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Monthly Archives: September 2010

Tomorrow When The War Began

Tomorrow When The War Began is an iconic piece of Australian literature renowned not so much for its story, characters or fantastic writing as for annoying the heck out of high school students. John Marsden wrote it specifically for the high school market, aiming it at schools in need of an easy read for young adolescents. This ambit was successful, and as a result it is one of the most read stories in Australia, despite being dull, poorly-written and full of implausible circumstances and pointless guff. Needless to say, I didn’t expect much from the film.

From inauspicious beginnings, apparently, great stories are born. The very act of adapting a story for film has a way of weeding out page-filling nonsense and implausible circumstances. A novel can get away with not mentioning visual elements, but scenarios undergo more thorough analysis in film. In the case of Tomorrow When The War Began, this process has thoroughly redeemed an otherwise unremarkable story.

The cast, who, with one exception, are far too old to be playing characters who need to ask their parents’ permission for anything, are otherwise superb. Led by the magnificent Caitlin Stasey in the role of Ellie, they personify Marsden’s characters better than Marsden did, and without any exception they sustain impeccable performances throughout the film. And yes, I even include a former Home and Away actor in this praise, which is remarkable in itself.

Like the age of the actors, the locations chosen for the film leave something to be desired, but are nonetheless redeemed. The Blue Mountains, instantly recognisable and distinctive, simply doesn’t cut it for a random bush hideaway near the fictional rural town of Wirrawee. The sandstone cliffs of the Megalong Valley are simply too familiar, and the familiarity detracts from the value of setting the story in a fictitious Australian town.

The film nonetheless survives these faults, and is certainly the best saleable film made in this country for many years. The plot, characters and actors combine to produce a film that is far better in all respects than the novel that spawned it, making the tongue-in-cheek line from the film that all books are better than their films deliciously ironic.

This film may not win huge numbers of awards, but thoughts that it may be the beginning of the most profitable film series in Australian history could be right on the money. I certainly hope so.

 
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Posted by on Saturday, 18 September 2010 in Ambience Entertainment, Australian Film, Film

 

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Hamlet

Having secured what I knew to be the last available ticket for Yohangza Theatre Company’s production of Hamlet, I was surprised to find myself sitting next to the South Australian Premier and his wife for the performance. The irony of watching a king’s downfall orchestrated through a theatre production while sitting next to the leader of a state government in a theatre was not lost on me, but I doubt that Mike Rann and his wife felt the same pangs of guilt as Gertrude and Claudius.

Played by Eun-Hee Kim, this Gertrude is perhaps not as guilt-ridden as some I have encountered. But whereas Gertrude is often portrayed with an underlying sense of her own moral corruption, Kim has given her an aloofness, lasting until Hamlet finally reveals his hand following the theatre scene. I prefer this change, as risky as it might be. It holds more weight with Shakespeare’s text, and in this production, in this context, it provides a profound shift in the character that is necessary to add depth for its Australian audience. This is not a criticism of the performers, but a play performed in Korean for a predominantly English-speaking audience can’t skimp on such details.

Hamlet certainly doesn’t. Played by Jung-Yong Jeon, his vacillations are as palpable as that fatal hit, and his descent into madness is beautifully paced; almost undetectable. Claudius could perhaps have emoted rather more; by both dress and demeanour he emerged more western than the rest of the cast. But in all, this cast expended enough energy and elicited enough pathos to warrant a standing ovation from the opening night audience (though the premier, notably, remained seated).

A minimalist set spares no effort, with a centre rostrum raised in the middle of what must be hundreds of kilos of rice, and surrounded by traditional Korean artworks, and Korean percussive instruments. These instruments are put to excellent use by the cast, whose timing and energy is perfectly synthesised. More intriguingly, Korean Shaman rites are used to ensure the story is at home in its Korean context.

This is a remarkably sensitive production of what I think is Shakespeare’s greatest work. It is faithful, if such a word can really be applied to any production of Shakespeare’s work later than the seventeenth century, to the characters, their motivations, fears and desires; as well as their circumstances. And it dispels in my mind any doubt that the stories of Shakespeare are absolutely universal in their application to humanity.

 

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