Sea Wall at the Old Vic Theatre review

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Sea Wall

Old Vic Theatre, 23rd June 2018

I might have told this story before. My memory is failing. A few years ago the SO, BD and LD went to see Groundhog Day at the Old Vic. Terrific film and terrific musical. Made more terrific by the presence of Ben Wishaw and Andrew Scott in the audience just in front of us. Topping that LD got a pic of herself with them at the interval thanks to the SO’s no-nonsense lack of star-struckedness. Made our days though I was too scared to talk to them. If I had it might have gone … “I hope your Hamlet Mr Scott is as good as yours Mr Wishaw” or some equally bone-headed guff.

Anyway it turns out that Mr Scott’s Hamlet at the Almeida was even better than Mr Wishaw’s. Some achievement that. Don’t listen to those who say his style was too “conversational” or that he dumb-downed the verse for the hoi-polloi, (aided and abetted by some suspiciously “European auteur” style direction from Robert Icke). Those are the sort of snobs who would keep you all from the exquisite joy that is Shakespeare and have you all bored rigid for four hours with men in doublets and tights at the Globe.

Sea Wall was written especially for Mr Scott by Simon Stephens, who, on his day, is as fine a dramatist as any alive today. It is apparently the favourite of his play. It was commissioned by Josie Rourke in 2008 when she was AD at the Bush and has subsequently popped up in Edinburgh, Dublin and at the NT under the auspices of Paines Plough and the director here, George Perrin. It is only 30 minutes long, that was the brief, and Mr Stephens had only 3 weeks to write it. This left no time for fannying about so, after catching a glimpse of an incident whilst on holiday in France which forms the denouement of the monologue, he just got on with it. Which explains its immediacy and power I suspect.

At first there is just a hint that Mr Scott is showboating here as he breaks down the barrier between actor, character and text. Given the prices some of the audience will have paid, (not this skinflint), and the hype surrounding the play and his performance, there was a faint air of “so what” for the first few minutes. Then somewhere in the story the spell is cast so that by the end Mr Scott had, forgive the cliche, the entire packed Old Vic crowd eating out of the palm of his hand. The monologue, when perfectly realised as here, can be the most perfect form of theatre. It is just story telling after all and in this simple family tragedy Simon Stephens is able to squeeze in all of his favourite themes, science, faith, mortality, twists of fate, compassion, exploration, fatherhood, Chekhov, grief, the possibility of redemption, all in one perfectly tight bundle. Delivered by a man who, for all the world, looks like he is watching the story unfold alongside us, as observer and observed. Other actors have performed the part of Alex but at the end of the day this is Scott’s voice in the text.

There is a short film version and hopefully he will get to play it again. Meanwhile this family at least awaits his next move, TV, film or stage, with bated breath.

 

 

The Flight of the Conchords at the O2 Arena review ****

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The Flight of the Conchords

The O2 Arena, 20th June 2018

Father and Son
Deana and Ian
The Most Beautiful Girl (in the Room)
Inner City Pressure
Bowie
Chips and Dips
Albi The Racist Dragon
1353 (Woo a Lady)
The Ballad of Stana
Bus Driver’s Song
Mutha’uckas / Hurt Feelings
The Seagull
Back on the Road
Carol Brown
Shady Rachel
Robots

Dairy products, meat, wood, locations for hobbits and rugby teams. New Zealand’s most valuable exports? Nope. The Flight of the Conchords, surely. Only joking. New Zealand has an extraordinarily rich cultural life from what I can see and landscapes of immense beauty, Sadly I suspect I will never get there.

So for the moment I will have to be content with Bret and Jermaine. Originally we intended to go en famille. BD’s loss, (poncing around at some uni bash), was MS’s gain. LD might not quite have the compulsion of the rest of us but has had enough exposure to the classic tunes to mean that it was pretty easy for her to get into the swing of the evening.

Over the last few years I have been constantly surprised by how few of my friends and acquaintances have caught the Conchords bug and, indeed, how many have never even heard of the boys. Clearly though filling this many large venues, (and the pre-tour at the Soho Theatre), even after the accident to Bret’s hand, suggests there are plenty of fans 10 years after the original HBO show and 15 years after storming the Edinburgh Fringe.

