I’m proud to say I have never walked out of a play or film. And I’ve seen some shit. Local theatre, alternative performances at university and my own little sister’s dance shows, I’ve paid money to be there so I’m going to be there for every second. The handsome Jude Law has had a couple of spells on the stage. Notably, the ‘if you haven’t done it, are you even an actor’ Hamlet as well as Henry V and Doctor Faustus. This year, Law was in something more modern, something called Obsession. This play will not stand the test of time in theatre circles (the reviews aren’t too pleasant). Instead, it will live on in my memory as The Play I Almost Walked Out On.
There are few times in my ‘theatre’ career where I can take the high ground. I’ve seen things for the famous faces or the sheer cheesiness of the thing (cough cough Shrek the Musical cough cough). Having seen Hedda Gabler at the National screened in my local cinema, I was drawn to the director’s next work: Obsession. I think Jude Law is a great actor and a bad person. This was the first time I pitied him. What on earth was this production? If it had an interval or if my bladder didn’t hold out, I would have left and never looked back.
Law played a drifter named Gino. He has an affair with a married woman and the husband dies in a car accident.The play is based on a 1943 Italian film of the same name which is based on The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M. Cain which has nothing to do with postmen. There are many reason why I almost walked, I’m only going to talk about the big three: character, story and tone. Yep, it pretty much failed on all fronts and I’m very excited to talk about it.
First, character. I did not give a shit about anyone on that stage. They were shallow and two dimensional, it was hard to like them and they made stupid choices and spoke as if the script was pushed through Google Translate. Second, story. Slow. Slow. Slow. It moved at a snail pace and I found myself zoning out thinking about next week’s shopping but that’s okay because nothing was happening except long knowing stares which got dull pretty quickly. Finally, tone. There were some interesting choices made. An accordion was constantly on stage and played itself. Everyone but Jude Law could and would sing opera. Right. In. Each. Other’s. Faces. You would have to have an extensive knowledge to understand why this was significant because I couldn’t see it. Especially as they also played crazy techno and off beat indie track for when Jude Law ran on a treadmill with his back to the audience and his face projected onto the back wall every time Gino decided to run away from the crazy bitch he fucked once, fucked some more and then plotted murder with. Not as thrilling as it sounds.
The problem with the production was it wasn’t engaging. You didn’t care for the three main characters from the off and any new characters served no real purpose. The emotion they showed were either the extreme of sex and violence or flat. I was glad they all died in the end. Saved you 120 minutes, you’re welcome. Having seen Hedda Gabler, I don’t think I’m in a position to blame the director. I think his talents were wasted on a bad script and that’s the biggest tragedy of all.
I saw Der aufhaltsame Aufstieg des Arturo Ui at the Donmar Warehouse recently. What’s that? You’ve never heard of it? Perhaps it’s because I’m calling the play by it’s German name. You should recognise the title character. I’m talking about the 1941 parable play The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui by one of my favourite playwrights Bertolt Brecht. His theatre is never straightforward. They’re always about something else. In this case, by using 1930 Chicago mobsters, he’s showing us the rise of Adolf Hitler. It was slow, subtle and deliberate; perfectly orchestrated and we let it happen. Given today’s various, cough cough, situations, I think we all need reminding that rises are resistible. Just because they walk the walk and talk the talk, doesn’t make them leaders.
Hitler wasn’t one man but the face of the Nazi Party. Ui wasn’t one man but the face of his operation. He wanted power and he wanted to take it from the Chicago Cauliflower Trust. I studied this play a lot and know what should be done to get good grades at university and in my humble opinion this was sort of done correctly. The play was performed in the round not your traditional theatre setting. The rows of seats were taken out for tables and chair bar style. Nuts and nibbles were provided, much to my annoyance in the gods. I was peckish too.
The 2017 audience weren’t totally lost in 1930. There were subtle and not so subtle hints towards a leader wanting walls, less immigrants and to make his country great again. There was modern music sung in the style matching the pinstripe suits and perfectly chosen to reflect the upcoming scene. However, it was terribly entertaining which is why I think it wasn’t completely Brechtian. They found the humour which helps with such a dark theme. People were getting manipulated and whacked left, right and centre. The director gave us tongue in cheek innuendos and some physical comedy which dragged us away from the point but it also had the meta nods to today’s dumpster fire.
