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Tuesday, September 30, 2014

'The Judge' (2014) directed by David Dobkin

Tuesday, September 30, 2014 - by londoncitynights · - 0 Comments

The Judge feels like it's fallen out of a time warp.  The tale of a fast-talkin' big city lawyer having to return to his sleepy backwater hometown to defend his judge dad could be ripped straight out of the Golden Age of Hollywood -  you can easily imagine Frank Capra directing this story with Cary Grant as the slick lawyer learning a spot of humility. This corny blend of smalltown romanticism and estranged families learning to love each other is the exact kind of bullshit Hollywood was built on; so how does it go down in 2014?

Our hotshot lawyer is Hank Palmer (Robert Downey Jr), and he's at odds with his dad, Judge Palmer (Robert Duvall).  Professionally, socially and physically the two are chalk and cheese. Hank lives in yuppie paradise in Chicago and relies on exploiting technicalities and loopholes to keep his wealthy clients from ever seeing trial.  Judge Dad presides over small-town disputes, meting out Solomon-y justice to these simple smalltown folk.  For example, when he has a civil case of non-payment of child support he orders that the man hand over the keys to his new truck to the mother of his child, and that the woman sell the truck.  He recommends a dealer and says to mention his name for a fair price on it.  

Hank is brought back to this sleepy town by the death of his mother.  He despises every minute he's in this jerkwater burg, surrounded by his boring brothers and being studiously ignored by his Dad.  After the funeral he's glad to get out of there; hightailing it onto a plane back to Chicago.  But just as the flight's about to leave his phone rings.  His Dad's been arrested... for murder!

Soon he's defending his own Dad and the two end up in a kind of legal philosophical duel. As defence counsel Hank's job is to muddy the evidential waters, introduce reasonable doubt and pick apart witnesses.  But the old judge runs on clarity, honesty and straightforwardness. Conflict ensues.  You sense that this is the kind of movie that is going to end with hugs.  It does.

It's not that The Judge is a particularly terrible movie, it's just a rather lumbering, ungainly sort of one.  The first half hour or so is interesting enough as they set up all kinds of juicy secrets that we presume will be revealed; a child custody, a mysterious car crash, an autistic brother, an old high school girlfriend, old feuds in the community, illegitimate children and so on. You figure when these beans are spilt we're going to be in for some satisfyingly meaty drama; an expectation further raised by a fine cast that boasts Robert Downey Jr, Robert Duvall, Vincent D'Onofrio and Billy Bob Thornton.

The drama never comes, the mystery fizzles and these great actors are given next to nothing to chew on.  Downey Jr as the lead is never less than fun, but if you've seen his superintelligent chatterbox robot suit designer and his superintelligent chatterbox Victorian detective you can largely imagine what his superintelligent chatterbox lawyer is going to be like.  Downey Jr ends up like a hyperactive mouse scampering around a very small cage - his quadruple espresso performance hamstrung by some very, very ponderous pacing.

Criminally, the film effectively ends at about the two hour mark but proceeds to fart around pointlessly for another twenty minutes.  Not since Peter Jackson's The Return of the King have I seen a film with this many false endings (and that at least had the excuse that it was the finale of a trilogy).  It left me sat there, a vein throbbing on my forehead, silently willing the film to just roll the credits.  But no! Each time you think you're about to escape there's another little coda and round of hugs.  Then - when they did start rolling - it was to some hick cover of a Coldplay song.  Urgh.

Director David Dobkin, aside from sounding as if he was named by Stan Lee, appears to think he's earned some kind of showboating victory lap.  I'll be fair to the guy, his previous credits include mayfly comedies The Wedding Crashers, Shanghai Knights and The Change-Up so this is the closest he's gotten to a prestige flick in his career. On paper you might even peg this as potential awards bait.

It's way too crap for that though.  Though the dinosauric pacing is the fatal blow, additional wounds are caused by Robert Duvall and Vincent D'Onofrio not giving a shit, Billy Bob Thornton being entirely wasted, an autistic brother who is pretty much Rain Man and an overbearing score that instructs you precisely when and how to feel emotion.

