Combining elements of a cop movie with those of a
buddy film, 2 GUNS (cert. 15 1hr 42 mins.) manages,
in the main, to do this successfully. It also has some of the expected
action sequences that we look for in a cop movie. Robert "Bobby"
Trench (Denzel Washington) and Michael "Stig" Stigman (Mark Wahlberg)
have been working together for a while. The only trouble is that
neither of them knows that the other is something other than the
person they seem to be, which is a bank robber. Each works undercover
for the United States government. Trench is a DEA agent, Stigman
a US naval intelligence officer.
They get on well but distrust each other without knowing exactly
why. In trying to infiltrate a drug cartel, run by the bullish Papi
Greco (Edward James Olmos) the two rob a small-town bank and discover
not the small amount of cash they expect but millions of dollars.
When Bobby and Stig find themselves disowned by their respective
bosses, they have to rely on each other to survive. They also want
to find out what has happened and why so much money has been placed
in the bank. Obviously, the villains are also after the two comrades.
Denzel Washington & Mark Wahlberg
Icelandic director Baltasar Kormákur employs his
cast well and uses the very good chemistry between Washington and
Wahlberg to put across a story which is full of twists. The two
work so well together that it is impossible to tell just what is
improvised and what part of the script. There are some very amusing
moments in the banter between the two stars and a lovely touch when
Washington kisses a baby's head during the bank robbery. Denzel
is now a master at putting across funny lines in a dry manner and
he manages to lift up Wahlberg to accompany him on the various rifts
he indulges in.
The supporting players like Olmos and Bill Paxton, who plays a
somewhat villainous Russian-roulette-loving government operative,
make the most of their parts. Paula Patton is the love interest
and reacts nicely to Denzel's remark that he has "tried" to love
Surprise…RED 2 (cert.12A 1 hr. 56 mins.) is the
sequel to Red! It looks as though Bruce Willis, who is the main
character in the Red films, is trying to start another franchise.
The first one was an acceptable piece of laid-back enjoyment and,
whilst this movie tries hard to achieve the lightness of tone and
all-action excitement of the first film, it doesn't quite make the
grade. This is in spite of the sterling efforts of a cast full of
The plot is at times difficult to follow, but once one gets in
the swing it moves along nicely. For those of us who are somewhat
slower to grasp initials, or never knew, RED is a code name that
stands for "Retired and Extremely Dangerous."
Frank Moses (Bruce Willis), the former CIA black ops agent thinks
he has seen enough of the tough life and is happy to live a quiet
life alongside his girlfriend Sarah Ross (Mary-Louise Parker).
Mary-Louise Parker, Bruce
Willis, John Malkovich
She, however, is not so sure that the staid life
they are leading suits her. So she is quite happy when Frank is
asked to assist his old partner Marvin Boggs (John Malkovich) who
has realised that they are being targeted because they have been
listed as participants in a secret operation codenamed Nightshade,
a next generation weapon that went missing while the two were in
charge. The operation was conducted during the Cold War era in order
to smuggle a nuclear weapon into Russia piece by piece. Sarah becomes
part of the little group who are now searching for the bomb connected
with Operation Nightshade. The group's old friend Victoria (Helen
Mirren) informs them that she has accepted a contract from MI6 to
kill Frank. An expert contract killer, Han Cho-Bai (Lee Byung-hun)
has also been hired separately to kill Frank.
Frank, Marvin, and Sarah cover a number of different locations
including London and Paris in their search for the deadly weapon.
