Archive for September, 2011

Review – The Veil – National Theatre

September 29, 2011

As you may know I am a huge supporter of new writing, and for this reason alone bought tickets to The Veil as soon as the National Theater’s fall season went on sale. Ooh, new writing, and OOH ghost story, sounds great! And I managed to get £12 tickets (third row – to be honest it was actually too close) so I was all set for a night of spooky fun.

The signs looked good – a deliciously decrepit Irish manor – tales of suicide in the house – a girl (Emily Taafe) who hears spectral singing – a possibly haunted ancient tomb nearby – and all sorts of high quality actors on stage, including Fenella Woolgar (will never forget that profile after Time and the Conways), Jim Norton, and Adrian Schiller. The veil was lifted … and it all went downhill quite quickly. The characters seemed to be endlessly ticking boxes as they “created atmosphere” and “slowly revealed the story” – making sure all of the elements of spookiness were there without actually managing to cohere. Part of the problem had to be that each character wasn’t so much a stereotype as a non-entity – we had actors emoting their socks off but with dialogue as wooden as this, there was little hope of success.

I was also bothered by the play’s weak historicity – the 1820s were a very specific time in terms not just of famine in Ireland, but in terms of social relations – between parents and children, gentry and servants, and men and women. McPherson seems to only want the costumes, architecture, and superstition of the time, and has let everything else fall away. Maybe that’s why the characters were so unbelievable – like the ghosts they discuss, they are drifting around in search of time, with nothing rooting them. I, however, firmly felt time’s hold on me, as the minutes ticked by and I was forced to realize that instead of watching an engrossing story I was just watching a bunch of actors move around on a very well-dressed set. Could they not have shared some of their copious stash of (imaginary) hootch with us less-fortunates craning to see all from the third row? The answer was no, but I was able to satisfy my cravings to make my brief passage on this earth more valuable by taking my leave at the interval. I’ve heard it ran until 10:30 and did not improve; not so my evening which took a strong turn for the better as I sat enjoying the deliciously mild Indian summer on the patio of the National with fellow departee A.

So yes, I went to a first preview, and I left at the interval. Perhaps it will get better but at £12 for my ticket I felt I’d got my full value for my evening. My advice however: skip The Veil and just go to The Woman in Black, which I promise will have you sitting on the edge of your seat for the entire evening.

(This review is for the first preview of The Veil, which I saw on Tuesday, September 27th, 2011. Sadly I’m so turned off on this play there’s just no chance of me going back to see the rest of it later in the run. For a review of the entire play, see Ian Foster’s blog. And please don’t whinge on about how “oh you can’t review a preview,” this is the show AS I SAW IT and while it’s perfectly fair to say that it will keep evolving, my record of the evening as I experienced it will not be any less valid. If you’re going to say OH NOES BUT IT WAS A PREVIEW why don’t you just say instead what’s now different from the points that I criticized? But if you say HOW DARE YOU REVIEW A PREVIEW I’m just going to ignore you. You might as well say how dare you review a war that wasn’t won because it didn’t count and can we please look at a successful one instead. My review is a FULLY VALID account of the evening. Look on it as a news story and as such very vital for those looking for the lay of the land while the battle rages on.)

Review – Pocket Comedy “Comedy of Errors” – Propeller at Hampstead Theater

September 28, 2011

After seeing the amazing Richard the Third that Propeller did this summer at the Hampstead Theater, I’ve been kicking myself for not making it to Comedy of Errors, the other half of their dual bill season. I was so impressed by R3 that I considered trying to see C of E somewhere on the tail end of the tour but just couldn’t make it work (financially or schedulewise). However, it appeared the theater gods were going to smile on me as Propeller returned just a few months later with a “Pocket Comedy” version of Comedy of Errors, the whole play in one hour (and once again at Hampstead Theater).

However, on looking at it, the schedule was a bit strange and unworkable. Shows at one P.M.? On a weekeday? And further shows at TEN A.M.? Just what in the world was this about? Don’t tell me it was … aimed for the kiddie audience?

