Posts Tagged ‘Almeida theatre’

Review – In A Dark Dark House – Almeida Theatre

December 7, 2008

Since I enjoyed Fat Pig so much, I was excited when I heard Neil LaBute’s newest play was making its European debut at the Almeida. His writing is very much focused on the American now – not so much the historical moment we find ourselves in as the psychological landscape we live in. I’m not sure if the way I’m wired inside is similar to the English that I live among, but I think it’s different, and I think LaBute gets it. Pinter, I think, is the playwright of the English psyche – a lot of his mysteries can only be understood by those who live here. LaBute seems to understand the lies Americans tell themselves about what they feel and what is important to them, about how they want to be and how they actually act, and about how the react when they realize (or have pointed out) these contradictions. I also very much like his dialogue – it very much sounds appropriate for now, rather than being written in some “high theater” style.

In a Dark Dark House is well suited to the elements I like of his style. The story is about two brothers dealing with some very bad elements of their childhood as well as their relationship with each other. The younger brother Drew (Steven Mackintosh) has made enough of a wreck of his life that he’s wound up at a nut farm/”rehab” facility after a major car crash; he’s asked his estranged elder sibling Terry (David Morrissey) to come and help with his therapy. This all seems pretty pedestrian, even given the serious lack of empathy between the two brothers. In fact, it seems like it’s all going to blow up and the play is going to end rather quickly (though I had no idea where it was going to go) when Terry decides he’s just had enough of his brother’s game-playing bullshit and gets ready to storm of the stage and just leave him to his own devices (and likely jail sentence) when suddenly it comes out what the therapy session is really dealing with; not parental abandonment, not serious physical abuse (at the hands of their father), but child sexual abuse, and Terry’s possible role in allowing this to happen to his brother.

Wow. Suddenly I was sitting up on the edge of my seat. This is not really a topic I’ve seen dealt with much in the theater, and I’ve never seen it handled particularly well. But the effect sexual abuse has in later years on the adults who were its victims, and the particularly squirrely convolutions it has on the relationships between two people who both suffered it at the hands of the same person and then spend years not talking about it to each other … that was really something. I became entirely lost in the dialogue and really focused on the play, quite an achievement given the condition I was in (sleep dep and burnt out from work).

Oddly, it was the second scene that really had me on edge and was also the strongest one of the night. Terry left his brother as an avenging angel out to find the person who screwed them both up. Incongruously, he winds up on a miniature golf course, where Jennifer (Kira Sternbach) is waving her rather underclad (and well toned) bum at the audience while she cleans up the ball tubes (the conversational innuendo in this scene was pretty heavy, so please don’t blame it on me!). This 15 year old, who is rather heavily flirting with Terry, turns out to be … the daughter of the man who sexually abused him and his brother.

Really, just where was it all going to go? As the scene ended, with the tension ratcheted up so high I could almost not bear to watch any more, I had NO idea what the playwright was going to choose to do. We’d already done childhood sexual molestation – did we have any more evils to hit?

The final scene is at Drew’s fancy house; he’s made it out of rehab and is celebrating. Then his brother Terry shows up to tell him about what he’s been up to, and … well, let’s say it doesn’t go well. I enjoyed it, though – it was a good evening out and a peach at 1:45 running time with no interval (forgive me but I was exhausted and the Almeida is a long trek from my house), and I felt well rewarded for trusting to an author I enjoyed to provide me with an energizing and provocative (in ever so many ways) night at the theater.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Thursday, December 4th, 2008. In a Dark House runs through January 17th.)

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.)

Pinter’s Homecoming at the Almeida KICKED ASS

February 25, 2008

First, this isn’t going to be any kind of proper review, as I don’t want to spoil any of the fun of this show. What did I read about it? “Awesome show!” (said like a Brit). “5 stars!” So I said screw reading the review, I’m just going to buy tickets. And I’m so glad I did … and now I’m going to try to tell you why you should call the theater every day until you too can see this show.