No need to preach to the converted then. You were probably there. On the night we went the boys took their time coming on, and by virtue of my miserliness, and a big of bad luck on the open for the original dates, we were about as far away as it was possible to be in the O2 which, as everyone knows, is A VERY BAD IDEA. But I figured we’d be so happy anyway that it wouldn’t matter too much if we relied on the screen to see the boys.

Of course they were brilliant (including Nigel on cello aka the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra). Of course the banter, less knowing and much looser than of old, was hilarious. Of course the classics were a joy even when they ballsed them up (deliberately?). But the best thing about the whole evening were the new songs. Especially the meta The Seagull, piano ballad Father and Son, country rock The Ballad of Stana and the hilarious madrigal 1353 (Woo A Lady). The reviews let us know what was coming but a song that might have been written especially for MS was the highlight of our evening.

There is not much point going on. If you don’t know “the fourth most popular folk parody duo in New Zealand”, or if you’ve had a look and don’t get it, then no matter. Your loss. For some of us this is still about as funny as funny gets.

 

Bryce Dessner and the London Contemporary Orchestra Soloists at Queen Elizabeth Hall review ***

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London Contemporary Orchestra Soloists, Galya Bisengalieva (violin), Rakhi Singh (violin), Robert Ames (viola), Oliver Coates (cello) – Bryce Dessner (electric guitar)

Queen Elizabeth Hall. 10th April 2018

  • Bryce Dessner – Aheym for string quartet
  • Mica Levi – You belong to me for string quartet
  • Steve Reich – Electric Counterpoint for electric guitar and tape
  • Steve Reich – Different trains for string quartet and tape (with film from Bill Morrison)

I am pretty sure the last time I was in the Queen Elizabeth Hall was with a young BD and LD and the SO to see Slava’s Snow Show as a “Christmas Treat”. The SO booked the entertainment without, as is her wont, looking too closely at the details. Which is a shame as she has an aversion to clowns. Not a full blown psychic horror but enough to engender a vague sense of unease. Which is unfortunate as, for those that don’t know, Slava’s Snow Show involves clowns. A lot of clowns. On a journey. In Russian. Being the supportive family that we are we found the SO’s discomfort funnier that the show. We still do.

This was my first visit to the newly refurbished QEH and I can report an already handsome building is now even better looking. It looks like it will pursue a course of adventurous programming, which is marvellous, though I can’t pretend it is all to my taste.

This concert was though. Arse that I am I hadn’t recorded the details correctly in my foolproof diary system so I hadn’t realised Different Trains was on the menu and had no idea the evening would be graced by the presence of Mr Bryce Dessner. Now I am guessing this was in stark contrast to most of the audience, for whom, I assume, he was the main attraction. I do not know if the punters that can now be counted on to fill a hall showcasing minimalist classics have always been there, or whether they are new to the genre, but it doesn’t matter. The whole of arty. trendy, creative London turns up in droves now, (though not so much at venues without the social media presence of the Southbank)., which leaves me looking and feeling even more conscious of my shocking lack of style.

(Where did it all go wrong? I used to be a contender in the sartorial stakes and could oft be found propping up the bar at cutting edge London venues. Honestly. No longer. Now even the pensioner tribe at midweek theatrical matinees looks down on me. That it should come to this. Mind you, it’s all my fault. This too stolid flesh needs melting).

All this crossing of musical boundaries is immensely energising though, and, in some ways, it was minimalism that first brought together the the “high” art of classical music with the “popular” art of rock and pop. I would also contend that if it hadn’t been for “classical” composers in the 1950s and 1960s exploring what technology and music from other cultures had to offer, dance music would be much the poorer.

