Here we go with part two of last year's year in review. Looking at the events and things I did in February last year leaves me a little perplexed. It's odd how time collapses as you get older and how the events either sparkle like gems in a mound of dirt or else fade into oblivion as meaningful as a neon sign flashing for the very last time.
Sunday 1st February 2015 - 'Inherent Vice' at the Barbican.
Another early morning screening for me at the Barbican. In fact, if you want to truly engage with a film, the best time to see it is in the morning. As at this point, you are still quietly reflective after the pits and annals of sleep yet paradoxically alert enough to embrace the myriad ideas on offer. 'Inherent Vice' is based on the Thomas Pynchon novel of the same name. As is the case with Pynchon's novels, I feel that the experience of watching the film is the important thing. Remembering it afterwards, a somewhat harder experience. Pynchon's novels are dense, complicated affairs involving symbolism, characters on very important missions and seemingly abstract wanderings. He writes like a Beat writer and again the journey is the point, not the destination. The film starred Joaquin Phoenix. I recall that it was very funny and the characters had an engaging quality about them. Also when you consider how many 'real life male tragedy' films that were released in the cinema at the beginning of last year, it was nice to see something a bit different.
Monday 2nd February 2015 - 'The Nether' at the Duke of York's Theatre.
I attended this performance with a friend. This play had previously been staged at the Royal Court Theatre. Jennifer Haley creates a disturbing dystopian vision of a near future so like our own, it is very scary. The Nether of the title is a totally addictive and absorbing virtual reality created by the user. Essentially, it is the internet as we know it, only a little worse. Imagine being able to do exactly what you want to do without any moral restraints. This is a thriller that deserves to be seen by everyone as it is occasionally horrifying to see how desensitised many of us are becoming as more hours are spent in the glow of computer screens than in the company of family and friends. I remember that both my friend and I had similar looks on our faces as we left the theatre. Shocked would be an understatement. It would be wrong of me to overlook the references to 'Alice in Wonderland' and the sublime unreality of the mise-en-scene. The beauty of the setting, trees and bushes and elegantly dressed avatars performing their heightened roles. I am glad that this play is still popping up. It's currently on in Florida at the Area Stage in Coral Gables.
Tuesday 3rd February 2015 - 'Title and Deed' at the Print Room.
I believe that this was the first time I had attended an event at the Print Room since its move back to Notting Hill. A friend recommended this production and I attended with a couple of mutual friends (if I recall correctly). It was effectively a one man monologue starring Conor Lovett on the subject of life, loneliness and the human condition. Over the last couple of years, I have seen a couple of shows starring this actor and he lends himself perfectly to the emotionally charged yet subtle acting style required for the likes of plays such as this one and also the Beckett works that I have seen him in. Again, the exact contents of this play written by Will Eno are more adequately experienced rather than described. The importance of actually going to see live theatre cannot be overstated.
Friday 6th February 2015 - 'Six Characters in Search of an Author' at the Barbican.
I attended this performance on my own and owing to my occasionally rather frustrating quirk of wanting to sit in the front row, I ended up prebooking a centre seat in the front row, which had a prop right in front of it, partially obscuring my view of the stage at times (The Barbican staff did offer to move me if I wanted). Also the performance was in French with English surtitles, so my head was torn rather vigorously between staring at the top of the proscenium arch and the action on stage (I have learnt my lesson and now book seats further back if the shows are being performed in foreign languages). Anyhow, the Theatre De La Ville Paris's production of the Pirandello play was very well done and the play remains a highly complex and fascinating dissection of the creative process. What happens when an author loses interest in his creations and they choose to follow their own limited paths? Can a theatre group help to fulfil their needs? Can they complete them? Even writing this brief entry is exciting me. This was one of a handful of plays that truly excited me at university and helped to inspire my love of modern theatre. In many ways, this production worked far more effectively than the Rupert Goold version I saw some years ago. It was less pretentious and I still love the idea of the ill defined characters searching for resolutions.
Saturday 7th February 2015 - 'Adventures of the Black Square: Abstract Art and Society 1915-2015' at the Whitechapel Gallery.
I remember very little of this exhibition, other than the fact that it uses one of Malevich's paintings of a black square as a starting point for an exploration of abstract art. It was the first time I had attended the Whitechapel Gallery and I enjoyed the layout of the exhibition. I believe that it was on two floors. It's funny how art can either grab you and not let go or else it fades into a miasma of different artists and images stored in the unconscious until something sparks a reminiscence. Sometimes, the momentary experience is more important than enduring recurrent visions.
Sunday 8th February 2015 - 'Selma' at the Barbican.
This film was a highly articulate and in places, stunning encapsulation of the life of Martin Luther King, particularly focusing on the Selma to Montgomery marches in 1965. It certainly opened my eyes to the politics of the time and also captured the fear and excitement that the Civil Rights' activists must have experienced each time they marched. They were scary times, but at least they paved the way to greater things ahead. The film was well acted and I recall that the film had a great soundtrack too.
Monday 9th February 2015 - 'Dracula! (Mr Swallow - The Musical)' at the Soho Theatre.
Ah, my strongest memory of this is of Nick Mohammed roller skating onto the stage as Dracula and some really naff songs. Also the audience was packed. One of the busiest shows I have seen at the Soho Theatre. It was funny but something about it left me a little cold.
