Archive for January, 2015

Mini-review – Cats – Palladium Theater, London

January 31, 2015

I know, the 80s was a long time ago, and I’m not an Andrew Lloyd Webber fan (to put it lightly), but I’d still nearly made it to 50 without seeing Cats, and while this seemed mostly to me to be a matter of expressing my own taste in musical theater, I had begun to question if I’d actually shut myself out of a little slice of history. But seeing the Story of [British] Musicals made me think that rather than avoiding a schmaltzy show with tunes not suited to my tastes, I’d instead cut myself out of a slice of history. The program described Cats as a groundbreaking show, with its non-linear throughline (i.e. lack of plot) and its focus on bringing poems to life, not to mention the entire movement style and makeup.

But as the leg-warmer wearing crew came on the stage and their amplified voices blared painfully from an overhead speaker, I began to fear the worst. This show had been promoted on the back of a has-been pop star rather than any kind of musical theater performer, which indicated to me they were really just trying to pack the house with curiosity seekers rather than attract people who want to see a top-quality production. And, ooh, they’d added some rap – but it was really rap music as written by musical theater hacks, about as believable as Blondie’s “Rapture.” I struggled to find an emotion to hold on to – was this supposed to be anything other than pretty and bland? What was it about a woman wearing a long coat and dreads that was somehow supposed to make us feel wistful and nostalgic? The whole thing skated by with nary a moment of genuine feeling until Mr. Mistoffelees (Joseph Poulton) blazed onto stage like a comet – then, holy cats, what a performance! Leaps, spins, kicks, non-stop amazement and all while dressed in a doubtlessly extremely warm head to toe black spangled bodysuit. I don’t think there’s a moment in this show worth remembering aside from the time he spent on stage, but I’m excited to think I got to see one blazing talent during this dreary night – not that I wasn’t seeing a London quality cast of performers, but they were unable to shine under the weight of so much schmaltz. (White cat: you were great too.)

I gotta say, there’s no getting around the fact that never in a million years was this musical ever intended for the likes of me. I want intelligence, I want to be moved, I want to see talent and be amazed. I don’t want to be coddled and cuted. I want songs that matter; I want my night to be worthwhile. I don’t want fluff. And Cats, with its full house of apparently satisfied patrons (at £60 a pop), deserves to be put in a sack and tossed in the Thames forever: and now I can say this not based upon my best guess but upon actually having gone and watched it. Please, somebody warn me the next time I try to see an ALW show that we do not in any way share an aesthetic sense and send me in search of something else.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Tuesday, January 20th, 2015. Unlike any of the professional reviews you might read, my tickets was paid for, in full, by myself, and my level of disappointment is based in part of what I expected to see for that price. It’s booking until April 25th, if I haven’t somehow discouraged you, but may I recommend you try to see Assassins or The Scottsboro Boys instead.)

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Mini-review – Hello/Goodbye – Hampstead Theater

January 30, 2015

I think I’m beginning to get a feel for the programming of the Hampstead Theater. It seems a little conservative and it’s got a decided leaning toward the comic (as witnessed by both the nearly perfect Good People and the extremely funny Seminar). This is good, though, as after a brain warping day at work I am ready for a few laughs, so when a friend said she had a spare ticket for Hello/Goodbye on opening night, I said yes without doing any research on this show at all.

The concept of the play (you know this in the first five minutes, so not much of a spoiler) is that two twenty-somethings wind up in a flat which they’ve apparently both rented, only one of them actually has signed papers and the other person has keys and the habit of being serially disorganized. Other person, Juliet (Miranda Raison), initially attempts to bully Person One, Alex (Shaun Evans), into leaving, threatening to have her boyfriend come over and “squish your tiny head” and threatening GBH to the blue toy dinosaur Happy Meal toy Alex has taken a shine to. While Juliet is rampaging around madly and pulling every trick she can think of to manipulate Alex out the door, Alex is slowly drawing her out, getting her to talk to him, and exposing us to what a bag of issues she is. She’s actually managed to be kicked out of her last place and has no backup to live if she can’t stay in this apartment. Watching the two of them spar with each other – Juliet attacking with every weapon she has at her disposal, Alex so succesful at diverting he seems almost teflon-coated – I couldn’t help but laugh, loudly, at her outrageousness (she finally resorts to lingerie and partial nudity) and his hysterical inperturbility. He’s quite the nerdy boy, obsessed with his collections of stuff, yet still completely managing difficult social interactions – the way he diverts her boyfriend with a cup of coffee was an absolute classic, and by claiming to be excellent at sex in a completely non-putting-on-the-moves way managed to put his adversary off kilter as well. After half an hour, you can’t help but feel like they’re both people you know or have met, but the direction the first act is going to take starts to feel extremely inevitable long before the end comes. I found it an enjoyable ride, though, so was willing to forgive its more pat, sit-com-like tendencies. A good laugh was more than enough to compensate me for a few plot holes.

