Archive for June, 2009

Preview – Slung Low’s “Last Seen” – Almeida Theatre’s Summer Festival

June 30, 2009

UPDATE: review of “Last Seen” now posted.

Today’s trip into work left me with a hot tip courtesy of The Metro: Slung Low is doing a site specific show in Islington as part of the Almeida Theatre’s Summer Festival. I enjoyed their production Helium last fall, and I like walkabout, site-specific theater (Moonwalking in Chinatown the best I’ve seen since I moved here), so this sounds like a sure win. However, with such a prominent story in the Metro, it’s likely this might sell out, as it’s only five nights (though with a showing at 7 and 9). Get your tickets while you can!

(This preview is for a show running from Wednesday July 8th through Sunday July 12th, 2009.)


Mini-review – English National Ballet School & Central School of Ballet – City of London Festival

June 29, 2009

Over lunch today I ran to St. Paul’s to catch the English National Ballet School & Central School of Ballet performing on the steps of St. Paul’s as part of the City of London festival. The ENB dancers went on first, opening with a five-person, five movement ballet with two sections using Astor Piazolla (photo here and here – unfortunately I missed the intro as I’d gone the wrong way around the building so I can’t provide information on the choreographer or the dancers). The three girls and two young men performed fairly well – I was impressed they were able to manage so well despite the high heat and humidity.

Next up was a piece that should have been easy to pick out if I’d even once seen the ballet (though I suspected Beauty and the Beast). The dancers were dressed as cats, and while I found this piece fairly cute and enjoyed them swatting at each other, I felt like they weren’t really focusing on the character enough – perhaps they were finding it all just a little silly. (The woman in this picture is supposed to be Marina Takahashi.)

The third piece was a pas de deux performed in blue and for some reason I think it’s from Sleeping Beauty, the Bluebird Pas de Deux (I didn’t photograph it but it very much looks like this photo). This was, I thought, the strongest piece, and what’s surprising was that it was the man I thought was shining. In addition to his leaps, he was a superior partner. His eye contact with her was tight and lifted his companion not so much like she was a sack of potatoes, but like he knew where her body was and where it needed to go, and had no trouble getting her there. I think I’ll be seeing him on stage again. Exciting to think I caught him at the start of his career! (Note: I went back and watched it again the next day, when it was even better – and this time I took a picture. And then three weeks later he was identified as Ivan Delgado, who’s just been hired by the Scottish Ballet. His partner was Ayako Nagai.)

A “Red Riding Hood” scene followed, once again making me worry that the heavily costumed male dancer was going to keel over on stage. I think this was chosen for audience appeal as it didn’t have too much dancing (other than some pantomime and growling) in the bit they presented – more’s the shame. Everyone sitting on the steps with me seemed to enjoy it, anyway.

I think this was the end of the ENB section, and was followed by the Central School of Ballet, performing three pieces, “Five Lullabies,” something by Ashton, and a newly choreographed hip hop piece. This group of dancers seemed much younger than the other group and also lacking in dance maturity (though they were charming, see photo) – but they seemed to be thinking about what they were doing rather a lot, and something about the way the women were being handled made me think they were on the verge of careening out of control. Still, I liked the girls’ enthusiasm as they faced certain doom. I also really like the young man who was the only non-Caucasian of this group – in “5 Lullabies,” he was really getting a lot of height in his leaps, and his body seemed to have a really good form to it. Alas, if only I knew his name!

Even more alas, I wasn’t able to stay for the other three pieces. Still, I really enjoyed my lunchtime ballet treat and am looking to seeing them perform tomorrow.

(This review is for a performance that took place on June 29th, 2009.)
FOr another take, please see Graham Watt’s review.)