The point is resistance. Hitler and Ui were students, they learnt how to present themselves as charismatic and trustworthy. Just as the title suggests, we are allowing these unsavoury characters to rise. With the help of a programme, a little bit of research and spending more than an hour watching the History Channel or Yesterday, we know the sequence of events that lead to .. well, that. So what’s the harm in enjoying the show? Especially as we all are kind of in agreement that Trump is bad. So if we know these rises are resistable, the big question is what do we do once it’s already happened?
If you didn’t study Shakespeare’s Hamlet with the same intensity that I had to, you may not remember the name’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Difficult names to say and difficult characters to remember. There were just there; human plot devices to move the story along or put Hamlet in the right place at the right time. This play fills in the gaps quite nicely with humour and big questions that make your head fuzzy. The play was written way back in 1966 and premiered at the Edinburgh Fringe. Not essential to my review but I thought it was interesting.
The play was gifted to me a while back under the premise that it was the greatest thing ever written. I think I agree. I would pick reading it over watching it. I don’t know how Joshua McGuire and Daniel Radcliffe learnt it! They spoke at the speed of light and danced around the same topic of conversation. A labyrinth of words, it was a little hard to keep up at times.
McGuire, as Guildenstern, would work himself into a real mess and we were left in stunned silence with Rosencrantz, played by Radcliffe. Guildenstern slowly builds to his anger and Rosencrantz’s came from nowhere. Guildenstern and Rosencrantz are two sides of the same coin. The opening states that a little bluntly. They’re both heads. They overthink… everything. The play returned to The Old Vic to celebrate it’s 50th anniversary, directed by David Leveaux, and it’s as timeless as the original Shakespeare. Leveaux understood the pace of the thing, when to rampage uncontrollably and when to pause for thought.
The best way to describe the play is ‘Clever’, there’s really no two ways about it. Stoppard’s script uses the original play text. As Rosencrantz and Guildenstern only spoke to royalty in Hamlet, it’s as if the King, Queen and wayward Prince have their own language. We are the common folk with the boys and the players. The Players! A mix match group of artists of any art. They provided crude humour that was a welcome break from the absurd nature of the boys’ situation and life itself. The plot may be borrowed but Tom Stoppard has created something unique with the same 26 letters we all use.
This is one of the worst kept secrets of the cinema world. It’s not how Tom Cruise stays so young or why they’re still making Pirates of the Caribbean movies. Welcome to the world of immersive cinema. Launched in 2007, Secret Cinema is redefining the movie experience. No more headache inducing 3D, get your headache curtesy of alcohol! Did you really expect me to visit 1899 Paris without indulging in the good stuff? I’m talking about the Moulin Rouge and champagne, darling! (No green fairy hallucinations for me).
The experience, for me, started with panic. My invitation to the Moulin Rouge was last minute and a costume had to be acquired, for I was a journalist. I don’t remember too many of them in the movie but I was grateful for a… erm… comfortable costume. I was identifiable by an orange handkerchief. I had notepads and pens in abundance. I had just put the final touches together on the tube as we pulled into Canning Town. Venue unknown, we were left in the hands of stewards as scores of people in feathers, stockings and top hats left the station uncertain and excited. Phones in plastic bags, francs distributed and away we go.
Enter the errr … Time Tunnel … There were flashing lights and black curtains. Beyond those curtains is 1899 Paris! Actors were dressed in the fashion and it was quite obvious who was who. I don’t know how they found these people but they were the spit of the original actors. Fake Christian had a fantastic voice. And that’s something I wasn’t expecting. High quality entertainment and higher quality setting. It almost seemed a shame that was all set up for such a brief period of time! And you had the odd dickhead in modern clothing.
What a privilege to experience. The movie was screened on the Moulin Rouge stage, the gentleman in the circle and the children of the underworld on the dance floor and, in my case, hanging off the supports and banisters. It always feels good to be a part of something sold out rather than be green with jealousy. The Diamond Dogs gave us a show before the credits rolled, mixing the old favourites from the film and some modern stuff like Kayne West. They took what we know and love, and they made it better. After the Great Gatsby, Baz Luhrmann can’t be trusted to be Baz Luhrmann. Let these guys give us the next big musical movie sensation.
