Month: April 2015

All Good Things

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29/04/15

Here’s one I missed earlier. All Good Things was originally released in 2010 and it’s one of those ‘based on a true story’ films, so mind-bogglingly bonkers that it really only could be the truth.  Ryan Gosling plays David Marks (the name has been changed to protect the – allegedly – guilty), the older son of dodgy property magnate, Sanford Marks (Frank Langella). When we first meet David, in 1971, he’s determined to resist going into the family business and when he meets up with Katie (Kirsten Dunst) after popping round to mend her leaky pipes, they start a relationship. But as time moves on, Katie begins to appreciate that David has several unsavoury skeletons lurking in his cerebral closet (not least the fact that he witnessed his mother’s suicide) and when eventuality he’s forced to capitulate and go back to work for his domineering dad, it’s painfully clear that things are not going to end happily.

These days, Gosling is very much the sex symbol, but here he plays the moody, cross-dressing and decidedly repellent David with considerable aplomb (although the ‘old age’ makeup he’s forced to don for later scenes wouldn’t win any awards). The story covers a lengthy time period and takes in Katie’s mysterious disappearance and a couple of murders, while the script doesn’t hesitate to point the finger at the real life counterparts of these ‘fictional’ characters. All this may go to explain why the film had such a low key release – apparently there were many who were ready and willing to sue the production team. But director Andrew Jarecki (of Capturing the Friedmans fame) stuck to his guns and somehow managed to get it out there.

All Good Things is certainly worth catching, if only to marvel at the way in which ‘David’ managed to come out of the whole business with no more than eight months in jail. It tells an intriguing (and occasionally mind-blowing story and for the most part, tells it well.

3.8 stars

Philip Caveney

Fruitvale Station

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26/04/15

Fruitvale Station wasn’t in the cinemas for very long, so I missed it on the big screen, but this powerful drama works just as effectively on a more intimate scale. It tells the real life story of 22 year old Oscar Grant (Michael B. Jordan) a Bay Area resident who was shot and killed in the early hours of New Year’s Day, 2009, by a police officer, responding to a minor disturbance on a tube train.

Ryan Coogler’s debut full-length feature occupies itself with the last day of Grant’s life, beginning with him waking up on New Year’s Eve and following events through to their tragic conclusion. It’s a stripped-down, high-powered production, just 85 minutes in duration, but one that it nonetheless compelling from start to finish. Jordan plays Grant as an affable charmer, with a tendency to get things wrong (on the day he died, he was coming to terms with the fact that he had lost his job at a grocery store because of persistent lateness.) A brief flashback to his time in prison is a little sketchy on detail, making you wonder is he really could have been quite as nice as he’s portrayed here, but as a searing plea for gun control the film works effectively and it would be a hard heart indeed that won’t be moved by its final, harrowing images.

Plaudits should also go to Octavia Spencer as Grant’s much-put upon mother (who heartbreakingly urged her son to take the subway into town in order to ‘avoid trouble’) and to Ariana Neal as his young daughter, Tatiana, who demonstrates acting ability beyond her tender years. Fruitvale Station may only be telling us something we know already – that the right to bear arms is a bad thing indeed – but the lesson is delivered in a confident, assured way, making Coogler a name to watch in  the near future.

4.1 stars

Philip Caveney

The Rolling Stone

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24/04/15

Royal Exchange, Manchester

Receiving its World Premiere at the Exchange, The Rolling Stone by Chris Urch has a short run here before transferring to the West Yorkshire Playhouse. It’s a story torn straight from the headlines. In the opening scene, two young men recline beside a lake on their first date – they chat, flirt and eventually kiss. Nothing at all out of the ordinary – except this is Uganda where homosexuality is expressly forbidden and transgressors face life imprisonment and ostracisation. Dembe (Sule Rimi) has fallen in love with young doctor, Sam (Robert Gilbert) who has an Irish father and a Ugandan mother. They both know that their relationship must be kept under wraps – particularly since Dembe’s older brother, Joe has recently been ordained as a church minister for their small community. But the local newspaper, ‘The Rolling Stone’ is always on the lookout for those people it likes to tag as ‘deviants’… and there’s a terrible price to pay if your name appears on their list…

There’s a great play to be written about this subject, but sadly, The Rolling Stone isn’t quite it. Despite excellent acting from the six-strong cast and some rousing acapella singing, the play’s characters are rarely allowed to rise above the two-dimensional; it’s hard to believe that they have another life outside of the story and everything we learn about them, seems designed merely to power the narrative. There are, however, some good scenes along the way. The playful opening hints at depths hidden beneath the surface, even if it never actually uncovers them; Joe’s vitriolic sermon condemning homosexuality makes for uncomfortable viewing and the play ends on a moment of high tension, where we realise the full implications of Dembe’s situation – but I wanted to know so much more about his family relationships and that didn’t really come across.

The Rolling Stone tells an important story, one that deserves to be heard by the widest possible audience and I’m glad that it has been written, (glad too that The Exchange deemed it worthy of production) but this must count only as a partial success. It continues here until the 1st of May.

