Review – Paddington 2, Errol Flynn Filmhouse, Northampton, 24th November 2017

Paddington 2It’s 9pm on a Friday. You’ve had a pre-prandial G&T, you’ve enjoyed your dinner; you want a little pre-weekend escapism and a good laugh. Bottle of Malbec and two glasses in hand, we took our seats at the plush Errol Flynn Filmhouse, along with 89 other adults and one child, bless her. You can keep your Blade Runners and your Star Wars…. Paddington 2 is just sheer joy from start to finish.

Paddington the bear himselfI should point out that we didn’t see the original Paddington film three years ago, but my guess is that you don’t have to have seen the first to be able to appreciate any subtle nuances of the second. The story is relatively slight, but bear with me (geddit?) Paddington is searching for a birthday present for his Aunt Lucy because she brought him up well and he’s a decent, kind-hearted animal. He finds the perfect item in an antiques shop – an old pop-up book of London scenes. Paddington falls in love with it. But the price! Where’s he going to get £500 from? So he vows to work for the money and save it.

BuchananSo far so good. Being a trusting and honest bear, he lets slip to Phoenix Buchanan, a narcissistic actor who opens the local carnival, that he’s saving for this book. Unbeknownst to Paddington, Buchanan is also after this book and he decides to steal it from the shop. Paddington is on the scene in no time and runs after the thief – Buchanan in disguise – to catch him. Unfortunately, Buchanan gives him the slip and it is Paddington whom the police arrest and who is sent to prison in one of the greatest legal travesties in the annals of justice. But, as it’s Paddington, everything turns out alright in the end!

Paddington the window cleanerThis is simply one of the funniest films I’ve seen in years. The blend of animation and reality is just perfect. Take the whole hairdresser shop scene as a typical example of its brilliance. When the inexperienced Paddington clings hold of the barber’s erratically over-powered electric razor for dear life, the sight of the rippling, fluttering fur caused by the vibrations brings the house down. The computer that creates Paddington definitely has a grand sense of humour.

paddington 2 palsThere’s a star-studded cast that most other film makers would die for, and a few absolutely brilliant performances. Hugh Grant camps it up out of all proportion as the despicable Buchanan, in a hilarious assortment of disguises, no greater moment than in the finale (don’t leave at the beginning of the credits, whatever you do) when he gets his chance to present a showstopper (choreographed by Craig Revel Horwood, I noticed). You’ll never think of FolliesRain on the Roof in the same way again. Hugh Bonneville, as Mr Brown, is also fantastic as he blunders from situation to situation, such as when he badmouths the other prisoners whilst they can still hear him, or when he’s caught red-handed breaking and entering Buchanan’s house. Brendan Gleeson is superb as the intimidating inmate Knuckles, who, it turns out, has a heart of gold after all.

The BrownsDelightful vignettes are scattered through the film, with Jessica Hynes, Ben Miller, Sanjeev Bhaskar, Jim Broadbent, Julie Walters, Peter Capaldi, Tom Conti, Meera Syal, Richard Ayoade, Tom Davis, Eileen Atkins, Joanna Lumley and many more taking tiny roles that just keep the whole thing constantly topped-up with surprise and enjoyment. Giving the bears a voice, there are vocal contributions by Michael Gambon and Imelda Staunton as Uncle Pastuzo and Aunt Lucy, and a star performance from Ben Whishaw as the voice of Paddington; the epitome of decorum and politeness, honesty and decency – but not without a dash of daftness and a measure of mischief. Paul King and Simon Furnaby’s screenplay is marmalade-packed with visual humour and funny lines, including some great set pieces like the barber’s scene, Paddington’s laundry mishap and the steam train chase.

Paddington in the pinkDon’t think you have to have kids to go and see and enjoy this film. It appeals to the child in all of us – and also, in part, to the naughty grown-up as well. We were still laughing about this film 48 hours later. No wonder it’s proving to be a box-office hit. This’ll come back again and again to entertain us during Christmases Future for decades to come. A pure delight!

Review – An Enemy of the People, Chichester Festival Theatre, 7th May 2016

An Enemy of the PeopleAfter a much needed afternoon nap, Mrs Chrisparkle, Professor and Mrs Plum and I wandered back to the Festival theatre for our evening main event. Of course I had heard of An Enemy of the People, but I had never seen it before. Nor had I read it. I have three volumes of Ibsen from my teenage years and it doesn’t appear in any of them. In fact, I’ve only seen Ibsen three times – each one a Hedda Gabler. That doesn’t say much for the variety of contemporary approach to Ibsen, does it?

