Archive for October, 2016

Review – Amadeus – National Theater

October 28, 2016

I admit, I did not know that Amadeus, which I saw in 1984, was originally (1979) a play … written for performance on the Olivier’s huge stage. Of course, there were a lot of things I didn’t know in 1984 … but I was already familiar with the music of Mozart (give me some credit!). But since then, I’ve listened to and seen The Magic Flute many times, laughed at Don Giovanni, mostly enjoyed The Marriage of Figaro and Cosi Fan Tutti … and, well, for me to write about seeing Amadeus I have to come clean: I cannot talk about this play from the position of innocence with which I like to approach the theater. I got a lot more little jokes in this play than I would have if I did not know that a woman going to see an opera wearing a tiara of giant stars was likely to very quickly throw off her coat and return to the stage as the Queen of the Night. Anyway, I really, really wanted to see this show and was pleased as punch when the marvelous folks at Theatre Bloggers wrote me with an opportunity to come see this show on press night. Was I happy to fill in a few extra seats in the house of this sold out night? Yes, ma’am; or, more appropriately, “Rock me, Amadeus!”

The play gets off to a rather slow start, which, in retrospective, is probably a good thing given that the play is three hours long and we might as well just get our heads around the fact that we’re going to be sitting there for a while. Salieri (Lucian Msamati), the most famous musician of his time, is explaining to us how it was that he came to hate Mozart. There’s a LOT of back story, and rather a lot of musicians on stage, and not a lot of decor, so your choices as an audience member are to get bored (the guy next to me fell asleep!) … or to actually dig in and engage.

This, dear reader, was my choice. What I was given in return was a chance to have a world built for me with actors, costumes, and the mere breath of a set; and, most importantly, music. MUSIC music music. I listened to music described by people who think about it and (possibly) by people who try to understand how to MAKE it and … it was magic. And it was an amazing story. I came out of the movie oh so many years ago thinking the character of Amadeus Mozart was just insufferable; and, amusingly enough, Adam Gillen was probably even more extreme as the insufferable, poorly socialized, oversexed genius (in pink Doc Martins, loved that so much) … but somehow all of that swirling chaos made the emergence of his ridiculous, beautiful, pattern-breaking music sensible. Of course it could come out of this peculiar/crude/garish vessel … and perhaps it was all of that music sitting in him that turned him into the freak he was written.
Salieri’s theory is that God chose to express himself though Mozart, leaving Salieri silent, and Salieri (at least as written by Peter Schaffer) has thus been forced to act to repair this injustice, to act against God by punishing Mozart. And we, yes, we, are the lucky recipient of the fruits of his frustration, which is glorious music played deliciously and fantastic conversations about what makes music work. Alongside we get some kind of artistic reconstruction of the lives of both of these men (this is not a history lesson), but, more importantly, a compelling fiction of revenge with bonus gold lame and harpsichords that was so much more compelling than the movie. I have so rarely seen the huge stage of the Olivier so wonderfully used – the experience was nearly overwhelming.

It’s a good thing that the National is planning on broadcasting this production (2 February 2017) because THIS is what people need to remember – a glorious theatrical evening of scintillating music with extra spectacle and great storytelling – and, well, it’s also sold out for the run except for day seats, the Friday rush seats, and returns. So keep your eyes peeled!

(This review is for a performance that took place on Wednesday, October 26th, 2016. It continues into February – the additional dates are yet to be announced.)


Review – No Man’s Land – Wyndham’s Theater

October 26, 2016

On walking into my nosebleed seats in the back of the top balcony of Wyndhams, I thought to myself, “My god! I am sure I have seen this play before, and from an equally ridiculous vantage point!” On the stage a circular room with a bar at the back and handsome windows stood waiting for its occupants; and I remembered the exact same sense of vertigo mixed with a tiny bit of looking into a well from when I’d been to see it eight years back at the Duke of York’s. I could only hope that nearly a decade of watching Pinter would help me understand this play better than I had the last time, when I came away feeling menaced but unsure what the actual threat was.

Can I say my experience of London life since then means that now I know quite clearly what Ian McKellan was referring to when he was talking about the bushes of Hampstead Heath, and that I also now feel 100% positive that he, too, when he mentioned it, knew quite clearly what his character had been up to before he met up with the man hosting him at his posh Hampstead home? And certainly Patrick Stewart’s character has a poor memory, as he’s easily confused about just how long he’s known the drunken “poet” he invited back to his house. And the grousing match they get into about who was a bigger cad is a funny bit of dialogue wittily delivered.

