Posts Tagged ‘Arcola Theater’

Mini-Review – Sons without Fathers (a new adaptation of Platonov) – Arcola Theater

June 3, 2013

Oh, God, not just Chekhov but THREE HOURS OF CHEKHOV! What is a girl to do? I hate Chekhov and I’d already seen two three hour (and one of them three hours plus) shows in the previous three days! But … I got a call from a good friend saying she had an extra ticket for this play by Chekhov (that I’d never seen before) at the Arcola, and the ticket was for a Friday (meaning that getting home at midnight wouldn’t be quite so painful, a very important calculation when seeing a show in Dalston), and she’s the one who always goes with me to all of the Ibsen plays … it was time to pay the piper.

And, of course, because it was the Arcola, it was time for a big plate of Turkish barbeque from 19 Numara Bos Cirrik, and a box full of baklava from Tugra to power me through the interval. Dreary depressing really really long doubtlessly will make me hate myself for going Chekhov: my stomach is full and I have a box full of baklava. Bring it.

So we’re jammed into this teensy little space (which, you know, is the Arcola), and there’s about nine actors rolling around on stage, being drunk, downing vodka, acting pretentious, basically begging for a good slap, and I start cracking open my box of honeyed flaky yumminess and wondering how I’m ever going to make the near two hours to the interval. And man, we’re hitting the stereotypes: the sweet little religious wifey, the husband who madly loves his indifferent spouse, the gorgeous over the hill actress, the snooty intellectual who thinks he’s superior to the lot … and at the heart of this whirling mass of mutts from the Chekhovian puppy mill is Platonov, a total drunk of a schoolteacher who is only ever seen in a classroom to sleep off his hangover, who glugs vodka from the bottle, who loves to tease people beyond the point of cruelty and yet for some reason is adored by his male friends and every woman in the play (including his wifey). He was just so generally nauseating I couldn’t help but root for the intellectual as the only person that actually hated Platonov. Yes! He’s a jerk! Why make a play about him? Time to line them all up against a wall and let the tide of history take its course.

And … well, I, I … I kind of got caught up in it all. I still thought Platonov was a jerk but I wanted to know what had happened with him and Sofya (the indifferent wife) in the past. And then the element of danger comes in, with a horsethief whose been slipped money to defend the aesthete’s dad’s honor by cutting Platonov up (an assignment he accepts despite also being indebted to wifey for her kindness) … will he do it?

While the world can’t possibly be full of as many guns, suicides, and murderers as it does in Chekhov’s plays, there’s no doubt there are still plenty of drunks and cheaters out there, and Sons without Fathers has them in spades. I can’t say that they are what pushed me around the bend to enjoying this show – the lively, intense performances (how could I possibly buy Mrs Platonov?- but I did thanks to Amy McAllister’s skill) – but it ultimately got to a point of both misery and realism that I found truly engaging. Yeah, this play is about a bunch of people on a downhill trajectory, but not only are they going really fast, they’re very believable. In fact, at the end, I was convinced it was only about 10 PM and not 10:30 – their speed pulled me along (especially the electrifying title performance by Jack Laskey). Leg twitches? Numb bum? Nope, just three straight hours of really hot performances. I’ll still make sure this is the end of me and Chekhov for this year, but as for Sons without Fathers, there were no regrets.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Friday, May 31st, 2013. It continues through June 15th.)

Mini-review – Moby Dick – simple8 at Arcola Theater

April 17, 2013

Moby Dick, of all novels, not only doesn’t seem suited to the stage, it seems especially ill-suited to the low-budget, fringe theater stage. So I could help but feel myself attracted to the ballsiness that led simple8 to bring their original adaptation of Moby Dick to the Arcola Theater. I mean, if you’re going to dream, dream big, right? I’m bringing my imagination, fellahs (and as it turns out it was all men!), you take me whaling … while I’m sitting in my seat … in a crappy little, funny built theater in the middle of grimy old London town. You can do it, right?

I’m pleased to report that … wow … with three stepladders, a plank, and a mattress, simple8 did quite effectively manage to take me out on the Pequod. And not only did they do that, but with even less, they took me in a tiny boat on the open seas and harpooned a whale. And dragged it back in. I was watching them, sitting on their little stumps of wood, the five or six men that made the crew, pretending to row, pretending to throw an imaginary sharp thing at an imaginary leviathan, completely conscious of the fact that I had been bamboozled into believing into the magic of the theater … and then I shook off my standoffish critic’s glasses and stepped back into the boat. We had work to do, first getting back to the Pequod, then taking care of the whale.

If you know more than three things about Moby Dick, you’ll be aware that its structure alternates narrative with expository chapters, which would certainly pose challenges to any adaptation that tried to get too literal. This production happily embraced the opportunity to use some of these “explaining” chapters to help make the story come more to life (in our heads), for, even though Moby Dick (the narrative chapters) might be about madness, obsession, and the battle of man against nature, it’s also a book that vibrantly brings to life an entirely vanished culture. I enjoyed our lectures about the types of whales, the details of butchering, and the uses of whale oil; they gave flavor and rhythm to the evening.