Anyway our man Mr Dessner stands astride the divide, as it were, with his well regarded minimal classical works and his day, or night, job as guitarist for The National. Now, as it happens, I like The National. No expert but I have a few of their albums and saw them support that dreadful old rocker Neil Young a few years ago in Hyde Park. Obviously I don’t mean Neil Young is dreadful. he is akin to a god in my eyes. What I can say though is that The National, along with the likes of Beach House, Death Grips, Eels, John Grant, The Knife, Metronomy and TV on the Radio, ensure that the non-classical section of my CD collection, (I know CDs, ho-ho-ho grandad), isn’t entirely made up of artists who are either older than me or dead. I also appreciate that this is hardly evidence of cutting edge musical taste, and is very white, but, I fear, so is your correspondent. And it also doesn’t mean that as far as I am concerned the best music made in the last few years has come from The Fall, (sadly no longer, why are we not still in a period of national mourning?) and Wire. Worse still, whilst writing this I am listening to Soft Machine. Could it be any worse?

Unsurprisingly Mr Dessner was terrific. I listened to Aheym for string quartet a couple of times before this and it is a worthy and apposite work to set alongside Steve Reich’s string quartet masterpiece. Written in 2009, early on in his catalogue, the title is Yiddish for “homeward” and is inspired by his granny’s stories about Eastern Europe and coming to America. There is a five beat jagged chordal rhythm that runs through the piece which is cut up and syncopated in various ways until a short solo cello line, with pizzicato breaks, takes us to a slower, murky fugal passage, above the cello rocking. This is repeated in a different way before the rhythm returns, with col legno bowing, some scratchy stuff, some very high harmonics and a bit of double stopping to round things off. It is not structurally complex but it is very arresting and every string effect on show was “enhanced” by the close microphones. I loved it though I don’t suppose it will pop up at the Wigmore any time soon.

Mica Levi’s work, written in 2016 for this very ensemble, takes the 1950s song of the title and zeroes in on scraps of music within it. There are three sections to be played in any order. Hannah, a kind of set of passacaglia variations with mad trilling, Jumping, sort of fugal with odd chords moving to tremolos over a cello grind, and Sun, with the higher strings sliding up over the cello drone. It is less interesting than it sounds. Again it was over-amplified for my liking.

Ahed of the interval and before the main event Mr Dessner took to the stage with electric guitar for a performance of Electric Counterpoint. No rock’n’roll razzamatazz here. He looked like one of the stage managers despite having taking a bow earlier after Aheym. EC has one live guitar part, obviously, alongside twelve recorded guitar parts, two on bass. There are three movements, without breaks, the first an 8 part canon with the live guitar over the top and harmonic pulse from the other recorded guitars, the slow movement is similar but with 9 parts and, er, a slower theme, and the final part, again a canon, but with more tonal variation and rhythmic change. It is pure Reich and here the QEH acoustic, the amplification and, obviously, our rock god, really delivered.

Different Trains, commissioned, like Aheym, by the Kronos Quartet, and premiered in this very venue in 1988, is way more interesting than it sounds. The live string quartet is backed by three recorded versions of themselves. This creates the opportunity for 16 part counterpoint and, in line with the concept of the piece, means we listen to a “past we did not witness”. The tape line also includes lines of speech, from Reich’s governess and a train porter, as well as Holocaust victims, as well as “train” noises. The idea is to contrast Reich’s train journeys across America as a child with the horrific journeys made by Jewish children in Europe during the war. The accompanying film from Bill Morrison reinforces the contrast and is, at times, disturbing. The first movement is upbeat, the snatches of conversation brief, and the rhythmic patterns clear and harmonics tonal. The second second is slower and darker with frequent sustains, more harmonic dissonance, and with the train ambience increasing. The final movement takes the voices from the first time and melds them into the music.

I wasn’t entirely persuaded by the performance with the recordings sometimes overwhelming the live performers though I was perched right at the back. Oliver Coates’s cello playing was very fine, as I know from previous performances, and Galya Bisengalieva’s first violin sang, but the second violin and viola parts were a bit muddied. On the other hand having the film footage definitely enhanced the powerful meaning behind Steve’s Reich’s music. (I am assuming the age of the footage is what delivered the “blotchy effects”). The performers were standing and split two by two on stage which made for an antiphonal effect, in mind if not ear.

Even with the sound this was still a fine rendition of a modern masterpiece near Reich’s best. More of this at the QEH please. I promise to smarten up next time.

Oh, and no clowns please.

