Friday, 26 August 2011

Much Ado About Nothing

I know not how to pray your patience, yet I must speak. I must tell you of the great performance of Much Ado About Nothing that is reaching the end of its run in the great theatre of Wyndham. Fear not dear friends I shall not attempt to write this review in the Shakespeare tongue. I dare not. 

Simon Hattenstone write in his about David Tennant, in his article, that his favourite part of the show was Tannent’s ear to ear grin as he keeps coming out for another curtain call and another standing ovation. I can’t blame him, Tennant’s grin and the genuine happiness behind it are most infectious and it doesn't leave him throughout the show. 

Much Ado About Nothing is my favourite Shakespeare comedy and probably my favourite comedy, of all time, by anyone. It is of course a classic and has become the model upon which many great romantic comedies are based on. I have read this play many times and it still amazes me.

The nature of Much Ado About Nothing, and I guess the brilliance of Shakespeare, allows for different kinds of interpretations to the text. One of the most famous adaptation of the play is Kenneth Branagh’s wonderful film. Branagh gives the play a slightly more dramatic tone which colours Benedick and Beatrice's relationship in a different colour, slightly closer perhaps to the relationship between Claudio and Hero.

The director of this revival of Much Ado About Nothing, Josie Rourke, took the play in a different direction and turned the comedy up to 11. Set in the marry 80s in post Falklands victory's Gibraltar, this version is sexy, poppy and mostly cheerful and happy, which injects the play with freshness and originality.  

Much Ado is famously very verbal. The main comedy of it is in the brilliant and witty banter between Benedick and Beatrice and of course the nonsensical Dogberry and his watch. Rourke added a strong physical comedy element, which not only works surprisingly well alongside the verbal comedy, but it actually compliments it. From the very hilarious entrance of Benedick, wonderfully played by David Tennant, on a golf cart and an even funnier exit, through a sexy Tennant in drags with a lovely 80s dance routine, in which both Tate and Tennant make some nice moves, to the climax of the physical comedy with Catherine Tate being flown up in the air, desperate to get down as she hears Hero and Ursula talk of Benedick’s love for her.

Weird as it may sound all of this and more adds something even more wonderful to this already wonderful play. I think it especially works well as Benedick comes out from hiding covered in paint, which he spilled all over himself when he heard Beatrice is in love with him. He goes on to do his monologue in which extremely excited he announces "I shall be horribly in love with her!" His paint covered expression is so charming in it's child like enthusiasm. Further more when Beatrice comes, against her will, to bid him "come in to dinner" her already disgruntlement expression becomes priceless as she sees him covered with paint smiling at her like an idiot, scaring her more than anything else. 

The physical comedy is only a part of the whole visual aspect of this performance. The set, which is made out of four pillars, is constantly rotating. Choreographed with the cast’s movement across it, this makes for a very dynamic and flowing feel to the play and pushes it forward with drive. Apart from the clever use of the rotating set during the scene in which Benedick eavesdrops on Claudio, Leonato and the prince, as the set rotates between scenes, it also allows glimpses of moments never written in the original play. For example, Borachio showing Margaret to Don John the bastard, while she is sleeping, Beatrice and Benedick’s glances as they pass by each other on the way to the hen/stag does for the first time after they each heard how the other is madly in love with them. There are many more such small details and glimpses that add so much without words.

The dominance of the comedy and the visual in this production doesn't mean that the serious side of this play is neglected. I shall now have to gush for a few paragraphs about the wonderful performances, mainly by David Tennant and Catherine Tate but the rest of the cast as well. 

Yeah... nobody can see you there.
David Tennant portrays Benedick’s transformation from the idiot clown to the man worthy of such a woman as Beatrice fantastically. He switches, like Tate, from comedy to drama with an extraordinary talent. In one scene he confesses his love for Beatrice and he is so happy and it is exciting and you want him to jump and kiss her, but a moment later when Beatrice asks him to kill Claudio the torment on his face as he says “not for the wide world” has cause the guy sitting next to me, who I discovered later never read the play, to gasp and blurt “oh no!” He suddenly seems taller, which makes him huge next to Tate, and manlier. I most enjoyed seeing this kind of transformation on stage.

