Friday, 31 December 2010
Anyway, I've decided to write a summary post for this year and what I hope will happen next year. First of all, my ten favourite theatre experiences of the year:
10. The press performance of "Legally Blonde the Musical" that I was lucky enough to attend.
Not only was the show a lot better than I thought it would be, but I got to meet and talk to a real theatre critic, which was a lovely and inspirational experience for me. It was a complete accident that I was there, because I actually had no idea that half the British press would be in that matinée...
9. Hailing "Macbeth" at the Globe
I finally understood how it really was for the Jacobeans, to be huddled in the pit in all weather condtions. Luckily, I was in a box, but boy did I feel for the groundlings. And Lady Macbeth, who nearly drowned in her coffin. As Mrs. Lovett would say, Poor Thing....
8. The Donmar
Of course I haven't actually been yet, but I have obtained what I thought to be the unobtainable! In 2010 I booked a ticket for Spelling Bee, and a ticket for Luise Miller. I know I have quite a long wait until I go, but I am ecstatic that I have finally managed to get tickets for Donmar productions at the Donmar, without resulting to the day seat queue. Now I must mention the announcement of Michael Grandage's departure and the lingering question over who will replace him....
7. The lack of "Next to Normal"
I couldn't resist this one. Having received the cast recording for Christmas, and having fallen in love with it, I am now even more incredulous as to why this is not scheduled for a run at the National, or any another subsidised theatre, where it would probably be very succesful. I have absolutely no interest in "Shrek", and wish that this were coming over instead....
6. "Hamlet (en trente minutes..)"
The title refers both to the thought provoking interpretation at the National and the comedy rewrite that I saw when in France. Having disliked (or did I just not understand it?) Shakespeare's work until I saw "Macbeth", I decided that, what with the play no longer being on the A Level curriculum, it was time for me to tackle "Hamlet". It is now one of my new favourite things. That is all.
5. An adventure in Edinburgh
Seeing five shows in one day with almost as many reluctant family members in tow was never going to be easy. But we managed it, and what a day it was.
4. The French Play
A memorable outing with my Dad, where right up until the last minute I had him convinced that Cocteau's "Les Parents Terribles" would actually be performed in the original language. Sigh. We can only hope....
3. Independence Day
Wednesay 24th August 2010 will be remembered forever as the day that I was finally allowed to go to London by myself. "The Habit of Art" could not have been a better choice for the occasion, what with me having been an Auden fan since I was thirteen.
2. Getting my foot in the door
2010 was the year that I was finally old enough, and indeed blessed with enough free time, to get a job in a theatre. Working front of house is more fun than I ever imagined it would be, and I have seen so many things so far that I never would have considered seeing normally. I really hope I can continue with my job for as long as possible.
1. "The woods are a metaphor for life...."
I agree wholely with Timothy Sheader, and also with all the critics, who, like me, fell in love with the revival of Sondheim's "Into the Woods" at Regent's Park Open Air Theatre. I had loved Sondheim's music for so long, so to finally see one of his musicals was absolutely amazing. The cast were fantastic, and, coupled with the setting and slightly dodgy weather made for a spectacle that I don't think I will forget for a long time. I simply cannot stop listening to the cast recording, and each time I hear something new.
I was lucky enough to see many fantastic productions in 2010, but these are the ones that really stick in my mind. In 2011, I am going to try and concentrate on seeing a greater variety of even more shows but for less money. So far, I have six tickets booked, at an average price of £10, so I think I am doing quite well. Of course, I will never equal the achievements of the man I overheard at "Les Parents Terribles", who already had sixty booked, but what with my job, you never know.
Looking into 2011, here are eleven productions that I'm really looking forward to:
1. The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Donmar Warehouse
2. Luise Miller, Donmar Warehouse
3. Twelfth Night, Cottesloe, National Theatre
4. Frankenstein, Olivier, National Theatre
5. Betty Blue Eyes, Novello
6. Much Ado About Nothing, Shakespeare's Globe
7. Cause Celebre, The Old Vic
8. Sweeney Todd, Chichester
9. Crazy For You, Regent's Park Open Air Theatre
10. Blithe Spirit, Apollo
11. The Children's Hour, Comedy (Only if I can find a seat which is worth the price it is being sold for)
The first five are already booked, which is really exciting! Of course, this list will grow to an impossible length throughout the year, but I feel I have made a good start so far with my planning.
I am now in the definite list frame of mind, so will write some more lists for 2011. It will be fun to look back on them at the end of 2011 (a scary thought) and see what I have achieved. Here I am writing my arts related lists, but I will also make a personal one, which will regretfully not be posted in public:
11 pieces of literature that I must tackle:
1. The Canterbury Tales - Geoffry Chaucer
2. Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov
3. King Lear - William Shakespeare
4. A Doll's House - Henrik Ibsen
5. Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte
6. Emma - Jane Austen
7. Vanity Fair - William Thackery
8. The Catcher in the Rye - J D Salinger
9. Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens
10. The Voyage Out - Virginia Woolf
11. The Crucible - Arthur Miller
11 aims for my French:
1. Re-draft my philosophy essay, perhaps giving it a new title, so it ends up as the best thing that I've ever written in French
2. Les Parents Terribles - Jean Cocteau
3. Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert
4. La Peste - Albert Camus
5. Research, and write about, the French Revolution
6. Work really hard to improve my grammar
7. Practice speaking, especially how to intone/show emotion without sounding contrived
8. Watch several films that I haven't previously seen
9. Actually do the listening practice that I always set out to do
10. Read a lot more to improve my standard of written communication
11. Do as well as I possibly can in my AS.
11 aims for my German:
1. Learn as much as I can whilst on work experience
2. Take advantage of every opportunity whilst in Berlin during the summer
3. Das Annolied
4. Fruehlingserwachen - Frank Wedekind
5. In addition, read at least one book every fortnight
6. Read as many newspaper articles as possible
7. Continue to perfect my grammar
8. Actively learn as much varied vocabularly as possible
9. Work hard on my accuracy whilst speaking
10. Again, expand the range of films that I have seen
11. Finally, just like French, do as well as I possibly can in my AS.
11 films that I must see:
1. The Godfather
2. Mulholland Drive
3. Annie Hall
4. La Strada
5. The Shawshank Redemption
6. Sunset Boulevard
7. Fight Club
8. It's a Wonderful Life
9. Das Boot
10. The Graduate
11. Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Now I think I will conclude this exceptionally long post. I know it is over two hours away, but Happy New Year!
Tuesday, 28 December 2010
I have a whole shelf load of books that I am yet to read, and a stack of DVDs to watch. Actually, I have watched six films during the holidays so far, something which I am quite proud of, because I, rather shamefully, watched only the same number during the last term of school. The topic of films, though, made me remember my last German lesson of 2010.
Anyone who knows me well will know that I absolutely adore German. When I was younger, my family, teachers and fellow pupils all believed English and drama to be my passions. Whilst I was good at these subjects, there was always something inside me which told me that this wasn't what I really wanted. I can liken it to people who work in the city, but their sole motivation is the money they are earning. If they were going to be paid an average wage, they would immediately go and find a job which they actually like. This is exactly what happened with me and my shift from English and drama to French and German.
Another thing which those who know me well will know is that when it comes to films, I have high standards. I can see absolutely no merit in wasting two hours watching an unoriginal romantic comedy, or indeed any type of film, where the acting, script and direction is poor, cringeworthy, uninventive or a combination of all three.
There are some romantic comedies, though, which are fantastic. Take, for instance, the Cohen Brothers' "Intolerable Cruelty" (2003).
George Clooney and Catherine Zeta-Jones both deliver the intelligent yet witty script with passion, and as a viewer one gains a real sense of who they are as characters. The direction is inspiring, lifting something which could be riddled with clichés into a stylish surprise. The film is not depressing or difficult to watch, but at the same time is inventive and interesting. This is what I mean by a "good" romantic comedy. As my father takes great delight in telling me, there are only seven stories in the world. I acknowledge that this is true, because it is therefore the way that that story is told that is important. Why, then, do people flock to poor, unimaginative, repetitive retellings? I feel so sad after sitting in a cinema with only three or four other people at a showing of an arthouse or foreign film, which deserves all the attention that the latest Jennifer Aniston film is garnering.
Another film which I feel is original within a genre normally so restrictive is Drew Barrymore's "Whip It" (2009).
I previously posted about this a few months ago when I first saw it, but just decided to use it as another example of a great cast coming together with an inventive director to deliver a clever script. This is the perfect teenage film (actually, it's a perfect film for anyone) of 2010. It's sad that it had low audience numbers compared to its counterparts, but as long as films like this are still being made then there is hope.
I will now rather cleverly link my love of German to films which I consider to be below-par. In our German lesson we had a choice between watching "Goodbye Lenin!" (2003) and "Keinohrhasen" (2007). Having already seen the former, I supported the choice of the latter. Now, I really wish I hadn't. It was exactly the kind of film I deplore.
It was supposed to be a comedy. The funniest moment was the end of the lesson, when we had to stop watching the film. I always try to watch films the whole way through, so did watch the rest at home. Sadly, it didn't get any better. It achieved the impossible: it got worse.
