Saturday, 27 September 2014

The Night of 1000 Stars written by James Goss and directed by Lisa Bowerman

What's it about: Leela is back! With a murderous beast on the loose, Jago, Litefoot, Ellie and Leela are trapped in Baker Street. There is a story to tell, and the four of them put on a show for each other. Their pasts will be unfolded, secrets will be told… And the last act will be a killer.

Theatrical Fellow: How interesting to see that when you force Jago away from his lifestyle comforts and have him withdraw from the society he craves he becomes quite insular, self-centred and the loses the sheen from his personality. Jago is starting to miss how old life now, the hustle and the bustle of the theatre. He's turned to drink to self medicate even more than usual as a result of his ex-communication from his profession. As a theatre owner you sometimes have to make unfortunate choices in order to keep up appearances and let people go who threaten to give the place a bad name. He was less sanguine about his decision to let the member of the Chorus Line Company go when she wound up dead a few days later. Now he is a defrocked pathologist his world is no fun. I've heard Christopher Benjamin get his mouth around some awesome alliteratory articulation but none as verbose dextrous as that that James Goss gives him when he introduces none other than...Henry Gordon Jago himself! He mentions all manner of countless capers that the four of them have been involved in and have come through unscathed, fate can throw whatever it likes at them and they will tackle it head on with a song in their heart. They are survivors. Granted their reputations are in ruins, they have lost all their money, they are hiding in someone else's house and they aren't even using their own names. Somehow Jago cannot believe his own bluster and wonders what the point is anymore. If this is their reward...was it worth it? When he was a child he as given a rare treat of being taken to the theatre by his mother, sat on a velvet seat and looked up at the stage in amazement. What seemed like magic as a child became something quite different when he stepped in front of the curtain as an adult, it lost its lustre somehow. The woman who had said yes to every other man said no to Henry Gordon Jago, laughing in his face endlessly. He's spent too long behind the scenes not to know how an act works. The first day he met Leela was the last day his life was normal. I love the fact that it is Jago who figures all of this out, the one that everybody else assumes isn't paying attention. Even after seven seasons, this character is still surprising.

Posh Professor: Some vital information about Litefoot in this story, uncovering why he is prefers to work with the living over the dead. Elizabeth was the first and only patient that Litefoot ever lost and after that he couldn't face operating on the living ever again. He turned to the bodies of the dead as a career path. He didn't want the risk, contenting himself with the dead. Litefoot thinks London is an empty city, full of dull lives and dull deaths. Most of the time he doesn't even have to open them up, he's just doing it to fill the time. Killing Lizzie (however inadvertently) is a crime of which he can never acquit himself. When the Professor drugged her with his expertise with the opiates he was planning to restore her to her god health...little did he know that she would never wake up again. Shunned by his colleagues and having lost faith in himself, he withdrew from the profession. Without Jago in his life and the investigations that followed it is clear that Litefoot would have been a quietly very sad man who was content to cut up the bodies of the dead. Together they complete each other and enrich each others lives.

Noble Savage: Leela is dumped rather unceremoniously into the story in the first scene without much of an explanation of where she has come from and why. It took me a while to reason there was a reason for that. She is learning to look before she leaps and is trying to understand menaces before she kills them these days. She would love a portrait of every person that she has killed, it would be very useful (and crowded). Leela the dog faced boy? The unusual creature, the freak? Her tribe would leave such people out on the mountain but in this time and place they would pay to laugh at freaks. She finds that quite bizarre. She tries her best to be a part of this world and yet she is still considered an aberration. The day of her first kill was the last day of her childhood, a day her father said he was proud of her even though she was crying. To be an adult is the hardest thing of all. Leela only kills for a reason.

Standout Performance: Christopher Benjamin and Trevor seem to seize the opportunity to pay something quite different to the norm. Instead of the heart-warming relationship between the two men, there is a fair amount of disquieting tension between them. Benjamin in particular is quite animated and violently emotion in this story and Baxter enjoys a few moments of uncomfortable reflection. It shows what terrific actors they are, the unusual script offering them a chance to play down their parts and indulge in some real drama.

