Wiener-Dog (dir. Todd Solondz) 2016

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This is a comedy written and directed by Todd Solondz. If you know his name and like his movies you will know not to expect uplifting and light hearted comedy, and this one is bleak even by his standards.
It consists of four short stories about people whose lives are affected by coming into contact with a Dachshund. It is well written, beautifully observed and has some great performances. I thought Ellen Burstyn and Julie Delpy were particularly good.
However, I really did not enjoy the film. Almost every character is cruel, self-serving or damaged and the humour comes from the dysfunctional way they deal with their lives. This is certainly a movie where we are laughing at them – not with them. Most of the laughs fall into the “so horrible it’s funny” category. The fact that that the film is so well made and the characters and situations are so realistically handled, make the comedy darker. I laughed rarely, and when I did, I disliked myself for doing so.  I left the cinema feeling depressed and dispirited.
It is said that “Great Art” is any which makes you feel strong emotions, either good or bad. In that case, this is “Great Art” but, if I were given the hour and a half back, I would choose not to spend it in that cinema.

The Donkey Show, Proud Camden, London 2016

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In this version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the forest outside Athens has become a 1970s disco. Oberon, the king of the fairies, is the nightclub owner, Titania is his main squeeze and the fairies are a troop of Muscle Mary disco dancers strutting their stuff on raised plinths and around poles.
Puck is a roller-skating drag queen narrator and the 4 star crossed lovers are punters in various states of alcohol and drug fuelled confusion. I was amazed at how well the setting fitted the original play.
All of them sing their parts (no lip synching here) to classic 1970s disco tunes while interacting with the audience and getting increasingly out of it as the night goes on.
It’s camp, it’s brash, it’s rude and crude, its funny and it is great fun. London needs a camp, frothy, boisterous night out as a tourist attraction and this could be it!  After all,  “Beach Blanket Babylon” has run in San Francisco for over 40 years now and is still going strong.
Leave your inhibitions at the door and be prepared to party.
This is the best rowdy, rollicking night out in London this summer!

Hobson's Choice, Vaudeville Theatre, 2016

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This is the centenary tour of Hobson’s Choice, but I have to say that it doesn’t show its age. Martin Shaw is very good in the title role, it requires a blustering, exaggerated performance and you can see he is enjoying himself here.
Really though, the play is all about Maggie. Naomi Frederick is excellent, she plays it totally straight and carries it off perfectly. Bryan Dick puts in a great performance as Willie, his transformation is both funny and credible.
The sets are relatively simple but beautifully made, and the direction is uncomplicated. They allow the real stars of the show to shine through and they are the words. It is a fantastically written comedy drama, with great individual lines and genuinely funny characters. It is easy to see why it is still regularly produced even one hundred years after it was written. This is a production by people who really love Harold Brighouse’s play and that care shines through on the stage.

The Comedy Loft, Camden, London

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The Comedy Loft in Camden has got lots of things going for it.
It serves food; burgers, nachos, chicken wings, falafels – we ate and it was good quality.
The drinks are reasonably priced for central London – and you can pre-order them and have them delivered to your table during the intervals. Very sophisticated!
The show starts at 8pm, which is enough time to get a couple of drinks and chat before the start.
The 8 o’clock start means that the crowd is still restrained enough for the performers to deliver their acts without having to shout over drunks and sober enough that if there is a heckler there is a chance that they might be funny.
The reception and service were the best I’ve ever had in a comedy club.
The comedians were funny – that’s always good in a comedy show.
Finally, if after all this, you still haven’t had good night; it’s in Camden, so you are very likely to get offered drugs on your way back to the tube!
 

The Grand Budapest Hotel (dir. Wes Anderson) 2014

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The Grand Budapest Hotel is light, frothy escapism. The story is an unlikely but likeable tale involving the concierge, played by Ralph Fiennes, aided by the lobby boy, played by Tony Revolori.
It is crammed with famous actors in cameo roles. Jeff Goldblum, Tilda Swinton and Edward Norton are particularly memorable, but there are so many others that you could spend the whole movie saying “Oh look! Isn’t that…..”
The jokes are off-beat and sometimes off-colour. The script contains some nice aphorisms and some good one line jokes. The characters are a lovely mixture of smarmy and sharp.
The sets and set pieces are extraordinary and absorbing. It was nominated for 9 Academy awards and best set design was one of those it won.  The costumes and the acting are wonderfully camp, it also won Oscars for best make-up and best costume design.
I didn’t find any great universal truths in “The Grand Budapest Hotel” but I smiled for the full hour and a half and that is definitely a recommendation.

Everybody Wants Some (dir. Richard Linklater) 2016

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Do not go to this movie expecting big action, high adrenaline thrills or nail-biting tension. If you do you will be disappointed and probably bored.
Do go if you want high quality nostalgia, astute character development or an insight into group dynamics.
The story is pretty light. It follows a group of middle class, well adjusted, young guys on the first weekend of term, before their classes begin. It is set in 1980. They party, they drink, they smoke, they try to get laid. They do what they are probably going to do every weekend for the rest of the school year.
This is the strength of the film. They are likeable people in a normal setting having an average weekend and mostly enjoying life. The script is excellent – you feel that you get to know the characters and understand their insecurities.
The acting is remarkable throughout and the direction is light touch and faultless. The soundtrack is great.
So, if you want a chilled couple of hours, sit down, relax and let Everybody Wants Some!! take you back to a sunny weekend in 1980 where the world is full of potential…..

The Play That Goes Wrong, Duchess Theatre

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I have to say that I felt a bit sorry for Cornley Polytechnic drama, after all the rehearsal and effort that went into the production, that they should have a night like this.
I suppose that we could have guessed it wasn’t going to be their night when the dog went missing even before the show began! However they struggled on manfully and the understudy that came on for Constance after she was knocked out did very well ……. considering.
If I were them I’d probably sack the sound engineer, I mean how much can he know about sound, given his love of Duran Duran.
I applaud the cast for (mostly) making it through to the end of the show unscathed.
I’m going to recommend that you go to see this production because they surely could never have another night like this. The acting was brilliant, with hand gestures and everything, and I’m sure that once they get their difficulties sorted; there is a wonderful murder mystery in there, just waiting to come out!

The Suicide, National Theatre, London

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This is an update of a play for which, Nikolai Erdman, the original author spent time in Siberia, in the 1930s. This version is set in current UK with social media, local politics and hip-hop slam rap being lampooned.
On the day I saw it Adrian Richards, the understudy, played Sam and was excellent.
It is funny and the characters are well written and recognisable. There are bits that could go, I’m not sure what seeing Maggie Thatcher in the afterlife added to the proceedings. I will look out for Suhayla El-Bushra’s writing in the future. The set was great too, it cleverly moved back and forth between the inside and outside of an authentic looking tower block flat.
While the state here is not going to feel threatened by this play, it was entertaining, interesting and showed promise.
Recommended.

The Painkiller at The Garrick

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This is physical comedy and farce. These are not usually my favourite types of theatre.
On this occasion is it so well done that I have finally realised why it was so successful in the last century – once you begin to laugh, you are carried along on a wave of slapstick and ridiculousness that is quite exhilarating. The whole cast were brilliant, Rob Brydon and Kenneth Branagh looked to be enjoying themselves enormously which added to the entertainment. The whole audience laughed out loud and I recommend this show even to those who do not normally like dropped trousers and double entendres.
Now, who can help me get tickets to the final performance of this show because I think it will be even more amazing!