Is there anything to recommend?  Well, if you were stuck on a long distance flight, the batteries on your tablet had run out, your phone was running low, you'd finished your book, you can't sleep and you'd already seen everything else the in flight entertainment had to offer then maybe - maybe - plump for The Judge.  If it wasn't for Robert Downey Jr this would be murder to watch.  With him it's merely manslaughter. 


The Judge is released 17th October 2014

Monday, September 29, 2014

'Gone Girl' (2014) directed by David Fincher

Monday, September 29, 2014 - by londoncitynights · - 0 Comments

Gone Girl is a beautifully crafted film.  From its elegant editing to the moody Trent Reznor score to Jeff Cronenweth's evocative cinematography to the career-best performances from Affleck and Pike it radiates quality like a 100w bulb. David Fincher has been a personal favourite since a torrid teenage love affair with Fight Club, and my admiration of him only grew after Zodiac and The Social Network.  Sure he's had a few bumps along the way, but even his failures are interesting.  The release of a new Fincher film is a red letter day in cinema - audiences expect something special.  So it's with no huge surprise that I happily confirm Gone Girl is a cornucopia of cinematic delights.

Problem is it's also a misogynistic piece of shit.

Oh fuck!  The M-word!  Deploying it is like waving a big red flag that says "liberal guilt incoming".  Pallid and worn out from overuse it's a spat epithet used in haste as a weapon to shut down discourse: "X is misogynist, end of discussion."  Using it casually kills its power; after all accusing something or someone of 'hating women' is a big claim to make.  

So let me get a couple of things straight; I don't think David Fincher quivers with rage at the sight of a Tampax advert.  I don't think author/screenwriter Gillian Flynn loathes her own sex.  I don't think Ben Affleck gleefully rubbed his hands when he got the part, happy to finally stick it to those uppity dames.  I doubt anyone at all involved on a creative level in this production literally hates women.  Despite all that, in collaboration they have produced a profoundly misogynistic movie.

(There's no way to explain this without spoiling the film so considered yourself warned from this point on.  I eventually give it two stars.)

Gone Girl showcases the unhappy marriage of Nick and Amy Dunne (Ben Affleck & Rosamund Pike).  Nick returns home on the day of his fifth wedding anniversary to find a broken coffee table, a suspicious blood spot in the kitchen and no Amy.  She has vanished. Amy is the basis for her mother's popular 'Amazing Amy' children's books, and thus a minor celebrity, so her mysterious disappearance rapidly becomes a major news event.

Meanwhile Nick is not doing a particularly good job of media management.  He appears callous in interviews, acts suspiciously and, worst of all, smiles during the press conference appealing for information.  As the days stretch on suspicion increasingly begins to fall on Nick, the media all but accusing him of murder.  The public turn against him, the police consider him the most likely suspect - even his twin sister begins to have doubts.

Twist time.  It turns out that Amy has faked her own murder in order to get back at a husband she perceives as ruining her life.  Concealed underneath her wifely demeanour lies the heart of a Lecter-esque sociopath, one with the cunning and skills to create a perfect trail of breadcrumbs trail that leads the police to Nick, and leads Nick to the electric chair. The more we learn about Amy the more her evil is revealed; she has a history of falsifying rape allegations; she ensnares innocent men by stealing their precious bodily fluids and impregnating herself; she plays the perfect lover only to strike like a scorpion - at one point she literally bathes in male blood.

Amy is the physical manifestation of every masculine fear of femininity; the quintessential black widow that lures you into a relationship, paralyses you and holds you captive as she gloats over your misfortune.  Skulk around the more pathetic corners of the internet and you'll run into Men's Rights Activists; a laughable bunch of losers who believe they're trapped in some kind of misandrist matriarchy.  In Amy they will see their paranoid nightmares brought to life.

To give Gone Girl some credit Amy isn't entirely two-dimensional.  The film tries to set out the roots of her sociopathy: intense frustration at a lifetime under other people's control.  Her fictional counterpart Amazing Amy is shown to lead her life but better, embodying in fiction what she failed to achieve in life. She explains that she feels intensely claustrophobic in her marriage to Nick, especially when moving to his podunk town where she doesn't know anyone.

