Happy End film review ****


Happy End, 7th December 2017

Michael Haneke is a light-hearted fellow. At least that is what he claimed in a recent interview I read. I still have my doubts. Mind you he clearly has a sense of humour. Albeit of the dark variety. As his films reveal. It is a very specific sort of humour, as he provokes and prods you into sniggering at the absurdity of his characters and their situations. I admit it is a little bit more hidden in Cache (ha ha) and The White Ribbon, and most apparent in Funny Games, but it was there also in Amour.

With Happy End, (obviously there isn’t one), the pointed comedy really comes to the fore whilst the everyday horror is dialled down, though don’t worry Haneke fans not by much. All of Mr Haneke’s obsessions are piled up, surveillance, invasion, transgression, alienation unhealthy dependencies, duplicity, secrets, collective and individual guilt, family dysfunction, domestic servants, end of life choices, but here they range across a dynastic family. Like in a soap opera mini-series. Well actually quite unlike.

The magnificent Isabelle Huppert plays the unforgiving matriarch, Anne Laurent, who runs the family construction company in Calais. Her ageing father Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) wants to die. Her younger surgeon brother Thomas (Matthieu Kassovitz) has to look after his 12 year old daughter Eve (Fantine Harduin) after Eve’s mother (Thomas’s first wife, whose face we never see) has apparently overdosed. Thomas is having an affair unbeknown to his younger second wife, Anais (Laura Verlinden). The negligence of Anne’s useless son Pierre (Franz Rogowski) has left the family company exposed but Anne’s English lawyer fiancee Lawrence (Toby Jones) is there to smooth things over.

The haute-bourgeois family all share the same manor house which is looked after by Moroccan servants Rachid (Hassam Ghancy) and Jamila (Nabiha Akkari). Like I said, just like a mini-series. Except that Mr Haneke isn’t interested, obviously, in offering us the requisite genre cliches. The imperious Anne has only criticism and scorn for Pierre. Georges’s dementia is interrupted by bouts of lucidity. Eve, an extraordinary performance from Fantine Harduin, (maybe she will be the next Isabelle Huppert), is alarmingly imperturbable as she watches her nervous father or connects with her grandad. Please avoid Eve. The family treats Rachid and Jamila with misplaced familiarity, undercut with casual racism, and they obviously resent this.

Mr Haneke can’t be doing with the conventional ways of dramatising and filming this tale. The light, internal and external is harsh. Long range shots abound so that action, and conversation, is concealed. Social media visuals pop up. Scenes begin and end abruptly or jump forward. Close ups come when you least expect. The camera often follows the subject. The presence of the refugees in Calais is apparent but only intrudes into the family right at the end.

So it is a Haneke film. No mistake. But without the punch in the guts of his previous works which leaves us having to put the pieces together, if we are so inclined. It feels like he is needling you into seeing something that isn’t quite there in terms of form, structure, story, plot, character but at the same timing saying all of this guilt, damage, psychosis, anger, deception, is really just ordinary. Well if you are posh that is.

I saw another black comedy this week that sometimes does its best not to look like one by another writer who loved showing off and referencing himself. Titus Andronicus. Preposterous comparison I know though, to be fair, both portrayed families I would studiously avoid becoming involved with and both ended with unfortunate celebratory banquets.

The Hound of the Baskervilles at Jermyn Street Theatre review ****


The Hound of the Baskervilles

Jermyn Street Theatre, 10th December 2017

Everyone likes Sherlock Holmes right. And everyone can see that the stories are ripe for comic treatment. Indeed you have probably seen this done on numerous occasions. Even the amazing Cumberbatch/Freeman/Moffat/Gatiss Sherlock, which is regarded with reverence in the Tourist’s household, mines the humour in Conan Doyle’s stories. So if a comedy version of Holmes takes your fancy then you simply must get along to this. A Christmas treat. Take the kids. Any age will do.

It is adapted by Steven Canny and John Nicholson. Mr Canny writes and produces for the Beeb and has worked with Complicite. Mr Nicholson is part of theatre company Peepolykus, which specialises in this type of comedy, though he has plenty of other comedy writing and directing credits to his name. This Hound of the Baskervilles was first performed in 2007: this version is a co-production with the English Theatre Frankfurt. (I’ve been there, its great, who says Frankfurt is dull, not me). The creative team of Lotte Wakeham (director), Derek Anderson (lighting) and Andy Graham (sound) have done a marvellous job in bringing this to life but my hat goes off to Louie Whitemore who has adapted David Woodhead original design to fit the tiny JST space. If you go and see this you will understand just how clever Ms Whitemore has been here. This comes on top of her fabulous design for Miss Julie in the same space recently.

Now you will know the plot, or you can find out. A few liberties are taken to make this work but most of the key scenes remain. Suffice to say a fair few characters pop up along the way and one of the biggest joys in this production is seeing how writers, director and the three strong cast cope with getting them on and off the stage. It is acted at a furious pace: now wonder they needed an interval. Simon Kane plays bumbler Watson and is a moreorless continuous, and very amusing, presence. Around his bluff, dull-wittedness, Max Hutchinson plays Holmes in mordant fashion, and Shaun Chambers is an ebullient Sir Henry Baskerville. However, on top of this, Mr Hutchinson plays Stapleton, sister/wife Cecille (with frightful wig and dress), and the servants, Mr and Mrs Barrymore. All I can say is he must be knackered at the end of each performance. Mr Chambers enters as Sir Charles Baskerville, does a fabulous turn as Scottish Mortimer as well as a Cabbie. All three have various stints as Yokels of some description. And, if the logistics are stretched too far, then a couple of dummies appear.

Like I say the comedy derived from movement, props, costumes and accents, (even the ones that don’t appear), is delicious. So is much of the script. In particular the occasions where the fourth wall is broken, especially at the beginning of Act 2, are hilarious. I laugh out loud when I find something funny. BD and the SO who came along, (LD had to bail out which is a real shame as this was right up her Baker Street), are less animate but there was many a chuckle and smile from both. There are a few knowing lines, mostly to do with the bromance between Holmes and Watson, but there was enough for the youngsters in the audience as well.

So if you find the forced entertainment of panto at Christmas a bit wearing but you still yearn for something to do with all the family, I heartily recommend this. It is on this week (to 20th December) and then again from the 8th to the 13th January. There are tickets available as I write.