Friday 24 August 2012

Film Review: Take This Waltz (Polley, 2011)

“I’m afraid of connections at airports. Of being between things,” muses the antsy Margot (Michelle Williams) to the laidback Daniel (Luke Kirby), a man she’s just met during a (rather quirky) writing assignment expedition, as the two fly back home to Toronto. As you might have guessed, it’s not just her feelings about air travel that Margot is sharing here. And what you might also guess is that our heroine is soon to find herself - majorly - “between things”: drawn to Daniel (who turns out to live not only in the same neighbourhood that she does but also on the same street) but torn by her feelings of loyalty to Lou (Seth Rogen), the affable schlump of a spouse to whom she’s been hitched for five years.

The clunkiness of moments such as those outlined above - clunkiness which seems almost perversely assured of its own cleverness - scuppers Sarah Polley’s sophomore feature Take This Waltz early on. Polley made such a good job of Away From Her (2006), her debut film adapted from Alice Munro’s “The Bear Came Over The Mountain,” that it’s painful to see her go as wrong as she does with her new movie. Away From Her had some bogus moments, but not so many as to distract from its strong central premise and touching portrait of a relationship undergoing (forced) renegotiation. Take This Waltz, on the other hand, is practically all bogus moments. Striving for spontaneity, scene after scene here ends up arch and artificial, almost eerily “off.” It’s a movie full of self-absorbed people indulging in affected, unbelievable yakking. Margot and Lou’s marital malaise is sketched in intensely irritating scenes of play-fighting and baby talk, while her growing intimacy with Daniel is outlined in a tortuous restaurant-set sex talk encounter, from which Nicholson Baker’s Vox has nothing to fear.

Despite all the synthetic chit-chat, Take This Waltz attempts to be physical, too. A sequence set at a swimming baths wrests heavy-handed laughs from the camp antics of a water fitness instructor - and a spot of pool peeing - before contrasting the lithe bodies of Margot and her chums with the ageing, sagging flesh of the other women at the class. That might work, were the scene not handily editorialised for us by the characters’ wittering about how “everything new turns old.”

Elsewhere, as in Away From Her, Polley once more displays her impeccable Canadian cultural credentials. Named for the Leonard Cohen (via Garcia Lorca) song which plays over a truly excruciating late montage sequence, the film’s soundtrack also boasts Feist covering Cohen’s “Closing Time” (rather as Away From Her signed off with kd lang covering Neil Young). And when Margot and Lou head out for their anniversary date movie, what should that movie be? Why, nothing less than Claude Jutra’s Québécois classic Mon oncle Antoine (1971), of course.

Since the two male leads aren’t quite adequate - Rogen’s big emotional scene is unhelpfully shot to look like a Dramatic-Acting-101 exercise and Kirby, saddled with almost all the worst lines, can make nothing of his cipher of a role - it’s left to Michelle Williams to carry the movie. One of the finest young actresses in America, she’s up to the job, even if you may wish that Polley hadn’t saddled Margot with quite so many irritating accoutrements, and so many pathetic weepy moments. Still, Williams comes through, especially in those scenes in which the interior drama of the protagonist’s dilemma is conveyed without words.

And, unaccountably, in its final fifteen minutes or so, Take This Waltz comes through, too, taking a swerve into truth that’s all the more startling for being so utterly unexpected. Here, at last, Polley drops the artificiality and the heavy veil of hipster-angst chic and offers a few graced scenes that feel heartfelt and tender, and that stir some very personal feelings. “Some things you do in life - they stick,” one character tells another, gently laying bare their inability to move on. The final scenes of Take This Waltz “stick” too, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen a film that irked me so thoroughly throughout and then succeeded in moving me to tears at the end. (I reported this to a friend who told me that she’d had a similar experience last year at Terence Davies’s The Deep Blue Sea.) It’s frustrating - yet in a strange way also heartening - that Take This Waltz becomes, so briefly and belatedly, everything you'd hoped that it might be.

Theatre Review: Vieux Carré (Charing Cross Theatre)

722 Toulouse Street was the location of the insalubrious rooming house in the Old Quarter of New Orleans where Tennessee Williams lodged in the late 1930s; the playwright made his encounters and experiences there the subject of several of his early short stories, and also of Vieux Carré, a play which he began drafting in 1938 but didn’t complete until the late 1970s. Starring Sylvia Sidney, the original Broadway production of Vieux Carré flopped, closing after just five performances in 1977, and the play has rarely been seen since. Swiftly transferring to the Charing Cross Theatre following its highly acclaimed run at the King’s Head last month, Robert Chevara’s revival can’t quite redeem the structural sloppiness of the piece. But it is nonetheless a spirited production that offers some considerable pleasures.

