The House: A comedy with serious, underlying themes

The new comedy by Neighbours director Andrew Jay Cohen deals with some very serious and very true themes and issues in modern day society.

Director: Andrew Jay Cohen

Writers: Andrew Jay Cohen, Brendan O’Brian

Starring: Will Ferrell, Amy Poehler, Jason Mantzoukas, Jeremy Renner

Running time: 88mins

Certificate: 15

Release date: June 30

The House is indeed a comedy that will keep you laughing throughout but the film actually tackles some tough problems in every day USA and the UK including the price of tuition fees.

The film follows Scott (Will Ferrell) and Kate (Amy Poehler) who spent all their daughter’s college funds and after not receiving the government grant they were hoping for, they set up an illegal casino in the house of their sex and gambling addict friend Frank (Jason Mantzoukas).

During the cause of the film the casino gets bigger and bigger and draws the attention of the local authorities who try to shut it down.

After seeing the trailer for this movie, I was already guaranteed it was going to be hilarious after the director managed to get an awesome cast with some of the biggest comedy names in Hollywood.

Ferrell is, of course, perfect as ever as the dad-turned-casino gangster who is terrible a maths, an hilarious theme that doesn’t add anything to the movie but shows the detail Cohen has made in the movie.

Parks and Recreation star Poehler is outstanding as the matriarch of the family and uses her comedy background to really enhance and bring to life her character.

Although not the main stars of the production, Mantzoukas’ portrayal as the loveable, gambling and sex addict Frank really stole the picture.

You immediately feel sorry for him the first time you see him on the screen and, after interviewing Mantzoukas, it’s why he was drawn to the character claiming the vulnerability of his character is what makes him loveable which is true.

One of the many highlights of the movie was having ‘Avengers’ star Renner making a cameo as the evil gangster.

Although he only appears towards the end of the film, his performance is completely different to his superhero counterpart and he does it perfectly.

Despite being a comedy, you watch the film and see the problems the character’s face are all real and happen to the everyday person.

Not being able to afford tuition is a big topic for all audiences around the globe and Cohen does really make it as hard hitting as possible (and also admitted to me that he got anxious researching how much a US college costs for the film here).

It is absolutely absurd how much college and university fees are these days and the film shows the character’s doing the most ridiculous thing possible to get their daughter into her preferred college.

Ridiculous is a good word to describe the film but not in a negative way. Although the film tackles serious issues and is based around parents and neighbours, some of the sequences are over dramatic but it all adds to the comedy of the film.

One particular Fight Club-esque scene really had my howling out loud in the cinema.

A brilliant film and will make you think what extremes are you willing to take to get the money to pay for university or college.

Little Voice: funny, moving stage adaptation

The stage adaptation of the hit 1998 Michael Caine movie of the same name doesn’t fail to keep you entertained.

Director: Paul Robinson

Writer: Jim Cartwright

Starring: Polly Lister, Serena Manteghi, Sean McKenzie, Laura Crowhurst, Gurjeet Singh, Sion Tudor Owen

Running Until: August 19

Theatre: Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough

Although I have seen the movie years ago, I had forgotten most of what happens so sitting in the darkened theatre watching the events unfold in front of me instead of on the screen was refreshing and the play adaptation seemed to rely more on comedy from what I can remember about the film.

The plot follows the young, quiet Little Voice, or LV (Serena Manteghi), who lives with her alcoholic and in some ways abusive Mari Hoff (Polly Lister) in the northern town of Scarborough.

Despite her quiet demeanour and shyness, LV has a special talent and a fondness of records her late father gave her. She is able to mimic voices of celebrities while singing.

After being spotted by a talent agent Ray Say (Sean McKenzie , who is sleeping with her mother, LV is forced night after night to perform despite her objections.

Little Voice itself is indeed a success for the cast and crew with a standing ovation every night since it first opened and it’s not hard to see why.

With a simple set design of the inside of LV’s home, the show didn’t need excessive quick set changes simply because LV doesn’t ever leave the house.

However, the way the Round is set means some areas of the theatre were given restricted seats for vital scenes including when LV is performing.

Lighting was vital in the show for many reasons. The main being when the lights are out LV is able to sing and perform without any nerves.

