Archiv der Kategorie: English

That Awkward Age

Film review: Lady Bird (Director: Greta Gerwig)

By Sascha Krieger

Adolescence is the time when the individual emerges from the child, a process which involves emancipating oneself from one’s parents, frequently leading to clashes and a once close relationship being so utterly transformed that it can threaten to fall apart completely. This is summarized in Lady Bird’s opening scene: The titular, 17-year-old character and her mother share a moment of mutual happiness during a car ride before an entirely inconsequential disagreement leads to a rather radical separation. A scene which in its miniature characterisation of two strong, stubborn and equally vulnerable and confused women as well as its bitingly sharp humour epitomizes Greta Gerwig’s way of seeing the world and women’s place in it with which she has infused all her characters and which she now brings to her directorial debut. In Saoirse Ronan who invests her Lady Bird with a mixture of stubborn determination and fragile lack of direction and Laurie Metcalfe’s hard-shell and utterly lost mother, Gerwig has tow actresses carrying the film who take the Gerwig model a step further, adding a strength and roughness to it Gerwig’s own characters seldom have. The quirky sense of humour, the contradicting waywardness of characters caught in some sort of in-between and their essential awkwardness remain.

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Tense Present

Sean O’Casey: The Plough and the Stars, Abbey Theatre, Dublin / Lyric Hammersmith, London (Director: Sean Holmes)

By Sascha Krieger

Two years ago, Ireland celebrated the centennial of the 1916 Easter Rising, a small rebellion against British rule, brutally crushed and the beginning of a development that lead to the creation of the Irish Free State three years later. Very much unpopular at the time, it has since entered political folklore as a pivotal event, the opening salvo of Irish independence. Its leaders are legends, founding fathers of the country they never saw. Ten years after the Rising, Sean O’Casey’s The Plough and the Stars opened in Dublin. Its depiction of the events from the underbelly of Irish society, poor tenement dwellers who experienced it as anything but heroic, caused riots as it questioned the official founding myth of the Irish state. It was a logical and challenging choice for the Abbey theatre’s 2016 season, a decision nobody took lightly. The fact that an Englishman was chosen as the director was just the beginning. Sean Holmes‘ production could not be further removed from both nostalgia and hagiography.

Image: Sascha Krieger

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„Who Tells Your Story?“

Lin-Manuel Miranda: Hamilton, Victoria Palace Theatre, London (Director: Thomas Kail)

By Sascha Krieger

Writing a review about Hamilton seems somewhat pointless. Everybody agrees this unlikely cultural phenomenon is the greatest show on earth and the most relevant, meaningful as well as engaging and entertaining piece of musical theatre most of us will ever have seen. And, you know what? It’s all true. Lin-Manuel Miranda’s hop-hop musical about one of America’s founding fathers is so good it even works in England, the country America broke away from, where names like Alexander Hamilton’s do not stir strong feelings and a host of associations touching profoundly on collective and individual identity alike. It is because the story Miranda tells is universal and so is the language in which he tells it. It is that of an immigrant, one not being handed any „American dream“ but struggling to create it on his own. „Immigrant, they get the job done“, Lafayette, another on of them, says at some point. This is the story, this is the message. A simple one and a powerful one, too.

Image: Sascha Krieger

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Back to Reality

Harold Pinter: The Birthday Party, Harold Pinter Theatre, London (Director: Ian Rickson)

By Sascha Krieger

60 years ago, a future Nobel laureate produced one of the biggest flops of the London theatre seasons. After The Birthday Party, his second play, opened at the Lyric Hammersmith, it was universally panned by critics and cancelled after just eight performances. Today the play is regarded as a modern classic, one of the most important plays of the second half of the 20th century. For it’s 60th birthday (!), director Ian Rickson sets out to prove it still has life in it. Not an easy task as Pinter has always been a difficult author to stage, positioned somewhere between the „classic“ absurdists like Beckett or Ionesco (two vastly different authors, admittedly), whose dramatic universe where abstract, removed, distorted parallel worlds in which logic was absent and other replaced by a sense of life as being absurd in nature, and authors like Albee who found the absurd in everyday life, in the way we treat each other, interact, communicate. Pinter had a bit of both: his plays, The Birthday Party being a prime example, are often rooted in everyday reality but are pierced with a sense of the absurd, the unexplainable, the illogical. It is as if the Ionesco universe broke into Albee’s and the two became one. Balancing the abstract and the realistic, the symbolic and the literal is the key task for any Pinter production.

Image: Sascha Krieger

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For Whom the Clock Ticks

William Shakespeare: Macbeth, Royal Shakespeare Company / Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon (Director: Polly Findlay)

By Sascha Krieger

Time is a leitmotif in William Shakespeare’s Macbeth. The future is rushed, folded into the present and lost, time is compressed and then halted, seconds feel like hours, hours like seconds. When the order is disturbed, when logic is turned upside down and humanity discarded, time goes out of joint. Macbeth himself is obsessed with time. He wants to force the future and loses the present. He waits, he acts but there is never such a thing as a „normal“ sense of time for him. Which takes us to another key topic of the play: children. Macbeth has none, therefore he has no future. In order to save his present, he kills other’s children but fails to finish his job. There is no time for him, a childless ruler. He must fail. Both elements play heavily in Polly Findlay’s production. In one of her most ingenious moves, she reinterprets the three witches, the „weirs sisters“ as children, relatives of the Shining twins, speaking as one, clad in pink onesies and holding baby dolls in her arms. In this world, children are dead or demonic. Time is out of joint. Yet it runs quite stoically. When Duncan is killed, a large clock begins a countdown. At its end, Macbeth is dead, his time up. He was, as we’ve seen doomed from the start. But all is not over. As Macduff is crowned, Banquo’s son, who the witches prophesied shall be king one day, stands before him, sword in hand. The clock resets, the next murder will follow.

