march 23rd 2020

So as it will have for you, wherever you are, it’s all gone horribly wrong, and at such a ferocious speed. It’s only a few weeks ago that we heard of the Coronavirus, and now here we are in lockdown, with empty shops, people fighting oddly for toilet paper, and now pubs, theatres, gyms open. It’s unbelievably frightening, and we really don’t know what’s going to happen next. we’ve all lost work, or had work stalled, and I guess we can use this time to be creative, but the difficulty is keeping the momentum going when the reality of things getting back to normal for months rather takes the wind out of one’s sails. The alternative, and this is all too easy, is just to give up and let the darkness take over. suddenly, the metaphor of my film Plume is pertinent. I don’t know how we are going to recover from all this. Every day we’ll be lying in bed that bit longer, fretting that much more. We must keep going, but how are all these small businesses and the arts going to recover. We have to recover.
I did use a spare afternoon yesterday to upload some jeeves and Wooster photos and some from Bronte. If we had lost jeeves and Wooster, I would have been heartbroken.

Much stuff

Had a meeting in London last week, a panel for funding for a short film. For all the experience and history, sat in front of a panel trying to pitch a short film is still a terrifying thing. and, to answer your question, I have no idea.
I also went into a university yesterday to discuss running a one morning a week animation course. I got on very well with the tutor and came away with a jar of the honey that she cultivates, but I suspect red tape and budgets might be an obstacle. I couldn’t recognise the university – the changes are enormous.
A few shows. The Garrick have done When the Rain Stops Falling this weeks – a marvellous, complex play that begins, or perhaps ends, with a fish falling out of an Australian sky and links four generations of family drama. An effectively spartan production with great performances and staging, and of course with it not being an Agatha Christie, or a TV sitcom, or an Ayckbourn, our audience have been very tentative. Go on, give it a chance. Then I went to Wuthering heights at the exchange, and perhaps the novel is just so twisted and bizarre and epic that it can’t be put on stage. This certainly did not work for me. I’m all for theatrical staging, but this show couldn’t make up its’ mind as to whether it was literal or abstract. It had Playschool typ blocks of green but sprouting grass, and then a realistic tree but with a neon sky. A mess I’m afraid, and sorry, but Cathy and Heathcliff just came across as noisily irritating. Everyone has their vision of Heathcliff and any actor is thus doomed, but tall, skinny and cockney is certainly a novel approach. And too much ‘movement’ going on. I’ve resisted mentioning our production of Bronte but we were consistent with our conventions and managed to be both the epic moors and the intimate Parsonage – and heck we were moving, so moving, and no heavy rock music. Music does not have to be period music of course, but screaming rock music and a gyrating but earnest lady guitar player was pretty awful.
And then there was The Invisible Man – I saw no mention of HGWells, but at least the central character was called Griffin. It was certainly an exciting film with lots of twists and turns, may one twist too many. I always liked the idea that to be invisible meant being naked and vulnerable, but here a suit was involved so that in one of the twists, someone else could wear it. Not quite the same as wells had in mind.
And tonight, a chum dancing Prince Siegfried in Swan Lake.
And soon New Zealand. My sister and her husband arrived safely today. I can breathe again.

Jeeves and Wooster

So jeeves and wooster have left the building, after being around for six months in my head. I must post photos but we are already yesterday’s news. It has been deemed a great success, with the audience, the critics, and the box office. There was much laughter and moments of giddiness. Once again I’m reminded that gag have to have a mathematic precision about them to work, and I’m happy that many of the gags that had the biggest laughs were the bits of business we had put in. it looked great and again I am pleased that the directorial decisions that I made, such as all staying in one costume, were successful. To have had the characters adding wigs and dresses as they changed characters in front of us would not have been as funny, and would have slowed down the necessary pace. My actors put so much energy into it, running a marathon essentially and then a big dance number at the end. The show was a joy for me, especially with the addition of the ukulele band, but I confess that soon after signing on, I saw a truly ghastly production that was so irritating, and I almost returned the script, fearing I simply could not make it work. but realising that yes it was about Jeeves and Wooster, but it was about theatre. I was worried that the Play that Goes wrong had gazumped us, but not actually. I think we had a sophisticated frantically paced comedy, and everyone was happy. Next – well, next up is something very different.

