The Poltergeist – Southwark Playhouse

Written by  Philip Ridley

Directed by  Wiebke Green

Rating: 5 out of 5.

The level of dedication and pressure placed onto a “child prodigy” is a notoriously gruesome affair. And all too often this expectation snaps, and we find those of immeasurable talent searching out humble jobs with “normal” lives. Sasha is one such star who has dipped. From a young age, his was path set,; Sasha’s first installation planned for 15, already stamped him as an emerging artist. Following an undisclosed incident, Sasha’s life as an artist ends, finding himself working in stationers in a small flat with his boyfriend.

It’s easy to understand the bitterness, but snippets of an event, which crashed his life expectations onto a different path, are alluded to in conversations, but are never fully divulged. Philip Ridley’s script allows enough audience imagination to stitch together an idea, even one they can sympathise with, as Sasha and his ever-patient boyfriend endure the last thing we ever want. A family barbeque.

Ridley captures the intensity and flippant emotions found at a family gathering, to the extent that you’ll find yourself opening a bottle in solidarity with Sasha. It’s a compelling script, which finds roots in an authentic setting and never strays from a believable path; too easy would it be to lean on the crutch of comedy, and too troublesome to pour lighter fuel onto the turbulent relationships. Wiebke Green’s direction complements Ridley’s script, which is mostly seamless and able to reign in the undoubted bursting energy of actor Joseph Potter. Together, the trio stage Poltergeist as a warning of the toxic nature of sipping poison and awaiting someone else to die. Holding onto things is never the answer, and, often, nefarious secrets have their reasons for remaining in shadows.

The outstanding capabilities of Joseph Potter in commanding, not only a solitary stage but a stage with the distractions of home life is exceptional. There’s an understanding in Potter’s performance, coupled with Green’s direction that, in honesty, Sasha is a bit of an arse. Dismissive, snippy and unable to remember the names of relatives (though this is forgivable), Potter embodies someone vulnerable, with an obvious but icy exterior to combat this.

As the sole performer, Potter has the duty of carrying Ridley’s fast-paced script, and it’s a dangerous one to perform solo. There’re slipups at every corner, multiple characterisations to falter over and even the occasional breakneck back and forth. Potter matches each step splendidly. Despite the premise of a monologue, these ‘dialogue’ sequences build a dimension to the production and expand on the expectations we have for the story.

But perhaps most elegantly, if painful in moments, is how much this production shrieks for a destined physical performance. The world of online theatre has catapulted the medium into the homes and minds of people who would never have considered it viable. And every production, good, bad or terrible, has at one point reached to someone who perhaps thought theatre was exclusive or inaccessible through financial means. The Poltergeist is a triumph online, but one cannot help but know how much more mesmerically captivating this obnoxious aggression and angst would feel in a live theatre. Perhaps that, in essence, is the highest compliment that could be paid to Potter.

Review pulished for The Reviews Hub

Lost at Christmas – Review

Directed by Ryan Hendrick

Written by Ryan Hendrick & Clare Sheppard

UK/2020/100mins

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Flip through the channels in the coming weeks, and you’ll likely hear many a herald angel sing, a few french hens and a lot of American accents celebrating Christmas shenanigans. And whilst we could possibly be biased here at Corr Blimey, it’s an awfy rare treat to hear a Scots accent from, well, a Scot in a Christmas film. Based on the successful short film Perfect StrangersLost at Christmas transports the spellbinding magic of the festive season to the home of wilderness, mirth and snow – the Highlands, and Fort William. 

As with the best of Christmas tales, things start rather bleak for our pair. Two perfect strangers, Jen and Rob, each have their most disastrous of beginnings to the Yuletide festivities as the pair discover their partners have entirely different plans and expectations on Christmas Eve. Stranded in the Highlands, as the blankets of snow envelope the rolling hillscapes, Jen and Rob endeavour to aid one another in getting back to the civility of Glasgow. But would it really be Christmas without plot convenient blizzards? Trapped at the Inn (no, seriously), one which seems to cater directly to those looking to avoid the holiday season, Jen and Rob begin to realise that frozen in this moment, away from the world and stresses of normal life that these two strangers may have a lot more in common than they first thought.

Their chemistry at first is by the books, expected for this sort of film. They have their misunderstandings, grievances and cute moments but once arriving at the Inn, Natalie Clark and Kenny Boyle open themselves up to an unexpected depth. Together the chemistry is at first jarring, serving up the shmaltzy angle with which we have come to be familiar. Gradually, and mercifully, there is a companionship before a romance. Clark’s upbeat nature compliments Boyles pessimism, and Hendrick and Clare Sheppard’s writing means that these often trope-like features have merit in their usage outside of character traits.

The ludicrously adorable pair of Sylvester McCoy and Frazer Hines such minor roles, but make-up for a wealth of the enjoyment. Particularly McCoy’s natural ability to portray both jester and serious, a performer with a known background for comedy, who is also significantly capable of drama, even if it does dip into the melodramatic variety. Lost at Christmas is at its finest is when enabling the cast to indulge themselves as the naturally humorous and charming lot that they are.

