REVIEW: Bette and Joan, Hope Mill theatre, Manchester.

If you have no idea who Bette Davis and Joan Crawford were, then look away…

Arguably, two of cinemas greatest female stars only ever appeared together once, and that was long after their hayday.

This play, written by Anton Burge and directed by Sue Jenkins, brings the two faded stars of the silver screen together before and after the infamous “Whatever happened to Baby Jane?” lifting scene.

For a two handed play, this certainly made the most use of the limited, but wonderful space at Hope Mill Theatre. The rear of the stage used as a corridor between the two dressing rooms, and the front as a space for flashback pieces.

Our two protagonists are played (magnificently) Julie Edwards as Bette Davis and Kerry Willison-Parry as Joan Crawford. Both actresses more than inhabit their roles, they truly became them. The audience at Hope Mill was full of fans of both the original stars, and I did overhear at least one audience member at the interval say just how impressed he was with BOTH actresses as they were so accurate in their portrayal.

This play was produced by the Wise Fools theatre company, which has as its aim to produce work that celebrates the positivity and possibilities of later life. This is their first production, exploring how women can fight for later life opportunities. They have also been part funded for this by the Arts Council England, National lottery.

All I can say is that this work was simply outstanding. The two images you see on the photo below are not, s both my companion and myself thought projections, but actual photos that spin out of sight! This was done so deftly that we were both astounded to learn that this was not the case.

The juxtaposition of having the younger versions of Bette and Joan looming over the two older versions is inspired.

Bette & Joan

Bette & Joan, Hope Mill Theatre.

The whole show is simply, yet effectively directed by Sue Jenkins (Brookside, Coronation St.) and flows thanks to both actresses being absolutely perfect for the roles. I only recall one slip up delivering lines across each other, and that was because I made a note of it.

This is a superb show, with a very limited run and number of tickets remaining.

Get one!

5*/5*

 

 

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Rocketman DVD/BluRay review

Believe the hype…

The Elton John biopic should be heading to a digital and disc release in early September 2019 for those who missed its big screen release.

For those of you who are looking to compare it to the other music biopic of the last 12 months, Bohemian Rhapsody, forget it.

They are chalk and cheese.

Where they deviate is this is an unashamed musical in the old school sense. Every choreographed moment of what is a fairly warts and all treatment of Reg, sorry, Elton’s lifein show business is set brilliantly to his and Bernie Taupins songs.

From the opening with Elton strutting, bedecked with wings, into an AA meeting, to his closing as the nations favourite homosexual father, lead Taron Egerton is a fairly believable Elton John, although by the end, he does look a lot like Phil Collins…His voice is stretched at times, but he does a passable Elton vocally.

The whole tale is wonderfully backed up by an ensemble cast that includes the woefully under appreciated Stephen Mackintosh, Bryce Dallas Howard and Richard Madden as Elton’s manager (and sometime lover) John Reid.

One thing, Bryce Dallas is only 8 years older than Taron Egerton, and whilst this is OK when she’s mum to the young Reg, as time goes on, it does become fairly obvious they are closer to brother and sister than mother and son.

The songs are used so creatively as to weave a narrative across the years that lead Elton into sobriety out of the self inflicted drink and drugs fuelled singer of the 70’s.

On the whole, his story is dealt with sympathetically, as you would expect when the main thrust of the film is also its producer, but not so sympathetically that you don’t at points dislike the man.

It’s one of the most original biopics I’ve seen. Yes, it misses out the Lion King and Candle in the wind, but you do get a whole host of songs, imaginatively reimagined for the big screen.

It truly is a pleasure to sit and watch this film. It swings between the lows and highs of his life, and doesn’t shy away from anything.

If you can still catch it on a big screen, do. If you’re willing to wait, so be it, but when you finally do watch it, you will end up after 2 hours smiling with unadulterated joy.

5*

REVIEW: Green Book (2018)

With a couple of days to go before the Oscars ceremony, Andrew Riley looks at one of the front runners for the top award. Green Book.

I’ve been a fan of Viggo Mortensen going back as far as “A History of Violence”.

Yes, he’d appeared in many films before then, but when he took that lead role, he was transformed into a lead actor of real presence. From then on, in this writers opinion, he’s grown and grown into one of the finest lead actors.

We see him here share the screen with Mahershala Ali, who has grown into a leading actor, as a working-class Italian-American bouncer who becomes the driver of an African-American classical pianist on a tour of venues through the 1960s American South.

Based on a true story, it shines from start to finish as one of THE films of the last 12 months.

As they get to know each other throughout the eight weeks of the tour, we see each of them come to change. In one opening scene, we see Mortensen pick up two glasses that have been used by a pair of coloured workmen in his home and put them into the bin, rather than wash them and use them himself.

Yes, he’s prejudiced, but so is the pianist played by Ali.

Almost an outcast from his own race, because he’s been pampered in the New York glitterati who fawn over his playing and has never really suffered some of the racism people of his colour have had to put up with.

