Sunday, 29 August 2010

Sondheim in the Park

With this entry, I have absolutely no idea where to start. I had wanted to see a Sondheim show for over a year, ever since I stumbled across clips of Patti LuPone in the recent Broadway revival of “Gypsy”. Although Sondheim only wrote the lyrics for “Gypsy”, I was immediately transfixed. By this time, the London revival of “A Little Night Music” had closed, and there was no other Sondheim to be seen. Instead, I busied myself with acquiring as many cast recordings of Sondheim shows as possible. It didn’t take me long to realise that I loved Sondheim. The way the lyrics could be interpreted in so many different ways was the first thing I noticed. Even after several repeat listenings I kept hearing something new, which was the second thing I noticed. The third thing I noticed was that there seemed to be a point to absolutely every single lyric. It was almost as though Sondheim is to musicals what Shakespeare is to plays.

This year being the year of Sondheim’s 80th birthday, I realised that there would probably be a chance to see a Sondheim show. There seemed to be several one off concerts, and of course “Passion” at the Donmar, which is impossible to get tickets for. What I really wanted was to see one of his musicals in performance. My patience was rewarded when I found out that Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre was producing “Into the Woods” as their closing musical for the season. I had loved seeing “The Crucible” earlier in the year, so I immediately started pestering my Dad to book tickets. My patience (and indeed, my persistence) was rewarded, and the tickets were purchased.

There was still the worry, though, that the rain would prevent me from seeing my first Sondheim. Luckily, although there was a shower when we were standing in the queue, then another shower whilst we were eating the expensive yet incredibly tasty barbeque, the third and final shower, which started five minutes before the performance and only continued to the end of the prologue, was the last for the evening. I could hardly believe my luck, although it is a testament to the wonderful performance that I stopped thinking about the rain the moment that the last droplet had fallen.

On a humorous side note, the members of my nuclear family who I was accompanied by had given me the strangest looks and even laughed when I told them of my plans to bring a bin liner for my seat, in case it was wet, and a further one to cover my legs in case it rained. Funnily enough, they were begging me for half of my seat liner to cover their damp seats when we arrived. Due to being a quite nice, if opinionated, person, I decided to share. Regrettably, though, on future occasions they will have to provide their own.

“Into the Woods” was the first ever Sondheim show that I had listened to, after blindly grabbing the first CD I saw in Dress Circle with his name on. I loved it from the moment I listened to it. I think this cast recording was really what sparked my interest in Broadway as a whole, because after hearing Bernadette Peters’ voice my research around her, followed by all the shows she has been involved with, became furtive. Anyway, I pretty much know most of the songs by heart, so was really looking forward to finally hearing them performed live. Of course, I had previously heard “Agony” and “Children Will Listen” on the BBC Sondheim prom, the former of which was performed by Daniel Evans and the rather delectable Julian Ovenden, who was my second theatre love, after Gavin Creel. The latter, performed by Maria Friedman, moved me to tears, so I was hoping that Hannah Waddingham’s version would do the same. The real reason for mentioning the Sondheim prom was that another of the principals, Jenna Russell, plays the Baker’s Wife, and I had fallen in love with her voice. I wished at that point that I had known about Sondheim in 2007 when I was thirteen, because then I would have gone to see “Sunday in the Park with George”.

Now, I have made an executive decision to actually start writing about last night’s show. Directed by Timothy Sheader, who is also the artistic director of the venue, the production used the concept of the narrator being a young boy who imagines the story and plays it out with toys, whilst it takes place around him. The ending was also slightly different to how it has been in other productions, but I don’t want to spoil it for people who haven’t yet seen the show. This change to the ending tied the show up well, and made for an ending with much more of a lasting impact than when an adult narrator is used. The other directorial decisions around staging were inspired, for designer Soutra Gilmour had created intricate scaffolding that would never fit into a traditional promescium theatre. This made some of the short appearances by characters, where they sometimes only sing one line before leaving, much more fluid. Then there was the natural backdrop of trees that really did make you feel as though the characters were going into the woods. Overall, the staging was probably the most exciting that I have ever seen, since there was always a lot to look at and new things happening, which added to the magic of the piece.

