All in the Body

An acquaintance with Myalgic Encephomyelitis, on telling a friend about her condition, was asked, almost reflexively “Do you really have ME or is it just depression?”  The same woman had to change doctor at her NHS practice recently (her regular doctor being on long-term sick leave).  The new doctor expressed great surprise that her condition had not been cured by anti-depressants (but was otherwise sympathetic).  These two incidents exemplify two of the main issues raised in Angela Kennedy’s excellent book: firstly that chronic illnesses for which no clear medical cause is identifiable are often classed by medical practitioners as psychogenic (psychosomatic), and secondly the detrimental effects such classification can have on the patient’s treatment, not only medically, but by society at large.

To a large extent this work is a literature review, or perhaps a meta-analysis, of existing and previous research.  Which is all to the good, as a large amount of the extant results seem to have been misreported and misinterpreted by the (popular and scientific) press.  Although Angela focuses on ME/CFS, the conclusions are applicable to a much wider range of conditions.  Of interest is the fact that (or so it seems to me), a disproportionate amount of the case studies, both historically and more recently, are those of women.  Ms Kennedy gives an interesting personal account of how her GP informed her in no uncertain terms that she was having a “hysterical pregnancy” when she attended the surgery after having completed a home pregnancy test.  Her ‘hysterical’ son is now a grown man!

The book begins by pointing out the fallacies associated with psychogenic explanations: the reason for a condition being “medically unexplained” is usually down to limitations with current medical knowledge.  Attaching such terminology to certain diseases can also lead to shutting down further avenues of investigation, often with severely detrimental results.  A convincing argument in the introduction is that: “The present lack of critical examination of this conjecture (that ME is a modern version of neurasthenia) is also not a reason to accept this conjecture: no scholarship has yet been performed to suggest CFS and ME are not caused by demonic possession, for example, but this should not mean therefore that they are caused by such, even if such a reason might be ‘persuasive’ to some.”

Ms Kennedy goes to discuss “problems of psychogenic explanations in action:” the beliefs that certain types of people get certain types of illness, with a particular emphasis on the diagnosis and labelling of people with ME.  The following chapter deals with doctors’ attitudes to such patients, often labelled as “heartsink,” containing some shocking examples of patients labelled as lazy, malingering and hypochondriac.

“Think yourself better” explores the dangers of CBT when put forward as a cure, rather than a coping mechanism for ME, whilst “Consequences of psychogenic explanations” looks into how such explanations can be widely damaging for the patient, both in the hands of the medical profession, as well as at the hands of society at large.

Angela concludes that the trend towards labelling illness as psychogenic is on the increase, and that this is a dangerous direction to be heading in: “(the realities of psychogenic explanations) are most often fallacious in their logic and informed by harmful ideologies.  They cause actual harm in many ways.”

This is a very significant book about a highly important aspect of medicine which has detrimental effects on many of us.  Angela Kennedy has taken what is evident in the literature and research, and reported it in a non-biased way, thus giving us access to serious evidence against the psychogenic theory of illness such as ME/CFS which has been ignored by many other publications, and certainly the popular press.

I advise anyone with an interest in ME, CFS, other neurological or fatigue-related illness, as well as those interested in the whole mind/body connection issue as concerns disease, to read this book.  It can be purchased from www.amazon.co.uk for £17.59.

Mary Tynan

Angela Kennedy Angela Kennedy is a social sciences lecturer and researcher at a number of universities in London, and author of numerous articles, papers and books in lay, professional and academic media over a 30 year career.

Advertisements

Brilliant Brel

Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris at the Charing Cross Theatre

You probably know more Jacques Brel songs than you think.  Ne Me Quitte Pas, anyone?  How about No Love You’re Not Alone (incorporated in David Bowie’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide)?  Terry Jacks’ Seasons in the Sun was Le Moribond with a new lyric, while Scott Walker had a hit record with Jacky in the late 1960s.

