Fatal direction

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OOH, the lust: Dan Gallagher (Ashley Dowds) gets all hot and heavy with Alex Forrest (Jazzara Jaslyn). Photograph courtesy Montecasino.

REMEMBER 1987? IN the flicks, it was a year of big hair and sexy killers. Glenn Close took on Michael Douglas in Fatal Attraction, a film that was to forever corrupt the basically benign one-night-stand with a right dousing of psychopathology at its most sinister. The stage version of this era-changing film is at the moment on stage at Montecasino, and sadly, it ain’t what you might expect.

It’s an easy story line: Nice married guy meets psychopath in a bar. She seduces him once, twice. And all hell breaks loose, destroying everything in its wake — children, bunnies, cars, the whole bang shoot. On a level, the story’s straight forward, but without the requisite electricity, it turns diabolical.

For one thing, Jazzara Jaslyn, the actress cast in the role of the scary Alex Forrest, the woman who takes Dan Gallagher (Ashley Dowds) by the libido and doesn’t let go till she’s wrought all the damage she means to, lacks the kind of sinister gravitas of the psychopath. What you get instead, is a rather shrill young woman whose hysteria buttons are pressed more potently than her manipulative force. She’s irritating more than horrifying.

And while good intentions have been invested in the paring of the work down to its bare bones, there are elements in its presentation which are so solemnly attempted and so cringeworthily achieved you have to consciously force yourself not to laugh. The silliest moments are in the sex acts themselves where a lumpen kind of choreography features, forcing the poor performers to mime orgasms. It’s so crudely directed that it jars everything, making you yearn for the days when sex on stage was taboo, and directors had to resort to creativity to convey nuance.

Indeed, the nuance department in this play seems to have been closed down at the outset. The text lacks the kind of electricity and drama that it warrants and even the notorious boiled bunny, which is what many former Fatal Attraction film audience members might remember, is sidestepped.

By and large, aside from the novel introduction of the idea of a cell phone as an alternate conversational space, this work is sanitised, wooden and miscast. Dowds in the pivotal male role does his best, representing a seriously nice guy who falls, hook, line and sinker into the maw of a monster, but in this work, he’s up against strange odds, two too young blond lasses (the wife, Beth, is played by Jenny Stead) and a harsh and inappropriate musical sound track, to say nothing of a very obnoxious back drop which just doesn’t work. It features an ambiguous melange of women’s faces against a venetian blinds kind of number. Only it’s so self-consciously mysterious and it’s so very very large, that it crushes the play from the get-go.

Hold on to your horrified and titillated memory of the film that redefined the idiom ‘fatal attraction’; this play skipped some time on the drawing board.

  • Fatal Attraction is written by James Dearden and directed by Paula Bangles. It is performed by Jo da Silva, Ashley Dowds, Jazzara Jaslyn, Jenny Stead and Alex Tops until May 6 at the Pieter Toerien Theatre, Montecasino complex, Fourways. Call 011 511-1988 or visit http://www.pietertoerien.co.za
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Curiouser and curiouser

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EVERY which way: Geometric forms, a drawing in charcoal and chalk on brown paper, by Gordon Froud. Photograph courtesy Total Exposure.

AS YOU ENTER the upstairs space, courtesy of the architects of the Standard Bank Gallery, there’s an implicit sense of event. This is obviously always the case. But it’s enhanced several-fold in Gordon Froud’s first major retrospective. How? Curatorial decisions have dramatically place a massive polyhedron in your face. This exhibition is about time – but it’s also all about space and geometry and God.

But ah! you might cry, as you summit the staircase, this polyhedron is stumped. It’s got blunt points. It’s dramatic, sure, but there’s something artisanal about it. And then you step a little closer and look at the tessellation wall works, which surround said polyhedron. They may you feel as though you have stepped into a child’s kaleidoscope on crack. And then you realise they’re made of black plastic coathangers and cable ties, and the blunt edges of the polyhedron are appropriate because the whole object is made of giant traffic cones. It is then that the world begins to turn on its axis for you as you engage with this extraordinary exhibition.

