Friday, 30 July 2010

La Bête - Comedy Theatre - London

In 2004, Friends ended, and David Schwimmer came to London to star in a play; in 2004, Sex and the City finished, and Kim Cattrall came to London to star in a play; also in 2004, Frasier left the building ...and no one came to London to star in a play.
But no more! David Hyde Pierce has made his West End debut in La Bête, starring as Elomire, the writer for a troupe of actors patronised by The Princess (Joanna Lumley). However, he resents her order that he is to work with a street actor named Valere (Mark Rylance), who is the most insufferable, insensitive, pretentious, clueless empty vessel that one can have the misfortune to meet. The Princess, however, thinks he is marvellous.
After reasoning and arguing, the only thing Elomire can do to convince the unpredictable Princess that Valere is a bad idea is to get her to watch him perform alongside her troupe, as he tends to play all the characters in his plays himself – sort of like Eddie Murphy. Will The Princess remain blind to his inferiority, or will a second viewing of his play open her eyes?
Set in 17th Century France, events occur in real time in Elomire’s study, which appears to be covered from floor to ceiling with Ikea’s black Billy bookcases holding innumerable volumes and tomes of books.
When a piece of falling masonry landed inches away from him, he carried on, unperturbed, so naturally we assumed it was part of the play to show the crumbling surroundings in which he lived, or to read more deeply, to symbolise the crumbling of the high culture that Elomire thrives on.
However, we found out later it was to show the crumbling of the Comedy Theatre, and had nothing to do with the play at all. Had it landed half a foot further into the stage, it could have been a nasty bump on the head for poor Mr Hyde Pierce.
Speaking of bumps on the head, Valere must surely have had some knock or fall on the noggin at some point in his life.
At least nowadays, actors with only air in their heads keep their mouths shut about high culture. Valere, on the other hand, does nothing but talk utter nonsense about it, in one particular scene for twenty minutes almost uninterrupted.
Where’s a piece of falling masonry when you need it?
When Valere jestingly offers Elomire a gag to shove in his mouth, and Elomire hesitantly reaches for it, it took all my self-restraint not to shout “Go on! Or I’ll do it for you!”
There is no interval in La Bête, although frankly we could have done with one after forty minutes in Valere’s extraordinary company, although fifteen minutes would hardly have been enough time for everyone to get to the bar to order a stiff drink.
Despite this, La Bête is toilet humour and slapstick mixed with verbal wit spoken in rhyming verse, which was genuinely hilarious. My stomach has not hurt that much from laughing since I saw Michael McIntyre last October.
Elomire’s finest moment comes with an impassioned rant against the desecration of high culture by popular culture, and I for one, agree with him.

Thursday, 29 July 2010

Toy Story 3

Well, if anything could traumatise children into not throwing out their old toys, this is it.
In Toy Story 3, Andy is now a teenager about to move to college, and his favourite toys have been living in a chest in his bedroom for years. Even Woody and Buzz have been relegated from Andy's pillow into the box.
In the middle of Andy's preparations to go to college, his mother asks him to sort his old toys. He picks only Woody to go in the box marked 'college', and although he goes to put the others in the attic, by some mix up, they find themselves on the kerb as the rubbish truck pulls up.
Woody, who had seen the mistake, goes to rescue his friends and tries to explain what had happened, but Jessie and Mr Potato Head are convinced that Andy meant to throw them out. Despite Woody's protests, the toys climb into a box destined for the local daycare centre, and Woody unintentionally finds himself going with them.
There they are met by Lotso, a big, strawberry-scented teddy bear, who makes them feel welcome and wanted; and they are given the tour by Ken (a delightfully camp Michael Keaton), who is oddly smitten with Barbie, and vice versa.
At first, Sunnyside Daycare looks to be a toy's dream come true: lots of children playing lovingly with them all day long. Yet Woody is keen to get back to Andy, and leaves. He does not get far when he is picked up by a little girl from the daycare centre named Bonnie, and she takes him home and plays with him.
Meanwhile, the toys in daycare realise that they have been put in the toddlers' room, and are subjected to nothing less than serial abuse when the tots come in to torture - I mean play with them. Buzz's request to Lotso to be transferred into the room with the older children is denyed, and when Buzz tries to fight, he is forcibly reset to Demo mode, turning him back into the space soldier and recruiting him to Lotso's dictatorship.
Back at Bonnie's house, Woody learns from one of her toys about the horrors at Sunnyside, and he immediately sets out to help his friends escape. Will they make it back to Andy's house? And even if they do, what will be their fate?
Although it has been eleven years since Toy Story 2, and much has changed for the toys in that time, watching the movie is like catching up with old friends. Everyone returns to reprise their character roles, Tom Hanks as Woody, Tim Allen as Buzz, Wallace Shawn as Rex. Even John Morris gives his voice to Andy for the third installment, as he did fifteen years ago in the first.
Again Pixar have delivered a wonderful family movie. I could not call this a childrens' movie because the adults in the packed auditorium seemed more emotionally involved than their kids. Indeed there is a most terrifying scene at the rubbish dump when it seems like the unthinkable is going to happen. I could not have been the only adult wiping away tears at this point, the whole scene was spectacularly handled.
For all the horrors of Sunnyside and the rubbish dump, there are still great moments of hilarity; Barbie and Ken for instance, Buzz's foreign language setting, and Bonnie's toys.
Toy Story 3 is again beautifully animated, but I failed to notice any 3D. Perhaps the only perceptible difference between 2D and 3D animation is the price and a red ridge on the nose from the glasses. Yet however you go and see it, whatever your age, Toy Story will once again entertain and enthrall.