31 October 2012

Tim Walker - Storyteller

Currently at Somerset House is Tim Walker - Storyteller, a show of dream-like fashion photography, using large-scale props in intricate settings. I am not normally a fan of fashion photography, of impossibly thin women in unfeasible clothes, but this is different. This show is like walking into someone else's inner imagination. The photos depict impossible situations, fairytale scenarios, horror story events. In a country house living room, a large doll is pushing through the door as a dishevelled woman helplessly tries to shut the door. A fighter plane takes off in smoke and dust, all within a high-ceilinged room complete with chandelier. A re-imagination of the Yellow Brick road, made from actual, rough yellow bricks rather than the golden variety of the movies, passes through a tinted countryside. A boy lies asleep in a swan-shaped boat, dreaming of rescue.
Entering the exhibition through a narrow door it is stunning to see the props used in the photos in the room, as if the picture has come to life: There is the spitfire bomber from the image, here crashed through the fireplace, tail-fin stuck out at a skewed angle. There the oversized doll lolls menacingly in the corner, looming over us like the vaguely scary skeleton in that doorway, a reflection of the photo where its bony arms awkwardly hug a woman in a red evening dress. On a podium a group of insects play classical instruments alongside the pictures of gowned women faintly menaced by those giant bees and dung beetles.
The photos show the use of the props, but it is the objects themselves, incongruously placed on the walls and set next to the photos, that create the disconcerting illusion that what we are seeing in the photos is real, that the dreams of spaceships manoeuvred through an English hunt by melancholy aliens, that Humpty Dumpty lying broken in a field as a panic-stricken woman looks on, that the oversized sketches pinned to the wall with plate-sized pins, the sand spilling from a photo of the desert across the floor of the gallery, are photojournalism of the strange kind, rather than a meticulously planned setup.
Walker describes the photographic process as a childish daydream: he walks up a hidden staircase into a black-clad room, a window in the far corner falling shut with a loud clap (like a camera shutter) as he looks out at an amazing view; a day dream he only occasionally has access to, to his deep regret.
Walking through the interlocking rooms of the show I am glad that the few times he has managed to walk into that dream, that room, he has come away with images of such strange beauty and mystery.

25 October 2012

Much ado in Delhi

Much Ado about Nothing, at the Noel Coward theatre now until the 27th, is one of those fun comedies that can be played for laughs even though we don't really subscribe to its outdated notions of marriage and gender relationship anymore. It's popular, but even though it's the RSC I wouldn't rush out to see yet another version. But this production is different. The transfer of the court of Messina to modern day Delhi is inspired. Great music, fantastic costumes, amazing accents and mannerisms, spot-on characterisation, all of that really made the theme of the play sing.
Don Pedro's soldiers are UN peacekeeping groups returned from an ambiguously described venture, some wearing medic badges on their blue berets. Carrying khaki duffel bags, they are full of spirit when they arrive, variously optimistic and cynical, but all of them raring for a party.
The women consist of a full range of modern Indian types, from the dutiful daughter happy to have her marriage arranged; the glamour-puss fashion victim flashing bling handbags and a gem-encrusted smartphone; the intellectual thinker and wit, a woman of many words, most of them brilliant. The caste system with its master-servant relationship fits spot-on into Shakespeare's cultural system. The floor sweeper and the simpleton housekeeper are perfect representations from Bollywood movies, making the clown scenes sing. In these characters, as in many of the Hindi outbursts and asides, I felt that as Europeans we were only scratching the surface of the performance. I felt as if we were missing some of the subtleties, something borne out by the laughs coming from the large Indian audience.
The set was very serviceable, with a lot of balconies and a tree used for the wedding decorations and a swing. The red drapes ran into the lighting rig, which resulted in an unprecedented theatrical event in the second half: The show was interrupted by the stage manager, who came on to tell us that the drape was stuck and needed to be unhooked manually. A rigger climbed into the grid and unspooled the clip wires so that the drape could be undone from the stage. It was quite the shock to see the fourth wall broken like this. The actors did very well, carrying on until stopped, and the actress taking down the drapes silently communicated panic without interrupting the dialogue on stage.
The climax of the actual play came with the supposed burial of Hiero, re-designed into a burning platform under a dark sky pouring with rain. As everyone was wearing white, the segue into the happy conclusion of weddings, dancing and merriment was easily accomplished.
This play is part of the RSC's Olympic year series of Shakespeare interpretations from every corner of the planet. I wish I had seen more of them now. It's still on for a few days in London, but I hope that it will tour and be revived many times. It is one of the best Shakespeare productions I have seen in a long time.