THE HUNGER GAMES: Catching Fire. Aflame!


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“THE HUNGER GAMES: Catching Fire” is a significant improvement on its anemic predecessor. The change from the middle-of-the-road, plain-vanilla Gary Ross (with such heart-warmers to his credit as “Seabiscuit” and “Pleasantville”) to Francis Lawrence (“I am Legend”) was a major upgrade. The tone of “PG/let’s offend-no-one” that neutered any real dense of danger and edge in HG1 has been replaced by a darker, dirtier, bloodier mood. Though we know Katniss Evergreen (Jennifer Lawrence) the badass female protagonist, will of course survive, Lawrence’s direction and Lawrence’s grittiness really do deliver the kind of edge of the seat excitement that the books offered and the first one failed at.

“HG: Catching Fire” has no doubt been helped considerably by the fact that there is no need to tamper down the adrenaline by long, dull back-story explanations (which was one of the factors that bogged down the original). Most of the viewers I imagine come to the movie with some sense of its back-story: The games are the annual live entertainment sport in which a team of (mainly) young persons chosen from their districts, fight for their lives, to the delight and enjoyment of all. It’s the way the government of the Districts of Panem keeps the population compliant and entertained, even as they suffer and starve. Katniss and her partner, Peeta Mellark (a bland Josh Hutcherson who looks like a computer animation that wandered in from “Grand Theft Auto”) are the previous year’s winners. This is an accolade that has lifted them out of the grinding poverty in which almost all of the inhabitants of Panem live, and has permitted them to join its 1%: the indolent, sybaritic rich. Frankly, even if you’ve been unaware of this basic plot, it’s not hard to catch up on, since we all seem to live in Panem these days.

“HG: Catching Fire” focuses on the aftermath of Katniss’ victory; and in particular, the spunk and rebelliousness she displayed in securing this victory – which she did on her’s and not on the Government’s terms. Her rebelliousness has clearly caught a spark and there’s revolution in the air.

These new games are the sinister plan of President Snow (a white maned, silkily malevolent Donald Sutherland) and his games master, Plutarch Heavensbee (a smug, cocky Philip Seymour Hoffman) who intend to show-up Katniss as a typical, callous, take-no-winners survivalist, and thereby end her populism. As they say, little do they know.

It took the Harry Potter franchise several movies before it could swing into the kind of self-assured confidence that this movie exudes. Francis Lawrence focuses on breathlessly driving the plot forward; he doesn’t dwell on the movie’s art direction (the first one spent more time gawking on its set décor than on its characters) and gives us enough of the key characters to generate the hiss and ooh factors. Stanley is back as the unctuous MC Caesar Flickerman, all fake tan, fake smiles, fake whitened teeth and fake bonhomie.

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Lennie Kravitz gives us a nice cameo as Katness’ dress and image-maker, Cinna; Woody Harrelson remains her mentor, Haymitch Abernathy, but fortunately there’s less of him hamming it up. And we’re also introduced to the ever mercurial, understated Jeffrey Wright as one of the contenders, Beetee.

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But really this is Jennifer Lawrence’s movie. She’s in virtually ever scene. She’s totally convincing (I’d even rate her the winner should there ever be an archery fight off between her and Legolas) and, especially when she’s interacting with Katniss’ male admirers (Hutcherson’s Meelark and Liam Hemsworth’s Gale Hawthorne), she shines as the only pro in the room. She’s also grown up in the last year. Here America’s new sweet-heart (replacing the once talented Jennifer Aniston) is more sophisticated, elegant, mature.

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Can’t wait for the two-part finale of the series, “The Hunger Games, Mockingjay”, Parts 1 and 2 in 2014 and 2015.

Blue is the Warmest Colour: Luke Warm


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THE STORYLINE OF “Blue is the Warmest Colour” follows a very formal structure that suggests its meta-narrative: Scenes of eating and drinking (suggesting a sensuous satisfying of desire, a sense of ‘appetite’ needing both physical as much as emotional fulfillment), song, dance and partying (as expressions of joy, rebellion, passion) sex (full on, beautiful, voyeuristic) and lots and lots of talk (after all it’s a French film, so the chatter veers from a discussion of Sartre’s essence and existence dialectic to a discussion of the relative merits of Klimt over Schiele). As the story unfolds and darkens, the quartet of food, song, sex and talk is shifted and tears replace song.

Director Adbdellatif Keriche’s self imposed structure allows his story to unfold slowly and naturalistically while offering his audience a map of the deeper, more symbolic dimensions of the tale.

