Tuesday, 21 August 2012

‘An adventure worth having is one that teaches you that life usually doesn’t make much sense... so you might as well just laugh at it.’

When going out with my friends, I have to admit that we are not normally very adventurous.  The majority of the time, we will stay well within our local area and only occasionally venture out to the realms of Birmingham.  However, like Christopher Columbus, myself and my best friend Chelsea decided to go afar and see what we could find.... in Stratford.  Admittedly it wasn’t much further than Birmingham, I know, but the long train journey made us feel like we were travelling to another world- well, another county, at least.

After a train journey consisting of a woman shouting at us- don’t ask- which resulted in us moving seats in what felt like a dreary game of musical chairs, we were happy to finally be in Stratford-Upon-Avon.  The main purpose of the day was to see a performance of the Shakespeare play ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre.  This all sounds quite pleasant, I am sure, but we faced one problem when watching it that threw us off guard.  The play was an adaptation of the normal story, but more importantly.... it was in Russian.

Of course there would be subtitles, but the play itself was like nothing I had ever seen before.  Normally, A Midsummer Night’s Dream revolves around the adventures of four young lovers in a forest- Hermia & Lysander and Helena & Demetrius- who end up falling in love with the wrong people due to the interference of Puck- a mischievous fairy servant.  On top of that, the King of the Fairies- Oberon, is jealous of the attention his queen Titania is paying to a human boy she is taking care of, and decides to get Puck to use a magical flower that will make her fall in love with the first thing she sees.  This hilariously results in her falling madly in love with Bottom the weaver, who at this point has the head of a donkey due to a spell that Puck cast upon him.  Needless to say that none of this happened in the performance that I saw.

The third story in the play is the one that the Russian actors and actresses portrayed in their performance.  A basic overview is that a group of workers are rehearsing a humourous play about two lovers, Pyramus and Thisbe to perform for the Duke Theseus on his wedding day, only they are ill prepared and things begin to go wrong.  When the actors and actresses initially came out on the stage, bumbling and making the audience laugh, I sat back, thinking that this would be an easy play to watch.  Oh how wrong I was.  The thespians left the stage, only to return half dressed, carrying their trousers, shoes and other clothes and for five minutes, we watched them awkwardly get dressed in front of the audience.  The majority of these people were middle aged to old men- so you could imagine my discomfort.  I understand that they were playing characters that were unprepared for the performance of Pyramus and Thisbe, but I could have done without seeing some half naked fifty year old men and their hairy legs, thank you very much.

As the play progressed, I began to wonder which man would play Pyramus, whilst it was fairly obvious that the only woman on the stage would be playing Thisbe.  Once again, I was wrong.  The actors started huddling around what looked like the bags criminals shove dead bodies in when you’re watching a crime film, pottering around and putting different parts together.  Bewildered as a cat when it sees its reflection in the mirror for the first time, I watched them attach different pieces of old metal together to make a giant person, which I then realised was supposed to be Pyramus.  They did the same for Thisbe, the actors using metal rods to make it look like Pyramus and Thisbe were interacting with each other.  I was slightly annoyed that there was no dialogue between the two and only the giving of flowers, but a little, energetic Russian actor described what happened after each interaction, to my relief, so things began to make sense.

However, like a flash of a light, my little Russian friend had disappeared and I was left to work out what was going on by myself, which at times, was impossible.  In fairness to the actors that I saw, they did tell the story of Pyramus and Thisbe, however it was only when I read in depth about the story afterwards that the play I saw began to make even a morsel of sense.  At times, I would look around the theatre in search of anyone else who was as baffled as I was.  In a sea of delighted and sometimes nodding appreciatively elderly folk, on the upper tier I noticed a man with his two sons.  These boys couldn’t have been any older than eight or nine, and their expressions of utter confusion brought joy to my eyes.  Yes, they were only children who had no hope of understanding the play, but I felt like I wasn’t alone- there were others who didn’t get it! I continued looking around the audience to see a teenage boy, about my age, looking just as puzzled as me, possibly questioning if he was actually seeing ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ and not a different, very weird, play.

Towards the end of the play, I saw a bit of hope when my guardian angel returned, saying- in Russian, of course- that they would now translate what had just happened so that it would make a bit more sense.  My prayers had been answered; the last hour of operatic singing between two mechanical people would finally make sense.  One by one the thespians returned to the stage, but to my dismay, began making all sorts of strange noises that were in fact complete gibberish. 

