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    Duff McKagan's excellent memoir is poorly rendered for TV

    Duff McKagan is a survivor. He’s a bass player too, from the fledgling Seattle punk/proto-grunge outfit 10 Minute Warning to the stadium-filling behemoth of Guns N’ Roses, but if you were judging by the narrative weight of this 2015 documentary, you’d have to conclude that he’s mostly survivor.


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    ★★★★★ JAMES HAMILTON: GAINSBOROUGH - A PORTRAIT An original, chatty but scholarly biography of the great English artist

    An original, chatty but scholarly biography of the great English artist

    James Hamilton’s wholly absorbing biography is very different from the usual kind of art historical study that often surrounds such a major figure as Thomas Gainsborough (1727-1788). Hamilton is positively in love with his subject, and writes with verve and enthusiasm, yet grounds it on vast research with primary and secondary sources, all impeccably noted.


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    PRISM, HAMPSTEAD THEATRE Terry Johnson and Robert Lindsay inside the mind of cinematographer Jack Cardiff

    Playwright Terry Johnson gets inside the mind of cinematographer Jack Cardiff

    Jack Cardiff was one of the all-time greats of cinematography, the man who shot such Powell and Pressburger classics as The Red Shoes and A Matter of Life and Death, worked on John Huston’s The African Queen with Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn, and lensed Marilyn Monroe in The Prince and the Showgirl. He was renowned as “the man who makes women look beautiful”, but despite this he didn’t shrink from shooting Sylvester Stallone in Rambo: First Blood (Part II).


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    ★★★★★ CLAIRE TOMALIN: A LIFE OF MY OWN A life in literature, literature in life - a story of blessings as well as sadness

    A life in literature, literature in life - a story of blessings as well as sadness

    The title says it all, or at least quite a lot. Luminously intelligent, an exceptionally hard worker, bilingual in French, a gifted biographer, Claire Tomalin has been at the heart of the literati glitterati all her working life.


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    ★★★★ HANG KANG: THE WHITE BOOK Meditative semi-autobiography is precise on pain

    Meditative semi-autobiography is precise on pain

    A woman gives birth alone two months early in a frost-bound village in the Korean countryside. In Poland, a solitary woman washes down white migraine pills and concludes she must write. The child that is born dies. The finished book commemorates her death by according her an imagined life.


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    ★★★★ EVERYBODY'S TALKING ABOUT JAMIE Inclusive and utterly joyful

    It's a triumphant West End transfer for this big-hearted British musical

    Everybody’s been talking about Everybody’s Talking About Jamie since its Sheffield Crucible debut earlier this year. It’s unusual to see a musical come steaming into the West End based on word on mouth – not star casting, or association with an existing franchise.


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    ★★★★ JENNY UGLOW: MR LEAR - A LIFE OF ART AND NONSENSE Emotional truths and visual virtuosity in a new biography of the 'dirty landscape-painter who hated his nose'

    Emotional truths and visual virtuosity in a new biography of the 'dirty landscape-painter who hated his nose'

    Jenny Uglow’s biography of Edward Lear (1812-1888) is a meander, almost day by day, through the long and immensely energetic life of a polymath artist.


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    ★★★ DAVE EGGERS: THE MONK OF MOKHA How to become a grand master of coffee

    The true story of a young Yemeni-American and his American dream

    A macchiato may never taste the same again. If you’ve ever wondered about the politics and history behind your cup of designer coffee, The Monk of Mokha will answer all your questions, and more.


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    Exploring the creation of 'La Mer of a certain C.D.' - an exclusive from the new book by theartsdesk's classical and opera critic

    All this time La Mer had been brewing.


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    Two first-time writer/producer/directors make a movie about - well, themselves

    There’s a Big Reveal that comes right at the end of this new indie movie from first-time writer/producer/directors Scott Elliott and Sid Sadowskyj (whose names, in retrospect, should have given the game away right from the start). For (complete spoiler alert!) this is Elliott and Sadowskyj’s own story, dramatised and put up on the big screen, with two young newcomers playing them as the movie’s leads. The film escorts us through their journey from York sixth-formers to successful young entrepreneurs, guided by a list of dreams they plan to pursue. One of which is – you guessed it – to make a movie. Scott and Sid is that very movie.

    You might be starting to imagine some kind of postmodern, self-referential, Charlie Kaufman-esque conceptual mindbender. Don’t bother. Scott and Sid feels more like a simple vanity project. It might aim to inspire young people to follow their dreams, and to imagine what they can achieve with self-belief. But with its meandering structure, its sometimes questionable morals and its often implausible plotting, it falls far short of those noble intentions. By the end of its draining 100 minutes, it feels instead like little more than a self-indulgent celebration of Elliott and Sadowskyj’s own wheeler-dealing.

    It can't have been easy being directed by the two guys you're supposed to be playing

    Implausible, however, is a tricky word to use in this particular context. There’s plenty that’s implausible about a head teacher showing a miscreant pupil his pay cheque, or gangsters picking on a nerdy schoolboy to flog illegal alcohol, or even launching a successful print magazine business today. No doubt all these things did actually happen in Elliott and Sadowskyj’s real lives, but unexplained and unexamined in the context of the movie, they simply fail to convince.