The story is essentially that of the young, innocent Adele (Adele Exarchopoulos, who really does deliver an engagingly unaffected, honest portrayal of ‘young love’) whose tentative forays into love and sexual identity lead her into the arms of Emma (Lea Seydoux) a girl with blue hair, with whom she falls instantly in love. Her fall for Emma is all-consuming; and it is with Emma that she discovers or at least releases a depth of passion and sexual desire that cannot be constrained and that, in the end, kills their relationship. As Emma’s hair evolves away from its artificial blue to its more natural auburn, so too does the warmth of the (artificial?) relationship cool.

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The philosophical hub of the story lies in one of the ‘talky’ discussions of Sartre’s existential essence/existence hypotheses. Adele is, in narrative terms, all “essence”. She is pure, innocent, animal lust and passion. Despite the taunts of her class-mates as they try to define her (accurately as it turns out) as a “pussy eater”, Adele herself eludes a simple definition. If anything, it’s her love for Emma that defines her. There is no Adele beyond Emma and sex. She is, in her immaturity, unable to emerge from the cocoon of her essence into an existence in the social world. And Emma seeks to fill this vacuum by trying to shape the kind of Adele she desires: intellectual, artistic, Bohemian. But this is a false – artificial – ideal; and it is only through hurt and a valley of tears (Exarchopolous ‘does’ tears well), in other words, growing up, that Adele can grasp a sense of who she really is (she can eventually define herself as a teacher, a job or which she is well suited).

We know that she has reached a point of self-realization when, at the end, she has the will to wander away from one of Emma’s arty ‘scenes’ and is wearing a blue dress. Da dum! That’s why blue is the warmest colour. Keriche’s hit you over the head signifier makes this quite clear.

This movie recently won the prestigious Palme d’Or, the coveted prize from the 2013 Cannes Film festival. And it has certainly been garlanded with a bouquet of five star ratings. So I guess it must be great.

Most of the reviews revel in the honesty of the portrayals and the unabashed emotional and physical vulnerability of the two actors and in particular of the lead actor, Adele Exarchopolous. They were certainly spellbinding performances, and director Keriche’s voyeuristic camera keep us unnervingly close to Adele as she swoons with love, shudders with orgasmic bliss and simpers with snot-filled anguish.

My concern with the movie was twofold.

Firstly, I found the (delightful, gorgeous, erotic, semi-pornographic) love scenes intrusive and bordering on a sort of arty, auteur-director protected rape. When Cameron shot “The Titanic” the artist/model scene when Leo paints the naked Kate Winslet, brilliantly balanced titillation with taste. There is a similar artist/model scene in “Blue…” but here, the camera’s eye leers, slowly, longingly, on her nakedness; it ogles her naked legs, pauses and reluctantly passes her shaven vagina until it alights and exults in the full glistening nubile delights of the director’s prize. No wonder the two actors felt violated by him (a violation that I guess has been tempered by the resulting adulation and praise). There is a lot of hot, sweaty, deeply intimate, extended scenes of male-fantasy copulation. But, no animals were injured in the production: they used prosthetic vaginas.

Maybe my reservation about it all is just a matter of taste. One blogger’s judgment v the praised judgment of a celebrated director. Take your pick.

What’s not a matter of taste is that of the complexity and depth of the story.

There isn’t any.

Despite the interesting structural format of his storytelling and the annoying, pseudo-erudition of his “talk” chapters (the script feels as though it had been written before Woody Allen savaged the kind of overt intellectual clap-trap his characters mouth, seemingly without irony), there’s really no “there”, there.

Mind you, this wasn’t an unpleasant way to spend three hours. But Palme d’Or? You gotta be kidding me!

Adoration of the Mystic Ghent


Along the reflective Lys

Along the reflective Lys

The historic heart of Ghent is a slender, Medieval girdle, stretching no further than a few roads beyond its embrace of the twin rivers, the Leie or Lys and the Scheldt. It is these two rivers that gave the city its riches, its raison d’etre and its –original- name: Ganda, a Celtic word for confluence. The Leie once brought the thriving wool business to Ghent and made it the largest and richest city of the Middle Ages after Paris. It – the river – now enjoys a less active life in its ripe middle age as it meanders forgetfully through the city, past the magnificent Graslei – the well restored, well loved cluster of sienna brown administrative offices and guild halls, all with their tall crenelated facades, with tops of tapering steps that lead up to nowhere.

