Monthly Archives: December 2017

Review of 2017: out and about

My take on the year’s outings:

Jan 2017

A Christmas Carol (Arts). A hit, nicely performed by Simon Callow.

Hedda Gabler (National). A top ten smash, an engrossing version of a favourite play.

She Loves Me (Menier). A hit, with a bouncy score and obligatory Strallen.

Feb 2017

Round the Horne (Richmond). A muddle, with some laughs and a fab Kenneth W but a lot of it felt forced.

Mar 2017

Twelfth Night (National).  Another definite hit, lifting the play to something new and fresh.

Lost With Words (National). Improv with aged thesps, which I loved. It seems to have been overlooked by many.

Honeymoon in Vegas (Palladium). Concert version, which suffered from unsure leads but had moments which did justice to the original film.

Amadeus (National). A play I love, but I disliked this production’s Mozart too much to class this as a highlight.

Shirley Valentine (Richmond). A hit, in a role Jodie Prenger was surely born to play.

An American in Paris (Dominion). I loved it with its dancing and its sweetness. It should have had a longer life.

Apr 2017

The Goat, or Who is Sylvia (Theatre Royal Haymarket). An inventive hit and a black as pitch play.

Carousel (Coliseum). Dreadful leads couldn’t mar the superior material, but when the supporting cast is what you remember, there’s something wrong.

May 2017

42nd Street (Theatre Royal Drury Lane). Opulent hit, nicely done songs and red hot tap.

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf (Harold Pinter). Sensational and brilliant but Conleth Hill beat Imelda to the acting gold.

Lettice and Lovage (Menier). Quaintly dotty but quietly fun.

Jun 2017

We saw Rainbow with Sweet at the Stone Free Festival, O2 Arena. The former were great, the latter were better than expected.

Penn and Teller (Eventim Apollo Hammersmith). A new show with old favourites and quirks. Always a pleasure.

Jul 2017

Half a Sixpence (Noel Coward). Joyous fun with great songs, even on Charlie Stemp’s week off.

The Tempest (RSC at the Barbican). Video projections and holograms were gimmicky but worth it for SRB.

Aug 2017

IAAF World Championship Athletics with my Sport Personality of the Year, Hero the Hedgehog.

The Mentor (Vaudeville). A strange play, but one I enjoyed.

Sep 2017

Follies (National). Musical of the Year, beautifully done and almost perfectly cast.

Oct 2017

Girl from the North Country (Old Vic). A stunning Dylan score made up for any story deficiencies.

Wings (Young Vic). Loved it, and Juliet Stevenson was terrific in that flying harness, remembering a tricky script.

Heisenberg (Wyndham’s). Two actors at the top of their powers in an engrossing and curious romance of uncertainty.

Nov 2017

Beginning (Dorfman). Another strange romance in real-time, nicely played and well-written.

Big Fish (The Other Palace). Superlative in every way.

And we saw Bananarama, who were far better than expected.

Dec 2017

Glengarry Glen Ross (Playhouse). A mini-hit, but not spectacular.

Moscow State Circus (Ealing Common). It’s got a big top and suspension stunts. What’s not to like?

Mother Goose (Questors Theatre). Fun and boos and don’t look behind you!

We also saw Paul Heaton and Jacqui Abbott – formerly in The Beautiful South – and they were excellent.

Shows missed due to illness this year – Art, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, Grand Mort, Salome, Julius Caesar and Ant & Cleo.


The Walk, 2015 – ★★★★

Joseph Gordon-Levitt is perfect for the role of daredevil wire-walker Philippe Petit, who rigged up a wire between the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, shortly before the complex was fully open.

Written and filmed in both comedic style and 3D (I watched the standard version) this is clever, subversive, and just as mad as Petit’s stunt – although I would have enjoyed more work similar to the slow-mo shots, splashes of colour in a grey universe, or the Gilliamesque commentary of our hero out on the Statue of Liberty.

In support we have Ben Kingsley as a crotchety circus performer, Charlotte Le Bon as a street artist, and Steve Valentine as the man on the inside.

The WTC will always been synonymous with their destruction but here their height is something to celebrate and conquer.

An enjoyable film which utilises CGI to develop its universe, without spoiling the story arc. As for Petit, he was crazy enough to walk way above the streets of New York on a wire shot from a fishing line and a bow and arrow!

You can keep your Spiderman. This is what your real heroes are about.

Vía Letterboxd – loureviews


Mother Goose (Questors Theatre)

We all know the pantomime traditions and tropes – the middle-aged man in numerous petticoats as the Dame, a young girl as the Principal Boy, popular songs, bad jokes, audience participation and healthy booing of the villains.

Up in town you have Julian Clary and Nigel Havers treading the boards, while Biggins is in Richmond, but in Ealing an accomplished cast of amateur players including a cute set of children keep the Judi Dench Playhouse audience entertained.

The key villain of Baron von Rumpensmakker  (ho ho) reminded me of Basil Rathbone in swashbuckler mode, and he and his Irish Gonk riding geese stirred memories of old Bernie Clifton’s ostrich.

