There are many lightweight films around at the tail
end of the holiday season, but there are also a few good ones. Of
these, I suspect that TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY
(cert. 15 2hrs. 8mins.), based on John le Carré’s novel,
will lead the field – both critically and at the box office.
It should certainly appeal to those of you who remember the cold
war and the atmosphere at that time. Set in 1973, the 1979 TV series
famously had Alec Guiness as George Smiley. Now Gary Oldman plays
the retired agent who is brought back to MI6 (codenamed the Circus)
to uncover a Soviet double agent.
With the help of a younger agent Peter Guillam (Benedict Cumberbatch),
he sets out to find and identify the mole. When the somewhat impulsive
field agent Ricki Tarr (Tom Hardy) contacts him, Smiley learns that
the former 'Control' (John Hurt) narrowed down the list of mole
suspects to five men. Control gave these top Circus employees code
names: the ambitious Scot, Percy Alleline (Toby Jones), has the
codename Tinker; well-dressed Bill Haydon (Colin Firth), is called
Tailor; stalwart Roy Bland (Ciaran Hinds), the Soldier; Hungarian
exile Toby Esterhase (David Dencik), is known as Poor Man; finally,
and most surprisingly, Smiley, himself is Spy. George also learns
how Ricki, who has fallen for a Soviet betrayed married woman, Irina
(Svetlana Khodchenkova), who claims to possess crucial intelligence,
is hoping to help her escape to the West.
This quiet but tense thriller is directed by Tomas Alfredson
(who made the excellent, Let the Right One In), with Director of
Photography, Hoyte van Hoytema, doing an excellent job. The cast
is glorious. You have to stop your head spinning, trying to catch
the nuances of the fine performances. John Hurt's raddled appearance
particularly suits the humiliated leader, Control. The four suspects
all give nicely differentiated performances.
Gary Oldman's George Smiley is toe-curling perfection
as he shows us the somewhat sad, cuckolded husband and forcibly
retired spy who strives to bring a traitor to justice. Although
more cerebral than physical, this film should appeal to all who
enjoy a thoughtful, intelligent movie.
Although CRAZY, STUPID, LOVE (cert. 12A 1 hr.
58 mins.) comes under the category of a rom-com, it is different
from the usual romantic comedy, in that the main characters are
a married couple. In his mid-forties, Carl Weaver (Steve Carell)
is quite satisfied with his life - good job, lovely wife and two
good kids. When his wife, Emily (Julianne Moore) drops the bombshell
that she has had an affair with someone at work, Carl is devastated
and after he leaves home, sits in a bar bemoaning the fact that
his wife wants a divorce after 25 years together. He has always
been true to his childhood sweetheart and has been solely with her.
He hasn't been on a date and doesn't know how to act with women
he fancies. Smooth-talking Jacob (played by handsome Ryan Gosling,
who also stars in DRIVE, out this month), takes pity on him and
offers to help him. Jacob changes Carl's whole appearance and updates
his drinking and behaviour. He helps Carl develop different ways
of getting women into bed with him and Carl manages to follow his
advice. Although he has numerous women, he still misses his wife,
and she also misses him.
Others searching for love are the Weavers' 13-year-old son, Robbie
(Jonah Bobo) who has a crush on the babysitter, Jessica (Analeigh
Tipston), who, in turn really fancies Carl. When Jacob falls for
Hannah (Emma Stone) - who sees through Jacob's suave exterior -
events become hectic and emotions run high for all of them
This is an amusing, well written film and directed, by Glenn Ficarra
and John Requa, dealing with the crazy and stupid things people
do in pursuit of their "one true soul mate." Although a little too
long, there are some lovely touches such as the separated couple
checking up on each other to make sure they are managing with home,
car etc. Carell is a very watchable actor with loads of personality
and gets maximum humour from his part. Gosling has less to do but
manages to look most attractive all the time! As does Emma Stone,
who is cute and intelligent, and tackles her role with enthusiasm.
Eagerly awaited, THE TEMPEST (Theatre
Royal, Haymarket until 29 October) is a traditional production,
although Trevor Nunn makes it comprehensible by inserting many illustrative
images. There is a gender neutral Ariel (a lovely performance by
Tom Byam Shaw) with his two divided selves.
Nicholas Lyndhurst is a bit too quietly spoken for this large
theatre, but Ralph Fiennes comes across powerfully and most movingly
as (a rather younger than usual) Prospero preparing to send his
daughter, who is now 15 out into the world as he reluctantly bids
farewell not only to his magic but the life he has lived just with
her on the island.
