Month: September 2018

Twelfth Night



Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh

It’s the start of a new season and the Lyceum launches with this groovy co-production with Bristol Old Vic. Twelfth Night, written late in Shakespeare’s career, is surely one of his finest comedies, featuring as it does some very memorable (and genuinely amusing) characters. But of course, there’s no point in doing Shakesy-P (as he’s indelibly known around B & B Towers after listening to the Six soundtrack) if you’ve nothing new to add to the formula.

The conceit here is that we’re at a debauched bacchanalian party in a run down country house. It’s somewhere in the late sixties or early seventies and the guests, having been roistering and jamming for several days, are still reluctant to call an end to the proceedings. One of them happens to be reading a copy of the play, so it is decided they’ll  give an impromptu performance of it. Suitable costumes are quickly improvised and, voila! We’re off.

Actually, the very start of proceedings feels a little er… forced and I start to suspect that I’m not going to enjoy this all that much, but happily, that feeling is spectacularly short-lived. The look and morals of the era actually lend themselves very well to this surreal gender-bending comedy of mistaken identities – and, just a few lines into Dawn Sievewright’s spirited performance as Lady Tobi Belch,  I am fully on side.

I also love Guy Hughes’ performance as Sir Andrew Aguecheek. He’s dressed like a full glam Elton John, and even blessed with a thoughtful Your Song-style ballad about his former days as a knight-errant. It’s decidedly odd, but it really works.

But it’s the role of Malvolio that is the real gift to any actor. Is there a more heart-rending character in all of the bard’s canon? I suspect not. Christopher Green makes an absolute feast of the role, all buttoned-up and controlled in his earlier manifestation, and then quite spectacular when transported by the power of love. The moment when he prances onstage in yellow cross-gartered stockings and (quite literally) lets his hair down is perhaps the production’s most memorable moment, one that earns an ovation all of its own.

I should also add that musical director Aly Macrae’s turn as a kind of groovy priest, shuffling into view and blessing everything in sight, is one of the funniest things I’ve seen in ages, and that’s without him uttering so much as a word.

Wils Wilson directs with aplomb, the costumes, designed by Ana Ines Jabares-Pita, are delightfully bohemian and, as for the original songs by Meilyr Jones, I think it’s safe to say that Will would have heartily approved of them. Shakespeare haters – and they do exist, I’ve met them – will surely find much here to convert them.

What a brilliant start to the new season!

4.8 stars

Philip Caveney

Grand Cru


Hanover Street, Edinburgh

It’s that rare beast: a Saturday where we have nothing particular planned, and a yearning to play out. Just as we’re wondering what direction our day will take, an email pops up, informing us that Grand Cru’s special lunch costs only £8.95 for two courses. Can this be true? We google the menu and it looks pretty impressive; the trip advisor reviews are decent too.

So we decide to head there for a late-ish lunch. And we’re really glad we do. Because, for the price, this is mighty fine.

There’s a friendly, informal atmosphere: a long bar and lots of nooks and crannies. We’re seated in the main area, and it’s buzzing – but even though it’s busy, we’re not too close to other diners and have plenty of room.

Philip begins with a caprese salad of mozzarella, tomatoes and avocado. It’s a generous portion, and the balsamic vinegar it’s topped with is as thick and sticky as can be. Delish! I have mussels in tomato sauce, which are served with a slice of warm, home-made bread. The mussels are perfect: big and soft and so plentiful I have to ask Philip to help me finish them. He’s more than happy to oblige, especially as the tomato sauce they’re in is rich and deeply satisfying. We’re off to a great start!

For his main, Philip opts for classic fish and chips – or, more accurately, angel cut Scottish haddock, cooked in home-made beer batter and served with chips and garden peas. The batter is hot and crispy; the fish perfectly cooked. The chips – often the weak point on a cheap menu like this – are lovely: clearly fresh rather than frozen, exactly as they need to be.

My beetroot and blue cheese risotto is a bit more unusual, but it’s really interesting and I enjoy it immensely. The flavours are strong and it’s very filling; we definitely don’t need the side of mac’n’cheese we’ve ordered to share, which matches nothing else on our plates, but we can’t resist (we never can say no when mac’n’cheese is on offer). It’s tasty and indulgent but quite unnecessary. Oh well.