Singer songwriter Brel was born in Belgium in 1929, moving to Paris in 1953 to pursue his career in music.  Although he died young (aged 49) he left a remarkable legacy of chansons behind him, many of which focus on the darker side of life.  “Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris,” a musical revue of his work, was first produced in New York in 1968.  The show reflects his strong anti-war stance, and features songs in English, French and Flemish.

The Charing Cross Theatre production has a heavy cabaret feel to it, which is all to the good.  The first half was enjoyable: Eve Polycarpou opened the show with Le Diable (Ca Va), followed by Daniel Boys and Gina Beck, who made a favourable first impression with If We Only Have Love. Musical Director and Pianist Dean Austin sang a brief solo with Le Moribond, and I particularly liked the closing number Amsterdam, powerfully sung by David Burt, which gave a flavour of what was to come after the interval.  I would have liked to hear some harmonies on The Desperate Ones, which was sung in unison by the full company, but by the time I got to the interval I was already impressed and looking forward to what was to follow.

Despite some feedback problems on the sound front, especially during “Middle Class” (which was a shame, as it was otherwise a very amusing number from David and Daniel), the second half blew me away.  Eve’s Ne Me Quitte Pas was profoundly moving, and Gina’s “My Death” totally rocked.  I’ve been lucky enough to see the wonderfully talented Camille O’Sullivan perform both of these, plus Amsterdam, live on more than one occasion, and Eve, Gina and David’s renditions in no way suffered by comparison.  Daniel Boys also gave a consistently strong performance throughout, with his Next being a particular standout.  Overall, the second half seemed to build to a final crescendo, with the full cast joining in for a reprise of If We Only Have Love at the end.

The four singers were ably supported on stage by band members James Cleeve, Felix Stickland, Doug Grannell and Richard Burden, as well as by Dean Austin as previously mentioned.  This excellent show was directed by Andrew Keates, and is well worth a viewing.

Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris runs until 22 November 2014 at the Charing Cross Theatre, Monday – Saturday 7.45 pm, Saturday matinees 3pm.  Tickets are available from www.charingcrosstheatre.co.uk.

Open Houses in Hampstead

Hampstead's Village People, Fenton House (courtesy Sam Roberts) 7 Hampstead’s Village People: Portraits of Cultural Icons; Ryan Gander: The Artists have the Keys

On Friday, I payed a visit to two highly contrasting properties in Hampstead, where the National Trust were celebrating the opening of two new exhibitions.

First on the itinerary was Fenton House, which is hosting Hampstead’s Village People: Portraits of Cultural Icons, in partnership with the National Portrait Gallery.  The photographs are tastefully housed in two rooms on the ground floor, and cover a range of artistically influential people from the area over the last 100-plus years.  I was particularly taken by the pictures of Daphne du Maurier and Cecil Beaton, as well as Peter Barkworth, whose writing had previously made a great impression on me.

Then it was on to explore the house.   I was intrigued to learn that 55 of the paintings on permanent display were bequeathed by Peter Barkworth, and there are some wonderful paintings in Fenton House.  There are also rather a lot of harpsichords – on average two per room on the first floor.  Glass cabinets full of china and what I would describe as knick-knacks in each room complete the eclectic collection.

Before leaving, my companion and I took a stroll about the gardens, which are well worth a visit.  Beautifully laid out, on several levels, they seemed to induce a sense of peace and serenity in me, especially seeing the spring flowers just starting to appear.

Ryan Gander at 2 Willow Road (courtesy Sam Roberts) 46Secondly, we visited 2 Willow Road, the home of architect Erno Goldfinger, for Ryan Gander’s The Artists have the Keys.  Gander has been interested in Goldfinger’s work since 2005, and he has approached the current exhibition in an extremely immersive fashion, almost as if he was asking what else might Goldfinger have added to the house himself.  Gander’s art is place amongst other objects in the property, and guest are given a list of which pieces are in which room, but with no other indication as to location.  I enjoyed this mini-challenge, which was similar to a live hidden-object game, at the same time as appreciating the house in it’s totality and all the other art contained within.  Gander’s work is very much in sympathy with the style of the place, which also hosts work by Bridget Reilly and Max Ernst, to name but two.  I particularly enjoyed Things just happen to me, a chess set inspired by components from a Bedford truck circa 1975.

