Archive for July, 2016

Preview – Groundhog Day – Old Vic

July 30, 2016

It is not everyday that one of my favorite movies of all times gets turned into a real, live action, West End big budget musical with talent of the likes of Tim Minchin doing the music and lyrics. I mean wow. What an event! I was ready to buy tickets to it from the moment I saw it was happening (January?) but only actually got them in May for the soonest possible date I could go, which was in July. Preview, shmeview, GIVE ME THE GOODS.

I’m really sorry that I didn’t keep track of all of the songs so you musical theater buffs out there could get a nice whiff of fresh musical (AAAH the smell of fresh musical in the morning), but I was very busy paying attention to the show and not taking copious notes. Anti-preview review kill joys would just complain anyway. HEY, IF YOU’RE ONE OF THOSE PEOPLE, STOP READING, I DON’T WANT YOU TO READ THIS AND THEN COMPLAIN ABOUT IT. IT’S A REVIEW OF A PREVIEW. NOBODY IS FORCING YOU TO READ THIS SO JUST GO AWAY IF YOU ARE GOING TO COMPLAIN.

The show is set up on a revolve – pretty darned appropriate given that it’s all taking place on one day – and the central location for a lot of it is the tiny room our male lead Phil “just like the groundhog!” (Andy Karl) wakes up in morning after morning to relieve a particularly unremarkable day in his life, when he discovers he has been snowed in and is stuck in Punxatawney, Pennsylvania. Why is he experiencing this one day over and over again? We’ll never know, but watching the madness that ensues as a day’s trivia replays over and over again is somewhat hypnotizing. Phil, of course, is at first mystified, then mad, then bored, then suicidal … then, at last, accepting. He gets the opportunity to sing all sorts of crazy songs as he tries to break the day in new and different ways. Different characters briefly come into the spotlight, but the focus comes to be on the producer he’s working with … Rita (Carlyss Peer). He is trying to sleep with her, but, frankly, he’s such a sleaze you don’t want to see him succeed. But slowly … he manages to evolve. And finally, against all odds, you begin to hope that somehow, he’ll win her over … and break out of the loop.

The night I went, there were still some sound quality issues being worked through, and it was running a bit long, but it felt very close to what it wanted to be (and just a few nights away from formal opening). I found myself wishing it had a lot more dancing in it, because, well, it’s a musical, and, well, why not? The big tap dance number done while the groundhog pounds away on the drums certainly went over well and the show has room for even more extravagant over the top moves – reality is no barrier in the context of this story. But, well, I may not speak for everyone. The audience certainly seemed to enjoy themselves, and the on-stage chemistry between the two leads was quite compelling. I’d say it’s a darn good evening and will, no doubt, quickly be transferring to somewhere else, so best get those affordable Old Vic seats while you still can.

(This review is for a preview performance that took place on July 23, 2016. It’s booking through September 17th. There are a LOT of sex jokes, so don’t bring under 14s is my advice.)


Review – The Plough and the Stars – National Theater

July 30, 2016

After ten years in the UK, I find I still know so little of the history of the land I live in. The Plough and the Stars is being produced in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the Easter Rising: but I had never heard of this battle, which was a much deadlier incident than the Boston Tea Party. Knowing the date that it happened, though (1916) – the years of the first world war being very sharp in my mind due to the numerous centenaries being marked over the last several years – I had to say I was shocked to see (on stage) a rebellion taking place IN IRELAND right during the middle of the first world war. Jesus Christ on triscuit, kids, this did NOT look like something that was going well, and whoever was planning all of those speeches taking place outside of a bar during the second act (or, well, the second scene in the first act) seemed to be pretty willing to deal out domestic warfare when the whole “country” (Great Britain, perhaps the disunited kingdom) was at war with an external enemy. You can look at this as a person ignorant of history and look at how things are going in Syria and thing, yep, domestic insurrection, the powers that be are going to smash that flatter than a pancake in the same way that disobedient soldiers are shot on the battlefield.

The Plough in the Stars, like Sean O’Casey’s Juno and the Paycock, is set in Dublin slum. The characters are all in each other’s business, and are pretty well occupied with the hard work of keeping food on the table and taking care of ill relatives. This time, however, it’s the excitement of working for the independence of Ireland that sweeping people’s thoughts (well, the men’s thoughts) and motivating them; but somehow, when the fighting actually gets started, everything disintegrates into messiness, and looting, and death, and shooting, and the ridiculous indignities of battle that ultimately prove that, while it may be done for higher ideals, it’s pretty much a losing game for the poor and civilians. (And, if you’ve seen his play The Silver Tassie, you’ll see that O’Casey is of the opinion it’s pretty shit for the soldiers as well.)

 l-r  JUSTINE MITCHELL (Bessie Burgess) and JOSIE WALKER (Mrs Grogan)  photo credit Johan Persson

JUSTINE MITCHELL (Bessie Burgess) and JOSIE WALKER (Mrs Grogan) photo credit Johan Persson