“The major theme of my writings,” Williams averred around the time of Vieux Carré’s opening, “is the affliction of loneliness.” Vieux Carré bears out that self-assessment, presenting a portrait of frustrated individuals all condemned to solitary confinement in their own skins and struggling to forge connections. A mixture of memory play and künstlerroman the piece concerns the inhabitants of the boarding house run by the volatile widow Mrs. Wire, as they are observed and recollected by the young Williams avatar, The Writer (Tom Ross-Williams). As The Writer begins to covet the stories of these individuals for his work, so most of them want something from him: whether sex (in the case of the predatory and pathetic ailing artist Nightingale), a “civilised conversation” (in the case of Jane, who’s shacked up with a studly ne’er-do-well) or a surrogate son, in the case of Mrs. Wire herself.

Infused with the ghosts of earlier (and better) Williams dramas – echoes of The Glass Menagerie, Streetcar, Orpheus Descending and Suddenly Last Summer surface at various points – Vieux Carré teeters on the brink of self-parody throughout, the material feeling by turns undercooked and overheated. Alongside the overriding “affliction of loneliness,” Williams chucks an array of physical ailments into the mix – tuberculosis, leukaemia, and a cataract for starters – to ever-diminishing returns. And while it’s fascinating, and even moving, to find the playwright writing more frankly about homosexual experience than he’d been able to in his earlier work the increased explicitness doesn’t, alas, result in greater dramatic intensity.

Still, Chevara’s production finds the moments of truth in the scenario, and brings out the mixture of the lurid and the lyrical that characterizes the best encounters here. (Quoth the painter to The Writer after the latter describes his first sexual experience: “Love can happen like that. For one night only.”) With a set by Nicolai Hart-Hansen that provides what Williams envisaged as “a poetic evocation of the cheap rooming houses of the world,” the director’s restaging of the production for the new venue doubtless gives the action more space to breathe – and the actors more room for manoeuvre. Some decidedly rocky accents notwithstanding, the performances are mostly effective, with especially fine work from David Whitworth as the tubercular artist unwilling to accept the seriousness of his condition and from Samantha Coughlan as Jane, the society girl “betrayed by a sensual streak in my nature.”

Replacing Nancy Crane, who played the role at the King’s Head, Helen Sheals is excellent as the tyrannical landlady, conveying both the character’s cruelty and her weakness, while Eva Fontaine, as Mrs. Wire’s companion Nursie, and Anna Kirke and Hildegard Neil as the two elderly ladies starving to death in the basement, also maximise their small roles. Of the younger male actors, Paul Standell delivers the strongest performance as Jane’s boyfriend Tye, a swaggering, drug-addicted alpha male and homophobe, who’s nonetheless willing to go gay-for-pay. Overall, Chevara’s production doesn’t make the case for Vieux Carré as a lost Williams classic. But it’s a sterling revival and those who missed out on seeing it at the King’s Head will be glad to have the opportunity to catch it here.

The production runs until 1st September.

Reviewed for The Public Reviews.

Thursday 16 August 2012

Film Review: Keyhole (Maddin, 2011)

“What’s a city without its ghosts?” pondered Guy Maddin towards the end of his sublime docu-fantasia My Winnipeg (2007). Maddin’s latest work, Keyhole, which premiered at last year’s Toronto Film Festival, poses similar questions. Not in relation to an entire city this time but rather to a family domicile, a house in which the living and the dead seem to share a seamless, if hardly frictionless, existence. As the venerable Loyd Grossman would inquire: "Who lives in a house like this?"  

Keyhole received a lukewarm-to-hostile critical reception at the TIFF, and it’s not hard to see why. For, after My Winnipeg’s relative accessibility, this is, I think, one of Maddin’s most demanding, elusive, and, at times, maddening works, a movie which, in the director’s delicious phrase, “pushes the abstract-o-meter into the red.” Developed from a short film, Keyhole offers enough wigged-out weirdness, melodramatic flights of fancy and psycho-sexual shenanigans to sustain several Maddin features, and to make the likes of The Saddest Music in the World (2003) and Brand Upon the Brain! (2006) look positively streamlined by comparison. The movie is impossible to grasp in its entirety on a first viewing. But on initial acquaintance I’d venture to say that it’s one of Maddest richest and deepest efforts, a film that, if not quite a masterpiece, nonetheless attests once more to the director’s particular, peculiar genius.

