They Shall Not Grow Old: Documentary Review by Peter Jackson.


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It’s only October and I have already seen two Oscar winning films.  This (for best documentary) and A star is Born for loads of things.

Months ago I bought a ticket for this special live (3D) screening of this BFI film from the London Film Festival featuring a post film interview between Peter Jackson (the most modest man in cinema) and Mark Kermode (the most adulatory)

I thought it would be special.

It was more than that.

It was a landmark.

It was actually a significant night in cinematic history, because what Peter Jackson has achieved here is unparalleled.

We’ve all seen colourised war footage.  It’s interesting, but in reality it’s a bit pants.

This is the real deal.  A step forward in technology driven by heart, emotion, passion, DNA.

In this truly remarkable documentary Jackson brings us footage from the WW1 front line trenches in a way that you can’t even begin to imagine.

First he restored hours of black and white footage to remove grain, scratches, burn marks etc.

Then he graded it.

Then he fixed all the film sprockets so they don’t jiggle about and blur.

Then, get this, he turned it all from a hotch-potch of 10/11/12/14/16 and 17 Frames per second into it all being 24 FPS.

This is not insignificant.

A 17 FPS film transferred to 24 frames needs to ‘find’ 7 frames.  It needs to create them, to fill in the gaps to make film flow as we expect.  How one does that I have no clue.  Frankly, neither does Jackson, but he knows people who were up to it and deliver on the challenge.

So, as Jackson puts it, we don’t see Charlie Chaplinesque war footage.  We see dignified film of soldiers in real time as our eye would compute it.  This is important because it makes it so real.

Then he, frame by frame, colourised the whole lot.

Then he put a team of lip readers onto it to work out what the soldiers were saying when they spoke to camera (in 1914-18 there was no film/sound recording).

Then he recorded both battleground sound effects, by enlisting the NZ army, and the words these soldiers were saying, through actors, and lip synched and background-noised the whole thing.

Then he launched it.

The man is a genius.

The result is beyond words incredible.

On many occasions I gasped out loud, not least when he moved from the first reel, which shows unmodified footage of the preparation of enlistees for WWI, into the reality of war.

In a stunning coup de theatre the screen changes shape.

The audiences audibly gasps.

We are in a new reality.

Now, this all makes it sound like this is simply an exercise in technological show-offery.

No.  this focuses on soldiers.  Poor.  Young.  Men.

With terrible teeth, but with opinion, with humour, with dignity, with resolute spirit.

And not just young British men.

Perhaps the most affecting part of this film is where German POW’s muck in and join the Brits.   It’s clear that in those days this was duty and honour for one’s country, absolutely NOT hatred of the enemy.

This is a truly remarkable film experience.

It’s important.

Find a way of seeing it.

It’s much more than a cinematic landmark.

It’s a historical one, because the legacy Peter Jackson’s 14-18-Now and Imperial War Museum commission gives the world is new technology that will allow all sorts of ancient film archives to become living history.

In this case the 100 minutes that are committed to film are actually backed up by a further 100 hours of monochrome footage that Jackson’s team has restored (free of charge) for his commissioners.

See when international honours are handed out (I think Bono has a knighthood for example) Peter Jackson needs to be number one on the list for this real and important achievement.

I assume a further Oscar is in the bag.

Cyrano de Bergerac at The Lyceum. Thoughts.


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There are two monumental reasons to see this production.

The first is the performance of Brian Ferguson in the title role.  People will be talking about his extraordinary commitment, humour, bravado and energy for many years to come.  It was a pleasure to congratulate him on his performance afterwards.  A complement he accepted with wonderful grace and modesty.

In a dense and complex piece of theatre he carries the show along on shoulders as broad as the Clyde.

That’s not to underplay the ensemble’s performance but the eruption from the audience when he took his solo bow said a lot.

Cyrano de Bergerac | Teaser from National Theatre of Scotland on Vimeo.

