It’s been quite the week for theatre and cinema – if going three times counts as ‘quite the week’, which I rather think it does. And that’s not even including watching Crush on DVD because it has Imelda Staunton and Anna Chancellor in it (word to the wise: they’re glorious, but not enough to make up for a rather shaky plot and Andie MacDowell handing in a rather underwhelming performance – but kudos to whoever put the Behind The Scenes section on the DVD that is literally just behind the scenes footage without any voiceover, including watching a man move cones around).
The film I saw at the cinema was La La Land (watching for the second time, and liking even more this time around), but you already know that that’s great. So I thought I’d mention the plays I’ve been to see.
On Monday I went to see a production of Nineteen Eighty-Four, and managed to walk into a door on the way in (or, rather, the glass surrounds to a door that I couldn’t see). Ouch. I only realised the day before I went that it would be rather a tough watch – and, indeed, it was. At times I had my fingers in my ears and my eyes closed – there were some very realistic depictions of torture. But, ultimately, I was impressed with the production – it should be unsettling, after all – and the staging was very effective. TV screens were all over the stage, along with lots of floor-level strip lighting; the TV screens showed what was on stage, alongside pre-recorded footage of the same actors, and it was disorientating in the right way.
Sometimes I thought that more had been put into the staging that the rest of the production – two things especially: Julia seemed oddly unpleasant, and Winston and Julia fell in love at the first instant of their first encounter. (Does that happen in the book? I’ve read it twice, but clearly misremembered some of it – there was a central aspect to the plot that I thought they’d changed, but the Wikipedia summary corrects me.) There was an exceptionally good performance from the woman who interrogates Winston, though, and I was pretty impressed.
In the current political climate, an added dimension was there. Comparisons between Trump’s presidency and Nineteen Eighty-Four have brought about a huge rise in sales of the book (which is a brilliant novel, incidentally). Seeing the production in front of me, it was slightly reassuring to see the things that Trump doesn’t do (yet), but watching realistic waterboarding in the week that Trump announced he wanted to reintroduce it… well, it hit home how immoral torture is, and that it hasn’t disappeared. Similarly, the doublethink (whereby you will believe contradictory things, or that 2 + 2 = 5, if Big Brother instructs you to) felt so relevant to today and Trump’s constant, pathological lying. A very apt choice of play for 2017. See more about Creation Theatre’s production.
I was in London for a couple of days this week, at a very good Introduction to International Development course, and I thought I should use the opportunity to go to a play. Having not planned ahead, I was scrolling through what was on that night, seeing what still had tickets available, and landed on Travesties by Tom Stoppard.
I thought I’d read it when I was an undergraduate, but apparently not – or, if I did, I forgot every single thing about it. I certainly wrote about reality in Stoppard at some point, but maybe not this play – though it would have been a great one to choose. Travesties is the faulty reminiscences of ex-consular officer Henry Carr, talking about his dealings with Lenin, James Joyce, and Tristan Tzara, putting on a production of The Importance of Being Earnest. Only Stoppard would think of that, right? (Although it is based in the very loosest way on fact: all four men were indeed in Zurich at the same time.)
He’s certainly a whizz at crafting an entertaining play out of something that should really only be an intellectual exercise. The production (currently at the Apollo Theatre, with Tom Hollander in the lead role) was frenetic and fun, and there was plenty of laughter in the packed audience. But we often laughed in different sections – as different people clearly ‘got’ different allusions. I know The Importance of Being Earnest inside out, so loved all the many references to lines and scenes from it. Many of Wilde’s scenarios and quips are altered (subtly or otherwise) to fit the various other occupants of the play – it was great fun spotting where they all were. And so I assume that the same was true for Joyce, Lenin, and Tzara. I know a bit about Joyce, an outline of Lenin, and had never heard of Tzara – and it left me wondering: who on earth would understand everything in this play?
It does seem rather ambitious, to expect anybody in the audience to have a thorough working knowledge of all four elements of the play. I’m going to wager that that was also the case in 1974, when the play was first put on. But I suppose that is Stoppard’s talent – to make such a curio intensely entertaining, even while I knew that I must be missing much. (It’s at the Apollo until April, if you want to go and see it.)
And I’m going to the theatre again next week, to see Silver Lining. What better way to ride out 2017 than with books and plays? (And, yes, probably wine and chocolate.)