Sunday, January 06, 2008

I am hitting the ground running this year! Here we are, 6th January and the current score is Film 1 Theatre 2.

Owen and I saw THE GOLDEN COMPASS last night and by and large I enjoyed it.

Not having read Philip Pullman's
trilogy I have no idea how faithful it is to the source material so one is left comparing it to the other recent fantasy film series... how does it compare to POTTER, NARNIA or THE RINGS?

I was thinking of this in particular when the familiar round of English Equity members started popping up in supporting roles... how many leapt at the chance to hopefully be in another blockbusting film series?

The film is ably carried by young Dakota Blue Richards as Lyra,
an orphan in a parallel-universe England who sets out to rescue a friend who she believes is the latest child to be kidnapped by the Magisterium, the all-powerful entity that seeks to control every area of people's lives. On her journey she has to confront marauding armies, vicious wolves, enormous fighting bears and ultimately the clinical horrors of the Magisterium's research centre. Luckily she has been entrusted by her uncle Lord Asriel with the titular object that can point you towards the truth.

companions on the journey are a band of Gyptians a nomadic people whose children have been singled out for capture by the Magisterium, an American aeronautist, the leader of a witch clan, an enormous white bear Iorek who Lyra helps rescue from the humans in a town and her daemon Pan. In this world everyone's soul takes the visible form of a daemon, an animal that never leaves your side. Richards makes for a feisty heroine who easily holds her own - not only with the starry cast but with the CGI creatures.
The cast put their all into it - it was good to see Jack Shepherd, Clare Higgins, Jim Carter and Tom Courtenay in key supporting roles. They were joined by Simon McBurney as a scheming and murderous emissary of Derek Jacobi's eminense gris. Even Christopher Lee pops up as a glowering member of the Magisterium with a single line, Kristen Scott Thomas too has a single line as the voice of Asriel's feline daemon.

Nicole Kidman was surprisingly effective as Mrs. Coulter, the glamorous and stylish woman who requests that Lyra be her assistant on a journey to the north which just happens to be where the kidnapped children are being held. There is a good section of the film at the Coulter residence where Lyra starts to realise that life will not be easy with Mommie Dearest Coulter and in a clandestine search finds out that her benefactor is in fact the head of the organization responsible for the kidnap of the children. I was hoping for more scenes which played out this strange relationship but had to wait for a final confrontation scene in which Mrs. Coulter reveals the real reason for her interest in Lyra.

Daniel Craig plays Lord Asriel, Lyra's uncle whose discoveries anger the Magisterium.
It's a role that really does not call for such a name actor as he is only in two short sequences in the film. I presume the idea is that he will be more heavily featured in the sequels as the film ends with Lyra setting off to rescue him from his captors in the north. However the producing studio New Line has said there will only be sequels based on the success of this film and it has underperformed at the US box office although worldwide the film has been more successful.

Actually the main problem is it's length, for once a film of this nature seems too short at only 113 minutes. The film feels like it's captive to Pullman's plot, constantly working and pushing so I never really had an opportunity to relax into the film. Set piece follows set piece, characters are introduced at a steady rate without the novel's advantage of being able to build up their personality. The exposition at the start of the film also provides you with all the information you need, so there are very few plot surprises along the way.

On Sunday afternoon Owen, Angela and I went to see the Menier Chocolate Factory's production of LA CAGE AUX FOLLES. Even if I may not be Jerry Herman's biggest fan I had to see how director Terry Johnson managed to stage it - I mean to say, it played in 1986 at the London Palladium which seats 2,286... the Menier seats 190!

It's been a long time since the two Broadway camps (sorry) squared off against each other at the 1984 Tony Awards when LA CAGE went up against Sondheim's SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE and won six awards against SUNDAY's two including the main ones for Best Musical, Best Book, Best Score, Best Actor and Best Director. Traditional Broadway had won out against experimental Broadway - and despite Harvey Fierstein's gay-positive book it is still a deeply traditional score, one that sends the audience out humming - despite the fact that you could go *in* humming
them as the score has distinct echoes of Herman's scores for HELLO DOLLY! and MAME. There really is nothing here to shock the horses. Odd too that the Menier have chosen these two shows to do revivals of.

The show has been beset with illness problems
resulting in the opening night being postponed twice in December and now scheduled for later this week. One of the casualties was Douglas Hodge who luckily has re-joined the show and gave a fine performance as the emotionally overwrought Albin who blossoms nightly into the star 'Zaza'. My only problem with him was he took a while to get up to speed but he turned in an impassioned "I Am What I Am" and was fine after that - maybe he is saving his throat for the press night? He also reminded me in drag of Julie Walters which once I thought it I couldn't shake!!

He has the difficulty of taking over from the magnificent George Hearn who wowed all of us who saw the '86 version. Speaking of which maybe it's hindsight but I distinctly remember Les Cagelles having more dominant personalities particularly Scott St. Martyn's Chantal and Andy Norman's Hanna but our present Cagelles made up for it with frantic dance routines - their can-can was hugely exciting.
The cast included delightful turns by Una Stubbs as the repressed Mme. Dindon, Iain Mitchell as the killjoy Dindon, Jason Pennycooke's scene-stealing 'maid' Jacob and Tara Hugo as the glamorous restaurant owner Jacqueline - although once again Phyllida Law's '86 performance stays with me. The show's real joy is Philip Quast as Georges - he shines as the suave and witty club owner and his rendition of the score's standout number "Song On The Sand" was genuinely moving. Expert direction from Johnson, clever set designs by David Farley and Matthew Wright's flashy costumes all contribute to another revival success for the Menier.

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