Thursday, October 13, 2011

Ustinov Studio, round the corner from Bath's more opulent and well-to-do Theatre Royal, has launched an ambitious autumn season under the guidance of new Artistic director Laurence Boswell. Promotion promises 'the most exciting period of its history... British premieres of brand new in-house productions by major European playwrights... in brand new translations commissioned by the Ustinov Studio.'
Three of these are in an extensive run till Christmas, and if the other two are as good as Iphigenia the hype is well justified. Meredith Oakes' excellent translation brings psychological sensitivity to the conventions of Goethe's Greek-influenced dramatic form, with long passages of narrative in the opening scenes, but it's well worth waiting for the slow-smouldering fuse to ignite emotional fireworks in the later scenes. Laura Rees sustained with simplicity the difficult central role of the priestess herself, requiring presentation of long speeches with minimal physicality. The four men had chunkier and more complex roles: Tom Mothersdale is outstanding as Orestes, crazed by guilt at having murdered their mother, as is Christopher Hunter's King Thoas, who cuts through this Gordian knot of blame and punishment with moving simplicity at the end. Sound design by Fergus O’Hare was eerie and exquisite. I can't wait to see this superb ensemble of actors in another production - there's The Phoenix of Madrid by Spanish writer Calderon and The Surprise of Love by Marivaux to choose from.

And now for something completely different: Midnight in Paris. I've previously only seen Owen Wilson on an aeroplane in the cumbersome one-star comedy You, Me and Dupree so was unprepared for the subtlety and charm of his performance as Gil, the wanner-be novelist transported from his problematic present-day reality into the glamour of the 1920s ex-pat literati in Paris nightly with Cinderella-like exactness as midnight strikes. Woody Allen's delightful fantasy is visually seductive and witty in both eras: it's fun celebrity-spotting in Gertrude Stein's salon and the bars where Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald dance and Ernest Hemingway brags as Cole Porter plays piano. It's a homage to Paris and to nostalgia itself, a rite-of-passage story, and a perky social comedy with so much psychological layering I wanted to see it again as soon as it was over. You'll miss a treat if you don't see this movie, but at least watch this 40 second clip

And now I'm packing for California, where the forecast is 22 degrees and sunshine. I'm planning to write and walk, whatever the weather, but there'll be music and poetry there too.. and Scrabble is a certainty.

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