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Ledger takes his final bow in a surreal flight of fancy

<strong>Film</strong><br /><strong>THE IMAGINARIUM OF DR PARNASSUS</strong><br />Cert: 12a<br /><br />IF YOU are looking for a role that can stand as a testament to the talent of Heath Ledger, who died during the filming of this movie, then you would do far better to remember his turn as the Joker in last year&rsquo;s Batman film, The Dark Knight, than this flabby trip. <br /><br />Director Terry Gilliam has been responsible for some of film&rsquo;s more splendid flights of the imagination, from Monty Python&rsquo;s animations to 12 Monkeys. He&rsquo;s also had his fair share of fiascos, and this sadly falls solidly into the latter camp.<br /><br />Doctor Parnassus (Christopher Plummer) is a wizardly old immortal (possibly God) reduced to carting a baroque street-magic show around shady corners of London. A mirror in the show can transport punters to their own, surreal dream worlds, giving Gilliam the chance to indulge his psychedelic fantasies to his heart&rsquo;s content, if not ours. <br /><br />Parnassus&rsquo;s little band &ndash; including the model Lily Cole as his daughter, Valentina &ndash; rescue Ledger&rsquo;s mysterious stranger, who they find hanging off Blackfriar&rsquo;s Bridge in the style of Roberto Calvini, the Italian banker who was found dead there in 1982. <br /><br />When Parnassus risks his own daughter in a bet with the devil &ndash; played as an old vaudevillian by musician Tom Waits &ndash; it falls to Ledger to save the day. But is he all he seems? The film is so clunky and unfocused that it&rsquo;s difficult to care. When Ledger&rsquo;s character morphs into Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell in dream sequences shot after the star&rsquo;s death, it&rsquo;s relatively seamless in the nutty scheme of things. But Gilliam&rsquo;s lack of restraint is deadly, and the movie feels more like an am-dram pantomime than the efforts of a Hollywood visionary. <br />Timothy Barber<br /><br /><strong>Theatre</strong><br /><strong>LIFE IS A DREAM</strong><br />Donmar Warehouse<br />ONE of the great works of the early 17th-century Spanish Golden Age, Pedro Calderon de la Barca&rsquo;s play is a rich, contemplative meditation on reality, fate and perception, written in the wake of the defeat of the Spanish Armada. <br /><br />Polish King Basilio banishes his son Segismundo (Dominic West) to a remote prison cell at birth, terrified by a prophesy that the prince&rsquo;s inheritance of the crown will be a curse. Years later, Segismundo is allowed to return. But the prince&rsquo;s bitterness at his father&rsquo;s abandonment, and the feral impulses that his lonely upbringing have left him with lead to disaster, and he is sent back to prison and told that his memory of the day was just a dream. His subsequent mix of remorse, confusion, fury and love provides some wonderful speeches and engaging drama.<br /><br />Dominic West &ndash; star of TV hit The Wire &ndash; is an effective Segismundo. He is savage, angry and almost permanently baffled. Kate Fleetwood is also on form as Rosaura, a feisty wronged woman who arrives in Poland to avenge her lover&rsquo;s betrayal.<br />The pantomime comedy in Helen Edmundson&rsquo;s translation can rely too heavily on modern colloquialisms (&ldquo;How do I get out of this one?&rdquo;), but the ideas with which the play wrestles, and for which it is famed, are presented compellingly in Jonathan Munby&rsquo;s absorbing production. <br />Catrin Rogers<br /><br /><strong>Exhibition<br />MIROSLAW BALKA<br /></strong>Tate Modern<br />SINCE Tate Modern opened, the public art installations occupying its cavernous Turbine Hall have varied wildly in quality as well as concept, but are always popular talking points. The best have been the ones that put you off balance, that force us to think differently about the space around us &ndash; Olafur Eliasson managed this with his great sunset, as did Anish Kapoor with Marsayas, a huge tubular installation. <br /><br />Those works are matched by Miroslaw Balka&rsquo;s How It Is, a giant metal box with a dark interior that looms at the back of the hall like a gargantuan grey shipping container. Its far side is open, and you walk up a ramp into it, until you are shrouded in near total darkness. Turn around and you see its shimmering, light-filled entrance, other visitors silhouetted across it. Walk deeper in and you reach its felt-lined walls. <br /><br />The idea is simplicity itself, but the response is complex. There&rsquo;s a sense of dread and mystery as you wander deeper &ndash; is it an abyss, a grave, a void? Lingering at the back, you can watch others feeling their way in the gloom like ghosts, arms extended. Sadly, the glowing screens of cameras and phones can distract from the austerity, but this is a strange, otherworldy experience nevertheless . <br />TB