Archive for March, 2009

Extra great deal for “Death and the Kings Horseman” at the National

March 31, 2009

Okay, so you THINK you can’t do better than a £10 ticket, right? But no, the National is offering a free drink and program if you book a ticket for this by April 3rd for performances on 1-23 April (excluding Saturdays). Now, I’m a bit scared, as the last time this happened was for Fram, which makes me wonder if this is the National Theatre “Lassie Special,” that is, a way to fill the seats for a show that’s a dog. Still, I have an ongoing interest in the colonial experience in Africa, and was planning on seeing the show anyway, so I’ll be calling 020 7452 3000 and quoting “Metro” when I make my booking.


Entertaining Mr Sloane deals – £10 off or half price?

March 30, 2009

I’m pleased to say that Entertaining Mr. Sloane has been extended until April 11th. Ambassadors reminded me of this with an email exhorting me to save £10 off of top priced tickets, but why do that when I can get them from the TKTS booth for £27.50 rather than £35? Still, £35 is an excellent price to play for this hysterical production, and if you’d like to take advantage of it (and want to see the play on Wednesday evening or Thursday matinee), go to their website and where it says “PROMO CODE” enter “EASTER” (no quotes of course). Or, you know, roll the dice with TKTS – you might get lucky!

Review – Twelfth Night -Shochiku Grand Kabuki at the Barbican

March 30, 2009

On Saturday night J and I went to the Barbican to see the Shochiku Grand Kabuki’s production of Twelfth Night. I hadn’t been to a Shakespearean play in such proximity to having viewed a different version before, but it meant I was very much on top of the story of Viola, Olivia, Orsino, and Maria. (My usual limit is about once per year per play, so no “two Hamlets in six months” no matter who the star is.)

The reason why I broke this guideline was because of my overwhelming interest in seeing a professional, top level Kabuki company without travelling to Japan. I went in 2001 to the Kabuki-za in Tokyo and fell in love with the performance style as well as the whole atmosphere of the Kabuki experience. I loved the fun snacks that you could sit and eat during the show (salted soybeans! Yum!) and the way the audience members would shout out the name of a favored actor at just the perfect moment, when it was completely silent, and yet somehow at a point where they were not interrupting the dramatic action. It was like being at a sports match, somehow, much more informal and fan-based than English language theater. Thus when I heard there would be an opportunity to see Real Live Kabuki in London I jumped on it – but not nearly soon enough as I was only able to get tickets in the third balcony, rather claustrophobically squeezed under the oppressive overhang of the Barbican Theatre’s upper level of sound proofing.

Still (as I stumbled across the legs of about twenty people on my way in), the sightlines from our center seats were quite good, and thankfully the show started a little bit late (as shows at the Barbican often will), so we were just settled in our seats as the first CLICK! of the orchestra marked the start of the production.

The curtain rose on a gorgeous, simple scene of three small children singing (atrociously, who thought this was a good idea?) between a harpsichord and a platform with a few Japanese musicians on it. Behind them a huge weeping cherry tree gently shed petals on the ground – so appropriate for Orsino (Nakamura Kinnosuke II)’s speech about Olivia (Nakamura Tokizo V) wasting her youth in mourning for her father and her brother!

Then came the moment I had been waiting for: the storm scene! Not only was I expecting this to be the most exciting stagecraft, it was when I first got an eyeful of Onoe Kikunosuke V, playing both Viola and Sebastian. A full-sized ship (well, a bit small, but still, it was quite large, at least the size of a canal barge) rolled onto stage, the cloth waves rushing ahead of it, like real waves will, our hero as Sebastian in the prow. Kikunosuke then called his sister, ran into the hold, and returned in about one minute completely outfitted as a woman! The switches were amazingly fast, and I kept thinking of Hayley Mills in The Parent Trap – how did he do it! When the storm broke and high waves (cloth, again) started breaking, it all just got wilder and wilder, with Viola looking piteously out of a window in the hold. Eventually the mast of the ship broke, and we got to see Sebastian pulled beneath the waves. It was even more fun than Le Corsaire and made me wonder how anyone could get so excited about Miss Saigon‘s silly helicopter when you could see this instead. I was in love!