In Paris they meet up with a man nicknamed "The Frog" (David Thewliss),
and also meet Katya (Catherine Zeta-Jones), a Russian secret agent
who Frank had a relationship with earlier in his career. Katya is
also attempting to find Nightshade. Sarah is more than somewhat
jealous of this beautiful, sexy woman. When the three comrades find
documents in The Frog's security box, pointing to Dr. Edward Bailey
(Anthony Hopkins), a brilliant physicist, as the creator of the
bomb involved with Operation Nightshade, they are on their way to
finding the actual weapon. And so on…complicated, but probably worth
the effort for those who enjoyed the first Red and others who want
a light evening's entertainment at the cinema. Zeta-Jones looks
stunning and shows she can put across comedy in addition to toting
guns. Hopkins is, well, Hopkins and Willis could do with more smiling,
but he is what he is and you like or don't like! Malkovich comes
across as a worthy comedic partner for Bruce and Parker is cute
as the girlfriend who wants to be part of the action. She and Willis
have some funny couple's scenes. Helen Mirren revels in her part
in this action movie and also uses her acting skills to put across
some amusing lines.
ELYSIUM (cert.15 1hr. 19mins.)
Although set in 2154, Director Neill Blomkamp, who is also the
writer, draws on his own experience of living in apartheid South
Africa to give his view of a society very strictly divided into
the haves and have nots. Elysium has lots of action and exciting
set pieces and this Sci-fi thriller is engrossing.
Matt Damon plays Max, who is, most definitely, one of the poor.
He lives in a slum on Earth (actually Los Angeles) and works in
a factory and can only dream of getting to Elysium. Elysium is a
satellite in space where the very rich live. Not only do the residents
enjoy a luxurious lifestyle but also a wonderful futuristic health
service where technology in their own homes provides them with instant
Max is finding it virtually impossible to save enough
to pay for tickets to take his childhood love, Frey (Alice Braga),
who he met when they were both placed in an orphanage, to Elysium.
Max battles against his superiors and against bureaucratic robots.
It is when Max receives a fatal dose of radiation that his chance
to live his dream appears to come to fruition. Equally important
is to get himself cured by using one of the high technology healing
machines on the planet for the rich. To achieve both aims, he makes
a deal with a hustler known as Spider (Wagner Moura) to undertake
a dangerous mission.
It becomes even more difficult when he antagonises the powerful
contractor Carlyle (William Fichtner). Max and his best friend Luna
(Diego Luna) battle too, with the powerful Secretary Delacourt (Jodie
Foster) and her employee, the mercenary, Kruger (Sharlto Copley).
This story of two different worlds so near to one another and yet
so different is a good allegory for showing the extremes of the
very wealthy and those right at the other end of the poverty line.
Although set in the future the movie is very obviously showing us
not only what is happening now in many parts of the world where
one percent of the population live in ostentatious richeness and
the rest suffer from poverty but also how it can get very much worse
in the fuutre. As I write, a Report on Child Poverty from the National
Children's Bureau warns that Britain could become a place in which
"children's lives are so polarised that rich and poor live in separate,
Not, therefore, a very optimistic film except that Max is shown
only out for himself until he learns exactly what is happening on
Elysium and what is proposed for the rest of the population and
then decides that he is the only one who can save the masses.
As a low key hero, Matt Damon gives a good, non-showy peformance,
grounded in reality in spite of the futuristic setting. And he looks
good, too! With strong support from the rest of the cast, partcularly
Sharlto Copley, William Fichtner and Diego Lina, Jodie Foster stands
out as the cold, ambitious official, and she speaks good French,
Neill Blomkamp did a terrific job with District 9 and while Elysium
does not quite achieve such a high standard, the director still
manages to make it visually exciting with great set pieces and much
action. The design of the film gives a good idea of the two very
different worlds and Blomkamp manages to convey not only the squalor
of life on earth (much of the filming took place on a giant rubbish
tip in Mexico City) but somehow presents us with the smell of the
place - it won't be long before we have smelly vision in films -
and at the other end we have the high tech very attractive planet
of Elysium where all is peace and beauty. The director also manages
the many special effects dexteriously and integrates them seamlessly
into the whole.