3 stars

Philip Caveney

Shooting With Light

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22/03/15

Lowry Theatre, Salford

At the Edinburgh Fringe 2013, one of our happiest discoveries was the physical theatre group, Idle Motion. We saw two productions – Borges and I (based around the life of writer and librarian, Jorge Borges) and That Is All You Need To Know (inspired by the story of Bletchley Park and the breaking of the Enigma Code.) Both pieces were extraordinary and we were disappointed to discover that they weren’t back at the Fringe in 2014.

Now here’s a touring production of their latest offering, Shooting With Light, which we caught at the beginning of it’s short tour. It’s the story of famous war photographer, Robert Capa (or to give him his real name, Andre Friedman) and his partner, Gerda Taro, who shared his passion for such dangerous work and in many cases, actually took some of the photographs with which he was credited. What I love about this group is their simplicity. A basic set of centrally placed translucent white boxes becomes a whole variety of locations – doors, windows, a cinema screen (presciently showing Frank Capra’s It Happened One Night), wardrobes, phone booths, you name it. As always with Idle Motion, this is an ensemble piece with just five performers taking on a multiplicity of roles. In a mixture of acting and movement they lead us into the dark heart of the Spanish Civil War and, intriguingly, place  a mystery at the centre of the story – the search for a box of lost negatives that includes the picture that Capa considered the most important of all.

If I have a minor criticism with the piece, it’s simply that, so early in the tour, the movement isn’t quite as slickly choreographed as it will be as it settles in. There were a couple of clumsy missteps tonight and a slightly shonky moment where a rug was flung out of a window for Capa and Tarot to ‘lie’ on – the resulting effect, beneath a starry sky, was magical, mind you, but the transition, rather less so. I’m quibbling here. This is a splendid performance piece, engaging, atmospheric and ultimately rather emotional – both Capa and Taro paid the ultimate price for their undoubted courage and I’m not embarrassed to say that at one point I was watching through tear-filled eyes.

Shooting With Light continues at the Lowry until the 24th of April and then heads out to a series of locations around the UK until the 9th of May. (You’ll find full details on the group’s website.) If you love physical theatre and want to see it brilliantly performed, then I urge you to catch this show. It really is worth the effort.

4.4 stars

Philip Caveney

Cuckooed

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18/04/15

Cuckooed was one of the hot tickets at last year’s Fringe – so hot, in fact, that we failed to procure tickets for it. So it was great to see it repeated at the Traverse Theatre and to note, that once again, it was absolutely sold out. Luckily we booked early.

Tonight’s show is divided into two halves. Before the titular ‘comedy of betrayal,’ we are treated to forty minutes of chat by writer and star Mark Thomas, focusing mostly on the ‘105 Acts of Minor Dissent’ that he recently set himself. It’s hard to describe Thomas’s act. He’s not exactly a standup, in the sense that there are no real jokes or punchlines here – and yet he has people roaring with laughter, pretty much from the get go. He’s actually an activist, a ‘domestic terrorist’ as the police like to label him, a man who entered the Guinness Book of records for holding 20 protests in 24 hours. Thomas has devoted his life to confronting senseless authority and he manages to make me feel ashamed for not doing more. He’s also a man who doesn’t hold back when talking about those who he feels fall short of being decent human beings. A recent competition he held, to come up with a definition of the word ‘Farage,’ resulted in the following: Farage: the puddle of smelly liquid at the bottom of a rubbish bin. 

Cuckooed is a more complex animal, a blend of theatre, witness-recollections, video and reconstruction. Instead of a programme, we get a paperback copy of the script, which is always a bonus. It tells the story of when Mark was a member of the Campaign Against the Arms Trade and carried out protests alongside his dearest friend, referred to here only as ‘Martin.’ When it becomes apparent that members of the group are being spied on by the arms company, BAE Systems, it soon transpires that there has to be a mole working within CAAT, and, after much digging, suspicion falls upon Martin. Thomas is at first incensed. How could just a hardworking, devoted activist be thought capable of performing such a horrible deception? But, as he begins to probe the evidence himself, a terrible truth is uncovered…

Thomas is a mesmerising performer. This is essentially a monologue (with interjections from witnesses recorded on video screens, cleverly contained within the sliding drawers of filing cabinets), but he carries the show expertly, using all the techniques of a gifted actor. A key scene where his emotion builds to the point where his eyes fill with tears of regret is incredibly moving, and, I believe, impossible to fake. It raises some incredibly cogent questions about the right to privacy and touches on other deceptions – notably the case of undercover policeman John Dines, who conducted a three year relationship with a woman, a member of an anti-capitalist group, simply in order to spy on her and the other members.

It’s a brilliant show, not the angry diatribe it might have been, but thoughtful and measured. At its conclusion, the audience rise to their feet to deliver a well-deserved standing ovation. You can bet that we’ll be booking tickets early for his next show, Trespass, when it comes to Edinburgh in August.