My latest London theatre recommendations

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So here is my latest attempt to distil the best of what is on now and what is coming up in the world of London theatre.

There is a huge bunch of new stuff which has been announced relatively recently so some aggressive sifting has taken place, though it may not look like it given the length of the list. I have also stripped out anything which is pretty much sold out. For the booking ahead portion I have focussed on those I think will book out before they open (with a couple of fringe ideas as well). 

Top ideas – all on now

1. The Ferryman at the Gielgud Theatre. It has won every award going and you are probably sick of hearing people wax lyrical about it but if you haven’t seen it you must. It’s that simple.

The Ferryman at the Royal Court Theatre review *****

2. Macbeth at the National Theatre. Rory Kinnear and Anne-Marie Duff, our two finest stage actors of that generation, as the mental Lord and Lady. Will be unmissable. It is literally just about to open. Sold out but always a few tickets for the next couple of days as returns come in but don’t arse about waiting.

3. John at the National Theatre. Over 3 hours at a glacial pace but an absolute spooky gripper. About to end and only a handful of tickets left. Sorry.

John at the National Theatre review *****

4. Julius Caesar at the Bridge. I know. More Bloody Shakespeare. But the cast here is to die for and the reviews uniformly good. It has much to say about the world today. Don’t be too worried about picking up the cheaper tickets here as views are good most everywhere. 

5. The York Realist at the Donmar Warehouse. Very limited tickets for this marvellous tale of a gay relationship in 1960s Yorkshire. 

6. Girl from the North Country at the Noel Coward Theatre. I don’t like Bob Dylan’s music but was drawn in by this tale of America in the Great Depression which incorporates his songs. Don’t be tempted by cheap seats here. Here’s my review – ignore the rant about the youth. Mrs Tourist liked it a lot which is rare.

Girl From the North Country review ****

Top ideas – booking ahead

1. A Very, Very, Very Dark Matter at the Bridge Theatre. I WILL WRITE THIS IN CAPITALS. YOU MUST BOOK THIS. A new play from Martin McDonagh about Hans Christian Anderson (don’t laugh). McDongah’s last play was Hangmen which me and Mrs T think is the best play we have seen in the last 3 years. Mr McDonagh, as you all no doubt know, is about to win Oscars galore for Three Billboards … which you have to see as well. This play feels like it will have something in common with his previous work Pillowman. 

I see Nick Hytner has persuaded his long time collaborator Alan Bennett to switch from the NT to the Bridge for his new play Allelujah. Obviously you have to like AB to take the plunge here.

2. The Lehman Trilogy at the National Theatre. Written by Stefano Messini, this has gone down well across Europe. I understand that 4 hours charting the history of a rubbish investment bank, (and not even covering its demise), may not be for everyone but a must see in my book. Sam Mendes (The Ferryman) directs, Simon Russell Beale, Ben Miles and Adam Godley play the brothers. Public booking for the new NT season opens 16th March. 

3. An Octoroon at the National Theatre. Transfer from the Orange Tree in Richmond. Amazing play which takes a dodgy C19 racist slave melodrama and reworks it into a meditation on blackness. Meta stuff. Not for everyone but the adventurous should give it a go. Read the reviews and see what you think. 

An Octoroon at the Orange Tree Theatre review ****

I would also point you to the revival of Brian Friel’s Translations at the NT, a subtle and rewarding play set in C19 Ireland exploring language and cultural imperialism.

4. Quiz at the Noel Coward Theatre. A transfer from Chichester Theatre so check out the reviews. From the pen of James Graham (Ink, Labour of Love, This House) who is incapable of writing an unfunny line. Based on the infamous coughing Major saga on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire a few years ago but examines the nature of truth and media manipulation. 

5. Machinal at the Almeida Theatre. Right this is a full on, Expressionist, feminist power drama classic from the pen of Sophie Treadwell written in 1928 and based on a real life murder case. No cast announced yet but it’s the Almeida so they will wheel in a big name. It won’t have too many laughs.

Ella Hickson’s new play The Writer is also in the new Almeida season. Ms Hickson’s last effort Oil was near genius. This has Romola Garai in the lead but not much else to go on.

