Local Hero by Bill Forsyth & David Greig: My Thoughts.


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It was announced that Local Hero could be a possibility while I was still on the Royal Lyceum board three years ago and it seemed like a wild dream, almost a fantasy really; that one of Scotland’s most iconic movies could be turned into a stage play, and a musical at that.

Even though it rates only a solid, but unspectacular 7.4 on IMDB, it has been taken to Scotland’s heart.  I only watched it myself, a month ago, in anticipation of this production finally, miraculously landing.  But I wasn’t overly taken with the movie I have to say.  It has dated and I found too many of the performances pretty easy to criticise and that let  it down. So I approached last night nervously.

There was no need to worry.  This is a smash hit in the making.  The buzz around The Lyceum was palpable and the after show party felt like the West End had dropped into Edinburgh.

The Director is John Crowley for God’s sake – he of the Oscar-nominated movie Brooklyn: the man who has just directed the most anticipated movie (for me anyway) of 2019; The Goldfinch.

The set designer is Scott Pask – Book of Mormon – heard of that?

And, of course, the music was developed and expanded by none other than Mark Knopfler himself.

The cast is not a Take The High Road reunion, indeed only two of the 15 have ever appeared on The Lyceum stage, and have Girl From The North Country, Kinky Boots, Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour, Les Mis, This House, Wolf Hall , School of Rock and Sweeney Todd, amongst many others, littering their CVs.

This is the real deal.  This is monumental ambition for a 600 seat theatre in  Scotland. (Albeit the Old Vic are co-producers).

So, onto a couple of old upturned fish boxes sidle Matthew Pigeon, as Gordon the hotel-owner and chief negotiator, and Ownie (Scott Ainslie) to conclude Ownie’s accountancy requirements with change from a fiver.  If only Gordon had change.

It’s a quiet start that does not prepare you for the technical wizardry that underpins the first showstopper of the night, “A Barrel of Crude”.  And there’s a laugh right from the off. Light humour that litters an excellent script.

Through the opening half hour the lilting lament that formed the musical motif of the movie slips and slides into earshot before finally emerging fully formed.  It’s beautiful.

The story is pretty much as per the movie, but the morals feels somehow even more upfront as we chart the greed of the locals over the environmental consequences of their signing away their home village of Ferness (You can’t eat scenery though).

The big bad American oilman (played impeccably by Damian Humbley) is a great foil to Katrina Bryan’s Stella and Matthew Pigeon’s Gordon in a love triangle that doesn’t really quite come off (that would be my only real criticism of the show).

I particularly liked the movement in this (directed by Lucy Hind).  It’s a play about contrasting scales (big skies, small villages, small-mindedness and big ambitions) and what she skilfully does is play with that scale through subtle but lovely choreography to bridge scenes and dramatise that juxtaposition of scales.  It’s really nice to see great movement that’s NOT trying to be John Tiffany: again.

The dance movement is slick and light of touch.  With a big mixed-age, mixed-size cast that’s no mean feat.

The band is top notch and excellently MD’d by Phil Bateman on keys.

Although the score is inspired mainly by the Celtic canon it succeeds much more than Come From Away (that I saw on Monday) which too draws from that canon – but does it to death.  Here we have ballads, tangos, a bit of rock and roll and, yes, that plaintive motif.

The light and shade in this production’s musical content, for me, frankly blows the multi Olivier-nominated Come From Away out of the water.  Indeed, on every level this is a much more enjoyable evening of theatre – so roll on the Oliviers 2020.

The comparisons can’t fail be made – both are Celtic musicals set in tiny communities, in wildernesses where big America comes to visit.

The Local Hero ensemble is universally excellent, the direction superb but the showstopper of it all is the scenic design.  You’ll need to see it to appreciate it.  I ain’t gonna do it any justice here.  All I’ll say is this.  You haven’t seen the aurora borealis until you’ve seen Local Hero at The Lyceum.

Bravo Lyceum.  Bravo.

The show richly deserves both its standing ovation and the Sold Out boards you’ll find in Grindlay Street for the next six weeks.

(I did take a peek at the website box office and you CAN get tickets for late in the run.  I’d do it if I were you.)

