Berlin Station

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There is a definite level of excitement in the air due to a certain play starting its previews soon, but, since there will be time to talk about it once we know more, it’s time for me to try and get back into the writing saddle.

It’s been a long and difficult year and though i have seen many good things, reality has taken precedence over enjoyment of art. I hope to catch up on some of these, especially the few which have made lasting impact. This weekend however has marked the end of the 2016 Proms’ season as well as the start of both the Wigmore and the ROH seasons. And it was the first time in a really long stretch that a few good performances accumulated in a short period of time. I had come to fear that reality had numbed me completely to the joys of music since it had been nearly a year since i could say i really enjoyed something i saw or heard.

The late iIndiansummer and a few days of full on sunshine together with a great season start seem to have done the trick and i finally feel a little bit like myself again. Hopefully the impact will be lasting.

So, on the ‘vitamin’ boost provided by a splendid Norma at the Royal Opera House, a hilarious Barbiere at the same ROH (enjoy the lovely Javier Camarena singing Almaviva for BBC 3’d In Tune here )and an excellent Platonov at the National (all in the space of just 2 days) i feel i recognise again what ‘good’ feels like 🙂

Do watch Javier sing! You’ll definitely feel like 200 year old Rossini is fit for the charts today 🙂

Oh, and have a look around the Platonov page, there is a hilarious quiz video online from Chekhov on it 🙂 And by the way, my friend and i lay claim to having discovered the wonderful James McArdle (who plays the lead in Platonov)!  We thought he was great in the James plays two years ago and he is really good here too, hilarious and tragic at the same time, wise beyond his years, definitely one to watch. The whole cast is superb and Jonathan Kent’s productions are a joy of atmosphere and clever design. Go see if you can (just remember on McArdle, we were there first – Not really, he’s already been recognised with some awards ;-)).

And a few days before that there was the Last Night of the Proms, with these 2 memorable and uniquely funny moments from Peruvian tenor Juan Diego Florez (whom we all affectionately call Juandi :-)):

The perfect entertainer, wouldn’t you agree? And turning up looking like that, as the last king of the Inca LOL – unbeatable 🙂 Love him.

Sorry for the long digression/introduction but i thought i’d share some joy with you in case you prefer not to go on reading.As the above was also very helpful in compensating for a feeling of disappointment after watching the first 2 episodes of Berlin Station. Not all bad but certainly not what i was hoping for after a long drought of content. I went back and forth about writing something that was not as enthusiastic as people might expect but decided to go with it. Not everything we see is good and everything can’t always be excellent and that’s ok. So please feel free to stop here if you’d rather not read my doubts. 

Berlin Station – the good bits

  • The trailers and promos are all tight, interesting, intriguing and fast paced; the heighten suspense and make you want to watch;
  • the opening credits as well as all the graphics are fab, punchy, modern, journalistic- i really really like them;
  • the cinematography – very ‘noir’ with a lot of steel greys, dark skies, low lights etc It looks good on screen, there is no doubt about it and they had a brilliant camera crew;
  • I like the camera angles, close ups which make you feel like the person right next to the one on screen; The shots from above are also beautiful; the extra angles we have won due to drones 🙂 There was same crane filming around Claudia’s house as we saw i a BTS photo but there are shots from much higher up which can only be done by drones. It’s certainly the new kind of perspective which adds a lot visually (although i wonder what the rules are in Berlin, hereabouts drone filming over populated areas is prohibited);
  • I like some of the soundtrack, Bowie is a topical though good choice. BUT, the almost incessant thumping  and beat in 90% of the scenes was way too much.
  • The Germans – i like them all, even Zeitungs-Ingrid – although she is forced into a lot of OTT acting; the rest however are very natural, normal and understated in some cases. They certainly come off much better and more credible on screen than any of the ‘American’ lot; There are some problems, in as one can tell which of the cast are from the German side although not representing Germans in the series; Except for Ingrid they certainly get the better share of the dialogue, maybe just by the simple fact that there is much less of it.
  • I particularly liked Hans reaction to his former employee’s crude comment  – pretty much the most satisfying scene in the entire 2eps;
  • Claudia’a character was somebody we could warm to and i object to them getting rid of her so soon;
  • Kelly Frost – i really enjoyed her too; comfortably wifey without overdoing it, again a multidimensional character with a lot of wordless acting and also some good lines. I liked the fact that she came across as quite strong, much better defined in fact in spite of fewer scenes than many of the male characters.
  • Hector/RI – probably the best thing that happened to the series; greatly aided imho by the fact that he too has far fewer lines and Rhys Ifans gets to do a lot of wordless acting which is is excellent at. His American accent is minimal and natural and i had a laugh listening to one of his interviews; i never realised how strong his Welsh accent still is 🙂 The difference is truly startling. I don’t quite believe a real chemistry with Faisal, but then again it is not clear that he returns his feelings. What is clear however is that Hector cares, about great many things, in many different ways. I also like that his body language is limber and together with the Germans he displays none of the stiffness and almost confusion of movement/posture that comes across in most of the others. Having killed off Claudia thus swiftly he really is the only one i cared about/for and was interested in at the end of the first 2 episodes.
  • Kirsch – to some degree, his brand of patriotism/professionalism? feels a bit old fashioned and anachronistic but he does manage to make it almost realistic for the character; It’s one dimensional so far, but it comes across as credible, swearing and all.
  • love the old Berlin cafe where Frost and Hans meet – the kind of place i love to go to 🙂 And a relief from the overload of graffiti-walls (which i am pretty sure are somewhat less omnipresent in Berlin than the eps seems to indicate);
  • i like the old shoe-maker and his crew- maybe a bit old fashioned spy-stuff but it is effective as a  ‘make the viewer smile’ device and interesting use of non-electronic communication;
  • quite like the last roof scene with Hector and Daniel, or rather the idea of it;