We’re delighted to see a Willows End New Zealand Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc on the menu for a mere £22 and, after polishing it off, decide we’re too full to even think about pudding.

We’re sated; we’re happy; we’ve had a lovely time. And the bill comes in at £43. I think it’s safe to say that we’ll be back again.

4.2 stars

Susan Singfield



Dunyayi Kurtaran Adam (aka Turkish Star Wars)



It’s after midnight and I’m watching what must be, hands down, the worst film I’ve ever seen in my entire life. Weirdly, though, I’m really enjoying the experience and so is the rest of the audience, who have flocked along to this midnight screening of 1982 Turkish fantasy movie, The Man Who Saved the World, or, as it’s better known these days, Turkish Star Wars. The nickname derives from the fact that this shoestring production shamelessly steals footage from Star Wars and a bunch of other movies, gleefully splicing it into the action and making no apologies for having done so.

Set somewhere in an unspecified future, there’s a long voiceover that sets out to explain the current world situation: the earth has been plunged into an interplanetary nuclear war and only mankind’s combined brainpower prevents it from being totally destroyed – at least, I think that is the gist of it. It has to be said, this is not the world’s most coherent plot.

We are then introduced to our heroes: intrepid space cadets, Murat (Cuyneyt Arkin, who also wrote the screenplay), and his best mate, Ali (Artekin Akkaya), who, when we first meet them, are engaged in a dogfight with some very familiar-looking spaceships. They are promptly shot down and wake up on a mysterious planet, whereupon they are attacked by a pack of tubby ‘skeletons’ on horseback and quickly reveal that, as well as skilled pilots, they are also martial arts experts. An extended punch up ensues, our heroes dealing out a flurry of complicated kicks and punches, none of which look as though they have the power to knock the skin off a rice pudding – and I find myself laughing out loud.

There are, it turns out,  a lot of punch ups in this film, many of which seem to employ the use of a hidden trampoline (aways handy for such occasions). Murat and Ali are attacked by zombies, and mummies and what look like huge, multi-coloured cookie monsters, all unleashed by the evil magician who rules the planet and who wanders morosely around the place, with his head sandwiched between two pieces of corrugated cardboard, which are clearly held in position by bits of peeling sellotape. This is pretty symptomatic of the standard of props and costumes in the film, which look as though they’ve been knocked up by enthusiastic PTA members for a primary school play.

There’s a bit of a love story, as Murat starts making goo-goo eyes at what appears to be pretty much the planet’s only female character, though it’s nothing compared to the love-fest which seems to be going on between Murat and Ali, who can’t stop praising each other – and I’m still laughing uproariously as the lads start fighting with a really crap robot and a ‘monster’ with deadly tinsel streamers for hands. And then there’s the magic sword that Murat manages to get hold of – the one that appears to have been made out of a length of MDF sprayed with metallic paint…

Look, I’m actually torn here. As a movie, I really can’t award this any more than a token star, because it fails on just about every level of filmmaking. It’s horrendously acted, badly dubbed, clunkily shot, and the actors keep looking sheepishly at the camera. What’s more, the story makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. However, let me add that, if this comes to a cinema near you, you should grab a couple of drinks to fortify yourselves, gather up your friends and go along for what just might be the most fun you’ve had in a cinema in a very long time. Because there’s bad and there’s Turkish Star Wars-bad. And that level of bad just has to merit a few extra stars…

Oh, and savour the scene when Murat does his special whistle – you know, the one that women can’t help being attracted to. That might be my favourite bit.

4 stars

Philip Caveney

The Predator


First, a bit of history.

The crab-faced, dreadlocked super hunter from another planet first stalked Arnold Schwarzenegger through a rain forest in 1987. There was an iffy sequel starring Danny Glover in 1991, before the franchise sank dismally into the wretched nadir of the Alien versus Predator films in the mid-noughties. In 2010, director Nimrod Antal made a valiant attempt to revive its fortunes with Predators, but the results were, to say the very least, so-so. Which brings us to 2018 and yet another reboot, desperately seeking to inject new DNA into the format.