In a nicely written monologue she decries how he subtly forced her into the role of a "cool girl"; she has to be smart, sexy, fun, "one of the guys", thin and beautiful all at once.   Later we see her being controlled more directly, the character moving between a series of gilded cages. Theoretically this gives her moral license to violently kick back against the pricks that try to mould her life without her consent, casting her campaign of manipulation and murder as feminist liberation. It's a pulpy, dime store kind of psychology, but it's this that Fincher relies on to justify her deeds.

Undermining this is the extremely sympathetic treatment of Ben Affleck's Nick.  I don't know what he's like in the book, but here he's an unambiguous hero, we never suspect him of murder, his return home to care for his dying mother is noble and - crucially - we never see him mistreat Amy from an objective viewpoint.  Sure he's got his flaws, notably that he's conducting an affair with a student behind his wife's back, but given that Amy is a straight-up, sadistic, cold-hearted monster who can blame him?  The sympathy we feel for Nick robs Amy of her motive for framing him, resulting in her ending up (despite the author's protestations) as a simple "crazy psycho-bitch".

Even leaving Amy aside for a moment, Gone Girl makes a series of curiously anti-feminist statements.  The arena for Nick's condemnation and shaming is The Ellen Abbott show. Abbott is a typical Fox Newsesque bundle of shining teeth, big-hair and perfect makeup and runs a show that appears to revolve around highlighting crimes against women.  

This is Nick Dunne's crucible, Abbott constantly hurls insinuations of rape and incest against him, poisoning the well of public opinion against him.  She invites on talking heads (who appear to be caricatures of feminists) to decry Nick.  I'm just not sure what satirical point Fincher is making here - is there an abundance of rabidly ill-informed feminist news shows that needs to be exposed?  Their presentation here is a strawman set up to be demolished.

What we see in Gone Girl is a flawed 'nice guy' under assault from an army of harridans with "fucking bitch" Amy leading the charge.  Her instrument of destruction is a weaponised vagina, transformed into a tool to destroy men.  Given that her Amy's motivations are unconvincingly defined, that her evil is defined purely in terms of her gender, the argument that the inevitable flipside of female liberation is male subjugation, the parade of vapid, ill-informed female characters and the heroic portrayal of Nick, Gone Girl is misogynist.

Pity, because otherwise it's a really good film.  So good that I was scrabbling for a sympathetic reading that would allow me to enjoy it. 

But I can't.


Gone Girl is released 3rd October.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

'Metamorphosis / Oluwa O!' at the Barons Court Theatre, 26th September 2014

Sunday, September 28, 2014 - by londoncitynights · - 0 Comments

As Abeni awakes one morning from restless dreams, she finds herself transformed in her bed into a monstrous, verminous insect-like creature. Given its transformational themes its appropriate that Kafka's absurdist novella is an extremely plastic text, able to be remoulded whilst maintaining its thematic core of sickness and subsequent alienation. This adaptation, devised and directed by Nick Pelas, relocates events to a Yoruba village in Nigeria and features an all-female cast, though the familiar beats of Kafka's tale remain the same.

So, Abeni (Alice Fofana), a hard-working saleswoman is turned into a giant locust. She hides in her room, disgusted and terrified by her new body as her family knock on her bedroom door, confused as to why she hasn't left for work. Unfamiliar with the current situation and unable to speak she cannot leave the bed or open the door. Her mother and sister initially assume she's simply being lazy, but inhuman sounds from beyond the door lead to them to conclude that she's fallen ill.

Soon her supervisor arrives, angry that Abeni hasn't turned up for work. Struggling to open the door with crude mandibles, Abeni finally emerges to apologise for her tardiness. Her family and the supervisor are horrified by her insectile body and guttural squawkings, her mother faints and Abeni is driven back into her room. The rest of the play is concerned with how to deal with this, mixed with scenes of Abeni's tormented loneliness.

This story is framed as a fable being told by the sinister Keyefi (Patricia Parkin), a juju woman who takes a sadistic delight in recounting the miseries of Abeni and her family. With villainous cackles she gleefully breaks the fourth wall, getting right up in the audience's faces as she carefully enunciates Kafka's prose.

