Philomena

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Philomena premiered at the London Film Festival last night.  It was quite red carpet affair with Dame Judy and Steve Coogan attending.  But it was the presence of Sean Mahon that got me all a flutter.  Sean is a dear friend of mine and I feel as though I have been through the journey of this film with him.  So as he was introduced to the audience at the Odeon West End I could not contain my whoops of excitement.  So, please excuse any sycophantic elements of this review.  But if you can’t praise your friend’s work what really is the point of life?!!

Philomena is the true life story of Philomena Lee.  Growing up in Ireland she lived with her aunt.  Her mother had died when she was 10 and her father sent her and her sister to live with her aunt when Philomena turned 18.  After a night at a local carnival she had a met a boy and had quite a fun time with him.  Sadly, she had fallen pregnant.  She was sent to a convent when she endured a breach birth with no pain relief and then had to work off her debt for 4 years in the laundry.  Not really a fair punishment for her sins.

She gave birth to a son, Anthony.  At 3 he was taken from her.  An American couple came to Ireland to adopt a child.  They ended up taking two.  A little girl and Anthony.  Philomena never got to say goodbye to her son.  For 50 years she kept this a secret from her family.  When she eventually told her own daughter she decided to help her find Anthony.

This is where they meet the journalist and former government spin doctor Martin Sixsmith.  He helped Philomena track down her son in the US.  Anthony has been renamed Michael Hess.  He has established a successful career at a lawyer working for both President Reagan and President Bush Senior.  Sadly he contracted AIDs and died in 1995.  Philomena started her search in 2003.

In all the years that Philomena had tried to find her son the nuns refused to give her any information of his whereabouts and who had adopted him.  Michael had too been searching for his mother.  He had travelled to Ireland and visited the convent he was born in to try and locate his mother.  Again, the nuns did not help him.  The tragedy of a dying man trying to locate his mother and not being helped is such an injustice.

Philomena has a serious story at its heart.  The heartbreak of a young girl who is made to suffer a lifetime of guilt for an evening with a boy at a carnival.  But the film has such warmth and humour at its core that you can go from laughter to tears in one scene.  Dame Judy captures the innocence of Philomena Lee so well.  She is a charming and funny woman who is balanced by Steve Coogan playing Martin Sixsmith who is a much more serious and frustrated character.  Director Stephen Frears said before the film that it was almost a romantic comedy.  And at times it certainly was.  The relationship between Dame Judy and Steve Coogan did have all the hallmarks of a romantic comedy without you ever wanting them to kiss.  Their friendship had a true uniqueness to it.

For me the real highlight was seeing Sean Mahon’s face on screen.  He plays Michael Hess so is viewed in flashbacks throughout.  I guess my only criticism is that he is just not on screen enough!

Philomena comes to cinemas nationwide on 1 November.

Sarah Southern

Tory Boyz

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The National Youth Theatre is currently showing Tory Boyz at the Ambassador’s Theatre.  Originally shown in 2008 we now see the Tory Boyz move from opposition to government but still dealing with the dilemma of moving up the greasy pole of power.

The play explores the idea of whether Edward Heath was gay.  Frankly, what does it matter other than how utterly tragic that he had to hide it.  Following the story of Sam, a Tory researcher working on the House of Commons, the play flits from modern day back to the early life of Heath and his own rise to power.  Sam is gay and has an intrigue as to whether Heath was gay or not.

Sam is portrayed as not your typical Tory: working class, from the north west….a bit of a tired cliche to be honest.  What is also surprising is that his boss, the chief of staff to the minister, suggests he keeps his sexuality to himself.  Anyone who has worked for the Conservative Party knows this is definitely not the case.  But perhaps it was more the electorate than the party machinery itself?

The audience had a sprinkle of politicos who chortled at the many Westminster village in jokes.  After This House and Confessions of Gordon Brown and The Audience the politicos have been very spoilt of late with West End offerings.

Tory Boyz is showing until 27 November.  Book tickets online.

Read reviews: Telegraph, Time Out

Sarah Southern 

Mrs Gucci

Gucci

Last night Mrs Gucci: The Musical has its first public showing.  A concert of 10 songs from the musical written by the brilliant Peter Jukes and Marcos D’Cruze gained a loud and approving response from the audience.

