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Travelling Light

Liza Dezfouli

NATIONAL THEATRE LIVE: Travelling Light, by English playwright Nicholas Wright, is a layered, funny, intelligent and surprising play, filmed as it happens for the big screen.
Travelling Light
Travelling Light, a new work by English playwright Nicholas Wright and here directed by London’s National Theatre artistic director Nicholas Hytner, is a layered, funny, intelligent and surprising play, filmed as it happens for the big screen. National Theatre Live is theatre experience at the movies; a real treat as you get to see extraordinary acting – such as this wonderful performance from English legend Anthony Sher – in close up. The rest of the cast are impressive and given every chance to glow. Notable is Damien Molony as the young Motl Mendl and later as aspiring actor Nate Dershowitz. The production’s commitment is to acting for theatre first; the cast is playing for audience in front of them rather than for the wider cinema audiences.

Hugely entertaining and informative, Travelling Light honours the origins of Hollywood in tiny villages in Eastern Europe. The monolithic production houses of Hollywood’s golden age were largely founded in the early 20th century by men hailing from within 100 miles of Vilnius; their Yiddish sensibilities having informed, overtly or covertly, the work that came out of Universal, Twentieth Century Fox, MGM, et al. As such, the play is set mostly in a remote Eastern European shtetl but also has the protagonist, now a successful film director, looking back from 1940s Hollywood to the beginning of his obsession with motion pictures.

Nicholas Wright – who describes himself as an “assimilated Gentile” – covers as many elements of the filmmaking process as he can with his story of illiterate Jewish villagers and their radical discoveries of the possibilities of cinema. The play allows for much referencing and cross referencing, and a fond, clear-eyed look at the politics of village life and the politics of movie making. Inherent in the play are the conventions and culture of the film world, old and new: creative differences, the politics of financing and of the casting couch, even a nod towards modern elements such as focus groups, all played out in a love letter to the early days of film.

The character of Jacob Bindel was written for Anthony Sher, a stunning actor at the peak of his powers who thrills in the role. His Bindel is inspired, opportunistic and a sheer delight to witness. The wood merchant is given some wonderful speeches, belying his claim to not be able to express himself easily with words.

The scenes are beautifully layered with celluloid cleverly blending into the set; and this play about filmmaking seen on film cleverly keeps you aware of how your experience here is of the two forms overlapping, yet you are never distanced from the intensity of the narrative. There is a short Q&A afterwards, the panel including Hytner (who made an exception to his policy of not directing National Theatre productions in order to direct this play) and the playwright, Nicholas Wright.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

National Theatre Live presents
Travelling Light
By Nicholas Wright
Director: Nicholas Hytner

Screening in select cinemas across Australia on February 25 & 26
As part of the NATIONAL THEATRE LIVE 2012 season
Info and bookings: www.ntlive.info

What the stars mean?
  • Five stars: Exceptional, unforgettable, a must see
  • Four and a half stars: Excellent, definitely worth seeing
  • Four stars: Accomplished and engrossing but not the best of its kind
  • Three and a half stars: Good, clever, well made, but not brilliant
  • Three stars: Solid, enjoyable, but unremarkable or flawed
  • Two and half stars: Neither good nor bad, just adequate
  • Two stars: Not without its moments, but ultimately unsuccessful
  • One star: Awful, to be avoided
  • Zero stars: Genuinely dreadful, bad on every level

About the author

Liza Dezfouli has been reviewing film, live performance, books and occasionally music for over a decade. She writes a blog under her own name and another, somewhat less-measured one called WhenMrWrongfeelsSoRight. She creates work for the stage herself every now and then and can occasionally be seen in shows or in short films. For more: www.lizadezfouli.com.