Frustratingly enough, I once again found myself struggling uphill against the Irish accents, able to catch about two thirds to a half of what was said on stage. Worse, I quickly found I did not care about the characters. Women scrapping in a bar? The insults may have been funny but only as a respite from listening to lectures about communism and the local sex worker complaining about how bad trade was due to the incipient revolution. A big pay off came in the final act, though, which featured a mad scene that outshone Ophelia and Lucia di Lammermoor in my eyes … a wonderful, realistic depiction of someone going off their rocker and how it really affects those around them. And there was a delicious, emotional death scene … you can’t have war and disease like you did in Dublin without some death … and O’Casey wrote it spot on (and if you don’t know I’m not going to spoil it for you) … nicely capturing how actually very slow and painful it all is, not like in the movies or most of Shakespeare. I don’t want to say that watching people die is boring but it is actually much slower than it usually happens and I loved the experience of walking through this with a character I’d become rather oddly attached to by the time the grim reaper came calling. So, overall, this night was not without its good moments, but I don’t think Sean O’Casey is a writer whose works I can appreciate.

(This review is for the opening night performance that took place on Wednesday July 27, 2016. Thank you to Theatre Bloggers for organizing my trip.)

Review – Some Girls – Buckland Theater Company at Park Theater

July 24, 2016

I’ve been watching Neil LaBute plays since 2008, when I first saw one in the form of Fat Pig at the Comedy Theater. His use of naturalistic language and creation of characters that were fully believable – and extremely American – was a joy for me to see. People I recognized on stage, dealing with situations that seemed to be familiar and realistic – now that’s what I like! I’ve had the opportunity now to watch his style evolving, but I didn’t hesitate to take up on an offer for a visit to see his 2005 show Some Girls and a Q&A with the director and cast afterwards.

The plot seems very thin on the surface: a man (never named, called “Guy” in the script, played by Charlie Dorfman) flies to several cities he lived in in the past to have visits with his exes, for the approximate purpose of setting things right with them. On the way, we meet Sam (Elly Condron), Tyler (Roxanne Pallett), Lindsay (Carolyn Backhouse), and Bobbi (Barley Stenson). The unifying theme in their relationships is that this guy walked out on them and never spoke to them again; for some reason, all of them have decided to take him up on his offer to meet up and hash things out years later.

Elly Condron (Sam) in Buckland Theatre Company's Some Girl(s) at Park Theatre. Credit Claire Bilyard

Elly Condron (Sam) in Buckland Theatre Company’s Some Girl(s) at Park Theatre. Credit Claire Bilyard

While we’re meant to buy into this situation, I, for one, never felt like it added up. The guy seems to want something, yet be incapable of articulating it; the women only get about 20 minutes each in which to develop their characters and aren’t able to get very deep. Still, the actresses use their skill with movement to flesh out their characters and made me believe there is more to them than we get to see; but the same isn’t true of the guy. He is stiff and says little and tends to have a bit of a wheedling, weasley smile on his face; but I couldn’t believe there was much else underneath it. Even if he is ultimately only driven by his ego and his desire to do things for himself, that, as a character trait, is something I am able to believe in; but it’s not in Dorfman’s interpretation of the character and there wasn’t nearly enough else that he did or said to make him be anything more substantial. I ended feeling like everything was a bit of a set up for a sitcom style joke, and that’s really not what I go to the theater for. I want Ibsenesque characters that I walk out of the theater talking about as if I’ve known them for years; I imagine LaBute had the opportunity to create a piece using David Schwimmer as a character and built the role around him, without worrying about three dimensionality. In short, the script needs more to it, and because of this I would not consisider Some Girls a particularly good night out.

However: I’d like to take a brief break to discuss the question of “misogyny in Neil LaBute’s plays.” It keeps coming up that he’s a misogynist: women in his plays are judged by their looks and frequently ill treated by the men in their lives. Is LaBute misogynistic? Are his plays misogynistic? I have to say, as a second wave feminist and hardcore theater goer, this is an extremely specious argument. Essentially, it’s saying that a playwright who writes about Jack the Ripper must be a murderer himself. LaBute creates characters, characters which are wholly based in 21st century (and in America). We live in a world in which, it’s true, women are judged on their appearances. Even if you are a child, you’re treated better if you’re pretty than if you’re not. LaBute does more for us by showing us the reality of the world we live in – in which pretty women are treated better by society than ugly ones, in which “fat” is treated as a moral shortcoming, in which men are not always nice to women and women can be angry and violent – than he would if he wrote plays in which he tried to pretend that things aren’t as they are. 100 years later, Shaw’s plays show a world in which getting divorced was a one way ticket to social exclusion (The Philanderer), but his plays would have been nonsensical if he tried to pretend this wasn’t a reality. We live in a world in which women aren’t treated the same as men. Holding up a mirror to that world is not misogynistic: it’s good writing, even if we don’t like what we see reflected at us.

(This review is for a performance that took place the night of July 21, 2016. It continues through August 6th.)