The West African setting proves to be fertile ground for Metamorphosis: Kafka's magical realism seamlessly slotting into West African cultural fears of witchcraft. Abeni's family theorise that someone has placed a curse on them through the wood in the furniture and plead with God to release them from their torment ("Oluwa O!" translating to "O Lord! in Yoruba). Fear of black magic allows the family to shift blame onto Abeni for her transformation, familial bonds quickly dissolving as they selfishly search for a way out of this predicament.

Though Pelas cannot have planned it, the obvious current reading is to see Abeni's transformation as symbolic of the Ebola epidemic currently raging in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinee and (apparently) in Nigeria. Nightmarish reports speak of families abandoning their infected relatives in the streets or imprisoning them in their rooms, terrified of catching the disease themselves. In the later stages of Ebola, the victim's internal organs begin to liquify, spilling from they body as they slowly bleed out.

It's a horrific way to die, a body horror twinned with Abeni's nauseating insectile carapace. Seeing the family battling between their responsibilities to Abeni as sister and daughter and their own fears mirrors the torment being experienced by thousands of West African families this very second. At the conclusion of the play Pelas explains that he views his adaptation as shining a light on mental illness, though to my mind viewing it through the prism of the Ebola epidemic gives the play far more punch.

The adaptation is aided by the claustrophobic, low-ceilinged space underneath the Curtain's Up pub. Audience proximity prevents us from emotionally distancing ourselves from the action and creates a subtle back-and-forth between actors and audience that ever-so-gently implicates us in Abeni's suffering.

Her transformation is accomplished by Fofano being joined by Charron Scerra as 'Locusta pardalina', the two slowly contorting their bodies together to give the impression of a multi-limbed, spasmodically moving creature with creepily ill-defined personal boundaries. Watching these two move is faintly hypnotic. Their black-clad bodies glide over one another, hands blindly feeling their way about the space like antenna.

Although our sympathies naturally lie with Abeni, it's all too easy to understand her family's disgust with what she's become. Both actors are excellent physical performers, but it's Scerra who really impresses as the silent, insectile personality. With a white mask concealing her features and braids dangling over her face like antenna she emanates a disturbing mixture of the alien and erotic.

The rest of the family play things a touch too broad; particularly Verona Rose at Yetunde, who approaches the mother less as if she's trapped in a disturbing body horror and more as if she's in a slapstick farce. And though Kafka's novella is hardly a lengthy read, the play's hour-long runtime compresses events so much that familiarity with the source material is all but required to understand what's going on. Late references to lodgers being driven away will make sense to readers of the book, but mean little to anyone else.

Similarly, the motivations of Abefe (Lola May), Abeni's younger sister are overly condensed. In Kafka's original she's a talented violinist whose ambitions are thwarted by her elder brother's transformation; without his financial support she won't be able to attend a musical school and thus grows to despise him. Here she's rendered as a shallow modern teenager, so amoral she snaps a selfie with her dead sister's body. This drains the character of complexity and reduces her to simple stereotype.

By far the most mystifying change is the decision to give Kafka's story a happy ending. Frankly, "It was all a dream" is way, way beyond cliché. The closing scenes of Abeni back to normal and happily hugging her family as life returns to normal is a disservice to Kafka. It's a bizarre mis-step in what was, up to very end of the show, a very careful, intelligently judged reimagining.

It's probably best to pretend the last few minutes of the show didn't happen, as what preceded was decent stuff. A show focussed on the effects of debilitating, terrifying sickness within a family is fortuitously timed, those in the audience who follow current events in West Africa will find much to chew on.

Metamorphosis / Oluwa O! has its last night at the Barons Court Theatre tonight.

Many thanks to Views from the Gods for the ticket.  Review reproduced here by permission.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

'Still the Enemy Within' (2014) directed by Owen Gower

Saturday, September 27, 2014 - by londoncitynights · - 0 Comments

"In Still the Enemy Within, we witness the last gasp of British working class dignity. This documentary, chronicling the 1984-85 Miner’s Strike, gives us a glimpse into an alien past. This Britain is a country of industry; a place proud of making things. Power lay in the hands of the working class and their trade unions, their economic centrality giving them leverage to fight for decent pay, safe working conditions and secure employment.