6. The Lieutenant of Inishmore at the Noel Coward Theatre. One of Martin McDonagh’s earlier Irish plays. Aidan Turner, (the sexy fella out of Poldark), plays a terrorist booted out of the IRA for being too violent who loves his cat. Black comedy just like all of McDonagh’s work. Tickets are steep mind.

7. Instructions for Correct Assembly at the Royal Court Theatre. It’s always a bit hit or miss at the Royal Court but writer Thomas Eccleshare’s previous play, Heather, was brilliant. This sounds like it is about genetic manipulation and creating your own child, (this being a current preoccupation on the London stage). The problem with leaving RC productions until they open is they normally sell out so I would give this a whirl though everything in the new season looks interesting to me.

(Notably Pity from the pen of Rory Mullarkey though he misfired a bit with St George and the Dragon at the National Theatre last year). 

8. The Cane at the Royal Court Theatre. Its been many years since the infamous Mar Ravenhill, (best known for Shopping and F*cking), has written a play for the RC. A theatrical event. Sounds like it is about a teacher who gets into a pickle. For the purist only maybe. 

9. The Fall at Southwark Playhouse. No MES (RIP) has not been reincarnated, (sorry if this makes no sense but as a reminder the greatest Briton since Churchill recently died). Instead this is a revival of a play by a fine writer called James Fritz who I like. About the relationship between young and old. If you don’t know it the SP is a bit rough and ready but cheap as chips.

10. Great Apes at the Arcola Theatre. Another rough and ready fringe that churns out marvellous work. New play adapted from Will Self’s novel about a bloke who wakes up to find everyone’s has turned into primates. How mad does that sound. I loved the book. 

11. The Lord of the Flies at the Greenwich Theatre. There have been a few adaptations of Lord of the Flies. This is from Lazarus Theatre company who are brilliant. They are also doing a Midsummer Nights Dream later in the year for kids. They don’t hold back and the casts are straight out of drama school. Greenwich Theatre is a poor tired old dame so she needs your help. Please go. 

My top 10 plays of 2017

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Message to self. Do not drone on. Nobody will read this. You are seemingly dispossessed of any edit function. And there are literally millions of other lists of best plays/theatre of 2017 produced by people who know what they are talking about. This may be your blog, intended to consolidate all you have learnt from your cultural adventures, but that really is no excuse for blathering on.

Here goes then. Bear in mind this reflects when I saw the production listed below. If I lived in Stratford, or Amsterdam, I might have have got to see a couple of them sooner. Still better late than never.

1. The Ferryman – Royal Court Theatre

Marvellous story. Teeming with life. Cracking dialogue. Wonderful staging. Critics’ favourite. Five star reviews across the board. Everyone I know who has seen it has loved it. Sometimes it just all comes together. In every photo I have seen of writer Jez Butterworth since the opening night he sports a grin from ear to ear. And so he should. If you haven’t seen it, get a ticket before it closes as pulling together this size of cast (human and animal) is likely to make revivals thin on the ground.

The Ferryman at the Royal Court Theatre review *****

2. Hamlet – Almeida Theatre

Think Shakespeare is boring and not for you. Then you haven’t seen wunderkind director Robert Icke’s Hamlet with Andrew Scott as the eponymous Prince of Denmark. Delivered in so matter of fact a way that it was just like having your best mate in the front room with you. Mind you he would be a best mate who tested your patience to the limit. You would probably de-friend him sharpish. A stunning lead performance. Plenty of superlative support. And a director who can marry respect for text with vibrant, relevant freshness.

Hamlet at the Almeida review *****

3. Follies – National Theatre

I don’t like musicals. I do now.

Follies at the National Theatre review *****

4. Anatomy of a Suicide – Royal Court Theatre

This had me glued to my seat from the off. Immensely powerful, formally inventive, brilliantly written by Alice Birch, and intelligently directed by Katie Mitchell. I am a bloke. Heaven knows what this would have done to me if I was a woman.

