Highlights from the Arts Centre this winter

Of Mice and Men: still able to draw you in (By Ellie Patterson)

mice and men edit (21 of 48) (1)JOHN STEINBECK’S Of Mice and Men needs little introduction;  a staple of British theatre since the 1930’s and a long standing piece of the GCSE syllabus, the story is well known and loved by many.  Tuesday 11th of February saw the Arts Centre play host to the Tin Shed Theatre Company’s version of the novella.  I opted for the matinee performance of the show and was not surprised to see the theatre crammed with school students. The lights went down and the two protagonists entered the stage.

The story tells of the relationship between two unlikely comrades – George Milton and Lenny Small. Set in The Great Depression, we see the two men try and escape from their poverty stricken lives. Fate, however, has a different plan and the result is tragic. I was unsure at first, whether the two actors were going to be able to convey the emotions that I felt were present in the novel.  The laughter from the audience was inappropriate at times – but then I think most teenagers laugh inappropriately nowadays. As the play progressed I felt more of the raw emotion that I had hoped to see from the actors and was drawn into the story as easily as I had been when I first read it many moons ago.

The set was simple as one might imagine, but this helped to convey the simplicity of the story for me. The rest of the cast played their parts brilliantly and I was particularly impressed with the actor who played the black stable-hand Crooks.  For me though, the shining star of the production was the actor who played Lenny.  His portrayal of the ‘simple minded’ man was heart wrenching and I am not ashamed to admit that I  shed a tear or two at the end of the play.

I would recommend this production to anyone but I would advise against the matinee production – too many children spoil the fun! The show only had one day in Aberystwyth and I am glad I got to be a part of it.

Don’t be Diaboliques (By Phil Kirby)

Les_Diaboliques-1_rgbI CAN SEE why Les Diaboliques is voted one of the best horror films of all time. Its tense, creeping atmosphere which builds to an unbearable crescendo, haunting soundtrack and completely unpredictable plot twist (which was a breath of fresh air) makes viewing Les Diaboliques a haunting experience. You can see how many modern thrillers or horror films have taken inspiration from this picture, M. Night Shyamalan in particular, but in my opinion none have unnerved me nearly as much.

The two lead actresses were very believable and their performances added immensely to the overall unsettling theme. Simone Signoret in particular delivers a harrowing performance as the mistress of the head teacher, a seemingly devil incarnate in contrast to the pure, yet corruptible’ Véra Clouzot, who plays the head master’s wife. The head himself can truly be seen to be the epitome of a man who deserves his comeuppance, which does happen in the most unexpected of ways.

Les Diaboliques focuses on playing with the mind, letting your imagination free to become scared by what you cannot see, in sharp contrast to the “jump scares” found in nearly every modern horror film which thrusts a zombie or a ghost in your face every few minutes. It depends on what you want from a horror film; to be momentarily shocked by a suspicious old man who appears out of nowhere to warn you about going down to the lake, or to be drawn in slowly, suspensefully, and have a more psychological, lasting scare.

download (11)NTL Live – Coriolanus (By Jozef Raczka)

A TRIUMPH. It is the only word I can use to describe Tom Hiddleston’s performance. This is not to say that the rest of the cast weren’t excellent, as a lot of them were (with specific reference to Mark Gatiss, by turns hilarious and heartbreaking), but this was Hiddleston’s show through and through. Having spent the past few years building up a reputation on-screen, he returns to the stage with such ease that you wish he would never leave. He fills every moment with such emotional complexity but without ever fully suggesting everything that it is almost impossible to watch anyone else, except of course the times that the camera cuts away from him, but as the ‘star turn’ of this piece, that doesn’t happen often.

The main issue with the show comes from the other cast members.  Birgitte Hjort Sørensen, whilst a striking presence, struggles to show any believable emotions, along with the concords who, whilst comedically satisfying, struggle to present themselves with any kind of threat to Coriolanus.  Yet it is Coriolanus that you are paying to see and it can’t be undersold quite how good Hiddleston was in the lead role.

The technical aspects are interesting. The fight choreography and general dramatic direction is very strong but there is a hint of gimmick to the various modernising touches almost aiming for a certain relevance but forgetting that the London riots are long gone (even if one could argue, the sentiment still exists). But it is more of a visceral than a cerebral performance and it shows. The play is still vivid and violent and funny after all this time.  I can’t think of any more ways to say that you should see it if not just for an, if not star-making than, star-defining performance.

Julia Roberts puts in an outstanding performance in August: Osage County (By Sam Meadows)

august-osage-county-640x319August: Osage County is the new film from director John Wells. It is adapted from an award winning play, written by Tracy Letts, and it shows. This is off putting at first as the movie feels too small and slow to really grab your attention, however, as the characters begin to unfold, the movie draws you in and manages to have you completely absorbed.

At the beginning of the film we meet Violet and her husband Beverly, who are going through the motions of a largely loveless marriage. When Beverly disappears, the whole family is drawn back to the family home to support Violet, who has become a bitter and exceptionally rude woman. It is here that the secrets begin to come tumbling out.

Whilst the movie is undoubtedly small in focus, all the action takes place in one house, the depth of the characters is what leaves you hooked. This is in no small part down to the excellent writing from Letts, however, the writing requires great performances and this is superbly provided by an excellent ensemble cast. Meryl Streep is in fine form as the matriarch of the mid-west family that the movie follows. But it is Julia Roberts who is the stand out performer, superbly portraying the daughter, troubled by her disintegrating marriage and the fear that she may be turning into her mother. Further support comes from Juliette Lewis, Benedict Cumberbatch, Ewan MacGregor and Abigail Breslin, who seems to be living up to her early promise as a child actor.

Part way through the film, it has begun to settle into a certain pace, however, just as you think you have it figured out, the film drops a rapid series of plot twists that will leave you gaping. Suddenly, the whole plot is blown wide open and the film has you hooked once again.

August: Osage County meanders slowly through its considerable running time without using showy set pieces to keep your attention. Instead it relies on the strength and depth of its characters and central performances to hold its audience and for the most part it wholly succeeds. This is a night out at the cinema that you will not regret, even if it will not be one of the most memorable you will ever have.