I really didn’t know how screwed up a play could be before I saw this. It was like seeing a Coen Brothers’ movie, where everything has this air of normality, and then you suddenly go, “Hey, you can’t do that with a wood chipper!” Life just isn’t like that, but for some reason, when you’re watching people RIGHT THERE IN FRONT OF YOU saying this crazy shit, how can you argue that it’s not true and life doesn’t work like that? Because they just said it, they just did it RIGHT IN FRONT OF YOUR FACE. It wasn’t CGI and it wasn’t dubbed, it was THERE. You saw it. It was REAL. We laughed and shook our heads. Who were these crazy people we were watching?

And what’s extra cool is that every single character had a back story. Not “came from a troubled home” or “drinks on the sly” but rather so rich and believable that you could sit there and discuss what they were doing in grade school and what kind of mom and dad each of them had. It was like that. It was written that well. And every character was ACTED well. None of this, “Oh, I’m just a bit role, I have to a) be small b) be loud and try to steal the show.” Nope, each actor gave it 100% of what it needed to be perfect, right down to stroking their whiskey glasses with lustful intent. Never has a glass of water been drunk with such obvious … overtones.

I can’t believe this was written so long ago, especially when I think about what was contemporary at the time. Harold Pinter is god and I worship at his altar, where he sits next to Henryk Ibsen.

PS: For the record, getting back from Putney to Angel BITES. Otherwise it was a perfect night.

Review – There Came a Gypsy Riding – Almeida Theater

February 28, 2007

I was mocked tonight at the theater. I’d had a brief conversation with a woman in the bathroom at the Almeida, and I happened to pass by her talking to her knot of friends shortly thereafter. I heard this:
“Oh! Are you having a good time?”
“Wonderful, really, Actress X is so good tonight.”
“I just was talking to this girl in the bathroom and she said, ‘Ahr the aeccents off, oar is it jest me?'”
“Oh! How funny. I take it she was American?”

Anyway, tonight I went with Jess (and was most happily joined by Jason, who managed to get off call in time AND get a spare £6 ticket) to see There Came a Gypsy Riding. My actual conversation (in the ladies’ bathroom) went:
Me (to total stranger who sounded Irish): Ahr theyurr aiccents off?
Total stranger 1: I’m not Irish.
Total stranger #2: My seatmates are Irish and say there are.
Total stranger #3: They’re awfully, “Well, rahther.”

After, er, finishing up, #2 provided me with much more explicit detail: Imelda Staunton was UTTERLY failing her Donegal accent! (As if I could tell.) And Eileen Atkins, in the role of “the old nutter with the filthy mouth,” was apparently all over the place but since she was brilliant it was hard to care (I concurred).

The play itself was a good night at the theater but had a rough script lacking the, well, perfection of Night, Mother. Too many details were handled in an overly-heavy way; Bridget (the nutter)’s clunky description of finding the suicide, which reminded me of the occasional “explain the technology that enables interstellar travel” aspect of SF and denied the audience the pleasure of their own discovery of the story of the play; the dad’s quieter breakdown, which seemed to come at the moment in the play when the playwright needed it to happen rather than as a natural occurance that flowed up from the character; the sister’s brittle anger, which didn’t have any emotional depth to it. Sure, everyone was struggling, but none of them seemed to have had pasts in the way, say, Hedda Gabler does.

But still. The way the husband comforted and cared for his wife seemed to show the decades they’d spent together; the daughter’s panicked plea for her mother to “come back to us” did seem to come from the right place; and nutty Bridget’s scene talking about her marriage to Old Nick (and, much earlier, singing and dancing with dad) were very good. My hope is that the playwright will revisit and revamp this work and give the characters what they need to be real, or just focus on the mother altogether and let it be a completely brilliant role for “a woman of a certain age.” (And, ooh, I saw the actress who played Vera Drake tonight, woo!)

I leave you with pure beauty, as spoken from the play, an anticipation of a life cut short:

When I have fears that I may cease to be
Before my pen has glean’d my teeming brain,
Before high-piled books, in charactery,
Hold like rich garners the full ripen’d grain;
When I behold, upon the night’s starr’d face,
Huge cloudy symbols of a high romance,
And think that I may never live to trace
Their shadows, with the magic hand of chance;
And when I feel, fair creature of an hour,
That I shall never look upon thee more,
Never have relish in the faery power
Of unreflecting love;–then on the shore
Of the wide world I stand alone, and think
Till love and fame to nothingness do sink.