Posts Tagged ‘arcola theatre’

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.)

Review – Pitchfork Disney – Arcola Theatre

January 26, 2012

I’ll admit going into this show knowing little other than what the flyer looked like and the name of the theatre – I’d made a mistake booking tickets, thought I was all set up for She Stoops to Conquer, and inadvertently found myself with a free night. Ian “Ought to be Clowns” to the rescue! I had a brief check of the Arcola’s website, and once I’d made sure this show didn’t have anything to do with the Walt Disney company or its properties, I figured I’d just go for it, although I was a bit nervous how I would hold up given my shortage of sleep the night before. But when I got to the theatre, it looked like I’d hit the jackpot – a 1:45 running time! WOO HOO! I was going to make it home before midnight!

In retrospect, falling asleep was really not a problem for this show, possibly thanks to some help from the glasses of Turkish tea I had beforehand at the Tukra baklava shop (yum!). Wanting to leave the theatre due to disengagement was much more of a problem; as it turned out, my “gift” of an early night wasn’t nearly the deal I thought it was. Pitchfork Disney was one of the most unrewarding shows I’ve ever seen, managing to make its two hours seem impossibly drawn out, like I was running through the hallway in Poltergeist, never able to reach the exit. What odd new twist would be introduced, what fantasy scenario would play out, who would knock at the door? (Not buying a program makes the possibility of new characters appearing a much more suspenseful question – nothing like finding out a show was actual a FOUR hander in the last five minutes.) Did the author have another idea for a gross out moment? Oh, goody, I couldn’t wait to find out. I mean, I could, and I did, and I sat through it all, but I hated not even being able to look at my non-existent watch to find out when the warden was going to set us free from this torturous show.

Part of the reason why I did manage to stay was that the writing was so good at times: truly powerful when the siblings Presley (Chris New) and Hailey (Mariah Gale) were telling each other stories. However, the two of them were not really interesting in their relationship with themselves (or anyone else): I spent some time unravelling their relationship, wound up never understanding how they got to where they were, eventually decided they weren’t really worth knowing. And the acting was very strong: both managed to seem like people with very solid pasts, and both wholly held the stage when they were in story-telling mode.

But. But but but but. This piece of miserabilist theatre (along with Ecstacy and Haunted Child) seemed have no idea where it was going. It struggled with its Grand Guignol leanings (ooh! Gross out horror moment one! Sadomasochism reference! More gross outs!) and lost, the audience laughing more than they should have, the play lacking the self-awareness that would have allowed it to recover gracefully. It had some hopes of being either a really interesting post-apocalyptic terror play (I think I’ve only seen this in movies, it would have been a good path) or a deep, deep plunge into the human psyche, but after a few steps down this path it turns back and gets lost in some more story telling. We don’t end up knowing much more about Presley and Hailey (or their missing parents, or how they got to be where they are in their lives) at the end than we did in the beginning; the character Disney fails to achieve the Woman in Black status he seemed to be aiming for when he first appeared. The play is a flop, a damp squib, a failure, another horrible example of talent wasted due to a critical failure on the part of the writer to create good material. But this play is hardly new; and as the Arcola fails to find an audience for this show, they will have to think hard about just what process they are using to screen scripts for production.

(This review is for a performance that took place on January 25th, 2012. It continues through March 17th, 2012. If you change your mind right before you go in, don’t worry, there are lots of delicious Turkish restaurants in the area that will make you feel much less like you’ve completely wasted your trip to Dalston. God knows if it hadn’t been for 19 Numara Bos Cirrik I would have been much more bitter about my evening.)

Review – the Uncommercial Traveller – Punchdrunk and Arcola Theaters

July 19, 2011

So. Punchdrunk and the Arcola hook up. Their baby is as follows: “Inspired by The Uncommercial Traveller, Charles Dickens account of his wanderings around London, Arcola Theatre and Punchdrunk Enrichment present an unexpected encounter in a surprising East London location.”

Inspired by wanderings? And there is “a headphone journey?” So a promenade, eh?