The second is the equally extraordinary costumes by fashion designer Pam Hogg.  It looks like this is her first ever theatre commission having dealt with fashion and music – Kylie, Gaga, Siouxsie – for the majority of her much celebrated career.  Some of the costumes in this production simply take the breath away, in particular Roxanne’s, and often they are brilliantly lit by Lizzie Powell to intensify the impact.

They range from the spectacular and dazzling to the brilliantly understated. (When did you last see a Pere Ubu tour T shirt?)

The production is dense, often spectacular, funny, charming and interestingly musical, although unlike the recent Twelfth Night the music here plays a more background role.  I like that in David Greig’s tenure music has moved way up the agenda at The Lyceum.

I’d like to see CDB again because, unlike film adaptations of the play that I have seen, it has far more substance and much more is made of the war which unites the male characters of the cast; the Gascon battalion who are fighting on the Spanish front line.

It’s a five act play (that is often truncated) which means you need to prepare for three hours in the theatre making it something of a feat of endurance – particularly given the fine Scots adaptation, by Edwin Morgan, of what seems almost Shakespearean in its rhythmic verse form.

It’s impossible to catch every nuance and meaning and some of its delight is latching on to Scottish colloquialisms that are entirely out of time and place but wonderfully clever.

This is bold, assured and brave theatre that deserves to be seen.

 

 

 

 

Charlie is my darling.


Can you even begin to imagine the excitement I felt when I popped into Whitespace today and was met with this canvas of our dearly beloved Charlie Robertson created by fellow advertising guru, none other than MT Rainey, herself.

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It’s one of the canvases I’ll be auctioning next Thursday at the NABS Art Auction (it has 76 compatriots, with plenty more in transit, many of which have outstanding artistic merit, but none of which quite hit the emotional trigger quite as effectively as this one does, created, as it was, less then ten days after Charlie’s untimely death.)

I’m hoping it will be something of a centrepiece of the auction and that it might attract some fairly hefty bidding.  Indeed I will specifically take bids on it if you email me direct at Markgorman@btopenworld.com.

I’ll let bidders know what the state of play is rather than playing this one out in public.

It’s called “Charlie is me Darlin'” and it’s beautifully printed direct onto the canvas.  The words that make up the image conjure up, for me, the eloquence with which Charlie thrilled and seduced the world of advertising for forty years.

I believe it deserves to be shown somewhere that Charlie’s many admirers might be able to see it for themselves and I hope it can play its part in a memorable night at Whitespace next Thursday 25th October, from 6pm.  There will be a bar and a lively evening of badinage and bidding.  Please let me know if you’d like to attend.

MT.  You’re amazing.  What a superb memory of Charlie’s life.

Slantie.

Twelfth Night. An enigma wrapped up in a conundrum: Royal Lyceum Theatre


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Even the bloody poster’s great: by DO in Leith (http://madeby.do)

“If this were played upon a stage now, I could condemn it as an improbable fiction.”  Act 3.

I urge those potential audience members unfamiliar with this play (like me) to read the Wiki (or other) synopsis two or three times before you come along to this outstanding production, because it is thoroughly deceptive and even more enthralling than Jed Mercurio’s “The Bodyguard” that is thrilling British TV audiences right now.

It’s a Shakespearian comedy, verging, at times, on farce.  And one can immediately understand why Ade Edmondson was cast as Malvalio in last year’s Royal Shakespeare production.  It’s a high comedy role but needs considerable light and shade to work throughout.  Unquestionably this is achieved in bucket loads by Christopher Green here in Edinburgh (transferring as a Co-Pro to Bristol Old Vic for a month from 17 October), he’s the star turn in a simply brilliant ensemble.

He certainly lives up to his famous line…

“Some are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon ’em.”

But my God it’s complicated.  Take this for a start.

In Shakespeare’s original (which this stays true to script-wise if not cast-wise).  Viola cross-dresses as a man to chase (but fall in love with) Olivia on behalf of his boss Orsino.   Viola having been cast adrift from her almost identical looking twin brother Sebastian.

Now, get what Wils Wilson does.

Viola is a black female.  That’s fine

Her identical brother, Sebastian, though, is a white female.  So they couldn’t possibly be mistaken as the same person.

