Archive for February, 2009

Discounts on 2009 “Spring Dance at the London Coliseum”

February 28, 2009

Due to Eonnagata being sold out for its entire run at Sadler’s Wells (best hope: buy tickets for June) and my being too poor to get tickets to pretty much any plays for all of March, I’m going to fill my blog with posts on saving money on show tickets in lieu of other content. Well, actually, I think that for March you’ll also be seeing posts on Flamenco and maybe even silent movies (there is a series at the BFI called “Screen Seductresses: Vamps, Vixens and Femmes Fatales” that I’ll be hitting rather frequently), but not much for plays. That said …

American Ballet Theater is coming to the London Coliseum at the end of March (through April 4th) to present two programs: Swan Lake and Le Corsaire. Tickets are available at prices ranging from 10 to 95 quid, but for select showings of Swan Lake (Wed 25 PM, Th 26 both shows, Sunday 29 March PM show) you can get two for one tickets on the 95, 80, and 60 tickets. Similarly, Birmingham Royal Ballet is coming in April to present two programs: Pomp and Circumstances and Sylvia. Half price tickets are available for the THursday April 16th show on the 65 and 55 tickets. To get these deals, go to http://www.eno. org and use the promo code SD441A when prompted or call the box office on 0871 472 0800 and quote “postcard offer.”

Anyway, enjoy! I don’t have a spare 60 for March (two blow on one evening versus three), but it’s my hope that by April I’ll have enough pennies scraped together to go see the Pomp and Circumstances show, as I like Birmingham Royal Ballet a lot.

Review – Carousel – The Savoy Theatre

February 27, 2009

Two nights ago I went with J, Jill and a random visiting American to see Carousel at the Savoy Theatre, a place I\’d never been and didn\’t even know where to look for! The show itself had been on my radar since November, when my uncle came to visit, mostly because I\’m a huge fan of Rogers and Hammerstein (the golden standard of the musical, in my mind – only Cole Porter and Kander and Ebb occupy the same heights for me) but also because it\’s a classic musical that I\’ve never seen, in the era which produced the most works I enjoy. However, it\’s also known as a bit of a dark musical due to the male lead being, er, a wife beater, and the fact that his wife sings about being okay with having him hit her. This kind of creeped me out, but I decided to just go and experience it and see how I felt about it later.

I am completely unfamiliar with the music of Carousel (it\’s part of my \”thing,\” to experience a show as if it\’s brand new if possible, no matter how forced it is to have such an experience – thus I avoid reading plays by authors I enjoy unless I\’ve actually seen them so that I can really enjoy the live experience, whenever it finally happens), so I didn\’t know any of the big songs, even though I knew the title \”You\’ll Never Walk Alone\” – but I had no idea what it sounded like! February, though, was the time for me to finally overcome my resistance to the story and indulge in my love of the classics – and £10 tickets from LastMinute were the final incentive to get me in the theater.

This, actually, turned out to be a real winner, as when we arrived, it turned out the Savoy house management had upgraded us to Row E! Now, I do believe there is no point in paying lots of money for a show in the hopes that somehow sitting closer will make a bad show better, but I was quite pleased that for once my frugal ways were really working in my favor. And it was a lovely theater to be able to admire in the full – all Art Deco to the hilt, gilded decor, a frieze of monkeys in the bar, the whole thing very OTT. We were also notified that \”Carrie Pipperidge\” was being played by Tasha Sheridan, which means this show\’s effective utilization of understudies was continuing full blast.

I was pretty put off at the very start of the show, when, after the women punched out of work (establishing the scene as a late Victorian era New England factory), the stage elements withdrew to produce … GAH animated projections instead of a real set! AARGH I was so frustrated. Is this the latest trend in cost cutting for shows, go for drops and send everything else off to Pixar? That said, I liked thet elements they did have – a man on stilts, three can can dancers, various other carnie types – but the projections irritated me continuously throughout the show, especially when movement in the background distracted me from the action on stage.