I had no doubt that Catherine Tate would make a brilliant Beatrice. I recently found out that she wanted to play her for a very long time, and wanted Tennant as her Benedick before she even met him. It made me even happier to discover that they were the ones who initiated and asked to do this play together and not that they were cast as a gimmick. 

Though I expected nothing less from Catherine Tate, who I am a big fan of for a long time, I was still taken aback by just how she owned Beatrice. Emma Thompson’s Beatrice says at the opening scene “You always end with a jade’s trick, I know you for old” to herself and with disappointment in her voice as if she wishes Benedick will grow up already. Catherine Tate’s Beatrice says the same sentence directly to Benedick as if saying “you can’t fool me, I know you.”

One of my favourite moments in Tate’s performance is when she rejects the prince. At first she makes a joke about it, because joking is what she does with everyone,  but as she realises the prince wasn’t joking panic takes over and Tate is absolutely charming as she changes her tone and body language apologising to the prince “but I beseech your grace pardon me, I was born to speak all mirth and not matter” I felt for her almost more than I felt for the prince, who has just been rejected. 

Catherine Tate's Beatrice is confident and happy. Her past with Benedick stayed in the past and her shock of finding out about Benedick's feelings for her is as big as his.

Don John. Portrayed by the excellent Elliott Levey, becomes a socially awkward closeted gay, who is not even a very good at being a “plain dealing villain.”He's comical timing and delivery were excellent and added another level of comedy to the play, that I personally never saw before.

Instead of bringing the drama out of Benedick and Beatrice's relationship, Rourke brings out the comedy within the over the top dramatic love story of Hero and Claudio. Sarah Macrae is very good as the over frenzied bride wearing a Diana like dress and barking at her maids, and Tom Bateman is lovely as a Claudio that often looks more like a child than Benedick.

Antonio, Leonato’s brother in the original play, becomes his wife Imogene, which makes Hero’s humiliation have a stronger impact on the family as a whole, and it also solves my own personal query regarding Beatrice's father[1].

Rourke added a scene in which Claudio, grief stricken, thinking he killed Hero after he falsely accusing her of misbehaving, is trying to commit suicide and stopped by a vision of Hero. I was quite happy to see that scene. I always felt that Claudio and the prince got off to easily in the play, Claudio in particular. He is so easily manipulated, first he is lead to believe the prince is trying to steal Hero from him and then again the same man makes him believe she is disloyal. Seriously dude! It was nice to see that at least Rourke let Claudio’s conscious torment him a little bit more than Shakespeare did in the original play.

Much Ado about Nothing finishes on September 1st. You simply must try and catch it if you can. Every day between 10 and 10.30 the Wyndham theatre draw 20 best seats tickets for £10. I won four times now. This show is so great that much like David Tennant on his curtain calls I can’t stop grinning ever since.    

[1] In the original play there is no mention of Beatrice’s family. Since she is Leonato’s niece, but doesn’t seem to be Antonio’s daughter, it is assumed that there was a third brother who died. Either that or she’s a gatecrasher  

Friday, 19 August 2011

Understanding J.J

This is a review of Super 8 and includes a lot of details about the plot and what happens in the film. You may consider these spoilers, I'm not sure I would. 
I had a birthday recently. Don’t worry; I am not fishing for presents. Though a guilt gifts could go a long way. I just wanted to tell you that I got one present that meant the world to me, the limited edition of E.T. which includes the right version, the one with the guns, and an original signed photograph of Steven Spielberg. 

