Review – The Chemsex Monologues – Dragonflies Theater at the King’s Head

August 17, 2016 by

I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect from The Chemsex Monologues, because, well, despite being a fag hag, I am definitely not on the scene. In fact, when two gentlemen of my acquaintance used the term “chemsex party” just the night before I say this play, I had to restrain myself from leaping in and saying, “What’s this all about anyway?” I mean, obviously, I’m not getting to invited to these parties, but I’m so behind the times I didn’t even know what they were about.

So: let’s start from the beginning. Chemsex parties appear to be events where young gay men (and maybe not so young gay men) go and do lots of drugs – meth (not sure if it’s crystal meth or methedone), maybe Ketamine, something called G (I don’t know what that one means!) – and then have lots of sex while very high with other toned young gay men from the clubs and listening to thumpy music. From the atmosphere described in the Monologues, it’s a late night scene, sometimes involving porn, porn stars and hustlers, and …. well, probably also involving a lot of bad decisions. And some non-consensual sex. And maybe some sex because you feel obligated to because people are giving you drugs.

I think there are probably a lot of people going to this play, though, who are familiar with this scene, either from being in it or being on the fringes of it. I think this play is aimed more at them rather than “tourists” like me – although two of the characters, Fag Hag Cath (Charly Flyte) and sexual health outreach worker Daniel (Matthew Hodson) are definitely on the outside of the scene. They provide some, I think, good perspective on how things look from the point of view of someone who, say, is trying to survive their twenties rather than die having what seemed at the time the best time possible. But we also get the point of view of “the narrator” (Richard Watkins), a rich boy teetering on the edge of making some really bad decisions; and “Nameless” (Denholm Spurr), who’s really deep in the scene and not particularly concerned about next week, much less next year.

Structurally, we’re given the view of the narrator to pull us in; then some really sweet moments with Nameless, which to me captured the euphoria and sparkling sexuality of the good moments of the scene. There’s no denying, Nameless’ monologue about fucking a porn star in a bathroom while drugged out of his eyeballs is written to be blisteringly, squirmingly not; but a lot of that high sprinkled down like snow to chill me with the news that both of them were going to be obligated to have sex with everyone as more or less a cost of entry into the party. I hold consent as a value up there with freedom of religion and free speech, and to be told that these characters didn’t have it anymore just took all of the shiny off of the good time they were having. Still, playwright Patrick Cash’s words were compelling, and I think he made that scene come vibrantly to life: so we, the audience, get to experience a little of that high alongside with a lot of the less joyful moments.

It’s possible that this play is meant to be a discouragement to people who are in the scene to maybe have a think about being sensible with what they’re doing with their bodies (certainly it’s something you’d have to be blind to not take out of this play if you’re seeing it as a representation of reality); but what it also is is a good take on several different experiences with the Chemsex scene, told through interwoven characters that make it easy to keep track of how they all relate to each other. It’s an interesting evening but very raw and not for the faint of heart or easily offended.

(This review is for the performance that took place on August 16th, 2016. It continues through August 20th.)

Preview – Groundhog Day – Old Vic

July 30, 2016 by

It is not everyday that one of my favorite movies of all times gets turned into a real, live action, West End big budget musical with talent of the likes of Tim Minchin doing the music and lyrics. I mean wow. What an event! I was ready to buy tickets to it from the moment I saw it was happening (January?) but only actually got them in May for the soonest possible date I could go, which was in July. Preview, shmeview, GIVE ME THE GOODS.

I’m really sorry that I didn’t keep track of all of the songs so you musical theater buffs out there could get a nice whiff of fresh musical (AAAH the smell of fresh musical in the morning), but I was very busy paying attention to the show and not taking copious notes. Anti-preview review kill joys would just complain anyway. HEY, IF YOU’RE ONE OF THOSE PEOPLE, STOP READING, I DON’T WANT YOU TO READ THIS AND THEN COMPLAIN ABOUT IT. IT’S A REVIEW OF A PREVIEW. NOBODY IS FORCING YOU TO READ THIS SO JUST GO AWAY IF YOU ARE GOING TO COMPLAIN.

