[Review] The Bookshop

The Bookshop

A book, as Florence Green, hero of The Bookshop, would agree, is a magical thing. It opens a door to another realm filled with love and longing, ideas and inspiration, adventures and maybe an antediluvian horror or two. A book possesses the power to almost whisk you away from the world entirely.

Or so Florence might hope. An unattached war widow, she has the grave misfortune to wash ashore in the ostensibly sleepy town of Hardborough, England with the dream of opening a little bookstore of her very own. With some difficulty, she manages to purchase the “old house” – a reverent fixture in the town – and spruce it up with loving care. Soon enough, and with the help of a few mousy-haired, bespectacled local scouts, the Old House Bookshop is bristling with good old English hardwood shelves and Florence’s carefully curated collection of books, including Nabokov’s Lolita and Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451.

Literature, ho!

Only, poor Florence’s stubborn acquisition of the old house has ruffled the feathers of Hardborough’s lofty elite: Violet Gamart and her simpering cohort, including an oily banker, the languorous do-nothing Milo, and even a dutiful Member of Parliament. In short order, these agents of the aristocracy are arrayed against Florence, seeking to crush her dream beneath their well-turned heels.

Emily Mortimer is superb as the unerringly polite Florence Green. In her face you can read every thought flitting through her head – uncertain smiles shift into puzzled concern, only to be replaced by stormy indignation moments later. She maintains that curious English reserve and yet her emotions always cut through, sharp and clear. Bill Nighy, too, is striking as Edmund Brundish, a Lady Haversham-esque recluse who spends his retirement buried in books and rallies to Florence’s cause. He, too, bubbles over with strong emotions that rarely escape, like steam from a lid.

While the story itself is a fairly brutal and well-trodden triumph of Capitalism and Local Concerns over the Small Independent Business-Owner, The Bookshop holds a certain appeal to the eye. The camerawork is intriguing, rich with strangely intimate close-ups of characters and the beautiful (if Britishly miserable) countryside. The characters are straight out of Boy’s Own Guide to 1960’s England but still manage to carve out a slice of unique personality here and there.

But most of all, The Bookshop feels realistic enough for our modern world, fifty years down the track. When you mess with the rich and the powerful, they can grind you down on a whim. So what can you do? Take refuge in a book, I suppose.

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[Review] Mockingbird

107, Redfern
★★★★

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Mockingbird is a darkly comedic family history, of sorts. Energetic counsellor and narrator Tina dances and sways her way through four generations of her family, from her great-grandmother to herself. Her ancestor’s storylines adopts a similar flow: woman meets man, woman gives birth, woman gets locked away for poor mental health. And not just any condition – each woman is diagnosed with postpartum affective disorder (PPD), a mood disorder that can closely follow giving birth.

Writer and lead actor Lisa Brickell developed the script of Mockingbird in consultation with New Zealand’s Changing Minds organisation, which seeks to educate and reduce stigma around mental health. Consequently, the mission of Mockingbird is very clear in the way it challenges preconceptions and assumptions about women’s health in particular. In a world that’s quick to dismiss women as being overly emotional, PPD is an issue both poorly understood and rarely discussed. Many of Tina’s ancestors are dragged away to the nuthouse for traumatic electroshock therapy when all they’re experiencing is a crippling lack of support.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. Mockingbird makes a point of injecting ample comedy into what could otherwise be an extremely somber production. Both Lisa Brickell and her accompanist (and occasional voice-in-the-back-of-her-head) Siri Embla are trained clowns who pull off wonderful impressions and burst into humorous songs with plenty of back-and-forth. While there are many sobering moments, the overall tone is light, helping the audience digest the heavy matter at its heart.

Mockingbird is a clever, sensitive exploration of mental health. Funny and moving, it sheds light on an issue that affects many people but remains taboo even in our modern society.

[Audio review] Murder on the Orient Express

Murder on the Orient Express

A moustache sharp enough to cut through the ice to the heart of any mystery

Kenneth Branagh’s Murder on the Orient Express is an energetic and lighthearted adaptation of Agatha Christie’s deviously clever mystery.

This review contains audio from the VCR Clue game, Mystery Science Theater 3000, Doctor Who, Sherlock, Firesign Theatre, and The Polar Express.

[Review] Nosferatutu or Bleeding at the Ballet

nosferatutu

Tommy Bradson as the vampire Kevin

Griffin Theatre Company
Until 21st January

“Oh, go on! Play something sad! Play! We need music!”

A ballet dancer, clad in elaborate costume, takes the stage while the three-person orchestra starts in on the first haunting strains of Swan Lake. For a moment all is silently-amused peace while the cavalier dances his melodramatic way through the palace gardens, exaggeratedly miming out the scene. Then, the lights flash red – and the vampire strikes!

“Shit! Shit, shit, shit, shit, shit. Why does this always happen when you go to the theatre, Kevin?”

Nosferatutu is part stand-up comedy routine, part performance dance routine, and part musical drama. Tommy Bradson plays the anxious, impulsive vampire Kevin, a poor soul who wishes he could just once enjoy a performance without jumping the performers and sucking their blood. The show isn’t over as the jam-splattered dancer topples, though, because Kevin is determined for the show to go on – even if he has to do it himself. Luckily for him, he manages to prevent the musicians and the tech crew from fleeing, and enlists Sheridan Harbridge – the usher who saw the audience in – as his reluctant co-performer.