Well, once again I totally missed the boat in interpreting what kind of show I was going to see, as I was certain we were going to actually walk around the neighborhood (right next to the Geffrye as it turned out) and packed a raincoat and hat in preparation. I was excited about seeing the neighborhood through Dickens’ eyes! And then on the day of we had the kind of torrential downpour I associate more with Tropical Storm Insert Name here, and when I did finally make it to the location (late due to rain delays) I was THRILLED that it turned out all we were going to do was sit in a darkened room with a few actors and have a little chat.

The atmosphere was very cool in the space: a room lit by dim lamps, with 5 people in costume sat at tables. I saw a baldish man, a woman who looked like a fortune teller, and a lady well past her prime hiding behind a fan. We were ushered to our seats (in the People’s Soup Collective or something like this) by the proprietress, who evenly distributed us around the various actors. When she disappeared, the actors began to engage us. I only got my experience, which I will relate here: a woman in her mid fifties, wearing a tattered wedding dress (not very appropriate for any Victorian era but that’s community theater for you) and with a bouquet of dried roses, introduced herself (“Millie Perkins”) and told the three of us how she’d come to London. She was poor but honest, working as a seamstress in the soup shop and living downstairs.

At this point we were interrupted by the proprietress, who handed out cups with soup in them to all present. It was vegetable, and very nice too. Millie continued to tell us about her boyfriend, Robert, and how he was going to be married to her tomorrow “but ‘e ‘asn’t been seen in six weeks.” I foresaw difficulties ahead for Millie’s romantic life. Millie, meanwhile, asked us about our sweethearts and doled out advice on how to catch and keep a man.

Then the lights went dark briefly and, when they rose, the actors one by one took groups of people through the building and downstairs. The interior was all very atmospheric: I wondered if Victorian restaurants (for the poor) were always poorly lit, or if they would have had big windows. Meanwhile, the downstairs was split up by hanging curtains, very much reminding me of what I’d read about housing conditions in the London slums in the late Victorian era. We were taken into Millie’s room and sat on her bed while she went through her things. At one point a piercing scream rent the air – “Oh, ignore that woman, she does it all the time” – and then, to no suprise, we had the denouement that Robert would not be attending the wedding via a little note Millie gave to me to read. She also screamed, then told us to leave her alone. We exited via a different back door, going past a man who sat sharpening knives menacingly.

All told I actually really enjoyed my little adventure despite it being not what I expected. Even though Millie’s story was slim, the atmosphere was great, the price was right (£6), and at 20 minutes it was like a little appetizer that whet the appetite rather than outstaying its welcome. My companion, Fausterella, also enjoyed it, and like me enjoyed catching up with other people about what they had seen (sadly neither of us got the Sweeney Todd style butcher man). However, Gareth James, who went on the same day, felt quite differently about it all. I don’t feel ultimately like I got much Dickens out of it, but I am still intrigued by the walk described on the Arcola’s website and will probably do it in my free time.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Sunday, July 17th, 2011. This was the last day of this show.)

Review – The Seagull – Arcola Theater

June 28, 2011

Two weeks later and I find I still haven’t done a full write-up of The Arcola’s Seagull. It’s stayed with me, though, perhaps unsurprisingly given that it’s the first Chekhov I didn’t hate (as well as my first Seagull). We had, as ever, the irritating, useless dascha owners flouncing around on their country estates, being useless and indecisive and basically making me long for the Bolsheviks to come along and clear them off the face of history. Arkadina (Geraldine James), a spoiled, past-her-prime actress who wastes money to keep up appearences, is a perfect example of the Russian play character I’ve grown to loathe. And yet …

Just what has been done to make this play go into the realm of melancholy and tragedy in just the right measures to pull me along? Is it the sympathy I, now, as a middle aged woman, feel for Arkadina as she tries to hold onto her own fading glory? Is it the desperation James brings to the role, as Arkadina tramples her own self-respect to keep her younger lover Trigorin (Matt Wilkinson) at her side?