The show is set up on a revolve – pretty darned appropriate given that it’s all taking place on one day – and the central location for a lot of it is the tiny room our male lead Phil “just like the groundhog!” (Andy Karl) wakes up in morning after morning to relieve a particularly unremarkable day in his life, when he discovers he has been snowed in and is stuck in Punxatawney, Pennsylvania. Why is he experiencing this one day over and over again? We’ll never know, but watching the madness that ensues as a day’s trivia replays over and over again is somewhat hypnotizing. Phil, of course, is at first mystified, then mad, then bored, then suicidal … then, at last, accepting. He gets the opportunity to sing all sorts of crazy songs as he tries to break the day in new and different ways. Different characters briefly come into the spotlight, but the focus comes to be on the producer he’s working with … Rita (Carlyss Peer). He is trying to sleep with her, but, frankly, he’s such a sleaze you don’t want to see him succeed. But slowly … he manages to evolve. And finally, against all odds, you begin to hope that somehow, he’ll win her over … and break out of the loop.

The night I went, there were still some sound quality issues being worked through, and it was running a bit long, but it felt very close to what it wanted to be (and just a few nights away from formal opening). I found myself wishing it had a lot more dancing in it, because, well, it’s a musical, and, well, why not? The big tap dance number done while the groundhog pounds away on the drums certainly went over well and the show has room for even more extravagant over the top moves – reality is no barrier in the context of this story. But, well, I may not speak for everyone. The audience certainly seemed to enjoy themselves, and the on-stage chemistry between the two leads was quite compelling. I’d say it’s a darn good evening and will, no doubt, quickly be transferring to somewhere else, so best get those affordable Old Vic seats while you still can.

(This review is for a preview performance that took place on July 23, 2016. It’s booking through September 17th. There are a LOT of sex jokes, so don’t bring under 14s is my advice.)

Review – The Plough and the Stars – National Theater

July 30, 2016 by

After ten years in the UK, I find I still know so little of the history of the land I live in. The Plough and the Stars is being produced in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the Easter Rising: but I had never heard of this battle, which was a much deadlier incident than the Boston Tea Party. Knowing the date that it happened, though (1916) – the years of the first world war being very sharp in my mind due to the numerous centenaries being marked over the last several years – I had to say I was shocked to see (on stage) a rebellion taking place IN IRELAND right during the middle of the first world war. Jesus Christ on triscuit, kids, this did NOT look like something that was going well, and whoever was planning all of those speeches taking place outside of a bar during the second act (or, well, the second scene in the first act) seemed to be pretty willing to deal out domestic warfare when the whole “country” (Great Britain, perhaps the disunited kingdom) was at war with an external enemy. You can look at this as a person ignorant of history and look at how things are going in Syria and thing, yep, domestic insurrection, the powers that be are going to smash that flatter than a pancake in the same way that disobedient soldiers are shot on the battlefield.

The Plough in the Stars, like Sean O’Casey’s Juno and the Paycock, is set in Dublin slum. The characters are all in each other’s business, and are pretty well occupied with the hard work of keeping food on the table and taking care of ill relatives. This time, however, it’s the excitement of working for the independence of Ireland that sweeping people’s thoughts (well, the men’s thoughts) and motivating them; but somehow, when the fighting actually gets started, everything disintegrates into messiness, and looting, and death, and shooting, and the ridiculous indignities of battle that ultimately prove that, while it may be done for higher ideals, it’s pretty much a losing game for the poor and civilians. (And, if you’ve seen his play The Silver Tassie, you’ll see that O’Casey is of the opinion it’s pretty shit for the soldiers as well.)

 l-r  JUSTINE MITCHELL (Bessie Burgess) and JOSIE WALKER (Mrs Grogan)  photo credit Johan Persson

l-r
JUSTINE MITCHELL (Bessie Burgess) and JOSIE WALKER (Mrs Grogan) photo credit Johan Persson


