Posts Tagged ‘arcola’

Review – Banksy: The Room in the Elephant – Arcola Theatre

April 6, 2014

This play, which you might think is about the UK graffiti artist, is nothing of the sort: it’s a play about an American homeless man … and many, many other things. I’m American, and I have lived much of my life in contact with the long term homeless, apparently in part because in my childhood, the laws about keeping people in insane asylums changed, and a lot of people who weren’t entirely capable of taking care of themselves were thrown onto the streets. I thought it would be interesting to hear the story of one homeless person, told, more or less, from his point of view; Tachowa Covington had taken a water tank and made himself a home, but his sixty seconds of fame cost him the little island of sanity he’d carved out of society’s leftovers.

Or did it? Played side by side with a documentary film on Tachowa Covington, this play is about truth and lies, homelessness, making meaning out of your life, the exploitation of the truly poor by artists, the practice and ethics of changing source material to make compelling art, random impacts, what makes art, and survival. The narrative of Banksy: The Room in the Elephant is that the semi-random act of a publicity-obsessed artist cost a vulnerable man his shelter; but even within the play we have the Tachowa character pointing out the ludicrousness of a story arc, and the inevitability of there being no happy ending, or even a clear ending. Tachowa doesn’t know or care about Banksy, as most Americans don’t know or care about him (note: Americans also don’t call redheads “gingers”); his “brush with fame” in some way is just the random hand of fate drawing attention to a person who represents one of thousands.

Gary Beadle is compelling (and well-accented) as the slightly too-clean Tachowa; he takes us on a ride of highs and lows and raw emotion that capture poignantly the experience of being homeless in America. Yeah, that water tower would have been really hot in the summer, but it was dry and safe, and losing it was a tragedy; the real Tachowa (as shown in the movie) is now living in a tent.

The character Tachowa is right: people will only come see this play because they’ve heard of the artist mentioned in the title. But there’s a life – and a culture – that this play brings to life that we would have never had the opportunity to have learned about otherwise. The crushing thing I walked away from, at the very end, was that for however much Banksy fights to avoid fame, the very person he unexpectedly shone a spotlight on has had absolutely no benefit whatsoever from the attention he’s received. This show felt very real and left me feeling very sad, both for Tachowa’s losses and for the brokenness of a society that feels they have to keep hounding people like him from one place to another, without the benefit of even having a place to shave or the humanizing experience of eating with cutlery. I walked out of the show with a lot of questions. I sure hope at some point Tachowa gets some benefit from the entertainment that has been created from his suffering; but I also hope someday I can see him rollerblading down the Venice beach with mirrors glittering from every square inch of the clothes he’s carefully remade from other people’s trash.

(This review is from a preview performance that took place on Tuesday, April 1st, 2014. It continues through April 26th.)

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Review – Ghosts – Arcola Theatre

August 3, 2009

On Friday night, J, W, Mel, Bill and I went to the Arcola Theater to see their production of Ghosts. I was, of course (if you’ve been reading this blog for long), interested because of my deep love of Ibsen’s work (and a previous mostly successful interpretation of Ibsen by the Arcola) – and then there’s also the pre-show carnivores’ banquet at the nearby 19 Numara Bos Cirrik, always a motivation for a trip to Dalston.

Ghosts run for three acts with no interval, meaning roughly a two hour running time. But unlike the overblown Phedre, Ghosts blazed along from start to finish with barely a pause to catch its breath. It was like a 19th century version of August, Osage County – incest, drug use, suicide, and deep dark family dysfunctions – but set in a Victorian society ruled by Biblical morality. As the show tumbled from one horrific revelation to another, it felt like being in a car during the last seconds before a crash – everything was hyper-real and felt completely unavoidable.

Yet somehow it never seemed too over the top, like Osage ultimately was. We started with a woman who was excited to have her son visiting after a long absence, we’re told about the orphanage she’s opening in honor of her husband, we meet the maid who’s in love with the son. One by one, the things we thought we knew unravel, each new tragic element reframing to the whole, as we find out what the actual truth iss underneath the inaccurate pretty picture we started with. Finally it comes back to the only original truth, that Mrs. Alving loves her son, and what that now means for both of them and their lives.

