Posts Tagged ‘Anna Madeley’

Review – Turn of the Screw – Almeida Theater

February 2, 2013

The Almeida Theater’s bloggers’ evenings have been a great outreach program, making it possible for a small, changing group of dedicated theater junkies to see shows together on quieter nights and have extremely animated conversations with each other. It supports the community and gives us a chance to get together as a community (rather than by ones and twos) and interact with each other. I’m grateful for it; most bloggers buy all of their own tickets and getting a free one is a real treat, but the evenings themselves are fun because it’s great to see so many people that I may not have met in person before.

Turn of the Screw, Almeida Theatre

Turn of the Screw, Almeida Theatre

Anyway, I was interested enough by the Almeida’s production of Turn of the Screw that I was planning on going anyway, and I’m pleased to announce that it is a solid night’s entertainment that delivers good value on the ticket price (and, being the Almeida, they have a very wide range of prices, from £8 to £32). I didn’t know anything about the story, honest, only that I had some kind of idea it involved a governess and some kind of ghosty goings on. I had a weak memory of an operatic version that made me think children were involved, possibly as ghosts … it was all very vague, and THAT’S HOW I LIKE IT. I mean, seriously, how spooky can a supernatural styley play be if you already know what’s going to happen? And that makes it hard to write a review, too, because I don’t want to spoil it for you.

Right, so: there is a governess (Anna Madeley). There is a twist that is utterly vital at the beginning of the play to making any of this make sense: she is under no circumstance to contact the man who is paying her to do this job. BUT WHAT IS GOING ON? You know at the beginning something happened to the previous governess. BUT WHAT? And is it going to happen to her?

It’s pretty clear from the way the stage is set up that there are lots of nice places for spooky going ons to happen, what with the GIANT WINDOW in the middle of the wall behind the set (thrust far forward so it can rotate and we can have set changes happening behind the bit we’re currently watching). And the EE EE EE! factor is cranked up by the use of creepy music and projections of flapping bats during scene changes. Happily this is mostly very effective in getting the audience cranked up to a mild screaming pitch, and despite the obvious THERE MUST BE A GHOST IN THE WINDOW set up, the designer/director also included all sorts of stuff I would have never anticipated (though I occasionally missed some of it due to looking here and there trying to figure out what was going on, or deliberately looking away because I didn’t want to jump in my seat and knock my program onto the head of the man sitting in front of me).

Now, I will complain a bit, because by the second act we have moved well beyond mild fright and were in a position where we were basically having ghosts on stage all of the time, and I had to wonder: is this what they wanted? Is this where it became a psychodrama? I never entirely was sure what to make of it, but the shock factor of a looming presence was never really matched by someone just marching around on stage while a whirly blue light was shone on them. And this meant at the end, well, I had kind of lost my ability to be frightened. But I still had a very good time, and I walked out with questions to ask myself that weren’t about the scenery, but underneath it all I had to wonder: now, seriously, would anyone have taken the order to not call the uncle given the circumstances? THAT was a mystery to chew over. But it was a fun night and a much better time than I had sitting through some ridiculous kumbaya crap at the National; three cheers for solid entertainment and NO DEEP LESSON TO TAKE HOME thank you!
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(This review is for a performance that took place on Tuesday, January 29th, 2013. Performances continue through March 16th.)

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Review – Becky Shaw – Almeida Theater

January 19, 2011

It’s a wonder a theater can ever get me to buy a ticket for a show when I persist in such stupidities as thinking Becky Shaw, the new American play at the Almeida Theater, was in any way, shape or form related to Becky Sharp, the protagonist of Vanity Fair. But sometimes I’m just really thick headed and the beginning of the year, when my brain is full of thoughts of scuba diving on the Red Sea and the Sadler’s Wells Flamenco Festival, well, I’m just really not thinking “Ooh, I bet that new play with the title that sounds just like the heroine of Thackeray’s 19th century novel has absolutely nothing to do with it and is instead an insightful and yet funny play about modern America;” no, no, I’m looking for easy parallels within the tiny capacity of my brain and I just assumed it was mostly likely an update of Vanity Fair (set in America) and I was hearing it wrong. This kind of thing is an occasional problem when you fetishistically avoid any news whatsover of a new play lest you ruin the enjoyment of seeing a completely unknown script unfold in front of you; sometimes, you really just don’t know what you’re signing up for. Basically I got “funny” and “new play” and “15 quid” (thanks to a deal) and I said, “Okay, fine, Becky Whatever, bring it on!”