Alas, so it was, a house full of eight and twelve year olds who, while warned about use of cellphones, had no qualms about crackling candy, talking to each other fairly loudly (“BUT THEY JUST MET. HOW CAN THEY BE GETTING MARRIED?”), and putting their feet on the backs of the chairs in front of them (and let’s not mention the hysterical nervous laughter over scenes given gay overtones by the same-gender casting). I’m afraid this meant that I missed many lines (and some meaning) during the show. I also found myself, in this audience, uncomfortable with the over-acted, sexually oriented jokes, such as when a crack was made about marital problems (and the items each person carried drooped) and again later when a line about trimming someone’s beard was accompanied by actors mimed scissoring their crotches.

We did get through most of the salient plot points in this sixty minutes Shakesaganza, but while there was a lot of buffoonery and slapstick, to be honest I just never really got all that into it. I wanted genius, I wanted my world to be turned upside down, I didn’t really want Curly Larry and Moe’s laffs-a-minute classical theater. The performers did a great job of keeping their characters straight (given that they were all at a minimum double-cast), but … even in his comedies I think Shakespeare goes just a little bit deeper than this. Maybe I wanted too much, maybe my expectations were too high, but for me it just didn’t deliver. I’ll hope that some day I can catch Propeller’s full-length version of this show, but I have to report that this stripped-back performance, while adequate, was entirely missable.

(This review is for a performance that took place Monday, September 26th, 2011. It continues at Hampstead Theater through October 1st.)

Review – Mike Leigh’s Grief – National Theater Cottlesloe

September 23, 2011

Normally I don’t identify a play first by its author’s name (unless there’s a chance of confusion with another play), but in all of the coverage of this play it’s been “Mike Leigh’s New Play” and the title has been completely missing up until just the last few days before opening. The buzz has been more about Mike Leigh and about how he’s “written a new play for the first time in years ZOMG and is directing it too!” and I have to admit as marketing it worked for me as I am a Mike Leigh fan – well, of his movies, anyway. But then I’ve only really seen Secrets and Lies, Topsy Turvy and Vera Drake, so I’m hardly a connoiseur, and I should mention I’ve also been to the quite grim play Ecstacy

And when I think about it, I think perhaps I have not thought enough about the stylistic unities of these works. All of the movies have made a great emotional impression on me, but, in retrospect, all of them seemed stunningly lacking in plot. (Okay, Vera Drake not so much, but still a bit.) Instead, they were just a bunch of seemingly random incidents captured along a forward moving timeline, all leading to … a feeling of … something … that life was slipping through my fingers. Maybe that was it. Anyway, it was a feeling I enjoyed being made to feel, so I decided Mike Leigh was a genius and have tried to make an effort to see his stuff when possible. Even the unrelieved misery of Ecstacy didn’t turn me away.

However, what is life really but a vale of sorrows? Grief, set in 1957 and 8, is about three characters who seem to live lives that give them no joy at all: widow Dorothy (Lesley Manville), her brother Edwin (Sam Kelly), and her daughter Victoria (Ruby Bentall) struggle side by side to get through days that seem completely meaningless. Gertrude (Marion Bailey) and Muriel (Wendy Notthingham), Dorothy’s old telephone operator friends, blow in and are cheery and upbeat much like Ewin’s friend Dr Hugh (David Horovitch); but the only support Dorothy and Edwin really have is each other. And it seems to be expressed primarily through their singing lovely old songs together, as if reliving the times when they had hopes for the future. None of these people touches each other; none of them acknowledge that any of them might be suffering (excepting when Dorothy actually bursts into tears, which earns her an offer to have a bath ran for her and a parting “Buck up”).

