Magazine article The Spectator

Mixed-Media Message

Magazine article The Spectator

Mixed-Media Message

Article excerpt

Way up the Portobello Road, in an area now rendered almost totally inaccessible due to a traffic-management scheme of baroque horror and chaos unique even in the current annals of the Metropolitan Police, whose undeclared mission has long been to make theatre-going in the capital as unpleasant as possible for all, there lies a movie palace called the Electric, built in 1910 and therefore the country's oldestsurviving purpose-built cinema, not to mention the one where the mass-murderer Christie once made a living as a projectionist. In recent years it has hit the headlines only because of frequent attempts to tear it down, but miraculously it still stands, just, and is currently the setting for one of the most inventive and innovative and exciting, if also deeply flawed, theatrical experiments I have ever seen.

This has, of course, been the year of the centenary of the cinema, though the anniversary has passed without much of note in this country; but in the nick of time comes David Farr's Max Klapper: A Life in Pictures, a play with film in more senses than one. The mixed-media idea is of course nothing new: Lloyd Webber's Sunset Boulevard at the Adelphi shows, at the back of its set, a car chase taken directly from the original movie, and decades ago there was a famous vaudeville routine in which an on-stage comic would react to events taking place on a screen behind him.

Why then is Max Klapper such an innovative adventure? Simply because the play and the film have been made, and are shown, simultaneously. Angela Davies's minimal stage set is dominated by a vast movie screen at which the cast regularly turns to stare because only on it will the next development of the plot or their characters take place. Farr has chosen to mark the centenary of the movies with a plot lifted from almost every Hollywood-on-Hollywood classic: Max Klapper (charismatically played by Anthony Higgins in an eye patch borrowed from von Sternberg or von Stroheim) is, when we first meet him, an octogenarian living in sinister seclusion, interrupted by a young movie-buff journalist who suddenly wonders what happened to end his career so abruptly 40 years ago.

From there we flash back on stage and screen to the 1950s: Klapper, caught up in the McCarthy witch-hunt and directing a star who has to hide his homosexuality under a veneer of rakishness, is making a supreme folie de grandeur, a project much akin to von Stroheim's Queen Kelly. To sort out these references, the on-stage movie then has to flash even further back to the 1920s, thereby allowing Ben Hopkins, who has directed the film, to parody with considerable wit the Gish sisters and various later auditions for celluloid stardom. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.