WEEK IN REVIEW

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The Independent Culture
THE OPERA

Owen Wingrave

Overview: Robin Phillips's rare staging of Britten's opera about a conscientious objector, his second to be drawn from a Henry James story, originally written for TV. Ivor Bolton conducts Gerald Finley in the title role with Eiddwen Harrhy, Ann Taylor, Vivien Tierney and other strong British talent. Hisham Ali designs.

Critical View: Edward Seckerson wasn't quite convinced. "Feels, rather like the opera, curiously second-hand ... an excellent cast ... Conscientious, yes, but not entirely accomplished." "Wingrave's lack of sex is enervatingly passionless ... Phillips's staging almost makes the opera convincing," asserted the Standard. "For all the flaws in the plot, it makes such a powerful and moving impact. Finley, handsome and up-standing, singing superbly," relished The Guardian. "Bolton uncovers more tension and torture than this music has traditionally yielded and the orchestral responses are thrillingly exact," praised the FT. "Something of a revelation ... Phillips, whose production has been developed by Daniel Dooner, excavates the sub- plot," announced the Observer.

On View: Playing in repertory with five other operas at Glyndebourne, Lewes, East Sussex (01273 813813) to 23 June.

Our View: It's no neglected master-piece but Britten fans should take advantage of this rare sighting.

THE FILM

Big Night

Overview: Stanley Tucci stars in, writes and co-directs (with actor Campbell Scott) a comedy food feud between immigrant tradition and the American way fought out between rival restaurants in 1950s New Jersey. Also starring Ian Holm as a flashy restauranteur, Minnie Driver and Isabella Rossellini.

Critical View: Ryan Gilbey savoured "a sweet-natured, generous work which will boost the takings for every Italian restaurant within the 10-mile radius of a cinema." "Its virtues include thoughtfulness and a tender regard for human failings. Plus, of course, the exquisite food," slavered The Times. "Likeable and witty ... a film with bite ... as if Federico Fellini were master chef," drooled the Standard. "This beautifully acted film is a modest but big-hearted delight," toasted Time Out. "It creeps up on you unawares ... cooks up something rather special," gulped The Guardian. "The movie is a gentle triumph," gorged the FT. "Subtle and flavoursome. The plot is intricately spun," relished the Telegraph. "It's almost impossible to recommend too highly," dished the New Statesman.

On View: Cert 15, 109 mins at the Gate, Notting Hill (0171-727 4043) and on selected release nationwide.

Our View: Wouldn't you rather see this than Clint Eastwood on autopilot in Absolute Power? (Book a table for afterwards).

THE PLAY

The Cherry Orchard

Overview: Janet Suzman directs her own version of a South African adaptation of Chekhov's masterpiece, first performed in 1904, now set in present- day Free State with whites giving way to the differing demands of the black populations. The cast includes leading actors from the Market Theatre, Johannesburg.

Critical View: David Benedict worried about the over-energised pace but saluted "an inspired production ... In terms of contemporary political drama, there is nothing to touch it." "Where the production takes off is in highlighting the tensions among the black characters ... makes you look at both Chekhov and South Africa in a new light," approved The Guardian. "Suzman's intelligent, moving production ... extra-ordinary freshness and political urgency ... never descends to the politically didactic," marvelled the Telegraph. "A play for all societies, all eras, but seldom have I seen it so resonantly transposed as it is here," agreed the Mail. "This intelligent pro- duction fails to ignite the emotions for the simple reason that for inexplicably large chunks of the play we can't see the drama for the issues," grumbled The Times.

On View: At Birmingham Rep 0121-236 4455 to 14 June.

Our view: Birmingham Rep deserve the highest praise for this bold, brave production. Flawed but engrossing.

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