The three Goddesses move and sing attractively in
the masque scene and Elisabeth Hopper's Miranda is sweetly presented.
The main reason, however, for seeing this particular production
is to admire Fiennes' wonderful verse speaking and character presentation
that is so far from his recent villain in the Harry Potter films.
From the first notes of the orchestra, the audience's spirits rise
at the lovely music that makes SOUTH PACIFIC (Barbican
Theatre until 1 October, before going on National tour from 12 October),
the wonderful musical we know. The Lincoln Center Theater production
of Rodgers & Hammerstein's great musical, brings to the fore the
racism of the incoming Americans stationed in the South Pacific
islands. The baritone Paulo Szot as Emile (sharing the role with
Jason Howard) is excellent and, while Samantha Womack sings quite
well, she is too restrained as Nellie, the nurse from Little Rock.
However, we have the full-on works in the Bloody Mary of Loretta
Though many stories have been changed from the original Tales of
the South Pacific by James A. Michener, the essence of the beautiful
islands and the characters there during World War II have been captured
and this show, led by director Bartlett Sher with its cast of 40
and an orchestra of 25, is certainly worth catching.
As are a couple of productions at some of our off-West End venues.
We have THE ABSENCE OF WOMEN (until 8 October)
at the Tricycle Theatre, London NW6. This is a very Irish play,
written by Owen McCafferty, featuring Ciaran McIntire and Peter
Gowen as a pair of down and outs living in London who sit talking
about their home in Ireland, drinking and women. It is like Waiting
for Godot but without the poetry and insight into the subconscious.
Antony Sher as Phillip Gellburg
and Tara Fitzgerald as his wife Sylvia
The Tricycle theatre is doing extremely well with the quality
of their work at the moment and BROKEN GLASS, which
was so successful at the Tricycle, has now transferred to the Vaudevlle
Theatre Royal (until 10 December). It is a joy to have this well
written play by Arthur Miller revived by a cast that can so well
capture both the pathos and the political meaning behind the words.
The play is set in Brooklyn towards the end of 1938. While Philip
Gellburg (Antony Sher)attempts to almost excuse the behaviour of
the Nazis in Germany, his wife Sylvia (Tara Fitzgerald) finds the
pictures of Kristallnacht (the night of broken glass) so disturbing
that she collapses losing the use of her legs.
Dr Heyman (Stanley Townsend), who has been called
in by the Jewish couple believes that Sylvia is suffering from "hysterical
When Dr Heyman learns more about the couple and their lack of a
satisfying sexual life, he re-assesses the cause of her paralysis
and while believing it is "in her mind" questions what has caused
the illness. Hovering around the couple are the Doctor's wife, who
keeps giving everyone, unwanted cups of cocoa, and Sylvia's sister,
who helps her at home from time to time.
Sher has the ability to change his appearance as well as entering
into his character's personality. With his tightly slicked back
hair and stiff gait, he shows us the repressed and angry man who
is unhappy at his Jewishness and his lack of sexual drive. Fitzgerald
is most moving as the woman who finds that she is suddenly unable
to walk. She shows that she is frightened of her husband as she
gradually opens up to the doctor. Townsend is just right as a doctor
who is at home everywhere including out in the fields with horses.
Never dull, this is a superbly written and acted play, enhanced
by the mournful cello played the back if the stage between scenes,
and well directed by Iqbal Khan.,
Another theatre showing that it can produce fine modern plays and
demonstrating it with a new play is Hampstead Theatre's NO
NAUGHTY BITS (until 15 October), which gives an interesting
story of when Monty Python's Flying Circus was shown in the US in
1975 with all the naughty bits cut out! The ensuing court case is
amusingly transposed to the stage in Steve Thompson's new play,
and is as concerned with censorship as we are today. Directed by
Edward Hall, it has a lively performance by Harry Hadden-Patton
as Michael Palin and Sam Alexander gives us a very funny Terry Gilliam.
This is certainly a play to enjoy and ends by cheering us all up.
Using props from Monty Python sketches including a huge boot descending
on the villains of the piece, Edward Hall manages to extract a lot
of humour from the script and the actors.
The consistently well-regarded Almeida Theatre now presents a
new play written and directed by Stephen Poliakoff. While MY
CITY (until 5November) is, disappointingly, not one of
his best efforts, the play has an interesting theme of two young
people finding out more about their former Headmistress and her
two colleagues than they ever knew while pupils.