As \”center of the action\” Julie Jordan, I was quite taken with Alexandra Silber, who wasn\’t just beautiful, she was perfect for the role. She somehow managed to make the character believable – both independent, vulnerable, tough, and loving – and really kept my eyes focused on her. Maybe I can\’t figure out why she threw her life away for the sake of some silly man, but who knows what motivated girls of this era? At any rate, it was a real pleasure to listen to her sing, and I feel like she was an incredibly good choice for the role. Tasha Sherida also did a good job as Julie\’s best friend, being both cute and spunky and fun in a very Rogers-and-Hammerstein \”comic sidekick\” kind of way, but the person in charge of doing her hair really dropped the ball – it looked not just period inappropriate but ridiculously messy and half-thought-out.

Meanwhile, Billy Bigelow, Julie\’s love interest and the guy who slaps her around because he doesn\’t like her being right, certainly does a good job of being a rake and a flake and a ball of temper – but Jeremiah James wasn\’t as amazing in the role as I might have hoped for. The shoes seemed filled but not really full of personality. Lesley Garret, who plays Julie\’s aunt Nettie, was fun and well-placed in her role. That said, she could have taught the other girls a lot about how to sing correctly, as she clearly had a voice that would have made it to the back of the house, while the chorus of women singing along in the group numbers (i.e. \”Clambake\” and \”June is Busting Out All Over\”) just sounded painfully thin.

This, I think, is a problem with letting people sing with their voices miked, and as near as I can tell everyone in the cast was doing this. You could hear them sigh, you could hear them whisper – it was ridiculous! I\’m convinced this \”trend\” (if it isn\’t in fact just \”the way things are done\”) is completely ruining the quality of musicals and making stage singers weak. Seriously, if I want to hear people sing through a sound system, why not just fire up the home stereo?

Overally this was a \”good enough\” show and not a bad evening out, but it all just seemed a little done on the cheap and didn\’t overwhelm me. The dancing was okay (I did like the bit where the crew of the whaling ship faced off with the girls from Nellie\’s Soda Shack – it was kind of like \”Seven Brides for Seven Brothers\” but much better than the show I\’d seen in London two years back), and Billy\’s best friend was a great evil villain. The energy of the cast wasn\’t as up as I would have liked – I compare it with \”Hairspray,\” which was electric and energetic even from the second balcony – and can\’t help but think they were maybe a bit down about not being in such a popular show. It was a good introduction to this musical, and I\’ll probably see it again some day, but it didn\’t really blow my socks off.

(This review was for a performance that took place on Wednesday, February 25th, 2009.)

Review – Twelfth Night – Donmar at Wyndham’s Theatre

February 22, 2009

I admit, I was slow on the uptake with the Donmar Warehouse’s Twelfth Night (part of their season at Wyndham’s). It opened December 5th, and the WestEnd Whingers saw it not more than a week later. And here it is February, and the show closes March 7th … and I only bought my tickets in January to see it February, despite the Whingers’ effusive praise (key elements of their review for me: actually funny; not overly long running time – vital for a possible weeknight trip to the West End). And yet … well, finances, you know.

And a review. I feel … hesitant. The show’s got two more weeks, and if I’m not mistaken it’s about sold out for the run. So what is there to say, really, and who will it influence? The ten or so people behind me who had standing seats (way up in the balcony behind me – what were they thinking?) and the 20 or so folks who’d been standing in line waiting for returns could clearly never be swayed by anything I have to say here. So it seems a bit pointless to add my comments to what must be the great heaps of praise this production has been wallowing in.

Except … I’m not going to. And you know why? Because the Midsummer Night’s Dream I saw last week at the Southwark Playhouse smoked this production’s ass. Maybe it’s because Derek Jacobi (as Malvolio) and company have been doing this show for so many weeks that they’ve just lost their excitement. I can’t really fault the production values: the costumes were lovely (Indira Varma as Olivia was especially ravishing) and I liked the simple set (nice work on both, Christopher Oram), but I can say that this script just isn’t of the quality that Midsummer is, and there’s not much you can do with that. And yet a tale of lovers split by warring fairies is surely no more ridiculous than that a brother and sister can so successfully pass for each other that they woo each other’s lovers?