The signed photograph was not made especially for me and was probably mass produced at some point. All the same, when I opened this present and the minute I realised what it was I started chocking up fighting the tears in my eyes, my heart stopped for a brief moment, it is all my heart can afford in my age, and I thought I was dreaming. This is exactly how I felt when I first saw E.T. and this feeling will always belong, in my head, to Steven Spielberg, even if we don’t always see eye to eye.     

Watching a Spielberg film, especially as a young girl, I never thought “This is a Spielberg film” I was very much under its spell, I hope Mr. Spielberg will forgive me for saying this, but the last thing I cared about was that it was a Spielberg film. I’m sure he understands and takes it as the compliment it was meant to be. Only in the last few years (yes it took me that long) have I actually been enchanted by the man as much as by his films, and only then did I realise just how big his influence has been and still is, not just on me.  

Thinking of all the different Spielberg it is hard to define “a Spielberg film” like you would so many other film makers, his style and genre of choice always changes. Even in the case of E.T. and Close Encounter of the Third Kind that at first look seem to have similar themes, but are so very different. I don’t know many film makers that can hop between different styles and genres like Spielberg does and still be as magnificent[1].   

Then there is J.J Abrams. I didn’t hate Mission Impossible 3 and I also didn’t hate the Star Trek film he made. This is probably the nicest thing I can say about J.J Abrams.

The thought of an Abrams love film to Spielberg put me in turmoil of emotions, perhaps even more so since I have been nursing my own love script for Spielberg. On the one hand I was angry. “Why does Abrams get to confess his love of Spielberg before me?” and a less kind voice in my head said J.J Abrams is not worthy of making a Spielberg love film. On the other hand, more and more people, whose opinion matters, were raving about the film and another, nicer voice in my head was screaming and jumping up and down (voices can do that) with joy that finally someone made THAT film, for Spielberg. 

Knowing very little about the film apart from the fact that there are going to be kids and there is going to be a Spielberg. I calmed the voices in my head down and finally went to watch Super 8 wanting to love it more than anything else.

Half way through the film I realised I can’t love it. I decided I want to hate it and if possible, with passion, but I couldn’t do that either. When the film has ended I was left with the strangest feelings. More than anything else I felt I understood J.J, which is why I now allow myself to call him J.J. Or if not J.J, I can understand why he had to make this film and imagine how, hopefully, excited and nervous he must have been making it.

There was so much to love in the film, great ideas, really good intention and most importantly genuine love for Spielberg. I put my resentment towards J.J to one side and tilt my head, smiled and nod with the kind of understanding and solidarity that us Spielberg fans share.

Unfortunately J.J doesn’t have the talent, and for the first time in my acquaintance with him, it actually pains me to say so. I am not cynical, I can’t be when I’m around Spielberg, it genuinely breaks my heart to say that, particularly because it had all the right ingredients to be so fantastic. 

An absolutely brilliant premise; a bunch of kids making a zombie movie, when a train crashes, with a bang turned all the way up to eleven, and a captive alien escapes and causes havoc in the small suburbia. The alien simply wants to get back home and the evil and stupid grown up not only prevent it but and hurt it. Is it any surprise the alien becomes a hater of men after all these years of sufferings? And in a true Spielberg spirit the two main kids grow up without a mother, and dysfunctional fathers, who need to learn a lesson from their children.

That explains it!
Everything is there, yet it doesn’t work. The biggest problem was that sadly I couldn’t for one minute forget that I am watching a J.J Abrams film. His signature artistic flairs, which I adored in Star Trek, angered me in the film and blocked my way to the kids’ hearts. Ho if it were only the flairs that were the biggest problem of this film… 

Making the alien ugly and monstrous, and get the viewers to feel for it, is quite the challenge. The Elephant Man and Beauty and the Beast are just two of the many films that come to mind which set a certain standard of making the ugly loveable. It seems those films have past J.J by. The alien in Super 8 hardly has any screen time. For most of the film we can only parts of the alien, and he seems to be destroying things. When Dr. Woodward (Glynn Turman) says the alien is a part of him I thought a connection was made; Dr. Woodward will give the alien a voice or something of the kind. Alas that wasn’t to be and no one else volunteered to speak for the alien or even make a real connection. When Alice tells Joe that he only wants to get home, he and more importantly we already know that, get with the programme Alice! Instead of telling us once again what he wants and running away from him, how about… mmmm… I don’t know… Help him build his ship? This was genuinely what I thought,  or perhaps hoped, would happen when Joe and Cary save Alice. 

