Archive for April, 2010

Review – Women Beware Women – National Theatre

April 24, 2010

Thomas Middleton is a writer whose position in the body of English plays is that of an entire genre: the Jacobean equivalent of the slasher flick. Off to see Middleton? Expect a cast full of nasties and an ending that leaves you feeling not particularly sad about how many people died at the end; somehow, his deaths seem not so much tragic as well deserved, and the quantities of them are so generous as to lean toward laughter.

Unfortunately sometimes this all becomes just a bit too heavy and the two plays I’ve seen of his before this one (The Changeling and The Revenger’s Tragedy) left me bored long before their resolution; the first show went for a Grand Guignol approach, the second (at the National) was like a watered-down Three Penny Opera with the charm sucked out of it.This plus a rumored three hour running time nearly stopped me in my tracks on my way into the National to see Women Beware Women; I was tired, it had been along day, and I couldn’t imagine myself suffering along happily while a variety of people were evil to each other and then finally met a come-uppance I predicted in the first twenty minutes (or even before buying the tickets). I’m glad, though, that I didn’t, because this is not just the most successful rendition of Middleton I’ve seen, but was a dark and exciting night of theater that richly rewarded my time and financial investment.

We start in a setting of not quite genteel poverty; a young clerk (Leantio, Samuel Barnett) is returning to his mother’s house with his pilfered noblewoman bride; a sixteen year old beauty who is a cross between Catherine Deneuve and Jaqueline Kennedy, clearly slumming in her husband’s pitiful household. Theirs appears to be a relationship driven entirely by lust, appropriate enough in two such young people; but Bianca (Lauren O’Neil) appears pitiful, a gracious woman with a poor future ahead of her.

Bianca’s situation contrasts strongly with Isabella (Vanessa Kirby), a young, intelligent woman who, rather than running off with her lover, is about to be married off to an utter dolt, with her father giving her no choice in the matter. Yet, “thanks” to the intervention of her aunt Livia (Harriet Walter in a truly grand role), suddenly she’s able to face her horrid future with hope; the man whom she loves can be her secret lover and support her through this upcoming lifetime of matrimonial misery. In this “happy ending” we have our first betrayal, for the man she loves is her uncle Hippolito (Raymond Coulthard), and it is her aunt who tells her a lie to recast this affair as something besides incest so that she will accept him as her lover. Woman Beware Woman indeed. Auntie Livia is a real piece of work; intelligent, twice-widowed, “all of 39,” and independently wealthy. She seems to have fallen right off of the map of morality, yet not actually appear evil; her acts seems to be ones merely aimed at procuring pleasure for those whom she loves, at the expense of those who are, well, in the eyes of the nobility, nobodies. Nobody (nobodies) are harmed, so where is the harm in it?

Livia is a lovely model of feminine power and awareness and the horrible easiness that allows people to be cruel to those who don’t really exist in their eyes. The next victim of her machinations is Bianca, whom “the duke” (Richard Lintern) has seen and wished to seduce. The power play between Bianca and the Duke becomes a very powerful thing; given that Middleton doesn’t really write heroes and can barely be bothered with creating sympathetic characters, the question is not so much what will be her fate, but how will she take revenge on those who wronged her. I was quite excited about seeing “Kill, Barbie, Kill Kill!” in action, a veritable inverse of Elle Woods, all deliciously full of rage. Forget a sisterhood between the women; these people’s interactions were dictated soley by age, money, family, honor, and perceived advantage. Love never has a hope.

