The Post film review ****

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The Post, 8th February 2018

If it was down to me the Academy Award for Best Picture would go to Three Billboards. No question. I see the bookies just about agree with me though The Shape of Water, which I have just seen, and which, to my surprise, I was bowled over by, is offering stiff competition. Mind you, if it was down to me, Ruben Ostlund’s The Square would be in the main list and the distinction between English Language and “Foreign” would be abandoned. And there might not be any Oscars Night at all since it offends my puritanical, armchair Socialist sensitivities, and because Hollywood churns out so much shite despite so much money.

As an aside I am reminded of an unwittingly hilarious documentary we saw once in the US about Foreign Language Syndrome. All sorts of Middle America types waking up and finding themselves talking gibberish in a dodgy accent rather than true Red American. They all sounded like Russian spies in some woeful Adam Sandler “comedy”. Anyway it transpires that FLS is only documented in the US which, you might have thought, would have raised the suspicions of the various medics on camera. But no. Earnest to a fault they insisted on the verisimilitude of this absurd condition. Only in America folks.

Anyway The Post I see is a rank outsider for an award. Which must irk the producers immensely what with it being a perfectly correct, very serious, liberal indictment on the shocking cover up of the Vietnam War exposed by the Washington Post, and, to be fair, other newspapers in 1971. A vital subject, top drawer direction from Steven Spielberg, Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep effortlessly munching up the lead roles, (first time they have acted together apparently), and a supporting cast to drool over. And make no mistake it is a very, very good film. It is just that it is a teensy weensy bit predictable, even if you don’t know the history, which means any tension slowing drains away through the duration of the picture.

Ms Streep plays the redoubtable Katherine Graham, who reluctantly becomes proprietor of the paper after the unexpected death of hubby. She is daughter of the founder which helped. The regional paper is going public so cue so well crafted scenes of banker types and her Board colleagues treating “the woman” abominably. It also means no boats must be rocked prior to the flotation or the dastardly investors will diss the stock (unlikely; they know what they are buying). Meanwhile ex-military analyst with a conscience, Daniel Ellsberg (Matthew Rhys), gets his hands on incendiary material, the Pentagon Papers, showing how successive administrations lied about the progress of the War. The New York Times is barred from publishing. The Post, led by steely editor Ben Bradlee, (yep Tom Hanks), steps into the breach. No electronic files here. The editorial team steps in and paper literally starts to fly. Lawyers get nervous, Board members eschew idealism, Government gets mean. Ms Graham’s bessie Robert McNamara (Bruce Greenwood) is part of the problem. Hanks makes rousing speeches about journalistic integrity and press freedom and Streep is galvanized, sticks it to the old white boys and says “publish and be damned”. Not literally.

It is a powerful and beautifully made, (filmed in 35mm for vintage effect), and should be seen. It is a class act as you might expect given its creatives. There are a lot of beautifully set up scenes which get under the skin of the newspaper business.  It obviously has A MESSAGE for these troubled times what with “fake” news and an incompetent/unscrupulous political economy, (though trust me human history is littered with “dark times”).

I have to say though I found myself more involved by Spotlight from a couple of years ago in a similar vein. Just that bit grittier. Josh Singer (West Wing) was the writer there as he is here, in tandem with Liz Hannah. So what’s the difference. Well it’s Spielberg. The man literally cannot frame a limp scene or tell a bad story. And that may just be his curse.

My latest London theatre recommendations

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So here is my latest attempt to distil the best of what is on now and what is coming up in the world of London theatre.

There is a huge bunch of new stuff which has been announced relatively recently so some aggressive sifting has taken place, though it may not look like it given the length of the list. I have also stripped out anything which is pretty much sold out. For the booking ahead portion I have focussed on those I think will book out before they open (with a couple of fringe ideas as well). 

Top ideas – all on now

1. The Ferryman at the Gielgud Theatre. It has won every award going and you are probably sick of hearing people wax lyrical about it but if you haven’t seen it you must. It’s that simple.

The Ferryman at the Royal Court Theatre review *****

2. Macbeth at the National Theatre. Rory Kinnear and Anne-Marie Duff, our two finest stage actors of that generation, as the mental Lord and Lady. Will be unmissable. It is literally just about to open. Sold out but always a few tickets for the next couple of days as returns come in but don’t arse about waiting.

3. John at the National Theatre. Over 3 hours at a glacial pace but an absolute spooky gripper. About to end and only a handful of tickets left. Sorry.

John at the National Theatre review *****

4. Julius Caesar at the Bridge. I know. More Bloody Shakespeare. But the cast here is to die for and the reviews uniformly good. It has much to say about the world today. Don’t be too worried about picking up the cheaper tickets here as views are good most everywhere. 

