Thursday, May 10, 2007

Love, Death, etc.

Terry Johnson's Hysteria, Birmingham Repertory Theatre, Birmingham, Saturday May 5 2007, 2.30pm.
The Painted Veil, Cineworld Broad Street, Birmingham, Saturday May 5 2007, 5.40pm.
StrangeTime, The Spotted Dog, Digbeth, Birmingham, Saturday May 5 2007, 9.30pm.

Having seen Terry Johnson's last couple of plays (Hitchcock Blonde, Piano/Forte) down in London, your correspondent was curious to see the Brum Rep's revival of an older play of his, namely Hysteria, a farcical fictionalisation of a brief meeting between Sigmund Freud and Salvador Dali during the twilight of the psychologist's years. Johnson again blends highbrow and lowbrow elements, with crude and anachronistic farce set against philosophical and moral musings on religion, psychotherapy and familial abuse. Despite some committed performances and brilliant set design, however, Dead Kenny remained unconvinced that these disparate elements gelled. There is a staggering sequence where the whole set 'melts' into a nightmarish Daliesque tableau vivant that is worth the price of admission alone, but it's just a shame that the play that wraps around it is often so deeply silly.

Then popped across the street to a sports bar to check on West Ham's result against Bolton (a 3-1 victory, ta for asking, but more about the footie after the season's over) where the barstaff seemed more intent on playfighting than serving your anxious hack (they were both uncommonly attractive so it was a pleasing enough distraction as our eyes darted across the multiple Sky Sports screens to establish the necessary scoreline). The Hammers lived to fight another day, on the pitch or in the court still to be decided, so a calming bottle of Bud was dispatched before heading to Cineworld.

John Curran's The Painted Veil (2006), adapted from a Somerset Maugham book, starts off as a study of the passive aggression that lies behind the stiff upper lip of the repressed Englishman, before offering up some hope that redemption can be found in just, y'know, trying to get on a bit better. Edward Norton does a good job of an English accent as the prissy cuckolded biologist who insists on taking his errant wife (Naomi Watts) to cholera-infested Shanghai with slightly unpredictable results. As perhaps could be expected, the film's not exactly a barrel of giggles, but emerged as that rarest of period-piece literary adaptations - something with a whiff of real life about it.

Having stomached a day of death and disease, your cultural correspondent was in the mood for hard liquour, good company and some rattling guitar tunes, so braved the daunting mugger's paradise of the bridge by Moor St Station to reach the oasis of The Spotted Dog (just off Bordesley Street, second city geography fact fans) in time to catch StrangeTime enthralling the Barfly-feeder pub's clientele with a fiesty and engaging set. The rumbling menace of newish song 'Sirens'(?) and spiky splendour of 'Magnet' (pulled from the Kate Finch solo oeuvre) nestled flirtatiously with older numbers like 'Lust' and 'Ex-Boyfriend', before debut single 'Personality Disorder' (available for download from just about evey reputable download source from May 24, record release fact afficionados) gave us the happiest of happy finishes.

Hysteria runs at the Birmingham Rep until May 12. The Painted Veil on general release at cinemas nationwide now. StrangeTime next play live at The Actress & Bishop in Birmingham on May 25.

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