    But autobiography aside, Scott and Sid even feels unconvincing as a straightforward drama. Tom Blyth and Richard Mason give creditable if somewhat flat performances as the pair, but they never seem entirely sure about how far they should go with their characterisation. But to give them credit, it can't have been easy being directed by the two guys you're supposed to be playing. Their school is a place that crushes dreams, and their brief taste of university lasts just a few frames. Instead, they get by on some miraculously successful business ventures – taking advantage along the way of the stupidity of a couple of local gangsters, and also inadvertantly supplying a garage’s worth of free booze to Sid’s long-term alcoholic mother.

    There’s potential here – for an exploration of male friendship, or of the hard graft needed for success in any field, or of resilience and adaptability. But none of these themes gets much of a look-in. Watching Scott and Sid is an extremely bizarre (possibly uniquely bizarre) experience, like someone talking you through their Twitter feed of how great their life is, all the fantastic things they’ve achieved, all the obstacles they’ve overcome. In their own self-curated reality, of course. What Scott and Sid’s leads achieve, however, is rarely shown to benefit anyone but themselves. Perhaps that’s the point. In fulfilling their ambition to create a movie, and then making it about their own lives, Elliott and Sadowskyj have pretty much closed their own self-absorbed circle.

    Overleaf: watch the trailer for Scott and Sid


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    ★★★ TINA, ALDWYCH THEATRE - new Tina Turner bio-musical is simply OK

    Powerhouse Adrienne Warren is the saving grace of a show that plays it safe

    It is, perhaps, a tale that suffers from overfamiliarity. Tina Turner’s rags-to-riches story – from humble beginnings as little Anna Mae Bullock in Nutbush, Tennessee, to her discovery, reinvention and sickening abuse by husband and manager Ike Turner, and finally her rebirth as a solo rock'n'roll star – is the stuff of showbiz legend.


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    ★★★★ THE FLYING LOVERS OF VITEBSK, BRIGHTON FESTIVAL Kaleidoscope of colour, sound

    and the perfect love story

    They say that behind every successful man is a strong woman. The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk is as much – if not more so – the championing of the unsung hero in this story of the famous early modernist artist, Marc Chagall. His wife, Bella – early muse, sharer of world views and buckets of milk and mother of their daughter Ida, is paid tribute to, for her devotion and dedication to her husband's art.


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    ★★★★★ SANCHO: AN ACT OF REMEMBRANCE, WILTON'S MUSIC HALL Pure entertainment

    Larger-than-life history of Charles Ignatius Sancho distilled into virtuoso one-man show

    One space, one person, one story, one voice  the monologue is theatre distilled, the purest form of entertainment.


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    ★★★★ KELLEIGH GREENBERG-JEPHCOTT: SWAN SONG Of Truman and his high society ladies: a voyeuristic but fascinating first novel

    Of Truman and his high society ladies: a voyeuristic but fascinating first novel

    Here you will find Babe Paley, Slim Keith, CZ Guest, Gloria Guinness, Lee Radziwill, Marella Agnelli, the stylish leaders of society, gorgeous, gilded, well-married ladies: the men they were with – billionaires, corporate and cultural leaders – defined them. As did their shared best friend over several decades, the writer Truman Capote (1924-1984).


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    ★★★★★ FUN HOME, YOUNG VIC Alison Bechdel's graphic novel becomes achingly intimate theatre

    Alison Bechdel's graphic novel becomes achingly intimate theatre

    It seems only too fitting that David Lan’s luminous reign at the Young Vic should draw to a close with this bold, creatively thrilling international import.


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  • 06/28/18--21:00: Adrift review - lost at sea
  • Oceanic epic of love, storms and survival

    There is something irresistibly haunting about tales of epic sea voyages and the perils they entail. Recently we’ve had two versions of the tragic saga of lone yachtsman Donald Crowhurst (not to mention the excellent documentary Deep Water from 2006), and you could lob into the mix the Robert Redford vehicle All Is Lost, Kon-Tiki, White Squall and… er… many more.


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    ★★★★ THE KING AND I, LONDON PALLADIUM Classical musical reborn with modern sensibilities

    A golden production helmed by the incomparable Kelli O'Hara

    Shall we dodge? (One, two, three) No, the brilliance of Bartlett Sher’s Tony-winning Lincoln Center revival – first on Broadway in 2015, now gracing the West End, with its original leads – is that it faces the problematic elements of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s 1951 musical head on.


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    ★★★★ THE KING The myth behind the man

    New documentary uses Elvis as a metaphor for the state of the nation

    The most famous face in musical history, and perhaps the instigator of modern culture as we know it; he truly was the King. But for a documentary focused on such an icon, The King touches very little on Elvis Presley the man.


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    ★★★★ POET IN DA CORNER, ROYAL COURT Mind-blowing energy plus plus plus

    Semi-autobiographical coming of age story jumps to the sounds of grime

    There was once a time when grime music was very angry, and very threatening, but that seems a long time ago now. Today, Dizzee Rascal is less a herald of riot and revolt, and more of a national treasure, exuding charm from every pore, even if his music has become increasing predictable and safe. But, as wordsmith and dancer Debris Stevenson proves in her debut play, Poet in da Corner, Dizzee Rascal still can change minds and influence people.


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    ★★★★★ DRAMATIC EXCHANGES Rich slice of theatre history in epistolary stage biography

    A rich epistolary stage biography, ‘The Lives and Letters of the National Theatre'

    Dramatic Exchanges is a dazzling array of correspondence, stretching over more than a century, between National Theatre people.


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