The production relied on this with many scenes having minimal or no lighting at all.

One particular scene where the lights and electricity in her home explode makes the audience jump as it is completely unexpected. Actually bursts of electricity shoot out the various parts of the set.

The idea of the story if LV is trying to find her own voice and you cannot help feeling sorry for her. It’s never really explained why she is the way she is but you do feel for her.

Manteghi, who played LV, is a very talented actress with the ability to mimic voices just like her on-stage counterpart and even got teary at the end of the production when bowing.

LV’s cringe-worthy but funny conversations with the similarly awkward Billy (Gurjeet Singh) were particularly well executed and although he is somewhat of a stalker, you find their relationship to be something of pure innocence.

Although the villain of the show, Mari (Lister) stole the show and was the best character and whether it was through her drunkness or sex-manic outlook on life, she was an audience-favourite.

Similarly to LV and Billy, you can’t help but feel sorry for her. It’s obvious that she does love her daughter although she doesn’t often show it and when both the mother and daughter have reached a low point in their life, you don’t want both of them to be happy.

Something that is left ambiguous at the end of the production.

Despite not being a big fan of the film adaptation, the play was quite enjoyable and although there were some serious moments, the show relied heavily on the humour of Mari and Sadie (Laura Crowhurst).

A great production and whether or not you are a fan of the film, I am certain the play will not disappoint.

Michael Ball and Alfie Boe ‘Together Again’ concert – wet but fantastic

Never have I been so wet in my entire life watching the two West End stars perform at Scarborough Open Air Theatre.

The rain was relentless and unstoppable but that didn’t make the evening any less enjoyable – plus the beer coat helped.

Performing brilliant theatre hits including Music of the Night from Phantom of the Opera and Stairway to Paradise from An American in Paris – the two stars didn’t fail to keep the soaking audience entertained.

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Alfie Boe

One particular favourite was the ‘Les Miserables’ medley – I couldn’t help singing my heart out as the rain continued to fall heavily.

Although miserable weather, it was great to see that they didn’t cancel their concert as so many other artists would have done.

Ball, who hails from Bromsgrove, continually made comments about being ‘forced to come up north’ by Blackpool-born Boe.

Keeping the humour and commenting on the “sea of ponchos” really helped to keep the spirits of the wet audience happy and the weather, although miserable, added to the atmosphere of the concert.

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Michael Ball

I cannot say whether the two musical theatre legends would have kept their humour if the weather was anything but wet.

After singing for an hour, the stars grabbed some well-needed shelter during the interval and burst back on stage for more hit musical songs.

Although the tour was for their new album ‘Together Again’, they both had a part in the concert where they sang alone.

Ball smashed the fantastic ‘Love Changes Everything’ – a particular favourite of my friend who got drenched in the rain with me – and Boe belted ‘Run’.

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They then reunited for ‘New York New York’ which got everyone up and dancing despite the weather.

Even if you’re not a musical fan, Ball and Boe entertained the crowd with various medleys including James Bond and Elvis Presley.

Finishing the concert with ‘Never Walk Alone’ from Carousel got the crowd – who were predominately the older generation – moving closer to the barriers and the singers.

Despite the weather, it was truly a fantastic concert and seeing these two musical theatre legends so close was a true dream come true.

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It was extremely wet!!

Interview: Jason Mantzoukas speaks about working with Jeremy Renner in The House

Jason Mantzoukas speaks to me about working on his new comedy The House starring Will Ferrell and Amy Poehler. His character Frank is a sex and gambling addict but is loveable.

What drew you to the role of Frank?

Firstly it is a really funny script and role. The idea that I could work with all these amazing people – many of whom I have worked or known for a long time. The cast was just exceptional. Those were the two real kinds of reasons what drew me to the role.

How was it working with Amy again?

I have known Amy for years. We both came out of the same comedy theatre in New York. We’ve done comedy shows with each other as well as TV shows. It was so fun to be able to do something on this scale and a big movie. It was very exciting.

And Will? Was this your first time working with him?

Yes it was my first time working with Will. I’ve known him for many years. Working with him was horrible. He is such a jerk. No I’m joking he is the best. I think he is so incredibly funny and always have. When I watched him on Saturday Night Live, I was amazed. He could not be a more generous guy. He is so generous. He will laugh at stuff. The whole movie is a group of people who have known each other for a long time and cracking each other up.