Review – Eonnagata (remount) – Sylvie Guillem, Robert LePage, and Russell Maliphant at Sadler’s Wells

June 24, 2009

Last winter I spent a frustrating two weeks clicking F5 over and over again, hoping that a pair of tickets would be released for Eonnagata. I had read about this strange story – based on the the Chevalier d’Éon, a French swordsman and spy who was rumored to be both male and female (and pretending to be the other) at different points in hir life – way back in November, but found the concept rather too vague to commit to what with pantos and Nutcrackers occupying my attention; but as the first reviews (and more detail) came out, I became rather frantic to see the show – Japanese ballerina transexual samurai kung fu dance show! It was like every cultural thing I am interested in all rolled into one, and it was desperately, desperately sold out. Fortunately, they announced a second production of the show, and as it seemed to not quite hit perfection (per a critic whose opinions I value highly), I crossed my fingers that while I wouldn’t be able to see the premiere, I might be able to see an improved version of the original without the trouble of the pesky first viewing polluting me. (Really, I was just trying hard to grasp at straws about not getting those tickets.) It was a long wait until the June showtime rolled around, and last night was the great unveiling. WOOO!

Now that I’ve finally seen it, I’ll summarize the evening as “like Guillermo del Toro directing a gender-fluid, Japanese Dangerous Liasons, with fight scenes by Yuen Woo Ping.” It’s not so much a dance show as a production with movement that is just as much about costumes, lighting, and music as anything else. In fact, the dancing was rather thin. Ms. Guillem did do some great things in which her lifted legs looked like extra swords; but it was more as a part of creating a spectacle than dance. I didn’t mind, really. I was hypnotized by the gauzy kimono floating around the performers and hovering behind the creamy scrim (for a sort of human shadow puppet scene), by the strange Lincoln-log pannier skirts, by the stripey fencing pants and knee-high white boots (or stockings), by the dancers slipping across tables, duetting with mirrors (and then with each other) … I was amazed by the way they melded into each other and then were themselves again (especially when a man crawled into the shadow kimono and emerged a woman). Yeah, sure, we weren’t really sticking to the correct culture, but I was completely happy with the use of Chinese/Japanese martial arts weapons and clothing alongside 17th/18th century articles – it looked great and that was good enough for me.

And the lighting design! It helped the performers slip into and out of shadows, it let them end a scene in one spot on the stage gracefully as another “thought” started somewhere else … but my favorite bit was when all three performers were doing staff fighting in little bands of light which changed shape as their staves (or were they swords?) hit the floor – it was like something out of The Matrix or even a video game. It was, in a word, gorgeous.

Was the performance just perfect? Well, no. Russell Maliphant had a horrible clunky moment in which his microphone kept picking up the sound of his clothing dragging across it, and most of the spoken bits seemed completely superfluous and a drag on the evening. The bit where Ms. Guillem was reading letters from the Chevalier’s mother actually made me long for the end to come at last; I was getting tired. And, in the end, I’m afraid it overstayed its welcome. While I was with it for at least sixty minutes, I think around seventy its energy started to flag – and I slid downhill with it.

But, in the end, who cares how historically accurate it was or how much of a dance piece it was, it was a treat for the eyes and engaging and well worth burning a sunny evening indoors. Who knows, maybe it’s in the summer that the best theatre really happens, because that’s when only the most devoted can be convinced to spend their time this way. Overall, it was a very good evening and I’m pleased as punch that I finally got to see it.

(This review is for a performance on June 23rd, 2009. Eonnagata continues through June 27th.)

Review – A Doll’s House – Donmar Warehouse

June 23, 2009

Just when you think social media is just a bunch of garbage, you get a tweet from the Donmar Warehouse letting you know that a show you failed to book before it sold out (two months before it opened) has had some seats released. SWEET! And that is how I managed to make it to A Doll’s House last night. I feel like a fool that I wasn’t able to commit to £15 tickets much earlier than I did, but after reading the West End Whinger’s review, I realized I’d made a mistake I was likely to regret for a long time and needed to remedy it – yet without stooping to day standing seats (a sure recipe for three days of aching feet). Saved by Twitter – who’da thunk it?