One of the greatest causes (and radiators) of misery is Victoria, a teenager whose shockingly hateful treatment of her mother had me cringing in my seat. I was given no clue as to what the source was of her anger and resentment, though it did certainly seem in keeping with modern teen angst, but it seemed to be incredibly vitriolic. Noticably, she seemed to be incapable of giving or receiving even the tiny, silent sympathies her mother and uncle shared, which made me think that perhaps she had a boyfriend on the sly or a drinking problem – but none of this ever comes out. She wound up as the puzzle to me at the end of the night, and, I think, the ultimate cause of this play’s failure to achieve greatness despite its unquestionable emotional impact. Leigh (and the actors if I understand his method correctly) has certainly created a household populated with realistic people, but without a bit more clue as to what is really making them tick, I can’t say he really took me anywhere. Instead, it was all a bit like – dare I say it – watching a movie about an extremely dysfunctional family. They didn’t succeed at the game of life, but I don’t need to care about why; it’s enough that I was able to share their grief. Or perhaps Leigh thought so. Me, I wanted more, much as I did when watching Ecstacy. Frankly, I can lock myself in the pit of human misery any time I feel like visiting my family, and having that experience recreated on stage doesn’t do a bit to give me more insight into the human condition. I want to learn a little more about how they tick. I can’t deny the brilliance of the performances – but theater needs more than just acting to be great. Overall, this was a good effort that I’m sure will be well received by those who like what Leigh does, but as a theater fan, I was disappointed.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Thurday, September 22nd, 2011. It continues through January 28th. Although it’s currently sold out, keep coming back to the National’s website as tickets do get returned.)

Review – Pinter Double Header (Victoria Station and One for the Road) – The Print Room (moving to Young Vic)

September 23, 2011

I was VERY excited when I saw the Pinter double header (at The Young Vic) was actually dipping its toe in the London theater scene at The Print Room on Notting Hill before its later October run. This was exciting to me, first, because I was having a hard time fitting the Young Vic shows into my October schedule, and, second, because the Print Room’s location is five minutes’ walk from the Notting Hill Taqueria. (And if you go, be alerted that all tacos there are half priced there before 7 PM. This was a very bright spot in my week after a few too many nights of cold sandwiches.) Pinter in Notting Hill, bring it!

There was a bit of a spooky atmosphere going to the theater, with a candle lit path guiding us to the garden. The set up in the theater itself is an open space with chairs placed around all edges, in the center of which was a man sitting at a table with his head down (I managed to not even really notice him as I was looking for my seat, he was so still). Suddenly the lights flickered down and a bearded man (Keith Dumphy) appeared at a table kitty-corner to the first. The two begin to have a conversation over a sort of walkie-talkie system (bearded man amplified with a convincing public address system metallicness). The controller asks the other, older man some questions, then begins to berate him. The hostility and frustration of the controller is obvious; but the mystery, to me, is why does the older man (Kevin Doyle) not know where he is? How could he possibly be living in London and not know where Victoria Station is? What has gone wrong here? In delicious Pinterian fashion, we are never given an answer to this, nor to the disappearance of (seemingly) everyone else from these two people’s world. Was it nuclear holocaust, the rapture, or a zombie attack? I was left with plenty of mysteries to solve and absolutely no answers, with my hair just a bit on edge from the barely restrained violence. Dee-lish!

Next up (after a startling transition to the horrible florescent overheads typical of so many offices) was a complete transition as Doyle now became Nicolas, a sadist with a taste for whiskey (“One for the Road”), who for reasons unknown has Victor (Dunphy) under his control. Why is Victor there? What world or country is this where patriotism and religion have become so important? Is it America in ten years? The raised hand feeling, the implied violence behind so many Pinters, has rarely felt so very intense as it did in this play. No one was actually struck, but off the stage people’s bodies and lives were being destroyed. Doyle wasn’t quite note perfect – I think not enough coldness in his heart – but the show was intense and nearly unbearable. My friend thanked me for inviting him after it was all over, and, truly, it was a really great night of theater – ninety minutes in which I fully forgot everything that existed outside of the tiny room I was in.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Tuesday, September 20th, 2011. It continues at the Print Room until October 1st then moves to the Young Vic for an October 6-15th run.)

