Friday, 31 December 2010

Another year....

As I become older, the years seem to pass ever more quickly. In a way, I think this is a good thing. There is a point in one's life when one stops becoming excited over the smallest, simplest things in a way that a child would, and starts to comprehend the realities of the world.

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

All Rabbit No Laughs

Christmas is over. Again. No matter how old I get, I still find it difficult to come to terms with the fact that Christmas is finished for another year. Today is quite special, actually, because it's exactly in the middle of Christmas Day and New Year's Eve, but I'm sitting here, wondering how long it is going to take for me to consume all of my Christmas confectionary at my current rate of three chocolates a day. I'm listening to all my wonderful new cast recordings (I am now more desperate than ever for "Next to Normal" to transfer to London after finally listening to the recording the whole way through) and pondering what to do next.

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

Lost in translation?

The title of the post does not refer to the film starring Scarlet Johanson and Bill Murray, as one may be inclined to expect. It actually refers to foreign literature, and my belief that one cannot fully appreciate all the nuances unless they read it in the original language.

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

Two plays in one week

Just occasionally, I end up going to see two or three plays within a week. I must stress that this is a rare occurence, and usually procedes a period of aboiut six weeks where I don't go to the theatre at all. Anyway, exactly a week ago I went to see "Deathtrap", which I followed with the Young Vic's revival of "The Glass Menagerie" on Saturday.

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 - ****