Because this show is so very sold out (though it’s running for three more weeks), there seems little point in providing an extensive review. I loved that the new version (by Zinnie Harris) is set in England with politicians instead of in Norway with bankers; the painful freshness of being dragged through the papers for some pecadillo and just what you could expect to happen to your reputation if you were accused of fraud added a lot of energy to the text and, I think, led to far more laughs (and tensions) that you often get with Ibsen. And it sharply emphasized the shortcomings of David Hare’s Gesthemane – politicians can make for interesting plays, but the focus needs to be on human relations and timeless concerns, not on some flash-in-the-pan scandal everyone will have forgotten in two months. Of course, Ibsen is a master of social ties, and creates characters who are so real you can pretty well imagine what they were doing before the play started and even twenty years later – not really Hare’s forte but one which makes the question of how will Nora’s husband respond? a matter of vital importance to the theatrical audience. This is expecially impressive given that, well, I knew exactly how he would respond … and it still hurt to see it. Ouch!

Gillian Andersen (Nora) was gorgeous and a bit fluffy as Nora -for some reason, it seemed to me that she had a bit of Marilyn Monroe in her portrayal. She was, however, absolutely convincing as a woman whose husband was vitally sexually interested in her and as someone who could have lived the coddled life she’d had quite happily for a decade. Toby Stephens “Thomas,” Nora’s husband, I couldn’t help but call him Torvald when discussing the play later) had a bit of work trying to portray someone who’s an unbelievable prig and rather unsympathetic … but he generally handled the twists and turns (of self-deception) well, and actually managed to be completely pathetic at the end. And, gosh, Tara Fitzgerald (Nora’s friend Christine Lyle) and Christopher Eccleston (Kelmer) actually made what I thought was a throwaway plot point when I read the script ages ago seem extremely vital (I kind of want to re-read it to see how Ibsen had originally developed it – and surely Christine wasn’t such a socialist?). Actually, the cast was just really good, as was the show – which means – maybe you ought to break down and go for the day seats, and as for me, I think I’m going to gloat a bit for getting to see this gorgeous show in this lovely, intimate space. Yay Team Donmar!

(This review is for a performance that took place on June 22nd, 2009. A Doll’s House continues through July 18th at the Donmar.

Review – Kursk – Young Vic

June 20, 2009

About a week ago I got an email from one of the West End Whingers, advising me that per this review, Kursk (at the Young Vic) was a show not to be missed.

I went and saw it last night, and I have to say, they were absolutely right. It’s set inside a submarine, with you, the audience member, as part of the set – standing in the galleys of the boat, experiencing what it’s like to have people living on top of you (the actors walk on certain paths that require them to brush by you, though there’s actually plenty of room to move around). Most of the action happens on the lower floor, though views are mostly best from the top – I’d advise avoiding the top wall backing the corridor to the theater as you can’t see the scenes set in the crew quarters at all, as they happen under your feet, nor the scenes in the sonar room, which happen to your right and behind you. I thought my seats on the floor near the crew’s mess were quite good, though after an hour of standing, my feet were really aching, and there was still another 30-40 minutes to go.

The sound design was incredible – ting-y noises up and to the back (for me) really defined the space, and the explosions that shook the ship had me leaping out of my skin as if the building itself had actually rocked. (I about expected the floor to tilt like in the space exploration ride at Disneyland.) And the set moved, though I don’t really want to say how. Suffice it to say it was an immersive experience that, in my mind, put the plotless meanderings of Punchdrunk to shame. Yeah, we were “there” for Faust, but we created the space last night for Kursk.

Substantially this play is about what life is like for men who work on submarines, with a heavy historical flavor of Cold War spy games. It’s only a little bit about the Kursk, really. But it’s great. And while other shows have moved me more or perhaps had more heart-string-plucking plots, this was an intense experience of the sort that could only happen in a theater, and not in any West end, cruise boat sized music hall. It could only be done black box, and that, to me, means you’d better get yourself down to the Young Vic right away or you’re going to miss a truly amazing show that isn’t likely to be remounted in London any time soon.

