Jane Eyre: National Theatre and Bristol Old Vic on tour. Review.


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My wife and I were not in the right frame of mind today and so a trip to the theatre this afternoon was neither top of our priorities nor particularly anticipated; but we’d bought the tickets.

I have two theatre mind sets.  Amateur and professional.  And it always disappoints me that professional theatre doesn’t get the emotional response that Amateur does.

That changed today with a standing ovation at The Festival Theatre in Edinburgh.

For this is a show that astounds in every way.  Sound, light, scenery, performance, music, movement and, above all else, direction.

We have a new superstar in British theatrical direction.

She is named Sally Cookson and she is miraculous.

Well, I say new, she’s been directing for Bristol Old Vic for over a decade.  But I knew her not.

This production is mouthwatering.  It’s eyeballing.  It is superb.

It brings a degree of women’s lib to a book (that I have not read) that is compelling and meaningful.  Maybe Bronte meant it that way Maybe Cookson just saw it that way.  Anyway it’s fucking brilliant.

Three hours that pass in a nanosecond.

The music, which draws from Penguin Cafe sequence style at one moment, to jazz at another and pop in a third is gobsmacking.

The sound design helps.

I wept at the the last line.  “It’s a girl.” Five times.

That is not a spoiler, but when you see it I hope you too are reduced to pulp.

My wife and I agree on much, disagree on many things, but both of us said (in a state of heightened emotion as we left the Festival Theatre) “that was the best experience I have ever had in a (professional) theatre.”

Theatrical perfection.

We will be going again to see it in Glasgow and I urge you to do likewise.

Recent Listening: Penguin Cafe, The Imperfect Sea.


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Not to be confused with The Penguin Cafe Orchestra that disbanded upon the untimely death of its leader Simon Jeffes in 2007, the Penguin Cafe is actually a different band, although it includes some of the previous members and is led by Simon Jeffes’ son, Arthur.

Live, The Penguin Cafe play many of The Penguin Cafe Orchestra’s favourite pieces and it has been my privilege to enjoy them live twice (Usher Hall, Edinburgh and Glastonbury) but they record in their own right and The Imperfect Sea is their third, and best, album.

I read that Arthur was concerned that this latest recording was taking them to new places and ran the risk of disaffecting long term PCO fans.  I can reassure you Arthur that you have done no such thing.

It’s a bobbydazzler.  It really is.

It’s far from imperfect.

The sound, as my good friend and long term PCO aficionado, Jon Stevenson, said to me the other day lacks some of the humour of the PCO and he is right. The Penguin Cafe are a more serious bunch of musicians and their output is perhaps more orchestral than the PCO which was more folky in totality, but this matters not a jot when the quality is so high.

I’ve listened to The Imperfect Sea 5 or 6 times in the last few days and there is nary an off note.  Sure, the first time I listened I was riding my bike and the constant ‘ping’ of cycle bell on Cantorum was a mite discombobulating, but it’s endearing also and hearkens back towards the PCO’s playfulness.  (It has a small debt to pay to the mighty Telephone and Rubber Band).

Ricecar, the opener, is a classic of sequenced music and is certainly of the PCO school.

Overall this is a mighty addition to the PC/PCO canon.

Fully operational hi-fi.


To regain full use of one’s hi-fi is a first world delight.

My turntable has been operating on a semi-functional basis for some time until I bit the bullet and took it to Hi Fi Repairs – a one man operation on Clarke St in Edinburgh.

£48 later.

The man is a genius.

He can repair anything; including my 30 year old Castle speakers and now my 30 year old Ariston Q Deck. (It seems it does go on and on and on and Ariston.)

So I have christened it with Talking Heads, Remain in Light.

Not a bad choice.  Please enjoy with me.

 

 

Alien Covenant: Movie Review.


 

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In which a young Michael Fassbender utters the immortal line to his older brother, also played by Michael Fassbender, as he teaches him how to play a penny whistle, “I’ll do the fingering.”