Mooted as a mid-career project, this exhibition sees Froud in his mid 50s, offering sophisticated and carefully articulated summation on all that he’s been working on and interested in through his career. And while the geometry is central to it all, there’s an ethos as to where this geometry is found and how it is extrapolated that keeps you curious to the very end.

But more than that, Froud takes the whole of the upstairs gallery space and uses it with clarity and empathy. It’s a humble exhibition that is about the real skills of looking and drawing on supports such as brown paper, but a proud one too, that examines a great diversity of artmaking approaches. Ultimately, it is satisfyingly balanced in the layout of work, which takes you through four ‘chapters’ of possibility.

You do, however, emerge from this exhibition remembering Froud’s fondness for all things Alice in Wonderland.  Not because there’s a Cheshire Cat secreted in the interstices of the lines and circles here, but rather because the mathematical ethos of Lewis Carroll’s madcap ideas are spun under the surface of these works.

And while as a body of work it touches on everything from Jewish to Christian to Hindu to Buddhist splays of spiritual values, it also doffs a cap to Leonardo’s thinking and sees a spot of geometry in the world as it stands. In doing so, it evokes the thinkings of György Doczi on proportional harmonies in nature and everything else.

That said, a couple of series in this exhibition, including the photographs of the figure in geometry, feel almost too diagrammatic and if you’re not in the know in terms of mystical values, they may leave you cold. Similarly, a series of embossed images toward the chronological closure of the show feel so busy that you cannot look at them. But Froud is an interesting character and this exhibition really does go the extra mile in offering something for everyone. It’s astonishing to acknowledge that all of this is the work of one artist.

And further to everything, this society has a troubling relationship of not being able to celebrate its own. For whatever reason. Often an artist needs to go overseas and earn ticks from the so-called “International community” before he or she gets a nod from local establishments. Froud’s show here and now kind of bucks this trend, but for a mid-career show to be mounted in the latter years of as prolific a practitioner as he, feels uncomfortable. However, as you walk through the four chapters of this exhibition, so do you realise that this is most likely where serious fine art in contemporary society is pointing right now: the invested thought. The carefully drawn line. The gesture that is unashamedly analogue. This is an important show for all the right reasons.

  • Harmonia: Sacred geometry, the pattern of existence by Gordon Froud is at the Standard Bank Gallery, central Johannesburg, until June 15. 0860 123 000.

How to say it for always

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LETTING go of an angel: the underpinning theme in Janine van der Linde’s Vlerke vir Jason. Photograph courtesy http://www.colourbox.com

THE DEVASTATION AND psychological whirlwind that comes of sudden loss can rip up the threads of one’s established identity and turn everything completely upside-down. Irrevocably. This is the focus in the tender and raw story, Vlerke vir Jason (Wings for Jason) that is this week’s Afrikaans-language radio drama on Radio Sonder Grense. Structurally tight, and simple in its premises, it offers a strong and poignant foray into Coloured stereotypes as it explores a particular kind of madness with directness but also with sensitivity.

Nadine Williams (Leané Valentyn) is a young woman in love. Her child and her husband are her everything, and amid snippets of Lionel Richie love songs sung to one another in the deliriousness of their happiness, theirs is an association which feels complete. But this story begins at the end and it is the flashbacks and dreams she experiences which give meat to the nuances and answer the unanswered.

The place where you first encounter Nadine is not, however, her happy place. The play begins in a municipal prison, where the sergeant (Brendon Daniels) is patronising and humiliating if not downright cruel and “Ma Fay” (June van Merch) an orderly in the women’s section offers the grit and idioms of a particular type of character in the institution. She’s gruff but she’s got soul, she’s frazzled, but there’s a history. It’s a scary place which resonates with echoes and the soundscape portrays it as cold and unforgiving.

