Rhinoceros: Royal Lyceum Theatre


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To give you a deep insight into Rhinoceros, here’s a cat.  And three fledgling fascists.

If Theatre of the Absurd kicked off with Becket’s Godot it may have reached its zenith in Ionesco’s work; most famously in Rhinoceros.

It’s not a big stretch of the imagination for the audience to understand the concept that’s being ridiculed in this 1959 play about the pre WWII rise in fascism.

The way in which it overwhelmed an intelligent, educated and huge populace of Germany (in Nazism), but many other European countries too,  does seem, on reflection, absurd but terrifyingly so.

And you’re left in no doubt that this is an absurdist comedy in Zinnie Harris’ epic production, because the word is liberally sprinkled throughout the script.

And you’re also left in no doubt that what was a mid 20th century phenomenon is prescient in these pre-Brexit days where the threat of religious war hangs heavily over us all, tainted as it is with accusations of brainwashing, fundamentalism and all sorts of ‘-ification’.

Ionesco saw 1930’s fascist ideological conformity as abhorrent (and like us he had the benefit of hindsight).  His response was an absurd construct that portrays the emerging nazi’fication’ of Europe as a metaphor.  Ordinary people’s metamorphosis from essentially liberal political belief-sets and world views to the fundamental acceptance of extremes of right wing doctrine was, in his play, like turning from humans into rhinocerii.

Absurd.

And yet it happened.  And, like a plague, the more it became ideologically acceptable the more it became the accepted norm.

Few felt able to challenge and rail against it. And the more the pendulum swung the more

One of the few, in Ionesco’s world, is a simple village drunk called Berenger (played enthusiastically and engagingly by Robert Jack) who simply doesn’t understand what the world is rhinocerising.

His friends (led by the ever brilliant Steve McNicholl) gradually desert him as he becomes a lone voice of not even reason, just questioning.

It’s in parts hysterical, in parts just a bit too full-on to assimilate and in parts beautiful.

The live score by Oguz Kaplangi is mesmerising. (I will go again to see this simply to decode his incredible soundscaping of the piece with music, sound effects and rhythmic underscoring – it’s a gem of a thing).

What it’s not, is logical.  This is theatre you need to engage your brain to enjoy.  I liked that.  And yet it has a simple charm that makes it palatable.  For the most part you can simply enjoy the obvious metaphor and the fun that Zinnie Harris’ ensemble cast bring to the stage.

It’s laugh out loud many times.

And it’s fresh as a daisy.  Albeit one that’s grown through a cow pat.

 

 

I,Tonya: Movie Review.


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Alongside some of its more highbrow Oscar contenders I expected I, Tonya to be a little lightweight and, whisper it, maybe one that’s really more for the ladies than the gents.

Not so.  This movie has balls.

It tells the true life story.  (Wait a minute, who says it’s true? Ed.  Ah, good point Ed. the opening is heavily disclaimered regarding the truth and whose story is correct.)

It tells a multi-faceted rendering of the happenings that surrounded Tonya Harding’s rise from poor American trailer trash to, well, just managing American trailer trash, with a tilt at winning the Olympic figure skating Gold medal, as favourite, along the way.

It’s a rags to rags story in which poor Tonya has to suffer more than probably any global superstar ever before to make her claim for fame; ending instead in infamy.

Margot Robbie not only stars as the eponymous lead but produced the film and, in similar fashion to Charlize Theron in Monster,  ditches her stunning good looks for hair, make up and wardrobe (train tracks and all) that makes her, frankly, a mess.

Her back story, brilliantly and hilariously told in pretty short order, deals with a life (allegedly) mired in terrible abuse; firstly from her disgusting ‘Skating Mom’ played brilliantly (and a cert for an Oscar) by Alison Janney (West Wing) and her equally disgusting young husband (Sebastian Stan).  The opening scene, as a three year old skating prodigy being brought to her first skate class, is hysterical and sets the tone for the rest of the movie.

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Somehow, despite this tram-smash of a life, Harding rises above it all and bulldozes her way through the middle-class American skating hierarchy into prime position thanks not only to her generally brilliant ability but, in particular, to her nailing the Triple Axel.

That’s when it all goes wrong.

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You’ll know why, so I won’t bore you with the details.  But suffice it to say the hapless events that follow are particularly well enacted by her ‘security’ Shawn (Paul Walter Hauser); reminding me of Four Lions.

Suffice it to say this movie is great.  The acting is universally superb.  The skating scenes are entirely convincing, the humour (black as the ace of spades) is laugh out loud time and again, and the way that Harding is dealt her cards, and the beatings she takes both physical and mental, are abhorrent and repulsive.

Robbie is a revelation in the role and has joined the Hollywood A list as a consequence.  I can’t wait to see her in Mary Queen of Scots (alongside, count them, no fewer than eight other announced roles) and whilst she won’t beat Frances McDormand to the coveted Best Female Lead in March this performance has set a new bar for which she can only progress beyond.

Bravo.  If I had a red rose I’d throw it on the ice right now.

(The soundtrack, all the best worst American MOR ever, is great too.)

 

Lady Bird: Movie Review.


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Although this movie explores much trodden territory – a Catholic schoolgirl’s coming of age movie – it’s one for parents of around my age (50’s) rather than the teen lead it features.  In that role Saiorse Ronan deservedly nets another Oscar nomination (sadly for her she is up against the imperious Frances McDormand and therefore cannot win) in a performance that is as real and as raw as any you’ll see this year.

But it’s not just Ronan’s performance that makes this the movie it is. It’s the triangular relationship between her (a disillusioned small town girl from Sacramento who dreams of the creativity and urban rawness of East Coast New York) her driven, ambitious (for her daughter) and seemingly hard-hearted, unemotional mother (Laurie Metcalfe) and her long-suffering, delightful father (Tracy Letts).

How the three deal with one another and how those relationships play out are at the heart of a movie that touches the heart-strings many times.

Take a hankie.

It’s not damning Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut with faint praise by describing it as nice because it really is, in the finest tradition of the word, a truly nice cinematic experience.  It has grit, humour and emotion, but the overwhelming take out is just how ‘nice’ it is.

The first act is hilarious in which ‘Lady Bird’, the given name (given to herself) of Christine, her best friend Julie and her first boyfriends enact small time life, love and prom-going.

The setting, in an all girls’ Catholic High School, lends itself to much hilarity, with some excellently original rebellion.  My favourite scene is where ‘Lady Bird’ and Julie scoff a tub of communion wafers whilst talking about sex. (“It’s OK.  They’re not consecrated.”)

Although the gradual sexual fulfilment that Lady Bird experiences is nothing new Ronan’s performance keeps you interested, and when the consequences lead to confrontations and discussions between her and her parents – rarely acted out as a three hander because Mum and Dad lead separate (although still loving) lives – the movie reveals its depth.

It’s the relationship between mother and daughter that is the real dramatic grit in thi particular oyster.  Here Gerwig teases out brilliance by both actors and it’s the result of this difficult ‘ambitious-mom’ tension that drives the movie.

As the film reaches its climax how that plays out is what results in the handkerchief moments and leaves you emotionally satisfied in a movie that is greater than the sum of its parts.