You may have read my opinions of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child as part of the Wizarding World ‘canon’ as the nerds say. If you haven’t, here you go:
Putting aside my problems with the story, the internet now needs my opinion of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child as a stage show. The burning question is: why a stage show? My answer: because the stage is the closest thing to magic we have. Other than, you know, magic. Thanks to many DVD extras and behind the scenes featurettes, we know not to believe everything we see on screen. Monsters and Superheroes are created by people worsening their posture over computers. Many Harry Potter fans would have seen the cast fighting tennis balls and petting humans in tight green screen suits. On stage, there are no computers to save you.
As you take your seats the curtain is already up with a floating hat. Pft. Wires. Being in the sixth row, I could just make them out. Even in the back of the upper circle, you deduce how the hat is floating. Enter a smartly dressed gentle who plucks the hat out of the air. The show begins and the rest is a mystery. There wasn’t time to think. Quick changes. Exit left, enter right. Flash. Bangs. Dementors flying overhead. It’s more than a play. It’s a once in a lifetime experience. Every moment had been carefully thought out. Small details from chairs being removed with the flourish of a cloak to the moving staircase of Hogwarts.
However, what I enjoyed most was the characters. I recognised the golden trio from the pages of the book. Hermione was stern, utilising her head and her heart. Noma Dumezweni could do both: the wife of a Weasley and Minister for Magic, as well as hint of mischief that the script called for. Speaking of Weasley, I lost track of the number of times I thought to myself: That’s my Ron. Paul Thornley comic timing could be argued as the second best thing about the whole production. The words were Jack Thorne’s but the delivery was flawless. And finally, Mr Potter. Jamie Parker has become our ‘latest celebrity’ to quote Professor Snape. He captured the frustrations of being Harry Potter, the pains of the past and the weight of the prophecy. I always thought the outburst in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix were totally justified. Fame is a burden and not a desirable state of being.
Fame is just one of the wedges between Harry Potter and his middle son Albus. Played by Sam Clemmett, Albus has a number of shouting matches with his Dad. Like the long suffering Ginny Weasley, it makes you roll your eyes and mutter ‘you’re just so alike’. The whole plot revolves around their complicated relationship which is a shame. You’d think with a play in two parts you’d have the scope to explore any number of characters, new and old. We’d see glimpses of the hidden world of witches and wizards today. We’d know what happened next. I’m happy to report the Potters are also suffering to cut sugar out of their diet but that’s about all I learnt. There are more nostalgic moments than current day events. I was not expecting that and was left disappointed.
I’ll try not to end on a bit of a bum note.
It was almost practically perfect in everyway. A lot of people hold Harry Potter near and dear to their heart and everyone holds it differently. They were never going to please everyone with plot and character choices. But you can ‘razzle dazzle ‘em’. You can make them Ooh and Aah and wonder how it was done. How it possible. Did you see? I must have been looking the other way. But he was just there! I want a fireplace entrance for my office. In a West End heavy with celebrity names and your movie favourites, it’s masterpieces like Harry Potter and the Cursed Child makes you realise the true stars of the shows are the men and women who scratched their heads at a script and said: Let’s make some magic.
You have been warned.
I am a Harry Potter fan. I was a little younger than Harry when Hagrid brought him his Hogwarts letter when I started reading the books. I grew up with the trio. I laugh with them in the common room. I froze at the sight of Dementors. I cried with them at Shell Cottage. I was extremely vocal about casting choices for the films and had a little crushes on members of Dumbledore’s Army and the Death Eaters. Seriously, Mr Isaacs, stay blonde. For me, Nineteen Years Later was closure. I craved more but accepted that happiness and balance had been restored. There would be no more from the Wizarding World.
We have prequels and sequels everywhere, though we can’t call them that. Fantastic Beasts is ‘inspired’ by the textbook that was created many moon ago for Comic Relief. I think everyone got a slap on the wrist for calling Harry Potter and the Cursed Child a sequel. If we can’t call it a sequel, I think we should call it for what it is: a thought experiment. What do we want? Nostalgia! When do we want it? Yesterday today! My tickets for the Cursed Child were booked back in 2015. I did my waiting. Eighteen months of it. I brought the script and wrapped it up. I avoided reviews. I avoided social media. (That one was hard.) Now that I’ve witnessed it for myself my opinion is this: What was the point in that?