If you’re looking for a moral to the story, maybe it could be to check whether a play is in your language or if it is going to make sense to you before you see it. Despite spending the rest of the day in a state of confusion, I can’t deny that Chelsea and I had a great day.  We had ventured out to an unknown land, found our way around this mysterious place and seen a hilarious play- even if it was only hilarious because we couldn’t understand it.  I take my metaphorical hat off to those Russians- never before have I watched a play I didn’t understand and come away from it with a big smile on my face.  In my day at Stratford, I learnt that an adventure worth having is one that teaches you that life doesn’t make much sense... so you might as well just laugh at it.

Saturday, 11 August 2012

Ted- the bear with a difference

When we mention teddy bears, we think of soft, fluffy toys that although inanimate, bring so much joy to children’s lives by the strength of their imagination.  As children grow up, they normally say goodbye to their teddy bears in favour of another toy, or with the thought that they are simply ‘too old’ to have one.  However, for John Bennett, getting rid of his bear isn’t an option.  Ted is a tale of a grown man who just can’t let go of not only his teddy bear, but his childhood best friend. 

Ted was given to John at Christmas when he was a child and whilst John loved him, he longed for Ted to be alive, so that he could have a friend.  By the power of a child’s wish on a shooting star, that very thing happened.  John woke up to find his teddy bear alive, but more importantly realised that he had a friend who, despite being slightly unorthodox in his appearance, cared for him.  The film flashes forward to 2012, where we see an adult John living with his girlfriend of four years, Lori, and of course- his best friend, Ted.  The couple’s relationship becomes strained when Lori is looking for something more from John and feels like they can’t move on with their lives with Ted still in the house, who is now a lazy, pot smoking, foul-mouthed bear.  From then on, we see Ted trying to make his own way in life, with all sorts of hilarity ensuing.   

Written and directed by the founder of Family Guy and American Dad, Seth MacFarlane, Ted is cleverly written and acts as a reminder of why his work has been so popular for so long.  MacFarlane wrote and voices the character of Ted a lot like Peter Griffin- the main character of Family Guy- with blunt sarcasm and the right amount of black humour without being too offensive, so that the film would feel somewhat familiar to fans of MacFarlane’s hit comedy.  An example of this is the use of flashbacks and similes in Family Guy and Ted as strange but funny comparisons of events. Making his feature length film debut, MacFarlane did everything right to make Ted an original comedy and at the same time, seemed like a complete professional rather than a novice at film directing.

I have nothing to fault with the story line itself as it had the cinema constantly laughing and waiting eagerly to see what would happen next.  Admittedly, the film was slightly vulgar and is not for the faint hearted, but you’re not going to get rainbows and kittens in a MacFarlane comedy.  Ted pushes the boundaries and will make you cringe, however that is part of the reason why I thought the film was such a success.  Sometimes I did question if elements of the film didn’t fall into the 18 rating rather than 15, but a lot of what happens in the film is extremely unrealistic and would not influence an audience to try and reflect Ted’s nature in what they do.  

All of the characters had something about their person that made them relatable and no-one faded into the background.  John was the man refusing to grow up for his girlfriend Lori, who was the feisty female character trying to get solid commitment out of a man who was only committed to a bear for the majority of his life. Whilst Mark Wahlberg and Mila Kunis gave excellent performances as John and Lori, I have to give praise specifically to Giovanni Ribisi who played Donny, a crazy psychopath who was obsessed with Ted.  As a child, Donny saw Ted on the television and desperately wanted him.  When John and Ted meet Donny and his son Robert, Donny expresses an interest in buying Ted for his destructive son.  Ribisi is a recurring, unpredictable face throughout the film and brilliantly added so many layers to a character that if played by another actor, could have been a lot simpler but not have the depth that Ribisi gave.

Although it hasn’t even been a week since I saw Ted, I would happily see it again as it made me cry with laughter- something that doesn’t happen very often.  All of the actors and actresses were a credit to the film and their characterisation was brilliant, particularly Giovanni Ribisi.  It was very easy to forget that Ted is a bear and not a human, which is a testament to Seth MacFarlane’s script for giving Ted a voice and personality and also the CGI team for giving him so many human attributes.  Yes, Ted is a film for young adults and not children; however, the start and end give the film the warmth and foundations needed to make it memorable as an endearing story about the friendship between a man... and his bear.

Rating: 9/10