The costume design was brilliant, except for certain aspects, namely Cinderella’s dreadlocks, which were questionable. The giant, voiced by Judi Dench, was a magnificently unconventional creation which really was in the sky. I can’t really imagine going to a matinee and seeing the show when it was light, because the lighting design was extremely effective, sometimes leaving certain parts of the stage completely dark, despite some of the actors still being on the stage in these parts, to allow us to focus on other things.

Having listened to the cast recording so many times, I wondered how I was going to react to hearing completely different voices. Luckily, Gareth Valentine’s arrangement seemed to be quite different, and sounded entirely different in the open air. It was a bit of a shock to the system to hear British accents instead of American at first, but by the end I had concluded that I quite preferred it with British accents, because the “character” voices seemed to be more prominent and effective than they do with an American dialect.

“Into the Woods” has a book by one of Sondheim’s most frequent collaborators, James Lapine. The libretto is one of the cleverest that I have ever encountered in a musical, and provided plenty of jokes, some of which were very obvious, but also plenty that required thinking about to be fully absorbed.

Like most musicals, “Into the Woods” has two acts. The first act concentrates on the retelling of several classic fairytales. The stories are intertwined by the Baker and his wife, a fictional couple who are trying to have a child, so head into the woods to find a red cap, a cow as white as milk, a golden slipper and hair as yellow as corn. Act One is fun and humorous, but Act Two is where the story becomes darker. Themes of adultery, control, sacrifice and self doubt and awareness lead us into a poignant ending, which I will admit resulted in me crying, twice. The first time was at “No More”, and the second time during “Children Will Listen”. The reason for the tears is because the woods are not just trees; they are, in fact, a metaphor for life.

As fantastic as the production was, it would not have succeeded without an amazing cast. Luckily, what I have decided is one of my favourite casts ever, were on hand. I had previously seen Hannah Waddingham perform a solo cabaret at a small theatre, so was aware of her vocal prowess, but it was only after seeing her playing the Witch that I realised the true extent of her acting talent. Mark Hadfield’s portrayal of the Baker was the first thing that moved me to tears. His presence was enough to make us feel as though it was his and his wife’s story, which of course it is. He was the character I most felt for at the end of it all. Helen Dallimore portrayed a wonderful, if slightly vocally weak Cinderella, and it was amusing to see how she has not found time to update her resume to include “Too Close to the Sun”. As “Into the Woods” is, like “Les Misérables”, essentially an ensemble piece built around one central story, it is difficult to stand out, but my personal favourite performance was Jenna Russell as the Baker’s Wife, who seemed to inhabit her character perfectly and steal every scene she was in. Another stand out was Beverly Rudd’s Little Red Riding Hood. Initially, I found the overall interpretation of this role awkward, but once I got into it and I saw how her character fit into the whole story, I realised how talented she was, even if the way she was playing her was a little obvious.

There was nearly a “hail” moment (torrential rain whist watching Macbeth at the Globe, May 2010) during my favourite song from the musical, “Giants in the Sky”, when just as the song drew to a close a helicopter zoomed overhead, which would have made for an awesome finish. The unique surroundings, particularly the rustle of the trees, went a long way in convincing me that this is one of the best productions that I have ever seen.

For once, a moment that I had waited for and anticipated for such a long time did not disappoint me. I can now say “Into the Woods” is one of my favourite musicals, and that I would rush to any future production, which would hopefully explore another, completely different way of staging this wonderfully unique piece. Now, I am just hopeful that the rumoured Chichester Sweeney Todd production starring Michael Ball, and the mentioned revival of Follies at the Haymarket directed by Trevor Nunn will come off next year.

Thursday, 26 August 2010

"This is theatre, darling!"