The city’s munificence is mirrored, golden in the glassy surface of the river’s loving gaze. It’s as though, in case you hadn’t fully gasped at the city’s preserved elegance, its sense of historic might, the river was there it offer it up to you again – the upside down reflection of what life must have been when burgers with enough wealth to guarantee God’s remission of sins, strutted the teeming boardwalk.

It is along this river with its estuaries and canals, as brief as parentheses, with its stollers’ pathways and it slow tourist craft, offering up its panoramas like film strips viewed through tightly closed windows, that the city’s many faces greet the world. For beyond the pomp of the Graseli, as you pass beneath the beat of its many bridges, the innocuous fronts of shops and restaurants on the main roads conceal river facings that offer the kind of singular charm that you can only get from, say, a silent balcony, with table setting for two, cantilevered onto the tide, steeped in the grace of hosting six hundred years of river-mesmerized diners; or a small boat moored at the base of steps that disappear into a dark tunnel, a labyrinth that steals away from winter.

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Noticeably there are almost no trees in the wintry city. For all its beauty, its umber walls and gold-lit interiors are nowhere graced with green. There must clearly have been an ontological divide: the city was a place of commerce, Catholicism and community in which there was really no place for nature… which (if you wanted it) was found in abundance just without. This city/country combination was probably started in London, where, after the great fire, it slowly recreated itself over the next century or so as a paradise of parks and leafy enclaves. Emperor Napoleon III so admired this side of London (he lived there during ‘the troubles’) that he too re-crafted modern Paris into the city of parks and tree-lined boulevards we all so love.

In Ghent it is the ever-varying light that lifts the brick and tiles of the buildings into warmth and into distinct and changeable personalities. For it is the light that varies the world ahead offering change to the unchanging edifices. At this low tourism time of our visit, this late November time when the weather is mean, cold and dark and the days slip through your fingers like money in this expensive town, one day’s brilliantly bronzed dawn quickly becomes another day’s lingering mist. Eliot’s “yellow fog that runs its back upon the window-panes [and licks] its tongue into the corners of the evening,” finds its place here.

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It was probably on an evening just like this one, when people walked in shadows and all light was atomized into photons of greyness that a couple of monks bundled the twelve large wooden panels of the city’s most famous art-work, the van Eyck brothers’ “Adoration of the Mystic Lamb” into a hidden donkey cart. The panels, as heavy as elephants, were wrapped carefully in thick, swaddling cloths, but they must nevertheless have rattled so, as they shook along the street’s uneven cobbles, stealing away from the acquisitive lust of the stalking Nazis, intent upon their fuhrer’s command. Not only did he want the piece for his vast and growing collection of stolen art, but, guided by a small coterie of what can only be described as ‘unique visionaries’, he knew that the richly coded painting contained the secrets that would lead him to the arc of the covenant and thence on to Aryan victory.

Indiana Jones, we’ll never laugh at you again.

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The painting was saved (it had only been stolen eight times before) and is now on view at its host cathedral: the Cathedral of St. Bavo, which, like everything else in this city, has a variety of names. So when you’re searching for it along the church cluttered avenues, St. Bavo is also referred to as Sint-Baafs which morphs into Sint Baafskathedral. It’s large and labyrinthine enough to justify such a scatter of names, as I guess you’d expect of any place begun in 942, and added to for the next five hundred years.

Tucked into a small chapel just near the entrance to the cathedral, past a locked door, protected by a ticket booth that would not be out of place in front of a cheap cinema, stands this so desired treasure.

And what a treasure it is: begun in about 1430 by Hubert van Eyck and finished several years after his death by (the more famous of the two brothers,) Jan, the painting features over a hundred and fourty people: saints, popes, hermits, martyrs, righteous judges, a full angelic choir, not to mention God, Joseph, and Mary; Adam is there along with Eve, coyly hiding their nakedness, Caine and Able are poised for the first homicide, even Jan himself is there on a horse, sneaking a peek at us and buried under a cumbersome turban. Now this amount of people is a big deal. Though panel paintings were generally low in the pecking order compared with the artworks that really mattered to the gentry with the cash: tapestries, illustrated books, bejeweled ornaments and objects, and statues, this one must have cost its sponsors, Joos Vidj and his wife Elisabeth Borluut, a fortune (though a small price to pay for entry into the Pearly gates). This merchant class, mercantile culture appraised its artworks pretty much on the same yardstick they appraised, say cloth. If one was appraised by the yard, the other was appraised by the head. And this one had lots of them. Which may have been why, counseled by a team of academics and theologians so that the opaque world of symbolic references was right, the van Eyck brothers, noted portrait artists, using that radically new technique of oil paints, were selected. For this is essentially a portrait painting of God, along with His greatest hits – the annunciation and the Eucharist.