 I couldn’t help thinking about a much better execution of a similar idea. Doctor Who, The Planet of The Ood (Series 4, episode 3). Tthe Ood are ugly aliens who are used as slaves of humans. Not only are they ugly but they all look the same, which makes it harder to treat them as individual, see the differences in their personalities or characteristics. Nevertheless, Keith Temple, the writer, and Graeme Harper, the director, created heartbreaking “monsters” with the Oods. Holding their brains in their hands which sounds disgusting, in Temple hands becomes the very thing that makes them so peaceful and vulnerable, just like Donna, the Doctor’s companion points out. Since aliens are much more J.J’s thing than cartoons or Black and White films, I wish he watched that episode and learned a valuable lesson in making the ugly beautiful.

After the illusion didn’t work and the monster wasn’t interesting I turn my attention to the kids, after all the kids are our future and hope will come from them. The cast of the kids is wonderful, which made it harder for me to watch their talent lost in some very questionable characters

Cary (Ryan Lee) and Martin (Gabriel Basso) the less dominant kids of the bunch become cardboard caricatures. I have learned nothing about them apart from the fact that Cary is a pyromaniac and Martin has a tendency to throw up when the going gets tough. This is so thin that I couldn’t even find it funny. None of the Goonies were a caricature, even if they started as ones.

Charles (Riley Griffith) is by far the best actor and a part of me wishes the film was about him. Charles is the kid that is trying to make the Zombie film. However I think I loved him more for his acting than his actual character. As a character he is quite awful and mean, and I didn’t find his constant use of the word “mint” funny or charming. I thought he and Joe were supposed to be best friends, but wouldn’t best friends know each other’s love interest? Would a best friend not know how important the model train is for Joe to ask him to blow it up so casually? And if they are not best friends, why then oh why does Joe help with the film and let Charles be so mean? Charles doesn’t have to be the image of nice, but it is very hard for me to make any excuses for him when all he does is bark at people, and has hardly any likable quality. It was because of his acting and constant annoyance that I liked him, not his character. I did however absolutely adored his finished film that was played during the end credits. That was a real diamond.   

Lastly the two main kids Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney) and Alice Dainard (Elle Fanning) who were good, but for some reason, probably all that I listed above, I just couldn’t connect with them. Not in the level I ever connected with Spielberg’s film kids.

The great moment of emotional climax in the film should be when the alien lifts Joe and they look into each other’s eyes. This was the closest I got to feeling anything remotely close to how I felt when Elliot meets E.T. for the first time, or when I saw the musical conversation in Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

Super 8 was not the film I wanted it to be, which is why I cannot love it. Surprisingly it saddens me. However, it is such a beautiful attempt full of love and admiration that I can’t hate it either. More than any characters in the film, and more than anything else I felt I could, for the first time ever, relate to J.J Abrams and for the first time I loved him.       

[1] Hitchcock comedies, in comparison, are at times embarrassing.

