Monthly Archives: January 2016

The Maiden Heist, 2009 – ★★★

Shown on UK TV as ‘The Heist’, this promised a lot with a great trio of ageing lead actors in Christopher Walken, Morgan Freeman and William H Macy as security guards trying to steal the exhibits they love so much from the museum in which they work, not for profit, but just for the love of the art.

The first half hour is probably the high point of the film as we have scene-setting and the planning of the heist using a model museum (and a squeakily funny performance from Marcia Gay Harden as Walken’s wife, in his boring suburban home) – after that it is OK, and fairly entertaining, but these guys have the potential to do so much more, and I just felt a little bit let-down that there wasn’t more to this.

Macy’s character, for example, who cavorts in a manner unbecoming to a security guard with his beloved statue when the museum is closed – this is alluded to, but not expanded on. Walken’s character is clearly a frustrated intellectual, but this is put aside for a bit of farcical fun. Freeman’s character loves his cats, showing a sensitive side, but there is little development beyond that. They are all obsessive about the art they see around them every day at work – but we as the viewers don’t feel that obsession.

I wanted to like this, and I did think the idea where they plan to get the real pieces before they get sold to Denmark and replace them with perfect fakes (‘Operation Urgent Fury’), but it just doesn’t quite have the right level of, I don’t know, humour? perception? art appreciation?

Peter Hewitt directs, so this has a British feel despite its American stars, but there’s something missing.

Vía Letterboxd – loureviews

The Shout, 1978 – ★★★★

Another re-watch after quite some time, and this is an odd rural tale about a creepy man called Crossley (the magnetic Alan Bates, who rarely disappointed even in lesser fare, and is in one of his best roles here, all in black like a malevolent bat or predatory rook) who arrives in town, befriends mousy composer John Hurt and his winsome wife Susannah York, and uses the magical powers he has formed in foreign parts to unsettle and dominate his surroundings.

With a music score which is weirdly modern and strange, and the most mundane of pastimes (a cricket match on the village green, a bike ride round the quiet streets), this builds tension throughout its 80-odd minutes, and boasts some fine supporting bits from a youthful post-Rocky Horror Tim Curry, a fruity Robert Stephens, and others.

A film which defies categorization, ‘The Shout’ is an intriguing piece of British cinema, adapted from a short story by Robert Graves, and directed by Jerzy Skolimowski. The premise, that a man may be able to kill simply by the power of his voice, is nonsense when taken at face value, but this is played for deadly seriousness, and is all the better for it.

Vía Letterboxd – loureviews

Oliviers in Concert (Royal Festival Hall)

One of the plus sides of living in London is access to a wide variety of music, theatre, cinema and other experiences.  So the last time we were at the Royal Festival Hall it was for a special concert to commemorate the 60th anniversary of Daniel Barenboim’s first appearance playing at the venue, with a wonderful pair of Brahms concertos played by the maestro, accompanied by the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela, conducted by Gustavo Dudamel.


I mention this to contrast with last night’s musical theatre extravaganza which was put together by Maria Friedman and Tim Jackson in order to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Olivier Awards (formerly called the Society of West End Theatre awards).

The programme balanced standards from the musical repertoire (overtures from ‘Oklahoma’ and ‘Candide’, the snappy “You’re The Top” from ‘Anything Goes’, Clive Rowe’s show-stopping piece from ‘Guys and Dolls’: “Sit Down, You’re Rocking The Boat”) with items from the jukebox musicals ‘Beautiful’ (the title track), ‘Sunny Afternoon’ (“Waterloo Sunset”), and ‘Jersey Boys’ (a medley including “Sherry” and “Walk Like A Man”), by way of familiar modern pieces from ‘Phantom of the Opera’ (a lovely duet between former Raoul Michael Ball and sparky young Scarlett Strallen of “All I Ask Of You”), the title track of ‘Me and My Girl’, ‘Stars’ from ‘Les Miz’ (a decent if emotionless rendition by Ball) and five different pieces of Sondheim including two songs from perhaps his least accessible musical, ‘Sunday In the Park With George’, the fabulous “Our Time” from ‘Merrily We Roll Along’, which showcased the talents of the young Guildford School of Acting choir, and the highlight of the night for me, Maria Friedman’s “Losing My Mind” from ‘Follies’.