After this we had rather a lot of scenes that all seemed quite familiar, most of them set on one side or another of a gorgeous Japanese country house, with wooden platforms out front (perfect for receiving messengers) and large rooms in back (as the set revolved). Mirrors painted with flowers at the rear of the homes served to mark the homes of Orsino (lotus) and Olivia (iris) quite nicely. Of course, there were lots of cultural differences – Olivia’s veil covered her entire upper body, and Maria (Ichikawa Kamerjiro II, perfectly hysterical) veiled herself at well; and when Olivia went outside, two maids preceeded her and set up the platform with a headrest for her to use. However, “cultural differences” did not change the ultimate flavor of any of it, and made the drunken party scene (with Feste, who along with Malvolio was played by Onoe Kikugoro VII, Maria, Belch and Aguecheek – Nakamura Kanjaku) even more fun, with sake drinking all around and some quite hysterical drunken Japanese-style dancing (which seemed both extremely formal and just utterly over the top). Watching Maria crawl across the stage on her belly while Malvolio chewed Belch and Aguecheek out was great – upstaging epitomized! – and made me completely fail to pay attention to the dialogue (not that Malvolio had much to say until this point anyway). It was a great lead-in to the “let’s avenge ourselves against him” plotting and left me pretty psyched about the second half of the show. And, somehow, they managed to get the obligatory graphical illustration of Elizebethan humor thanks to a well-placed sake jug. (I suppose this is just too juicy to pass on even in Japan, but still, one hopes.)

This, however, was not to be, as, after an hour and a half, my companion declared himself too worn out to continue unless I was really, really determined to stay. And … well … I did actually know how it ended … and I’d just seen it a month ago … and we had seen an hour and a half’s worth of it even though I thought it went pretty fast … so I agreed to leave. He wasn’t hating it but it was my treat to him and if he wanted to get home earlier, well, it was only fair to concede as it wouldn’t cost me too much, especially since I felt like I’d already got back the price of my ticket.

I only really had two complaints about the show. First, too much of the text wasn’t translated, leaving us with long spaces where the actors nattered on and we English-speakers stared blankly at the supertitles, wondering what all we were missing out on. Second, while Olivia conducted herself perfectly as a noblewoman (as near as I could tell), Nakamura Tokizo just sounded so very elderly it made it difficult for me to buy Olivia as a being of outstanding beauty wasting away her youth. These were mostly small complaints, though. What I did not have to complain about was the heavily Japanese audience, which meant we had genuine shout-outs to the actors happening during the show and the pleasure of a hall full of women in kimono and obi during the interval. Truly, on this evening, it felt like spring had come to London, both on stage and off.

(This review is for the final performance of this show, which took place on Saturday, September 28th, 2009. Other reviews: The Independent, The Guardian (not much of a review, really), The Telegraph, ThisIsLondon (with a great picture of Malvolio in his “yellow garters”), and Phillip Fisher’s review in The British Theatre Guide.)

Review – Stovepipe – National Theater/Bush Theater at West 12, Shepherds Bush

March 23, 2009

Today I went up to Shepherds Bush to see Stovepipe, a new play by Adam Brace that the National is mounting in conjunction with the Bush Theater at … er, a shopping mall in Shepherd’s Bush.

Now, this was weird. I mean, I knew it was in a mall, but still – West 12 is one of those sad little run-down malls that seems to have seen its heyday eclipsed (by Westfields, I think) and has lots of empty storefronts and fairly low-rent retailers in the space that remains. On the other hand – what better place to do a show? And for us sad saps, there was a nice sign right on the front telling us where to go – straight back to the Morrisons and then to the right, where a little storefront had a sort of bar/coffee shop installed so that show go-ers didn’t just have to mill about in the mall’s halls waiting for something to happen. Sadly, I wasn’t able to laze around in the environment, as I needed to go to the ladies, and people were being led out the doors as I came out (at about 3 minutes ’til showtime) to a back alley exit from the mall to the actual place where the performance would happen. (Be warned: get there at least 5 minutes before showtime or risk being left behind!)

