Review – Toy Story 4, Northampton Filmhouse, 2nd July 2019

Toy Story Poster“Can you remember what happened at the end of Toy Story 3”, I asked Mrs Chrisparkle as we walked to the cinema last night. “Nope,” she replied, “but I’m sure there’ll be some kind of catch up at the beginning”. And sure enough, the film opens with “Nine years ago….”; and you sit there and think, was it really that long since we last saw Woody and his toy pals in a series of manic episodes of mild peril? Yes it was! And, because I know you’re trying to remember the date, the first film came out in 1995. Some of those ten-year olds who saw the first movie in that year are probably grandparents by now. Well, not quite, but you get my drift.

Woody and ForkyWoody, now handed over to Bonnie by Andy, is no longer her favourite toy although he still commands some respect in the toy community. Bonnie’s off to kindergarten, and she’s scared (who wouldn’t be?) Woody sneaks into her backpack to give her some support on the orientation day. But things start to brighten up for her when she makes a toy from a spork, some pipe cleaners and a lolly stick, rescued from the bin by Woody; welcome to the world, Forky. Bonnie is much attached to Forky, but Forky doesn’t want to be a toy; his low self-esteem makes him feel he’s only suited to the trash can. Bonnie’s parents take her on a mini road-trip to soften her up for returning to kindergarten; but Forky’s existential crisis causes him to hurl himself from the campervan, and, naturally, Woody takes it on himself to rescue him.

Bo to the rescueThus separated from the rest of the family, Woody now has to track them down at the funfair site where they have parked; but, en route, he bumps into Bo-Peep, to whom he said goodbye years ago… and that complicates matters. Things always get messy when there’s a whiff of romance in the air. Will Woody and Forky reunite with Bonnie? Will Bo-Peep continue her strong solo woman lifestyle? And what about the voiceless doll Gabby Gabby, who wants to steal Woody’s voicebox so that she becomes desirable again? I’m not going to tell you, you’ll have to watch the film to find out!

Bonnie and the birth of ForkyIf you’ve seen the previous films (of course you have) then you’ll be itching to know what becomes of Woody, Buzz, Jessie and the rest of the gang. And I can tell you that you won’t be remotely disappointed, it’s everything you hope to get from a Toy Story movie and probably more. There’s a level of reflection, introspection even, in this film which, if it was evident in the previous incarnations, receives greater emphasis here.

BuzzIn a lovely reversal of the human experience of this situation, the social stigma of being a childless toy is so overwhelming in this film’s universe that if you’re not childless, you have to whisper it so as not to upset the others. Attachment to a kid is the ultimate in existence. If you don’t have a kid, you’re not really a toy – discuss. The concept of listening to and acting on your inner voice is also brought to the forefront, with Woody’s highly developed sense of responsibility leaving the others frequently nonplussed as to his recklessness. Buzz tries to get a grip on the inner voice concept, and relates it to the random automated announcements that he emits whenever he presses his belt buttons. Gabby’s inner voice is silenced and the only way she can expect a happy future is to deprive another toy of his own voicebox.

GabbyTechnically, of course, it’s superb. The animation is a constant delight, with the vivid funfair, the dusty old antique shop, the torrential rain, for example, all being totally convincing. Did Woody and Buzz always have the identical pointy nose? The action is fast and furious, the script is funny, the characterisations are spot on, and the emotions are, definitely, real.

Bunny and DuckyNo expense was spared in recruiting the finest actors for bringing these toys to life, and they all do a brilliant job. Most of the old favourites are there; Slinky the dog, Mr Pricklepants the luvvie actor hedgehog, the Potato Heads (despite his death in 2017, Don Rickles is still the voice of Mr Potato Head, using unused audio recordings from the previous films), Rex the hyper-anxious dinosaur, and Hamm the cynical piggybank.

Duke CaboomIn addition to Forky and Gabby, New Toys on the Block include the streetwise compact police officer Giggles McDimples, carnival toys Bunny and Ducky, nightmare henchmen the Bensons, and, my favourite, wannabe macho poseur stunt rider Duke Caboom, who fails to live up to his advert’s hype as far as adventurousness is concerned, but loves to strike a pose on his bike – with hilarious but totally believable voicing from Keanu Reeves.

Gabby and the BensonsMemorably enjoyable moments include the farcical sat nav instructions from Mrs Potato Head and Buttercup the hardnosed unicorn, the intimidating presence of the ventriloquist dummy Bensons, the unpredictable antics of Bo-Peep’s sheep, and the repulsive regurgitation of Giggles when she’s spat out like a furball.

Woody and BoThe resolution to the story was not at all what I expected; it breaks the rules as to how a toy should behave – and is really endearing as a result. However, despite the emotional content, it didn’t create any activity in the tear duct department, unlike my friend the Squire of Sidcup who saw it with his dad and it reduced both of them to blubbering messes. However, it’s a thoroughly enjoyable film – at 100 minutes it’s the perfect length – and a more than worthy successor to its three prequels. If you’ve got any old toys hanging around from your childhood – go give them a hug. They need it.

The James Bond Challenge – You Only Live Twice (1967)

you_only_live_twice_-_uk_cinema_posterIn which SPECTRE mastermind a plot to kidnap both American and Soviet astronauts in space, in the hope that Cold War enmity would spark off a war between the two superpowers – thus enabling a new world power to emerge and take control. Even though everyone thinks that James Bond died in a gun attack in a Hong Kong bedroom, his death was faked and M has sent Bond to Tokyo to follow a trail that takes him into Blofeld’s lair – but will he and his pals prevent a world war? Yeah, of course!