In a varied programme we also enjoyed Strallen’s perky “Ice Cream” from ‘She Loves Me’ (which is ripe for another revival), Friedman’s title song from Disney’s ‘Beauty and the Beast’ (not, as she told the listening radio audience, dressed as a teapot), and, showcasing the youngest of talents, “Quiet”, from ‘Matilda’, in which Lara McDonnell commanded the stage with effortless poise.  The ‘Me and My Girl’ duet gave Katie Brayben and John Dagleish a chance to show they could sing when they were not impersonating Carole King and Ray Davies respectively.   And I was happy to see Daniel Evans again performing the works of both wordsmiths, Cole Porter and Stephen Sondheim.

Lesley Manville performed the role of MC with charm and warmth, linking the numbers for both the audience in the Hall and the one at home.  And bringing back Petra Siniawski from the original cast of ‘A Chorus Line’ was a touching and effective opener.

I should also mention Elaine Paige, who came on in gold and glitter to try and bring back memories of her ‘Evita’.  It didn’t work for me, remembering when her voice was glorious when she was Eva and when she was Norma Desmond, but it seemed to be a crowd-pleaser.

A night of considerable polish, sparkle, and just a sprinkling of stardust.

Husbands and Sons (National Theatre)

Following last year’s curiosity when ‘A Month in the Country’ was rewritten as ‘Three Days in the Country’, the National Theatre has now turned to DH Lawrence, and in Ben Power’s adaptation, has joined together three of his plays into one interconnected whole, lasting three hours.

The original plays are ‘A Collier’s Friday Night’, ‘The Daughter-In-Law’, and ‘The Widowing of Mrs Holroyd’.  In this combination of the trilogy of plays, the Lamberts, the Gascoignes, and the Holroyds live side by side, with the men working in the same pit and the women passing pleasantries with each other.

In a quirky bit of design, these three households are set out across the Dorfman stage, in the round, and if you are in the front seating, you will find yourself moving seats after the interval so as to observe the families from a different viewpoint.  Gimmicky, but interesting.  I started behind the Gascoigne house, which was a bonus as Louise Brearley as Minnie could be heard more effectively close-up than at a distance (although one sequence where she listens to a ballad on a scratchy gramophone is touching), and then sat behind the Holroyd home in the second act, where I greatly enjoyed Anne-Marie Duff’s downtrodden colliery wife/widow who takes strength from death.

As separate entities, these are minor works, and taken as a whole they do not quite gel together – still, there are nice moments from the mother at the Gascoigne house (Susan Brown), a neighbour with a secret shared with a married son (Josie Walker and Joe Armstrong), and a miner at the Lambert house pushed out by the wife who despises him but adores their cultured and educated son (Lloyd Hutchinson, Julia Ford and Johnny Gibbon) – despite this story being rather reminiscent of the 1969 Monty Python sketch where the working class father despites his posh miner son.  At the Holroyds, Martin Marquez overdoes the drunkenness of the husband slightly but still manages to evoke sympathy.

Lawrence’s world of pit smoke, bread making, plate clearing, and strong women trapped by circumstance is dated now, but this treatment gives it some freshness.  I would question some of the directorial and stylistic choices – why real plates but pretend food, real chairs but pretend doors, real dresses but pretends caps and shawls, and why the need for elaborate mime in order to ‘connect’ the houses?

Kinky Boots (Adelphi)

One of the best new musicals in years is currently playing at the Adelphi Theatre, where Killian Donnelly’s shoe baron reboots his failing family business with the help of the outrageous Lola (Matt  Henry), a raucous drag queen with a thing for red and sexy boots (‘The Sex is in the Heel’ being one of the showstopping songs).

Charlie (Donnelly) and Lola/Simon are both introduced in a powerhouse opening number (‘The Most Beautiful Thing in the World’), first as children, then as the young adults they have become – this works well, and Cyndi Lauper’s driving pop score sets the scene for a totally feel-good production.

Based on the popular film, itself loosely based on the real Northampton factory which sold fetish footwear successfully for some years, Harvey Fierstein’s book fleshes out the role of Lola, whose solo Act 2 number ‘Hold Me In Your Heart’ and duet with Charlie (‘I’m Not My Father’s Son’) are emotionally engaging.

