Theatre or cinema? Live or celluloid?
I enjoy both but what separates one from the other is the quality of the enjoyment. And it might be the story, the acting, the setting or the company. And while I’ve been surprised many times, I’ve also had my fair share of disappointments.
In the last three days I visited the National Theatre on the South Bank of the Thames – it’s more on the east bank given how the meander has unravelled at that point but I’ll stop being a pendant in a moment – and more prosaically an Everyman cinema in Crystal Palace.
In terms of ambience, comfort and surprise the Everyman wins hands down. We sat on a sofa, had food and drinks brought to us and no numpty decided to wobble past us when, had he gone in the other direction he would have had an empty row to imagine the toes he could reorganise.
The National, for those that don’t know it, is a brutalist lump of cubes. The exterior makes you grateful the action is inside. Another, now long gone 1950s development from the same school of ‘fuck the aesthetics, see how cheap we can make it’ architects was once described by Prince Charles along these lines. ‘Say what you like about the Luffwaffe, at least they only replaced what they knocked down with inoffensive rubble unlike the developers of Paternoster Square’. The inside has more to hide the concrete and the auditoria are functional.
The play – the Father and the Assassin – reimagined the life of the Hindu nationalist who assassinated Gandhi in 1948 – shortly after independence and the catastrophe of partition. How can someone, the playwright posited, go from reverence to hatred and believe their destiny lay in the death of one of the 20th century’s great men? It was an engaging history lesson, with perhaps too much understandable exposition for it to be a totally engrossing production. Was it his upbringing – his parents feared for his life as their previous sons had died early and his sisters lived so brought him up as a girl – the abuse that saw him portrayed as the incarnation of a female god and support the family; was it the inherent injustices of growing up under the last days of British Colonialist control; was it the seduction by those who saw the end of Empire as the beginning of the real conflict between Hindu and Muslim forces? We were asked to make up our own minds and it is easy to see that little by little all played their part.
The context led almost inexorably to that shooting. It was, I thought, nicely ambiguous. Not a great play but a perfectly enjoyable evening and a healthy reminder of the appalling consequences of what happened when independence was granted in 1947.
In contrast the film was utter fluff. Downton Abbey: A New Era. I admit to being a bit of an addict of the TV series. That said, like all successful TV series they eventually out-grandiose themselves. By the end Downton was churning out enough scandals to place it alongside East Enders for egregious events occurring to a small group of people.
By leaving a gap and only needing a couple of storylines to make it engaging, this Downton returned to its tea and scones, antimacassars and aspidistra roots. Say what you like about Julian Fellowes, he does nail time and place. This story, set in 1930, had Team Grantham in need of some roof fixing cash and a strange bequest of a French villa to the Dowager Violet to kick us off. Cue lots of impressive piles, Cricket and croquet, and clunky dialogue. There was the whiff of old scandal, a fin de siecle sense of ‘this too shall pass’ and a welcome inclusion of all the old favourite faces. If you’ve enjoyed Downton the TV then you’ll like this well enough; if you’ve missed it so far, then don’t start here. And is it worth all the luxury of an Everyman cinema? Probably not; maybe add it to a cosy post Christmas snoozefest- if you doze off you’ll not lose the plot…
We ended the weekend titivating the top lawn. It’s the most difficult to keep looking good but it warrants the effort.
As long as we avoid any drought….