Jarhead at Hoyts, Broadway

Even though I haven’t posted anything since December, I have actually been to the theatre twice, and seen four movies. But between writing my treatise, and a two week holiday in New Zealand, I haven’t had time to write any of them up until now. The big catch-up happened today, with comments (some of them very brief) on The Cherry Orchard, Twelfth Night (in Russian – the performance, that is, not my write up), Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride, The World’s Fastest Indian and Munich.

I only saw Jarhead yesterday, so it counts as a current write up.

Some of the visuals in this film were amazingly powerful. There was once scene when he walked through a group of bombed-out cars, and every step he took on the black ground revealed the white sand underneath. And the scenes at night, with the flames in the background, and the oil raining down on them, were both appalling and beautiful.

But the film itself was very ugly. This isn’t a criticism – it was obviously the intention, and it worked very well. But it was horrible seeing people become so dehumanized.

Munich at Hoyts, Broadway

Munich was a well crafted action film. In between the action, there were some serious considerations of conflict, revenge and retribution. But it didn’t really tell me anything much I don’t already know, or make me question any of my own assumptions, or even prompt me to think more deeply about the issues.

It was more thoughtful than most action films, but not as much as I had been expecting.

The World's Fastest Indian at Reading Cinema, Wellington

In many ways, The World’s Fastest Indian was a very good film, but I didn’t really enjoy it.

The performances were all great, with Anthony Hopkins being particularly strong. He was a great mix of innocence (or, at least, lack of worldly smarts) and passion and determination.

The problem, for me, was the storyline. Of course, I knew that in the end he was going to get his bike to Bonneville, and he was going to set a land-speed world record – I had even been told beforehand that his record still stands today. But there were so many times in the story that things nearly went gone catastrophically wrong that I spent the whole time worrying about what could have happened, rather than enjoying what was actually going on.

Tim Burton's Corpse Bride on Qantas flight QF189 (Sydney to Auckland)

Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride is probably not a really good movie to see on a plane. I found the plot and characters mildly appealing, but fairly superficial; and having to crane around someone else to look up at a fairly small screen meant that I wasn’t in the best position to fully appreciate the quality of the animation. Maybe I would have enjoyed it more in the cinema – or even at home on DVD – but as it was, I thought it was pleasant enough, but not much more.

Twelfth Night (William Shakespeare) – Chekhov International Theatre Festival in co-operation with Cheek by Jowl at the Theatre Royal

It seems a bit ironic that a week after seeing an English translation of The Cherry Orchard, I should see a Russian translation of Twelfth Night. The audience seemed to be a mix of people who had come because it was Shakespeare, and people who had come because it was Russian. I guess you don’t get a lot of Russian-language theatre in Sydney.

We weren’t sitting in the best position to read the surtitles, but that didn’t matter too much, as I’m sufficiently familiar with the play that I could just glance at them now and then, and enjoy the performances while the sound of the words washed over me. I hadn’t realised until now just what a beautiful language Russian is.

As well as being in Russian, this was an all-male production, and there was little attempt to disguise the sexuality of the actors. Olivia and Maria were both in skirts, but Olivia, in particular, had a very male haircut, which looked rather incongruous. And when Viola was wearing a dress, the boy-shorts underwear was very obvious. Ages ago, I remember reading a piece about Shakespearean theatre, which said that when a female character dresses as a male, for the audience this was simply a removal of disguise. I hadn’t actually realised the full psychological impact of this until now. In some ways, Viola was much more ambiguous than usual, simply because it was so much easier to think of her as male.

This production was from the same director as Othello a couple of years ago, and some of the same techniques were used: mostly empty stage, rather minimalist costumes, and particularly the way one scene sort of bled into the next one (ie the new scene would start even as the previous scene was still finishing). Although it doesn’t always work, this can be very effective.

I enjoyed all the performances. There were some interesting casting decisions – particularly the fact that Malvolio was quite young, and one of the two best-looking of the actors (the other being Sir Andrew!), so he did actually have some small basis for believing Olivia was in love with him.

The character of Fabian was completely dropped, with Feste taking over much of his part (though, oddly, the line about Toby marrying Maria was spoken by Maria herself). I’m not sure how I feel about this. He’s a bit of an add-on character who seems to appear out of nowhere to take over Feste’s part in the conspiracy (Jasper Fforde makes a joke about it in one of his Thursday Next books – that Feste has run away, so Fabian will have to cover for him). And yet, while the character was probably created for the practical reason that they had a leftover actor who needed a part (and, in this production, cut in order to save paying another actor), it does serve to keep Feste a bit more independent – on good terms with everyone, but not actually part of any of the inner circles. Which, for me, is very much the essence of his character.

It was hard to tell for sure how much of the play was cut. Certainly lines were missing from the surtitles, but I have a suspicion that in at least some cases, the actors still spoke them. The ending was interesting. There was a hint at first that Orsino wasn’t totally comfortable with Viola as a woman (he instinctively snatched his hands away from her when she reached out for him) but this seemed to disappear. More oddly, it seemed as if they were going to cut Malvolio’s “I’ll be revenged on the whole pack of you” line. And then right at the end, when everyone was dressed in happy, light coloured clothes, Malvolio came back on in his servant’s dress, served them all drinks, and then came to the front of the stage and said “I’ll be revenged on the whole pack of you” in a really menacing tone. At which point, the play ended. One can only wonder what might have been in the drinks he served!

The Cherry Orchard (Anton Chekhov) – Sydney Theatre Company production at the Wharf Theatre

I’d never seen a production of The Cherry Orchard before, and I’d never actually read it before. So I didn’t really have any preconceptions about the play (well, except that I knew it wasn’t going to be a barrel of laughs). Without having anything to compare it to, it was a bit hard to form a strong opinion of the adaptation, although at times I did feel that it was perhaps a bit too much “Australian colloquial” (given that the setting itself was clearly Russian). Some of the language seemed to jar a bit. Though I suppose that is still better than a formal, stilted translation.

With a cast that included Robyn Nevin, John Gaden, Lucy Bell and Pamela Rabe I expected the performances to be good, and as far as I could tell, without having any views of what the characters should be like, they certainly seemed to be. Though I was very surprised that Pamela Rabe’s part was so small (she played Charlotta) – I kept waiting for her to have more scenes, or more significance, and she didn’t.

And yet, somehow I didn’t feel any of the power that the play is supposed to have – not when compared to, say, Uncle Vanya. Some of the characters did seem a bit inconsistent from scene to scene, and some bits I didn’t really see the point of. So maybe there was something not quite right about the performances, or the direction, or the adaptation. Or maybe The Cherry Orchard is just one of those plays that doesn’t work for me.