Archive for October, 2011

We Need To Talk About Kevin, Greenwich Picturehouse 31 October

October 31, 2011


What follows is my reaction as someone who had read the book and indeed seen Morvern Callar, one of director Lynne Ramsay’s previous films.

Ariustotle raises the question somewhere about tragedy:  How can something that would be distressing and disgusting to witness in real life be exhilarating and ennobling on the stage.  Well here the problem was that if you’d read the book you had already been these characters and done these actions, so all that was left was a tedious repetition of what you already knew from the inside, and for me it was just boring and annoying.

There were of course many enjoyable things that had been cut:  most of Kevin’s sense of humour and in particular the diabolical letters he writes to lure his victims to the school gym for instance.  And he didn’t seem to be an  alien and distanced character in the way he did in the book–though that’s because there you see him through the eyes of his mother while here he’s on a level with the other characters you see on screen.

Lynne Ramsay perforce had less of Spain to show on screen than in Morvern Callar, and the insects were restricted to ants crawling over an abandoned jam sandwich, except that they were joined by a real live fly crawling across the Greenwich Picturehouse screen (and sometimes flying from spot to spot on it).

I would have left half-way through but willpower had somehow deserted me.

I enjoyed the music.

That's a trusting kid sister...


About that translation of Britannicus…

October 27, 2011

I’ve been thinking about Timberlake Wertenbaker’s Britannicus translation, which seemed both natural and highly effective to me. Racine didn’t really do sparkly poetic bling, but I think the nearest thing might be Nero’s speech about seeing Junia from Act II Sc 2:

Excité d’un désir curieux,
Cette nuit je l’ai vue arriver en ces lieux,
Triste, levant au ciel ses yeux mouillés de larmes,
Qui brillaient au travers des flambeaux et des armes,
Belle, sans ornements, dans le simple appareil
D’une beauté qu’on vient d’arracher au sommeil.
Que veux−tu ? Je ne sais si cette négligence,
Les ombres, les flambeaux, les cris et le silence,
Et le farouche aspect de ses fiers ravisseurs,
Relevaient de ses yeux les timides douceurs,
Quoi qu’il en soit, ravi d’une si belle vue,
J’ai voulu lui parler, et ma voix s’est perdue :
Immobile, saisi d’un long étonnement,
Je l’ai laissé passer dans son appartement.
J’ai passé dans le mien. C’est là que, solitaire,
De son image en vain j’ai voulu me distraire.
Trop présente à mes yeux je croyais lui parler,
J’aimais jusqu’à ses pleurs que je faisais couler.
Quelquefois, mais trop tard, je lui demandais grâce ;
J’employais les soupirs, et même la menace.
Voilà comme, occupé de mon nouvel amour,
Mes yeux, sans se fermer, ont attendu le jour.
Mais je m’en fais peut−être une trop belle image,
Elle m’est apparue avec trop d’avantage :
Narcisse, qu’en dis−tu ?

In the translation we have:

It was curiosity–
I saw her come to the palace last night.
She lifted her tear-filled eyes to the skies,
tears that glinted more brightly than weapons, flames–
Lovely, without ornaments, and simply
dressed with the beauty of one still asleep.
What can I say? Was it this scant cover,
the shadows, torches, cries and then silence
or the fierce look of those who were holding her
bringing out the soft shyness of her eyes?
I don’t know–I was entranced by this sight–
I tried to speak to her, my voice left me.
I was rooted to the spot, struck, amazed,
and I let her walk by me to her rooms.
I went to my own rooms and there, alone,
I tried to free myself from her image.
But she was there, before my eyes, I spoke
to her–my love ignited by her tears–
those tears I had caused. Sometimes–but too late–
I asked for her forgiveness, using sighs,
or, when I needed to, terrible threats.
That’s how I spent the whole night–without sleep:
but perhaps I’ve embellished her image–
she appeared to me in too soft a light.
What do you think, Narcissus?

So.  The original in in alexandrines (rhymed iambic hexameter) obviously enough, while the translation–has about ten syllables a line, and that’s about all I can think to say about the prosody.  The translation certainly gets all of the ideas out and across; it took me 77 seconds to read aloud as against 105 for the original.  That lends weight to what one commentator on this production said about the English preference for people doing things on stage as opposed to just talking to each other.

