sex trafficking with Joy, a Nigerian woman, at its centre.

Keira Knightley gives one of her best acting performances as COLETTE. The film shows us Colette and her husband ‘Willy’ in a relationship that tests the boundaries as she has affairs with both men and women.

The film GIRL features cisgender actor Victor Polster in his debut film. The actor plays 15-year-old Lara who is waiting for surgery to change sex. She desperately wants to be a ballet dancer.

Hugh Jackman plays Gary Hart, the Democratic candidate who was set to win the 1988 Presidential campaign in America. THE FRONT RUNNER is a political drama which shows how it all went wrong for Hart. It is directed by Jason Reitman.

Victor Polster in Girl

BERGMAN-A YEAR IN THE LIFE is a fascinating documentary about the Swedish director, Ingmar Bergman. It focusses on 1957, the year that Bergman made The Seventh Seal and Wild Strawberries.

FAHRENHEIT 11/9 is the latest documentary from Michael Moore. He looks at Trump’s rise to power. He also criticises some of the actions of the Obama administration. This is a powerful film by an expert interviewer and film-maker.

LIFE ITSELF stars the wondrous Antonio Banderas who has lost none of his charisma as he has aged. He shares billing with Oscar Isaac, Olivia Wilde and Annette Bening in this complex love story which moves across the years, focussing on the love life of a New York couple.

Jessie Buckley is given the main part in WILD ROSE. She plays a single mother who is determined to make it as a country singer. Given a chance to demonstrate her lovely voice, Jessie is given the opportunity to display her acting chops in this unusual film which doesn’t end with grand success for the leading character.

THE KINDERGARTEN TEACHER has Maggie Gyllenhaal as a teacher who oversteps the mark when she tries to push forward the talented young boy who recites his own poetry in her class.

One of my favourite films was Peter Jackson’s THEY SHALL NOT GROW OLD. The director has re-made very old film from the first world war into colour and moving images. All the voices we hear are real men talking about their experiences. Not to be missed when it comes your way.

Being talked about already as an Oscar contender is THE FAVOURITE which comes out on general release in the UK in January. Very similar to the stage play recently on in London, the film, directed by Yorgos Lanthimos, is about Queen Anne (the amusing Oliva Colman) and her relationship with her great friend and confidante, Lady Sarah (excellent Rachel Weisz). The relationship is thrown into jeopardy when newcomer Abigail (Emma Stone) insinuates herself into Anne’s bed and into her heart. Sexy, amusing and female orientated this is one to see.

Another gem is PETERLOO, the latest film from Mike Leigh. A wonderful cast gives full-out performances in this story of the protest by ordinary working class people in Manchester, and, in particular, the huge meeting in 1819 which turned violent when police brutality resulted in many deaths and injuries.

THE WHITE CROW is a fictionalised version of the early life of Rudolf Nureyev. Not as true as the documentary Nureyev, it has a great performance by good-looking dancer Oleg Ivenko as Nureyev and, directed by Ralph Fiennes, is always enjoyable to watch.

One for tennis fans: JOHN MCENROE: IN THE REALM OF PERFECTION – the title tells you all! With excellent photography and great shots of some of his winning matches, we get an insight into McEnroe the man as well as the tennis champion.

A PRIVATE WAR, directed by Matthew Heineman, is a fictionalised biography of the war correspondent, Marie Colvin. Played by Rosamund Pike, the film is moving and gives a rounded picture of the dedicated reporter.

The closing night gala saw the delightful STAN AND OLLIE about Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy in their final years. Ably supported by Shirley Henderson as Lucille Hardy, Oliver’s wife, and Nina Arianda as Ida Laurel, Stan’s wife, Steve Coogan and John C Reilly are exactly right as the famous comedy act reduced to touring in low level music halls in Britain.

Other films recently released:

This interesting and instructive documentary, ¡NAE PASSARAN! (cert. 12 A 1 hr 33 mins) is at times quite moving. It is about a courageous group of workers and trade unionists at a Rolls Royce factory in East Kilbride, near Glasgow in Scotland.

Shortly after the brutal military coup by General Augustus Pinochet against the President of Chile, Salvador Allende in 1973, these workers led by John Keenan, Bob Fulton and Robert Sommerville, found out that some of the engines of planes they had at the factory to repair were being used in the war by the dictatorship against the people of Chile. In 1974 they decided to protest against this regime by refusing to repair the Hawker Hunter jets being used in the war.

