Archive for April, 2012

Mini-review – Hay Fever – Noel Coward Theater

April 27, 2012

Noel Coward at the Noel Coward … and for £10? The opportunity seemed to great to turn down, even though early comments from the blogosphere about Hay Fever had not been very encouraging. But I couldn’t be turned away by people saying that the version X and so did before I moved to London was so great – I’d never seen it before so I didn’t have the memories of a previous outstanding production to corrupt my experience. And Noel Coward is a very good playwright. So who cares if it’s not the best production of all time – I just wanted some laughs.

While this production did have some very odd slowness in the first act, I was enjoyed watching the bizarre characters, all of whom seemed like they’d stepped out of a Nancy Mitford novel – accents posh to high heaven but the accoutrements of an education – good manners – completely lacking. The two fancy talking but crass acting adult children were little stones in the ring created by their self-centered actress mother (Lindsay Duncan) and distracted writer father. All of them seemed dissatisfied with life and disgusted with each other, but it meant the set-up for the four guests – each of whom seemed guaranteed to be hated by at least one of the family members – was going to lead to some serious comedy in the second act.

As promised, everything went to hell in a handbasket in act two, first with a strange charade-like game that most of the guests were either two stupid or too inhibited to play, then when the family members (led by mom) basically turned on the guests. The mind games were astounding and figuring out how much was planned and how much was just the casual way a really tight family would react to people who just didn’t do things their way was fun for me; I found it all seeemd very natural in the end.

The performance seemed really over the top, except for Olivia Colman as the luscious Myra (invited by dad, enemy of mom), who seemed to absolutely get what her role was about. Daughter Sorel – Phoebe Waller-Bridge – moved with the grace of a six week old puppy but with the pushiness of an adult horse, not really believable but fun to watch. And the rest of the cast seemed like a bunch of pros who were doing a show but without the giddy enthusiasm that might have really made this show sing. However, it all made me laugh, and it was absolutely worth what I paid for it – all in all a lovely night out.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Tuesday, April 24th, 2012. Hay Fever runs through June 2nd.)

Mini-review – She Stoops to Conquer – National Theatre

April 25, 2012

It’s been a week and a half since I saw She Stoops to Conquer at the National and I had so little to say about it I put writing about it behind several other more interesting shows. My theater friends on Twitter had been extremely enthusiastic about it, and I do enjoy the occasional Restoration comedy – switched identities, love conquers all, etc – but I was not entranced by this production. There were too many places where the action sagged – musical numbers should have been cut entirely – and I was not compelled by the performance of Katherine Kelly as Miss Hardcastle. It’s hard not to enjoy a plot in which a stuck up prig gets what’s coming to him, but Kelly was not … sympathetic. I didn’t want her to win; I hardly cared what happened to her at all.

I felt that most of the comedy in this show centered around people pulling faces on stage, and, as ever, if we missed any possible sexual connotations in the script, the director made sure it was all very obvious to us. The entire lack of subtlety just killed the fizz in this show for me, and it was all as much fun to take in as a two day old glass of soda – treacly going down and just a bit gross. It utterly failed to cheer my friend up and both of us were bored. We were hard pressed to stay past the interval but pressed on because it was a Friday and we didn’t really have anywhere else to go. I don’t see what the excitement was about. With great shows like The Collaborators going on, I don’t see why the National is bothering with stale time-killers like this show. However, looking at the schedule, I see it has closed at last and my preferred comedy is taking its place. Hooray! May sharp performances and livelier wit be celebrated in the Olivier instead.

(This review is for a performance that took place on April 13th, 2012. It closed April 21st.)

Review – Caliban’s Cave (third installation of The Tempest in Six Parts) – RETZproduces at Borduria (297 Hoxton Street)

April 23, 2012

Caliban: who is he, really? A hero? A villain? Is he evil, mentally deficient, or just warped by his past? We were given the chance to decide this for ourselves at the third installment of RETZ Production’s O Brave New World, in which we are invited to the lair of the “puppy headed monster” himself (or herself). Caliban’s cave is a detailed, low-ceiling environment that reminded me of nothing so much as the kinds of forts we used to build in the desert – a big pit in the ground with a bunch of mattresses thrown on top for shade and all of our precious treasures stored in little nooks inside. This was luxurious by fort standards – a spare armchair, a stool, some music playing, a half-busted computer monitor, and a bar (this being more part of the overall installation than Caliban’s per se, useful for people stopping by the location during the day or for those looking for a drink during the show).