The numbers with Lola and her Angels are dragtastic which secondary characters like Lauren and Don have their own chances to shine.  You’ll know from the start that Charlie’s engagement to materialistic Nicola is doomed, and that there will be an Act 2 showdown, but the ending is life-affirming and touching.

Matt Henry in particular is a revelation – but I liked Amy Lennox as man-mad Lauren, Jamie Baughan as macho Don, and Michael Dobbs as sensible factory man George.  Donnelly’s character arc is not that believable but that doesn’t matter too much.

A gloriously fun night in the theatre which I would love to see again.

Guys and Dolls (Savoy Theatre)

Another musical comes into the West End via the Chichester Festival, following the phenomenally successful ‘Gypsy’: this time Frank Loesser’s saga of New York gamblers and mission dolls, ‘Guys and Dolls’ which was first presented on the stage in 1950, with its inspiration from the stories of Damon Runyon, and characters like Harry the Horse, Society Max, and Liver Lips Louie.

Those of you familiar with the film version of 1955 might be confused at some score changes here – Miss Adelaide’s original first act number ‘A Bushel and a Peck’; Sky’s solo ‘My Time of Day’ which leads into his duet with Sarah, ‘I’ve Never Been In Love Before’ (replacing ‘A Woman in Love’, which is briefly heard as a background tune); Arveit’s solo ‘More I Cannot Wish You’ (with more than a hint of Harry Lauder in this version); and towards the end of act two, Adelaide and Sarah’s duet ‘Marry The Man Today’ (a fun song, but one I have always felt never belonged with the rest of the show).  You may also miss the song ‘Adelaide’ which was created to give Nathan Detroit a solo number in the film.

However, the score is sound and well-performed throughout – by the four leads (Jamie Parker as Sky Masterson, a real find who gives the gambler a real soft heart beyond the bravado – he’s no Brando, but he is different, and very good; Sophie Thompson as a terrific Miss Adelaide, all faded pizazz at the Hot Box and distraught love with the man who still hasn’t married her after fourteen years; David Haig as Nathan Detroit, who dispels memories of Sinatra with his genuinely seedy violet-suited crap game; and Siubhan Harrison as Sarah Brown, the Mission sergeant who gets tipsy and finds herself and her true love) and supporting players alike.

This is a bright, brash and fun show, which highlights some of the rough edges (what do the Hot Box girls really do for their male clientele?) as well as showcasing some seriously talented performances from people who may otherwise not find musical leads – Ian Hughes as Benny Southstreet, for example, or Gavin Spokes who rightly brought the house down with act two’s knockout ‘Sit Down, You’re Rocking the Boat’ (which included some scat singing for General Cartwright, played at the show we saw by understudy Genevieve Nicole).

I must also mention Peter McKintosh’s set design, Tim Mitchell’s clever lighting, and Carlos Acosta’s choreography.  Catch this in its brief London stop or on the continuation of its tour if you can.

Review of 2015

This is the point where, now 2016 has started with the traditional fireworks and hangovers, we have a look back to the good (and bad) of 2015.


In January I saw two productions, the frankly disappointing ‘Potted Sherlock’, and the excellent ‘Taken at Midnight’, in which Penelope Wilton excelled as a woman whose son was in the hands of the Nazis.

February brought a new Tom Stoppard at the National, ‘The Hard Problem’, which tried to mix academia with personal relationships, but didn’t really do either justice.

In March I enjoyed the revival of ‘Harvey’, starring James Dreyfuss, which stopped off at Richmond before a run in the West End, and I travelled to Hampstead for my first visit to the theatre there to see Zoe Wanamaker in the revival of ‘Stevie’ (a piece I know well from the Glenda Jackson film).

April brought three top-class musicals associated with Stephen Sondheim: first, the show on which he wrote lyrics, ‘Gypsy’, at the Savoy, which some of you will have seen and enjoyed when it was on television over the Christmas break, and second, the transfer of ‘Sweeney Todd: Demon Barber of Fleet Street’ at the ENO, with Bryn Terfel, Emma Thompson, and the welcome return to these shores of Philip Quast.  Finally, the concert version of ‘Follies’, at the Royal Albert Hall, which was ridiculously overpriced but certainly star-studded.

