Network: (Seen at the afternoon performance on 3rd February 2018). Never
having seen the film this is based on, nor any work by the leading actor, the
whole was fresh to the monkey - bar the director. With memories of the strange
"Obsession" last year, the monkey was curious. This turns out to be considerably
better in both script and scope... but it is sometimes a case of style hoping to
hide rather a lack of substance.
Supposedly, this is examining the ownership of media and the part it plays in
controlling our view of the world. As this is set in 1975, it is the heady days
of network television rather than the internet, but that's compensated for with
plenty of busy latest technology (take a bow Tal Yarden, Paul Atkinson and
Christopher Ash). Among the screens and cameras, suicidal Howard Beale (Bryan
Cranston) goes off-script and ambitious Diana Christensen (Michelle Dockery)
makes TV gold of it, until it tarnishes. Cranston is a hard-working avuncular
figure, credible in the role. Dockery does a nice line in seduction, object Max
(Douglas Henshall) doesn't stand a chance - but there's nice work from both him
and wife Louise (Caroline Faber).
There's a genuine tension as the story unfolds, but among the busyness of the
action, there isn't a lot of time for analysis. Probably the object -
demonstrating just how banal TV journalism is - but theatre is a slower medium,
and the media here sometimes felt obtrusive. Worse, someone seemed to think that
panto season runs past January... not any more, and as any panto director will
tell you, insulting your audience is never a good way to go either. That line
needs cutting, and fast (it didn't get a laugh today, for a start).
Sometimes less is more, and coming from a director whose "A View From The
Bridge" revelled in its sparseness, this is crying out for similar treatment.
It's a great story that, in the hands of a Stoppard, could be dissected to form
an impressive display. As it is, it retains the tinge of its movie origins and,
while mostly engrossing, doesn't quite make one as angry as it should. Solid,
and well worth the ticket for the performances and staging alone, but ultimately
not quite achieving every aim that it could.
Pinocchio: (Seen at the afternoon performance on 10th February 2018).
Once more, the National Theatre use its considerable resources to create a
seasonal entertainment. This time (following three, in the monkey's opinion,
dismal attempts) it almost gets something. Almost, but not quite.
Given access to the full Disney archive, "Little Wooden Head" is added to the
score, as is "Fun and Fancy Free." Unfortunately, the lid of the "magical
sprinkling" jar remains firmly on. That isn't to say the illusions (Jamie
Harrison) used are not excellent, they really are - some expert palming going on
throughout. The trouble is the rather humourless tone of the entire piece, as if
it were signed off by a committee desperate not to offend anyone and conform to
some uniform standard rather than take the anarchic tone the original animated
feature used. By flattening out every emotion, there isn't a lot to go around to
keep the plot moving, though the resolution isn't bad.
Oddly, it's the one moment that the weird decision to have the human adults as
puppets sort of makes sense. Doing what National "Christmas Shows" do best,
"setting theatrical problems to solve that don't need solving in the first
place" (as reviewer Mark Shenton puts it), this is one of the strangest. It's
almost impossible to connect with these huge heads at first, giving phenomenally
talented Mark Hadfield (Geppetto) a near-impossible job of making himself
relatable to the audience, Annette McLaughlin (Blue Fairy) in similar
difficulty. Gershwyn Eustache Jnr (Stromboli) and David Kirkbride (Coachmen)
fair better, their best "evil" nicely magnified.
Audrey Brisson (Jiminy Cricket) falls between the two. A sweet actor and
puppeteer - James Charelton helping out with the feet - she is perhaps too
neurotic to be as positive a role model for rebellious Joe Idris-Roberts
(Pinocchio), and the puppet prevents her moving the plot or acting as nimbly as
perhaps required. On the other hand, this is the one theatrical problem that is
mostly solved as best it can be.
The biggest issues are the vapid and over-long script without many jokes (when
"Gluten" is the biggest laugh in the show, you know you are in trouble) and the
lack of really huge treatment of the big numbers, and over-wrought staging of
relatively minor moments to elongate the evening and slow the narrative.
"When You Wish Upon A Star" is the 11 o'clock showstopper. Here, it's trailed,
then thrown away at the close of the show - the "button" to take the show out on
a high has fallen off, the biggest waste of a fabulous song ever, probably,
argues the monkey. "Pleasure Island" on the other hand goes on hours after the
point is made, while "Give A Little Whistle" is dropped in at odd moments and
gets odder by the second.
There's sound theatrical reasoning behind the A-Frame sets, but sometimes the
effect is more to make the monkey feel this was a show done to a budget than one
done to be the dazzling stage adaptation it arguably would have been under the
Disney Theatrical banner.
Nowhere near as awful as professional reviewers would have it - the tot next to
the monkey was engrossed most of the time - and the cast are both likeable and
able. It's just a shame so many had so little to do with such wonderful
material. Still, it points at a direction the show could take if given another
attempt, as parts (Monstro The Whale) work pretty well. A few years of
development with a commercial producer should be attempted, is the final monkey
verdict. 3 stars.
Absolute Hell: Not yet available.