No, no, that’s not it. What it comes down to is that Southwark Playhouse made theatrical magic happen, and the crew at Wyndham’s only put on a play – they provided an evening’s forgettable (if quality) entertainment. I suppose this is what happens when you see a show so late, when the actors are less excited about doing the show – maybe even now Imelda Staunton’s Kath is no longer making the punters howl in their seats, but I’m convinced the final weekend of Midsummer will be so much more exciting that 12th Night was at this point in time. So cry not if you haven’t got seats for the Wyndham’s Twelfth Night and take yourself instead to the south side of the river, where I promise you that the folks at the Southwark will deliver a memorable theatrical experience that will leave you enthused about the bard.

My other complaint about this show: can we please do a Shakespearean comedy where people don’t have to illustrate sexual humor by making crude fucking gestures? I’m able to work it out from the words alone, thanks, I don’t need to see characters mock-humping the air and pretending to fondle themselves.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Saturday, February 21st, 2008. It’s nice to know that since this is a review about a professional company that for once the miffed actors and incensed relatives will not be slagging me off for not forcing a bunch of ass kissing in my writeup.)

Review – Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde – Union Theatre

February 22, 2009

On Friday I went with J, Josh, and Cate to see Jekyll and Hyde at the Union Theatre in Southwark. I was particularly interested in seeing this show because it was an original adaptation of the Robert Louis Stevenson novella (by James Maclaren) and one of the other versions (i.e. the musical by Joan Eshkenazi or the one by Simon Adorian). I’ve also got a soft spot for the Union, with its delicious under-the-railway ambience and highly affordable pricing scheme (£12 each, full price, really works for me).

Although I thought I knew what this play was about – mad scientist takes potion that turns him into evil murderer – this show gave me a lot more insights into the story (not sure if it’s supported by the actual text but after seeing this play I’m interesting in looking at the source material). London is portrayed as more of a seamy, late-Victorian era city, with the fog a metaphor for its dirty underbelly (in some ways the ever-present world of sexual hungers but worked more to be a metaphor about human passions, including temper and the desire for power) coexisting beside the world of rationality, morality, and all of that other puffed-up claptrap. Our narrator is Gabriel John Utterson (apologies for not crediting the actor but I can’t find it anywhere online and I was too skint to buy a program), a lawyer, who lives at home with a wife (insert name here if I ever get it!) and child. He seems to value himself as a representative of all of the Victorian virtues – and is actively forcing his wife to live the life appropriate to the way he wishes to portray himself to society – while frequently going on about a variety of dastardly dealings he’s getting up to when he’s out of the house. (We never find out what he’s really doing. A blackmailer? A front for stolen goods? A hitman? He could have been involved in white slavery for all I could tell.)

This conflict between the values of “society” and man’s passion – in its manifold manifestations – seems to be the heart of this story, and I think that in the ways that the text varies from that of the original, it is likely to further emphasize this difference. The play seems to be taking the place in a spooky, Jack-the-Ripper-esque version of London, which seems a perfect way to emphasize the violence, sexual license, and desperation that coexisted beside the more Dickensian fantasy version* of Victorian London. The scenes really played up the gas-lamp and candlelight interiors (good job, Steve Miller – this is the first piece I’ve seen here that seemed really professionally lit) and used them to fantastic effect in conjunction with blackouts (which had me jumping out of my seat).

Dr. Jekyll (name!) does seem a believable, quirky, misanthropic scientist (whose ultimate speech rather reminded me of something out of an Ayn Rand novel) and Hyde (name again!) is a frightening vision of murderous intent. I also loved the stiff butler (Mr. Poole – actor’s name unknown!) and the multifaceted actor who portrayed Sir Danvers Carew (whom in this version is not a “kindly member of parliament” but another representative of the depraved side of the upper class), Hastie Lanyon, and a strange, nervous client of the lawyers. Sadly, all of these people’s good work was brought down a bit by the way act one dragged. I mean, really, I was hoping for something quite a bit more spooky, and this was pretty generally just a psychological drama. Still, the second act picked up a great deal, and I enjoyed watching the story spin toward its twisted, violent ending (but not too violent for a little creamcake like myself – I scare easily).

