Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Family Circles

Dans Paris, Curzon Soho, London, Saturday May 12 2007, 12 noon.
That Face, Royal Court Theatre, Sloane Square, London, Saturday May 12 2007, 4pm.

Christophe Honore follows up his impressive, if controversial, adaptation of Georges Bataille's Ma Mere with a friskier, more accessible look at similar themes in the recently released Dans Paris. Gallic thesps Louis Garrel and Romain Duris play two brothers who react in dramatically divergent ways to their sister's suicide under the morose but watchful gaze of their chain-smoking dad (played by veteran Guy Marchand).

With editing, atmospherics and an impish sense of fun redolent of the Nouvelle Vague, Honore has succeeded in making a heartwarming film about loss and a charming film about depression. These things shouldn't be possible if it wasn't for the fact your correspondent watched it with his very own eyes, an indefinable treat offering another cinematic love letter to the French capital city as well as introducing us to the restorative powers of Kim Wilde's 'Cambodia' and the veritable va va vroom of Helena Noguerra as the Scooter Girl.

Later that afternoon mooched over to the Royal Court Theatre to see Polly Stenham's debut play That Face which has something of Ma Mere about it, given the semi-incestuous nature of the relationship between a drunken woman (Lindsay Duncan) and her intense son (Matt Smith) following the family's abandonment by her husband for foreign climes and an exotic new bride.

The play begins with the younger sister (the diminuitive but dynamic Fliss Jones, playing below age) using her mother's drugs to assist her head of dorm (Catherine Steadman, stealing every scene she's in so much one half expected to see her exit stage left with a veritable swag bag) in an initiation ceremony that borders on Guantanamo-style torture, but as the play builds it's pretty clear she's the saner one in the family. In the second half of the play the absent father returns as a kind of self-styled deus ex machina, a tidy man come to tidy them up and away, but can the debris from this broken family be swept under the carpet that easily?

Staged in the Jerwood Theatre upstairs in 'the round', there's no hiding place for the cast and 40-capacity audience alike, giving your hack a ringside seat to the melodramatics that don't even allow a let-up during the scene changes (although we do get Sleater-Kinney, The Pipettes and Yeah Yeah Yeahs via an onstage iPod during the intermission, a welcome first). The boxing analogy is in fact a good way of describing the strengths and weaknesses of the characters and the play itself, with lots of good points being scored without ever quite delivering that knockout punch. Despite these flaws, the 20-year-old playwright Stenham and the hugely committed cast and production team should be applauded for providing a genuinely unforgettable experience.

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