Michael Coveney: Christmas cheer as Psycho chills and students protest
Jo Brand's funniest line of the pantomime season is not one she's delivering in Aladdin at the New Wimbledon Theatre but one she gave to an interviewer in the Daily Telegraph: "I look like Julian Clary on steroids." And there's a picture of her with what looks like a jewelled pagoda on her head.
It doesn't take much, does it, to get us all going in the seasonal mood? Though what's wonderful about Brand's sullen and almost disobliging anti-performance is that she doesn't seem to give a tuppeny toss about anything, least of all the audience. Which is why whatever it is she's doing is likely to become, in retrospect, a collector's item.
I haven't yet seen Let the Right One In at the Royal Court, but seasonal perversity might be taken to lengths even more drastic than Brand's in this tale of a modern vampire myth on a brutal housing estate plagued with serial killings. And yet more of the latter tonight when the new musical of American Psycho starring the last Doctor Who, Matt Smith, opens at the Almeida (see our production pics).
The film of American Psycho - in which a Wall Street trader played by Christian Bale kills girls for fun - was made by a former drama critic on The Observer, Mary Harron, who made her name with a brilliant documentary movie about the woman who shot Andy Warhol. Daughter of the Canadian actor Don Harron - who appeared in a West End play, Mary Mary, with Maggie Smith, which was written by Jean Kerr, wife of the drama critic Walter Kerr - Harron worked in London in the 1980s for various publications before returning to New York and resuming a career in television.
American Psycho is a superb and unsettling movie based on a really brilliant novel, but it's worth remembering that its release in 2000 was surrounded by protests and accusations of misogyny. This of course was a case of the usual confusion between intention and satire, as though the misogynist characters - and the Wall Street crowd of brand-fetishizing Yale and Harvard rich kids is hilariously skewered - reflected the views of their creators. Shakespeare doesn't condone regicide by writing Macbeth.
Still, it will be interesting to see tonight if the extreme sex and violence of the piece proves to be the sort of seasonal show we're in the mood for. I'm already anticipating with relief the soothing balm of The Snail and the Whale at the St James and a return visit (with my two-year-old grand-daughter) to The Snowman at the Peacock Theatre on Christmas Eve.
I gather, incidentally, that a life is already planned for Let the Right One In beyond the Royal Court, where John Tiffany's production has gathered some very positive reviews. And success already stalks the Beckett trilogy of solo plays performed by Lisa Dwan that follows on the main stage in mid-January; it will transfer for a season to the Duchess Theatre.
There will be yet more violence and rough and tumble at the Donmar Warehouse next week, when Tom Hiddleston opens as Coriolanus in a run where tickets are already rarer than hen's teeth. The Old Vic is promising drunkenness and bad behaviour for the festive crowd in Turgenev's Fortune's Fool starring Iain Glen and Richard McCabe. And it can now be confirmed that there is indeed a graphic orgy scene in Stephen Ward, also opening next week, with full-on frontal nudity.
Let's hope the RSC aren't planning anything too radical or upsetting with their new look at Peter Pan, Wendy and Peter, at Stratford-upon-Avon next week, though I wouldn't put it past them. I'm looking forward to seeing Guy Henry's return to the company as Captain Hook, and that should keep me going for a couple of days before I buzz along to Birmingham for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs at the Hippodrome, my favourite panto venue; the cast includes John Partridge, TV style guru Gok Wan, Stephanie Beacham, dear old Gary Wilmot and the always delightful Danielle Hope, whom I could never envisage in American Psycho.
I heard about the extremity of the Coriolanus fights from a Donmar Warehouse trustee at RADA yesterday afternoon, where I was watching a schools project in the new 186-seater theatre (when I say new, I mean this was my first visit to the new RADA premises since they opened twelve years ago). And what a great place it is, too!
The Donmar were borrowing the theatre to showcase four 15-minute plays that had been work-shopped on the theme of money, and one of them (by Hampstead School in Camden) amounted to a dense mini-epic attacking the banks, the pension schemes, the NHS and the BBC, with a sympathetic word for the police caught in the cross-fire of the Occupy London movement.
It wasn't that good, but it was very lively and reflected a new mood of protest that was gathering on Gower Street right outside, as students shouted angrily against university fees, the coalition government, Tony Blair and anyone else they could think of who was, or who had been, in charge. There was no doubt about what Christmas message they wanted to get across. And it wasn't, "Have a Merry One."