Hot Brown Honey @ HOME

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Hot Brown Honey

HOME, 14 December 2017

Hot Brown Honey. Photo by Dylan Evans

Hot Brown Honey. Photo by Dylan Evans

This show mixed identity politics, burlesque and carnival – with mixed results.

On the stage there sat a large honeycomb, at times brightly lit, with a declaiming woman on top, all the better her message to impart. When she didn’t have anything coherent to say, she swore – or she urged the audience to ‘make some noise’ – it was that kind of show. The signal- noise disparity in due course drowned out the former.

Other than that, over perhaps an hour and a half, the show had dance, songs, comedy and (to be just) some impressive acrobatics. It was, at certain moments, entertaining.

Hot Brown Honey is showing at HOME until 23 December, further details can be found here.

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A Jazz Christmas Carol

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A Jazz Christmas Carol

RNCM Big Band with Alan Barnes

RNCM Theatre, 13 December 2017

 A Jazz Christmas Carol

For this show, Alan Barnes gave a concise reading of Charles Dicken’s story, with each short extract being followed by a musical embellishment, courtesy of the immensely talented players of the RNCM Big Band.

They captured through their instruments the dreadful energy of Stooge’s plight, a wretched creature granted a narrow chance to save his soul. He reaches out for salvation in desperation and maybe, just maybe, it is not in vain.

We were given portraits of the Dickensian characters, expressions of their queasy predicaments, a jolly rattling of the chains of ghosts and dire circumstance: it was all there in the music.

Evita @ the Palace

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Evita

Lyrics by Tim Rice

Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber

Palace Theatre, Manchester

6 December 2017
Evita

Our Lady of Sorrows, Argentina’s People’s Princess, a perfect subject for a musical.

Whatever you are looking for in Evita, you will find it here. There are wonderful performances of the best songs, and even the cheesy ‘B.A., Buenos Aires, Big Apple’ gets a decent run out. You get plenty of exciting and energetic dancing, with some tango naturally. And in the tale of a young woman’s journey from poverty to privilege and power, there is emotion and cyncism and not a little irony.

Take Che (an excellent performance by Gian Marco Schiaretti) out of the show and it is a wounded beast, because we need his disdain for Evita’s Marian populism and the people who fall for it. Yet although Che is a compelling narrator, what with his certain grasp of history and his place in it, he is deluded too, of course. And that is another irony: he too will become an icon after his death, and the truth he died for, a specimen of dirt-grain communism, will prove to have as limited a shelf-life as dear Evita’s conflation of Dior and Catholicism. At the end you realise that they are not so different.

This is an excellent production, and there are further tour dates here.

Happy End

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Happy End

Directed by Michael Haneke

Austria, 2017

HOME, 7 December 2017
Happy End

He, Michael Haneke, has made a measured film with a paucity of fingers-over-the-eyes moments.

And yet for all its surface restraint, admirers of the great director’s previous work will be assured to learn that its outlook is relentlessly bleak. I doubt that he shops at Waitrose, but to put it in terms of their trademark slogan, ‘love life’, here we learn that love is a lie we tell to others (and perhaps ourselves), while life is a grotesque masquerade we would do well to escape from.

Here I was impressed in particular by Fantine Harduin’s performance, who plays Eve, a teenage girl (not unlike Henry James’s Maisie) on whom nothing is lost. Why, she sees and senses everything, and with good purpose because she wants to survive, though sometimes she is the uncomfortable recipient of the tawdry secrets of this or that monstrous adult.

As for the film as a whole, no complaints at all: it is another masterpiece.

English National Ballet’s Song of the Earth & La Sylphide

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Song of the Earth & La Sylphide

Music by Mahler & Lovenskiold

English National Ballet

Palace Theatre, Manchester

11 October 2017

Tamara-Rojo and Joseph Caley in Song of the Earth. Photo by Laurent Liotardo

We saw an excellent double-bill, a presentation of two very different pieces, by the English National Ballet.

Song of the Earth featured Tamara Rojo, the company’s artistic director, in a now rare principal role and it might best be described as a poetic meditation on the earth and the sky, the seasonal cycle of renewal and decline, death and life in all its forms. Beautifully done, the choreography by Kenneth MacMillan as fresh as morning dew, it was based on Mahler’s wonderful song cycle and the two singers were Rhonda Browne and Samuel Sakker.

As for La Sylphide, that was something else again. It was a dark fairy-tale about a fiery enchantment leading a young man away from a safe (but dull) path – marriage to a nice girl – and into a dark gargantuan forest where he is deserted and left to die alone. The fate of those who are tremulously plucked out serves as a warning to the herd. A tortuous trajectory and an ignoble death. Best not to dwell.

This show had it all: art, dance, perfection.

English National Ballet’s Song of the Earth & La Sylphide is on national tour until January 2018. Details here.

