Angels in America Parts 1 and 2, National Theatre Live: Review.


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Eight hours in a theatre (or in this case my two favourite cinemas; The Cameo in Edinburgh for Part 1 and The Hippodrome in Bo’ness for Part 2) is a daunting prospect, especially when the subject matter threatens to overwhelm you emotionally.

In fact it is a breeze because the writing of Tony Kushner and the direction of Marianne Elliot (The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night) pepper this doomsday epic with both humour and beauty (in staging, lighting, sound and movement – it’s a technical masterpiece throughout).

The acting is uniformly brilliant with Andrew Garfield in the lead role of AIDS sufferer Prior Walter.  But the support he gets from Nathan Lane, in particular, is astounding.  Core ensemble shout outs also have to go to the entire cast especially Denise Gough, James McArdle, Nathan Stewart-Jarrett and Russell Tovey.

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Whilst, at times, you might want Garfield to slightly reign in the histrionics (and the fey gayness to be honest) you sit with bated breath waiting for Nathan Lane to go off on vitriolic outburst after hateful rant.  He plays a corrupt, gay bashing (ironic) lawyer who has no limit to what he will do to save himself (he too had AIDS but says it’s cancer, having spent his entire life in the closet, much to the disgust of most of the rest of the male gay cast).  He is the highlight of the show.

Although ostensibly a ‘gay fantasia’ the background of story is built largely on a religious platform.  The AIDS ‘plague’ has clear biblical connotations and the angels of the title are fantastical creations that are there to question morality, justice, belief and whether or not there is an afterlife.

The creation of the ‘main’ Angel played by six dancers/puppeteers and Amanda Lawrence as the angel itself is breathtakingly original and continuously mesmerising.  She’s magic.

I grew up during the ‘AIDS Epidemic’ and my home city of Edinburgh had to deal with an almost unique needle sharing problem, as well as the gay spread of the disease, (It’s well captured in Trainspotting) so, that meant it was as much a heterosexual issue as a homosexual one in Edinburgh,  Consequently, HIV/AIDS was very front of mind in this city.  Another reason that the story strongly resonated with me.

Two of the central characters are Mormons and that particular creed comes in for some pretty hefty slagging although overall you sense that Kushner has deep religious beliefs or at least is hedging his bets on whether there is a God.  The fact that both Louis and Nathan Lane’s evil character are both Jews is also an important part of the storyline and leads to considerable debate about the morals of that belief, compared to Christianity.

Politics, too, feature heavily in the storyline with a clear leaning towards both Socialism and the Democrats that make Reagan (the then leader) an object of ridicule.  Indeed Part Two is subtitled Perestroika with a certain reverence for it’s chief architect Gorbachov in evidence.

One of the lead characters (a gay nurse, Belize) former lover of both Prior (Garfield) and Luois (McArdle) and an ex drag queen is black and proud of it. As he nurses Lane’s character (Roy Cohn) this opens up another topic for Kushner to at times hilariously, at times terrifyingly, exploit; racism.  The man is a pig and it’s all that Belize can do to maintain his dignity and ethical professionalism to tolerate the monster that he tends.  In fact a relationship develops that is, at times, surprisingly tolerant and even tender.

Meanwhile closet gay and Mormon, Joe Pitt (Tovey), married to valium addicted Harper (the superb Denise Gough) is straying into an experimental homosexual exploration of his sexuality with Louis (former lover of both Belize and Prior) this has massive personal  consequences.  McArdle in particular plays a really strong supporting role and has the subtlety to play his part with conviction and sympathy.  He’s the ‘tart with a heart’ but can’t deal with all the consequences of these tumultuous times for the world’s gay population.

It’s complicated.  And that’s why Kushner needs eight hours to unravel the labyrinthian plot and the fundamental BIG questions it tackles, but he does so with great skill and lightness of touch.

The National Theatre are to be applauded for reviving this monumental work.  And it’s to our great fortune that we can experience it (from essentially front row seats) in small movie theatres all over the world.

A production that has wowed audiences and critics alike, I expect to see it pick up many more London Theatre awards.  If you get the chance to see it when NTLive does a reprise, kill for tickets.

Laurence O’Keefe. My new favourite Musical theatre writer.


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In the past fortnight I have had the pleasure of being in the audience for two Larry O’Keefe Shows.  Batboy: The Musical and Heathers: The Musical.

He is best known for Legally Blonde.

I have yet to see Legally Blonde, but the two lesser shows in his income stream are both outrageous, hilarious, original and compelling from start to finish.

Both productions were university musical theatre society shows (Batboy: Glasgow Uni Cecilians and Heathers: Dundee Uni Operatic Society) and both were triumphs.

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His style is, shall we say, unorthodox and treads in the same furrow as Avenue Q, Jerry Springer The Opera and, I imagine not having seen it, Book of Mormon.

