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FILM:October 2011

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.

     

 

 

 

   

THEATRE TIP

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 Ables Sayre.

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 paralysis".

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 colleagues.

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 of times.

. 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 men.

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!

Carlie Newman

   
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