What brings Nadine there, weeping and bedraggled, isolated and uncommunicative? The government? The gangsters? The culture in which she has been living all her life? Perhaps. Perhaps all of the above. But it is not what you might assume. While this work deals with stereotypes it has a soul that doesn’t allow a set of circumstances to be reflected one-sidedly.

It’s another tissue quencher – you’ll need a few at different moments in this play – but there are also moments of horror which reflect on the kind of things that the bereaved do, not because they’re insane or criminal, but because their sense of logic, reality and consequences is all broken and blurry with tears.

  • Vlerke vir Jason (Wings for Jason) is written by Janine van der Linde. Directed by Margot Luyt, and featuring technical input by Cassi Lowers, it is performed by Simone Benjamin, Brendon Daniels, Marlo Minnaar, Lindy Stander, Leané Valentyn and June van Merch, and debuts on RSG on Thursday April 19 at 8pm, it will be rebroadcast in the radio’s Deurnag programme, on Monday April 23 at 1am. It’s also available on podcast: rsg.co.za

Nearly 2 500 ways to seize the day

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ALMOST in heaven: John Spencer (Donald Sutherland) and his wife Ella (Helen Mirren) on the trip of a lifetime. Photograph courtesy http://www.miamifilmfestival.com

LET’S FACE IT: our inimitable icons of stage and screen are aging. They’re still beautiful, they’re still sexy and they still have what it takes. Thank goodness the film industry is capable of recognising this and of granting performers such as Judi DenchMeryl Streep, Annette Bening, Julie Walters and Vanessa Redgrave plum roles in which they can celebrate the inevitability of aging. The Leisure Seeker is another gem of this sort, giving voice to delicious performances by Helen Mirren and Donald Sutherland as an elderly couple who go rogue on their children, for one last fling.

Ellen (Mirren) and John Spencer (Sutherland) have had a rich, full life. He was a teacher of English literature with a particular penchant for Ernest Hemingway. They’ve two adult children. And they have a 1975 RV which has seen many a holiday with them. But here they are. Neither are in the first flush of health, but life’s for the grabbing and they decide to do a drive from Boston to Florida Keys to see Hemingway’s house.

That’s a drive of nearly 2 500km for the pragmatic. If you’re elderly, with fading memories and bits and pieces that no longer work as they used to, that’s almost the recipe for catastrophe. And catastrophic this is, particularly from the other end of a cell phone like to their children, Jane (Janel Moloney) and William (Christian McKay).

But amid the realities of incontinence and fervour, knee-jerk responses and utter hilarity, this is by all accounts, the journey of a lifetime. Mirren and Sutherland sparkle unforgettably in this beautiful yet thoughtful celebration of what it takes to grow old. The dialogue is crisp and bristly and the context real in terms of how the power is inverted when the parents are old and the children, grown, putting the giggles on the side of grandparents, and the punitive frowns on the side of the kids.

Narratively, the plot wanes a bit in terms of it feeling like adventure upon adventure and reading like a bit of a shopping list, characterised by an “and then … and then … and then” rhythm, but by and large, it’s a laugh and a cry at every stop in the road.

Irresponsible? Absolutely! But life is short and it’s completely for the living. It’s a Thelma and Louise kind of a tale which ends as it must, leaving you with a wet face, but a smiling one.