So, there are quite a few positives, cinematography and characters being important parts of what i think would make a series successful. But it’s not a good summary if the most credible characters are all secondary and only 1 of the supposed main characters is engaging and intriguing. And if the intrigue comes mostly when they stop talking… Which leads me to my reasons for being disappointed as a viewer:

Berlin Station – the things that didn’t convince me

  • There are a few, but i guess one could say most are minor details (although the devil is in the detail in terms of credibility on screen) except for the one major one – the dialogue. The lines are bad, really bad. I can’t say i had a flowing viewing experience in any of the scenes involving dialogue. As soon as people opened their mouths the exchanges mostly stopped me in my tracks with their awkwardness. Worse, the characters looked awkward saying these things, with pauses filled with uncomfortable viewing. They didn’t look as if they thought what they were saying and it showed. It really doesn’t help engage me if instead of focusing on the action i keep rolling my eyes at what comes out of their mouths. Take a spy/analysit like Daniel saying ‘wow’ to being deployed to Berlin… really? Wow? Instead of a more interesting facial expression? The whole argument presented by the guy he replaces re the leak and Shaw sounded fake and only a device to let Daniel drill in again the consequences.The exchange between Ingrid and Claudia started off well but then went into implausible conversation in a public space; the whole making history as an almost one liner and bam, she is convinced again, really? Never mind the utter crudeness of Ingrid’s comment to her about getting laid (it was much worse in German). The whole exchange sounded like an unlucky translated version from English rather than a genuine conversation. Then there are all the astoundingly glib dialogues between Frost and his secretary/mistress. He’s supposed to be both clever (since chief) and moral but that’s the kind of stuff he says? Shaking head. It does things to my brain to see such an intelligent actor portray somebody who comes across as simple to say the least. Ingrid’ rant on the balcony although maybe justified by grief/anger also comes across as not quite right – ‘may you die in a drone strike?’ from an experienced journalist to somebody working in Berlin?
  • some story lines are unoriginal and others unnecessary- they use the disgruntled/overlooked employee 3x in 2 eps! Daniel to his boss in Panama, Valery 2x and also the German information/spy to Hans (overlooked for promotion) – are there no other reasons/backgrounds/actions to be found? Are all bosses meant to be stupid and their employees better? (Well, certainly not valid for Hans, but you get the idea). Then there is Gerald who gets shipped back to the US. Why invest in a character on his way out? Unless he isn’t on his way out but his family dropping him just like a hot potato was another cliche moment/rolling my eyes. Which by the way was signaled way too hard and too much in advance;
  • too much advance signaling (give us  some credit!)- Ingrid tells Claudia to get laid and lo and behold she gets picked up in the bar next (duh!); Gerald goes on and on and on about his wife and Budapest and of course he gets dumped as soon as things go south. We hear about Daniel’s past in Berlin again and again and again in the most improbably of circumstances, EVEYRONE talks about it, the unknown woman i  Panama, Valery at first sight and in their very first meeting, etc etc And apparently somebody who is CIA feels comfortable reacting to it and engaging in his past in Berlin with everyone. I do get it is relevant, but it would have been more effective, especially in terms of indicating it’s scarred him in some way if less was said. The secretary tells Frost he should get his wife to be his secretary so they could talk , cue wife wants to know more about his work, or the other way around but still – rolling eyes. Faisal fears he will get found out, Faisal gets found out. And don’t even start me about the ‘weird guy’ who is used as courier between Shaw and Claudia. We get a really good look of him being made to look really weird so you now he will do something! The only one not expecting it is analyst Daniel , who unlike the viewer does not get the clue.Weird guy ends up being a killer… duh. (As if normal people would not get involved in the Shaw thing , had to be somebody ‘weird’).
  • talking about obvious – poor Claudia, being careful and acting as secret courier but not noticing the big hunkering guy always 2 meters behind her and around her and always wearing the same things and cloaked and in cap and hoodie. If i had somebody lumbering round me like that i tell you i’d be completely freaked out. It just isn’t believable that somebody acting this strange and looking this suspicious wouldn’t attract attention.
  • the additional storylines around Faisal, Ioseva and so on, there is a quite a lot of it and it gets really confusing, how important is it, what is the main story line, what are we supposed to pay attention to? There is so much thrown in, especially in ep 1 one cannot possibly be expected to come out of it with a clear idea of what to follow. It is way too much, between trying to introduce all characters, several story lines, Panama, Shaw, Ioseva, family stuff. By the time the ep ends one is exhausted with too much information and can’t possibly remember what is what and what is important. I for one had completely forgotten at some point Daniel is supposed to get shot as it didn’t seem relevant at all anymore. The only clear thing in my head tbh was Hector and that he is somewhat involved in everything. Less is definitely more in story telling; ease people into it gently, you don’t need to tell them so much in 1ep, as you have 9 more to go. The scope of ep 1 is not to tell everything , not even to set the scene to everything, but to get people interested, hook them with something/someone. The more things and people = the more confused they become. And they will forget most of what you told them and few will bother to go back.
  • why are the safehouses such dumps? I expect a cockroach to crawl out every corner any minute. Spartan i get but are we to believe light and activity in a derelict building is really not going to attract attention?
