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Making the most of an uncertain future

I don’t see a lot of films these days – come to think of it, I don’t think I ever did. It’s the 300 or so live performances a year that get in the way of seeing a few more motion pictures. But as I had some downtime in between arriving at Sheffield Interchange on the National Express and seeing the touring production of Kinky Boots The Musical which I’d schlepped up north to see, I took the opportunity of sitting in the local Curzon cinema to see Toy Story 4.

The possibility of a sequel to Toy Story 3 was always on the cards, as Andy, the original owner of Woody (Tom Hanks), Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) and so on and so forth, had donated what was left of his toys to Bonnie, who attends the local day care facility called Sunnyside. But TS4 seems to be running low on creativity, resorting to the use of a white plastic fork and some other discarded items from a trash can (as they call rubbish bins in the States), which Bonnie makes on her first day at school. Rather unimaginatively, the new toy is called Forky (Tony Hale).

There’s something to be said, perhaps, about environmentalism and upcycling, but aside from that, the beauty in this film (for me anyway) was more in the animation than in the narrative. Lightyear’s subplot is, in a word, dull, an all too repetitive journey of self-discovery through the use of motivational catchphrases that his literal inner voice provides. I thought Ducky (Keegan-Michael Key) and Bunny (Jordan Peele) were utterly hilarious as fluffy toys that were once on display as prizes to be won at some carnival or other.

In the first half, Woody expends a lot of time and energy ensuring that Forky finally realises he is actually a toy and must not yearn for the apparent comfort of being in a trash can. Then there are the main women characters. There’s Bo Peep (Annie Potts) is no longer attached to a child but roams free and is one of many toys that are played with, albeit quite roughly, in the equivalent of ‘the wild’ – in this case, a play area at a funfair. There’s Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks), who lives in an antiques shop, forgotten and abandoned. But as various toys in various ways get displaced, it is for them to accept their lot in life: they may yet get thrown into the ‘garbage’, or literally put on the shelf, perhaps indefinitely.

In a very different way, then, some of the characters in Small Island, a play with a running time the ‘wrong’ side of three hours (start 7:15pm, end 10:35pm) must also make the most of an uncertain future. Adapted from the novel by Andrea Levy, it’s about the ‘Windrush generation’ who came over to Britain from the Caribbean islands to help ‘the motherland’ recover from the Second World War, and to make a better life for themselves.

But Hortense (Leah Harvey), a prim and proper schoolteacher who might as well have been from the Victorian era, is far from impressed when she finally joins her husband Gilbert (Gershwyn Eustache Jr) in London, not least because the streets aren’t paved with gold after all, and they must make do with a one-bedroom upstairs apartment with a shared downstairs toilet. Hortense’s insistence to landlady Queenie (Aisling Loftus) that she must have three basins is borderline ridiculous, and such is her abrasiveness I must admit I wasn’t exactly sorry for her when the education authorities she approached in London told her she would have to re-train to teach in the UK and her previous qualifications from overseas had no validity here.

It’s a long play, but a good one, and as I was seeing it as part of the ‘NT Live’ ongoing series of cinema screenings, I had the benefit of comfortable seating. It was interesting to observe how the likes of Queenie (a white lady) were not immune to racist abuse, in her case simply for having black people as lodgers. Even worse was the difference between the British and American armed forces and their attitudes towards blacks (the American ‘GIs’ insisted on the N-word), which even resulted in a cinema screening of Gone With The Wind ending prematurely in chaos. Such attitudes, sadly, appears to be resurfacing in this day and age – the black American comedian Reginald D Hunter quipped at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2018 that as black people were especially vulnerable to being shot once again in the United States, he had better stay in the UK for the time being (one wonders if he was only half-joking, or perhaps not even at all).

The term ‘snowflake’ is perhaps banded around too much these days, but there is still something to be said for rolling up one’s sleeves and getting on with things instead of expending too much energy complaining about things that can only really be changed with action rather than mere bitterness.

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