And, really, I just loved it all. Our beautiful, well-decked, arrogant nobility; the weak and stupid poor they preyed on; the gleeful anticipation of everyone getting their comeuppance. The whole was done on a brilliant set that for once used the Olivier’s revolve without making a big show of it, nicely catching the Duke’s palace on one side and the dingy backside of Florence on the other; the music captured both the 60s ambiance the design team was aiming for and the horrid rigidity of 17th century morality; and _oh_ but the staging was a treat, from the duke’s grand parade, in a spotlight with glitter showering down on him from above, to the madness of the final bloody dinner scene, with dagger-wielding masked angels smoking drugged pipes with their soon-to-be victims, the nearly dizzying revolution of the stage, the lighting highlighting one horror after another (the ghost of one murder victim being especially delicious), the fights of victims and aggressors which, flickering in a well-placed spotlght, Bianca, now shimmering with sexuality and triumph like Poppeia, reigned above an entire dining hall full of flowers and murder and nearly no blood at all. It wasn’t needed; we saw each of them die, and, truth be told, we had to feel good about watching this room full of evil people meet the fate they deserved. My goodness, it was a very satisfying night. And all of this is available under the Travellex 10 program – I’d say book your tickets now.

(This review is for a preview performance that took place on Wednesday, April 21st, 2010. It continues through July 4th, 2010. For more reviews, please see UpTheWestEnd.com.)

Great deal – half price tickets for 7 Doigts “Psy” show at Peacock Theater – first week

April 20, 2010

We’re doing great for offers with the Metro in the last week – today brings another 50% off deal for Les Sept Doigts de la Main’s “Psy” show at the Peacock Theater. I saw their “Traces” show last year and enjoyed it a lot, so if the volcano grounds me, I’ll be sure to cash in on this deal.

Details of the deal: it’s only good for shows from April 28th through May 5th EXCLUDING SATURDAY EVENING, for half off £36 or £28 seats. (£10 balcony tickets can be found on LastMinute.com if you’re interested.) Either call the Peacock theater (0844 412 4322) and quote the “Celebrate the City” offer, or go to the Sadler’s Wells website and use the code “pcdcelebrate” when prompted. Enjoy!

Metro deal – two for one on “Compagnie XY” circus at the Roundhouse

April 14, 2010

The Metro is totally hitting it this week as today we’ve got an ad for two for one tickets on Compagnie XY “Le Grand C” at the Roundhouse. Two fers don’t appear to be limited by price range but are only good for performances from Saturday the 17th through Saturday the 24th 2010. Take advantage of this deal either by calling the Roundhouse at 0844 482 8008 and quoting “148”, visiting them in person, or going to their website (it’s recommending http://www.roundhouse.org.uk/login, but I think this page is what they mean) and using promo code 148 BEFORE choosing your tickets. Remember, enter the promo code BEFORE you choose your tickets.

Review – Hair – Gielgud Theatre

April 13, 2010

Hair: musical event of the year? That was what I expected when I sat down in row F of the “FeelGood” tonight, chuffed about my £20 seats (thank you Facebook and Twitter!). The show had been a major event in New York, with people waiting in line at 6 AM to get tickets for the Central Park version, and this was even the imported American cast! I wanted to get me some of that!

I ask now: some of what? Through some comic mis-wiring in my brain, I’d mixed up Hair with Jesus Christ Superstar, apparently thinking there was just one hippie musical in the entire Broadway canon, and spent probably 15 minutes trying to figure out which guy was supposed to be Jesus and which Judas. Sex machine Berger (Will Swenson), with his thick, dark hair, seemed possible; but when he stripped down to his leather thong (his battery pack for his mike covered more of him than his costume did), I was pretty sure this was not the designated Son of God. Claude (Gavin Creel), with his focus on his Aquarian destiny and air of doom, had real potential until slightly mad Woof (Luther Creek) showed up. But then it registered just what I was watching, and some tiny voice in me asked, “So if we’re not going to Calvary, where is Hair taking us?” I’d gone and bought tickets and yet I couldn’t remember a thing about the plot!

Two and a half hours later, I still don’t know where Hair was going. It’s full of good pop songs (many of them dodgy), energetic performances, and piles of color and spectacle. I was amazed by the cheekiness of “Black Boys” (and “White Boys”) and dumbstruck by the bell-like voice of Kaitlin Kiyan in the Hare Krishna song. And there was so much to look at – my goodness, the cast is now naked! (rather less shocking considering how many times they mimed having sex) – and then there were racial issues, drug use, and homosexuality depicted on stage (most jaw-dropping of which was the supposed mind-blowing powers of smoking pot), but … well, for me, rather not too much to care about. There was a bit of drama attempting to happen between people who loved folks who didn’t love them, and then the “story,” of Claude and how he deals with being drafted, but I didn’t feel any sense of commitment to the characters or, in fact, any dramatic arc – well, maybe, but it was drawn with a crayon, and I’m used to more deliberate choices in my theater.

