Ten Things I Hate About Balanchine’s Apollo

August 13, 2014 by

It has to be said: I’ve had it with “Apollo!” Of all of the Balanchine or Ballets Russes productions to get revived, this popular number is the golden turd in the swimming pool of ballet. As I sat through yet another performance last Friday (prior to watching the Mariinski perform Balanchine’s Midsummer Night’s Dream), I started listing out the reasons why I hate it so, and given my lack of time to review the actual performances I’ve been seeing, I’ve decided I’m going to share this instead.

1. The props! My God, the props! Has NOBODY ever seen the Brady Bunch episode where Marcia has to do the modern dance WITHOUT the scarf? GET RID OF THE PROPS!
2. The way they get rid of the props! It’s a little funny in The Firebird when the sleeping princesses toss their golden apples off stage, but the sloppy way the props are handled in this piece just makes me want to scream. DON’T GET RID OF THE PROPS!
3. The mime! The horrible horrible mime! HI I AM THE MUSE OF SPOKEN WORD AND I’M GOING TO BE REALLY REALLY OBVIOUS WITH MY HANDS. Olivia Newton John in Xanadu has more subtlety than these muses.
4. The way the women are so utterly and completely trivial in this work. They look beautiful but they’re just window dressing.
5. The way this ballet allows every arrogant ballet dancer to portray himself as LIKE UNTO A GOD with absolutely no sense of irony. Not that Carlos didn’t make it work but mostly I have to roll my eyes.
6. Has anyone noticed how revoltingly the women fawn and coo over Apollo? Does anyone think that maybe, just maybe, there was a little bit of Balanchine in this role? Isn’t it gross? I imagine him handing out bulimia and anorexia to them in exchange for their pathetic props, and feeling smug because it was for their own good.
7. The birth scene! Both ridiculous and inaccurate! How is it someone giving birth could be so COY?
8. It’s almost the only ballet where a woman OPENS HER LEGS toward the audience, and she’s doing it from eight feet above the stage. Ew! I am particularly grossed out by this position as it makes me feel like I’m at a gynecological appointment.
9. The goofy, herky-jerky choreography, almost like Picasso had a hand in figuring out how to move people around. Why don’t people just go around with HELLO IT’S THE TWENTIES stamped on their foreheads?
10. The guitar strumming scene. I love laughing about Apollo as a member of The Who but it’s just too ridiculous to tolerate.

Is that enough? CAN WE KILL THIS BALLET? I would suggest we replace it for all time with either Les Noces or Concerto DSCH, which has the incredible good luck to be new, fun, and generally awesome. NO MORE APOLLO. JUST SAY NO TO APOLLO!

Review – Dessa Rose – Trafalgar Studios

August 13, 2014 by

As regular readers know, I’m an easy mark for a new musical, and when a chance came up to review Dessa Rose – a recent American musical (2005) making its British debut at Trafalgar Studios- I was pretty psyched. Ahrens and Flaherty are both powerhouses on the New York scene (thanks substantially to Ragtime), but I was fascinated by the opportunity to see, here, a musical about our great American tragedy – slavery. I remembered how, when growing up, I had seen pictures of “ante-Bellum plantation houses” and thought that they came from an era when everything was more beautiful (not being too good with Latin). Listening to Ruth (Cassidy Janson – long time no Avenue Q) I was struck how every bit of gentility and luxury (“ten petticoats!”) was really only possible because of the fantastic profits that could be made using slave labor. (Well, cotton was also trading high as well, but if a family had been trying to run a farm with their own labor, well … there would have been a whole lot less gentility to it all.)

Anyway, it was notable that this show was coming over nine years later – to me, an indication that it wasn’t very successful the first time around – and also that it was coming over on the the heels of The Scottsboro Boys‘ sold out run at and transfer from The Young Vic. Maybe there’s something about being further away from the still hot feelings on this matter that makes the English audience capable of enjoying a show on its merits rather than judging it strictly on its political content … or maybe there was just a gap in the season. For me, watching 12 actors jammed into the tiny downstairs space at Trafalgar Studios, I couldn’t help but think this show was produced in hopes of a transfer. The set may have been tiny, but the costuming showed signs of a substantial budget – I think I was looking at actual Victorian hand-made lace on a few outfits – which spoke of solid backing. There was certainly no stinting on talent.