Then we went down the stairs into some sort of storage slash utility system underneath West 12. It was a world of heavy cement bricks, flat walls, Arabic graffiti … we were sliding into the world of Stovepipe. We walked into a sleazy looking conference center, where we were given passes marking us as contractors, and were welcomed into a world of … displays of military equipment and TVs showing videos of the many remarkable accomplishments that had taken place since the invasion. “Thousands of new homes built!” (And me personally responsible for them being destroyed in the first place.) Later talks of how loyalty could be bought with food and a steady electricity supply rang with a certain degree of irony. We were then led into a side hall, where we were sat down and given a speech from “a great war hero and man of business,” which is suddenly interrupted by … an emergency … light overhead … we need to evacuate.

WOW. What was actually amazing me about this show was that it was running enough on the edge that I was actually feeling a little nervous as I went through the space and kind of unsure about what was going to happen to us. Sometimes we were watching a clear “scene,” in which we were pretending to watch guys in an armored vehicle driving, but with the guns pointing everywhere I found myself distinctly uncomfortable and unclear about how well the audience/performer line was being drawn. Most of the scenes had a feeling like we were just dropping in, watching Alan (Shaun Dooley) hanging out with his friends Eddy (Niall MacGregor) and Grif (Christian Bradley – as well as playing the soldier of war we saw earlier), laughing about how weird their job is, tossing back drinks and fooling around with each other, just being guys. The production was both sympathetic and, I think, realistic about the situation of these “mercenaries” – yeah, sure, they are soldiers for hire, but they’re also guys who maybe don’t have a lot of other marketable skills and may not be nearly as capable of walking away as we imagine they are.

I particularly liked the scenes where we were effectively part of the action. This would not be when Alan was arguing with his boss’s wife, Carolyn (the extremely talented, quick-change-artist extraordinaire Eleanor Matsuura) in their offices, but rather when he and his friends, say, went into a darkened building where we had been forced to huddle like refugees while they searched for explosives or other contraband. The experience was sharp and the fact of where we were and what we were doing fell away from me. I distinctly no longer felt like I was watching a show; I was in it, in a way Masque of the Red Death had not managed to accomplish. Yeah, sure, I recognized that the chick with the high cheekbones was the same in each scene, but clattering around in cheap high heels, she was so clearly the Russian prostitute, and there was no mistaking her with the (perfectly accented) American journalist that never seemed to have any real purpose in the plot. And Sargon Yelda – I can’t believe he actually had more than one role, as he disappeared as an obnoxious American and then seemed to only have shown up for the very first time as the Iraqi translator hiding in Jordan. I was really quite impressed with the acting talent on display.

Overall, I consider this to have been a very high value return on my twenty quid, despite the fact that I got blisters from all the walking around I did in my new shoes. If you like this kind of stuff – or if you like plays about modern society, politics or war (would really like to know how this compares to Black Watch!) – this would be a good show for you to see.

(This review is for a show that took place on Sunday, March 23rd. Stovepipe continues through April 26th, 2009.)

Review – Antonio Gades’ Company’s Carmen – Sadler’s Wells

March 22, 2009

On Friday night I went with Miko and J to Sadler’s Wells to see the Antonio Gades’ Company’s production of what I call “the Flamenco Carmen.” What I did not realize is that, substantially, this Carmen is not based on Bizet’s Carmen, but rather the Carlos Saura film of 1983. This was set in a flamenco school … or so I was told. At any rate, a lot of the strangeness of this show for me was based on the fact that I was expecting an interpretation of Bizet … though I can certainly enjoy a production no matter where it takes the source material. It’s all about the quality of the show as its own artistic creation, not its faithfulness to the source material – otherwise we get crap like four hour movies that capture every detail of a book but are boring to watch.

