From Stage to Screen: Hollywood Does Theatre

It might be no more than yet another sign of the slow death rattle of Hollywood, the slow, wheezing sound of the balloon deflating as originality continues to be usurped in favour of that most valued of commodities – the ‘sure-fire’ hit,  however it never stops being frustrating to go and see a film you loved on stage only to realise that those complex, live-wire characterisations by total unknowns have been replaced by a type-A, blank-eyed, lantern-jawed hero who only ever appear against a backdrop of  an elegiac piano-based score while using a script so simplistic it might have been rejected by Dan Brown…

Welcome to Hollywood Does Theatre – an opportunity to see your favourite plays on the big screen: re-scripted, re-cast and re-duced substantially in quality. Well that may not be entirely fair, it can be argued that given the right play with the right cast and a sympathetic director the results can be substantially more enjoyable than the original play. This play went on to do be quite popular as I recall…

The beginning of last year saw the crowning of The Kings Speech, whilst towards the end of the year Terence Davies took on Terence Rattigan in a version of ‘The Deep Blue Sea’. The critical consensus seems to have awarded it the label of solid, if unspectacular. Davies is such a talent and,due to his relative inactivity, under-appreciated master of composition that it could hardly fail to overwhelm the visual  but it is also clear that he is a huge admirer of Rattigan and if anything the material is handled to reverently. By the end the audience is left wondering, as splendid as all the constituent parts are, why they are watching a film of a play that felt outdated even at the  time of its original release back in 1952. (I mean this was released in 1951 and within moments our obsession with emotional reticence looked about as old-fashioned as our obsession with the Empire: 

So what is on the slate for 2012?

1) Warhorse (Released: 13 January)  

Unless you had been living in a cave you could scarcely have failed to notice the Warhorse phenomenon that has developed over the last 5 years.  Initially a  hit as a book for Michael Morpurgo, it tells the story of the relationship between a young soldier and his horse. It is a unashamed tear-jerker and touches on just about every emotional heartstring going.  So it is, perhaps, no surprise that it eventually found its way into Spielberg’s mitts. If there was ever a director who has mastered the blockbuster, wide-angle lens camera pan set to a not-too-obvious but vaguely familiar stringed background, then it is the man who directed E.T., Close Encounters and Band of Brothers.

Perhaps more surprisingly is the fact that in between the book and the film came a play that has been both critically lauded and a  commercial smash wherever it has played.  And each and every review poured praise on the inventiveness and skill of the puppetry of the horse in evoking an anthropomorphic reaction to the creature. At times zyou can barely hear the actors over the sound of sobbing in the aisles. So naturally Spielberg has removed the puppet.

Well it pulls about every Spielbergian trick out the book – it seems you can’t move in his trailers without risking an eye to an errant violinist’s bow. This is movie-making not film-making. It is a statement of intent but a statement that seems to have fallen on deaf ears among the critics that appreciate the quality but feel there is an absence of heart. So Puppets 1: 0 Spielberg.

Click here for the full article

Even better than Cook’s chocolate cake

Cambridge Theatre, 21 December 2011 – booking until Oct 2012

There is a long and often inglorious history of converting  much-loved books into musical theatre. The temptation for doing so is obvious; flying in the face of overwhelming critical disdain, Les Miserables has provided a template  for financial success. It has a mantelpiece of audience-choice awards, a global army of devoted fans and by January 2010 it was celebrating notching up 10,000 performances in the West End. In short the tills have not stopped ringing since the original Cameron Mackintosh-Trevor Nunn production in 1985.

A salient and oft-overlooked fact by those who sneer at Les Mis is that this success has seen the RSC (producers of Matilda) through the brutal conditions suffered in the 1980’s under a prime minister who held Andrew Lloyd Webber as a shining example of artistic achievement. No doubt Jean Valjean would not have countenanced betraying his principles in such a manner but clearly the financially imperatives of publically subsidised theatre led to Trevor Nunn’s rather more pragmatic vision.

