Archive for September, 2010

Review – Passion – Donmar Warehouse

September 12, 2010

Let’s start out by saying I’m no Sondheim fanatic. In fact, until two years ago, I did not care for him at all based on the two versions of Into the Woods I’d seen. However, A Little Night Music (at the Menier) gave me an inkling that there might be more to him that first met the ear, and Company convinced me there was. And, well, apparently everyone likes him, so perhaps this was a late arrival for me. I thus jumped on the chance to see an early performance of Passion at the Donmar Warehouse. As usual, I did nothing to inform myself before the show so I could take it in raw: I only knew that it would be one hour and forty minutes with no interval (and thus, to me, a perfect post-work show).

Passion is a decidedly weird show. At first I thought it was about frustrated lovers, and thought there might be an early suicide (in the traditional “passion is bad” style of the era it was set in, seemingly any time from 1810-1890); then I thought we might have a true love tale; then I thought it was all going to go very, I don’t know, stalkery, kinda The Woman in Black meets Fatal Attraction, but it managed to completely elude all of my guesses and become none of these things whatsoever. There was a soldier (Giorgio, David Thaxton), and a girl (Clara, a very nubile Scarlett Strallen in fluffy wigs), then a bunch of soldiers and (to spice it up) another girl (Fosca, Elena Roger), a sickly one who starts the play off screaming from her distant room like the wife in Jane Eyre. As we’re feeling sorry for the soldier separated from his girlfriend and hostile to the clingy, freaky sick girl, suddenly it comes out that Clara is actually a married woman, and suddenly Giorgio’s relationship with her seems a little … bizarre. What was it built on, really?

I could go on about the plot, which made no sense to me, but I’d rather get to the point and say I did not care for this show. There was singing, but there was little in the way of memorable music of any sort. Despite her intense and hair-raising performance, I was disturbed by Elena Roger’s intense Piaf-isms; I kept expecting her to launch into “La Vie en Rose” (and I had never seen Piaf so I was going purely based on her voice and not the memory of what she’d done before, but the sound is, to me, that of a particular person, and NOT the sound of a character in a Sondheim show). Strallen and Thaxton executed nicely, but their performances could not paste over holes in the plot so wide a ski jump could not have helped them bridge the gap.

But you know what could have? A really excellent song or two. And today I saw another musical, of an older vintage (1968 vs 1994), which convinced me in a song about making a cup of tea that a society artist had fallen in love with an ignorant widow. It doesn’t matter that I saw a preview (and spent 20 minutes wondering if the actors were going to slip on spaghetti or 10 minutes earlier wondering if anyone was ever going to shut that damned door upstage); I just don’t think Passion is all that good. I’m sure the run will be sold out all the way through and people will convince themselves that they saw a great show; meanwhile, I’ll be looking eagerly forward to the Union Theatre’s revival of Bells Are Ringing at the end of the month.

(This review is for a preview performance that took place on Friday, September 10th. The show runs through November 27th and is already sold out. I’ve got a ticket for a show November 10th: if you’re really dying to see it, make me an offer. Meanwhile Paul In London’s review is so opposed to mine I feel it worth pointing out in a point/counterpoint kind of way. Truth be told, Elena Roger did really own the role of Fosca, but I still hated the show.)

Review – Pieces of Vincent – Arcola Theatre

September 9, 2010

While I was flattered to get a direct invite to a “bloggers’ review night” at the Arcola, unfortunately my experience of David Watson’s new play Pieces of Vincent wasn’t good. I’m going to skip my normal tendency to avoid spoilers and just utterly spill the beans about the plot, so if you haven’t gone yet and want it to be a surprise, you’d better stop reading now (just remember to wear trousers). Okay, have you stopped? You’re willing to read on, knowing that I’m going to give key points away? Right, you’ve been warned.

I found it just incredibly tacky that the title of this show refers to, in my mind, the actual reduction of a person named Vincent (and, as we later see, two people named Vincent) to little bits of meat thanks to bomb-wielding terrorists. This realization, that the whole show in some ways was a set up for a giant, tacky pun, took place during the act in which I mentally checked out from the show, a drawn out, poorly-acted scene in which Vincent’s death is announced to his grandmother. Unfortunately, this act did not mark the end of a show that had worn out its welcome, and an additional thirty of forty minutes of trudging waited.

A little more about the show: Pieces of Vincent is a play set in modern London (and Ireland), done in the currently hip style of numerous small scenes with varied characters that eventually come together due to said tragic explosion. Its set is inventive and the best thing about it, as it’s kind of a reverse black box: we sit in the middle on cushions (be sure you wear trousers), and the show takes place in various scrim-curtained sets on the edge of the square room, with the beginning and transitional scenes projected onto said scrims. My two favourite bits were projections in which 1) we were all the passengers inside a car (the view through all four sides of the moving vehicle appearing around us) and 2) we saw a recorded scene set in the middle of the Millenium bridge, oriented so I could look to my right and see St. Paul’s, to my left the Tate Modern, and in front and behind me the lovely Thames-scape. Aaahhh, London, how I love you!