(This review is for a performance that took place on June 19th, 2009. Kursk continues through June 27th. Don’t forget to wear supportive shoes.)

Review – Ballets Russes program- English National Ballet at Sadler’s Wells

June 18, 2009

Attending the English National Ballet’s Ballets Russes program so soon after the Diaghilev one at the Royal Ballet Opera House was actually far more fun than I’d expected it to be. Part of my reason for wanting to attend each of them was that I am fascinated by the Ballets Russes – the costumes! Nijinsky! – but have only had the most limited opportunities to see the ballets themselves, despite their legendary status (Firebird being the notable exception, as I’ve seen it twice – and while I’ve seen a few versions of Rite of Spring none have been the Diaghilev choreography). The list of productions I’ve heard about that were being featured was tremendous (woo Le Spectre de la Rose!) and sure to fill in some real gaps in my knowledge. And, fortunately, as it turned out, the ROH show was only extracts, meaning that as I arrived at Sadler’s Wells, I had developed a real thirst to see the whole of Scheheradaze. (I was actually a little confused about how one show had 20 pieces in it and the other only 5 – but I can say now that the ENB evening is all complete works – though I didn’t realize that it wasn’t “ Diaghilev’s “L’Apres-midi d’un Faune” that was presented, but a new work, “Faune(e), using the same music.) With two programs to choose from, I went for the one with more new works, program I (Apollo, Le Spectre de la Rose, The Dying Swan, Faun(e), Schéhérazade). I didn’t realize at the time about Faun(e), but I did see that program II‘s Rite was the MacMillan one, so not worth getting fussed about missing. My tickets were main floor, row R, about second from the back – and if you were wondering, they were great – my view was in no way obstructed. Win! (This is also a much better venue to see ENB than the London Coliseum – it’s so much more intimate. I hope ENB sticks to Sadler’s Wells – I’ll go see them more often if they do.)

I was excited to get to Sadler’s Wells and discover the night was sold out. I like the energy of a full house. Oddly, though there was a bunch of photographers outside, too! Apparently due to there being a premiere that night (and opening night) , a bunch of celebs had got free tickets for the show, including Stephen Fry and Jeremy Irons (photos here). I was actually surprised about all of the fuss (especially as I was worried for a bit that they weren’t going to let us in as we didn’t already have our tickets with us and were obviously not particularly important). I think these people ought to come to the ballet all the time, an not just when they have free tickets. Shame on them for coming so rarely that it warranted cameras! Ballet deserves better.

First up was “Apollo.” It’s hard for me to review this production because I just don’t like it. The cheesy props (the lute, the scroll, the mask, etc.) are corny and look like a Man Ray “Rayogram” – they make a pretty (static) picture but look painfully dated. I also loathe the worshipful way the women look at Apollo – it’s so over the top it’s like something out of a panto. Furthermore, the movement on heels makes the dancers look like clowns. There are a few pretty images – Apollo being led by the “chariot horses,” the bit where the three girls stand so their legs come out from Apollo like the rays of the sun – but mostly it just grates on me.

This performance also had its own issues. The three muses were gorgeous with their blonde (Agnes Oaks), brunette (Daria Klimentova), and raven (Erina Takahashi) hair, but they didn’t do well at dancing in unison, even failing to keep an even distance between them in some sections. Apollo (Thomas Edur) couldn’t lift two muses (not very God-like) without effort, and then when he was balancing Terpsichore (Oaks) on the back of his neck, he seemed to be struggling with her, like he was trying to arrange a sack of potatoes to take to market. This led to him putting her into position to lean against him, and he also was fumbling around getting her into place. It seemed kind of inexcusable. Terpsichore had great form – I loved how she held the curve of her body when he lifted her up over his shoulder and then rolled her back down to the ground – but Apollo was, sadly, not. It’s always the men that show the greatness of a ballet company, and Edur left ENB a little short. Perhaps some more rehearsal time and a few sessions at the gym would help.