Amusingly, Keyhole apparently evolved from Maddin’s desire to make a more accessible kind of feature: a genre film that would satisfy distributors concerned about his work’s unmarketability. But what’s resulted instead - not entirely unsurprisingly - is a giddily self-conscious genre mash-up: a combo of spook story, quest narrative and gangster flick filtered through Gaston Bachelard-influenced spatial theories and augmented with yet more melodramatised revelations from the Maddin family closet. It opens with a shoot-out: a gang of gangsters firing their way into a building that turns out to be the home of their boss, one Ulysses Pick (Jason Patric). As the motley crew of cronies scheme, squabble and spoon, the amnesiac Pick ventures through the rooms of the house, in search of his estranged wife Hyacinth (Isabella Rossellini). He’s accompanied on this expedition by a blind, drowned girl, Denny (Brooke Palsson), and, more significantly still, by a bound-and-gagged kidnap victim (David Wontner) who turns out to be Pick’s very own son.

In a pre-screening video message that replaced the BFI Q&A that he was sadly unable to attend, Maddin extended the viewer something of an interpretive helping hand through the Keyhole labyrinth, noting how the movie evolved from a recurrent dream involving his deceased father. It’s no surprise then that, like all the best ghost stories, Keyhole feels rooted in loss and grief, even if its resonances remain tantalisingly elusive for the most part. With their wholesale evocations of and excavations from the deepest reaches of the cinematic past, Maddin’s movies have often felt like haunted houses of sorts, works possessed by the spirits of past scenes and stars and styles. Keyhole pushes that approach in its logical direction to create a work that feels, very often, entirely illogical. As so often with Maddin, the tone shifts rapidly, disorientatingly, from absurdism to menace to melancholy, from the lurid to the oblique. And as always, individual scenes and set-pieces startle: a ghostly fellatio performed on an ornamental penis and a bicycle-powered electrocution are just two of the standouts here.

Performances are variable in their effectiveness, but Patric, Rossellini, Udo Kier (as a doctor with his own story of loss to impart) and Louis Negin (a dominating presence as Rossellini’s cackling, chained and whip-wielding father) are as vivid as can be, with Palsson and Wonter equally strong. The movie riffs through so many layers of association and resonance that it becomes quite overwhelming (though never, I would argue, exhausting). And the final twenty minutes - with their twisty-turny almost-revelations about just who might be haunting who - are as unnerving and ultimately as moving as any in Maddin’s cinema. While Keyhole seems destined to be dismissed in some quarters as an empty bag o’ tricks, I found it to be a profoundly disquieting and exciting piece of work. In a movie that’s deeply concerned with space - and that draws parallels between the topography of a home and that of a psyche (“So many locked doors. And they all have to be opened!”) - Maddin generously offers the viewer a huge amount of interpretive space here, spurring memories of our own dreams and fears and fantasies. Keyhole is a self-consciously haunted and haunting experience, one that confounds, exasperates, bewilders and beguiles by turns. I’m excited to revisit it at the earliest opportunity.

Keyhole is released in the UK on 14th September.

Theatre Review: Cornelius (Finborough Theatre)

Written for Ralph Richardson immediately following the actor’s success in Eden End, J.B Priestley’s play Cornelius debuted in the West End in 1935. Admired by critics but failing to find much favour with audiences, it’s rarely been staged since. The reasons for this are rather baffling for, despite occasional creaks and contrivances, Priestley’s play is, overall, a most delightful thing: a touching, funny, vivid snapshot of office life between the wars. Sam Yates’s perfectly pitched, ideally cast and neatly designed production at the Finborough – the first London staging in seventy (count ‘em!) years – makes a thoroughly convincing case for this neglected play, and sensitively conveys its sadnesses, its humour and its hopes.

The temptation to excavate plays from the past that can seem to reflect (however tenuously) on the current financial crisis has proved difficult to resist for many theatre directors, and Cornelius may initially appear to be the Finborough’s attempt to jump on that particularly crowded bandwagon. The drama unfolds in the Holborn office of a failing import firm run by Jim Cornelius and his (currently absent) partner Robert Murrison.  The latter, it emerges, is in the middle of a pretty serious mental breakdown, but Cornelius himself remains outwardly sanguine, even as his doubts about the business world and the direction of his life sometimes surface.  

