Posts Tagged ‘3 star’

Mr Jones, Curzon Victoria 14 February

February 29, 2020

***

mrjones

This film started with a typical Ukrainian wooden house in a field of typical Ukrainian wheat and in the house the Ukrainian writer George Orwell is writing Animal Farm.

Apart from that, the action presumably takes place in 1933 when Gareth Jones, who has just been made redundant as Lloyd George’s secretary and has previously succeeded in interviewing Hitler in an aeroplane travels to Moscow in the hope of interviewing Stalin and finding out there the money to pay for forced industrialisation is coming from.  By that stage of course there was a National Government without Lloyd George, so the reference to him and Ramsay Macdonald sorting out the economic crisis made little sense.

Anyway, once in the Soviet Union Jones manages to escape his minder on a trip to Kharkov and tramp round the Ukrainian countryside observing scenes of hunger, death and cannibalism.  He also has to contend with Walter Duranty, the senior foreign correspondent in Moscow, who expounds the official line that there is no famine, really.  Then we get what seems to be an entirely fictional entanglement with the Metro-Vickers trial  and the British engineers being held hostage for Jones’s silence.  Similarly, the idea that Orwell was converted to anti-Communism by Jones’s account rather than his own experiences in the Spanish Civil War is…strange…

So the mingling of fact and fantasy was unsatisfactory, which can leave people wondering about the historicity of the Ukrainian famine.  Another question would be what the actual story is meant to be. If it’s about the famine in Ukraine, then why does it only exist when a Westerner finds out about it?  If it’s about the discovery of the famine, then Malcolm Muggeridge for instance had already written about it.  As the subject of a film, the story of Duranty could have been better, or compare-and-contrast of him and Jones as very able men who could not easily find a place in normal life.

 

Macbeth, Greenwich Theatre 28 February

February 29, 2020

***

macbeth

Picture from Davy’s Wine Vaults/Twitter

The Lazarus Theatre production of Macbeth at the Greenwich Theatre was manly, clear and straightforward, at least when you could make out the words.  (A scene with Macduff’s pregnant wife addressing her bump was almost entirely lost on me, and it was sometimes difficult to understand what Lady Macbeth was saying.)

In line with manliness, the witches were male and as well as having some witchy exchanges cut they wore gas masks in one scene,  The direct approach meant that the pace of the action and there was on occasion the feeling that the cast just wanted to get it over with quickly.  There was no real distinction between the external world of action and heroism and the inner one of evil, obsession and femininity.

Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow raised a small shiver at the end, while Macbeth’s address to sleep was rather thrown away as he busied himself with washing off blood.  The murderers waylaid Banquo in complete darkness, rather contrary to their own words on the occasion.  Duncan became simply a comic figure at times.  The scene where Malcolm relates his imaginary failings to Macduff was even more tedious than normal, though that probably can’t be helped.

It was one of those productions where you can ask yourself what they are quarrelling over–if there is no glory, magnificence or colour (apart from Lady Macbeth’s dress) then what is the point.  But it will have been useful in helping anyone studying the text for an exam remember who the characters are and what they do.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

9apart

Twelfth Night, Brockley Jack 16 January

January 17, 2020

***

Twelfth-Night-cast-Brockley-Jack

As far as we know, this comedy was first performed on the sixth of January (the twelfth day of Christmas) 1601, while in the play Antonio advises Sebastian

In the south suburbs, at the Elephant,
Is best to lodge (III.iii.39-40)

So Brockley on the 16th of January was pretty close both in time and space, and appropriately enough this production was very much mainline pub theatre Shakespeare.  In particular, ID tags, mobile phones and messages from electronic devices were very much in evidence.

At the beginning I was just alienated by the people rushing around but then I was drawn in by the poetry and the combination of absolute beauty with absolutely accurate psychological insight.  I enjoyed the boyish charm of Jessica Kinsey playing Viola playing Cesario.  The character of Feste was elided, so his machinations fell to Maria, while Olivia was very much a no-nonsense North Country lass who seemed to be mourning as a matter of form to pass the time.

The audience laughed or at least chuckled quite frequently, which is far from a given at Shakespeare comedies, and this was a very reliable performance of a very reliable comedy.

But what interested me was Olivia with her hard-bitten morning and her name that contains ‘Viola’, as does Malvolio’s name.  First of all, I thought that as in some kind of student clique Olivia (I, Viola) was trying to get in on the sibling mourning thing, while Malvolio (Viola, olm)  was trying to get in on Olivia, just not very adroitly.