Irreverent, rude, taboo challenging.

If you’ve seen Avenue Q you’ll love ‘Everyone’s a little bit racist’ and that’s a good reference point as in these O’Keefe shows we get zero racism BUT we DO get insights into incest, homophobia, mental health issues, gang rape, mouth sword fencing and a smattering of other ‘uncomfortable’ observations.

Foul language, extreme sexual references and semi-nudity pepper both shows.  They are a delight and I will forever be looking for Fringe and amateur productions in the years to come.

Thank you Larry.  You’ve made me very happy.

 

 

Sunset Song : film review.


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Sunset Song is a classic Scottish novel, part of a trilogy by Lewis Grassic Gibbon and much loved by many, many people (including my wife).

I confess to having not read it, so had no particular expectations when approaching this movie which happens to have been made possible by two of my friends, Bob Last and Ginnie Atkinson.

It will divide audiences because the pace is slow.

Glacial.

But I loved it.

Much media attention has focussed on the casting of supermodel come actor Agyness Deyn (completely contrived name) as a Mancunian playing a seminal Scottish role but I have to say I liked her performance, and her accent.  The scene in which she learns of her husband’s war news is particularly well acted.

Of course this movie is about Terence Davies.  He makes very few but when he does they tend to be statements about British life and, for me, this is another great entry in his canon of work.

Davies could have made a feminist statement through Deyn’s character, had she been more assertive, but he resists the temptation and instead  reflects the male dominance of relationships in the early 20th century (leading up to and including the first world war).

Two and a bit hours, with zero action, and not much dialogue can’t be most people’s cup of tea (much has been made of the regular return to a certain corn field but, you know what, I didn’t care).

It is a languid and lovely observation of a lifestyle that is long past and male dominated.

Special mentions for the ever brilliant Peter Mullan (a beastly father) and a great performance by Kevin Guthrie as the husband of the central character.

 

 

Is modern art rubbish? Robert Florczak certainly thinks so.


In this passionately argued but humungously pompous and highly opinionated (That’s rich. Ed) five minute video Robert Florczak destroys ALL modern art in a sweeping and ridiculous generalisation.

You have to watch it.

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My favourite section in the video is the bit where he explains, in triumph, about this question he poses to his graduate art students.

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He claims that after they have provided eloquent and highly considered answers he reveals that in fact it is not a Jackson Pollock. It’s a close up of his painting apron.

I don’t believe this story. You know why? Because THIS is a Jackson Pollock painting and it doesn’t look even remotely similar.

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A point worth noting is that these students are studying art under Robert Florczak who teaches at Prager University.

Yes, exactly. Prager University?

And here is one of his ‘paintings’.

Nothing particularly bad about it, in fact, quite the opposite, but it is modern art (in that it was created at a point after impressionism) and it couldn’t hold a candle to a Caravagio.

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Maybe Robert Florczak should be advised to keep his ridiculous generalisations to himself. Or simply stop practicing his art.

The Salt of the Earth : documentary review.


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You may not consider a two hour documentary, that is in large part a slideshow of Brazilian Social photographer Sebastião Salgado’s portfolio, featuring many, many dead and mutilated bodies, a significant proportion of them children and babies would be the recipe for entertainment but, trust me, it is.

This movie, co-directed and produced by Wim Wenders and Salgado’s son Juliano Ribeiro Salgado, should be essential viewing for anyone with any interest in humanity, humanitarian aid and politics because the vast bulk of it covers Salgado’s career as a  social photographer who specialised in capturing images of large populations of the displaced and downtrodden or victims of natural disaster and war.  This takes in Eritrea, Rwanda, Kosovo, the Oil fires of Kuwait, left in Saddam’s wake, and the biblical and truly epic nature of his most famous work; the gold mines of Brazil where up to 50,000 men gold prospected in deep pits of mud.

Wender narrates and Salgado Jr and Hugo Barbier share cinematography duties.  That’s no small undertaking as they are filming a master at work and in the flesh, but somehow their cameras are every bit as inspiring as Salgado Sr’s.

As the film develops we see where this fame has taken Salgado, back to his native Brazil where he has established  a conservation project of such dramatic scale that it has been transformed into a natural park.  It’s a remarkable achievement.

Salgado’s photography places him in the most esteemed company in photographic history (with Ansell Adams he ranks as my personal favourite – coincidentally both photograph strictly in monochrome).  What makes this tribute so moving is Salgado’s personal reminiscences of how he witnessed children die and wars that are so utterly pointless.

At one point we see an image of a man placing his dead baby onto a vast pile of dead bodies – of Holocaust proportions.  Salgado says, and I paraphrase, “He turned away almost chatting to his friend so inured was he to the horror in which he was living.”

Towards the end it all gets too much for him, he very nearly breaks down.  The audience is with him the way.

This is a must see film.  Really must see on so many levels.  A straight 10/10.