As a story, Dessa Rose is a bit of a fantasia on the American South, taking inspiration from the era but in no way beholden to strict cultural accuracy. The lead character, Dessa (Cynthia Erivo, sounding a bit New York and not very Old South), is born into slavery around 1830; we pick up her life in 1847, when she is living on a plantation with her mother Rose (Miquel Brown) and being courted by Kaine (Fela Lufadeju). When Massa Steele (Alexander Evans) kills Kaine in a moment of rage, Dessa Rose’s life is transformed, sending her ultimately to a jail where she awaits execution for murder.

Somewhat in parallel, we have the story of Ruth, a Charleston belle whose love marriage to a gambler leaves her running a plantation alone with a baby and not even her old nurse (Sharon Benson) for company. When a bunch of runaway slaves show up at her door, well, in my eyes novelist Sherley Anne Williams just decides to have a little bit of fun with the format. In my eyes, its all in service of good story telling, so rather than being disappointed that this play didn’t turn into a polemic on American race relations, I’m just grateful that the second half built into a fun “Ocean’s 11″ buddy/caper tale that made for a solid night’s entertainment.

The whole experience is even more amazing in the context of being crammed into a tiny basement with a high quality cast belting out the tunes right in front of you, their skirts brushing your legs as they passed by. The intensity was amazing. And while the songs didn’t have the Tin Pan Alley singability of golden era Broadway, “White Milk and Red Blood” and “Twelve Children” were emotionally powerful songs. This show is only on for a few more weeks and is shockingly underpriced for the value delivered: I highly recommend seeing it in this intimate space while you can.

(This review is for the matinee performance that took place on Saturday, August 9th, 2014. It continues through August 30th.)

Review – Music Hall Menagerie – Leicester Square Theater

August 8, 2014 by

What does the British musical hall tradition mean for a night on stage? I’ve heard a lot about it since I moved here, but I feel like I don’t really have my head wrapped around it. Is it just basically American vaudeville redux, or were there some special elements to it? Or did everyone just have a lovely bunch of coconuts those days? With those burning questions in my mind, I accepted an invitation to a night that promised “the return of the glories of the music hall,” only at the Leicester Square Theater and with a drag queen as compere. But why not, right? I thought it wasn’t a traditional choice but still appropriate given the evolution of the fandom. To keep me on the music hall path of righteousness (provide quality control and give me an excuse to drink – if this was appropriate), I brought along a friend who is an aficionado.
I was surprised that this was actually at the small stage downstairs at the LST. So intimate! So … um … was this the right size? I thought music hall was a big thing! And our cast was four actors plus our besequined compere … somehow I expected a bit more, perhaps a clown or maybe a live band.

What followed was a mixed bag of schtick/sketch (i.e. two men dressed as women talking about where to go on holiday), diva belting from Miss Dusty “O,” and comic songs in the cabaret vein. We ended the first half with a sort of Cockney medley, including “Oom Pah Pah” and “Lambeth Walk.” During the interval, my companion confided that none of the material had been original; furthermore, it wasn’t really classic music hall, but rather classics of modern British comedy. I, as usual, was completely ignorant of the originals, but I was having a good time so I got another glass of wine and sat back to enjoy the second half. Highlights were, for me, the cast singing “Does Your Mother Know” on ukeleles, and the brunette actresses doing what I was informed was Victoria Wood’s “Pam” – absolutely the highlight of the show for me and delivered with deadly wit. There was also at least one original comedy number in this section as well as credits to the many originators of the sketches, which satisfied my companion.

As a person not familiar with music hall, I don’t feel like this performance gave me any real flavor of it, but it was a good comic variety evening and very pleasant light entertainment ideal for August – plus with its 7 PM start time the dancing nuns were done early enough to get me home in time for “a game of rummy and an Ovaltine.”