In 1972 and 1974 the National Union of Mineworkers staged successful strikes, with the ’74 strike bringing down the Heath Government. This display of power galvanized the trade union movement, every miner buoyed up by the knowledge that their union had their back. Then along came Thatcher. The concept of a worker’s union with the means and ability to affect profiteering was anathema to her free market philosophy, not to mention that the Tory party was consumed with a burning desire to avenge Edward Heath.

The stage was set for a showdown"


Friday, September 26, 2014

'One Health, One Art' at the Royal College of Pathologists, 25th September 2014

Friday, September 26, 2014 - by londoncitynights · - 0 Comments

Exploded toads, monkey foetuses and disembowelled mice; the ingredients for a great evening!  I love getting invited to places like the Royal College of Pathologists, where the walls teem with portraits of sternly bearded Victorians and the building simply reeks of centuries of accumulated knowledge.  The occasion was the launch of the One Health, One Art medical art exhibition, showcasing paintings by Geoffrey Harrison (who I've previously written about) and John Gales (who I haven't).

Medical art is one of my favourite art niches.  The intersection between objective, analytical science and subjective artistic interpretation gives rise to some fascinating frictions and unpredictable common grounds.  This exhibition showcases precision with most of the images approaching photorealism, with a dual function as art and as an educational illustration.  One tempting response to these exactingly drafted pictures is to wonder why they don't just use a photograph? One Health, One Art answers this by underlining the importance of artist as conduit, the works subtly layering in beauty, meaning and truth.  

RVC Monkey Foetus
One of the most eyecatching pieces is Harrison's RVC Monkey Foetus.  Shrouded in its amniotic sac, the foetus floats like a star in an inky black void.  The delicate colouring renders the skin translucent, the patches of light blue and pink suggesting veins and muscles concealed just below the surface.  At first glance you assume this is a human foetus, but as you spot the tail and prehensile toes your perception gradually changes. This internal shift underlines the false distinction between 'man' and 'animal', forcing the viewer to re-evaluate their ingrained response.  

If you'd have happened across this foetus floating in preservative in a pot you'd have gotten a taste of this process, but the tenderness and care that's gone into this rendering adds an element of love.  The artist cares about his subject, and that care radiates out to us, the effect being an emotional involvement that you just wouldn't get from a photograph.

Anatomical land mark descriptors of the Mouse
A similar effect takes place in John Gale's Anatomical land mark descriptors of the Mouse. Here the subject has a serenity that borders on surreal given that its diseased guts are hanging out of its chest.  The relaxed expression allows us to anthropomorphise the mouse as teacher. I imagine it casually taking us through an inventory of its lesions and outlining their function for our education, willingly sacrificing itself for science.  

Crucial to this air of calmness is the lack of blood.  I imagine opening up a mouse for dissection is a fiddly, messy, frustrating affair, so in this illustration we see reality sans chaos, a world of crystal clear draftsmanship and delicate pastel shades, all of which adds up to a weird beauty that you might not expect to find inside a dead rodent.

Top of the Stream
Nearby is Top of the Stream, a painting that showcases a different brand of death. Gale's biography explains that he's travelled around the world painting wildlife, this particular painting showing an open air seal grave in South Georgia.  In his words: "after the breeding season, exhausted dying males seek the peace of 'no mans land', close to rivers and streams, to die."  In comparison to the other images which isolate their subjects, here we see nature in situ; bones and flesh decomposing amidst the bare rocks. 

I love the continuity of colour between these elements, the brown of the seal's flipper gradually blending into the grey rocks, the impact a quiet and respectful outlining of the link between organism and environment.  Soon we begin to examine this scene with a forensic eye, sorting bone from rock like we're reconstructing a crime scene.  This is a pretty grim landscape, but it's saved from being too morose by presence of a jaunty looking Pipet, a gentle nudge to the ribs that life carries on, even in a graveyard.

