Archive for July, 2015

Review – Alice in Wonderland – Opera Holland Park

July 23, 2015

If I’m honest, while I enjoy Alice in Wonderland, the thought of an opera made for children just sent shivers NOT of anticipation down my spine. How bad was it going to be? What would it take to keep children interested? And how could meeting that criterion possibly results in something that wouldn’t bore me? I’m not really an opera buff at the best of times, and the thought of seeing one of my favorite works of literature reduced to something cutesy and/or banal depressed me beyond words. But, you know, hope springs eternal, and thus I found myself wandering around Holland Park last Saturday, clutching my watch as I dashed down the pathways in the woods going, “I’m late! I’m late” and feeling just too ironic for words.

As it turns out, my fears were entirely unfounded; despite some sound quality issues that any outdoor performance (that moved to about five different areas) would have and a toddler who tried to stage rush the tea party, Will Todd’s Alice in Wonderland combined both excellent, lyrically witty music with some barbed social satire that made sure all members of the audience were entertained and engaged. The music was often of the overly modern sort I find not my style, yet I laughed out loud at the song, “Off With Their Heads,” made extra rich by a panto-dame style Queen of Hearts (Robert Burt). wI was surprised and pleased to see the Cheshire Cat (Magid el Bushra) was cast as a countertenor, meaning I could just sit and enjoy the luscious pleasure of his voice; like all of the side characters, he was richly defined, a trait that extended even to the comic Drink Me bottle (Maud Millar). I found myself caught up in the energy and fun of this show despite my initial misgivings, and I’m glad it was restaged and even more so to hear that it’s transferring to the Linbury in the fall; this is a fun miniature opera full of charm that makes for a perfect hour plus on any sunny summer day you might care to spend at the bottom of a rabbit hole cultivating cabbages and potential young opera fans, who I’m sure will be softened up properly by this show for fuller forays in the future.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Saturday, July 18th, 2015. It continues through August 1st.)


Review – The Motherfucker with the Hat – National Theater

July 20, 2015

Although this play did little to attract me at the start – something American with a swear word in the title – I was convinced to make the effort to see it by Fiona Mountford’s glowing review, at the level of exuberance that causes me to drop the paper, skip the review, and just get directly online to book a ticket. It helped that it was 1:45 with no interval, which means to me that if it were actually bad or irritating, well, it would all be over quite soon with a chance of somehow salvaging my night (or in this case, my afternoon – the matinee was over in plenty of time to see a show that evening).

The plot of this play is as follows: there is a man not long out of prison, who has a girlfriend he suspects of infidelity (with the man with the hat). They’re both poor and Puerto Rican, and grew up together in the crappy New York neighborhood the pay is set. Jackie (Ricardo Chavira) is trying to clean up his act and stay out of prison – find a job and stick to the AA program, that kind of thing – while Veronica (Flor de Liz Perez), well, clearly has some substance abuse issues (we watch her snorting lines in the first scene) and might have some questionable ways of funding that hobby. Or maybe she makes her money hairdressing; I couldn’t be sure. And it didn’t help that Boyfriend’s AA counselor Ralph (Alec Newman) was busy advising him (and us) that Girlfriend was an unreliable skank who was a problem in Boyfriend’s life: gosh, yeah, maybe the drugs do cloud your judgment. Whatever her story is, though, Boyfriend is positive that Girlfriend has not been faithful (his evidence seems good), and he’s furious, and if he can’t get his temper under control, it’s back behind bars for him.

While this play is ultimately a bit slim (it doesn’t really have enough to justify an interval, so it’s well chosen to run it straight through), there’s no avoiding the powerful reality of the characters that populate it. Jackie’s dilemma hurts. We can feel the power of his affection, but also the tides of the other emotions sweeping through him – the conflict between keeping control and living a life in which he can have respect for himself. I was convinced that not going for violence was going to permanently break him, yet I was invested in him enough that I also desperately wanted him to be able to avoid breaking his terms of probation. Then there was his girlfriend: fiery-hot tempered, clearly impulsive, sexy as hell, and so obviously madly in love with him that seeing them split up was killing me. Jackie’s character was more clearly drawn for us by the presence of his extremely odd cousin, Julio (Yul Vasquez), whose description of their life together as children was obviously necessary backstory but also created the crucial element that made us, the audience, root for Jackie so hard, Julio could have just been throwing pom poms into the audience. The collective of the three of them smashed apart the shallow caricatures of Italian immigrants peopling Arthur Miller’s View from the Bridge: in some ways, these people were fighting many of the same problems (money/loyalty/fidelity) but with a richness that made them so much more than wax figurines populating a morality tale.