So how was this show? Well … mixed. First, I was unhappy that it was done to recorded opera music. This was substantially offset by the fact that it was done to live Flamenco music, but, still, it was cheesy, and I’ve become used to having only live music with my dance performances, so I didn’t like it, and it made the crowd scenes extra weird because the crowds … well, weren’t singing. The music we did have done live, however, was quite good; five singers (including a rather elderly looking lady that I believe goes by the name “La Bronce”) and three guitarists, plus all of the percussion a group of thirty dancers could provide.

The story itself was … well, sort of Carmen, but not really. The show started in a flamenco school, where people did row after row of similar movements, which went on forever, well past the time when I thought we were going to be heading into the cigarette factory district of Seville and meeting our heroine. At the center of the first row of dancers was a rather crazy looking woman with her hair pulled tightly back and an expression as grim as if she were facing death … and, yes, this was Stella Arauzo, our Carmen. There was never any moment when the crowd presented her to the audience with the wonderful Habanera “L’amour est un oiseau rebelle.” (This song, my favorite, showed up in the middle of the show, during some sort of seduction scene.) Instead … well, after a while, there was some sort of fight with some of the girls and Carmen, and Carmen knifes one of them.

Er … well, there are SOME elements of Carmen, as Don Jose (Adrian Galia) appears to be a police officer or something who loses his rank for setting Carmen free … but when Carmen runs off to be with a lover, it turns out to be … her husband … whom Don Jose kills in order to win Carmen back. There are no gypsies, no fortunetelling, no smuggling, but a bull fighter does finally show up, and Don Jose kills Carmen.

My favorite bit of all during this show was during what I think of the Lillas Pastia’s inn scene, where all the dancers gathered in the center of the stage and sang and clapped, while various people got in the middle and showed their stuff, including an elderly man that reminded me of Fezziwig, and the older female singer who looked like she was going to go offstage and bake us all some cookies. The bit was seemed full of joy and spontenaeity and I enjoyed it tremendously.

However, none of this could make up for the fact that I was unable to be convinced by our Carmen. Ms. Arauzo spend the whole night looking like she was expecting to be killed, possibly a minute or two after the curtain raised (by a falling sandbag, I suppose). She didn’t display the love of life and joy (and brashness) I expect of a Carmen; she glowered and had a temper, but didn’t … live. Her dancing seemed competent and was probably technically fine, but … maybe she was having a bad night. I don’t know. I just know that she was not pleasant to watch because of the glowering expression on her face and even her dancing did not capture me. It was a shame, really. I so much preferred the Mujeres show on Monday. Still, my friend M enjoyed it (though she also found great fault with the lack of “heart” and “hardness” of Arauzo), so it wasn’t a bad evening – just not one I’d particularly recommend.

(This review is for a performance that took place Friday, March 20, 2009. The production’s final show was tonight, March 22nd, but it will likely continue touring elsewhere.)

Priscilla, Queen of the Desert – if only I could get some cheap seats!

March 19, 2009

It is frustrating to read a raving thumbs up like the West End Whingers’ review of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert and realize it may be months, even a year, before I get to see the show. A solid gold hit in London can be really hard to crack if you’re a tight-fisted theater lover. Ambassadors is showing many of the shows as just completely sold out, which is bad as it means the TKTS booth is right out. That said, I can find semi-cheap tickets at places like WhatsOnStage and LastMinute. But this doesn’t really help solve the ultimate problem, which is that the show is taking place at the Palace, the single worst-configured theater in London. When I went there to see Spamalot, in the only seats I could afford – £25 balcony seats – I discovered once I got there that I could only see about 2/3 of the stage. Furthermore, the balcony seats – which were three further floors above the stalls, not just one or two – appeared to be stuffed into a converted attic, with low ceilings, uneven floors, and bizarrely configured seats. What a difference from the Wyndham’s Theatre, where my upper balcony £10 seat had gorgeously unrestricted sightlines! I felt being sold this crap ticket (for Spamalot) at the price I’d expect to pay for a normal theater ticket without being warned of the restricted view constituted false representation. I mean, at the Royal Opera House, they SAY “60% restricted view” and price the ticket accordingly!