Mrs Gucci is the true life tale of Patrizia Reggiani.  She married into the Gucci family in the 1970s.  Her husband, Maurizio Gucci, was the son of Rodolfo Gucci.  Patrizia and Maurizio were married for over a decade before he just left one morning.  Leaving the marriage he started a relationship with a younger woman.  Patrizia was not too pleased with this new arrangement.  7 years later the divorced and although given a substantial annual alimony deal she was still not happy.  With her psychic adviser Pina Auriemma she began to plot the murder of her ex husband.  In March 1995 Maurizio Gucci was fatally shot.  The hit had been arranged by his ex wife.  She was sentenced to 26 years in jail.  Pina Auriemma received a 27 year sentence.    Patrizia was released in September 2013.  Pina Auriemma is yet to complete her time in jail.

A tale of passion, love, betrayal and indeed murder Mrs Gucci has it all.  During the concert we were introduced to four of the characters: Patrizia, Maurizio, his cousin Paolo Gucci and her  psychic adviser Pina Auriemma.  No doubt we will meet more characters when the full version comes to the stage later next year.

The songs are clever and emotional.  I was drawn into this web of passion and riches.  Although not normally a fan of musicals Mrs Gucci has such a good vibe and pace that I really did become immersed into it and wanted to hear more.  The four actors, Julie Atherton, Bart Edwards, Graham MacDuff and Sophie-Louise Dann had superb voices.  I really hope that they stay with the show until it has its full stage premier.  I want to see more of them.

Visit the Mrs Gucci website to read more about the production.

Sarah Southern

Don Quixote

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Don Quixote opened at the Royal Opera House on Monday evening with a gala performance.  Principal Carlos Acosta produced and choreographed this superb ballet.

Don Quixote follows the tale of an old gentleman who is deluded with the idea he is the successor to the medieval knights.  He also has a vision of a beautiful lady, Dulcinea, who he must find.  Don Quixote has a funny little man servant, Sancho Panza.  Together they set off on a quest to fulfil Don Quixote’s dreams.

Meanwhile, a courtship is beginning to take place between two bright young things: Kitri and Basilio.  Alas, Kitri’s father would prefer her to marry Gamache, a very camp nobleman.  Don Quixote too is quite stuck with Kitiri believing her to to be his Dulcinea.  As with all young lover they flee to get married.  Don Quixote and Gamache follow in pursuit.

As the young lovers arrive at a gypsy camp Don Quixote catches up with them.  As they sit round the campfire and are entertained by their hosts Don Quixote hallucinates that the windmill is a monster and is after him.  As he sleeps he enters a magical world – the garden of the Dryads – where his beloved Dulcinea is.

The final acts sees the young lovers back in the town square preparing for their wedding.  Kitri’s father is still none too keen.  Basilio pretends to kill himself which leads to the match being blessed.  It’s good to end on a happy note.

This is a very colourful ballet.  The costumes, lighting and set all jump out from the stage.  The feathers in Gamache’s hat could not have been a better blue for this rather camp chap about town.  He sparkled in his gold pantaloons.  I just loved him.  The gold and the red of the matadors outfits was a pleasure to see.  The costume design really was a highlight.

As was the set.  The windmill in the beautifully lit sunset of the gypsy camp made you want to go there.  It looked so warm and comforting.  But the prop that caused a murmur from the audience as it trotted onto stage – definitely an approving (and impressed) murmur – was the mechanical horse that Don Quixote rode into town on.  Although mounted on wheels its legs still moved so realistically.

This is a really enjoyable ballet that I would urge you to go and see.  Although the newspaper critics have not rated it highly it is a stunning production that should be seen and enjoyed.  It is on at the Royal Opera House until 6 November.  Tickets can be bought online or day tickets are available from the box office on the day from 10am.

Reviews online: Guardian, Telegraph

Sarah Southern

Cedar Lake Ballet

The New York based Cedar Lake contemporary ballet are touring the UK and did two fantastic shows at Sadler’s Wells showcasing a triple bill.

If you are able to see them in Cardiff, Edinburgh or Bradford you will be in for a treat.

Reviews of Cedar Lake: GuardianTelegraph

Sarah Southern

Science of Opera with Stephen Fry

The Royal Opera House hosted a very different kind of event on Sunday evening.  Stephen Fry and Alan Davies were monitored whilst watching an opera.  Fry, of course, is a regular to the opera.  Whilst Davies was an opera virgin.  A team from UCL monitored their blood pressure, sweat and heart rate throughout.  A really fascinating study ino the impact music can have on us.

The event was streamed live in Twitter.  A world first!  The Royal Opera House have now put the event youtube for all to enjoy.

Sarah Southern