Elysium is a worthy follow-up to District 9, with an absorbing
story line, focussed direction, exciting action sequences and a
great performance from Matt Damon in the main part. The film is
It is true that the musical, THE SOUND OF
MUSIC (Open Air Theatre, Regent's Park, London Until 7
September 2013 BOX OFFICE 0844 424) is, indeed, syrupy
at times, but this show deals with the political climate of the
time in which it is set in a direct and often very moving manner.
This production of Richard Rogers and Oscar Hammerstein II musical
at the Open Air theatre in Regent's Park is directed by Rachel Kavanagh
in a manner that enhances both the romantic side of the story as
well as the fearful political climate which forms a very real part
of the show.
The story, although somewhat fictionalised, is based on the actual
von Trapp family's story as told by Maria Augusta Trapp. Set in
Salzburg, Austria in the months leading up to the Anschlus in 1938,
we meet Maria (Charlotte Wakefield) as she insists that she really
wants to be a nun but the other nuns along with the Mother Abbess
(Helen Hobson) are concerned that she is too flighty to ever settle
into the quiet contemplative life of a nun. She is forever late
as she sings in the hills surrounding the convent where she is a
Rather than dismiss her, the Mother Asbbess sends
Maria to be governess to the widower Captain von Trapp's seven children.
How she wins over the children and then the heart of the Captain
forms the bulk of the story. The dark part comes when the couple
return from honeymoon and Captain von Trapp (Michael Xavier) is
summoned to take up a post under the aegis of the Nazi Government
in Germany. When the Captain agrees that the family can perform
at the Salzburg Festival it looks as though he agrees with the takeover
of Austria by Germany.
The set is the same for all scenes - showing a gate into the convent
and a long staircase up at the beginning - it manages to also be
the home of the von Trapp family. The children line up on the staircase
in response to their father's whistles to summon them. The nuns
later line up on the same staircase at the wedding of Maria and
the Captain. There is a moat around the stage where Maria and the
Captain dabble their feet - thus showing that the grief-stricken
widower is finally relaxing in his love for Maria.
Some years ago the Open Air Theatre had a reputation for rather
tatty costumes, but in the last few years the costumes have improved
so much that in this show even the children's play clothes look
sumptuous! And the very well-dressed Elsa Schreider (Caroline Keiff)
Elsa is turned out in a most chic manner; the women around me were
sighing over her high heeled ultra-smart shoes.
Rachel Kavanagh directs her cast in an unemotional manner and they
respond with truthful performances. There are three different sets
of children with Liesl (Faye Brookes) as the only constant. Her
interaction with the young postman, Rolf (Joshua Tonks) who delivers
letters with a Nazi salute, is tenderly shown. The children are
well-differentiated and perform attractively although a couple of
the girls tend to put on stage children type smiles at the end of
songs. Michael Matus depicts the cynical impresario, Max Detweiler
in an amusing manner and his interchanges with Elsa as they discuss
her marrying the rich Captain are well presented. The audience can
understand why the Captain rejects her in favour of young Maria.
The all-singing, all-dancing nuns have verve and the Abbess sings
well although 'Climb Ev'ry Mountain' was sung in a lower key in
the 2006 Palladium production by Lesley Garrett and I think worked
better. Choreographer, Alistair David, keeps the dancing simple
and the Nuns and children seem to enjoy the movement.
A lot depends on the chemistry between the main couple and pleasant,
non-operatic voiced Michael Xavier has exactly the right charm as
the Captain to appeal not only to Maria but also to the audience.
He begins by being a most authoritarian figure and is gradually
released from his sadness at losing his wife to finding a way to
embrace the gaiety of Maria and also to understand the needs of
his children. We see Xavier show all this as he begins to respond
in a more emotional manner to his family. Charlotte Wakefield enchants
from her first appearance skipping down through the audience to
reaching up on tip toe to the much taller Captain. It is really
good to find an actress who can put across the songs in a delightful
light soprano voice and is also able to act well so that the romance
between her and the Captain is depicted with honesty. New to many
of the audience she is absolutely captivating as Maria and obviously
has a bright future in musical theatre.
