Talking Movies

September 26, 2013

Graham Greene Festival 2013

I’m off to Graham Greene’s birthplace Berkhamsted in Hertfordshire for the Graham Greene Festival 2013 which takes place this weekend.

title2013I’ve been commended in the playwright category of this year’s creative writing awards, for my short satirical script The Bungalows of Old Hollywood, but this festival, which is only a half-hour train ride from London Euston, is well worth the attention of any Greene fans in the Home Counties. The always interesting line up of talks and screenings this year notably includes Greta Scacchi attending a screening of her 1985 Greene film Dr Fischer of Geneva, and the book launch by Pierre Smolik of Graham Greene: the Swiss Chapter, which covers the little researched Swiss sojourn of the adventurous writer.

Thursday 26 September

5.15 The Festival Gathering Supper at the Kings Arms Hotel 
Chicken casserole, apple crumble, wine and coffee; or vegetarian option of pastas or risotto.
This is a very happy social occasion when old friends meet, and new ones are introduced to our Festival good cheer. It is a chance to meet up with some of those at the centre of the Greene world. All are most welcome. We need to know numbers for certain by Thursday 19th September. There is a maximum of 70 tickets.

The position of the Kings Arms is marked on the map on the Venues page.

Cost: £18

7.15 Film Night at the Civic Centre 
Film: Dr Fischer of Geneva or The Bomb Party (1985) 
Director: Michael Lindsay-Hogg. Starring: James Mason, Alan Bates and Greta Scacchi.
Greta Scacchi, who takes the role of Anna-Luise, has promised to be with us. This film combines Greene’s witty and cynical observations on human greed with a touching love story. The plot was conceived at a Christmas party when Graham was with his daughter and grandsons. Caroline Bourget (his daughter) and Andrew (grandson) will be with us this evening, and so the story comes full-circle – and in Berkhamsted. This will be an entertaining evening when we, the audience, can – after the film – participate in some of the fun. Members of Equity, the Musicians’ Union and the Writers’ Guild are entitled to a discount of 25% of the cost of their ticket for the screening of Dr Fischer of Geneva. This may be claimed at the door if a valid union card is shown. The film will immediately be followed by a ‘Question and Answer’ session between Greta and Quentin Falk. They will discuss the film and its making. Quentin is well known to Festival-goers, and he has the distinction of having interviewed Graham Greene. His book, Travels in Greeneland: The Cinema of Graham Greene, is the bible of Greene’s Cinema. He is the film critic of the Catholic Herald. Richard Broke, the Producer of the film, will be present.

Cost: £8.

Friday 27 September

Talks at the Town Hall, Berkhamsted

Morning Session

9.30 Book launch: Graham Greene: the Swiss Chapter by Pierre Smolik.

How did Greene – cosmopolitan author, roguish adventurer, journalist and witness to the great world conflicts of his time – wind up on the gentle banks of Lake Geneva? He liked to be most where genuine change might take place, the fundamental upheaval. Hardly Switzerland. This new book covers the less well researched part of Greene’s life. There is much interest in the book in Switzerland and at the Swiss Embassy in London. Now the author, Pierre Smolik, and publisher, Patrick Moser, together with Alexander Harbaugh will introduce the book to us. Greta Scacchi, who stars in the film Dr Fischer of Geneva, has a place in this ‘Swiss chapter’, and she will be with us. This is an opportunity to acquire a significant first-edition together with autographs of the author, the film actress, and the Greene family. There will be a book signing after the talk, and the publishing team from Call me Edouard Editeurs | Publishers will be present all day to respond to interest.

10.15 Greene’s Magic places – a talk by Professor François Gallix

Break for tea and coffee

11.30 Travels with my Priest: Greene’s Spanish trips, 1976–1989 by Professor Carlos Villar Flor

Cost: £12

Break for lunch.

Afternoon Session

2.15 The Heart of the Matter – the James Tait Black Novel of the Century? by Professor Randall Stevenson
In this last year he has been one of the panel of judges to pick the outstanding novel of the 20th Century from the annual winners of the James Tait Black Prize which is awarded by Edinburgh University and had been celebrating its 250th Anniversary. Greene’s The Heart of the Matter won the Prize in 1948, and was one of six novels selected for this Anniversary honour. We know now that it did not win, but Randall Stevenson will talk about the qualities of the novel that made it a finalist. (The film of the novel will be screened at 7.30 p.m.)