  • the meeting with the woman from the German BfV – very James Bond but not quite – dialogue cryptic but not really funny; again all we get is that spies ‘know stuff’ (we never get much in the way of how do they know); But we get a sense i think that Daniel likes to handle the women.
  • why does Daniel find a cat in Claudia’s flat 2 days after she supposedly threw herself out of the window? Does German police not investigate suicides? Or in 2 days it was all case closed and done with, no signs of them searching the apartment, putting tape to prevent entrance. My, are they efficient… or wait, they are completely useless, they searched and investigated but failed to find the cat in the flat. It all makes perfect sense… since we need a cat to signal Daniel is partly human and cares, he certainly can’t be asked to show us that with his face/body language. Cat is better idea (NOT!);
  • Also it is absolutely relevant to show him dressing wet after a shower and then toweling himself off, then walking to a window, not a trace of damp from the recent shower on his skin, to what? Show us he cares/thinks about Berlin/remembers something? nope, just to show us a Berlin skyline and the fact that he still hasn’t unpacked his suitcase – that certainly explains while he keeps wearing the same clothes, if nothing else. I’d rather see something on his face than see his briefs, thanks very much, slightly more relevant to the story.
  • the impersonated picker-upper for Claudia is the only human face of Daniel we get apart from the interaction with his nephew. But his human face is a d*ck. I would certainly not have a drink with a fella who says about his potential blind date ‘i hope it’s not her’. But then again, as Ingrid bluntly told us, Claudia needed to get laid so doesn’t matter he’s an ….
  • Panama – a bloke walks around in the jungle with no tools, bags, anything and finds a box in the forest; he looks good but it’s a bit out of context to say the least;
  • the mum- story – again maybe a bit too much, not only was she cheating, she was cheating with a spy and then she died going off in her cheating ways with the spy; why do they have to lay it on quite as thickly? Just like it’s not enough Faisal give some secrets away because he believes he can help, he also has to be gay and in love with Hector. I do get the point about complexity and nothing is quite like it seems but i wonder if less again wouldn’t have been more, making it a bit more believable;
  • Daniel keeps going to the roof to talk (just so we can get the eye-graffiti imagine – which would have been more effective had we seen a bit less graffiti everywhere) until he decides not to go to the roof anymore and makes the call from his desk about the photo he is about to send.
  • USB sticks – this really bugged me; in an age where already 10 years ago we couldn’t use USB sticks at work with our laptops we are to be believe somebody grabbed CIA data on them? Because not only Claudia seems to get them from Shaw, they were also in the box in Panama. It’s a very crude device for modern age spying, very out of date since picking up and using a USB stick is a big no-no from a security pov these days.And they seem to be all over the place in BSt.
  • language points – these are relevant for me, but i don’t think relevant generally for audiences; at present it seems unlikely this will air in Germany and in any case it probably wouldn’t air in original anyway. But the variety of pronunciations of cities such as Budapest and Berlin drive me nuts. Particularly because they are neither here nor there, neither the English version of the name nor the original but something in between. Also different characters pronounce it differently. I guess this is possible, but i find it very irritating. The German is… generally bad. I could ignore it were it not for the few scenes where the characters interact with the locals in ways which seem to indicate they dominate the language convincingly. It does things to my brain watching those as i can hardly make out what they want to say, but the locals seem to understand perfectly and answer i German of course, which is utterly surreal. Kirsch makes an understandable stab at it and Hector does in  his limited lines but it’s the less bad of the bunch, not really good . Especially when Faisal (who is supposed to be another foreigner) and Ioseva (same) open their mouths and out comes utterly fluent, barely accented German. But, as said, relevant to German speakers and thankfully easily ignored by everyone else. I expected more however, or rather less lines but better articulated. Certain American accents are also much less convincing to me than others, see notes on Hector above. But that might be just my ears.
  • I don’t find Kirsch’s swearing too much, he manages to just build it into his lines like breath 🙂 But why is everyone else swearing so much as well? Lots of crude language but prudishness in other areas. Why the kiss between Claudia and Daniel? Given how the pick up went isn’t it more credible they would actually end up in bed together? A one night stand would have seemed more logical to me almost rather than the sudden tenderness? And body parts seem to be ok in a weird bar but not in houses/hotels where underwear is quickly donned or sheets cover up everything.
  • And then there is the whole disappointing fact that Daniel is neither a sympathetic character, nor one with an apparent complex inner life. Just an analyst/spy who we are told is clever. We see files and photos, weird magazines and such, but we don’t see thoughts on his face and most of all we see only feelings which are set up in backgrounds suggesting they are fake. We do see the extremely effective turning on and off of personality in some quick phone conversations or with Hector but it’s mostly because i looked for it specifically. We’re told this is the main story line, Daniel&Thomas Shaw but we don’t get to see it through an emotionally engaging lens. I frankly couldn’t care less if he catches Shaw or not at this point and i certainly wasn’t made to care about Daniel at all. Neither with Frost or the big boss has she shown any conviction about the cause, just an almost robotic determination to do the job. The why remains un-shown, untold, unexplored.