As some will be able to discern from the title, I went to the National Theatre for the first time yesterday to see Alan Bennett's most recent play, "The Habbit of Art". This is my review, but I fear that once again I have reverted back to my uninformative ramblings:

Irritatingly, I had applied for Entry Pass, the National’s scheme which allows those of us between the ages of 15 and 25 to purchase a ticket for each show for just £5, a week before going on holiday. When I decided to venture to the National for the first time, a decision which I made the day before going on holiday, the card had not yet arrived. I wanted to have it all arranged before I went away, for I had decided to go on the day after results day, which was just two days after my return from Edinburgh, so I went onto the National’s (rather confusing, might I say) website, and picked “The Habit of Art”. After smugly buying a ticket for £16.50, instead of the usual price of £44 for that section, due to the fact that I am under 18, I was pretty annoyed when I arrived back from holiday to find my Entry Pass membership card on the doormat. Still, that just gives me an excuse to go to the National as much as possible now!

I had heard great things about this play, and the fact it was returning to the National for a second season said something to me. Plus, I have vivid memories of sitting in several year nine English lessons whilst the rest of the class became depressed by Sylvia Plath’s musings (they all blamed our teacher for that), analysing my Mum’s tatty old A Level poetry texts, which happened to consist partly of the complete works of WH Auden. Thinking of myself as some Auden expert (I’m really not, these days I cannot name a single one of his poems, even the one I read yesterday!), I decided that “The Habit of Art” was an obvious choice. Realising that neither of my parents would be particularly interested in the play, I was trusted to do what I had been lusting after doing for almost a year: I was allowed to go to London on my own, on the understanding that I walked straight from Waterloo East to the National, texted my Dad when I arrived, collected my ticket, texted my Dad again, ate a baguette in the cafe, then went straight to the bookshop, went to the auditorium and texted my Dad when I was in my seat. The latter failed, however, because my phone seemed incapable of texting in the auditorium, so I had to make a sneaky phone call, much to the annoyance of the old ladies club in front of me. I know there were big signs up saying that mobiles had to be switched off before entering the auditorium, but it was still fifteen minutes until the start time, and it was a necessary evil to guarantee future solo visits to the Southbank.

“The Habit of Art” was a fascinating experience for me. Not only was it my first time at the National, where I was excited to see that they too provide free cast lists in the nature of Broadway’s playbills, but it was also my first experience of seeing a piece which uses the concept of a play within a play. I really enjoyed this, particularly because it offered fascinating insights into the rehearsal process and indeed how difficult actors can be to work with. It also reminded me how similar much of the drama we see on the stage is to true life.

Written by Alan Bennett, “The Habit of Art” is predominantly a comedy, although when one looks closer it is possible that it is also a drama, for the insight it offers into the characters, and indeed the ending, is thought provoking and intriguing. I don’t really know much about Alan Bennett, or his work, other than that I rather enjoyed the film adaptation of “The History Boys” until the rented DVD decided to stop working halfway through. Now, I am intrigued and want to start reading some more of his plays, after I’ve read my lovely new Büchner anthology, “King Lear”, “Othello” and my borrowed Shaffer and Ibsen collections. Oh, and that degree level German play, which I only have the German language version of. Anyway, we’ve now established that the text was very good, and will probably become one of my favourite modern plays.

The plot focuses on Auden’s relationship with Britten and several “Rent Boys” (who are actually “Rent people”!) during his time as the poetry don at Oxford. That is the plot of the play that the actors are rehearsing within the play; the actual play focuses on a day’s rehearsal where the company decide to run the play in the director’s absence. Here we witness a tale of artistic struggle and self dissatisfaction, on top of the plot in the aptly named “Caliban’s Death”. Throughout, there are many humorous references to Shakespeare’s “The Tempest”, which add to the fun and authenticity of it being a real rehearsal room.

Nicholas Hynter, who is of course artistic director of the National, also directed the play. I had never seen anything directed by him before, because a) I hadn’t been to the National, and b) I wasn’t born when “Miss Saigon” opened, and I was nine when it closed. I really enjoyed the staging, I thought the set, which was static, was intricate yet simple, and that the entire space was used really well. The comedic lines were all very impactive, as were the more serious aspects, for instance the closing scene.