As it turns out this play had NOTHING to do with Becky Sharp whatsoever. Despite the potential for catastrophe, I’m so glad I went, as I got, for once, all of the joy of seeing a wonderful new play without a hint of overreaching or pretentiousness or being talked down to; it had an unusual but intriguing story (a blind date gone horribly wrong), fine acting, and a writing style that made me wonder just how so many authors have managed to go wrong when clearly, modern plays in modern settings can be done very well. There’s a prayer that Man in Chair from Drowsy Chaperone says, in short, “Oh please let it be good! And not too long,” and this was, for me and MiC, a prayer answered (though it went a bit over the 2:15 running time – by at least 20 minutes – the night I saw it).

This play works so much better than a million other flash-in-the-pan “issue” plays (hello, Earthquakes in London) because it’s really about people and how the interact with each other and, deliciously, how they lie to each other (and to themselves). Heart of the show is Max (David Wilson Barnes, imported from the off-Broadway cast), who’s got a complicated relationship with his, shall we say, childhood best friend Suzanna (Anna Madeley). He is blunt to the point of asshole with her and everyone else, but his deep love for her seems to animate nearly all of his actions … except for when he’s thinking about how to make money (this being 95% of all of his thoughts). Suzanna is a pile of aggression with major problems with her mother (Hayden Gwynne), who is, meanwhile, far more willful than her daughter but just as aggressive. The three of them are horrible and rude to each other … and very, very funny as they are, underneath it all, both extremely honest, insightful, and caring. I just couldn’t believe how much I was laughing at the three of them being terrible to each other, though: it was so fun watching East Coasters let it rip!

Sadly, neither Becky Shaw (Daisy Haggard) nor fellow Second Act arrival Andrew (Vincent Montuel) seem as well-written or as well acted. Becky starts to become more fun as you start to wonder just how much of her hysteria is put on; meanwhile, Mr Montuel seems to be struggling to make his character seem real. Admittedly, a feminist guy with a Munchhausen complex might be difficult to make sense out of, but his line delivery just seem kind of flat (unlike his pecs, phoar!, but was there really a need for him to be walking around without his shirt on?).

Becky Shaw is an awesome play that knocked me in the head with its familiar depiction of modern, everyday life. We bicker with our parents, we waste time watching bad television, we stomp around our shitty apartments yelling into our cellphones. We form connections with people that we can’t even find the words to express because to say those words out loud would deny the order and simplicity we want our lives to have. That pulse of the modern, banal and transcendent, conflicted and overwhelmed, is something I’ve seen very rarely in new plays. I want to feel the reality of how we live now on the stage, so new and now that it’s like spending an evening with your friends, so familiar that every pop-culture reference sounds like it’s something you just heard on the bus. And for me, an American abroad, to hear it in my vernacular and about my culture was a big bleeding pile of joy, blankie AND bunny slippers AND Kraft macaroni and cheese all at the same time. And it was effortless rather than cutesy or “issue of the month.” Rock on Ms Gina Gionfriddo, well written.

However, in my mind it’s really the triangle between the three people with the longest relationship that seems the most solid; but the whole train-wreck of social circumstances is just a riot to ride. And I did get really caught up in how each of the three leads got to be the way they are. To me, that’s what defines good writing; when you sit there trying to figure out what kind of childhood made a character you just saw on stage into the person they are during the course of the play, because, really, they never existed anywhere at all other than as words written on a page. And for sucking me in and making me laugh, I have to say, good job Gina and thank you Almeida for picking this show. I’ll really be looking forward to seeing her next play.

(This review is for a performance that took place on January 18th, 2011. The show continues through March 5th.)

Review – Earthquakes in London – National Theatre

August 3, 2010

Earthquakes in London is a strange beastie of a play. Coming off of the high of author Mike Bartlett’s superb (if short) Cock (at the Jerwood last fall), I expected – well, almost nothing, really, other than his perfectly created dialogue. I certainly didn’t expect a play with a running time of three hours and ten minutes, and I never thought that anyone could have expected the audience (including me!) to STAND through the show. Admittedly this is because I am a bit thick and when I bought my tickets I sincerely did not understand what I was being offered (as there was only one type of ticket available when I bought, I didn’t realize that sitting down was even possible, or that this was to be standing and not moving as per a normal promenade show). Unless you are under thirty with particularly strong knees, you must avoid the £10 “pit standing” seats at all costs – with my sprained ankle, it was a one way ticket to hell.

