Search This Blog

Thursday 30 November 2017

The Ferryman, Play (2017), by Jez Butterworth, Gielgud Theatre, London 9* out of 10

The Ferryman embodies the strong writing, directing and performing for which it is worth to go to the theatre in London even if you come from far away. Great directing  of a 20 people cast by Sam Mendes.

It is 1981 in County Armagh Northern Ireland and the Carneys, an extended lively Irish-catholic family, are about to bring in the annual harvest on their farm. They are staunch republicans, former staunch republicans who were members of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and some of them try not to get involved too much in the conflict. But the recent past is about to catch up with them and shatter the present accommodations of their family and social lives.

Jez Butterworth’s 2017 play is a great piece of storytelling about family, love, crime and politics. It is intelligent, witty and suspenseful, in turns, funny and moving. The Ferryman is theatre on a grand scale with a cast of more than 20 characters, a few of them children with substantial roles. The cast even includes a baby that last night when I saw the play accomplished its part with angelic brilliance. The entire cast is a joy to behold, jointly and severally. This is remarkable as the acclaimed cast from its original run at the Royal Court Theatre has been replaced by an all new one. There are outstanding performances from William Houston as Quinn Carney, head of the family, and Sarah Green as his brother’s wife Caitlin Carney. Director Sam Mendes has done an excellent job to avoid any dull moments in a play of about 3 hours. With the help of Mendes and the excellent cast, Butterworth moves deftly among the genres of crime thriller, family drama and mystical interludes.

If anything can be criticized, it is the accumulation of (Northern) Irish stereotypes, which may make this play less enjoyable for those who have lived in Northern Ireland during the troubles or still live there today.

But wherever you come, this is the strong writing, directing and performing for which it is worth to come to London and visit theatre here.

Thursday 9 November 2017

The Square, Film (2017), written and directed by Ruben Œstlund, 10* out of 10

Funny, intelligent, disturbing and thought-provoking, The Square fully deserves the Golden Palm it was awarded at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival.

Christian (Claes Bang) is the suave curator of a modern art museum in Sweden. When a generous donor makes possible the acquisition of a major new work called The Square. The Square, Christian decrees, will be a space where everyone is listened to, and in contrast to the outside world everyone can bring the wishes needs and demands and have them fulfilled. Christian uses his flair for effective communication strategies to attract the attention of the art critics in the international media to the new piece and he asks his media- team to come up with a provocative campaign. He also gives an interview to an American journalist Anne (Elisabeth Moss) and, after a party at the museum, the two spend the night together. When on the way to work one morning Christian’s phone, wallet and the cufflinks he got from his grandpa are stolen, the dark threat of a chaotic Hobbesian world begins to encroach on his life from outside the space of the museum, where he feels comfortably in control of the exhibits and performances he has selected to be shown.  But slowly the jungle out there threatens to uncomfortably impinge on Christian’s hipster existence.

Ruben Œstlund’s The Square is a masterpiece of writing and direction, that effortlessly switches among the genres of fly-on-the-wall-documentary, satirical mockumentary and socio-political drama. In a highly entertaining and suspenseful manner Œstlund focusses on the issue of trust in a society which is increasingly divided between privileged economically, socially and culturally comfortable leftish intellectuals and people, often with immigrant backgrounds, who are struggling to make ends meet and are in danger of becoming homeless or already living on the street. 

Funny, intelligent, disturbing and thought-provoking, The Square fully deserves the Golden Palm it was awarded at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival. Claes Bang is a credible and charismatic Christian (at times reminding us of the younger Pierce Brosnan when he played James Bond). Elisabeth Moss does a great job in her supporting role as the feisty American journalist Anne, who is ready to joust with him, at least in the private sphere. Terry Notary as the artist Oleg who is totally dedicated to his art-performance deserves a special mention.

For anyone interested in how modern art and modern western society interact and affect us, The Square is an exciting must see. 


