Friday, 23 March 2012

‘She Stoops to Conquer’ - National Theatre: Olivier Theatre - Thursday 15th March 2012

(Rated 4/5 )

I studied this play at school and remember feeling really strongly for the characters. Coming from a middle class background I had a kind of innate rejection of people who put on airs or consider themselves better than others because of money or career status. That may sound strange but the previous generation of my family had struggled and worked really hard for their money. So the concept of someone from a higher class stooping to a lower class to win love was somehow romantic and comfortable for me. And who was the heroine, Kate Hardcastle, doing that for? Marlow was also of an upper class but very shy with women from his own class. He was only able to be himself with those of a class lower than himself. Oddly perhaps I could, and still can, really identify with that. I lost my power and myself with those of my supposed class and always felt far more drawn to those without plums in their mouths, who talked ‘common’, who were not of high IQ but rather EQ. And I was extremely shy and feeling that meant I would not get a boyfriend. So there’s the empathy – or rather sympathy – right there. I would have loved someone to step down from his higher power status to conquer my shyness and win me. I could really relate to Marlow’s lack of confidence in love. And I coveted Kate’s self-assurance.
Oliver Goldsmith’s 18th century script plays on all these ideas that people allowed to control their lives at the time – issues around class, power, manners and morals - and was extremely daring. He wrote about people as they are, and not falsely how they ought to be, and mocked them.
The play, as its alternative title The Mistakes of a Night suggests, hinges on many mistaken happenings and people deceiving each other. This device is used so often in plays of that time and of course, in Shakespearean comedy, that it does feel a little dated and predictable. But that’s fine when the production and performances are as good as in this case. I could forgive it the over-long 3 hours – well just about – hence one point off perfect in my score.
Nobody fell short in this production, which makes it hard to pick out those who stood out. I almost feel it’s a matter of taste rather than one actor being ‘better’ or not. I have seen Sophie Thompson before in only a few roles; the biggest impression she made on me was in playing abusive Stella in Eastenders and unfortunately it wasn’t a good impression as I didn’t believe her in the role. This time, if you’ll forgive the pun, she was deliciously stellar and really shone out, carrying the show in her portrayal of Kate’s mother, Mrs Hardcastle. She was extremely amusing and very natural in Mrs Hardcastle’s absurdity. The surprise draw for me was John Hefferman as Marlow’s friend Hastings. With a smile that lifted the heart so convincingly you couldn’t fail to smile with him, he constantly promised to break out into a chuckle and was enormous fun to watch. I’d been very much looking forward to seeing Katherine Kelly as Kate Hardcastle. As her Coronation Street co-star David Nielson said, she is something very special. Becky Granger was one of the most outstanding empathy-inducing soap characters ever and Katherine superbly conveyed the rollercoater of behaviours and emotions triggered by Becky’s event-loaded journey on the Corrie cobbles. My only disappointment in her as Kate Hardcastle was that the role didn’t test her full dramatic range. But her sensitivity and sense of comedy was impeccable – she sparkled.
The set and costumes were impressive and amusing in their authenticity. There’s such a sense that this period of time was empirically farcical.

P.S. For those with disability of the lower limbs it’s worth noting that there are many flights of stairs to climb to The Olivier Theatre. You may like to take the lift. The seats are very comfortable. And the setting – The South Bank – is a personal favourite of mine.

She Stoops to Conquer – Review by TheRestrictedReviewer © 2012

Twitter: @RestrictReview

Thursday, 22 March 2012

‘The Artist’ - Coronet Cinema, Notting Hill - Tuesday 14th March 2012

(Rated 5/5 )

This film is as adorable as its little canine star Uggie. It has charm, romance, humour, and intense drama. I was in tears several times through laughter or sadness and the emotions brought out in me came purely from empathy in response to the outstandingly emotive facial expressions of the actors. These do have an extra power if you take away the words of dialogue. In fact it has us wondering as to the necessity of words. Someone’s body language can say so much more and is more truthful.
So what happens to an actor when you take away their ability to express through speech? Well in this case it challenges them to perform their hearts out and deservedly earned Jean Dujardin – as silent film star George Valentin – and Berenice Bejo – as delightful dancer Peppy Miller numerous award nominations and best actor Oscar and BAFTA wins for Jean. (If it had not been for the phenomenon that is Meryl Streep taking on Margaret Thatcher this award season Berenice may well have joined him in winning.) George’s most devoted co-star on the silent screen and in the character’s life is ‘The Dog’ played by Uggie. Given that dogs read humans through their body language and are known to look to our faces to assess our moods there is a beautiful reflection of the essence of the film in this human-canine relationship.
The film is set at that moment of transition between silent films and the talkies. Do talkies kill the silent star? Well if he can’t talk then we’d expect the answer to be yes metaphorically and perhaps not just metaphorically as George sinks lower and lower into self-destruction with his career ruined.
We first meet Peppy when she is waiting hoping to meet her screen idol, George Valentin – still at the height of his success, amongst the crowds of fellow fans and photographers. She drops her autograph book and in the search to retrieve it finds herself out in the limelight right next to George. A pause while we wonder what she will do? She seizes the moment and with beaming smiles poses with him for the cameras. And so ends up on the front cover of Variety with him. How many movie-star fans, including myself J would wish to do the same with their idol? And how many would love to take it even further, as Peppy does by capitalising on the initial interaction by dancing her way onto the movie-set of his latest film as an extra, and then making such a profound connection in the little dance sequences they have together, supposedly in passing, that she ‘ruins’ several takes. Their connection is beautifully pure, profound and irresistible.
Peppy has made her mark and becomes the next big thing in the talkies. But she never loses sight of her love for George…
This is such a clever and apparently simple idea, which has so many layers. And such inspired use of the best qualities of silent film, together with what can be done with current film technology to highlight how the two forms can encounter each other with magical consequences.
As I entered the Coronet Cinema I saw a warning above the ticket office window that The Artist is a silent film. In fact that is only 95% true. I will write no more so as not to spoil it. In actual fact this film inspired me so much there is ever so much to say but I know my reviews tend to be very wordy and maybe I have something to learn from The Artist and use words more sparingly J.

The Coronet: A beautifully ornate, antique cinema with many, many stairs and somewhat in need of renovation. It is not easily accessible to the disabled. The day I went there was a severely limited supply of necessary paper in the facilities.

The Artist – Review by TheRestrictedReviewer © 2011

Twitter: @RestrictReview