Of the characters, my favorite was Pastor Manders, whose lines Paul Hickey somehow managed to say with a straight face. This closed-minded preacher starts the play by lecturing Mrs Alving (Suzanne Burden) about how wrong it is to read the corrupt literature her son (Osvald, played by Harry Lloyd) has brought home – then admits he hasn’t read it himself as he prefers to criticize based on second hand knowledge! Over the course of the evening we see him tempted and twisted and finally served his come-uppance (as I saw it) – as tasty a theatrical treat as one could ever hope to bite into.

This play really hinges on Mrs Alving’s performance, given that she is on stage for about 90% of the show, and Ms. Burden generally did a good job of creating a woman who’d spent most of her life living a lie and was ready to move into a new world of openness and freedom from social shackles. However, at the end when she was cracking under the stress of her son’s illness, she went rather more histrionic than I was willing to swallow. That said, who knows what the proper response should have been at the end of the play … but it was only about 5 minutes when I lost connection with the drama, and I’d been caught up for the rest of the show, so it was a minor flaw.

I also very much enjoyed the performance of Natasha Broomfield as Regine and Jim Bywater as her slimy dad Engstrand. Engstrand is such a schemer, a real laugh to watch on stage, and I pretty much forgot he was acting because it all sounded so natural, like he’d just thought it up while he was standing there! Meanwhile Broomfield really seemed to “get” the bizarre social limitations of 19th century society and how it would make both Regine’s dad’s job offer and the situation at the Alvings’ house completely unacceptable for her. She also formed the face of the society the Pastor represented, the conservative Norwegian society, and showed just how much Osvald and his mother were shaking up the social order with their radical ideas. Of course, the idea of a woman choosing to pursue her own happiness over her duty and to think her own thoughts was radical enough – living together “without benefit of matrimony” really was just pushing it too far. No wonder Osvald felt the darkness of Norway sucking the life out of his body … in that day and age, I would have, too.

In short: Ghosts was a really fun evening out and, as an Arcola play, fairly easy on the budget. It’s an interesting script and well worth watching. Our two hours flew by! And it certainly deserved better than the half full house it got on Friday. Check it out while it’s on.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Friday, July 31st. Ghosts continues through August 22nd.)

Late summer 2009 theater schedule

July 21, 2009

This time of the year is full of Russian ballet and barbeques and beach time and precious little else other than the Union Theatre’s annual Gilbert and Sullivan show. The Mariinsky/Kirov is running a bit rich for my tastes, unfortunately (though the programming is so unimaginative I’m not too hurt), Anastasia Volochkova was a disaster, and I’ve already been to the Union. What, then, is on my schedule for the next month an a half?

Shockingly, I’ve still managed to get pretty busy, with an average of two shows a week. Carlos Acosta is at the Coliseum this week – an event long awaited and for which I bought tickets back in April or so – and I’ve also got some Kirov Swan Lake tickets for August so I won’t be completely balletless this summer. The Arcola is doing Ghosts, so I’ll get to add to my life count of Ibsen shows. And the West End Whingers have given me a hot tip on a new show, Jerusalem (at the Royal Court), that I’m hoping will take the tang of the crappy Peer Gynt I saw away (and have also apparently saved me from seeing The Black Album – I want to see new theater but only if it doesn’t suck).

On a lighthearted, summer appropriate, wallet-friendly musical kick, I’m going to see “Blink! – and you missed it,” ” hits from the shows you missed” (including The Act, The Rink, and Ragtime), which should be thoroughly tickling my musical theater geek funnybone, as well as La Cage Aux Folles, which for some reason Ambassadors was hawking at a “fill the theater at any cost” price (£10) back in June. I’ll be hitting Forbidden Broadway for a second go-round in mid-August, then winding everything up with Alan Cumming’s solo show I Bought a Blue Car Today on September 1st. What a great way to wrap up the summer!

Schedule:
23 July Thursday: Carlos Acosta & Friends (have an extra ticket FYI)
24 July Friday: La Cage Aux Folles
31 July Friday: Ghosts, Arcola
6 August Thursday: Blink! … and you missed it
7 August Friday: Jerusalem, Royal Court
8 August Saturday: Swan Lake, Kirov/Mariinsky Ballet, Royal Opera House
19 August Wednesday: Forbidden Broadway, Menier Chocolate Factory
25 August Tuesday: A Streetcar Named Desire, The Donmar Warehouse
1 September Tuesday: Alan Cumming’s I Bought a Blue Car Today

(Other shows TBA.)

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.)