Roald_DahlIt had been two years since the previous James Bond film, Thunderball, (if we ignore the spoof Casino Royale), and its budget of $10.3 million was perhaps only a modest increase in comparison with Thunderball’s $9 million; and its box office take of $111.6 million was almost $30 million down on the previous movie. Still, it’s not a bad profit. The budget to create SPECTRE’s volcano lair was almost the same as the entire budget for Dr No! Originally, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service was due to be the next in the series, but the need to find mountainous and snowy locations to shoot, coupled with the Bond films’ enormous box office success in Japan, meant that the producers, Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, decided to go with the mainly-Tokyo based You Only Live Twice instead. Usual screenwriter Richard Maibaum was working on the producers’ non-Bond movie of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, so the producers offered the job to Harold Jack Bloom. They liked his story work, but not his script; so the writing credits went to Roald Dahl, who was a close friend of Ian Fleming. This was Dahl’s first attempt at writing a screenplay, and Harold Jack Bloom was credited as providing additional story material.

lewis gilbertWith previous director Terence Young now working in Europe and Guy Hamilton still needing a break from Bond, the directors approached Lewis Gilbert, who had recently directed the hugely successful Alfie with Michael Caine. Cinematography was by Freddie Young, of Lawrence of Arabia and Doctor Zhivago fame, editing by James Bond stalwart Peter Hunt, and production design by Ken Adam. John Barry was, of course, again responsible for the music, all apart from Monty Norman’s James Bond Theme. During the filming, Aerial Unit Cameraman John Jordan was leaning out of a helicopter to get a better shot, when another helicopter was caught in a gust of wind and was blown closer. The rotor blade cut his leg which had to be amputated.

YOLT novelYou Only Live Twice was published in 1964 and was the twelfth book in Ian Fleming’s series of James Bond novels. Its title comes from a haiku that Bond wrote in the style of the famous Japanese poet, Basho: “You only live twice/Once when you are born/And once when you look death in the face”. It was the last book to be published in Fleming’s lifetime. Because there is a high travelogue content to the book, and it’s a more introvert story as we see Bond coping (or otherwise) with the death of his wife in the previous book, there isn’t a lot of content that could be adapted easily for an action adventure movie. Writer Roald Dahl therefore had to use a lot of imagination and collaboration with Lewis Gilbert to come up with a workable screenplay.

VladivostokIn the book, a tired, drunk and wasted Bond is given one last chance to turn his spy career around – convincing the Japanese secret service to share information they have about the Soviet Union. The Japanese ask Bond to kill Blofeld and Irma Bunt, who were responsible for the death of Bond’s wife – so he is happy to oblige. Bond is trained as a Japanese coal miner and meets former film star Kissy Suzuki as he infiltrates Blofeld’s garden of death. Bond kills Blofeld, gets Kissy pregnant – and then leaves for Vladivostok. If you’ve seen the film, you’ll realise there are a very few overlapping points between book and film; for example, the whole space-race and spaceship hijack elements were written purely for the film.

Odeon AylesburyI’m pretty sure I saw You Only Live Twice in a double-bill at the Odeon Aylesbury with my schoolfriend John in the mid-1970s; probably with Goldfinger. I am also certain this would have been one of those occasions when the cinema manager had to come in and stop us from chatting and giggling all the way through. To those denizens of 1970s Aylesbury, I can only humbly apologise. John made me do it.

Japan bookAlthough pre-sales for the book were very high, it received only mixed reviews. The Times wrote: “as a moderate to middling travelogue what follows will just about do … the plot with its concomitant sadism does not really get going until more than half way through”; The Listener noted: “if interest flags, as it may do, the book can be treated as a tourist guide to some of the more interesting parts of Japan”; and the Guardian complained: “of the 260 pages of You Only Live Twice … only 60 are concerned with the actual business of a thriller”. The film fared better, with Entertainment Weekly saying it “pushes the series to the outer edge of coolness”, Filmcritic calling it one of James Bond’s most memorable adventures, but finding the plot “protracting and quite confusing”, and Rotten Tomatoes concluding that: “with exotic locales, impressive special effects, and a worthy central villain, You Only Live Twice overcomes a messy and implausible story to deliver another memorable early Bond flick.” My own opinion is that this was possibly the most entertaining of the Bond movies at the time; I found the combination of action, villainy and humour just about right.

Connery as BondThe opening credits begin, as usual, with Maurice Binder’s iconic glimpse of Bond walking across the screen whilst being captured by the barrel of a gun, only for him to turn around, see us, and shoot; and then for the blood to start filling up the screen. As in Thunderball, Bond is now clearly Sean Connery – in the first three films it was stunt man Bob Simmons. However, the music – if my ears do not deceive me – has been re-recorded; it’s a slightly different arrangement, more “stereo” sounding and maybe just a hint slower.

Astronaut cut offWe’re in outer space. NASA spacecraft Jupiter 16 is calmly and successfully achieving its mission. As one of the astronauts – Chris – emerges from the craft for a spacewalk exercise, a security control in Hawaii reports an unidentified object closing fast on Jupiter 16. As it gets closer, its head opens up as though it were some hungry shark with gaping teeth – and it swallows up the NASA craft. And, as it closes its pincers, it cuts off the cable that’s been linking Astronaut Chris to the main body of the craft – and he’s left to float around in space for eternity. Gruesome!

Bond in Hong KongBack on earth, a summit conference is held where the Americans accuse the Russians of having stolen their spacecraft – a fact which the Russians deny, affirming that they are a peaceful nation. Another American spaceship will be launched in twenty days’ time, and the Americans confirm that any interference by the Russians will be looked on as an act of war. The British attempt to intercede, querying why the Russians would wish to capture an American spaceship. As British intelligence indicates that the spaceship came down in the Sea of Japan area, Her Majesty’s Government intends to investigate this event in and around Japan. “In fact,” says the security adviser, “our man in Hong Kong is working on it now” – a cue for the camera to cut to James Bond, in flagrante delicto with Ling, a Chinese lady. They have a rather saucy conversation – “darling, I give you very best duck” – and then she presses a button which makes the fold-down bed fold back up into the wall, with Bond trapped inside. She opens the door to her room and a couple of heavies with machine guns open fire on the wall, with Bond just behind the surface. When the police arrive, and draw back the bed, a lifeless Bond is still trapped between the blood-soaked sheets. “We’re too late,” says one policeman to his colleague. “Well, at least he died on the job” comes the knowing reply; “he’d have wanted it this way” says the other.

Opening CreditsAnd then we’re into the credits, and the superb title theme, sung by Nancy Sinatra. Apparently, it was originally offered to father Frank, but he turned it down in favour of his daughter. She was the first non-British performer to sing a James Bond movie theme. Surprisingly, for an artist of her abilities, she was so nervous about recording the song that it took twenty-five different takes to complete it. As she said in an interview, she was intimidated by the fact that this was strong, serious singing as opposed to the funny and light-hearted recordings for which she had become famous. In the end, the final song version used in the film was made up of the best parts from each of those twenty-five recordings – a true patchwork. The song reached No 11 in the UK charts, but only 44 in the US. I’d contend that it’s one of the best three Bond themes ever – but you might not agree!