Frustratingly enough, I once again found myself struggling uphill against the Irish accents, able to catch about two thirds to a half of what was said on stage. Worse, I quickly found I did not care about the characters. Women scrapping in a bar? The insults may have been funny but only as a respite from listening to lectures about communism and the local sex worker complaining about how bad trade was due to the incipient revolution. A big pay off came in the final act, though, which featured a mad scene that outshone Ophelia and Lucia di Lammermoor in my eyes … a wonderful, realistic depiction of someone going off their rocker and how it really affects those around them. And there was a delicious, emotional death scene … you can’t have war and disease like you did in Dublin without some death … and O’Casey wrote it spot on (and if you don’t know I’m not going to spoil it for you) … nicely capturing how actually very slow and painful it all is, not like in the movies or most of Shakespeare. I don’t want to say that watching people die is boring but it is actually much slower than it usually happens and I loved the experience of walking through this with a character I’d become rather oddly attached to by the time the grim reaper came calling. So, overall, this night was not without its good moments, but I don’t think Sean O’Casey is a writer whose works I can appreciate.

(This review is for the opening night performance that took place on Wednesday July 27, 2016. Thank you to Theatre Bloggers for organizing my trip.)

Review – Some Girls – Buckland Theater Company at Park Theater

July 24, 2016 by

I’ve been watching Neil LaBute plays since 2008, when I first saw one in the form of Fat Pig at the Comedy Theater. His use of naturalistic language and creation of characters that were fully believable – and extremely American – was a joy for me to see. People I recognized on stage, dealing with situations that seemed to be familiar and realistic – now that’s what I like! I’ve had the opportunity now to watch his style evolving, but I didn’t hesitate to take up TheatreBloggers.co.uk on an offer for a visit to see his 2005 show Some Girls and a Q&A with the director and cast afterwards.

The plot seems very thin on the surface: a man (never named, called “Guy” in the script, played by Charlie Dorfman) flies to several cities he lived in in the past to have visits with his exes, for the approximate purpose of setting things right with them. On the way, we meet Sam (Elly Condron), Tyler (Roxanne Pallett), Lindsay (Carolyn Backhouse), and Bobbi (Barley Stenson). The unifying theme in their relationships is that this guy walked out on them and never spoke to them again; for some reason, all of them have decided to take him up on his offer to meet up and hash things out years later.

Elly Condron (Sam) in Buckland Theatre Company's Some Girl(s) at Park Theatre. Credit Claire Bilyard

Elly Condron (Sam) in Buckland Theatre Company’s Some Girl(s) at Park Theatre. Credit Claire Bilyard

While we’re meant to buy into this situation, I, for one, never felt like it added up. The guy seems to want something, yet be incapable of articulating it; the women only get about 20 minutes each in which to develop their characters and aren’t able to get very deep. Still, the actresses use their skill with movement to flesh out their characters and made me believe there is more to them than we get to see; but the same isn’t true of the guy. He is stiff and says little and tends to have a bit of a wheedling, weasley smile on his face; but I couldn’t believe there was much else underneath it. Even if he is ultimately only driven by his ego and his desire to do things for himself, that, as a character trait, is something I am able to believe in; but it’s not in Dorfman’s interpretation of the character and there wasn’t nearly enough else that he did or said to make him be anything more substantial. I ended feeling like everything was a bit of a set up for a sitcom style joke, and that’s really not what I go to the theater for. I want Ibsenesque characters that I walk out of the theater talking about as if I’ve known them for years; I imagine LaBute had the opportunity to create a piece using David Schwimmer as a character and built the role around him, without worrying about three dimensionality. In short, the script needs more to it, and because of this I would not consisider Some Girls a particularly good night out.