In May, a silly but perfectly-pitched tribute to the Bonzo Dog frontman, Vivian Stanshall, who died twenty years ago, was on for one night only at the Bloomsbury.  ‘Radio Stanshall’ teamed old hands with a fun reboot of the Sir Henry at Rawlinson End tales.   Meanwhile, over at the Globe Theatre Jonathan Pryce impressed as Shylock in ‘The Merchant of Venice’, and on transfer from Stratford-upon-Avon, Antony Sher and Harriet Walter reteamed for the first time since the late 90s Macbeth for ‘Death of a Salesman’, which was a definite highlight of the year.

June at the Barbican heralded the Beckett International Festival, of which I chose to see the starry ‘Waiting for Godot’ with Hugo Weaving, Richard Roxburgh, and Philip Quast (again!).  I love the play, and this production seemed to polarise audiences, but I found it very good indeed.

In July, there was comedy at the National in ‘The Beaux’ Strategem’, and a major misfire at the Young Vic with a head-scratching version of ‘The Trial’, in which a conveyer belt set and Rory Kinnear were excellent but the translation was not.  Closer to home, Julian Clary headlined the Ealing Comedy Festival, while in town, David Suchet donned a dress for a hilarious take on Lady Bracknell in ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’.

August brought us one of the year’s total turkeys, at the Charing Cross Theatre, where the dreadful ‘Dusty’ had cast changes, delayed press nights and worse.  Back at the National, ‘Three Days in the Country’ was a new and truncated version of the Turgenev play, which had a bit of overacting from John Simm but a finely judged comic bit from Mark Gatiss.

In September, the delightful Rattigan play ‘Flare Path’ stopped by at Richmond, while ‘Mr Foote’s Other Leg’ did well at Hampstead before a West End transfer – I especially liked Dervla Kirwan’s delicate actress-whore.    And the month ended with the new version of the Bristol production of ‘Jane Eyre’, a high-energy adaptation which was a total joy to watch.

October saw a trip to the Bridewell Theatre for an excellent version of ‘Sunset Boulevard’ by the amateur Geoids Musical Theatre, an ensemble I would happily watch again.

In November the final piece of the RSCs King and Country puzzle fell into play with the showing of ‘Henry V’, which I liked a lot, and which, coming so soon after the Paris attacks, felt oddly relevant and very moving.

Meanwhile, December brought the undoubted un-highlight of the year, with the National’s jaw-droppingly terrible ‘’.   I would recommend a trip to the National’s Shed instead to see the fun ‘I Want My Hat Back’, and New Year’s Eve brought the year to a sentimental close with ‘Goodnight Mr Tom’.

Concerts and live cinema relays

The Southbank Centre hosted a special ‘Friday Night is Music Night’ in February which I really enjoyed: with the Light Programme being represented with everything from Max Miller and Roy Hudd to Flanders & Swann and Gilbert & Sullivan.  The concert a week later in the same series, looking at post-1959 music, was fun, but not quite in the same league.

On Valentine’s Day the Berlin Philharmonic with their conductor Sir Simon Rattle was in residence at the Royal Festival Hall, with a programme showcasing their splendid rendition of Mahler No 2.   And on the big screen there was a live relay from the Royal Opera House of ‘The Flying Dutchman’, with Bryn Terfel, which was another of the year’s highlights: he really had made this role his own.

In April Daniel Barenboim was at the Royal Festival Hall with the Staatkapelle Berlin, playing Elgar, and it was an honour to be there, especially to see him awarded the Elgar Medal which he dedicated to his late wife, Jacqueline du Pre.   This month also saw a live musical accompaniment to a little-seen Lillian Gish film, ‘Annie Laurie’, at the Barbican.

In October, the London Literature Festival gave us both Terry Gilliam (with a video retrospective of some of his films), and Tom Jones (who sang, and by heck, is he still good).  The end of the month had a return visit to the Royal Festival Hall from Randy Newman, who with just a piano, was rather marvellous.