The whole thing, in fact, just felt like a paper thin excuse to shove a huge pile of songs together with a very thin through line, and, provided you’re willing to accept that and give up all hope of a tremendous evening of “theater,” it was a fun night out. But I’m, well, a burnout of sorts. I know what I like, and a musical with a weak book cannot just sell me on spectacle. I’m sure lots of people will see this show and love it, but … gosh, I wish I could have seen it outdoors in Central Park, where it would have had not just the magic of fresh air and actual stars overhead, but the history of the location and the kids who were actually living there forty years ago to make it more of an “event” rather than just a show that makes money off of selling the hippie experience to a white, middle class audience.

Even though I joined in the dancing on stage, I couldn’t get behind this show, and my feeling was that this production was good as it can possibly get – unless you were actually able to see it under a night-time sky. Maybe someday in the future I’ll have that opportunity, but I’m sorry to say this production is not going to be “the theatrical event of the year” for me.

(This review is for the press night performance that took place on Tuesday, April 13th, 2010. Hair is booking through January 2011. Despite the grousing, I think I might go ahead and buy the soundtrack.)

Metro half-price offer: Birmingham Royal Ballet’s “Sleeping Beauty” at Coliseum

April 13, 2010

Another great dance deal today: half price tickets (£60/£50 tickets for £30/£25) for Birmingham Royal Ballet’s “Sleeping Beauty” at London Coliseum (April 20-24). Either call 0871 472 0800 and quote “Celebrate the City Offer,” or go to www.eno.org and enter “pcdcelebrate” when prompted.

Half price deal on Flamenco – Ballet Nacional de Espana at London Coliseum

April 12, 2010

Great deal in today’s metro for half price on tickets for April 28, 29, and 30 at the London Coliseum for Ballet nacional de Espana. To book, call the colseum at 0871 472 0800 and quote “Metro Offer” or book on line at eno.org and use promo code ESPMET. The show is 27 April through May 2nd but the deal is only good for the days listed, and gets £55 tickets to £27.50 and £40 tickets to £20. Offer ends April 20 so hurry!

Review – Cinderella – Royal Ballet at the Royal Opera House

April 11, 2010

Boaters have their annual opening day, but ballet and opera fans have one of their own: first day of sale for the general public for the season at the Royal Opera House. It’s a bit of a madhouse, with the ROH computers inevitably maxing out their capacity and the lucky ones merely having a sign on the computer saying “You are 1263rd in line. This page will continue to refresh. You are 1239th in line. This page will continue to refresh,” while you sit there going completely crazy imagining everyone is stealing all of the good seats while you are stuck in the ROH equivalent of purgatory, waiting for that magic moment when the page finally refreshes to show the normal calendar. It’s particularly maddening because most of the other pages on the ROH website are blanked out at the same time, so you can’t see any details about the various performances that are for sale so that you can prepare yourself (if you haven’t already done so, possibly with a paper copy of the season schedule): what will you want to buy when your time finally comes?

For me the whole thing becomes like one of those contests involving mad dashes through a grocery store, tossing as many things in your basket as you can before the time runs out and your golden opportunity is lost. When my number came up for the spring season, the “meat” aisle for me was “35 quid main floor tickets for Royal Ballet Triple Bill featuring Wayne Macgregor!” But then I still had some time left, and I went and poked around the rest of the season to see what the Royal Ballet had on offer. “La Fille Mal Gardee?” It looked (and was) cute. “Cinderella?” I’d never seen it before, and look, the first performance was on a Saturday, at 12:30, making it cheaper and easier to attend than a weeknight performance. In the basket it went, and off to the ballet I went yesterday, freshly back from my Easter travels and basically utterly ignorant of what I was going to see.