However: I’d like to take a brief break to discuss the question of “misogyny in Neil LaBute’s plays.” It keeps coming up that he’s a misogynist: women in his plays are judged by their looks and frequently ill treated by the men in their lives. Is LaBute misogynistic? Are his plays misogynistic? I have to say, as a second wave feminist and hardcore theater goer, this is an extremely specious argument. Essentially, it’s saying that a playwright who writes about Jack the Ripper must be a murderer himself. LaBute creates characters, characters which are wholly based in 21st century (and in America). We live in a world in which, it’s true, women are judged on their appearances. Even if you are a child, you’re treated better if you’re pretty than if you’re not. LaBute does more for us by showing us the reality of the world we live in – in which pretty women are treated better by society than ugly ones, in which “fat” is treated as a moral shortcoming, in which men are not always nice to women and women can be angry and violent – than he would if he wrote plays in which he tried to pretend that things aren’t as they are. 100 years later, Shaw’s plays show a world in which getting divorced was a one way ticket to social exclusion (The Philanderer), but his plays would have been nonsensical if he tried to pretend this wasn’t a reality. We live in a world in which women aren’t treated the same as men. Holding up a mirror to that world is not misogynistic: it’s good writing, even if we don’t like what we see reflected at us.

(This review is for a performance that took place the night of July 21, 2016. It continues through August 6th.)

Review – Heels of Glory – Chelsea Theatre

June 17, 2016 by

Rarely has there been a week when I have been more in need of some ultra-cheesy sequins-and-glitter fun, and, fortunately, my trip to Heels of Glory, the “drag action musical,” had been pre-booked. My forays into drag culture have been expanding in the last few years – thanks to the Royal Vauxhall Tavern, the Green Carnation, and the Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club – but this year has been on a real high as I had invitations to competing nights watching RuPaul’s Drag Race (which I never saw before this season – disadvantage of not owning a TV) and a fairy drag mother who wanted to catch me up with what I had missed. Modern drag culture, BRING IT!

However, as a regular theater goer, I was feeling quite a bit of trepidation about this show. I’ve been to several vanity productions where someone’s noble idea was given far more attention that it ever needed (when being tied in a sack and tossed in a river was what it deserved); would this be one of those things? Drag queens who might shine in their stage act reduced to mouthing clunky jokes; flabby songs that failed to take flight; and a supporting cast clearly brought in from this year’s crop of drama school grads and completely lacking in chemistry?

But the plot sounded so outrageous and full of my kind of humor that I kept my hopes level, if not high. I mean, just read this description of the first scene: “Sumptuous velvet curtains open to reveal a stunningly glamorous drag queen. This is Splendorella (Topsie Redfern AKA Nathan Kiley). Full of regal grace, she welcomes us to La Douche, the world’s number one drag club, with her signature song, Heels of Glory.” And then we have a baby drag queen (Honey – Matthew Floyd Jones) and her James Bond loving tomboy sidekick (Jay – Susan Harrison) – it just seemed so very promising!

To my great surprise, this show was actually as much fun as I had hoped for and more. Yes, we had glorious glamazons in sequined gowns and towering high heels (and maybe a touch too much eye shadow and lip liner), but we also had extremely strong character performances from Jay and arch-villainess Allura Supreme (Sarah-Louise Young). And the backup characters – the “silent but deadly” (this is a song!) enforcer henchmen – were like a troupe of Marx Brothers pumping up the comedy levels.

In addition, there were so many things this show did that I appreciated, from the fact that the friendship between a young butch girl and a young drag queen were treated like, well, just a thing that happens, with both of them free to be their own selves and tease each other and yet still respecting each other for their differences. The drag queens themselves didn’t turn into horrible catty stereotypes (although there was some teasing of each other during an on-stage insult competition – that managed to not get genuinely nasty, quite a line to walk!), and actually wound up dealing with some of the issues (of aging, identity, and other things) that the community as a group faces, but managing it with a light touch and overall lack of meanness … well! And it had a singalonga, participatory disco dancing, and a happy ending. Really, you could not have asked for a more cheerful evening out. My friends had a great evening – and I think there are a lot more people out there that will love this show as much as we did. If you want to “get down with YOUR bad self,” Heels of Glory is just the show to take you there. Glasses of prosecco HIGHLY recommended.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Thursday, June 16, 2016. It continues through June 26th.)