Opening CreditsVisually, the opening credits are very appealing and intriguing. An abstract Japanese chrysanthemum design is used to suggest not only the traditions of Japan, but also the iris of an eye, or a parasol; interspersed with these images are the faces and bodies of sultry Japanese girls and the hot fiery spurting lava of a volcano. You can read whatever symbolism you like into all of this.

Welcome to TokyoAnd the locations? This is an unusual Bond film in that it almost entirely takes place in one country – Japan. Only the opening sequence, of Bond’s faked death, takes place in Hong Kong. The majority of the filming took place in Japan too. The exceptions to this were the outside view of the summit conference being filmed in Alaska, Bond’s burial at sea on board the HMS Tenby was shot off Gibraltar, while his rescue from the sea bed was filmed in the Bahamas; and a few internal scenes were shot at Pinewood. The Osato Chemicals building was in fact the New Otani Hotel in Tokyo, and SPECTRE’s volcano lair was Mount Shinmoedake.

Ninja CastleWhile scouting locations in Japan, the chief production team narrowly escaped death. On March 5, 1966, Albert R. Broccoli, Harry Saltzman, Lewis Gilbert, Freddie Young, and Ken Adam were booked to leave Japan on BOAC flight 911 departing Tokyo for Hong Kong and London. Two hours before their Boeing 707 flight departed, the team were invited to an unexpected ninja demonstration, and so missed their plane. Their flight took off as scheduled, but twenty-five minutes after take-off, the plane disintegrated over Mt. Fuji, killing everyone on board. The title You Only Live Twice must never have seemed so sinister.

007Bond, James Bond. Again Connery doesn’t get to utter that iconic sentence in this film. In fact, on a personal level, this was a very unhappy film. Connery had been lured back to play the role again despite being tired of Bond and fearing being typecast. So, in addition to earning $800,000 as a fee, he also received 25% of the net merchandise royalty, which must have been one helluva lotta wonga. By all accounts he was his usual professional and generous performer on set. But he disliked all the media attention in Japan, where the films were more important to people than even their own families, and where he was constantly being papped. He was even photographed in a toilet, which displeased him significantly. He was also displeased by the marketing phrase “Sean Connery IS James Bond”, and offended the locals by stating in an interview that Japanese women weren’t attractive. During filming, Connery announced that this would be his last ever Bond film; however, Broccoli and Saltzman had other ideas. Nevertheless, it is said that the relationship between star and producers had broken down so badly that he refused to act if they were on the set.

Helicopter landingBoo-boos. There are some continuity errors and mistakes as always – let’s have a look at some of them! When Bond’s apparently dead body is brought on board the submarine, from the depths of the ocean, the packaging that encloses it is surprisingly dry! When Osato and Brandt land on the helicopter landing pad to meet Bond (masquerading as Mr. Fischer), the helicopter lands across the top of the “H” on the pad, near the edge of the circle, and it is facing slightly to the left of the camera. However, in the next scene it has moved further inside the circle, facing in a different direction, alongside the H. Clever stuff! When Bond undertakes his transformation to become Japanese, he has his chest hair all shaved off. But when he and Kissy are in the life raft at the end of the movie, magically it has all returned. He’s not 007 for nothing!

Bond and Hans fightWhen Bond is fighting Blofeld’s henchman Hans, Bond gets knocked over near the fireplace, and you can hear the sound of glass breaking. However, there are no glass objects anywhere him! When Aki is driving Bond to see Henderson, she’s sitting on the right side. As they approach Henderson’s residence, she’s on the left, but when the camera cuts to a close-up, she is back on the right again. Before Bond (disguised as a SPECTRE astronaut) is brought before Blofeld in the command room, the ‘Blofeld’ sitting in his chair has hair which can be seen briefly from the rear of the chair. However, when he introduces himself to Bond a moment later he is clearly bald – an error caused by using film of both actors playing Blofeld.

Marrying KissyThe Bond Girl. It’s become something of a familiar challenge that it’s not obvious from the start who exactly is The Bond Girl in any of the films. The Bond Girl in Thunderball is the fourth girl with whom he has some kind of encounter; and it’s the same here. James Bond’s lucky number sure is four!

LingFirst we see him with Ling, with whom he starts to say that “We’ve had some interesting times together Ling, I’ll be sorry to go” before she pushes the button and uprights the bed into the wall, with him in it. It’s impossible to say whilst you’re watching the film whether she’s an agent working against him (almost getting him murdered) or working with him (enabling the faking of his death) – the latter is in fact true. Whatever, their time together is all too short and sweet. Ling was played by Chinese born Tsai Chin, whose career spanned many decades and appearances as wide range as in The World of Suzie Wong, Flower Drum Song, The Virgin Soldiers, and a wide range of other television appearances. It is said that her popularity was such in the 60s that she had a leopard at London Zoo named after her! She was already friends with director Lewis Gilbert and his wife before the film was shot – it’s not what you know, it’s who you know, it’s who you know. She would return to the world of James Bond in the 2006 production of Casino Royale, where she played Madame Wu, a poker player. She’s been based in Hollywood for many years and is still working at the age of 85.

HelgaNext contender for the title of Bond Girl is Helga Brandt – ostensibly Osato’s secretary but really Number 11 in SPECTRE, so as she’s working for the other side, she could never be a Bond Girl, could she? She’s a ruthless mass of raw sexuality, with her strong auburn hair, dominatrix expression and sultry fashion sense. The things I do for England, says Bond, as he snips the straps on her evening dress with a surgeon’s knife. But she’s not quite mistress of her game, and Blofeld only accepts perfection, so she’s fiendishly eliminated, and the hungry piranhas are grateful. She was played by Karin Dor, who appeared in dozens of films, mainly in German, and lived partly in Munich and partly in the United States. She died in 2017 at the age of 79.

AkiThen there’s Aki. Aki really should have been the Bond Girl because she’s gutsy but so sweet. She’s there at the Sumo, ready to introduce Bond to Henderson. She’s there to rescue Bond when he has to flee the Osato Building. She’s there to help him get advice from Tanaka and drive him to the Kobe docks. And she’s there in his bed whenever he wants. She even – albeit accidentally – provides him the ultimate service by ingesting the poison that was meant for him. Who could do more? Aki was played by Akiko Wakabayashi, who specifically asked if the character’s name could be changed to Aki (in other words, her own name) rather than Suki, as originally intended. She appeared in a number of Japanese films in the late 50s and early 60s, but only one more after You Only Live Twice, when she retired to have a family. She’s now 77 and still living in Japan.