Charlie Chaplin and Garry Essendine

In my few hours away from Jeeves and Wooster I did manage to see a couple of shows, but they still had elements of Jeeves and Wooster. One was a tale of somewhat random events around Charlie Chaplin and his relationship with laurel and Hardy. Performed by three actors and a musician – hmm, that appeared familiar, but here this was treated as a silent film, with some clever use of captions and wonderfully physical stunts, and what really pleased me was that Chaplin was performed by a gloriously agile actress who had captured him perfectly, and Laurel was performed by an equally agile black actor, and hey fellas, it does not matter. It’s a game. Literal eyebrows were raised. Oh for heaven’s sake. Joyously inventive.
The second outing was an encore screening of Andrew Scott as Garry Essendine in the old Vic’s sexed up Present Laughter. Against I sat there beaming with pleasure, but Garry kept reminding me of Wooster, in his petulance, his theatricality. This was a gorgeous sassy production.
Talking of which, Jeeves and Wooster are all ready for there tech dress rehearsal tonight and it looks gorgeous. It’s not been easy but is lively, elegantly ridiculous and a bit of a party. Fingers crossed.

au revoir

And so we’ve gone – not a wise decision I suspect, and the smugness of those Brexiteers is unbearable. The Britain they imagine will come rushing in has long gone.
Not a sniff of work to be had at the moment, but I did so thoroughly enjoy Personal History of David Copperfield this week. I was beaming within seconds of the film starting. beautifully directed with some lovely narrative tricks and gorgeous performances of people being eccentric without being irritating. I went straight for a swim and told a friend that I was giddy after the new David Copperfield film – oh, my friend replied, is he making films now? Needless to say that friend voted to leave.
So busy with the production of Jeeves and Wooster and it is going well. Never enough time to plot detail or get all the technical stuff right, but this will be a lively show certainly.

January 12th 2020

And a happy new year to everyone. No sign of any work yet – yikes, but I have started rehearsing Jeeves and Wooster, which is probably going to be the most complex piece I have ever staged. It’s working on so many levels – I hope the audience can keep up. We had a full ukulele band with us today which sounded glorious. It may be complex to stage but not as complex as the film 1917, which apart from being a superb film, demonstrates my idea that in any piece of art we are always aware of the technique, and this single shot is unavoidable, but is certainly not just used as a trick. the tension is unbearable, but we are also aware of ‘how the hell did they do that?’

A Flurry of Films

A lovely few days over in Ireland for Christmas, and a quiet new year trying to keep Marcus calm, but there have been a good few films along the way.
I’m still smarting over Cats – it’s not so much the content or lack of a plot – lord knows Company or Chorus Line have minimal plot as such, but it’s just so badly edited, interrupting the dance every second, and the world of the cats is just so inconsistent. As always, give me the stage version.
The aeronauts – I would have loved to have seen this in the cinema, but I enjoyed it enormously, and loved the design that had the suggestion of a hand tinted postcard. Yes it was certainly thrilling, but it was undermined by the fact that the central sparring relationship was invented, and the incident took place over Wolverhampton, not London. I can understand why Wolverhampton is less than pleased, as is the family of the man who was actually in the basket. Too woke!
The Two Popes – sort of came across by accident and we nearly turned off as the first chunk is all in Italian and we feared we were missing something crucial, but slowly it segued into English, and oh what joy was this film. Huge questions were being raised as two elderly men sat in the Sistine chapel, superficially chatting about pizza. One of the warmest films I’ve seen, and Hopkins and Pryce seemed barely to be acting – they simply were. And the recreation of the Cistine Chapel was somewhat breathtaking.
Gladiator was watched, and yes that’s a masterpiece in every way – such good plotting. OK the CG does look a little clumsy now, and it’s a film totally devoid of sex, which I suspect is not doing a gladiator’s life justice.
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Nah, I didn’t get on with this. Every frame bombarded me with unsubtle, blatant retro references – so in your face, and what the hell was that extended scene at the ranch and with George about. Like everything in the film, it was indulgence over storytelling. But for all the detail about the time, and and the process of film making, it was still playing with you. several sequences purported to be a western being shot, and the characters came out of character, but then the film simply would not have been shot like that. fake film making.
The BBC’s Christmas carol looked gorgeously bleak, but Dickens played second fiddle to some extent. I must check if dickens had scrooge meeting Ali Baba. Andy Serkis was busy acting a lot.
i’m looking forward to watch a ballet of Romeo and Juliet tonight, filmed in the streets of Italy, hoping that it will work. It did for West side story. Am excited about this.