There are many moments of pure sentimentality but the songs are
presented in a very fresh way and even the romance between Maria
and Captain von Trapp seem so real that everything in this production
serves the musical well and gives us a true idea of the circumstances
surrounding this family and the way in which the couple and the
seven children manage to survive. Rachel Kavanagh presents the show
in such a straightforward manner that the political dimension is
much more obvious than in other productions of this well-known musical.
Although you will have to hurry to catch it at the Open Air Theatre,
it is a good bet for transfer to the West End. This is a delightful
show and it is highly recommended.
For all of us with memories of Patrick Swayze and the great film,
DIRTY DANCING (Piccadilly Theatre until 22 February
2014 Booking office: 0844 871 7630) will still attract.
This is very much like the production mounted at the Aldwych in
2006 which ran for five years. It now comes into the Piccadilly
theatre which was left empty after the flop of the Spice Girls'
show, Viva Forever.
Set in a hotel in the Catskills, a predominantly Jewish holiday
resort, in 1963, it tells the story of Baby Houseman (Jill Winternitz)
from a well-to-do family and Johnny Castle (Paul-Michael Jones),
the dance instructor from the wrong side of the tracks. How Baby
manages to evade her family and learns to dance with Johnny and
later perform, as well as falling in love with her partner is the
essence of the story. Along the way we meet the members of her family
and also the other entertainers who present the nightly shows to
the guests at the hotel.
Paul Michael Jones as Johnny
and Charlotte Gooch as Penny
Baby's sister, Lisa (an excellent Emilia Williams)
is a well-defined character - attention seeking and after a husband.
There is some really good dancing, but not from Baby. The best of
the dancers are Johnny along with his friend, Penny (who gets into
trouble with one of the bad boys working in the hotel). They are
shown in the picture above. Charlotte Gooch as Penny dances with
enthusiasm and style.
Winternitz puts over the naiveté of the young Baby and is charmingly
portrayed by the actress, but even when she is supposed to have
learnt to dance, is more than lacking in that direction. However,
her acting is good and she portrays the big leap at the end while
executing a small jump!
SHARON MICHAELS saw and enjoyed POPE JOAN.
There could hardly be a better setting for POPE JOAN
(St. James's Church, Piccadilly, London until 15 September Box office:
0207 452 3000) than this Church designed by Sir Christopher Wren
and decorated with the fabulous carvings of Grinling Gibbons. The
play is about faith, lies, plots and equality and how two people
use these tools to obtain the very highest office within the Catholic
Church for their own purposes, be it for faith or merely the rewards
of power. The music, song and chanting is all the better for the
venue although the dialogue is somewhat hindered by the Church's
The play tells the story of laddish young Johanna (Sarah Miele)
desperate to read books and become educated. The only way of fulfilling
her desire is to cut off her long flowing locks and enter a monastic
life where she has access to a library and learning. There, now
called John, she is beaten and whipped until she is completely fluent
in the teachings of the Bible and eventually becomes Pope. Pope
Joan's history is told well through flashbacks throughout the play
and is acted with enthusiasm.
In the opening scene, atmosphere filled with music and incense,
Pope John (Sophie Crawford) bounds her naked beasts tightly and
dons the robes and the unyielding character of her high position.
Unwavering in the duties bestowed on her, she takes them on without
sympathy or emotion but in religious faith. However, she is forced
to confront the fact that she is also a woman and has discovered
that she is pregnant. Pope Joan is in conflict and turmoil torn
between her position and her faith and her unborn child's life.
Sophie Crawford as Pope Joan
The huge issues she faces in her own character and
in her changed attitude towards the prostitute (Ruby Kwong) brought
to her for punishment and the role of women in the Church is now
Joan's challenge. This is poignantly expressed.