RVC Anatomy Dogs
My final favourite is Harrison's RVC Anatomy Dogs.  On seeing this my first reaction was to joke that I hoped those dogs were sleeping.  In my defence in a room covered in pictures of dead things it's natural to assume the worst when you see an animal lying on the ground not doing much. So I was pleased to learn that these dogs are officially, one hundred percent, definitely alive (or at least they were when this were painted).

Meet Viper and Bonnie, gainfully employed as 'anatomy dogs' by the Royal Veterinary College. Living in kennels attached to the school, their job to trot out to lectures and act as living models for students. Most greyhounds don't meet pleasant ends; when they can't race their employment and their lives tend to terminate simultaneously.  Fortunately the fat-free anatomy of a greyhound and their innate docile nature make them perfect teaching aids, and based on this painting, they look like happy dogs.

This painting is a ray of sunlight that pierces the morbid atmosphere of the room.  It's pleasant, but as you can probably tell by now, I don't mind a bit of morbidity; as far as I'm concerned the processes of death, deformity and decomposition have as much potential for beauty as any glowing sunset or tasty bowl of fruit. What these artists do is go beyond simple representation to achieve a Herzoggian 'ecstatic truth', elevating their subjects with their imaginations, their gentle stylisations and their imagination.

If you're out and about in the West End pop down to the Royal College of Pathologists and check it out.  If you like this stuff there's much much more to see.  I didn't even explain the squashed toads!

Open weekdays by appointment until 30th October 2014. Royal College of Pathologists, 2 Carlton House Terrace, London, SW1Y 5AF.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

'The Woman in the Moon' at the Rose Theatre, 23rd September 2014

Thursday, September 25, 2014 - by londoncitynights · - 0 Comments

The last thing you expect an Elizabethan comedy to be is funny. Don't get me wrong, Shakespeare, Marlowe and the gang have their moments of mirth, but it's safe to say modern audiences don't exactly bust a gut at their gags. So when invited to John Lyly's 'astrological sex comedy' The Woman in the Moon, I figured I was in for the sort of comedy you intellectually appreciate more than feel. Oh boy, was I ever wrong.

Lyly spent 60 years as the best-selling author of fiction in Britain, trumping even the mighty Bard as a 16th-century literary success. Contemporaneous accounts paint him as a Wilde-ish bon vivant; a well-dressed, sharp-tongued man with a bevy of vices. He even flirted with Elizabeth I, cheekily flitting in and out of favour with the court. Aside from his dramatic successes he was also elected as an MP four times, no mean feat for a man frequently accused of witchcraft, often embroiled in religious controversies, whose plays were banned and theatres forcibly shut down. He eventually died "poor and neglected"; a description you can also apply to his plays. Only one of his phrases has entered common parlance - "All is fair in love and war" - which somehow feels appropriate.

But now he's back! And where better to resurrect this forgotten hero of Elizabethan theatre than The Rose? Dredged up from under the London clay and nestled under skyscraper girders, the theatre is half-performance space and half-archaeological dig, quite rightly described as "one of the weirdest sights in London". The perfect place for a seriously weird play.

Julia Sandford as Nature
The Woman in the Moon is set in a mythological world populated by personifications of astrological signs. The opening scene sees Nature (Julia Sandiford) embarking on her greatest creation yet: Woman. She's named Pandora (Bella Heesom), animated by the breath of the gods, given the best aspects of the planets, coaxed into movement and finally granted voice. Four boyish shepherds, Stesias (Joel Davey), Learchus (Rhys Bevan), Iphicles (James Askill) and Melos (Robert Heard), watch this process with barely concealed adolescent lust. With no women around they're a fidgety, nervous bunch, eager to get their paws on this fascinating new creature. This proves more difficult than anticipated.

Enter the planets. Unhappy that Pandora has nabbed all of their best qualities, they take it in turns to afflict her with their various temperaments, trying to win her over to their side once and for all. So, while Pandora is influenced by Saturn (Llywelyn ab Eleri) she's grumpy, while Mars (Adam Cunis) stands to attention she's violent and combative, Jupiter (Gareth Radcliffe) makes her imperious, Venus (Keira Duffy) makes her horny and so on. Director James Wallace gives the piece a very Jodorowsky-esque focus, reminding me of an extremely similar astrological procession in 1973 underground classic The Holy Mountain.

