Bomberg at Pallant House Gallery review *****

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Bomberg

Pallant House Gallery, 9th January 2017

Best British painter of the twentieth century? The mighty triumvirate of Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud and David Hockney from the second half of the century certainly would be in with a shout, though Bacon is easy to admire though sometimes hard to like, and Hockney spectacularly drops the ball sometimes. Of these three Freud would get my personal vote. Then again the oddball Stanley Spencer gives me more pleasure though, where he is concerned, you can have too much of a good thing. At the beginning of the century, and assuming his birthplace doesn’t disqualify him, Walter Sickert surely must be near the top of the list, for his own work and for his profound influence on others.

I would also put in a shout for some personal favourites, Gwen John, Michael Andrews, Richard Hamilton, and, resolutely unfashionably, Graham Sutherland and John Piper. Right now Peter Doig might also get a nomination.

But, if it were just down to me, David Bomberg (1890-1957) would get the prize. Usual story. Feted at the beginning, ignored by most during his lifetime, only managed to scrape a living, died in poverty, reputation resurrected soon after his death, critical stock rising ever since. And, in the last decade or so, finally beginning to be recognised as the master he was.

Whilst this exhibition suffers a little from the absence of some of his most famous early modernist works, from the Tate’s collection notably, it is still, in my view, a stunning exposition of his work. The early experiments with cubism and vorticism, the moving evocations of inter war East End life, the failed war painting commissions despite being more talented than peers, the sun-bleached landscapes following the sojourns in Palestine and Spain and the free-flowing abstractions (thanks Cornwall) and expressionist portraits of the later years. 

Line, light, angles, volume, draughtmanship. All plain to see. But what does it for me is the vast, and never ending, array of colour he employed. Take your time to soak in all the works displayed, (there is nothing duff here at all), then run around again and just seize on all that colour. Oh, and remind yourself just how clever Bomberg was at telling the story behind the painting. With many figurative painters the story takes time, and/or requires assistance, to crack. With Bomberg place, time, personality, drama are immediately apparent.

Whilst Bomberg may not have got justly rewarded in commissions for his brilliance, and was unable to secure a position at a premier artistic institution, there were some who appreciated what he might show them, notably his students at Borough Polytechnic. And fortunately there were enough enlightened souls there, and from the artistic groups based there, to secure his legacy, which informs this exhibition, and offers an insight into his artistic philosophy, “the Spirit in the Mass”. Not sure I completely grasped where he was coming from but I think I followed the gist. The remarkable people at the Ben Uri collection, with whom he worked, have also lent a hand in stewarding many of his key works over the years and co-curated this exhibition.

Hanging over much of the exhibition is a sense of detachment and disenchantment. This maybe reflects his struggles to get by financially from his work, the horrors he faced on the front in WW1 and the damage to London he documented in WW2, the observation of the struggles of working class life, and, most vividly, his position as an outsider thanks to his first generation immigrant status and his Jewish faith. The landscapes he chose to capture are harsh not verdant. Yet the paintings are never angry, dark or hectoring.

It would be really tricky to pick out the highlights but if you backed me into a corner I would say the Self-Portrait drawing from 1909, Ju-Jitsu from 1913, Barges from 1919, Ghetto Theatre from 1920, Pool of Hezekiah from 1925, Kitty from 1929, The Gorge at Ronda from 1935 and Cyprus from 1948. Look at these, and surely you will have to agree with me. If you don’t, well, as it happens, the Pallant House permanent collection is as good a place as any to view the alternative candidates for best British artist of the C20 (though not Bacon, Freud or Hockney – prohibitively expensive).

If the genteel surroundings of Chichester are not accessible, (remember the Cathedral round the corner itself has much for the artistic eye to feast upon), then this will travel to the Laing Gallery in Newcastle and then  the Ben Uri itself in London. Do not miss this.

 

 

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.

Cezanne Portraits exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery review *****

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Cezanne Portraits

National Portrait Gallery, 14th December 2017

Frankly they could have hung the 50 or so paintings here upside down and turned the lights off. I would still have given it 5 stars. It’s Cezanne. The painter who showed all the other painters who have come since how to paint,  by showing them how all the other painters who came before had painted.

Line, mass, volume, light, colour. These are the preoccupations of all painters for sure but it was Cezanne’s obsession with seeing the underlying structure of things that was his gift to the world.