  • The Leisure Seeker is directed by Paolo Virzi and is performed by a cast headed by Helen Abell, Nicholas Barrera, Lilia Pino Blouin, Carl Bradfield, Robert Walker Branchaud, Roger Bright, Andrea C. Brotherton, Gabriella Cila, Danielle Deadwyler, Adam Drescher, Marc Fajardo, Dick Gregory, Carlos Guerrero, Ryan Clay Gwaltney, Wayne Hall, Joe Hardy Jr, Lucy Catharine Haskill, Rusty Hodgdon, Joshua Hoover, Denitra Isler, Dana Ivey, Ariel R. Kaplan, Jessie Sasser Kloos, Ahmed Lucan, Burk Madison, Dov Mamann, Elijah Marcano, Christian McKay, Matt Mercurio, Joshua Mikel, Helen Mirren, Kirsty Mitchell, Janel Moloney, Lindsey Moser, Robert Pralgo, Chelle Ramos, Jerald Jay Savage, David Silverman, Mylie Stone, Leander Suleiman, Donald Sutherland, Karen Valero, Sean Michael Weber, Ben White and Geoffrey D. Williams. It is written by Stephen Amidon, Francesca Archbugi, Francesco Piccolo and Paolo Virzi, based on the eponymous novel by Michael Zadoorian. Produced by Marco Cohen, Fabrizio Donvito, Benedetto Habib and Bryan Thomas, it features creative input by Carlo Virzi (music), Luca Bigazzi (cinematography), Jacopo Quadri (editing), Ellen Jacoby (casting),Massimo Cantini Parrini (costumes) and Richard A. Wright (production). Release date: March 30 2018.

When Gloria met Peter

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ROMEO and Juliet: Gloria Grahame (Annette Bening) and Peter Turner (Jamie Bell) embrace their love, their lives and the Bard. Photograph courtesy http://www.austinchronicle.com

IT’S A GREAT rarity for a child actor who wows his audience to go away and come back to the industry all grown up and wow some more. This is exactly what you get in Paul McGuigan’s film Film stars don’t die in Liverpool, which features Jamie Bell as Peter Turner. This unique love story which is based on the true story of American film actress Gloria Grahame (1923-1981), penned by Turner himself, is the kind of film that will give you hope for the future of this society – and its filmmaking culture – it’s elegant and beautifully constructed with strong messages and gritty performances. And like any other love story, it’s about giving with a full heart and letting go, but there are so many delicate edges to it, you will want to watch this film over and over again. Forever.

Seventeen years ago, Jamie Bell was the child who defined Stephen Daldry’s Billy Elliott (2000), a story about a Northern England boy, the son of a miner in the riotous 1980s who wanted to do ballet. Today, he’s an adult, but the maverick fire in his belly and his ability to embrace complex social issues is as refined and beautiful now as they were then.

Again, we’re in the 1980s, with all its dance moves and analogue culture, in this wild romance. And the girl in the love story? It’s none other than Annette Bening, who is magnificent as a Grahame in her fifties. The love is passionate and unconventional, and Peter’s mum is played by the inimitable Julie Walters. Indeed, with Vanessa Redgrave playing Grahame’s mother, this film offers a full house of fabulous actresses over 60 and it celebrates them in ways that make you value the elderly in your own community.

But more than all of this, Film stars don’t die in Liverpool offers the kind of perfection that very few films can. Featuring a mature understanding of silence and wall paper patterns, of subtlety and finesse, along the lines of Hal Ashby’s 1971 Harold and Maude, which remains arguably one of the finest Holocaust films ever; it’s about exploring your lover’s body and finding truths which she can never tell you. It’s about what happens when marriage doesn’t seal your love, giving your lover’s relatives priority over you when it comes to death.

You know how this film will end by the very virtue of its title, but the predictability of the work is not the point. This is a film that embraces the brevity of life with fierceness and verve. It heightens the bar for the possibility of telling a story of this nature, enormously. It’s a film that makes you feel like you’ve stepped back into the glamour and magic of 1950s Hollywood, with all its illusions of sincerity, its stars and its unbroken dreams.

