Let’s Make Some Magic

Let’s Make Some Magic

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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:

https://charlieemmahay.wordpress.com/2017/03/22/c-hay-versus-j-kay/

Spoilers.

Duh.

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.

 

C.Hay Versus J.Kay

C.Hay Versus J.Kay

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Spoilers ahead.

Duh.

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.

UNTIL!

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.

Ruth is Hedda

Ruth is Hedda

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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.

 

Saint Joan and her Merry Men

Saint Joan and her Merry Men

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I know of Saint Joan but not a lot about Saint Joan. I knew she lead the French in battles against the English because voices in her head told her too. I think she was burnt on the stake. I assume because people thought her a witch. I have no idea on dates or if any of the above is actually accurate. After seeing Josie Rourke’s Saint Joan, I feel like I understand the historical events better. Turned out she wasn’t hearing God but two saints: Saint Catherine (Patron saint of, amongst other things: unmarried girls, hat-makers and stenographers) and Margaret the Virgin (Patron saint of, amongst other things: dying people, kidney disease and Malta). She also had the odd visit from the archangel Michael! Talk about a VIP.

First, let’s talk about Rourke’s vision for the 1923 play by Bernard Shaw. It is set in the boardroom. Since donning the sensible black shoes and pencil skirt over a year ago, I understand office politics. The stage is dominated by the men and the glass boardroom table. It is clean and sharp. Suits are pressed and top bottoms are done up. This is no place for a bright eye young girl with visions of liberating France. Gemma Arterton arrives with a spring in her step and voices in her head, dressed as the common farm girl she it.

If I didn’t know any better, I would have assumed this was the way Shaw intended the play to staged, that it was never meant to be set in the 15th Century at all. Before we understand Joan, you need to understand the ladder she climbed. The play, which is only and famously six scenes, is a mess of titles and power. When the men aren’t discussing Joan, they reminding each other of their position in the kingdom, country and church, and who they know in the kingdom, country and church. It is clear why some productions want to throw in war scenes, the play can be a little dull. One can only watch men massaging their ego and assert their authority for so long.

I feel bad that in a play called Saint Joan about Saint Joan and the rise and fall of Saint Joan I’ve hardly mentioned her name. Joan is on the top of the agenda of this meeting at the Donmar Warehouse, but like any meeting it’s gotten out of control and off topic. Little bit like this review. Arterton is memorising on stage. It’s easy to see how her version of Joan would convince people she was sent by God. She is innocence and determination; it’s impressive that the church could find 64 counts against her. But they did. If there’s one thing I have learned from this play, never underestimate religion.

Amadeus: It’s His Middle Name!

Amadeus: It’s His Middle Name!

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Before I become obsessed with the name of the writer below the title, I would buy  theatre tickets for the name of the stars above. I am ashamed to say I saw Equus for Daniel Radcliffe. I think I saw it with my boyfriend at the time. The bar was full of young girls over dressed and drinking cokes. However, I fell in love with the play. The backwards story. Shaffer found a newspaper article and worked backwards to find out the why. I would have seen Amadeus because it was being streamed. I wanted to see Amadeus because it was written by Peter Shaffer.

Like Equus, this is a fictional account of real events. I thought Amadeus was a composer in his own right not realising that a certain Mr Mozart’s full name was Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. God, I hope that comes up in a pub quiz. Unfortunately, I have never heard of Antonio Salieri which seems about right. Even the story of Salieri’s life and death is so intertwined with Mozart’s his own play isn’t named after him. Or is it a musical?

A production about composers would need the odd musical number and it is lovingly provided by the Southbank Sinfonia! They were hypnotising to listen to and to watch.

They were the gossip and whispers of Salieri’s fate, they were the party on New Year’s Eve, they were the heartbeat of a green-eyed Salieri. They were more than their instrument. At one point, they provided finger sucking sound affects! They were almost as good our two leading gentlemen.

Lucian Msamati, playing Salieri, is our humble narrator through 1781 and all the music, power and jealousy. He literally uses his singing to take us there. It was a magical journey. He is serious, stern and doing the lord’s work. Did you know the lord speaks to us through music? It was news to me too. Salieri is quite the opposite of Mozart.

Adam Gillen was fucking brilliant! There are no words. He made Mozart punk rock and vulnerable.

This is a play about opposites. Title versus talent. Old versus new. Loud versus sombre. There was much laughter in the awkwardness of these things clashing in a specular fashion. I was not expecting that. Speaking of fashion, Mozart wears loud clothes and Doc Martins. He stomped on the traditional ways. I imagine this is what the 1970s felt when the 80s came around the corner with their big hair and big clothes. That’s funny because Mozart turns up in the 80s, 1780s. That’s one way to end a review, by explaining a joke.