(This review is for a performance that took place on Wednesday, August 6th, 2014. It continues through September 13th.)

Review – Between – Fourword Productions at King’s Head Theater

August 7, 2014 by

After seeing a run of gay themed plays at the Above the Stag theater, I was surprised to be contacted out of the blue (or out of Twitter more precisely) and asked if I wanted to review a gay-themed play at the Kings Head Theater\ – a show that had been already been to Edinburgh but was going to be making its debut in London. So I said yes and waited for Between (and its South African creators) to arrive for late night quickie in Islington. (All of the performances are at 9:30 PM and it’s only 50 minutes long so I feel this is both an accurate description and an irresistible bit of innuendo.) I normally won’t do shows that start that late, but this show seemed promising – anything that’s toured this much has decidedly got something going for it – and I wanted to find out exactly what in person.

The play is a two hander with multiple story lines – I was told three but I wasn’t entirely sure if they were actually two or possibly even just one set of characters at different points in their lives. There were two pubescent boys discovering their sexualities together (and dealing with what it meant to be told you were gay, or to actually do sexual activities with a member of the same sex); a couple reaching the end of their relationship and (I thought the same couple) a teacher and a pupil who develop a connection through their work together. This final story line involved endless readings of sonnet 23 which, at its peak, nearly had me in tears: a delicious, delightful chance to see acting methodology and approach discussed on stage.

My heart was also breaking watching a long term couple break up, but, despite the crush my heart felt, these scenes were least engaging; I think I was having a disconnect between watching these two characters get together early on (as actor/teach) then watching them fall apart and trying to figure out where the cracks came in; in retrospect (and only after a discussion with one of the authors) I think the reason I couldn’t get the matchup – which only was clear to me when the student shakes his teacher’s hand after getting cast in a role – was that this romance actually was one that didn’t happen.

Most fascinating, though, was watching Oskar Brown and Nicholas Cambell as two young men reading porn and fantasizing about sex together. These scenes were also undeniably hot – because what we in reality had were two really good looking adult men in front of us behaving sexually in a convincing way – but also extremely original and painful. I’ve never seen a play that made a real stab at showing how teenagers behave behind closed doors (Romeo and Juliet leaves out a lot), but Closer really, really got it right … the fantasizing, the questioning, and, to be honest, the lying, headgames, and repercussions all rang 100% true at a level that reminded me of Judy Blume and other fiction.

While the script isn’t perfect, the performances are very good, and, let’s be honest, seeing sexy men strip off and kiss is a bonus for most performances in my book. Was it hotter inside the theater or out? On this August night, the boiling air was rolling out from the stage door.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Tuesday, August 5th. It continues Tuesday-Saturday through August 23rd.)

Review – Diary of a Nobody – Rough Haired Pointer at The King’s Head

August 1, 2014 by

It’s depressing to go to a show based on a literary classic and find yourself wiggling in your seat, going, “But I just don’t get it!” It’s even more depressing when said show is not just an original adaptation, but is transferring from another venue. Clearly a whole lot of people have enjoyed Rough Haired Pointer’s Diary of a Nobody, but I wasn’t one of them.

The story is slight – deliberately so (for comic effect): a clerk (Jamie Treacher, although voiced by all of the actors at different times, as this is the narrator) has a quiet little household in North London (Holloway, actually) where his lives with his wife (Jordan Mallory-Skinner) and a few house servants (frequently played by George Fouracres). Their simple lives of meals, home improvements, and bad puns is interrupted by the return home of their adult son (Geordie Wright), who seems unable to hold down a job and not concerned by this.

And then … I don’t know, hijinks ensue? Mostly, it seems like very little happens, other than our narrator making himself out to be rather self important and his son acting like a git, but I just really didn’t find it very funny, except for when the actors were corpsing (it was a preview so I presume some details were ironing out) and of course when an egg was thrown to the ground and bounced. Now THAT really got me going!

