Monday, 19 November 2012

‘Skyfall’ - Odeon Cinema, South Woodford - Sunday 18th November 2012

(Rated 4/5 )

A James Bond film carries a wealth of expectations for many people. I think it’s one of few franchises which brings people out to the cinema again, who may not have been in years. And this year being Bond’s 50th anniversary makes it an even bigger deal. Those who love the films also have a favourite Bond. Mine has always been Sean Connery BUT I have also been very impressed by Daniel Craig, who has given us a different and refreshing Bond – a more emotionally aware action man, arguably a fitter-looking action man (!), and a more sympathetic character with the insights into his past we have been given. We understand more why he became ‘cold’, or rather I’d like to say highly protective of his feelings. And this Bond is vulnerable. You believe he can crash out, make mistakes, hurt even die. For me it’s no longer set in stone that he is going to be okay, unscathed, in the arms of a beautiful Bond girl at the end of the film. Though I should say that Bond girls are no longer girls, but rather woman with more character and more respectable clothing ;) And of all of them, the best for me, Dame Judie Dench, ironically does share the traditional embrace with Bond towards the end of the film… on which I will say no more…
The acting is stellar! Daniel Craig is still extremely good, and I have to say, is now challenging Connery’s top spot for me. Judi Dench is totally utterly adorable – yes I absolutely unashamedly adore her! – and in the film so much more as M than we have come to expect – in fact the whole story centres around her and challenges M both personally and professionally, making the most use of her stunning talents in subtle and highly natural emoting. We get more insight into her relationship with Bond and her other secret agents. This outing Q is played by Ben Whishaw – turning the character into an absolutely gorgeously young nerdy techie version – gosh I’m sounding so luvvy this time! Ralph Fiennes joins them as Mallory – to whom M has to report and be accountable. Ralph looks very dapper and shines nicely. There is a beautiful new Bond girl in Naomie Harris who has to take a shot aimed near Bond… maybe killing him?! And Rory Kinnear as M’s right hand man. And then we have Javier Badem making one of the best Bond Villains ever for me, by being subtly psychopathic, with some verging on oedipal issues thrown in.
And this is a very good film. Sam Mendes superbly directs as we’d expect. And there are plenty of the traditional Bond touches of action and chases and impossible dare-evil feats, and humour… though less of the latter - and actually I’d say Daniel Craig doesn’t deliver it quite as well as Connery, Moore or even Brosnan - and more poignancy and feeling. This Bond makes you think and feel and so isn’t quite the full-on escapism we are used to from the classic Bond films. But we have the return of the Astin Martin and there’s Q’s gadgets… even though Bond doesn’t seem as pleased by them or him!
Are we quite so pleased? Well in all honesty, I think this Bond will appeal more to some and less to others. And that’s not me sitting on a very high fence over which I might tumble into a waterfall to my death if I decide one way or another!

Skyfall – Review by TheRestrictedReviewer © 2012

Twitter: @RestrictReview 

Saturday, 10 November 2012

'The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time' is back.... Apollo Theatre, from March 2013

Curious Incident will be back at The Apollo Theatre from March 2013... highly recommended! See review below...

(Rated 7/5 )

Absolutely thrilled and delighted to give the National Theatre’s production of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time my top mark! I am sure Christopher, the hero of the piece, would query giving a better than perfect score, but I would then tell him it’s like an A*, but with an extra-special additional star added to that! 5=A, 6=A* and 7=A** J.

I read Mark Haddon’s book many years ago and absolutely loved it. Definitely one of my all time favourite novels. According to popular marketing of the novel, Christopher John Francis Boone has Asperger’s syndrome. I would say this is probably the closest it’s possible to get to ‘easily’ labelling him so that people can have some idea as to what to expect of him. However, I completely agree with Mark Haddon in his article in the theatre programme for this production – labelling people and putting them into boxes comes no way near to describing who and how they are and, in many cases, is completely unhelpful. Within all our peculiarities and syndromes, we are all individual, and on a kind of continuous scale of ‘abnormality’ – which of us is in fact normal?! It simply does not exist!
Christopher has difficulty reading and understanding other people’s emotions – his empathy is highly limited. He also struggles to allow people close to him physically – hugs are a nightmare and should be avoided – his way of coming close to someone, as shown in the play, is to slowly bring hands together, but at the point of touching, Christopher will withdraw. He loves and becomes absorbed my mathematical problems. He is very good indeed at proofs of theorems – there is a safety and security for him in the world of maths, in which you can prove things 100%. The outside world, or even the world in his own home, does not provide that safety, because nothing can be proved – it’s all a great, big confusion of people and their odd behaviours.
This becomes even more of a problem when he faced with a murder mystery to solve. Who killed Mrs. Shears’ dog, Wellington, with a garden fork? In the process of solving this mystery, Christopher goes detecting and also solves a much greater mystery of his own family and faces many of his demons along the way…