The morality issues are pretty strong in this play, and it’s a very modern morality that washes over the underpinning questions of Veronica’s reliability: it’s the morality of AA, telling people to take it one day at a time, telling them to turn to God for support, telling them to let things go …. and maybe telling them that, since they need to forgive themselves and learn how to feel good about themselves, that maybe they don’t have to try to act to make a better future for themselves or others. It’s a little hard to describe but simultaneously very new-agey and completely Machiavellian. I was shocked at how much ugliness Stephen Adly Gurgis managed to find in his few characters, all seeking to lead their lives according to precepts that they firmly believed in; and ultimately, the only one I felt I could stand up for was the guy society saw fit to put in jail. That gave me more to wonder about at the end of the play than almost anything else. It was, really, a good show that well rewarded the 100 minutes I invested in it.

(This review is for a performance that took place June 25th, 2015. It runs through August 20th.)

Review – Styx – RIFT at A Secret Location Near Tottenham Hale

July 15, 2015

To start any review of this show, I must actually start with a review of the location, because, while RIFT have been specializing in site specific performances for some time, it looks like they’re going to be settling down in this place. The gates of hell are pleasant indeed; wooden walkways and benches with a water feature in the middle and flowers dripping over the edges; a second story visiting-and-drinking area overlooking the entire space; and a million pleasant spots to stop and wait. The bar has a series of Stygian-inspired drinks, the most unmissable of which was the pomegranate mojito – holy shades of Persephone! I felt pretty confident that even if I ate the fruit garnish I’d be allowed to leave afterwards so I did in. Yum! It was an absolutely perfect place to spend a lovely summer day, although I wonder how it will hold up in the rain … still, it’s not where my head was that day. I couldn’t have felt further away from any sort of dark thoughts. Bring on the party!

At last, though, I was taken from my seats in Hell’s Little Waiting Room and me and my companion were escorted into the building, being carefully fitted with headphones and a tiny pink MP3 device so that by the time we made it inside, we were confirmed as fully wired for sound. And then our journey to the Styx began, or, rather, our journey through this narrative. Our headphones played a story about at attempt to deal with an urn that should have been full of ashes; I, the interlocutor, was attempting to deal with a death both externally (through the urn) and internally. This lead to a journey across London: I went to a funeral parlor, a wood (possibly Hampstead Heath), a cafe, and eventually an underground platform. But this, in some ways, is where the voice in my head told me I was supposed to be going; I was so overwhelmed with the visual stimuli that I’m afraid I nearly entirely lost the thread of the narration and kind of went into a dream state where the things I was seeing connected in their own way: the voice in my head was like the words you hear people speak in a dream, where the words are completely nonsensical and the meaning comes through later, thanks to the miracle of internal logic.

So instead of carrying on by telling you what maybe I was supposed to have going on, I’m going to tell you about what I experienced and how my dream logic brain put things together (with some attempt at not revealing all): I was on a journey of the parallel world of death and the dead that exists alongside the London we see every day. The port of entry might be a funeral parlor; the characters I met were speaking words and going through emotions that I thought made sense but were more roles they were playing as functionaries in this parallel world. Every park is also a graveyard; every public space is peopled by the living (barely), the dead (mostly) and the soon to be dead, who glow with the energy of their impending transformation. Every room, every tube platform is a place full of more beings who used to exist then those who exist now; we attempt to hold on to those alive and those dead and yet wind up losing both. Eventually we lose ourselves. Eventually everything is gone, except the two pennies we thrust in our pocket before we started the journey and the pomegranate seeds we still hold, thoughtfully, in our mouth – a last connection with the world of the sun and the living we like to pretend is the only reality, but is in fact the true illusion.

