MONTH END PROCESSING FOR NOVEMBER 2018
Comedy: Stand-up's changed a lot during the thirty-odd years that I've been regularly attending comedy clubs. Back when I started, people had an act, and if you saw them regularly you'd see that act evolve over time, with new jokes being added and old jokes dropping out. But gradually the standard unit of stand-up became the hour-long show, which periodically would be frozen in a video special and then ditched to make way for an entire new hour of material. This has led to the rise of the Work In Progress show, in which a comic will throw a bunch of ideas at a paying audience (hopefully paying less than usual) to see what works and what doesn't. We went to see Phil Wang do one of these at 2 Northdown this month, and it's interesting to reflect on how it worked. Other people we've seen do this sort of thing - Stewart Lee being a prime example - turn up with multiple variants on the same joke, and use the audience to decide which one is best. Wang's new show appears to be at a much earlier stage of development (assuming he's ultimately preparing for Edinburgh next August): he's got a structure and some funny lines, but every so often has to stop and say "this needs a joke round about here." Presumably the idea is that as he works through the material over the course of a week, those jokes will gradually come to him. Still, there are plenty of laughs even at this stage, certainly enough to justify the four quid entrance fee. And I'll still be interested to see what the finished show looks like.
Movies: We're currently in the perineum between Diwali and Christmas, which presumably explains the glut of star-driven, effects-heavy Bollywood movies we're seeing at the moment. Later this month, Shah Rukh Khan gets himself miniaturised to utterly appalling effect in Zero: this weekend, the man they literally call Superstar Rajinikanth belatedly follows up his viral hit of a decade ago, Enthiran (aka Robot), with a sequel going under the amusingly minimalist title of 2.0. But the blockbuster season started back in November with Thugs Of Hindostan, featuring the once-in-a-lifetime pairing of Amitabh Bachchan and Aamir Khan, which finally answers the question: what would it look like if Alan Moore and Bob Dylan dressed up as pirates and fought each other? Unfortunately, Indian audiences didn't seem so keen to find that out, to the extent that cinema owners are now seeking compensation from the film's producers. Personally, I enjoyed the hell out of it: it's quite obviously bollocks on toast, but it finds new ways to play with the established reputations of its leads, with Khan's character in particular showing a surprising degree of moral ambiguity for what's basically a light-hearted romp. And the action scenes are handsomely mounted, as long as you don't mind them being completely divorced from reality: their epic-scale geometric precision recalls the more decadent days of Hong Kong cinema, and that's always going to work for me. (There's a disclaimer at the start saying that no offence is intended towards any racial group, but given its colonial setting the English are largely portrayed as utter bastards, and that's always going to work for me too.)
Theatre: If you're reading this on the day of publication (December 1st), then you've got until tonight to catch the best play currently running in London. After that, you've missed it, sorry. It's surprising, because Measure For Measure has always been one of Shakespeare's more problematic efforts. A few years ago, a pair of simultaneous London productions pointed up the main problems: the Globe took its multiple climactic weddings as the usual cue for a jolly song and dance, while Complicite at the National pulled back the curtain on the cynicism behind the ending. In a time when #MeToo has become prevalent enough to work as a verb, you do wonder how it's possible to address the issues of Measure in a new way. I was aware that Josie Rourke's production at the Donmar was going to use gender-swapping, but I wasn't aware of the bold way that she'd re-edited the text to do it. By the end of this brilliantly constructed couple of hours, you'll be reassured that Measure isn't so much a misogynist play, more an even-handedly misanthropic one. Hayley Atwell and Jack Lowden's sterling work in the lead roles makes it clear how the power balance ultimately isn't in either one's favour, but the supporting cast do even more to support that reading: it's fascinating to see which of their reactions stay the same in the wake of the swap, and which ones are forced to change. If the lead-up to the interval doesn't leave the hairs on the back of your neck standing up in awe of the sheer possibilities opened up for the second half, then I'm not really sure what you're looking for in theatre.