Then I decided that in fact this was all an hallucination of the drowning Sebastian, where he fantasises Olivia as a longed-for ideal of salvation but Malvolio (who remains unreconciled) serves a a reminder that all is not well.  In fact, Sebastian is deluded and confined like Malvolio but in a watery grave.

When Malvolio says

I will be revenged on the whole pack of you! (V.i.380)

he will indeed, for they are all dead…

Insignificance, Arcola Theatre 19 October

October 21, 2017

***

DMlZm4WXcAIang1

Photo from Arcola Twitter

I arrived here just in time-the young woman at the ticket desk spoke to someone to hold the door a further minute for me.

SPOILERS AHEAD!

So, The Professor (who we know is Einstein) is sitting in his hotel room and The Senator (wwki Joe McCarthy) comes in to demand he testify the following day.  Then The Actress (wwki Marilyn Monroe) wants to demonstrate the Special Theory of Relativity with some toy trains, but she calls it the Specific Theory.  It is all rather unengaging because Einstein as a character (with a character) is just not there.  Then The Ballplayer (wwki Joe DiMaggio, who was married to wwki Marilyn Monroe) enters and the scenes with him and Monroe are much more dramatic, standard kind of Arthur Miller stuff.

OK, so we came to the interval.  Perhaps the play was on because we now had Trunp as a kind of McCarthy, or just a celebrity.  Then our group missed the signal (if there was one) to go back inside so we had to be led in to sit at the back but the house was pretty empty anyway when

McCarthy is threatening to take away the papers with Einstein’s calculations, but everyone calls them calculus not calculations then Monroe offers him herself or her money not to do that.  Then Einstein and Monroe get to discussing the quantum theory of the 1930s as though it still meant something when she was getting her skirt blown up around her legs all day for numerous retakes.

Monroe suffers a miscarriage and Einstein feels guilty about the bomb.  The world maybe comes to an end outside, or maybe he is just remembering.

At the end, I did not understand why the sexiest woman in the world would need to batter men with words in an unrelievedly rushed delivery and bored my companions by saying it was supposed to be physics not maths Einstein was doing and once you had got the ideas straight you could get the research student to do the calculations.

It made you think, if only about the mistakes…

 

Khovanshchina, Cardiff WMC 07 October

October 8, 2017

***

171008khovanshchina

Photograph from WNO site

The choral singing here was wonderful, and on a different plane from what I had heard in some 350 previous evenings at the opera. On the other hand, the attempt to universalise the action by setting it in the early Soviet period while adding in Samurai warriors and a gas chamber did little to clarify the action, centring as it did on the attempts of various groups to appose the accession of Tsar Peter I (or Peter the Great).

Musorgsky suffered from various difficulties with the scenario, such as being dead drunk much of the time, not being able to finish it, and not being able to portray any members of the Romanov dynasty on stage. Still, one should attempt to make things more rather than less clear. The scenario does at least give a coherent and probably accurate picture of Old (Pre-Petrine!) Russia as violent, lascivious and God-haunted, which doesn’t really fit with the early Bolshevik period.

Apart from the choruses, it was Shaklovitsky’s patriotic peroration that made an impact, but we were left with no clear idea whether he was meant to be Edmund or the Duke of Kent. So why did Khovansky take a bath in his (albeit bloodied) trousers while the Persian Slave ended up naked? (Probably because she constituted an allusion to Hella from The Master and Margarita.)

Probably Dosifei came off rather too sympathetically in the absence of any real competition, while it was far from clear what his Old Believer followers were up to in the end, in terms of burning themselves to death or indeed anything else…

Perhaps the main interest was in comparing the Welsh surtitles with the English ones and with what was being sung in something (occasionally) like Russian. I was gratified to find that А ты in Russian was ‘A ti’ in Welsh, and interested by all of the Latin words in Welsh–a legacy of the lost Romano-British culture or (more probably) of deliberate language planning in more recent times.

I, Daniel Blake, Greenwich Picturehouse 29 October

October 29, 2016

***

graystreet.png

Grey Street in the rain

This film is about a 59-year-old carpenter who suffers a heart attack and so is no longer able to work.  He is judged not sufficiently incapacitated to receive Disability Allowance, so has to go through the demeaning pretence of looking f0r non-existent jobs.  He makes friends with a young single mother who has been sent a long way from London because it is cheaper than housing her family there and who has her benefits sanctioned because she got on the wrong bus in a strange town and arrived late for an interview.

