Posts Tagged ‘Apollo Theatre’

Review – Travesties – Menier Chocolate Factory

November 12, 2016

It is over a month since I have seen this play and I am still so enthused by how brilliant it is that I had to make sure to get some sort of record of it in my blog. Fortunately, Travesties is transferring to the Apollo starting February 3rd so you now have a chance to indulge if you missed out on the Menier run.

And an indulgence this most surely is: Travesties had me feeling like every book I’d read, every movie I’d seen, and every play I’d been to in the last thirty years had all just come together in a big WHOOP of fission action and blown up into a bigger experience than I had any right to expect from a night in the theater. My useless degree in political theory, my teenaged obsession with the Smiths (and Oscar Wilde), my failed attempt to read Ulysses after Alison Bechdel recommended it … not to mention my years of self-teaching about art (no room for that in an American high school education) and even my little trip to the Bauhaus museum in Berlin this summer … yes, all of these things finally came into play as I was able to laugh heartily at a series of very clever jokes and have a right good time doing it. It was like reading “The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock” and getting it without having to read 200 footnotes to explain everything.

So what was I getting? The wordplay and froth of Wilde; a scene conducted entirely in limerick; some convenient mistaken identities; Edwardian sexual highjinks; a reading of a notorious scene from Ulysses that bore a hysterical similarity to the best known scene of When Harry Met Sally (and had a bonus joke at the end); an actress dancing on a table; lectures on the role of art in the communist society; and more, so much more! (The plot is some kind of nonsense about the British ambassador to Switzerland getting involved in James Joyce’s production of The Importance of Being Ernest that took place during the World War One, when both Lenin and the Dadaists were hiding out in neutral Switzerland and, according to the invention of the playwright, meeting up in the town library. There’s just enough real to make this farce of false hold together, but it’s really much more fun to just go for the ride rather than dissect any historical inaccuracies; this is about a night at the theater, not closely observing any sort of “facts.” The ambassador is supposed to have a crush on the librarian, who is a committed communist, but it’s probably best to not going into the details lest you be distracted from the fun.)

The truly impressive thing about this evening was how high energy it all way, with the actors themselves seeming flawlessly on top of every line they said. In fact, it was all executed with a perfection that made me leap to my feet at the end; for it seems to me that only here, in London, could we have such a concentration of talent that this play, which could just be overwhelming, in fact came of as frothy fun executed at the peak of perfection. And there was the whole audience jammed in there and loving it, bringing their own wide-ranging minds to a night of the exact opposite of low brow entertainment. I left loving my fellow Londoners, loving my lovely London actors, and feeling joyous about the wonderful opportunities this city presents for me to feel like life can be truly lived well here. This was without doubt the best show that 2016 will have on offer, and I am sure that I will remember it for a very long time … although possibly not long enough for me to ever get through Ulysses.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Tuesday, October 5th, 2016. The Menier run closes on November 19th but you can book those sweet tickets for the Apollo now!)

Mini-review – Twelfth Night (with Mark Rylance and Stephen Fry) – Apollo Theater

December 1, 2012

As this show is a transfer from this fall’s production at the Globe, it seems a bit late to be getting in a review of Twelfth Night – it’s already transferred to the Apollo and opening night has come and gone. But I hadn’t seen it yet … well, okay, I saw a production of it a few years back, and to be honest I’m not much for this play. I don’t like seeing Malvolio abused and the central story is not really compelling. But, well, there was Mark Rylance to consider … he is truly an amazing actor. That said, I wasn’t willing to play groundling to see this show at the Globe, and the Apollo transfer is mostly sold out and unaffordable. But then a friend really wanted to go (he liked another actor in the production), and he didn’t care about the price, and so I went and wheedled the people at the box office for returns and suddenly there I was with a pair of tickets in “row O (extra legroom, amazing)” with ace views … and my friend was stuck at the airport due to a royal cock-up with Iberia and missing the show.

Now, really, I have written more than I have to say in the review. ARGH. It’s because I’ve been sick lately and my energy levels have been crap. I’ve managed to keep seeing shows but it’s basically like I’m propped up with a stick and I fall over afterwards. Bonus: I am fully open to being emotionally receptive to a show. Negative: writing is very, very hard.