5. The York Realist at the Donmar Warehouse. Very limited tickets for this marvellous tale of a gay relationship in 1960s Yorkshire. 

6. Girl from the North Country at the Noel Coward Theatre. I don’t like Bob Dylan’s music but was drawn in by this tale of America in the Great Depression which incorporates his songs. Don’t be tempted by cheap seats here. Here’s my review – ignore the rant about the youth. Mrs Tourist liked it a lot which is rare.

Girl From the North Country review ****

Top ideas – booking ahead

1. A Very, Very, Very Dark Matter at the Bridge Theatre. I WILL WRITE THIS IN CAPITALS. YOU MUST BOOK THIS. A new play from Martin McDonagh about Hans Christian Anderson (don’t laugh). McDongah’s last play was Hangmen which me and Mrs T think is the best play we have seen in the last 3 years. Mr McDonagh, as you all no doubt know, is about to win Oscars galore for Three Billboards … which you have to see as well. This play feels like it will have something in common with his previous work Pillowman. 

I see Nick Hytner has persuaded his long time collaborator Alan Bennett to switch from the NT to the Bridge for his new play Allelujah. Obviously you have to like AB to take the plunge here.

2. The Lehman Trilogy at the National Theatre. Written by Stefano Messini, this has gone down well across Europe. I understand that 4 hours charting the history of a rubbish investment bank, (and not even covering its demise), may not be for everyone but a must see in my book. Sam Mendes (The Ferryman) directs, Simon Russell Beale, Ben Miles and Adam Godley play the brothers. Public booking for the new NT season opens 16th March. 

3. An Octoroon at the National Theatre. Transfer from the Orange Tree in Richmond. Amazing play which takes a dodgy C19 racist slave melodrama and reworks it into a meditation on blackness. Meta stuff. Not for everyone but the adventurous should give it a go. Read the reviews and see what you think. 

An Octoroon at the Orange Tree Theatre review ****

I would also point you to the revival of Brian Friel’s Translations at the NT, a subtle and rewarding play set in C19 Ireland exploring language and cultural imperialism.

4. Quiz at the Noel Coward Theatre. A transfer from Chichester Theatre so check out the reviews. From the pen of James Graham (Ink, Labour of Love, This House) who is incapable of writing an unfunny line. Based on the infamous coughing Major saga on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire a few years ago but examines the nature of truth and media manipulation. 

5. Machinal at the Almeida Theatre. Right this is a full on, Expressionist, feminist power drama classic from the pen of Sophie Treadwell written in 1928 and based on a real life murder case. No cast announced yet but it’s the Almeida so they will wheel in a big name. It won’t have too many laughs.

Ella Hickson’s new play The Writer is also in the new Almeida season. Ms Hickson’s last effort Oil was near genius. This has Romola Garai in the lead but not much else to go on.

6. The Lieutenant of Inishmore at the Noel Coward Theatre. One of Martin McDonagh’s earlier Irish plays. Aidan Turner, (the sexy fella out of Poldark), plays a terrorist booted out of the IRA for being too violent who loves his cat. Black comedy just like all of McDonagh’s work. Tickets are steep mind.

7. Instructions for Correct Assembly at the Royal Court Theatre. It’s always a bit hit or miss at the Royal Court but writer Thomas Eccleshare’s previous play, Heather, was brilliant. This sounds like it is about genetic manipulation and creating your own child, (this being a current preoccupation on the London stage). The problem with leaving RC productions until they open is they normally sell out so I would give this a whirl though everything in the new season looks interesting to me.

(Notably Pity from the pen of Rory Mullarkey though he misfired a bit with St George and the Dragon at the National Theatre last year). 

8. The Cane at the Royal Court Theatre. Its been many years since the infamous Mar Ravenhill, (best known for Shopping and F*cking), has written a play for the RC. A theatrical event. Sounds like it is about a teacher who gets into a pickle. For the purist only maybe. 

9. The Fall at Southwark Playhouse. No MES (RIP) has not been reincarnated, (sorry if this makes no sense but as a reminder the greatest Briton since Churchill recently died). Instead this is a revival of a play by a fine writer called James Fritz who I like. About the relationship between young and old. If you don’t know it the SP is a bit rough and ready but cheap as chips.

10. Great Apes at the Arcola Theatre. Another rough and ready fringe that churns out marvellous work. New play adapted from Will Self’s novel about a bloke who wakes up to find everyone’s has turned into primates. How mad does that sound. I loved the book. 

11. The Lord of the Flies at the Greenwich Theatre. There have been a few adaptations of Lord of the Flies. This is from Lazarus Theatre company who are brilliant. They are also doing a Midsummer Nights Dream later in the year for kids. They don’t hold back and the casts are straight out of drama school. Greenwich Theatre is a poor tired old dame so she needs your help. Please go.