Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Review: Film/Dance

Pina, Curzon Chelsea, dir Wim Wenders

Beautiful.  Pina is imbued with a real sense of loss. The dancers talk direct to camera as if having staggered away from a car crash. They talk in truncated sentences as a child might mourn a parent about inspiration, yearning now that Pina Bausch is dead. The structure of the film is the 3D presentation of Pina Baush’s signature work, including Rite of Spring, CafĂ© Muller, Kontakthof interspersed with site-specific filmed dance sequences and the dancers’ thoughts. There is a strong elemental quality that runs throughout Bausch’s work which the film captures beautifully. Glimpses of a natural life sometimes cut off by the backdrop of a high-rise monorail, open-glassed housing, barren, desert terrain or subterranean mining tunnels as dancers criss-cross concrete, sand, flooring or wood. The most impressive, Vollmond, shows a rock-spattered terrain doused first by trickles of water which build into a deluge. The female dancers have a look: shoulder-length hair, maxi dresses which hide their legs. The impression is that movement explodes from the centre, filling the immediate space and beyond. Wim Wenders’ direction respects this dynamic and with sharp lighting, colours and angles gives the film a fresh, crisp aesthetic. See it on the big screen before it’s consigned to DVD.  

Friday, 22 April 2011

Review: Theatre

Richard III, Propeller Theatre Company, Dir Edward Hall, Design Michael Pavelka

Inventive.  As always with Propeller this production of Richard III is a gargantuan visual feast. The set, Michael Pavelka, is a mass of scaffolding, black & decker artifacts, hospital screens, and plastic curtains which resemble hammer horror dungeons and torture chambers. It constantly changes adding to the fast pace and imaginative direction of Edward Hall. The pitch throughout is grand guinol in style. Often grotesque, fitting the mounting body count as Richard, last of the Plantagenets, cuts down anyone who stands between him and the English throne, it is fluid and flexible.

Yet a difficulty in this full-on approach is that sometimes this B movie execution threatens to over-tip the play towards a vaudevillian farce. It’s left to the moving scenes between the three widowed queens to re-focus the play, and underline the personal, as well as political tragedy. What does work with sharp clarity is the foregrounding of Queen Margaret’s curse dispensed in a ritualised blood-letting. Each victim refers to this before they are brutally done to death by the ever-present assassins and murderers in surgical, sinister masks.

The soundscape, a Propeller trademark, is witty, satiric and at times moving as it combines and re-sets Down Among the Dead Men, charting Richard’s descent into madness, Dies Irae, madrigals, hymns and other folk tunes. The addition of an electric guitar gives a punchy, contemporary edge; and the revs of drills and chain saws, sets the teeth on edge...... 

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Review: Theatre

One Man, Steven Berkoff, Riverside Studios

Catch it. Tell Tale Heart and Dog shows off Steven Berkoff’s consummate skill. He offers a window on vaudeville, clowning, music-hall as well as casting light on some uncomfortable human characteristics which can make you squirm. 

The first, a short story by Edgar Allan Poe, is a madman’s tale of murder, obsession. The recreation of the old man’s room and his subsequent dismemberment is wonderfully grotesque, brought off with a few choice movement sequences. Berkoff’s graceful hands have the precision of a surgeon as he delineates his settings, with the swift execution of a Venus fly-trap. As the butler he teases out the text, beats, as he plays the audience as willing, and sometimes, uncomfortable accomplices in his tale.  

The second creation Dog is equally grotesque but here Berkoff steps up a gear, if this is at all possible, by characterising both the hooligan dog owner and his pooch, Roy. Much of the humour is derived from Berkoff’s facial expressions which cross and re-cross from one to the other and in his rapid change in physicality. Dog is ‘a day in the life of’ as opposed to Poe’s rounded, macabre tale.  In both pieces you know you are in the presence of a master-craftsman: vibrant, highly theatrical, often chilling in its grotesquerie, as Berkoff  climbs and re-climbs stairs, or in a moment of fierce bonding, gives the dog a kiss. 

Both pieces are accompanied by his own percussive man-made sounds: footsteps, the lopping of limbs or driving his transit van and swilling back pints of lager. Yet the introduction to Dog by the Sex Pistols is a forceful reminder that the bad boy of the theatre is still around to kick ass. Go and see him and learn what theatre is really about. 

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Review: Theatre

Wastwater, Royal Court, Dir Katie Mitchell, Design Lizzie Clachan

Intense. Within the Heathrow environs, three scenes are played out with chance references to people, situations or events, making a theatrical triptych. Everyone wants something and the scenes show degrees of humanity, callousness, cruelty in order to get it. It’s a dystopian view made all the more chillingly for its close, geographical proximity, and superb characterisations. The direction is meticulous and the actors have responded to this despite the often elliptical dialogue. The fractured lighting and soundscape of overhead planes make for an eerie backdrop. And the three settings: a farmhouse garden, site of a proposed runway; an up-market hotel bedroom; and whitened, distempered warehouse, is cunningly conceived by Lizzie Clachan. Yet the Wastwater in the title refers to one of the Cumbrian Lakes, a couple of hundred miles north of Heathrow, under which many bodies lie hidden. And this ultimately seems to be its point: still waters run deep. Yet only in the first pairing of Freida and Harry, a foster mother whose son is about to depart for Canada is there any real sense of one human being reaching out to another.  

Friday, 1 April 2011

Review: Film

Source Code: Curzon

Dir Duncan Jones, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michelle Monaghan; Screenplay Ben Ripley; Music Chris Bacon

Cracking. Source Code entertains on all fronts: pacey sci-fi thriller, with tense, taut music score and fast, confident direction. Colter Stevens is a helicopter pilot shot down in Afghanistan. He is part of a secret, controversial government programme, the source code, which allows him to re-live the last eight minutes of his life in another’s body. A train is blown apart and it’s Colter’s mission to uncover the bomber’s identity. Groundhog Day meets Hitchcock as Stevens returns each time for eight minutes and uncovers further clues.  This narrative structure is neat as it ratchets up the tension whilst allowing Colter to fall for Christina. Yet we are never quite sure how much is real or not. With daring, overhead shots of compartmentalised Chicago, the doomed fast-moving train and the recurrent montage of split coffee, punched tickets and snatched dialogue, Source Code is intelligent, entertaining and stylish