The lead role of Fitz/Auden was played incredibly well by Desmond Barrit. Admittedly, I do have a soft spot for the grumpy old man role, and he did this to perfection. It sort of reminded me of Peter O’Toole’s character in Venus (2005). Malcom Sinclair provided the Britten for his Auden, and whilst the performance was pleasant, it was maybe a little forgettable amongst the rest of the cast. Matthew Cottle’s Humphrey Carpenter was hilarious, and the Donald side of his character was one of the highlights of the show. Overall, though, my favourite performance came from Selina Cadell as Kay/Stage Manager. She was both comedic and touching, and seemed to hold the piece together. I also had a soft spot for Simon Bubb as the long suffering author. He actually reminded me of Dominic Cooper, which was a bit strange because as many people know I’m not exactly the biggest fan of Dominic Cooper’s acting.

Overall, Act One was probably a bit too slow, because all of the main character developments appeared to happen in Act Two. “The Habit of Art” is a modern play which I feel, unlike “ENRON”, could have a number of different incarnations in the future, for because it is a play within a play, it could be set within any era. I wonder if the site-specific jokes concerning the National and Olivier will change as the play goes on tour?

To conclude, I would like to say that the Lyttelton has some of the best theatre seats ever, purely because I was in row R and under the circle, but there was no obstruction by the circle overhang and I had a fantastic view. The seats were also gigantic, but I fear that they were actually just normal size, and I have been spending too much of my theatre-going time at the Menier.


Tuesday, 24 August 2010

I was in Edinburgh.... (Part Two)

Well, I now know my GCSE results, and I'm so pleased with them. I couldn't have wished for better results really.

Now, back onto topic. I must say that I have been fascinated with the concept of playbills ever since I begun to visit the Broadway section of It's such a great idea to have a free cast list/synopsis, because whilst I would still buy the programme in most cases, it gives some audience members an invaluable source of information which they might not want to pay for. This became apparent to me in Edinburgh, where at each show, bar one, we were effectively provided with a playbill. I think it would be such a good idea if all theatres in London were to do this.

Anyway, I will now continue my reviews, using the playbills which I hadn't unpacked yesterday:

Plague! The Musical, C Venues ***1/2

I chose this because several people had recommended it to me on numerous occasions. It was the one show of the day that was exactly how I thought it would be. There was just the right amount of humour, although much of the plot did not really concern the plague, so the latter part of the show felt a little rushed. It was lovely to hear an original musical which has not been performed in town as of yet, and the up-tempo songs worked extremely well, especially with the choreography. However, I felt that the piece lacked some really powerful big ballads that would touch the emotions.

All of the performances were good, but my personal favourite (maybe even my favourite performance of the day) came from Lucyelle Cliff as Death/Polly. I thought her facial expressions and body language were extraordinary, and every time she was on the stage she commanded my attention.

Overall, Plague! The Musical was an enjoyable way to spend an hour and a half, and I can see why it enjoys the reputation it has at the fringe.

The Last Five Years, C aquila, ****

This was the venue that we had the shortest time to find (half an hour), and it also proved the most difficult to find. Luckily we arrived with ten minutes to spare, and then the show started a bit late.

The venue reminded me of the Menier inside, although the air conditioning was nowhere near as effective. At that point, I immediately regretted wearing a long sleeved, high necked dress made of blue lycra, leggings and Dr. Martens. Anyway, the seats were a lot more comfortable than those at the Menier, which made up for it.

I had been interested in seeing "The Last Five Years" ever since attending one of Hannah Waddingham's cabaret at Trinity, where she sung "Still Hurting" and spoke of Jason Robert Brown as though he is a skilled composer and lyricist in the way of Sondheim. I agree with this point. Having listened to the music beforehand, I noticed the same clever lyrics and marriage between the music and lyrics. It's rare to see a production of this in the UK - I believe the last proffesional one was at the Menier in 2006, so I took the chance to see this.

The show began at 10:30, so I was very glad that I had taken the chance to listen to and appreciate the lyrics beforehand, because by that time I was becoming quite tired. I really enjoyed the show, the small fourpiece orchestra were visible on stage, and it was just the thing I like: a small, intimate piece. Admittedly, it's the smallest cast that I've ever seen: just two people, however Benjamin Vivian and Kate Brennan were utterly compelling and really made me care about the characters. It was wonderful to see, and indeed to remember, that there are two sides to the story in every relationship.

