Arts: The Week in Review

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The Independent Culture
THE FILM ELIZABETH

Overview:

Shekhar Kapur's account of Elizabeth I's formative years sees Cate Blanchett in the title role with Kathy Burke as her sister, Mary I, and Joseph Fiennes as her limpet lover.

Critical View:

"Perhaps it's a sign that [Elizabeth's] transformation has not been entirely successful that your sympathies are focused more on the decline in her hairstyle than on the consumption of her spirit by experience and cunning," remarked Ryan Gilbey. The Guardian commended it as "the very model of a successful historical drama," while the Daily Mail pronounced it "the only British picture with a hope of challenging Saving Private Ryan at next year's Academy Awards".

Our View:

A stylish though skin-deep thriller in which the monarch's metamorphosis from skittish teenager to middle-aged ice maiden is seen through a series of increasingly startling hairstyles.

On View:

Elizabeth is out on nationwide release, certificate 15. 120 mins. You can also see Cate Blanchett in Oscar and Lucinda, out on video in a fortnight.

THE ALBUM JONI MITCHELL: TAMING THE TIGER

Overview:

After a four-year absence, the 54-year-old singer-songwriter returns with Taming the Tiger, a caustic critique on modern music and degenerative youth culture.

Critical View:

Andy Gill complimented "...the soft musical texture that undercuts her anger, its pallid, jazzy terrain of sax, occasional pedal steel and Joni's own `guitar orchestra' offering no great obstruction to the course of modern pop". The Times agreed: "Mitchell nowadays prefers to harness her lyrics to fluid song structures discreetly coaxed from dappled instrumental textures, the most distinctive being the jazzy saxophone phrases of Wayne Shorter." The Sun quipped: "You can almost sense the final touches being put to the South Bank Show special. Quite relaxing in a `why am I wasting time?' sort of way."

Our View:

Mitchell's spleen-venting lyrics are beautifully tempered by Wayne Shorter's sedate instrumental cycles and the soft acoustic guitar. A simultaneously soothing and stinging pleasure.

On View:

Joni Mitchell's Taming the Tiger is out on Monday

THE BOOK HAPPY LIKE MURDERERS

Overview:

Set in the wider context of Britain's social malaise, crime writer Gordon Burn intricately examines the violent exploits of Fred and Rosemary West.

Critical View:

"What Burn's book lacks... is any sense of distant authority," demurred Joan Smith. "He has turned the lives of Fred and Rosemary West into a narrative which horrifies, disgusts and assaults the reader, without making a clear distinction between fact and speculation." "Happy Like Murderers generates its own unnerving poetry," revealed the Daily Telegraph: his "strange and powerful book explores the urban flipside of a world that promotes individual choice to a moral imperative." The New Statesman observed: "Eschewing chronological order, [Burn] fractures the narrative, ensnaring the reader in an appalled and continual awareness of the breaking up of flesh."

Our View:

Serial killer devotees will be delighted. Burn's clipped, repetitive and often gory narrative is liable to turn the reader's stomach, leaving those looking for an even-handed account unsatisfied.

On View:

Gordon Burn's Happy Like Murderers (Faber & Faber) is available now in bookshops at pounds 17.99.

THE PLAY MUM

Overview:

Ronnie Barker's play, written as a vehicle for his out-of-work daughter, Charlotte, sees a middle-aged woman chattering to her year-long-dead mother.

Critical View:

"[The play] introduces the perennial problem of how you present dreary, limited lives without producing limited and dreary art," bemoaned Paul Taylor. "Let's just put it this way: after seeing Mum, you don't feel that Beckett or Alan Bennett need look over-anxiously to their laurels." "The play works well within its limits," conceded The Stage, "but lacks the dry humour that Alan Bennett would have brought to a similar situation." "If ever a play needed serious rejigging, it is Mum," groaned The Times, while the Daily Mail spluttered, "As a first-time playwright at a small pub theatre in Islington, [Barker] is frankly an embarrassment."

Our View:

A pale imitation of Bennett's Talking Heads series, Ronnie Barker's first stage effort is packed with crashing cliches, while his daughter's performance proves disappointing.

On View:

Mum is at the King's Head Theatre, N1, until 31 October. Adults pounds 10.50, conc pounds 7.50. For bookings and enquiries call 0171-226 1916.

THE OPERA FLIGHT

Overview:

Nine disparate characters wait for something to change their lives in an airport lounge in Jonathan Dove's first opera. Premiered by the Glyndebourne Touring Opera.

Critical View:

"The number of characters is the problem ... Dove has to work overtime to find musical room for them," said a disconsolate Nick Kimberley. "Dove's orchestra, expertly handled by David Parry, is at its best when at its biggest and brassiest, yet it seems to be running fast just to keep up." "Dove's music is the equivalent of a hot-air balloon, floating aimlessly around without a purposeful journey," grumbled the Daily Telegraph, but the Financial Times disagreed: "A well-chosen cast, top-quality orchestral playing and a production that gave the opera as good a send-off as its composer could have hoped... The audience's verdict on Flight ... a smash hit."

Our View:

Within the plot's rather prosaic boundaries, Dove has created a striking and witty score.

But despite critics' complaints of shallowness, Flight was greeted rapturously by the audience on the opening night.

On View:

Glyndebourne Touring Opera's production of Flight is at Glyndebourne until 10 December. For bookings and enquiries call 01273 813813.

YOUR VIEW...

LEE EVANS

AT THE APOLLO

PAUL MARSH,

24, Banker, Kent

`It was really good. I thought he was pretty lively, very weird, every gag is a winner. Laughing all the way through; it's out-loud, not inside humour.'

TIM SIMMONDS,

22, Accountant,

London

`A very enjoyable night. To see how animated his face and body are, it's all in the delivery. And very down-to-earth jokes, every-day realistic jokes.'

JANET LEWIS,

43, Nursery

Manager, Barking

`Thought he was excellent, really funny. I have seen his live show before and this one was even funnier. He hasn't got any bad moments in it. Last time there were a few. I loved the huge music bits.'

KHALID HUSSAIN,

36, Financial Planning Manager, Barking

`A very good show all round. Very entertaining, very funny and a laugh a minute. It was very fast, very quick-witted and continuous.'

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