SEARCH:  
Twitter Facebook RSS Feed
No Sacred Cows  
Toby Young
Saturday 25th May 2002

Bacchai / Proof / The PowerBook / We Will Rock You

The Spectator - 25th May 2002

Anyone who's seen an RSC production in the last 25 years will know that it's almost unheard of for a director to stage a classic play in anything other than modern dress. For instance, Much Ado About Nothing, the RSC's big summer blockbuster, is set in Mussolini's Italy. Peter Hall is to be applauded, therefore, for his version of Eurpides's Bacchai. He's gone to the opposite extreme, creating a theatrical spectacle that's as near as damnit to that experienced by the Greeks in the 5th and 4th centuries BC. It's a bit like one of those baroque music concerts in which the musicians play on original instruments.

The stage is a wooden disk modelled on the theatre at Epidaurus and the eight speaking parts are played by three actors just as they were when Bacchai was first performed in 406 BC. The most striking feature of this production, though, is that all the actors--including the 15-strong Chorus--are in masks. Peter Hall is a great believer in "the Mask" and the programme contains an extract from his book in which he argues that this ancient device enables the audience to experience emotions they would otherwise find unbearable. I'm not so sure about this. I found the masks a little too distancing. They're a constant reminder that the terrible events you're witnessing on stage aren't really happening. I wanted to suspend disbelief; I wanted to feel the emotions that Peter Hall was intent on protecting me from.

Still, there's something admirably self-effacing about an actor like Greg Hicks, who plays Dionysus among others, being prepared to conceal his identity. It's hard to imagine Gwyneth Paltrow donning a mask for her debut on the British stage. The Hollywood star has been warmly praised for her willingness to grace the West End with her presence, as if she was a member of the Royal Family who'd volunteered to become a palliative care nurse for six weeks, but it's not as if she's being entirely altruistic. The part of Catherine in Proof, a brilliant but unstable mathematician, is the kind of meaty, career-defining role that any actress would kill for. Jennifer Jason Leigh has been widely praised for her rendition of Catherine on Broadway and Mary-Louise Parker has been nominated for a Tony Award for her performance. Yet it's Gwyneth who's landed the part in the film version, thanks largely to the publicity her West End jaunt has generated.

Of course, I may be wrong in ascribing such mercenary motives to the Oscar-winning beauty. The fact that we can never really know what goes on in another person's head is the underlying message of Proof. Unlike in mathematics, which deals in certainties, we have to go by our instincts when assessing another human being; we have to take people on trust. It's not a particularly original observation and at times Proof, which netted a Pulitzer Prize for its author David Auburn, seems little better than an episode of Ally McBeal. But at least Gwyneth delivers the goods. Her Catherine is a tightly-wound, angry young woman and when she explodes the play springs to life. I have no doubt she'll win another Oscar at the 2004 Academy Awards.

Saffron Burrows makes a less assured West End debut in The PowerBook, Jeanette Winterson's adaptation of her own novel. It's hard to get the full measure of her talent because all she's required to do is stalk back and forth across the stage flashing come hither looks at Fiona Shaw, but she seems ominously like Elizabeth Hurley. The PowerBook isn't a play so much as a talking book with a handful of dramatised passages and since the novel itself lacks a proper storyline all we're left with are Jeanette Winterson's ideas. These are, to put it mildly, rather hackneyed. For instance, she's fond of the Internet because she sees a parallel between the false identities people assume in chat rooms and her belief that gender is--wait for it--a social construct. I would have thought that even first year sociology students at Sheffield Hallam University regard that as a bit of a cliché.

Nevertheless, Jeanette Winterson seems like Chekhov next to Ben Elton. The book he's come up with to accompany Queen's greatest hits in We Will Rock You is quite breathtakingly awful. This musical is set in a dystopian future in which rock music has been outlawed by the state. In order to save mankind, a gang of rebel musicians called "the Bohemians" must find the sacred instruments hidden by Queen 300 years earlier on the banks of Lake Geneva. (Lake Geneva? Presumably, We Will Rock You is off to Switzerland after its run at the Dominion.) I could go on, but the plot is so absurd it's not worth summarising. I hoped against hope that Elton's tongue was firmly in his cheek but after the fifth reference to "global warming", not to mention the rants against "marketing" and "branding", I realised he was in deadly earnest. If there are any lingering doubts about who was responsible for the best jokes in BlackAdder, Ben Elton or Richard Curtis, We Will Rock You definitively lays them to rest.

