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Archive for February, 2015

This is the story of Henri Charierre, known as Papillon (which is French for butterfly – he had a butterfly tattoo on his chest) and his incarceration in a French prison in 1930 for a murder which Papillon has always denied committing.  During his subsequent years of imprisonment, he spent time in many prisons and penal colonies, which had varying degrees of cruelty and inhumane treatment.  Papillon made several attempts to break out of the various institutions, with varying degrees of success.

The veracity of the story has often been questioned, with Papillon himself saying that it is about 75% true, while more modern researchers believe that parts of his story which he claims happened to him, were actually about other prisoners.  Either way, it’s an interesting adventure, and you have to admire his grit and determination to become a free man.

I enjoyed the book overall, although I found it took a long time for me to read.  There was so much information in parts that I had to take it slowly, to make sure I took it all in.  Charierre himself is an engaging, if occasionally self-aggrandising character, and certainly a good storyteller.  I liked the fact that although – especially in the beginning of the story – he was concentrated on his anger on the people who had wrongly incarcerated him (such as the Judge, prosecutor and people on the jury during his trial), and his determined to exact his revenge, over the passage of time, he came to focus on the kindnesses shown to him by various people, and was not lacking in compassion for others.

This was definitely a book worth reading, and the ending was particularly uplifting.  I would definitely recommend it.  (However, readers ought perhaps to be aware that the author occasionally uses some outdated and distasteful racial descriptions.)

 

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Well, it worked for Baz Luhrmann, when he updated Romeo and Juliet to a modern day setting.  In this film, director Michael Almereyda updates Hamlet and shifts the action to corporate New York in 2000.  Hamlet (Ethan Hawke) is mourning the loss of his father, who was the CEO of The Denmark Corporation.  He believes that his father was in fact murdered by his Uncle Claudius (Kyle McLachlan) who has gone on to marry Hamlet’s mother Gertrude (Diane Verona) in distasteful haste, and is also the new CEO of the corporation.

Hamlet is determined to avenge his father’s death.  Meanwhile, he struggles with his own loose grip on sanity, as does his former girlfriend Ophelia (Julia Stiles).

I’m not completely sure what to make of this adaptation.  I like the idea – I like Shakespeare’s plays in their own settings, but I do like to see them in new and unfamiliar settings, which may entice other people to try them out.  This version comes in just shy of two hours, which is pretty short, considering that Hamlet is Shakespeare’s longest play (the very faithful Kenneth Branagh adaptation is four hours long).  Certain parts have been cut out, but the essence of the story remains intact, and Shakespeare’s original language is used throughout, although not in its entirety.  The cast overall were strong – Ethan Hawke is an under-rated actor, and he captures Hamlet’s fine line between grief and insanity very well.  I also liked Julia Stiles and Liev Schreiber as Ophelia and Laertes respectively.  Kyle MacLachlan did a fine job as Claudius, while Diane Verona was excellent as Gertrude, and really captured the character.  Hamlet’s ‘friends’ (if you have seen the play, you will understand why I use the term loosely) Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are played by Steve Zahn and Dechen Thurman – who is the brother of Ethan Hawke’s then wife Uma Thurman – and Zahn in particular shone in his role.  I also really liked Karl Geary as Horatio, Hamlet’s true friend until the end.

The cast was not perfect however – unfortunately, the usually excellent Bill Murray seemed lost as Polonius.  I’ve seen Murray in straight roles before and he is normally great in them, but I didn’t think he suited this particular character at all, and just seemed to be reading his lines with no inflection or meaning whatsoever.  It’s a shame – Polonius could have been great with a different actor, but overall this did not detract from my enjoyment of the film.

What did occur to me however was that if I didn’t know the story of Hamlet, I think I would have had trouble following what was happening.  It’s not the language; it was more that scenes seemed particularly disjointed from one another, and it seemed to me that it was jumping about a bit – first concentrating on this, then concentrating on that.  On that basis, I would definitely recommend that anyone planning on watching this familiarises themselves with the story first.