On a whiny note, I really wish the Union would get it together about their website now that they’ve deprecated the old site. First, because this isn’t a normal website, my employer blocks me from accessing it from work (I don’t know what is special about Webeden but my company’s filtering software says it’s “a web site hosting site” and for some reason it doesn’t consider these safe). Second, there is just a real lack of information about the shows on there – very little about the season as a whole, and NEVER so much as a list of the actors involved in the show. I mean, how hard would it have been to have done that? It could just be copied from the text of the program onto the website and it would be right there for me and my review. But no. My apologies to the actors I would have loved to have said nice things about but couldn’t.

*Dickens actually wasn’t too upbeat about Victorian London but the sex is decidedly stripped out of his works.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Friday, February 20th, 2009. The production continues until Saturday, February 28th, 2009.)

Review – Into the Little Hill – Linbury Studio, Royal Opera House

February 19, 2009

Well, some people have all the luck. I read today about the debut of “Into the Little Hill” taking place in the Royal Opera House bar (due to a power failure at the Linbury), and I thought: Staging? Give me free drinks any old day! But it wasn’t to be my luck: I’d bought my tickets for Wednesday the 18th, and my drinks looked like they’d only be coming along provided I’d paid for them.

However we still had the luck of having the composer of “Into the Little Hill” (George Benjamin) perform the piece, and truth be told I was happy to have seats, even though the two operettas were only 40 minutes each. The first was Harrison Birtwistle’s “Down by the Greenwood Side,” a truly bizarre performance that was modern opera meets a Mummers play as performed by homeless people, including a strange little bag lady (Claire Booth) who kept singing snatches of “The Cruel Mother.” Oddly, the other characters (a hobo “Father Christmas” – Pip Donaghy, St. George – Wela Frasier, some bizarre creature called the “Bold Slasher” – Robert Hastie, and a hysterically menacing “Dr. Blood” – Julian Forsyth – no idea if any of these besides Father Christmas and St. George actually relate to Mummers plays) did almost no singing at all, but instead re-enacted a ritual in which St. George fights and loses to the “Bold Slasher,” then is resurrected by Dr. Blood and proceeds to beat the tar out of the Bold Slasher – well, sort of, only his arms and legs (which fought on their own for a while) and then eventually his head get cut off, which turned the whole thing into some kind of Monty Python sketch. It all ends with the men beating up the bag lady. I didn’t get it at all but it was more or less absorbing, except that I didn’t find the music at all interesting – it was reminding me of my uncomfortable visit to see “Pierrot Lunaire.” 1960s classical music just isn’t for me.

This was followed by “Into the Little Hill,” the star piece for the night, described as a retelling of the tale of the Pied Piper. It was performed by two women, a mezzo (Susan Bickley) who played the role of the mayor and the mother, and a soprano (Claire Booth back again in much more flattering clothes), who played the role of the Mayor’s daughter and the Pied Piper.

The text itself was quite interesting, and the staging was good – it included projections that made it possible to follow the text in some of the more poetic moments – but the music just wsn’t of a style that I cared for at all. I did enjoy the way the “sound” of the Piper’s demand for money (which was not sung) was expressed by what seemed like a fixed piano, but the piece overall left me longing for the days when music was musical. Are composers really so busy rebelling against the plebian nature of musical theater that they are satisfied to throw together disparate notes and expect people to enjoy them? I just wanted to throw my hands in the air. Really, this noise has been going on for so many decades – it’s as if the world of painting got stuck at cubism and never moved forward again! I may just have to give up on seeing performances of this type altogether. While I appreciated the intimacy of the venue and the skill of the singers (and Jon Clark’s lighting design was totally on the money), I didn’t enjoy myself at all and wound up looking at the price on my tickets somewhat bitterly at the end of the night. Things are just too tight for us right now for me to make mistakes like this. I should stick with Baroque and other early music and otherwise not go to opera any more – after 10 years of trying to cultivate a taste for it, it’s probably time to throw in the towel.

(This review is for a performance that took place Wednesday, February 18, 2009. There is a final performance of this show on February 19th.)

Review – A Midsummer Night’s Dream – Southwark Playhouse

February 14, 2009

Last night I went with a group of friends to see A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Southwark Playhouse. I’d never been there before and was enticed to attend the performance strictly on the basis of the flyer I saw at the Union Theater last month – and the fact they said the whole performance took only 90 minutes*! (The previous Midsummer I’d seen, at the Roundhouse, seemed to go way too long, and I didn’t want a repeat of that, even on a Friday.) The flyer showed a girl made up to look like an apprentice Geisha (with a strong touch of The Mikado in her styling), and just looked so pretty and charming that I thought, hey, this looks like something that could really work, and it’s one of those cute little south London theatrical spaces that need my support, and why not go? So seven of us rolled the dice and descended on the Southwark Playhouse in hope of a good night out.