Anatomy of a Suicide at the Royal Court Theatre review *****

5. Knives in Hens – Donmar Warehouse

I can see that this might not be everyone’s cup of tea but a meditation on the power of language, set in some unspecified “medieval” past, was always likely to reel me in. But David Harrower’s “modern classic” was even better than I had hoped. And director Yael Farber showed what she can do when she can focus solely on subject and expression in someone else’s text.

Knives in Hens at the Donmar Warehouse review *****

6. The Kid Stays in the Picture – Royal Court Theatre

I have learnt that anything Complicite, and its genius co-founder Simon McBurney, creates, must be seen. This theatrical “biopic” of the film producer Robert Evans is a technical tour de force, for sure, but also a bloody fantastic story. Don’t like the theatre. Love film. Then see this if it ever pops up again.

The Kid Stays in the Picture at the Royal Court Theatre review *****

7. Roman Tragedies – Barbican Theatre

Not everything Ivo van Hove and Toneelgroep Amsterdam take on comes off but this stalwart from, arguably the world’s greatest theatre company, is just awesome. Six and a half hours in Dutch. Vast swathes of the three Roman Shakespeare “tragedies” it is fashioned from ditched or mangled. No matter. You can move around, fiddle with your phone (sort of), watch the screens, get in the way of the cast, buy a beer. And just immerse yourself in the tale of power. corruption and lies that might have been written yesterday. If it ever swings by you, go.

Roman Tragedies at the Barbican review *****

8. The End of Hope – Orange Tree Theatre

I saw this as part of the Directors Festival at the OT. It then went to the Soho Theatre. It deserves an even wider audience. It is hilarious. In only an hour writer David Ireland takes aim at so many contemporary issues, from his starting point of a one night stand in Northern Ireland, that it leaves you breathless. Actors Elinor Lawless and Rufus Wright had a ball but the real star of the night was director Max Elton. This young man will go far.

Directors’ Festival at the Orange Tree Theatre review

9. Junkyard – Rose Theatre Kingston

OK. So sometimes you take a punt and it really pays off. This sort of musical, about a bunch of misfits in Bristol who reluctantly build, then defiantly protect, a playground, could have been a cliche-ridden monstrosity. However, with Jeremy Herrin directing and Jack Thorne writing, it obviously wasn’t. It was just properly uplifting. And it had Erin Doherty in the lead. She is just a brilliant actor. Wish List at the Royal Court, My Name is Rachel Corrie at the Young Vic, A Christmas Carol and The Divide at the Old Vic. It has been a busy year of so for Erin. One day she will be made a Dame for her services to acting. You read it here first.

Junkyard at the Rose Theatre review *****

10. Much Ado About Nothing (or Love’s Labours Won) – Theatre Royal Haymarket

The RSC should nail Shakespeare. That’s its job. This production of Much Ado, which finally got aired at the RSC’s other London home of the TRH, was tremendous. Director Christopher Luscombe’s setting of Much Ado and Love’s Labour’s Lost, (not quite so good because it is not as good a play), before and after the First World War was a masterstroke. Lisa Dillon and Edward Bennett as the world weary lovers-to-be were outstanding. Loved it.

Just missed the cut? Loads actually since it was an annus mirabilis for London theatre. But my hopelessly subjective ranking system might have seen Albee’s Goat at the Theatre Royal Haymarket slyly directed by Ian Rickson, Roy Williams’s latest play The Firm at the Hampstead Theatre and the unlikely triumph Oslo, might all have squeaked in.

Let’s hope 2018 is up to similar snuff.

The Florida Project film review ****

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The Florida Project, 13th December 2017

I missed out on Sean Baker’s previous film, Tangerine, shot entirely on an I Phone camera. It was on the “to-see at the cinema list” but I failed to get round to it. More fool me. This clearly needs to be put right based asap based on The Florida Project. This really is a very fine film. Mr Baker, and co-writer Chris Bergoch’s, story of people living on the margins of Walt Disney World, (the grimly ironic Seven Dwarfs Lane), in Florida, both geographically and economically, is an immensely humane film which tellingly points up the divide in modern America. And this reality of living on the edge is only made more vivid by being largely seeing through the eyes of a child.

