I don’t think I have ever seen an Alan Bennett play – in fact, until I read Smut with the E17 Book Club last year, I don’t think I had even read an Alan Bennett book!
So, I wanted to see People at the National Theatre – but by the time I thought to book it, the reasonably-priced tickets had all gone for weeks ahead. So, I was very excited to see that there was a live broadcast being shown at the Hackney Picturehouse as I’m a member.
I watched the Theatre Live series recently on Sky Arts, presented by Sandi Toksvig and had really enjoyed that kind of theatre / live TV hybrid. However, I had no idea what to expect from a National Theatre screening.
Obviously everything is timed, and we got a lovely view of the audience as they were all filing into the theatre, and waiting for the play to start. Then Emma Freud appeared to tell us that we were now getting to watch a 5 minute film about the play. Now THAT is something you don’t get at the theatre!
Frances De La Tour plays practically hermit-like ex-model Lady Dorothy Stacpoole – current owner of the family stately home that hasn’t been able to afford the upkeep on for many years. She lives in mainly one room with her faithful ‘companion’, Iris played by the wonderful Linda Bassett.
Her arch-deacon sister (Selina Cadell) is trying to persuade her to give the home over to the National Trust, but Dorothy abhors ‘people’. The thought of them traipsing all over her family’s precious land and property, just for the experience – although not actually experiencing it – is more than she can bear. She is also being ‘wooed’ by an auctioneer (the fabulous Miles Jupp) who believes he can offer her more than just an attic sale.
When she has a surprise visit by an old friend from her modelling days, Dorothy wonders whether he could prove to be her rather unconventional salvation – much to the disgust of her sister.
I absolutely loved this play. The mixture of ‘very proper’ and ‘downright improper’ reminded me very much of “The Greening Of Mrs Donaldson” within Smut. Parts of it seemed quite farcical, but the contrast of those moments with the deeper, darker ones felt very well-placed, very Bennett.
De La Tour commanded the stage and made Dorothy feel completely real – aided and abetted by the beautifully comedic timing of Linda Bassett.
I have to say that I think the screening of this was fantastic, and I may have enjoyed it more than if I had seen it live in the theatre. Unexpectedly, there were many cameras, given shots from many angles, close-ups and panning shots.
The stage set was wonderful, and I believe I may have missed a lot fo that from the ‘cheap seats’. I think I may also have lost a lot of the emotion in the performances, seeing them from afar. the cameras kind of directed you to where you should be looking. So I think that this was definitely a total success for National Theatre Live.
I have actually already booked to see the live screening of The Audience with Helen Mirren, so I am looking forward to that even more now.
Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE going to the theatre, and the whole experience of it, so don’t believe that live screenings can replace the feeling of ‘being there’, but now that I have been to one, I am happy to acknowledge that it is a very, very enjoyable second best!
People is showing at the National Theatre until 15th May 2013.
Last weekend, I spent another lovely evening at Hackney Picturehouse. I actually went slightly early and did my homework for my creative writing course, which consisted of ‘observing’ people in a crowded place. It really is a great place to people-watch…but then I end up people-watching all the time (it’s just a nicer way of saying I’m nosey really, isn’t it?)
Yakov Protazanov’s Aelita was first released in 1924, and is set in 1921. It was apparently the first science-fiction film to come out of the Soviet Union, but to be honest, the ‘sci-fi’ bit of it isn’t the main story.
A strange radio transmission is being received across the world, and one of the recipients is an engineer called Los. Newly-married to Natasha, the message intrigues Los and he starts day-dreaming of its origin.
We cut to his dreams, which are of the woman of the title – Aelita, Queen of Mars. Although Aelita is supposedly the Queen, she doesn’t really seem to have much power – that is down to the Elders. One of the inventors has built a special ‘viewing machine’, which he shows to Aelita, and she becomes obsessed with Earth, and especially one man – Los himself.
Meanwhile, Los & Natasha have been told that they have to take in a lodger, Elrich. Unknown to them, Elrich is married, and his wife is currently working on Los’ colleague, conning him out of his money. Elrich too is abusing his position and stealing from the State (the political messaging in the film is unmistakable throughout!). However, Los becomes fixated on his misguided suspicion that Natasha is having an affair with Elrich, and this in turn pushes him into day-dreaming more about Aelita.
This film is absolutely bloody bonkers!
I could see echoes of Dr Caligari in it, especially in the Mars-based sets, and I could also see shere it probably influenced some of the scenes that came a few years later in Metropolis. Some of the Mars costumes were truly odd – one girl had trousers that looked like bird cages, and there was a large amount of perspex in the costumes of the Elders – some great perspex hair and beards (see above).
However, there were a lot of scenes where me and my mate looked at each other and just said “WTF??” — I think the total surrealism of it all added to its appeal though, as I have been thinking back over it a lot over the past week.
As for the live score, Minima were once again fantastic – atmospheric, haunting, spot-on! I especially liked the dog bark that one of them managed (was it the cellist??)
I have already booked tickets for me and my mates to their double-bill at the Prince Charles Cinema next month – Dr Caligari again but also Nosferatu, which I have never seen
A couple of weeks ago, me and three friends went along to Hackney Attic (top floor of the wonderful Hackney Picturehouse – where I happened to take The Girl to see the brilliant Avengers Assemble yesterday) to see a one-off showing of 1920 silent film The Cabinet of Dr Caligari.
This featured a live score by 4 man band Minima.
The film itself is often thought of as one of the most influential horror movies. It is a lesson in German expressionism – the sets are all highly stylized, with a lot of sharp, jagged buildings and furniture, disproportionate sets and backdrops that were painted on canvas.
The actors also often played their roles in a rather odd and jerky manner (think the Smirnoff Judderman advert) and I read that it is believed to have introduced the twist ending in film.
Obviously these days, watching such an old film, a lot of the melodrama and horror and over-acting seems rather amusing in places, but it doesn’t detract from a solid tale, and some truly iconic scenes and memorable moments.
This was completely enhanced by Minima’s score. i had never heard of Minima before, but I will certainly be looking out for them in the future – they were amazing. This definitely wasn’t your usual silent film score. They’re funky, and definitely more of a rock band, but the atmosphere they injected into the film was truly outstanding.
Minima consist of an electric guitar, drums, bass, and the necessary spooky cello – and you wouldn’t believe such a wide-range of moods and sounds could be emitted from such a tiny number of instruments…they were fantastic.
The film for this month is Piccadilly (which I had never heard of, let alone seen!) again at Hackney Attic on the 20th and will have a live score by Igor Outkine on the accordian. I will probably be going!
I will leave you with a clip.