Posts Tagged ‘actually the projectsion were good’

Review – People, Places and Things – Headlong at the National Theater

August 29, 2015

Considering how much I loved The Effect – a show which has stayed with me strongly even three years on – there was little doubt in my mind that I had to go see People, Places and Things at the National. But the cost of tickets put me off – £35 quid in previews and all of the cheap seats sold out! What was a girl to do? The situation was not helped by the general sold-outness of the shows – if I didn’t get in, I was going to miss out. Argh! Fortunately I remembered I had a credit slip from my cancelled trip to Everyman, so I was able to tell myself I was really only paying 20 quid and just went ahead and bought a ticket. There, done.

I’m glad I did, because People, Places and Things is a very interesting look at a slice of modern life I haven’t seen on stage much: addiction recovery. That said, this was also hit quite recently by The Motherfucker with the Hat, and one particular aspect of twelve step programs came up in both: the “give up responsibility for yourself to God” or something like that, it’s the big issue I have with twelve step programs as well – what’s the point if it’s going to be so focused on the Great Sky Father that I don’t believe in? Emma (later revealed to be named Sara, Denise Gough), the protagonist of People, Places and Things goes through this mental journey quite convincingly – I very much enjoyed the opportunity to see an almost Shavian confrontation with modern bullshit philosophies.

Earlier on, though, when Emma checks in to the clinic, we get an extended section of classic Headlong work as she comes on to whatever drug she ingested before she walked in the door and then starts coming off of the anti-anxiety meds (and God knows what else) she’s become addicted to. The exit signs warp and twist (thanks to some excellent animated projections – I hadn’t realized they weren’t real), the tiles on the walls slowly warp and float away, and an entire bevy of Emma clones come crawling out of the bed she’s been sleeping in. It was an excellent depiction of hallucinations and nicely captured the unreality of what Emma was going through, including all of the vomiting and loss of bladder control.

Almost a third of the play seems to center on Emma’s experience dealing with the group therapy aspect of the treatment, and, while this provided a great opportunity for many members of the cast to show their chops, I didn’t really get a good feel for how it was supposed to work in terms of her experience. Clearly, when she embraces doing it, we’re meant to see that she’s had some kind of internal change that has pushed her to committing to the program, but exactly what this is is never revealed; and, unfortunately, it’s this giant missing plot point that undid the play for me. So many good performances, such a well-crafted production, and yet the script completely failed to deal with something so very vital to character evolution – ultimately letting down the whole evening. While this is a very engaging show, I think Duncan Macmillan is going to have to find something a little more solid than Wile E Coyote’s outlook on life to get us to buy into the overall arc of this play. Ah well, it nearly got there.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Thursday, August 27th, 2015. It continues through November.)

Review – Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time – National Theatre

July 26, 2012

“So I went to this PLAY and it was about this BOY and it had a lot of MATHS in it and it was REALLY COOL and I was in a PRIME SEAT so I had a PRIME NUMBER and I was Technetium and I was SPECIAL and then I won a prize.”

That is the eight year old inside of me trying to explain how excited and happy I was at the end of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. Yes, okay, maybe there were a few things nice going on outside of the two hours and forty five minutes I spent under Marianne Elliott’s control (I did, actually, win a prize, for having a name that added up to a prime number – in my case, 109 – and having the good fortune to sit in one of the “prime” seats in the first place … plus it was the middle of the most glorious week of the entire summer), but my joy was pretty much entirely caused by what happened inside the theater. So many times I go to see new plays, get my hopes up, am briefly suckered by some interesting design work, then WHAM, the true horror hits as I realize that all of that buildup has come to nothing: it’s a dud.

But not last night. Oh no. Curious Incident had the cool movement going (which reminded me of Earthquakes in London), really great projections on stage (well, on the floor) that absolutely added to the story (and which were added to by actual embedded lights, and chalk) and helped build the world of the protagonist’s mind for us and … er, for once, practically no set at all, at least not in the National’s usual way of telling us every little detail of the play by building it for us in an utterly realistic way. And this matters because all of it made a good play better. If you don’t know the book, it’s about an autistic boy who discovers a dead dog and then decides to solve the mystery of who kills it. Conceptually it’s a story about where this leads him, but I believe it is a story much more about what it’s like to be inside of an Aspberger-y mind; and also a play about what it is like, on a daily basis, to live with someone who is both highly intelligent and very, very difficult (and occasionally violent).

And the play just utterly succeeds. I’m not convinced that the performances were 5 star amazing (but since this was a preview, I’d say give it some time to cook), but the protagonist’s father (Paul Ritter) is heartbreakingly convincing – tender, frustrated, angry, loving, despairing. Luke Treadaway as Christopher doesn’t quite feel natural enough, but holds the stage well and in no way appears to overplay his character’s disabilities.

There is so much to say about how much I enjoyed this and all of the reasons why, but I don’t want to take away from the enjoyment so many people are going to have watching this show by telling too much. There are three coups de theatre that left me laughing with joy (before the interval), gasping with surprise, then finally crying (with joy again); I kind of think the director and design team deserve a special prize for making a crusty old burnout like me feel so excited to be seeing a show again. I left feeling high as a kite in the special way I only get when I see something new and wonderful at the very beginning; if nothing else, I was able to thank Nicholas Hynter personally for making this show happen. It’s sold out for the entire run so it may be hard to get a ticket: but it’s utterly worth the risk of day seating and of course regularly refreshing your browser in the hopes of returns, for this show must be seen and it must be seen in the Cottlesloe while it is possible, before it transfers (which it will) and while you can still enjoy the wonderful creation the National team has made for us in its lovely, intimate, black box environment. It will, of course, play in other houses, for this is a play I feel has a long future ahead of it. But in this place, with this design work and this cast, on that beautiful summer night, and in seat 43, I feel so damned lucky I got to see this.

(This review is for a preview performance that took place on Wednesday, July 25th, 2012. It continues through October 27th. I may just go see it again but I’d feel guilty taking a seat from someone else who hasn’t.)