So, that was my Edinburgh round-up. I definitely want to go again, and see many more different things. I foudn Edinburgh to be a unique place, where almost anything goes. Provided things are quality, no matter how different the ideas behind it seem it will probably find an audience in Edinburgh.

Monday, 23 August 2010

I was in Edinburgh.... (Part One)

Alas, now I have returned home, and am in the comforts of my own bedroom. Still, it was a lovely weekend. On my return, there were two amazing things waiting for me that had come in the post.

First of all, there was a signed photo from Gavin Creel, who is currently playing Claude in "Hair" in the West End. It's so personal, because there are not only little doodles on the back of the headshot, but also a little note, since I sent the letter in April four days after the run began. Gavin is one of my favourite performers (ever since I saw him in Mary Poppins when I was thirteen) , and I was so happy to receive the autograph.

Secondly, my Entry Pass membership card from the National Theatre arrrived. This was a bit annoying, because I brought a ticket for "The Habit of Art" the day before going on holiday for £16.50. At least now it gives me an excuse to see loads more plays at the National, because the tickets will cost me just £5. I really like the look of Hamlet, or Danton's Death, but I don't think I'll have time to see the latter.

Now I've finished being excited about the post, I might actually start writing my Edinburgh reviews. I just made notes after the show, so I could remember things to write them properly now. These are short reviews, much shorter than my normal ones, but I hope they're good!

Shakespeare For Breakfast, C Venues, ****

I actually thought the promotional material was joking when I read that audience members would be provided with a free croissant and cup of coffee. So you can imagine my reaction when I arrived to find a croissant on my feet. There was a croissant on every seat, as a matter of fact, and there was a rather clever joke about this in the production. It made me wish that I hadn't eaten one at the hotel for breakfast.

This years production was a re-telling of "King Lear", using the concept of as many reality TV shows as possible. I didn't really know what to expect, although part of me was a little disapointed that it wasn't a Shakespearean answer to "Forbidden Broadway". However, it was a highly amusing if a little repetitive production. Yes, some of the humour was a little too obvious, but innovative and interactive staging compensated for this. I would definitely go back and see another Shakespeare for Breakfast, for not only was it a great way to start the day, but I can now impress my new English teachers with my "in-depth knowledge" of "King Lear". Only joking, I'm actually going to try and buy the play text on Wednesday.

Down the Rabbit Hole, C Venues, *1/2

I was really looking forward to this, and I can officially say that it has to be the biggest disapointment of my life. Actually, "Wicked" was the definitive biggest disapointment, but this is definitely second to that.

It was not the fault of the cast, who all had great energy, body language and delivery. It was not the fault of the director, or the set designer, either. I think that it was a problem with the piece, as opposed to the production.

It lasted for only 30 minutes, but was meant to be 55, according to the leaflets and posters. There were several promising storylines but only one, paedophilia, was developed. All of the characters seemed to be written in the same way, and it was just so repetitive. Plus, the seats were really narrow and uncomfortable. This is coming from someone who only takes up a quarter of a bench at the Menier Chocolate Factory!

Spring Awakening *****

I had waited so long to see this, after having been denied a chance to see the West End production. All I can say is, in my opinion it is a lot better than most of the other current musicals in the West End, and I only wish more people had had the chance to see it.

Having read the original play by Wedekind, and listened to the cast recording, I was very familiar with the story, however nothing could have prepared me for the sheer scale of the energy and emotion in the production. By the closing scene I was in tears - it was probably the most moving experience that I have ever had at the theatre.

The score was sensational. Reminiscent of Rent, it is of course a rock musical. The setting of the play has been moved from the late 1800s in Germany to America, but this does nothing to hinder the story. The set is simple, yet complements every scene perfectly. The choreography fit the music perfectly, and the direction was something special - the idea of the young characters using handheld mikes when singing to convey how isolated and bereft of knowledge they are is incredibly effective.