But I was so enamored of the look of this play that it seems churlish of me to give this show a purely negative review. All of the set decor, props, and costumes were done in a uniform style of drawn lines on white that I thought made the show unbearably entrancing to look at, like a live action cartoon. Nearly the only breaks in color are red from a painted bathtub and some lobsters – and some colored bells. There is also a very rich soundtrack, nearly at the level of a radio drama, which I felt added a lot of atmosphere (and occasionally a sense of impending doom) to the production. My feeling is of a production company that is probably going to be doing things I will like – but not this show. I have bought a copy of the book and will see if, after reading it, I am illuminated about the jokes that I clearly just did not get.

Be advised that if it’s a hot day out, you’re going to be quite warm in the theater: iced drinks are highly recommended, but not too many as the first act ran nearly 1:10 the night I went and the show was not finished until after ten. Your running time may vary.

(This review is for a preview performance that took place on Wednesday, July 30, 2014. Diary of a Nobody continues through August 24th. It runs in rep: see the King’s Head Theater’s website for details.)

Mini-review – Antony and Cleopatra – Shakespeare’s Globe

July 31, 2014 by

This year I took a vow to see no plays I’d seen before. To remind you, this is primarily because of the glut of Shakespearean shows currently clogging London theaters. Now, I could forgive am dram and fringe groups for wanting copyright free texts, but frequently I think the Bard is done by big houses out of laziness. Instead of investing money in getting new works on stage – in keeping the theater ecology alive – they waste A-list talent and opportunity (to get people watching theater) by sticking, oh, some famous TV actor in Richard III. Or Coriolanus. Or whatever. So I’m staging a one woman protest and NOT seeing Shakespeare this year.

With one exception: shows I haven’t seen before. And under this rubrik I agreed to go to the Globe for only the second time to see Antony and Cleopatra. The last time I went it was for a visiting company whose bellowing and capering put me off so much I left after about 10 minutes; this time I was finally going to see The Globe’s take on the bard, only not while standing because I’m too damned old for that (so 35 quid stall seats, ouch but my bad for not booking earlier).

To my surprise, bellowing and capering were once more the order of the day. No, I’m not just talking about the groundlings as they alternately sweltered and dodged raindrops; it was the actors making sure they could be heard in the back of the second balcony … of Saint Paul’s. Only it didn’t work: every time an actor faced away from me, I heard MRNNR mRRNF MRRff until they turned around again. From a third of the way around, I thought I was guaranteed good acoustics, but no such luck.

And this, really, was the end of it for me. At 9:45 I was actively encouraging Antony to stick that sword in his gut and casting around hoping against hopes that baskets full of asps would shower the stage … and yet there was still forty five minutes to go. I found myself wondering just what “historical” costuming looked like in Shakespeare’s time … if the Globe insisted in putting the Romans in slashed pantaloons and codpieces, then why were the Egyptians in white robes? I mean, if they are presenting themselves as doing the “full historical,” then why Eve Best as Cleopatra? Why not a teenaged boy? I did think that she was enthusiastic (perhaps a bit one note?), and Clive Wood was very believable as an old soldier (maybe a bit too old?), but I couldn’t help but wonder just who this show was aimed at. Does the Globe really just put on a season for tourists? Do regular London theater goers attend shows here, or are they actually making the pilgrimage to Stratford on Avon?

Meh. By the time the show let out, nothing mattered anymore. Tourists of the world, if you’re going to London, I’m going to have to advise you to see Shakespeare in Love and give this war horse a pass. Frankly, it made me grateful that I’m skipping most of Shakespeare this year: maybe next year I’ll go for a permanent ban.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Friday, July 25, 2014. It plays in rep through August 24th: see the Globe’s website for details on dates.)