If this meant making the subjects of his portraits sit for days on end then so be it. If this meant working and re-working tiny parts of his paintings or giving up entirely if he didn’t get it right then so be it. Clearly if you are not going to churn out sycophantic likenesses to order then you ain’t going to drum up too much business. So it was with Cezanne. Though fortunately once banker Dad was on board with the painting gig, our Paul didn’t have to worry too much about earning a living. which meant he could paint the same thing, or person, again, and again, and again, and again, and again …. until he, rather than subject/buyer, was satisfied. Though by all accounts he rarely was.

This then is why we have so many likenesses of the same subject, Dad, Mum, Uncles. Mates, son Paul, and, of course, wife Hortense (painted 29 times). This exhibition set out to collate and show these “repeats” to best advantage, and this, together with the insight into his early and late portraiture, is what made the exhibition truly revelatory to me. Odds are, one way or another, if you have a healthy interest in art and seek out most of the great collections in the Western world. you will get to see an awful lot of the paintings on display here. But to see the same subjects, hanging together, is properly thrilling.

Cezanne wasn’t interested in delving into the psychology of his sitters. No journey into the soul, or other such claptrap, on show here. Nor was he interested in mimetic likeness, with or without flattery, in contrast to the portraiture of the previous three centuries. Photography changed all that. Nor, as far as I can see, did he care too much about the social context in which his subjects might be placed. Few of the more mature portraits have much in the way of backdrop or background. The outdoors, famously in the context of that bloody hill, inspired PC but not really when it came to pictures of people. He found it just too difficult apparently, (though right at the end there is a dark, disturbing picture of his gardener, M Valier, ostensibly outdoors though you would be hard pressed to believe it).

On the other hand though I don’t think Cezanne wanted to show himself in these portraits either, even in the self-portraits. I reckon for a lot of the Impressionist, Post Impressionists, Expressionists, Post Expressionists, and anyway else who dabbled in portraiture in the C20, the picture often says as much about the artist as the sitter. PC only wanted to capture what he saw. Nothing more, nothing less. Most of the time his subjects are doing nothing other than sitting and looking.

The first couple of rooms show PC’s early experiments with portraiture. The influences of, variously, Courbet, Manet, Pissarro, and in a different way, Zola, are explained. We start to see how the techniques are refined, bolder brushstrokes, use of the palette knife, maybe too much at first, (the renderings of his Uncle Dominique), the building of the whole from little patches of colour, the “constructive brushstrokes” that evolved from his landscapes. Repetitions, eliminations, areas where ground is absent. To capture light, for sure, but also to render shape, mass, volume, in an entirely new way. Making the animate, not inanimate, but very, very still, and properly intense. Cutting everything out between eye and mark. Breaking it down to build it back up. Dialectical painting. The room with the multiple, depersonalised portraits of Hortense is where it all makes sense.

Always the same but always different. Obsessive. Not giving a f*ck what anyone else thought. A cast iron nutter. All, as any fool knows, perfect maxims for any artist to follow.

There has, I gather, never been a comparable exhibition of Cezanne’s portraits. It took a decade to pull this together. Cezanne produced around 160 portraits out of a total 1000 works. That means around a third are gathered together here. If you were in Paris last year you will no doubt have seen this. If you are in London now and haven’t seen this you are a mug. Sorry to be so rude but it’s true. Fortunately you have a month still to put this right. Exhibition of the year in 2017. Obviously. Once in a lifetime opportunity. Probably. So get on with it. Now. And if you are anywhere near Washington, (DC not Tyne and Wear), from March this year, book now.

Try this. Look at someone you know very well. Look at them again. Then stare at them. For a vey long time. Think about what you see. It is a revelation. Look at a Cezanne portrait. Really look. That is what he was about. Never really occurred to me to do this until I started reading about “art”. Just goes to show. You may look but you rarely see. Of course it also means you will be prone to spouting all manner of dreadful, pretentious guff.

Dali/Duchamp at the Royal Academy review ***

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Dali/Duchamp

Royal Academy, 29th December 2017

I don’t really get Salvador Dali. Maybe it is the over-familiarity with images of his work. Maybe it is the obviousness of the in-yer-face Freudian, symbolism. Maybe it is the flat, lifeless effect of his paintings. Maybe it is the fact that once he found a formula that worked he didn’t let go. Or maybe it was the fact that he was a bit too full of himself. I admit there is a lot of fun to be had in scouring the canvases, (and, in this fairly concentrated display, you get a fair few for your money), for his wackier conceits. But it is a transitory, and for me, slightly cheap, pleasure. Mining the sub-conscious always seems to require Surrealists to think just that little bit too long and hard about what they want to show and tell. Contrived not automatic.

