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 Dench, Meryl 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.
MAN of war ahoy! Manolin (Taryn Bennett) and crew (James Cairns and Jaques de Silva) cast out to sea. Photograph courtesy Auto & General Theatre on the Square.
THERE ARE FEW things as gratifying as a spot of Hemingway to pepper up a dull Johannesburg evening with a bit of culture, but this is Hemingway as you could never have anticipated him. One of this country’s most exciting repertory theatre groups, under the pens of Nick Warren and Jenine Collocott have created a gem of a work that will make you laugh and cry, sailing gloriously and with great skill on the coattails of Hemingway’s Old Man and the Sea. Even if you don’t like – or know – modernist literature.
Like their production of the Snow Goose, a few seasons ago, the work hinges more on accounts of the incident rather than the incident itself, but in doing so, not one iota of the texture and the fabric of the tale is compromised, and a whole sea replete with the greatest challenge of an old fisherman’s lifetime, and a humble village of loyal friends, is cast in a simple framework with a turning set, put together with a couple of planks, a log and a table, and some incredibly fine masks and very simple puppets.
It’s a curious novel. On the one hand, celebrated as arguably among the most important novels of the modern era, The Old Man and the Sea (1951) is an example of short, tight writing at its peak. You can read it in a few hours, but still the monumental struggle between big fish and small man becomes almost biblical in its largeness. It contains a parable similar to tales such as Moby Dick, which gives you something to take home with you – about old age, mortality and the challenges of being in the world.
And you might wonder what a group of contemporary South African theatre makers can do with a work of such historical gravitas and serious reputation. Rest assured that you’re safe in the hands of Jaques de Silva, Taryn Bennett and James Cairns, who take apart this great classic with immense bravery and chutzpah, but also an incredible amount of intelligence and skill. The gravitas remains, but is woven into a texture of village life that is rich with humour and tall stories, earnestness and dominoes.
The story is fleshed out with characters such as Manolin, the young boy who Santiago, the old man in question has been training in his boat, but also the village fishermen who tell the incredible tale of a man who went out for the biggest fish of his life, and came back with a story. Indeed, this production reinvents the textures and love affairs, the humour and the pathos of this unnamed fishing village.
Flavoured with songs of the ocean, and sutured together with mime that harnesses a very real sense of magic, the work is truly a brilliant experience: it is beautifully honed and tells a clear story with a very big fish (and an even bigger heart).
The Old Man and the Sea is adapted for stage by Nick Warren, based on the eponymous novel by Ernest Hemingway. It is directed by Jenine Collocott and features creative input by Jenine Collocott (production design), Sue Grealy (music), Alida van Deventer (puppetry), Alistair Findlay (set) and Steve Clarke (sound). It is performed by Taryn Bennett, James Cairns and Jaques de Silva at the Auto and General Theatre on the Square in Sandton until October 7. Call 011 883 8606 or visit www.theatreonthesquare.co.za