What this means for me is that, sold out or not, I’m not buying tickets. Pay £60-£90 or miss half the show? It seems like blackmail. Meanwhile Madame de Sade and Dido, Queen of Carthage are being skewered; thankfully, I’ve only got tickets for one of them (and they’re returnable). Perhaps I should be looking at The 1959 Broadway Songbook, available for £15, and the Stovepipe walkabout show the National’s running (at £20 a pop). In fact, I note Stovepipe takes place on Sundays; I’m going to book tickets.

(Note it says re: The 1959 Broadway Songbook: “For the Poser Tables and Bar Stools at a reduction price of £15 per person, please call the reservations line – 08456027017.”)

(LATER: Yay, got tickets for Monday, March 29th from Last Minute for 40 quid! That’s silly expensive for me but hopefully they won’t be wretched and I can catch the show while the buzz is still hot.)

Review – “Mujeres” (Merche Esmeralda, Belen Maya, Rocio Molina) – Sadler’s Well’s Flamenco Festival 2009

March 18, 2009

Last night I went with W to Mujeres, the second show in the Sadler’s Well’s 2009 Flamenco Festival. I picked this show because I thought it was the most outstanding opportunity to see really good, “pure” (not group choreography) flamenco during the festival – with three outstanding performers, I assumed there’d be lots of opportunities for solo work. As it turns out, there was also several group (or couple) pieces, but they were generally quite spontaneous and fun. But onto the show itself …

The idea for this show was that there were to be three women dancing: Merche Esmeralda, who’s been dancing since before I was born (which I guess makes her around 60); Belen Maya, who is probably in her thirties; and Rocio Molina, who was generally being billed in the festival as a young gun and mostly qualifies as such given that she’s about 25 years old. So it wasn’t quite three generations of bailaoras, but darned close thanks to Ms. Esmeralda. In addition, Diana Navarro was performing solo singing duties, with accompaniment left to the three guitarists, four singers, and a percussionist.

Rather than review the performance piece by piece, I think talking about the individual dancers would make more sense. Here are my impressions.

Belen Maya, after starting the show windmilling her fans like Pete Townsend in the group opener, came back for a solo in a gorgeous white polka-dotted dress with brown trim and a fabulous Robin’s egg blue slip that occasionally made an appearance as she spun. She came onto the stage slithering smoothly sideways, her upper body motionless while only her feet moved her. At one point she matched so exactly her movement to the sound of the guitars that my mouth was hanging open. I enjoy flamenco so much because of the improvisational nature of what goes on and how the musicians and the dancers are actually riffing off of each other, but the way she just captured a sound so perfectly with her body (a turn and the lift of her arm over her head) left me wordless (hear the “ole”). Then she did it again, a different movement and a new guitar riff blending seamlessly into one work of art. Wow!

Merche Esmeralda was a great embodiment of flamenco. For her big solo, she appeared in a long-skirted white dress, looking a bit like a mad Miss Havisham (what with the ruffles and sequins on the dress) stalking across the stage. She took her time working her way into the dance and the music, but by the end, with her gorgeous hand movements, she was able to capture the energy of six musicians in one turn of her wrist. I was really impressed with her energy and enthusiasm – she clearly so much loves dance and was absolutely in the moment, showing no sign of the burnout other performers have after that many years in the field. She was really La Maestra and completely sucked me in with her regal bearing.