And so this year, please let me contribute to something, and not have been discarded.

All fur coat and no knickers…..Cats

after nearly four decades of wondering how anyone could ever make a film of Cats, I”m guessing that we still don’t have an answer. Even though the film is out, the director is still tinkering with some of the less good effects. I suspect they won’t save the basically flawed concept.
OK, so I am an animator and in the course of that have seen many strange characters and creations and bizarre worlds that I have happily accepted, so the ‘cats’ in Cats and their environment did not worry me, but I wish there had been some coherence and their ever changing scale, and about who wore clothes and shoes and wedding rings, and who did not, rendering them effectively naked, and who had bumps and lumps and who did not, and what the convention about being on two legs or four was. And the feet – many feet just didn’t seem to have contact with the floor. Some of the CG faces reminded me of the notorious dog/man in the invasion of the body snatchers. The infamous lack of a plot did not worry me, and come on, there is a plot. There were some surprisingly effective sequences and some truly ghastly ones – mostly involving Rebel Wilson and James Cordon (when you have the beauty of TSEliot their adlibs are simply crass), and yes I was enormously moved by McKellen’s Gus and Dench’s Deuteronomy, but what I can’t forgive is the absurd editing chopping up the dancing with little rhyme nor reason, and the frantic camerawork – we simply were not allowed to see what was going on clearly. That’s possibly why the McKellen scene works as the camera sits and watches. Elsewhere the camera is so hyper., interrupting the movement of the dancers, so that any shape or structure of the dance was lost. Nor can I forgive the mice or the beetles. what the effing heck were they. And the literalness of the direction – leaves gathering at grizabella’s feet, and so we have a shot of the leaves clumsily gathering at her feet. So what to make of it – not sure. some imaginative touches, but i’m not sure the ‘world’ and its’ rules were thought through clearly. But heck I was moved on a couple of occasions, but never exhilarated by the dance as I should have been, thanks to the awful editing.
One way or another it is a significant moment in film history.

Panto

December 18th

The good mood generated by two pantos in three days has been dissipated by the sound of chainsaws in the garden and two glorious and healthy trees are felled due to interfering neighbours scaremongering. If a tree is vertical and was lush with leaves this last summer, and it’s sawn trunks revealing no tell tale disease that I think it is a crying shame, and yes I have been mightily upset. To think what those trees have witnessed and now gone for little more than cosmetic needs.

But two pantos, one professional and one at the Garrick do bring so much joy – the sheer fact that we accept such silliness without questioning what we are watching. the sound of 1600 kids yesterday screaming out to Snow White not to take the poisoned apple is something we must never lose. And the magic of a good transformation scene, or the joy of the dame, or the silly billy squirting the audience. I wonder if there’s a film to be made about the essential ingredients – and how bizarre they are. One day I’d love to play dame.  Our Garrick had an excellent flying carpet and the Opera house a good, if rather aged, flying dragon and lots of pyros. But oh a good Dame is priceless, and eric Potts as Dolly crumble was sheer bliss.

December 15th

Well the whole country has been tetchy, and the deed is done, and we are now shocked, resigned and all manner of other words, but the deed, as I said, is done. The promises floating around in the air like gossamer, and I know in the scheme of things the Arts may not be a priority, but did one party mention them. not that I saw.
I had a slump after the activity of Cleo, etc, but did go to a brilliant concert at the Halle of Romeo and Juliet highlights, along with Act 2 of nutcracker. Oh the death of Tybalt, the night before the election results, sounded more dramatic and resonant than ever.
But otherwise all a bit quiet, no I tell a lie, I was best man at a glorious wedding, the background to which would make a film in itself, and I was also in a short film – watch this space.
And today I saw an impressive flying carpet down at our theatre’s Aladdin.