Maybe, perhaps, it’s the milieu, of actors and writers and those who wish to join their ranks: it’s one I empathize with far more than tales of poor marriage choices and bad financial managements. Konstantin (Al Weaver) is a slappably pathetic teenaged playwright who wants his actress mom’s approval, but can’t get it when she is the one who wants to be the center of attention at all times; yet he grows over the course of the play and finally seems to grasp that skill does not come without effort. Meanwhile Yolanda Kettle is deliciously tasty and dreamy as a country girl dreaming of the fame those around her have seemingly effortlessly; she has a whiff of madness even at the beginning that carries nicely through to her final scene with Konstantin. Carrying through it is an early Goth type, Masha, who wears black “in mourning for my life;” she’s unflinchingly sensible and unsentimental throughout the play and utterly funny, like a 19th century Nemi (or even a Morrisey, “I wear black on the outside/Cause black is how I feel on the inside”).

While the ensemble is quite strong, I felt that neither Weaver or Kettle actually got to the emotional depth they needed to plumb in the last act; and despite the story seeming to be so very much about Arkadina and Trigorin, they are not the impetus that drives this play. Overall, I think, this is a very fine outing and lovely in such a small space, and better than any Russian play I’ve seen before; but somewhere out there is perfection for a Seagull, and I feel strongly that this rewritten script will eventually yield that shining pearl of a play, only not quite with this cast at this time.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Wednesday, June 15th, 2011. It continues through July 16th. For a review of this performance, please see Tim Watson or (eventually) RevStan. well, actually, neither of them appear to have written about it yet, so please read Ian Foster’s.)

Review – Pieces of Vincent – Arcola Theatre

September 9, 2010

While I was flattered to get a direct invite to a “bloggers’ review night” at the Arcola, unfortunately my experience of David Watson’s new play Pieces of Vincent wasn’t good. I’m going to skip my normal tendency to avoid spoilers and just utterly spill the beans about the plot, so if you haven’t gone yet and want it to be a surprise, you’d better stop reading now (just remember to wear trousers). Okay, have you stopped? You’re willing to read on, knowing that I’m going to give key points away? Right, you’ve been warned.

I found it just incredibly tacky that the title of this show refers to, in my mind, the actual reduction of a person named Vincent (and, as we later see, two people named Vincent) to little bits of meat thanks to bomb-wielding terrorists. This realization, that the whole show in some ways was a set up for a giant, tacky pun, took place during the act in which I mentally checked out from the show, a drawn out, poorly-acted scene in which Vincent’s death is announced to his grandmother. Unfortunately, this act did not mark the end of a show that had worn out its welcome, and an additional thirty of forty minutes of trudging waited.

A little more about the show: Pieces of Vincent is a play set in modern London (and Ireland), done in the currently hip style of numerous small scenes with varied characters that eventually come together due to said tragic explosion. Its set is inventive and the best thing about it, as it’s kind of a reverse black box: we sit in the middle on cushions (be sure you wear trousers), and the show takes place in various scrim-curtained sets on the edge of the square room, with the beginning and transitional scenes projected onto said scrims. My two favourite bits were projections in which 1) we were all the passengers inside a car (the view through all four sides of the moving vehicle appearing around us) and 2) we saw a recorded scene set in the middle of the Millenium bridge, oriented so I could look to my right and see St. Paul’s, to my left the Tate Modern, and in front and behind me the lovely Thames-scape. Aaahhh, London, how I love you!

Meanwhile, in the eight or so scenes, I completely failed to connect to or care about any of the characters (it was too … fragmented, yes, that’s the word), and the acting was just … I don’t know, some of the characters were more like caricatures, and I’d get set up for maybe learning something interesting about someone, and then they were gone for the rest of the play. Sure, a sad event occurred in this play that is very relevant to 7/7 scarred Londoners, and the playwright made the connection to the actions of the IRA decades before, but I found it irritating and just completely not compelling as theatre and spent most of the last half hour of a play with a mere running time of 90 minutes wondering if I could sneak out the door without making a big scene. I’ve seen a lot of good shows at the Arcola in the past, but Pieces of Vincent will not be making the list.