Now in contrast your man Marcel Duchamp was the real deal. I am glad I have no artistic talent, (actually I am not but I have learnt to live with the disappointment), because if I were a plastic artist then I would be constantly peeved by the discovery that any great idea in modern art had already been realised by M. Duchamp. The rejection of painting and embracing of “non-traditional” media, ready mades, “anti-art” and the challenging of the commodification of art, conceptualism, game-playing and changing identity, Scratch the surface of many a contemporary artist and M. Duchamp will be visible and, without him, public discourse on the question of “what is art” would be far more muted.

The exhibition does an excellent job in portraying the friendship between these ostensibly disparate figures. Both were driven by a need to tear down convention, in art and life, and their understanding clearly went beyond a shared passion for smutty jokes and dodgy puns. IMHO though Dali’s impact, in retrospect, has been superficial, a poster art dead end, whereas, as this exhibition fleetingly shows, Duchamp’s artistic enquiry was profound. Whatever your reaction to a urinal turned upside down and signed R, Mutt you will have had a reaction. And this is 2017, (well 2018 since it has taken this long to get off my lardy arse to write this). Imagine what those lucky few observers must have thought when then first saw this 100 years ago. An artist with a female alter-ego. Commonplace now but revolutionary then. A bloke who convinces everyone he has given up art to become a chess professional. Brilliant. Taking stuff he found and sticking it together to make new things. Most major modern and contemporary artists from the middle of the last century onwards, and students today, will have had a period when they have a go at this. The results are normally awful. But Duchamp got there first. Sticking a tache on the Mona Lisa. A bona fide meme if I am not mistaken, so be grateful to M. Duchamp. Chance, language, gesture, semiotics, maths, provocation, the rejection of “craft”. All fundamental tenets of the today’s artistic conversation, all “invented” by M. Duchamp.

As you might expect carving a way through the work of these two boundary-breakers, given their eclectic output, and constraints on what they could beg, steal or borrow, likely presented a headache for the curators. They have chosen to cram as much as they can into a few of the RA rooms, which highlights the imaginations of both artists even if it does make viewing a jostled affair. It also means there is little escape from the overt misogynism of both. I was most interested in Duchamp’s early paintings (Cezanne’s influence plain to see), the wealth of holiday snaps, Duchamp’s St Sebastian, that moustache in L.H.O.O.Q. , Dali’s experiments with Cubism, then Duchamp’s (so much better). Best of all The Bride Stripped Bare …. , reconstructed by Richard Hamilton, and Duchamp’s messing around with optical discs.

I suspect I was in the minority but I would have been so much happier just with Duchamp alone, with as much contextual material as the curators here, Dawn Ades and William Jeffett, Sarah Lea and Desiree de Chair. would have dared to throw at me. Even so there was much to chew on here and more to go away and learn.

Daisy Pulls It Off at the Park Theatre review ***

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Daisy Pulls It Off

Park Theatre 200, 16th December 2017

Funny thing the memory. Even more curious is consciousness itself. It used to be that clever folk conceptualised consciousness as a kind of “theatre of the mind”. Apparently now the cutting edge of neuroscience, psychology and philosophy says this dualism is claptrap and tends towards a more functionalist explanation. As the bard said “there are more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy”. A very clever man, and great admirer of Mr Shakespeare, a certain Mr Tom Stoppard even had a crack at writing a play about The Hard Problem.

Anyway the point is that I distinctly remember really enjoying Denise Deegan’s play Daisy Pulls It Off at the Globe Theatre, (now the Gielgud), when it was such a smash hit in the mid 1980s. As did the SO. It was very funny. Or so I thought.

This latest revival at the Park Theatre was OK. Occasionally funny, but quite often a bit of a chore. Daisy Drags It Out. Now as I understand it this production, directed by Paulette Randall, presents pretty much the original script. It reverts to the original seven strong cast, which means some doubling or trebling up for all but two of them. Which, in my view, led to some of the more amusing moments in the play. Ms Randall and her creative colleagues have chosen to cast the production in a largely age, colour and gender blind way. Anna Shaffer, who debuts as Daisy, was most age appropriate. In contrast, Freddie Hutchins doubled up as Belinda alongside his Mr Scoblowski, Pauline McLynn was a plucky Trixie and Claire Perkins revelled in her roles as Monica, Mr Thompson and Mademoiselle. The rest of the cast, Lucy Eaton, Melanie Fulbrook, Shobna Gulati, are all excellent actors, based on other stage and TV performances I have seen, and it was hard to fault their industry or execution here. The production was played moreorless “straight”, as intended, with any hamming up emerging largely from character or costume changes and not from an overly arch, or slapstick, delivery. Libby Watson’s set and costumes were on the money and, in the hockey match and the rescue scene on the cliff-top, the cast conjured up some fine visual drama from inventive movement, using only minimal props.