Mini-Review – Pacific Overtures – Union Theater

July 30, 2014 by

It’s hardly a secret that if you enjoy excellence, tickets to see musicals at the Union Theater are money well spent. This means that they’re often sold out nearly before they start, and thanks to a lack of attention on my part, I nearly missed seeing Pacific Overtures as it was fully booked by the time I looked for ticket (a few days after it opened). I took the calculated risk that a rare outbreak of London sun might equal people who’ve suddenly decided they can’t leave the pub for an evening indoors and, behold, a weeknight ticket to this show was mine.

The cast is huge, as crammed into this, what, sixty seat space – around 20 men singing it out and doing imaginative choreography that created ships, oceans, islands and entire worlds out of fluttering fabric and a few poles. It was just so much more than you’d really expect from a low budget, low rent production, and yet, as ever, working in the Union’s restrictions resulted in a glorious Empty Space effect, in which your imagination is fully engaged by the subtle triggers on stage.

I found myself struggling with the lyrics early on – not understanding them but rather wondering if “Japan is about rice, flowers, and origami” (a summary of the lyrics for “The Advantages of Floating in the Middle of the Sea”) was really capturing the mindset of mid-seventies Americans toward this country as it’s clearly a ridiculous way to encapsulate Japan. Someone else argued that the show depicted Americans in a similarly racist tone, but I felt that showing us as bullying, swaggering, hairy brutes with bad manners wasn’t particularly out of line, especially when dealing with sailors and America’s expansionist colonial attitudes of the 19th century. However, I decided to put my meta-critical faculties on hold and see what the music and the story would bring – and I’m pleased to say that at the end the show emphasized Japan’s amazing techological accomplishments, taking the initial bad flavor away.

The story becomes more coherent as it focuses down on the low level samurai who is sent to do the impossible task of convincing the foreigners to go away. Kayama (no cast list on the Union site so can’t credit) becomes our guide to the evolution of Japan from feudal backwater to distinctive member of the modern world of nations; he starts out supporting the shogunate but ends up loving his bowler hats.

Although the story of the birth of modern Japan is interesting (though a bit tricky to simplify), what I particularly enjoyed about this show was its attempts to embrace Japanse theatrical tropes, from the all-male cast to the implied masks in the costuming and the use of bunraku-like puppets. In some ways this was all flavor, though, because there wasn’t a bit of the music or lyrics that seemed in any way Japanese – but why, really, should Sondheim not try to sound like Sondheim? Oddly, to me the “flavor” elements also seemed just very Union, the old “doing more with less” approach they usually do with such success. It made for a very good show, whatever the impetus.

In the end, I’m not sure how great a musical Pacific Overtures is, but I found it a night of wonderful, thoughtful music presented beautifully that was well worth the risk of not seeing it in order to actually see it. Now with hindsight as my guide, it’s time to look at the NEXT musical on at the Union and just buy my tickets now.

(This reviw is for a performance that took place on July 17, 2014. It continues through August 2nd.)

Review – Forbidden Broadway 2014 – Menier Chocolate Factory

July 25, 2014 by

Ah, Forbidden Broadway. In a world full of people maddened by sport, this is my one chance to do an event with my people, appealing to our sense of humor: jokes about our passion – the theater. If you’ve seen it before, you might find the extended look at Les Miserables looking a bit shopworn; similarly, the Lion King shtick is no longer fresh (although for some reason I still think the Liza Minelli bit is funny).

But you do get some seriously barbed new material in this year’s revue. Among the shows they roasted were: Pajama Game; Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (which got its own number mocking the show’s technical failures and hum drumness as well as featuring in a “Sunday Roast” skewering the use of child actors); and Once (I still haven’t seen it but after listening to this tour of the show’s plot holes I feel like it may have been a bullet dodged). More generally, we were given a lovely song making fun of ticket touts to a tune from Guys and Dolls, and a number satirizing the involvement of corporations on Broadway. This was was too New York focused for me – with ATG and Delfont Mackintosh controlling so much of what is shown on the West End, I think a whole new piece could have been done.

