fri 25/07/2014

2011: Tinker Tailor Minchin Sheen | Comedy reviews, news & interviews

2011: Tinker Tailor Minchin Sheen

For The Passion of Port Talbot and the Comedy Prom, you had to be there. Le Carre on film was so good you had to go twice

Street cred: Michael Sheen in 'The Passion of Port Talbot'Ian Kingsnorth

On Easter Monday, as the sun came down over the sea, a crowd of 15,000 – it’s not quite right to call them theatre-goers – followed Michael Sheen as he dragged a cross to Port Talbot’s own version of Golgotha, a traffic island hard by Parc Hollywood. The culmination of a three-day epic, The Passion of Port Talbot was street storytelling at its most transformative. The cast of thousands, including local am drammers and the Manic Street Preachers, were dragooned by WildWorks, National Theatre Wales and, above all, Sheen, whose year this was.

His sectioned Hamlet at the Young Vic underlined what an extraordinarily protean performer he is. Where his Welsh redeemer (no mention was made of Jesus) was painted in brushstrokes designed to be visible from the far end of the street, his compelling Prince of Denmark was all filigree nuance and miniaturist’s finesse. Only one thing yoked the two performances: the strange coincidence of their climax, in which Sheen rose again, twice. (He also had a lovely turn in Woody Allen’s slight but seductive Midnight in Paris.) Still in the theatre, Mike Leigh took a brutalising sabbatical to revive Ecstasy and create Grief. Those titles say everything.

It was Tim Minchin’s year too. He made a triumphant debut in musical theatre with the RSC’s Matilda the Musical, from which the one thing missing is the devilish imp himself. The exhilarating feel of the inaugural Comedy Prom (pictured right) did not apparently translate well to television or radio, so maybe you had to be in the Albert Hall. But in the week of the riots it lifted the spirits as if by magic. High fives also for The Pajama Men and Stewart Lee, both of whom split sides.

On film there was nothing to match the crystalline perfection of Tomas Alfredson’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. Rarely can a film have managed to get absolutely everything so right: the way it was shot, cut, lit, soundtracked, above all written, performed and directed. It was so beguilingly good its siren song lured me straight back to watch it all over again. While we’re in the multiplex, thank goodness Harry Potter ended, and not in deadly shallows. Of the films with lowlier budgets, let’s hear it for the gritty Ballast (set in the Bayou), the grim As If I Am Not There (war-torn Bosnia) and the enchanting Patagonia (Wales and Argentina).

There were two remarkable dispatches from the cold climes. On television Frozen Planet, for all its occasional longueurs, had astonishing peaks (and I’m not just talking about those money shots of the Transantarctic range). At the Queen’s Gallery the heroes of the Edwardian age were all but brought back to life in The Heart of the Great Alone: Scott, Shackleton and Antarctic Photography (pictured above: Ponting's photograph of Captain Oates with Siberian ponies.) It’s on till April. Do go. (Her Majesty also sent a couple of sketches up The Mall to the jaw-dropping Leonardo da Vinci: Painter at the Court of Milan.)

Finally, I found myself writing obituaries for four towering, disparate figures whom it has been my privilege to interview: Peter Falk, Christopher Hitchens, Ken Russell and Václav Havel.

2011 highlight: The Passion of Port Talbot. I can’t remember being knocked for six by a theatrical vision of such size and power since the RSC’s Nicholas Nickleby all of 30 years ago.

2011 letdown: I'm feeling like a lone voice here but I found Bridesmaids mystifyingly overpraised: slack script, meaningless characters, flaccid comedy. Its target demographic deserves better femcoms. Pirates of the Caribbean – On Stranger Tides was, more predictably, shit.

2012 recommendation: On television, White Heat, Paula Milne’s epic drama for BBC Two, looks intriguing. On film Declan Donnellan becomes the latest British theatre director to try his hand at film with posh Parisian romp Bel Ami.

Watch the trailer to Bel Ami

Where his Welsh redeemer was painted in brushstrokes designed to be visible from the far end of the street, his compelling Prince of Denmark was all filigree nuance

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