So why was this such a disappointment, for me, and for LD, who gamely agreed to come along, despite being somewhat suspicious about Dad’s big build up. Well, as I say, I don’t think it was the production, or the cast. I see that some, though by no means all, other proper reviewers got a real buzz out of this. Three possible explanations then. Either it wasn’t as good as I though it was first time around, (though, with the magnificent Lia Williams, alongside Samantha Bond and Kate Buffery, this production did launch some extraordinary acting talent). Or I, and the world around me, has moved on, such that reverent spoofs such as this are no longer novel. Finally it may be that my memory has, to coin the vernacular, “played tricks on me”. This third explanation is likely scientific fact, and not just doddery middle age, the second explanation probably has a great deal to do with it, but I worry that the first may actually bear the bulk of the responsibility. It just may not be as good a play as I thought it was.

I wouldn’t put you off from seeing this if you are new it. There are laughs, (though apparently, to my surprise, there is nothing amusing about the words “frightful muff”), some spirited performances and some fine stagecraft. It does warm up in the second half but never really takes off. The underlying message, snobbery can and will be routed, is so gentle as to be barely perceptible and, it turns out, the whole thing is just a little too in thrall to its sources.  An A for effort, a C for achievement, I am afraid to say.

Titus Andronicus at the Barbican Theatre review ****

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Titus Andronicus

Barbican Theatre, 13th December 2017

Titus Andronicus is a comedy right. Yet I see it is customarily bracketed with the other Shakespearean tragedies, and here forms part of the RSC’s latest take on the quartet of Roman tragedies, entitled, er, Rome.

Now I know this comedy/tragedy/history play division is confusing at the best of times, but here, trust me, it is piffle. Big Will packed sad bits and sundry trials for his heroes even in the lightest of his confections. And, even in the most miserable passages of the serious stuff there are plenty of gags, (though sometimes a bit obscure I admit). In this play though all I really see is one long, (it only just about stops short of one scene too many), parodic, black comedy. This kind of thing is ten a penny now, particularly in the world where art-house and horror cinema mix, but big Will was on to this over 400 years ago. Since there has never been anyway to match him, in English at least, in most other forms of dramatic expression, it should be no surprise that he could effortlessly turn his pen to a genre p*ss-take.

After all the revenge tragedy had been a sure-fire box office hit in the previous three decades before Titus Andronicus hit the South Bank in 1594. Jasper Heywood had translated Seneca’s tragedies, Troades, Hercules Furens and, most famously, Thyestes, in the 1560’s. Thyestes particularly spawned a whole host of imitations, not least of which Titus Andronicus itself which draws on elements of Seneca’s gore fest. (I see that the Arcola staged a version of Caryl Churchill’s version of Thyestes directed by Polly Findlay a few years ago. Wish I had seen that). Norton and Sackville’s Gorboduc came out in 1561. First early modern tragedy, first blank verse drama, a veiled commentary on contemporary politics. (Wish I had seen that too. Especially with Lizzie I in the room). And, most successfully, Thomas Kyd’s The Spanish Tragedy had wowed audiences in the 1580s already.

So Will S and chums were keen to meet the public demand for extreme violence on stage. And a few plot holes, (Will was never one to worry overmuch about these), wasn’t going to stand in their way. Lest we forget though young Will wasn’t yet the dominant force he would become in English drama. One farce, The Comedy of Errors, one decidedly dodgy comedy, The Taming of the Shrew, and a few, albeit brilliant, propaganda plays, Henry VI (1,2,3) and Richard III, might not have been enough to guarantee a hit. So Will collaborated with one George Peele, who apparently contributed the busy first Act, (where Titus A, bloody livid after losing most of his sons in the war with the Goths, sets up the cycle of revenge), the scene at the beginning of Act II when the dastardly Aaron goads the Goth brothers, Chiron and Demetrius, into planning their heinous crime, and the beginning of Act IV, the reveal with its classical allusions, specifically Ovid and the rape and revenge of Philomela. Remember dear readers the several hundred year veneration of Classical Antiquity ushered in the patriarchy’s very unhealthy obsession with sexual violence as well as nice pictures of urns.