The Twelfth Night seems to be the first Shakespeare I’ve ever seen that’s been fully, 100% period, bringing me back to the days when I was poring over my husband’s costume history books while he was in graduate school and I was learning about how sleeves could be tied on and slashed to show the wearer’s wealth. As a bonus to the delicious costuming, the whole thing was accompanied by proper period music. My god, what a treat! Sackbuts, archlutes, and shawms ahoy! And for fun, there were two little split-level buildings on the side of the stage where audience members were packed in eyeball to eyeball with the actors. What fun! If those are the day seats, I’ll warn that the view will be very odd and you will miss some stuff, but the opportunity to have Viola launch herself at you or hold Sir Toby Belch’s bottle of booze is not to be sniffed at.

Despite the high attention to period detail, this felt like a stripped down production, with sets mostly consisting of a table and benches with one rotating shrubbery. The focus is meant to be the play, and it felt a bit like the all-male cast was meant to further keep your attention on the words and less on the stage dressing. However, having a man in the role of Viola (Johnny Flynn, ever so yummy) made the complexity of a character that is a woman pretending to be a man … while _played_ by a man … just a tiny bit more brain bending than it would have been otherwise. One of the very best scenes in this production is where Orsino encourages Viola-disguised-as-Cesario to sympathetically mope about love unrequited … while Viola all but pants with desire. In this case, Orsino (Liam Brennan) most intriguedly checks Viola out, as if to say, “Is there something here I’m not getting?” And we’re of course wanting to shout, “For God’s sake, she’s really a girl! Only … it’s a guy! But she’s still really hot!” And the whole thing about collapsed into Victor/Victoria all over again.

Meanwhile, Rylance was, er, fine as Olivia, moving around like he was wearing rollerskates, absolutely as buried in the role as he was in Rooster, with not a bit of Rylance visible, really, through the black gown and veil. But oddly, amongst these many fine actors, it was Olivia’s maid Maria (Paul Chahidi) I loved the most, charming and hammy and giggle-making. Chahidi was no longer a man in a dress but just a funny, funny actor with a role that let him/her fill the stage with personality. It just was not what I expected, that this lesser character in the side plot would be the one that had me sitting in my (very comfy) seat and just basking in her glow: but so it was. Overall: a well-executed production, but not an unmissable one, though this will be the Maria by which I shall judge all others. And Flynn: well, if I figure out what bar the cast hangs out at after the show, as soon as I’ve shaken off this damned illness I’ll be having a pint there regularly, say around 11 PM.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Tuesday, November 27th, 2012. It continues through February 9th, 2013.)

Review – All My Sons – Apollo Theatre

June 17, 2010

All My Sons is a play that didn’t hit my radar until after it opened. I’ve seen Henry Miller Arthur Miller but not considered him great; the cast (as ever) meant nothing to me; and, in keeping with my New Year’s resolution of seeing “less plays, but enjoying them more,” I didn’t bother booking tickets on spec just to get in an early review. But then the reviews started coming in, and with the quick glance at the West End Whingers’ surprisingly generous allocation of wine glasses on top of ShentonStage’s enthusiastic (possibly “raving”) opening night tweets, suddenly All My Sons was on the map and rocketing into must-see levels. A couple of quick glances at various papers showed similar levels of enthusiasm, and then it was off on the hunt for tickets, and quickly, before they became impossible to get at anything approaching affordable prices. TKTS was showing availability on early-weekday nights at half price, but LastMinute wasn’t really coming through: all signs pointed to “hit!” But then I had a bit of good luck; a friend of mine who’s hearing impaired wanted to go, and thanks to her I actually got to sit in the stalls for half price (nicely situated for her to lip read) – row F on a Tuesday night.