Kissy and BondBut I guess the accolade of Bond Girl in this film must go to Kissy Suzuki, played by Mie Hama. Kissy is a Ninja Agent, working for Bond’s Japanese colleague Tanaka; she marries Bond in order to create for him a convincing Japanese cover. But when it comes to honeymoon night, she confirms that the relationship is strictly business and he has to sleep in a corner. However, she dutifully assists Bond in his attack on SPECTRE’s lair, and, of course, it’s she who is rescued with him in a life-raft in what appears to be the same closing scene of almost every Bond movie. Mie Hama was working as a bus conductor when she was discovered by film producer Tomoyuki Tanaka, most famous for having created Godzilla. She had already appeared in about sixty Japanese movies by the time she worked on You Only Live Twice. Originally she was hired to play Aki (or, rather, Suki) but she had difficulty with the English words and so the two actresses swapped roles – as Kissy had fewer lines than Aki. Mie Hama retired from films in 1989 and since has had a varied career as a writer, TV and radio host, and art connoisseur. She’s 75 now and still going strong.

KissyWhat Bond Girls Are Like. From the first four films, our list of attributes common to the Bond Girls was: sexy, exotic, unpredictable, as equally likely to attack Bond as to support him, strong and self-reliant up to a point, sometimes tragic, professional, scary and vengeful. Kissy doesn’t really comply with many of these attributes; the Japanese tradition makes her a more demure, graceful and moral person. Mie Hama, however, was perhaps less demure when she appeared in Playboy in a 1967 nude pictorial “007’s Oriental Eyefuls” as the first Asian woman to appear in the magazine.

BlofeldThe Villain. You Only Live Twice is our first opportunity finally to meet the one and only Blofeld. Disfigured and measured of speech, he disarmingly strokes his pussy whilst ordering the death both of his enemies and those working for him who have let him down. Blofeld survives at the end of the film – he’s the first Bond villain to do so – and he will go on to make five more appearances in subsequent Bond films. But this is the only film in which he is played by Donald Pleasence. Originally, he was to have been played by Czech actor Jan Werich, who does appear in the film with his back to the audience – his tufts of hair appearing to the camera, whilst Donald Pleasence’s Blofeld is totally bald. But Werich’s characterisation of Blofeld was considered insufficiently menacing. Pleasence was said to have found the make-up for Blofeld incredibly uncomfortable, but, then, you have to suffer for your art. He was one of our finest film actors, having made more than a hundred movies, and he died in 1995 at the age of 75.

HendersonOther memorable characters
? Australian Intelligence agent Dikko Henderson – played by Charles Gray – is not exactly a memorable character, because he doesn’t hang around long enough for us to get interested in him. He does, however, have a very memorable death; stabbed in the back whilst standing in front of one of those Japanese paper-thin screen walls. Charles Gray would go on to play Blofeld in Diamonds are Forever, as well as many other notable film and TV roles.

Kill himTeru Shimada gives an excellent, understated, performance as Osato, the industrialist who’s secretly a SPECTRE agent; suitably inscrutable, on the surface dignified and urbane, whilst underneath, happy to be an assassin. Osato’s simple instruction “kill him” as Bond is leaving his offices is amusingly terse! Teru Shimada was a Japanese-American actor who first appeared in films in the early 1930s and carried on working until 1975. He died in Los Angeles in 1988, aged 82.

TanakaTiger Tanaka is the head of the Japanese Secret Service, living secretly underground in Tokyo, with his own train network, his own team of ninjas, and he plays a very active part in assisting Bond in the attack on the SPECTRE volcano lair. He is supremely authoritative – and you’d say was one of the most powerful people in the country. He was played by Tetsuro Tamba, who appeared in around a hundred films between 1952 and his death in 2006 at the age of 84. His voice was dubbed by Robert Rietti, who had also dubbed Adolfo Celi’s voice as Emilio Largo in Thunderball.

M & MoneypennyNo Felix Leiter this time – he’ll return in Diamonds are Forever – but Bernard Lee, Lois Maxwell and Desmond Llewelyn reprise their usual roles as M, Moneypenny and Q. This time, M and Moneypenny aren’t in their London office but on board one of Her Majesty’s submarines; but M is his usual, no-nonsense self, and Moneypenny is only too happy to prevent Bond’s lingering romance with Kissy from taking hold. The relationship between Q and Bond continues to be fractious, although Q’s latest gadgets for use on the autogyro certainly save Bond’s life.

nancy-sinatra-you-only-live-twice-reprise-4And what about the music? The film starts, as usual, with the main James Bond Theme, written by Monty Norman; after that, it’s all John Barry, although the lyrics to the title song, You Only Live Twice are by John Barry and Leslie Bricusse. As I mentioned earlier, it’s a cracker of a song, and its legacy lives on in such examples as Robbie Williams’ Millennium. An earlier version was sung by Julie Rogers, who expected it to be used in the film, but the producers said it was just a demo – much to Ms Rogers’ disappointment, no doubt.

Marriage sceneParts of the soundtrack that I particularly enjoyed included the classic, percussion-heavy theme that always accompanies a car chase; this time we also hear it when Little Nellie goes up. There’s an excellent, fast, brassy version of You Only Live Twice whilst they’re capering around Kobe Docks. Early in the film when Bond arrives in Tokyo, there’s a charming variation on the You Only Live Twice theme, softly played with some gently twanging guitars in the background. And there’s the gentle, romantic accompaniment to the wedding scene.

On the roadCar chases. There’s just the one car chase; when Aki rescues Bond from being shot by Osato’s henchmen, driving her Toyota 2000GT and they are chased by the wannabe killers. Unusually, Bond doesn’t drive a car in this film. Amusingly, nor does Aki; Akiko Wakabayashi hadn’t learned how to drive, so six stuntmen created the illusion of her driving, by attaching a cable, and pulling it from outside of the frame. Stuntmen also substituted for her in long camera shots by wearing black wigs.

Henderson mixing drinksCocktails and Casinos. Henderson says to Bond when offering a drink “Stirred, not shaken. That was right, wasn’t it?” Bond then replies: “Perfect”, and you can just hear a tinge of disappointment in his voice. Of course, Bond usually drinks his Vodka Martinis shaken, not stirred, so this was an error. But Lewis Gilbert decided to keep it in; and it shows Bond’s generosity of spirit when someone he meets for the first time gets it wrong, but he wants to be on good terms with him. Apart from that, Bond grimaces at the taste of Siamese vodka, delights at sake if it’s served at 98.4 degrees Fahrenheit and allows himself to be won over by the offer of a Dom Perignon ’59. Casinos don’t feature in this Bond movie.