I have to admit that I did cry during the film, though not as much as the two women sitting next to me, and it wasn’t all because of the I want to go home feeling.  They got the Newcastle accent right, and also the way people speak to each other, which is a different thing.  When the dialogue and actions were allowed to proceed from the characters and their actions it was actually very moving.  There were some shots of Newcastle in the rain, YESS!!

The essay that Loach was determined to write was probably quite correct at a factual level, but it didn’t really mesh with these characters.  In particular, what Daniel needed was clearly some advocacy from the CAB, a Welfare Rights group, or even Age UK.  Now he might not have known that, but after spending two years in a homeless hostel in London Katie certainly would have.  I approve of making ordinary people the central figures of films and plays, but depriving them of agency isn’t the way to do it.  And I was irritated that St Daniel had to be burdened with demonstrating appropriate attitudes to black people, gays and people with mental illness.  Then I start asking myself what kind of a joiner he had been.  If he was employed, he should have been eligible for sick pay.  If he was self-employed, it’s hard to see how he could have managed to remain totally incapable in the face of modern technology.

Did he call the gay black training-shoe entrepreneur the ‘tycoon of Byker’ or similar?  That didn’t look like Byker to me…But the Evening Chronicle has helpfully published a map of the locations.

It is to the credit of director Ken Loach and scriptwriter Paul Laverty that having stupidly decided to include a scene of archetypal Dostoevskian degradation they clearly had no idea what they were talking about–there are some things you just have to be a bad man to get right.

Tsvetochniy krest/The cross of flowers

September 7, 2016

***

elena_kolyadina__tsvetochnyj_krest

This book by Elena Kolyadina hardly received great support when this blog did a survey of contemporary Russian novels for translation, and it was also being remaindered during my recent trip to Ukraine.

It appears to start in December 1674, when our heroine Feodosia is 15 and ready to be married off and to end in October 1673, when she is 17 and her son born half-way through the book is able to run around and beg for money.

There are many things it might be, but none of them for very long. The shadow of Thomas Mann’s Holy Sinner grows now lighter, now darker, and at times Kolyadina seems to engaged in a yacht race with Vodolzakins’s Laurus.  A yacht race because the leader ixs supposed to imitate the follower’s manoeuvrings.

At times it seems to be one of those books where a modern miss is plonked down with her insatiable curiosity in ancient times and at others it’s one of those books with detailed retro-porn description of life in Old Russia.  Indeed, we get a detailed description of the old-time salt industry, just like in Perm.  The contrast between carefree pagan sexuality and the strictures of the church might have been going somewhere and then wasn’t. Similarly the un-modern way Feodosia related to her family members just disappeared, leaving behind the usual YA heroine.  And then in a reference to Jan Potocki or perhaps Tolkien we have an entire community living under the ground brought into being.

A plot summary with SPOILER ALERT makes it sound as though the traditional saint’s life is being referenced.  It is 1673 in Tot’ma.  Feodosia is the intelligent beautiful etc etc daughter of wealthy salt-manufacturer Izvara due to be married off to another salt-manufacturer Yuda.  The priest Father Loggin feels himself tormented by her youth beauty intelligence needlework etc.

A company of travelling players comes to town under the leadership of one Istoma, who is not much like a salt manufacturer. The climax of their show is a puppetry version of the Crucifixion, except that Feodosia rescues Jesus from the cross, and Father Loggin takes exception.

Istoma and Feodosia enjoy a night of secret love in Feodosia’s bedroom, then Istoma’s troupe gets into a fight with the followers of her brother Putila as he returns from dealings in Moscow.  Revealed to be a confederate of Stenka Razin, Istoma is burned alive.  Feodosia marries the salt-manufacturer and devotes herself to her son by Istoma.

Influenced by Father Loggin, she practises more and more severe self-denial, including clitoridectomy and saying that like Abraham she would give up her son for God.  The son disappears and Feodosia takes up the lifestyle of a yurodivaya, eventually quitting town for the other side of the river.  There she discovers a community of underground pagans who can speak Russian when necessary and tries to convert them to Orthodoxy, planting a cross of flowers for this purpose.  She also entertains Death in a scene that owes much to Monty Python.

Father Loggin crosses the river to inspect this miraculous and has her burned as a witch so as to further his ambitions for preferment.

But Death does not have Feodosia on her list.

Well, well…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Alkestis, Greenwood Theatre 1900 10 February

February 11, 2016

***

We have been asked whether we would recommend a visit to the 2016 Greek Play, on the basis of the Wednesday evening performance–after all, Edith Hall did tweet 2016 King’s College London Greek play better than ever.