As a side note – it was quite the deal that Karl Lagerflield had designed new costumes for this show. I liked Apollo’s all white look (goodbye to that corny gold belt!), with the sort of arrow-sling over his chest – but the ragged skirts of the muses looked sloppy. Goddesses know how to keep their skirts straight, especially when Mr. B set them dancing. Ah well.

Next up was Le Spectre de la Rose, with Gina Brescianini as “the young girl” and Daniel Gaudiello as the spirit of the rose. At first I was highly enthused about seeing this in a full production, with the bedroom set so nicely done and the open window. Brescianini’s costume still had an unfortunate Mrs. Tiggywinkle effect (thanks to the bonnet), but Gaudiello’s was … hmm. The flowers on the head seemed less pronounced, less pink, and the overall effect was … less like he’d just arisen fresh out of a pond scattered with petals than the one I’d seen at the Diaghilev gala. Even though the green leotard made him still look substantially undressed, it still just was not as sexy as the other one. And as he danced, rather than seeming like a wild spirit, he began to seem more like he had his smile painted on him. A lot of his leaps required minor readjustments after landing that … well, made me wish for the version I’d seen previously. Maybe it’s really hard to follow in Dmitri Gudanov’s steps. The performance still had the sense of a young woman being called into her passionate self by a supernatural creature, but the set didn’t make nearly as much of a difference in the end.

The Dying Swan (Elena Glurdjidze) I had high hopes for, after finding Uliana Lopatkina looking rather a bit too fresh out of chemotherapy for me to enjoy her performance wholeheartedly. It started well, despite the bizarre furry collar and the ill-fitting bodice (this was Chanel? – I thought maybe it had actually been made for someone else, it hung so poorly), but once she got on the floor … it was like she’d lost her concentration. Lopatkina was fully involved in the role, but Glurdjidze looked like she was thinking about what she needed to do. I understand that this was opening night, but, really, she should have been letting go a little bit more. I was disappointed.

Next was Faun(e), exciting because it was a world premiere (choreography by David Dawson) and something I wanted to see. The curtain opened on a bare set, stripped back to show the walls and some bits of set, with two pianos (Kevin Darvas and Chris Swithinbank) set up to perform the music. A tall man dressed in a green kilty-thing and an open necked shirt stood on stage, sliding his feet across the stage, then moving his legs, almost lazily … it was almost the direct opposite of what men are normally allowed to do on stage. It’s usually LEAPS and LEAPS AND TURNS and LIFTS and generally being macho. But he was graceful, showing that he had as much music in him as any female dancer did. He seemed to be dreaming along with the music. And as the music continued, he was joined by another man, and they danced together, with some lifts and some leaps, but, to me, mostly it was about expressing the pure joy of the music and not about doing showy male dancer moves. I liked it, but, to be honest, I don’t think it’s go the “oomph” to hold up against the other dances set to this music.

This left the final piece, Scheherazade, and let me tell you did they ever make the right choice in having this be the piece that closed the night. It had all of the pageantry and excesses of Firebird, then topped them further with, um, an onstage orgy (of course it was only simulated but it was really just the utter opposite of Ye Olde White Skirt Ballet). It was an Orientalist/Odalisque/harem fantasy, with gorgeous women dripping with sexuality (and wearing fantasy costumes that did appear to have a bit in common with traditional Turkish/central Asian looks) and apparently having nothing else on their minds once their overlord had left than satisfying their desires with something a little better than the palace eunuch (Daniel Jones, such a riot). Elena Glurdjidze was much more fun in this role (Zobeide), and displayed the incredible flexibility that I think is probably vital to this completely not-on-pointe ballet; and while her Golden Slave (Dmitri Gruzdyev if I’m not mistaken) and she didn’t create the painfully intense effect Lopatkina and Igor Zelensky had at the ROH (the bending and twisting were more exquisite, and Zelensky had no trouble lifting and balancing Lopatkina – yes, this problem reoccured here), still the overall emotional impact of this dance, ending with the death of all of the harem women and the male slaves with whom they had shared a few moments of joy, was far greater than it had been in the extract. I left feeling exhilirated and thinking I’d like nothing more than to sneak back on Thursday or Saturday and see this program again.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Tuesday, June 16th, 2009. English National Ballet’s two Ballets Russes programs continue at Sadler’s Wellls through Saturday, June 20th. For alternate reviews of this program, please see The Guardian, the Telegraph, or tweeter @GWDanceWriter – Graham Watts – at