The cast were all amazing. They managed to shine as individuals whilst being one of the best ensembles I have ever seen. Overall, I really hope that Spring Awakening gets another chance to be succesful in London. I think if the show were marketed correctly, and the tickets were not £55 for a decent view, as they were in the West End, then it would be incredibly succesful. We need to find a way of giving people the courage to try something new, instead of opting for what can almost be considered "a brand".

I'm now really tired, especially after almost twelve hours in the car today, and I want to try to get an early night before GCSE results tomorrow. I'll write my other two reviews tomorrow, possibly before I go to school?

Sunday, 15 August 2010

A letter from Edinburgh....

I really hope this is what will be arriving on my blog in ten days time. Tomorrow, I'm going on holiday to the Lake District until Friday, when we will be moving on for a (very expensive) weekend in Edinburgh. I am so looking forward to this, for it will be my first ever time at the fringe, so on Saturday, if you see a slightly crazy looking frizzy haired girl wearing Doc Martens around C venues, you will know who I am.

So, it's my first time at the fringe. Due to it being part of a family holiday, the only day we're seeing shows is Saturday. No worry, we're seeing five shows already, and I'm hopefully going to squeeze in a couple more on the day.

I don't really know what to expect. Obviously, there will be the highest concentration of the greatest variety of entertainment in the UK at this time, but I have no idea about how busy the streets are going to be or what the atmosphere will be like. I'm really looking forward to finding out, though.

Now, I will spend the whole week waiting to write "in Edinburgh" on my reviews. I always find it paticularly exciting when critics in national newspapers are "in New York". Hopefully, one day I will be able to be "in New York", but until then I'm glad to be "in Edinburgh"!

Friday, 13 August 2010

Square eyes

It's been like old times over the past three weeks, where I've actually had the chance to read and watch films. I'm nowhere near my target of watching all of the DVDs that I own which I haven't yet watched, but I have at least made a good start. It's not my fault that I'm an addict.

The reading side has not been so good, but I have re-read The Great Gatbsy in preparation for school. The other three books on the reading list haven't been opened yet, but I thought I could do that on holiday. In my defence, I have been reading French literature.

So, here are the mini film reviews:

Die Welle (The Wave) (2008)

I find it odd that several French films (Amélie (2000) is a really good example of this) are fairly well known in Britain, but it is rare that you ever notice films in other languages, other than English (or should we say American English) in the mainstream, pop culture world. Anyway, it really surprised me that Die Welle is not more well known in England.

The film was an almost perfect look at the affects of a dictatorship, examining how different pupils reacted when a teacher decided to create his own mini-dictatorship in a classroom. In the same way that it is done so well in The History Boys (2006), each of the individual pupils that the story focuses on were developped enough to make it not feel rushed, and that there was even a point to them being in the film. I really enjoyed all of the performances, and was engaged throughout.


Toy Story 3 (2010)

See previous post about this, although I would like to add that the audience in the cinema reminded me of one of the reasons why I don't normally go and see blockbusters.

This rating is really difficult to decide, maybe 62/100?

Venus (2006)

I always love it when I find a British film with big stars (in this case, Peter O'Toole) attatched, because it usually means it's going to be a worthwhile project which has a special uniqueness rarely found in Hollywood. With Venus, this was definitely the case. A quirky, true to life account of a friendship between an old man and a girl in her late teens, across class divide and age. It was humourous in places, yet so poignant in others. A really pleasurable way to spend a couple of hours, without using too many brain cells, but at the same time, not losing any.


Nowhere Boy (2009)

I had been looking forward to seeing this for so long, and I wasn't disapointed. This is fast becoming one of my favourite films of 2009. I am also becoming scandalised at the lack of attention the film received at the Academy Awards, but that post will come later.

Nowhere Boy tells the story of John Lennon's teenage years, and how the Beatles formed. I had never seen Aaron Johnson act before - I was only familiar with him due to his well documented (by the media) relationship with Sam Taylor-Wood, who is, of course, the director of this film. I was pleasantly surprised by his performance, and thought he managed to convey a range of emotions well.