Halley, (an astonishing debut performance from Instagrammer Bria Vinaite), does what she has to support herself and 6 year old daughter Moonee, (Brooklynn Kimberley Prince, a veritable acting veteran at just 7). Selling knock off perfume, pinching passes to Disney World and re-selling them and, eventually, having no option but to sell herself. Friend Ashley (Mela Murder), who works at the local diner, helps out with smuggled out leftovers, and kind, and infinitely patient, motel manager Bobby, (William Dafoe who wisely refrains from stealing the show), watches over mother and daughter. Halley’s justifiable pride and desperation lead her to, sometimes, to reject the help of others. In the end she, unsurprisingly, breaks.

Much of  our attention though is focussed on the Twainesque adventures of sassy Moonee, Ashley’s son, Scooty (Christopher Rivera) and new arrival Jancey (Valeria Cotto). Whilst I would hesitate to call their childhood innocent, these are the scenes where Mr Baker’s vision, along with cinematographer Alexis Zabe, who mixes digital with 35mm film, is most effectively conjured up. The ice-cream pastel colours of the motels, and the other outlets and buildings that make up this part of Kissimmee, contrast with the brilliant blue skies, sugar-sweet, urban sunsets and the surrounding grasslands which are reclaiming any abandoned lots. It is, as it is intended to be, magical. Indeed it is the “real” Magic Kingdom inside the park where Moonee and Jancey sardonically escape to at the unresolved end of the film. (Shot in secret apparently: no way the Disney behemoth was going to be sullied by this project).

Mr Baker is a detached observer. There is no attempt to romanticise the plight of Halley and the other residents of the motel, nor to elicit our pity or anger. That is not to say that you won’t feel for Halley and Moonnee, just that Sean Baker doesn’t engage in the typical Hollywood emotional hand-wringing. There is no real plot: it doesn’t matter though. The mix of shots, the use of first time actors and real life authority characters, the accumulation of small but telling scenes, the presence of the other, richer America, literally yards away, (the drone of helicopters flying tourists in and out is ever present), all add up to a memorable whole. I particularly liked the rising panic on the faces of the honeymooners who accidentally booked themselves into the motel, the reaction of the residents to the arson of a nearby abandoned condo block and the way Bobby dispatched a nervous predator.

The “Florida Project” was apparently Walt Disney’s code-name for the original ideas for Disney World. The motel may not look exactly like the infamous “projects’ of inner-city America but the play on words is still acutely apposite. The fantasy of the original purpose for which this environment was first created stands in stark contrast to the economic reality of today. Many coastal resorts in the UK share this destiny.

Great idea, great eye, great film, perfectly wrought. I doubt there has ever been a film with better mother-daughter performances. I can’t recall any. Go see.

 

 

Impressionists in London at Tate Britain review ***

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The EY Exhibition: Impressionists in London: French Artists in Exile 1870-1914

Tate Modern, 30th November 2017

Would I pay £17.70, the full adult price to see this. Hmm. Maybe. Different story if you are a member, (as you should be if you can afford it), but, if not, I’d say you would be much better spending your corn on the Rachel Whiteread retrospective upstairs. Given the fact that it was pretty busy on the Thursday afternoon when I waltzed in, I think I can safely say that the verdict of the public is less circumspect than mine (unless they were all members of course).

The big draw are the paintings of the Thames by Monet in the penultimate room which come from 1899 to 1901 when he took up residence each winter in the Savoy. In total Monet painted over a hundred views in the series, 37 of which appeared in a famous exhibition in 1904 in Paris. Drawn from various collections and with his famous view of the Houses of Parliament predominating, you don’t need me to tell you how marvellous they are. Any Monet series seen together is a thing of wonder, and these in particular are dear to my heart since I know the vantage point a few floors up in St Thomas’s rather better than I would like to. Is that enough though?

Well it all kicks off pretty well. The curators begin with a fascinating insight into the artistic response to the “terrible year” of 1871 which saw Paris devastated following the loss to Prussia in the war, the fall of the Second Empire, the three month siege and the brutal suppression by the French army of the Paris Commune. There is a Corot painting of Paris on fire with an Angel of Death departing high overhead and some powerful, and familiar, Manet drawings. The rest of the art here certainly shows what the artists who crossed the channel were escaping from. This was a time when the Brits welcomed foreigners with open arms. (catch a boat down the river and see a fine play, Young Marx, about another person who pitched up here and then enriched world culture). In fact London has been pretty much doing that throughout its existence so I doubt a bunch of ignorant pensioners in the shires will stop it.

