REVIEW: Film stars Don’t die in Liverpool

I can honestly say that until this film crossed my path, I’d never (probably like a lot of my generation) heard of Gloria Grahame, Oscar winner and star of both stage and screen, let alone seen her work, but despite its saccharine look back at her love affair with author and actor Peter Turner (on whose book this film is based), there is a real grittiness underlying the film that Annette Benning (Grahame) and Jamie Bell (Turner) try so hard to show, but despite the best efforts of a wonderful ensemble that includes Kenneth Cranham, Julie Walters and Stephen Graham, the film never really gets into the real lives of a couple who were separated by close to 30 years (The couple met when she was fifty-four and he was twenty-six).

Suffering from late stage cancer, Graham runs back into the arms of her younger lover, ostensibly saying she is ill, but eventually, having to admit the truth about her cancer.

Turner is torn between what to do for the best, for both Gloria and his family. His mother is due to fly to Australia to see her other son and Gloria is denying her illness, and is insistent that Peter shouldn’t tell her family back in the USA.

It would have been easy to gloss over the family and how they react to having Grahame under their roof, but in Julie Walters as the matriarch, and Cranham as the slightly downtrodden father, we see just how Grahame’s illness and her request to live with the family of Turner affects them, as well as him watching her die in their spare room.

The scenes where Bell is dealing with Grahame on screen alone are touching, but you feel there is always more to be found and yet never shown on screen.

The film jumps backwards and forwards  far too often for my liking, and this detracts from a story that deserves to be told, if not in a more linear sense, then certainly in a slightly more structured vein than that offered by Director Paul McGuigan.

The clumsy way the break up of our main protagonists is dealt with is particularly tough to watch, certainly seeing the same scene from two different sides is a bit messy, given that we see how it was designed by Grahame to sent Turner back to further his career at the expense of their relationship.

Flitting between Liverpool, New York and California cant have been an easy task for any director, but the film manages to do it clumsily in my opinion, and to the detriment of the story trying to be told under heavy handed direction.

Benning shines in her role as the faded star, while Bell really dotes on Grahame, doing everything he can to make her final days as comfortable as possible, even taking her to the stage of the Liverpool Playhouse to perform Romeo and Juliet alone together.

On the whole, its a very basic movie.

Thats not to say it’s not a good movie, it is, but given its source material, it could have been better. It’s what my wife describes as “one of those” particularly British movies she can enjoy on an afternoon off, she compared it to Brassed Off in that respect.

There was love in this movie, but not in the places you’d expect. I wanted to love this film, but can’t.

Its not a movie I’ll be rushing out to buy, but I’ll certainly be looking for a copy of Turner’s book on which it’s based, as I think I’ll learn more about the couple there than this film can ever hope to show.

3*

 

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Lionman (Footlights theatre, GM Fringe 2018)

Fringe theatre is, by its very nature, meant to challenge its audience. Lionman, from Dapertutto, at the Footlights theatre, Media City is certainly that.

Challenging.

Starring Tom Hardman as Leonard and Cameron Jones as pretty much everyone else, this is a piece of physical theatre the likes of which you probably don’t see often enough outside of fringe.

From the surreal outset, we follow Leonard as he attempts to complete his screen play, fall in love with the woman upstairs, fight the man in the flat below and all the while there is so little dialogue, you are drawn ever closer to the edge of your seat to see just how Hardman manages these feats of physical theatre.

The use of multimedia is brilliant. From the opening mashup to the awards ceremony, the technical aspects of the show could easily detract from whats going on elsewhere on stage, but its a credit to technician Leon Hardman and sound designer Kris W Laudrum that they add to the actors presence, and don’t overpower the piece.

The lighting is subtly muted, and the staging for such a physical piece works wonders. Sometimes less truly is more. I have no idea how long the performers have rehearsed this, but they hit every mark and made it seem so easy.

 

Footlights, Lionman, GM Fringe

Lionman

It may be a cliche, but this really was a work that made you stop and wonder at times.