Nae Pasaran means 'They shall not pass' and that's exactly what happened in Scotland as the group of workers showed their solidarity with the ordinary people in Chile.

Director Felipe Bustos Sierra wanted to discover more and decided to find out whether the action on Scotland had any effect in Chile. He also wished to learn more about the leaders of the boycott in East Kilbride. The boycott lasted for four years but the workers had no idea how it had been received in Chile.

Sierra found those involved in the war in Chile, both civilians and military personnel - and he interviews them in this film. After that Sierra interviews the leaders of the boycott in East Kilbride – organiser, Bob Fulton and his colleagues. This is the most effective part of the documentary as the men recall the time and then learn about the impact of their action in Chile. Their words certainly have an emotional effect on those hearing them, particularly when they learn about the torture many suffered and even more when they hear some of the Chilean people thanking the workers.

In 2015 Keenan, Fulton and Sommerville received the Order of the Republic of Chile, the highest honour given to foreigners by the Government of Chile, for their efforts to preserve human rights. As they receive their medals, some of them have tears in their eyes, as do we watching.

Rating ****

The start of DISOBEDIENCE (cert. 15 1 hr. 54 mins.) sees frail, elderly Rabbi Krushka (Anton Lesser) preaching a sermon about freedom and choice at an orthodox Jewish synagogue in North London. When he collapses, his daughter Ronit (Rachel Weisz), who is living a secular life in New York, learns of her father’s death and returns to the very religious community in London to attend his funeral.

While others in the community treat Ronit with coldness, she is allowed to stay with her friend Dovid (Alessandro Nivola), her father’s favourite and likely successor. She is surprised to find that he has married Esti (Rachel McAdams) who was also a childhood friend. But, we learn, Esti was more than that to Ronit. They had an affair, which led to Ronit leaving England.

The two realise that they are still attracted to each other and resume their passionate lesbian relationship. They are seen by two members of the community and this leads to grave repercussions. Esti knows that she doesn’t love her husband in the traditional way expected of her. The issue of freedom and choice are addressed by both women. The film looks at the agony of faith versus the outside world. We see how female desire is dealt with in a patriarchal religious community.

Wonderful acting by all three leads gives the film a feeling of reality. We understand a little of the ways that their faith constricts both men and women to a certain formal way of life. Great sensitivity is shown in Rachel McAdams’ portrait of a woman who has a forbidden relationship. We see the love in Esti’s eyes as she and Ronit make love. This very erotic scene is enhanced by the equally good portrayal of a love that Rachel Wiesz as Ronit knows will never be accepted by the community her father led. Both actresses are able to convey their inner life.

Alessandro Nivola is also just right in his characterisation of the obedient student who has become a Rabbi and is set to become heir to Ronit’s dead father. He, too, has to look at what freedom to choose actually means. Good, too, are actors in the smaller parts. Anton Lesser is a fierce Rabbi, leading his congregation along paths that he believes to be what God has ordered. A competent performance, too, from Allan Corduner as Moshe who has to tell Ronit that her father has left everything he owns to the synagogue and not to her. He has disowned his only child.

Director Tim Wardle has chosen to have the film shot in a muted colour, giving the film an overall miserable feel to it. Cinematographer Danny Cohen catches the mood beautifully with his shots.

The film deals very sensitively with issues of an orthodox religion and its dictates coming into conflict with the modern world. It faces the challenges of the sexual attraction of two women. The movie also manages to avoid a conventional ending. See it and enjoy!

Another version of A STAR IS BORN, but why? By the end of this somewhat old-fashioned feeling movie, but with today’s big star in it, you will know the answer. Bradley Cooper, in his first film as a director, re-tells the story basing it around a singing star. This is A STAR IS BORN (cert. 15 1 hr. 15mins.), which shows us how Jason Maine (Bradley Copper) goes down in the showbiz world while his ‘find’, Ally (Lady Gaga) rises to become a big star.

Jackson is already pumping himself up with pills and alcohol before going on stage to sing. But he is alert enough that, when he sees Ally perform, he can recognize that she has something special to offer. Lady Gaga - looking very different from her usual on-stage persona that we have seen – shows she can act as well as sing. She is working in a bar when we and Jason meet her. But she is also performing at night in a drag club and it is there that Jason sees and, more importantly, hears her.

He takes her to his next show in a private plane and gradually grooms her to be a first-class performer. At first, she sings alongside Jason and then moves on to become a star in her own right. And what a star she is! She and Jackson become romantically involved too. You might know what happens next and even how the film finishes. If you do you will still enjoy seeing this version, and, if not, I won’t spoil it for you!

