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Wednesday 23 November 2011

How The World Began, Play by Catherine Trieschmann, Arcola Theatre, London, 8 out of 10

Susan (Anna Francolini) is a young science teacher from New York City, soon to be single mother. The break up of her relationship and her impending motherhood have led her to take a position as a science teacher in the US bible belt in rural Kansas. One of Susan's new pupils is the 15 year old Micah (Perry Millward) who is an orphan living with a local childless man (Ciaran McIntyre) and his wife. Micah lost his mother to cancer and his stepfather in a recent tornado, which has devastated the rural area where he lives.

As a science teacher Susan is all too well aware of how she needs to teach her subject and deal with evolution theory while respecting the division between state and church as demanded by the US Constitution and implemented in Kansas state legislation on education. Yet Susan is also a woman with a personal views and a certain impulsiveness. When she makes a remark in the classroom that might be seen to offend religious sensibilities, Micah insists that she presents a public apology. A dark and threatening atmosphere develops around the relationship between teacher and pupil and ripples through the local community. Where will this end?

How the World Began takes a familiar controversy dealt with in reality, film, television and theatre in several creative endeavours. Some like the play turned into a film, Inherit The Wind with the unforgettable Spencer Tracy, are of high quality.

The great strength of Catherine Trieschmann's play is the emphasis on the personal, the genuine connection that she credibly establishes between Susan and Micah. The dialogues are intelligent and both Micah and Susan defend their positions and their dignity, but they do not put ideology first. What we see is an intelligent, high potential farm boy student with a troubled background in conflict with a science teacher. Susan wants to earn her money, get all her certificates she needs for teaching, get health insurance cover. But she also defends the ethos of the science teacher, while respecting the religious background from which her pupils come. And she is a talented teacher with a heart for her students. It is the presence of the human and relational dimension within a genuine political and ideological problem in the US education system that makes this a very good play.

The director keeps the play moving along and the performances move the audience. The UK is a country blessed with extraordinary creative talent in film and cinema. 

All three members of the How the World Began give an outstanding performance. The chemistry between Susan and Micah gives drama and emotion to the very intelligent dialogues. Perry Millward as Micah stands out with a performance that is worth the price of the ticket plus a donation to the Arcola building fund. How the World Began is excellent theatre and deserves a sell out run. 

Although my daughter may not be a representative sample,  this is a play that can reach a young adult/teenage audience. With this production of How The World Began the Arcola Theatre confirms its track record as a place to go in London to be moved, entertained and challenged to think by intelligent plays.

Tom Atkins presents the European Premiere of HOW THE WORLD BEGAN by Catherine Trieschmann
Director Des Kennedy
Designer Alyson Cummins
Lighting Designer Mark Howland
Sound Designer Paul Millen
Video Designer Ben Gutteridge

Cast: Anna Francolini, Ciaran McIntyre and Perry Millward

Sunday 6 November 2011

The Ides of March, Film directed by George Clooney, 7 out of 10

Stephen Meyers (Ryan Gosling) is a campaign manager for Governor Mike Morris (George Clooney), an aspiring US presidential candidate fighting the Democratic primary election in the crucial State of Ohio. Paul Zara (Philip Seymour Hoffman), Morris´ trusted friend and Campaign Director has brought the talented Meyers on board. His forte is handling the media aspects of the campaign. Meyers is a smooth operator and a realist; but he is also personally convinced that Morris' will make a great US President for the Democrats who'll be able to advance a liberal agenda. Morris' opponent, Senator Pullman, is a right-wing Democrat, whose campaign director Tom Duffy (Paul Giamatti) is experienced, clever and ruthless. As a high stakes strategic game develops between the two campaign management teams, the heady mix of adrenalin and testosterone, of alpha males and attractive power-struck interns, of sex and politics unfolds. The resulting fatal attraction will raise the question of character of the candidate and his political advisers. Meyers will find out the hard way what it means to be a key-player on the sharp end of a primary campaign. And soon he will have to decide. Should he abandon the chance to influence US policy at the highest level in order to avoid fighting dirty, or should he break his “ethics-barrier” in order to come out on top?

The title of the film refers to the story of Julius Caesar. In the Ides of March (15 March) of the year 44 B.C. a number of senators, former supporters of Julius Caesar, including his quasi-adopted son Brutus, carry out their conspiracy to end his political career by murdering him.

Based on the theatre play Farragut North by Beau Willimon, The Ides of March is an intelligent political drama with real suspense. The plot is straight-forward and some of its twists and turns too predictable to make this a truly outstanding film. Still it is realistic enough. and there is a good deal of substance in the storyline. 
The ethical issues raised here are good food for thought and discussion. The Ides of March is certainly worthy of George Clooney and on the level of excellent political drama of a film like Primary Colors or a television series like The West Wing. This gripping thriller is a must for those interested in the US politics. Competent direction complements very strong performances by an ensemble of outstanding actors. 

The charismatic Ryan Gosling (Blue Valentine, Drive) confirms that he is an excellent actor, suitable for a wide range of roles. Quite an achievement for a young man sharing the screen with the likes of George Clooney, Philip Seymour-Hoffman and Paul Giamatti.

The rating system of my reviews has changed to allocate points out of 10, rather than the five * used previously, to be more informative on the rating. (0 is the worst possible rating and 10 is the best)