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Sticky Figgis Lucrezia

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We are going through a fascinating period of interaction between cinema and theatre. One of the best examples of creative theatrical fusion between the two media opens tonight at the Barbican.

Toneelgroep of Amsterdam's Antonioni Project makes a two-hour cinematic theatre piece of Antonioni's great Monica Vitti trilogy, using the technology of the film studio and video projection as theatrical devices in creating a Pinteresque charade of emotional desolation and physical anomie.

It's an utterly brilliant achievement, and it's superbly acted by the company who knocked us all for six fourteen months ago with their Roman Tragedies on the same stage.

Cut to Mike Figgis at the ENO last night, where the hapless filmmaker, once a jazzing member of the People Show in their glory days, has dressed up a pretty mediocre staging of Donizetti's Lucrezia Borgia with a few unrelated soft porn sequences -- actually, they look like lingerie ads shot by Derek Jarman -- in the name of what, exactly?

Perhaps it will all make sense when it's transmitted live by Sky Arts 2 and into selected cinemas on 23 February. I must admit I'm not gagging to find out.

Whereas Toneelgroep, directed by Ivo van Hove, has a finely tuned sense of theatrical rhythm, style and emphasis -- there's nothing gratuitous about exactly when we see the actors in close-up or longshot, or indeed both -- Figgis seems entirely immune to the differing temperatures and "styles" of film and theatre.

And if the point is to make some jarring distinction, he fails there, too. It's all too perfunctory and dull; and Lucrezia's back story of incestuous abuse and lip-smacking sensuality (and there's a risible sequence of a posse of nuns "restoring" her sexually "intact" status with medical instruments) has nothing at all to do with Donizetti's crude melodrama, derived from a Victor Hugo play.

The music, of course, is wonderful, especially a septet for the hero Gennaro's chums, and a super-charged trio, and Claire Rutter sings beautifully throughout in a magical, metallic coloratura.

Paul Daniel conducts, though how he can bare to face the sur-titles of his own clodhopping and appalling translation, I've no idea; you really only want to hear this stuff in Italian. It makes the lyrics of Legally Blonde sound as good as Lorenz Hart.

There's another of those wince-making "clever but not so clever" red herrings, too, similar to the casting of a black Cordelia in the King Lear at the Donmar Warehouse.

One of the chums is a woman, introducing an element of heterosexual frisson that goes nowhere and confuses you as to Gennaro's stated obsession with his own big momma, Lucrezia.

At the Donmar, Derek Jacobi is obviously devoted to Cordelia, who must be either adopted or sired with a different mother to that of all-white Goneril and Regan. When colour blind casting works, this wouldn't matter; but the point is so crucial to the play -- and Jacobi makes so much of it -- that you are left wandering down lanes of private speculation as to Cordelia's exact parentage that have nothing to do with Shakespeare.

Just to contradict myself yet again: this would matter less in a more radical, rough-house production. But the Donmar's Lear -- despite its cuts and failure to make anything much of the Fool -- is polite, prissy and not radical at all. Casting Cordelia as black in such circumstances smacks only of our old friend and basest enemy, political correctness.




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