 

Come From Away; West End Musical Review.


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This show has been an absolute smash in North America and I can see why.  It has a certain saccharine sweetness that, for me, gets in the way of a more gripping retelling of a charming and heartfelt story.

Maybe there is no hiding from the truth.  It’s just nice.

Also 9/11 happened there and this is one of the few shows that doesn’t mourn it but finds a nugget to celebrate the human positives that emerged.

The actions concern those of the residents of Gander, Newfoundland, (The Rock) home of the biggest airport in the world that no-one ever uses anymore (since jet planes’ fuel tanks got bigger the planes don’t have to stop there for transatlantic refuelling – for the record).

The residents of Gander’s is a modern day ‘evacuees’ act of human kindness, in that they took the 7,000 stranded passengers, strangers, of 38 planes, that couldn’t land in New York, on 11 September 2001, into their community and then to their homes.

But it’s all a bit hokey for me.  The relentless 180bpm Oirish/Newfie folk music gradually starts to do your head in as its one tune relentlessly ploughs a furrow towards your amigdila but in my case bypassed it and hit the cranial nerve instead.

It’s storytelling on steroids.  $ for $ you get more words here than you will anywhere else in the West End.  But it feels too crammed in – too worthy perhaps. just too much.  There’s absolutely no room made to stop and take stock.  No light and shade (or very little anyway).

Sure, it has its moments and some of the subplots are interesting (real). For me the most successful concerns a mother who’s  fireman son is working on the twin towers and she is beside herself with worry.  It leads to one of the few really poignant moments in this marathon jig.

The showstopper numbers; the opener ‘Welcome to the Rock’ and ’38 planes’ are certainly enthusiastic and well received and the finale has significant gusto and was met with the audience leaping to its feet almost as one.

But, I’m sorry, it missed the spot for me, almost completely, and I found myself sneaking looks at my watch despite its 90 minute run time.

One last thing.  The seating in The Phoenix Theatre was clearly designed for Victorians at a time when people were six inches shorter than today.  Horrendously uncomfortable.

After Life : TV Series Review


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Ricky Gervais has never, ever written a bad script.

And although he is pigeonholed as a comedian, writing comedy-drama he is far more than this.

He is an observer of the deepest human emotions and psyche. How else could David Brent exist?  How else could Derek be considered even remotely acceptable to be the star of a comedy, let alone have Gervais portray the part he had written, rather than cast an actor with learning difficulties?

In this latest offering, brought to us by Netflix, Gervais has reached a creative zenith.  In episode four there is a moment with a rice pudding that is the funniest thing I have ever seen on TV.  In episode 6, I wept for 15 minutes solidly.

It’s the story of a local free newspaper journalist who works to live, it’s not a career, it’s a job to fill the time between leaving his home, and his beloved wife Lisa (Kerry Godliman – Godly talent more like), and returning to spend each and every night with her.

The trouble is she’s just died of cancer and Tony (Gervais) can’t cope.  Only the dog is keeping him alive and it brings his dark cynicism and sarcasm to the fore. It gives him a super-power.  The power to be a total **** to everyone and anyone.  Sometimes to bad people who deserve it, like the school bully, but at other times to borderline cases (like a cheeky chugger).

His dad has Alzheimers and doesn’t recognise him.

His therapist is a moron.

His colleagues, led by the truly outstanding Tony Way as ‘photographer’ Lenny, are all ‘arseholes’.  Except they aren’t.  They’re just ordinary people.

He gradually falls for the nurse who works in his dad’s care home and that has a touch of joy about it.

But more than anything this show just shows that people are largely good.  Even the bad ones like Tony’s naughty postman.

The moments in the graveyard with a grieving widow, played by the magnificent Penelope Wilton, are pure philosophy.

And we have Diane Morgan (Philomena Cunk).

And during the cremation of a junkie that results in Tony standing in the smoke with a nun, it means he has to say to her, “Don’t breathe that in sister, you’ll be off your tits.”

We watched all six episodes back to back and I urge you to do the same.

Better than any TV I have seen in an awful, awful long time.

Utterly perfect.

Thank you Netflix for having the bravery to commission this.