I found the house itself fascinating, from the bed that folded up into a cupboard, to the sliding doors between rooms, to the photographs stuck inside the bathroom cabinet.  A couple of very helpful volunteers were kind enough to share their vast wealth of knowledge about Goldfinger, his wife, and the house with us, and I went away feeling stimulated and informed.  I couldn’t stop myself saying “No, Mr Bond, I expect you to die,” at least once though!

Both Fenton House and 2 Willow road are open from 11am-5pm, Wednesdays to Sundays (last admission 4.30pm), but entry to 2 Willow road prior to 3pm is by tour only.  For more information and admission prices, please visit www.nationaltrust.org.uk or telephone 020 7435 3471 (Fenton House) or 020 7435 6166 (2 Willow Road).

 

Photographs courtesy of Sam Roberts.

Mary Tynan

Short but Sweet

The Fat Man's Wife 5 - courtesy Simon AnnandCanal Cafe Theatre presents The Fat Man’s Wife by Tennessee Williams

It is always intriguing to hear about a “new” play from a celebrated dead playwright.  Although written in 1938, The Fat Man’s Wife remained unproduced throughout Williams’ lifetime, having its first staging in New York in 2004.  This is its first UK production.  Despite the excitement of the new, however, there is also slight suspicion – why would the work of an extremely successful and well-regarded writer be so neglected?  It was therefore with curiosity mixed with apprehension that I arrived at the Canal Cafe on Thursday night.

I had never been to this theatre before, but from previous knowledge I had been expecting an arrangement of tables and chair, café- style.  However, the company had decided to perform in traverse, which was an excellent choice, as it really made the best of the space available.  Incorporating an actual window into the set, rather than covering it up was also a good idea.

I was first drawn to Williams’ work after seeing a film version of The Glass Menagerie, featuring Karen Allen as Laura, and this has remained my favourite of his plays.  The Fat Man’s Wife appears to have many similarities with the story of Shakespeare’s sister, in that they are both slightly gentler than much of the writer’s other work, while still containing the sense of claustrophobia and restriction that characterises the majority of his plays.

All three actors did a wonderful job.  Damien Hughes, as Dennis Merriwether, conveyed the exuberance and indestructibility of youth and the frustration when he realises that eagerness and enthusiasm isn’t going to be enough, in a lively, engaging way.  Emma Taylor (Vera) had our sympathy as the middle-aged woman trapped in a loveless marriage, who nevertheless is too scared, or too realistic, to escape.  We could feel her pain, and, even more, her weariness.  Although his part was small, Richard Stephenson Winter, still managed to portray Joe as a figure to be pitied, a victim of his own appetites, and made Vera’s decision to stay with him believable.  The play was ably directed by Russell Lucas, with assistance from Anne Harris.

Without knowing the background of this play, however, it comes across as the first act of a two act play, with the second act missing.  The ending is abrupt, and it feels as if the characters could have done with a lot more development.  But once you take into account the fact that it was one of Tennessee William’s earlier pieces of writing, and look at it as a sort of rehearsal for his later works, it becomes a fascinating piece of theatre, well worth the price of admission.

The Fat Man’s wife is running Thursday – Sunday at the Canal Cafe Theatre, Little Venice until 2 March, Sundays at 7pm, all other shows at 7.30pm.  For tickets and more information, please visit www.canalcafetheatre.com.  Picture by Simon Annand.

Mary Tynan

Don’t Let it Pass you By

Arion Productions Ltd presents Passing By by Martin Sherman at the Tristan Bates Theatre

Passing By begins, deceptively, with a one-night stand.  A one-night stand that turns into eight weeks and becomes the substance of the play.  Thrown together by circumstances, the two main characters have intensive intimacy forced upon them, which leads to both comic moments and personal revelations.  It is almost like a bubble of unreality, in which normal life is suspended for a period of time.  Naturally, all such bubbles eventually burst.