Review – 4:48 Psychosis – Royal Opera House at Lyric Hammersmith, London

June 17, 2016 by

This opera is remarkable on many fronts. First, it is the first adaptation of the works of Sarah Kane for opera. Her star is truly in ascendance, fifteen years after her death: Sheffield Theaters mounted a Sarah Kane season featuring all of her works last year, and she’s finally made it to the National (with Cleansed) in 2016. Given the strength of her artistic vision and the power of her prose, it seems very appropriate for her work to be picked up for the medium of opera.

Second, this production marks the culmination of a collaboration between the Royal Opera House and the Guildhall School of Music and Drama to create a doctoral degree in opera composition. Philip Venables is the first person to make it through the program, and 4:48 Psychosis is, in effect, his dissertation (the residency comes with a commitment to produce the work created during its three year duration).

4:48 Psychosis describes an experience of being hospitalized (and released, and rehospitalized) while severely depressed. It can’t be considered a spoiler to say that the protagonist kills herself at the end; knowledge of Kane’s death hangs heavily over every word of the play, over every dismissive comment the medical personnel make to the protagonist, and casts a shadow of heartbreaking irony over comments such as, “I don’t want it [my suicide] to be mistaken as a cry for help.” This personal, internal journey is portrayed through an ensemble of six singers, one of whom (Gweneth-Ann Rand) seems most clearly to be the protagonist, and one of whom (Lucy Schaufer) frequently takes a role of a doctor. At times all of the group works together, singing the protagonist’s thoughts, like a Greek chorus of internal despair; at other times they split, sometimes along doctor patient lines, sometimes in various configurations that present warring ideas.

But Venables has done more than just sing Kane’s words. The ensemble sometimes is given silence (and motion) while the singing (or breathing) comes through speakers; the words themselves frequently appear in bold, crisp text on the back of the set. Kane’s
web of non-dialogue, of running madness filtered through a powerful intelligence, slams into us in print, on the monitors, from the singers, from a recording. It is a wall of multisensory despair, punishing to experience so clearly elucidated. And yet some of the most traumatic moments come when the voices fall away; when the conversations that will lead to a brilliant mind’s snuffing out are held, visibly doctor and patient, but aurally between a drum and a metal pole. The dispassionate, unconnected doctor is pinged and twanged, her text bleating, “It’s not your fault” while the sounds show the lie of compassion in her words; the protagonist, vibrantly experiencing the truth of this game playing, booms back via the drum, the simple repudiation of her text as powerfully expressed as Jesus’ rebuke of Judas. The protagonist knows she cannot survive this torture; the doctor knows she must not drop her guard. The audience can only watch as this game, in which psychoactive drugs take the place of human contact, plays out to its inevitable conclusion. And, in the end, having heard exactly why life was so terrible, it is devastating to realize that the protagonist’s despair could not be argued against. Being alive is painful. If you notice this too strongly, the bad will drown you. And being this helpless in the face of so much despair is heartbreaking. It is a very appropriate operatic experience and will hopefully be revived shortly after this four day run.

Review – The Invisible Hand – Tricycle Theater

May 28, 2016 by

The lead up I got to the Tricycle’s presentation of The Invisible Hand was that it was some kind of international finance thriller set in Pakistan. Boy, it was really hard for me to imagine mortgage derivatives being in any way exciting! But, in fact, The Invisible Hand manages to develop a John LeCarre level of tension with a story that manages somehow to be intellect expanding as Stoppard’s lectures on quantum physics in Hapgood (but without the buzz kill feeling of being talked down to). The situation is fantastic: American banker Nick Bright (Daniel Lapaine) has been inadvertently captured by a small group of Pakistanis, who are holding him hostage in the hopes of getting an outrageous ransom. But Bright isn’t who they were trying to capture, and can’t possibly come up with a $10 million ransom. His three captors – the kind hearted Dar (Sid Sagar), leader of the pack Imam Saleem (Tony Jayawardena), and “I grew up in Hounslow but now I’m keeping it real in the ‘stan, innit” Bashir (Parth Thakerar) – decide to let Bright earn his ransom, using his own money as a basis for some shady trading.