I really like spy series and thrillers and mysteries in film. But i need intrigue, emotion, sympathy or empathy of some kind to engage or at least some political or other moral/ethical conviction. At this point they killed off Claudia, who seemed nice and have only given us a bit of Hector in exchange. The plot has already been taken almost too far and too much information has already been revealed for complete mystery or intrigue and not enough about the characters. I don’t care about anyone beyond Hector nor have i been given anything/anyone to root for. While i think the idea is very interesting with all the moral conflict it involves, the story telling is not up to scratch. It is marred by cliches, awkward dialogue, too convoluted backgrounds/motives. For a spy series this feels disappointingly lacking in subtlety, attention to detail and cleverness. And i feel a lot of acting talent gets wasted as a consequence (Richard Jenkins as Frost for one, to give just an example, but valid imho for RA as Daniel as well). It just doesn’t make for exciting viewing. If i didn’t have a side interest i don’t think i would have made it based on the storytelling alone past ep 1 😦

So, the only thing left to do for me is to put my hopes into the play. #Lovelovelove is not what i would call favourite stage material for me, but it certainly has potential and could make for a more exciting viewing experience until something else comes along.. It’s certainly well written and has well fleshed out characters 🙂 .

Opera rehearsal- from rehearsal room to opening night

Thinking a lot about rehearsals these days and how people slip into other character’s lives and emotions i remembered i saw this amazing documentary:

This gives a little insight into what it takes to create a role for the Royal Opera House stage. Soprano Elizabeth Watts was absolutely gorgeous as Zerlina by the way 🙂

I remember watching this for the first time and crying for most of it because it found it so touching to see how hard and emotionally demanding the process actually is (even for somebody who is an absolutely fabulous singer!)

Enjoy!