Toby and Simon meet at the cinema, and then return to Toby’s apartment.  Simon has just arrived in New York from Miami Beach.  The following morning we hear that Toby is about to leave for Paris, so their relationship seems doomed to be a brief one.  Nevertheless, Simon turns up at Toby’s place of work (a wine shop) several days later, and a subsequent discovery of mutual illness, coupled with the fact that Simon has nowhere else to stay, causes them to nurse each other back to health over the next 8 weeks.

This is a well-written, carefully-structured, balanced play.  It has overtones of the type of New York humour found in Woody Allen or Neil Simon, and the contrast between James Cartwright’s portrayal of Olympic diver Simon, and Rik Makarem’s New York Jew Toby adds to the richness of the mix.  Simon is laid-back, confident, physically fit and has never had a day’s illness in his life (until now), whereas Toby is nervous, neurotic and seemingly hypochondriac at the start of the play.

Both actors filled their roles extremely well.  I couldn’t fault the accents, and James Cartwright’s initially relaxed Simon was a good foil to Rik Makarem’s anxious Toby.  However, it was as the play progressed and the roles reversed that the actors came into their own, and the interplay between them was excellent.  The juxtaposition of characters was what made the play, and, to me, was reminiscent of many wonderful similar stories: The Odd Couple; Prick Up Your Ears and even Ernie and Bert!

The resemblance to both the Joe Orton story and the Sesame Street roommates was enhanced by the set (presumably designed by Philip Lindley).  The majority of the play is set in Toby’s bedroom/kitchenette, which is a very good simulation of a 1970s room, with nylon bedspreads, padded headboards and an old-style black dial telephone.  The only false note was a television remote control of a type not in common use until the early 90s – a bit of an anachronism for 1972.  The three other short scenes – in the wine shop; at the cinema; on a bench – were very cleverly fitted into the main set.

The interesting thing about watching a play which was actually written in the early 70s, rather than one written today looking back at the period, is that there is no benefit of hindsight.  There is no dramatic irony, apart from that which the audience themselves experience, and the writer had no knowledge of the vast changes which were to take place in the lives of gay men in New York and elsewhere over the next couple of decades.  This gives a purity to the piece, almost as if we were looking through a window in time and space, that you just don’t get with retrospective writing.  For this, and for many other reasons, I would recommend you catch this play – as it is passing by.

Passing by is at the Tristan Bates Theatre in Covent Garden until 30th November, nightly at 7.30, tickets £14 (£12 concessions).  For booking or more information visit www.tristanbatestheatre.co.uk or telephone 020 7240 6283.  Photos by Scott Rylander.

Mary Tynan

Passing By

Provocative and Razor Sharp Fleabag Punches Way Above it’s Apparent Means

Phoebe Waller-Bridges’s Fleabag, from DryWrite Theatre Company at the Soho Theatre, is a confessional stream of consciousness which combines humour and pathos to elicit a powerful effect.

Fleabag tells her story in a way that is both highly entertaining and deeply thought-provoking. Despite the potentially sordid nature of her revelations, the intimacy and blunt honesty engages the audience, both male and female, drawing our reviewers and at least outwardly the majority of audience into identifying with the character and remarkably even being supportive of or at least understanding of her sometimes bizarre and certainly desperate actions. ‘Raise your hand if you would trade 5 years of your life for the so-called ‘perfect body.’ Fleabag and her sister would, but are alone in their opinion in a room of 400 women, in a moment which grabs the audience’s sympathy. She follows through on her intense yearnings with assorted characters including an elderly cockney customer at her café and a stranger met on a train. The power in her performance is apparent in the fact that we feel we understand her desperation. We don’t immediately assume she needs psychiatric care or that the elderly chap she shocks to is heading off to report her to the police. Something in her painful honesty convinces us that she will have touched them similarly. There is nothing comfortable about this piece, and yet the laughter comes from a place of genuine empathy, as does our compassion during the more poignant moments.

