Robin Hood *****

Summer in Guildford has officially started (in my diary at least) with the start of the Guildford Shakespeare Companies Open-Air Season.

The first of their two productions is Robin Hood, a retelling of the legend in period costume and modern language, for all the family.

I attended the Saturday matinee performance at the lovely, wild sanctuary in Racks Close, located of Quarry Street.  This is actually part of the original quarry from which the Guildford Castle stone was mined, now long neglected but revived for the second time by the GSC.

Robin Hood is the latest in a series of family friendly non-Shakespeare productions.  Previous hits have included, Alice in Wonderland and The Legend of King Arthur.  This was visibly succeeding as the audience with me had a very high proportion of children. This created a fun atmosphere throughout the play.

The action opens with a minstrel interacting with the audience as he sang a ballad about our hero. Then he is interrupted by the arrival of the Sheriff with all the evil intent of the best pantomime villains.

Hissing and booing as appropriate, the audience was captivated by the evil threats and the challenging insults from our wandering minstrel.

And so the play continues in high quality pantomime mode, with specially written songs enlivening the cast and audience alike.

I will not name any of the cast in particular because this was full of very good actors, both young and old, all of whom deserve credit.  (See linked # on blog page for list).

I recommend purchasing the programme, which covers both plays in the season, and putting it away safely for future reference.  I believe many new stars are making their earliest performances in this play and it may become a collector’s item.

As so often, I award the full 5 out of five stars to this GSC production.

Looking forward to the next play, Love’s Labour’s Lost, at the Collage of Law, St Catherine’s, next month.

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Book Club *****

What a relief!  I have been losing my enthusiasm for the interminable action, sci-fi, crime and violence filled films that now dominate our cinema screens.

Book Club is the antidote. It brings a really nice, gentle, funny, well-written story, with actors at the top of their craft, delivering a satisfying and enjoyable couple of hours entertainment.

This story is about four adult women friends and the consequences of their latest book club selection.

It is told with great humour and sympathy.  Reflective and uplifting, I found myself truly inspired by the end of the tale.

The four lead actors, Diane Keaton, Jane Fonda, Candice Bergen and Mary Steenburgen are well supported by a male cast of supporting stars including Andy Garcia, Craig T Nelson, Don Johnson and Richard Dreyfuss to name but a few.

I think there are few adults who have lived a life that will not find something to smile about in this great, human sized, drama.

It won’t win any Oscars or break box office records but, it does get 5 stars out of five from this grateful audience member.

Deadpool 2 ***

The foul-mouthed, super-sarcastic, hero returns in Deadpool 2.

We are given more of the same knowing banter with the audience and ultra violent, consequence free action that seemed so fresh the first time around.

Being unencumbered by not having to tell an origin story, it is straight into the mayhem that has become routine in most of this genre of movie.

This is lightened by the wit and wisdom of the moral free hero.

It is still frequently funny with plenty of ‘did he just say that’ moments to make the film enjoyable but not to the level of the original film.

Sadly the originality of the character now turns predicable and, at times, very strained.

It you enjoyed the first outing, you will probably enjoy this, but not for the first time viewer I am sorry to say.

Down to just 3 stars out of five.

The Guernsey Literature and Potato Peel Pie Society ****

The Guernsey Literature and Potato Peel Pie Society is an absolutely charming love story.

It is set just after WWII in London and on the Channel isle of Guernsey, with flash backs to the German occupation period.

Featuring a plethora of fine British/Dutch/American acting talent, the story is told at a gentle pace, focusing on the tensions caused between natives and occupiers and the after effects in peacetime.

The story arrives at its inevitable and predictable conclusion, which is nonetheless, very satisfying.

Lily James gives a warm and believable portrayal, which leads the story.  She plays a young author and survivor of the London Blitz, struggling at times with PTSD.

The story could have degenerated into a sentimental tale but avoids this fate with careful measures of humour and grit to balance the sugar.

My only regret about the film is that it was not shot on the island.  Due to financial reasons, it was filmed in the beautiful county of Devon. Anybody expecting to see lovely St Peter Port will have to settle for a very different English fishing village. That is a minor point, but a distraction if you know the locations.