With Les Miserables finally beginning to flag, transferring to the noticeably smaller Queens Theatre and with the famous Barricade seemingly less than impressive in its new surrounds, the RSC have sought to launch a new cash cow in the form of a major new musical adapted from a well-known book. Clearly it was though that the National’s approach of writing a verbatim musical, ‘London Road’, about the serial killing of five prostitutes in Ipswich was not the way to long-term commercial success.

However the road to the West End is paved with the carcasses of plots from their literary womb untimely ripped. Topping this sad and unfestive tree must be Gone With The Wind, critically reviled and starring a woefully miscast Darius (remember him?), but there is also Carrie The Musical, a concept so clearly problematic that the mind boggles at the commissioning process. For most of 2012 we have been entertained by the sorry stories emanating across the Atlantic surrounding the sheer ineptitude of Spiderman: The Musical; a show that could only have come from trouble-shooting consultants who identified a previously unidentified cross over between comic book fans and musical theatre goers.

The RSC must have approached Roald Dahl’s much-loved children’s book with some trepidation. He is an author who, like Enid Blyton, never seems to go out of fashion despite offering a nostalgic view of England that those reading the books will find hard to reconcile with a world of X-Boxes and Club Penguin. With a central premise built on libraries, it even smacks of radicalism that seems very at odds with Dahl’s natural conservatism.

Continue to the full review here

And for a special sneak preview…

London Riots: Theatre Special

So with the world, his wife  and their media entourage encamped in Edinburgh for the next few weeks, it asks the question of how those cosmopolitan metrosexuals of the capital can keep themselves entertained.

Well having asked the question, this week we got our answers… And our survey said that out of 100 participants the top two responses were:

 1) Looting

                               2) Appearing in court for looting

However for those who believe that life may have more to offer than G-Star Jeans, shiny new Nikes and £3000 of Rothman Superkings then there  is still the vibrant London theatre-scene…or not, an unfortunate consequence of the rioting meant that much of theatreland closed early to avoid the less than desirable impact of having your audience flambéed during the climax to Love Never Dies (the relief at being put of your misery twenty minutes early notwithstanding).

Having said that, every good rioter deserves favour now and again. And doing my bit to save London’s theatre, I suggest the following West End plays that are suitable for both rioters and vigilantes alike:

1) Hamlet – Young Vic

Shakespeare’s masterpiece about an emotionally troubled young man with an absent father. Watch as Hamlet slowly goes off the rails without the existence of strong familial discipline. Attempts from wise elders, young friends and even his own mother are unable to reign him in and the end, when it comes, is as tragic as it is sadly predictable.

2) Aladdin – Lyric Hammersmith

Experience the thrills and spills of Aladdin’s adventure to steal a magic lamp from a hardworking small business owner. Gasp in awe and laugh with delight as you watch Aladdin’s hilarious mishaps as he attempts to escape the local fuzz while holding on to a bin-liner stuffed with swag. And don’t worry folks, its just a pantomime so we can rest assured that Aladdin will get away with it and get the girl in the end.

3) Jerusalem – Apollo Theatre

A vision of life in our green and pleasant land. Follow Johnny Byron, spokesman for the everyday man as he faces eviction by the Council and hostility from the local community.

4) Les Miserables – Queen’s Theatre

Follow Jean Valjean,our hero and a former prisoner, who is pursuedrelentlessly by his nemesis, the policeman, Javert. Featuring the most convincing portrayals of civil disorder ever captured on the London stage and stuffed full of famous songs that you will have heard at riots up and down the land, you too can sing along with popular classics such as ‘Do you hear the people sing?’ and ‘At the barricades’

5) Accomplice – Menier Chocolate Factory

Described as part-tour, part-game, part-theatre, this innovative production takes people on a tour of Southwark. Constantly evolving, what started as a rather staid interactive mystery on the streets of London has turned into the capital’s hot ticket with new attractions including a burned out cornershop and a ransacked Lush. In this uniquely immersive productions, participants are able to throw bricks at police and indulge in a spot of light GBH in full-view of the much-loved London CCTV network. Smile for the camera guys!

Honorable Mention

Betty Blue Eyes – Novello Theatre

10% discount for English Defence League members.