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AMOLAD on Stage

Kneehigh Theatre
at The National Theatre
3 May - 21 June 2007

Review by Steve Crook:
An interesting evening
A Matter of Life and Death is my favourite film. But I am open to adaptations and other works derived from or inspired by it. I have heard all of the American radio adaptations. I laughed at the Big Train spoof of the opening scenes.

I think the cast and crew deserve top marks for effort. They were very energetic and enthusiastic and gave us what was generally a great performance. There were some very clever staging techniques like the use of the mobile "staircase" structures, the camera obscura and the table tennis game, especially the way that developed out of the stars. The actual "staircase to heaven" at the end was very cleverly done.

There were a few places where I thought they stumbled a bit, physically and with the script. But they were generally very good.

But there are still some big question marks over the actual adaptation. I don't see any real reason for making June British. Any non-British nationality would still let them have the same arguments in court about the problems with, and the merits of Britain. Making June British meant they lost a lot of the reason for the arguments in the court scene. In the film, that's one of the most powerful parts of the script, the way the arguments and complaints against Britain are laid out and refuted (or accepted). I think it's a shame they are lost.

And what did they put in its place? An anti-war message was a bit disjointed and got very preachy. I thought it was very clever to bring in Peter's father and the women in black (killed during the Nazi bombing of Coventry. She later met up with the women of Dresden to show that there is no good aspect to war). But the way that Peter's father was used was very odd. Why would Mr Carter take the opposition's side wanting Peter to die? Having Shakespeare on the opposition got Peter suitably worried, but the realisation of his appearance was a bit tragic.

Making June a more powerful character was very welcome. My one complaint about the film is that although Kim is a wonderful actress, June doesn't seem to do much except gaze adoringly at Peter. Here, they changed the result of the chess game at Lee Wood House - June beat Peter in this version. June also argued Peter's case with Dr Frank a lot more and a lot better. But they did skim lightly over one of my favourite exchanges, the one where Frank asks if the other believe in life after death. But I suppose that as they'd made June more intelligent it would have been harder to give a dismissive "I've never thought about it".

And why get rid of the camp Frenchman? I suppose if you have an acrobatic Norwegian (actually an Icelander) in the company it's hard not to use him. He was very good, but it did mean that a lot of the jokes had to be skipped or changed.

A nice touch to call the chief surgeon Mr ARCHER :)
There wasn't much distinction between the operating theatre and the courtroom. But that's a minor niggle.

The music was too loud and overpowered some of the voices.
Frank's book (on jazz rather than chess) wasn't properly returned
But they get bonus marks for never calling the other place, "Heaven"

Overall it was a most enjoyable experience, I'm very glad they did it and that I saw it. Tears were shed in a few places. The first was due to the original script, but those at the end were for June's performance when she did her "take me instead".

Afterwards we went backstage and met Mike Shepherd, founder of Kneehigh and the one that played Bottom. He seemed to be very interested to meet us, especially Columba. Although we were still wondering what exactly we could say and what our reactions were. Some of the group had said they weren't keen on it before we went backstage. Because of that we didn't stay there too long but I got him to sign a couple of programmes for Thelma & Marty.

One other very odd thing. They have an alternate ending. They flip a coin at the end to see if Peter lives or dies during the operation. He lived when we saw it and I think it'd render a lot of it pointless if he died. But I think that it's well worth seeing for any admirer of the film. And it's one of the cheapest nights out in London with most tickets at just 10.

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