I recommend this for anybody with a love of our history and the tradition of British filmmaking.

At the time of writing, this film is showing at the Odeon for this week, and will undoubtedly moves to the Silverscreen performances in a few weeks.

I award it 4 out of five stars.

 

The Leisure Seeker ***

If you have seen the trailer for The Leisure Seeker, you may have been misled into thinking this is a light comedy about two seniors travelling America.  It is not.

There are comedic moments but at its heart this is a story of fighting against age and its inevitable final destination.

Played by the almost unrecognisable Dame Helen Mirren and the unmistakable Donald Sutherland, the two protagonists embark on a final search for lost memories and lives.

The story is uncomfortable to watch at times as it plunges into the dark pool of dementia, exposing long forgotten and unknown truths about their perfect marriage.

This may have a limited audience but should be seen for the remarkable performances of both actors. Sadly it is let down by the contrived humour and a weak supporting cast.

Just about earns its 3 out of five stars.

The Jeita Restaurant ***** (The delicious flavours of the eastern Mediterranean)

This week my friends and I meet for our bimonthly restaurant outing at the Jeita restaurant in Guildford. This is a recently opened establishment offering Lebanese cuisine including wines.

The décor is light, roomy and modern with comfortable chairs grouped around tables for parties of one upwards.  After a courteous welcome from the manager we studied the menu, which had exotic sounding dishes each excellently described in clear fonts.  My reading glasses were not required.

We rapidly decided to have three starters to share followed by individual mains.

Our choices of starters were a hummus dish covered with thin layers of tender lamb, deep-fried falafel consisting four balls and a light dipping sauce and finally a mixed vegetable with pomegranate dish.  These were served with a generous quantity of fresh flat bread.

All three were consumed with gusto, the only negative being that we could have eaten a lot more hummus. I observed that the falafel balls were the best I have ever eaten and I speak as one who will buy them at the drop of a hat.

For the main course, one of us enjoyed the mixed grill.  This consisted of minced lamb, cubed lamb and cubed chicken with rice.  The other devoured the lamb smothered in a spicy sauce.

I had lamb with okra and rice.  This has a delicious, lightly spiced sauce and brought a big smile to my face.

Two extra sauces accompanied the mains.  The first was a bright red chilli sauce that I approached with trepidation, having lost far too many taste buds to the pernicious plant.  I was delighted to find it gentle on my palate and a true enhancement to the dish.

The second was an equally nice yogurt type mix that went well as a counter balance to the chilli.

Unusually, two of us chose to have desserts.  We both chose Qatayef, a sweet dumpling filled with nuts and honey.  They came in the form of two pancakes folded over to enclose the nut mix.  The honey was light and not too sweet.  Simply put, it was delicious.

To wash down this feast of flavours, two of us consumed a tasty Lebanese red wine (14%) while our nominated driver enjoyed his sparking bottle of water.  Table water was also provided.

All three of us agreed this was an excellent meal and that it should get the full five stars out of 5.

As is our habit, we split the bill three ways, coming to £37 each.  (Don’t worry about this being unfair to the driver, we take it in turns.)

The Jeita is located at 50 Chertsey Street, Guildford, England.

Tomb Raider

This is the re-launch of the Tomb Raider franchise with a new, fit for 21st century, Lara Croft.

Gone are the pneumatic charms of the video game Lara, or the superwoman Angelina Jolie.

We now have a hero in the mould of GoT’s Arya Stark or Star Wars Rey.

Alicia Vikander’s performance alone raises this from just another high adventure into the story of a real human being struggling with circumstances that would defeat most of us.

Unfortunately, she is surrounded by cardboard cut-out friends and villains who add nothing unique to the story.

Tomb 1

I enjoyed the early scenes, shot in and around London and Hong Kong, that were beautiful, exciting and totally believable. The later scenes descend in the now over familiar CGI scenery and perils. These could have been from any number of similar films and require a great effort of imagination to accept.

I am sure that this film will appeal to the less jaded cinema audiences, especially young women, who have traditionally been underserved in such dramas.

For that reason I have raised my assessment to give this film 4 out of five stars.