Guest review – Hotel Medea – Arcola theatre, Zecora Ura, and Urban Dolls on location

July 17, 2010

If there’s one trend in London theatre right now, I’d go out on a limb and say it’s site-specific and promenade productions. From Punchdrunk to the Bush to the National Theatre and the Old Vic and across the country, theatres are exploring how to break more than just the fourth wall. Taking the audience out of a traditional theatre venue opens huge opportunities to create fully immersive experiences, to challenge viewers to become real participants, and to take a theatrical event beyond simply theatrical and make it truly memorable. It’s a tremendous task for both artists and audience, and it doesn’t always work.

Fortunately for those of us who went for the dusk-to-dawn experience that is Hotel Medea, it works pretty darn well.

Starting at 11pm from a pier near the O2 Arena, with very little detail of what’s to come, participants begin the evening’s journey on a boat and are ferried to a “secret” location. In reality it’s pretty much just across the river, but the unique situation seemed to break people out of audience mode and into conversation, so in served a dual purpose of both separating us from the “outside” world and bringing us together a bit into what would be a shared experience. Once on site, we were sent in small groups towards the main building, making several brief stops for bits of coaching on some of the interactive bits we might expect – a few dance steps, a call-and-response song, and the like, and presented ways which further helped to both relax us into and make us wonder about what was to come.

In stark contrast to the sprawling and immaculately detailed worlds Punchdrunk creates, the building was basically empty of scenic dressings, with only a few small platforms and a bunch of plastic chairs scattered around what looked to be a former boathouse. Once the action really got underway, evocations of place in part 1 were minimal, mostly relying on costume, some lighting, and audience arrangement to shift scenes.

As suggested by the title, the backbone of the evening is the Greek myth of Medea. (I realized at some point in the wee hours that the word “hotel” in the name seems to simply stem from the fact that we’re staying overnight.) The first part, entitled “Zero Hour Market,” takes us through the story of how Medea allowed Jason (of “and the Argonauts”) to capture the Golden Fleece on the condition he marry her and take her from Colchis back to mainland Greece with him. The vital pieces of the narrative are in place, but from the start we are thrown into a frenetic world layered with sound (provided live by DJ Dolores), multiple languages, violence, modern technology and Brazilian tribalistic ritual. The opening moments so successfully and simply evoked the rich melee of a middle-eastern market bazaar that it was almost worth the price of admission alone. From there we are party to a military invasion, a football game, ceremonial rites, celebration, murder and betrayal. The audience is at once viewer and participant, being manoeuvred by the players as needed to stay out of the action (clearing a path for the invasion of the Argonauts), confine and control it (“don’t let them leave the circle”), or actively become a part of it (hiding Medea from her captors, Spartacus style; preparation of the bride and groom). Even though a fair bit of the spoken lines are in Portuguese, it doesn’t hinder at all, and in fact prevents the production from getting bogged down in words. No long passages from the chorus while something happens offstage here. And, while there’s occasionally a bit too much going on, the key elements are all in place, and the whole cast is fully committed, the result being a fantastic and engaging telling of the tale.

After a break for coffee/tea and cookies (gratis), Parts 2 and 3 then go on through the night to follow Euripides’ dramatic version of the story, where Jason falls in love with a younger woman and Medea exacts her revenge for the betrayal. Part 2, “Drylands,” is in three sections, presented almost as a song would be sung in a round: as audience we are also split into three groups, and each group experiences all three sections but starts at a different one. Here, Jason is cast as a modern-day politician on the campaign trail, and his aspirations to power are superceding his obligations to home and family. One section explores Jason the politician, the second the changing nature of the love relationship between he and Medea, and one places us into the powerless, outside role of their children. Happily, given that it was by this time 2 in the morning, the children’s segment actually involves bunk beds in which we are made to rest. We share the room with the Jason/Medea scene, but are actively compelled to close our eyes and let it take place without watching. We can hear, but not all of it, and by design we cannot view what we will later see – or in some cases already have seen. In conversation at the next break (including with the Tyro Theatre Critic who happened to be there as well), most seemed to think the order they got made perfect sense, but I’m not convinced that Jason’s actions in scene with Medea entirely make sense without the context of his political campaign. My group saw the third iteration of the scene where we discover Jason’s infidelity, and I’m pretty sure we got a much deeper presentation of Medea’s pain as an end to the act.