This is a one-woman show, which is stripped back to the bare essentials, thus allowing the smallest of movements, gestures and facial expressions to assume significance. Phoebe’s performance was matter of fact, yet moving, and her timing was excellent. She also interacted very naturally with recorded sound. The narrative flowed seamlessly from hilarious beginning to an almost tragic ending. She seemed to be hitting at aspects of the human condition that are normally hidden by social taboos, and the bravery of the performance appeared to be answered by the audience’s response. Waller-Bridges wrote and performed this; maybe that’s why she presents it with exactly the right level of blunt honesty.

Despite the previously mentioned use of recorded voices, Phoebe does voice many of the other characters in the story herself, including her sister, her father and her Australian boss, demonstrating the breadth of her acting range. The play has a multi-media aspect, utilising mobile phones in different and imaginative ways! Sound effects also add to the overall experience.

One small drawback to the evening’s entertainment was the seating at the venue. Sitting at the end of the third row, the visibility was very poor, and constantly moving about on one’s seat and moving one’s head and shoulders about can detract from the enjoyment of a performance. That said, however, this is a very good show, to be highly recommended. If you are looking for an evening of smutty talk, laughter and life affirmation, plus a hearty dose of honesty, this fits the bill.

Fleabag has now finished its run at the Soho Theatre. For more information, visit www.drywrite.com.

Mary Tynan and Ian Macnaughton

Sun, Sea and Shootings

One of the basics of creating a play is selecting a subject.  When writing about factual events and recent history, this becomes even more important.  Gibraltar is a good choice.  It was a big story at the time – widely discussed and highly controversial – but it was long enough ago to seem fresh to current audiences, some of whom will be too young to remember the events portrayed or the political climate in which they occurred.

In a nutshell, the play is about the shooting – in Gibraltar in 1988 – of three unarmed members of the IRA by the SAS and the legal, political and media discourse in its aftermath concerning the lawfulness, or otherwise, of the killings.

On entering Studio 2 in the Arcola, the first objects to catch the eye are the 1980s-style televisions hanging from the studio on three sides of the stage (presumably the work of AV and Sound Designer Marco Devetek), all showing a still of the Rock of Gibraltar with the play’s title across it in a suitably old-fashioned font: slightly reminiscent of short-lived soap opera Eldora.  These screens were used to good effect throughout the production: enhancing the minimal set; naming the characters (for instance during Geoffrey Howe’s speech) and displaying a test card throughout the interval.  In an amusing touch at the end of the play, the screens were cleverly utilised to display TV-style credits for all involved.

I was very impressed by Set and Costume Designer Cordelia Chisholm’s attention to detail: the props and costumes were perfectly of the time, even down to the jewellery and hairstyles of the female actors.  The set itself was minimal, which works well for a play of this type with actors playing multiple characters and fast scene changes.  The lighting, by Mike Robertson, was very helpful in this respect.

Particularly in the second half, when the energy seemed to be higher, George Irving, Karina Fernandez, Greer Dale-Foulkes and Billy McColl all gave fascinating performances.  Karina Fernandez for me was the most compelling, especially when transferring between characters with consummate ease.  The play’s direction, by James Robert Carson, showed a lightness of touch with some interesting quirky features: I particularly enjoyed the SAS’s drunken singing.

In their telling of the story, writers Alastair Brett and Sian Evans do not seem to intend to direct the audience’s thoughts or opinions, nor is the direction that way inclined.  My personal interpretation was that Margaret Thatcher and her government had manipulated the press for their own ends, but another viewer could come away with quite a different impression.  For this reason, as well as for all the other persuasive arguments in its favour, I would strongly advise you to see this play and construe the events of 1988 for yourself.

Gibraltar is at the Arcola theatre until Saturday, 20 April, at 8pm nightly, with 3pm matinees on Saturdays.  For more information visit http://www.arcolatheatre.com.