Having seen several internet videos on my favourite boy wizard, namely A Very Potter Musical and Harry Potter; How It Should Have Ended, I couldn’t take the plot seriously. Yes, it’s pretty to look at but time travel, really? Not only that, I’m upset because JK Rowling has done it better. When I speak of time travel, I hold Prisoner of Azkaban up as the gold standard. Almost twenty years ago, Harry James Potter’s name was pulled from the Goblet of Fire. (Counts to ten, trying not to get furious about Dumbledore charging across the trophy room.) But what if someone else won? Alternative realities, really?
What we have as a ‘continuation’ of our children story is over five hours of magical Back to the Future. The offspring of Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy (not together, it’s pretty much fan fiction but not that kind of fan fiction) go back to the Triwizard Tournament to save ‘the spare’. They cause drastic ripples that give the audience possibilities they could never have fathomed. The smallest changes saw the subtle Nazi nuances of the books be practically rammed down our throats; our favourite characters cease to exist and our favourite villains live. Am I terrible person for asking: why bother?
I’m not normally full of short or snappy ways of describing things but I think I summed up my feelings perfectly during dinner between Parts One and Parts Two: It’s nostalgic, not progressive. I haven’t learnt anything new about the characters or the current state of the wizarding world. There are some jokes to lighten the mood that give us a glimpse into being Harry Potter in his late thirties, for example, they too are doing that no sugar thing. Albus and Harry have a troubled relationship. Albus is reserved and hates being under his father’s shadow. James Jnr, apparently, loves it and resembled the Weasley Twins more than his own mother and father. How did that happen? Lily and Rose were in there somewhere too. All but three characters are underdeveloped and only used to further the plot. There is nothing new. There is nothing in the now.
I hate myself. I was the same with Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. I wanted to be memorised like everyone else but I was dismissive. (An angry black cloud, that would never happen.) I crave more from JK’s imagination but I’ve imposed my own rules as to what is possible and impossible. It’s her world! Who am I to judge! If Squibs can turn into angry black clouds, then they can turn into angry black clouds. If they go back twenty years and create alternative realities, then get the blackboard and let’s figure out when Biff got the sports almanac. Going forward, I will be grateful. I will open my mind. I will keep the wonder and excitement 11 year old Charlie had.
I don’t believe anyone was born to play a part. Surely the point of actors, great actors, is that they can play anyone. They are clay to be moulded by scripts and directors. David Tennant was not born to play Hamlet. Benedict Cumberbatch was not born to play Hamlet. Andrew Scott was not born to play Hamlet. Otherwise only one of them would have and fan girls wouldn’t have seen Hamlet three times; in my opinion, one of Shakespeare’s more overrated plays. Now you should see the significance of these words: Ruth Wilson is Hedda Gabler.
Hedda Gabler is the other Ibsen play I’ve heard of but haven’t had the pleasure of seeing or studying within an inch of its life. The other being A Doll’s House. I now hate all my teachers for concentrating on the weak Nora when we could have had the mad, bad and dangerous to know Hedda. Ruth Wilson is the phenomenal British actress best known for her television work such as Luther and The Affair. Wilson is drawn to “damaged, complicated characters” and Hedda is no exception.
Recently married, Hedda is in a home she hates and a husband who may not provide her with the lifestyle he promised. She is used to parties and being the centre of attention. She’s always been lovely. Her husband is an academic. You can imagine how boring that must be especially as he’s not Eilert, a true rising academic. But this is the life she has chosen, she has retired from her old ways, she has made her bed and must lie in it. No more gossip or interfering in other people’s life, right?
It was originally written 1891 and set it Norway, playwright Patrick Marber and director Ivo van Hove have brought the classic to the here and now. The set could be a newly renovated loft in an up and coming part of London. Socialites never go out of fashion, academics will always be boring and everyone wants power. Hedda and Brack, played by Rafe Spall, are as hungry as each other. With every struggle for power, there is only one winner. Ibsen is timeless. Ruth Wilson as Hedda Gabler will never be forgotten. It’s as if it’s the part she was born to play.