It’s worth noting here that neither the flyer we got at the show nor anything online appears to match the names of the performers with the roles they play, so the best I can say is that the actress playing Medea came across as 110% emotionally invested in the part, and every moment of anger and arrogance and pain and cold, calculating, vengeful wretch was absolutely right. Other cast members were very good as well, but as many of them played several roles as well as being audience shepherds, and didn’t need to plumb the same emotional depths.

After more coffee and cookies, part 3, “Feast of Dawn,” takes us on a journey through the broken heart of a woman and into a mind twisting on revenge. On the way, we are confidantes and collaborators; we again assume the role of children; we mourn. We are not shocked or angry; is it because we know the story, or because by this point we emotionally understand Medea’s actions? If we understand, then the entire evening has been a success. And maybe, just maybe, it’s been enough of a success that we also feel some pity for Jason, who we abandon as a weeping wreck – a man who has lost everything he didn’t realize was at risk until it was too late.

Apparently, while the company (Brazilian collective Zecora Ura and the London-based Para-Active/Urban Dolls project) has done the entire show a variety of times, part 1 can stand alone, and it’s kind of clear that it’s been worked through a bit more. While parts 2 and 3 expand to use other rooms in the building and other parts of the site, the flavor of the interaction shifts somehow, and later in the evening I more often felt like I was watching a scene rather than being involved in a moment. I was never disengaged, and was in fact being handed props right up until the end, but the interaction did at times feel less integrated, more window dressing than foundational stone. But not often, and it’s a minor quibble on what was otherwise a truly unique and marvelous night.

(This review was for the performance on July 16, 2010. Shows run weekends through August 7. Part 1 is available as a separate ticket for the soft those who might want to get the night bus home at around 1:30am – a shuttle bus returns leavers to the nearest transport hub. Breakfast is included for all-nighters, as is the same shuttle starting around 5am.)

September Theatre preview

August 27, 2008

This is the most shocking of weeks – I have no theater trips planned at all! That, however, is how the cookie crumbles when out of town trips come along (and no, I didn’t do Edinburgh this year). I do have plenty of shows planned for September, though … well, not nearly enough as I have an out of town guest staying for a week (with no interest in theater, as near as I can tell), but I will do my best with the time remaining.

These are the shows I’m planning to see (so far) for September:
3 September (Wednesday): Matthew Bourne’s Portrait of Dorian Grey – Sadler’s Wells
12 September (Friday): Wayne Macgregor’s Ignite festival at Covent Garden (this is over three days so I’ll just go when I can manage).
15 September (Monday): The Pinter double header at the National, Landscape and A Slight Ache. The Whingers didn’t care for Ache but that’s no surprise – they’re not major Pinter fans. Me, I love Pinter, and I like seeing two short plays back to back, so off I go.
16 September Tuesday: one of the Norman Conquest plays at the Old Vic. I’m not super enthused about this as I detested the last play I saw by Alan Ayckbourn (Absurd Person Singular, such a dud!), but it was an invitation from the Whingers so I said yes anyway.
17 September Wednesday: Zorro. This initially gave me The Phear, but the Whingers said it was great, so I’m going. (Actually it’s a bit of a surprise that they said it was great, since they’re far less enthusiastic than the average punter, but since they haven’t let me down yet with their recommendations I’m going to give this thing a shot.)
19 September Thursday: Small Craft at the Arcola. I suspect this is just a ploy for me to go out and get more good Turkish food in Dalston, but, whatever, the people at the theater don’t care why I come as long as I pay for my ticket (and I do like Tennessee Williams).
23 September Monday: Kamishibai theater at the Barbican. I like Japanese theater (this sounds like their version of Punch and Judy) and culture so I wouldn’t want to miss this.
25 September Wednesday: supposedly a trip to the ROH to see Callisto, if I can find tickets I can afford.
30 September Tuesday: Stevie Wonder at the O2. It’s a birthday present for my husband (and likely the most expensive night out we’ll have all year, which is why I’m bothering to mention it).