Sparkling Dialogue: 'Let's do it all singing and dancing! Except without the singing or the dancing...' - might have spoken too soon there...
'This the work of remorse. This is the beast that stalks us.'
'You need to hold a mans heart in your hands to weigh its sins.'
'In order to be impressed you have to not want to see how commonplace everything is.'
'Have I not shown you all that your lives are worthless. You are consumed by loneliness and failure.'

Great Ideas: Everybody sees something that they fear in the painting, something that makes the shudder and squirm. Remorse captured in canvas. For Litefoot it is the murder of a patient when he was still a Professor of medicine, for Jago it is a common slattern who was terrible trouble he had to sack from his theatre and wound up dead a few days later, for Ellie it is a regular customer at the Red Tavern, a drunken old soak who let his family burn to death in a fire and was found dead in her public house, his face contorted with fear and for Leela it is the tears she shed the first day she killed. Goss paints a tragic picture of the Lizzie, the victim of Litefoot's erroneous scalpel. Forgotten by her family and laid to rest surrounded by dolls, there is an air of melancholy around this character that we will never meet. Remorse grabs hold of these characters and makes them behave in unpredictable ways. The point where Litefoot abandons his manners and Jago violently attacks him you recognise that this insidious entity has its claws wrapped around them both. It's shocking to see the two amiable chaps behaving in such a foul way towards each other. Jago exposes everything that is fake and tawdry about the theatre, proving that every exotic act is being performed by common slatterns and regular Joes and the New Palace theatre was anything but, the site of an old kibble factory. The answer of which one of them is an impostor is obvious in hindsight but the script involves you so much with all four characters that they seem equally as real. The creature fed on their darker thoughts and they laid on quite a banquet for them. It never does well to dwell on the past when you can look to the future.

Audio Landscape: Opening a bottle, something banging on the door, applause, a bird out of a hat, a rabbit out of trousers, laughter, crashing cymbals, rain, a ringing bell.

Standout Scene: The climax, which sees all four of them pointing the finger at each other in a whirlwind of paranoia. Ellie thinks that Jago is the remorse creature because he has been getting them down throughout (plausible given how out of character he has been), Jago in turns throws suspicion onto Litefoot who discovered the trail of corpses in the first place (again true), Litefoot dares to suggest that Leela is the one most adept in murder (absolutely spot on) and Leela suggests that Ellie spends herself surrounded by the sad and tales of despondence. This quarter, once so tight, are now trapped in a state of mistrust and looking at each other for answers. It's quite stifling. 

Result: Time for something completely different. James Goss is emerging as the King of the spin off material, having tackled Bernice Summerfield, the Companion Chronicles and now Jago & Litefoot and offering a unique and thrilling spin on all of them. The Night of 1000 Stars jettisons all the pomp and circumstance of your average Jago & Litefoot tale and focuses intensely on the four characters it chooses to lay bare. Over the course of an evening Jago, Litefoot, Ellie and Leela have to confront their greatest fears and in doing so we learn a great deal about each of them. For the actors it is the chance to play something so far out of the ordinary that it defies comparison from the rest of the series. Benjamin and Baxter get to play remorse, fear and anger, all manner of unconstructive emotions. If you come to this series expecting to leave with a smile on your face and a song in your heart then you might be disappointed with this release. However if you are invested in these characters and want to learn more about what makes them tick and might enjoy taking a peek at the darker side of their souls then this could be right up your street. I thought it was a fascinating exercise, superbly written and played that added a great deal of depth to the regulars and threw up some startling imagery. The climax which sees them all at each others throats and threatening to tear themselves apart, is quite mesmerising. The final scene refuses to undo all the good work that has been done to add shadow to the titular characters which I thought was a very brave move. Goss could have rewritten all of these dark revelations as a fiction created by the creature but instead has more integrity than that and leaves Jago & Litefoot much more rounded characters because of his script. You wouldn't want this series to be as psychologically probing as this all the time but it is a riveting one off: 9/10

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