Review – The Belle’s Stratagem – Red Handed Theatre at Southwark Playhouse

September 14, 2011

One of the greatest pleasures for me of starting up this theater-focused blog has been the opportunity it’s given me to become a part of a community of theater fanatics. Previously, my reviews were short and frequently seemed to pollute the timestream of the blogging community where I wrote about my daily life; they rarely got a lot of commentary, even when I poured my heart and soul into writing something fantastic. But somehow writing this meant that I was able to make connections with other people who shared my theater fanaticism. We weren’t going to see shows to entertain out of town friends or even have a night on the town with the girls; we were going because we love plays, we want to see as many as we can, and we’re always hoping for something wonderful happen when the lights come up. And some of us write about the shows we see, and, with a little luck, an online conversation can turn into an in-person friendship.

This is all a roundabout way of saying that last Saturday I had the good luck to be invited to accompany my friend Ian on a trip to the Southwark Playhouse to see a play I knew nothing about other than it was, um, a matinee (and free for me) and that I could get to it by going to London Bridge tube station – and that Ian would be there and we could have a good visit about all of the shows we’ve seen lately. I did actually go to the website to find its running time (nearly 3 hours, eek!), but I basically didn’t read a thing about it. That’s how I like my theater: unexpected and hopefully great fun. For those of you who saw Drowsy Chaperone, think of the little prayer of the Man in the Chair: “Dear God, let it be good.”

And on this pre-autumnal afternoon … it was! The lights went up on a group of people in period (looked Revolutionary War to me, 1776ish) costume, singing about … well, it sounded like a madrigal … but then it sort of morphed into a pop tune … which it was! I didn’t recognize it specifically, but later on I heard “Take My Breath Away” interleaved with something more suitable for a harpsichord – very clever and a good marker for what a fun show this was going to be.

The plot is something somewhere between Much Ado About Nothing and London Assurance (with a solid dose of Dangerous Liaisons) – something about a young wife trying to get her very jealous husband to let her get out and socialize a bit, something about another girl trying to make someone fall in love with her – there are mistaken identities, tricks being played, clever comeuppances, and lots of fun as the characters trade barbs about each other. In fact, the dialogue, chock full of jokes about London manners and the foibles of the upper class, seemed so entirely accurate I thought maybe the whole thing had been written recently and given a faux-vintage patina. But it wasn’t: it was genuine 1780, and genuinely funny, and written by a woman (a Hannah Cowley). I was surprised and pleased to see that it all felt so modern (despite the fixation on “virtue”).

Of course it was all just brought into much higher relief by the real zest the actors put into their roles. From Michael Lindall (as Doricourt, the male lead)’s loving caress of his hat to Christopher Logan (as Flutter)’s screaming queen dash off of the stage – well, to the ENDLESS mugging of sad-sack husband Touchwood (Joseph McNab) – I was enchanted at the genuinely high quality of acting laid out for my enjoyment. Overall, those two and a half hours raced right by as I cheered on our spunky heroines (not just Gina Beck and Hannah Spearitt but also the older women Maggie Steed and Jackie Clunes) as they ran circles around the not entirely sensible men in their lives – and then laughed when Them What Done Them Wrong got theirs later on. I’ve got to say, I haven’t seen anything by Red Handed Theatre before, but after this show, Ms Jessica Swale is now on my list of people that I will need to make my plans around. Congratulations to you and the cast and as for my Imaginary Reader: book now!

(This review is for a performance that took place on Saturday, Septem ber 10th, 2011. The show continues through October 1st. Really the only thing I could complain about in this whole show is that some of the female actors hadn’t really gone for proper 18th century hairstyles. What a deliciously trivial complaint!)

Review – Woyzeck on the Highveldt – Handspring Puppets at the Barbican

September 9, 2011

So you know I like puppets, right? I’m probably the theater blogger who writes the most about puppets who isn’t a puppets-only specialist. For this reason I didn’t hesitate or even spend much time thinking about buying tickets to Woyzeck, Handspring’s current show at the Barbican. They’re probably the most famous puppet group in London (thanks to War Horse, the perenially out of my price range play), but for £18 I was very eager to see what they could do in a more intimate venue.