Little NellieGadgets. Bond uses a cute little safe-breaker when he’s stealing the papers from the Osato offices; apart from that Tanaka is proud to show him the cigarette gun, which is a nifty little wheeze, and Q reveals the additional extras that have been fitted on to Little Nellie, the autogyro; two machine guns, rocket launchers and heat seeking air to air missiles, two flame guns and smoke ejectors, aerial mines and a cine camera in the helmet. I think that sums it up! Other than that, there are perhaps somewhat fewer gadgets in this film than we’ve been spoilt with on previous occasions? Does Q need to go back to college?

In MemoriamIn Memoriam. Dr No had a death count of approximately 11 as well as all those who go up in smoke in his lair at the end; From Russia with Love notched up at least 40; Goldfinger came in at a more modest 23-ish, plus everyone who died at Fort Knox; and Thunderball offers up around 50 people – plus a shark. How about You Only Live Twice? Let’s briefly remember those who gave their lives so that Bond and Kissy can get nudged into safety by the surprise appearance of a submarine:

1) Dikko Henderson – stabbed, like Polonius, through the arras

2) Henderson’s killer, knifed by Bond

3) Henchman who drove Bond to the Osato office – brained by an ancient Japanese sculpture in a fight with Bond

4) Guard in the Osato carpark, shot by Bond

5) The woman who took the photo of the Ning-Po ship (even though we never met her, RIP)

6) 4 henchmen in a car that gets lifted off the road surface by a helicopter with a huge magnet and then gets dropped into the sea – presumably all four drown

7) Somewhere between 3 and 6 men attacked at Kobe Docks

8) 4 helicopter pilots, individually killed by Bond in the autogyro, using the various gadgets that Q had supplied.

9) Helga – dipped into the piranha pool by Blofeld.

10) The poisoner who kills Aki – shot by Bond

11) Aki – killed by the poisoner.

12) The ninja who tries to bayonet Bond – bayonetted by Bond.

13) The girl in the boat that Kissy sees before and after death (again RIP in absentia)

14) The man in red working in SPECTRE’s lair.

15) Everyone else who dies in the crater.

16) Osato

17) One last henchman.

That’s maybe something in the region of 40 people.

Piranha timeHumour to off-set the death count
. Following Bond’s classic asides whenever someone dies in the previous movies, here are some more gems to accompany those bereft of life to the great yonder:

After the four car-bound henchmen are drowned at sea, Bond quips “A drop in the ocean.”

Of the four helicopter pilots who try to gun down Bond and Little Nellie, he says: “Four big shots made improper advances towards her but she defended her honour with great success.”

When henchman Hans gets piranha’d he adds “Bon appetit.”

sexismAny less frothy elements? So once again it’s time to consider if there are any outstanding themes or elements that don’t sit well with today’s audience. As usual, I couldn’t perceive any obvious homophobic elements, but I wasn’t quite sure what to make of Bond changing his appearance to look Japanese. If that had happened on Broadway or the West End today we would call it “yellowface”. However, in those days, I don’t think the same sensibilities applied, and it’s not as though Bond is doing it in any way to make fun of or discriminate against his Japanese colleagues – it’s purely to make it easier to infiltrate the volcano lair.

However, as usual, when it comes to sexism, where do you start? Let’s check that definition of sexism again, so that we know where we’re at. Sexism is: “(Behaviour, language, etc, reflecting) the assumption that one sex, esp. the female, is inferior to the other; prejudice or discrimination, esp. against women, on the grounds of sex; insistence on (esp. a woman’s) conformity to a sexually stereotyped social role.”

Bond’s first line in the film is “why do Chinese girls taste different from all other girls?” which caused a big intake of breath in our household when we watched it again recently. I can’t quite put my finger on why this line made us feel so uneasy, but it did. Another line, that is distinctly sexist, is Tanaka’s decree that “in Japan, men always come first; women come second”. He and Bond then use four girls for massage and whatever else they might like, without the girls having any say in the matter. They are purely a commodity; and they spend the entire time sitting around in – not even bikinis – but bra and panties.

As does poor Kissy Suzuki, who has to clamber up and down a volcano edge in just her underwear. It’s purely for titillation, purely to show which gender calls all the shots and which gender abides by those rules. No wonder things have changed nowadays. However, Japan in the 1960s was not a liberated environment for women, and, although today this treatment of women feels very uncomfortable, for the time this was a fairly accurate assessment of women’s role in Japanese society.

When Osato criticises Bond for smoking, saying it is unhealthy for the chest, Helga passes him the drink with the line “Mr Osato believes in a healthy chest” – to which Bond simply replies, “really?”

Bizarre other stuff that occurred to me and a few observations.

Dr EvilAlthough Thunderball’s plot is satirised in Austin Powers, Donald Pleasence is definitely the inspiration for Dr. Evil.

This is the first Bond film where I have really noticed the beautiful cinematography. There are some amazing sunsets, and the overwhelming sense of natural Japanese tranquillity comes through strongly in many scenes. There’s also the wonderful aerial shot of Bond on the roof of the docks building, punching his way through a number of pursuing henchmen. It’s a very arresting shot.

With all that CCTV going on, how come Blofeld and the gang don’t realise that Bond, Tanaka and Kissy are clambering about on their roof?

Inevitably, I guess, much of the content of this film is very much in the spirit of the time. Space travel was so cool in those days, so exciting; everyone was a mini-expert on spaceships; many TV series were based in space or had the possibility of “other life” as a subject. This was before any moon landings had actually taken place, so the competition between America and the Soviet Union to be the first was red hot. When the Americans say they’ve got another spacecraft going up in twenty days’ time, you realise that, in those days, spaceships were almost like buses. Miss one, another will be along shortly.

Look how terrified the poor cat is, whilst bombs are going off all round! Apparently, it went missing for two days and would never go on a film set again. Verging on animal cruelty, I’d say.

Awards: Ken Adam was nominated for the BAFTA for Best British Art Direction (Colour), but the award went to John Box for his work on A Man for All Seasons.