Well, except, as it turns out I wound up getting a spinning bar stool in front of the swirling catwalk of a stage that wends through the middle of the Cottlesloe, and from this vantage point, with actors stripping, grinding, fainting, getting stoned, and dying in front of my very face (seat 12 FYI), I had massive, exciting theatrical overload, far better than most promenade shows. My God. It was like … really being there, or, really almost being there, but just far more immersive than almost any play I’ve ever been too – there were actors in front of me, behind me, above me, to my side, just everywhere, and the action was changing from one place to another so quickly I was whirling around like a kitten tracking a laser pointer, never sure if I was supposed to be looking at the robo-Stepford mummies rocking their prams, the strange singing men coming up through holes in the catwalk, the latex-clad nursie, one of the two cut-in stages on the opposing walls, the video projections on the sides (for once helpful, decorative in a useful but not oppressive or “we were too cheap to do this right” way), or everything at once. To make it even more clear, scenes took place in which characters were supposed to be in different places (a house and Soho) but walked through each others’ physical place on the set, leaving my brain to resolve just what was going on. I loved this; it was exhilarating. I sat there in the middle of act one going, “My God, this is a major theatrical event, and I am here for it!” Relations between sisters, very modern politics, and the end of the world hanging over it all? Where was it all going?

But … it became clear as the act wound down (some two hours in) … where we were going was to very familiar territory, in this case Playwright Gets Preachy Land. It was NOT some bizarre “deus ex machine” catastrophe designed to bring us all together, no, it was … wait for it … a three hour polemic on how We All Need To Change Our Behavior To Save The World From Climate Change. Seriously. It got into it hard core at about 90 minutes in and it never stopped shaking that rag doll. Did the question of a father and daughter both selling themselves out for financial gain really matter? Did a father’s abandonment of his family matter? Did dealing with pre-natal depression matter? Did any of the struggles that any of the characters had ever go anywhere interesting? Yeah, sure, youngest sister Jasmine (Jessica Raine, totally hot and very “on” for the whole show) took her clothes off, and Lia Williams was utterly brilliant as environmental minister who couldn’t balance her work and home life (and bullied her husband), but Anna Madeley spent the whole damned play crawling around dealing very unconvincingly with the “struggle” of bringing a being into a world that was going to collapse during the baby’s lifetime, and I didn’t care. All of those solid characters (well, not Anna Madeley’s), all wasted. It was the one time I’d seen the multiple story line thing really seeming to work, but Bartlett splorted it all away to get into a polemic (leading into a ridiculous fantasy world) that left my heart shrivelled.

My God, when will playwrights learn that a good play ultimately comes down to the relationships between the characters in it. You can use the platform to sell a point but if what’s going on between the people isn’t interesting, the pontificating is dull. Shaw managed to walk this tightrope generally quite well; Bartlett has unfortunately fallen prey to the David Hare syndrome: too in love with beating the audience about the head with his Really Important Point to make a Really Good Play. Me, if I want to read about climate change, all I have to do is pick up the paper any day of the week; it’s covered extensively in the news. I don’t go to the theater to hear this all over again: I go to learn about people and what makes them tick. At the end of the night, this focus on politics and news of the day has already hopelessly dated Earthquakes in London, making it stale even as the package is being opened. The fantastic staging is something I will remember for a long time; but the play itself, I’m afraid, will not, and for the talented cast and the teasing hints of an amazing storyline that was squashed flat in order to get a point across it’s all a damnable shame.

(This review is for a preview performance that took place on Monday, August 2nd, 2010. It continues through September 22nd but appears to be totally sold out. For another point of view and much more detail on the plot, please see the West End Whinger’s review; a comprehensive listing of reviews from the majors can be found on UpTheWestEnd.com. Note that if you are very concerned about climate change you will probably find this a wonderful show LATER: Or so I thought when I wrote this: Robert Butler apparently did not!)