Sadly, the second act just fell over, with a plot twist I anticipated in the first five minutes and a very false feeling reference to, I think, a miscarriage. It’s many years later and things have changed but the two protagonists don’t seem to have evolved a bit. I got in maybe one or two giggles but it became more of a matter of moving toward the inevitable finish and dragging us somewhat unwillingly behind. The TV tendencies of the characters’ interactions became so strong I lost my ability to believe in or laugh at them – I was more laughing at how ridiculous everything had become. And the final, final ending, well … I don’t think it would be believable in a movie, much less the theater and certainly not in a television program. Oh well, it was a good first act, and really, if you’re looking for light entertainment and don’t have to spend too much to see this show (I’d advice under £20), it’s not a terrible evening overall. There’s just much, much better stuff available.

(This review is for an opening night performance that took place on January 29th, 2015. It runs through February 28.)

Mini-review – Bull – Young Vic

January 30, 2015

I’m someone who very much will follow playwrights rather than actors from stage to stage, and Mike Bartlett is one of a handful of currently active playwrights (Neil Labute, Nick Payne) that I try to see every time they do something new. Bartlett’s forte, to me, is correctly capturing how people think and behave now, in the modern world (Contractions being another one in this vein). He’s especially talented at showing how people lie to themselves – an element I find particularly attractive in plays – and is responsible for my favorite new work of the last five years, Cock. So there was no doubt in my mind that when I was told his short play Bull was going to be making its London debut at the Young Vic, I had to go, sold-out-ness be damned. And, as I hoped, a few tickets came though before the show, though through what seemed to me like very bad luck, my seated seat became a standing seat on the day of (a mix up of some sort, I was told, that affected about 20 people).

The small space at the Young Vic has been set up like an arena for this show, with waist-height glass walls surrounding a carpeted square defined only as an office by the presence of a water cooler. This look, with two rows of spectators standing at its edges, felt very much like a boxing ring: we paid our money to watch the action. As the besuitted actors walked in and immediately began to bicker with each other, I began to feel like I was backstage at a reality TV show, but the coworkers I was watching – who were clearly, each one of them, individually dedicated to destroying the others – displayed none of the pandering, “appealing to the home viewers” attitudes of people performing on TV. No, this was more like one of those nature documentaries in which happy gazelles bound across the plains until they’re taken down by a cheetah, only in this case it was a lion/rhino/crocodile battle – all muscle and heaving violence, but fought with the scalpel blades of words. Thomas (Sam Troughton) initially appears to be the rhino, stomping in and bellowing at Isobel (Eleanor Matsura), quickly going for personal insults on her sexual availability – but Isobel completely avoids his jibes and manages to deftly point out how his style of argumentation highlights his own shortcomings. Then Tony (Adam James) appears and the full level of the head games being played comes out. They all know that only two of them will survive, and, smelling blood, Tony and Isobel are bound and determined to make sure they’ve done their best to ensure survival of themselves. Bullying, insults, bringing up a colleague’s personal life, hiding vital information … all of the weapons of the office jungle come in to play, while we watch, breathless, on the side, as if at a bull-baiting pit with the dogs occasionally fighting each other and their handler egging all of them on, as if for maximum viewer enjoyment.