I’ll be honest and admit the only thing that tempts me to give this one a try is the name Shane Black, attached as director and co-writer. Surely, I think, if anybody can pull this off, he’s the one.

Well, to be fair to him, he gives it his best shot. Here, the action is split between three main stories. On a special mission in the Mexican jungle, sniper Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook) witnesses the crashing of a stricken extra-terrestrial craft. He salvages some alien technology from the wreckage, and promptly posts it back to his home in the USA for safekeeping. It is soon discovered by his son, Rory (Jacob Tremblay), who has Asperger’s Syndrome and is, like most Asperger’s kids in movies, some kind of super genius who manages to figure out how it all works. Meanwhile, University lecturer, Casey Bracket (Olivia Munn), is collected by special forces and taken to a secret laboratory where a captive predator is currently being experimented on. She is asked to put in her four pen’orth, as she is the ‘foremost authority on genetic hybridisation.’

Almost before you can mutter, ‘Really?’ said Predator is on the loose and despatching laboratory technicians in a decidedly visceral manner – whereupon Ms Bracket, like all university lecturers in such situations, grabs a machine gun and morphs into some kind of action woman. But it’s all to no avail, because the creature has decided to take young Rory back to his home planet in order to make use of the boy’s special skills and has headed off to track him down.

Okay, maybe there always needs to be some suspension of disbelief in these films, but at times I struggle. Suffice to say that Black’s best addition to the franchise are the wisecracking  special forces misfits, who team up with McKenna and Munn in an attempt to retrieve Rory from his alien kidnapper. If the wisecracking isn’t quite as assured as Black’s previous efforts, well, let’s put that down to the fact that he has never worked in this genre before. He also throws in some extra-terrestrial hunting ‘dogs’ and (perhaps inevitably) a super-sized, hybrid Predator, bigger and more powerful than its predecessors. Because bigger is always better, right?

What else? Well, there are plenty of action set pieces, which are decent enough, but not really top-notch, and the film’s finale is so ridiculously OTT I find myself shaking my head at the sheer ridiculousness of some of the stunts. A coda that appears to set the film up for a sequel may just be wishful thinking on Black’s part. I really can’t see this nonsense setting the box office alight, but hey, who knows? At the heart of the problem, in my humble opinion, is the simple fact that the Predator films really want to be the Alien films, but are never in the same league. (Hell, the Alien films haven’t been in their own league for a very long time now, so what chance is there?)

And I just wish Hollywood would accept that there are some dead horses that have been flogged quite enough, and it might be time to try coming up with some new ideas.

Come on, how hard can it be?

3 stars

Philip Caveney 



How much do parents actually know about their kids?

That seems to be the overriding question in writer/director Aneesh Chaganty’s clever thriller, in which single parent, David Kim (John Cho), is plunged into a world of unbearable suspense when his teenage daughter, Margot (Michelle La), suddenly and inexplicably goes missing. When she fails to answer the many phone calls and text messages he sends her, his only recourse is to find a way onto her social media pages and start quizzing the various ‘friends’ he finds there – only to discover that Margot doesn’t seem to have any real friends – and that the daughter he cares so much about has mysterious secrets she has been keeping from him. Why has she lied to him about attending her piano lessons? And why has she been regularly sending money to a secret bank account?

At first, Kim tries to go it alone, but when he realises that something bad has surely happened, he dutifully contacts the police and in comes Detective Vick (Debra Messing) to help him sort things out. But, just when I think that some kind of order will inevitably result from this,  Kim starts making fresh discoveries – and the subsequent revelations gleefully pull the rug from under my feet, again and again.

The clever conceit of this film is that it plays out entirely on screens – not just the cinema screen, you understand, so much as computers, FaceTime calls, CCTV footage and rolling news. This kind of thing has been attempted before (perhaps most memorably in the 2014 horror movie, Unfriended), but Searching is a giant step up from that. Indeed, it’s done so ingeniously, that I find myself gasping in admiration at Chaganty’s skill as a storyteller. The opening sequence, which details the gradual demise of Kim’s wife to cancer, manages to make the changes made to an electronic calendar a profoundly moving experience. Later on, lines of text written, but then erased and substituted with something less confrontational, tell their own compelling story.