Tuesday 10th February 2015 - Nina Conti at the Tricycle Theatre.
A friend recommended Nina Conti to me and she came with me to see her. Nina Conti was previewing her 'In Your Face' tour where she effectively uses members of the audience as her puppets (she is a ventriloquist and makes the audience members she selects wear full face masks, which she manipulates). I found her very funny and it was interesting to see how different members of the audience were more or less open to being told exactly what to do. Also at one point, someone was filming the stage to provide one of the audience members on stage with a memento, which Nina Conti allowed despite the disapproval of the venue's staff. These are strange days. Memory is being superseded by recording devices. Will this ultimately effect our ability to recall events and moments of personal importance?
Sunday 15th February 2015 - 'Fifty Shades of Grey' at the Barbican.
I have already written a blog about this, but let's just say product placement, little sex (which is odd for a film about a series of books about sado-masochism) and men and women do not have penises and vaginas. The sequels are likely to be awful. This was at least watchable.
Tuesday 17th February 2015 - 'Tree' at the Old Vic.
I saw this after the Old Vic decided to add extra performances to the run of the show. It was really rather wonderful. A view shared by other friends I know who had the pleasure of seeing it. Just think of it as being a play about two men and a full sized tree. The tickets were inexpensive (unlike most of the Old Vic's other shows), which appears to have been the desire of the creative team. This play introduced me to Daniel Kitson and I believe also Tim Key. It's a very funny and clever play that feels a lot like Samuel Beckett. There was an interesting Q and A afterwards, which was laid back and funny. The tree was probably my favourite feature of any play's mise-en-scene last year. It had been created in such a way that it provided support to whomever ended up the tree. It also meant that they could move around the branches, allowing all of the audience to see one or both of the actors.
Friday 20th February 2015 - 'Elephant Man' at the Brockley Jack Studio Theatre.
This production was really rather wonderful. John Merrick's deformities were suggested through a metal shell like costume and chain mail and the superb acting of the actor depicted the role. It was produced by the Fourth Monkey theatre company and the intimate performance space helped to give the production a pathos and immediacy that actually surpassed the West End production of the story later in the year. Any productions of 'Elephant Man' will sadly always have a relevance as they speak volumes of how societies over the years have dealt with disability and perceived differences. As a passing comment, I think that it is important to support fringe theatres as regularly they stage productions that the West End and larger venues would not dare to stage for fear of not attracting the requisite 'bums on seats'. The Brockley Jack is also a pretty nice pub.
Saturday 21st February 2015 - 'Eugene Onegin' at the Barbican.
I am ashamed to say that I remember very little about this production. I seem to recall that my seat was further back and as it was being performed in Russian with English surtitles, my focus was regularly on the surtitles, so that I could follow the plot on stage. The production was adapted from a poem by Pushkin, which I haven't read. I seem to remember that the play emotionally affected me in the sense that one character fails to declare their love for another character until it is too late. A production about the missed opportunities and bad choices human beings continue to make.
Sunday 22nd February 2015 - 'Magnificent Obsessions: The Artist as Collector' at the Barbican.
I went to see this exhibition with a friend. I remember feeling that the exhibition seemed a bit messy, although it is interesting to see the artifacts that belonged to the likes of Andy Warhol and Peter Blake. Artists like everyone else have eclectic interests and the items ranged from odd to the banal. I am not sure which artist it was but one artist collected masks. Masks fascinate me. Their tribal and ritualistic resonances and the transformative effect the act of wearing a mask can inspire. You can be someone quite different behind a mask.
Tuesday 24th February 2015 - 'The African Queen' at the BFI.
I attended this screening of the classic John Huston film with a friend. I had never seen it in its entirety before. Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn are superb in this film. It's effectively a love story set during the First World War in Africa between two disparate individuals who end up performing an act that is against both of their characters but serves to strengthen their relationship. It's beautifully filmed and the dialogue is superb.
Thursday 26th February 2015 - 'Man and Superman' at the National Theatre.
I attended this event with a friend. She recommended the play to me. I remember finding the set very elaborate and the play very long. It's a good play and I like George Bernard Shaw's style. Everyone seemed to love Ralph Fiennes' performance and I enjoyed his movements across the stage and his character's dialect. There is an odd drawn out section where Jack Tanner (Fiennes' character) ends up in Hell and meets the Devil. It wasn't one of the best plays of the year, although it packed a pretty mighty punch.
Friday 27th February 2015 - 'The Red Chair' at the Soho Theatre.
I nearly used this play as the basis for another blog and I still may, so this is a brief rundown of what was probably the most unique production I saw last year. A one woman show performed by the writer Sarah Cameron. Essentially, a twisted fairy tale about a man who eats and eats and his family. The chair eventually becomes a part of him as he refuses to move. The audience are fed treats during the production and eventually given whiskey too. Several friends went to see this production with me. I think our feelings about the production were all quite different. I loved it and would see it again.
Saturday 28th February 2015 - 'Kumiko: The Treasure Hunter' at the ICA.
I attended this film with a friend and it was one of a handful of films that stood out last year as being quite different. A film about hope, delusion and mental illness. You won't look at the film 'Fargo' in the same way again after seeing this film. Brilliantly acted and the ending resonates.
Barry Watt - 24th January 2016.
All of the above plays, films and books etc are copyright to their respective owners.