Woyzeck is a decidedly adult show, with touches of absurdism and sympathy for the common man that had me thinking of Kafka and Candide; but its assembly left too many coherency gaps that my mind was unable to close. Instead, I went on my own flights of fancy as the low-tech animations at the back formed constellations or township scenery. Woyzeck seemed to have a lot to contemplate, but I could never understand his sense of something urgent and bad coming his way. And while the characters seemed nicely translated into a South African contexts, none of them seemed very engaging. I don’t think this was because they were (beautifully constructed and sweetly voiced) puppets; I think it’s because the script was a mess. If folowing it literally made for an incomprehensible stage experience, then the story must be edited to better suit its medium. For this reason I can’t recommend this show. It’s sold out, anyway, but console yourself that you have not missed a masterpiece.

(Woyzeck’s last night at the Barbican’s Silk Street Theater is Saturday, September 10th, 2011. This review is for a performance that took place on Thursday September 8th.)

Review – The Golden Dragon – Actors Touring Company at the Arcola Theatre

September 7, 2011

So. An offer for free tickets. The show (The Golden Dragon), a “tale of globalisation set in your local takeaway,” a “fable of modern life and migration” with a heavy Asian influence. And it’s at the Arcola, which means I can get an awesome Turkish dinner beforehand. I’m leaving town the next day, but I’m an immigrant, I’m fascinated by the immigrant experience and love Chinese culture, and wasn’t I just saying how sorry I was that I didn’t go to Edinburgh this year? This looked like a great chance to hit a bunch of my interests in one show.

Only … I show up and it’s not going right. There’s no dinner because work ran late. There’s no company because no one could come with me. The comps aren’t there. There’s a huge line because another show is starting at 8PM and I can’t get helped from the “press” line for the 7:30 show because they don’t have my name. Eventually I’m squeezed in near the back thanks to the house manager taking pity on me but my focus is shot because I thought I wasn’t going to make it in at all: it’s the wrong side of payday and my last £2 went on the cheapest food I could find for dinner and paying for a show was not in the cards or in my wallet.

I see a stage is covered in white paper. An older woman takes the stage with a wonderful glowing Chinese toy, garish and trashy in its plastic mass-market-ness, but lovely. I hold my breath waiting for the magic to begin …

and finally give up about 20 minutes in. This thing, the actors playing different roles, changing their clothes, supposedly going between characters as easily as saying “I’m a man” and then talking, it’s not working for me, I’ve seen it before and I don’t care. It’s old. I want my story. I don’t want people saying, “Short pause,” as if somehow it was more magical to say it that to show it. I want this collection of banal stories to start adding up to something I care about, not another stupid “and then all of the seven plotlines magically come together” hoo hah as if somehow the moment where they intertwine is going to make the trudging dullness of the voyage to get to that point any more entertaining. I don’t CARE about the stewardesses, or the pregnant girl, or the drunk angry man, or the other people in the shop, and I don’t believe people bleed to death when their teeth get pulled. For a brief moment, I thought we were going to go into a magical realism fantasy world in which a tongue stuck through a hole in a tooth took a woman to a completely other realm, but it didn’t happen.

Instead, while I wished I felt brave enough to crawl over ten people on my way to the exit (surely the 70 minutes was going to end soon!), I came up with my own story about the ant and the grasshopper. When the ant confronts the grasshopper with his laziness, the grasshopper points out a sad fact to the ant: he, the ant, has spent his whole life laboring only to make the QUEEN rich. Now that it is winter, the ant is going to die, just like the grasshopper will. Only the grasshopper goes knowing that he’s led a life that at least has brought some pleasure to the world.

In my version of this story, the ant realizes he’s just been a slave to capitalism and goes off for a last dance with the grasshopper before winter comes on. In the play, the grasshopper gets beat up and the boy with the toothache dies, but we don’t care, except for the fact that we are now able to leave. No connection has been made to any of the characters; no life lessons have been learned; we have not been illuminated about the human condition.