The jokes in it were really pathetic. Someone stepping on a plank and it then hitting them in the face is overdone, and just not amusing. Similarly, the precocious child reciting lines (because she really wasn't acting, and it sounded so unnatural and forced) about her actress mother's string of boyfriends she meets in the theatre is not funny - it is unbearably stereotypical. Similar attempts at humour were made through child-size toilets and the giving of instructions in Dutch, when the recipient did not speak a word of this language. Seriously, in real life, would you not just go and look for the instructions in German, or refuse to attempt the task?
The acting was another issue. I have already mentioned precocious children, of which there were many. Seriously, there are many talented child actors such as Abigail Breslin, Chloe Moretz and Nicholas Hoult, who can actually act. Why they could not seem to find any for this film is anyone's guess. The day care centre concept actually reminded me of the American film "Daddy Day Care" (2003), which I also found unbearable.
The two leads were played by Til Schweiger and Nora Tschirner. Their chemistry was actually quite good, and their performances would have been excellent were it not for the infantile script they were forced to follow. Everything was so stereotypical. For instance, Anna (Tschirner) wore glasses and dressed as a frump, until magically she wore fashionable clothes and contacts and "became beautiful".
The notion of characterizing the woman in a romantic comedy as almost not good enough for the man really annoys me, especially when it is done through glasses and clothing. It sends out the message that one must look a certain way in order to be with someone considered to be attractive, and that it is not good to not feel the need to flash the flesh at every opportunity. As someone who needs to wear glasses for certain things, it really upsets me the way they are often shown to be unattractive and undesirable by film-makers. Would the film have been better if Anna were not intially dressed this way? It's hard to say, but would it not have been good for her not to change herself once she was with Ludo?
I think I will conclude now, by saying that were it not for the beautiful setting and the good performances from the two leads, I would probably give the film less than 10/100. As it stands, I think I will actually give it 21/100, which is basically one star. I will be inscences if I have to study it next year as part of my A Level, but at least I would have a lot to say about it.
Sadly, there is, of course, the sequel, and also news of a planned Hollwood remake. Not only do American remakes of European films, or any films come to that, annoy me, but do we really need more of this film?
Back to the Moliere for now...
Sunday, 12 December 2010
In June, I read Kafka in German for the first time. It was also the first occasion where I had read a piece of literatrue in a language other than English, and I was amazed that it was nowhere as difficult as I had perceived it to be. Since then, I have read a dozen or so books in both French and German, and am now learning to fully appreciate both the languages I am learning and the works of great authors. I actually prefer reading in German to reading in English, at least for the moment!
Last weekend I went to see the Donmar Warehouse's production of Jean Cocteau's "Les Parents Terribles" at Trafalgur Studios. I had brought a copy of the play (in French, naturally) a week ago, so had unfortunately not had time to read it. The translation was by Jeremy Sams, who I was onyl familiar with from his work as a director. I have to say, you would not have been ale to tell that the play was originally in French, for the translation was so smooth and almost like a different piece entirely. I very much enjoyed the afternoon, despite worries that the snow would prevent me from getting back home on the train!
Anyway, this made me wonder if there are ever occasions in England where plays are performed in French or German? Would there be a large enough audience for this, bearing in mind that there would almost definitely be subtitles like there are at operas? In a way, an English translation of a play is almost like an updated, modernised version of Shakespeare.
This has interested me, so I may write a longer post on the subject when I have more time. In other news, provided it does not snow in the meantime I will hopefully be heading to the South Bank this weekend to see "Season's Greetings". I am very excited, because not only will it be the first play I see by Alan Ayckbourn, but I will also have the chance to see Jenna Russell on stage again, who I think has become my favourite theatre actress. I have also managed to book tickets for "Spelling Bee" and "Luise Miller" at the Donmar. Booking tickets for a Donmar production at the Covent Garden home is a feat that I have never quite managed before, but now I am so excited.
2010 has gone so quickly, and I hope that 2011 will bring more great theatre and success.
Wednesday, 1 December 2010
Surprisingly, it is actually quite easy to compare the two pieces, despite the factt hat they are very obviously from completely different genres. Both featured a small cast, five in "Deathtrap" and four in "The Glass Menagerie", both of which performed outstanding. I would have to say that I preferred the "Deathtrap" cast overall, purely because I felt that the material was weaker so they had to work a lot harder to give the amazing performance that they did.
I was so excited about having the chance to see Simon Russell Beale on stage. After his amazing performance at the Sondheim prom, and reading several articles about him in which his lengthy career was discussed, I was intrigued. I have to say that it was one of the most humourous yet serious performances I have ever seen, and I am really looking forward to his Lear at the National in 2012. I also enjoyed the chance to see Jonathan Groff on stage. Sadly, the play is not selling too well, which surprised me, for I would have thought that there would have been a deluge of "Glee" fans trying to catch their heart throb on stage. Anyway, whilst I watch "Glee" I would not call myself a fan. I was more interested in his performance because he originated the role of Melchior in the Broadwya musical "Spring Awakening", which is definitely one of my favourite musicals. I was not disapointed, and found him to have wonderful chemistry with Russell Beale. The other actors, Claire Skinner, Estelle Parsons and Terry Beaver, all performed marvellously, making for a perofrmance which was ocnstantly full of surprises.
If I am honest, I didn't really like the script. It was very predictable, which is not very good for a thriller. I thought it was witty, but a little obvious in places. Matthew Warchus' direction lifted the material as far as it could go, and, couple with the amazing set, lead to an enjoyable, if a little disatisfying, performance.
Alternatively, Tennessee Williams' "The Glass Menagerie" made me feel excited as I read the first lines of the play in the library. I finished the play on the train to the theatre, and was so glad that I did. Being a memory play (I am still not quite sure what this means), it was very reliant on the characters, and I was glad that I had got to know them a little before seeing the play. I really empathised with the character of Laura, and felt that the cast performed impeccably, with great energy throughout the piece.
I only disliked a couple of things. The first was the curtain, which was raised and lowered to separate Joe's monologues from the narrative of the play, which I just felt was a little unneccesary. Also, the second act was lit almost in its entirety by candles, which was a little distracting and unneccesary, although the ending of the play does rely on Laura blowing out her candles.
Overall, though, the Young Vic has not yet disapointed me. I cannot decide which play I prefer,w itht he former being more entertaining but the latter being more thought-provoking and of better quality overall.
Deathtrap - ***
The Glass Menagerie - ****
Thursday, 28 October 2010
“Tell Me on a Sunday” was a title that I had heard a lot, but did not really know much about. When the current UK tour, starring Claire Sweeney, rolled into town, I decided to give it a go. If I’m honest, I was a little disappointed. Having adored the intimacies of C Soco’s production of “The Last Five Years” in Edinburgh, I was expecting a similar experience. However, the show seemed lost on the stage, and the set seemed too overcrowded. Sadly, this resulted in me feeling as though I was a mere onlooker.
I have never understood Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s appeal as a composer, and the score only confirmed this for me. The lyrics by Don Black were alright, but lacked the subtle wit and ambiguity that could have really set the piece on fire.
I knew little of Claire Sweeney’s career before, other than re-runs of “60 Minute Makeover”, so I had no idea what to expect. She did a good job, with fairly consistent vocals and believable acting. At times, thpigh, she seemed to lack energy and was drowned out by the (excellent, if a little loud) band on several occasions.
Overall, I am rather indifferent to the production, although I did rather enjoy Tamara Harvey’s inventive direction...
Oh dear, I hope I haven't been too harsh...
Sunday, 24 October 2010
Anyway, I had never seen a production of a Shakespeare play outside of the Globe or another open air venue until yesterday. Strangely, I managed to forget it was Shakespeare as I watched. Considering that the play was written to be performed on an almost bare stage with no artificial lighting or sound design, the production seemed to fit the piece remarkably well. What helped was that it was not done in period dress – it was also the first time that I had ever seen one of Shakespeare’s plays lifted out of the Jacobean era. This just goes to show how any piece of literature, provided it is about people, can be relevant to life in the twenty first century. In fact, any piece of literature is relevant, because ever piece of literature is about people. Even if a story is not about human beings, it must have character and relationships in some way. All stories are written by humans, therefore these characters will have the characteristics of humans, because we know of nothing else. I am not sure this really makes sense, but just recently I have become fairly interested in philosophy.
I think I will now start the actual review, after that rather peculiar interlude. The production was sold out, which shows the true selling power of Shakespeare, even in today’s financial climate. As previously mentioned, the first thing that struck me about the production was the lighting and sound design; many of the scene changes were punctuated by loud blasts of music, and the ghost of Hamlet’s father looked eerily realistic, thanks to the lighting design. The set was simple, it did not remain static, but the same pieces were moved throughout the show, if that makes sense. I am not sure what I think about the set, in some ways I liked the way it visually represented changes of scene, but at the same time part of me couldn’t help feeling as though it was not really necessary, for at points some of the action seemed to become lost.
The production was directed by Nicholas Hytner, who is also artistic director of the National. I really am starting to love his work, and thought that the staging was perfect. What I have noticed, both in this and in “The Habit of Art”, is that he has a really good way of making you care about as many characters as possible.