Priestley’s play thus anatomises Big Themes – capitalism, business and their relation to human fulfilment - but it does so with a light, welcoming touch and a focus on the intimate dilemmas of its protagonists. A broader social picture certainly emerges – notably in a superb scene featuring Andrew Fallaize as an ex-Air Force officer, impoverished and reduced to flogging office stationary to earn a crust, and in Cornelius’ critical address to the company’s creditors. But what resonates the most are the personal concerns of the characters as they play out the mini-drama of daily office life, with its routines, jealousies, flirtations and moments of sympathetic connection.   
Now bursting into buoyancy, now plunging into reflectiveness, a dynamic Alan Cox makes the role devised for Ralph Richardson entirely his own, brilliantly communicating both Cornelius’ sense of regret and wasted potential and the restless, eccentric, imaginative spirit that the grind of office-dom has not entirely managed to quell. The actor’s star turn is complemented by fine performances across the board, several of which manage to redeem Priestley’s occasionally clichéd characterisation. The always-cherishable Beverley Klein is striking in two roles: first, as the firm’s salt-of-the-earth cleaner ,and then as the niece of the firm’s landlord, who breezes into a creditors meeting in search of amusement (!) and then flees when the conference goes horribly awry. Col Farrell twitters endearingly as Biddle, the company’s cashier, a man so convinced that life has nothing much more to offer that he’s taken to organising his own cremation. The Audrey-Tautou-evoking Emily Barber brings exceptional candour to her role as the fragrant new typist who succeeds in stirring Cornelius’s romantic interest. And as the prim, lovelorn Miss Porrin, nursing a major crush on her employer, Annabel Topham fleshes out a caricature with real depth of emotion, culminating in a heart-rending moment of rejection near the end.

Indeed, with its farewells and declarations, its sense of hopes raised and unceremoniously dashed, of opportunities missed and life moving on, there’s a distinctly Chekovian flavour to the final act of Cornelius, which is infused with Priestley’s alertness to what a character in Eden End called "the way circumstances and time can change and hurt us". A final redemptive flourish feels honest and earned, however, a testament to the humanity of the playwright's vision, which Yates’s radiant revival so beautifully brings forth.

Monday 13 August 2012

Film Review: The Vow (Sucsy, 2012)

“Can a once-in-a-lifetime love find a second chance?” This is the teaser posed in Michael Sucsy’s The Vow (2012), a poorly written, execrably executed piece of romantic piffle starring two of Hollywood’s drippiest, Rachel McAdams and Channing Tatum. Sucsy’s film is so feeble that it makes you think back affectionately (well, almost) to Nick Cassavetes’s The Notebook (2004), which seems, in memory at least, like a pretty spirited piece of movie-making by comparison. “Inspired” by a true story, The Vow is something of a Random Harvest for the 2010s (just what the world needed, right?). It focuses on a married couple, Paige (McAdams) and Leo (Tatum), whose perfect young love hits the buffers when Paige awakens from a post-car-crash coma unable to remember anything about Leo, their marriage or the last five years of her life. Paige is soon pulled back into the orbit of the parents she’s been estranged from (Sam Neill and Jessica Lange), with Leo relegated to the sidelines. “I gotta make my wife fall in love with me again,” he resolves. After all: “It only took her two weeks the first time.”

I watched The Vow in the interests of Jessica Lange completism. But flitting in and out of the movie, looking either smug or disapproving, Lange is barely there. One of the most vivid, inventive actresses of our era is given practically nothing to do, with only one meagre scene that she’s able to make her own. And as expected, the leads can’t come up with anything fresh to compensate. McAdams’s one-emotion-at-a-time shallowness isn't exactly adequate to convey the confusion of a woman experiencing a serious identity crisis, and Tatum matches her for blandness scene by scene. He’s a chunk of nothing, and Sucsy resorts to having him remove his shirt at intervals to sustain audience interest. Scott Speedman shows a little bit of spark as Paige’s former beau. But his big confrontation scene with Tatum - it takes place at a wedding, natch - is such a contrived, generic encounter that you end up embarrassed for him, too.