The painting was executed with such delicacy and care (bridging the perceptual with the conceptual) that the crown at God’s feet (symbolizing that He was king of kings and above all other terrestrial kingdoms) was painted with gold leaf pounded so thinly that van Eyck had to levitate it onto the canvas using the static electricity of a brush he’d rub in his hair.

statue of the van Eyck brothers with groupies

statue of the van Eyck brothers with groupies

It’s all there. Almost. All there but for the praedella – a kind of skirt that would have comprised maybe four more panels and that showed the counterpart to all this glorious redemption: hell. Some over eager priest removed the praedella in about 1540 to clean it. And it’s never been seen since.

Of course all this culture can be tiring; and there’s no city that’s nicer to be tired in than Ghent. Belgium is beer country and bars frequently boast hundreds of choices (which must make stock-keeping a nightmare). Since we’re not big beer folks, there were two bars that leaned in more heavily on cocktails that we visited frequently on our brief four-day visit (which is just about right): Bar Apotheque, where the mixologist concocted us a brew of Triple Sec, lemon syrup, a Campari-type liquor and wine. Soon enough I intend to replicate its magic a casa. The other bar is called Club Reserva, which boasts of being a live jazz bar and which once in the fog of the past, was the location of a woman’s place of refuge. Now it’s just a place of refuge where good drinks are offered to the sound of Billy Holliday.

And they say the best French food is to be found in Belgium. This is probably a nasty rumour spread by the Belgium tourist board (trying to divert our attention from their heinous King Leopold who initiated a slaughter of elephants for their tusks that nowadays would make him a proud man. He it was too who, egging on the slave trade in its twilight, taught the Congolese how to amputate limbs as punishment. Again, today, he’d be a proud man to see what he’s wrought).

I digress. The food is fabulous. Of note: The House of Elliot, a small, cluttered, wildly, ornately camp place that offers so many versions of lobster that if Forrest Gump had gone gay he’d love it. We did. Volta is a little way off the center (about 15 minutes of charm-free walking), and is a refreshingly young, modern, energized, hip place with great food. Call it hip haute. Finally (after all we were only there four days) there was Valentijn, a family run joint, decked out in the excruciatingly bad taste of a themed Valentine’s Day orgy: hearts everywhere, little twee frilly cushions, heart shaped candles etc. No matter. With your eyes closed, and with the soothing service of our amply endowed hostess, the service and food, like so much else in Ghent, were exceptional.

the castle of the Counts.

the castle of the Counts.

BLAM: Wow!


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BLAM IS A blast! This energetic, frenetic, wildly inventive, often hysterically funny production from Icelandic director Kristján Ingimarsson’s Neander company is a compelling evening’s entertainment. On at Sadler’s Wells Peacock theatre, it’s billed as “Die Hard Meets the Office”. That sort of describes what the production is all about.

Sort of.

The setting is that of an average, boring, bland office – one of those offices with low partitions so well loved by office planners with no money and less imagination and positioned to staff as “open plan seating”. It is here that three bored young men, trudging through a sedentary day of mindlessly monitoring glowing monitors and monitored themselves by a grim overlord supervisor, drift into daydream. The boom of a gurgling water-cooler seems to set things in motion when, as we enter into their (very boyish) daydream, things turn to mayhem. It starts when one of the young men sticks his hands into an empty desk file organizer which turns him (according to the wonderful sound track to which the production is choreographed) into Iron Man.

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And thus begins the start of the mayhem and the story, which (and I may have gotten the sequence of events screwed up, not that that matters much) morphs from Iron Man to Grand Theft Auto, where a hat stand turns into a gatling gun and a paper tube into a bazooka. From this we enter the shoot-out of Reservoir Dogs via the center of a kung-fu, slow-mo, flying dragon battle scene that leads past a fist fight from The Matrix performed by Abbot and Costelloe to Wall-e, who, dying like ET needs an emergency operation to literally spark him to life just as the heroic surgeon turns into the Hulk who has to battle the Wolverine, where pencils have become those famous adamantine claws, before the dread droids and transformers wreck the place. By this time the rear half of the stage has lifted off and, initially shifts to an acute angle from which the performers slide, fall and miraculously walk about, like the sliding deck of the sinking Titanic only (for the stage) to then turn entirely vertical, like an image from the Poseidon Adventure.

