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A Matter of Life and Death


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#1 milotindle

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Posted 08 May 2007 - 11:01 AM

Kneehigh's free adaptation of the wartime fantasy romance A Matter of Life and Death opens at the Olivier on May 10th. It's still in preview, and presumably in development, so a final judgement is obviously premature. However, a friend and I (both of whom know and admire Powell and Pressburger's magical film) were dismayed, seeing the show last night, by how ineptly Emma Rice and Tom Morris have handled the material, and it's hard to see how they will pull into shape such a misconceived venture. The achingly long, interval-free evening (amazing to find just 140 minutes have passed by the anticlimactic ending) brings to mind the old quip: "The play was good and original. Sadly, what was good was not original and what was original was not good." Undigested pieces of the original script co-exist with meaningless interpolations of Kneehigh's own themes and interests, including feebly choreographed musical numbers, ill-judged comic diversions and maladroit aerial work. It's hard to see what could be cut, as so much of the action is just very poorly-judged, including endless byplay with hospital-themed design features and a woeful attempt at extra seriousness by introducing a black-garbed woman from Coventry (with a wobbly accent) to epitomise both civilian suffering in war (and maybe death itself, who knows?). Most of the cast, in very sketchy roles, are vocally and dramatically underpowered, despite working admirably hard - only Douglas Hodge makes anything of his role. The production is currently a shambles: like a lumbering Lancaster bomber with its engines on fire and its crew desperate to escape, it drones on, descending ever lower towards the cold waters of critical opprobrium. (Well, perhaps; determined Kneehigh partisans in the audience may well give the impression it has a future, but their raucous appreciation was definitely a minority view last night.)

#2 armadillo

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Posted 08 May 2007 - 11:30 AM

I also "know and admire Powell and Pressburger's magical film" and I loved it. It's an adaptation - anyone looking for a faithful transcription of the film will be disappointed (though why not just see the film?). Anyone who has enjoyed Kneehigh's previous works will love this too. I thought the additions were excellent especially the other airman (but I won't spoil them for people). I do think some of the action/ music scenes could be trimmed though. But this one, like Market Boy will definitely divide opinion.

I will be particularly interested in hearing the views of people who haven't seen the film (not essential to enjoying the show but you'll probably want to get the dvd after you've seen it).

#3 josh

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Posted 08 May 2007 - 05:47 PM

I can't wait to see this (in 3 weeks) after reading the two completely different opinions above!
I have no previous experience of the film or of Kneehigh so will be going in a blank slate...
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#4 foxa

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Posted 08 May 2007 - 06:17 PM

I'm going tomorow night and haven't seen the film, so will let you know!  Hope it isn't too dire.

#5 coated peanuts

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Posted 08 May 2007 - 10:10 PM

QUOTE
I do think some of the action/ music scenes could be trimmed though.

Absolutely. I unfortunately fell in hate with the singer, especially his voice and posturing, so sitting through most of the musical interludes was painful. And there were a lot of them. Some, actually most, of the sequences in 'heaven' were very enjoyable and I liked the silliness of Magnus the Magnificent (there could have been a little less, but not much), but overall the acting was a bit bland.

The best I can say about the production is that it really made me want to see the film. The worst that I can say is that I checked my watch at least 5 times and the guy sitting next to me was fast asleep for some of the play, only to be woken up by the caterwauling singer without diction.

The reception for this one is definitely mixed. Two ladies sitting behind me said rather audible 'I hope this is the end' at the last song. On my way out I overheard a group of teenage girls who absolutely adored the play. There was quite a lot of restrained clapping mixed with hollering and standing ovations. I did suspect the standing ovation crowd to be a bunch of drama students there to support a friend, but looks can be deceptive.

#6 Backdrifter

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Posted 09 May 2007 - 08:25 AM

QUOTE(coated peanuts @ May 8 2007, 11:10 PM) View Post
Two ladies sitting behind me said rather audible 'I hope this is the end' at the last song. On my way out I overheard a group of teenage girls who absolutely adored the play.

Hey, you weren't row D, front row, right hand side were you? That's where I was and that comment definitely came from one of the women behind me too!

Yes it's a preview but I think they have a lot to sort out to stop it seeming as chaotic as it looked to me, especially at the beginning and end. It came together in the middle and I started to think it was going to come good, then it got ragged again at the end. The heaven scenes had no sense of magic or otherworldliness for me. Peter spent too much of his time running about and shouting. The Coventry woman with the Yorkshire-sounding accent seemed too much of a bolted-on addition to me. Some of the dialogue was drowned out by the live music, though I wondered if that was a product of the acoustics in the stalls side-blocks, which aren't great at times. Overall it came across as something they weren't sure what to do with. Part of me wished that if they wanted to have a fantastical anti-war piece, that they would've created one from scratch.

I totally accept that it's not the film and shouldn't set out to be a copy of it, but was still disappointed they swapped the dapper French aristocrat for a manic Norwegian magician. I suppose they felt it was more in kilter with the nature of the production. Or Tom Morris is mates with members of Vesturport. Some of the ropework made me feel uncomfortable for the actors, they looked like some of the cast on that Cyrano scaffolding looked, i.e. like they'd rather be somewhere else, but that could just be me projecting!