3.00 Discussion of the Novel and of the Qualities that might make for Greatness in a Novel. Panel: Professor Randall Stevenson, Mike Hill (former Festival Director), Professor Richard Greene of Toronto University. David Pearce will chair the discussion. There will be every opportunity for members of the audience to express views.

Break for tea and coffee

4.15 Greene and Israel by Frances Assa

Cost: £12

Evening Session at The Civic Centre

7.15 New Film – A Little Place off the Edgware Road

A16 minute big-screen adaptation by writer-director Tim Hewitt of a tale from the 21 Stories collection. A writer of crime fiction (Paul McGann) is suffering from writer’s block. Haunted by dreams of his wife and child, he seeks solace in a Hitchcock Festival at his local cinema as well as in regular sessions with his therapist. A disturbance outside his flat leads to a strange encounter, blurring the line between reality and fantasy. Paul McGann and Ronald Pickup co-star in the film, which Tim Hewitt will introduce.

7.30 Film: The Heart of the Matter (1953) 
Director: George More O’Ferrall. Cast: Trevor Howard, Elizabeth Alan, Michael Hordern (who once lived in Berkhamsted), Denholm Elliott and Peter Finch.
The film will be introduced by Professor Neil Sinyard, Reader in Film Studies at the University of Hull, and well known to all Greene Festival-goers

Cost: £8

Saturday 28 September

Deans’ Hall, Berkhamsted School (Castle Street)

An exhibition of Greene’s Berkhamsted will be on show

Morning Session

10.00 ‘Memory cheats’: deception, recollection, and the problem of reading in The Captain and the Enemy by Dr Frances McCormack

Break for tea and coffee

11.30 Graham Greene’s writing: the theatre of the mind. ‘I write in the way that I do because I am what I am’ by Professor John Batchelor

Cost: £14

12.30: Sandwich lunch by courtesy of the Management of the Kings Arms Hotel

Early Afternoon Session

2.30 An American investigates Graham Greene’s Aversion to America by Professor Joyce Stavick

Creative Writing Awards presentation by Professor Joyce Stavick

Break for tea and coffee

3.45 ‘We Catholics are damned by our knowledge’ by The Revd. Dr Michael Bowie

Cost: £14

Late Afternoon Session

4.45 The Birthday Toast to Graham Greene

5.00 From Buenos Aires to Berkhamsted: a personal journey by Nicholas Shakespeare

Cost: £12

Evening Session

Old Hall, Berkhamsted School

7.30 Hot Buffet Dinner, with diversions

Four courses: soup, buffet beef/salmon, dessert, cheese wine and coffee; or vegetarian option of risotto and cheese
(Maximum number: 70. We need to know numbers by Thursday 19th September.)

Cost: £33

Sunday 29 September

The Old Hall, Berkhamsted School

Early Morning Session

9.00 Tour of Greene’s School – the parts that Greene would have known – by David Pearce
There is no charge for this. Those coming should gather in the car park in front of Old Hall and beside the chapel

Break for tea and coffee

Morning Session

The VIth Form Centre – Upstairs from Old Hall

10.15 Insights into recent Greene research by Professor Richard Greene

11.00 ‘Green Shoots’ opportunities and a discussion about the structure of the 2014 Festival

11.30 The Overpowering Smell of Cooked Ham, a talk with film excerpts by Professor Neil Sinyard

Cost: £14

12.30 The Farewell Lunch in Old Hall 
Cold buffet meats, cheese, wine and coffee; or vegetarian option of a selection of quiches. (We need to know numbers by Thursday 19th September.)

Cost: £22

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September 19, 2013

Major Barbara

Annabelle Comyn directs her third summer show in a row on the Abbey stage and, following 2011’s Pygmalion, makes a welcome return to Bernard Shaw.