I had only read the play once and not in great depth, but now, after seeing the play, I want to read it and analyse it again and again. This is partly due to the interpretations of the characters by the cast, which helped make the play interesting throughout. At three hours and forty five minutes, it was probably the longest play that I have ever sat through, but I did not become bored or even look at my watch once.
I enjoyed Rory Kinnear’s portrayal of Hamlet. Having heard his name a lot, but never actually seen him in anything, my expectations were not disappointed. He portrayed the vulnerable side of the character very well, which evoked much empathy in me.
Ruth Negga brought an excellent energy to Ophelia, and stole the stage each time she was on it, making me wish that Ophelia had more lines. I had not really noticed her character through reading the play, but now I feel like I understand it a lot more.
Overall, the whole cast gave very enjoyable performances, working well as an ensemble whilst standing out as individuals. If I were not gradually trying to cut down the length of my reviews, I would write more. Seeing this production makes me wish that I had seen more Hamlets and knew the play in greater detail, because only then would I be able to make truly informed comments concerning interpretation. I am really looking forward to seeing another production of “Hamlet”, and possibly studying it in my second year of A Level studies.
Friday, 15 October 2010
The neutral title of this post is mainly because it will be about a number of things, although I could of course write a whole book on why I love Sondheim. The first exciting thing that I have to write about is that I received a personal letter from Jenna Russell, just days after "Into the Woods" played its final performance and closed the season at the Open Air Theatre. In case you did not know, Jenna played the Baker's Wife in the production, although she had also played Cinderella in the Donmar's production a number of years ago. Her performance was the highlight of the evening for me, so I decided to write her a letter. You can not imagine how overjoyed I was when I received a two page, handwritten reply. I don't really want to share the contents of the letter on here, but I will say that she took the time to answer every question that I asked. I am now an even bigger fan, and am looking forward to seeing her in "Season's Greetings" at the National, which will also be the first play by Alan Ayckbourn that I will have seen.
Speaking of the Donmar, I still haven't been there, but I am eagerly anticipating the day that I finally go. By the time I am in the position to buy tickets, they are always sold out. Hopefully in the near future I will be able to try for dayseats. The next production, King Lear with Derek Jacobi in the title role, is looking more and more apealing, especially after my experience at "Shakespeare for Breakfast".
A few weeks ago, news about Michael Grandage's departure as artistic director of the venue broke. I can not really formulate an opinion about this, having never been to the Donmar myself, but it is clearly one of the most important theatrical venues in the world, and it will be interesting to see how his succesor performs.
Finally, I went to see the Icelandic production of "Faust" at the Young Vic. This was almost two weeks ago now, so the moment has really passed for me to write a proper review. However, I do have some thoughts, which I thought I would post directly onto my blog.
I was not paticularly looking forward to it, having tried to read the play in its English translation and failing miserably. It was the longest and most complicated play that I have ever attempted to read, so in the end I just gave up, for I was almost oblivious to what was going on.
My hopes of one day reading the play in its original language gone, I decided to go with an open mind, and actually had such an enjoyable afternoon. It was unlike anything that I had ever seen before. The plot was stripped to its bare minimum, and used the "play within a play" concept that I had so enjoyed in "The Habit of Art". The production was set to rock music, as well as a psychedelic set and lighting. The main unique feature was the large net, suspended above the heads of the audience, which was often used by the actors. There were several loud shocks, as well as visual ones, which kept me on the edge of my seat at all times.
Whilst the performance was visually spectacular and a lovely way to spend an afternoon, I did not really feel anything for any of the characters, although it's worth noting that Faust's lovely closing monologue was ruined by someone's mobile phone going off. Overall, I think I would recommend the production to other people for the sheer originality of the staging and adaptation. I would be interested in seeing other shows of this genre, to see how they compare.
In the future, I really will try and keep my blog updated on a more regular basis. I really do enjoy writing, it's just that sometimes school and work gets in the way....
Sunday, 29 August 2010
This year being the year of Sondheim’s 80th birthday, I realised that there would probably be a chance to see a Sondheim show. There seemed to be several one off concerts, and of course “Passion” at the Donmar, which is impossible to get tickets for. What I really wanted was to see one of his musicals in performance. My patience was rewarded when I found out that Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre was producing “Into the Woods” as their closing musical for the season. I had loved seeing “The Crucible” earlier in the year, so I immediately started pestering my Dad to book tickets. My patience (and indeed, my persistence) was rewarded, and the tickets were purchased.
There was still the worry, though, that the rain would prevent me from seeing my first Sondheim. Luckily, although there was a shower when we were standing in the queue, then another shower whilst we were eating the expensive yet incredibly tasty barbeque, the third and final shower, which started five minutes before the performance and only continued to the end of the prologue, was the last for the evening. I could hardly believe my luck, although it is a testament to the wonderful performance that I stopped thinking about the rain the moment that the last droplet had fallen.
On a humorous side note, the members of my nuclear family who I was accompanied by had given me the strangest looks and even laughed when I told them of my plans to bring a bin liner for my seat, in case it was wet, and a further one to cover my legs in case it rained. Funnily enough, they were begging me for half of my seat liner to cover their damp seats when we arrived. Due to being a quite nice, if opinionated, person, I decided to share. Regrettably, though, on future occasions they will have to provide their own.
“Into the Woods” was the first ever Sondheim show that I had listened to, after blindly grabbing the first CD I saw in Dress Circle with his name on. I loved it from the moment I listened to it. I think this cast recording was really what sparked my interest in Broadway as a whole, because after hearing Bernadette Peters’ voice my research around her, followed by all the shows she has been involved with, became furtive. Anyway, I pretty much know most of the songs by heart, so was really looking forward to finally hearing them performed live. Of course, I had previously heard “Agony” and “Children Will Listen” on the BBC Sondheim prom, the former of which was performed by Daniel Evans and the rather delectable Julian Ovenden, who was my second theatre love, after Gavin Creel. The latter, performed by Maria Friedman, moved me to tears, so I was hoping that Hannah Waddingham’s version would do the same. The real reason for mentioning the Sondheim prom was that another of the principals, Jenna Russell, plays the Baker’s Wife, and I had fallen in love with her voice. I wished at that point that I had known about Sondheim in 2007 when I was thirteen, because then I would have gone to see “Sunday in the Park with George”.
Now, I have made an executive decision to actually start writing about last night’s show. Directed by Timothy Sheader, who is also the artistic director of the venue, the production used the concept of the narrator being a young boy who imagines the story and plays it out with toys, whilst it takes place around him. The ending was also slightly different to how it has been in other productions, but I don’t want to spoil it for people who haven’t yet seen the show. This change to the ending tied the show up well, and made for an ending with much more of a lasting impact than when an adult narrator is used. The other directorial decisions around staging were inspired, for designer Soutra Gilmour had created intricate scaffolding that would never fit into a traditional promescium theatre. This made some of the short appearances by characters, where they sometimes only sing one line before leaving, much more fluid. Then there was the natural backdrop of trees that really did make you feel as though the characters were going into the woods. Overall, the staging was probably the most exciting that I have ever seen, since there was always a lot to look at and new things happening, which added to the magic of the piece.
The costume design was brilliant, except for certain aspects, namely Cinderella’s dreadlocks, which were questionable. The giant, voiced by Judi Dench, was a magnificently unconventional creation which really was in the sky. I can’t really imagine going to a matinee and seeing the show when it was light, because the lighting design was extremely effective, sometimes leaving certain parts of the stage completely dark, despite some of the actors still being on the stage in these parts, to allow us to focus on other things.
Having listened to the cast recording so many times, I wondered how I was going to react to hearing completely different voices. Luckily, Gareth Valentine’s arrangement seemed to be quite different, and sounded entirely different in the open air. It was a bit of a shock to the system to hear British accents instead of American at first, but by the end I had concluded that I quite preferred it with British accents, because the “character” voices seemed to be more prominent and effective than they do with an American dialect.
“Into the Woods” has a book by one of Sondheim’s most frequent collaborators, James Lapine. The libretto is one of the cleverest that I have ever encountered in a musical, and provided plenty of jokes, some of which were very obvious, but also plenty that required thinking about to be fully absorbed.
Like most musicals, “Into the Woods” has two acts. The first act concentrates on the retelling of several classic fairytales. The stories are intertwined by the Baker and his wife, a fictional couple who are trying to have a child, so head into the woods to find a red cap, a cow as white as milk, a golden slipper and hair as yellow as corn. Act One is fun and humorous, but Act Two is where the story becomes darker. Themes of adultery, control, sacrifice and self doubt and awareness lead us into a poignant ending, which I will admit resulted in me crying, twice. The first time was at “No More”, and the second time during “Children Will Listen”. The reason for the tears is because the woods are not just trees; they are, in fact, a metaphor for life.
