Saturday, March 28, 2015

Much as one of the teenagers came out fuming that Insurgent veered off the book's path, I enjoyed it. In as much as I'll ever enjoy a film that basically consists of a large group of people trying to kill each other for one reason or another.

As teen movies go, this one is a lot of fun. The people are mostly beautiful. The art direction is stunning. The costumes (does that count as art direction?) are mostly understated, brilliantly well thought through, casually evocative. Just spot on. (Though I haven't read the books!) The set design (and surely oodles of CGI) is excellent.

But it's the plot that I salute. Divergent, the predecessor, tells of Tris who discovers that she doesn't fit into any of the four tribes / packs / kinds of people that exist in the world. Some bad stuff happens as a consequence. Luckily she finds some other people that are a bit like her. There's some death. The end. 

Insurgent gives us a paranoid Tris who feels certain she leaves disaster (death) in her wake and has become terrified of shadows. But not terrified like I would be. Terrified in a way that means she's still ridiculously brave, strong, daring and bold. 

Unfortunately, it turns out that due to Tris' 'defective' nature, she holds the key to saving the world so the queen evil one (brilliantly played again by an icy Kate Winslet) hunts her down. 

Tris' companions do an excellent job of hiding her from evil Kate but Tris is over-flowing with goodness and turns herself in to prevent more children being sent to their deaths as blackmail for their collective concealing. 

And the major cleverness is that to save the world, Tris then has to perform a series of tasks which have broken the necks (oddly, literally) of others before her. The series of tasks mainly involve people whom she knows nastily accusing her of being deadly and she has to smartly, strongly, bravely figure out that they're not real. (Belated spoiler alert, btw.)

It's a clever very clever story (though not true to the book, remember). The teenager's favourite theme: not fitting in. Coupled with the teenager's favourite paranoia: that everyone secretly hates them. Beautifully united in this story of drawing on boundless inner reserves of wisdom, insight, loyalty and compassion to make just, fair and right decisions when people confound you.  

Would that we were all more like Tris.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

So here's 1927 (theatre company) with an image from - well - they're going to be doing The Magic Flute in conjunction with someone else in the EIF 2015 though I suspect the pic is them doing something else.

Nicola Benedetti on screen when the tech people were testing things out at the set up of the launch event.  

Festival Director (I want his job) Fergus Linehan announcing the programme with Anne-Sophie Mutter on the screen in the background. 

And (below) the Edinburgh Festival Chorus and The Lovely Christopher Bell drawing the proceedings to a close.

I trotted along to this aforementioned event yesterday. I missed the launch last year. In fact, maybe I've missed it for several years. As the last clear memory I have of attending the equivalent was with Ross at the Roxy Arthouse and it was an EIF under Jonathan Mills' jurisdiction and it was impenetrable and just what you'd expect from an EIF. (i.e. obscure, intellectual, THEMED, inaccessible.) 

At yesterday's launch, there was not a theme in sight. It's always struck me that themes horribly hamper any sort of international curation job. When, as Mr Linehan said, you're having to negotiate with a conductor one day about their availability in 2017 and the next, cosset an actor about a yet to be devised piece for five months on, how can you possibly adhere to a theme? So Mr Mills' themes were always, by their nature, loose. And consequently, conceits of the intellect to a large extent. Maybe what EIF audiences yearned and hankered for. But not this one. 

This programme - to my ill-informed eyes - seems like a gloriously riotous combination of stuff that is half populist (Franz Ferdinand) with stuff that is undeniably high art (Sylvie Guillem, Juliette Binoche, Sufjan Stevens, Alice Coot if you know anything about opera which I don't, all sorts of esteemed directors) with stuff that - and here's the rub - looks fun (Davie Grieg's Lanark, a bizarre German thing called Murmel Murmel, the Harmonium Project, 1927's Magic Flute, Anna Calvi and friends and - for a euphoric change, if I had the programme in front of me, I could go on).

If Mr Linehan made a claim to anything, it was the hope that art (and #GreatArtists - smart hashtag!) can change the way you think about the world. "We have to recognise what we need to transform," said Juliette Binoche in a little filmed piece to camera of her role in Antigone.  Which is a great example of the need or value of thinking in a world where it's increasingly unfashionable to consider. Better just to get on and do it do it do it. Reflect and regret later. 