Finally we get to Rocio Molina, whose shorter stature and round face made her look very much like the baby of the group. But with so much youth I expected pyrotechnics, and she most certainly delivered. She carried castatets for her first appearance on stage, and she played them so fast I found it hard to believe she was doing it with her fingers. She returned for her solo in a black dress that was really unique, with a sort of sequinned shawl framing the open back, and circles cut out of the back of the skirt to show of the white petticoat beneath. As the tension built in her dance, she increased the speed of her footwork until it sounded like machine gun fire echoing off the stage, and then spun so fast and wildly that she looked like a cat getting into a fight with herself. Eventually the singers came out from behind their screens and she danced for and with them, creating a fantastic synergy of dance and voice that was extremely energizing to watch.

The evening ended with all three dancers again together on stage, each wearing a dress with a long train, in complementary colors of white (red trim), red, and red plaid. They seemed to have no ego problems (like I might expect) but instead danced and played and improved and just seemed to be having a really good time, going wild with their skirts, laughing and showing off. As they ended the show, I was standing on my seat, clapping, with tears running down my eyes – all of their energy just got me so excited and I loved it! (It’s actually a bit embarassing how much I liked it, if you normally read this blog you’ll have to forgive me for being such a pathetic fan girl.) It was a really great evening and I felt lucky to have had an opportunity to see three excellent dancers in my home town.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Monday, March 16th, 2009.)

Review – Estrella Morente – Sadler’s Wells 2009 Flamenco Festival

March 15, 2009

Last night I went to Sadler’s Wells to see Estrella Morente perform. She was accompanied by two guitarists and three singers (two female and one male) who, of course, also clapped, stamped, and snapped their fingers as the mood warranted. It started with her dressed in what looked to me like an equestrienne costume, with a black shortish jacket, a string tie, and tight pants. With her hair pulled back, she was a sight to behold – beautiful, focused on the music, and, to me, the epitome of Flamenco. She encouraged the guitarists with “Ole!”s and sang spiritedly. Her hands seemed to communicate the words of her songs, which, sadly, I wasn’t usually able to follow along with – just a few words I didn’t understand or one which the vocalizations broke in a way I wasn’t expecting and I just got totally lost. A real incentive to improve my Spanish, this woman is.

A brief pause, though: my enjoyment of this evening was SERIOUSLY hampered by the people sitting next to me, who seemed to feel that they could not WAIT to check their text messages until the show was over – or even to wait until the pause between songs. And the one who took a flash photo – SERIOUSLY! We were inside and this was completely inexcusable (not to mention illegal in most venues). I was about to grab his phone and throw it down the aisle or into the orchestra pit. The glare was really impressive. At least the girl sitting next to me, who couldn’t seem to wean herself off of Facebook, had the decency to try to keep her phone in her bag so as to reduce the quantity of light she was emitting. I was, however, appalled.

The guitarists both did some solos, and I thought the younger one seemed frustrated in a kind of competition with the older one – such a beautiful woman, if only I could be more skilled, she would pay more attention to me! But perhaps that was just me imposing something that wasn’t happening on the evening. At one point in the middle she disappeared, and was replaced about ten minutes later by a sensuous beauty with tousled hair in an off-the-shoulder black dress with a purple and green shawl wrapped around her. She looked like she’d just got out of bed after a particularly good night. I thought maybe we were going to get some dancing, but … those eyes … those cheekbones … my God, it was Ms. Morente again, looking like a goddess! (I was thinking Keira Knightly in Pirates of the Carribbean would have been meant to look as lush as this.) Now she stood as she sang, occasionally using her shawl for emphasis, singing of birds and skies and rivers running dry and sad memories, and with what little I understood I felt like my heart was breaking listening to her recounting the ways in which life seems to serve only to disappoint.