  • Film stars don’t die in Liverpool is directed by Paul McGuigan and is performed by Lee Adach, Anna Afferr, Tim Ahern, Lasco Atkinds, Rick Bacon, Frances Barber, Joey Batey, Roy Beck, Gintare Beinoraviciute, Jamie Bell, Annette Bening, Suzanne Bertish, Leanne Best, Michael Billington, James Bloor, Edward Bourne, Mark Braithwaite, Michael Brand, Tom Brittney, Joanna Brookes, Jade Clarke, Kenneth Cranham, Paul Dallison, David Decio, Stephanie Eccles, Karl Farrer, Helen Iesha Goldthorpe, Vaslov Goom, Stephen Graham, Leon Grant, Leila Gwynne, Alan Wyn Hughes, Alex Jaep, Bentley Kalu, John Kinory, Isabella Laughland, Adam Lazarus, Ify Mbaeliachi , Gemma Oaten, Luana Di Pasquale, Gino Picciano, Vanessa Redgrave, Jason Redshaw, David Soffe, Alexandra Starkey, Asmeret Tesfagiorgis, Glynn Turner, Peter Turner, Jay Villiers, Julie Walters, Nicola-Jayne Wells, Susan Westbury, Patricia Winker and Charlotte Worwood. It is written by Matt Greenhalgh, based on the eponymous memoir by Peter Turner. Produced by Barbara Broccoli and Colin Vaines, it features creative input by J. Ralph (music), Urszula Pontikos (cinematography), Nick Emerson (editing), Debbie McWilliams (casting), Jany Temime (costumes) and Eve Stewart (production). Release date: March 22 2018.

A boy and his bear

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US three. Billy Moon (aka Christopher Robin) played by Will Tilston with AA Milne, his dad, played by Domhnall Gleeson. Photograph courtesy http://www.filminquiry.com

IT TAKES A special kind of perspective and balance to be able to tell a story involving a child as adorable and articulate as young Will Tilston, without ramping up the cute factor and drowning in saccharine. Simon Curtis, director of Goodbye Christopher Robin achieves this significantly well, offering a sense of balance into a story that is as much about a bear named Winnie the Pooh, as it is about shell shock and the horror of fame, as it is about the way in which Edwardian society was so replete with euphemism that empathy was tossed by the wayside.

This film tells the story of the first children’s great classic in English literature which touched a nerve of real values for all children and became the world’s most popular classic for young readers. It presents Tilston as the five or six year old Christopher Robin opposite his dad played by Domhnall Gleeson who is weighed down with the horror of his World War One experience. The child articulates empathy in a way that gives the relationship between father and son the kind of authentic texture that is simply beautiful.

The child is also exposed to a mother played by Margot Robbie, who is almost a caricature of the classic stiff-upper-lip young woman whose everything is described in euphemism and who has no tolerance for anything that might digress and spill over, emotionally. It is the maid, Olive (Kelly Macdonald) who is capable of getting down to the level of this be-smocked tousle-haired child to give him succour and to protect him from the vagaries of becoming the boy whose name is on the lips of everyone.

The film focuses in great detail on the birth of Winnie the Pooh and all the family idiosyncrasies which make it happen. And then it pans to the horror of fame and the intrusiveness of fans and the media into Christopher Robin Milne’s life. Stitched up as it begins, around the spectre of World War, it’s a subtle tale which brings the most horrible of possible news on a bicycle. But there are twists in the material that make it an essay in gentle nostalgia.

It’s curious as to why it was been whipped off the Cinema Nouveau circuit within a few weeks of being released in South Africa. The good news is that it is already accessible as a DVD. A delicious slice of Edwardian life, it’s a film that may not change your life, but it will bring you a carefully crafted dollop of some extra special beauty.