Now, at this point, to try to explain just what is going on with the making of the money seems unbearably dry, but since the Imam doesn’t trust Bright to use a computer, Bashir has to do all of the work, and Bright has to painstakingly explain to him how it works. Along the way, we get some major insights into the kind of corruption that is endemic to second and third world countries as well as the ridiculous near-religious belief that many people (especially Americans) have that the behavior of markets is outside of the hands of man … that it is, essentially, an invisible hand moving money around. This belief in the “rightness” of markets’ behaviors is very much like a religious belief, only without any examination of the rightness or wrongness of what happens when “the market moves.” And Bashir points out to Bright the immoral outcomes of the actions of the people who hold to this world view … as well as proving to him that sometimes the forces that move “the invisible hand” aren’t as neutral as Bright likes to believe.

Despite the fairly intense audience/character education that has to go on to make this story move forward, the overall feel is very tense and action driven. Bright, the Iman, and Bashir begin to form quite a triangle; Bright trying to find some advantage between the two of them, while the two locals work on their own unknown schemes. The scenes are all so short that there seems to be a bit of a lack of breathing room (certainly all room for complexity has been driven out), but given that this whole play takes place in one tiny room, I’d say we’re taking on an exciting enough journey that I’ve really just got quibbles. The whole thing is less than 2 hours and it really has a great payback, even if in the end perhaps what Bright earns isn’t quite what he was hoping for, as an audience member you’ll certainly feel like you got your money’s worth.

(This review is for a performance that took place on May 23, 2016. It continues through July 2nd.)

Review – Threepenny Opera – National Theatre

May 24, 2016 by

I swear I’ve seen The Threepenny Opera before, but I’m beginning to think either it was very, very long ago (a student production when I was in college?) or perhaps a film? Was it just tapes of the music? Or perhaps … was the National’s reimagining of this show so original that it just blew all of my memories away? It’s so difficult to say. I mean, everyone knows Mack the Knife(er – Captain Macheath – Rory Kinnear) is a murderer … but do I remember him as being so hopelessly weak around the ladies? Did he also sleep with men? Was Mr Peachum (Nick Holder) as corrupt as all that? The only thing I was certain was absolutely, positively NOT in the original was the newly tarted up Polly Peachum (Rosalie Craig), who was more of a gangster’s moll than an innocent led astray by love. And of course I’ve never seen the cast be such a variety of races and even disabilities – assuming Jamie Beddard as Matthias “the Shadow” is actually really handicapped and not just playing “a bloke in a wheelchair with a speech impediment,” which would be just too incredibly distasteful for the National to contemplate and which caused a friend of mine to leave the theater in outrage, believing him a stereotype rather than an example of incredible casting. I found it all perfect, and well suited to a show set in London’s East End. So perhaps there really have been huge changes to the script. Rather than comparing it to what’s gone before, I’m going to treat this show like it’s all brand new, because, really, I felt it was a whole new ball game, and that’s how I’m going to write about it.