At the end she sang a song that most of the audience seemed to know (with lyrics about Miami, Londra, etc.) that had her getting the crowd to sing along (and one man in front of me to use her mike – he seemed to explode with excitement and, truth be told, did not have a bad voice), then did an a capella song with her three accompanying singers – which provided a nice chance to hear the gentleman sing (I could imagine spending a lovely night at a bar just letting him tell me the story of his life in song). There was no encore after the last song wrapped up, but with such a glorious evening, it seemed we were best to walk out, floating, on the high she’d created.

(This review is for a sold-out performance that took place Saturday, March 14th, 2009. It’s a bit difficult to review the show as there was no set list and no list of musicians, so pardon the lack of detail! For a review of a show that was probably about the same as this one, see the Miami Herald.)

Flamenco Festival starts at Sadler’s Wells (and comments on the Birds Eye silent Vamps series)

March 13, 2009

Now that my week of Vamps in Silent Film has wrapped up (Salome, The Vampire, A Fool There Was, Alraune), I’m moving on to Flamenco at Sadler’s Wells. I’ve got three shows in the next 8 days – Estrella Morente (Saturday), the Mujeres gala (Monday March 16), and the Flamenco Carmen on Friday the 20th. I’m pretty excited about it – just got my email about Mujeres, and it will be 90 minutes of non-stop, toe (and heel) tapping madness! Anyway, the reviews will start filtering in soon – expect to hear about Senora Morente on Sunday.

Some comments on the silent movies I watched: I think I’ve pretty well decided I don’t care for pre-20s era silents. Alraune had good cinematography and a reasonable plot (as a sort of SF/horror movie, I saw it as being a sort of Victorian version of Blade Runner), but A Fool There Was (1915) and The Vampire (1913) were just a big mess, lacking coherence and difficult to watch.

However, I have a bigger complaint to make about the music that was presented alongside these movies. Jane Gardner’s piano score for The Vampire was okay, but Alison Blunt’s hodgepodge of random noise that accompanied Alraune made me wish it was truly a silent movie. Do these people not go to the trouble to examine the music that might have originally been made for the film, or consider how to do sound effects to enhance the experience? Blunt even missed out on a brilliant opportunity to illustrate the music the band was playing in a flapper dance scene.

I realize that my years of watching Dennis James at Seattle’s Paramount Theatre may have spoiled me a bit, but the man knows the genre inside and out. I’ve also seen The Asylum Street Spankers and Aono Jikken perform new, original silent soundtracks in a way that enhance the viewing experience. What does it take to get people to understand you can’t just noodle your way through a movie and not come off looking like a self-indulgent ass? I’ll say this much about Bishi’s performance in accompaniment to Salome: it wasn’t just original, it made watching the movie better. (Sure, the effect was to turn it into a giant music video for me, but this worked because the flick itself was so OTT.) That said, there’s no excuse for not having good music with silents. Can someone come over here and teach people how to do it right? I salute the Birds Eye film festival for investing the money in having new music created for these films, but I wish it had been done in a way that created something that could follow the movie around forever, rather than being so disposable.

Review – Over There – Royal Court Theatre

March 6, 2009

Last night I went with J to see Over There, a new play by Mark Ravenhill dealing with the topic of German reunification. Now, I admit, I went to see this for the worst of all reasons – because there were twins playing the lead roles (Harry and Luke Treadaway). Well, that’s not entirely true – I wanted to see it because the article I read in the Observer two days before, which told me about the twins gimmick and also made the play sound like it wouldn’t suck in spite of its rather overly earnest subject matter – because, let’s face it, everytime I’ve seen a play about current events, it’s either been nauseatingly preachy/self-loving or just generally lame due to unimpressive plot and characterization (“Gesthemane“). This, however, not only had twins, but (per the story) was actually more about how the East Germans actually have a fair bit to be pissed off about. This sounded like a really refreshing viewpoint. I mean, talking about it with my cube neighbor at work, she kept harping on about how expensive it was for the West Germans and how resentful they were and how the East German factories were all crap, anyway. So, if that’s the viewpoint I’ve been hearing for ten/twenty years, what’s REALLY been happening? I thought this play might give me a better idea of the truth of the story rather than the, “We saved the East Germans from their own backwardness” attitude that seems to be the party line out here in Freedomland.

