Thursday, 16 June 2022

Interview in Polish Filmmakers Association Magazine (June 2022)


I was interviewed (in Polish)  about Polish cinema and Łódź life in general for the June issue of Magazyn Filmowy (Polish Filmmakers Association Magazine). You can download the whole issue here.

Tuesday, 24 May 2022

Film Review: Benediction (dir. Davies, 2021) (Sight and Sound)

My review of Terence Davies's new film Benediction is up at the Sight and Sound website. You can read it here

Monday, 16 May 2022

Theatre Review: The Father and the Assassin (National Theatre, Olivier)


Playing Nathuram Godse, the man who murdered Gandhi in 1948, in Anupama Chandrasekhar's exciting new play The Father and the Assassin, Shubham Saraf rises out of the Olivier stage to tell his character's story in retrospect. He does so with witty, audience-implicating self-consciousness and a contemporary awareness that includes references to Richard Attenborough's "fawning film"... and Brexit. 

In this way, Chandrasekhar makes The Father and the Assassin not merely a memory play but also a postmodern, beyond-the-grave reminiscence. Avoiding the reverential tone and ponderousness of the aforementioned Attenborough film - which Pauline Kael famously claimed had her leaving the cinema feeling "the way the British must have when they left India - exhausted and relieved" - The Father and the Assassin has a surprising formal playfulness, but one that doesn't detract from the seriousness of its concerns. 

It's a play about radicalisation, about colonial oppression and Indian in-fighting, about violence versus non-violence, and, especially, about hero worship curdling into hatred. (The Hindu Godse started out as a Gandhi acolyte before becoming an opponent when he came to feel that Gandhi had made too many concessions to the Muslim minority.)

It's also, modishly but persuasively, a play about gender. The loss of several children led Godse's parents to raise him as a girl, a fact that, Chandrasekhar suggests, resulted in identity issues that reflect India's wider struggles. Godse is seen seeking out father figures: first in Gandhi (here presented as the first man to call Godse "son") and then in Vinayak Savarkar, whose anti-Muslim, Hindu-nationalist stance proves a fatally radicalising influence, and who in one scene schools Godse in "masculine" behaviour. 

The play's narration-dependent form results in dialogue that's sometimes something of an exposition blitz. But Indhu Rubasingham's production never feels fusty, zipping the action along at a clip, as Rajha Shakiry's flexible dusty design moves us from prison to seashore, backwards and forwards in time, with filmic fluidity. 

The charismatic Saraf commands the auditorium with such casual ease that he might be standing in a living room. Announcing his tale as "a potboiler," starting his narrative proudly and confidently ("Once you know my story you'll celebrate me!"), he becomes compellingly disquieted as  his version of events starts to be challenged by other conflicting voices and hauntings in his head. 

Equally vivid acting comes from Ayesha Dharker and Tony Jayawardena as the parents; from Sagar Arya as Savarkar; and from Paul Bazely, whose brilliantly fresh performance embodies Gandhi without resorting to cliché. I remember seeing Bazely on stage as Aziz in Shared Experience's adaptation of A Passage to India about 20 years ago, and there's a touch of that company's emphasis on expressionistic movement to the ensemble work here. An episode depicting Partition strife looks a bit awkward, and the lengthy dialogue exchange that precedes Godse's violent act doesn't convince, either. But this remains a highly entertaining and enlightening evening that succeeds in balancing epic sweep with emotional intimacy. 

The Father and the Assassin is booking at the National Theatre until 18 June. Further information here

Related Reading: 

Review of Hex 

Top 10 Theatre Productions 2021

Friday, 6 May 2022

10 Great Films About Old Age, BFI online


For BFI online I wrote about 10 films focusing  on ageing or elderly characters. You can read the piece here

Wednesday, 2 March 2022

10 British Films about Love Across Social Divides (BFI online)


Ali & Ava (2021)

For BFI online I wrote about 10 British films dealing with romance across social divides. You can read the piece here

Film Review: The Lost Daughter (Cineaste)

I reviewed Maggie Gyllenhaal 's The Lost Daughter for the Spring issue of Cineaste. The review is available online here

Sunday, 20 February 2022

Theatre Review: Pretty Woman: The Musical (Teatr Muzyczny, Łódź)


With both Waitress and Once currently being presented at Warsaw's Teatr Muzyczny Roma, it's obvious that the appetite of Polish theatre audiences for West End or Broadway-originated musicals, especially those derived from films, remains strong. 