OHMSS posterTo sum up. Perhaps surprisingly, this was the first time that the box office takings for a Bond movie were less than for the previous film – so from that perspective, you might consider it failed, albeit slightly. However, in my humble opinion, this is the most entertaining James Bond film so far in the canon. The evilest villain, all kinds of Bond Girls, some witty one-liners, and a lot of engrossing (rather than tedious) action. I’d be fascinated to hear your opinions of You Only Live Twice – and whether you agree with me! Next up is the first Bond film that I saw at the cinema, when I was a nipper – On Her Majesty’s Secret Service; and a change of Bond, as George Lazenby takes the stage.

My rating: 5 Sparkles

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All photos from the film of course belong to their various copyright holders.

Review – The Pope, Royal and Derngate, Northampton, 13th June 2019

The PopeWhen is a precedent not a precedent? When it happened in 1295. No, it’s not a riddle, it’s the crux of Pope Benedict XVI’s predicament when he wanted to abdicate – to resign from the papacy – in 2013 and leave the way for his successor Pope Francis, who had come second in the decision making process to create the new Pope back in 2005.

Anton LesserWe all know that person at work who has been promoted way beyond their ability to do the job, but because they were in the right place at the right time, said the right things and had the right smile, they got the gig. That was Josef Ratzinger, when he was elected Pope at the age of 78, when all he really wanted to do was to retire softly into the background, read his books and maybe do a little writing. Lucky too, for Cardinal Bergoglio, runner-up in the process, who also was content with his work with the poor of Buenos Aires. Nicholas WoodesonNow he, at the age of 77, has written to the Pope to tender his resignation as Bishop, so that he can spend his twilight days watching football and singing to Abba. But the Pope has not responded to his letters, but has asked him to visit him in the Vatican. The Cardinal assumes it’s to accept his resignation in person, but the Pope has other ideas…

in the Sistine ChapelThis is a beautifully written play, full of wit and insight, superbly character-driven; a window into the lives of two religious leaders whom we would assume would spend their time in contemplation and duty, rather than catching up on TV soaps and looking forward to the World Cup. The Pope’s agonising self-doubt about his own worth, and his successor’s own murky involvement with his country’s corrupt government are brought starkly into the light by Anthony McCarten’s moving, crisp, heartfelt text; and Jonathan Fensom’s design is formal and uncluttered, reflecting the rich grandeur of the Office but also the self-denial of its Officers.

Two PopesAnton Lesser is simply magnificent as the old, unhappy Pope; filled with uncertainty, deprived of the lifestyle he would have chosen, his occasionally faltering speech revealing the depth of his problems and his humanity. Germanic to the core, reserved in outlook, the height of his self-indulgence is delighting in a Suppe mit Knödel. Pope FrancisHe is matched by Nicholas Woodeson as Bergoglio, with his fiery Latin temperament, a tendency towards impatience and impetuosity, a man who would get his hands dirty in practical work as opposed to the Pope’s more cerebral approach. Together they give us an acting masterclass of immaculate timing and expression, the like of which you very rarely see.

Lynsey BeauchampExcellent support is given by Lynsey Beauchamp as Sister Brigitta, Benedict’s lone confidante and friend, and Faith Alabi as Sister Sophia, Bergoglio’s assistant at the Convent in Buenos Aires. But it’s the gripping tension between the two Popes that takes your breath away; the power struggle, the influencing, the confessions, the opposing positions and finally the meeting of minds.Faith Alabi Probably the best modern play that I’ve ever seen at the Royal Theatre, definitely with two of the best performances of the decade. It would be a Cardinal Sin if this doesn’t have a life hereafter.

Production photos by Manuel Harlan

Review – Rocketman, Northampton Filmhouse, 9th June 2019

Rocketman posterMrs Chrisparkle wasn’t keen on seeing this, but I heard great things, so I took the opportunity to nip into the Northampton Filmhouse by myself whilst she was slaying business dragons in America. I wouldn’t describe myself as an Elton John fan, exactly, but I have a very soft spot for a number of his songs, and I was intrigued to see what they do with all this potent raw material – a life of excess and a musical back catalogue that’s probably sold billions rather than millions.

Taron Egerton and Jamie BellRocketman is, on one hand, a stereotypical biopic taking us through the life of Elton John from his early boyhood up to the time when he crashed into an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting bursting with crises. We see his suburban-comfortable but emotionally starved early days, with a distant military father who cannot cope with emotion and a vacuous mother whose only love is for herself – thank heavens for his kindly nan, Ivy, who was the only one to take any interest in young Reggie. We see him taking his first steps at the Royal Academy of Music, then breaking into the music business, getting signed to Dick James Music, starting a writing partnership with Bernie Taupin, making and selling records and – pretty much instantly – hitting America on tour. And whilst his commercial success escalates, his personal life deteriorates; the only constant in his life being Taupin, with whom he famously has never had an argument through fifty years of collaboration – that’s some achievement.

Taron Egerton rockingOn the other hand, the film is a fantasy musical, with much in common with other jukebox musicals, using songs from an artist’s repertoire to complement the various stages of their life. But the first musical number reminded me more of how La-La-Land starts (in other words, brilliantly, then never regaining that opening buzz) with a big song-and-dance extravaganza in the street. Then the rest of the songs are woven into Elton John’s story, some as concert material, but many in a more stylised, almost ethereal manner; and not only sung by John. In fact, one of the most emotionally powerful moments is Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, performed by Jamie Bell as Bernie Taupin; one of those brilliant cover versions that completely rewrites the original.

Taron Egerton about to fallThe fact that the songs don’t appear chronologically disturbed me a little at first. Your Song (1970), for example, his first hit, is the seventh number to be performed during the film, whilst the first song in the film, The Bitch is Back, wasn’t released until 1974. Of course, that doesn’t matter with a show like Mamma Mia, where there is an invented story around which the Abba songs snugly fit; but that’s not the case for Rocketman, ostensibly a chronological biopic. However, it’s all performed so beautifully well, and the songs fit the various moods of the film so perfectly, that I had to tell myself to stop being so anal about it.

Taron EgertonWhat impressed me most of all about this film was the sheer quality of the attention to detail and its absolute verisimilitude throughout. The three actors who play Elton John at various stages of his life look and sing so very similarly to the real person; they even capture his smile – teeth slightly exposed, top lip lifted up – you don’t realise that’s how EJ smiles until you see the actors do it. The costumes throughout are a perfect mimic of his concert gear; the film’s finale is an (I believe) 100% correct recreation of the promotional video for his 1983 hit I’m Still Standing. That’s all incredibly impressive.