The cumulative effect of all of this verbal violence is overwhelming; it feels too real, too immediate. My brain was sending “thank God that wasn’t me” messages as the inevitable end played out, with pinstripe and patent leather clad predators slinking away while a third animal bled its life into the waterhole. All it needed was a vulture swooping in to take a first bite. It was an absolutely fantastic, hair-raising night at the theater.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Tuesday, January 27, 2015. It continues through February 14th.)

Preview review – Dara – National Theater

January 25, 2015

After my rant about the lack of cultural diversity in London theater programming, I was thrilled to pieces to see that the National Theater had picked up a play from Pakistan to present in London. Dara. To me, a play about two princes of Mughal India vying for power seemed like the perfect thing to lure in a broader slice of the British public than those I normally see at the National; and for me, as a regular theater goer, I was excited about seeing a play about royal power politics played on an entirely different stage from The James Plays and the endless stream of Henries.

But what I didn’t expect was to go see a play that was absolutely in the blazing heart of everything politically aware people are arguing about today. In the wake of Charlie Hebdo, Dara is a must-see show, presenting a 17th century tale of two competing visions of Islam that mirrors almost exactly the questions we are dealing with today. Is the world to be one in which strict interpretation of scriptures rule? This is the vision Prince Aurangzeb (Sargon Yelda) has, that as the new Emperor, he shall eliminate the softness of his father’s rule. It’s impossible to watch the lecherous, drunken Emperor Shah Jahan (Vincent Ebrahim) stumbling around without feeling like there’s really a need for a change, but is Aurangzeb what India needs? Dara is the crown prince, and, as played by Zubin Varla, he is full of charisma; an intellectual and born leader whose deep examination of religion (brought out during the course of the play) has given him the knowledge to connect with and respect all of his subjects.

But somewhere along the line, Dara and Aurangzeb have managed to come into conflict with each other, and the resolution of their family issues forms the warp and weft of this play. I have no idea if it has any basis in actual fact, but as family relationships go, it is believable and suitably dramatic. And for me, I raced to the end having no idea how the conflict would resolve itself. This was probably not the case for many other people in the audience, but I was on the edge of my seat, absolutely hanging on every word of the big trial scene, loving the chance to hear how one scholar chose to see Islam and the search for God presented on stage to a packed house of modern people. It was almost like listening to one of Aristotle’s old dialogues read out loud; the arguments went across the centuries, and the brilliant mind who created it still shone brightly through his words.

As a work of theater, there were some shortcomings. In particular, I found the character of Aurangzeb a bit shrill and lacking in depth, as if the author himself struggled to find the humanity within him. Jahanara, eldest sister of the family (Nathalie Armin) seemed too soft, too unaware of her abilities; in this case, I think some fault lie with the actress as well. And the entire plot line of Aurangzeb and his mistress Hira Bai (Anjana Vasan) seemed to be an unnecessary distraction, one of many that kept us away from the more fascinating relationship between the temperamental father and his two sons.

At the end, though, the combined effect of the powerful story, Zubin Varla’s entrancing performance, and the sense of utter relevance of this story to what we are experiencing today won me over. I can only wonder what Shahid Nadeem has been living through in his own country to have written this in 2010; I can only hope that those who see it are won over by Dara’s vision of an inclusive world. I, for one, left the theater feeling truly inspired, for seeing a great piece of theater and an inspiring vision of what the future might be if we could only have the wisdom to learn from the past. The James Plays spoke to a Britain united by its focus on the future of Scotland: but Dara speaks to everyone looking for a way to make our connected worlds, east and west, north and south live together in respect and harmony. And hurray for the National Theater for doing their bit both to promote this play, more widely serve the UK audience, and help in their own way to make Dara’s vision a reality.

(This review is for a preview performance that took place on Friday, January 23, 2015. It runs through April 4th.)

Review – Brian Blessed’s King Lear – Guildford Shakespeare Company at Guildford Holy Trinity Church

January 23, 2015

It was impossible to resist the draw of one of my favorite British actors starring in one of the best of the Shakespeares – Brian Blessed in King Lear – even though it meant I was going to have to trek to Guildford to do it and watch an amateur theater company attack (possibly literally) the play. And God knew what it meant that it was going to be performed in a church – bad sightlines? The horror of three hours in pews? Or … worst of all … that I was going to spend the money and time travelling outside of London only to discover that my entire reason for going had collapsed on stage and was no longer to be seen in the production?