December was the month of NT Live screenings, with the Broadway production of ‘Of Mice and Men’ and the Barbican ‘Hamlet’ (which I didn’t add here for some reason, but which can be seen in my review over on Letterboxd).  We ended the year in concert mode with the professional gloss of Andre Rieu and his Johann Strauss Orchestra at Wembley Arena.


Letterboxd (where I post as loureviews) tells me I watched 451 films – including shorts and miniseries, in 2015.  Eight of those merited a full, five-star score, and all were rewatches: Mary Poppins, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Lifeboat, I Know Where I’m Going, Guys and Dolls, Witchfinder General, Rebecca, and The Snowman.

There were, however, some four and a half star films I had seen for the first time, so these are my picks of the year: Night Will Fall (2014), Laughter in the Dark (1969), Her (2013), Maxine Peake in Hamlet (2015), Mr Axelford’s Angel (1974), The Friends of Eddie Coyle (1973), Contempt/Le Mepris (1963), Shylock’s Ghost (2015), Night and Day (2015), and Tony Benn: Will and Testament (2014).

The turkeys of the year, the true stinkers, number ten: Carry on England (1976), Happy Hooligan (1903), Ride Along (2014), Sherlock Holmes (2011 – and it isn’t the Asylum one), The Other Woman (2014), Kingsman: The Secret Service (2015), The Nut Job (2014), Annie (2014), Bed and Breakfast (1938), and The Star Wars Holiday Special (1978).


I marked a trio of anniversaries this year.  Twenty years since the death of Vivian Stanshall, thirty-five years since the death of AC/DC frontman Bon Scott, and twenty-six years since the death of Monty Python’s Graham Chapman.  You can find links to all these in the ‘Index to tribute profiles’ at the top of the page.


In January, the London Transport Museum was the venue for ‘Goodbye, Piccadilly’, which I loved.  Later in the year, the Hayward Gallery hosted the thoughtful ‘History is Now’, which was odd but engaging.


Goodnight Mr Tom (Duke of York’s Theatre)

Michelle Margorian’s 1981 novel about evacuees in Dorset and one in particular, William Beech, has become a classic, and there was a television adaptation with John Thaw as Tom which screened in 1998 which was well-received.

In this small-scale but affecting production, we have David Troughton as the grouchy reclusive widower who takes in the nervous and abused William and both of them transform as their friendship grows along with those around them (including a kindly doctor, a newly-married teacher, and a spirited Jewish boy called Zach whose parents are in the theatre).

This is an old-fashioned tale with a simple message, but is well-told, and manages to be quite chilling in places (William’s insane Bible-bashing mother has had an illegitimate child and leaves her to die, causing the boy considerable mental distress).

David Wood’s play, directed by Angus Jackson, has been revived a few times, but still works.  As the boys, Joe Reynolds as Will (we think), and Sonny Kirby as Zach, were excellent, in quite difficult roles.  And I have to mention the marvellous puppet work which not only evokes squirrels and hedge-sparrows, but also Mr Tom’s dog Sammy, who came to life in the expert hands of Elisa de Grey.

I also loved the sets with train posters and wartime rationing tips dominating, and this even transferred into the programme, which has period advertising throughout.

I Want My Hat Back (National Theatre Shed)

A short but fun children’s show is currently in residence at the National Theatre’s temporary performance space, The Shed.

‘I Want My Hat Back’ is a musical play about a bear who has a nice red pointy hat, falls asleep, and has it stolen by a passing rabbit.  He asks passing animals, birds and insects if they have seen it, before figuring out the culprit, taking revenge, and then, in penance, giving his special possession away to a friendly caterpillar who blossoms into a beautiful golden butterfly.

Based on the book written and illustrated by Jon Klassen, this is both funny and dark (perhaps some of the plot might upset sensitive children, both those in the audience in the performance we saw were having a great time).  There is even the panto element of a ‘he’s behind you’ moment which is hilarious.

Joel Horwood and Arthur Darvill have contributed fun songs, and the small ensemble – Marek Larwood as Bear, Steven Webb as Rabbit, with Natalie Klamar, Naana Agyei-Ampadu, Oliver Birch, Pieter Lawman, Richie Hart and Adam Pleeth – have the humour and energy required for a show billed as ‘for children aged 3 to 300’.


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