Richard Madden and Taron EgertonAs we know, Sir Elton has led a life of excess; we see the alcohol, we see the drugs. But what of the sex? In interview, Elton John said he had a lot of sex, but the film – despite its regrettable censorship in Russia to remove all traces of gayness – implies otherwise. It would appear that it’s not until he’s the recipient of a surprise kiss by one of the musicians on his first American tour that there’s any uncertainty over his sexuality; and any such doubts are put to bed (if you’ll pardon the expression) when he meets John Reid and, as a result, leaves DJM and takes Reid as his new manager/lover. But that’s all we know of his sex life; you might have thought he was completely celibate outside that relationship, and I have a sense that the film misrepresents his life in this department somewhat. In fact, the only other relationships we see him involved in are with Bernie Taupin’s landlady – that didn’t work, obvs – and the loveless, sterile few weeks of his good publicity marriage to Renate. His long-term relationship with David Furnish takes place long after the timespan of the film has ended. At the end of the day, the film shows that all Elton John ever really wanted was someone to love him, which was something everyone in his life was unable to provide except for Taupin and his nan.

Taron Egerton and Richard MaddenThe performances are delightfully strong throughout. It’s now too late to say of Taron Egerton that a star is born because of his Kingsman roles, but it’s definitely a star performance, with his huge on-screen presence, tremendous voice and just that magic je ne sais quoi. Please read my P. S. below to see how he wouldn’t have got where he is today if it wasn’t for me (I know, I’m so influential). He just exudes quality and authority; he “gets” Elton’s charisma even when he’s portraying him at his most down-and-out. Absolutely first class.

 Jamie Bell and Taron EgertonJamie Bell is superb as Taupin, that ever-reliable presence, a very open and honest guy who’s always the most supportive figure in EJ’s life. You really get the sense of the two of them together as being great mates, getting into a few scrapes but always there for each other – it’s a very heart-warming portrayal. Richard Madden plays Reid as though he’s auditioning for the next Bond movie; terse, arrogant, dynamic and highly convincing. You could really see how he could use sex as a weapon in the war of manipulation.

Steven MackintoshBryce Dallas Howard is also excellent as EJ’s deeply unpleasant mother Sheila, and there’s another mini star turn from Steven Mackintosh as his father; regimented, stiff-upper-lip, finding it impossible to conceal his total distaste for his son’s artistic interests. There’s a truly emotional scene when the successful Elton pays a visit to his estranged father and meets his two sons from his subsequent re-marriage – so, his own new half-brothers – and there’s no attempt to bridge any emotional gap between them, even though we can see how close his father is to his new progeny. You’d be devastated if it happened to you.

Matthew IlsleyBig mentions for Kit Connor and especially Matthew Ilsley as the young Reggies (older and younger) who make those opening scenes of the film such a joy. There are also some fantastic cameos from actors you’d queue to see at the theatre, like Sharon D Clarke as the counsellor, Harriet Walter as the Royal Academy of Music tutor, Ophelia Lovibond as Arabella, Celine Schoenmaker as Renate and Jason Pennycooke as Wilson. Blink and you’ll miss Everybody’s Talking About Jamie’s Layton Williams as an American band member. And it’s lovely to see The Duchess of Duke Street herself, Gemma Jones, bringing warmth and character to the role of Ivy.

Bryce Dallas HowardThere’s a point in the film where the pace of the storytelling slows down, roughly coinciding with EJ’s descent into addiction and his increased antisocial behaviour; and I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I felt the film sagged a little during those scenes. Otherwise, it’s an eloquent account of the first two-thirds of Sir Elton’s amazing life (what’s that you say? Leaving room for a sequel bringing us up to date if the film were a success?) and musically and visually it’s astounding entertainment. Plenty of Oscars and BAFTAs up for grabs here I expect. And why not?

the familyP. S. So, Taron Egerton’s first stage role was in The Last of the Haussmans at the National Theatre in 2012, the year he graduated from RADA. If I may quote myself, “in the smaller roles I thought Taron Egerton, in his first professional stage engagement, shows good promise”. High praise indeed; you heard it here first. None of the newspaper critics commented on his performance. #justsaying

Review – Chris McCausland, Speaky Blinder, Underground at the Derngate, 8th June 2019

Chris McCauslandWe saw Chris McCausland at one of our earliest Screaming Blue Murder shows, back in 2010, and really enjoyed his material and style. It’s been a long time in the waiting, but when I saw he was returning to Northampton with his Speaky Blinder show, that had been a great success last summer in Edinburgh, buying a ticket was a bit of a no-brainer.

Jon LongBut first we had a (too brief) warm-up session with support act Jon Long, who was completely new to us but what a find! A very engaging chap with a warm, inclusive (but never threatening) style, a gentle but deadly delivery, and armed with his guitar to strum a few comedy songs that compliment his spoken material. It wasn’t long before we were all singing about dildos together, that’s how relaxed he got us! Very entertaining material, and a very comfortable and friendly vibe to his act. Will happily see him again.

After the interval, Chris McCausland took to the stage. If you don’t know, he’s been totally blind for many years, and when we saw him several years ago I thought it was fascinating how his disability played a relatively small part in his material. Today that has changed somewhat, and although the gig included plenty of jolly, flippant remarks and jokes about his domestic arrangements with his wife and his daughter, you get a much greater sense that he wants to give us some serious and thought-provoking observations about how his disability affects his daily life.

But that doesn’t mean it’s a sad or downbeat show. Quite the reverse; although he never overlooks an opportunity to increase awareness of the issues relating to blindness, he presents it all through the medium of comedy, and it’s one of those shows where you rarely stop laughing. He’s very open about all aspects of his life, including how he loves his wife almost as much as he loves Mohammed Salah, and his warm and engaging personality totally wraps us up into his world so we’re completely on his side all the way through.

An intelligent, reflective but also very funny hour of comedy. Messrs McCausland and Long are currently touring the country and I’d really recommend you see them!

