Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Travelling Light.

After work I headed off into town to meet Eleanor and catch Nicholas Wright's new play Travelling Light, a clever imagined history of the very early days of cinema.

Set in an Eastern European shtetl at the turn of the twentieth century, young Montl Mendel inherits his father's camera equipment, including a brand new cinematograph. After some gentle bullying and a significant bank roll from timber merchant Jacob, he's persuaded to document the world around him and create, what is in effect, the first documentary archive. He's aided in his task by the photogenic Anna, a feistily intelligent performance from Lauren O'Neil, and together the two of them, through trial and error, pioneer the early techniques of editing, montage and dramatic action. Excited by their discoveries they inevitably fall in love.

The play is, if anything, slightly too clever for it's own good. The set up of highly strung young director, played with wide eyed innocence by Damien Molony, fighting for time and resources from a passionate but uncultured producer is an ongoing battle; but Tony Sher is rather magnificent as Jacob, one moment supportively protective of his protege, the next threatening to destroy everything unless he has his way. Money, power, charisma, sex. All the ingredients for the first century of Hollywood intrigue are seeded here.

The first half is filled with comic set pieces as the mechanical villagers try and learn the art of movie acting, whilst vying for camera time and attention; but the pace slows down after the interval when the action jumps forward to see Moti forty years later, renamed Maurice and working in a Hollywood studio, retelling the story of his early life to a young Jewish actor, who, it turns out is his grandson. Together they synegetically piece the past together as two screenwriters developing an ever twisting plot.

For all the cinematique analogy, this tricksy nod to the diaspora and remembrance of a world that between the Cossacks and the Nazis had all but been annihilated, felt clumsy and forced and I rather wished Wright had managed to contain the whole of the play in the wild glory of the village, rather than bringing in a parallel focus. Maurice's questioning doubt as to whether he'd made the right choices in his youth and whether things could have been different were, in the final edit, just one layer too thick for me.


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