Mary Tynan

Mirror in the Bathroom

Keir Charles and Phoebe Waller-Bridge in Mydidae, Soho Theatre, 5 December 2012 (courtesy of Simon Annand) 14Mydidae was written as the result of a dare:  Writer Jack Thorne was challenged by DryWrite Theatre Company to write a play about a man and a woman set in their shared domestic bathroom.  The artistic directors wished to explore themes of privacy and intimacy, and the bathroom is an ideal device, bringing to mind somewhat Willy Russell’s use of ladies’ and gents’ toilets in Stags and Hens.

The play feels rather like a painting, in that a lot of the detail needs to be inferred by the audience.  Marian and David have obviously been living together long enough to have had a child, but still seem to know relatively little about each other on a deeper level.  The couple talk incessantly, but never, it appears, about what they really care about.  What seems like light-hearted banter to begin with quickly reveals underlying tensions.  These build to a climactic head during the shared bath, which is where the intimacy theme is explored, but in an inconclusive manner.  The ending raises more questions than it answers, and overall we are left with far more insight into David’s feelings than Marian’s, even though, ironically, it is she who does most of the talking.

Both Phoebe Waller-Bridge (Marian) and Keir Charles (David) were believably quirky and portrayed the complicated relationship very well.  Phoebe allowed the subtext to come through in a genuine way below the banter, and Kier played David’s sometimes inarticulate frustration in a credible manner.  He also used physical humour to good effect in the earlier part of the play.

The set was simple but effective and fitted well in the space.  The bath creates a natural division for the characters to play around, and the use of the part of the fourth wall as a bathroom mirror was very convincing.  Director Vicky Jones played the comedy card to good use in the early scenes, as well as building tension nicely, although some of the pauses could have been cut slightly while still retaining the aura of uneasiness.  The lighting was simple but impressive.

On the whole, the experiment definitely paid off, although one feels that there is a lot more to be told of David and Marian’s story.  Audiences prepared to use their imagination will be rewarded for the shared effort.

Photograph courtesy of Simon Annand.  Mydidae is at Trafalgar Studios until 30 March at 7.45pm nightly, with 3pm matinees on Thursdays and Saturdays.  For more information visit www.atgtickets.com or www.drywrite.com.

Mary Tynan and Emma-Lee Adams

Relaxed Dining in Balham

On a bitterly cold, February evening, we made our way from Balham station to Harrison’s restaurant and cocktail bar, which re-opened this month.  Unfortunately, we were walking in the wrong direction, but a glance at the door numbers soon made us realise our mistake, and before too long we were at our destination.  We were welcomed into a spacious, airy and yet delightfully warm space with an open kitchen and bar, and ushered into a comfortable banquette by friendly, attentive staff, who gave us time to digest the table-mat style menus, which are updated daily to include three specials.

Mary enjoyed her starter of Baby Gem, Pear, Watercress & Pomegranate Salad which she found both refreshing and warming, as the sweetness of the fruit was tempered by the zing of the house honey and mustard dressing.  Jon loved his piping hot Smoked Haddock & Slab Bacon Chowder, and found the small chunks of potato added a novel texture to the dish.

Mary chose from the menu for her main course: her Pithivier consisted of a glazed puff pastry crust stuffed with ricotta, wild mushroom and spinach, served on a bed of curly kale.  It was divine: warm comforting food which melts in the mouth in a perfectly sized portion.  Jon, having turned to the Specials menu for the Crab Meat, Chilli & Garlic Linguine was slightly disappointed to be served spaghetti instead and for it to be under-spiced.  A request for chilli oil brought a small bowl of oil and sliced chillies which helped to increase the spiciness.  The dish was pleasant enough, but failed to surpass the starter.

Neither of your reviewers are regular desert eaters, but Jon found the prospect of Salted Caramel ice cream too good to pass up, and, along with the Chocolate Fondant (with sprinklings of toasted pistachios) which accompanied it, it was.  Mary’s Strawberry Ice Cream was bursting with fruit, thirst quenching and creamy, and it certainly says something for the warm atmosphere of the restaurant that we were both ready for something cooler on such a cold evening.

After our meal, our charming hostess Agatha showed us around the rest of the space, which includes an elegant private dining room, seating 14 with comfort, as well as a cosy basement cocktail bar (closed Sundays and Mondays).