Isn’t the point about Racine that he was writing Huis Clos all the time–a small group of people trapped together by their mutual loathing and dependence?  And the way that things are held formly in place by his alexandrines reflects that or indeed embodies it?  Well that’s not something you could reproduce in English, at least I rather hope not…

Мишень (The Target) (LFF, BFI South Bank 26 October)

October 26, 2011


This example of large-scale conceptualism with disparate elements plonked next to each other and not reacting left me asking Why? The audience marked the end of the film’s 165 minutes or so with respectful applause and presumably were more impressed than I was.

The action takes place in a Chinese-influenced Russia of 2020, which has been co-screenwriter Vladimir Sorokin’s favourite locale recently.  In fact the Chinese elements seemed to me more effective as words in a text rather than things seen on screen, though I did like some of the gadgets such as the videophone in various forms (including a fan).

The story is that five characters with far too much time and money visit an abandoned cosmic ray detector in Siberia in search of the secret of eternal youth.  And they get that I am going to live forever and always be happy feeling.  It doesn’t work out.

We are going to live forever and always be happy!

That’s  from Bunin of course, but we also get Anna Karenina in the form of Zoya, the wife of the Minister of Natural Resources who has an affair with Nikolai, the amateur jockey and ‘mobile Customs’ officer.  And there are some lovely pictures of Siberia and Moscow among other things.  But to me it just didn’t hang together or mean anything, and I was left with a feeling of wasted effort.

Justine Waddell as Zoya, for instance, must have half-killed herself to get her Russian that convincing.  Though I have absolutely no idea why they chose a non-Russian actress to play a character who is sister to one of the other leading characters and so can hardly be a foreigner.  And the woman who does the ‘Chinese for dummies’ programme on the radio is played by a Serbian actress (Daniela Stoyanovich).  There’s an explanation from the director  here–it comes down to a distancing (or alienation) effect, though again it’s not quite clear why this only applies to the women, especially when we recall that Taya (who is played by a Russian actress) is a 52-year-old in the body of a 19-year-old.

In retrospect, I think that Zel’dovich (director) and Sorokin just had too long to think about this film and came up with too many ideas they didn’t want to discard.  If you had the Anna Karenina story in the Chinese pseudofuture that would be fine, as would eternal youth starting from a realistic setting–in either case you have the known rubbing against the unknown. But there are too many strange things in what they decided to do!

It's not going to work out, is it?

Faust (LFF, West End Vue 24 October)

October 25, 2011


Faust as a character from Dostoevsky...

Before the film began, the lights came up and Ian Christie on behalf of LFF puffed the film and introduced leading actors Isolda Dychauk and Johannes Zeiler.  On working with director Alexander Sokurov, she said that he noticed every smallest movement and he said that he knew where the actor’s inner boundary was.  Ian Christie said that the film was going to last 134 minutes before a proper Q and A and I began to feel panic.

I would have left after three minutes or so if I hadn’t been in the middle of a row.  The action took place in a hilly German town apparently existing in both the 19th century and the Middle Ages where the inhabitants spent their time pushing past each other in narrow openings.  After starting off like Bazarov determined to contract typhus in a dodgy dissection, the Faust of Johannes Zeiler became a character out of Dostoevsky, the hungry and arrogant intellectual.

There were many references to high points of German and Russian culture, especially Caspar David Friedrich (but also Albrecht Durer) visually; and also quotations from Luther and others as well as Goethe.  The Mephistopheles/pawnbroker of Anton Adasinsky had a body that swelled into deformed nothingness and a face reminiscent of Vladimir Putin (that’s the kind of reference I appreciate).

At the end I found that I wouldn’t have objected to another three hours or so to see what more Sokurov could pull up from his subconscious.  But the people all around me who were laughing with relief to get out of the cinema and into the normal unpretentious London rain wouldn’t have agreed…

Elena (LFF, Vue West End 19 October)

October 20, 2011



This film by Andrei Zvyaginytsev begins with a long soulful exterior shot of dawn outside the upscale Moscow flat where Vladimir lives with his downtrodden cook-housekeeper-sex object Elena.  They also happen to be married.  And not so young any more.  Nadezhda Markina soulfully intimates unhappiness as Elena.  She also travels to some rundown outskirts to hand over money to her useless son Sergei and his family.