It did seem like it was a lot of fun on set?

A 100 per cent. There were no turkeys in the group. Everyone was a heavy hitter. Whether or not people were shooting everyone was just cracking jokes and trying to make everyone laugh.

There did seem to be some improv during the film, was that intended?

There was definitely improve. Andy Cohen had written a great script. We used the script and then he allowed use to improve. In putting this cast together – putting a group of people of improv background – there was this instant rapport. We all spoke the same improv language.

Your character Frank is both a gambling and sex addict but loveable. Is this what you liked about him?

Very much. He was very important to me he have the loveable and vulnerable side and not just some sort of gambling/sex addict monster. Most importantly you had to believe that the three of us want would be friends. If he didn’t have that engine predominantly that is just heartbreak and grief it would have been a much more difficult character to get on board. It’s important that he had that emotional engine that’s driving him.

The film also shows the dark side of gambling and you three turn into gangster/mobsters. How was filming that?

It was so fun. All those kind of stylistic choices to make it feel like a big Scorsese movie. It goes from rinky dink to these much bigger camera moves and it does feel like a gangster movie. To have scenes with the finger chopping off scene and the Jeremy Renner stuff really raised the stakes. It just visually gave different new levels of what this film could do.

There were a lot of weapons on set so were there any accidents on set?

Any accidents? No everything went off perfectly as planned. We had great stuntmen and fighting choreographers who were terrific. Especially getting into the finger chopping and Jeremy Renner gets lit on fire. These are incredibly dangerous pieces to film but they know what’s going on and are very attentive to the safety of us. The fire scene took a long time to shoot.

How was it working with Jeremy Renner as the villain?

I loved it. I thought it was great. I have seen Renner in Hurt Locker and that Bourne movie. He’s done a great range of movies and he came really ready to go and bounced off everyone. He came in really just for those scenes and we had already done tremendous amounts of filming. He just turned up and immediately was amazing. We were like ‘holy cow this is great. What a great charming villain he is’.

Interview: Andrew Jay Cohen talks tuition fees, working for Will Ferrell and inspirations for The House

I had the chance to interview filmmaker Andrew Jay Cohen about his latest film The House starring Will Ferrell, Amy Poehler and Jason Mantzoukas. He spoke about getting inspiration for the film and working the great cast.

Where did you get inspiration for this film?

When I was young I always playing poker and as a freshman in high school, we would gather in our basement to play. We thought we were cool. Originally the film was going to be about the kids at college but after I wrote Neighbours the adult struggles just busted it wide open. Once I started thinking about being a dad it just became so absurd. Putting Will and Amy in the worst financially situation not being able to afford college. It was just great. Once it is about a real person it becomes more relatable to the audience. What do you do when you catch a cheater? Take him to the garage? I just realised I can’t intimidate someone like a gangster can.

There was a lot of improve in the film was that intentional?

I believe that you need a strong script. I do believe in that and a great blue print and game plan. But once I’m on set, if an actor can’t say those prepositions in that way then we find other ways. I find that irresistible and is the spirit of writing. I love going down the rabbit hole with actors. There is a feeling of authenticity. It’s like you are filming two people interacting rather than something created.

Was this your first time working with the cast?

Worked with Will on Anchorman and on the last day of shooting he came up to me and told me there was no film in the camera all filled with coffee. I was like ‘he made fun of me I know I made it’. When I was writing the script I kept having his voice in my head. He is able to deliver lines. We were quoting Anchorman before it even came out. I like those movies where words and phrases and characters will just resonate in your head. It had to feel loose and like anything can happen.

The film does tackle some cultural topics and do you think more films should do this?

Absolutely. I think all movies should come from reality or us it as a jumping off point. It’s very relatable. I set up a 529 for my kid and was comparing what I have with the cost of semester and it just made me anxious. So I put that into the most stupid thing. Here’s a problem its very really, what’s the worst thing you could solve it? There’s probably ways Scott and Kate could have solved it but it just happens to be the only way to solve it. It’s a real starting point. I’ve always been taught that’s the most important and is always my starting point.

