Arts: The Week in Review

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THE FILM ROUNDERS

Matt Damon's ex-gambler falls off the straight and narrow when his old friend Worm (Edward Norton) is released from jail, in John Dahl's gambling fable.

"Not since David Mamet's House of Games has a trickster's argot come so vigorously to life," revealed Anthony Quinn. "So it's disappointing that the film slumps into such well-worn plot grooves." "No amount of bluffing on the part of Dahl and his largely squandered cast can transform this cinematic pair of twos into a royal flush," noted Uncut, while the NME remarked, "Rounders compels during the poker sequences but it's hard to believe that Mike would put himself out for an arsehole like Worm." "The result is way short of a winning hand, since the screenplay is so predictable," decreed Time Out. "Enjoyable enough. Just don't expect too much."

Apart from some pleasingly tense moments at the card table, John Dahl struggles to spice up this well-trodden plot and the picture becomes weighed down by inevitability.

John Dahl's Rounders is on general release, certificate 15. 118 minutes.

THE PLAY LITTLE MALCOLM AND HIS STRUGGLE...

Big-screen actor Ewan McGregor hits the small stage as unruly art student Malcolm Scrawdyke in David Halliwell's anarchic Sixties comedy, directed by Denis Lawson.

"A fine production of a not so fine play," reported Paul Taylor. "McGregor powerfully conveys the enraged frustration of the terminally weak-willed." "[McGregor] has all the bustling, self-absorbed, humourless ardour as he struts around reeking of phoney grandeur," warbled the Evening Standard, while the Daily Mail gushed, "McGregor makes a most sympathetic, charismatic lout. He struts and harangues like a tin-pot tyrant, but shrivels and stutters at the thought of confronting the girl he fancies." "Much more than a film star on an ego trip," observed The Daily Telegraph. "McGregor is good, but Tennant and Gilder are funnier as his loyal followers."

Lawson's production transforms Halliwell's arduous play into digestible theatre. After five years of stripping on celluloid, McGregor proves just as good in the flesh, even with his clothes on.

Little Malcolm and His Struggle Against the Eunuchs is at the Hampstead Theatre, NW3 until 2 January. Call 0171-722 9301.

THE EXHIBITION BRIDGET RILEY

A retrospective of Op artist Bridget Riley's work, tracing her development over four decades, from the figurative drawings of her student days to today's kaleidoscopic creations.

"The pictures practise no optical fuddle, but they achieve a perfect trompe l'il," divulged Tom Lubbock, adding, "The shadows look like shadows cast, not depicted, and though you can analyse this illusion, you can't blink your way out of it."

"One of the century's most dedicated and successful attempts to catch the tail of its fleeting sensations," enthused The Spectator, while The Guardian pronounced: "You don't have to be an expert to enjoy the effect of gazing and reeling away giddy. In aesthetic terms they are a linear development from post-Impressionistic enquiries into optical perception; in sensory terms they're like getting stoned."

The premise of Riley's work is intellectual, but our response is purely sensory. As well as providing a lucid catalogue of Riley's development, this small show will make your head spin and your eyes water.

Bridget Riley: Works 1961-1998 is at Abbot Hall, Kendal, Cumbria (01539 722464) until 31 January 1999

THE ALBUM GOLDIE

Hot on the heels of Saturnz Returns, the hard man of drum'n'bass returns with a mini-album featuring an abbreviated version of his hour- long opus, Mother.

"It may be called Ring of Saturn, but Goldie's new mini-album is somewhat closer, I fear, to the ring of Uranus," admonished Andy Gill, adding, "Ultimately, beneath the hyperactive surface, there is precious little of interest going on." "Will it sell? Does it matter?" enquired The Face. "The Goldster is better at propping up bars and snogging actresses than he is at cutting-edge dance beats. TV beckons." "A short album that holds out the shortest of olive branches to those not wholly immersed in drum'n'bass," observed The Times. "It seems that despite his pioneering credentials, Goldie is now happy to remain stuck in a hardcore ghetto."

Following the poor sales of its predecessor, it seems Ring of Saturn is also destined for the bargain bucket. It will, at least, realise Goldie's endeavours to escape the mainstream.

Ring of Saturn will be available in record shops from Monday.

THE MUSICAL INTO THE WOODS

Christmas arrives early at the Donmar Warehouse as John Crowley directs Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine's spooky re-working of children's bedtime stories.

"Bob Crowley casts an evocative spell," praised David Benedict. "His Hansel and Gretel-style furniture and the beautiful backcloth hint at classic children's illustrations but the tone is richer, darker and stronger. John Crowley's direction is similarly detailed but," he added, "occasionally you yearn for more energy." The Daily Telegraph revealed, "There is a strong cast, yet emotional involvement is in desperately short supply," while The Guardian warned: "While John Crowley's production offers civilised pleasure, it is also rather thinly sung. In stressing narrative rather than vocal values, it denies us much in the way of aural ecstasy."

Crowley's production boasts strong performances from the cast and a stunning set that will entertain adults and children alike, though the music is disappointingly weak.

Into the Woods is at the Donmar Warehouse, London WC2, to 13 February. For bookings and enquiries call 0171-369 1732

Exit Poll

THE PLAY ECSTASY

ARTS THEATRE, LONDON

CLARESSINKA ANDERSON

19, photography student, London

`I've seen a lot of Mike Leigh's films and its good to see his work on the stage. I'm a big fan and his style suits the theatre well in this play. It was very real, very true, and you don't know whether to laugh or cry throughout. But at the very end, he makes sure you know...'

MARTIN KLOEPFER

26, director's assistant, Berlin.

`It would be a very strange play if you did not know Mike Leigh's work. The actors had to play against the films and you have to say that they succeeded, especially in the second half. You need patience with it early on, but later I loved it.'

JON GUERARD

26, media production manager, New Zealand

`The play has aged very well, I thought. It was somewhat depressing and very funny in an awkward way. When you laugh, you feel like you're patronising the characters. The set and costumes were very good, and the acting very natural. It packs an emotional punch and for us, this was only one evening. But for the characters, this was how things were for them every weekend - and the acting was good enough for you to believe it.'

KRISTEN HAGEN

26, language student, Norway

`It was very convincing, but I didn't realise this until the play was already half-way through. Once you get used to it, though, you then see how marvellous it is.'

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