This show is packed with energy and talent. Bradson’s Kevin never lets up for a moment, flitting from despairing, self-pitying lamentations to dizzying musical numbers to vaudeville-like comedy in the space of seconds. The audience is left in a state of perpetual laughter and excitement, because it is truly impossible to predict where he’ll take the show next. Even amidst the chaos, Bradson ensures we never lose sight of the core idea of Swan Lake as a comedy of errors performed by a very sad and lonely man (sorry, vampire) and a coerced usher.

What deserves particular mention are the vocal talents of both Bradson and Harbridge. Their voices are beautiful, both spanning the full range from deep thrumming bass to stunning soprano. Nosferatutu is packed full of spontaneous little numbers that, quite frankly, could form an impressive piece of musical theatre on their own.

So if an eternally-dying physical prop of a ballet dancer, a half-assed Swan Lake with some truly quality headgear (from jewel-encrusted swans to shaggy demon horns) and a nervous, wise-cracking vampire who just can’t stop tearing down the fourth wall sound like a recipe for a great night out, do not miss Nosferatutu. It’s bloody good!

[Review] Romeo + Juliet (Sydney Shakespeare Company)

romeo-and-juliet

PACT Theatre, Erskineville
Until 9th October

The bard’s tale of star-crossed lovers, Romeo & Juliet, is not a new one. It’s old in the sense that you’ve read it before in high school English class, seen at least one amateur stage production of it, and the play itself was written some few hundred years ago. Yes, it’s a classic – but probably one you’ve filed away in the “cultured but stale” drawer to pull out at opportune moments.

It’s promising then that the Sydney Shakespeare Company’s production of Romeo & Juliet keeps the audience’s interest throughout. No, these aren’t the glitzy gun-toting Montagues and Capulets of Baz Luhrmann’s 1996 film of the same name, just an honest, no-frills production of the original, faithful to the core. The stage is simple but pleasing, and the characters sport the familiar half-capes and stockings characteristic of Shakespeare’s works set in medieval Italy.

Where the production shines through is in the honesty and humour of the characters. It’s clear the actors are having the fun Shakespeare intended when Steven Hopley parades around as the irredeemable pun-dropping Mercutio, or Jack Mitchell’s clueless yet sassy Peter. The Montague and Capulet parents are regal and commanding – though their behaviour really brings home certain facts about the horrible medieval treatment of women that still persists, in many ways, today. Emily Weare does an outstanding job as the slightly irresponsible and long-suffering nurse, dominating the stage whenever she appears.

But cliched as it may feel, it’s the interaction between Romeo and Juliet that bring this production to life. Benjamin Winckle portrays the confused, love-smitten Romeo well, but it’s Emilia Stubb-Grigoriou’s Juliet that sweeps it away. Gone are the wistful, sighing, middle-distance-gazing mannerisms of many classic Shakespeare performances, to be replaced with pouts, carefree enthusiasm and the manic distractedness of a twelve-year-old. Emilia reminds us with her absurdly expressive face that Juliet is nothing more than an early teenager, helping bring perspective a great deal of reality into the old classic.

If you’re not beyond the power of the bard’s words to recall, the Sydney Shakespeare Company’s Romeo & Juliet is an excellent reacquaintance with the cleverness and power of his work.

[Review] The Red Turtle

Fusion x64 TIFF File

Characters are the essence of a story, and The Red Turtle understands that. This latest offering made in partnership with wonderful Japanese animators Studio Ghibli – creators of Totoro, Spirited Away, and any number of emotional animated classics – understands this so well, in fact, that it decided to dispense with the dialogue and adhere to the principle that actions speak louder than words.

That’s right: The Red Turtle features no dialogue at all. There are no touching, heartfelt conversations; no fierce repudiations of a sneering villain’s nefarious machinations; no heated arguments or meandering spoken-aloud thought trains. Nor is there any narration. Save for the rare scattered “hey” or voiceless cry, this is a story told wholly without words.

Unsurprisingly, this places The Red Turtle into a very special category with only a few, select neighbors. Oh, sure, we’ve seen our fair share of Pixar shorts using purely physical interaction and whimsical soundtracks to weave a narrative, but those are what their name implies – short. How well can this possibly be sustained for the 80 minute running time of The Red Turtle?

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[Review] The Nice Guys

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On the outside of the cereal packet, The Nice Guys follows one of the most well-worn formulas in Hollywood: two private eyes, just out to make a difference in the world in their own way, are thrown together by circumstance and forced to co-operate on that one big case.

In this comedic iteration of the reluctant buddy cop film, the morally-conflicted tough-guy do-gooder Jackson Healy is played by Russell Crowe, while ambiguously talented yet charming incompetent Holland March is brought to us courtesy of Ryan Gosling. As scripture dictates in this style of film, both detectives have grim and probably tragic pasts which they have no desire to share, but emerge gradually as they learn what haunts the others’ footsteps. While The Nice Guys wallows freely in the conventions of its genre, it is mercifully free of a few of the more groan-worthy excesses buddy cop films are prone to.

Like Starsky & Hutch, Gosling and Crowe drag us back into the smoky, strange world of 1970s California, this time to the City of Angels, Los Angeles. It’s a different world, one where the internet’s not a thing, projectionists named Chet roam the streets, and the cars of naked porn stars crash downhill through your house at night, leaving their occupants sprawled picturesquely upon a rock. People contact each other by corded home phones and drive flashy sports cars past billboard advertisements for Jaws 2.

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