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Got that?

Neander bills itself as physical theatre. And they ain’t kidding. These immensely fit, agile performers are a combination of Marcel Marceau, Jacky Chan, Buster Keaton, Cirque de Soleil, Matthew Bourne and the Wachowski Brothers. At the same time. They effortlessly combine mime, stunts, dance, acrobatics and slapstick to fling the audience – joyously – into the heavy metalled, cinematic, pop coloured escapist world of three bored young men.

There’s a deeper idea driving this merry madness, that considers the extent to which our fantasies and our imaginings are so shaped by the contemporary culture around us; perhaps it is something that both neutralizes individuality and is a kind of Higgs boson binding us together

That said, this is a not to be missed experience that finished on 16th November. Hurry hurry!

GRAVITY: Out of this world


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“GRAVITY” IS SPECTACULAR. This masterpiece from director Alfonso Cuarón (“Y Tu Mama Tambien” “The Children of Men” and “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” with whose producer, David Heyman, Cuarón collaborated) is one of the most thrilling pieces of filmmaking I’ve seen in some time. It’s a simple enough story: a seemingly routine space mission is wrecked by flying debris while Matt Kowalsky (George Clooney), the experienced captain, Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock), a computer specialist on her first mission and Sharif (Phaldut Sharma), another anonymous astronaut, are drifting blissfully outside in the dark airless void, repairing a faulty computer connection. Sharif is killed instantly by a flying shard, as are the rest of the shuttle’s astronauts. Only Stone and Kowalsky, eventually, tethered together, survive. The challenge is to reach a distant decommissioned soviet shuttle before her oxygen runs out. To accomplish this, they must journey through an assault of speeding debris – razor sharp parts from their and from other destroyed shuttles (part of the airborne junk that’s littering our hemisphere).

The filmmaking is totally immersive, especially in the IMAX where I saw it. Cuarón seizes his audiences and relocates them right there with these two astronauts, stranded and helpless 200 miles above the earth. We see them, often as small specks of light floating in the void above the glowing magnificence of the earth, forever turning and tumbling. When Kowalsky tries to get a near hysterical Ryan to focus and give him her location, she finds it difficult to do so as there is (like her life itself) no stable reference point. When the camera zeroes in on her, we see the background forever in motion, swirling and turning and fluid. All around there are objects floating, flying, drifting past them. And then there is the silence. Sound does not travel in a vacuum, so for long stretches of the movie, we, almost within her visor, hear only the sound of her panicked breathing.

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It’s visually jaw-dropping. His use of 3D is mercifully, restrained; and unlike so many post “Avatar” movies where the technique seems a gratuitous and self-conscious display of movie technology, here it simply contributes to the duality Cuarón offers us: both of being lost in infinity and of a kind of claustrophobia, hemmed in by her visor. The story is told almost entirely from her point of view which is our point of view.

At its most visceral level, this is a darned good, heart-stopping adventure movie. It’s the other level that lifts it above its comic book storyline (and certainly way above the beautiful silliness of “Avatar”) to something more intellectually (and spiritually?) rewarding.

At this point, if you haven’t seen it, read no more!

Dr. Stone (the Bullock character) has been untethered for many many years before this dramatic moment in space. She’s been emotionally cut loose from the moment her four-year old daughter died several years ago. This may have been her first mission, but really, it’s just the final realization of her spiritual life since the daughter’s death: alone, absorbed in her work, adrift from humanity. At one point, her adrenaline having drained away, and therefore her intuitive need to stay alive having failed, she simply submits to the inevitable, to death. For though in the end she (we) has to save herself, she needs a savior to help her through her desperation and despair.

Her savior is of course Clooney. Clooney’s Kowalsky is a man on his last mission. This wise-arse veteran space-walker is himself about to become untethered: no more missions, no more the opportunity to marvel at the earth’s glowing beauty, means no more reason to live. This tragedy in space becomes the final chapter in his life – the crowning moment when a lifetime of experience can finally bear fruit. It is he who, knowing full well the hopelessness of their cause, steadies the hyper-ventilating Stone. His voice (that oh so recognizable Clooney voice) is that of a calming old-fashioned bedside physician. Here is experience coming to the hand of innocence. In the end, like the savior demanded by the storyline, he gives his life for hers. It is his death, his acceptance that he is about to be untethered, that gives her the opportunity to live.