The Royal Shakespeare Theatre (Image: Sascha Krieger)

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Life Is a House

Matthew Lopez: The Inheritance, Young Vic, London (Director: Stephen Daldry)

By Sascha Krieger

A two-part, seven-hour play chronicling the fate of a group of gay men in New York City over a long period of time. Sound familiar? Of course, Tony Kushner’s Angels in America, brilliantly revived at the National Theatre last year, immediately comes to mind. And es, the play so pivotal in generating cultural awareness and acceptance for the LGBTQ community and a key component in coming to terms with America’s shameful response to the AIDS epidemic, is part of the „inheritance“ the eponomous play refers to. The other literary ancestor is E.M. Forster, a closeted gay man who wrote Maurice, one of the first novels – unpublished at the time, obviously – about a gay relationship, whose famous book Howard’s End about social changes and conflicts and the hope that lies in even the most unexpected of communions, provides the play’s blueprint. It was Forster’s work that helped author Matthew Lopez to survive a difficult youth as an outsider and to come to accept who he was. In essence, his play is about the influence the past has on the future, the detrimental as well as the beneficial, how dangerous it is to deny it, and what an important role it plays in finding yourself.

Image: Sascha Krieger

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The Fog of Love

Eugene O’Neill: A Long Day’s Journey into Night, Bristol Old Vic / Wyndham,’s Theatre, London (Director: Richard Eyre)

By Sascha Krieger

What is it about America that makes its greatest playwright’s so obsessed with (their own) family. Arthur Miller’s most famous play is a family drama (Death of a Salesman), Tennessee Williams wrote about nothing else and both he (The Glass Menagerie) an Eugene O’Neill converted their own family history into plays. All these families are deeply troubled, doomed, disintegrating and falling apart by the end. It seems that the family, that almost religious myth of America, that source of its greatness is not just a positive symbol but a negative one, too, signifying everything that is flawed in society. If the seed is rotten how can the flower thrive? There is plenty about A Long Day’s Journey into Night that could inspire a contemporary interpretation at a time when the American dream and the American family are again weaponised while at the same time families regarded as non-American are ripped apart. In his new production, director Richard Eyre does non of this. He looks deeper – as O’Neill did – and aims at the universal. His take is indeed a long, a very long journey into the night, into oblivion, and just a hint that something may continue, that the sun might rise again. Or perhaps it won’t.

Image: Sascha Krieger

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House of Ghosts

Jez Butterworth: The Ferryman, Royal Court Theatre / Gielgud Theatre, London (Director: Sam Mendes)

By Sascha Krieger

These are solid walls. Brick, whitewashed, having stood the test of time. But wait, isn’t the roof slanted, isn’t there something off? As if an alternative reality has invaded the „real“ one of the Carney family: mother, father, 7 children, a sister-in-law, two aunts and an uncle. A second layer of reality which says: your present, your stability are illusions and will crumple. There is a deeper truth beneath, a foundation on which this „now“ is built, which is treacherous and can make what seems fixed collapse at any given time. This is the premise of  both Jez Butterworth’s new play The Ferryman (a favourite to win at the Oliver Awards in a few days time) and Sam Mendes‘ production. The pat is everywhere. We encounter it even before we do the Carney’s: in a dirty Derry back alley in which an IRA leader informs a priest about the Quinn Carney’s missing brother being found after ten years. In a bog, hands and feet tied, a bullet in his head. AN IRA job, it seems clear. So a shadow lies on the proceedings we see then unfold. A lively rural family on harvest day. All the clichés are they: joking is abundant, everyone has the „gift of the gob“, stories are told, songs are sung, politics quarrelled about. If there is a text-book about what to include in an entertaining play about Ireland, it’s all here.

Image: Sascha Krieger

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Summer of Life

Film review: Call Me by Your Name (Director: Luca Guadagnino)

By Sascha Krieger

Soft sunlight drenches the village somewhere in northern Italy when Oliver arrives. The handsome American in his mid-20s immediately catches the eye of 17-year-old Elio, the son of the archeology professor Oliver has come to assist for six weeks. Luca Guadagnino’s celebrated film opens right with that first glance Elio can direct at the „usurper“ as he calls him on account of living in Elio’s room for the duration of his stay. The camera follows Elio’s eyes, filming Oliver’s arrival from the upstairs window Elio watches it from. Camera angles and focus play a key part in the way the film tells its story: The camera eye looks from above or below, faces quickly slide out of and into focus, partial views change with tha camera moving away, characters often moving into the foreground from a distance or remaining them. Shots over the shoulder are common, foreground and background swap places. The film thus mirrors the economy of looks and glances that the budding relationship of Elio and Oliver is built on, the maze of attraction and refusal, the slow and confusing process of understanding. The way they look at each other or deliberately refuse to do so is telling of what is about to happen long before it does.

Image:
© 2017 Sony Pictures Entertainment Deutschland GmbH

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Against the Darkness

Film review: The Post (Director: Steven Spielberg)

By Sascha Krieger

„Democracy dies in darkness“: Since the Trump administration began waging a war on the free press, this line has been added to the header of the Washington Post. With The Post director Steven Spielberg has now translated this claim in to a major film, an Oscar contender and quite possibly Hollywood’s statement about the crucial issues of the hour. The film takes place during the Nixon presidency in 1971, a previous time when a president had little respect for the constitution and especially the freedom of the press. When an injunction prevents The New York Times from publishing a secret report showing how the public was misled about the Vietnam War, the Washington Post rushes to find the material and decides to publish it, resulting in a Supreme Court ruling upholding the freedom of the press.

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