Luke Treadaway, who played the lead in the NT’s Warhorse also, continues to show his exceptional talent in performance as Christopher. This is a virtuoso study of a character, in which he uses voice as well as body language to take us along with him in understanding Christopher. We adore him! The poetry and movement of his internal world are delightful and so moving. We both fully get how hard it is for Christopher to appreciate the feelings and roller-coaster emotions of other humans with whom he has to deal, and also understand them and ourselves better in exploring with him. The beauty of his fantasies of being an astronaut comes across in a dance of lights, images and computer graphics, in which props, as well as fellow cast members are used to lift him aloft and help him fly weightlessly. The staging is complete brilliance, the biggest supporting role in exhibiting the fascinating workings of Christopher’s mind. Very well done to designer; Bunny Christie, lighting designer; Paule Constable, video designer; Finn Ross and movement directors; Scott Graham and Steven Hoggett. And of course also sound designer; Ian Dickinson, music maestro; Adrian Sutton, voice coach; Jeanette Nelson and fight director; Kate Waters. This is definitely an ensemble piece. And an ensemble stage also, which opens up at various points to reveal all sorts of secrets, devices and treasures, and on which Christopher builds a train set – which later comes to life, and draws the faces Siobhan teaches him to interpret people’s feelings. All parts of performance and staging contribute in equal measure in showing us who and how Christopher is and how his world and our world operate and come into conflict… and maybe harmony.

Niamh Cusack plays his teacher, Siobhan. Totally and utterly wonderful! As much as we adore Luke as Christopher, we love Niamh’s Siobhan too. She is so much more than his teacher. Through her narration of some parts of Christopher’s story, as well as voicing him in parts like a counsellor would with a client, we experience the intense empathy and support she gives Christopher. It also emphasizes his own voice at times when he is maybe struggling to express himself. She is so gentle and yet so strong. There are also some highly humorous moments when she tells us and Christopher what another character has said, and then they say it themselves in their own way; playing with similarity and contrast.

Luke’s father is played by Paul Ritter and mother by Nicola Walker - both very good indeed. Father, Ed is portrayed as hesitant yet honest when he feels appropriate and we feel his dilemma in trying to do the best practically for his son, whilst holding big secrets from him in attempts to save him – these have catastrophic consequences. This is a man who silently contains his emotions or in crisis lets them out with his fists or by seeking emotional consolation and rescuing from women. He shows us how hard it can be for men in our society, who are expected to be strong and brave and practical and show the stiff upper lip. It’s a huge load! Mother Judy also shows us how difficult it can be to be a fully-functioning feeling mother to a child who cannot appreciate and understand that. This will be poignant for any mother, any parent who truly cares for their child. Her story, disappointment in life and quest for an ideal, are a catalyst for events, yet whilst we may blame her for a while, we certainly do not condemn. How can we? The writing of Mark Haddon, adaptation by Simon Stephens, production and performances make us understand all the issues involved in a way that makes us truly interested and sympathetic to all involved. This story is rich in issues! Mark Haddon is a genius and I was pleased that so much of the original text was kept in the adaptation.

Other characters, voices, props etc are played by Una Stubbs, Sophie Duval, Nick Sidi, Matthew Barker, Rhiannon Harper-Rafferty and Howard Ward. They act as witnesses to Christopher by sitting on the sides of the stage and simply observing… and then support and empathy by being the characters with who  he interacts as well as literally supporting him in his journey. Ingeniously done and all really great! I’d also like to give a shout out to Toby, the rat, who put up with being swung around during Christopher’s hectic travels.

It is Siobhan who suggests Christopher convert the book of investigations into the ‘curious incident’ into a play, and that she and others will help him. And that is exactly what happens, with the book and play constantly referred to and included in the action. Fellow actors step into characters as required, with Christopher commenting on their suitability to take on the roles at times. And when he wants to explain a mathematical proof to the audience – which may delay the action, but which were of course included in Mark Haddon’s book – Siobhan suggests he does so in an appendix after the curtain call, which he does to perfection, with the glorious help of the full technological wizardry of graphics and stage.

Christopher recites the prime numbers in order when he feels frightened or uncomfortable. In essence, they are his best friends. When we came into the auditorium to take out seats, for a moment I thought my seat wouldn’t be next to my companion’s. There was a seat covered in white and with the number “173” on it. An envelope told me I was sitting in a prime seat! We wondered if that meant I was going to be called on to take part in the show. For that reason I withheld from opening my envelope. At the interval I realised in prime seats had opened theirs and so I did. Inside was more information on the number “173” and a little exercise to see if I was special. You add up the numbers associated with the letters on your name – A=1, B=2 etc. to 26 – and if they make a prime number, you win a prize. We tried various combinations of both out names, short and long forms, with and without middle names, and it turned out that I’m not special, but my companion is! We won a badge showing one of the faces Siobhan draws Christopher to help him understand people’s expressions. It's a smiley face as with eyebrows over the eyes as so... \ and /...

Let me know if you know what it means?! J

For me the second half lost a little. For a while I couldn’t work out what it was… and then I realised… we lost Christopher’s voice and expressiveness under the external pressure of the world around him and his retreat inside himself, leaving others to tell the story. Very powerful drama to lose him and for him to then return even stronger.

I have been to The Cottesloe before, but it was unrecognisable to me in the way it was transformed. Not quite as small as The Donmar, but still retaining a great sense of intimacy and connection between performers and audience. It is accessed from outside the main NT building, a little way along from the Stage Door. It’s my favourite of the NT theatres and easier for those with walking disabilities trying to get to their seats, of which there were a fair few of us that evening!

I highly recommend this production!

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time – Review by TheRestrictedReviewer © 2012

Twitter: @RestrictReview