Lights, camera, curtainDate: 16 January 2012
Why is it we remain obsessed with silent movies and the birth of the talkies? Search me, but like everyone else I love the film of Singin' in the Rain, and remain to be convinced that any stage version, including the latest (which I've not yet seen), is worth the bother.
One critic even suggested that Adam Cooper was better than Gene Kelly on celluloid. Truly, the world is going mad. And this week we have yet another play about the birth of the movies, or rather Hollywood, in Nicholas Wright's Travelling Light at the National Theatre, starring Antony Sher as an early immigrant mogul.
I can't wait. Or can I? We shall see when it opens on Wednesday. Meanwhile, Wright has penned an article in the Guardian detailing in a most touching manner his love affair with silent movies which dates back to his childhood in South Africa, when a cinema buff uncle, stalwart of the Cape Town Film Society, kept his family permanently enthralled in the dark by proving that silence is golden.
Funnily enough, the effect of Wright's piece is probably to send you straight out to see The Artist rather than book a ticket for the National. For he reports that he's seldom seen such a receptive audience for a movie as he did when he went to see the Oscar front-runner, the cinema basking in a rapt and innocent haze of pleasure.
That audience didn't include me. I'm the man in the Bateman cartoon who didn't really like The Artist, although I have to concede that, so far, I've only seen it on a DVD screener, not in a film house. It struck me as over-long, over-winsome, over-ingratiating and lumbered with about two false endings too many.
Oh, and there's an insufferable dog, too, that everyone loves. I much preferred the other current movie about the invention of cinema, Martin Scorsese's Hugo (scripted by John "Red" Logan, who's suddenly as ubiquitous as Abi Morgan), in which Ben Kingsley plays the weird genius Georges Melies whose fantasies Wright confesses to finding malodorous and tacky. Weren't the illusions, he asks, merely stop-go camerawork? Maybe, but that's precisely the reaction I had to The Artist.
Kingsley is mesmerising in the role, surely giving his best performance on screen since Ghandi, and the cast contains -- apart from yet another astonishing boy actor, North Londoner Asa Butterfield -- many of our own favourite British actors: Helen McCrory, Frances de la Tour, Richard Griffiths, Ray Winstone, Jude Law, and there's a lovely little romance going on between Sacha Baron Cohen's sub Peter Sellers-style station master and Emily Mortimer's flower girl.
Before the New Year's new theatre kicks in with this week's openings at the Bush, National and Theatre Upstairs (not to mention King John at the little Union in Southwark), it's been fun being totally mystified by the new digital-age Sherlock Holmes on television. Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman form a most wonderful double act as Holmes and Watson, playing with the popular misconception that they might be a gay couple, and, in last night's hilarious spoof of the Final Problem, Andrew Scott came into his own as a scary, fake baddie -- he's an actor, for God's sake -- Moriarty.
Freeman was superb on stage in Dominic Cooke's production of Clybourne Park and he's just about to go global in the lead role of Peter Jackson's The Hobbit, so he's probably lost to the theatre for ever.
I sincerely hope the same is not true -- it can't possibly be -- of Cumberbatch, who's currently revelling in War Horse glory along with Tom Hiddlestone and Joey the equine star, who's presumably contesting the dumb animal Oscar with Uggie the dog in The Artist.
And come back soon, please, Carey Mulligan, who's only 26 and on the brink of mega-stardom as Daisy Buchanan in Baz Luhrmann's new movie version of The Great Gatsby.
Mulligan is my new favourite actress -- sorry Maggie Smith, sorry Miranda Richardson, sorry Nancy Carroll (although of course Nancy has a chance to redeem herself in the upcoming The Recruiting Officer at the Donmar) -- and it's particularly interesting that she reveals today (also in the Guardian) that she first learned how to play beyond the reality of her own experience in Ian Rickson's production of The Seagull at the Royal Court.
She clinched her casting as Michael Fassbender's damaged sister in Steve McQueen's overwhelming film about sex addiction, Shame, by doing McQueen's bidding and getting a tattoo: it's the outline of a seagull on the inside of her right wrist.
She's a nicely brought up middle-class girl, our Carey, so she didn't dive down to Camden Lock for the inky incision: instead, she steeled herself for an upmarket shopping expedition in Oxford Street. She needed a place to go, she says, where she didn't feel like a total idiot."And it was Selfridge's. And actually I felt like more of an idiot there."