After this truly bad bit of news flashed through the wires Tuesday, I was relieved to hear no further news of illness on Blessed’s part. I was excited about being a part of his Lear, but I didn’t want to be a part of some horrible tragic history. The front of house confirmed on my arrival that all was well and there had been no sign of any illness on his part Wednesday night – whew! My companion and I dropped our rented cushions on our chair (I was in the fifth row and sightlines were good), and I ducked out to the Sainsbury’s to grab a quick sandwich – while they did have drinks and crisps, there was no cafe in the church, and even though I’d gone straight after work, I’d only actually made it to Guildford at 7 PM, meaning no sit down dinner was possible. (In case you’re wondering, it’s only a ten minute walk to the church from the main Guildford station, so there’s no need for a cab.)

At last the lights darkened and the cast gathered on stage – the opening lines were spoken – and Brian Blessed walked on stage! I wanted to shout “Blessed’s alive!” but restrained myself, as did the rest of the audience who avoided a tacky welcome ovation in favor of breathless silence. At last, it begins!

Thus started the loudest and most comic version of a Shakespearean tragedy I had ever witnessed. Blessed bellowed, he capered, he chortled, he took every turn to display his fantastic voice but never once relaxed into a quiet moment. No, this was Lear the war hero, Lear the man of action, Lear who was loud and noisy and fully capable of tossing ay of the other actors through the scenery. Every transition was signaled by some of the most horrifying organ music ever to grace the stage, lending the entire affair the air of a Hammer Horror, or possibly Carry On Ranting. The effect was greatly aided by the church setting, as all of the trappings were in place – you could easily imagine that behind the curtains someone was positively gouting fake blood while the cameras rolled and we got ready for the reveal that there had been a murder in the cathedral.

But, no, what was really going on was a performance of King Lear that was bleeding dry through a lack of subtlety, so much so that when one character walked on stage and spoke I briefly thought we were getting a guest visit from Baldric. To be honest, I was actually very pleased with the performances of Edmund (the “evil bastard”), who was deliciously bad at a level that almost matched Lear; and the nuanced performance of Gloucester. But all such things were washed away in the tide of crayon colored Bard that gushed from nearly every level of this production. I did feel a bit of a twinge of tragedy about the whole thing, a brief fear as Blessed grasped his heart in a moment which, as it turned out, was thankfully in the script: it reminded me of another Lear, one who was truly undone and nearly unmade by his health, as documented in the play My Perfect Mind. Lear is an old man’s tale and it’s one that many actors perform at the end of their careers. I’m glad this was not the final show for Brian Blessed, and that I got to see him on stage in his own, full, roaring glory; but some tiny bit of me wished I was seeing a better Lear and a little less Blessed. Ah well. If nothing else, I saw enough to not feel obligated to wait through to the end of the second half, and I did manage to get home right about eleven. It was certainly an event and worth £25, but your joy levels may be different from mine.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Thursday, January 22, 2015. It continues through February 14th.)

Mini-review – Tree – Daniel Kitson at the Old Vic

January 23, 2015

After three weeks without theater and a week with a truly dispiriting run of shows, I felt actively nervous heading into Tree at the Old Vic. A month ago it had sounded perfect, a ninety minute, comic two hander: but I’d lost my sense of purpose. Yeah, Stewart Pringle said the star was a very funny guy, but I didn’t know him from Adam. And then there’s that whole problem I have with British comedy. Half of the time, I just don’t get it, and most of the rest of the time I don’t understand why people are laughing at something that may be odd but certainly isn’t funny. But still, ninety minutes and nineteen pounds, and a Waterloo location to ensure I got home before eleven: I’d just have to push through.

Walking into the theater, I was faced with (spoiler alert!) a three story tree in the middle of the auditorium. Okay, well, it did SAY it was called Tree, I just wasn’t expecting a tree to figure so grandly in things. The auditorium was configured in a much more up-sweeping fashion than usual, with people sat 360 degrees around the small area of the set, even in the boxes. And then a bearded man scaled the tree.