Stop.

Stop right there.

That was silly right?

Alien:Covenant is Ridley Scott being let loose on his wildest fantasies and this time it’s almost all about religion.  He’s apparently in thrall with the notion that Aliens are gods or some such claptrap.

The name of the ship is ‘Covenant’, the name of the ‘Synthetic’ that was on Prometheus but has met its fate and who forms a big part of this movie’s plotline was David (Michael Fassbender) and David has lured his ten year the junior ‘brother’ Walter (also Fassbender) to Prometheus and to seek the fate of the 2,000 ‘covenanters’ on board ship.

Although Walter is a more advanced model he is more deeply flawed and has had his emotional intelligence reduced as it became apparent that David was too advanced.

Meanwhile, because this is 2017 rather than 1979 special effects, we get to see much more Alien action, which is in itself good (and creepy) but it’s OTT and the Aliens as organisms appear less developed because, remember, this is a prequel to Alien and in the time between the two movies the Aliens have evolved.

It starts great (but slow) the sets are miraculous and the acting largely decent (Katherine Waterston as Daniels is commendable) but the religious theme becomes more and more overbearing and the relationship between Fassbender and Fassbender is preposterous (although well acted).

Although the SFX are great they are just too much and the whole movie descends into a disappointing silly pet project that needs much more script supervision.

Not great I’m afraid.

 

 

 

Lady Macbeth: Film review.


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I’m not familiar with the Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk short story by Nikolai Neskov (not to be confused with Lady Macbeth by William Shakespeare) which he wrote as a novella in 1865, although it is inspired by the famous play.

The book inspired Shostakovich to write an opera based on it.

Now we have a British film that feels incredibly French (incredibly Michael Haneke, who I think is actually Austrian) to add to its cannon.

It features a career defining performance by Florence Pugh in the title role; although the men are magnificent too (most notably Christopher fairbanks as the intolerant Father in Law).

If you like Christopher Fairbanks through his Guardians of the Galaxy fame this is not the movie for you as it moves at glacial pace with very little dialogue, virtually no music and a LOT of fixed frames where you are invited to enjoy the cinematography in its most bleak and spartan Northernness.

“It’s grim up north” might have been the poster slogan for this movie because, set as it is near the North East of England’s colliery land, albeit on the moors (North Yorkshire I’d suggest), it is most certainly grim.

The story is murderously grim too and I’d expect this BBC Films production to be in the running when next year’s BAFTA’s are handed out with Florence Pugh a shoe in for best female actor.

Slow but sublime with excellent direction from William Oldroyd.

Elle: Movie Review


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Paul Verhoeven has a track record that would not immediately make you think he could make a movie that would empower a strong central female character, particularly one where sexual politics (and sexual violence) are key to the narrative.

He’s the man behind Showgirls and Basic Instinct and, errr, Diary of a Hooker after all – essentially exploitation movies to a greater or lesser degree.

And it’s highly debatable whether Elle succeeds in its goal, if indeed that is it. Because, despite the incredible central performance by Isabelle Huppert (rightfully Oscar nominated) it takes her from rape victim to rape fantasist over the course of its two hours.

Or did I misread it?

The opening brutal rape scene knocks you back on your feet and Huppert, as Elle, a succesful career woman, recovers from the ordeal remarkably sanguinely and continues her active lifestyle whilst setting out on a revenge mission of sorts.

But that mission is deeply twisted and her horrendous experience seems a little ironic perhaps when we discover she is the owner of a games design company that produces games with dubious sexual morality.

What’s more her father has a deeply unpleasant past, also wrapped in violence in which she was implicated as a child.  This only serves to complicate the morality message of the film as a whole.

I found it gratuitous overall.  I didn’t think Huppert (despite an excellent performance) advanced female rights and I think the whole thing turned out to be verging on tawdry and certainly too ambiguous to make its point effectively.