Is this what fringe theater is about nowadays, five people changing clothes and reading out stage directions as they recite dialogue written by some German guy pretending to have a tiny clue about what it means to be an immigrant much less Chinese? What a horror. Even though it was free, I left angry at the time I had wasted on this when instead I could have learned something genuine about the human condition, and that of immigrants, perhaps by sitting at the Dalston train station and watching the world go by. You have been warned.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Friday, September 2nd, 2011. The play continues through September 24th.)

Review – Top Hat (the musical, not the movie) – Milton Keynes (transferred to the Aldwych – was Birmingham Hippodrome, Southampton Mayflower, Plymouth Theatre Royal, Leeds Grand etc.)

September 2, 2011

UPDATE: Top Hat has now transferred to the Aldwych Theater, but according to The West End Whingers, my review seems pretty sound still – though you may prefer to read theirs. (The following review is from August, 2011.)

There’s been only one musical on my mind this summer – Top Hat, a brand new staging of a musical that’s previously only existed on the silver screen. For me, it was the chance to see my idol Summer Strallen in a part that actually took advantage of her triple-threat talents that I’d last seen put to their full use in Drowsy Chaperone. A dancing role previously held down by Ginger Rogers? Sign me up! Summer seemed like the perfect person for the role. Even better, there was a whole plate full of Irving Berlin songs fleshing out the original five. Sadly, though there wasn’t a London date in sight, so I was stuck going to Milton Keynes to get my fix – but, hey, nothing like seeing a show early in its run to put you ahead of the blogging pack, right? Plus, truth be told, I just couldn’t wait. Woo hoo tap dancing on the big stage SIGN ME UP!

Now, as it turns out Milton Keynes was actually way more of a hike than I’d expected – a full hour out of London (and I live an hour south of Euston so my trip back was a real marathon) and expensive as it’s on one of those weaselly train lines that charges peak fares in the evenings as well as the mornings. But, well, the running time was short enough (just about 2:30) that I could be ensured of getting back before last train, so all is well.

I’m not familiar with the story of Top Hat, as I must have seen it well over twenty years ago, so I was pretty empty of expectations. The show starts with a lively musical number that introduces us to our lead, Jerry Travers (Tom Chambers), an American dance man whose been invited to come perform in London – the London of 1930s American musicals, which is all Cockneys and Art Deco and men in top hats, with bizarre rules about politeness and an obsession with scandal (very plus ca change in my eyes). There he winds up at a posh hotel where he just starts randomly dancing away in his room in my very favorite scene from the entire play, perfectly Fred Astaire as he danced with a hat rack, and perfectly zany as the maid and service staff joined in. It was beautifully choreographed and a real joy.

In the story arc, this dance is what provokes the meeting between Jerry and Dale Tremont (Summer Strallen) – he’s tap dancing on her ceiling, and when she comes up to complain, Jerry is instantly smitten. This leads to the rest of the silliness as former permanent bachelor Jerry chases Dale around London (most wonderfully in Hyde Park, with the number “Isn’t This A Lovely Day” and the comedy in a hansom cab) and eventually in Venice, with Dale fighting her attraction to Jerry due to a mistaken identity (she thinks he’s Horace Hardwick, the man who rented the original hotel room). Of course they wind up together in the end, and there are several more wonderful dances along the way, including the amazing one with around 16 male tap dancers, who are joined by a bunch of tuxedoed women. Wow!

Sadly, the thing that kept me from really buying this show was the lack of electricity between Jerry and Dale, which kept me from really being able to get into the rest of the show – crazy that what I came for was the dancing, but then it was the acting that frustrated me! As near as I can tell, this was probably due to a very short rehearsal time – it seemed like the background dancers had probably been working on it for ages, but the leads only got pulled in about a week before the show started. (And I saw this show AFTER press night, so no grousing about my seeing a preview, please.) I was also displeased with the costuming – while some of the outfits were great, there was a general cheapness to many of them – including the what should have been fabulous feathered dress Dale wears toward the end of act two – that made the dancers look dumpy when they should have been svelte.