This is the fourth film of the same story and all have been different. You might have seen the Judy Garland version in 1954 or even the not-so-good Barbra Streisand film in 1976. The original one was made in 1937 and starred Janet Gaynor and Frederic March.

Bradley Cooper has directed himself and Lady Gaga in a most competent manner. There is real chemistry between the two of them. He shows that he can sing and Lady Gaga is astounding in her debut movie role. She obviously knows a lot about this particular background area and manages to be both moving and professional as she sings and emotes. She and Cooper work well together and we can absolutely believe that a star is born here. While Lady Gaga is no Judy Garland, she exhibits her own kind of magic and the film is well worth seeing.

Rating: ****

Disappointing! AN ACTOR PREPARES (cert. 15 1 hr. 37 mins.) is really a road movie in which a father and son attempt to bond together. Jeremy Irons plays the father, Atticus and Jack Huston is his son, Adam. The main difficulty is that Atticus is not a nice man!

Atticus is a well-known Oscar-winning actor who at the beginning of the film, collapses and suffers a heart attack. Forced into hospital, he is told he needs a major operation. However, he really wants to go to his daughter’s wedding in New York even though they are estranged. Atticus is due to play the part of God in a film and the doctors and his agent insist that he is not allowed to fly and must have someone with him to make sure he eats well, has no alcohol and no sex and generally leads a careful life. The only person available to take him is Adam and, although neither are at all keen, they agree. Most of the rest of the film is taken up with their trip from Los Angeles, mainly by an adapted coach, across country to the wedding in New York.

Atticus seems very agile for a man who has a major illness, while Adam, who fears he has testicular cancer, is constantly on the phone to his girlfriend, Clementine (Megalyn Echikunwoke), but won’t tell her about his suspected ailment. Besides displaying never ending barbs towards his son and undermining him at every opportunity, Atticus is very sexist. He leers at passing girls and is sex crazy. He is also an alcoholic so altogether not a pleasant person! Atticus blames Adam for telling his ex-wife about his cheating. We also learn that the actor paid a 25-year-old woman to take his 15-year-old son’s virginity. Another example of his charming behaviour! Adam teaches a course on “Women in film – cinema through a feminist lens” so we are supposed to see him as the good guy.

Both actors are very good and do what they can with a somewhat adolescent script. A very lively Jeremy Irons pronounces every word most beautifully and portrays the chauvinist actor very expertly. – it is just a pity that his character is so un-lovely. Jack Huston projects a good worried look and the two certainly exhibit great chemistry together. Adam is always trying to stop his father from behaving badly including taking drugs and drinking. Matthew Modine has a tiny part as a talk show host who interviews Atticus.

The title of the film is that of Stanislavski’s book for actors, but that is the only thing the two have in common. The best thing about the film is the excellent photography. The beautiful scenery is shown mainly through the windows of the travelling vehicle.

Rating: ***

This is the amazing story of how three identical triplets, who had been separated at birth, met for the first time in 1980 after 19 years. It has been made into a fascinating documentary, THREE IDENTICAL STRANGERS (cert. 12 A 1 hr. 36 mins.) by Tim Wardle. It is difficult to write too much about the story without spoiling the revelations which come throughout the film.

Not only did the boys, who had been given for adoption to three different families, not know of each other's existence, but neither did the adoptive parents. David, Eddy and Bobby were born to an unmarried young woman and then deliberately separated and handed to three very different families. It later transpired that the families were of different social and economic status and the family structure was carefully controlled – each had an older sister, also adopted.

The documentary, which is very well directed by Tim Wardle, re-creates how Bobby Shafran goes to a new college where he knows nobody. On his first day many greet him as a friend and call him Eddy. Eventually, the best friend of Eddy Galland turns up. He sees the spitting image of his friend and finds that Bobby was born on the same day and had, like Eddy, been adopted. The two boys meet up and are ecstatic.

The reporter, who first learned the story, is even more amazed when he learns that the mother of David Kellman has seen the article about the twins and noticed the likeness to her son. The three boys are delighted when they get together and see that they look exactly like each other. They become a media sensation, appear on TV dressed alike with many of the same mannerisms. Although brought up very differently, they have a number of similarities including liking the same brand of cigarettes and fancying the same type of female. All had wrestled in high school.

