Saturday, May 02, 2009

Treasure and Emma

Just watched National Treasure: Book of Secrets - in other words, the sequel. Worst thing about is Nicholas Cage's dreadful hair style. I presume it's some form of wig or toupee to make him look younger; whatever it is, it's so unsightly, it's a wonder Cage himself didn't have it banned. It has a definite front line, unlike normal hair, and he's lacking even a hint of sideburns, which makes it look as though a cap's been stuck on his head. Unbelievable.
Apart from that the story is so thoroughly far-fetched that you just have to take it as it comes - and with Cage, Helen Mirren, Jon Voight and Ed Harris in the cast, not to mention Diane Kruger and even Harvey Keitel, it's certainly not going to fail on the acting side of things. It sends itself up gently on a number of occasions, and is mostly as good as the first movie.
On a different line altogether, I went and saw Emma last night at the Fortune Theatre. It had had rave reviews, and a number of people had said they were going to it or had been. I can't explain why I was disappointed, because the actors did their utmost, particularly Mel Dodge, who played a shy and awkward Harriet Smith, a tottering and verbose Miss Bates, and a dragon-like Mrs Elton, each with such delineation of detail that she captured the show.
And the direction was energetic and busy, laughed at itself and threw in some marvellous non sequiters. Perhaps it was too busy - and yet the subtle moments came off beautifully.
I think I was just very tired, and the seats were uncomfortable (no arm rests between people, which means you have to sit up straight), and I came away feeling somewhat grumpy that I hadn't enjoyed it.
It had the same approach as Jane Eyre, which I saw at the Fortune last year (but don't appear to have mentioned in this blog): a small cast playing a wide variety of characters, one basic set that was manhandled by the cast, various props picked up and used for different reasons, a sense of reinventing the original while still telling the story. Only here the actors played with the audience as well, giving them knowing looks at certain points, or being very aware of something silly happening to them, and so on. Which can work, but can also be rather twee. It was also a play within a play - five young people perform Emma for themselves, in an attic amongst all the family's no-longer-needed clutter - and at time revert to their non-Jane-Austin roles.
These reinventions are all very well, but the curious thing is that they still work best when the straightforward dramatic elements are allowed to run without any authorial or directorial interference - as in the last scene, where Emma finally realises her foolishness (it's a wonderful scene in the book too - and in the movie), or where Emma insults the nattering Miss Bates and has to be told off by Mr Knightly.
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