Neither fish nor fowl, he struggles to be accepted as he tours the deep south during the ’60s.

This is not helped when the Dr is caught In flagrante delicto with a white gentleman in a hotel pool, the Dr can’t quite believe that Tony is as good as his word in dealing with any situations that come up without judging him for his sexuality or race.

As the pair travel from concert to concert, Mortensen and Ali gradually begin to respect and change and grow into each others company, the Dr helping Tony write his letters to his wife that he promised to send her from the road, and Tony turning down an offer of better pay from some wise guys to stay with the Dr.

What we have here is a buddy movie for the 21st century. It’s a superb piece of work, and the direction by Peter Farrelly is fantastic. The interplay between the two leads is subtle and handled so very well.

Take two opposites, lock them in a car with each other for two months, add in the deeply ingrained racism of the time, and you see that both are struggling to make their own way in the world.

It’s easy to see why this is one of the favourites for Oscar glory.

Prejudice abounds across the tour, and as stoically as Ali tries to brave it out, eventually, something has to give.

This film is easily one of the best I’ve seen in a long time. Would I put money on it winning the Oscar?

No, I think Roma has that sewn up.

What it does show is why when people like Jussie Smollett should never work in the industry again after his “stunt”.

5*/5*

 

REVIEW: Robin Hood (2018)

I have a couple of friends who are in the acting business. I call it a business, because that is exactly what it is, a business.

You may deride acting as a non-job, but without it, we would pretty much have no entertainment industry, no TV, film, adverts, waiting staff or theatre.

For me, I’d have very little to write about other than sports, and that really would be a drag.

I know people who get upset because it feels like every other movie is a superhero movie, and that every other theatre show is a revival.

Now, Robin Hood.

Another revival/reboot?

Going back to my childhood, you had Michael Praed in the 1984 show.

Hot on its heels came Robin Hood: Men in Tights and of course, who could forget Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves. After that, we’ve had another TV show and Russell Crowe had a go at a Nottingham accent (and failed) in 2010.

Now we’ve had another reboot/revival.

Robin Hood 2018 though is a very well thought out and modern take on the myth of the men of the greensward. The current go to English actor of his generation, Taron Egerton takes the titular role, and also has Jamie Foxx in the role of the Moor known as Yahya / John.

It would be very easy to get upset at the shortcuts this movie takes with historical fact, but come on, IT’S A MOVIE!

If you’re looking for a movie that will take your mind off of Brexit, austerity, and all the other stuff that’s going in un the UK today, here it is.

Just short of two hours of fun.

You get Ben Mendelsohn as a very good Sheriff, Paul Anderson as the most menacing Guy of Gisbourne and Eve Hewson as Marion.

Also, worth a mention is Tim Minchin as Friar Tuck.

Yes, this film plays fast and loose with the myth, but please remember, it is a myth.

Robin Hood is also no superhero.

Suspend your disbelief, sit back, grab some popcorn and crack open a bottle of whatever takes your fancy.

Without spoilers, the ending allows for a sequel, and I for one, hope that Egerton and Co. find time in their schedule to make one because this is a reboot that might just have enough legs for a trilogy.

4*/5

REVIEW: Strangeways, Here We Come

Here we have a movie that has been roundly panned by the (mainly) London bubble of reviewers. Indeed, the Guardian gave it just one *.

Lets have a proper look…

OK, I’ll freely admit, this movie isn’t going to bother any award ceremonies, but if it had been set in Hoxton, Brixton or any of the London “sink” estates, then the plaudits would be gushing, but outside of the London media darling bubble, the film is being enjoyed by pretty much everyone who goes to see it.

It’s a good laugh. What more do you want from 90 minutes of movie?

Its written to please an audience, not reviewers. I’ve lived in Salford, as well as on council estates across the North, and can testify that there isn’t a single character in this film that couldn’t be found on any estate, anywhere in the North of England.

Writer Chris Green knows his audience, and knows the area that the film is set. So complaining that they are caricatures in “implausible situations”  tells me that the writer has never set foot, never mind lived, on such an estate.

I enjoyed this, and so did the rest of the audience at Salford Arts theatre, where this film ended its run tonight with two showings.

As I say, it wont be winning any Oscars, but it is what it is, a bit of fun, set on an estate where people deal drugs, loan sharks are bas***ds who deserve a good kicking and people take drugs at weekend parties to escape the mundane boring life that Austerity Britain has become.

If you cant go into see this (or any piece of art) with an open mind, don’t bother, but I assure you that if you do, you will have a laugh.

It wont be a belly laugh for the full 90 minutes, but you will smirk, laugh out loud at times and leave with a smile plastered across your face.

If you want gritty, indy art house, look elsewhere. This film is aimed at the working class it portrays, maybe larger than life, but then, how else are they supposed to be played?

Ignore the mainstream media critics. What do they actually know about life on a council estate?

More than likely nothing, or if they did, they’ve long ago moved into middle class mediocrity and are denying their past…

Me?

3*/5