As fantastic as the production was, it would not have succeeded without an amazing cast. Luckily, what I have decided is one of my favourite casts ever, were on hand. I had previously seen Hannah Waddingham perform a solo cabaret at a small theatre, so was aware of her vocal prowess, but it was only after seeing her playing the Witch that I realised the true extent of her acting talent. Mark Hadfield’s portrayal of the Baker was the first thing that moved me to tears. His presence was enough to make us feel as though it was his and his wife’s story, which of course it is. He was the character I most felt for at the end of it all. Helen Dallimore portrayed a wonderful, if slightly vocally weak Cinderella, and it was amusing to see how she has not found time to update her resume to include “Too Close to the Sun”. As “Into the Woods” is, like “Les Misérables”, essentially an ensemble piece built around one central story, it is difficult to stand out, but my personal favourite performance was Jenna Russell as the Baker’s Wife, who seemed to inhabit her character perfectly and steal every scene she was in. Another stand out was Beverly Rudd’s Little Red Riding Hood. Initially, I found the overall interpretation of this role awkward, but once I got into it and I saw how her character fit into the whole story, I realised how talented she was, even if the way she was playing her was a little obvious.
There was nearly a “hail” moment (torrential rain whist watching Macbeth at the Globe, May 2010) during my favourite song from the musical, “Giants in the Sky”, when just as the song drew to a close a helicopter zoomed overhead, which would have made for an awesome finish. The unique surroundings, particularly the rustle of the trees, went a long way in convincing me that this is one of the best productions that I have ever seen.
For once, a moment that I had waited for and anticipated for such a long time did not disappoint me. I can now say “Into the Woods” is one of my favourite musicals, and that I would rush to any future production, which would hopefully explore another, completely different way of staging this wonderfully unique piece. Now, I am just hopeful that the rumoured Chichester Sweeney Todd production starring Michael Ball, and the mentioned revival of Follies at the Haymarket directed by Trevor Nunn will come off next year.
Thursday, 26 August 2010
Irritatingly, I had applied for Entry Pass, the National’s scheme which allows those of us between the ages of 15 and 25 to purchase a ticket for each show for just £5, a week before going on holiday. When I decided to venture to the National for the first time, a decision which I made the day before going on holiday, the card had not yet arrived. I wanted to have it all arranged before I went away, for I had decided to go on the day after results day, which was just two days after my return from Edinburgh, so I went onto the National’s (rather confusing, might I say) website, and picked “The Habit of Art”. After smugly buying a ticket for £16.50, instead of the usual price of £44 for that section, due to the fact that I am under 18, I was pretty annoyed when I arrived back from holiday to find my Entry Pass membership card on the doormat. Still, that just gives me an excuse to go to the National as much as possible now!
I had heard great things about this play, and the fact it was returning to the National for a second season said something to me. Plus, I have vivid memories of sitting in several year nine English lessons whilst the rest of the class became depressed by Sylvia Plath’s musings (they all blamed our teacher for that), analysing my Mum’s tatty old A Level poetry texts, which happened to consist partly of the complete works of WH Auden. Thinking of myself as some Auden expert (I’m really not, these days I cannot name a single one of his poems, even the one I read yesterday!), I decided that “The Habit of Art” was an obvious choice. Realising that neither of my parents would be particularly interested in the play, I was trusted to do what I had been lusting after doing for almost a year: I was allowed to go to London on my own, on the understanding that I walked straight from Waterloo East to the National, texted my Dad when I arrived, collected my ticket, texted my Dad again, ate a baguette in the cafe, then went straight to the bookshop, went to the auditorium and texted my Dad when I was in my seat. The latter failed, however, because my phone seemed incapable of texting in the auditorium, so I had to make a sneaky phone call, much to the annoyance of the old ladies club in front of me. I know there were big signs up saying that mobiles had to be switched off before entering the auditorium, but it was still fifteen minutes until the start time, and it was a necessary evil to guarantee future solo visits to the Southbank.
“The Habit of Art” was a fascinating experience for me. Not only was it my first time at the National, where I was excited to see that they too provide free cast lists in the nature of Broadway’s playbills, but it was also my first experience of seeing a piece which uses the concept of a play within a play. I really enjoyed this, particularly because it offered fascinating insights into the rehearsal process and indeed how difficult actors can be to work with. It also reminded me how similar much of the drama we see on the stage is to true life.
Written by Alan Bennett, “The Habit of Art” is predominantly a comedy, although when one looks closer it is possible that it is also a drama, for the insight it offers into the characters, and indeed the ending, is thought provoking and intriguing. I don’t really know much about Alan Bennett, or his work, other than that I rather enjoyed the film adaptation of “The History Boys” until the rented DVD decided to stop working halfway through. Now, I am intrigued and want to start reading some more of his plays, after I’ve read my lovely new Büchner anthology, “King Lear”, “Othello” and my borrowed Shaffer and Ibsen collections. Oh, and that degree level German play, which I only have the German language version of. Anyway, we’ve now established that the text was very good, and will probably become one of my favourite modern plays.
The plot focuses on Auden’s relationship with Britten and several “Rent Boys” (who are actually “Rent people”!) during his time as the poetry don at Oxford. That is the plot of the play that the actors are rehearsing within the play; the actual play focuses on a day’s rehearsal where the company decide to run the play in the director’s absence. Here we witness a tale of artistic struggle and self dissatisfaction, on top of the plot in the aptly named “Caliban’s Death”. Throughout, there are many humorous references to Shakespeare’s “The Tempest”, which add to the fun and authenticity of it being a real rehearsal room.
Nicholas Hynter, who is of course artistic director of the National, also directed the play. I had never seen anything directed by him before, because a) I hadn’t been to the National, and b) I wasn’t born when “Miss Saigon” opened, and I was nine when it closed. I really enjoyed the staging, I thought the set, which was static, was intricate yet simple, and that the entire space was used really well. The comedic lines were all very impactive, as were the more serious aspects, for instance the closing scene.
The lead role of Fitz/Auden was played incredibly well by Desmond Barrit. Admittedly, I do have a soft spot for the grumpy old man role, and he did this to perfection. It sort of reminded me of Peter O’Toole’s character in Venus (2005). Malcom Sinclair provided the Britten for his Auden, and whilst the performance was pleasant, it was maybe a little forgettable amongst the rest of the cast. Matthew Cottle’s Humphrey Carpenter was hilarious, and the Donald side of his character was one of the highlights of the show. Overall, though, my favourite performance came from Selina Cadell as Kay/Stage Manager. She was both comedic and touching, and seemed to hold the piece together. I also had a soft spot for Simon Bubb as the long suffering author. He actually reminded me of Dominic Cooper, which was a bit strange because as many people know I’m not exactly the biggest fan of Dominic Cooper’s acting.
Overall, Act One was probably a bit too slow, because all of the main character developments appeared to happen in Act Two. “The Habit of Art” is a modern play which I feel, unlike “ENRON”, could have a number of different incarnations in the future, for because it is a play within a play, it could be set within any era. I wonder if the site-specific jokes concerning the National and Olivier will change as the play goes on tour?
To conclude, I would like to say that the Lyttelton has some of the best theatre seats ever, purely because I was in row R and under the circle, but there was no obstruction by the circle overhang and I had a fantastic view. The seats were also gigantic, but I fear that they were actually just normal size, and I have been spending too much of my theatre-going time at the Menier.
Tuesday, 24 August 2010
Now, back onto topic. I must say that I have been fascinated with the concept of playbills ever since I begun to visit the Broadway section of broadwayworld.com. It's such a great idea to have a free cast list/synopsis, because whilst I would still buy the programme in most cases, it gives some audience members an invaluable source of information which they might not want to pay for. This became apparent to me in Edinburgh, where at each show, bar one, we were effectively provided with a playbill. I think it would be such a good idea if all theatres in London were to do this.
Anyway, I will now continue my reviews, using the playbills which I hadn't unpacked yesterday:
Plague! The Musical, C Venues ***1/2
I chose this because several people had recommended it to me on numerous occasions. It was the one show of the day that was exactly how I thought it would be. There was just the right amount of humour, although much of the plot did not really concern the plague, so the latter part of the show felt a little rushed. It was lovely to hear an original musical which has not been performed in town as of yet, and the up-tempo songs worked extremely well, especially with the choreography. However, I felt that the piece lacked some really powerful big ballads that would touch the emotions.
All of the performances were good, but my personal favourite (maybe even my favourite performance of the day) came from Lucyelle Cliff as Death/Polly. I thought her facial expressions and body language were extraordinary, and every time she was on the stage she commanded my attention.
Overall, Plague! The Musical was an enjoyable way to spend an hour and a half, and I can see why it enjoys the reputation it has at the fringe.
The Last Five Years, C aquila, ****
This was the venue that we had the shortest time to find (half an hour), and it also proved the most difficult to find. Luckily we arrived with ten minutes to spare, and then the show started a bit late.
The venue reminded me of the Menier inside, although the air conditioning was nowhere near as effective. At that point, I immediately regretted wearing a long sleeved, high necked dress made of blue lycra, leggings and Dr. Martens. Anyway, the seats were a lot more comfortable than those at the Menier, which made up for it.
