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.)

 

Loveless (Nelyubov): Movie review


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I’m not familiar with the work of Andrey Zvyagintsev, although his previous movie, Leviathan, got a BAFTA nomination (as this has) for Best Film not in the English Language.

However, I’m reliably informed he has a ‘style’ consistent with that on display in Loveless that could most accurately be described as; bleak.

Shot in naturalistic (i.e. low) light in the depths of Russian winter it makes little or no concession to cinematic gloss.  Although the extremely sparingly applied soundtrack by Evgeny and Sasha Galperin is strangely brilliant.

Loveless is the story of a 12 year old boy in Moscow who disappears after hearing a vicious argument between his, very much, not in love parents, neither of whom want the responsibility of bringing him up once their impending divorce is settled.

It’s a slow burn after that as we follow the search for the young boy who has left no clues as to how, why or where he is.

It portrays Moscow in as bleak a light as any you’ll have seen since those gritty 60’s/70’s German/Polish dirges and yet it’s kind of compelling.  It’s actually quite engrossing, even as you reel at the circumstances that have led to his parents’ estrangement and weirdly unemotional connection with the situation they find themselves in.

Loveless is the perfect title for a movie that deals with intimacy, relationship and familial bonds without even a shred of real love being displayed.

Frankly, it’s horrible, but don’t let that put you off.  It’s a fine piece of art if not a multiplex filler.

 

Three. Is the magic number. Calling all you Intelligent Finance [sic] customers out there.


Is Intelligent Finance the dumbest bank in the world?
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0845 xxx xxxx. Intelligent Finance’s Home Page and Security Page contact number.

This morning I thought “It’s champagne time – Intelligent Finance [sic] have, after 3 years of constantly asking them, updated their customer phone number”.
But no, only on 2 of their 3 customer facing pages.
The one when you are actually looking at your account is STILL WRONG.
They’re still Dullard Finance.
Incompetence beyond comprehension frankly.
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0345 xxx xxxx.  Intelligent Finance’s Accounts Page, where you can see your balance etc and might decide you need to call them to query something – by now you are through security and, of course, failed to write down the correct phone number while you were there on the assumption that the number would be correct throughout the site.  But, you know when happens when you assume.  Yes,  U make and ASS out of ME

 So, as I entitled this elegant thought-piece, Three. Is the magic number.  As I will leave De la Soul to prove.

Phantom Thread by Paul Thomas Anderson: Movie Review.


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I lay in bed for some time this morning tossing about in my mind how best to convey the impact of Phantom Thread.  I’ve only got one shot at this and I don’t want to tarnish my impression by getting all luvvie about it, or resorting to my overused canon of superlatives.  I will try therefore to create a picture that captures my sense of wonder as I sat in Edinburgh’s Cameo cinema last night watching the masters at work; those masters being Paul Thomas Anderson and Daniel Day-Lewis.

If, as is rumoured, we are never to see Day-Lewis on our screens again this should be cause for mourning because the man has no peer – he has won three of his leading actor Oscars (from 5 nominations) and this is his sixth.  There’s a reason for that.

In Phantom Thread, Day-Lewis is caressed by PTA’s quite stunning camerawork (not only did he write and direct the movie, he is its cinematographer to boot) in a way that is usually reserved for leading ladies. (Darren Aranofsky was accused of overdoing so in his fine Mother! with his muse and real life partner Jennifer Lawrence last year.)  But that’s because it’s as if PTA is trying to squeeze every ounce of juice out of Day-Lewis’s colossal performance.  It’s hardly surprising because Day-Lewis takes craggy, older man, handsomeness to a new scale (he was 60 during filming).

He plays a 1950’s London based couturier with a client list of Royalty and society movers and shakers.  Clinically obsessed with quality this makes him mildly sociopathic and he is certainly ‘on the scale’.  He’s kept in check by an icy protector – his sister Cyril: an aloof Lesley Manville, in a career-defining-performance in which she constantly reminded me of Anna Massey’s Mrs Danvers in Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca – the TV adaptation from 1979.

Day-Lewis’s personal tics, foibles, routine, sense of decorum and inner sociopathic tendencies simmer just below, occasional breaching, the surface for the entire two and a bit hours of this masterful performance and represent a case study in containment. For my money this is by far and away a superior acting achievement than Gary Oldman’s, show-stealing, Winston Churchill impersonation in the downright boring and turgid Darkest Hour.

His confirmed bachelorhood, devotion (or certainly commitment) to his sister and a necessary effeteness, in keeping with his status as a master dressmaker, suggest initially that Day Lewis’s character, Reynolds Woodcock, is assuredly homosexual.  But this is quickly dispelled upon a weekend trip to ‘the country’ in a humorously ‘overcranked’ road trip to Whitby in a gorgeous burgundy Bristol 405.

In his lodgings Woodcock meets, and immediately invites to dinner, the breakfast waitress who quickly becomes his lover and muse, thereby dispelling any homosexuality theories.   Alma, a European girl, of indistinct national origin (although actress Vicky Krieps is from Luxembourg) is sweet, defiantly ‘un beautiful’ in the classic flimstar definition, with breasts that are ‘too small’ and a face that has a rugged outdoors sensitivity.  She soon matches Day-Lewis for lingering camera sweeps as the movie settles into a slow thesis on what becomes a complex power struggle of a relationship; in which Cyril makes three.

Krieps is surprisingly missing from most awards shortlists which amazes me because she is no third best in this tremendous acting menage.  Her performance is spare and engrossing and she trades punches all the way with both Day-Lewis and Manville.

Silk, organza and lace also feature lovingly in a pean to the craftsmanship of dressmaking. Indeed, such was PTA and DDL’s attention to detail that PTA hired seamstresses rather than actors to play the boutique roles, and DDL learned to sew,  making his wife a dress, in his classic method practice.

Sitting high in the credits, and rightly so, is Production Designer Mark Tildesley, because he creates a sense of place that marks this is a classic period drama.  This is aided and abetted by the extraordinary film grain that PTA elects to use, to further enhance Tildesley’s sense of place (if not time – not time because movies of that era would be either super saturated colour or black and white, the film grain he employs is redolent, instead, of amateur photography of the period).

And lastly, I have to make mention of the extraordinary score by Jonny Greenwood.  Nothing could be further from his Radiohead work.  It is classically styled with nods to Chopin in particular and underscores the movie almost throughout.  This adds a sense of wonder so some of the slower, more crafted, scenes where action is at a premium.

All in all this has reinstated Paul Thomas Anderson as my favourite director after his one career slip with the abysmal Inherent Vice.  It sits alongside Punch Drunk Love, Magnolia, There will be Blood and The Master as film making of craft and distinction.

I sat with mouth agape, grinning like a 50’s child watching a box set of Disney, for much of the film, in sheer wonderment at the genius that is Paul Thomas Anderson.

It is not to be missed, although, be warned, it moves along at a pace that could best be described as languid.

 

Fire and Fury. Inside the Trump White House.


I’m reading this mind spinning book and one third of way through I think I have the measure of The Donald.

Basically it’s pretty easy to get a gig as a special advisor to the POTUS.  You don’t actually need any talent.

Anyway. I have spotted the main flaw in his presidency and so I’d like to share a bit of consultancy advice that I’ve used in first year advertising lectures in the past.

It’s a familiar statement that many of you will know but if heeded could transform his premiership.

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Can I have a job now please Mr President?