This is anything but predictable. Indeed, I find myself blindsided and sucker-punched several times during the film which keeps me on the edge of my seat right up to the very end. There are bigger movies out there right now, and the danger is that this little gem could easily get overlooked, but make no mistake: it’s quality filmmaking and well worth your time and effort. Don’t miss it.

4.7 stars

Philip Caveney


The Miseducation of Cameron Post



Based on Emily M Danforth’s 2012 novel, The Miseducation of Cameron Post is the perfect teen movie for our times. Sure, it’s set in 1993, but it feels particularly prescient. On the one hand, society has become far more ‘woke’ about sexuality, with same-sex marriage widely accepted, for example; on the other, extremism is on the rise, and hard-won rights are being challenged once again. This film is a timely reminder of what we stand to lose.

It’s much more than that, of course. It’s also a heart-warming, heart-breaking coming-of-age tale, with a troubled teenager as its protagonist. Chloë Grace Moretz is the titular Cameron Post, an orphan raised by her evangelical Aunt Ruth (Kerry Butler). Ruth is a kindly woman, and she and Cameron are close. But when Cameron is discovered having sex with her best – female – friend, Coley (Quinn Shephard), she’s packed off to God’s Promise, a gay-aversion camp-cum-boarding-school, deep in the heart of Nowhere, Montana, where, it is hoped, she will learn to recognise her homosexuality for the heinous sin the church believes it is.

The camp is as bonkers as it sounds: whoever thought that bringing all the gay kids together and isolating them with same-sex room-mates would help them to avoid temptation? It’s all tragically well-meant: the leaders, Dr Lydia Marsh (Jennifer Ehle) and her brother, Reverend Rick (John Gallagher Jr) truly believe they are saving souls. The reverend himself is ex-gay, he says; he understands the teens’ troubles. Dr Lydia isn’t quite as compassionate, taking a cruel-to-be-kind approach, completely unaware of how tone-deaf she really is. “You have no idea what you’re doing, do you?” realises Cameron, in despair. “You’re making it up as you go along.”

Moretz is delightful in this role, all understated rebellion and silent agony. We never really know, until the end, if she will submit to the camp’s teachings, because she’s so uncommunicative and unsure. She doesn’t want to let people down; she doesn’t want to hate herself. But she can’t be someone other than who she really is. Being gay hurts her – isolates her from those she loves; it’s not easy for her to fathom what she ought to do. She gravitates instinctively though towards the cynical among her peers, Jane ‘Fonda’ (Sasha Lane) and Adam (Forrest Goodluck), with whom she smokes dope (smuggled in via Jane’s prosthetic leg) and mocks some of the nonsense they are made to spout. She finds real friendship here, and strength, and it’s a good thing she does. Because the camp is actually rather dangerous: the psychological damage might be inadvertently inflicted, but it’s just as ruinous as if it were intentional.

But these are sassy teens, with much spirit to spare, and even the sly manipulation of Dr Lydia (brilliantly conveyed by Jennifer Ehle) can’t suppress them forever. They’re bold and lively and they’re going to take on the world.


4.2 stars

Susan Singfield

American Animals


True life heist movies.

You wait for ages and then two come along at the same time. The ‘other’ film, is of course, the uninspiring plod-fest that is King of Thieves, but Bart Layton’s American Animals is an altogether more exciting proposition. This is a heist movie like no other – indeed, I’ll go so far as to say that it knocks the genre upside down and inside out, creating something quite unique in the process. It’s neither a documentary nor a fictionalised account of actual events, but an inspired amalgam of the two. It’s also one of the best films I’ve seen this year. The news that Layton is now a favourite to step into the vacant slot at the helm of the next Bond movie seems somehow… odd. Of course, I understand the appeal of taking on such a potentially career-boosting project but, after this beauty, it would feel decidedly like a step down.

