Friday, May 11, 2007

Heaven Can Wait, Gin On The Other Hand...


Two hours and ten minutes without an interval! Not a good sign. It’s not that I need that half-time gin, but, hey, this thing ain’t called Interval Drinks for nothing. So it wasn’t in the best of moods that I entered the Olivier in the National to see what Emma Rice’s Kneehigh theatre company had done to one of my favourite ever films, the classic 1946 Powell & Pressburger movie, A Matter Of Life And Death.

The film tells the tale of RAF pilot Peter who is forced to bale out from his burning plane without a parachute. To do so will mean his certain death, something both he and the American air control girl he is speaking to over his radio, know. This opening scene has me weeping every time I watch it. “You’re life and I’m leaving you.” Fantastic stuff.

So, in fairness, I was always going to be difficult to please with this one, but I’ve liked Kneehigh’s work in the past, and I was more than willing to give it a chance. Indeed, both Lisa and I thought their take on Nights At The Circus was one of the best things we saw last year. However in that show, their particular brand of theatre – cluttered stages, aerial stunts and rather ramshackle live musical accompaniment – gelled perfectly with the source material. Here almost identical techniques are trotted out with little thought given to how they might enhance (or overpower) the story. So we get cycling nurses and flying beds and small explosions and annoying Scandinavian chappies and some really quite bad music. Just far too much stuff. I quickly began to regret not smuggling in a hip flask. Then remembered I didn’t own one, a huge oversight on my part, I wonder how much they cost?

Anyway, sorry, distracted there, back to theatre stuff.

I’ll admit the production delivered a couple of visually striking set pieces (I enjoyed the slo-mo table tennis game and the camera obscura scene), but that wasn’t nearly enough to save this production from its own excessive approach. Plus they’ve tampered with the ending. When Peter takes his case to heaven’s version of an appeal court, to argue that – having fallen in love during the extra time on earth mistakenly awarded to him – he deserves to stay alive, he is now confronted not only by his dead father, but by the victims of the Coventry and Dresden bombings.

The production hits you about the head with the message that love, however pure, rarely triumphs over the indiscriminate brutality of war. Yes, War is Bad, and good people die and, yes in this respect, war in 1945 has much in common with war in 2007. It’s not exactly a message you can argue with, but surely there were other ways of making this resonate with modern audiences, by giving the play a contemporary setting, or, I don’t know, creating an original work that didn’t involve pissing all over one of the best British films ever made?

7 comments:

Andrew said...

Go, girl!

Yes, it was atrocious.

We were mystified by the reviews this morning because we don't remember him dying at the end and wondered if we had just stopped concentrating altogether.

BUT apparently that tossing of the coin thing was real (we assumed it was a two headed coin) and the play's resolution differs according to how the coin falls.

Another (completely lost on us) gimmick which only succeeds in making all of the previous story telling completely redundant. If it's all on the toss of the coin, why the big debate?

Interval Drinks said...

Hmm, that's interesting. Yes, he died at the end when I saw it, just compounding my sense of irritation.

De Jongh loathed this one I noticed...

Maumac said...

Back at the turn of the last century some Russian smart-ass thought he would test the resolution of audiences - their ability to sit through anything. He put on a show that consisted of a series of curtains raising, one after the other, each one based on how restless the audience got. It was a test to see how long they would sit there like sheep - it caused a marvellous outrage - sounds like we need it now. Any show over sixty minutes that doesn't trust the audience to come back in the second half, means that the director doesn't know what they are doing. And lord love us, but there are more than enough of those around. Thanks for keeping me up to date on what's happening in London - i so don't miss it since i moved to prague.

Interval Drinks said...

Hello maumac,

Yes, the lack of interval did make, what was already an overblown production, altogether more frustrating...

Juice said...

The film is so wooden it could be sold as a plank of wood at homebase.

Interval Drinks said...

That's a bit harsh Juice, am I going to have to take you outside?

Juice said...

AND the line “You’re life and I’m leaving you.” is just corny.]

i have my handbag ready.