She has, however, made a foe of Cardinal Anastasius (Robert Willoughby)
and now, with Machiavellian treachery, aware that something is amiss,
he schemes to reveal all. Motivated by his desire to become Pope
himself, his dark plot is effective and merciless.
Sophie Crawford performance is brave and convincing, not unlike
the Pope she plays. There are scenes which leave lasting impressions,
such as her being carried high in the air, cruelly and mockingly,
half naked, by sinister robed monks. She carries the part very well.
Robert Willoughby plays his role brilliantly and excitingly as a
man who will stop at nothing to ensure things go his way.
Perhaps it makes little difference whether the medieval story of
Pope Joan/John is fact or fiction as one watches the National Youth
Theatre of Great Britain bring to life Louise Bealey's first play
with energy and enthusiasm. The play, written especially for the
National Youth Theatre, goes beyond the simple telling of a woman
who manages to disguise her sex to enable her to be elevated to
a position only preserved for males. It cleverly examines the many
issues including women's position within the Church and society
as a whole, of education and equality, leaving one wondering how
much really has changed over the centuries. Maybe little. It was
tremendous to see this young and talented cast meet the challenges
of the play and provoke thought on such difficult subjects.
Stephen Campbell Moore as
Joe, Sean Gilder as Mel, in 'Chimerica'
Looking at the events surrounding the taking of the well-known
picture of the man standing in front of a tank in Tiananmen Square
in 1989, Lucy Kirkwood's new play is a fictionalised account of
a young American journalist called Joe who took the picture. CHIMERICA
(Harold Pinter Theatre, London, until 19 October. Box Office
0844 871 7622) is an ambitious project that is absolutely engrossing.
The play covers events in China and America (hence the title).
Beginning in 1989 with Joe (Stephen Campbell Moore)
happening to be in the right place to see a very ordinary man holding
plastic bags and standing in front of one of the tanks to stop it
The action moves forwards to 2012 and the American election with
China's economic power on the agenda. Joe wants to find the so-called
"tank man" and sets out to do so accompanied by his colleague Mel
The play manages to look at global issues as well as those connected
with human rights while at the same time putting a microscope to
human relationships - particularly Joe and the market researcher
(Claudie Blakley) with whom he becomes involved. We also see what
happens to the brother of Zhang Lin (Benedict Wong), back in China
and have flash backs to Zhang Lin and his wife when they were both
young before she was killed in Tiananmen Square.
The sharp direction under Lyndsey Turner and the clever use of
a revolving design and back projections keeps the action moving
and allows the actors to develop their characters. It is good to
see Wong finally being recognised as the really good actor he is
and following his performance as Ai Weiwei, he is very moving as
the Chinese dissident, Zhang Li in this play. Do make an effort
to see this before it closes.
Another one that is a must see is WEST SIDE STORY
at Sadler's Wells, London (until 22 September. Box Office: 0844
This is a really exciting production, which shows that, although
British actors are renowned for their skills, Americans still have
the edge when it comes to musical theatre. The cast here is mainly
composed of American and Canadian actors, young and bouncing with
Leonard Bernstein's music (here conducted with verve by Donald
Chan) is perfect for the lyrics of Stephen Sondheim, or should that
be the other way round? And Jerome Robbins' interpretation through
his direction and choreography - which is replicated here - makes
for perhaps the best musical ever.
It is not just the modernisation of the Romeo and
Juliet story through its setting with the two gangs, the Polish-American
Jets and the Puerto Rican Sharks, swaggering as they try to gain
control of the streets and the scuffling which leads to tragedy,
but the bitter-sweet love story of the young lovers who come together
in joy and then face the deepest sorrow as they are drawn into the
The set - iron staircases with balconies and a row of tenements
- looks good and provides the right background for the story set
in Upper West Side, a poor part of New York. Above all it is the
dancing that really grabs one here, from the opening scene with
the snapping fingers until the very last most sad moments, the chorus
and leads (except for the young lovers) leap and move with speed
around the stage. The songs are well sung by all too and the actors
manage to bring humour in wherever they can. As usual the performance
of Office Krupke by the Jets is well received. It is strange to
hear the youngsters in the show, which takes place in the 1950s
saying "cool" when my teenage grandson uses that term today.