Review preview – English National Ballet’s Diaghilev program – Sadler’s Wells

June 17, 2009

Due to a quick turnaround between getting home last night and having to start work today, I’m afraid I won’t be able to get my full review of this production up in time for tonight’s possible patrons to decide whether or not to buy tickets.

My review in short: if you enjoyed Firebirdor La Bayadere, I highly recommend that you make time to see this program, as Scheherazade is just wonderful and as over the top a spectacle as you could ever hope for in a ballet. Spectre de la Rose is fine if not brilliant, last night’s The Dying Swan was missable (you only want perfection for it), and Apollo was a bit sloppy. I did enjoy the new work, Faune(e), though I would still prefer to see the original version (some day)!.

You have been warned. Full review later tonight.

Review – Been So Long – The Young Vic

June 15, 2009

Been So Long was a birthday present to me from J. I didn’t know too much about it other than what was written on the Young Vic’s website – as usual, I wanted the plot to surprise me. “Yvonne and Simone are cruising for action. Raymond stole Gil’s girl and now Gil wants to slice him up. Barney is just after a quiet life. When all five collide in a seedy London bar, their desires ignite in a guttural blast of cusses, laughs and unexpected romance.” It sounded pretty now and happening.

The audience was looking very different from the usual “musical” audience – way younger (mostly in their 20s), and, for once, substantially not white. (Contrast with my two Sondheim outings in the last six months. Whiteness: 98%. Not a good thing in my book and just pathetic given the racial diversity of London. Bad enough for it to happen at ballet.) I wondered as I walked in, what was it about this show that had so many people coming out to the theater?

My suspicion is that advance notice of the cast (specifically mentioned on the website were Omar, Cat Simmons and Arinze Kene) is what pulled in the punters. While the music was good, it was the power-packed performances of the singers that really made this show happen. The music was really interesting, too, going from soul ballads (at one moment) instantly into rap – a cross-style fusion that I think nicely represented what’s really going on today (especially since musicals with rap have been pretty thin on the ground). And the three backup singers left Priscilla’s angels in the cold. Gemma Knight Jones, Jenessa Qua, and Samantha-Antoinette Smith really had the pipes and built a shimmering wave of sound when they either created moments in the story (a kind of underlining to the action on stage) or fleshed out someone else’s song. I really, really enjoyed hearing them sing.

The characters and the plot are pretty much this (normally I won’t summarize but since this is a new show, I don’t think you can easily Google it up): in a bar owned by Barney (Omar Lyefook, painfully underutilized), two women (single mom Simone, played by Cat Simmons, and brash Yvonne, played by Naana Agyei-Ampadu, who performed all of the first act in the most ill-fitting yellow dress) are hanging out and talking about their lives. Yvonne wants to score, but the man she puts her moves on (arrogant Raymond, Arinze Kene) only has eyes for Simone. What he doesn’t know is that another man he stole a woman away from – Gil (Harry Hepple, a buttery tenor disguised as a psychotic, poor white boy rather like Eminem) – knows Raymond’s on the streets and is out for revenge.