I had been interested in seeing "The Last Five Years" ever since attending one of Hannah Waddingham's cabaret at Trinity, where she sung "Still Hurting" and spoke of Jason Robert Brown as though he is a skilled composer and lyricist in the way of Sondheim. I agree with this point. Having listened to the music beforehand, I noticed the same clever lyrics and marriage between the music and lyrics. It's rare to see a production of this in the UK - I believe the last proffesional one was at the Menier in 2006, so I took the chance to see this.
The show began at 10:30, so I was very glad that I had taken the chance to listen to and appreciate the lyrics beforehand, because by that time I was becoming quite tired. I really enjoyed the show, the small fourpiece orchestra were visible on stage, and it was just the thing I like: a small, intimate piece. Admittedly, it's the smallest cast that I've ever seen: just two people, however Benjamin Vivian and Kate Brennan were utterly compelling and really made me care about the characters. It was wonderful to see, and indeed to remember, that there are two sides to the story in every relationship.
So, that was my Edinburgh round-up. I definitely want to go again, and see many more different things. I foudn Edinburgh to be a unique place, where almost anything goes. Provided things are quality, no matter how different the ideas behind it seem it will probably find an audience in Edinburgh.
Monday, 23 August 2010
First of all, there was a signed photo from Gavin Creel, who is currently playing Claude in "Hair" in the West End. It's so personal, because there are not only little doodles on the back of the headshot, but also a little note, since I sent the letter in April four days after the run began. Gavin is one of my favourite performers (ever since I saw him in Mary Poppins when I was thirteen) , and I was so happy to receive the autograph.
Secondly, my Entry Pass membership card from the National Theatre arrrived. This was a bit annoying, because I brought a ticket for "The Habit of Art" the day before going on holiday for £16.50. At least now it gives me an excuse to see loads more plays at the National, because the tickets will cost me just £5. I really like the look of Hamlet, or Danton's Death, but I don't think I'll have time to see the latter.
Now I've finished being excited about the post, I might actually start writing my Edinburgh reviews. I just made notes after the show, so I could remember things to write them properly now. These are short reviews, much shorter than my normal ones, but I hope they're good!
Shakespeare For Breakfast, C Venues, ****
I actually thought the promotional material was joking when I read that audience members would be provided with a free croissant and cup of coffee. So you can imagine my reaction when I arrived to find a croissant on my feet. There was a croissant on every seat, as a matter of fact, and there was a rather clever joke about this in the production. It made me wish that I hadn't eaten one at the hotel for breakfast.
This years production was a re-telling of "King Lear", using the concept of as many reality TV shows as possible. I didn't really know what to expect, although part of me was a little disapointed that it wasn't a Shakespearean answer to "Forbidden Broadway". However, it was a highly amusing if a little repetitive production. Yes, some of the humour was a little too obvious, but innovative and interactive staging compensated for this. I would definitely go back and see another Shakespeare for Breakfast, for not only was it a great way to start the day, but I can now impress my new English teachers with my "in-depth knowledge" of "King Lear". Only joking, I'm actually going to try and buy the play text on Wednesday.
Down the Rabbit Hole, C Venues, *1/2
I was really looking forward to this, and I can officially say that it has to be the biggest disapointment of my life. Actually, "Wicked" was the definitive biggest disapointment, but this is definitely second to that.
It was not the fault of the cast, who all had great energy, body language and delivery. It was not the fault of the director, or the set designer, either. I think that it was a problem with the piece, as opposed to the production.
It lasted for only 30 minutes, but was meant to be 55, according to the leaflets and posters. There were several promising storylines but only one, paedophilia, was developed. All of the characters seemed to be written in the same way, and it was just so repetitive. Plus, the seats were really narrow and uncomfortable. This is coming from someone who only takes up a quarter of a bench at the Menier Chocolate Factory!
Spring Awakening *****
I had waited so long to see this, after having been denied a chance to see the West End production. All I can say is, in my opinion it is a lot better than most of the other current musicals in the West End, and I only wish more people had had the chance to see it.
Having read the original play by Wedekind, and listened to the cast recording, I was very familiar with the story, however nothing could have prepared me for the sheer scale of the energy and emotion in the production. By the closing scene I was in tears - it was probably the most moving experience that I have ever had at the theatre.
The score was sensational. Reminiscent of Rent, it is of course a rock musical. The setting of the play has been moved from the late 1800s in Germany to America, but this does nothing to hinder the story. The set is simple, yet complements every scene perfectly. The choreography fit the music perfectly, and the direction was something special - the idea of the young characters using handheld mikes when singing to convey how isolated and bereft of knowledge they are is incredibly effective.
The cast were all amazing. They managed to shine as individuals whilst being one of the best ensembles I have ever seen. Overall, I really hope that Spring Awakening gets another chance to be succesful in London. I think if the show were marketed correctly, and the tickets were not £55 for a decent view, as they were in the West End, then it would be incredibly succesful. We need to find a way of giving people the courage to try something new, instead of opting for what can almost be considered "a brand".
I'm now really tired, especially after almost twelve hours in the car today, and I want to try to get an early night before GCSE results tomorrow. I'll write my other two reviews tomorrow, possibly before I go to school?
Sunday, 15 August 2010
So, it's my first time at the fringe. Due to it being part of a family holiday, the only day we're seeing shows is Saturday. No worry, we're seeing five shows already, and I'm hopefully going to squeeze in a couple more on the day.
I don't really know what to expect. Obviously, there will be the highest concentration of the greatest variety of entertainment in the UK at this time, but I have no idea about how busy the streets are going to be or what the atmosphere will be like. I'm really looking forward to finding out, though.
Now, I will spend the whole week waiting to write "in Edinburgh" on my reviews. I always find it paticularly exciting when critics in national newspapers are "in New York". Hopefully, one day I will be able to be "in New York", but until then I'm glad to be "in Edinburgh"!
Friday, 13 August 2010
The reading side has not been so good, but I have re-read The Great Gatbsy in preparation for school. The other three books on the reading list haven't been opened yet, but I thought I could do that on holiday. In my defence, I have been reading French literature.
So, here are the mini film reviews:
Die Welle (The Wave) (2008)
I find it odd that several French films (Amélie (2000) is a really good example of this) are fairly well known in Britain, but it is rare that you ever notice films in other languages, other than English (or should we say American English) in the mainstream, pop culture world. Anyway, it really surprised me that Die Welle is not more well known in England.
The film was an almost perfect look at the affects of a dictatorship, examining how different pupils reacted when a teacher decided to create his own mini-dictatorship in a classroom. In the same way that it is done so well in The History Boys (2006), each of the individual pupils that the story focuses on were developped enough to make it not feel rushed, and that there was even a point to them being in the film. I really enjoyed all of the performances, and was engaged throughout.
Toy Story 3 (2010)
See previous post about this, although I would like to add that the audience in the cinema reminded me of one of the reasons why I don't normally go and see blockbusters.
This rating is really difficult to decide, maybe 62/100?
I always love it when I find a British film with big stars (in this case, Peter O'Toole) attatched, because it usually means it's going to be a worthwhile project which has a special uniqueness rarely found in Hollywood. With Venus, this was definitely the case. A quirky, true to life account of a friendship between an old man and a girl in her late teens, across class divide and age. It was humourous in places, yet so poignant in others. A really pleasurable way to spend a couple of hours, without using too many brain cells, but at the same time, not losing any.
Nowhere Boy (2009)
I had been looking forward to seeing this for so long, and I wasn't disapointed. This is fast becoming one of my favourite films of 2009. I am also becoming scandalised at the lack of attention the film received at the Academy Awards, but that post will come later.
Nowhere Boy tells the story of John Lennon's teenage years, and how the Beatles formed. I had never seen Aaron Johnson act before - I was only familiar with him due to his well documented (by the media) relationship with Sam Taylor-Wood, who is, of course, the director of this film. I was pleasantly surprised by his performance, and thought he managed to convey a range of emotions well.
Anne-Marie Duff's performance was also really good, but for me, the standout performance came from Kristin Scott-Thomas, who is one of my favourite actresses. The main reason for her performance being so great was that she managed to convey so many emotions through a character which was, shall we say, economical with speech. I truly felt for her, even though the audience were probably suppoosed to empathise with the protagonist the most.
I loved the way the film was shot, and even though I've never been a paticular fan of The Beatles I really did enjoy the story. My Mum liked it too, which is good because often she doesn't appreciate my choice of film...
Belleville Rendez-Vous (2003)
I've been trying to watch as many French films as possible to help improve my French, but this film really didn't help. I watched it for forty five minutes before giving up! It's an animated film, but the only speech seemed to be on the radio, and even this was only for around three minutes.
The style of animation was lovely, but I didn't understand what was going on, thus couldn't find the overall point/message that the film was trying to convey. So, I gave up. Considering that the total run time was just over eighty minutes, I had watched over half of it, so thought that was justified.
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (1982)
I believe this is the original production of the musical, filmed live in Los Angeles on tour. All I can say is....wow!
I have now been able to forgive Hal Prince for the disaster that was Paradise Found. I loved the way he directed this, because despite the huge stage he managed to make the piece feel intimate. Narrative based musicals are my favourite, and Sondheim is my favourite composer, so this was heaven for me. The ending moved me to tears, and I'm now really looking forward to the Chichester production next year, which will hopefully star Michael Ball and Imelda Staunton.