While the romantic leads, Anthony Festa as Tony and Jessica Soza
as Maria work well together and are sweet singers, Anita (Penelope
Armstead-Williams and Bernardo (Pepe Munoz) have the more eye-catching
and ear astounding roles.
A rather different show, but nevertheless exciting in its own way,
is the RSC's excellent production of one of Shakespeare's most difficult
comedies, ALL'S WEEL THAT ENDS WELL (Royal Shakespeare
Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon until 26 September. Box office: 0844
Joanna Horton and Greg Hicks
in All's Well That Ends Well, at the Royal Shakespeare theatre
The play is "difficult" because it is not really funny and the
hero is not a likeable sort of guy. Nancy Meckler, however, directs
this Stratford production in such a creative manner that most of
the audience will feel surprised that it isn't already on their
list of favourite Shakespeare plays. She manages to draw together
the mixture of themes - the political aspect with a kind of fairy
tale and the facing up to what we, these days, would describe as
Joanna Horton is very good at putting across her
character - Helena, who, as an inferior, is rejected by Bertram
(Alex Waldmann) the man she loves - but finds help and comfort in
the actions of other women. These 'sisters', who include Bertram's
mother, the Countess of Rosillion (played at the performance I saw
by Karen Archer) and Diana (Natalie Klamar), who kindly takes Helena's
place in her husband's bed in the "bed trick" when he refuses to
consummate the marriage.
Actually there is humour up to a certain point in the character
of the vain, lying Parolles, Beautifully played by Jonathan Slinger,
who has a somewhat strange posh accent with a touch of Kenneth Williams.
His comeuppance has echoes of the taunting suffered by Malvolio
(Olivia's steward in Twelfth Night). And Greg Hicks once again gives
us a well-thought out cameo as the dying King who is cured by Helena,
the doctor's daughter. We see him first with tubes stuck into him
and later dancing when cured (see picture above).
As one who has stayed in Ted Hughes birth house in Mytholmroyd,
West Yorkshire, I have more than a passing interest in the life
of the poet. So, although DOONREAGAN Jermyn Street
Theatre, London until 21 September Box Office: 020 7287 2875)
was lacking in structure and pace, I was most interested in the
relationship between Hughes and his lover, Assia, in 1966 as shown
in this play.
While many know the poetry of Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath and the
ultimately tragic outcome of their marriage, less is known of the
time spent together of Ted and Assia.
After Sylvia Plath's suicide Assia and Ted went away together
to Doonreagan House in an isolated area of Cashel, Connemara, Ireland
(the furniture on display in the set is actually from Doonreagan
House in the 1960s and would have been used by Ted and Assia). They
took with them Assia's daughter Shura and Ted's two motherless young
children. Ted had already left Sylvia before her death for his married
lover Assia Wevill. Both are in their mid to late 30s.
Assia Wevill (Flora Montgomery)
and Ted Hughes (Daniel Simpson)
Although the play lasts only 50 minutes, there are some longeurs between the short scenes - for no reason. Director, Alex Dmitriev shows back projections of lovely pictures of the uninhabited Irish landscape and seascape and makes one want to be there rather than in the theatre's tiny auditorium. The play is all about the couple and how they deal with everyday matters, the children and each other and how Sylvia still haunts them both. There are some challenging moments between the two and the play focusses on these rather than any narrative as such. Daniel Simpson catches Ted's look and accent and he has tears in his eyes at emotional moments (the beauty of a small theatre is that you can sit close enough to virtually intrude on the actors' lives and the drawback is that you can smell the smoke when the characters puff!). Wevill is not so well known and so Flora Montgomery seems fine in her portrayal.