As it turns out, my hope was repaid in spades. Everything about this performance was a pleasure to me, from the sound design to the set to the movement, the costuming, the props, and (of course) the performance – including the number of actors they’d chosen to perform it (utterly fat-free at seven). Instead of the normal uncomfortable yuck I felt with the arrival of the usually painfully imaginary Greek monarchs** Theseus (Kenji Watanabe) and Hippolyta (You-Ri Yamanaka), I was actually pulled in my their regal bearing and effortlessly graceful movement (as they knelt on stage to accept the petitions of Egeus and the youngsters) and … by God, they’d created a court in front of me, and I bought that the humbly bowing Hermia (Nina Kwok) actually had her life on the line by daring to reject her father’s match. I don’t think Demetrius (David Lee-Jones) and Lysander (Matt McCooey) were entirely believable as samurai – but that was okay, we had a story to tell and the accommodation was a small one since the overall premise of the show (the ball that starts the drama rolling) had actually been made digestible to me for the first time ever.

With so much of the play pared away, the dialogue popped way to the fore, and I found myself paying far more attention and actually really being able to enjoy the poetry of Shakespeare’s words. The description of love and lovers seemed gorgeously suitable for a pre-Valentine’s play, and Lysander’s later rejection of Hermia as “an acorn … a dwarf!” incredibly harsh and cutting (and funny). Hermia and Helena (Julia Sandiford)’s light and dark pink kimono were both suitably romantic, young-lady appropriate, and plain enough to do double duty – or in this case triple duty, as they played themselves, two members of the acting troupe AND members of Titania’s fairy court! I was really impressed at how well the actors handled all of these transitions and that they were able to appropriately convey them with the addition of an apron or a mask, while the bodies remained dressed in the same colors (nice job to the costumer, whom I’m guessing is Wai Yin Kwok, credited as “designer” in the program). Possibly more impressive were the props, which consisted entirely of … fans. Not a bunch of fans, either, but about six, which were cups to be drunk from, flowers to be plucked, scripts, scrolls, you name it – everything except for the wall and the lion’s mane used by the Rude Mechanicals in their performance of Pyramus and Thisbe.

I also liked the way the performance was done movement-wise, in two ways. First, the hall was set up so that we were watching – er – theater in the oblong. You see, there was a long ramp down the middle, with a painting on both ends, and we the audience set up on both sides of the stage. And yet (though I was sat in the middle), I only felt once or twice like I was missing any of the action due to blocked sight lines. I liked having the actors exit from both ends of the theater – and I liked how they could appear at the top of the back wall (over the painting of the tree) or even from behind the stage (when Titania awakes to behold her lovely ass-headed Bottom).

The second thing I enjoyed about the movement was how it was used to convey character. This is most especially true in the case of Puck (Jay Oliver Yip, also Egeus and Quince of the acting troupe), who bounced along in a way that was entirely different from any “Puck-ish” fairy I had ever seen, and yet who was entirely believable as a supernatural being because of his movement. He also was good at conveying impishness, resentment, and a variety of other emotions through his body, and, as an actor, set himself up as an utterly different character from the uptight Egeus and the blowsy Quince. Titania got hairpins and lost her Hippolyta shawl to convey her change, but Puck pretty much just had to do his transformation with the way he walked. Very nice job!

Have I enthused enough? As we walked out, we were all chattering madly away about what a good time we’d had. One of my friends found Theseus occasionally a bit hard to understand, but no one complained about the use of Japanese – it all seemed to fit in nicely and I didn’t feel like we were losing any of the Shakespeare because of it. And we were talking about the irony of having the different actors play the different characters, and the fun of the fans, and the cool set, and … what a good evening it had been and what a find the theater was and on and on and I couldn’t remember the last time I’d walked out of a Shakespearean play with more energy than when we’d walked in and at the end of a work week, nonetheless. So hats off to Jonathan Man for his brilliant realization of this play and thank you to all of the people who came together to create this really great night out.