Anne-Marie Duff's performance was also really good, but for me, the standout performance came from Kristin Scott-Thomas, who is one of my favourite actresses. The main reason for her performance being so great was that she managed to convey so many emotions through a character which was, shall we say, economical with speech. I truly felt for her, even though the audience were probably suppoosed to empathise with the protagonist the most.

I loved the way the film was shot, and even though I've never been a paticular fan of The Beatles I really did enjoy the story. My Mum liked it too, which is good because often she doesn't appreciate my choice of film...

Rating: 82/100

Belleville Rendez-Vous (2003)

I've been trying to watch as many French films as possible to help improve my French, but this film really didn't help. I watched it for forty five minutes before giving up! It's an animated film, but the only speech seemed to be on the radio, and even this was only for around three minutes.

The style of animation was lovely, but I didn't understand what was going on, thus couldn't find the overall point/message that the film was trying to convey. So, I gave up. Considering that the total run time was just over eighty minutes, I had watched over half of it, so thought that was justified.

Rating: 39/100

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (1982)

I believe this is the original production of the musical, filmed live in Los Angeles on tour. All I can say!

I have now been able to forgive Hal Prince for the disaster that was Paradise Found. I loved the way he directed this, because despite the huge stage he managed to make the piece feel intimate. Narrative based musicals are my favourite, and Sondheim is my favourite composer, so this was heaven for me. The ending moved me to tears, and I'm now really looking forward to the Chichester production next year, which will hopefully star Michael Ball and Imelda Staunton.

What wasn't to love about it? Now, there is no way I want to see the Tim Burton film, at least not until I've seen a stage production. I fell in love with (even though I didn't know it at the time) Angela Lansbury's voice when I was about five, courtesy of Beauty and the Beast. I thought she owned the role of Mrs. Lovett, making her so loveable it was hard to believe what she was doing! George Hearn was a brilliant Sweeney, complementing Lansbury and showing true emotion. I didn't really like the character of Anthony, just an annoying pretty boy with no personality really, but Cris Groenendaal, who played him, did very well with what little he had. The rest of the supporting cast were also good, as were the ensemble. Something which made the musical work was definitely The Ballad of Sweeney Todd, reprised at various points throughout the show.

Now, I'm just excited about Chichester. I may buy the DVD of the concert version in the interim, because I've heard that Neil Patrick Harris is the best Tobias ever? Plus, I am partial to a bit of Patti LuPone!

Rating: 91/100

Sideways (2004)

Typical, male orientated comedy. It was actually quite funny in places, and quite a relaxing way to spend an afternoon. Dennis Quaid's not the best actor, but he was actually quite amusing, if a little irritating, in this. Paul Giamitti was great as usual. Unfortunately, the ending was so clichéd, but I suppose people need that sometimes.

Rating: 54/100

Moon (2009)

Yet another British film from last year. Yet again another fantastic British film from last year. Moon is an incredibly simple, but incredibly significant, film. I don't normally watch sci-fi films, but I was tempted by this, which I was given fro Christmas, but only just got round to watching.

The story centres on Sam Bell (played by Sam Rockwell) who is alone and isolated on a space craft, save for GERTY (voiced by Kevin Spacey), who Sam depends on, despite it being merely a machine. The film shows the effects of extreme isolation, and also the danger of cloning, when a clone of Sam is produced. Overall, the action is quite slow, but the characters are engaging enough that this is not really a problem.

Rating: 73/100

The Private Lives of Pippa Lee (2009)

One review claimed that the film "resonates with every woman". Obviously, I'm not yet a woman, but I could definitely find a lot in the characters to empathise with. The film centres around Pippa (played splendidly by Robin Wright) and her life story. The film could be considered an ensemble drama, because it is mainly about how others in her life have been the predominant factor in deciding its course, showing how we cannot go through life alone, and much of what happens to us is determined by other people.

I was pleasantly surprised by Blake Lively's performance as the younger version of Pippa, however it seems to me that Alan Arkin always plays the same type of character with exactly the same mannerisms, which is starting to irritate me just a little bit. I wouldn't say the film was amazing, but it was definitely well made, well acted and thought provoking.