I think it would be worth seeing as a reasonably typical example of the KCL Greek Play, illustrating the difficulties one faces in staging such a thing and the way one might go about solving them.  One of these issues is that one does not have actors experienced in voice projection and dominating the stage.  So having them follow what I think was ancient performance practice by miming what the were talking about was a good idea, while having Alkestis deliver many of her lines at the stage rather than the audience was not.

It’s worthwhile noting that, in contrast to the Alkestis-derived Cocktail Party I recently saw in Notting Hill, none of the actors fluffed their lines–advanced electronic prompting may have been employed to this end.  But there was systematic underplaying, especially from Heracles, who may perhaps have been reading his lines from the label on his bottle of wine.

The dance passages were the most effective and some of the choreography was very good.  I’m not sure that the director ever came to a clear idea about what she was trying to do–the programme made great play of a contemporary setting, which in the event appeared only in the form of cocktail glasses and a wind-up gramophone–and she hadn’t established control over time, so that some important passages (such as Herakles asking who had died or indeed Admetos finding out who Heracles had brought to him) passed by quickly and some more routine passages didn’t.

It looked like the choral odes had been solved at the last moment by getting one person to read them via a recording over a musical backing, which may have been somewhat of a last-minute expedient.

We had certain technical problems on the night.  The scene changes lasted a long time, which may have been deliberate but if so that still wasn’t a good idea. There were also problems with the lighting cues, and especially with the surtitles, which were often a line or more early or late and ceased entirely towards the end, leaving the audience rather puzzled as to what if anything had happened to conclude the piece.

There was indeed a facility to buy tickets at the door, to answer another question…

Three Irish Classics, Pentameters Theatre 23 August

August 26, 2015

*****/**/***

'Riders to the Sea' from irish-theatre.com

‘Riders to the Sea’ from irish-theatre.com

I was somewhat daunted by my first visit to Hampstead this millennium, with the climb up the hill once I had scrambled off the bus and the shops with their signs in Hampstead-French.  But the young couples on the pavements seemed to be talking German to each other.

But once I had found the pub and climbed up some stairs, I was reassured by the welcome from producer Léonie Scott-Matthews and her charming assistants, not to mention the pleasingly mismatched seating.

Of the three pieces that made up 65 minutes’ running time, Riders to the Sea (J. M. Synge) was the first and best, and Maura’s despair struck home with me:

Michael has a clean burial in the far north, by the grace of the Almighty God.  Bartley will have a fine coffin out of the the white boards surely…What more can we want than that?

The Pot of Broth, by W. B. Yeats, was a peasant farce where the tramp hero had undergone gender reassignment and the plot recycled the good old nail stoop story.  Perhaps the tramp’s imaginings could have been given more space to breathe and the host and hostess changed their minds less easily.

Finally, The Travelling Man by Lady Gregory (in fact, both of these two were more like collaborations between her and Yeats) got a little stuck between being a much shorter Playboy of the Western World and a Biblical parallel. Again, the mother passed a little too matter-of-factly from ejecting the Traveller to despair on realising she had lost the King of the World.

Definitely an experience worth ascending the Golden Mountain of Hampstead for.

Leonce and Lena, Brockley Jack 18 August

August 19, 2015

***

leonce

Very nice people at the Brockley Jack, as I’ve said before.  The scampi smelled lovely and in the theatre they had new seating–the bench in front of the tech box is no more.

The idea of Leonce and Lena is that the betrothed but unacquainted prince and princess of neighbouring microkingdoms separately run away to escape their marriage but meet anyway and get married in the guise of automata.  As such, it seems to be about the expectations of the great world confining poor bare unaccommodated man who would writhe like a grub if he were Wozzeck, and subjecting the former to merciless satire.

I think it requires hordes of absurdly identical courtiers, subjects and so on to make its point, while here we had gender-blind doubling of roles and an adaptation that seeks to give more agency to Lena where the original failed to fully realize her character, which is making a rather different point.

Among the actors, the standout was Sam Adamson as a supercharged courtier Valerio, while our Leonce acted well but wasn’t always too sure of his lines.  As for the production–what you would expect from a fairytale satire or satirical fairytale is surely ludicrous exaggeration, and we didn’t get that here.  The keynote was more like restrained and decorous, which I would say is hardly the thing.

The show is certainly worth seeing if you’ve heard of the play and wonder what it’s about, or if you know someone in the cast of course…I’m not sure about wider appeal.

That bench was actually quite useful–you could put your stuff next to you and not have to search for it on the floor at the end.