5 stars

Philip Caveney

The Apartment, Edinburgh

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17/04/15

Edinburgh has a whole host of excellent restaurants but The Apartment, in Barclay Place, is undoubtedly one of its best, not only in its eclectic choice of ingredients, but also in terms of value for money. The set menu offers two superb courses for £15 and three for £17 (£19 after 7 pm). There’s also a selection of Chef’s specials, a choice of three kinds of healthy skewers, steaks and (a nice touch here)  three dishes that can be ordered as small or large portions, the former clearly aimed at customers with a lot more control than I have! On the night we visited, we were greeted by the maitre d, an affable and chatty Irishman, who certainly knew how to make us feel relaxed and happy. The staff are attentive, without being pushy and the surroundings, though smart and modern, are nonetheless atmospheric and entirely convivial.

For starters we had Pan Fried Squid with Chervil and Butter Sauce and Chicken and Black Pudding Terrine with Star Anise Apricots. If the descriptions sound enticing, let me assure you that the food absolutely lived up to them! The squid was deliciously light and suffused with a subtle lemon tang, while the black pudding had a spicy ‘melt-in-the-mouth’ quality, that ensured the platter was virtually licked clean.

On to the main courses: I went for the Roasted Pork Loin with Merguez, Soupy Puy Lentils and Crispy Pancetta while Susan ordered the Grilled Plaice Fillets with Wild Garlic Mash, Brown Shrimp and Mussel Vinaigrette. Once again, both courses were note perfect – the pork was succulent and perfectly offset by the dark, earthy lentils and the spicy Spanish sausage, while the fish was light and flaky, swimming in that citrusy mussel vinaigrette. Yum!

Was there room for pudding? You bet! And frankly, who could resist the Mille Feuille with Lemon & Lime Curd or the Dark Chocolate Pot with Dulche De Leche and Blueberry Jelly? Not us, that’s for sure. The former was light and buttery, the latter… well, if chocolate’s your thing, then you’re going to be very happy with this.

The meal was accompanied by a very decent Sauvignon Blanc which at £17 for a bottle, was once again, excellent value.

So, should you find yourself in Edinburgh, hungry and  in need of something a little bit special, take my advice and steer yourself up towards Bruntsfield and The Apartment. You won’t be disappointed.

5 stars

Philip Caveney

Thursday Night at The Stand

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16/04/15

A Thursday night at The Stand and another five comedians vie for our attention on what must be Edinburgh’s most intimate stage. Tonight our MC is Jonathan Mayor, a gay black comedian from Moss Side, Manchester, with an endearingly camp and bitchy line of patter which soon wins over the audience. This includes 21 year old Jamie, who sitting in the front row, has to endure the brunt of Mayor’s scorn. Occasionally, the put downs and sexual overtures go a little too far for comfort, but Jamie takes it all in his stride and Mayor is consistently funny, even when one of his routines goes spectacularly wrong and he corpses right in the middle of it.

First up is Jay Lafferty, a thirty year old Scottish comic, who is quick to point out that she’s an unusual act here as she’s female. She’s right up to a point (although some of the best acts we saw at last year’s Fringe were women – and we’ve seen more women doing stand-up at The Stand than any of the other comedy clubs we frequent) but I can’t help feeling that building a key joke around reading 50 Shades of Grey on holiday is not doing the cause of feminism any great favours. Her set is intermittently funny but she’d certainly benefit from stronger material.

Rob Kane is another Scottish comic, afforded a short slot here. Once again, he’s occasionally amusing and his account of his holiday in Thailand raises some genuine belly laughs. But it’s all a bit hit and miss and he perhaps needs to establish more confidence if he’s to take a step up to the next level.

Ro Campbell on the other hand, has confidence to spare. He’s an Australian, living in Edinburgh and addicted to chewing gum. He tells us that he’s shortly returned from a tour of Singapore, where unfortunately gum is a banned substance and his subsequent tale of smuggling packets of Wrigley’s through customs, hidden where the sun don’t shine, is absolutely hilarious. He’s good too on audience interaction, managing to put down a potential heckler with one scornful rebuke.

Top of the bill is veteran comic, Kevin Gildea, a softly spoken Irishman who has a relaxed, almost conversational approach to comedy, but it soon becomes clear why he’s top of the bill tonight. He builds the laughs steadily until he has you right in  the palm of his hand. Highlights include his trip to the Cork Butter Museum, a note purportedly written by a free range pig on the inside of a pack of bacon and some observations about his children that go beyond the usual run of the mill parental stuff. I thought he was excellent, despite his taking exception to my rather fabulous T shirt and his suggestion that my daughter is a bit mean with the old Father’s day cards.

Once again, a great value night out (there was a two-for-one offer on tonight’s show) and a varied crop of comedians, all of whom managed to evoke genuine laughs. The Stand continues to be Edinburgh’s quintessential comedy venue, so get down there and give your laughing tackle a thorough workout.

3.6 stars

Philip Caveney