But still: let’s examine the Blythe Spirit number, in which Angela Lansbury appears to answer the question of why she is appearing in an old show. Why, she replies, if I wanted something good, I’d summon up the spirits of my old and great friends and have them write something for me … because what I’m given is shlock. Now, with the brilliant state of new playwriting in London, I wouldn’t agree that you need Noel Coward back from the dead to create a show worth seeing … but when it comes to musicals, I think she has a point. Which is true of many of the songs in this show – and why I enjoyed it so much. I won’t normally splash out on full price tickets, but for once (and in part because, let’s be honest, full price at the Menier Chocolate Factory is hardly the same as full price for Skylight, is it) I did, and for me – and for you, if you’re reading this – it is an indulgence worth every penny.

(This review is for a performance that took place July 11th. The run has just been extended by two weeks, so why not do yourself a favor during the August doldrums and go for it? If you sympathize with the trials and tribulations of the hard core theater goer, this evening is made for you!)

Review – The Colby Sisters of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania – Tricycle Theater

July 22, 2014 by

Before every show I say a little prayer, which is lifted right from The Drowsy Chaperone: “Dear God, please let it be a good show. And let it be short!” And for once, I’ve actually been given a show which admirably meets half of this prayer while utterly missing the mark on the other. I present to you: the show that’s so short you think they might have left something crucial out of the play. In this case, it’s a reason for the play to exist, a dramatic surge that forced this play into being. The Colby Sisters does not have that. There’s a bit of a build up, a teetering tension that seems ready to explode and create a completely new world … but instead of riding that wave, we get some flashbulbs and the end of the play. Huh. You think it’s going to be a modern The Age of Innocence and then you’re left with simply “there were some rich people in New York City and they were a bit sad sometimes.”

The Colby sisters are five women ranging from early forties-ish to early twenties-ish, who are drawn with fairly distinct personalities (much like the Spice Girls) and given little quirks that are easy to read so that we can tell them apart. We have the bossy Gemma (Charlotte Parry), please-every one and prettiest India (Isabella Calthorpe), “I don’t have it together” Willow (Claire Forlani), tragic Garden (Patricia Potter), and “I have just met the love of my life, no that guy was last week” Mouse (Alice Sanders, reminding me a whole lot of Edie Sedgwick). As they come together for a fashion shoot (we’re never told why anyone wants their picture or where their money came from), we are introduced to each of them in a way that allows us to see the dynamics that exist between them – settled roles of leadership and popularity, differing levels of support and hassling – but which doesn’t reveal much depth. Each of the characters seems to have been given about one note to sing and this note moves slowly from a life ring to which they cling to, gradually, a lump of cement pulling them under the waves.

Now, I know I’m murdering this metaphor, but as the play moves on we get some moments where we could either have probed the depths of who these characters are (underneath the facade, one imagines) or to show an evolution of the relationship between the characters, but it just fails mightily to happen. Bossy starts picking on Slutty, and Princess and Loser actually unite to support Slutty; but the scene fails to turn into a springboard for a deeper shift. Princess finally blows up at Bossy during a tennis game, but Bossy’s attempt to defend her behavior falls so quickly into clumsily delineated back story that I found myself becoming all to aware that I was watching people deliver lines in a play in a (thankfully air conditioned) theater.

And then the ending, in which three of the sisters unite against their one foe: the tabloid press. Their conversation again avoids anything that might actually be revealing, leaving me to believe the final line about “they’ll never understand us” is actually just the author engaging in wishful thinking, rather than how the reality of the Colby sisters: they are finger paintings made of personality quirks and hairstyles, somehow thrown together to make a play.

I’ve said many times that the mark of a great play is one where I go home trying to figure out the childhood of a character that was actually generated out of pen and ink and an actor’s breath: in this play, this never happened. The characters weren’t believable and the actresses struggled to make something of them and failed. Even the one outsider, personal assistant Heather (Ronke Adekoluejo), is utterly wasted as a character, although as an actress she convinced me that there was a life and a personality behind her rich silences. Heather and her sisters: for that play, I would have been happy to come back for after the other women walked off into the flashcubes. As it was, I was just glad I got to go home.

