Tears, laughter, anger, redemption and poetry – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

At various moments I fought back tears, laughed out loud, wanted to punch a character, wanted to comfort a character, needed to repress my rage.

And it’s this last emotion which ‘Three Billboards Outside Ebbings, Missouri’ is really about, although it takes a very long time for any of the screwed-up small-town individuals to understand what they are doing to each other and themselves.

What makes the script by Martin McDonagh (In Bruges) so strong is the characterisation. People we see initially as bad guys turn out to be the opposite, or eventually achieve redemption; hero characters have feet of clay, a million miles from the unsullied Hollywood stereotype.

If that sounds a bit Shakespearian, it’s because that’s the impression I was left with; suspecting that the author must be very well acquainted with the Bard’s dark plays.

There are incidents of comic absurdity, extreme violence and even poetry (especially when the protagonist talks to a deer about her raped, burned and murdered teenage daughter), which don’t quite seem real. They’re not meant to. This is drama, not documentary; which is also like Shakespeare.

McDonagh’s edgy yet empathetic writing provides the cast with some extraordinary opportunities for truthful and convincing scenes of dialogue and soliloquy, and these are powerfully executed.

It might seem pretentious to imagine the town of Ebbings as a near-psychopathic metaphor for an entire country which has lost its way behind a red mist of hatred. However, there is a reference to Iraq near the end which suggests that might not be an entirely erroneous interpretation.

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Tears, laughter, anger, redemption and poetry – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

‘All the Money in the World’ – a cracking good suspense yarn and a dark study in miserliness

I went to see ‘All the Money in the World’, feeling a bit doubtful at first.

In the event, it turned out to be a cracking good suspense yarn, full of interesting characters amid a tortuous plot based on real events which I am ancient enough to remember.

Christopher Plummer’s depiction of the ultra-miserly J. Paul Getty is masterful, demonstrating how an actor of his calibre can step into the breach at short notice and build an in-depth, truthful character.

The editing-out of Kevin Spacey was thus consigned to irrelevance. It’s a long film, but doesn’t feel too long.

Oh, and by the way, about Getty’s billionaire fortune being packaged as a charity so as to avoid paying any tax back in 1973 …. plus ça change, quoi?

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‘All the Money in the World’ – a cracking good suspense yarn and a dark study in miserliness

‘Invincible’ highlights the chasm between working-class and middle-class cultures

I’ve just seen ‘Invincible’ by Torben Betts, which I missed in London but which is now touring, at the Arts Theatre, Cambridge.

Act One was largely what I expected; a pacy, well-observed comedy of manners. Trendy lefty middle-class couple move from London to the North and invite their new, working-class neighbours round, in a street where every other house is flying a St George’s Cross flag. Predictable misunderstandings ensue, as class and culture collide.

What I did not expect was the descent into darkness in Act Two. No spoilers; but let’s just say, if you believe our armed forces are being misused by politicians in the service of global capitalism rather than defending our country, it’s a bad idea to throw that opinion aggressively into the face of a couple whose soldier son is currently putting his life on the line in Afghanistan.

We were treated to disconcertingly believable performances by all four actors: Elizabeth Boag, Emily Bowker, Graeme Brookes and Alastair Whatley. The characters are realistically ambiguous in their strengths and weaknesses, but it’s postman Alan, presented initially as a thick, boring, football fanatic, who ultimately shows far more emotional intelligence than the too-clever-by-half interlopers.

If I have a criticism, it is that the middle-class couple, Emily and Oliver, get little relief from their depiction as sanctimonious spoilt brats, whilst their proletarian counterparts, Alan and Dawn, are fairly uniformly salt-of-the-earth good eggs; but then I would say that, wouldn’t I?

Although the play begins firmly in Ayckbourn territory, it develops into something much deeper, with important things to say about the yawning abyss between the misnamed ‘metropolitan liberal elite’ and the people in the provinces slogging their guts out under austerity. Neither side is wholly right or wrong. Each needs to listen to the other.

This may have been the last play of its genre to have been written and performed pre-referendum. With that new, gaping crack of hostility called Brexit that now divides our country down the middle, its message is even more important.

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‘Invincible’ highlights the chasm between working-class and middle-class cultures