Finally: October 1st is Merce Cunningham at the Barbican, and though it’s not actually in September, I’m starting October with another long bout of being out of the country, so I thought I’d include it in this list. The last person I took with me to see Merce was apparently damaged by the experience (“Did you know it was going to be like that?”) so I’m being more particular and sticking to going with my husband, who, like me, thinks that Merce is one of the true grand masters of modern dance – a living treasure of American culture – and we are excited that we can continue to watch his already excellent art evolving in real time.

Holy shit, and I just found out that Autumn: Osage County, the single play I’ve been most dying to see for the last year, is coming to the National in November! Heads will roll but I WILL see that show!

The Only Girl in the World – Arcola Theatre

May 23, 2008

I realize there’s not much point in publishing a review of a show that’s only going one more night, as there probably aren’t any tickets available and I’m not going to be able to convince anyone to see the show who hasn’t already chosen to do so. However, it’s a really teeny little show, and it’s a bit of new writing (by Glyn Maxwell), so … let’s give it another bit of energy on the internet.

The Only Girl in the World is the story of the last woman killed by Jack the Ripper. When I took the London Walks Jack the Ripper tour last summer, I found the tale of this Mary Jane Kelly just extremely sad. She had a boyfriend; he, if I’m not mistaken, had just paid to get her out of the workhouse so they could live together; by all accounts they seemed to be trying to crawl their way out of poverty, fingernails against brick. The house they had lived in had been torn down (and is now a parking garage); the description was of a shoddy little building that probably couldn’t hold the heat in to keep the tenants warm and roundly deserved to be replaced with something a little more solid. She seemed like she might have had a little bit of hope for her life, and certainly someone who missed her, and I found it heartbreaking that it was all taken away from her so quickly.

The play itself seems in many ways to be a character sketch of Mary Jane (Jennifer Kidd) and her boyfriend Joe Barnett (John Wark). Mary Jane is a bit of a drunk, quite rough, and very much aware that she needs to take care of herself in a world where no one can be relied on to take care of her – but she loves life enthusiastically and finds a lot of joy. Joe is a hardworking guy who is trying to just get by and is amazed by this gorgeous creature who has taken an interest in him; you can see where he would want to do anything to keep her happy.

The play makes it out that he’s not aware of how she’s been making a living and doesn’t seem to focus too much on what happens to the money he had at the beginning of the play and winds up squandering. Mary doesn’t come off as using him, but rather thoughtless about the fun they’ve been having; and when they run out of cash, while she pushes him to work, she also tries to deal with the situation reasonably. The extreme poverty of the era really seeps through, and the fact that once you slip off the ladder of respectability and trust and middle-classness, it’s almost impossible to climb back out. Mary seems to mock Joe for his pretensions or attempts to not be dirt poor; Joe, whether he achieved the lowest rung or not, doesn’t want to slip the rest of the way back off.

My fear was that this play was just going to be this terrible “Oh the spooky drama of the soon to be stabbed girl!” or some overly political “Prostitutes! No one treats them like people!” but instead it showed what I thought were two complicated, not-perfect people just trying to get by in a life that didn’t have a lot of romance in it. The two saddest moments for me were when they quoted the prostitute (Dark Alice?) who’d been killed trying to make enough money to get a place to sleep for the night, who laughed as she went back into the night to make her few pence; and when Joe tried to make Mary stay in and she said (in with a bunch of other dialogue), “I’m hungry!” The point was made and it didn’t need to be any stronger than it was.

Overall, quite a good show, and I’m really glad I made it all the way to the far east end of the London theater scene to catch this – and the dinner beforehand at 19 Numara Bos Cirrik was super tasty and a bargain at 30 quid for three people with leftovers.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Friday, May 23rd.)

