Saturday, 26 January 2013

Life of Pi

Adaptations of best-selling books for film can be hit-and-miss. Some have enhanced the story, others have ruined it (the film version of 'The Lovely Bones' for instance, while tense and brooding in places, was in many respects a travesty of the book). So when it was announced that Ang Lee was committing Yann Martel's Booker Prize-winning novel 'Life of Pi' to film there was some interest and not a small amount of concern, as the book was deemed by many to be unfilmable.

The ideas in the story of 'Life of Pi' have fascinated me from the time it was shortlisted for the Booker, but I must confess I had not managed to get round to reading it until recently, really in preparation for watching the film. The reason for the delay I'm not too clear about, other than the fact that I just didn't get around to it. Also, I have been somewhat disappointed recently by Booker-winning novels: 'The Finkler Question' promised much but sadly left me quite flat, and Julian Barnes, whose earlier work I have greatly admired in the past, left me somewhat similarly deflated with 'The Sense of an Ending'.

'Life of Pi', however, captivated me from the start. The images of beauty and brutality; the search for truth and for God; the determination to hang on to sanity and survival against tremendous ordeals - towering themes that permeate the book - were handled with sensitivity and at times with great power.

If you can only read a small portion of this book, read Chapter 74: I wanted to quote the whole thing, but here is one particular passage that spoke potently to me, and stayed with me:

Faith in God is an opening up, a letting go, a deep trust, a free act of love— but sometimes it was so hard to love. Sometimes my heart was sinking so fast with anger, desolation and weariness, I was afraid it would sink to the very bottom of the Pacific and I would not be able to lift it back up.

I came to the film having almost finished the book, but not quite. I found the film a triumph: sumptuous in its cinematography, faithful in its narrative, and true to the spirit and spirituality of the original novel. Pi's natural ability to see and commune with God in the religious systems of Hinduism, Islam and Christianity, as well as in the beauty and the horror of nature in all its forms, was sensitively and seductively portrayed.

The film and the book left me with a profound reminder of the strength of good stories to elucidate truth. I highly recommend both media to any who enjoy a good narrative, or a parable even...

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

My Fair Lady

Last night I accompanied my wife, Judith, to the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield to enjoy her Christmas present: tickets to see Daniel Evans' production of 'My Fair Lady'. And what an evening we enjoyed!

The house was packed out - as I believe it has been throughout the show's run so far - and we were treated to a spectacular performance of song, dance and story to rival the West End. The sets, particularly Higgins' study, were very good, and used the unique space at the Crucible very well. The music, performed live under the stage under the splendid direction of Nigel Lilley, set the mood brilliantly and helped the story along at just the right pace. The cast were all excellent, performing with energy and enthusiasm throughout their 2½ hours on stage, but especial mention must go Louis Maskell as Freddy, Martyn Ellis as Alfred P Doolittle, and of course the the two principals: Carly Bawden as Eliza Doolittle and Dominic West as Henry Higgins.

One of the problems with a show like My Fair Lady is that the songs - such as 'The Rain in Spain', 'I Could Have Danced All Night', 'On The Street Where You Live' & 'Get Me To The Church On Time' - are all very well-known, and cinema has given us what many consider the definitive portrayal of the story from Rex Harrison & Audrey Hepburn. West echoed Harrison's 'talk singing' here, but managed sing as well, and has a reasonable singing voice himself. Bawden made the transition from Cockney flower girl to society lady wonderfully and I think she has a great future in this field. The cast's performance of 'Get Me To The Church On Time' left them and the audience breathless, and by the end of the night the majority of the crowd were on their feet applauding an outstanding, energetic and moving performance.

If there is any justice, this should be an award-winning show. If you can - and it may not be easy - get a ticket, sit back and enjoy a spectacular evening's entertainment!