*Ultimately the play runs more like 120 minutes as there is an interval, and that 90 minutes is only if you see one of the school productions. Still, I was back in Tooting at about 10:15, which seemed quite reasonable.

**painful due to the utter dissociation with what I’d expect of BCE Greek performance. I mean, please, you can look at all the Greek theater you want and it never reads a bit like Shakespeare’s version of Greece.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Friday, February 13th, 2009. The show continues until February 28th.)

Review – Die tote Stadt – Royal Opera House

February 12, 2009

Last night I went with J and Cate to see Die tote Stadt at the Royal Opera House. I was attracted to this opera for two reasons; first, it was the first ever UK production of this show; second, it was a 20th century opera written in the early part of the century, when things were more musical. I like new shows and I liked the possibility of an opera that I’d actually enjoy – because, I must be honest, I am really just not much of an opera fan. I keep trying and trying but I’ve failed to create a passion for the art form, though I do enjoy listening to people sing.

Anyway, I found Die Tote Stadt really quite fun. It started slowly, in the house of a man who’s created a massive fetish about his dead wife – his house is full of pictures of her and he sits around caressing her hair (ew!). But he’s convinced he’s found her again, in the person of a dancer he’s run into on the streets of Brussels.

At this point, I am forced to quote Robyn Hitchcock, whose song “My Wife and My Dead Wife” played over and over in my head during the course of this show. I’ll refer to it again during the review as it just seemed to appropriate for the show not to share.

“My wife and my dead wife
“Am I the only one that sees her?
“My wife and my dead wife
“Doesn’t anybody see her at all?”

While listening to Paul (Stephen Gould) wax poetic about his love for his dead Marie, either to himself or to his friend Frank (Gerald Finley), I was a bit creeped out, but also not very interested – it seemed all so sterile and dull, like even when Marie was alive there was something extremely non-physical about their relationship. I feared for the evening. The staging was reminding me way too much of almost everything I’ve seen at ENO, where the singers stomp back and forth from one end of the stage to another with no apparent purpose but to demonstrate the size of the venue.

But when dancer Marietta (Nadja Michael) appeared on stage, the show gained momentum. She was full of life, dressed in yellow and full of passion and love for herself. While she was willing to play with Paul’s obsession, she made it clear that she was herself, and not anyone else, and ran off into the night to attend her show rehearsal.

“My dead wife sits in a chair
“Combing her hair
“I know she’s there.”

At this point Paul appears to pass out in a state of exhaustion, and has a conversation with his dead Marie, who appears in a room that’s behind the one in which he sleeps (and a copy of it). I found this trope quite cool – Marie sitting in the same chair in the living room that’s now empty, addressing a man whom in the dream world is sitting up (while Paul sings in the front room, apparently asleep). Marie chides Paul for not being faithful to her, then says she’s going to warn him about what will happen if he tries to renew his love for her with this other woman. What? A jealous ghost? It all seems to be Paul’s subconscious handling his guilt poorly. It all builds up to this triumphal/spooky moment where all of these top-hatted dancers come onto the stage to reveal …

WHAT? While my ultra cheap, very very very back of the opera house tickets did manage to let me read the supertitles, the climax of this scene (like “Diamonds Are A Girls Best Friend”) was invisible from where I sat as the person who was revealed within the circle of dancers was only visible from the waist up and thus completely obscured by the top of the set. Wah. Was it a gowned or bejeweled dancer, the dead woman, or perhaps a skeleton? I will never know!

However, at this point the set went even wackier, as the ghost attempted to illustrate for her husband the ill things that would occur to him if he hooked up with Mariette. This part left me somewhat confused as to whether or not it was reality she was showing or just his fevered dreams, but I loved the energy and surrealism, with houses floating across the back of the stage (a la Wizard of Oz), nuns marching by carrying a crucified Mariette (or was it Marie?), and white garbed dancers (Mariette’s troupe) who suddenly flip the 6 foot portrait of Marie around to show it as WHOOP WHOOP a gaping skull! (It seemed really obvious that this would happen.)