Aaaand … well, the characters are actually a bit thin, and the script itself needs some pumping up. Simone and Yvonne spend too long talking about their lives, and the pace of the play really slumps. Gil is really on top of his character, even though he goes in really bizarre directions (the fight scene between him and Raymond is excellent and really tense), but Barney, who is apparently nursing a flame for Simone, just doesn’t get developed at all. It’s an utter waste – Omar Lyefook can really sing – and I think his role should have really been beefed up. As it was, he barely had more to do than the women’s trio. And Raymond, well, he’s really one dimensional – but is that what the playwright wanted? I think they could have done a lot more with this play and I feel rather like the talent was wasted on a bad script. Looking at that big sexy stage (by Dick Bird), I couldn’t help but think, I wished a better show was happening. I wished I’d been watching Cabaret. As the first act drifted into the second, I felt my energy flagging. The story kept not happening, and I hoped like hell I wasn’t expected to come back for an intermission, because I just didn’t care enough about what was going on on stage to be able to manage to come back and watch the characters flail around any more. (I snuck a peek at my program – £3 for the whole script – and realized they hadn’t had an interval between act 1 and act 2, so when the end came at 9:30 it was well and truly done.) Fortunately it all wrapped up rather nicely after the big fight between Gil and Raymond, and though I wanted to see more happen with the characters, the time they had to spend on stage had all been frittered away and I was glad enough to say goodbye. My thoughts: seriously re-write the script, eliminate the flabby dialogue, and this show might be able to move on. As is, I’m afraid it won’t be remounted at all, and that’s a shame, because I want to see these stories addressed and I want this kind of talent to get center stage in London. Ah well.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Friday, June 11th. Been So Long continues through July 15th at the Young Vic.)

Tonight only – £5 tickets for “A Doll’s House” at the Donmar

June 11, 2009

If you’ve been dying to see Gillian Anderson in “A Doll’s House,” tonight’s your big chance – apparently the Tube strike’s affecting people buying Donmar tickets as this Tweet just appeared:

“A limited number of £5 tickets available for A DOLL’S HOUSE tonight at 7.30 to be bought in person from Box Office quote ‘£5 offer'”

Review – England – The Whitechapel Gallery

June 11, 2009

I enjoy site specific art – dance, theater, installation, whatever – so England was a must-see for me. Site specific art not only takes advantage of the location to enhance the production – it can change the way you see a place, leaving traces of its magic behind. I’ve never seen a play done inside an art gallery (though I’ve seen many performances in art galleries, especially Phoenix’s Icehouse and its predecessor, Crash), so after reading a preview in a local free paper, I set up a time to see it.

Well … it’s two days later and I can’t really find much to say about it. Two actors (Tim Crouch and Hannah Ringham) move around the main space of the Whitechapel Gallery, occasionally talking about the artist who’s showing, but mostly building a story in which they both represent a person who 1) has a boyfriend 2) collects art (sort of) and 3) lives in a jam factory in Southwark. They smile almost manically during the show like they’d both taken happy drugs, allowing them to develop a supremely profound ironic effect as they move beyond representing the life of a particular person and into representing the person as they deal with a fatal medical condition. It’s all done in the present tense, and it’s all a monologue (in the first half), and their grin as they talk about how it feels to be dying and how their boyfriend is reacting are just … creepy. It’s amazing how the facial expressions convince us that we should be expecting something else to be said, or, perhaps, that the person isn’t upset about what is happening to them. Really, the narrator seems to have little emotional response to events at all. It’s quite bizarre.

The second half (in which we are allowed to sit, though there are stools in the gallery if you’re not able to handle half an hour of legging it on cement) takes place in an auditorium, and the two actors now perform the parts of a person who has just had a heart transplant (possibly the narrator before, though it’s not necessary for them to be the same) and a translator who is speaking for the widow of the heart donor. It’s quite creepy and, I think, a fine bit of script that would actually have benifitted greatly from being performed in a different space – it all just felt too much like a conference room and not a bit like a hospital in a third world country. But it raised interesting questions about ethics and the world around us and, well, I liked it. Still, the piece as a whole didn’t really benefit from the site it was performed in, and the site itself did not gain from the performance as I would have liked it to – even though it did succeed in drawing visitors who might not otherwise have gone. Me, I’d rather see the whole thing done in an empty warehouse. As a whole, though, it wasn’t very moving and I’m chalking it up as “an experience.”

(This review is for a performance seen on Tuesday, June 9th, 2009. England’s final performance is Tuesday, June 16th. For an alternate view, see the Guardian.)