The darkest Harry Potter film yet

Cert: 12A

It’s never easy preceding the headline act, but part one of the Deathly Hallows – JK Rowling’s final fat tome in the wizardly series that has been split into two films – is pretty engaging, while saving the big dramatics for next year’s finale.

It certainly sees things go in a different direction to previous films, as Hogwarts is left behind by Harry, Hermione and Ron, who are engaged in tracking down and destroying a series of “horcruxes” – items in which evil Lord Voldemort has stashed various parts of his mortality. And let’s face it, anyone who needs horcruxes explained to them this deep into the series isn’t going to understand an awful lot else of what’s going on either.

Unfortunately, the whereabouts of these enigmatic objects are still unknown, and a large section of the film sees the trio travelling across the country in an epic treasure hunt. Meanwhile Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) and his followers are busy trying to hunt down the boy wizard, with the allegiances of Alan Rickman’s Professor Snape still eerily ambiguous.

Away from Hogwarts and Dumbledore, the rootless, unprotected nature of the trio’s wanderings only add to the menace of what’s certainly the darkest Harry Potter film yet, as does an unsettling visit to the decidedly Orwellian Ministry of Magic.

It’s all pretty ominous – even while the little soap opera elements like Ron and Hermione’s developing relationship bubble away – and makes a compelling watch. Some may find that the fact that this is clearly intended as a prelude and not the main event a little frustrating. We’ll have to wait until the summer for the real fireworks. Rhys Griffiths

The Young Vic

Winter 2010 is the perfect time for a revival of Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie, set in the grip of the Great Depression. But the Young Vic’s production has so much more going for it than good timing. From the moment the first cigarette (of about a zillion) is lit you can tell Joe Hill-Gibbins’ production is going to be magical.

Williams’s play tells the story of a sourthern family – matriarch Amanda, daughter Laura and her brother Tom (the play’s narrator, recollecting past events) – living a hollow existence in a cramped tenement, hoping for better things.

The set conjures up a very believable backstage area, complete with a costume cupboard and a sign telling you to keep quiet. Melodramatic Amanda (Deborah Findlay) and her cripplingly shy daughter Laura (Sinéad Matthews, pictured) constantly have an eye on the green door with a star on, nervously waiting for a long-overdue gentleman caller. Meanwhile disillusioned Tom (Leo Bill) protects his sister from their infuriatingly demanding, but ultimately forgivable, mother.

The acting is flawless. Every heartstring is tugged and yet there is comedy in the most unexpected places. One perfectly-pitched scene switches from joyfulness to tragedy in the briefest moment, with the smashing of a glass ornament – part of the titular collection of glass animals that are Laura’s obsession.

Any woman who has had their heart broken will feel for Laura, and any man with a difficult mother will feel for Tom. The real clinchers, though, are the clever staging, spot-on lighting and small details such as a live musician playing the glass harp. The set highlights the claim from Tom that this is “truth in the pleasant disguise of illusion,” a lovely summary of what we expect from theatre. Lauren Paxman