Short Film Review #29

ET IN MOTORCADIA EGO! from Tim Plester on Vimeo.

The ‘other’ 50th anniversary of the weekend was of the assassination of JFK and released with impeccable timing, Et in Motorcadia Ego! tips the hat to the huge place that that event occupied in popular culture. Written and directed by Tim Plester (and adapted from his own full-length play), it takes the form of a spontaneous dream-poem and performed by the intensely magnetic Kieran Bew, it is something spectacular. Plester’s camera loves the bearded Bew, but mixes shots of his recital with flashes of dream-like imagery to create something visually stunning and combined with the viscerally rich poetry, this is definitely recommended. Continue reading “Short Film Review #29”

Review: Scenes from a Marriage, St James

“Sometimes it grieves me that I have never loved anyone. I don’t think I’ve ever been loved either. It really distresses me”

Trevor Nunn’s revisit of his production of Scenes from a Marriage for the St James Theatre was due to open last week but untimely and persistent illness for one of its leads, Mark Bazeley, meant that a series of early performances were cancelled and its opening postponed until tonight. And we could all probably do with some of whatever he took to get well as alongside the glorious Olivia Williams, there’s some extraordinary work going on here in this adaptation by Joanna Murray-Smith of Ingmar Bergman’s timeless classic, first seen at Coventry’s Belgrade back in 2008 with Nunn’s then-wife Imgen Stubbs and Iain Glen.

Over fifteen or so ‘scenes’ spanning a decade, we see the portrayal of Johan and Marianne’s marriage from the opening (dubious) highlight of being interviewed for a magazine on their 10th wedding anniversary through the trials of painful losses and abject betrayals into the battlefield of bitter recriminations, the divorce courts and beyond. It probes into the state of marriage with unblinking precision, peeling away the layers of complacency that settle into long-running relationships and revealing the truth about how people really feel about each other, no matter how messy or raw it becomes.


At its best, this is coruscating, blood-pumping stuff. Its blistering take on the institution of marriage is spell-binding as closeness is corrupted and intimacies become injurious – they say familiarity breeds contempt but it has rarely been so uncompromising as this. Williams cracks open Marianne’s veneer of domesticated bliss to reveal a mass of insecurities, anguished desperation at the prospect of being abandoned that is near-impossible to watch, along with glimmers of razor-sharp wit and intelligence to make her engagingly complex.


And Bazeley is excellent as mid-life-crisis-stricken Johan, never afraid of showing this man’s narcissism and cruelty for what it is as he chases personal desires, a new piece of skirt, at the expense of his wife and (unseen) child, exposing his character’s weaknesses with skill, yet always maintaining a credible lived-in-ness with Williams’ Marianne that makes them utterly believable as a well-worn couple, inextricably connected even as they tear each other apart. The only criticism I could wager comes with a particular jump in time which occurs late on and which exculpates some rather heinous business, Bergman/Murray-Smith ducking the exploration of one key aspect of the deterioration of this partnership. 


Scenes are interspersed with snippets of home videos which are surprisingly effective; Shane Attwooll, Melanie Jessop and Aislinn Sands provide sterling support as a range of peripheral characters; and the piles of furniture that are loaded on either side of the set, ferried on and off by capable stage-hands, neatly suggest the accumulated piles of baggage that weigh us all down. Nunn directs with a surprisingly nifty sense of pace and though he doesn’t specify if we’re in Bergman’s Sweden, his own London or anywhere else for that matter, it never matters –it could be anywhere, anytime, any of us. 

Photos: Nobby Clarke

Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes (with interval)

Programme cost: £3.50

Booking until 9th November

Review: The Illusion, Southwark Playhouse

“What in this world is real and not seeming?”

Featuring a new ensemble of RADA graduates alongside some more experienced hands, Southwark Playhouse’s latest main house show is a UK première of The Illusion. Adapted (though most freely I am told) by Tony Kushner from the 1636 L’Illusion Comique by Pierre Cornielle, who was a contemporary (or thereabouts) of Molière and Racine, the play is constructed as a potentially deft piece of meta-theatre, passing comment on the extraordinary capacity that the theatre to create its own universe and the illusionary nature of the very same. Kushner weaves his own idiosyncratic verbosity around this tale, though the result is something of a curious mix.

Matters begin with the arrival of Pridamant at the grotto – Sarah Jane Prentice’s design and Howard Hudson’s lighting playing to the strengths of the railway arches – of noted magician Alcandre. He’s there to find out where Clindor, his estranged son is and Alcandre obliges, providing snippets of the last 15 years of his son’s life as he deals with a number of romantic entanglements and social adventures. But it is made clear that the scenes are all visions, the uncertainty of what we’re witnessing enhanced by the constant changing of the character’s names and we are joined with Pridamant in the journey of discovery to his son’s real fate. Continue reading “Review: The Illusion, Southwark Playhouse”

Review: The Prophet, Gate Theatre

“Who will win in a free and fair election?”

Vinegar, Pepsi and onions. The things one learns at the theatre are many and varied but having seen The Prophet at the Gate Theatre, I now know three ways to counteract the effects of tear gas. With the fresh turmoil of the Egyptian presidential election and a military -enforced constitutional crisis, Hassan Abdulrazzak’s new play arrives with impeccable timing. Set in the middle of the Arab Spring in a Cairo bubbling with possibility of significant change and all the danger it brought with it, he uses this as a backdrop to explore the lives of people living in the middle of it.

Hisham and Layla have been married for seven years but things are going stale. He’s struggling with writer’s block but having his head turned by interest from glamorous Western literary agents; she’s an engineer, fending off her amorous boss even as she feels utterly neglected in the marital bed. Initially, the incipient revolution seems like an unwanted distraction from their comfortable liberal lives but as it awakens Layla’s nascent political activism and Hashim’s imagination flips into fevered overdrive, their own well-buried secrets threaten as seismic a change as the overthrow of the Mubarak regime.      Continue reading “Review: The Prophet, Gate Theatre”

DVD Review: RSC’s King Lear

“Who is it that can tell me who I am”

Transferring stage productions onto film is something fraught with difficulties as the magic of live performance never really survives the change of medium, so something else, something slightly different has to be striven for. Trevor Nunn’s King Lear for the RSC – originated in Stratford in 2007 then toured the world before a West End season in rep with The Seagull – which stars Ian McKellen in the title role is not a filmed performance on stage, but nor is it a reconceived enhanced film version. Instead, it was filmed rather simply at Pinewood Studios, at the end of the tour, so it has the feel of a piece of theatre rather than of film, with the added bonus of being able to see the acting up close.

And what a bonus it is. McKellen is simply outstanding here. Jacobi’s Lear for the Donmar was my first ever and I couldn’t imagine it ever being bettered, Greg Hicks’ recent RSC one was just different, but this is such an incredibly visceral performance, full of anger and rage and bewilderment that is highly affecting even on screen – what it must have been like live I can’t imagine, but the camera captures every single nervy tic and nuanced touch that must have been missed in some of the larger theatres. And facing up against him is Frances Barber as Goneril in what must be one of the performances of her lifetime. She is just astounding, all kinds of manipulative, Machiavellian evil as she plots her way through the play, but almost justifiably so as the fierce tragedy carved on her face as her father curses her indicates the troubled history between father and daughter. This is the type of performance that makes you wish the sisters were featured much more in the play. Monica Dolan’s Regan is also tremendously strong, a more nervous, unhinged energy that plays out maliciously as she caresses the text languorously and Romola Garai’s Cordelia is beautifully spoken and extremely moving. Continue reading “DVD Review: RSC’s King Lear”