Anyway a network was created when dealer Paul Durand-Ruel set up shop, and he embraced the young Monet, who spent a year here, (before his return at the end of the century), on the advice of Charles-Francois Daubigny (who isn’t a bad artist as it happens). Mind you I am not sure Mrs Monet enjoyed London judging by the face on display in her portrait. The slightly older Camille Pissarro popped up in Sarf London and Alfred Sisley joined the crew in Kensington, (proving that the French have always opted for the smartest bits of London). As we all know Pissarro and Sisley could paint, so Room 2 is a delight, though most of the works are familiar from permanent London collections. Anyway so far so good.

And then we get “James” Tissot. Now he may have been taking the p*ss out of genteel High Victorian Britain but, even if he was, it doesn’t make the paintings any more interesting. Stagey, bright and long on frocks I just can’t get on with them and there are an awful lot of them. Even so they make sense in the context of the story that its being told, so they certainly add to the exhibition, and, mockery or homage, they say a lot about the upper class Brits when they ruled the world. His friendship with the editor of Vanity Fair, Thomas Gibson Bowles provided the introduction to Society, (Tissot produced caricatures for the magazine), and Tissot ended up shacked up with his lover in St John’s Wood, which seems a posh thing to do.

What follows, rooms devoted to Alphonse Legros, who mixed with that rum pre-Raphaelite posse, Jules Dalou, Edouard Lanteri and worst of all Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux, is just not my cup of tea at all. These fellows were French emigres for sure, and part of the London artistic community, and very highly regarded by all accounts, but their painting and sculpture just looks like sentimental Victorian, faux-classical kitsch to me. It pads out the exhibition for sure, and there were plenty of punters who seemed to be lapping it up, and ignoring my admittedly inaudible snorts of derision. I admit I am an almighty cultural snob but it just didn’t seem to me that these chaps fitted the Impressionist billing, at least as I understand it.

We then had a mixed return to form centred on the Impressionists take on peculiar British sports and the outdoor places where they played them and took the air. Cricket and rowing understandably fascinated our Gallic chums. Again though it is Sisley and especially Pissarro who do the business with Tissot lagging behind. Especially admirable was Pissarro’s stout refusal to paint any part of Hampton Court Palace when he lived round the corner, even as he documented all the spaces around it. Given its majesty this took a pigheaded commitment to the “everyday life” tenets of Impressionism.

My eye in this room though was drawn to the best picture in the exhibition, Monet’s Leicester Square at Midnight from 1903, normally housed at the Musee Granet in Aix-en-Provence. Hello. If some-one told you this was painted decades later you would have believed them. I know the weather in London is, and was sh*te, compared to the South of France, but there was no need for Monet to depict this quite so graphically. Like the first and second generation Camden Town painters this is murk, night, light, rain and fog but also pure, beautiful and very colourful paint. More Expressionist than Impressionist?

This leads into a room full of fine paintings, of fog, the Thames and Westminster, as a starter before the Monet entree, with works from our friend Pissarro and three of Whistler’s nocturnes. The latter are undeniably atmospheric, with a definite thematic and stylistic link to his French contemporaries, but again you can see these any day of the week upstairs. After the Monet room, the curators have somewhat bizarrely tacked on some of Derain’s Fauvist views of London, specifically Charing Cross Bridge. I have never been entirely convinced by his paintings but they are arresting, he was French, he was inspired by Monet. Yet obviously they are not Impressionistic, nor was he in exile.

So there it is. Influences, precedents and antecedents of course matter in an overview of this sort. The sub-title of the exhibition indicates that it covers French artists in exile from 1870 to 1914. Which is exactly what it is. There is a clear, if somewhat cliched, insight into Victorian London. And there are some truly stunning paintings. But there is also some frightful, in my opinion, padding, and this detracts from the whole. If you like Monet though …..