In particular, the authentic delivery of Sanjeev Kohli’s role as the innkeeper and banter with McCoy and Hines. Other minor cast members fair less well, with a thin fairy-dusting of intentions to offer more to their one-dimensional roles, but the likes of Clare Grogan can transform a rather stiff Grinch of a part into something broader in scope when able.

Set to the composition of Stephen Wright, the film’s biggest hindrance could be a biggy – the score doesn’t feel altogether festive. For some, this could be a killer. And while the colour palette reflects the traditional greens and reds of a Chris Columbus Christmas, it can feel momentarily fabricated.

But, there’s little wonder why one wouldn’t mind being trapped in this part of the world. Save for the lack of signal and good weather, John Rhodes’s cinematography understands the landscape of Scotland. Where the film caters to a general audience for its art direction and internal shots, it more than makes up for in grandeur with wide-open frames allowing for a sense of scale as Jen and Rob aimlessly wander.

And what it boils to, is a genuine moment of clarity and refreshment. In a year where the festive season will undoubtedly look different to many of us – to celebrate in whatever way we can, even if it’s not how we expected. And perhaps more poignantly, in these final moments following a whirlwind of romance detached from the stigmas of reality, Lost at Christmas takes a curious, but becoming option in how it closes. It may not ring of tinsel and baubles, but it’s a sobering moment which leaves an impact of truth. 

This is without question a shortbread tin of a film. But guess what? People love shortbread. They adore Christmas, and in leaning enough into the expectations those outside of Scotland would hope for, but not so heavily that those of us within the country to have Brigadoon flashbacks, Lost at Christmas has a clear heart, charm and message. Forge a new Christmas love closer to home this year, and come to realise that though this may be a Christmas like no other, it is the new connections and memories we make along the way, and not so much how we celebrate, which keep us going.

Lost at Christmas will be released in cinemas December 4th and will be available for digital download December 7th.

Mafia Inc – Review

Written by André Cédilot

Directed by Daniel Grou

USA/ 2020/ 143 min

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Families can be rough, especially those who work together. And no family ‘business’ is complete without a few bust-ups, a wedding, and what else? Contracted hits. Adapted from André Cédilot and André Noël’s book concerning a Sicilian crime syndicate family in Canada, Mafia Inc. gradually draws out an old-fashioned crime flick in a refreshing setting. The dark streets of America or the warming countryside of the old country are exchanged for the quiet suburban neighbourhoods of Montreal.

Frank Paterno (Sergio Castellitto) buys his suits from the same place for over forty years, and without a loose thread or blemish to their name, he had no intention of stopping his friendship with Henri Gamache (Gilbert Sicotte). That is until Paterno promotes Gamache’s son above his own within the crime syndicate family. Jealousy, trade-offs, and loose lips slowly unravel Paterno’s empire, but the cascading embers are likely to burn the fingers of those getting too close.

Honour holds a central place in these films, and there’s no difference here as lines are crossed as the Gamache family turn their back on their former son, igniting a war as loose cannons are left to their own devices. While not entirely predictable, aspects do play out in familiar avenues of the genre, and though the wrapping may look different, the contents are much the same.

Marc-André Grondin as the bombastically shunned Vince delivers a thoroughly unhinged catalyst to the downfalls of various characters, but Daniel Grou’s daunting direction makes Grondin too cartoonish in the way he holds himself. In stark contrast (designed this way) Donny Falsetti is calm, precise, and far more chilling in his command of the family’s influence than his former friend.

Time is taken to establish links across the large cast, and while some begin to bloat the film, heads of their respective families Castellitto and Sicotte serve such authenticity for the old ways of handling things. Their conversations, and brief but intimidating grasps of power echo with a silent appreciation of two men at the height of their achievements. Dipping into French, Italian and English, it adds scope to Sylvian Guy’s writing in how wide a circle of influence the men conduct themselves.

Opulent; the riches of the family emerge in drips rather than lavish exposures. Weddings, festivities, and business matters offset the symbolic powerhouse the family hold in comparison to the slums and warehouses on which these riches are built. The analogy of the importance of a fine suit from a trusted tailor evoke precisely the expected dialogue one expects from a crime thriller, and every syllable of his delivery is sold in droves by Castellito.

Steve Cosens opens up the camera, pushing for close-ups only where the intensity or discomfort is palatable. The cinematography is clean, avoiding grime and the expected greys of a crime film, instead, embracing whites to strike against the sporadic uses of crimson violence – all counter-balanced to the precise measurements of a well-fitting soundtrack from Laurence Lafond-BeaulneCamille Poliquin and Joseph Marchand.

Primed, loaded and with a steady hand Mafia Inc. aims to deliver a gripping, old-school gang flick. But the trigger is never fully pulled. Respect must be earned, and Grou garners some for his impressive film. Its refusal to pander to traditionally trudged paths in the genre is to be admired – even for the shortfalls. There are no horses heads, no ‘whacking’ and though the comedy certainly will ‘amuse you’, Mafia Inc. grounds itself in a contemporary realism in both the grandeur of crime families, and the humbleness of tailors.

Review published for The Wee Review