(Oh, and the soundtrack is brilliant too.)

(And so is the dog.)

 

If Beale Street Could Talk: Movie Review.


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Only 48 hours ago my wife and I belatedly watched the Oscar-winning Moonlight (a very odd choice for the best movie Oscar in my opinion), also written and Directed by Barry Jenkins.  Today we saw Jenkins’ follow up. Across the two movies it’s notable that Jenkins doesn’t do ‘action’,as both are glacially paced.  He also doesn’t do white actors.  There are none at all in Moonlight and only 3 or 4 in Beale Street.

Visually, Beale Street is stunning.  Jenkins is not left down by his cinematographer, James Paxton, who was also shot Moonlight.  This has moments of jaw-dropping beauty, and in Kiki Layne and Stephen James he has two faces that make for simply beautiful close ups.  In creating a love story Jenkins has certainly cast a couple that you truly believe are besotted with another, and that is both sweet and charming.

The movie also boasts am excellent soundtrack that has an epic central theme and a great deal of jazz to create mood where dialogue is in short supply.

But the movie is letdown by a pretty unengaging story, some very dense dialogue (it’s famine or feast in that respect) that is virtually indecipherable in places and central performances by the star struck lovers that are more lovely than moving.

The only performance that, for me, leapt off the screen was that of the mother of Kiki Layne, Regina King.  It is nuanced, engaging and powerful and she deserves the recognition she is getting.

This is a year of huge black movies: Black Panther, BlackkKlansman, Green Book and this, all of which have been heavily nominated at The Oscars and BAFTAs.  Of the four through it’s only Spike Lee’s terrific KKK movie that does it for me.

It’s slim pickings in the best movie department in 2019.  Roma is a terrible bore, The Favourite is excellent, but is Lanthimos’ third best feature.  For me the movie of the year is Cold War with The Favourite and A Star is Born close behind.  Not this, that’s for sure.

BlacKkKlansman: Movie Review. A spike Lee Joint.


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Kaboooooooom!

That’s the sound of Spike Lee returning with a bang.

Lee’s work has been lean pickings for me since his heyday in the late 80’s and early 90’s with movies like Do the Right Thing and She’s Gotta Have It.

But the rest of his cannon (maybe through ignorance on my part) has failed to engage me.

But this almost nails it.

My one overall criticism is that, at times, I’m not sure if Lee wants to make a comedy or a searingly monstrous docu-drama.

For me the hate he brings to the screen out punches the comedy 10:1.

Two characters in the movie should have been booted into touch: both are lampoons and detract from what is otherwise a great whole.  These are the hate-filled racist local cop (Officer Clay Mulaney) and the KKK sidekick Ivanhoe (Paul Walter Hauser – hilarious in a similar slapstick role in I Tonya, but misplaced here).

They are minor distractions but become grit in your eye, detracting from the overall menace and subtle humour surrounding a subject that is far from humorous.

What Lee does with this is face up, full on, to the endemic prejudice that fuels the police force and the local white population in small town Colorado.

He creates a sense of time and place that is authentic and cool man. As you would expect from a Spike Lee Joint the black cast are dealt most of the best hands, but Adam Driver (as a Jewish cop – only one step removed from being black in this chapter of the KKK’s eyes) performs an excellent supporting role as the white man who infiltrates the KKK on behalf of his black colleague (John David Washington).

You’ll know the plot constuct by now so I won’t bore you with that.

What makes it a great movie is the sense of time, place and politics, the soundtrack and the unflinching ability of Lee to capture the racist poison that is encapsulated in the performance of Jasper Pääkkönen as Felix Kendrikson; by far the most committed and cynical of the Klansmen.  And yet it is underpinned by nice comedic moments (other than the slapstick I described earlier).

There’s a scene in which the Chapter watch a screening of Birth of a Nation where, although underpinned by some humour, that hatred really does come across compellingly.  It’s chilling.

It’s a great (true) story that is extremely well told.

At times the cinematography is truly outstanding – in particular the scene in which a visiting black political speaker (Kwame Toure, played by Corey Hawkins) addresses the local black student population.  Lee creates a montage of faces from the crowd that echoes Queen’s seminal Bohemian Rhapsody video but so stylistically and handsomely that it’s art on screen for just a few fleeting moments.

