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Monday, September 17, 2007

All About My Mother - All About The Play - Review

All About My Mother - The Old Vic, London

I recently got the Original Off-Broadway Cast Recording of [title of show] and my favorite song is probably "An Original Musical", and one of the funniest bits, while already made fun of in other shows as well (including Xanadu, and Top Gun the Musical), is when Blank Piece of Paper (yes, a character) explains the inspiration of musicals and how sometimes plays are turned into musicals, and more recently, movies are turned into musicals (and then exhaustively listing them all noting that they make musicals, not necessarily GOOD musicals)). Well, now we've come to the point where a movie has been turned into a play. Has this ever happened before? I'm sure it has but now that I think about it, I can't think of any examples. Usually it's the other way around.

So we come to The Old Vic which just had the world premiere of All About My Mother, a new play by Samuel Adamson based on Pedro Almodovar's amazing movie. I'm not even going to describe the plot, which adheres to the film, and assume everyone has seen it, because if you haven't, you should get up right now, go to your local library or video store (but not Blockbuster because I despise it) or logon to Netflix and get All About My Mother and watch it right away. Don't talk to me before then. (Speaking of talking, rent Talk To Her while you're at it, Pedro Almodovar's next film that sort of thematically book ends All About My Mother).

It was a good play, that started off extremely strong but that gets a little bogged down by its own theatrical weight of importance in the second act. The first act flows and feels just like the film, with a fluidity and boldness to the imagery that translated onto the stage differently yet gave a similar feeling as the film. The moment that Esteban chases after Huma, as mother Manuela watches is especially successful. That zest gets lost in act 2 when the play draws upon the theatre-within the theatre plot more than the movie does (which would make sense), bringing up different themes to my viewing eyes than I noticed in the movie, but resulting in the loss of that emotional connection to the characters that made me fall in love with the film in the first place. All About My Mother becomes more of an intellectual piece rather than a more all-encompassing loving tribute to Pedro's strong women.

The faults of the play (which honestly, may be more of a sign of my own likings/lack of intellect than the play itself) were however not because of the actors, lead by Dame Diana Rigg (the original The Avengers!) as Huma, the lesbian star actor and Lesley Manville (Secrets and Lies, another one of my favorite movies of all time) as Manuel, the mother who loses her son, and then goes in search for his father, encountering a few other troubled women on her way.

Mark Gattis (above with Rigg) was great as Agrado and while Penelope Cruz was slightly more affecting as Sister Rosa, Joanna Froggatt did a comparable job who grew on me throughout the night. One major change in the play is that the usage of dead son Esteban (Colin Morgan) as a sort of semi-ghost narrator, allowing him to remain in the play beyond the first 5 minutes of the plot, and to remind viewers of Manuela's role of the mother. I'm still undecided whether keeping Esteban around for the remainder of the play was a good thing or not and while it was nice to have a young male presence in the play, it sort of defeats the purpose in this tribute to women.

What I think enhances the play but also bogs it down the most is the re-visiting of the allegories used from the play within the play, with multiple angles of Tennessee Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire helping to add the homage to All About Eve and the backstage drama. And when I mean multiple angles, I do mean, multiple angles. What, it's a play you say? Not camera's like in the medium of film? They manage to show the play various times from different perspectives and while that may be affecting to add layers, it takes a bit too much time, in a play that runs almost 30 minutes longer than the movie (plus another 20 minute intermission, we're getting closer to an hour). It may be that I don't REALLY understand A Streetcar Named Desire, since all I really remember from seeing the play years ago is the famous quote of the "kindness of strangers" so maybe I missed some deeper examination there but I think I got the point pretty early on and preferred to FEEL a connection with the women rather than being explained what I should be feeling.

Still, as a whole, the play was good, with a stronger first act than second. The transfer from film to stage worked well in many clever elements, again, particularly in the first half, with different elements highlighted on stage that bring a new flavour to an already wonderful script, but this begs the question some critics have already asked, was it really necessary to adapt a successful movie into a play? Does the stage element add anything new? In this case, a resounding... maybe a little. The wonderful music and sets, that helped add a moving fluidity to the proceedings kept the look of the film, but since some of the music elements, beautiful reminders of the film, were some of the strongest points to the theatricality of the show, one almost wonders, maybe they should have just turned All About My Mother into a musical. Blasphemy yes, but the more I think about it (and it just occurred to me as I started writing this), it might have actually worked quite well, since there seems to be a free-ticket to emotional connection (that this play could have used slightly more of) when people sing.

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