So. It’s London, and it’s time for a big celebration – the Silver Jubilee? The Golden Jubilee? Who knows. It seems to be today, a time when British soldiers are back from Afghanistan (including Macheath and Chief Inspector Brown – Peter de Jersey) – but simultaneously an older London, where criminals and prostitutes have their “patch” and beware those who cross it – most of all anyone else trying to earn a living begging or stealing on the streets. The evil Mr Peachum runs a gang of beggars which seems, all things considered, to be quite copacetic with the police, because each is as corrupt as the other. Peachum seems to be a man of no morals – he’s unconcerned who his wife Celia (Haydn Gwynne) has sex with – and he celebrates violence. But for some reason he is outraged that Macheath has married his daughter Polly. Possibly he was planning on keeping her around to sell for sex – it’s all a little unclear – or perhaps Mac is just his enemy from past deeds. Polly runs home from her nuptial deflowering, grabs some clothes, and is off again, and the plot is set in motion: Peachum wants to catch and kill Mackie. Songs ensue.

The set for this show is stripped back, with the walls of the theater exposed and the various elements (staircases, platforms, etc) done very bare-bones, with the occasional burst of excitement from, say, an extremely realistic car, a sparkling hoop of a cartoony moon (best decorated with George Ikediashi standing on it and singing), or a giant British flag that’s about the size of the entire Lyttleton. The characters, however, are dressed richly, with extravagant hair, makeup, and costumes helping to bring all of the principals (and secondaries) to life. This is the kind of theater where we are being forced to use our imagination, and with that little help a rich, seedy world comes brilliantly to light.

Yet somehow the combination of music, story, and setting didn’t gel for me. I didn’t feel anything for anyone on stage. They seemed like cartoon characters, as unrealistic and formless as Marvel superheroes but without the outrageous back stories. And I found that without sympathy, there was no tragedy, merely a tale of several lives gone bad, done to music. Is it because I was watching a preview? Or perhaps that was all the effect that the show sought? Either way, it was a dissatisfying evening, with some musical highlights and a few coup du theatre but nothing that really grabbed me. I was in the back row, though, so perhaps it was just too hard to get to me. Still, it seemed like a good production of this show, and if you’re paying more than £15, you may find you get a more intense experience.

(This review was for a performance that took place on Thursday, May 19, 2016. It runs for a while.)

Review – The Local Stigmatic – Melies Productions at the Old Red Lion

May 16, 2016 by

I was intrigued by the invitation to see a play described as a “sinister, disturbing study of psychosis, fame, obsession and envy. Darkly comical at times, it reveals society’s fascination with ‘celebrity’ and the resentment it can provoke.” This is an ongoing problem in our society, where there are more celebrities than ever thanks to reality TV and social media. I mean, who had heard of a “fashion Vlogger” ten years ago? Or “noted pundits” without a newspaper column to their name? The Local Stigmatic seemed to offer a prescient look at issues I wouldn’t have thought existed fifty years ago … so off I went to the Old Red Lion to catch this show in person.

So: Soho, mid 60s, before the summer of love. It seems to be the tail end of the Mod culture. Graham (Wilson James) and Ray (William Frazer) share an apartment (with posters of bands and celebrities on the walls). Graham is obsessed with dog racing; as he talks to Ray, he begins to sound like he’s actually teetering on the edge of violent insanity. Why would Ray want to live with this nutjob? When they agree to go out for drinks, I fear that Ray is going to have Graham turn and beat the living daylights out of him.

But no. For some reason, they decide to go to Soho, where Graham decides to pick on a blind man (Tom Sawyer, who plays all other roles). Then he and Ray go to a club and set up a near total stranger for an attack. Why?

I watched this and found myself unable to buy into the relationship between the two characters at all. Graham seemed five minutes away from a flip out constantly through the show, and I can’t imagine anyone wanting to live with this nut job. Ray seemed ridiculously passive, then utterly willing to go along with Graham’s more violent side. It just didn’t make any sense. The person who got beat up – well, his responses were believable – but Graham was like a cartoon drawing of a real person and Ray seemed like an empty bubble. The overall effect was like watching a live action Clockwork Orange set in a dystopian past instead of a dystopian future. Maybe this was an accurate representation of some people at this historic period of time, but I found it wholly unrealistic (and a little bit nauseating – I don’t like violence). I left wondering why this play was revived, which seemed ultimately to make no more sense than Graham and Ray did. It’s completely blown out of the water by Barrie Keefe’s Barbarians, which came along 10 years later, and I’d say if you’ve seen the second you can give this one a miss.