What wasn't to love about it? Now, there is no way I want to see the Tim Burton film, at least not until I've seen a stage production. I fell in love with (even though I didn't know it at the time) Angela Lansbury's voice when I was about five, courtesy of Beauty and the Beast. I thought she owned the role of Mrs. Lovett, making her so loveable it was hard to believe what she was doing! George Hearn was a brilliant Sweeney, complementing Lansbury and showing true emotion. I didn't really like the character of Anthony, just an annoying pretty boy with no personality really, but Cris Groenendaal, who played him, did very well with what little he had. The rest of the supporting cast were also good, as were the ensemble. Something which made the musical work was definitely The Ballad of Sweeney Todd, reprised at various points throughout the show.
Now, I'm just excited about Chichester. I may buy the DVD of the concert version in the interim, because I've heard that Neil Patrick Harris is the best Tobias ever? Plus, I am partial to a bit of Patti LuPone!
Typical, male orientated comedy. It was actually quite funny in places, and quite a relaxing way to spend an afternoon. Dennis Quaid's not the best actor, but he was actually quite amusing, if a little irritating, in this. Paul Giamitti was great as usual. Unfortunately, the ending was so clichéd, but I suppose people need that sometimes.
Yet another British film from last year. Yet again another fantastic British film from last year. Moon is an incredibly simple, but incredibly significant, film. I don't normally watch sci-fi films, but I was tempted by this, which I was given fro Christmas, but only just got round to watching.
The story centres on Sam Bell (played by Sam Rockwell) who is alone and isolated on a space craft, save for GERTY (voiced by Kevin Spacey), who Sam depends on, despite it being merely a machine. The film shows the effects of extreme isolation, and also the danger of cloning, when a clone of Sam is produced. Overall, the action is quite slow, but the characters are engaging enough that this is not really a problem.
The Private Lives of Pippa Lee (2009)
One review claimed that the film "resonates with every woman". Obviously, I'm not yet a woman, but I could definitely find a lot in the characters to empathise with. The film centres around Pippa (played splendidly by Robin Wright) and her life story. The film could be considered an ensemble drama, because it is mainly about how others in her life have been the predominant factor in deciding its course, showing how we cannot go through life alone, and much of what happens to us is determined by other people.
I was pleasantly surprised by Blake Lively's performance as the younger version of Pippa, however it seems to me that Alan Arkin always plays the same type of character with exactly the same mannerisms, which is starting to irritate me just a little bit. I wouldn't say the film was amazing, but it was definitely well made, well acted and thought provoking.
Rent: Filmed Live on Broadway (2008)
It may be a cliché, but Rent is still my favourite musical. Watching this just reiterated to me the truly amazing feeling that Rent can create in you, as well as the captivating characters. It reminded me of that amazing night in Eastbourne, and how annoying it is that I never got to see the original production on Broadway.
Rating: 98/100 (But it's not really a film, so this doesn't really count!)
The Princess and the Warrior (2000)
Tom Tykwer is fast becoming one of my favourite directors. I think The Princess and the Warrior is my favourite of all the German films that I've seen so far. Sissi (Franka Potente - my favourite German actress, who is brilliant both as Sissi and in the title role of Lola Rennt (1998)) is a nurse, living a secluded life in the home where she works. This is until she becomes involved in a road accident, caused by Bodo (Benno Fuermann). From then on, she is determined to be with him. Along the way, we find out more about both of the characters. The film is a modern fairytale, made in Tykwer's unique way.
Up in the Air (2009)
Entertaining? Yes. Worthy of an Oscar nomination for best picture? I'm inclined to say yes, so it was lucky that there were ten slots this year, else it probbaly wouldn't have got the honour it deserved.
I loved the cast of the film. Vera Farmiga is on my list of awesome actresses that mainly do independent films, or only have supporting roles in mainstream films, who I always try to look out for. Here, she was brilliant, although I feel that her performance in Orphan (2009) was a bit better. Or maybe it was just a different type of performance? I'll have to think about that one.
Anyway, the film follows George Clooney, playing a man who is in the business of firing people for a living. On one sphere, he is lucky because he gets to fly all over America to do so, but on another sphere he is dreadfully unlucky, because he has no real relationships in his life. That's where Alex (Vera's character) comes in, for she is in a similar job and they arrange to meet when they can. Add into the equation Natalie (Anna Kendrick), who comes up with the idea of substuting travel with webcams. This is where Ryan begins to fall apart, for he faces losing his former life and must find another way to satisfy himself.
Much like Juno (2007), the ending of Reitman's film is abrupt, yet realistic, and leaves many questions in the viewer's mind about what happens next. Just like Juno, it's a quirkym original film which could so easily have blended into the background, were it not for his magic touch.
Fish Tank (2009)
Another matter of fact film documenting a life which could be considered normal and unremarkable. Katie Jarvis, who was plucked from obscurity by director Andrea Arnold for this role, plays Mia, a tough Essex girl (I think that was the accent, anyway) who lives with an unsupportive mother and younger sister. The film documents her at the age of fifteen, with seemingly no way out of the downward spiral she is trapped in. The film is worth a look because it really shows that there is still quite a difference between richer people and poorer people in England.
The Blind Side (2009)
The Blind Side could probably be considered as Sandra Bullock's Erin Brokovich. Admittedly, it's the only of of her films that I've seen that I've actually liked! Based on a true story, the film tells the story of Leigh Ann (Sandra), a middle class lady from Memphis, who decides, on a whim, to Big Mike (Quinton Aaron) a bed for the night, when it's clear that he has no other home to go to. Overtime, Big Mike becomes a part of their family. He becomes Michael as he builds a relationship with Leigh Ann and the rest of the family. They realise how remarkable he is at football, so the family do everything in their power to aid him in getting a college scholarhsip.
The Blind Side is a great film for showing how the class/family you are born into goes a long way into deciding your destiny. It's truly heartwarming the way Leigh Ann makes Michael a part of their family. What's even more special is that it's a true story.
I really loved Sandra's performance. Her "look" in the film was different to her usual look, and she nailed the accent perfectly. I think she really deseved to win the Oscar, and am hoping that she might choose more serious roles in the future, because she really is quite a good actress.
Gosh, that was such a long post. I'm sorry if the comments seem vapid/pointless/generic towards the end - I've been typing this for almost two hours now. Pretty soon I should have finally finished my 2009 Oscars line up. I am fully aware that it's almost time to start 2010's, but just remember how long 2008 took!
Wednesday, 28 July 2010
Toy Story 3 is the latest offering. I'll have to confess that I wasn't actually as I excited about the third installment of what is probably one of my favourite movie franchises as much as I was about Up (2009). For me, Up was something special, which rarely comes along. Despite everyone saying Toy Story 3 was amazing, and the film even receving 5 stars from The Times, which is probably one of my most reliable sources, I still wondered why I wasn't that excited.
Due to a distinct lack of excitement, I wasn't disapointed. That's not to say I was enthralled either, but at least it wasn't like a second episode of Nine (2009). Now that was one of the biggest disapointments ever.
I believe that Pixar are now curtailing the franchise, which is a good thing, to end it before it becomes tired and no one wants to see it anymore. I do feel a little annoyed everytime I see a poster for the fourth Shrek film, which no one needs.
So, back to Toy Story 3. The plot centres around Andy heading off to college, and what becomes of his toys as a result of this. He plans to store them in the attic, but unfortunately his Mum accidentally takes them to a day nursery. It is up to Woody to lead their escape, which culminates in them finding their way back to Andy's house. Overall, the action was enjoyable, with many of the little, special nuances that only Pixar could get right. For instance, the teddy bear being attatched to the rubbish truck in the same way that Stinky Pete was stowed into the pocket of the girl's rucksack in Toy Story 2, and the way that Woody and the gang are able to overcome anything.
Unfortunately, the plot was a little predictable, although the ending very moving. I think that may be an age thing, though, what with it being the time in my life when I too am thinking about moving on. The animation, though, was spot on as usual, and the humour good and never seeming forced.
I do love Joan Cusack's voice acting as Jessie, it never seems contrived, and as a fan I can instantly hear her unique tones. I think Jessie is my favourite character, after all my own Jessie doll still sitsa proudly on my bookshelves.
On the whole, it was great to relive my childhood, and to see how Pixar have managed yet again to create a good piece of entertainment. Sadly, I'm pretty sure it will not be Oscar-callibre in the way that Up was, but nevertheless it was a wonderful way to spend an hour and a half. For this reason, I've decided to rate the film at 76/100. Toy Story 2 is still my favourite of the three films.
Sunday, 25 July 2010
Trevor Nunn’s revival of “Aspects of Love” is the latest musical revival at the Menier Chocolate Factory. Anyone who knows me and my theatre obsession well will also know that the Menier is my favourite Off-West End theatre, and that I try and see as many of their productions as possible. I am not a fan of Andrew Lloyd-Webber by any means, but after consulting the opinions of several trusted acquaintances and listening to a few songs, I came to the conclusion that the score of “Aspects of Love” is probably one of his best scores. It is also very repetitive, like many of his other scores, but this one seems to have several layers, and reflects the simple, contemplative nature of the piece.