And then, within a few minutes of the start of the play, we were told that he had been up this tree for eight years. OH NOES. I figure there was now two ways for things to go: either some horrible, cloying, environmentalist fable, or a completely nauseating, modern-day existentialist pile of crap. The man up the tree and the man at the base of the tree – a middle-aged suit in a suit killing time before a picnic – strung out the inevitable revelation of “the point of it all” by getting on with some getting to know each other conversation (in which tree man delicately avoids saying just why he’s up the tree), delaying my inevitable disappointment at the heavy handedness of it all by telling little stories about their lives: Suit used to try to save the world from dog poop; Tree has food delivered once a week; Suit’s in love with a woman who makes funny faces when she smiles; Tree watches movies with a widow via binoculars; Suit once spilled a huge bottle of American cream soda over himself; Tree has come up with a unique solution to the toilet question. In some ways, like Waiting for Godot, this story telling is really what the play is about, and with two such personable protagonists, it’s actually really fun to listen to them tell each other stories, occasionally offend each other, and generally act like English blokes.

And then, at last, the moment came, when the horrible revelation happened that clarified for once and for all if this was an environmental fable or some aggravating absurdist/existentialist piece of tripe. But lo! Kitson and Key swung off in another direction just when the whole thing seemed hopeless. And, in just a few more minutes, it was all over, and I realized I’d just had a really good evening. A few days later I found out the play had been extended, and to that I say good: you could hardly ask for a more perfect comic gem of a show than this one.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Monday, January 19th, 2015. It continues until February 22nd.)

Mini-review – Saucy Jack and the Space Vixens – Two Box Productions at the Two Brewers, Clapham

January 21, 2015

I’ve had a bit of a mixed history with Saucy Jack and the Space Vixens. The first time I saw it, I absolutely hated it: it was an amateur production (in both senses of the word), and the corny/bad dialogue just came off as bad. The two great songs – “Space Vixen” and “Glitterboots Saved My Life” – were recognizably snappy but didn’t have enough pizzazz to save the show. But, really, great songs just don’t count for much if the cast singing them aren’t good, and no musical can survive just on tunes without acting and (preferably) a good story.

Which brings us from 2008 to 2013, when I saw the Leicester Square Theater production of Saucy Jack and the Space Vixens. Suddenly, with the kind of high quality talent London seems to be dripping in, the campy fun of the show was suddenly highlighted, like a turkey sandwich or a burger that with the addition of bacon suddenly becomes a thing of wonder. And thus I became a convert to the joy of this show – or, in show terms, I became a Space Vixen. I came back two more times during the run of the show because it was just that much of a pick me up for me. Thus when an invite came from Two Box productions to see a production of Saucy Jack right up the street from me, at Clapham Common, I jumped on it. I’ve got a bad case of the mean reds this January and this sounded like just what the doctor ordered.

Walking into the back room of the Two Brewers (it’s just a little further down the street than the Sainsbury’s, but on the opposite side), I was impressed by what a great space it was for the show. Saucy Jack is set in a bar, and thus can play very well in a bar (especially since it comes with a pre-recorded soundtrack), but they had upped the level by having the cast members out mingling with the audience members like actual bar staff. I was sat by Booby Shevale herself (Lawrence Bolton), which I thought was great – everyone was already in character! We also had a group of dancers posing as barmaids, and spotlit in the corner I could see the rather brooding Saucy Jack (Joel Dyer) sitting at a table looking … well, broody probably isn’t the word, more like poorly shaven.

Unfortunately, this production didn’t hit the highs of the Leicester Square 2013 show. I blame a bit of it on budget – I want a bit more from my Space Vixens’ costumes, for example – but also voice of our second space vixen, Anna Labia (Nikita Smith) was a bit of a disaster during her big opening number – off key and off rhythm. That was a bit hard to recover from for me (mentally) and made the scenes which were supposed to seem self-consciously campy just seem a little, well, amateur and tired.

