National Theatre, Olivier
EPIC in every way – from its vast scenery to its geographical sweep (Switzerland, Scotland, Arctic tundra) via themes that include creation, love, original sin, revenge, sexual politics, religion – this adaptation of Mary Shelley’s masterpiece is as memorable a piece of theatre as you’ll find. Directed by Oscar winner Danny Boyle and starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Johnny Lee Miller (who rotate the roles of Frankenstein and his creation each night), it lives up to its considerable hype.
The show opens with the Creature’s birth – flopping naked onto the stage he twists, writhes and flaps about as he becomes sentient and learns to move. Rejected by his revolted creator, he nevertheless learns to reason, to speak, to love and eventually to despise.
In the Olivier’s grand space we witness stunning sunsets, a terrifying steam train, a grand house rising from under the stage, and a far-flung Hebridean bothy, while a Milky Way of dangling lightbulbs shimmers above. This is visionary stuff, and makes one excited for the Olympic opening ceremony Boyle will direct in 2012.
But the two lead actors are more than a match for the spectacle, particularly as the creature – a cobbled-together monster who they invest with the grace of a dancer.
The play is not without its flaws. The dialogue can be clunky; the character of Viktor is a comically blinkered, one-dimensional putz, and his sensible fiancée Elizabeth (Naomi Harris) is an utter sap. But this is an unforgettable night’s theatre, with a simply spellbinding finale.
NO STRINGS ATTACHED
YOU know the sort of bouncy, feel-good, anything-can-happen kind of optimism you exit a great romcom? Don’t expect to feel that after No Strings Attached. Instead, you’ll be nursing a mild abdominal cramp from endless cringing and stifled groans.
The premise is sound enough – commitment-phobe Emma (Natalie Portman) makes a pact with Adam (Ashton Kutcher) to be on call for sex anytime. No dates, no flowers, just booty calls.
Cue a series of hurried sex scenes, flat jokes and god-awful wardrobe choices, and you’re ready to give up cinema-going for good. The worst thing is, the filmmakers go to great lengths to make “friends with benefits” seem new – did they sleep through the 80s? By using the ultra-modern medium of text messaging, vulgar language and the occasional clumsy Facebook reference, this tired concept fails in every way to be brought to life.
Beyond the stale script, a peripheral cast of freaks and geeks and the fact that Portman is unlikely to ever convince as a romcom queen, there is a seedy, sexist undertone. Apparently Ashton Kutcher purposely didn’t pump iron for the movie, so he’d appear more insecure in the sex scenes – shame. If he’d buffed up, there’d at least be something to admire beyond Portman’s ever-luminous smile.
West is west
THE sequel to 1999’s East is East (which followed the travails of British Asian brothers growing up in 70s Salford) is disappointingly bland. It focuses on the coming of age of the youngest member of the Khan brood, the formerly parka-wearing Sajid (Aqib Khan). Now a disengaged and unruly teen, he is caught stealing and sent to Pakistan by his tyrannical dad George (Om Puri), to learn some “bloody” discipline. What follows fails to ring true in the way that the original did so spunkily, and acerbic bite is replaced by cosy melodrama. The culture clash is resolved with clichés, with Sajid performing an about-turn from disenchanted shoplifter to heritage-loving youngster, best mates with the local holy man and devoted to finding a suitable wife for ultra-religious brother Maneer. The film feels unsatisfying, sorely missing the colorful sibling interaction and rough Salford streets that gave East Is East such energy.
THE BRITISH ART SHOW
THIS annual feast of new work is a quiet, fascinating, enjoyable way to fall in love with contemporary art, and an antidote to the slick shock tactics which tend to grab headlines. It contains one genuine masterpiece and quite a lot that nearly qualifies. The masterpiece is not by a British artist. But there’s no doubting the appeal of Christian Marclay’s “The Clock”, a twenty-four hour video made up of snippets from existing films. Each clip shows the exact time you’re watching it – it’s both uncanny experience and extravagant timepiece.
Other highlights include a video (there’s a lot of video) by Nathaniel Mellors, and some creepy new sculpture by YBA stalwart Sarah Lucas. Haroon Mirza’s turntable and strobe installation is much more fun than it sounds, and Phoebe Unwin presents some seductive paintings. Oh, and there’s a naked man on a bench, if that does anything for you.