I am less keen on the lyrics, by Charles Hart and Don Black. It is still a mystery to me as to how love can change your hands, and I did spend a long time last night wondering how Sondheim would have written the lyrics. I’m confident that he wouldn’t have written that love changes your hands. What I’m trying to say here is that, whilst the lyrics are passable, they are nothing special. What they do succeed in doing, though, is telling a story; even if it is spelt out in as slow a way as possible.
The musical is adapted from the novel by David Garnett. I haven’t read the novel, but I quite want to now. The plot of the musical is simple: it focuses on Alex Dillingham, who falls in love with Rose Vibert, a French actress who is older than him. He invites her back to his uncle’s villa, without his permission. As they begin to fall in love, Alex’s uncle, George, unexpectedly arrives. This is where it becomes complicated, because Rose also falls in love with him. Later, she claims she has to leave, so Alex goes off and joins the army. When he returns two years later, he finds out that Rose has married his uncle. They go on to have a daughter, Jenny, who ends up falling in love with Alex. At the same time, George has an Italian mistress called Giuelletta, and Rose a lover called Hugo. All in all, the plot actually seems less complicated than it does here, because it is very drawn out. The musical is almost sung through, although there are several snatches of dialogue, which breaks it up a bit.
Overall, Act One was quite boring. It seemed to go on forever, with not much happening. It was difficult to learn anything about the characters, and impossible to gain an understanding of why they were acting this way. By contrast, Act Two seemed jam packed and almost too quick. The ending was good, because it did leave some questions in my mind, which is what I like. My consensus was that the production was very good overall, it is more flaws in the material which let it down.
The production reminded me of last year’s West End production of “Sunset Boulevard”, which, like “Aspects of Love”, was a minimalist version compared to the original productions. What “Sunset Boulevard” had that “Aspects of Love” lacked, for me, were characters which drew you in and made you really empathise and care about them, partly why I couldn’t rate this production as high as I thought I would be able to.
Trevor Nunn is one of my favourite directors. I know many people say that his productions are too slow and drawn out, but what they forget is that the pieces he choose usually lend themselves particularly to this. I thought that the direction was very good, fitting into the space well and drawing out aspects of the story. I obviously didn’t see the original production, because it closed two years before I was born, but am now wishing that I had done, because Nunn also directed this production, and it would be interesting to compare the two. I know that the original production was at the Prince of Wales in the West End, which is very large, although the piece was originally intended as a chamber musical, so it must have been wonderful to finally do it in this way. It was also clear that he had done a lot of text work with the cast, because they seemed to really feel many of the lyrics and convey emotion through them.
The set design was quirky, remaining the same throughout the production, but designed so that it could adapt to all of the scenes well. The screen in the centre of the stage was perhaps unnecessary – did we really need to see mocked up photographs of the characters when they were on stage? I sort of wish that it hadn’t been there because it wasn’t fitting with the period the piece is set in, and was a minor distraction. The rest of the set was dragged on noisily for each scene, usually by the ensemble, because the way the layout of the Menier had been changed and they way the backdrop curved round into the wings meant that tracks couldn’t be used. This was distracting, and there were quite a few long blackouts where it was just the orchestra playing. This wasn’t necessarily a problem, but would almost definitely be changed should the production transfer to the West End or beyond.
I had no idea about the plot or the characters prior to seeing the show. The only thing I really knew, other than who the composer and the director were, was that Sarah Brightman and Michael Ball had originated the two leading roles. With Brightman originating the role of Rose, I thought that the part would mainly focus on singing, and that there wouldn’t be much of a character for the actress to become, since Brightman was not rated particularly highly for her acting abilities (the fact she receive no Tony nomination for “The Phantom of the Opera” when her co-star did and the show was set to dominate is another tell-tale sign of this). However, I have since learnt that the character of Rose Vibert is complex, and difficult to pull off. Katherine Kingsley, last seen in “The 39 Steps”, did this well, although sometimes her acting was too over the top for such a small space. I didn’t really empathise with her that much, not even at the end when she was left with nothing.
When I heard that the Menier would be reviving “Aspects of Love”, I sort of hoped that Ruthie Henshall and Julian Ovenden would be cast as Rose and Alex respectively, reuniting my favourite on-stage couple, who I saw in Marguerite. With Ruthie currently on the Great White Way in “Chicago”, this was never going to happen, but at times, Kingsley really did remind me of her, both facially, in her build and through her acting.
Alex was played by Michael Arden, who wasn’t as attractive as Julian, but was definitely in the same league from a talent point of view as him. He had great stage presence, despite playing Alex very shyly in contrast to Kingsley’s Rose. At several points during the show I felt as though he was looking at me directly (I was sitting on the central aisle of the second row, so he was at my eye height), and my Dad commented on this afterwards, which made me realise that it wasn’t just me.
Overall, the two leads had good chemistry, and throughout I felt as though it was their story, and that the other characters were what they were – supporting characters. I very much enjoyed Dave Willetts’ performance as George, since I his performance as Max von Mayerling in Sunset Boulevard last year was one of my favourite performances of the year. Yet again he was one of the highlights of the show, conveying a subtle maturity and understanding. Even when his character was silent, he managed to draw my attention to him.
The ensemble were very good, despite having a lot less stage time than I suspect they would have had in the original, more flamboyant production. They only had one opportunity to dance, which was in Act Two, and this was a welcome occasion to break up the show a bit. The rest of the cast playing named characters were nothing special, their performances were good but by no means outstanding. It is worth noting, though, that Dominic Tighe, who used to be a member of the classical group Blake, played the role of Hugo, Rose’s lover, showing that he is obviously serious about pursuing a theatre career as opposed to a singing career.
Overall, I don’t feel disappointed, because everyone who I spoke to prior to seeing the show told me that it is essentially a flawed show. After Paradise Found, anything was going to be an improvement, and I’m glad that the Menier is back to producing productions of a really high quality. I’ve only given the production three and a half stars, because whilst it was good and even great in most ways, it just lacked something special that could have made me give it more.
To conclude, one of my childhood illusions was shattered yesterday. I always believed knife-throwing to be real, and that the person on the target could be seriously injured if it went wrong. During the knife throwing in the show, as part of the circus scene, I tensed every time a knife was thrown. Afterwards, my Dad told me that the knives were not actually being thrown at all – the actor was flicking them down his sleeve, and a knife was simply popping out of the board. So for my whole life I had believed that someone could be seriously injured, when all the time it was just a joke!
Saturday, 17 July 2010
I know it's comments like this that make me seem really old, in a bad way, but little things like this are important.
The film my family and I saw was Inception. I had been looking forward to this for over a year, eve rsicne I read the final details on casting. For once, unlike the Nine (2009) disaster, all my expectations were met, and some were even surpassed, hence why I've given the film 96/100.
Directed by Christopher Nolan, Inception centres around the concept of creating a new world through dreaming. After being enthralled by one of Nolan's earlier pieces of work, The Prestige (2006), which is another intelligent concept thriller, which is importantly also character driven, I was expecting more of the same standard, and was not disapointed. The ending was of course a final twist which ties everything together for the viewer. Much of the cinematography was also the same as The Prestige, and the special effects were good - there were not too much, and all served a purpose, it wasn't just a case of the CGI people seeing how many explosions they can cram into one film.
The Dark Knight (2008), another film by the same director, is fairly violent for something rated 12A. Luckily, Inception was less violent, and was not set as darkly at The Dark Knight,amking for much easier watching. The script was excellent, because it moved the story along and ensured that I never became bored. Many articles in the press claimed how ahrd the plot was to follow/understand, even comparing it to The Matrix, but it was actually easier to follow/understand than The Prestige.
Now, I can finally talk about the cast that I was so excited about. Having graduated to watching more serious films through Leonardo DiCaprio's performance in Titanic (1997), his is a career that I've always been interested in following. Although his character was similar to some of the characters that he's played before, he still carried the film and delivered an engaging performance. He managed to play a character who didn't understand himself very convincingly, which is probably difficult, because an actor interpreting a role would obviously understand their character, so to convey that was really quite an achievement.
Marion Cotillard as the wife of Leo's character was stunning in what little screen time she had. When I watched La Vie en Rose (2007), I hated everything about the film, except for her performance, and she quickly became one of my favourite French actresses. There was this one scene, in Inception, where her feeling of desperation just connected with me, and really made me feel for her.
Of the ensemble cast, the two real standouts were in Ellen Page and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, two quirky young actors. Whilst Page tends to play a lot of similar roles, she does play them well, and I always seem to be able to relate to her characters.
So far, I've only seen three 2010 films, and it's over halfway through the year. Of the three I've seen, I can firmly say that Inception has been the best by a long way, and will have a good shot at the Oscars, although the July release may hinder this a little.
Saturday, 10 July 2010
If my results are as good as I hope, it will be a really great way of celebrating. If they're not, it'll be a way of consoling myself. As of today, it's only 45 days until results day.