Olivia.  That’s straightforward, she’s a white female.  Easy.

Orsino is a black female, not male.

So the love triangle is now three females, two of colour and the “identical twin”, also female, is white.  That makes the finale tricky if you aren’t concentrating.

Let’s chuck in Lord Tobi Belch.  Not a Lord.  A lady.  Which makes his, sorry her, suitoring of the maid, Maria, very 21st century.

I don’t say any of this to pass judgement because it’s a key constituent of what makes this production so enthralling.  But it’s complicated (as if it wasn’t anyway.)

So we have sex and skin colour deviations from the source material but we also, as you might expect, have a time-shift to deal with.  It’s set in the summer of love (1960’s sometime) at a party, or perhaps in a commune, where the bored or drugged partygoers suggest they “do” Twelfth Night.

That then places the musical ensemble, led with gusto by the one off that is Aly Macrae, in a musical nirvana which is a huge opportunity for composer Meilyr Jones (who also plays Curio).

And it has to be great because, after all, as the bard himself says (Act 1 scene 1)  “If music be the food of love, play on.”

It is, and they do.

In fact the music is outstanding, immediately likeable, tuneful and with a real groove (I loved it) and it gifts Curio, Feste (brilliant performance by Dylan Read) and Auguecheek (Guy Hughes) almost unlimited show stopping moments.

Feste had us rolling in the aisles – at one point we were treated to a Marti Feldman moment that is burned onto my retina.

I cared a little less for Dawn Seivewright’s Lady Tobi as I felt it was just a little too 100% full on, although it is a massive performance.

The set design by Ana Inés Jabares-Pita – try saying that after a few Chardonnays doll – is enthralling and remains beautiful throughout.

The costumes are triumphal.

And, of course, the whole thing would just be a conundrum wrapped up in an enigma without the brilliant direction and vision of director Wils Wilson.

This is gonna be a great export from Scotland when it hits Bristol later this year.  In the meantime fellow Scots, get yersel’ along.

 

 

 

 

 

De Fuut by Richard Jordan Productions at Summerhall.


Big in Belgium, Richard Jordan Productions, Theatre Royal Plymouth, RBC

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De Fuut is a bird.  That bird above.

Birds feature thematically in Bastiaan Vandendriessche’s eery, creepy, threatening, really, really scary creepshow.

“What I would really like to do
is go to a desert island with Leda and Emma,
or sail away with the sperm whale
we are lying on the deck
in our swimming costumes
and I tell them stories about
the destruction of the world
about the futility of life
we compose 200 songs together
with the best ironic poetry there is
and I would never hurt them
I would just be very kind and they would too
and we would never go to sleep
they would kiss me on my neck
they kiss me on my neck”

You see, he’s a child molester.  A groomer.  A Sea Scout leader with a penchant for 13 year old girls.  But you know, not just little girls, he’s slept around with men and women.

He’s all cooled out at his desk, telling us of his exploits.  Not boasting, just sharing.  In his green Kaftan, His love of a Scandi solo performer (Ride?) is apparent as he shares his love for him with us.

The set is a shambolic corner of a large venue with us crammed in so he can get close and personal.  A lot of whispering happens in this show.  Sick whispering.  And shouting. Real anger directed at audience members.  This is not for the faint hearted.

It’s an emotional bastard of a piece.

It’s a bit sick, but it’s also a bit brilliant.

Vandendriessche is amazing.  Utterly hateful.  Utterly charming.  Utterly handsome. Utterly Nabokov.

You have to make your own decisions about seeing this very challenging piece of theatre.  It’s not for everyone, in fact it’s hardly for anyone.  But it’s why theatre is important and can challenge society.  It’s uber-Summerhall.  Thank fuck we have this venerable establishment.

Alongside the Traverse, that is pulling no punches with Underground Railroad Game and Ulster American, I have had a Fringe that already has delivered spine-tinglingly challenging thought provocation on a grand scale.  This does it in a very small, very intimate, very creepy, very Belgian way.