Review – Lady from the Sea – Arcola Theatre

May 16, 2008

I don’t know about how you like to celebrate anniversaries, but to me nothing seemed better than going up to the ass end of north east London to see a show about a woman thinking about leaving her husband. Sounds romantic, eh? And if you’re me (and the ever-suffering Shadowdaddy, you’ll want to start of the night with some Jamaican food hot enough to peel the enamel off of your teeth. Mmm, mmm! Jerk chicken, rice and peas, stewed pork, polenta, $16 for two people, Centerprise, you make the grade! (We also got to see a guy chased out of the restaurant by the cashier and the store guard, who called him a crook. It was quite a scene. Review of restaurant here.) Then it was off to the Oz Antepilier for some tasty Turkish baklava to keep our strength up while we waited in the lobby of the Arcola for the mad dash for our seats.

Anyway, I studiously avoided reading anything that might give me too much of a clue as to the actual plot of the show beforehand as I enjoy having a show unfold and surprise me – I figured the 5 star recommendation it had got somewhere was sufficient, plus Ibsen, for me to watch. The play, in a nutshell, is this: there is a woman, and she is feeling trapped in her marriage. She has stepchildren who seem extraordinarily unsympathetic to her, and, to top things off, she seems like she might be going mad.

Well! Quite the light evening’s entertainment, to be sure. For me, for some reason, the whole show was coming in through the filter of these two articles I read in the New York Times this week about love in Saudi Arabia. The men, for example, would have found it completely fit for a man to tell a woman she’s not a free actor, and that he will decide what is good for her and “protect” her: while the women, I thought, would agree that women are naturally less rational than men.

But they would have had a lot of problems with the rest of the story. The concept of a woman wishing to be a free agent, I think, would not resonate in the least; the thought that it might not be agreeable to essentially “sell” yourself in order to have a roof over your head would also seem mysterious; the odd behavior of the girls (not to mention the wife, Ellida, played by Lia Williams) would certainly have drawn note. I found it all a bit late Victorian feminist, but with a sort of unexpected (and illogical) ending – and very much enjoyed the idea of a play about someone who was on the verge of cracking up throughout.

That said, I think I found more problems with the script than anything else. It just seemed … clunky. People kept announcing other people were about to come on stage, then announcing that they were going to leave. The young, wannabe artist had no real purpose in the show other than to show the selfish side of men (I think) and had utterly corny lines (and pulled faces); the younger daughter (Hilde, Fiona O’Shaughnessy, apparently from the Irish side of this family based on her thick accent) seemed to change her feelings too quickly. The foreshadowing at the beginning (the bit about the painting) was like getting hit with a blackjack in terms of its subtlety, then further added to this point by having the actor say, “The idea was given to me by the lady of the house!” Please, as if the fact that she swims in the ocean every day wasn’t enough clue for us to link her with a mermaid!

While the acting was generally good, Ms. Williams seemed to be pulling rather a lot from Lady Macbeth with all of her hand wringing and twitching. Her face was beautiful to watch but I wanted more of a buildup – as it was, I was completely incapable of thinking anything but madness lied in her future.

Overall I think this was a good production but not one of Ibsen’s finer works, and the 75 minute journey home a bit of a pill – good enough if you like Ibsen or are in the neighborhood, but not worth seriously deforming your week to go see.

(This review is for a performance that took place May 15th, 2008, my fifteenth anniversary.)

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April 28, 2008

To regular readers: an apology in advance for the lack of posting you’ll be getting until about May 12th. I spent the last weekend in Barcelona and will be in Florida for a conference for all of next week. That said, this Friday I’ll be off to see home town favorite Dina Martina at the Soho Theater, then catching up for my lost week in Orlando with a fury, hitting the Young Vic for Jane Horrocks in the Good Soul of Szechuan with the West End Whingers, the Royal Ballet in a mixed rep program (new work by Kim Brandstrup, ooh!), then “The Only Girl in the World” and “The Lady from the Sea” at the Arcola Theatre the week of May 12th. I think I may toss in an article on the best places to eat near Covent Garden while I’m in Florida just to keep the flow going on the site, though – I’ve certainly become an expert, at least if you’re dining on a budget.