“And I can’t decide which one I love the most
“The flesh and blood or the pale, smiling ghost”

At some point it appears that Paul has actually hooked up with Mariette in reality, but by the end of the scene he’s guilting about how he’s ruined his pure love for his wife. Mariette reproaches him for not accepting his love for her, and it seems that things are going to go well … but no, it’s German culture 1920 and women who embrace their sexuality can pretty much only be vampires, a la The Blue Angel. Mariette parades aroudn stage with no hair at all and Paul gives in and admit it’s she he loves – and his reward is to get stuck wearing the Pucinella/”Dumbo” costume. Bah. Can’t it be a good thing that he’s finally decided to move forward with his life instead of living in the past? Is all of this just his wife attempting to control him from beyond the grave?

“My wife lies down on the beach/She’s sucking a peach
“She’s out of reach/Of the waves that crash on the sand
“Where my dead wife stands/Holding my hand”

“Now my wife can’t swim/but neither could she/And deep in the sea
“She’s waiting for me …”

At this point, 90 minutes in, the interval occurs … and I realized I didn’t really have any curiosity about Paul and what else might happen to him, and I felt emotionally satisfied by him accepting his love for Mariette, and I was worn out and not looking forward to getting home after 11 and being exhausted all day at work. Cate proposed that we go home – and so we did. That said, I did enjoy the opera, and I recommend it as fun to watch, though I can’t say the music was too exciting – but that’s probably more about me than about the music, not that Erich Wolfgang Korngold would really care one way or another.

(Cast list here. This performance took place Wednesday, February 11th, 2009. Die Tote Stadt’s last performance is February 17th.)

Review – Three Days of Rain – Apollo Theatre

February 10, 2009

Last night I went with the West End Whingers’ crewe to see Three Days of Rain at the Apollo Theatre. The show had an interesting premise – three kids trying to figure out the history of their (two) families, as LastMinute.com put it: “how the private worlds of one generation are reinterpreted by the next.” That was enough to interest me: God knows I’d never heard of any of the actors before (though I rarely do – it takes a lot to get me to pay attention and I’m completely immune to the cult of celebrity).

The evening started out nicely enough at the White Horse, just behind the theater, a charming little warren of rooms complete with live fireplace that I’ll be sure to visit again soon. The theater itself is gorgeous – just the sort of place to see a show in London, but completely the wrong place to see a play about modern architecture! (The National would probably have been a better choice.)

When the show started, we were greeted by a deafening wall of noise that had me sticking my fingers in my ears. This is probably where they should have stayed, as at about the second sentence, when the character Walker (James McAvoy) says he’s “soaking up the Stravinsky of it,” I suddently had a Fram-ish vision of doom: I had just paid very good money to see a play that was completely up its ass. It isn’t about relationships, or understanding your family, and doesn’t feature interesting characters or good writing; it is the sort of sad show in which an author feels like name-dropping references to good artists (and art, and philosophers) will somehow add to the quality of his own work. Nietzche, Hegel – for God’s sake, most of the times the references were completely irrelevant! (The mention of Oedipus and quote from Hamlet are excepted as actually feeding into the plot, but saying “I feel like Hedda Gabler!” while burning a book made no sense to any of us.)

To top it off, the characters themselves weren’t actually doing anything. James McAvoy was utterly unconvincing as a slightly mad twenty-something, but he suffered from a script that also turned his character’s sister, Nan (Lyndsey Marshal) into a bit of a flat little robot with nothing interesting at all about her. And what were they talking about? Not their relationship, and not really their relationship with their parents; they were talking about … architecture … but not very much. They didn’t spend more than about two sentences explaining why buildings are interesting or inspiring … they just kind of asked each other questions about the past and what they didn’t understand about their parents and, er, what was going on with their dad’s will. Basically, they were doing nothing but setting us up for the second act (in which all action occurs), only, unlike a movie trailer, this took a good hour to accomplish.

It was all just so boring. I was losing my will to live. As they continued to speak and move around on stage, I vividly pictured the image I had seen on my computer just before I left work, of a Rem Koolhaas building burning in Beijing. It seemed to capture what was going on stage so well – the wanton destruction of two hours of my life for no good reason at all, and without even glorifying the art form it claimed to celebrate.