My faith was well rewarded. We started with a beautiful score by Prokofiev – I’d never heard it, although I like his music quite a lot, and as we settled down into our “normal” amphitheater seats (slightly blocked view, little leg room, great price), I caught the gorgeous, skilled notes of one of the three masters of ballet music composition. The choreography was by Frederick Ashton, one of the two men whose style is a touch point of the entire Royal Ballet style and repertoire, but someone whose work I am still just learning about. I knew as an “Ashton,” this meant it was likely to be rather old feeling (at least 40 years), and that the costumes might be just a wee bit on the dusty side, but my guess was that it was all going to feel very classical and “just right,” exactly what you want for a story ballet.

The setup itself is a bit different than the Cinderella I have in my head (which nowadays is a thin pastiche of the old fairly tale over a thick chunk of Disney, the whole thing wrapped in a ribbon of English Panto). We open with Cinderella (Alina Cojocaru) in front of her fireplace, stepsisters (Luke Heydon, Wayne Sleep) sitting nearby acting crudely, with no stepmother in sight (I thought the taller one was the mother based on how familiar she was with Mr. Ella, but per the program it was just the sisters), and a loving but witless father (Christopher Saunders) who couldn’t seem to stop his daughters from spending what little is left of his fortune. A noticeably missing character is the “evil” stepmother; her absence means there was a lot less drama and unhappiness in this version (and certainly no chopping off of toes like in the Lyric Hammersmith’s rather too faithful play). Indeed, with the gawky, cross-gender sisters, this version seemed to very much lean toward the Panto tradition, with lots of hamming, clumsy goofball dancing bits involving the Uglies, and jokes (in pantomime) about how ugly they actually are – plus the requisite stunningly heinous dresses. I’m glad I’ve been to enough Panto to “get” them; my guess is that for non-English audiences, the production’s emphasis on these two characters might have been confusing.

But we also had lots of ballet fun, especially in the drawn-out scene in which Cinder’s fairy godmother (Laura Morera) whisked her away to the “land of the fairies” (not a scene I remember from any other version!), where four fairies representing four different seasons do lovely little dances capturing the spirit of their seasons, with a cute boy and girl in appropriate costume accompanying them (reminding me of 18th century English country paintings); award for most brilliant costume had to go to icicle-gauntleted Winter (Hikaru Kobayashi), whose entrance in a cloud of smoke was truly dramatic. That said, Cinderella’s transformation was a little less than wow, and the pumpkin just seemed to be begging for Robert Wilson to get a hold of it (in fact I propose he design ROH’s new version of it in another 3 years – this one is due for a face lift) even though the pretty boy-drawn carriage that showed up to carry her away did seem most ethereal.

Then we’ve got the fun of act 2, set at court where the jester (Paul Kay) makes more of an impression than anyone else; our prince (Rupert Pennefather) winds up feeling a bit of a cipher next to him, especially with the Uglies parading around with two mismatched “suitors” (Gary Avis, Michael Stojko) in a rather heavy-handed scene I felt tired out its welcome long before it left. (The same sort of gag was done much less painfully in “Elite Syncopations.”) Cinders finally shows up, the prince falls in love, they dance, it’s midnight, we duck out for some ice cream, and in two shakes of a lamb’s tail (and 25 minutes of interval) the star-spangled toe shoe is reunited with its owner (who has to hurry off stage to actually get some tied on properly) and BANG it’s over. Two intervals, 3:10 running time, WHOOSH it’s done before you know it!

I’m afraid to say that throughout most of this ballet, I was having such a good time and being so enchanted by the show that I just utterly forgot to put my reviewer hat on and took no notes whatsoever of the performance (other than to tell myself that I must learn more proper ballet terms so I can discuss things properly with Those In The Know). Alina Cojocaru was just sweet and breathless (and apparently weightless) as Cinderella, reminding me of how incredibly spoiled I am to be able to expect such excellence in both dancing and characterization simply by virtue of having bought a ticket for this great company. Rupert Pennefeather, well, he doesn’t even show up until Act II, does he, and he doesn’t have too much to do – I don’t think the prince’s choreography was nearly as excellent as it could have been (I never had the “wow” feeling I did today while watching a selection from Don Quixote), but he carried the role well. And, damn, if there’s ever a ballet that makes little girls wish they could be ballerinas, it would be Cinderella, and with this score I have to say, it made me glad to live in a city where such riches at these are forever at my doorstop. A most excellent afternoon and highly recommended.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Saturday, April 10th, 2010. It continues through June 5th. Remember, ballet doesn’t have to be expensive; my amphitheater seats were great, though I was so distracted by the costumes I found myself wishing I was sitting much closer. For another view, please see The Arts Desk.)