It also looks at the dark side of gambling as well.

I really thought it was hysterical if we treated them with some epic vision Scorsese would. It veers in tone and that was so much fun. I’ve been watching Scorsese movies and studying what made them resonant and make that in a comedy.

Could there be a potential sequel?

I would love to do a sequel. As she is going to college who knows what will happen. The head of the studio set up his own casino in is dorm room so who knows.

The House is in UK cinemas on June 30. Plus I will be providing a review for that date as well.

Colin Blunstone of The Zombies talks reviving the band, their US popularity and performing at the London Palladium

I had the honour of interviewing Colin Blunstone from The Zombies. He spoke about their upcoming gig at the London Palladium and the truth behind the spelling of Odessy in their hit album Odessy and Oracle.

You’re playing at the London Palladium in September, are you excited?

Very excited. I think it’s wonderful to be playing in one of the prestigious theatres in the country. It’s very exciting when we put the original line up, sadly Paul Atkinson died in 2004. It’s exciting when we get back together, we played in Spain a week ago – played in Barcelona – This could well be the last time we play Odessy and Oracle in the UK. It’s always a special occasion. It’s quite emotional and full of memories

Quite emotional?

It’s emotional. We recorded in 1967 – 50 years since it was recorded – 67 then that triggers other memories of ones youth. There are some quite sad songs and some joyous songs as well. I do find it an emotional roller coaster playing an album which is celebrating its 50th anniversary with close friends. It is definitely going to be an emotional charged evening. There will be lots of family and friends there celebrating this iconic moment in The Zombies history.

What has changed in the music industry?

Everything has changed and changing incredibly fast, day by day in some instances. I think what has changed the most is people can have a lifetime career in the music industry. In 1964 when we became professional musicians, it was generally accepted you would have a 2/3 year career but that isn’t the case now, you can have a full career in the music industry.

I think people realise now it’s more international industry used to be UK focussed. But even as The Zombies we play abroad more than the UK. We are touring in the states all the time. The technology side is just totally different to what it was. The changes are just incredible. Now it’s limitless what you can do with digital recording but it can confuse the issue as there are so many choices on how to record now it makes it more difficult. There are hundreds of options you didn’t have in 1964.

If The Zombies were starting out today do you think they would have the same commercial success as they did?

Difficult to know. I don’t think anybody knows but I think we would have stood a good chance. We had two prolific writers in the band who wrote timeless classic songs, which was one of the main strengths of the band. I think we would have stood a chance at being successful now.

Some of your biggest hits are still heard and used today, that must be quite an achievement for you.

It’s very exciting and it’s taken me quite by surprise thinking back to 1964. Music 50 years back from 1964 was not playing then but now She’s Not There is playing all the time. And Time of the Season is by far our biggest hit. It is played all around the world but it was never a hit in the UK.

That is something you have to learn. Record successes change very much by territory and country. A hit song in the UK might not be a hit in other countries. But there is something about The Zombies songs.

Chanel used She’s Not There for a worldwide advert. Last Christmas Starbucks used one for the American TV campaign. Our songs are constantly being used in TV and adverts. Eminem sampled Time of the Season on his latest album. Our songs are continually being used in a contemporary war which gives us a contemporary edge. We are not a nostalgia band. We are still recording new songs and albums now. Our last album in 2015 was on the Billboard top 100

We are not a nostalgia band. We are still recording new songs and albums now. Our last album in 2015 was on the Billboard top 100 list. People might not be aware of the contemporary edge the band has.

So you did split up in the 60s but are you back together for good?

Yes we are. For the foreseeable future. We got together my chance to play 6 concerts in 1999 and we just kept going. The two original members, including myself, and the rest of the line up has stay ed the same over the last 20 years.

For 18 years we have been together and toured all around the world. We do around 3 US tours a year which is quite unusual for UK-based band to play in US as much as we do. We do spend most of time touring in the States.

Why the US rather than UK?

Well there is a much bigger market and a bigger demand for The Zombies. It could be because we are part of the first wave of British invasion. We went there shortly after the Beatles and there was this fascination with the British invasion.