Anyway it seems to me that Peele’s contributions provide the stout backbone of the classically driven tragedy plot which then leaves Will to engage in the genre twisting anddark humour. Now I admit that a lot of what I thought was funny in the play was not always shared by the entire audience. There were a few other titterers at some of the smutty innuendo and the ludicrous ,cartoonish violence. There may even have been others wryly smiling at Marcus Andronicus’s flowery blank verse when he stumbles across the mutilated Lavinia. For this is the only way I can fathom this bizarre incongruity. He should be hollering for the Roman equivalent of an ambulance not waxing lyrical about her fragrancy and showing off his classical education.

What else? Saturninus suddenly getting the hots for Tamora. The Roman brothers “accidentally” falling into the pit containing Bassanius’s murdered corpse. Titus A thinking it is a good idea to chop his hand off. His chat with that poor fly. Lavinia spelling out the names of the Dumb and Dumber bad boys in the sand. Little Lucius’s knowing asides to us followed by a gag about Horace’s poetry. Aaron taunting us with his “will he, won’t he” dangling of his new baby and then the unsuspecting Nurse talking herself into an early grave. The gruesome pie, of course, and finally the three blink-and-you-miss-them concluding deaths in as many seconds

Others may want to take this all at depressing face value. I can’t. The only way to accommodate the abrupt shifts in tone, I reckon, is to assume that Will was trying to subvert the very thing he had created. I think director Blanche McIntyre is happy to go with the blackly comic flow without over-egging it. Well maybe the messenger on a bike was a bit over the top. Though it got the biggest laugh of the night, proving that nothing works better than a blatant sight gag in Shakespeare.

Make no mistake TA was a huge hit in its first few years but thereafter was confined to the scrapheap by most every commentator until, surprise, surprise, Messrs Brooke and Olivier, worked their magic in 1955. Trying to take this too seriously just want wash in my book. It isn’t a sick pantomime for sure, there is too much stunning rhetoric to allow that to happen, but neither is this a proto-Lear. I don’t see any point in trying to fight against the dramatic conventions which shaped its construction, or in trying to pretend there is some great insight into the human or political condition here. The creative team seem to be suggesting this could be a metaphor for our uncertain political age. Nonsense. Things might look a bit sh*tty out there, and civic discourse is coarsening, (in part because every Tom, Dick and Harry think they can have a view – ah the irony), but government in Western democracies isn’t yet based on vendetta and cannibalism.

David Troughton as Titus A kicks off his performance as stiff, martial hero, a wizened Coriolanus, wedded to the justice of the battlefield and certain in his pronouncements. A brass band follows him around – a smart touch. Limbs and mind unknot as events unfold so that, by the end, he is as batsh*t crazy as you like in chef’s whites and a nice line in one-armed knife work. Martin Hutson’s toddlerish, paranoiac Saturninus is very amusing, and the similarity with a certain contemporary leader well observed. Attempts to shoehorn in other echoes of a chaotic White House administration, and some street riots signposted “austerity”, are less effective however. Hannah Morrish didn’t get much of a look in as Virgilia in the RSC Coriolanus but here, as a noble Lavinia even when mute, she was excellent. Nia Gwynne’s Tamora was a little underpowered. In contrast Stefan Adegbola as Aaron, once he get to open his mouth after prowling around in Act I, didn’t hold back. Let me say it. Aaron is an ugly, racist caricature which pandered to Will S’s contemporary audience. No Othellian complexity here.

Having guffed on above about embracing the funny side of TA I must say that, when the mutilation comes on stage, this production doesn’t hold back on visceral impact. A couple of nurses, a surgery trolley, a saw and some top-drawer illusion courtesy of Chris Fischer mean TA’s hand-job, (as it were), is the best of the gruesome bunch with the stylised throat-slitting of the two bad boys, suspended upside down, coming a close second. Lavinia’s rape and mutilation was genuinely shocking. 

So a production that, with a few maybe superfluous details, looks (and sounds) the part and delivers unflinching horror realism. A memorable central performance, with some excellent support in large part. A director who is not afraid to go where the words and plot take her, even if this points up the anachronistic structure of the play. Ms McIntyre is also very alert to the nature of our “enjoyment” of the play. Is it a bit sick to laugh at some of this? And if you are horrified then why did you turn up in the first place? Just how far can we go in pretending that Shakespeare is always “for all ages” or should we recognise that, early on at least, he was bound to his own time?

Of course it could just be that the diet of Tarantino and Korean revenge films which brings BD and I together has left me inured to this kind of thing. Anyway go see for yourself. There are a few tickets left for the remaining performances. And don’t forget to insert your tongue firmly into your cheek as you walk in.

 

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.