It’s 2003 and a bunch of disaffected students at the oddly named Transylvania University in Kentucky decide to try and steal some books from their campus library. These are no ordinary books, but priceless (and huge) first edition bird studies by Audubon, worth millions of dollars and guarded only by one elderly female librarian. Spencer Rhinehard (Barry Keoghan) and Warren Lipka (Evan Peters) first formulate the idea and then, as it gradually moves towards becoming a reality, they recruit casual acquaintances Eric Borsuk (Jared Abrahamson) and Chas Allen (Blake Renner) to help them bring it to fruition. At first, it’s like a playful fantasy, with the ringleaders watching famous heist movies for inspiration, experimenting with disguises and meticulously drawing up their plans. But as the actual event looms ever closer, things begin to get more serious.

The events of American Animals are skilfully cut with interviews with the real life robbers and their parents, many of whom are clearly still in shock about what happened. The brilliance of Layton’s film is the way he keeps switching the point of view, sometimes featuring the real perpetrators in the same frame as the actors who play them, until we’re no longer sure whose narrative we are actually following and which version of the story we should believe. It’s an audacious approach that really pays off.

When we come to the events of the crime itself, the proceedings turn very dark indeed, emphasising the fact that slick, cool heists really are a product of fiction. This robbery is frantic and sweaty and punctuated with expletives – and, of course, unlike the fantasy, there really is a victim here, librarian Betty Jean Gooch (played by Ann Dowd, but also seen as herself, reflecting on her ill-treatment). The reality is, of course, that absolutely nothing goes to plan, the perpetrators are way out of their depth and, once the robbery is over, they are plunged into a world of dread as they await their inevitable fate.

Layton has created something very special here, something that’s worlds away from the workmanlike tropes of the James Bond franchise. I hope he continues to pursue his own projects, because films of this quality don’t come along very often.

In short, don’t miss this; it really is a stunner.

5 stars

Philip Caveney

The Children Act


Oh dear. I’m a little bit annoyed with The Children Act. Which is clearly not an ideal response. I can’t deny it looks good, and Emma Thompson’s star shines as brightly as it ever did (she’s magnificent, really; I am a true fan of her work). The supporting cast are pretty marvellous too. And yet… and yet.

My issues are all with the story, adapted for the screen by Ian McEwan from his 2014 novel. Thompson plays Fiona Maye, a high court judge who earns her daily crust making life and death decisions: is it right to sacrifice a conjoined baby to give his twin a better chance of survival? Even if his parents don’t agree? There are no easy answers to the dilemmas she faces, but she is a consummate professional, dedicated and compassionate,  focused and fair-minded.

And then, one explosive weekend, her husband, Jack (Stanley Tucci), reveals that he’s unhappy with the way she’s been neglecting their marriage and tells her he wants to have an affair. Reeling, Fiona answers her phone as Jack’s packing his suitcase, and picks up an urgent case. A Jehovah’s Witness teenager is refusing a blood transfusion; his doctors want to force life-saving treatment on the boy. This should be run-of-the-mill for Fiona, but she’s out of whack, thrown off by her own emotional turmoil. She visits seventeen-year-old Adam (Fionn Whitehead) in hospital, learns more about the leukaemia that threatens his life, asks him what he really wants.

Later, it transpires that what Adam wants is more than Fiona can give: he’s obsessed with her, phoning her, writing letters to her, asking her if he can live with her as a lodger or an odd-job man; he wants to learn from her. But I don’t really understand the underlying message here; I don’t know what I’m supposed to take away from this. Is the implication that Fiona should invest more in the boy? Or that she’s transgressed by opening up as much as she has? What’s the point of this final third; what is it trying to say?

Some of what’s implied may not be deliberate, but there are a few points that keep niggling at me. For example, the whole Jehovah’s Witness/blood transfusion thing. Why is this the only story I ever hear about the JW church (there is, I concede, a refreshingly different take in Deborah Frances-White Rolls the Dice)? It’s just another unfathomable religious stricture, and one that can only affect a tiny minority. Why does it have so much traction in fiction and film? Perhaps it’s just too soon after (the much better) Apostasy?

There’s also the vexed question of misogynistic stereotypes: why does Fiona Maye have to suffer for a successful career? She’s sacrificed her marriage; she’s sad about not making time to have children. Why? Why is this always the narrative? It’s boring and annoying to meet this cliché again. Her husband seems to be holding down his career okay, and he can fit in dinner and tennis and a semblance of a social life. Why can’t it be the same for her?

