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Review- Wink the Other Eye – Wilton’s Music Hall

August 4, 2008

What a grand time I had on Saturday when I went to Wilton’s to see Wink! I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect given the one review I’d read, but since I’m a fan of sing alongs and I like the old theatrical traditions (vaudeville, burlesque, and music hall), I wasn’t about to miss this, and rushed through a meal at the tasty and nearby “Bon Appetit” Lebanese restaurant (133 Leman Street, really very close and in a neighborhood that’s a bit of a wasteland) to be there on time. The format was a sort of loose story (the history of the hall combined with the life story of a few of the characters) framing the performance of a variety of songs. I was in very good luck as the audience the night I went was very much up for it, and shouted right back at the performers (or just made slightly off color comments) and were over all just very participatory, almost at the level I’d expect of Rocky Horror Picture Show (but not quite at panto level). The audience also sang along with every number, which was especially impressive given that only a quarter of the songs had their lyrics in the program.

Of the performers, my favorite was Kali Hughes, whose voice as she sang on a swing completely transfixed me, reminding me of of the power of Eva Tanguay and her “I Don’t Care.” It was really nice to see all of the actors just hamming it up to their maximum extent, though – Mike Sengelow didn’t take being the waiter as meaning he had a bit part – he was fully in the role and then seamlessly switched into the role of a young boy later on, doing such a smooth job I missed noticing it was the same actor (though later on I put two and two together). And even though the “showgirl” character (Suzie Chard) and the “sweet innocent” (Lulu Alexandra, blonde curls and pink cheeks, my!) were hardly deep, they had great stage presence and were really fun to watch. On top of that, the singing from everyone was really great. Good job, guys!

I realize some people may wonder why I so highly praised this in some ways amateurish show – it was very much lacking in polish and the plot, such as it was, existed mostly as a device to fit songs around – but all I was looking for was a good night out and this gave it in spades. If you like singalongs, cockney culture, and/or the history of theater, I would highly recommend seeing this show. If you want to practice ahead of time, here’s the songlist (starred ones are in the program – you can see how there’s not nearly enough lyrics to get you through the evening!):

Wotcher ‘Ria*
Birmingham Bertie
Never lost her last train yet
Oh! Mr Porter*
Champagne Charlie*
Have some more, Mrs. Moore
A little fancy does you good
“Girls”
Father come home with me (“Mother’s been waiting since tea”)
Don’t Dilly Dally on the way*
It Really Is a Very Pretty Garden
It’s easy to be a lady if you try
That’s the little bit the boys admire
They made me a present of Mayfair Crescent
Joshua (“nicer that lemon squash you ‘a”)
Ta ra ra boom de a
She’s lost her honest name
Come into the Garden
Swing me just a little bit higher (the very sexy song Kali Hughes performed)
The man on the flying trapeze*
Enemy of Agar (? – can’t read)
Keep the Home Fires Burning*
My Mother Said
God Save The King (I sang “America the Beautiful since this was the song I knew to this music)
Standing at the Corner of the Street
The girl I left behind
Stairway to Devon (joke)
Hinky Dinky Parlez Vous
One of the Ruins that Cromwel Knocked About a Bit*
Bless Her Name/Champagne Charlie
I live in Trafalgar Square
Daisy

Apologies for not knowing the correct names for many of these songs. Fact was, I’d never heard most of them before so I was just guessing about the titles. I was in the minority, though!

(This review is for a performance that took place the night of Saturday, August 2nd.)

Review of “Rosmersholm” – Almeida Theatre

June 13, 2008

Last night my uncle and my husband and I went to the wilds of Islington (which is actually far less wild than Dalston, where Ibsen and I last crossed swords) to the Almeida to see Ibsen’s Rosmersholm. I’m on an Ibsen quest, like my Pinter quest, though Ibsen is making it easier by being dead and thus not making it possible to have new play added. We ponied up for a program, which revealed some important Ibsen tidbits for me, especially regarding the order in which he wrote his plays: Rosmersholm preceded Hedda Gabler by four years (1886 and 1890), and was written just before The Lady from the Sea. This gave me an idea of where he was in terms of his skills as a playwright – oddly, near the height of his powers, given that the nearly perfect John Gabriel Borkman was written in 1896 and his last play in 1899. (I can also now say that I have my list of plays to see: I’m going to plan on skipping the critical failures, which I don’t think will ever be produced anyway, but I also have a dire need to see Ghosts and Peer Gynt.)