They also helped lessen some of the stresses of the weight of Captain Ahab on the play. Having a madman call the shots … well, it all could have been too much of a smothering star turn, and as it was, I found myself a bit turned off by the tics and twitches of the actor (though Queequeg’s affectations grated far more). But instead, it was nicely turned into a show more about the dynamics of the men interacting with each other, with Ishmael and Queequeg’s friendship, and with Starbuck’s attempts to manage the unmentionable and unconfrontable without making it all there was to the play.

I had a few other small quibbles about this show – a few things that happen toward the very end were not clear to me until a character said what had happened – but as I (ahem) actually didn’t know the ending of the book, I won’t spoil it here. Overall, this was an extremely enjoyable production that exemplified the kind of theater I enjoy – the kind that relies on me to build empires in my head, the kind that trusts its audience to make that leap. There’s certainly wonder in seeing a play where they have all of the money to do all of the things, but I’ve always felt that you don’t need to show a helicopter to make one be there on stage, and I’ve always preferred the “less is more”/empty space aesthetic that simple8 embraces. My only regret? That I hadn’t come earlier to see their Cagliari.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Saturday, April 13, 2013. I liked it enough to buy a script. By the way, the new bathrooms in the Arcola are really confusing. I wasn’t entirely sure where the actual toliet was or what ou were supposed to do with the sink.)

Review – The Golden Dragon – Actors Touring Company at the Arcola Theatre

September 7, 2011

So. An offer for free tickets. The show (The Golden Dragon), a “tale of globalisation set in your local takeaway,” a “fable of modern life and migration” with a heavy Asian influence. And it’s at the Arcola, which means I can get an awesome Turkish dinner beforehand. I’m leaving town the next day, but I’m an immigrant, I’m fascinated by the immigrant experience and love Chinese culture, and wasn’t I just saying how sorry I was that I didn’t go to Edinburgh this year? This looked like a great chance to hit a bunch of my interests in one show.

Only … I show up and it’s not going right. There’s no dinner because work ran late. There’s no company because no one could come with me. The comps aren’t there. There’s a huge line because another show is starting at 8PM and I can’t get helped from the “press” line for the 7:30 show because they don’t have my name. Eventually I’m squeezed in near the back thanks to the house manager taking pity on me but my focus is shot because I thought I wasn’t going to make it in at all: it’s the wrong side of payday and my last £2 went on the cheapest food I could find for dinner and paying for a show was not in the cards or in my wallet.

I see a stage is covered in white paper. An older woman takes the stage with a wonderful glowing Chinese toy, garish and trashy in its plastic mass-market-ness, but lovely. I hold my breath waiting for the magic to begin …

and finally give up about 20 minutes in. This thing, the actors playing different roles, changing their clothes, supposedly going between characters as easily as saying “I’m a man” and then talking, it’s not working for me, I’ve seen it before and I don’t care. It’s old. I want my story. I don’t want people saying, “Short pause,” as if somehow it was more magical to say it that to show it. I want this collection of banal stories to start adding up to something I care about, not another stupid “and then all of the seven plotlines magically come together” hoo hah as if somehow the moment where they intertwine is going to make the trudging dullness of the voyage to get to that point any more entertaining. I don’t CARE about the stewardesses, or the pregnant girl, or the drunk angry man, or the other people in the shop, and I don’t believe people bleed to death when their teeth get pulled. For a brief moment, I thought we were going to go into a magical realism fantasy world in which a tongue stuck through a hole in a tooth took a woman to a completely other realm, but it didn’t happen.

Instead, while I wished I felt brave enough to crawl over ten people on my way to the exit (surely the 70 minutes was going to end soon!), I came up with my own story about the ant and the grasshopper. When the ant confronts the grasshopper with his laziness, the grasshopper points out a sad fact to the ant: he, the ant, has spent his whole life laboring only to make the QUEEN rich. Now that it is winter, the ant is going to die, just like the grasshopper will. Only the grasshopper goes knowing that he’s led a life that at least has brought some pleasure to the world.

In my version of this story, the ant realizes he’s just been a slave to capitalism and goes off for a last dance with the grasshopper before winter comes on. In the play, the grasshopper gets beat up and the boy with the toothache dies, but we don’t care, except for the fact that we are now able to leave. No connection has been made to any of the characters; no life lessons have been learned; we have not been illuminated about the human condition.

Is this what fringe theater is about nowadays, five people changing clothes and reading out stage directions as they recite dialogue written by some German guy pretending to have a tiny clue about what it means to be an immigrant much less Chinese? What a horror. Even though it was free, I left angry at the time I had wasted on this when instead I could have learned something genuine about the human condition, and that of immigrants, perhaps by sitting at the Dalston train station and watching the world go by. You have been warned.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Friday, September 2nd, 2011. The play continues through September 24th.)