Ach, it’s a shame, because the acting really is sublime. I’m especially impressed by Jason Watkins’ turn as Maye’s hapless lackey, Nigel – an object lesson in the art of maximising the impact of what is really a small role. And the glimpse into the life of a judge is fascinating too; this feels as if it could be something better, if only it were less… restrained. As it stands, it doesn’t really work for me.

3.1 stars

Susan Singfield

The Seagull


The name Anton Chekov inevitably brings with it an expectation of lashings of doom and gloom. How many visits to the theatre have yielded hours of miserable people staring bleakly out at fields of wheat and talking about suicide? So it’s heartening to note that this version of The Seagull, directed by Michael Mayer and adapted by Steve Karam, has a lightness of touch about it that makes it feel downright sprightly – not a word you’d usually associate with the Russian playwright.

The action takes place on the country estate of Pjotr (Brian Dennehey), the ailing older brother of successful actress Irina (Annette Bening). Here, upstate New York stands in for the Russian countryside, but manages to look convincing enough, at least to my untrained eye. Irina’s son, budding playwright Konstantin (Billy Howle), also lives on the estate, and is currently involved in a romance with local girl, Nina (Saoirse Ronan), who is his muse and the main actress in his fledgling symbolist play, which they are planning to perform for their summer visitors. Irina arrives from Moscow with her latest conquest in tow. He is the incredibly successful writer, Boris Trigorin (Corey Stoll) and, therefore, a bit of a trophy for Irina to show off. Konstantin is already intensely jealous of the man’s success and that’s before Nina starts flirting outrageously with him.

Meanwhile, Konstantin is completely oblivious to the fact that the estate steward’s daughter, Masha (Elizabeth Moss), is completely besotted with him; she, in turn, is devoutly loved by impoverished local schoolmaster, Mikhail (Michael Zegen), of whom he has a very low opinion. It’s clearly going to end badly and, this being Chekov, of course, there is some tragedy waiting in the wings, but the journey towards it passes so pleasurably, it’s never feels like an imposition.

Bening’s performance as the incredibly vain and manipulative Irena, is an absolute joy, while Moss (top-billed here, no doubt because of the success of The Handmaid’s Tale) manages to make Masha’s drink-fuelled gloom at her own failings quite hilarious. Ronan is every bit as good as she always is and I particularly enjoy John Tenney’s portrayal of the pragmatic Doctor Dorn, a man who spends all of his time pouring oil onto troubled waters, consoling the lovelorn and tending the wounded.

Chekov can be a bit like medicine. You know it’s good for you and you know you really ought to have it, but he can sometimes leave a bad taste. Not here though. I can’t remember when I last enjoyed the playwright’s work as much as this.

4.4 stars

Philip Caveney



Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh

Xana Marwick’s Nests is a compelling play, with an appealing dream-like quality. It’s unusual: the gritty subject matter ought perhaps to clash with the whimsical storytelling, but – somehow – it really works.

We’re in a clearing in a forest, home to ‘the father’ (David MacKay), an alcoholic eking an existence by selling everything he owns. There’s not much left: a run-down caravan, a broken drum kit, a guitar and a few pots and pans. But he can scrape together funds for his cheap cider habit, and he’s harming no one but himself.

But even this miserable dwelling is appealing to ‘the boy’ (Ashleigh More), a lost and forgotten child in need of sustenance and care. Outcasts, invisible, united by their vulnerability, the pair forge an unlikely partnership, each fulfilling for the other the role of missing parent/child.

It’s beautifully told, at once visceral and ethereal. It’s tragic, yes, but it’s funny too, and the characters are bold and true. Mackay imbues the father with a strange fragility, despite his coarse language and quick temper, and Ashleigh More is equally affecting: the boy’s swagger and bravado undercut with deep sorrow, his love of crows particularly resonant.

I especially like the cartoon crows (animated by Kate Charter and Claire Lamond). They add to the sense of unreality, flitting from screen to screen and interacting with the boy; there’s a real playfulness here, and it’s extremely engaging.

This production, by Frozen Charlotte and Stadium Rock, is a real gem, and I’m genuinely moved by it.

4.4 stars

Susan Singfield