Elena asks Vladimir to give Sergei some money so as to bribe the right people to keep grandson Sasha out of the army.  He says he will think about it, and goes off to the gym–a deeply un-Russian thing to do and especially unwise at his age.  He has a  attack.  Elena visits him in hospital and he recalls that was how they met–she was a nurse in a hospital where he was suffering from peritonitis.  Vladimir’s spoiled daughter Katya visits him reluctantly.  They tease each other evilly.

Returned home to Elena’s care, Vladimir decides he’s going to leave everything to Katya and starts drafting a will to that effect.  Oddly enough, neither he nor the will survive this decision.  Elena takes the good news in a plain brown envelope to Sergei’s family.  Grandson Sasha goes out with his mates to administer a good beating to some guys hanging around by bonfires, but it was all rather dark so I didn’t see who they were.

At the end we get a soulful exterior shot of dusk falling over what used to be Vladimir’s flat, while Elena Sergei and family make themselves at home inside and an infant grandchild luxuriates on an ocean of bed.

This is almost a party political broadcast/lecture on behalf of Edinaya Rossiya:  Mother Russia ought to take back her inalienable resources from the Westernised scum (Vladimir) and use them for breeding multitudinous future generations.  The only slight problems with this interpretation are Katya, who is also a typically Russian character and the score by Philip Glass, which really belongs in something more dynamic.

But if Katya is just a less attractive Nastassia Filippovna, debauched by an evil exploiter…


Britannicus Wilton’s Music Hall 14 October

October 15, 2011

Where the audience sat is now the playing area

The publicity for this show was keen to emphasise that it was one of a week or so of previews leading up to the official opening on Friday 21st.  This may mean that I ought to be silent like Junia meeting her beloved Britannicus while Nero watches from concealment, ready to have him executed if she gives him the merest sign–but I can’t see the need for such defensiveness.

I thought that this was the best play, in terms of the text that I’d seen for some time.  (The story is about how the Emperor Nero goes beyond the calculating and expedient evil of his mother Agrippina, rejects the advice of his wise consellors and becomes a monster, and it turned out to be highly effective.)  The translation seemed entirely natural, and my fears that the evening might involve characters standing motionless declaiming at each other proved entirely groundless.  The production was both simple and imaginative–as illustrated above, the theatre had been turned round so that the actors played where the audience normally sit.

At this stage of the show’s development, Matthew Needham was already very very good as Nero, a kind of nervous ill-tempered adolescent playing with the role of Emperor, and the Margaret-Thatcher-styled Agrippina of Sian Thomas showed great promise of daunting things to come.  (Those actors  who didn’t quite know all of their lines yet at this stage will know who they were.)

Definitely worth seeing once it has begun for real!

Even before noticing that director Irina Brown hailed from St Petersburg, I thought there was soomething very Russian about this show.  The scene between Junia and Britannicus under the hidden surveillance of Nero could easily be retitled ‘The fate of the creative intelligentsia under Soviet power’, and Matthew Needham had something of the gawky air (and indeed face) of Peter the Great.  But there’s more to it than that.

Update:  more about the translation here.

The Provoked Wife Greenwich Playhouse 12 October

October 12, 2011


Nasty photo of nice 30s-style set

The publicity for this show said PERFECT MAYHEM intends to do justice to [Vanbrugh] by bringing immorality and profaneness to the Greenwich stage in a trademark bold and daring production – tailored to the modern attention span. The company would like to warn people and apologise (not very sincerely) in advance about the explicit sexual content of the play and for jarring any conservative sensibilities.

That worried me a bit, but what we got was a sensible adaptation leaving out topical references and songs and moving at a sprightly pace in a 1930s-style setting that I illustrate inadequately above.  If anything, I think that time has bowdlerised the play in that ‘harlot’ and ‘strumpet’ hardly mean very much now and ‘punk’ means something different.