It leads to people wanting to come see us in the concert – all top 5 records over there. Our iconic last album Odessy and Oracle, Rolling Stones nominated it in the top 100 albums of all time. And this is what we will play at the London Palladium. It has a standing that it doesn’t quite have in the UK,  people are fascinated by that album.

Is it true the spelling of Odessy was simply a spelling error?

It is sort of if you think back before computers. The painting of Odessy and Oracle was a piece of art. It was hand painted by an artist Terry Quirk who I know quite well. He went to the same school as me and I admit I cannot spell very well. He may have spelt Odessy incorrectly and nobody noticed. The artist made a spelling mistake. We were abroad so we didn’t have

The artist made a spelling mistake. We were abroad so we didn’t have chance to see it before it was already at the printers. It’s now become folklore. The spelling has become just as popular as the album. It sort of the same mystique of the album.

After The Zombies ended you had a successful solo career. Was it difficult to change from a band to solo?

It’s certainly different when the weight of responsibly is solely on your shoulders. Probably the edge was taken of me as I had Rod Argent produce my first album. It was co-produced by two of the original Zombies. So it was the same project but under another name.

It’s interesting to get involved in solo career after being involved in a band. I’m involved with The Zombies but still have a solo career. I still go out and tour and make albums. I enjoy having two careers. When The Zombies are having a quiet period I can go out and tour under my solo career.

It doesn’t seem like you will ever be slowing down.

Touring and performing is quite physical. It probably will come a time when we have to slow down but we have all agreed we will keep going while we can and long may it last.

So what has been the highlight of your career?

The reincarnation of The Zombies started in a low key manner in 1999. We were playing quite small venues and weren’t billed as The Zombies. We had no idea that we would be reforming The Zombies. We were playing with a group of musicians coming together. There is a huge international interest in The Zombies.

And it’s been great to see that interest grow, to see them growing in bigger places. We managed to relaunch The Zombies and now it’s quite a formidable touring entity. We get to play concerts in some of the biggest theatres in the world and that’s just been done by continually touring and word of mouth.

Would you ever want to collaborate with any current artists?

No I don’t think so. I’ve got my hands full now. There are loads of wonderful artists but I am very happy to just listen to Elton John, Sting, all these wonderful artists and I am very happy to go to their shows and listen to their records without having to force myself on them but of course I do have favourite artist.

And finally what is the weirdest thing a fan sent you?

Cannot think of single thing – huge bouquets of flowers but  flowers you can’t hardly get into the room. We have had items of underwear thrown on the stage. One item was a large and generous variety thrown at us in Seattle. As they floated down with the lights behind them it looked like a parachute. I do remember them quite well. I didn’t know what to do with them. I just left them.

Annie: A perfect production to escape the horrors of the world

In a world where terror threats are every which way it’s nice to know there are places you can escape from reality and the West End production of Annie makes you forget your troubles for 2 hours.

Director: Nikolai Foster

Writer: Thomas Meehan

Starring: Miranda Hart, Alex Bourne, Madeleine Hayes, Jonny Fines, Holly Dale Spencer

Theatre: Piccadilly Theatre, London

Running time: 2hrs and 20mins

‘The sun’ll come out tomorrow’ will definitely be ringing in your head after seeing the West End revival of Annie and it will leave you with a positive outlook on the rest of your day.

The musical, which is based on the book by Thomas Meehan, follows the story of an orphan girl named Annie (Madeleine Hayes) who does what she must to escape the orphanage run by the cruel Miss Hannigan (Miranda Hart) and find her parents.

During the narrative, Annie is taken in by the rich and wealthy Daddy Warbucks (Alex Bourne) who grows to love the little, red-headed orphan.

However, Annie’s quest to find her true parents is still her priority and Warbucks takes it upon himself to try and reunite the orphan offering a reward.

Although she finally escapes the clutches of Miss Hannigan, the governess and her brother Rooster (Jonny Fines) try and scam Warbucks in order to get the money he was offering.

In all honesty when I heard Miranda Hart was to take on the role of Miss Hannigan I initially had doubts as she is known for her comedy.

However, I have to say I was pleasantly surprised with her performance considering it was her West End debut. Her comedic abilities also helps keep the musical fresh and light-hearted.