Remount review – All male Pirates of Penzance – Wilton’s Music Hall

April 10, 2010

This is just a shorty review, as last summer I went nuts for the all-male Pirates of Penzance at the Union Theater in Southwark and wrote a very detailed review, much of which is still correct and does not bear repeating. In fact, I wasn’t going to re-review the remount at all, but …

Speaking now of the remount at Wilton’s Music Hall, this is still a good show, a re-energized remounting of a dusty old classic. If you haven’t seen it before, you’ll love the inventive staging and comic choreography.

HOWEVER. I cannot just sit on my critical laurels and say “oh yes this is the best musical of 2009 come back to life and you simply must go.” Frederic (Russell Whitehead), Ruth (Samuel J Holmes) and the Major General (Fred Broom) are still there, and still brilliant: Whitehead is a star G&S lead with the kind of charisma that brought to mind teenaged girls swooning over sparkly vampires in Twilight. But with his gorgeous tenor filling Wilton’s Music Hall, any other voices not up to that level were brought into brilliant, shattering light; and, in the much enlarged space, Alan Richardson as the new incarnation of Mabel has all of the range to sing the role and none of the volume, even merely from the second row. In fact, much of the cleverness of the lyrics became muddled “well it seems to rhyme but who knows what they actually said:” deadly when wit is what makes Pirates shine. Perhaps Richardson was holding back; but Whitehead was not and I expected the two of them to sing apace.

Without some sharper diction or (god forbid) microphones, this Pirates is not able to rise into its former role as a brilliant reincarnation of a tired old classic. Yes, there are lots of fun touches with lighting (the failures to actually spotlight the performers I will ascribe to preview “working the kinks out” issues) and the comedy bits with the policemen’s mustaches, etc., are still worth a laugh. But if you don’t make the text happen, this Pirates is just a novelty show, enjoyable but not unmissable. From the laughter in the audience, it’s clear that people enjoyed themselves, but I’m quite sad that so much has been lost in the move from the smaller space and cannot recommend this as enthusiastically. It’s fun. It’s fine. It’s worth fifteen quid. But it ain’t worth dropping everything to see.

(This review is for a preview performance that took place on Friday, April 9th, 2010. It continues through May 16th 2010.)

Press night £20 ticket deal for “Hair” in London!

April 9, 2010

Got this hot tip from James Arnott on Twitter: Hair Press Night Tickets, £20, Tuesday April 13th (at 7PM). Call the box office at 0844 482 5130 and quote ‘Facebook Offer.’ This is good for stalls seats but I bet we’re going to fill the house! I got row F stalls – for the revival the New York Times called “ brilliant … tearing down the house.” Pity I couldn’t have seen it at Central Park but that’s how life goes, right? It’s supposed to be one of the most expensive shows on the West End this summer but I think it’s going to be THE musical event of the year and I can’t wait to bust down the Gielgud’s doors and let the sun shine in! (My review will follow Wednesday morning!)

£10 for Birmingham Royal Ballet’s “Sleeping Beauty” at the London Coliseum

April 1, 2010

Travelzoo brings a deal today for £10 for Birmingham Royal Ballet’s “Sleeping Beauty” at the London Coliseum: £10 for remaining Balcony seats (usual price £20-£25) for performances 20-24 April 2010, excluding the matinee on Saturday, 24 April. Book by 9 April. Full details here. (Quote “Ballet Offer” on the phone, use promotional code “pcdballet” on the Sadler’s Wells website.)