 

City of Stars in the Crew

City of Stars in the Crew

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I don’t normally do this. In fact, I have done it once before with In to The Woods, the last big musical I saw on the silver screen. The only difference is this one was made for the screen. It’s La La Land and everyone has gone just la-la for it. Get it? Because I’m sure no one has said that yet. Starring Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, this is the story of dreamers. It’s gotten so much Oscar Buzz its practically a hive of singing and dancing bees. Personally, I don’t think it deserves it.

Welcome to the Throw Back Delusion. A theory I’m currently working on that suggests due to the popular hash tag of Throwback Thursday, we look back at the past with rose tinted glasses. I think that’s why The Artist won Best Picture in 2011. Remember silent movies? Hash tag throw back. La La Land is a hash tag throw back of the big musical; dance numbers in one shot and singing our feelings. I think and hope that it’ll win technical awards over acting.

The film starts with cars on an overpass and a musical number. It’s big and loud and impressive. Which does not fit the rest of the film. Emma and Ryan can sing. However, it was more of an uncertain, self-doubting mumble to music rather than a showcase of hidden ability. I’m not an expert in this area. I couldn’t tell the difference between an A sharp and E flat but I could hear the difference and our leading actors look weak in comparison.

However, I will say this in their favour, the dancing and acting were incredible. I could watch Stone and Gosling dance to A Lovely Night all night long. But it’s a musical and you need to be able to do all three. I think back to Gene Kelly and wonder if this film was a chance to find the next Gene Kelly. Then an audience would have come for the throw back or to see Damien Chazelle’s next film rather than the big stars that can’t meet the hype.

I respect Chazelle for wanting to “take the old musical but ground it in real life where things don’t always exactly work out”. (And after reading other reviews, I now see the ending as a dream rather than a ‘here’s what you could have won’.) I believe he has done that with the help of people not seen on screen. The music by Justin Hurwitz. The cinematography by Linus Sandgren. The choreography by Mandy Moore. The list goes on but you get my drift. For me, the city of stars is made up of crew, not cast. I wonder if we’ll see any more musicals in the wake of La La Land. Hash tag throwback. Hash tag Oscars.

The Art of Art

The Art of Art

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“My friend Serge has bought a painting. It’s a canvas about five feet by four: white. The background is white and if you screw up your eyes, you can make out some fine white diagonal lines.

The white painting with white lines.”

The lights change and the room goes silent. Marc looks to Serge. To the painting. To Serge. Serge has spent 100,000 Euros on a white painting of white lines. Marc thinks Serge is an idiot. What follows is 90 minutes of the most intellectual version of Jeremy Kyle I have ever witnessed. There’s some petty discussions behind one another’s backs about the purchase of the painting. Poor old Yvan is stuck in the middle. The characters turn to us to vent and rant, completely and hilariously contradicting what they’ve just said to their friend of many years. It comes to a head in a shouting match that could only be seen in the arts section of the Times. Being a slightly ignorant graduate of a drama degree, I assume these to be suitable metaphors.

I was first attracted by the posters. That rarely happens for me. I will normally buy tickets for a play because of the cast and creatives or because I can see it screened in my local cinema. The poster was Tim Key, Paul Ritter and Rufus Sewell throwing paint at each other. I like to think I know the three actors from various productions. Tim Key from Tree with Daniel Kitson. Paul Ritter from The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. Rufus Sewell from being gorgeous. But let’s face it, Paul Ritter is the dad from Friday Night Dinner and Rufus Sewell will always be Count Adhemer and gorgeous. Now I know the play and the characters, I can’t think of three more perfect actors for the parts. Marc the classic, Serge the modern and Yvan the comfort. As reflected by the three chairs in the sparse room. Anyone else notice that?

The white canvas covered in white paint and white stripes is the calm that brings a storm. Like I said previously, things get a little bit Jeremy Kyle. Each man views the threesome in a different way with different dynamics. Student and master. Equals. Challengers. Nostalgia. Why exactly have they been friends this long when one embraces ‘deconstruction’ and the other would rather eat his own vomit he projectiled all over the carpet after hearing the word ‘deconstructed’? Unlike a Pinter play that would see three men in a room and watch them verbally fight to the death for power, our three men stand back and analyse as if their friendship was a work of art. I actually quiet liked the painting. If I had 100,000 Euros, I would spend it on this work of Art.