There’s scarcely a believable interaction in the whole inept, insufferably glossy movie - the scenes range from fake to plain screwy - but my favourite bad moment comes early on, in the sequence in which Paige and Leo exchange their pivotal pledges. “I vow to help you love life, to always hold you with tenderness… To live within the warmth of your heart and always call it home,” Paige breathes. Leo offers: “I vow to fiercely love you, in all your forms, now and forever, and to never forget that this is a once-in-a-lifetime love.” Are these the kind of vows anyone in their right mind would want to hear, even once? Well, Sucsy and his screenwriters (Abby Kohn, Marc Silverstein and Jason Katims share the credit) must think so, since we get to experience these gems a further two times in the movie. The Vow might have had something going for it if its cornball premise had been jazzed up and played for laughs, but what’s resulted instead is wet pap that might have been laughed off the screen seventy years ago. Change the “c” in “Sucsy” for a “d” and you’d have quite the most appropriate name for a director in the whole of film history.

Liebster Award

Chris at moviesandsongs365 was kind enough to pass on the Liebster Award to me a couple of weeks ago. It’s a film-related meme that asks bloggers to answer questions about themselves and then pass it on to other bloggers. I’ve adapted it slightly, but here's my response to the excellent questions that Chris set.

1. When and how did you become interested in movies?
I’d been taken to films from an early age, and the occasional one - such as Return to Oz - made a big impression. But the turning point in terms of seeing films not so much as a pastime but as a way of life was Home Alone in 1990, age 10.

2. Who is your favourite director, and why?
I kind of surprise myself by saying this, because there are several of his movies that I think are very bad indeed. But for taking American cinema in directions no-one else ever had, I'm going to go for Robert Altman.  I sorely miss getting new films from him. Hitchcock, John Sayles and Claire Denis would all be alternative candidates.

3. What is your favourite movie discovered in 2012 (old or new), and why?
Toss-up between The Kid With A Bike,  Martha Marcy May Marlene and Keyhole.

4. If you had to recommend any movie that you think everyone should watch, what would it be, and why?
This question kind of makes me want to say Problem Child 2 or something. But to that classic I’ll add Dziga Vertov’s Man With A Movie Camera. For being so inimitably thrilling, and my favourite film in the Sight & Sound "Greatest Films" Top 10. 

5. Have you been to film festival, and how was the experience?
Yes, London numerous times. Always a good experience.

6. Which soundtrack or score do you keep going back to?
Lost in Translation. Also Wojciech Kilar’s overwhelmingly beautiful score for Jane Campion's The Portrait of A Lady.

7. What films do you find yourself daydreaming about every so often?
Well, at the moment, it’s all about Mr. Maddin’s maddening and marvellous Keyhole.

8. Who do you talk about movies with in real life, outside of the blogosphere?
Friends, family, colleagues, students.

9. Favourite film poster?
The one for Alain Resnais’s Wild Grass.

10. What movie is the record holder that you have seen the most times, and why?
It’s either Home Alone, or Paradise, which I wrote about recently.

11. Which movie websites (not blogs) do you visit?
Too few, I must confess, these days. But and fairly regularly

So here’s 11 questions for:  Michał at Last Seat on the Right, Jason at Popsublime and John Gray at Going Gently, should they have the time/inclination.

1. What was the first movie that had an impact on you?
2. Where is your favourite place to see a movie?
3. What is your favourite film of 2012 so far, and why?
4. What is your favourite Meryl Streep performance, and why?
5. Which film do you consider to be overrated?
6. How many DVDs do you own, and which is your favourite?
7. Do you have a favourite film-related book? (Of criticism, biography, whatever.) Which one, and why?
8. Best use of a song in a (non-musical) movie?
9. A film that scared you?
10. Favourite French film? And why?
11. Complete the sentence: I love movies because …

Happy Birthday, Hitch

Happy 113th, Alfred Hitchcock. With thanks for providing more fabulously perverse pleasures and terrors than any other director has ever provided.

My Top 10 Hitch flicks listed below. What are yours?

1. Rear Window
2. The Birds
3. The Lady Vanishes
4. Vertigo
5. Shadow of A Doubt
6. The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956)
7. Young and Innocent
8. North By Northwest
9. Marnie
10. Murder!

Friday 10 August 2012

Theatre Review: Blood Brothers (Phoenix Theatre)

Sad news: Willy Russell's venerable Blood Brothers is closing in October. I recently got the chance to review the show for One Stop Arts Best of the West End strand. Here's what I wrote about it.

