Wednesday, September 30, 2009

speaking in tongues - review

“A missing person. A mysterious stiletto. Relationships in crisis. In SPEAKING IN TONGUES, the seemingly random confessions of a group of strangers are pieced together into a powerful study of infidelity and interwoven lives, as Detective Leon Zat (John Simm) investigates the disappearance of a leading psychiatrist (Lucy Cohu).” 

One of the most exciting (and to me unexpected) features of blogging/twittering/flickring/general web 2.0-ing is actually meeting cyber friends in person. So I was thrilled when the charming and talented Zefrog of (newly renamed) blog Pink Sauce invited me to a preview of Speaking in Tongues. It was a great evening out. His review appears in Londonist. This is my take.

The production features some beautiful, supple ensemble acting from the cast of 4 (John Simm, Lucy Cohu, Ian Hart and Kerry Fox), who play 9 different characters in total. I can see why this text (by Andrew Bovell) would appeal to actors and directors - although the individual lines are simple and naturalistic, the writer patterns them largely in intercutting, almost mosaicized soliloquies, creating steep technical challenges. Meaning emerges haltingly through cross-jumps, cuts, and temporal distortions. The effect is frequently astonishing, really quite jaw-dropping - and it depends critically on perfect timing and interaction between the actors and the production team, which they pull off magnificently well.

At other times, however, Bovell’s technique can tend to slow things down and things get tangled up in lengthy, repetitious backstory. Concentration is critical. As the audience attempts to piece the story together clues can emerge from anywhere. If your concentration momentarily fails, you’ve lost it as the plot moves on.

The sombre, slightly seedy set works powerfully in the first act (largely bars and bedrooms) and opens out in the second, where back projection of a forest helps to create an ominous atmosphere. Lighting and music create flashes of beauty throughout.

Speaking in Tongues is playing at the Duke of York’s Theatre until 12 December 2009.

bad apple

My poor powerbook is having problems. Luckily, the lovely Rachel at Apple Kingston store patched it up for me last Sunday (I first tried Apple Regent Street, who were stunningly unhelpful).

I have to go back today - hoping very much the poor mac doesn't have to go in for repairs :-(

This video can only have been written by someone with intimate knowledge of Apple's aftercare system:

District 9

For a Johannesburger by upbringing, I loved the sly in-joke of calling the aliens "prawns". For indeed, there actually are alien prawns in Johannesburg. Any Jo'burger will have a fund of stories about the mysterious and frightening "Parktown Prawn".

These awesome creatures - of terrifying size and menace - suddenly appeared as if from another galaxy in Johannesburg's lush northern suburbs in the 1960s. The eponymous Parktown was then an inner-city garden suburb, established originally by Edwardian gold-mining plutocrats. As the suburbs and their heavily irrigated and exotically stocked gardens spread northwards, so the prawn followed.

They reached our suburb as I reached my late teens. They arrived literally in an infestation - suddenly they were everywhere (sometimes even in your bed, or underwear drawer - a friend's sister found one in her swimsuit crotch as she put it on).

This is what they look like:

Vaguely prawn-like in appearance (and size - this in an era when Mocambiquan prawns regularly reached 9" - not like the tiddlers one gets in M&S today). They do have an attraction to swimming pools (hence I suppose their nickname). They jump quite high, and usually jump towards you when surprised, violently hissing. Frequently they land on your shirt or shoulder, where their barbed legs hook, making them impossible to brush off. Attempting to do so causes them to discharge a foul stinking dark liquid all over you.

They also tend to be more active at night. There are stories of people spending the night in their cars rather than their bedrooms in order to avoid late night interruptions.

They are apparently intelligent beings - in their own strange insect way they seem to interact with other species and each other. As I said, when jumping they have a tendency to come towards you. My friend Mark once heard his boxer Honey (usually quite a ferocious, alpha female dog) whimpering outside. When he went to check on her, she was cowering in a corner, surrounded by three Prawns pinning her down. Our Jack Russell did go after them, but he was very careful to hold them in his mouth with their spraying end pointing outwards. His 'attack' was also notably quite tentative for a terrier of his class.

Urban legend had it that these creatures were the result of a biology experiment at the University of the Witwatersrand which went wrong (the University being just over the hill from Parktown). Alas, the truth is more prosaic.

King Crickets are a distinctive insect species of southern africa, and the Parktown Prawn's biologically correct name is Libanasidus vittatus. Specimens were collected in the subtropical lowland town of Barberton in the Transvaal over 100 years ago by the Natural History Museum's William Forsell Kirkby. The current theory is that the suburban gardens of Johannesburg created optimal environmental conditions for the cricket to flourish on the highveld - the suburbs are generally regarded (by Johannesburgers) as forming the largest man-made forest on the planet, in a region which would naturally be savannah.

Anyhoo, this all takes me a long way from the film, which is generally excellently exciting. The exotic location and re-imagining of the aliens as shipwrecked outcasts rather than hostile invaders is original and works well. The film has its faults (it doesn't develop or even sustain the racial theme it posits), and harsher souls than I would argue that while it's heart is in the right place its racial attitudes do not stand close analysis (Nigeria has already banned it). Although taking place in contemporary South Africa, the government has clearly delegated dealing with the alien problem to a white dominated evil multinational. The government itself remains entirely absent from the movie.

However, the story's set up is so imaginative and original, the performances are so good, and the story rattles along at such an engaging pace one has to applaud. It's definitely a very different and very successful take on the alien blockbuster genre.