With a programme like this, I suspect a lot of feathers will be ruffled. But the first time in a long time, my feathers are ruffled with something like consternation that this August, I won't be able to physically find time to fit everything in. Good show.
I've had lots of enquiries about auditions for the festival shows. Incredibly, I've had two students from RSAMD - sorry, the Conservatoire - wishing to audition which seems amazing to me. I assume they think we're a professional company. Or maybe they live in Edinburgh in the summer holidays. I've been trying my best not to put people off but mostly, they're completely the wrong ages for The Maiden. (Or Death.) So I continue to keep my fingers crossed and hope.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Edinburgh Playhouse. Saturday night. Chardonnay at the ready. Air thick with perfume. Lips thick with lip gloss. Many many chiffon blouses in the house. Not so many men in the house. Curtain up on Dirty Dancing

I was full of hope. We watched the film before we left the house. (And when we got back.) I can clearly picture Baby in my mind. And I can hear Patrick murmuring "nobody puts Baby in the corner" as if he were sat on the seat of the bus next to me this very minute. The songs make me yearn with nostalgia for I don't even know what as the film was released when I was too young to yearn. And yet I've grown up on it and it's tranquil world view. And I want its story for my own.  

The stage show is like a seething box of maggots. Plump thriving maggots admittedly but maggots nonetheless. Not helped by the fact that they (what?) can't get rights for / can't afford / didn't want to use all of the original soundtrack. Perhaps because then the great (singing) gifts of the cast would be wasted.

So some poor person has had the thankless task of writing replacement songs for nightly audiences of 3,000 women who just want to see the movie on stage. The newly created songs are fine.  Weird of course, as Dirty Dancing is emphatically not a musical. They're fine nonetheless. But JUST NOT the songs we wish to hear.

And every now and again, a little tease, when they couldn't avoid it ("She's like the wind"), they play one of the soundtrack songs over the speaker system. 

So you have a lively healthy band sitting in the pit, periodically springing into action - and a handful of pre-recorded tracks. Like a dog who has his dinner strewn in disarray all over the floor.

The cast, inevitably, all look not quite right. "Patrick Swayze" is too tall and dark. And isn't the best actor I've ever seen. But he's there for his hips so I suppose that's not his fault. The parents are nice enough but wrong. Baby's sister is pert and pretty but lacks the look of the fool. Penny, Johnny's ill-fated dance partner, looks the business and has legs the length of the Forth Road Bridge. But also is slightly limited in acting ability. (Oh, hark at me.)

But but but. The dancing is wonderful. We took a passel of children and they all came out bursting to go to dancing lessons. I came out vowing that this time, this time, dance classes would lead to my becoming a dancing star.

The dresses are stunning. (I'm after the black sparkly one for myself.)

And the staging, while a little clodhopping, doffed a tongue-in-cheek cap to the film with some smart scrimmage (and a plump mattress??) to show the balancing on the log scene and the all girls favourite lake scene. 

More importantly than all of that, Baby was gorgeous. Just properly Baby-ish. Despite her two dimensional surroundings, you really (I really) urgently wished that she wouldn't be relegated to the corner. So hats off to her.

And despite all my scornful supercilious words, I did consider going back the following week. And I would go and see it many times more, just for the delicious delight of being able to thump Cari on the arm and squeal (in an auditorium worthy whisper) "this is this bit!!!!! Eeeeek!"

Such moments are priceless.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

The Italian title is better than the translation. Buoni a nulla.

Good for Nothings.

Incorrectly rendered in the Filmhouse programme as Good For Nothing

(Pedant in my old age.)

The film was as good as its title.

I trotted along heart full of irritation. It was too early (6:10pm). I'd had to flee from work. Didn't really want to see a film. Too much to do. Hungry. Grumble grumble.

I watched the first fifteen minutes with impatient eyes. Long lingering shots. People walking. Not much happening. Typical European cinema. Where were the car chases and bruised and bloodied children being hurled about car boots?

But then, like the little snickety thing on a gate, something happened and my mind re-opened to the loveliness of gentle observational tales of people going about their lives experiencing small set backs and I was sucked in. 

The film tells of a man who, six months off retirement, is told that his pension no longer exists and he must work another three years before he stops anyway. He gets despatched to a shiny head office beside a motorway, a harsh and hideous contrast to his previous rural idyll. 

