Archive for September 5th, 2013

Mini-review – Edward II – National Theater

September 5, 2013

Given that Edward II is a major production by the National, you may wonder why it’s only getting mini-review status from me. I’ll summarize it quickly:

VIDEO PROJECTIONS.

Yes, many of the most emotionally fraught scenes of Edward II are marred, not just by having large, distracting video projections on both sides of the stage, but by actually having the actors perform WHERE YOU CAN’T SEE THEM, in a little room in the middle of the stage where “secret things” happen. This was maybe acceptable for the scene where Edward (John Heffernan), Gaveston (Kyle Soller), and Spencer (Nathaniel Martello-White) were having some kind of a party; but under no circumstances to I expect to have to watch a scene take place ON GIANT TV SCREENS when the actors are RIGHT THERE ON STAGE. I was especially wanting to tear my hair out during the scene where Edward is captured at a monastery. It’s thoughtful, sad, painful: and yet it was performed for the camera rather than for me, sitting right there in the third row (£12, a great price!). Seriously, I do NOT come to the theater to watch TV, or to watch actors talking to a camera. There’s a whole PROGRAM of events for people who like that kind of stuff, it’s called the NT Live, but I was actually WATCHING THE NT IN THE FREAKING THEATER AND I EXPECTED TO BE WATCHING ACTORS AND NOT A TV SCREEN.

So have we established that I had some serious problems with this play? I think so. Yet I stayed after the interval when 15% of the audience walked out. I can’t say why they left – maybe boys kissing is a problem for them, maybe the weather was just to gorgeous to be ignored – but I stayed because this was, while not emotionally engaging, still the best Marlowe I had ever seen. I was also freshly engaged in Edward’s story after having just been to Dunstanbugh Castle (it was built by the Earl of Lancaster, who captured Edward’s favorite, Gaveston – and it stands in ruins! What happened?) and very much on a bit of a history kick after seeing the Globe’s production of the Henry VI plays. So I wanted to know the story of Edward II, even if told through Marlowe’s eyes.

Oddly, in the end it was the women who held my attention – Kent, Edward’s sibling (Kirsty Bushell, cross-cast as his sister, with a lovely voice and a role I was willing to believe was historically female); Isabella, his queen (Vanessa Kirkby, regal, gorgeous, and the one person who managed to tug my heartstrings as she was sent to the Tower by her son); and the (also cross-cast) Pembroke (Penny Layden, the only one of the barons who actually seemed to care for Edward). I couldn’t really connect to any of the men, but watching Isabella, who loves Edward, make decisions that seemed Machiavellian but really were just based on ensuring the best chances for her son to, not just be king, but live … it was really very, very hard, and utterly believable. The men, well, they were busy acting for the cameras. It was still a well written play excellently acted, but I found it didn’t move me.

(This review is for a matinee performance that took place on September 5th, 2013. It is in performance until October 26th.)

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Review – Agamemnon – The Bunker at Southwark Playhouse

September 5, 2013

Due to the crush of bodies waiting to see Titanic, I failed to make it into the first half of the Southwark Playhouse’s production of “The Bunker” (Morgana and Agamemnon (a two-play bill), so this review is only for Agamemnon.

The play is set in a WWI (trenches) bunker, a small building built within the theater; the roof is low overhead, and we sit on the wooden benches that line the four walls. There’s an exit to the trenches kitty-corner from the door we enter by (which is also used as an entrance by the actors, thus my inability to slip in), and a small table in the middle of the room. I thought it felt convincingly like a buried room, an experience aided by the speakers that made the booms of bombs vibrate through the structure.

The play is meant to parallel the story of Agamemnon (whose name I forget in favor of the daughter he murdered, Iphigenia), who, depending on which story you follow, is murdered by his wife and/or her boyfriend when he returns from the Trojan war. What we get is a young, injured officer, trapped and bleeding his life out underground while he hallucinates visits from his wife and (seemingly) relives choice memories. To me, the play had little of the feeling of Ye Olde Classic Greek Tragedy about it – instead, it was a bit like Incident at Owl Creek Bridge, with all of the sadness and terror of trench warfare – the feeling of young lives wasted, of a society that was about to change forever, of the generation of widows to come – rolling around the room like another character. The backstory, of the officer’s romance with his wife, of her sadness at him leaving for the war, of many unsent letters – to me it didn’t snap into the mold it was named to fill, but rather went on to form its own story of disappointment and lost hopes, alcoholism and loneliness. When he says his wife has gone funny, to be honest, I could not see a sensible reason for it within the story as presented; only with the Agamemnon overlay did it make sense that she’d want to kill him. But I couldn’t really buy it as anything other than some kind of strange hallucination brought on by pain and guilt – and even in that context it didn’t really work.

However, with the very strong performances by all of the cast members, this little logical gap wasn’t enough to put me off. I really enjoyed my EXTREMEMLY intense time in the bunker, and will probably be sneaking back to the Southwark Playhouse to see about catching the first play of the set.

(This review is for a matinee performance that took place on Saturday, August 31st, 2013. It continues through September 21st.)