Review – The Planets: An HD Odyssey, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Royal and Derngate, Northampton, 7th June 2019

The Planets: An HD OdysseyThis is the first time that I’ve seen precisely the same concert twice. Three years ago, the Royal Philharmonic brought their Planets/Odyssey show to the Royal and Derngate and I didn’t realise at the time that it’s obviously constructed as an off-the-peg package. Watching it a second time, not only was the film accompaniment to the performance of the Planets identical, but also the other short classical works in the first half of the concert were exactly the same, played in exactly the same order, and, I think, with exactly the same expression. Even the audience’s reaction was the same, including the embarrassed chuckles at the words “Saturn – the bringer of old age”.

RPOgroupTherefore, gentle reader, there’s not a lot of point my re-writing my comments of three years ago because they still apply, so can I point you towards my review of their performance on 26th June 2016, and please just ignore my bitter post-referendum ramblings at the time (unless you still feel the same way that I do about that subject – that’s up to you).

Nick DaviesWe did, however, have a different conductor for this performance: Nick Davies, a dapper little chap, resplendent in his shiny black suit, revelling in his work, and generously giving the members of the orchestra all the attention and respect that they deserve. Funny how Mr Davies and John Torode of Masterchef fame are never seen in the same room together…. I think we should be told. We’d enjoyed watching Mr Davies conduct the orchestra here twice before, for two of the regular Last Night of the Derngate Proms concerts. He must be more at ease with the jolly/gala kind of nights than the seriously cerebral classical concerts.

Two extra observations in addition to my three-year-old review; this time round, I enjoyed all the film sequences much more. Yes, they can get a little repetitive, but you have to admire the artistry and the technological knowhow that got those images to that screen; pretty mind-blowing if you think about it. However, the screen itself is, frankly, a nuisance in the first half. Its constantly scrolling through messages with details of the RPO’s social media pages and an advert that you can buy the CD in the interval is unnecessarily distracting from the performance. Mrs Chrisparkle thought they should have somehow lessened its impact. A conversation in the Gents toilet I overheard in the interval was more blunt: “I wish they’d get rid of that ****ing screen!”

I’m sure this concert will continue to tour and turn up every few years in all the usual places. And there’s no reason not to go again, as it’s a very enjoyable treat for both ears and eyes.

Review – Orpheus Descending, Menier Chocolate Factory, 2nd June 2019

Orpheus DescendingIf Tennessee Williams knew one thing, it was how to write for, and about, women. His plays always (as far as I can make out) feature a few vulnerable, essentially noble, world-weary, mentally tortured women affected by one lone humdinger of a rough-and-ready sexual male. Think the triangle of Blanche, Stella and Stanley in A Streetcar Named Desire. Brick and Maggie in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Chance and Alexandra in Sweet Bird of Youth. There will be others, I’m sure.

Hattie MorahanOrpheus Descending, which was first produced in 1957, after Cat and before Bird, also follows this structure. Lady runs a dry-goods store whilst her ailing husband complains upstairs, when into her life drifts the itinerant musician and ne’er-do-well Valentine Xavier (you couldn’t create a more exotic stage name if you tried). Val has already had knowledge of local harlot Carol, and is also caught playing up to Vee Talbott, the Sheriff’s wife – never a wise move. Nevertheless, (or, maybe, as a result,) Lady invites Xavier to move into a storeroom downstairs in the shop, ostensibly as a clerk and to save on hotel bills, but, in reality, to be engaged on additional duties.

Seth Numrich and castBriefly Lady enjoys a new lease of life. But guys like Valentine never stay in one place too long, and, encouraged to leave town by the sheriff, he makes plans to save his bacon. However, someone else takes matters into their own hands in a surprisingly catastrophic ending, that represents an irrepressible surge of the emotions that have been bubbling under the surface. Whilst it might not be clean and classic, it’s certainly effective; and if you don’t know what happens, I’m not going to spoil it for you!

Seth Numrich and Ian PorterAs the title suggests, the play is a modern retelling of the Orpheus myth, although I don’t know enough of the Classical story to identify quite where the crossovers lie. I know that Orpheus visited the underworld, so I guess that’s the descent that’s alluded to in the title. Trouble is, if Val represents Orpheus, he never quite gets around to leading Eurydice (Lady, I presume) out of the underworld. Or maybe that’s the point? I’m not going to dwell on it, I’ll leave that to others more intelligent than me.

CastDesigner Jonathan Fensom has very sensibly created a Spartan set, with only a few tables and chairs, a magnificent old till (either beautifully recreated by a workshop somewhere or well sourced by the props department), with the back of the stage enclosed by a decrepit wooden-slatted back screen. This design approach, which allows our imaginations to run riot, is perfect for this kind of play; one that has a large cast of characters and could otherwise get bogged down in trying to present a realistic setting.

Hattie Morahan, Seth Numrich, Jemima RooperHattie Morahan gives a great performance as Lady; she’s that rare combination of strong and fragile, assertive and vulnerable. Although Lady may be in charge of her business, she’s not really in charge of her life, and Ms Morahan’s portrayal deftly reveals that conflict. She is matched by a very good performance by Seth Numrich as Valentine; a tad clean-cut to be loafing on the road perhaps, but then, appearances can be deceptive. Because he comes across as an essentially decent type, when his transgressions are variously revealed it makes them all the more shocking.

Ian Porter and Carol RoyleJemima Rooper is brilliant as the louche and couldn’t-give-a-damn-about-it Carol, face painted with artless excess, someone who’s used whatever it took in order to survive. Carol Royle is also excellent as the slightly deranged Vee, desperate to peek out from under the thumb of her controlling husband, and a lone figure of creativity in an otherwise repressed environment. And there’s a great partnering of Catrin Aaron as Beulah and Laura Jane Matthewson as Dolly, the gossipy locals who love to sniff out any scandal.

Valentine Hanson and Jemima RooperIn a nicely Brechtian touch, the role of Uncle Pleasant, played by Valentine Hanson, is enhanced so that he recites Williams’ stage directions as an introduction and towards the climax of the piece. Mr Hanson hangs around portentously, on and off during the performance, creating an ominous reminder that there is a world outside. Williams often has a minor, but authoritarian male figure who calls the shots – or at least tries to; here given a strong performance by Ian Porter as Sheriff Talbott. But the whole cast do a great job in bringing this slice of southern melodrama to life.

Jemima Rooper and CastThis is definitely one of Tennessee Williams’ Championship-level plays rather than one of his Premiership big-hitters, but nevertheless this excellent production gives us a good chance to see one of his works that isn’t performed that frequently. Powerful and riveting performances win the day! It’s on at the Menier Chocolate Factory until 6th July.

Production photos by Johan Persson