Then again, you might just think it’s a thing by a peado. (I didn’t think it was!)

Underground Railroad Game by Ars Nova at The Traverse.


Soho Theatre presents the Ars Nova production.

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The Traverse is ON FIRE this Fringe.  I expect them to win three, maybe four, Fringe firsts at the weekend. (This show, Ulster American and What Girls are Made of, for sure.  I hear great things about others too, including Class and Coriolanus Vanishes.)

But this one troubled me last night.  To say it’s shocking would be an understatement (as shocking as Ulster American?  No.  But very, very challenging).  The two stand comparison because they touch on American political issues with nerves of steel and no apologies for their subject matter – in both cases they are rooted in America’s past, its heritage, its DNA.

What UA does is present that as befuddled birthright to Ireland.

Here too it’s based on a confusion about heritage.  But the much darker heritage of slavery.  America’s shame.

In a society where mixed race relationship, marriage and family upbringing is hardly uncommon, particularly in democratic cities like New York, LA and so on, what this play examines is the underlying racism that says those relationships are actually outliers, that racism is endemic EVEN in those that truly believe they are in touch with their African American side.  No, not in touch with it, IN LOVE with it.

And so Ars Nova have written and perform this shocking exposition of that endemic racism by playing two school teachers, one black, one white who seem to fall in love, set against a backdrop of a participative (and mandatory) school history lesson.  We, the audience, are the pupils playing the Underground Railroad Game.

Any one unaware of this phenomenon should read Colson Whitehead’s Pulitzer winning novel The Underground Railroad.  It’s a semi-metaphor for the work of the white  abolitionists who took their own lives in their hands to shepherd slaves into freedom in the north and Canada for nothing other than pity (and perhaps shame).

The teachers are played by Jennifer Kidwell and Scott R Sheppard who wrote the play and what performances these are.  Brave, energetic (sweat drenched), vulnerable, funny and, oh yes, challenging.

So far, so good.

Where it becomes harder to deconstruct is where the humour stops and the hatred starts.  It also challenges the Scottish audience with quite a few North American cultural references I didn’t understand, but you can get over that.

Clearly some of the audience had done their homework better than other because the opening scene in which a slave woman (Kidwell) is discovered in the barn of a quaker abolitionists (Sheppard) both dressed in cliched, almost cartoon, costumes drew howls of laughter whilst the rest of us thought, what’s funny about that?  In the context of the whole and in hindsight it is, of course, funny because this play is about undermining the tropes of slavery.  It’s out there to DESTROY the tropes. To smash the fuck out of them.

In a series of disjointed vignettes the story (as it is, it’s not really a story, it’s a polemic) takes shape and we realise that the protagonists although falling in love do so from different perspectives. White man Sheppard is actually falling in lust, but maybe in love with the idea that ‘a bit of black’ would be a pretty cool thing to experience and would possibly add to his street cred. (Not among the real racists, mind – and if you know Avenue Q you’ll know that “Everyone’s a little bit racist’.)

Black woman Kidwell quickly spots this because seemingly innocent statements made by Rockwell are deconstructed very differently in the brain of a Black African American woman whose ancestors were almost certainly slaves.  And she doesn’t like it.

So we’ve established the premise.  It’s brave enough in its own right.  As an idea.  But to make it sing Ars Nova just go ‘Fuck it, let’s make this thing sing. Let’s not beat around the bush” – yes that’s a deliberate vagina gag).  And so it goes full tilt into DESTROYING those tropes.  I’ll not go into any detail because that really would move me into spoiler territory.

Let me just say that it goes where most liberal theatre fears to tread and for that Ars Nova deserve all the credit they will get.  I personally found it a little hard to follow the narrative thread – I think I was trying to read to much into it at the time – and I found it troubling.

But having reflected on it overnight I am more sure of its message.  An important and brave one.

And so I conclude, not without indecision, that this is a tremendous piece of theatre that should be seen and enjoyed by its sell out audiences.  But do not go to this if you are easily offended – or you will be poleaxed.