[ FIXED LINK ] Bookmark and Share





Twitter Awful story. A revealing glimpse of what Corbyn’s “caring” supporters are really like link  (17 minutes ago)

BEST OF THE WEB

The Warlock Hunt by Claire Berlinski - the-american-interest.com
Is classical liberalism conservative? by Yarom Hazony - jerusalemletters.com
The Implosion of Western Liberalism by Patrick Lee Miller - quillette.com
The Eton of the East End - Daily Mail
The reactionary temptation by Andrew Sullivan - nymag.com
The book that scandalised New York intellectuals by Louis Menand - newyorker.com
To understand Britain today, look to the 17th Century by Adrian Wooldridge - economist.com
The crisis in France by Christopher Caldwell - city-journal.org
A Visit to Michaela School by Patrick Alexander - prospectmagazine.co.uk
Why parenting may not matter by Brian Boutwell - quillette.com
Trump Establishment's Cultural Significance Explained by Michael Wolff - newsweek.com
Branching histories of the 2016 referendum by Dominic Cummings - dominiccummings.wordpress.com
Putin's Real Long Game by Molly K McKew - politico.com
The Flight 93 Election by Publius Decius Mus - claremont.org
How the education gap is tearing politics apart by David Runciman - theguardian.com
What's wrong with identity politics by Graeme Archer - conservativehome.com
Grammars and the grain of truth by Jonathan Porter
Anti-Brexit: Britain's new class war by John O'Sullivan - nationalreview.com
The English Revolt by Robert Tombs - newstatesman.com
Democracies end when they are too democratic by Andrew Sullivan - nymag.com
Human beings really are making progress by Steven Pinker - edge.org
What ISIS really wants by Graeme Wood - theatlantic.com
A society ripe for Submission by Douglas Murray - quadrant.org.au
Beware the soft Stalinists of the campus by David Aaronovitch - thetimes.co.uk
Why I'm a Conservative Teacher by Jonathan Porter - conservativeteachers.com
Corbyn's Inconvenient Truth – He wanted the IRA to win - youtu.be
Corbyn's first seven days - theguardian.com
Corbin's cabinet chaos by Darren McCaffrey - news.sky.com
Why I've become Tory scum by Tony Parsons - gq-magazine.co.uk
Inside Westminster's free school - telegraph.co.uk
Jeremy Corbyn's politics are a fantasy – just like Alice in Wonderland by Tony Blair - theguardian.com
Robert Conquest obit - telegraph.co.uk
Jeremy Corbyn is not an anti-Semite – it's so much worse than that - news.stv.tv
In defence of free schools by Toby Young - standpointmag.co.uk
 

BLOGROLL

Andrew Lilico
Andrew Neil
Andrew Sullivan
Arts and Letters Daily
Bagehot's Notebook
BBC News
BBC Sport
Benedict Brogan
Brendan O'Neill
Bruce Anderson
Coffee House
Conservative Home
Damian McBride
Damian Thompson
Dan Hodges
Daniel Hannon
Ed West
Frank Furedi
Guido Fawkes
Harry Phibbs
Iain Dale
Iain Martin
James Delingpole
James Wolcott
Joe Murphy
John Rentoul
Labour List
Mark Steyn
Matt Drudge
Mehdi Hasan
Melanie Phillips
Michael Wolff
Nick Cohen
Nick Robinson
Nikki Finke
Normblog
Paul Waugh
Peter Hitchens
Political Betting
Right Minds
Rob Long
Rod Liddle
Slate
Sophy Ridge
Stephen Pollard
The Arts Desk
The Corner
The Daily Beast
The First Post
The Omnivore
The Onion
Tim Shipman
Tim Stanley
Tom Shone
 

COLUMNISTS

AA Gill
Aidan Hartley
Allison Pearson
Allister Heath
AO Scott
Boris Johnson
Charles Moore
Cosmo Landesman
Daniel Finkelstein
David Brooks
Fraser Nelson
George Monbiot
Giles Coren
Henry Winter
James Delingpole
Jan Moir
Janan Ganesh
Jeremy Clarkson
Jeremy Warner
Jim White
Jonathan Freedland
Lloyd Evans
Manohla Dargis
Martin Samuel
Mary Ann Sieghart
Matthew d'Ancona
Matthew Norman
Maureen Dowd
Michiko Kakutani
Owen Jones
Patrick O'Flynn
Paul Krugman
Peter Bradshaw
Peter Oborne
Philip Collins
Polly Toynbee
Quentin Letts
Rachel Johnson
Rod Liddle
Roy Greenslade
Tim Montgomerie
Trevor Kavanagh
 
UK Book Cover

  • Buy the book on Amazon.co.uk

  • Buy the book on Amazon.com


  • UK Book Cover

  • Buy the book on Amazon.co.uk

  • Buy the book on Amazon.com


  • Audio Book Cover

  • Buy the audio book from
    Whole Story Audio
  • DVD Cover

  • Buy the DVD from Amazon.co.uk

  • Buy the DVD from Amazon.com


  • IMdb Page on the film