It’s clear, though, that for most people this production still delivered what they were hoping for – some fun disco anthems, loads of innuendo, and a chance to wear glittery boots – so perhaps it was just a matter of different expectations and a whole lot more alcohol. Still, I am hoping to see a version that has me rushing back for seconds. And for a friend of mine who is a hard core Saucy Jack fan (and went on Friday), her tickets for next weekend’s performance are already secured, so if she’s to believed, this performance numbers among the good ‘uns. It just didn’t hit it for me.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Saturday, January 17th, 2015. It has two more performances on Friday and Saturday January 23rd and 24th. I know last Saturday night was sold out, so be sure to check online rather than just showing up and hoping for tickets.)

Review – Dante’s Inferno – Craft Theater at The Rag Factory

January 19, 2015

It’s hard to walk into a show with an open mind when you’re lectured before you get there about what a special experience you’re about to have. The materials accompanying my invitation to Craft Theater’s Dante’s Inferno did exactly that – telling me they have a “soul-baring and thought-provoking performance style.” My skin began to prickle at the thought of a company that felt the need to tell me that they were going to be provoking my thoughts. I felt, in fact, a bit provoked. While in concept a theater group that values “emotional authenticity and depth” doesn’t seem like a bad idea – in fact, I can hardly imagine a one that would say they’re going for being fake and shallow – I began to think that I might have signed myself up for a very, very bad night at the theater. I love seeing stuff that makes me feel, that makes me forget I’m watching actors. But there was something about drawing so much attention to this that smelled a bit funny to me.

That said, I was still really interested in the content and hoped the hype just represented a moment of American-esque over-enthusiasm. But when I arrived, I was handed a piece of paper that said this: “You will witness deep, open and intense emotional reservoirs. Watching them may make you ‘feel’ in a different way. This was meant to happen. Try to embrace your feelings if you tend to shy away from them.”

Well, then. Shall we judge the work by its results on me? I felt nothing but irritation. Being told I was supposed to have a certain response to a piece shut me down and pissed me off. The air of condescension was choking. As I watched the actors “cleverly” rolling from one scene to another (ooh look how physical we are!) I thought: I need a full body condom to protect myself from this much wank. The tale of a corporate drone working at a soulless (DID YOU GET THAT? IF YOU DIDN’T YOU WEREN’T EMBRACING YOUR FEELINGS HARD ENOUGH) job, selling out his wife to get head/a head (LOOK I WAS JUST CLEVER AGAIN BUT MAYBE YOU’RE JUST NOT LETTING YOURSELF “BE TAKEN AWAY ON A JOURNEY”) courtesy of the boss’ daughter just never really had any depth to it, despite the actors emoting away/wearing loose fitting clothing/grunting. It was like the privileged children of rich parents had been “really touched” by the Occupy movement and wanted to make a modern day fairy tale that would illuminate their privileged audiences to just how privileged we all are and how we ought to turn our backs on the horrors of modern day corporate/consumer culture and learn how to be authentic and maybe fuck a little more.

But, you know, that’s just my opinion. Other people stood and clapped at the end. I was obviously paying attention to my own “thoughts/judgments,” contrary to the advice given to me in the program; doubtlessly the other people were responding to the “different kinds of honesty” presented to them. I don’t know: I go see a lot of theater, and this made me fear that if we really move into a world where only the children of the rich are able to afford to create theater, we will truly have moved into a new circle of hell: the one in which I spent my evening.

(This performance took place on Thursday, January 15, 2015. It continues through February 1st.)

Review – The Liz and Dick Show – Dhanil Ali at The Old Red Lion

January 17, 2015

A million years ago, the first time I ever saw a show in London, it was something my grandmother picked: Little Foxes with Elizabeth Taylor. It wasn’t a show I cared for (or knew anything about) although I noted the audience applauded, just like they do today, when the aged actress walked on stage. “Her eyes are still so beautful,” my grandma cooed, although to me she was already no more than a character out of the tabloids: aging, leathery, and overmarried.

Still, thirty some odd years later, I was intrigued by the premise of The Liz and Dick Show: two in/famous actors, backstage, take the gloves off and really let each other have it. In my imagination, it was going to be something like Kiss Me Kate but with drugs, alcohol, and lots of swearing. Mmm mmm a down and dirty catfight between two people who really had chips on their shoulders!