On arrival at the palace of chrome, it quickly becomes clear that he can't actually do anything. He has no work skills. Previously hidden in arcadia, his incompetence is now on the verge of being revealed.

Except a dentist turned psychotherapist and new partner of our protagonist's ex wife (who was eerily like B S Neill's ex-wife if she were Italian) intervenes and our man seizes the day. With funny and surprising and charmingly observed consequences.

I don't know if it'll ever be on again as this was a Filmhouse Italian Film Festival special. But it's a lovely frothy sweet and endearing treat.


Saturday, March 07, 2015

Margaret is leaving the group.

Which is meaningless to most people but to me, is like hearing the tolling of a very sad bell.

In all fairness, Margaret has been a member of the aforementioned group for sixty years.

She isn't even really technically leaving. She's just not renewing her membership. Which amounts to the same thing.

The group is Edinburgh Graduate Theatre Group. My theatrical pater familias. And alma mater. And taught (the people of whom taught) me much of the theatre-y stuff I know today. Indulger of my dancing curtain calls.  Of my lewd language. Of my water-based flights of fancy. 

Margaret has seen almost four times as much of its history as I. So imagine how much knowledge and been there done that she has in her head. 

She was in the first (Grads) play I was in. A word-based form of Oliver. Adapted from Dickens by Mr Archie Alexander. I was lucky enough (very happy to be) Nancy. In a crumpled pink silken dress (Home Street's best). I was beaten into nightly submission by Mike Phillips. Margaret was the workhouse owner (I think) and received a nightly courting from Mr Bumble (John Kelly) with delightful glee. I remember peeking at their scene from the wings (or the unyielding chairs in our rehearsal rooms) and thinking that was proper acting. 

(The production was also notable for Old Sally aka Siobhan a-dying fast. With a pretty sour expression as the clump of boxes on which she had to make her uncomfortable final bed lacked cushioning.)

My chronology and recollection of detail is atrocious but she also performed alongside me in Terry Pratchett's Maskerade. I forget what she was. I was some sister or twin or nice counterpart to a spiteful girl played by the ever gorgeous Caroline Mathison. (Or was it the other way around?) That was our something anniversary production. 40th? We cut a cake in the Old Quad University buildings to celebrate. 

She was surely in the peculiar but very funny Dandy Dick. I was a socially awkward maid. I've got a lovely photo of Ross and I backstage in costume looking incredibly young. John Kelly was a vicar type. Angela was the leading horse-loving lady. Was Margaret there too? And was she in the excellent Wendy Mathison (directed) Tom Stoppard (scripted) Arcadia? And the fire-interrupted Pygmalion? And in the grand old days of the Christmas show; Puss in Boots?

I remember clearly being on stage under the beating lights as I swooned and fainted my way through David Grimes' (directed) Christopher Hampton's (scripted) Les Liaisons Dangereuses. Margaret was my something or other guardian or aunt or virtue protector and stroked my hair and told me it would be alright. And although I was almost sick with love, I actually, in that moment, believed her. 

She was a great changing room sharer. Of course almost more fun than the play itself is the backstage frivol, eating chocolates and rich tea biscuits and bitching alongside endless cups of tea from the even then on its last legs plastic kettle we were permitted in the paint peeling dressing rooms. And I always loved a dressing room with Margaret in it. So kind and wise and reassuring and lovely and funny and great.

She will have indulged my directing flights of fancy on several occasions. In The Caucasian Chalk Circle. She was third woman, woman 3 (a varied and different character), Old Woman and the (old) woman whose cow had been stolen. In the firework-riddled Antony and Cleopatra (photo above was a publicity shot). Maybe in several other productions though I dreadfully can't remember which and as what - but I do remember fitting rehearsals around her Scottish country dancing classes. 

She never ever liked to prompt. Which I continue to be slightly bemused by and yet admire as a consistent insistent stance. But she's been a faithful front of house-er, I presume throughout these sixty years. And there are few things I love more than a willingness to front of house as without these ladies and gentlemen, what kind of show would we have?

An era doesn't end in an email. I guess it slyly sneaks up on you and you only realise it's over when it isn't there anymore. With sixty years of Margaret rounded up in a little thank you and that's enough now email, it might not be the end of the era in and of itself. But it should certainly be one very noisy and grateful and we've LOVED having her set of rampant respectful lucky to have her not easily silenced bells to mark a bit of a full stop at the end of something very special.