Sunday 5 November 2017

Literary Festival Zürich Liest: Novel und Radio Play as Complementary Forms – Gila Lustiger’s social crime novel “Die Schuld der Anderen” – 8* out of 10

In 2016, Gila Lustiger’s first crime novel “Die Schuld der Anderen” remained on Der Spiegel’s bestseller-list for many weeks. It shows Lustiger as a sharp-eyed observer of French society. She is also a thoughtful and effective speaker. The novel has not (yet?) been published in English, but her excellent essay about France “We Are Not Afraid” which she wrote in the wake of the terrorist attacks of November 2015 in Paris has and is a great read.
On Saturday, 28 October 2017, as part of the “Zurich Liest” (Zurich reads) literary festival Omanut Switzerland (an organisation dedicated since 1941 to the furtherance of Jewish art and culture in Switzerland) organised its Thriller night by presenting a radio play based on the crime novel Die Schuld der Anderen (“The Guilt/Fault of the Others” would be the literal translation of the German title) by Gila Lustiger. This was followed by a tasty dinner, readings from the novel by the author, and a conversation led by Omanut’s Karen Roth with Gila Lustiger and Barbara Liebster, who has adapted the book for radio. 

The publication of the crime novel in Germany has a special history. It was launched on the day of the terrorist attacks in Paris which started at the Stade de France football stadium, continued at several bistros in the centre of the city and culminated in a massacre at the Bataclan concert venue. The novel’s vivid and accurate descriptions of the social context in France captured the attention of the reviewers. Its central plot, which is about cover-up of corporate malfeasance fell somewhat by the wayside. That even though the central plot, based on a true story, packed a considerable socioeconomic punch in its own right: in France, the state, business and the media are often unhealthily intertwined and very centralized within its capital’s bubble. But it was perhaps inevitable that Lustiger’s sharp observations of the underprivileged workers and youths with immigrant backgrounds in peripheral towns and the infamous “banlieues” grabbed the attention of German reviewers and readers. The novel spent many weeks the top ten of Der Spiegel’s bestseller list.

Barbara Liebster’s radio play adaptation, on the other hand, cuts to the chase of the novel’s central criminal plot which focuses on the family and elite university interconnectedness among the French Paris-centred elites with its revolving doors between civil service, political life and French corporations at the expense of factory workers.

“Die Schuld der Anderen” is Lustiger's first crime-novel. Lustiger, who grew up in Germany, daughter of one of the most prominent historians of the holocaust of which he was a survivor himself, has lived in France for more than two decades and raised a family there. She is herself an avid researcher of social phenomena that capture her imagination. For her novel, she travelled around France observing and speaking to people at all social levels. Lustiger also is an avid reader of social sciences and philosophical literature, which helps her put her observations she makes in the field into a sound intellectual framework. Finally, as a good social scientist and journalist with a certain amount of distance and irony, she is also an accurate observer of her own feelings and views when they are confronted with the individual destiny. So, whether it is a novel or an essay, her readers get the benefit of an intellectual journalist’s perspective on contemporary social phenomena.  

Lustiger spoke about her method of reading, making lists and visiting the real people in the real places, she also turns out to be a calm thoughtful and accurate explainer of the world around her.  She does this from the perspective of an outsider, but one who knows what she is Talking and writing about from the inside. She writes and speaks clearly, without jargon and without over-simplification. Gila Lustiger is self-assured in expressing her findings and views but thankfully without any of the arrogance of some of her male colleagues.

As the evening unfolded, it was therefore inevitable that the conversation quickly turned away from the question of the various literary forms of telling a story (, i.e. novel vs. radio play) to the political and social context of what is happening in the two countries that together are often wishfully described as the motor of the European Union, France and Germany. 

With hindsight, Gila Lustiger was so interesting as a speaker that one wished the evening would have contained more conversation. Attendees might have been given the option of listening to the radio play beforehand at home, on a train or in their car.  Having said that, it was a very interesting and stimulating evening including a tasty dinner and a sell-out event.

Die Schuld der Anderen has been translated into French and published by Actes Sud as “Les Insatiables”. It was well received by French reviewers. The novel has not been translated into English but other books by Gila Lustiger have, including the book-essay “We Are Not Afraid”, published by Notting Hill Editions, which was written under the impression of the terror attacks on Paris of 13 November 2015 but talks about the changes challenging French society and their impact on it in a clear-sighted, intelligent and readable way. 

An successful event, that made many of us attending discover Gila Lustiger as an excellent novelist and thoughtful observer of current societal developments in Europe and beyond.

Gila Lustiger