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Ryan, through a mixture of grit and luck finds herself initially in the Russian shuttle which explodes and then in the womb-like canopy of a Chinese shuttle (a Trinity of shuttles?). We see her, divested of her space suit floating and curling embryo-like. For her to free herself from the trauma of her past, she must be emotionally reborn. But does she have the will to free herself? Does she have the faith to do so?

She gives in to death and is again saved by the spirit of Kowalsky. He is the reborn god, the risen one, who appears miraculously next to her as she begins to fade way from a lack of oxygen. His presence, maybe like a prayer or will, reasserts her need to live. He is her deeply buried inner faith that bestirs itself to drive her forward. Somehow she manages to lift the Chinese shuttle to life (Cuarón pays just about enough lip service to her ability to flick through a –well illustrated – ‘how to’ manual in Mandarin to offer some suspension of disbelief), decouple it from its mother ship and force it past the earth’s protective shield, accompanied by an army of flaming debris, like fiery angels.

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She crashes into a lake somewhere, maybe in China, where her pod is filled with water from which she must escape, again shedding herself of her encumbering space suit. The water she is escaping from is the amniotic fluid of the womb. It is at this point that (quasi) naked, she is finally reborn as she emerges from the lake gasping for air. When she reaches land, she crawls out of the lake, out of the slime, like the first creature emerging onto terra firma from an aquatic past. It is at this point that she, both the astronaut who has (miraculously) managed to survive and the newly reborn Dr. Stone finally experiences, as she stands up (and the camera lingers on her quite stellar body) the eponymous gravity. She is no longer tethered to the past, untethered from humanity. She can now literally stand on her own. She has in so many ways, survived.

There is even a sense in this, really quite religious, epic scaled movie (with a cast of thousands…oops two) that who has survived isn’t so much Dr Stone, but humanity itself. What we witnessed was the violent destruction of humanity’s brilliance – space exploration – by itself – the fall out and debris of wrecked shuttles. What has emerged (must emerge?) into a new pre-lapsarian universe, crawling out of the slime of its own traumatic past, is reborn man.

I think.

“Much Ado About Nothing”. More nothing than ado


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ZOUNDS.

THERE IS nothing worth noting in this witless production of “Much Ado About Nothing” from erstwhile notable actor Mark Rylance. Here ye’ll find nought more than a fustilarian troop of robustious, periwig-pated fellows, capable of nothing but inexplicable dumb shows and noise. Shakespeare’s glorious language falls not trippingly on their tongues, but so garble they his prose that we poor groundlings as as lief as hear the noise of town criers speaking his lines.

Herewith a play that sucketh mightily.

“Much Ado…” is but a minor play, little more than a walking shadow, a midsummer madness in his glorious ouvre. And yet, I have indeed in the past found great revelry in its wanton idiocies, when performed with the wit in which it was writ. Forsooth, the goodly Mr Rylance has sought to reimagine this tale of young, feisty sparring lovers as a mirthless septuagenarian romance with Vanessa Redgrave (Beatrice) and James Earle Jones (Benedick) as perchance not the virgin’s sweet blush, but love’s rekindled flame. T’is passing strange. And these two, in the sear and yellow leaves of their lives, enfeeble any honesty of dalliance. As they say, when the age is in, the wit is out.

Jones in particular, clad in an ill-fitting army green one-sie, appears but a swollen parcel of dropsies, a huge bombard of sack as fat as butter. Army indeed! For Mr. Rylance’s BIG idea is to set the action sometime at the end of the (second world) war. A troop of racially mixed Americans led on by Don Pedro, are returning, demobbing as it were, from glorious victories to frolic in the cavernous halls of Leonato, governor of Messina. Unlike the National’s brilliant recent “Othello” which was set in Afghanistan, which setting helped powerfully to intensify the drama, Rylance’s awkward, unlikely, fantastical interracial WW2 period drama feels, i’faith, forced and artificial. Here truth, reason and love keep not good company.

And as if the producers were bereft of purses well endowed with gold, their parsimoniously spare stage setting, that compriseth but a single vast wooden arch standing in for both bower and church, is all there is to prompt our dull’d imaginations and divert our drooping eyes. Tho’ in the paucity and tiredness of this design, there lies, perhaps more truth than was intended. For in this out of joint production, it joined together the efforts of the cast in like dullness.

My words fly up, my thoughts remain below. I bid thee, dear reader, stay away from this farraginious production, this evening calumny, this scullion of performers that hath so bereft me of words.