Archive for March 30th, 2008

The Importance of Being Earnest – The Vaudeville Theatre (with Penelope Keith)

March 30, 2008

I was pleased to see that only a few months after opening and with very strong reviews, The Importance of Being Earnest had finally made it to the TKTS booth and the joy of 25 quid main stalls seats. Hurray! So we decided to have an impromptu Friday night “top quality” theater outing along with Wechsler and Cate (from my office) and go see this Wildean gem, which I had managed to utterly miss in my twenty-two odd years of actively and eagerly going to plays. Sure, I’d read it, but there is nothing like seeing a literary masterwork come to life in front of your eyes (unless it’s a horrible movie you’re talking about – I am only referring to theatrical masterworks), and the heavily loaded text of this show really benefits from getting off of the page and into (and out of) actors’ mouths. Suddenly it all seems like a dinner party attended exclusively by six Dorothy Parkers, only with a bit of plot to hold together the bon mots, or, rather, to give them a little something to hang upon.

The plot? Oh, I’d long forgotten it, and in fact I’d forgotten it enough that I did not remember a plot twist or two. Let’s say that it involves some gentlemen who are most clearly not named Ernest and there’s something about a handbag (rather like the handkerchief in that other play). There is also tea (served twice!), mistaken identities, and a lot of very clever jokes. Actually, there’s pretty much nothing but some very clever jokes that begin as tea is about to be served and end darned near where the handbag shows up, so perhaps these other items are superfluous.

That said, this really was a gem of a production of this clever little play and there’s a lot to recommend it if you like shows where you have to actually listen to what the actors are saying (a habit sadly thrown by the wayside in this era, and one which doesn’t actually seem to help one understand what’s going on when watching Pinter). The initial set is a lovely, gilded Japonaiserie room with a wealth of detail – it looked very appropriate for the time (unlike the costumes which were a complete hodgepodge, at least for the women) if perhaps far nicer than it would have. It was very Whistler, somehow. The second two sets, in a garden and in the front room of a country house, were fine but not nearly so absorbing.

The acting, though, was really what this show was about, as the characters could have done it in street clothes in a black box and still made it come alive. The men (Algie and Jack) were, well, as interchangeable as I recall them, with Algie being slightly more gay (Wildean, perhaps) and Jack a bit more whiny. The women … well, I have to say, seeing this after learning so much more about Victorian behavior, I found them very much not at all like I think real Victorian women would behave and speak! But, then, they were just characters in a play, and each of the actresses made her characters come brilliantly to life, even though Gwendolyn (Daisy Haggard) had a completely bizarre accent – it almost seemed like it was via New Jersey. I even loved Miss Prism, the prior, and the butlers! It was the kind of top-notch crew that one really only seems to get in London – effortless perfection from everyone involved.

At any rate – a very good night out, and highly recommended!

(This review is for a performance that took place on Friday, March 28th, 2008.)

“Cor Blimey! It’s a Right Cockney Knees Up!” – Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club

March 30, 2008

I am a big fan of a singalong, and when I was invited to this event, I was quite excited. Cockney culture! I know nothing about it, really, and I was really looking forward to an evening of good songs, good drinks, and good laughs with my good mates.

How little did I know.

When we showed up at 7, it turned out we were actually the first people to arrive. They weren’t ready to let us into the venue, so we were forced to sit – er, stand – in the lobby. We overheard that we couldn’t be let in because there wasn’t any “security” there yet (not sure exactly what this consisted of), and then I was told I couldn’t be let in without checking my purse – and that I’d be obliged to pay for the privilege! Seriously, what kind of place separates a lady from her handbag? I wound up having to go through it and pull out my wallet, my phone (since we were waiting for Josela to join us still and he didn’t know where to go, exactly), and my makeup and carry it all in my hands. It was ridiculous. The door staff was also unprofessional and didn’t handle my reservations very well.

We walk into the hall and … with about 15 tables, all but two of them were already reserved! How could that be? There was no “pre-reserve a table” option on the ticket buying form. When we had a hard time finding a non-reserved table, the women who were inside the hall were positively snarky to me. There was also a photo stall that wanted ten quid to take our picture (please! They could just email it to us for free!) and a gin punch booth, where we were obliged to stand next to the table so that they could keep an eye on the cups the gin was being served in. Meanwhile several women strolled around in pseudo-Victorian garb – as if anyone back then wore their corsets over their shirts! The whole thing came off like a very unprofessional, and yet very elitist, joke.

Well, we settled down, got ourselves a round, were joined by Josela, and waited for the entertainment to begin – deciding to skip the further expense of photographs but picking up a set of bingo tickets. What we got were some Pearly Kings singing songs off of their computers (not really so much inviting the audience to participate), a cute poetry performance by Madame Jo King (I really liked her), and … a woman doing the most horribly off-key rendition of “Mother Brown” you could imagine. At first I thought it was just a joke, as there’s a line in the song about a bad singer, but then I thought that she just couldn’t really hear the key the piano was being played in. This was supposed to be a singalong, but hardly anyone in the crowd was singing at all! We even had the lyric sheets printed up on our tables. I don’t know, maybe part of the problem was that nearly ALL of the crowd was at the back of the hall while the “reserved” tables were, nearly to a man, half-empty. So much for any kind of sense of community.

Then there was a bit more of something else (lord, I’ve forgotten, and Miss Lolly LaDiDah stole the program off of our table to give to someone else without even bothering to ask so I can’t refer to it), possibly the Pearly Kings, and then there was the very very long bingo game. I can’t believe they decided to do a blackout for the first game – even with the bizarre, tiny English bingo cards, it took a long time to get a single person’s card full. (That said the middle aged ladies at the table across from ours actually had brought bingo markers with them, bless their hearts. I wished I’d been sitting with them – they seemed to have just the right spirit, unlike most of the people there.)

After the third Bingo game was over, they announced an intermission, and we all decided to head for the hills and find our fun elsewhere, since so little was to be had in the hall. No amount of gin in the world could have made that a good night. And the friend who had brought me there, well, she felt mortally offended at the attitude of the people there, basically making Cockney into some kind of big joke for everyone to laugh at (“with the exception of the Pearly Kings and Queens and the bingo ladies”). I knew just what she meant – there’s nothing like having someone take your treasured childhood memories and turn them into something to show off for art snobs as if it were a bizarre zoo animal, “Oh, let’s play at being poor, what fun!” We even had the pleasure of watching one of the doormen turn away some South Asian kids at the door, telling them, “It’s not really your kind of thing.” Maybe he thought racism was a Cockney thing, but I think when you’re poor, you need to hang together, not set up more bullshit barriers between neighbors.

Anyway, we went around the corner to a little Indian takeaway with just three tables and were made to feel more at home than we had all night at the fake Cockney culture event, with lovely people visiting everywhere and just acting like Folks At Home. That’s the real London, not some well-monied office worker in a corset and her jammies singing songs she’s only ever heard on YouTube before. And this is what saved our evening from being a total waste. Thank God for cutting our losses and leaving when we did.

(This review is for a performance that took place Thursday, March 27th, 2008.)