We, the audience, show up shortly after the start time and arrange ourselves on the padded benches on the edges. From there, we are treated to Caliban’s exposition of his world – how he got where is his today (“see the picture of my mother!”), his take on Prospero (“Too much time reading and not enough duke-ing”), a wee hint of his feelings for Miranda, his dark smouldering plans to take his revenge on the person whom, in Caliban’s eyes, is responsible for ruining his life.

While I enjoyed my trip to Caliban’s crib, this episode did not hold up to the previous two (despite the good acting and the lovely reveal at the end). There was little use of Shakespeare’s own words, and, while some time spent in Caliban’s brain is fun, it just came off like a very thin production (albeit in a very rich environment). Caliban’s Cave was worth the trip for me, but I hope that this is as soft as the production goes, and that was are back to a richer performance in May with section four, The Claribel.

(This review is for a perfomance that took place on 7 PM, Thursday, April 19th, 2012. It continues through April 28th, at which time it will be torn down in preparation for the next installment.)

Review – The Mystery of Edwin Drood – The Landor

April 18, 2012

What? I thought I was going to a musical, but walking up the stairs at the Landor I found myself in a music hall! I didn’t think I was at Wiltons! Only … it seemed like the spirit of Wiltons from ages gone by, with dapper chappies chatting me up as I walked out up the stairs, and hosts of flirtatious hostesses in non-specific Victorian garb flouncing on the landing. Just what was this “Mystery of Edwin Drood” going to be about?

I’d heard about it before, of course. It’s a well known flop musical, recently highlighted in Blink and You Missed It, celebrated in musical fanatics trivia nights as “the one where the audience chooses the ending” (I had kind of forgotten about that). It is, actually, the kind of think you really want to see so you can say you have done it. And, if you think about it, given that it’s the 200 anniversary of Dicken’s birth, it’s probably time to revive this less commonly performed musical – a good way to round out events like the big exhibit at the London Docklands Museum.

Anyway, so there I was in the (rather empty) hall of the Landor, and we were having a singalonga! What fun! I’m not sure to what extent this is called for in the script, but I loved it. We’d been handed out song sheets, and I joined right in singing “Champagne Charlie,” “And Her Golden Hair Was Falling Down Her Back,” and “The Boy I Love Is Up in the Gallery.” We got a chance to meet the cast (of the “Music Hall Royale”) while the band (five or so people) kept the energy levels up, and the flirting and audience interaction continued. I admit I’d had a drink or so before the show began and I was in quite high spririts by the time we actually got serious about doing the musical.

As the show played out, we had a narrator who explained things to us, such as providing background about Dickens (“and then he died after writing this chapter”), the book itself (“this character appears in the second half”) and the show (“note the clue in that last sentence”). What with him introducing the various performers, the whole thing had an aura of extreme unreality – the old trope of watching a show about a show. We got to hear about backstage quarrels, egos, speciality performances, and the kinds of enticements that could get favors from the more attractive ladies in the cast.

Between all of this, unfortunately, there was rather a pile of shockingly forgettable music. I kept track of the songs: “Moonfall,” “Off to the Races,” “Jasper’s Confession” – but they just seemed to fall into the dustbin where unmemorable melodies. (What a difference from The Drowsy Chaperone!) Was the composer attempting a fashionable style of dullness? I can at least say that “The Garden Path to Hell” had a fair amount of funny lyrics, but … well, I DO like my musicals to be tuneful. Alas.

Counterbalancing this was a bucketload of zippy performances, amongst which I must single out Wendi Peters as Princess Puffer/Miss Angela Prysock – she leaves Elaine Paige in the dust as a diva to be reckoned with! – and David Francis, as the shockingly overacted Neville Landless (you really just had to laugh about it, especially with that much eyeliner). Finally, while Paul Hutton overacted shockingly as Durdles/Mr Nick Cricker, I loved his stage presence so much I voted or him as the lover (the audience chooses this as well as the murderer, and the detective) just so I could see him on stage again. Was he Miss Rosa Budd (Victoria Farley)’s chosen paramour per Dickens? Well, it was all being done for our amusement, and this louche Cockney was just the ticket for a saucy wedding. My only real regret: given my druthers, Helena Landless (Loula Geater) would have been the one to take that crown.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Thursday April 17th, 2012. It continues through May 5th. While my ticket was free, this much energy for only 18 quid seems like a very good deal.)