Rating: 75/100

Rent: Filmed Live on Broadway (2008)

It may be a cliché, but Rent is still my favourite musical. Watching this just reiterated to me the truly amazing feeling that Rent can create in you, as well as the captivating characters. It reminded me of that amazing night in Eastbourne, and how annoying it is that I never got to see the original production on Broadway.

Rating: 98/100 (But it's not really a film, so this doesn't really count!)

The Princess and the Warrior (2000)

Tom Tykwer is fast becoming one of my favourite directors. I think The Princess and the Warrior is my favourite of all the German films that I've seen so far. Sissi (Franka Potente - my favourite German actress, who is brilliant both as Sissi and in the title role of Lola Rennt (1998)) is a nurse, living a secluded life in the home where she works. This is until she becomes involved in a road accident, caused by Bodo (Benno Fuermann). From then on, she is determined to be with him. Along the way, we find out more about both of the characters. The film is a modern fairytale, made in Tykwer's unique way.

Rating: 88/100

Up in the Air (2009)

Entertaining? Yes. Worthy of an Oscar nomination for best picture? I'm inclined to say yes, so it was lucky that there were ten slots this year, else it probbaly wouldn't have got the honour it deserved.

I loved the cast of the film. Vera Farmiga is on my list of awesome actresses that mainly do independent films, or only have supporting roles in mainstream films, who I always try to look out for. Here, she was brilliant, although I feel that her performance in Orphan (2009) was a bit better. Or maybe it was just a different type of performance? I'll have to think about that one.

Anyway, the film follows George Clooney, playing a man who is in the business of firing people for a living. On one sphere, he is lucky because he gets to fly all over America to do so, but on another sphere he is dreadfully unlucky, because he has no real relationships in his life. That's where Alex (Vera's character) comes in, for she is in a similar job and they arrange to meet when they can. Add into the equation Natalie (Anna Kendrick), who comes up with the idea of substuting travel with webcams. This is where Ryan begins to fall apart, for he faces losing his former life and must find another way to satisfy himself.

Much like Juno (2007), the ending of Reitman's film is abrupt, yet realistic, and leaves many questions in the viewer's mind about what happens next. Just like Juno, it's a quirkym original film which could so easily have blended into the background, were it not for his magic touch.

Rating: 84/100

Fish Tank (2009)

Another matter of fact film documenting a life which could be considered normal and unremarkable. Katie Jarvis, who was plucked from obscurity by director Andrea Arnold for this role, plays Mia, a tough Essex girl (I think that was the accent, anyway) who lives with an unsupportive mother and younger sister. The film documents her at the age of fifteen, with seemingly no way out of the downward spiral she is trapped in. The film is worth a look because it really shows that there is still quite a difference between richer people and poorer people in England.

Rating: 77/100

The Blind Side (2009)

The Blind Side could probably be considered as Sandra Bullock's Erin Brokovich. Admittedly, it's the only of of her films that I've seen that I've actually liked! Based on a true story, the film tells the story of Leigh Ann (Sandra), a middle class lady from Memphis, who decides, on a whim, to Big Mike (Quinton Aaron) a bed for the night, when it's clear that he has no other home to go to. Overtime, Big Mike becomes a part of their family. He becomes Michael as he builds a relationship with Leigh Ann and the rest of the family. They realise how remarkable he is at football, so the family do everything in their power to aid him in getting a college scholarhsip.

The Blind Side is a great film for showing how the class/family you are born into goes a long way into deciding your destiny. It's truly heartwarming the way Leigh Ann makes Michael a part of their family. What's even more special is that it's a true story.

I really loved Sandra's performance. Her "look" in the film was different to her usual look, and she nailed the accent perfectly. I think she really deseved to win the Oscar, and am hoping that she might choose more serious roles in the future, because she really is quite a good actress.

Rating: 72/100

Gosh, that was such a long post. I'm sorry if the comments seem vapid/pointless/generic towards the end - I've been typing this for almost two hours now. Pretty soon I should have finally finished my 2009 Oscars line up. I am fully aware that it's almost time to start 2010's, but just remember how long 2008 took!