Paul-McGann-in-the-Abbey-Theatre-s-production-of-Major-Barbara-by-Bernard-Shaw--Directed-by-Annabelle-Comyn--Runs-until-21-September--Pic-Ros-Ka

Shaw’s 1905 play begins with the imperious Lady Britomart (Eleanor Methven) initiating her shallow son Stephen (Killian Burke) into the shameful history of his millionaire father, arms manufacturer Andrew Undershaft (Paul McGann). Lady Britomart intends to tap Undershaft for marriage settlements for their daughters Sarah (Liz Fitzgibbon), engaged to upper class twit Charles Lomax (Aonghus Og McAnally), and Barbara (Clare Dunne), engaged to bohemian Greek scholar Adolphus Cusins (Marty Rea). She also hopes, by inviting Undershaft to meet his children for the first time in decades, to spark some paternal sentiment in him so that he will abandon the Undershaft tradition of disinheriting the lawful heirs in favour of settling the massive arms concern on a foundling. The unrepentant Undershaft, however, is more impressed by his daughter Major Barbara; who he makes swear to visit his arms factory if he visits her Salvation Army shelter. But which of their competing philosophies will overcome the other?

Major Barbara is dominated by the character of Undershaft and McGann rises boldly to the challenge. His entrance into Lady Britomart’s library, absolutely unsure as to which of the three men in it is his son, is expertly prolonged, and his delivery of his unscrupulous politico-economic philosophy jaded without being cynical; his very sincerity hinting at the need for new energy which the steely Barbara suddenly offers to him. Dunne’s fervour as Barbara, with undertones of despair, complements McGann’s nuance, while Methven Fassbenders as the Wildean matriarch insulting her son and prospective son-in-laws with arch put-downs. Burke does a fine job of Stephen’s indignation shading into admiration as he sees his father’s works, but comedic honours go to Aonghus Og McAnally and his repeated contention that whatever’s being discussed involves a good deal of tommyrot. Talking Movies favourite Rea makes his shady character a worthy foil to Undershaft, alternating between ecstatic acceptance and mulish rebellion.

But, far more than Pygmalion, this play engages with the poor of London. The elegant library, by Comyn’s regular set designer Paul O’Mahony, loses its refinement to become the facade of the Salvation Army shelter. Shaw presents the poor who despise being reliant on charity (Chris McHallem’s defeated Peter Shirley), the poor who play up their Christianity to cynically con charity (Emmet Kirwan’s sly Bronterre O’Brien Price), and the poor who only Barbara would tackle (Ian Lloyd Anderson’s truly menacing Bill Walker). This is a London haunted by the winter depression of 1886, and, even as Barbara and Walker clash rhetorically and physically over his rejection of salvation, the visiting Undershaft instructs the attentive Cusins in the employers’ interest in the Army keeping the poor content, but in their place. When Undershaft offers a massive donation to Mrs Baines (Fiona Bell) to help keep open the shelter, Barbara resigns rather than usefully employ tainted money.

And so the final act finds the library transforming into a munitions factory with a massive weapon as its centrepiece as Undershaft attempts to uphold the Undershaft tradition while yet employing his fiery daughter… Major Barbara runs for nearly three hours and is a dense play. Is Shaw satirising the Salvation Army as the acme of religious enthusiasm that horrified staid Victorians? Or merely challenging the Army to convert the rich because they will be more sincere as they do not need their charity? And then there’s the grenade he throws in of personal integrity getting in the way of the greater good. Does Barbara have a duty to accept money made from wrongdoing in order to serve the greater good? Given recent resignations of conscience and Trevor Sargeant’s 2007 resignation to allow his party enter government this is not an abstract Antigone dilemma. Undershaft’s seductive honesty is very Shavian, if he doesn’t believe something he won’t pretend to for the sake of social niceties; and so he magnificently flourishes the fact that his industry controls government. But are his actions consistent with his philosophy or is he as impetuous as Barbara, so Shaw’s calling for compromise not mad idealism?

These knotty questions can’t really be answered, and so this production of Major Barbara is to be commended for expertly maintaining the comedic undertone in its intense examination of the ever-relevant clash between private integrity and the public good.

4/5

Major Barbara continues its run at the Abbey until the 21st of September.

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