(This review is for a performance that took place on May 11, 2016. It continues through May 28th.)

Response – Reassembled, Slightly Askew – Shannon Yee at Battersea Arts Center

May 13, 2016 by

Bloggers. We’re ignorant (and unpaid) and not really proper writers, so who should read our blitherings? I lack the intellectual background to write about theater, because I am a BLOGGER.

Well, in this case, I’m going to really exploit the format of having a platform where I can talk about my personal experiences in life, and share my very personal response to a show. Fuck (hey I can swear here as well!), I am just going to WALLOW. I AM NOT A PROPER WRITER. I AM A BLOGGER AND YOU DO NOT GET YOUR MONEY BACK IF YOU DON’T LIKE WHAT I WRITE because you didn’t pay me anything.

But in this case, I sure as shit have the background to know what I am talking about in my response to the show I saw yesterday.

So.

I fucking cried last night while watching Shannon Yee’s play/promenade/experiential theater thing, Reassembled, Slightly Askew. I was in the Members Library room of the Battersea Arts Center, laying on a hospital bed, with a blindfold and headphones on, purely submerged in the experience of trying to recover from a severe brain injury. I was not afraid; I didn’t at any point feel claustrophobic. What I got was a very unfiltered world most especially notable for the voiceover that was Shannon’s internal monologue. This is the kind of thing you don’t get to see on stage, although you could maybe see it in a movie; but usually any show featuring someone who’s severely ill just shows them in bed and about makes it out that they don’t have any thoughts going on. In this case, you could hear the people talking to or around Shannon, fading in and out as her awareness came and went; sometimes you heard random sounds. You heard her healthy (“What shall I get Grauniad for Christmas?”), you heard her under morphine (“Staple. Staple. Staple. Staple.”). And, most heartbreakingly, you heard her discovering what her new limitations are, and realizing what kind of an impact it is going to have on her life.

Listening to someone say, in a conversation with a doctor, “But when can I go back to work?” is nothing compared to listening someone think through the implications of their being unable to make their body (including their mouths) do the things that all well people take for granted. The inner voice has the conversation that is devastating, because it is the unfiltered voice of someone who has been devastated. It’s not just a physical change; the brain is also wrecked by the psychic impact of all of this struggle.

This, then, is what made the tears spill out around my face mask and trickle down my face: Shannon’s feeling of exposure, isolation, and profound fear; the looking back at all of the things that were lost in what must have seen like a moment; and the fear of all of the other things yet to be lost. I remembered my own experience of being profoundly ill three years ago, when my life changed in ways I never expected, and my body and brain completely let me down. I felt like I sat there with Shannon and held her hand and had a cry over all of the things we lost: the ability to feel normal on a daily basis; the sense of faith in yourself; the ability to make your body do what you had always been able to make it do; all of those friends. It is a horribly, horribly lonely feeling, looking over your shoulder at the past and finding that you’ve turned into a pillar of salt, eroding away under the power of your own tears. And Shannon has been there. And I think, if you go to this show, you’ll find that you go there, too.

Afterwards we were invited to stay for another 20 minutes and watch a documentary on the making of this show, but I wasn’t able to stay: I had to run outside and feel the warm summer air, and cry a little bit more, and find someone out there to reassure me that even though I have lost so much, there was still going to be a future and it might actually be okay. Just look forward. Be your own Euridice. Just keep looking forward, and making things, and trusting the future will still be there to meet you as you take one faltering, slow step after another. Take your time. Take your time. You’re going to make it. You’re going to be alright.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Thursday, May 12, 2016. Nobody’s paid me a penny to do any writing for over fifteen years but I still think I’ve got what I need to do it. Thanks for taking the time to read what I have to say. We’re all going to make it. We’re going to be alright.)


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