Archive for February 22nd, 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.)