(This review is for a performance that took place on July 21st, 2014. The play closes Saturday, July 26th.)

Review – Shakespeare in Love – Noel Coward Theater

July 18, 2014 by

It’s hard to figure out how to properly review a play that’s about a movie that’s about a play. On one hand, well, Romeo and Juliet, you’re probably familiar with that; God knows several movies have been done on the theme (if not so much on the play) and God knows there have been spin-offs in other areas as well. But what is Shakespeare in Love (“the play”), really? Should the acting be judged by the standards I’d hold for Shakespeare? Or should I really be looking at it as an (urgh) adaptation of a movie and thus hold it to the much lower standards of a thrice removed adaptation based upon a blandly populist form of entertainment that, to be honest, is what this play, at its heart, is: simply an attempt to shake some shekels out of the indiscriminate theater goer?
But, to my great surprise, the commercial enterprise that is Shakespeare In Love (“the play”) has actually succeeded in creating a very enjoyable play. I’m not talking great art here: the loose treatment of history and historical ways of speaking is all too painfully on display. But honestly, if you are choosing to see this play, you still have the option of seeing Shakespeare fifteen more times in any given month (not just at the Globe but at the other 5 theaters currently doing Richard II, Richard III, Midsummer, etc.), and of seeing shows that put their high historical research front and center (RSC’s Hilary Mantel double header, yo) and, you know what? I’ve had enough Shakespeare for this entire year, and even Wolf Hall had dialogue that I’m sure was a far cry from Tudor England reality.
The plot varies not at all from the movie, as I recall (I saw it when it was new), and it is as follows: Shakespeare has writer’s block (possibly because of his loveless marriage); a young noblewoman who loves his works (she’s seen them performed for the Queen) decides to sneak into an audition as a man; as she’s a total Shakespeare fan she of course gets ;the job; Shakespeare falls in love with her (as a woman); suddenly he can write again (“the quill is full of ink” har har); the various tribulations they experience become, bit by bit, the major scenes of Romeo and Juliet – the balcony, the morning after, the utter heartbreak at separation.
In some ways, when it comes down to it, Shakespeare in Love is a play meant for Shakespeare fandom – people who know his works well enough to get all of the little throwaway lines from the non-R&J plays that are in this one and who find a storyline that is an imagining of how R&J came to be something worth two hundred minutes and fifty quid. Once I let go of “what things were REALLY like in those days” (no noblewoman woman would really think of sneaking off to be an actress) I realized I had a play that played with Shakespeare and his tropes – switched genders, hidden identities, thwarted love – in all sorts of fun ways. And it didn’t feel like a watered down movie – it was strongly theatrical, with a very basic set that could be a playhouse, the interior of a noble house, a bar, a bedchamber, et cetera but which also allowed us to believe we were at a fireworks viewing or floating down the Thames without the necessity of flying in a helicopter to help us suspend our disbelief.
This is all helped, of course, by the genuinely enthusiastic (and in no way amateurish) performances of our leads – both as themselves and when they perform Romeo and Juliet – and the strong supporting cast, who might be hamming it up but, well, I give them some leeway as with twenty actors you’ve got to put a lot of energy out there to shine. In fact, the general levels of “on” ness of the cast makes me think that what I was seeing was the kinds of performances that actors give when they feel really confident in their material and in the success of the show. They needed to play to the balconies because, well, the whole damned house was full, and is likely to be full for the extent of the run. And, as an early music buff, I’d like to applaud the music director for giving us both correct period instruments and some lovely countertenor singing, which I found nicely enhanced the mood (and which I realize could have been skipped with most people never knowing the difference – but it was well done and seemed like a little gift amongst all of the period incorrect dialogue).

So, burn out as I am, I found myself quite surprised at how much I enjoyed Shakespeare in Love, both as someone whose too, too solid heart needed melting and as a person who does, honestly, enjoy a good night’s entertainment – this was a fine show and many thanks to Official London Theatre for sponsoring this blogger’s attendance.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Wednesday, July 16, 2014. It is booking through October 25th.)


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