Initially they get on really well and move in together. However, after they open a restaurant called – but of course -Triplets, things begin to fall apart. The adoptive parents are angry that they were not told anything about the boys being triplets who were separated at birth. The involvement of a psychoanalyst, Peter Neubauer, doing a research project on nature versus nurture, turns the story into a darker area. There is also tragedy and the whole documentary is part re-telling of a childhood of separation and then discovery and togetherness and part detective story as we follow the trajectory of their lives.

Interviews with the boys' wives are instructive – each wife insists that her husband is the most handsome – as are, of course, face to camera interviews with some of the adoptive parents. Better made and more astonishing than many a full-blown fictional film, this incredible but true documentary is definitely unmissable.

Rating: ****

THE WIFE is a well-acted film with Glenn Close as the wife of a famous writer who wins the Nobel prize. Jonathan Pryce as the author who takes credit for all the work he has produced, gives a good characterisation of an arrogant man. We gradually learn that it is actually his wife who has been the real writer behind these books. In the film she comes to realise that this is not the sort of life she wants.

     

 

 


 

THEATRE ROUND UP OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2018

A special gala evening was held to introduce Bonnie Langford as the new Dorothy in this wonderful musical. 42nd STREET (Theatre Royal Drury Lane, London booking until 5 January 2019 Box office: 0844 412 2955) shows that the West End can present another musical with outstanding dancing.

In a very different style from some of the other musicals of the same era, this show opens with the curtain going up on a row of dancing feet. From then on we witness fantastic tap dancing from the two leads as well as a large well drilled chorus. The show bills Bonnie Langford as the star but actually she is not the main character. As in the 1933 movie, the story is about one of the chorus, Peggy (Clare Halse) who has come from out of town to try to make her way on Broadway. She manages to get a job in the chorus of a new musical. When the older star, Dorothy Brock (Sheena Easton), breaks her ankle - partly the fault of Peggy - the rest of the cast persuade the director, Julian Marsh (Tom Lister) to give her a chance to play the lead.

Langford gets to sing a couple of songs which show that besides being able to dance, Bonnie has a good singing voice. She puts across her songs as an actress. There is a lovely rendition of I only have eyes for you.

However, the two stars of the show are young Clare Halse who dances superbly and sings attractively alongside Tom Lister as the dominating director, Julian. There is, naturally, a comedy duo in the shape of Emma Caffrey and Christopher Howell who are great singing Shuffle off to Buffalo. The fantastic choreography of Randy Skinner and direction by Mark Bramble keep all the cast literally on their toes.

There are some excellent dance sequences such as a mirror at the back of the stage reflecting the dancing girls spinning around. The huge chorus as well as the leads all wear beautiful costumes, with many changes of dress, some of them very exaggerated. As in the original Broadway musical in the early 1980s many of the lyrics are distinctly sexist in tone but songs such as We're in the money with the chorus tapping on huge nickels and dimes will have you almost leaping in joy!

Rating *****

COMPANY (Gielgud Theatre, London booking until 30 March 2019. Box office: 0844482 5151)

What performances! What writing! What songs!

You may gather that I thought very highly of this new musical.

In this re-working of Stephen Sondheim’s musical written in 1970, director Marianne Elliott has changed the gender of a few characters. Chiefly, of course, she has made the main character Bobby into a female, Bobbie (here played by Rosalie Craig). No longer is Bobbie a single man in Manhattan but a 35-year-old single woman who is coming to terms with the fact that while her friends are all in couples, she is alone and unmarried. She is beginning to feel some concern about her state and the fact that she is alone.

Rosalie Craig and the cast of Company

We meet Bobbie in the company of her married friends as they celebrate her birthday.

We get to know them better as Bobbie moves in and out of their lives observing how they make marriage work or otherwise! Here again some of the genders have been changed from Sondheim’s original production. Amy has become Jamie who is about to marry Paul. The same sex couple are about to tie the knot when Jamie (a very funny Jonathan Bailey) sings a very fast song, Getting married today. The girl friends of the original lead are now male and display the various types of manly behaviour that young women come across!

As Bobbie visits her friends she is not always impressed by their examples of conjugal love. There’s Mel Giedroyc as Sarah who is married to Harry (Gavin Spokes) and expresses her frustrations at the limits of marriage by performing jujitsu on him. Then there’s Susan (Daisy Maywood) and her husband who are much happier living together once they have divorced. And Jenny (Jennifer Saayeng|) married to David (Richard Henders), who says, “I have everything except freedom.” And the absolutely superb Patti LuPone who plays the cynical Joanne who is now on her third husband. She lets slip how good he is to her but doesn’t want to commit too much.

