Wednesday, 26 September 2007

Institute Benjamenta – As Dull as Opera

I once went out with a trainee Stage Manager from the Central School of Screech and Trauma, which meant that I had the envious task of attending a lot of student and semi-professional productions (guaranteed to put you off the theatre for life). One such episode was a production of Giovanni d’Arco, by Verdi, held at the Bloomsbury Theatre. Uh-oh, I thought – opera. Me and opera get on like two cats in a sack – I mean, what’s the point of it? If it had some relevance, I could understand it, but as far as I can tell, it doesn’t – not one iota.

Anyway, I went along to the 'public' dress rehearsal , which was a bit misleading as I was the only member of the public there - not that I wanted to be of course. I was waiting for my girlfriend, but to get to see her I had to put up with three and half hours of bloody opera. Well, maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration. I fell asleep halfway through the second act, sparing myself the full three and hour torture. Problem was, I woke myself up with up with a massive snore as old Joanie was ascending piously to heaven on a creaky old pulley operated by two sweaty stage hands. The poetry of the moment was irrevocably disrupted, and my Stage Manager and I parted ways soon afterwards.

Which is all a roundabout way of saying that Giovanni d’Arco is one of only two things I have slept through – the other being:

Institute Benjamenta

On Rotten Tomatoes, this film gets a 100% rating! Uh? Did these guys sleep through the same film as I did? I remember spending a cosy afternoon in the Duke of Yorks dozing fitfully to this. I have never slept through a film before or since, which should give you an idea just how boring this film really is. Visually, it’s absolutely sumptuous (but thereagain, maybe I was in the midst of some pleasant REM sleep), but it takes more than eye candy to hold my attention I’m afraid. Reading the synopsis at the Zeitgeist Films website, it really is as dull as it sounds.

Now, my wife – she can sleep through anything. We went to see The Usual Suspects when it came out, and she spent half the film asleep. To add insult to injury, she woke up just before the end and gave me a potted précis of the story, as if she had somehow absorbed the entire narrative by osmosis. What a weirdo!


Oli said...

Ah, the Duke of York's. Many a happy matinee and midnight screening spent there.

Jon Peacey said...

I'm wonderfully heretical, liking both Instute Benjamenta and 'some' opera. Though I confine it to TV broadcasts because opera houses are a) filled with snobs and b) very expensive (which explains a).

In Wagner they have explosions, fire, flying horses and a dragon or two (like a Fritz Lang film with better music) and for Tchaikovsky's Mazeppa at the ROHCG the director had a novel idea for the massacre scene: chainsaws and more blood than Eli Roth has ever dreamt of. The blood actually sloshed off the stage into the orchestra pit and also sprayed the front audience rows!

...and Strauss' Salome has full frontal nudity, necrophilia and a woman crushed to death by Roman shields!

However, much opera is silly and has 'love' in it! ;-)

Chip Smith said...

Jon - I've tried and tried with opera, I really have - I even went to see a Zeferelli directed thing in Verona a few years ago, but nope, did nothing for me I'm afraid. Four hours which mostly seemed to consist of endless scenery changing. I admit it, I'm a philistine, and proud of it.

I was thinking about posting something on the production of Macbeth I saw at Screech and Trauma directed bu Judi Dench, which was truly awful (ie, brought kicking and screaming into the modern age with loads of swearing), but I can't bring myself to relive the horror of it.

Very partial to a bit of R.Strauss tho', just so long as he lays off the opera!

Oli - the Duke of Yorks is very plush/posh now - cafe latte on tap and a swish bar upstairs. They even do gigs there as well (Aqualung played there a while back).

Jon Peacey said...

I wouldn't want you to get the wrong impression and think I was actually cultured! I'm only cultured like bacteria on a petri...

In my philistinism I only like 'man-opera': fire, special effects, slaying, chainsaws, etc.

...and on TV you get all the scenery changing edited out!

The Macbeth sounds traumatic...

Chip Smith said...

I think you've diagnosed my problem - a surfeit of girly opera!

The Macbeth was actually pretty funny in places - on stage, it was all eye rolling, swearing and scenery chewing. It was a completely different experience for the audience - there were a bunch of CSSD students in the front row who howled with laughter whenever someone on stage swore, which rather destroyed the effect.
Dame Judi was sat three rows in front of me but I could tell from the back of her head she was not amused...