William Gaminara and Hugh BonnevilleRather like Barker’s Waste that we saw last Christmas, An Enemy of the People is still enormously relevant to today’s audience even though it was written way back in 1882. In a little Norwegian spa town, whose wealth comes almost exclusively from tourists flocking to take the waters at the town’s baths, local doctor Tomas Stockmann has discovered that the water there is in fact riddled with bacteria and could do terrible damage to anyone in contact with it. The only safe solution is to close the baths down and have the water source safely reconstructed. The Mayor, an arrogant, pompous man who happens to be Dr Stockmann’s brother, and who pours scorn on his attitudes and activities whenever the opportunity arises, demands that the doctor withdraw his report because the cost of repairing the baths would be extortionate. Will the townspeople agree with the doctor that health and safety must come first, or with the Mayor that their taxes should be protected? Aye, there’s the rub. Although it starts Hugh Bonneville and William Gaminarawith issues of how to deal with whistle-blowers, and the rights and wrongs of public funding, the argument moves on to discuss themes of intellectual superiority, loyalty, and self-sacrifice. It’s a very meaty, satisfying play, which really gets you involved, challenging one’s own sense of justice, and making oneself ask the question, what would you do in Stockmann’s shoes? I make no bones about it, I found the play absolutely riveting.

It’s a perfect production for the Festival stage, with Tim Hatley’s gloomy but not austere set creating a very believable, moderately grand house for Dr Stockmann, with an ever-stocked dining room and homely soft furnishings; which transforms superbly to the offices of the local newspaper and even more so to the house after it has undergone some changes at the end. Howard Davies’ direction is clear and pacey, and by the interval I was buzzing with excitement to see how the situation would resolve itself. The remarkable fourth act (being Ibsen it’s a five act play) where Stockmann speaks at a public meeting had me literally open-mouthed in awe. Cast members filled the auditorium, lining up the steps, shouting back to the stage, whilst others sat in seats in front of the audience, themselves watching what was happening on stage. I thought it was astounding. Public meetingI ended up shouting at the stage too, even though Mrs C had to remind me it wasn’t actually a pantomime. I was jealous of people sat at the end of the row, because they were handed copies of the Mayor’s wicked statement and I just wanted to shove it back in their face saying it was rubbish. On reflection, maybe it was just as well I wasn’t sat there. After the high drama of the fourth act, when the final set emerged reflecting the sadness and defeat of Tomas and his household, I actually let out an involuntary cry of sympathy. That’s how much the stagecraft of the whole production took me along with it, making me acutely sensitive to the Stockmanns’ plight. Even before considering the performances, the combination of play and production had me on the edge of my seat. I absolutely loved it.

Hugh BonnevilleFrom a popular culture point of view, they’ve rolled out the big guns in the form of Hugh Bonneville in the part of Dr. Stockmann. Apparently this is Mr Bonneville’s first stage role in twelve years, and no doubt a sizeable number of the audiences will be there to see Lord Grantham in the flesh. (They may recognise another member of the Downton cast as well – under-sub-minor-footman Andy, played by Michael Fox.) I’d certainly never seen Mr B on stage before, and I was most impressed. He’s certainly one of those actors who looks and feels so comfortable on the stage, who is technically so reliable, and whom you look forward to their next entrance. I really enjoyed the way he captured all of the good doctor’s different aspects: the integrity, the family man, the self-appointed hero, the smugness, the misplaced vanity, the devastation. It was all there.

MobHe is matched in snide villainy by William Gaminara playing his brother Peter, the mayor. We saw Mr Gaminara in the extraordinary The Body of an American in Northampton a couple of years ago and he is a very fine actor. His totally credible characterisation of the measly mayor, thin in spirit and generosity, was really striking, and I spent most of the play wanting to throw things at him, he annoyed me so much. There’s a really strong supporting performance from Abigail Cruttenden as Tomas’ wife, wrestling with the opposing desire and obligation to support her husband but also to make him see sense and not cut off the entire family’s security. Adam James plays newspaper editor Hovstad as keen as mustard to screw the mayor once and for all, with Michael Fox as his supporting sidekick vindictively adding his “bloody right”s, only for them to turn cowardly when it comes to the crunch – which was dramatically highly effective. For me the best supporting performance of the night was from Jonathan Cullen – Jon Cullenwhom I remember as a magnificent student actor when we were at Oxford – as the wheedling Aslaksen, who turns coat at the whiff of an extra penny in the tax and becomes a paragon of parsimony. Finally, hats off also to young actors Alfie Scott and Jack Taylor, as Dr Stockmann’s sons Ejlif and Morten, who stayed completely in character throughout, Abigail Cruttendenand whose appalled reactions, from sitting out in the audience and looking back at the stage when their father was being roundly abused by the town, were genuinely agonising to watch.

I appreciate that if I had seen other productions of this play before – McKellen at the National has been brought to my attention – I might not have been quite so blown away by this one. But I hadn’t. And I was. It’s on until 21st May, and I would urge you to see it at once!