How d'you get a cold in May? Bah. That's bank holidays for you. And therefore, belated bloggings. Before coming down with the dreaded lurgi, I managed to see the following:
1. Cyrano de Bergerac at the Bristol Old Vic. I'm an ex-Ragueneau myself (Student Theatre, c. 2002) and had joked to my workmates on Friday afternoon that I'd be judging the show by Exeter University's high standards. Ah, wouldn't you know it?
The script was a new translation by Ranjit Bolt. This, I didn't object to; all credit to Ranjit Bolt. Some of his colloquialisms sounded a bit odd in context, but many others worked extremely well, and (whisper it!) I think overall I like his text slightly more than the Anthony Burgess translation. (Mmm, tastes like heresy.)
Some of the staging... there were one or two odd decisions, although we could generally see what some of the more abstract stuff was about. However, I'd been watching the 17th century story of Cyrano de B and was deeply surprised when Roxane and Ragueneau turned up at the front line in Act 4 on a motorbike and sidecar. The Lovely Jo, meanwhile, had twigged from the costumes in the first half that the director had set this production around the time of World War One and was deeply surprised when the Comte de Guiche, leader of a French regiment still fighting Spaniards, turned up in Act 4 in his 17th century shiny breastplate and lace collar. (Which time period? There's only one way to settle this - fight!)
The acting was a bit variable. Cyrano gabbled his lines during the first half, but settled down a bit and came across well in the second half. Roxane was good but (in Jo's words) "a bit horsey", as opposed to the thoroughly natural Roxane who'd starred in the old student production. The rest of the main cast was solid, but prone to impenetrable accents, all of them different. But all of these were watchable, and by and large good. Even some cheeky musical work in Ragueneau's shop in Act 2 that I can only envy. The only real stand-out problem was the Comte de Guiche, the lord of chronoclasm. We could both tell in the first half that he was putting on some kind of voice. It sounded like it might have been continental - surely not someone actually trying a French accent? Yet at times it sounded more Spanish. It wasn't until he really turned up the dial in the now legendary Act 4 that I finally twigged what was going on - he was trying to channel Keith Allen's Sheriff of Nottingham. Trying, and failing. It came out more like the Italian officer from 'Allo 'Allo with the body language of Rik in The Young Ones.
Still, a pleasant evening in the tiny, tiny Old Vic with its doll's-house seats. Even at the back of the stalls we had a good view of all the action on the stage, some fifteen metres away.
2. Human Nature. At last, an episode of new Who that we can stand up and salute! Series 3 has finally hit its stride. A very tennish 9, or a ninish 10, but as ever I may reconsider this in the light of the second part. So far the signs are good - I wouldn't say it's on a par with The Girl in the Fireplace yet, although next week could change that, but it's certainly up there with Father's Day and The Empty Child. It is, however, the most complete episode after Fireplace - the muted woody colours, the gentle music, the cinematography, the sets, costumes and performances all working together in that rare and special way.
So far it compares well to the novel, too. I'm one of the large mass of Who fans that feels Human Nature (book) was the best of the Virgin novels, but there is much in the book that wouldn't work so well on TV (not to mention the change of leads), and by and large I feel the alterations have improved the story. It's much tighter now. The Doctor has a clearer and more pressing reason for becoming human (in the book, it seemed to be a mix of trying to understand his companion and wanting to find out more about himself - almost a whim, really). Serious Tennant makes a much more credible pre-war public school teacher than goofy McCoy (even the text version). The romance with Joan Redfern is a bit more whirlwind than in the book, where we're asked to accept that they've been socialising for two months between chapters, but her unsubtle hints and that excellent cricket ball scene make John Smith's sudden burst of self-confidence work so well on screen.
The fob watch is such a perfect cipher for the Doctor's true identity (that completeness again...) that it's hard to believe in retrospect that the book didn't do it the same way. However, that leads to one of my two (only two!) slight concerns with the episode. (And the good news is that they really are slight - for once this series, they're "What?" rather than "What the hell?!") Since when did the Doctor have a biology-shuffling helmet dangling from the TARDIS ceiling, and if it's been there all this time, why hasn't he used it on any of the many potentially useful occasions in the past? (Although with a name like "chameleon arch" (cf "chameleon circuit") we can perhaps retrofit it into the show as some kind of emergency Time Lord regenerative aid. But I'm flailing a bit there. This is one point where the book beats the episode, by simply having the Doctor disappear for an hour at a market and turn up sweating and holding the McGuffin with his real self in it.) My other slight concern is the scarecrows. They're not in the book and they're not properly set up in the episode. They're "the soldiers" - but what does that really tell us? Are they real scarecrows that've been taken over in some way, and if so, how? Or are they something the Family brought with them, in which case, why are they stationed in the fields and disguised as scarecrows rather than stored in the spaceship? But it's a minor point when the Family can comfortably carry the monster duties on their own.
On which note, a word of praise for Harry "Baines" Lloyd and his remarkably flexible face. I couldn't believe it when it was pointed out to me that he'd been the bland, unremarkable Will Scarlett in the recent Robin Hood series. I'm now inclined to believe that he'd been acting bland and unremarkable, since his performance here is quite the opposite.
So overall it's shaping up to be a good two-parter.
3. Pirates of the Caribbean 3: At World's End. Mmm, pirate surrealism. For all that this was yet more pulpy action on the high seas, it was worth a third outing to see Johnny Depp take his role past odd and into downright weird. Poor old Cthulhoid cap'n Davy Jones didn't quite get the send-off I was hoping he'd get after all that build-up, but at least hissable capitalist Lord Beckett did, standing and gibbering quietly as his ship was turned into matchwood. Still, I'd watch it again just for the surreal bits.