(This review is for a performance that took place the night of July 7th, 2015. It continues through August 1; returns may be available at the door.)

Review – Bromance – Barely Methodical Troupe at Udderbelly

July 2, 2015

Summer is rolling on, and the circus acts keep rolling into the Southbank. With two venues to fill – the Spiegeltent (for the “Wunderground”) and the Udderbelly (the giant purple cow) – that means there is a lot happening and it’s a bit hard to keep track. The latest arrival is the Barely Methodical Troupe, a group of three men, performing their one hour act “Bromance.” With a title like that, I was feeling quite sensitized to the “man on man” possibility it all presented – and it was a little edgy for me to watch them play with each other in a way much more familiar than you usually see in physical performance groups. They tickled each other, they tweaked nipples, they sniffed each other’s armpits. I was cringing a bit – what the hell was going on? Was this actually just man on man interaction?

Interestingly, throughout the performance, although there was physical stuff going on, what it felt like you were watching was the evolution of friendships/relationships. The guys seemed to be fighting to be popular with each other (and to a lesser extent, with the audience), and kept up a level of “who’s in/who’s out” that I, with my outsider childhood, found painful to watch. At the same time they were also doing lots of great tumbling, as well as balancing, and (finally) some very odd stuff with a giant hula hoop that was thoroughly mesmerizing; much of it was done to music which had lyrics that made what was going on rather poignant.

Altogether, it was less of an “Op La!” circus of stunts and more of an hour of emotional journey-ing along with the guys as they did their tricks and interacted; somehow managing to balance the thin line between performers and actual people with feelings. It may have all still have come out of the same can of actor-ing, but, still, I found it a most engaging hour of emotional acrobatics.

(This review is for a performance that took place on June 30th, 2015. It continues through July 19th.)

Review – Rent Boy the Musical – Above the Stag

July 1, 2015

Much as space ships and dinosaurs emerge in the cinemas in the summer, the sleazy back-alley Fringe is yielding up brazenly trashy crowd pleasers of its own as the weather heats up. It’s not the time for Ibsen: it’s time for Rent Boy: The Musical. Yes, the Above the Stag Theater has arranged the perfect entertainment for sultry summer nights, and about the only reason I could imagine anyone getting motivated to get off of a riverside patio (with iced beverages) and into a theater: a show with lots of sexy men in it being silly and hopefully not wearing a lot of clothes (at times, at least).

Rent Boy‘s premise is that we’re at the Hookie awards, where the MC (Frank Loman) is announcing who has won prizes for being the best in the escort industry. The award are somewhat as you might have expected (best SM experience, best newcomer), but generally speaking are riding the comic edge – the tipoff being that “pro” names include such winners as Don K Dick (yes, the humor is bawdy). But the real point of the awards is to give us a chance to meet various escort types – the “I’m really straight” boy, the horny soldier, et cetera – as well as to introduce us to some scenarios associated with working in the sex industry – the all-gigolo houseshare (and yes there are side benefits that go beyond living with people who “understand”), the difficulty in separating your emotional and your sexual life. The people and the situations are illustrated with a pile of generally not too serious songs exploring these themes (“The Boyfriend Thing” and personal favorite “That’ll Be A Little Bit More” doing exactly what it says on the tin), all of which are catch and fun and if there’s anything to worry about in this profession, well, it does not come up in this show. Other than getting old, of course.

The talent is generally, shall we say, up for it in varying degrees (as showcased wonderfully in the final song, “Who Invented the Jockstrap,” which should win its own prize for the smallest and sparkliest costumes on a male cast), although there were some sound balance qualities between the singing and the music, which at times overpowered the cast (especially a problem for solos). But really, this show is not meant to be a deeply (snicker) rearched tome on the rise and fall of the rent boy; it’s a fantasy fun time full of bad puns and triple entendres. I found it impossible not to enjoy myself, especially when Mr Don K (Henry Collie) came up and gave me a smooch at the end of the show. Even a girl like me likes to live the dream, and Rent Boy had me imagining bevies of boys floating me along on their shoulders …. aah! And all that just for the cost of ticket – who could say no?

(This show is for the opening night performance, which took place on Friday, June 26, 2015. It has already been extended through to August 2nd.)