On a positive note, New York City is actually a very good backdrop for the story…aesthetically it looks perfect, and I also loved the music.  I’m not sure that I can forgive the famous To Be Or Not To Be soliloquy being recited in voice-over while our hero roams a Blockbuster video store.  There was probably some symbolism there, but it escaped me.

Overall, if you are looking for an adaptation of Hamlet, this is not the best one to start with.  However, if you are a fan of the play and want to see this version for that reason, you might find more to enjoy than you expect.

Year of release: 2000

Director: Michael Almereyda

Producers: Jason Blum, John Sloss, Andrew Fierberg, Amy Hobby, Callum Greene

Writers: William Shakespeare (play), Michael Almereyda

Main cast: Ethan Hawke, Kyle MacLachlan, Diane Verona, Bill Murray, Liev Schreiber, Julia Stiles, Karl Geary, Steve Zahn, Dechen Thurman

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Click here for my review of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s 2013 production of Hamlet.

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Nobody can claim that the title of this play didn’t let them know what to expect!  From the fabulously talented people at the Mischief Theatre Company, and following the success of their genuinely hilarious The Play That Goes Wrong (which is still currently showing at the Duchess Theatre in London, and which won a Ticketmaster Award for Best New Comedy), comes Peter Pan Goes Wrong.

The good people at Cornley Polytechnic Amateur Dramatic Society are staging a “traditional Christmas vignette” (it’s NOT a pantomime, as Chris Bean (played in real life by Laurence Pears) who takes on the roles of Mr Darling and Captain Hook) irritably informs the audience – who naturally respond with “Oh yes it is!”

However, nothing goes right – from scenery that breaks or malfunctions, to one character forgetting his lines and needing an earpiece which picks up local radio, to characters getting their lines mixed up, the play is doomed to failure from the beginning.  But never has getting something wrong felt so right, or been so funny (well, except for in The Play That Goes Wrong obviously).

There were laughs from start to finish, and the whole thing was so cleverly written and put together that it’s easy to forget just how talented the writers and performers in this production have to be to put this together, and to make it look spontaneous.  (It must be incredibly hard to deliberately get so much so wrong).  Leonie Hill played main actress Sandra, who in turn played Wendy Darling, complete with with dramatic and hammy over-acting, while Naomi Sheldon played Annie Twilloil, who had the taxing job of playing four different characters throughout the play.  Alex Bartram played the egotistical Jonathan Harris, who took the part of Peter Pan himself, while sweet Max Bennett (playing the crocodile and Nana the dog) was ably played by Matt Cavendish, and certainly got the audience rooting for him!  The cast was rounded out by Cornelius Booth playing Cornley’s oldest member Robert Grove, who by some misfortune or other has ended up in the part of one of the Darling brothers – complete with bald head and bushy beard; James Marlowe as Dennis Tyde, who needed the aforementioned earpiece; Chris Leask as hapless sound engineer and impromptu Peter Pan Trevor Watson; Harry Kershaw as Francis Beaumont, who took on the dual roles of Smee the Pirate, and the narrator of the whole sorry affair; and Rosie Graham as young Lucy Grove, who was a stuttering – and eventually wheelchair bound – Tootles.  Each and every cast member was terrific – there really was not a weak link among them.

The stage was a revolving set, which naturally would not stop revolving when it was supposed to, and which provided for an uproariously funny, chaotic ending, which must have taken some real working out.  The audience were in stitches throughout, and any fears that I had had that I might be disappointed in Peter Pan Goes Wrong after the sheer hilarity of The Play That Goes Wrong, were soon dispelled.

Suffice to say that Mischief Theatre Company have got a fan for life, and I will definitely be going to see anything that they put on in future.  If you need a good belly laugh, get yourself along to one of their shows – you won’t be disappointed!

(For more information about Mischief Theatre Company, or Peter Pan Goes Wrong, please click here.)

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