I too noticed the excited schoolgirls, they obviously loved it, as did many adults. Good for them. I wanted to love it, partly because I've had such a good streak - 4 absolutely top-notch shows in a row, but I knew the sequence would have to be broken at some point. Oh well. At least I got to ogle the luscious (but under-used) Lorraine Stewart.
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#7 Theatresquirrel

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Posted 09 May 2007 - 11:14 PM

Well I thought it was really enjoyable.

That's not to say they couldn't cut some of it - I was totally bemused by how much time is devoted to breakouts firstly into samba and then into Busby Berkeley circles, neither of which had anything to say about anything (although, I suppose, ticked the box of making this another show in the Olivier this last year with random dancing shoved in). Don't get me wrong, I love a good dance number like the best of them, but why we get all this when some pivotal scenes are curiously absent - like when Peter finally chooses his notary - I don't know. In fairness, I aint seen the film and maybe that doesn't feature there either, but to my mind, in reconceiving this story, didn't anyone think that'd be an unmissable moment to stage, given all its build-up?

Still, it still has so much on the money. Conceptually, it's amazing. Maybe some bits are inevitably more fluid than others, but so it goes, and in fairness, we're still judging previews of a very complex undertaking here. Some of the actors are wonderful - the lovers are really effective and Magnus is truly showstopping, from his terrific first entrance to every twitching, cartoony, guignol moment he's on stage. And I personally really liked the 'Coventry woman', as she's been dubbed here; she and her counterpart in his starry pajamas were compelling presences throughout, and she ultimately reminds us of the show's context and points the way to its ending which, when it comes, is really very appropriate and resonant, I thought. Whether you fall for the songs or not, some of the music is dazzling too - the use of handbells frankly hypnotised me. I'll remember them for a long time. Many of the effects are amazing - from the simple ingenuity of the tennis game to the technical wonder of the camera obscura - although, for me, it wasn't so much the back projection here that dazzled me but the way Douglas Hodge made me somehow believe, quite completely, that he was making it all happen with that stick. (If you've not seen it yet, you'll get what I mean when you do.) It was here that I guess I really got this show; while I think there's things for everyone to enjoy, I sense it's not quite so much for us old seen-it-all-before-and-bought-the-T-shirt types who've been to the National 100 times, but more for new audiences. I can't imagine how folks who've not been to much theatre before will find their minds happily addled by the hands-on inventiveness of the show; and while, yeah okay, the idea of one object serving many purposes is not that original for those of us who've seen several Complicite shows, for young people, I think it's fabulously done here, and who knows what creativity that'll ignite in that audience...they certainly went nuts for it tonight.

I think it's a impressive effort, bold, fun, never dull, and yeah - when it really works - it's heaven.

#8 Backdrifter

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Posted 10 May 2007 - 07:54 AM

The above comments remind me there were other elements I liked a lot in it, such as the aformentioned handbells and the table tennis game (which reminded me of the recent Scissor Sisters video). There's good stuff in it, no question. It's a shame that, for me, as a whole it didn't hold together. I sense it will come together a lot more as it progresses.
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#9 coated peanuts

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Posted 10 May 2007 - 09:41 AM

Backdrifter - seems like we sat in the same row smile.gif . I assume you weren't the guy having a nap during the show?

QUOTE(Backdrifter @ May 10 2007, 08:54 AM) View Post
The above comments remind me there were other elements I liked a lot in it, such as the aformentioned handbells and the table tennis game (which reminded me of the recent Scissor Sisters video). There's good stuff in it, no question. It's a shame that, for me, as a whole it didn't hold together. I sense it will come together a lot more as it progresses.


I adored the handbells. And when the play opened I sat there for the first 5 minutes with a big grin on my face, thinking that it looks fantastic and I can't wait to see what's next. If someone sat down right now and tried to make it all a bit more coherent, it would be a fun show. Perhaps lose the girls with bicycles on beds ( from where I was sitting you got an odd visual involving bicycle saddles and panties), some of the music and the generic hyperactive running-about.

#10 Backdrifter

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Posted 10 May 2007 - 10:49 AM

QUOTE(coated peanuts @ May 10 2007, 10:41 AM) View Post
Backdrifter - seems like we sat in the same row smile.gif . I assume you weren't the guy having a nap during the show?


laugh.gif No, I remained fully awake throughout. I was at the aisle end of the row. I must admit, it didn't drag at all for me. So it must have worked on some level.

QUOTE(coated peanuts @ May 10 2007, 10:41 AM) View Post
Perhaps lose the girls with bicycles on beds ( from where I was sitting you got an odd visual involving bicycle saddles and panties), some of the music and the generic hyperactive running-about.

No, don't lose the saddles & knickers! Anything involving a nice view of Lorraine Stewart's thighs is good in my book. But I agree that some music and running could go.

I'm almost tempted to return to it near the end of the run but my theatre schedule has gone nuts this year so I doubt I will.
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