Overall, this was a pleasant night, but it wasn’t the blockbuster I was hoping for. In retrospect, I much preferred Crazy for You, which had wittier dialogue and a much less wooden male lead (which I suspect was Chambers’ attempt to channel Astaire). Given a few more months on the road, I am guessing a lot of my complaints will have been taken care of, and there’s no doubt that the Milton Keynes audience ate it up – almost uniformly giving it a standing ovation. This wasn’t the American tourists screwing it up, it was English people expressing their appreciation for a show they really enjoyed. I anticipate a successful tour and I do hope that it makes a London transfer after it’s had several months to bake.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Thursday, August 25th, 2011. Top Hat will be touring the UK through December 10th, 2011.)

Review – The Mercy Seat – Glowbox at the Pleasance Theater

September 2, 2011

What if something happened that could change your life forever?

What if, instead of it being something good (like winning the lottery), it was a disaster?

What if it meant you could walk away from your life?

Would you do it?

This is one of the key questions that is asked during the play The Mercy Seat. Billed as Neil LaBute’s 9/11 play, in fact it’s only peripherally about 9/11 – its situation is as easily transposed to a tsunami or an earthquake. I’m grateful for this as I didn’t want to see a show that had me reliving the devastation of that day. And it was supposed to be incredibly controversial, I’m guessing because it has some explicit discussions of sex. But it wasn’t wallowing in the disaster and it wasn’t in anyway pornographic.

Instead … well … Okay, I have to tell you, I’m going to put in enough spoilers that you should stop reading here if you don’t want some important plot points discussed. Summary: very good, do go. And stop reading here if you want it your experience to be almost entirely a surprise.

Back to the review. Instead of being about people screwing their way through the devastation (which I was kind of expecting), it’s a cold and painful look at the way people lie to themselves and others about what they want and why. Two lovers, Ben (Sean O’Neill) and Abby (Janine Ulfane), are holed up in her apartment the day after the blast. At first, it seems like Abby is being a complete hardass with Ben, hassling him for lying on the couch in a completely believable state of shock while she’s out trying to get them some food when she thinks he should be helping with the rescue efforts. But as the story unfolds, Abby starts delving more explicitly into what is going wrong with the two of them and why Ben’s wild plans seem utterly senseless. Her dissection of their relationship – while he loudly insists that if the sex is good, then what is there to be wrong, and he knows it’s good – captures perfectly not just their own strange mental states but the insecurities and lies they’ve been telling themselves and each other to keep things going for the last three years.

What blew me away about this play was Neil LaBute’s effortless creation of naturalistic dialogue and characters. I spent an hour and forty minutes watching Ben and Ellie bicker, tease, berate, kiss, push, and question each other, and not once did I feel like I was listening to something written. The actors have to take credit, too – Janine Ulfane and Sean O’Neill were on stage for the entire time and they didn’t let up. In fact, they kept the pressure on so tightly I felt like just anything, just anything, might happen between the two of them in this lawless space where death was at the front and all the known rules of the universe were suspended.

I was worn out at the end of this show but excited about what I’d just seen. This is a timeless play despite having a very specific setting, and very much worth reviving. I’m really pleased I got to see it for free as a guest of Glowbox, but at £12 it’s a screaming deal despite the occasional bad sightlines and sound quality in the Pleasance and at 1:40 it still gets you home at a good time. In short: go.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Thursday, September 1st, 2011. It continues through September 18th.)

Great deal – two for one top price tickets to Legally Blonde at the Savoy Theatre

September 1, 2011

Today’s Metro has a great deal in it – two for one tickets to Legally Blonde (now starring Carley Stenson). I recently went to see this with the new cast and found it an uplifting, joyous night at the theater – really a good night out and perfect to see with the girls.

To take advantage of this deal, you need to call the box office (0844 871 7687) and quote “Metro” offer. Sadly it’s only good for Monday through Thursday performances (and only from September 5th through October 20th, 2011) but still, it’s better than you can get at TKTS or on LastMinute so it’s a bargain. Enjoy!