In retrospect, though, I recognize that I really have no idea of what conflict existed between these two people, and just the vaguest idea of why their marriage ended (information probably gleaned from The Intimate Sex Lives of Famous People, which I read around the same time I saw Foxes). The play posits that they had a really strong sexual connection, but that Burton was constantly teasing Taylor – quite cruelly – because he considered her rather ignorant and not much of an actress. The scenes in which he mocks her (as well as stupid, he also keeps calling her fat) were actively painful for me to watch: this was funny? And there was Liz, seemingly unbothered by any of it. It was as if the actress had been told to look like Taylor, but the writer had neglected to give her a person to make come to life. The effect was of having a giant, drunk, tan doll on stage that someone else was trying to poke until he could make it come to life.

Was this play actually a realistic representation of how these two actors interacted backstage? If so, they were more tedious than I could have ever imagined. I think I learned some things about both of them as historical
figures, while never believing in the reality of the characters on stage. I was hoping for some catty fun, but in retrospect I’d be better off rereading my book and settling down to watch Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. Now that would be an evening well spent.

Mini-review – Golem – 1927 at Young Vic Theater

January 14, 2015

Although it opened in December, I still very much wanted to go see 1927’s new show, Golem, especially given the usually affordable pricing structure of the Young Vic (my ticket was £19.50) and the fact their previous show had been one of my favorites of 2011. Four years … that’s a long time for a show to stay with you. Think about it. So, despite the warnings from Stewart Pringle (I didn’t read the review but I saw the stars, or lack thereof), I went to see Golem, hoping a difference in personal tastes would lead to an enjoyable night. And hey, it was cheap and promised to be only 90 minutes long, so surely it couldn’t be such a bad evening (despite my epic jet lag).

Golem was in no ways a retelling of the golem tales of yore, other than that it has a golem in it – no Prague setting, no spell casting, no Jewish themes, no parallels with Frankenstein. But when you get an animated human creature who does your servant, you nearly automatically get the opportunity for requests to go a bit haywire (i.e “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice”), and narratively the possibility of the creature somehow acquiring free will is a powerful path to go down. For this story, however, the creature doesn’t seem to develop its own sense of will so much as have it taken over by someone else. It’s all done as a sort of morality tale about consumerism, twined around a deliberately quirky tale of a family of two nerdy kids (they have an anarchist punk band together that never actually performs due to their anxiety issues) and their grandmother, whose lives are invaded and eventually taken over by this strange, evolving, semi-subordinate creature.

As ever, this show was done with live people and animated back and foregrounds – a truly original style that almost comes off as a sort of living claymation, this time with more of a St Pepper’s/Monty Pythno feel rather than the Soviet Expressionism of their last show. But I’m beginning to think that the lack of possibility of spontaneity reduces the input of the human elements too much for my tastes – they are practically performing a live movie, not a play, with all of the dialogue recorded (unless I’m seriously mistaken – the music did seem to be performed live but I don’t think all of it was). The effects created by this format is really beautiful, but at some point it has to move beyond trickery and visuals and actually become an engaging story; but somehow for Golem this did not happen and I found myself, 40 minutes in, feeling uncomfortable in my chair and wondering just how this show could redeem itself. The point that was being deliverered – the social satire – wasn’t really subtle, and, well, I was bored. And for a ninety minute show to become boring … well, that’s quite an indictment.

As I walked out, I heard the excited witterings of all of the other people who’d had an enjoyable evening (obviously not including the woman sat in front of me who’d limboed backwards out of her back of stall seat and made a run for it 10 minutes before the end). Maybe, like Punchdrunk, this is the kind of thing where initial novelty can really provide a tidal wave of enthusiasm, but, in the end, content wins out over form, and this show just didn’t cut the mustard. Ah well, I’ll still go back at least another two times to see what comes next.

(This review is for a performance that took place on January 13th, 2015. It continues until January 31st. There is a really nice preview of this show on the Telegraph‘s website which I’m going to read because I do still consider myself a 1927 fan even if I didn’t care for this show.)