Which made me wonder (and I had plenty of time to wonder as my mind left the building to walk the streets of London), what is it that gets people so excited about architecture? It’s just not an art that transfers well to other mediums. A stage show about people trying to put on a musical, or write a good play? A book about a writer? These things seem to work, but plays and movies about brave heroic architects just don’t really cut the mustard. And to end a play with a man masculinely drawing a straight line across a piece of paper with a T-square … I just wanted to put a bullet through the production, and the script, for all time. What in the hell were they thinking? What was Richard Greenberg thinking when he wrote this turkey? Had he been collaborating with David Bowie or something? The character of Pip (Nigel Harman), the shallow TV actor (with a messed up accent – where did they cook THAT up?), provided desperately needed comic relief, but still didn’t succeed in really moving the story forward. How did they manage to entirely blow an act without a damned thing happening? GAH.

Anyway, I contemplated leaving during the intermission pretty seriously, but was told that the second act was a LOT better. And, well, the second act actually featured people interacting and doing things with each other that involved PLOT and transformation, and it was much better indeed, though to be honest to some extent I felt this was because the bar had been set so low in the first act. Overall, though, the play suffered from the same mistakes as Gesthemane – an excess of focus on ideas at the expense of creating an interesting show, in which characters create dramatic tension through their interactions with and relationships with each other. I couldn’t entirely buy Harman’s (as Theo) bullying of his stuttering friend Ned (McAvoy, much improved in act 2) … it didn’t have a naturalness to it. The development of the relationship between Ned and Lina was the only real drama of the whole evening … but it wasn’t enough and the ending just made the whole thing fall down limp for me.

In short: don’t bother. It’s not the worst thing out there, but it’s not worth spending money or time on. Instead, run out to go see Zorro, which I’ve just discovered is closing March 14, 2009. Now THAT’S a tragedy for you.

(This review is for a preview performance on February 9, 2009. Three Days of Rain runs until May 2nd, 2009. For another view on the show, please see the West End Whingers site or John Morrison’s blog.)

Into the Little Hill – Linbury Studio – Preview

February 5, 2009

I just bought some tickets to Into the Little Hill at the ROH Linbury Studio. The theme of the show sounds pretty interesting, and I really like the tale of the Cruel Mother, which is part of the accompanying “Down by the Greenwood Side.” That means the ROH has hit me up pretty heavily in the last two days – I hope they’re proud of themselves!

“Diving Performing Arts” returns to London – beware!

February 5, 2009

Note: like most Americans, I am a big supporter of the right to freely practice your religion, and I object to having my article here used as somehow being against Fa Lun Gung as a religion or against people who practice Fa Lun Gung (English translation here). My article is about this presentation as an arts exhibit. I believe people have the inherent right of freedom of religion, and it is wrong to restrict people’s religious practices, and if this had been sold as a religious revival night, I would not have had a word of complaint and would hope that those had attended had enjoyed themselves greatly.

I was mortified to discover that the Diving Performing Arts ensemble, originators of my most horrifying evening out last year, are returning to London, once again peddling their thinly veiled religious revival as a performance that is a “colorful gala of dance and music” rather than a two hour long propaganda piece. One of the people who commented on my review of their performance last year said that all advertising made it clear that this performance is being pushed by the Fa Lun Da Fa/ Fa Lun Gung cult; but in fact this is only made obvious by a TINY LINE on the back page of the flyer the well-coiffed women were handing out at Holborn Station last night (“presented by Falun Gong Association (UK)”). And if I hadn’t been following current events in China for twenty years, what would the chances be of my having ANY IDEA what this is about?

BE WARNED: this event is a Falun Gong RELIGIOUS REVIVAL, with numerous songs praising the religion and dances showing the persecution of its believers, NOT an arts event. It’s also an anti-People’s Republic of China propaganda piece. If you are offended by being preached to at an event you have PAID MONEY FOR, do NOT go to this. (It’s going to be at the New London Theatre and the Edinburgh Playhouse.) It’s not even a group from China – they are based in New York! So consider yourself warned. (On the other hand if you hate the PRC or are a big fan of this religion, doubtlessly you will find this the best event of the entire year. Me, I’m going to see La Cage Aux Folles instead.)