The set is made up of boxes which move along to set the various scenes. At one point the set shrinks so that Bobbie has to crawl in an Alice in Wonderland effect. And there is an extra character always in the background: New York. The musical is set here and couldn’t really take place anywhere else as the characters are real New Yorkers.

Through it all moves Rosalie Craig, with her bouncing red hair and gorgeous voice. She doesn’t want to be tied down with a husband and family, and yet… she doesn’t really want to be alone and seems to opt for coupledom in spite of its drawbacks.

So, we have beautiful performances and a company who gel in a magnificent way. And above all we have Stephen Sondheim’s great music and his witty lyrics. Sondheim has re-worked some of his songs so that they work with the change of gender. Listen carefully, not only for the way he frames words, but also the emotion behind the songs and the clear cleverness of what he has to say.

Rating *****

Fellow critic, CAROL ALLEN has written the following review:

THE MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR (Royal Shakespeare Company at the Barbican until 5th January 2019. Box office: 020 7638 8891)

Director Fiona Laird gives this Shakespeare comedy a very creative and lively production, for which she has also composed the music. In a helpful prologue which introduces us to the plethora of characters, we also learn that the play was written to royal command from Queen Elizabeth I. Disappointed that the bard had in "Henry V" killed off her favourite character, Falstaff, she demanded he write her a jolly comedy featuring the portly knight – and she wanted it in three weeks' time!

David Troughton and Beth Cordingly in The Merry Wives of Windsor

The story concerns Falstaff's attempt to seduce the wives of two wealthy citizens of Windsor. But Mistress Ford and Mistress Page get wind of the plot and turn the tables, making a complete fool of him. Elizabeth must have been a bit disappointed in that we don't get to see as much as we'd like of Falstaff until towards the end of what is the first half of this production. That though is when David Troughton's boisterous and amusing take on the character really comes into its own in one of the best scenes of the play, when the women hide him in what is traditionally a laundry basket full of soiled linen but in this production is a revoltingly mucky looking wheelie bin. Another highlight is when he is forced to escape from an irate husband by dressing as a woman.

Laird and her costume and set designers have created a delightful look for the production. The versatile setting suggests mock Tudor and the actors are dressed in costumes which are a glittering mixture of Elizabethan style stomachers, ruffs and puff pants and party wear for a night out in contemporary Essex. There are indeed many indications of TOWIE land in the performances, particularly from Rebecca Lacy as Mistress Page and Beth Cordingly as Mistress Ford. The swimming pool and gold-plated barbeque in the latter's back garden for example are a wow.

The problem is with the play itself. Far too much time is taken up with a somewhat tedious sub plot involving three suitors, who are seeking the hand of the Fords' daughter Ann (Karen Fishwick). That's what happens when you give a writer only three weeks to produce the script. The actors work really hard to engage us with this, but it holds up the action and leaves us impatient to get back to Falstaff and his misfortunes. And the last act, where everyone plays yet another rather cruel jape on the unfortunate knight, is a bit sadistic for a contemporary audience. The play was however written for a society which enjoyed bear baiting and public executions, so pretty small beer in its time. And it does have the advantage for these times in that it provides strong roles for women, in which for once they get the upper hand.

Rating: ***

We also saw MACBETH at the Barbican Theatre, another RSC transfer from Stratford-upon-Avon (until 18 January 2019). Directed by Polly Findlay, Christopher Eccleston shows us the soldier but does not always give us the heart behind his Macbeth.

Niamh Cusack is a powerful Lady Macbeth. She seems so in control that it is perhaps difficult to see her losing her mind in the sleepwalking scene. I didn't feel much connection between the couple, but they speak their words clearly and we are able to get a good understanding of the play. Findlay uses a simple but effective set. and a lot of the action takes place on different levels of the stage. It is in modern dress. That and the clock which shows time moving onwards makes it relevant to today. The Porter – here played as a kind of caretaker – remains on stage throughout and provides continuity.

Christopher Eccleston as Macbeth

The most innovative idea is to have the witches as three little girls. They are weird, like characters from a horror film with staring eyes. Their red dresses reminded me visually of the little girl in the film, Don't Look Now. They chant as though they are reciting nursery rhymes and don't always seem like witches.

Rating ***

The third play of the Barbican's RSC season is ROMEO AND JULIET (until 19 January 2019).