Having opened late last year after a long pandemic-necessitated delay, Łódź's latest addition to the list of imports is Pretty Woman, the musical version of Garry Marshall's seminal romantic comedy, with music and lyrics by Bryan Adams and Jim Vallance. The Łódź production is directed at Teatr Muzyczny by the theatre's artistic director, Jakub Szydłowski. And it's not the only take on the show in the country, either: for those wanting to play "compare and contrast," Krakow's Variété Theatre also has a production running concurrently.

When the musical premiered on Broadway in 2018 and then in London in 2019 (where it's currently at the Savoy Theatre) critics were quick to point out the "problematic" elements of the material's Cinderella-meets-Pygmalion set up, in which Hollywood hooker Vivian Ward finds love with the businessman Edward Lewis after he's paid for her services - as if people hadn't been making such critiques since the film's release in 1990. (Among actresses who turned down Julia Roberts's star-making role over concerns about the "tone" of the script and its "degrading view of women" were Michelle Pfieffer and Daryl Hannah.) 

In most respects a facsimile of the film, with a book penned by Marshall and the film's screenwriter J.F. Lawton, Pretty Woman: The Musical certainly doesn't attempt a revisionist view of its source's sexual politics. What Szydłowski's production does do, though, is add a bit of a meta framework - mild but nonetheless welcome - which presents the production in the context of a sound stage film set, complete with crew, cameras,  clapperboards and the occasional "re-take" for a flubbed line. You'd hesitate to call it Brechtian, but, carried through to a witty curtain call, this self-conscious conceit puts a little bit of distance on the material, serving as a wry reminder of its origins. 

Pretty Woman: The Musical
© Teatr Muzyczny w Łodzi, Michał Matuszak

Otherwise the show offers a faithful, straight-down-the-line retread that delivers the expected mix of comedy, light social satire and romance. (Its machine-tooled slickness is the opposite of the last musical I saw, the National Theatre's wonky but characterful Hex.) Adams and Vallance's songs, with their upfront "80s pop/rock sensibilities, are generic and lyrically banal but serviceable and easy on the ear (well, except for the shrill "Rodeo Drive"): they sound good here in Polish translation by Daniel Wyszogrodzki, and are enhanced by fun, diverse choreography by Jarosław Staniek and Katarzyna Zielonka. 

Budgetary constraints are evident in elements of Grzegorz Policiński's  design - such as a meant-to-be-palatial Beverly Hills penthouse suite that looks more like the set of a 1970s sitcom. But there's an affectionate early '90s nostalgia to aspects like the displayed Cher, Thelma & Louise, and Terminator 2 posters. And the production reaches its romantic apex in a simply beautiful staging of the opera scene, with the La Traviata performance interwoven with the musical's centrepiece romantic ballad "You and I," that moves the couple from opera box to the stage and back to the apartment. It's the show's standout sequence in terms of fully integrating song, dance, design and lighting to develop character and move the narrative forward. 

Pretty Woman: The Musical
© Teatr Muzyczny w Łodzi, Justyna Tomczak

From costume choices to hairstyle to physique, Malwina Kusior as Vivian hews closely to Julia Roberts in the film. But Kusior succeeds in creating a strong audience rapport from the start, and from her impassioned delivery of Vivian's early "I want" song "Anywhere But Here" ("Jak najdalej stąd" - hej, Domalewski!), she makes all the musical moments count. As Edward, Marcin Jajkiewicz brings less to the party, but he does well by the soul-baring ballad "Wolność" which sounds much stronger and more meaningful here than in its blander English language incarnation, "Freedom".
A solid ensemble offers lively support, including Paweł Erdman as the hotel manager who schools Vivien in etiquette in an amusingly done number, and the ebullient Maciek Pawlak in two roles, including Erdman's bellboy sidekick. The biggest departure in terms of characterisation is Małgorzata Chrusciel's brassy, peroxided Kit, who's closer to a full-on John Waters heroine here than to Laura San Giacomo in the film. The definition of a fun, undemanding night out (though definitely over-extended at a whopping 3 hours), judging by the enthusiastic response of the packed audience it's easy to see Pretty Woman taking its place alongside Les MisMiss Saigon and Madagascar as a popular new addition to Teatr Muzyczny's repertoire. 

Pretty Woman: The Musical is booking at Teatr Muzyczny. Further information here