Do films always make drecky plays?

25Mar09

The flatmate search has finally come to an end, which is lucky because a) my mental health wasn’t bearing up too well and b) there is so much rental property on the market that renters really have their pick. Walking down Latchmere Road in Clapham on Saturday I counted 12 – 12! – properties to let in one 70-odd yard stretch. That’s a lot of mortgages turning into millstones.

On Monday I took a night off from worrying and went to see On the Waterfront, the Steven Berkoff production at the Theatre Royal, Haymarket. I’m beginning to think that critics and I are seeing completely different productions. ‘Exhilarating,’ ‘spellbinding,’ ‘a triumph’, huh? Not from row J it wasn’t. I’ve never seen the film, which quickly emerged as a major problem because this was a reinvention of the Brandofest. OK, so maybe this means I’m not in the strongest position to comment, but the fact is you can’t watch a bunch of blokes in fedoras pretending to walk in slow motion and not feel a bit sorry for them.

And the accents! All that ‘Hey Joey’, ‘wiseguy, huh?’, ‘one-way-ticket-to-palookaville’ business is hoky enough on screen; on the stage it’s enough to force your face into your hands. Though it wasn’t all bad. The guy who played Fr Barry was excellent, and Berkoff was good too, though he’s a very funny shape and perhaps should avoid the double-breasted waistcoat in future. Has he got a cantaloupe under there?

This led me to ponder whether films and plays ever really cross over. Plus, if they present a writing/staging nightmare, and if they work well in their original format, then why bother? A couple of weeks ago I went to see Burnt by the Sun at the National – ‘brilliant’, ‘masterly’, ‘a classic’, tum-ti-tum – and should have left at half time. The set-up is fantastic: we’re on the cusp of Stalin’s purges and in a drowsy summertime house swirl sex, jealousy, murder, politics, class war, regret. A rich stew indeed, but the poor old actors are marooned in a cavernous space with some truly dreadful lines to spout. ‘I adore you. I love spending time with you,’ says a 10-year-old girl to her father. Because tweens always talk like that to their dads; just listen to them on a bus.

So which productions have made the transition? Well, certainly your best bet is to go from stage to screen, rather than the other way round.  Amadeus, assuredly. Frost/Nixon maybe. Mamma Mia! Definitely. History Boys. Madness of George III. But even so, many of them, let’s face it, are clinkers. 

Oh, no, wait. I’m an idiot. Of course, Jesus of Nazareth, lifted wholesale from the nativity play of Wardour Primary School, Wiltshire, 1976. How can I be sure? Zeffirelli deliciously references the wise man – don’t you recall it? – whose trousers ripped right the way up the arse seam when she – no, he – knelt to present a tinfoil-covered cornflakes box to the Virgin Mary.

Hosanna in the highest.

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