But, really, just how good of a play is this? And did most of the people there care? I found the audience far too worshipful and think both of the gentlemen were strutting a bit, not feeling the need to try to give a good performance but merely to deliver comfort. The other two actors, playing some kind of servants, were giving their all, and I finally started watching them more because they were just more interesting. In the end, though, my feeling was that the whole show was a bit flaccid; but with the entire run close to sold out and premium seats over £100 quid each, my opinion will count for not a fig. I was relieved I’d only paid £25 for my seats, which is about the right price for what was essentially a “see the famous actors” circus; those who want to pay will and if you’re looking for a night of strong theater I’d advise you to fork over everything and go see Travesties at the Menier instead.

(This review is for a performance that took place on September 27th, 2016. It’s booking until December 17th: some seats can still be found, at normal prices, on the Delfont Mackintosh site.)

Review – The Tempest – The Donmar at King’s Cross

October 24, 2016

With the fine taste of The Donmar’s slash Phyllida Lloyd’s Julius Caesar still fresh in my mouth ‑ some four years later, perfection is not easily forgotten – I quickly bought tickets for the Tempest that was to be presented at a new Donmar space as part of an all-female Shakespearean trilogy of Julius Caesar, Henry IV parts 1 and 2, and it. To be honest, seeing Harriet Walter again wasn’t a big push for me – I hadn’t even bothered looking at the cast list – but I felt very confident in Lloyd really getting how to make Shakespeare come alive and didn’t hesitate to go.
Since this is being done in a brand new theater space, let me tell you a little bit about it. First of all, it’s behind King’s Cross, but not all the way where In The Heights is happening …. it’s much closer, just out the main ticket office for the Northern line (etc.). Inside there’s a bar and it looks like two theaters are there, but I could be mistaken. Unfortunately, the chairs in the space are the worst kind of non-ergonomic plastic ones imaginable, the kind that make your bum go numb after twenty minutes and cut off circulation to your legs in a hour. What a different from the luxury of the Royal Court! However, I have to honestly say I got so caught up in the action of the show that I completely failed to notice any physical discomfort, even though I had to shake my legs out afterwards. This is pretty good considering that we started darn close to 7:30 (after a bit of silly “let the new inmates in” nonsense) and were clapping our hearts out at 9:25 – almost two straight hours and I was caught up about all of the way through.

The conceit, once again, is that we are in a woman’s prison, but it no longer feels like Lloyd is presenting a prisoners’ production of a play. Instead, the whole prison thing, with her working with incarcerated women, seems to have taken over her creative imagination, especially with the back story of one prisoner she’s used to inform the character of Prospero. Prospero is a person stuck on an island with people who aren’t her friends and with little to entertain her besides her books; her love of her daughter – in the case of the prisoner, they were separated forever when the mother went to jail – is a great motivating factor for her, and the woman who is the prison daughter, Miranda, seems to have built a relationship that meets both of their needs.
And so we buy into the conceit of the play, The shipwreck itself is glossed over in favor of going directly to the intake of four new prisoners into jail; fine, so be it, we have a story to tell here. And we have bits of sets and costumes that are clearly inspired by “what could be made in a woman’s prison using the materials at hand,” most hysterically involving tampons. And there is modern music played through a beatbox and Trinculo drinks from a plastic cider bottle and oooh the feeling at the very end when we realize our Prospero cannot escape her jail.

But mostly, and I hate to say it, I think this conceit has been worn out. I’ll happily see women acting these roles and need little excuse for it (much like the all-male Gilbert and Sullivans that Sasha Regan puts on , I only need the thinnest reason to buy in), but the moments when this play is wonderful come from a few bits of stagecraft that are far beyond anything believable in a prison (balloons and a few hundred tiny flashllights) and from, don’t sell it short, some really fucking awesome acting that I totally loved. In the end I felt the show was hindered more than helped by its trope; but such a good show still was only held back a little. I wish, in the end, though, that Lloyd had taken us somewhere truly new; now that would have really been a brave new world which would have surely left me marvelling.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Wednesday, October 19th It continues in rep through Dec 17th.)