As many of you are aware, I am not mad keen on modern dress Shakespeare as it often seems at odds with the playwright's words. There is added difficulty here in that at only 14 Juliet is underage for sexual activity in today's world. Also, not quite so believable in modern time is the misunderstanding of the delivery of the Friar's vital message telling Romeo about Juliet in the tomb.

RSC Romeo and Juliet: Karen Fishwick and Bally Gill

The production works well with its street vibe and general liveliness making it accessible to young people. What is lost is some of the poetry although the speech is always clear and easily understandable.

A young Juliet (Karen Fishwick) and vulnerable Romeo (Bally Gill) work well together and a very lively Mercutio – who, in this production, is changed into a female, played by Charlotte Josephine– contribute to a solid production.

Rating ***

One of the little gems that some of us were able to catch towards the end of the year, was GUYS AND DOLLS which only played over two days at the Royal Albert Hall. Although billed as a concert performance, with Stephen Mear as director and choreographer, it was never going to be static. In the event it was almost like a full theatrical production.

With a cast to die for, it was absolutely lovely to watch and listen to. All the actors were singers and dancers. Adrian Lester was a gorgeous Sky Masterson, Lara Pulver a lovely Sarah Brown and Clive Rowe (who else?) excelled as Nicely Nicely Johnson. Absolutely delightful to watch, it must surely be revived.

OTHER RECENT PRODUCTIONS:

PACK OF LIES at the Menier Theatre, was a strong production with Tracy Ann Oberman as Helen Kruger and Alassdair Harvey as her husband Peter. Finty Williams as Barbara Jackson and Chris Larkin as her husband, Bob and Macy Nyman as her daughter, were the neighbours who are virtually ordered to spy on the Krugers. The couple are suspected of being spies and Barbara and Bob have a big battle with their consciences over exposing them. A well- written play, excellently acted, was another hit for the Menier.

TOUCHING THE VOID was a well written , beautifully staged production. But the real draw was to see the BRISTOL OLD VIC as a brand new theatre. Lots of the original parts of this Georgian Theatre have been kept including the fireplace where the entrance used to be. It is the same architect who designed the lovely new Bridge Theatre. The entrance foyer has been completely transformed with timber and a glass front and pretty Juliet balconies. It is so beautiful.

Tearing ourselves away from admiring the new building, we were engrossed in the exciting production of Touching the Void, the story of the two climbers, Joe Simpson and his companion Simon Yates, who felt compelled to cut the rope when Joe fell and couldn't be pulled up.

I look forward to visiting this lovely welcoming theatre again.

People who go to the little Park Theatre know what to expect: high quality staging with top actors in a most pleasant environment. And so it is with HONOUR, the story of a straying husband. Henry Goodman plays the husband of long-standing wife of 32 years, Imogen Stubbs, while Natalie Simpson is the grown-up daughter and Katie Braben is the other woman.

Another small theatre, operating with little money is the Southwark Playhouse. They manage, too, to put on some terrific productions. THE TRENCH is one of these. Set in the First World War it includes puppets and musicians. Very moving.

The Jermyn Theatre, too, manages to keep going and producing little gems. PARENTS EVENING is one such. The bickering couple's concerns seep onto their 10-year-old daughter. The Theatre might want to have a re-think over putting an interval into a 70 minute play, though!

A somewhat controversial MEASURE FOR MEASURE appeared at the Donmar Theatre – another small theatre with very high-quality productions. The play is virtually performed twice, first with Isabella (Hayley Atwell) as the religious novice, Isabella in 1604 that we are used to and then as in 2018 with Isabella holding the power and Jack Lowden as her victim, Angelo. It is a clever production by Josie Rourke. I much preferred the original setting. Perhaps I am just more conventional!

Author of the year / decade? Florian Zeller, has come up with another powerful play, THE HEIGHT OF THE STORM. Given an excellent production at the Wyndhams Theatre by director Jonathan Kent and actors Jonathan Pryce and Eillen Atkins, it is another example of the playwright's ability to leave us a bit confused over what is reality and what is actually happening.

If you hurry you will still be able to see THE INHERITANCE at the Noel Coward Theatre (booking until 19 January 2019. Box office: 0844 482 5140). It's a marathon watch – seven hours over two parts but more than worth seeing. In fact, I didn't want it to end. Telling the story of gay life in New York over the last 40 years, it focuses on a group of gay men who tell their stories. Beautifully acted and directed, it manages to be both humorous in part and very, very moving. Highly recommended.

     

Carlie Newman

   
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