Like a wheel of fortune Pandora's personality spins out of control, and her interactions with the shepherds grow ever more tangled and surreal. Over the course of the play these men are variously abused, domineered, seduced, confused, manipulated and nursed by Pandora. They tie themselves into knots as they battle for the affections of a woman who, by the time curtain falls, has embodied every single aspect of womanhood.

The shepherds.
This is all performed by one of the most consistently funny casts I've seen of late. The shepherds make a great comedy troupe, scuffling around the stage in a bewildered romantic daze. As they vie for Pandora's affections they gradually turn on each other, dopily plotting the best way to dispatch their rivals and get her all to themselves. Like Snow White's seven dwarves each shepherd embodies varying aspects of masculinity, though they're united in extreme gullibility.

The planets are similarly well cast and played, each performer loudly broadcasting their particular astrological bent. Highlights are Radcliffe's boastful, commanding, wheeler-dealer Jupiter, waving his phallic sceptre about. Similarly fun is the sleazy, fedora wearing Mercury (Théo Kingshott), theatrically posing like one of a ridiculous professional poker stars. My absolute favourite was Duffy's powerfully erotic, bright green Venus. Visually styled after Fame-era Lady Gaga with a hint of Rihanna for good measure, she and Heesom writhe serpentlike to the throbbing electro-beat of Goldfrapp's Ooh La La.

The centrepiece performance is Heesom's chameleonic Pandora. She switches personalities like she's shuffling a deck of cards, one moment an intimidating kicker of asses, the next trapped in a hallucinatory wig-out, the next mumsy and caring. It's scarily good how strong Heesom's grip on this character is, and most importantly, even through a dizzying temperamental blizzard, the bedrock of her disposition remains stable, allowing for character development beyond the superficial planetary changes.

Lyly's play is written as a satire on womanhood, concluding with a masculine shrug that women are ultimately chaotic, capricious creatures. In rougher hands this material would have left an unpleasantly misogynistic taste in the mouth, yet this production avoids that pitfall by poking fun at both sexes equally, presenting the whole damn human condition as a sexed-up, sweaty knot of misunderstandings propelled by hormones, libidos and jealousy, all gazed upon by a mischievous universe.

The Woman in the Moon is hilarious, sexy and perhaps most surprisingly, cool. The writing is pin-sharp, the dialogue delivered naturalistically and with personality; notably I had no trouble following the dense Elizabethan wordplay even through frequent bouts of giggles. The costuming is similarly spot-on, everyone dressed with one eye on fashion and the other on character - the planets' monochromatic costumes particularly impressive.

The Woman in the Moon fits The Rose like a glove, the carcass of the old theatre raucously reanimated by Lyly's wonderful play. This is the first professional run of this play for 400 years, but by the stars it's been worth the wait.

The Woman in the Moon is at the Rose Theatre until 4th October 2014

Thanks to Views From the Gods for the ticket.  This review is also posted there.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

'What We Did On Our Holiday' (2014) directed by Andy Hamilton & Guy Jenkin

Wednesday, September 24, 2014 - by londoncitynights · - 0 Comments

"What We Did On Our Holiday is like a stick of rock with ‘bad idea’ written right the way through it. This is essentially the film version of British family sitcom Outnumbered, whose central gimmick is the semi-improvised children’s dialogue. Here’s your basic gag formula: cute kid says something innocently outrageous, cut to British character actor looking politely shocked and amused. By and large it’s ‘Kids Say the Darndest things’ the sitcom.

Needless to say I wasn’t exactly buzzing with anticipation. First impressions confirmed my suspicions. As David Tennant argued in confused amusement with a six year old I felt twinge of sympathy for him being stuck in this garbage. Soon after came a light smattering of actually-okay jokes. Oh well, if I’m going to be stuck watching syrupy garbage, at least it’s tolerable syrupy garbage.

Then the jokes kept coming. And – god help me – I laughed."

Read the rest at We Got This Covered.


What We Did On Our Holiday is released on the 26th of September

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