A hard-working cast including some precocious children who are truly set for brighter things if fate and hard work allow keep things moving with the usual misdirection, sing-song, tap dance, and even a decorating routine worthy of the best of Charlie Drake.  The good fairy, the bad troll, and the wise old goose round off proceedings with a deep-voiced snow monster pulling the finale together.

The Questors is located on Mattock Lane behind Ealing Broadway.


Moscow State Circus (Ealing Common)

I can’t remember the last time I saw a circus.  It’s possible there were animals involved, very likely at the Tower in Blackpool.

Moscow State Circus – which has Russian and Eastern Bloc performers who are largely based in the West – has a lot of the spectacular routines we have become accustomed to through the likes of Cirque du Soleil.

There are clowns, a contortionist, a trapeze artist, an aerial hoop duo, a group of tumblers, a unicyclist, skipping bell boys, and more.  There may be a few cheesy moments and a few clown routines which don’t quite click, but the stunts are clever and often breathtaking.

See some highlights in the photos below.  The Circus continues at Ealing until January 7th, after which ‘Miracles’ tours around Britain.


Glengarry Glen Ross (Playhouse Theatre)

David Mamet’s sharp satirical play about real estate and the men who follow leads to coerce the lesser-off to spend money they don’t have on plots of land has a timely revival in the West End, this time under the direction of Sam Yates.

It’s an economical but coarse play, with the earthy language you might expect from cut-throat business conducted in restaurants or across kitchen tables furnished with shop-bought cakes masquerading as home-baked.

ggr1

Act One is set in a Chinese restaurant in Chicago, as we watch conversations between three pairings, introducing our core ensemble.

Shelly Levene (Stanley Townsend) was once a great salesman whose name always headed the firm’s results sheet, but he hasn’t delivered in a long while, and dud salesmen only get the dud leads; he tries to persuade office manager John Williamson (Kris Marshall) to help, but John is tough and hard, cynical and inflexible, and without the readies in advance he won’t give the old man a break.

Slightly later in the day, as the red lanterns start to give off a bit of light, and the sun outside sets, Dave Moss (Robert Glenister), a tough and jaded cookie, has a proposition for his more timid colleague, George Aaronow (Don Warrington), which moves from the theoretical to a practical plan to rob the firm and furnish the competition. George seems caught in a sophisticated trap as a supposed accessory.

And in the evening, confident and smug Richard Roma (Christian Slater) strikes up a chat with James Lingk (Daniel Ryan), a potential lead who can be played from the insecurities of his life to make a ‘wise’ investment.  Lingk, a man who probably has never taken a risk beyond taking off his coat on a mild day, is easily persuaded by sex talk and a concentration on his insecurities.

After a rather lengthy interval for a noisy set change, Act Two is set in the sprawling office in which the salesmen sweat for their closures and the chance to progress up the chalk board which records the money they make.

ggr2

Levene is full of an impossible deal he closed that morning, but the office has been robbed, and a cop is on site to tease out the culprit, which means each salesman gets their time out in the main room while others are under interrogation.  Roma has a visit from Lingk, who has slept on his decision and prompted by his cautious wife, wants out of his contract.  Tempers fray and unwise words are said.

Mamet’s gift in this play is in making the unlikeable likeable, and in making pauses, interjections, and profanities a natural part of character speech, making those characters believable.  Some actors work better with this than others; Marshall and Glenister are especially good, but Warrington’s accent wanders a bit and Townsend takes a while to warm to his part (but does well in Act Two).  I liked Slater’s outer calm which cracks in the office as he kicks the furniture, and his self-assuredness, but he doesn’t feel like a Hollywood star above the group of actors he is with; instead, he fits in without trying to snatch the attention.

Daniel Ryan is fine as Lingk, and Oliver Ryan makes the most of an investigator who clearly despises the salesmen and their setting.  The ending of the play, too, is a good one, and I’d forgotten it, having seen the film version some years ago and having missed the last stage revival.

Glengarry Glen Ross continues until the 3rd February 2018.

 


Book review: Strolling Player by Gabriel Hershman

Albert Finney was one of the young Northern actors who gained fame in the so-called ‘kitchen sink’ dramas of the 1960s.  From Salford, and blessed with a memorable name few would associate with a movie star, he has shone in a parallel career on the stage, starting after RADA graduation with a spell with the Royal Shakespeare Company.

Gabriel Hershman’s book is the second of three books focusing on British actors with interesting careers and private lives; we have already seen Ian Hendry profiled in Send in the Clowns – and next year we will see Hershman’s authorised biography on Nicol Williamson.

Strolling Player puts Finney centre stage, with an appraisal of his acting CV alongside anecdotes of a more personal nature; with this being a living subject you might have anticipated cooperation and an interview, but sadly that’s missing from the book: however, colleagues and friends fill the gap nicely and try to shed some light on the elusive actor.

Highly recommended to theatre and cinema fans, and those who have caught one of Finney’s rare television appearances. Hershman’s writing style is accessible and interesting and this is a fine addition to anyone’s biography shelf.

Strolling Player: the life and career of Albert Finney is available from The History Press, Amazon and some bookshop chains.


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