Meanwhile, in the eight or so scenes, I completely failed to connect to or care about any of the characters (it was too … fragmented, yes, that’s the word), and the acting was just … I don’t know, some of the characters were more like caricatures, and I’d get set up for maybe learning something interesting about someone, and then they were gone for the rest of the play. Sure, a sad event occurred in this play that is very relevant to 7/7 scarred Londoners, and the playwright made the connection to the actions of the IRA decades before, but I found it irritating and just completely not compelling as theatre and spent most of the last half hour of a play with a mere running time of 90 minutes wondering if I could sneak out the door without making a big scene. I’ve seen a lot of good shows at the Arcola in the past, but Pieces of Vincent will not be making the list.

Opening night deal: Les Ballets Trockadero Peacock Theatre only £10!

September 8, 2010

UPDATE: 2 for 1 available for Trocks on top price tickets (normally £40 and £35)* Weds 15 – Fri 17 September- for details see LondonDance.com.

Muchas smoochas to the fabulous Cloud Dance Festival for the Twitter heads up to a great deal for the opening night (Tuesday September 14th 2010) of Les Ballets Trockadero at the Peacock Theatre: any seat in the house for £10! Use the code pcdopening if booking online: you will not see the discount prices until you add it to your basket. If you call, use the phrase “Opening Night Offer.”. This is a great group, well worth seeing for both programs, but with a deal like this … how could you miss? I’m not sure if this expires before opening night, but given that the cheapest seat is normally £15, I expect it will sell out soon, and then word of mouth will pack the house for the rest of the run. (This performance, Program one, features ChopEniana / Patterns in Space / La Vivandiere / Raymonda’s Wedding, and should be a delight to ballet expert and novice alike.)

Metro deal for new Mamet-based play – House of Games – Almeida

September 6, 2010

The Metro has got a deal for what looks like a new David Mamet play, House of Games, at the Almeida theatre. As it turns out, it’s actually an adaptation of a screenplay by David Mamet, with the actual play being written by Richard Bean. Still: new Mamet! It sounds fun, and the Almeida tends to put on really good shows in its intimate space.

The deal is: £20 for best available seats (the £29.50 and £22 ones) with a free drink, for September 9,10, and 11th; call the box office at 020 7359 4404 and quote “Metro offer,” or book online at the Almeida’s website and use the promotion code “METRO OFFER.” It’s only good for a very short time; enjoy!

Review – Accomplice, London – Tom Salamon and Betsy Sufott at the Menier Chocolate Factor

September 4, 2010

Once again, Twitter is dictating the shows I go to, in this case because a particularly reliable source tweeted about buying tickets shortly after they went on sale. I hadn’t heard of it, but a quick trip to the Menier’s web site and I was convinced: Sue’s enthusiasm and the Menier’s good reputation got me over the rather painful price hump (£29.50 is at the top of my price range and there was no discount for seeing a preview). It sounded fun: a kind of treasure hunt slash live action Clue game was just right up my alley. I like interactive theater; I like games; I like “promenade” events. And I like seeing shows like this first so I can get my review in off the shot (plus feel really cool about being in the know – actually, this isn’t true, in fact, I like to buy tickets for shows like this early because my gut feeling that something is going to be a sell-out is frequently on the money and I hate being shut out of something really cool in this voracious town).

I also like seeing shows in which I don’t entirely know what is going to happen beforehand. It’s that sense of mystery, you know? And this show was more mysterious than most: we didn’t even know where it was going to start more than 24 hours before the show. (The FAQ says they will call you with the starting location beforehand, and that you must have a cellphone to really do this right.) Getting that phone call is the start of the event, really, and when my phone rang (I’d forgotten I was going to get a call), I was rather surprised by the brusque, gangster-like voice on the end – given the current issues with identity fraud and phone scams, I’m afraid I was heading toward ye olde huge blowoff until they used a password that finally jogged my memory. I had my starting position, and the game was a go!

So among the things I like is a bit of mystery, right? And it’s important to me as a writer to not screw that up for other people. Maybe, later, after the show closes, I’ll write about what all happened, but today was the first day of the run and I want to not ruin it for anyone else (in fact, just telling about the phone call ruined it a bit, but it’s a small thing and much better than missing the call or hanging up on the caller). So … what can I tell you?

You will be a part of a group running around on the South Bank together, trying to reach a destination, going from place to place, getting new clues and sometimes puzzles at each stop. You will need good shoes, and I’d recommend bringing an umbrella if the weather’s inclement (also there’s one spot toward the end where you are standing near a brick wall underground that looks a little damp – it’s actually moldy and filthy and will wipe off on your clothes, so don’t wear your nice stuff). Time from start to finish is about two to three hours – my group finished in about 2 1/2, but we had the advantage of people who knew the area well (I, for example, have spent many a happy hour at Borough Market and the Boot and Flogger wine bar on Red Cross street, meaning I … had extra clue). You will be given food at some stops, and beer/Pimms at others (this was a real highlight for me, totally compensated for the ticket price); there are also a few places where those of small bladder size can make pit stops. And, if you’re really screwed, there is a number you can call if you get totally stuck – which we managed only to use at the very end (we didn’t need it, we were just being thick).