The scene where Leonard and the neighbour rewind after a lengthy fight is so well done, that both actors deserved an ovation just for that.

Hardman must come off stage every night both physically and mentally drained! How he’s managed an entire week of shows is a testament to his skills as an actor.

There are dream sequences, which Leonard thinks are real, an awards ceremony that actually IS real and an off stage love interest who has no idea our hero even exists.

Even Casablanca gets a look in.

I went into this only having the preview on the GM Fringe website, so had very little as to what to expect.

I came away from the show filled with admiration for the lead, and the whole crew that they could so easily draw an audience into the world of Leonard so fully and with such aplomb as to leave me feeling as breathless as the performers must have been as they took their bows.

In the end, our hero appears to overcome everything that stands in his way, but at what cost?

 

Lionman runs for the next two nights at Footlights theatre, Kansas Avenue, Media City, Salford.

4*/5 Easily a must see piece of work from a promising new company.

A surefire dark hit of theatre

In recent years, Vertigo theatre productions has become a byword for excellence in Manchester fringe theatre. It regularly puts on locally written pieces, and is also a regular when the awards season comes about, thanks to the work of not only Craig Hepworth, but the art direction and technical know-how of Karl Burge.

With their new production, Noir, the ever upward trajectory of Hepworth and his merry band of actors looks set to continue.

A real multimedia extravaganza, Noir is a tale oft told of forbidden love between a young 16-year-old schoolboy, Jimmy Flynn, played by Richard Allen, and Veronica Smart, played to almost smouldering perfection by Emma Morgan (Hollyoaks, /Happy Valley) and her husband Cliff (Danny Clifford).

Emma Morgan and Stuart Reeve

Any fan of the film noir genre will immediately recognise the scenarios…

A twisted saga of love, betrayal, sex, manipulation and eventually murder. There are plot twists that would please Hitchcock, settings you will adore, and acting that will astound, Noir is a rare thing on the fringe scene, a wholly realised and well drilled production that leaves the audience gasping and on the edge of their seats.

A lonely housewife, aspiring to be a movie star, but whose talent can’t live up to her ambition, a class full of young kids, easily led astray by a beautiful older teacher who wants to be loved, but who is bored by her humdrum home life.

A streetlight illuminating our narrator, Detective Sal Pelattiere (Stuart Reeve) who guides you through the early stages of the story, before taking a more vital role as the plot twists come thick and fast.

Noir harks back to some of the great movies of the 40’s and 50’s, screen gems like The Maltese Falcon and Touch of Evil to name but two.

The subtlety of some of these performances is astounding. Every single player seems so nuanced and able to convey their thoughts as well as actions with ease, it’s easy to think this is a cast that have been performing this show in a much larger auditorium for weeks, if not months.

The outstanding performance for me was Anna Hickling as Vivian Pierce, the young lady who, infatuated by Veronica Smart, tries to style her whole life and outlook on her arts teacher. The transformation from mousey schoolgirl to full on vamp is great to see.

Veronica and Vivian face off in Noir

I’d love to say that there was a weak link in the cast, but I can’t. From scene shifting, to hitting their marks, I was hard pressed to find a fault with the production.

One of the more chilling characters, that of young Jimmy’s deadbeat dad, is played to masterful levels by Luke Richards. He really shows an edge to his part that is so believable, at one point, I ducked his blows from the back row!

Bekka-Jane Milner and Luke Richards

My only gripe would be the use of the smoke machine, which although necessary to add atmosphere, could have been toned down, or sited elsewhere to allow the audience to see at times…

But if that is the only gripe, then I’m happy for that to be it.

The show is a long old beast, but its directed in a very competent manor and lit to perfection.

At some point, Hepworth will fail to write or direct a winning show.

I just hope it’s a long while before that happens.

With an off Broadway run of their award winning “Porno Chic” in 2018, the future for the company as a whole looks as bright as Noir is dark.

Noir runs until the 2nd December at The Kings Arms, Bloom Street, Salford, with limited ticket availability