Review – Polyphonia, Sweet Violets, Carbon Life – Royal Ballet at Royal Opera House

April 13, 2012

I am a big fan of triple bills, and a big supporter of new ballets, so a chance to see not one, but two new works at the Royal Ballet was not to be turned down. The first piece was by Liam Scarlet, whose choreographic development I’ve been tracking with enthusiasm for the last few years; it had a real advance buzz as a “murder mystery ballet” (what fun!). The second was by Wayne McGregor, whom I admit I’ve been feeling rather cool toward since he blew me off in high diva fashion some years back; advance buzz on his was, er, abstract something, with bonus awesome costumes. And then, well, there was a work by Christopher Wheeldon, whom I’ve got mixed feeling about – I’ve seen many of his works of which there was one hit and many misses; his advance buzz was, however, most positive.

Wheeldon was up first with Polyphonia, set to the initially grating sounds of Ligeti driving couples doing angular, unconnected motions … but the music smoothed out and the partnering became more intimate. My favorite moment was when lovely Sarah Lamb was bent back over her partner’s body and slid underneath his bent knee – I briefly felt fat and inflexible but enjoyed the motion and shape nonetheless.

Next up was Sweet Violet. I’d been told the ballet was hard to get without reading the program notes, but to be honest, even with reading them, I had no idea what was going on. There’s a scene of a murder, a scene of a painter and his model (and some cops or something), a scene at a dance hall, maybe some other scenes, a man all dressed in black, one with a letter … I’m sorry, I lost track. I could not get the narrative to cohere together into anything like what was described in the program, although there were some great moments of spectacle (I loved the bit done with the backstage view of a stage, complete with people in a box watching us – what fun!). I’m not sure how the dance was … my brain was working to hard to try to get things to make sense to actually engage with the movement. And the various female characters were all a blur. It was fun to watch and I enjoyed the music but overall it was a bit too much of a mess to be good.

We ended with Carbon Life, which I wasn’t actually the least bit excited about given what a steaming pile of poo Live Fire Exercise was and McGregor’s general downward arc over the years. I thought about it during the show, about what had changed in my perception of his work. When I first saw Chroma, I thought, my God, a whole new language for ballet! But now I think, my God, the exact same moves I saw before. It’s a language, but one that seems dedicated to finding 64 ways of saying “snow.”

In the end, though, this was my favorite part of the evening. McGregor is big on collaborating and this time he had some amazing musicians doing great pop songs (did he pick them? because they were cool) live at the back of the stage while the dancers performed in some wild costumes in front. The preview I’d read in Time Out said the dancers basically put ON the costumes over the course of the evening, which was about right; they started practically naked (in black hip-hugger shorts, the women in flesh colored shirts, the men topless and yummy) then came on with the strange clothes, kind of fooling around in them, as it were – with spikey tutu skirts designed to inhibit partnering and stiff, pointy glove things that immobilized arms rather than emphasizing their movement – the costumes were a bit of show in themselves. Ultimately it all came off as a sort of fun dance party. Choreography? I don’t remember any of it. But a good time was had by all. I can only hope it gets remounted in the Floral Hall next time so we can all dance along.

(This review is for a performance that took lace on Thursday, April 12th, 2012. It continues through April 23rd.)

Mini-review – Filumena – Almeida Theater

April 4, 2012

It’s been nearly a week since I saw Filumena at the Almeida Theater and, as I’ve suspected, I’ve nearly entirely forgotten about it already. Why this 1946 play would be revived is a mystery to me, especially in the watery translation we were provided. I found the language so profoundly filtered through English culture that the Neapolitan was washed right out, except for the scene where Filumena (Samantha Spiro) threatened to kill her long time lover Domenico (Clive Wood) if he reveals her big secret; in that moment of potent violence, right before intermission, I hoped some of the heat of Italy would wash over the bizarre fake Cockney and upper clash posho accents pollluting the entire show like Pimms and cream scones and actually show us the a real flavor of Naples; but it was not to be. Instead we continued on with our friendly, Mary Poppins-esque token old folks Rosalia (Sheila Reed) and Alfredo (Geoffrey Freshwater), both cute and essentially anonymous, good actors wasted in a duff play, and the unfolding of a bit of surprise drama that left me thinking I’d been seriously short-changed at the end of the night. The acting was probably fine. The script is as comforting as a re-run of a favorite sit-com, bland and revealing everything we want to believe about human nature. I’ll take Strindberg, Pinter, and La Bute, thanks.