This summer is the second longest summer of my life. The longest will be the summer after A Levels, which will hopefully precede university. So far, I haven't actually become bored, and I don't think I will. I organised my bookshelves today, and realised that I have 48 books that I haven't yet read, and there were also a further 15 books that I've borrowed from various people and libraries, all of which are unopened. Several of these are Moliere, though, which is a very daunting task, considering they are in French, with no translations. I'm looking forward to reading as many of these books as possible, and watching the eighteen DVDs which are still in their cellophane. I've recently got an Amazon account, and whilst the six French and German grammar books were brought with good intent, it's another thing to actually start using them productively.
Sigh. It's so hot at the moment, over 30 degrees. The title of the post of course refers to the song. Whenever I'm nervous, or feel alone, for some reason I always remind myself that there are giants in the sky. The lyric "you wish that you could live in between" has to be one of my many favourite Sondheim lyrics. I do wish I could live in between, though I'm not quite sure what I want to live in between. Could it be my lovely yet slightly dull life at home, and the glittering future life I imagine myself having? Or could it be between my life, and the life I want to have? Regarding the latter, my life actually seems amazing at the moment, I'm just so happy with everything.
I will now head back to daydream land, probably to climb the beanstalk with Jack. It's most unlike me to post a blog like this, my posts have lately become rather personal, and I have no idea why!
Sunday, 4 July 2010
I have just become completely sidetracked by the wonderful world of Alan Menken. The title was actually meant to refer to the week long work experience exchange to France that I have just taken part in. I was going to post a daily diary, but I realised how boring that would be for anyone else except myself to read. Considering also that my trip diary currently stands at about forty handwritten notebook pages, it's better for mine, and everyone else's, sanity just to summarise here the main things I've learnt from the trip. That's not to say my full trip diary won't be compulsory reading for a few, very lucky people.
I feel as though I've learnt many things about the language which I would never have learnt simply by studying at school. There is quite a difference between written French and spoken French, and there are very obvious differing degrees of formality, a lot more so than I would say there were in English. For instance, I regularly heard the subjunctive whilst on my placement at the town hall, but less formal conversations usually omitted the "ne" when using a negative, and often considered mainly of short, one sentence answers.
I was actually a lot better at speaking than I thought I would be. Okay, I did get several genders wrong, but then there is no equivalent to this in English. I also finally learnt when to use the imperfect/perfect tenses, and am hopeful that my previously laughable pronounciation has improved. I assume it has, because I managed to convince a man on the ferry home that I was French.
I think I have now found a new motivation for French. Prior to this trip, I was leaning so heavily towards German, but now, for the first time, I think that the two langauges are balanced in my mind, if that makes any sense at all. French sounds so lovely when it's spoken, and the intonation isn't as hard as I thought. I'm still not quite sure how to intone annoyance, but I'm sure that will follow sometime in the future.
Aside from the language side, I've also learnt many cultural things. It saddened me that the majority of the films showing in the cinema were dubbed American films, when French cinema has some of the most inspiring, unique offerings that I have ever seen. I was allowed to choose the film, so I chose the only French film showing, which, funnily enough, had received the highest critical acclaim. This situation is similar to in Britain, where there are usually a dozen or so imported, monotonously repetitive Hollywood comedies for every British/independent film.
Many of the celebrities in the magazines I read were also American or British, although I did learn a fair bit about the French socialite scene. I also noticed the complete lack of WAGs in the press, which was nice to see. I seriously question why the British press has had such a long term infatuation with such a pointless group of people.
I was also lucky enough to attend an open air theatre festival in Rouen. The amazing Hamlet in 30 minutes spoof really made me realise the true, worldwide significance of Shakespeare. I actually understood pretty much all of the spoof, mainly due to my knowledge of the play, which was a very satisfying feeling.
During my placement, which was at a town hall, the main thing I learnt was how much more important a town hall is in France than in England. This is also where I learnt the majority of my new vocabulary.
Another important observation I made was that the pace of life in France is generally slower than it is in England. At home, I tend to sprint from one activity to another, but I actually quite enjoyed the prolonged meal times and the sitting around waiting for things to happen.
When I was in Rouen, late at night, most cafés were still buzzing, but I saw no drunk people on the street corners, a stark constrast to being in London at the same time. It's also different how most people tended to stay up late, then get up late in the morning. Usually I do the opposite of this, so it's currently proving quite difficult to get back into my old routine.
Overall, I feel that I have grown as a person during the short time that I've spent in France, not only have I improved my language skills, but have also gained a greater degree of self confidence, both in myself and in my abilities. I am sincerely hoping that the offer of a return visit will be taken up....
I mustn't forget that I am extremely delighted to have amassed three followers. It's really nice to know that people are actually reading this blog, and that I may actually have something worthwhile to say. I'm also very happy with the new template I've decided to use, for it definitely reflects my personality more than the old, boring pink one.
Tuesday, 8 June 2010
It was my first time alone in a West End theatre, and I actually quite liked it. I don't prefer it one way or another, they're both quite different experiences. Being alone is good because there's no physical person with you to influence your view on the show, and you can sit and be absolutely absorbed in the play, without your parents, or whoever's with you, starting to talk about what happened on The Biggest Loser last night during the interval. Then again, I wouldn't want to go and see a popular, commercial musical on my own, not that I see many of those nowadays, anyway. The only sad thing was that I had no one to talk about it with afterwards, until I went online.
If anyone wants to go to the theatre, but they don't have anyone else who wants to see what they want to see, as was my situation with ENRON, they should definitely go alone. It's not scary or initimidating, no one laughed at me (and even if they had laughed at me, I wouldn't have cared), and there were quite a few other people on there own. In fact, I counted six lone theatregoers, not including myself, in one small area of the stalls.
So, now for the review. If I was a proffesional critic I would be sacked, because a) It's months after the production opened, b) It's way too long (as usual) and c) It's exactly a week today since I saw the play. Oh well, here it is:
My visit to ENRON marked two momentous occasions. The first was that it was the very first time that I had been all alone in a West End theatre. The second was that it was the first time I had seen the original production of a play.
ENRON, by Lucy Prebble, began life at Chichester (that magic place that seems to produce half a dozen successes in a single year), before transferring to the Royal Court. After a successful run, it found its way to the West End. The bubble was burst, however, when the production posted closing notices just two weeks after opening on Broadway. ENRON’s success should not be measured by this Broadway failure. The situation is much like the one that occurred last year when “Spring Awakening” closed just six weeks into its West End run after success on Broadway. Widely considered to be artistically superior to the majority of the new musicals of the last decade, it just failed to attract an audience in London. Considering where it is set, that is perhaps why ENRON failed to succeed on the great white way.
For me, ENRON was the best play that I have ever seen. The plot begins in 1992 and extends to the current day, allowing the storylines and characters to reminisce with the whole audience, whether we read about them from afar or were affected in similar circumstances.
This made me realise that “older” plays (for want of a better word) would have had a completely different response to the one that they would receive now when they were first performed. For instance, whilst audiences nowadays feel sympathy from afar for Nora in Ibsen’s “A Doll’s House”, it must have caused all the more impact in the late 1800s, when many women would have been in the same situation as her, and powerless. It is, of course, unthinkable in the 21st Century.
Anyway, the script of ENRON is witty and paced, making what could be a boring story into something relatable. Each character had their own idiolect, and the language was easily accessible for all. This triggered another “deep” thought in me – living in a time where everyone spoke Shakespearian English. Before I share my fantasies about being Anne Hathaway with the whole world, the subject matter of ENRON causes it to succeed. Being set in the cut-throat world of New York stock broking can reflect in the play. Even though it was difficult to care about several characters in the end, it could perhaps be a reflection and indeed an insight into this world.
Rupert Goold’s staging was a surreal experience. I’ve admired his career from afar for a long time now, but shockingly had never seen an actual production directed by him. Now, I want more. His direction seemed to incorporate everything under the sun. All the elements combined to create a surreal yet plausible existence. Most notable was the almost constant presence of ENRON’s share price: the foreboding as it kept increasing, then the descend into chaos as it fell. Throughout, there was never a dull moment. The success must also be attributed to the set design. In this case, less was certainly more, and it looked exactly how I imagine the future.
I doubt that ENRON could have stood up on its own without a great cast. After all, it’s even pushing it when the popcorn musicals, such as “Grease” and “Dirty Dancing” try to do that. It’s only been about a month since this cast took over from those who originated the roles.
The lead role of Jeffery Skilling was played by Corey Johnson. Playing a character that is based upon a real person who lived/is living is never easy, but Johnson carries the play, and even causes the audience to feel a little sympathy towards him, especially when he haltingly delivers the closing monologue.
Sara Stewart as his love interest Claudia was sublimely sexy as she committed fully to her performance. Even when she was behind the gauze she still managed to hold the audience’s attention, and it wasn’t just because of the dress she was wearing.
As the shrewd chair of ENRON, Clive Francis gave an interesting performance, full of surprises. With a cast of 18, all of whom were energetic and given a chance to be unique, the strength of Prebble’s play was highlighted.
It may not become a classic, like “Avenue Q” it may only be “For Now”, but for me ENRON is a fantastic comment on the time we are living in.