It’s seared on my mind.

Recommended.

The Favourite: Film Review.


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I am a big, big fan of Yorgos Lanthimos whose two previous deadpan comedic features (The Killing of a Scared Deer and The Lobster) are outstanding movies.

The feature of both of these movies is Lanthimos’ extremely black humour delivered in a unique style.

However, for The Favourite Lanthimos has taken a big decision in abandoning the scriptwriting and handing the duties over to Deborah Davis (her debut) and Tony McNamara (lots of minor TV but no cinema history).  It’s  strange choice of writing team because they don’t bring any previous to the mix, and neither are fresh-faced youths.  But what they bring is an entirely different tonality to Lanthimos’ work and that leaves him to focus on direction, with cinematography provided by Robbie Ryan, who made a big contribution (in my view) to American Honey.  Indeed, the cinematography is a major talking point after the writing.  Gone is Lanthimos’ naturalistic, almost clinical, lighting of the Lobster and “Deer” instead, although we again go au natural, it’s through a gloom of candle and fire light that renders the screen largely black for a great deal of its 2+ hours.

His frequent choice of extreme wide angle (almost fish eye) lens to capture the scale of the huge palace rooms is highly unusual in cinema and is much more like stills photography. One scene, shot in a long corridor, makes it look like a u-bend when in fact it is completely straight – unlike the principal characters!

But the real meat here is this terrific all female star line-up.  In the #MeToo era this is a real vote of confidence in female actors with attitude and sheer quality.  Come March it is entirely possible that all of the leads; Olivia Coleman (national treasure that she is), Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone will be career Oscar winners because Coleman’s performance is quite brilliant.  The other two already hold this distinction and each has a good chance of adding to their trophy haul.

Although, As Queen Anne, Coleman (who gained 2.5 stone top play the gout-ridden Queen’s part) is the designated lead the film is essentially a three player ensemble with some ineffectual men put into bat to be made to look ridiculous and, oh, they do in Sandy Powell’s outrageous costumes and Beverley Binda’s even more outrageous hair and make up.  (“You look like a dead badger’ Weisz tells the Queen as she sets out on a royal engagement.)

The story echoes All About Eve as Queen Anne’s favourite lady in waiting, and lesbian lover, Lady Sarah Marlborough, The Wife of the Duke of Marlborough who is leading the war with France, is gradually pushed out of favouritism by one time lady and now servant girl, Abigail (Emma Stone).  Although she does not go without  fight.

This is where the scriptwriting team get the nod to create a bawdy and vicious rivalry set in a Draughtsman Contract-esque world.

Overindulgence, poisoning and illness leads to all three leads vomiting at least once each, reflecting this world of excess.

The music track is at times intrusive, but to my mind in a good way; it’s a sort of early 18th Century version of Atticus Rose and Trent Resnor’s soundtrack to The Social Network.

What everyone is talking about is the lead performances. Each is supremely talented and each is given so much scope to truly flex their acting muscles that what results is an acting master-class.  In the trailer it seems like a knockabout farce but in reality the movie is actually quite slow paced with moments of true hilarity and enough foul language to shock some of our more prurient audience members.  That said, my wife who abhors the C-word volunteered that it was used to great effect several times in this.

The lesbian relationships Queen Anne enjoyed are worthy of note. In a life that saw her lose 17 children (5 still born and many miscarried) her tipping of the velvet was, apart from a bulimic relationship with food, one of her few pleasures.  Both Lady Marlborough and Abigail are adept in their duty to pleasure their monarch.

Coleman comes steadily into her own as the movie progresses.  The first half belongs to Rachel Weisz, Emma Stone plays a beautifully judged and paced part in which she will do anything to get ahead but in the end it’s Coleman who wins the day with the last 20 minutes belonging to her as she suffers the vagaries of her life.  Her portrayal of Queen Anne as a stroke victim is as good a performance as you will see anywhere this year.

It’s a fascinating movie, although I’m not convinced it’s quite as good as its hype.  That said, for lovers of history and lovers of Olivia Coleman it has to be seen.