Friday, 5 August 2011


for a long time grammar and I have been friendly acquaintances we said hello if we ran into each other in the hallways of necessary writing and basic language skills but I never invited grammar into my life and it never shared its life with me when I moved to england there were those who wanted me to embrace grammar and bring us together but I usually waved them and grammar off dismissively knowing that my english is good enough I was told it was even better than the english of some british people and I was understood I could write a CV and have a meaningful discussions and heated arguments about my favourite films and television fluent enough English to make people think before they dare question me but than I decided to become a writer and as if I needed any more challenges in my nothing but challenging life I wanted to write in english writing never came easy for me and I never thought that it would turn into something I actually want to do on a regular basis that is when grammar and I became enemies I could not help feeling that grammar is only trying to stand in my way tripping me and making life difficult but without it I would be misunderstood I hated grammar it made me feel stupid no matter how hard I tried a mistake found its way into my writing to mock me and to be pointed out to me but english is not your first language people would say to me its ok to make mistakes that was not a good enough excuse for me I have known english from a very young age I knew how to spell my name in english at the same time I knew how to spell it in Hebrew and I grew up with a humongous amount of english speaking films and television and a large percent of which was british so forgive me if I feel a bit patronised when I am told I should not worry about it there is a spell check and grammar check on computers these days use it I hear you say but a spell checker will not tell you the difference between aloud and allowed and when to use it or it will find a word that has nothing to do with the word you originally wanted because it could not understand  you to begin with and the grammar apparently is open to interpretation and when I am always torn when it comes to choosing between my beloved computer malcolm and well people so I took an english grammar course and for a moment I thought grammar and I are friends again the teacher told me I do not belong there that the fact that I have been to university and got a ba which requires me to read and understand a lot of academic level english puts me in a higher level than the rest of the class I take the test anyway and pass but its still not good enough not for grammar but I do not give up no matter how many times grammar attacks me and it really hurts I still decide to try and embrace it I buy grammar books I try an get all my writings particularly the one I published checked by more than one english speaker and writer and even when I am positively sure that everything is the way it likes it sneaky grammar shows up from an unexpected corner to point and shame me in its smug way defeated and shattered I raise my hands to the air and cry ho grammar why do you hate me so much why are you so difficult I try so hard then grammar shows up and help me to my feet again because I got down on my knees when I cried it wipes my tears and takes me to lunch and we have a long chat I tell grammar about the book I am currently reading about it and how I feel it is patronising me I tell it how upset I get when I see those red and even more so the green lines on my word document and I have no clue how to make them go away grammar looks at me and smile its not me he tells me I do not care I lift my eyes in surprise but grammar is not there any more it was never there because grammar is not really human it does not have feelings you can hurt its people grammar bullies that terrorise me people like the person who wrote this book which I will not name because they are not the only ones they make it sound like they are the victims of bad grammar that they are the ones who suffer in the name of grammar I always felt the opposite that the people who point out all your grammatical mistakes and never have anything to say about what you wrote are playing some kind of a power play this is their way of feeling superior and make the writer with his or hers grammar difficulties feel so small illiterate and mostly misunderstood then I cast my thought to the paintings of Pablo Picasso and the liberty he allowed yes I now know which one to use himself with the female body form and I wonder if anyone would have walked with a marker like the writer of that book does and correct his paintings is language and grammar not merely the paint and brushes of the writers and why should the writer not take liberties and reinvent writing this is just an excuse for laziness I imagine the grammar police shouts moments before its head explodes perhaps they are right Picasso by the way was a great painter who could paint a woman in the right order should he wanted to but Jackson Pollock was not his earlier work is almost embarrassing but does it make his abstract work less important or significant I personally do not think so so here I am trying to make peace not with grammar because we are fine even though it disappeared without paying for lunch but with people I know reading this is a challenge and some of you probably hate this and me right now but maybe if you think of this from a different angle you might find this liberating I leave the power of grammar and with it interpretation to you the reader I am not lazy I continue to try and I do not intend to write my posts this way from now on believe it or not it is almost as difficult if not more so than to try and follow the rules of grammar but I and grammar came to term with the fact that I may never have perfect understanding of it could you?

[1] Inspired by the Israeli author Yaakov Shabtai who wrote the book Protocol (Zichron Dvarim) with no punctuation apart from a full stop at the end.