  • Goodbye Christopher Robin is directed by Simon Curtis and features a cast headed by Sam Barnes, Amber Batty, Victoria Bavister, Rolan Bell, Nick Blakeley, Sarah Jayne Butler, Stephen Campbell Moore, Jim Cartwright, Richard Clifford, Simon Connolly, Grace Curtis, Matilda Curtis, Shaun Dingwall, Richard Dixon, Vincent Finch, Lance C. Fuller, Domhnall Gleeson, Harper Gray, Stanley Hamlin, Louis Harrison, Dexter Hyman, Sonny Hyman, Cameron Lane, Phoebe Lyons, Alex Lawther, Kelly Macdonald, Allegra Marland, Richard McCabe, Mark McKerracher, Kevin Millington, Vicki Pepperdine, Robert Portal, Nicholas Richardson, Margot Robbie, Tommy Rodger, Mossie Smith, Geraldine Somerville, Mark Tandy, Ann Thwaite, Will Tilston, Phoebe Wallter-Bridge and Simon Williams. It is written by Frank Cottrell Boyce and Simon Vaughan. Produced by Steve Christian and Damian Jones, it features creative input by Carter Burwell (music), Ben Smithard (cinematography), Victoria Boydell (editing), Alex Johnson (casting) and David Roger (production). Release date: March 15 2018.

 

The unutterable hubris of the copycat

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ARGENTINE WRITER JORGE Luis Borges (1899-1986) did it. Italian philosopher Umberto Eco (1932-2016) did it. And now, there’s South African philosopher Leonhard Praeg with his debut novel weaving together a tale of self-reflection and intrigue; philosophy, politics and coincidence, to say nothing of love and tragedy in a way that will grab you by the mind and spirit and not let go, even after you’ve finished reading it. Imitation is an extremely lucid narrative which doffs a hat to Czech writer Milan Kundera (b. 1929) as it plays intelligently and curiously with all the possibilities of what storytelling can be.

Granted, it doesn’t have the gravitas of Eco’s Name of the Rose, which engages the meaning of laughter in the world through a medieval cipher, but it sits comfortably on the same shelf. Cast between a farm in the Karoo, an apartment in Paris and a building site on the Ivory Coast, among other places; it’s contemporary and sexy without being overworked or irrelevant and once you start reading it, you will not be able to remove yourself from its confines until the very last page.

The novel weaves together first person narrative with the back story of fictional characters developed through the pen of Kundera and truths that play with the notion of hubris in our world. What Praeg is doing here is penetrating deeply into Kundera’s 1990 novel Immortality, and exploring the what ifs of that tale. In doing so, he finds other characters of his own, including a young man who is safe in the confines of his own silence and has survived 17 suicide attempts. And while each of the book’s seven parts seems self-standing, they’re tacked together with delicate yet robust threads that jolt you in the solar plexus when you see them.

In the 1980s, a basilica called Our Lady of Peace was controversially commissioned and built in Yamoussoukro, the administrative capital of Côte d’Ivoire. Controversial because it was paid for by the country’s then dictator, one Félix Houphouët-Boigny, from his private monies. Controversial because it was extremely costly and the community, extremely poor. And controversial because it challenged the architectural integrity of St Peter’s Cathedral in Rome. Praeg’s character is insinuated into this heady tale of imitation and hubris as the project’s publicity guy.

And no, it’s less of a tale about the architecture and more of one about the underpinning thinking that enabled it to happen, and to exist in the world. Imitation, they say, is the most earnest kind of admiration. And from this premise a yarn of such noble and internal proportions evolves that you’re left sleepless. How does Buffon’s needle which posits an 18th century theory of coincidence relate to psychiatric patients on the steps of a mental institution in Switzerland? How does a friendly gesture by an elderly swimming student to her gym instructor erupt into a narrative of engagement, which crosses lines of gender habits? This very finely constructed novel makes you sit up and focus as the most extraordinary associations are brought to bear and contextualised with wit and wisdom.

Marred ever so slightly by a couple of subbing oversights and a little too much moralising when it comes to the taxonomy of ruling structures, the work is a very powerful read which is elegantly structured and beautifully told. It’s a feather in the cap of Praeg as a fictional debut, but also one in that of the University of Pretoria, where Praeg heads up the philosophy department.

  • Imitation by Leonhard Praeg is published by the University of KwaZulu-Natal Press, Pietermaritzburg (2018).