In all honesty I was expecting her to be a bit more ruthless and evil but the show is aimed towards the younger generation of theatre-goers – with added comedy for the adults.

Of course, Madeleine’s performance as the titular character was well worthy of the praise it got from the standing ovation.

To go out on stage at such a young age and perform well-known classic musical theatre songs including ‘Tomorrow’ and ‘Hard Knock Life’ was truly amazing and I am certain this will not be the only time we see this young star on the stage.

One criticism is that Annie no longer has the big, bushey ginger hair but instead has a more Pippy Longstocking look to her.

Not sure why this was changed but maybe it’s just nostalgia but I prefer the afro-style.

I was surprised to see how many cast members were actually involved in this production. It is becoming more and more common for West End productions to have larger casts.

I remember only a few years ago, productions were being cut left, right and centre but it is pleasing to see young stars getting the chance to star in fantastic productions such as this one.

All the cast from the rest of the orphans to the servants at Warbucks house brought to life this iconic musical.

But my favourite cast member had to be the amazing performance by Amber… the labradoodle who played Annie’s stray dog Sandy.

I usually hate seeing animals on the stage but when Amber was in a musical number you could tell she was treated well with various cast members giving her treats as they moved around the stage.

With a simple set design which changed depending on the scene was used to its full advantage.

The show reminded me a lot of the West End adaptation of Matilda and not just because of the child actors but because of the simplistic set design and general feel to it.

To say that the West End revival of the well-known musical does not make you escape from reality is an understatement.

Everything the show has to offer will leave you smiling, clapping and humming to the fantastic songs.

Wonder Woman: Saves the world and saves the franchise

Following the poorly received contributions to the DC External Universe franchise it is always worrying when you sit in the cinema waiting to watch the next instalment hoping it won’t be as bad as the previous and Wonder Woman shines a fresh new light on the movies.

Director: Patty Jenkins

Writer: Geoff Johns

Starring: Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Robin Wright, David Thewlis, Danny Huston

Certificate: 12A

Running time: 2hr 21mins

The origin story follows how the sexy lasso-swinging hero became who we know and love today and the film is probably the best movie in the DCEU franchise – but that is not overly difficult.

Wonder Woman opens with modern-day Paris with a voiceover by the titular character herself who is being followed by men working for Bruce Wayne aka Batman.

After receiving a parcel the film then goes back in time to when the superhero, Princess Diana (Gal Gadot), is growing up in the women-only Amazonian land of Themyscira– where we and Diana learn about the battle of the Gods and the evil Aries.

Diana then meets American spy Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) who crashes his plane into the water. Saving him Diana leaves the island with him to go and battle Nazis or as Diana believes Aries.

One thing the film has that not many other of the DCEU movies have is constant humour between the characters – whether it’s Diana’s naivety about the new world she is discovering or whether it’s the people she meets trying to understand who she is.

It never fails to keep you entertained and I even found myself doubting whether her belief in Aries was, in fact, true or just a story she was told.

There were some parts where I was more leaning towards the film being over fantastical but of course, it’s a superhero movie and relies on fantastical elements.

Gadot’s stunning performance as the titular character was brilliant. After seeing her in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice I admit I was skeptical how she would be in her own stand-alone movie.

But nevertheless, she was fantastic. She manages to perfectly execute the naïve woman Diana is when in the ‘real world’.

Pine also manages to grasp the humour side of the film, especially when trying to come to terms with the powers of Diana.

Wonder Woman is full of adult humour and sexual innuendos which just makes the film watchable. Nothing is too serious or boring.

This movie not only marks the first time Wonder Woman has had her own standalone movie but also marks the first time in both DC and Marvel that a female superhero has the titular role and director Patty Jenkins knew exactly what she was doing.

Although the epic battle sequence towards the end was a little bit farfetched and over the top, you couldn’t help but find the film somewhat refreshing from the previous additions to the DCEU.

For anyone who is a Wonder Woman fan, and I am sure there are many, will definitely enjoy the film and those skeptical about the DCEU will be delightfully surprised.

Whether or not there will be a Wonder Woman sequel (but due to the success of the first one I am probably sure there will be) fans can expect to see Gadot donning the sexy, infamous costume again in Justice League.