I don’t think any of the things we had to do was too ridiculously hard, or required a too-sharp knowledge of the area. I also enjoyed how it enhanced my knowledge of the neighborhood and showed me some cool new places – so it’s something that could be enjoyed by local and out-of-towner. I also enjoyed the dynamic within my group – rather than having someone trying to do everything while the rest of the group tagged behind like sheep, we had pretty much everyone interacting and contributing – a real relief for me as I tend to feel obligated to feel a leadership vacuum but much prefer to see other people working together spontaneously. ).

When it was all over, we sat around in a room drinking and laughing and comparing the “ending” with what we were expecting – had we won? Did we do it right? We were at least fast, almost half an hour faster than the previous group, and the director (Tom Salamon) asked us how we’d managed through this and that. We’d had a real problem with the first puzzle but managed to overcome it through luck, intuition, and the sharp memory of one member of our party. We hadn’t managed to really make friends within the group, but we’d become pretty social, and even though we were all strangers (well, five couples who were strangers to each other outside of the pair), we’d worked together well. So over all, it was a really fun afternoon, and I’d highly recommend it to other people who are looking for an interactive, quasi-theatrical experience that gets their brains (and their legs) working.

(This review is for a performance/event that took place on Saturday, September 4th, 2010. The show runs through January 15th, 2011 as near as I could tell from looking at the Menier’s website.)

Review – Clybourne Park – Royal Court

September 1, 2010

Anyone who reads this blog regularly knows that I’m a sucker for a deal. And anyone who follows me on Twitter knows I’m an avid advocate of the service as well as a rabid user. So imagine my joy when I got a Tweet announcing a £5 special for bank holiday tickets to the Royal Court’s new production, Clybourne Park. I mean, I LOVE the Royal Court; they’re the place that puts on the cool new shows and has a deliciously affordable pricing regime, plus seats with Corinthian Leather upholstery. I didn’t even bother looking anything about the show; I just found the one date I could make it (provided my plane showed up on time) and booked a ticket, BANG.

Somehow I managed to remember I had a show the day I came back from vacation, and, to my good luck, the West End Whingers were going the same night. BAM! Clybourne Kismet! And I was in love with my 4th row seat, even though it was just little old me there by myself. All I knew about the show was that it was about racism and that it was set in Chicago, two scenes in the same house, years apart. But hey, bring it on!

SO … Clybourne Park is apparently meant to be a satire, though I found only the first act satirical. It seems to be two almost entirely different but parallel plays: the first one a harsh visit to a family dealing with the death of their son, the second a very true-to-life depiction of neighbourhood planning meetings, race, and gentrification. The plays are tied together by taking place in the same house and using the same characters (some of whom are related to the earlier characters); there is also a parallel plot line about having people of a different race move into a neighbourhood and how that makes the current inhabitants uncomfortable. The acting and direction was uniformly good; Stephan Rhodri was outstanding as Russ, act one’s dad; Sophie Thompson was freakish as Bev, the 50s housewife on the verge of a breakdown (I saw her performance as capturing most of the satire). And I love the subtle Prairie influence of the set in act one, nicely creating a Chicago feel in a play that could really have been set just as easily in Seattle or L.A.

Still, despite the general interest of how the race issue was dealt with in America in the 50s and in the now (and the horrible familiarity of the spat over urban planning issues in modern America), I felt this play let me down. On a lesser point, I felt it generally wasted the two African American characters; they spend most of act one huddled in a corner, then are only allowed to say a very little more in act two. Really, if the play is going to deal with race, maybe it should let the non-white characters get a little more speaking time?

Secondly, as a theatre goer I was frustrated by the MacGuffin of the giant army chest. To me, it symbolized everything the playwright did NOT deal with in act two. I was completely caught up in this family’s grief and desperately wanted to see how they dealt with it after intermission wrapped up. Instead I got a seeming therapy session, in which people talked about where they’d been on vacation and occasionally looked at a lengthy document and made a few pronouncements on it. Was I really emotionally vested in whether or not the white family got a big house in the gentrifying neighborhood, or to what extent the black and white people succeeded in needling each other about race? To me it came off as a very temporal concern, very much lacking in the universality of act one. And while I can say, due to the fine creation of character, that Clybourne Park is a good and watchable piece of theater, unfortunately I feel like it just isn’t deep enough. It was sad to watch a play on the verge of greatness fail to achieve it; maybe next time Bruce Norris will knock the ball out of the park, but Clybourne Park is at best a double.

(This review is for a play that took place on Tuesday, August 31st, 2010. Clybourne Park continues at the Royal Court until October 2nd, 2010. For another view, please see the West End Whingers review.)