On Friday night, I had the great pleasure of watching the new film of Catching Fire, the second in the trilogy of Hunger Games books. Despite half of the cinema being made up of students I teach (the perils of living in rural England – the world becomes a much smaller place), I had an absolutely brilliant time. The way the world of District 12, the Capitol and the Arena are rendered on screen is just as I imagined. The bleak and barren wasteland of the Districts is contrasted brilliantly with the overwhelming gaudiness of the Capitol, and I felt that I was in the suffocatingly hot, clock shaped arena with its terrifying attacks of poisonous fog, blood rain and monkeys waiting to pounce at every strike of the hour. The cast of actors for such a genre of film is impressive; Philip Seymour Hoffman joins as the new Gamesmaker, giving him a gravitas and thoughtfulness the book cannot fully get across, and my favourite of the more established actors, the marvellous Stanley Tucci, is back again as the gloriously camp TV host Caesar Flickerman. Jennifer Lawrence, who one day will come and go dancing with me, because we would obviously be amazing best friends, is of course perfect as Katniss, and though I have always thought both male leads a bit limp, they did the job just fine. I barely took my eyes off the screen throughout, and was completely engrossed in the action. It’s a fantastic recreation of the book, and now I’m desperate to read Mockingjay, the final book in the series, to find out how it all ends!
Proving how open minded I am to all forms of culture, I spent the following evening watching a very different type of visual entertainment. I bought my front row ticket to see the opening night of Henry V, starring Jude Law, well over a year ago. It is the culmination of a season of five plays staged by the Michael Grandage Company, all of which I’ve seen and thoroughly enjoyed. However, Henry V was the jewel in the crown as far as I am concerned. I never normally splash out on top price tickets; I’m usually one of the plebs in the nose bleed seats right at the top, with only a fuzzy at best view of the stage. This was the first time I’ve ever sat in the front row, with the actors literally within touching distance, and it made the world of difference. I was enthralled from the second the action began; I could witness the subtleties of the emotions that played across the actors’ faces, the significant looks that flickered between characters, and be impressed by the sheer solidity of their presence in a way that you can’t from a cheap seat. The play became real in a way I have never experienced before in the theatre, and it was so well acted and staged that it was hard to believe I wasn’t actually in a camp in medieval France, listening to a rousing speech from my King before he led me into battle.
Shakespeare’s history plays aren’t the most popular with today’s audiences; they are wordy and contain much political, religious and historical detail that can present an insurmountable barrier if performed by a lacklustre cast. However, this cast was perfect at bringing the humanity of the story to life, making a battle that took place six hundred-odd years ago immediate and relevant to an audience of 21st century Britons. Having the actor playing the Chorus dressed in modern clothes while the rest of the cast were in authentic medieval garb was an inspired way of furthering this transcendence of time; as he translated the events happening on stage into simpler terms for the audience, he also bridged the gap between past and present. Jude Law is truly phenomenal as Henry V; he oozes charisma and has an effortless command of the stage. Despite him being the main draw, the play is far from a one man band. The cast as a whole are wonderful; I particularly enjoyed Ron Cook as the cheeky scoundrel Pistol, and Jessie Buckley as the naive but strong willed Princess Katherine. Watching them was two hours of pure pleasure; I have never had such a fantastic night at the theatre. If you can get to London between now and February, you must go. This is not a production you want to miss.