The play concerns Lady Brute who is not at all a brute but has married Sir John Brute who is for his money and is she going to take a lover in the form of young Constant.  Similarly her niece Belinda would quite like to marry Heartfree if he had lots of money.  The interesting things are the characters of Lady B (she is nice–modern sense!–but is she going to be good?) and Belinda, as an independent-minded young woman.  And so might Sir John be, but would require less underplaying than here–one thing he certainly wasn’t in his confrontation scene was drunk.

The plot is a bit of a problem, especially since we’re in a comedy that raised a respectable amount of laughs from the audience.  The author can hardly abandon Lady B to the mercies of her husband (since she’s gained the audience’s sympathy), but she would lose it if she got off with Constant and in the world of 1697 she could hardly leave Lord Brute, especially having no money as she hasn’t.  So we get  revelation, repentance and a happy ending involving Belinda and Heartfree and a reference to the Brutes that leaves their future undecided:

HEARTFREE  Then let’s to church, and if it be our chance to disagree–

BELINDA  Take heed, the surly husband’s fate you see.

We Love!

October 10, 2011

Note the uncertain gap after Love.

We have received the following email.  A quick Google shows that there’s a lot of it about, for instance here, here and here.

From: Sarah Miller <>
Sent: Thursday, 6 October 2011, 19:35
Subject: We Love!


My name is Sarah from Article Writing Services. We have a client who would like to pay you for the opportunity to sponsor a blog post that you have recently written. We know that blogs can be expensive to run and our client would like the opportunity to support you in that endeavor.

In return our client is asking for one link that they specify placed into the body of the blog post (no porn or gambling). Feel free to contact me with any concerns or clarifications you may have.

If you would have any questions or would like to start the process, please email me at so we can begin.


Sarah Miller
Outreach Manager – Article Writing Services

The Hang of the Gaol, Brockley Jack 1 October

October 2, 2011


This is a play written by Howard Barker.  It was first performed in 1978 when there was, strangely enough, a Labour Government.  I think it is meant to tell us that England is an old bitch gone in the teeth.

The ingenuous young bureaucrat Ponting, having got a little excited at the thought of going some questioning, says Disorientate them at the beginning and they’ll soon be squirming, and that recipe worked on me.

At the start of the play, four characters came on stage to react to Middenhurst Gaol burning down and I had no idea what they were saying!. After a while, it became clear that this was not a naturalistic rendition of what these people might say in these circumstances, but rather something self-consciously poetic.  And I found I could follow Senior Officer Udy (Mark Lisseman) and sometimes Jane Cooper the Governor’s wife (Maggi-Anne Lowe), but I had no idea what Chief Officer Whip (Matthew Forsythe) was saying in his Ulster accent, and even less as regards Governor Cooper (Adam Lewis).

As things went on, I could more or less follow what people were saying, and they seemed just to be belabouring the old bitch point at great length.  Once I realised that Jardine (Alan Thorpe) was meant to be  talking with an Australian accent, that made him easier to follow.  Then I had some difficulty in following Turk (Matthew Eaton), but he was meant to be incoherent at least sometimes.

The audience of about 20 or 25 souls certainly enjoyed the rough humour, particularly the camp interplay 0f the Fire Inspectors Bloon (Darren Benedict) and Dockerill (Sam Raffal).  These two were also perfect in their lines, and so was Anne-Marie Hughes, who inhabited her character as put upon 2 i/c and sex object to the disinhibited Jardine most convincingly.

The staging was I thought clear and effective–I was a bit worried by the heap of wood in the middle of the stage, but the action choreographed itself around it smoothly enough.  There was one moment at the end of the penultimate scene where Ponting announced that he had returned to civilisation from the moors to be dangerous, whereupon the scene abruptly ended–surely a second or two of reaction or indifference would have been better?

By contrast, there was also a lovely scene between the indomitably excellent Matheson of Anne-Marie Hughes and the effective if not always word-perfect Lady Cooper of Maggi-Anne Lowe that effortlessly took in sex, colonialism, sex, the class system, politics and more sex…’Effective but not always word-perfect’ also covers Julian Bird as Home Secretary Stagg, who was a commanding presence but had some difficulties with what he was meant to be saying–but hard to blame him in the case of

Mac manufacturers have to make do with ‘Esquire’

I think.

Update:  There’s a ticket offer for this show on