Tracey Ullman in My City with,
left, Sorcha Cusack and David Troughton
Richard (Tom Riley) discovers Miss Lambert (Tracey
Ullman, making a welcome return to the London stage) sleeping on
a park bench and his efforts to discover the truth about her nocturnal
wanderings keep us guessing until the end. Good performances from
the ever-reliable David Troughton and Sorcha Cusack as the Head's
An interesting double bill of rarely performed Harold Pinter plays
can be seen at the Print Room, Notting Hill (until 1 October and
then at the Young Vic 6-15 Oct.). VICTORIA STATION is a dark comedy
about a minicab controller and one of his drivers who is lost at
Crystal Palace. Keith Dunphy gives an authoritative performance
as the controller and Kevin Doyle plays the minicab driver who is
lost and doesn't even know what or where Victoria station is.
Anna Hewson and Kevin Doyle
in One for the Road
ONE FOR THE ROAD is a terrifying little play
about the interrogation of a family by Nicholas (Kevin Doyle) in
an unnamed country. With an astonishing change in his persona Keith
Dunphy plays the tortured husband who is overcome with grief when
he gathers how badly his wife is treated. Anna Hewson is moving
as the wife who admits to Nicholas that she has been raped a number
. In his one brief scene, the little son (played by Rory Fraser on my viewing) constantly moves around. The Director has managed to capture the spirit of a seven year old who doesn't sit still. The acting by all is strong, and there is no humour in this little play - on the contrary it strikes fear in one's heart.
The tiny Jermyn Theatre struggles to keep going.
It always seems to produce little plays that hit the nail on the
head, in terms of the writing and acting. It is difficult, however,
to attract audiences. I hope that people will visit the theatre
to see THE MOON IS HALFWAY TO HEAVEN (until 1 October).
It is a rather sweet play with the author, David Paul Kirkby-Kendall
playing Paul, one half of a lifelong friendship between two men.
The other character is Jamie, played by Lucas Hare. We follow their
lives in snippets from when they were young boys aged seven through
to their war years and then on to work and marriage. They lead very
different lives but always meet up on the same park bench until
the very end of their lives. The writing and performances are realistic
and it is good to see a non-homosexual relationship between two
It is a pity that the last play in the Globe Theatre's season is
such a confused show. Playwright Chris Hannan's THE GOD
OF SOHO (until 1 October) is certainly spectacular as Big
God (a lively Phil Daniels) comes down to earth to see his daughter
imitating a celebrity, Natty (Emma Pierson making her stage debut
with a vivacious performance). Many more characters appear and disappear,
all in fantastic costumes. The play is enhanced by the music of
the group called King Porter Stomp.
RUBY WAX - LOSING IT (Duchess Theatre until 1
October) is a somewhat strange mix of humour and serious discussion
on mental health issues. Starring Ruby Wax and the singer, Judith
Owen, presenting much of her own material, the first half has Ruby
telling jokes and humorous anecdotes. After the interval the audience
returns to a question and answer session with the two stars sitting
on chairs at the front of the stage answering questions about their
experiences and what they would recommend for others in a similar
plight. As Ruby remarks, "At some point in our lives one in four
will be affected by mental illness."
Ruby comes across as honest and Judith has a good voice for putting across her poignant songs. Ruby uses Judith as her straight man to bounce her witticisms off in the first half; Judith remains silent except when tinkling on the piano or singing snippets of her songs. Ruby's humour is just right for middle aged women, "I borrowed my daughter's thong (she peers down below). Now I can't find it." She uses her American heritage a little bit, but mainly as a commentary on the British: their, "Let's have a cup of tea" in any difficulty.
Both answer questions and comments in the second half and we hear how they both suffer from depression and that, in spite of drugs and counselling/psychiatric help, they share a fear of further bouts. Some of the audience who came to see Ruby Wax, the comedienne, seemed a bit confused, while for others it is clearly a great help in dealing with their own problems.
Every Tuesday 2-4pm there is a free Mental Health Forum with speakers from psychology, psychiatry and neuroscience to speak and answer questions.
I wrote about the excellent production of CRAZY FOR YOU
at the Open Air Theatre, Regent's Park last month. Well, the good
news is that the whole show is playing at the Novello Theatre from
8 October. I strongly recommend you book NOW!