Archive for January 30th, 2015

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.)

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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.)