Overall, Harrison’s is well-designed, with good food (the menu would benefit from a couple more vegetarian choices, but what there was was delicious); affable, solicitous staff and a cosy, relaxed atmosphere.  If you live in the area, or even if you don’t, I recommend paying them a visit to see for yourself!

For more information, or to make a booking, visit http://www.harrisonsbalham.co.uk/.

Mary Tynan and Jon Axford

A Tale of two Cities

Good Vibrations and Spike Island at the London Film Festival

I had great plans for the London film festival, with many press screenings marked out on my diary.  Unfortunately timing was against me, as it turned out to be a very busy period in my other two jobs (acting and teaching), and apart from “A Liar’s Autobiography,” which got cancelled (read the article here), I actually only ended up at two screenings.  But they were good ones.

Good Vibrations

My regular readers (if there are such people) will be aware that I enjoy a bit of music from the 1980s, so I was in a positive frame of mind when I turned up to see Good Vibrations – The Story of Terri Hooley.

For every Richard Branson, there are probably hundreds of Terri Hooleys.  Known as the Godfather of Ulster Punk, Terri was the owner of Good Vibrations record shop and label, was responsible for discovering the Undertones, and encouraged punk and alternative music to flourish during a dark time in Northern Ireland’s history.  I imagine that there were people like him in towns and cities all over the UK and Ireland during the 70s and 80s; running record shops, managing and/or playing in bands, and organising events.  Do these people ever make a profit in the long run or do their charming mix of naivety and idealism work against them in the end?  Good Vibrations never released a top 40 record, and Terri sold the rights to “Teenage Kicks” for £500 and a signed photo of The Shangri Las (which he never got.)  But that isn’t the point, as this film shows: Terri Hooley made a lot of people very happy, which was in itself no mean feat in Belfast at the height of the troubles.

This was a highly enjoyable film from start to finish.  Richard Dormer made an excellent Terri, and I particularly enjoyed Jodie Whittaker’s performance as his wife.  It’s hard to pick out anyone else as cast lists are not given out at press screening, but everyone performed very well.  It would have been nice to have a few more female characters – maybe some girls who hung around the record shop for instance – but apart from that I completely loved it.  One particularly memorable scene is when an RUC officer is hassling a girl in a bar for suspected underage drinking and Terri comes over and tells him he’d like to report a civil war.  Scenes like these show the bravery of the character as well as the naivety and idealism.

Of course, being a film about music, the soundtrack is a major part of the experience.  Set in a fertile time for Northern Irish music, the tracks chosen add to the energy and exuberance of the story, as obviously does the setting with its air of menace just under the surface.

Go and see this if you’re interested in music, Belfast, or just plain enjoy a good film.

Spike Island

Good Vibrations is a true story about a real man, with a real record shop/label, and the punk scene in Belfast, whereas Spike Island, my second choice of film, is a coming of age drama set in Manchester in the 1990s with the music of the Stone Roses providing more of a secondary theme.  As such it worked well, and the soundtrack (a mix of the Roses and the characters own band, Shadow Caster) added greatly to the ambience and power of the film.  The characters did seem to blend into each other a bit at points, and some of what could have been more potent moments could have been better explained (I was never sure why one boy joined the army for instance).  Having more female characters would have added more variety, and this film does not have the excuse of being a true story as a reason for not doing so.  Teenagers since the 1960s or 1970s onwards generally tend to hang around in groups of both sexes (I did) and the whole male bonding theme seemed to me a little old-fashioned.

That said, the music really lifts everything up, and the festival atmosphere of Spike Island and young love is captured perfectly (leaving aside the dubious morality of deserting your father on his deathbed to go to a Stone Roses concert that you don’t even have tickets for!)

Once again, I am hampered by a lack of a cast list, however everyone concerned gave a very competent performance, with Emilia Clarke standing out in particular.

Go and see this film if you enjoy a good coming of age drama with an excellent soundtrack, or want to recapture your youth!

Mary Tynan