“So did y’hear the story of the Johnstone twins/As like each other as two new pins…/How one was kept and one given away?” enquires the Narrator at the opening of Willy Russell’s Blood Brothers. It’s hard to believe that there are many dedicated theatre-goers who haven’t heard this particular story by now. For Blood Brothers has proved to be one of the most enduring of contemporary musicals, graduating from its fairly modest beginnings as a school play produced in conjunction with Merseyside Young People's Theatre to become an Olivier-honoured phenomenon, a national and international touring success and a seemingly permanent fixture in London’s West End. (Russell discussed the show's development at length in an excellent Masterclass that I had the pleasure of attending a couple of years ago.)  

The current London revival of the show (directed by Bill Kenwright and Bob Tomson), which opened in 1988 and has been at its current home, the Phoenix Theatre, for over 20 years, is one of the longest-running productions in history, remaining, equally, a draw to tourists and a show that people return to see again - some, apparently, over 100 times. And while the rather sparsely-attended matinee performance that I went to yesterday didn’t precisely attest to the show’s enduring appeal, the warm and enthusiastic response that the performance received from the audience certainly did.

In many ways, Blood Brothers is a rather surprising success story, since it’s a musical that subverts the expectations of its genre to some extent. Rooted - like all of Russell’s work - in the experiences of working-class Liverpool life, determinedly unglamorous and unromantic, the piece also boasts a tragic ending, one that’s announced immediately from the show’s striking opening tableau. On the other hand, it might be argued that it’s precisely the way in which Blood Brothers cuts against the grain of traditional musical theatre that’s allowed the show to carve out its own distinctive niche over the years. That, plus an irresistibly heart-tugging melodramatic premise, a memorable, atypical heroine, and, most importantly, the massive humanity that characterises Russell’s writing and that lights up every line of this show, whether spoken or sung.

Loosely based on the 1844 novella The Corsican Brothers by Alexandre Dumas, the plot of Blood Brothers revolves around the separation of twins Mickey and Eddie by their mother Mrs. Johnstone who, deserted by her husband and unable to support her ever-growing family, enters into a fateful pact with her employer, Mrs. Lyons, for the latter to bring up one of the children as her own. The twins' different upbringings take them to opposite ends of the social spectrum, but their fates remain intertwined, despite the two women’s efforts to keep them apart.

While the show is very much an ensemble piece, it’s the put-upon Mrs. Johnstone who remains the central figure. And the extraordinary roll-call of singers and actresses who’ve played her - Barbara Dickson, Carole King, Stephanie Lawrence, Clodagh Rodgers, Kiki Dee, Lyn Paul, a Spice Girl (Mel C), and (count 'em!)four Nolan sisters (Linda, Bernie, Denise and Maureen) - attests to her appeal. In the current production, Vivienne Carlyle brings open-hearted warmth, humour and sensuality to her portrayal, her rich, sultry voice conveying the character’s yearnings, grievances and her capacity for happiness with equal power. Her delivery of the lovely "Easy Terms," the buoyant "Bright New Day," the biting "Marilyn Monroe" and the immortal show-stopper "Tell Me It’s Not True" are especially fine, and her scenes with Paul Christopher’s Eddie particularly touching.

The other roles are well-performed too. Abigail Jaye expertly conveys Mrs. Lyons’s fears and prejudices and Mark Rice-Oxley compellingly charts Mickey’s downward spiral, while, understudying for Louise Clayton, Danielle Corlass (a dead ringer for Sheridan Smith here) is terrifically funny and touching as Linda, the girl who both brothers end up falling for. Only Phillip Stewart, as the Mephistophelian Narrator, looks like he might have played his role once or twice too often, contributing a solid but not outstanding turn as this important figure.

With strong, simple and sometimes derivative melodies, and an opening sax-and-synth salvo that immediately transports the viewer into a 1980s timewarp, Russell’s score isn’t the richest on the block. But its mixture of soft rock, jaunty vaudeville and big, emotive ballads certainly does the job, emphasising the show’s distinctive blend of comedy and tragedy, folk opera and soap opera, the epic and the everyday. The show remains a powerful piece of work, and at a time when revivals of musicals evoking old-Hollywood glamour - from Top Hat to Singin' in the Rain - are seeming to dominate the West End once again, the grittier vision offfered in the ineffably British Blood Brothers feels especially welcome as a contrast.