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The Killing of a Sacred Deer

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The Killing of a Sacred Deer

Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos

UK, 2017

HOME, 15 November 2017
The Killing of a Sacred Deer

Mimetic desire is alive and well in modern America.

A surgeon kills a boy’s father, he is culpable or perhaps the operation just went awry. So the boy, Martin (Barry Keoghan), takes it upon himself to mete out revenge on the surgeons family. He casts a curse, kind of, and this aspect of the film reminded me strongly of Thinner, an old Stephen King novel. Modern medicine is helpless against the curse and to avert the worst the surgeon must kill again.

It is an unsettling film, as with  this director’s previous work, with everyone on the surface civilized and polite yet driven by primordial urges. Instincts are our gods and they live in us still.

There is a neat scene at the end (anyway, I liked it) where the daughter liberally squirts tomato ketchup on her chips. It is as though the director were saying: Well, remember, none of what you have seen is real blood. No one actually died here. But of course they had.

And people killed people.

Kaleidoscope

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Kaleidoscope

Directed by Rupert Jones

UK, 2017

HOME, 15 November 2017
Kaleidoscope

This is a seductive yet not entirely satisfying film.

We are puzzled and intrigued by Carl (Toby Jones) right from the start. His few possessions, above all a treasured kaleidoscope, stand as the sad ruins of a failed life. His relationship with his mother (Anne Reid, who like Jones is excellent) is cringey, creepy and compelling.

What is terrific is that it is almost a wholly psychological film: you are gripped by Carl and by what is going on in his head. Yet that is what lets you down a little at the end: you are uncertain what has actually happened and what Carl has otherwise feared or imagined.

Anyway, it is a well-crafted entertainment, something more than that.

One Nite in Mongkok

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One Nite in Mongkok

Directed by Derek Yee

Hong Kong, 2004

HOME, 14 November 2017
One Nite in Mongkok

There is a contract killer, name of Lai Fu, who arrives in Hong Kong to carry out a job.

He hooks up with a call girl. It happens when she is being beaten up by a client and he intervenes, slamming the guy’s head against a wall. Once, twice, three times. Just to be on the safe side.

They then roam, this happenstance couple, through the streets of Mongkok, dodging the cops who are pursuing them (though mainly him), evading gangsters (the call girl’s client calls on some bad dudes), trying to stay safe.

Not a whole lot of sense to the story, in truth, as Lai Fu never manages to carry out the hit. But there is betrayal and double-cross, rogue cops and gunfights, seedy motels and rain-slick city streets bathed in neon and darkness, displays of heroism and descents into humiliation, random moments of ecstasy and elegy.

It is enough to keep you happily watching.

The Long Good Friday

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The Long Good Friday

Directed by John Mackenzie

UK, 1980

HOME, 9 November 2017
The Long Good Friday

Harold, an entrepreneurial gangster, wants American money (here, the Mafia) to invest in a grand project, revitalising London’s docklands.

When they decline – all those IRA bombs going off, like the fallout from Brexit now, leads to too much instability and uncertainty for their liking – Harold (Bob Hoskins) is irate. They have no bottle, he tells them. And, anyway, he doesn’t need them. Because Britain is part of the common market now. And he will go in with the Germans – yes, the Krauts – instead. They will realise what a promising opportunity he is offering. America, the special relationship, all that malarkey, that’s in the past. Europe is the future for him. It is one of the best moments and it makes you realise that the film, always of its time (Thatcherite Britain), has now acquired a certain vintage.

Hoskins is brilliant: big and brash, a parochial prince who dreams of building an empire. Certain scenes, for example those in the abattoir and that at the end, Hoskins facing a gun and certain death, are edgy and effective even now. You realise that the title is a play on The Long Goodbye.

A great British gangster film, and there are not that many of them.

The Death of Stalin

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The Death of Stalin

Directed by Armando Iannucci

UK, 2017

HOME, 9 November 2017
The Death of Stalin

The great leader kicks the bucket – this is in March 1953 – and there is a slimy tussle  between his cowered heirs (Beria, Khrushchev, Malenkov, Molotov, Zhukar, etc.) to acquire the greasy sceptre.

It is an unlikely subject for a comedy, but in Iannucci and the cast’s hands it becomes compelling satire and splendid caricature. Moreover, while you chuckle you are never allowed to forget that this regime murdered people, or that Beria was a sadistic pervert who had a penchant for little girls.

In order to deliver an effective drama, however, there have been some trade-offs. It has a truncated timeline: Beria was actually arrested in June and shot at the end of the year, not around the time of Stalin’s funeral. And the striking caricatures, which hardly correspond to the men themselves, can create characters who are amusing and therefore halfway likeable, whereas all were monsters. Khrushchev wasn’t a good guy, a liberaliser, even though he may have been the best of a bad lot. He saw decolonisation by the Western powers as an opportunity to make mischief abroad, in contradistinction to Stalin’s policy of socialism in one country. With the advent of Khrushchev, the cold war began in earnest.

An entertaining comedy.