Now, before I get into it with the play, I want to talk about what was actually really interesting about this show (aside from the fact it was 70 minutes long and my seats were only £12 – and genuine Corinthian leather): it did actually make me aware of the … perhaps limited is the word? … nature of the theater I’ve been watching. The article mentioned that English theater’s “restrictive naturalism,” and German theater’s “liberatingly playful” nature, and after seeing this show, I am really wondering about what I have bought into here with all of the theater I keep piling into my brain. Am I becoming the master of a tiny slice of world theater – and completely ignorant of anything else that is out there? Would I only ever see shows through the filter of the English language theater scene because of my own limitations? And what is that keeping me from getting to see and appreciate? Or, maybe, is this the only kind of stuff I could really enjoy, anyway? I certainly don’t get much out of theater spoken in languages I don’t understand, but if I see it done here, in translation, I am only seeing the same style imposed on different words.

And, I think, much of what I enjoyed about this play was the way it joyously ignored the existence of the theatrical reality that might have held it back. NOTE: SPOILER ALERT, SUMMARY: FUN SHOW. The story wasn’t really about the twins’ relationship, or their development as human beings; it was a full-on, full-length, extended metaphor for the assimilation of East Germany by West Germany, with each of the twins representing one side far more than they were meant to be real people. It was all delightfully removed from reality, from the sponge that stood in for the West German’s son to the scene in which the East German brother covered himself with flour and Nutella and was then mopped off by his brother (in a scene wildly reminiscent of Karen Finley’s performances, though it contextually was triggered by “Ostalgie” rather than abuse). What I got out of this show was that actually there were far more things going on well in East Germany than we (as in “we, western capitalist civilization”) have been willing to admit, or even knew about, and that West Germany may really have been quite the arrogant colonizing force, perhaps even a bit … cannibalistic toward their supposed “brothers” in the east.

But (you may ask), how was the “gimmick?” You know, the part where it was a show about two twins … played by two twins? While I fear it may make the show difficult to produce in the future, this really worked for me. To have East German Karl (Luke Treadaway) have shared experiences with West German Franz (Harry Treadaway) via “special twins telepathy” seems really silly, but somehow just close enough to what people expect of twins to be a completely acceptable trope. And to have them speaking together simultanously – the blending of voices couldn’t really happen so well with any other people (though even they didn’t synchronize quite right at times). The costuming and makeup were also quite helpful. Even though the guys did several scenes in really horrifying tighty-whites (or in this case reddies and greenies), the way Karl’s hair was fluffed up and unfashionable always made him look different from Franz. Furthermore, their physiques (visible rather a lot given the underwear scenes) showed viscerally that two people could be in close in blood and thought as these two were supposed to be, and yet the condition of their existences would still cause them to be differentiated from each other as adults, much as Franz and Karl have different attitude about what they value in life and what goals they should work for. (That said, the telepathy bit made it really hard for me to believe that neither knew of the other’s guardian parent’s death … which I wondered meant either that they were lying to each other or that their initial enthusiasm for the innocent versions of each other, i.e. when they first met, was becoming overlaid with lies and concealment of their feelings as they grew to know each other better.)

At any rate, I found this quite entertaining, though you should be warned it features both masturbation (hands in shorts, no genitals visible), a naked butt, and a man (in a TRULY jaw-dropping moment) doing an on-stage “tuck” so he could perform a nude scene as a woman. WOW. These guys are really brave actors! And did he ever need a towel to do his bow. I recommend this show, but be sure you know what you are in for because this was _not_ what I expected – more like Ionesco’s “Rhinoceros” than anything else I could compare it to, absurdist to the core.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Thursday, March 5th, 2009. “Over There” continues until March 21st. Another take is also available courtesy of the WestEnd Whingers.)