My efforts were well rewarded and I think my summary judgment on this show is that, for once, the West End’s got something that is worth paying full price. The cast is good, and effortlessly American; and the script is powerful, succeeding both in creating characters that are realistic and intriguing, and a plot that rockets along like Ibsen’s best, leaving you wide-eyed and excited at intermission because you want to know what’s going to happen next. I had no idea, as I’d carefully avoided reading too much plot: a nice and spoiler-free summary is “the card-house of lies Joe Keller (David Suchet) had built comes crashing down on his head, and he knows he cannot escape.” (I think I saw this in the Metro’s review, so no credit for originality.) Miller deftly captures the venality at the heart of American culture; while England may be a nation of shopkeepers, America is more of a nation of salesman and manufacturers, always looking for the better deal, and valuing the “almighty dollar” above anything else. This is how we get disasters like the BP oil slick visited on us; greed and industry-favoring deals are in the nation’s blood. At the same time, Miller shows a country where people do, well and truly, love each other, and not just because of family ties; and a population of people who can have very high standards … but too often find them, eventually, compromised. This gives the story, set clearly a few years after World War II (yet vaguely in “an American town” – I imagine Michigan or Illinois), a lovely timelessness that make the historical references mere markers to give us context*.

Playing characters this complex is tricky, I think, but the cast uniformly managed to not seem cartoonish in some difficult roles. Kate Keller (Zoe Wannamaker, with her strange New Jersey-ish accent) makes her belief in the existence of her missing son – with its attendant rquest for astrological charts and strange obsessions with a fallen tree – ultimately true to the core, alongside her dedication to her husband Joe in full sight of his failings; Jemima Rooper, as the missing son’s fiancée Anne Deever, initially comes off as too hard to be of the era (and so young), but as her character unfolds, her resolve becomes more reasonable and her underlying conflicts flesh out her actions and make her ability to make any connections more reasonable – still, she seemed a bit stiff.

Potentially clunkiest of them all is Joe and Kate’s son Chris. This character seems to lend itself to being a buffoonish role – either too prude, or too idealistic to be believed, or just generally so inflexible that he can’t possibly come off as a real person. But Stephen Campbell Moore must have poked around deeply to find all of the threads that could take a man who loves his family – and his father – so much, stuffed him full of the milk of human kindness, then sent him off to war to watch his men all die while he tried to hold onto whatever it was that made him himself and gave him a reason to keep on living. I really thought I was never going to warm to Chris, but after he passed through some smallish marriage and love type crisis and moved on to his relationship with his family, he came to life at last and started just to be Chris, Chris who doesn’t believe all people to be good but who truly wants them to be.

Of course the whole play rotates around dad, Joe Keller, the man whose love of his family supposedly motivates him above all else; he’s a fun businessman who takes pride in the business he’s built and seems to hold no grudges. But David Suchet lets us know in bits and pieces that there’s some pretty deep conflicts swimming below Joe’s genial, Midwestern surface; and all along the ride Suchet holds onto our reins tightly, making us feel like we are in the drivers seat until suddenly it becomes clear that he’s gone some place we never expected and we are not going to be able to turn back from this, any more than Joe can. We have reached our final destination and it is too late for us to say we meant to go somewhere else; the cart comes undone as if its nails were all simultaneously pulled and we’re left with a spinning wagon wheel and the strange feeling that it all was supposed to turn out differently, somehow. Suchet handles the role effortlessly, as if he’d spent years working a factory and playing poker with his neighbors, and every drop of his character rang true for me.

I could say a few words about the set (nice foliage; bad lighting fixtures on the house and period inappropriate lawn furniture) or the costumes (Kate’s red dress deliciously appropriate; most of the cast could entirely use a retuning to a proper 1948 look), but they’re all just side notes to a brilliant production that left me feeling exhilarated as I walked out into the night. I know this isn’t exactly the “feel good hit of the summer,” but it’s a great show and it’s left me with a hankering for a trip to see “The Crucible” as it’s also on. As for you (dear reader), I highly advise you to book tickets for this admirable play.

*Note: the only thing I found utterly mysterious in this show was the reference to “kissing at Labor Day.” For you Englishers, Labor Day is our end of summer Bank Holiday but why the kissing? Per the quite comprehensive Gurthrie Study Guide, back in the 40s there used to be carnivals over this holiday, which featured kissing booths. Who knew?

(This review is for a performance that took place on Wednesday, June 15th, 2010. All My Sons continues through October 2nd, 2010. For more reviews, please see UpTheWestEnd.com, where they are nicely compiled in a big list.)