Rosmersholm (the home of the Rosmer family is the correct translation, I believe) is an odd play. I ended the first act feeling elated, but the second act left me dissatisfied and the third disgusted. As in Lady from the Sea, this comes down to problems with the script. The first act was very naturalistic, mostly concerning a confrontation between Mr. Rosmer (Paul Hilton) and an old friend of the family, Doctor Kroll (Malcolm Sinclair, last seen in Dealer’s Choice – boy, can this guy act!). Listening to Kroll go on about the values of conservatism, the ignorance of the masses, how wives should get their opinions from their husbands, how liberals are evil and a force of corruption to true and noble values, and how wretched the press is was (etc.) was actually a blast. He was strongly opposed to many of the things I personally believe in, but, even though some of his opinions were merely dated, so many of them seemed to still hold relevance today and I found his rants quite intriguing. I was also fascinated by how quickly he shrugged off Rebecca’s (Helen McCrory) attempts to engage him in conversation – after all, what could a woman know about politics! Then Rosmer dropped his bomb on Kroll, the shit hit the fan, exciting debates about atheism and what liberals believe in ensued, and I was hooked, and ready to recommend this play to all of my friends.

Unfortunately, act two descended into, I don’t know, something like “truthyism” but perhaps better described as “writeryistic.” Plot points need to be made, and what better way to do it than two letters sent by a dead person! (I was kind of reminded of the arrival of heralds in the Greek plays, describing off-screen action, such as murders and wars.) We just weren’t buying it and the endless exposition was beginning to grate. I couldn’t buy Kroll rejecting Rosmer’s friendship outright in act one, and his subsequent return in act two layered a second thick improbability on the first. C’mon, this is all supposed to be naturalistic, have the people actually act naturally!

Speaking of which, I was really having problems with Helen McCrory’s costuming and performance. Victorian women didn’t keep their hair in modern office girl fluffy half-twists, they didn’t slop their bodies all over the place, and, in general, I just think she didn’t do her research on properly playing a woman of the era, even if she was a free thinker. I also found the way she made herself tremble when she was confronting Rosmer just a little too much. How is it that an English actor can go to so much effort to get an accent right and then totally drop the personal representation of a historical era?

The penny finally dropped in the third act, when Ibsen threw reality out the door and suddenly went for a sort of Young Werther gothic drama. Rebecca’s revelations were all a little too much to be believed, Rosmer’s endless mood changes were completely over the top, and the ending was just … ridiculous and as over the top as a pasted on Hollywood ending a la Lady and the Sea. If Ibsen has gone to all of this trouble to create real people with real problems, why have them start acting like silly ninnies just to wrap up the show conclusively? All three of us grumbled as we left – such high hopes, so cruelly dashed! I’ll still keep seeing Ibsen, but I’m hoping he doesn’t let me down as roughly as he did last night.

In other news, my esteemed colleagues the West End Whingers have been blamed by a cast member of Gone with the Wind for that show’s “untimely” demise. I think it’s ridiculous to think that anyone who pays to see a preview as putrid as the one they described should be considered in anyway obliged to keep mum about it – in my mind, they were doing a public service! If you want it to be a secret, then workshop the show or have more dress rehearsals, and if you’re genuinely concerned about what to add and what to keeep and how it will play in front of a live audience, then for God’s sake do what they did for Hairspray and trial it in some smaller theatrical markets (Seattle and Chicago in this example). Could this show have succeeded? Possibly, with months more of rewrites – but from what I heard about the songs, I think perhaps not.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Thrusday, June 12th.)

Wayne McGregor’s Random Dance company – “Entity” – Sadler’s Wells

April 11, 2008

I admit it: I’m stumped. I did not get this performance at all. Worse, the people I brought with me apparently DID. Quote: “It’s a show best appreciated by bisexual math geeks.” I will attempt to explain what this means, but for non-math geeks I recommend buying the program – which I did not do – in hopes of clarification. The Sadler’s Wells website unfortunately doesn’t help. After my take on the show, I’ll include their take (in my inadequate words), to hopefully present both sides.

I have been convinced Wayne McGregor is a genius since I saw “Chroma” – and if he’s managed to get a friend of mine to like modern dance, via a piece I did not get at all – then there’s really got to be something to the man – and to the show. I went specifically because I wanted to see what he was up to as a choreographer, and this was the first offering I was aware of since “Chroma.” (more…)