Archive for June 8th, 2008

Review of “The Peony Pavilion” -下本- part three (”Reunion and Triumph”) – Suzhou Kunqu Opera company – Sadler’s Wells

June 8, 2008

It seems inevitable that a show in which we have a section/act dominated by a ghost (including a bit set in hell) would have a bit of a hard act to follow (as it were) in subsequent scenes, or, in this case, in the final part of the three night Young Lover’s version of The Peony Pavilion. This afternoon’s presentation was far quieter than the previous, high-drama evenings. With a focus on family reunification, it was basically a wrap up for what had gone before. Du Bao has to be convinced that Liniang is his daughter and not a demon in disguise, but it’s a bit of a foregone conclusion how this will turn out (though I was finding it a bit Monty Python-esque and wondered if they were going to bring out the scales and a duck to settle the question). And Liu Mengmei’s trip to the scholarly exams, how could he be anything but a success? It was good to see the old servant of Liu’s finally treated with kindness, and somehow cheering to see the slightly sleazy Confucian scholar Chen Zuiliang promoted to work for the emperor, but … somehow it all seemed a bit like those “what happened to” sections at the end of a movie.

The most dramatic for me were the scenes in which Liu Mengmei hasn’t yet found out about his success, and is unable to so much as buy a bowl of rice … and then is tortured as a liar by his father in law. His situation seemed quite dire – how COULD he be believed (“I know your daughter is dead but I’m married to her”)? How could he feed himself? – and echoed the sufferings of many people in the past, in China and in other countries. Yet as soon as he is awarded his scholar’s robes, he becomes all arrogance – no more struggling amongst the hoi polloi for him! He insults his father-in-law, hinting that soon he will take his job, and threatens the elderly scholar with exposure as a liar – it’s as if all of his years of struggle have taught him not the least bit of sympathy toward others. And Liniang is so proud of herself for having found a number one scholar to be her husband! I just saw her and Liu turning into her parents – she complaining about not having enough honors and comforts, he bullying people lower than him. And I thought, this is a romance? Perhaps at one time this was happiness.

After three nights I felt compelled to give the lovely cast a standing ovation. I’ve decided my favorite performer was Lu Jia, who played Spring Fragrance the first night and Duchess Yang the second and third nights. She really commanded the stage and was a joy to watch – a top notch actress that would bring light to any show. Shen Fengying was, I think, a very good Du Liniang – her voice was sweet and she moped delightfully. However, I felt like the cast was tired tonight – the sleeve flipping seemed a bit slow and uncoordinated, and the energy levels were really down. I can’t blame them, though – it was their sixth night, and I was lucky enough to get Thursday, Friday, and Saturday off while they kept cranking it out.

Now that I’ve been able to absorb this style a bit, I’ve decided that I really love it for its extremely simple sets and focus on “the word.” Throughout the show, staging consisted of little more than chairs and Chinese scroll paintings. The ponds, gardens, rivers, and other exotic settings referred to in the text? They are solely the product of the viewer’s imagination, as activated by the performer describing the scene. The costumes were gorgeous, to be sure, but it was really the lines, spoken and sung, that made this show come to life. Tang Xianzu’s poetry was gorgeous. It’s for this reason that I think the first night was the best of all. Part two was the most fun, with its scene set in hell and seductive lady ghost, but nothing equalled the poetry of Du Liniang in the first evening. Despite the fact this was also the longest night and I felt sure one of the scenes could have been entirely removed, this was the night I ultimately found most moving.

Afterwards we went to The Charles Lamb pub (one of my favorites in London – sure wish it was my local!) to chat about what we’d just experienced, and, lo and behold! We found an article about the show in The Sunday Times. Read and enjoy!

As a footnote, I’m probably going to be taking it pretty easy theatrically for the rest of this month. Wait, that’s a lie – I’m going to see Romersholm Thursday, Marguerite the Musical Friday, and The Revenger’s Tragedy on Saturday, and possibly two more shows on Wednesday and Sunday if I can get tickets. Ah, what a short memory I have!

(This review is for a performance that took place Sunday, June th, 2008, one of the most lovely sunny weekend days in recent memory.)

Saucy Jack and the Space Vixens – Fysh 2 Fry Theatre at The Golden Arms Pub, Bedford

June 8, 2008

While the idea of a play with a space theme, in which disco music and glittery fashion play a major part, seemed a good idea, in retrospect I’m finding it almost impossible to write about this show. It was clearly done by an amateur theater troupe, and I can’t really find it in my heart to rip them apart. I mean, maybe all of the major talent migrates to the big city from the hinterlands; maybe the middle and minor talents do, too. I doubt that anyone who goes to see this show is expecting, I don’t know, Hairspay, but I’ll say just a little bit about it for those who, I don’t know, like that car-crash feeling.

1. The theater (a side room attached to a pub) smelled like mold, yet through this I could smell the man taking our tickets – as in, as I stood five feet away buying my tickets, I could smell him though the mold. Fortunately, after I walked away from that part of the hall, I could only smell the mold. (I am guessing the Ouse had flooded the bar at some point, or something along those lines.)
2. The bar had neither cider nor hard alcohol, so I was stuck drinking overpriced, tiny bottles of red wine.
3. There were cute lights on the tables you could press to have the saucily clad waitresses slash cast members take your drinks order. This was fun. I only wish there had been more things I wanted on the menu.
4. There’s probably no reason to ever perform all of Baker Street or Leaving on a Jet Plane to a theatrical audience – the songs are just too horrifying, especially when performed by people who don’t sing well, or at all. (I was told the second song was actually supposed to be bad – but it was actually sung well, though that didn’t make up for the horror of hearing this song in its entirety.)
5. The script was trying to be bad, and yet, in the spots where it wasn’t trying, it was still bad, and not in a Flash Gordon kind of way. It was just poorly written.
6. The consistent highlight of the night was watching the expressions on the faces of the 8 year old girl, 11 year old boy, and mother and father sitting at the table across the way from us. From the very start, when we were introduced to characters “Vulva Savanna” and “Willhelm von Whackoff,” I was pretty sure this was not in any way a family friendly show. (I’d also been told that the space vixens used dildos for their rayguns, but this was not the case in this show.) I couldn’t imagine why they were there, unless they were just absolutely lacking in any kind of live entertainment in Bedford. Over and over again I saw the boy smirking at a joke he shouldn’t have understood while the girl looked confused or bored. However, he roared out loud at the necrophiliac moment. And, man, when the bartender and Wilhelm stripped to their lurex short shorts and sang “Fetish Number from Nowhere” – I thought the mom was going to spontaneously combust.
7. I didn’t leave at intermission, but in part this was because I was stuck in Bedford. That said, this still wasn’t the worst show I’ve ever seen, though according to the person who encouraged us to see it (and who is a huge Saucy Jack fan), it was, in fact, the worst version she had ever seen, though she still enjoyed herself in spite of this fact and is going to see it again, somewhere else, next weekend.
8. Both “Glitterboots Saved My Life” and “All You Need Is Disco” were pretty good songs, really. I certainly could relate to them.
9. The Bartender was absolutely the most fun to watch of any of the cast members – he had a real talent for upstaging much bigger roles.