This week I've had two excellent evenings out: one at the theatre in Greenwich, the other at the cinema in Clapham. Both productions were what I would call "real highlights of 2007" in their respective fields. Alas, both were presented in venues that could have easily benefitted from more 'bums on seats', and it's kind of depressing that work of the sort of quality I've witnessed this week isn't proving more successful on a commercial level.
On Wednesday, I went to see A Christmas Carol at The Greenwich Playhouse. To be honest, it's a production I went to see more because it was an adaptation by my friend Brian Sibley, than because it was something I felt I really needed to see: Greenwich is not the most central location (although thankfully, the theatre is right next to the main station) and A Christmas Carol is hardly an unfamiliar piece, trotted out on TV, DVD and in the theatre every December (there are three theatrical productions in London alone this year I believe). My mistake, because as it turned out this excursion turned out to be a genuine highlight of my cultural excursions in 2007: the production is genuinely new, innovative, exciting, fast-paced, and really, really magical!
Brian has taken a very familiar story and given it a new spin by making Dickens himself an integral part of the play. There's an emphasis on the social problems of the times in new scenes that I haven't seen in other versions, and some scenes that are so moving that several audience members could be seen dabbing their eyes at certain times in the production. No matter how familiar you are with the story, you'll find something new here.
The production itself is superb. The cast make excellent use of a small, but modern, space that gives an intimacy that just isn't there in West End productions. The staging, use of props, and use of puppets for the ghosts and the wonderful 'Tiny Tim' make this an incredibly complex production to perform, and I would imagine a complete nightmare to direct. And yet the small cast of eight manage complex changes and direction flawlessly, while all the time giving believable, real performances. The actors are all professionals, if not household names, and I can't remember a time where I saw a theatrical cast work so hard, or witnessed such a consistently high standard from every member of the cast. In short, it's a real family treat, and a 'must see' this Christmas.
The production runs until 6th January and tickets are a bargain at just £11 (£9 concessions) from the box office on 0208 858 9256. Do yourself a favour and go see it!
The audience I saw the play with were clearly as much in love with the production as I was, as apparently are the critics. But don't just take my word for it - check out the rave reviews and photo's that Brian's posted over on his blog.
Since he made that blog post more, equally enthusiastic, reviews have appeared in the local press. I sincerely hope that their enthusiasm for this production translates across into 'bums on seats' because it would be a shame if a production as good as this one didn't have a full house every night for the remainder of its run. More information can be found at galleontheatre.co.uk.
Last night I went to the Clapham Picture House to see a preview of Ang Lee's new film Lust, Caution which was followed by a satellite screening of a live Q&A with the director. It was quite depressing to see a cinema that was less than a tenth full, for a film that won the Venice Film Festival Film of the Year, and has received nothing but praise from the critics.
I've liked most of Lee's films, from The Ice Storm, through Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon to Brokeback Mountain, and even including the poorly received The Hulk movie he made, but Lust, Caution is, I think, his most polished film to date - perfect in nearly every way.
In the Q&A session Lee described the film as his most personal, and certainly it's his most explicit, with three sex scenes that, while short (although apparently taking twelve days to film), leave little to the imagination. These may put some potential audiences off but they are more than warranted I think in helping to convey the depth of emotion that needs to be conveyed if the rather unbelievable outcome from the book is to be in any way believable. It's not a short film, running at two and a half hours, but I found myself gripped throughout the entire running time.
In many ways Lust, Caution is like two films in one, with a central violent event forming the 'hinge' of the two. The first half is what the director called an 'overly dramatic' melodrama, concentrating on the story of a group of actors in pre-War Hong Kong putting together a naive plot to assasinate a traitorous politician who's colluding with the Japanese. The second half is more a 'film noir', complete with subtle, but nicely done, homages to Hitchcock. Lee talked about his deliberate usage of more desaturated colours and natural performances for the second half, obtaining incredibly subtle, nuanced performances from his cast in a story that moves on three years from the first half, with the same characters attempting to finish what they'd set out to do in the first half.
The ending is shocking in an 'obviously not a Hollywood movie' kind of way, but all the more powerful for all that, and I'm struggling to get the film out of my head the next day. In the Q&A session after the screening Lee talked about the fact that his last six films have all been 'tragedies' and that he really needs to get back to the genre he started with in Taiwan - comedy. When the 'tragedy' he produces is as good as Lust, Caution it would be a pity to see him move away from a genre that he's so adept at, and which has the power to move audiences so visibly. The film goes on general release in the UK in January and I strongly urge you to see it.