(This review is for a performance seen on Tuesday, March 27th, 2012. I attended thanks to the Almeida’s friendly invitation to certain bloggers to join them on Press Night. The show continues through May 12th.)

Mini-review – Ladykillers – Gielgud Theater

April 2, 2012

Given this play opened months and months ago, it’s rather sad that it’s taken me so long to get to see it. However, it’s been a budget conscious time for me and I was waiting for discounted tickets to come up. Sadly, when they appeared, it was around the same time as the closing date was announced (April 14th) – but at least I knew there was no more time for fooling around, especially with LastMinute running a “dinner and show” deal for 25 quid. And now it’s running for just a few more days (until April 14th) and all shows are 19.50 each (discount at checkout) ….

So what I need to say is this is a FUN show. It’s not really deep and the performances aren’t about giving you insight into the human soul. It’s overacted a bit but with everyone pitching in to be just a little too much at the same time it adds up to a very positive effect in that it’s meant to make you laugh. And it did! I liked the silly gawping, I liked the cute doddering little old lady, I liked the constant dangling muffler around the male lead’s neck that seemed to be a long set up for punchline that did eventually arrive. In fact, much of the show seemed to be setting us up for jokes that would show up later (except for the strange presence of men in drag during the old ladies’ classical music concert).

Two things made this show extra outstanding for me. One was the set, which unfolded like a Chinese puzzle and had a final configuration that completely baffled me – where had they been hiding it all this time? The second was the wonderful performance of Clive Rowe, who, as the “dumb” one of the gang, was given a star turn in his final scene that included a show-stopping performance of “Silver Hair Among the Gold” (with a knife in his head) that really let him show off his pipes. I won’t say that it alone was worth the price of the ticket but it was really a high point for me. And at the end of the night, with the group of eight I’d brought with me, I didn’t need to give a single word of apology – we had all had a lovely evening.

(This review is for a performance that took place on March 19th, 2012. I had never seen the movie upon which this show was based and I still had a good time. Not for those who want to leave the theater with further insight into the human condition.)

Review – After Miss Julie – Young Vic

April 2, 2012

So what do YOU really know about Strindberg? Well, what I knew is that his play, The Creditors, was a masterpiece of psychological drama – it displayed an incredible insight into the weird squirreliness of the human mind, which apparently hasn’t changed all that much in the last century. Jealousy, the fear of looking weak to others, saving face, these are the horrible things that motivate people to act in ways that seem not intuitively to work in their favor, and this is what Strindberg wrote about in The Creditors – giving me hope that I’d see similar excavations of the psyche in The Young Vic’s production of After Miss Julie (adapted from Strindberg’s Miss Julie by Patrick Marber).

After Miss Julie takes on very different sets of concerns (and I can’t say how much is Strindberg and how much is Marber). It’s set right after the war, and its characters are overwhelmed by the concept of class/work status and what it means in terms of their relations with each other. Miss Julie herself (Natalie Dormer) is freakishly attracted to the sense of power she has as a member of the ruling class, yet at the same time wants to be ordered around. Chauffeur John (Kieran Bew) seems smart enough and has experienced equality as a soldier, but still jumps when the master calls. And Christine (Polly Frame) has a strong understanding of what behavior is required of her and her fiance John while working within the “master’s” household … and how personal morals may be compromised while you’re in service.

Julie’s strange sexuality – a virgin with dominatrix tendencies and a boiling passion – seems to dominate her odd little mind. She doesn’t come off as particularly sympathetic, what with her willingness to be completely callous to people whose economic livelihoods she controls. She provides some background for her “odd” belief in the essential equality of the sexes late in the play, but it all doesn’t seem to add up to a girl who has her fiance jumping over a riding crop and her lover kissing her shoes.

Almost as curious is John, with his stories of having loved Miss Julie forever polluted permanently by his later callous statements and ultimate disassociation with her plight. I don’t want to give too much away, but … how much of what he said was real? How much of it was to try to manage a person who was clearly over the brink? How many of it was someone just trying to write something that made good theater? Ultimately, at 90 minutes I found this an extremely engaging show (until about the last ten, which dragged), though its resolution was entirely too neat. Still – a lovely intimate space filled with the smell of freshly made toast, three people who, even if they were not entirely making sense, were at least worth thinking about … it all made for a night of nice drama. And toast. Mmmm.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Saturday, March 31st, 2012. It runs through April 14th. No parakeets were harmed during this performance, I’M SURE.)