Arts: The Week in Review

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OVERVIEW

THE FILM LITTLE VOICE

This adaptation of Jim Cartwright's stage hit tells the story of an autistic girl whose silence is broken when singing along to Judy Garland records.

"Try as they might, the film-makers can't make Little Voice any less dowdy and cramped than it looked on stage. This is drama still smeared with greasepaint, and chock-full of exits and entrances that scream theatre matinee," remarked Anthony Quinn. "An oddly depressing experience that seems to respect neither its characters nor its audience," grumbled The Guardian, while The Big Issue deemed it "essentially a showcase for the karaoke skills of Jane Horrocks". "A banal showbiz parable redeemed by fine performances," decreed the Daily Mail.

Even with Horrocks's startling vocal capacity and good performances from the cast, Little Voice brims with cliches and proves better suited to the stage.

Little Voice is on general release, certificate 15, 97 minutes

THE PLAY SONG AT TWILIGHT

The theatre critic Sheridan Morley revives Noel Coward's 1966 play about a writer forced to confront his homosexuality when a young actress produces an incriminating letter.

"The ironies surrounding this current production are rather more interesting than

the production itself, which lacks confidence and definition," reflected Paul Taylor. "Decidedly creaky," carped The Daily Telegraph, adding, "the dialogue... clearly meant to fizz like the pink champagne served in the play - has the stale quality of the stuff you find at the bottom of glasses on the morning after..." The Stage said: "Morley fails to bring life to a piece which remains resolutely static from beginning to end." The Daily Mail noted: "The overall delivery is mostly too pleasant... One hopes the rest of the Coward year sets the pulse racing a little faster."

Hindered by lackadaisical performances from Corin Redgrave and Kiki Markham, Morley fails to infuse the play with suitable verve. An awkward start to Coward's centenary celebrations.

Song at Twilight plays at the King's Head Theatre, London N1 until 24 January. For bookings and enquiries call 0171-226 1916

THE ALBUM JAY-Z

Following up his 1998 album In My Life and riding on the success of the chart-hugging single "Hard Knock Life", the East Coast rapper Jay- Z returns with a third album.

"The overwhelming impression left by raps like `Ride or Die' is depressingly downbeat, a desultory rehearsing of the only narrative available to black American youth today," opined Andy Gill. "Another rap album by a multi- platinum yank who means sod all over here... Who would've thought that the promised land was just a black BMW and a mobile phone?" remonstrated Time Out.

"Anyone expecting drowsy rap dripped over samples from Broadway musicals will be in for a rude shock. Here is a darker, more aggressive side to Jay-Z," countered The Big Issue, while the Sunday Mirror quipped "The album has more of the clever hip hop that makes us craz-y for Jay-Z."

Yet another slice of hip-hop cliche. With song titles likes "Money, Cash, Hoes" and "Ride or Die" Jay-Z has failed to rise above the misogynist, gangsta-obsessed sentiments of American rap.

Vol 2... Hard Knock Life (Northwestside) will be available from record shops on Monday

THE CIRCUS SHOW CIRQUE DU SOLEIL

Following its immense success last year, French-Canadian circus troupe Cirque du Soleil bring Alegria to the Albert Hall. Directed by Franco Dragone.

"One disappointment of Alegria is its

po-facedness," announced Steven Poole. "Ordinary actions are carried out in a bizarre, debased ballet style, and there is a lot of pointless running about with stiff arms by the large supporting cast." "I've tried to pick holes in Cirque du Soleil's shows in the past, but this time I give up," confessed the Evening Standard, adding "Resistance is useless: go along, be amazed, enjoy it." "The serenity is one of the most striking features of this marvellous show, the suggestion of effortless achievement arrived at with a grace that smiles in the face of gravity," gushed The Daily Telegraph.

The humourless expressionism of the Cirque du Soleil

will annoy devotees of old-fashioned circus slapstick, though their spectacular acrobatics cannot fail to impress.

Alegria is running at the Albert Hall until 24 January. For bookings and enquiries, call

0171-589 8212

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