Posts Tagged ‘Ben Miles’

Review – Wolf Hall – Royal Shakespeare Company at Aldwych Theater

May 22, 2014

There is event theater and there is event theater, and for a certain sort of well-educated, well-read, upper middle class (or just upper class) Londoner, the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of Wolf Hall was the event they’d been waiting for, enough to pull them out of their sleepy suburbs at 90 quid a head and sell out the first month’s run of the (first half of the) Hilary Mantel double bill practically before it had opened. And there I was, surrounded by people wearing very nice clothes, laughing at all of the “in” English history jokes (“Oh that Jane Seymour! Ha ha ha!”) and British geography jokes (“Yorkshiremen eat Londoners for lunch! An endowed university in Ipswitch! Ha ha ha!) and somehow seeming very pleased that they knew how these things were going to end in the end … or, rather, in the present.

With a nearly bare set – just walls of concrete with crossed lines of light in the back (symbolizing the influence religion on everything) – the actors were left to pull magic from the air with little more than their words, some really luscious costumes, and occasional walls of flame. And personalities really came through – Henry (Nathaniel Parker), who wants so much to be liked (but perhaps confuses lust and kingly duty) – Anne (Lydia Leonard), who has a clear vision of what it takes to achieve power – and Thomas Cromwell (Ben Miles), who is unswervingly loyal and yet still very, very human.

Or that, I think, is what Hilary Mantel would have us think: for, in this production, none of these creatures comes across as human; only when informed by our memories of her book. It’s a beautiful historical pageant, full of color and movement, but devoid of real emotion. We clapped and cheered and were entertained and perhaps dazzled, but I simply was not in the least bit touched by this show. It’s a shame: there is so much in the source material that I had really hoped it would be there, and while I can’t deny the professionalism and production qualities were tops, I want to feel when I pay that much money. And I didn’t. So while this was an entertaining night out, it was ultimately forgettable, though very popular in a sort of upper class fangirl way. People who want to go to the theater to feel good about themselves and their position in life, this show is for you: if you want to learn a little something about human nature, for my money you’d do much better to see Birdland at the Royal Court.

(This show is for a performance that took place on Thursday, May 15, 2014. It continues through the summer, running in rep with Bring Up The Bodies. Tickets can be bought through the RSC site or Ticketmaster but, really, just read the book unless you can get one of the £10 day seats.)

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Mini-review – Betrayal – Comedy Theater

August 19, 2011

There is something so perfect about seeing Pinter at the Comedy Theater, where, per the posters, nearly every play he’s written has been produced, or so it seems. Unfortunately the current revival of Betrayal is suffering from the pricing associated with celebrity casting (Kristin Scott Thomas), so I’ve put off seeing this show for months waiting for seats I could afford. £25.00 in the way way way up there balcony? Forget it. However, Lastminute.com saved my bacon with some £15 restricted view seats that were at least actually seats rather than standing (albeit designed for ladies shorter and slimmer than myself: I spent the whole show sitting sideways), so a few days before this production ends I was finally able to see it.

The production got off to a stilted start as Thomas sits with Douglas Henshall, the boyfriend to her character Emma, having drinks at a table and failing to discuss whatever it is they’ve come to discuss. While I thought they might try to play up the Pinterian “silences,” in fact the clunkiness came from the rather mechanical way they were and then weren’t looking at each other. Sentence end: she up, he down. Pause: he at her, she sideways. I imagined them being drilled in it mercilessly until Ian Rickson was positive they knew exactly, at every phrase, where Emma and Jerry are looking. I quailed as we were dragged through the painful scene. Was this going to be a terrible evening? Just minutes later (though going backwards in time), Emma throws the keys across the stage in what was supposed to be a furious, despairing moment, but which had the sponenaiety of a birthday party for Kim Jong Il.

And then … God, when did the magic happen? Was it when snippy, somewhat evil Robert (Ben Miles) came on stage and we started to see the proof of the first of what began to seem like an endless series of lies? Watching Robert prowl around and bluster, I couldn’t help but think of the playwright’s own lies in telling this play, as he retold his own story in a way that suited his needs. Who really was the baddie? Was the boyfriend portrayed as a bit of a simpleton in part to wreak revenge for the wife’s infidelity, or was the husband a bully because it made him less sympathetic? I wasn’t sure of the details of the real life incidents but, man, I got sucked in fast. Scene after scene of unspun and newly minted untruths, the simple hard facts of how manipulative people are to each other, the strange mystery of how passion plays into the equation, the sense of ownership that comes into relationships, the pathetic reality of how completely unable to entangle ourselves from each other we are … I was almost breathless waiting for each scene to happen. I lost track of time. I lost track of the play. I forgot about the actors (although I did wonder about some clothes and set furnishings). And suddenly it was over and, oh man, Pinter had taken me for quite a ride. I realize it was only 90 minutes long but it was the most engaged period of time I’d spent in a theater in ages.

Anyway, it’s a few days later, and the play is closing this weekend, but man, if you’re trying to figure out what to do and you want one of those peak experiences, I’d highly recommend seeing Betrayal. I was immensely pleased at what I got for £15 (despite the near bruises on my shins) and expect you will be, too.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Tuesday, August 15th, 2011. It’s final perfomance is Saturday at 7:30 PM.)

Review – Measure for Measure – Almeida Theatre

March 15, 2010

When the Independent’s ecstatic review for the Almeida‘s Measure for Measure wound up in front of my eyes on my morning commute, I was completely sucked in. Woo, a Shakespeare play I hadn’t seen at a venue that consistently produced great shows! I figured with the five stars behind it it was going to sell out quickly, so I got my tickets that day and hunkered down for my chance to see it.

As it turns out, at 15 pounds (each) for a supposedly blocked view in the back of the house, my tickets were a very good deal (and ten times more comfy than the barstools at the Southwark Playhouse’s Henry V). The show featured the kind of acting that I’ve come to see as the standard in London, led by the on-top-of-his-game Rory Kinnear as Angelo, who could have been any right-wing politician currently gracing the front pages of American newspapers. The story of a man who promotes himself to others for his sterling reputation, attempts to enforce his morality, then falls “victim” to the sins he claims to want to stamp out is apparently far older than I had ever guessed. In fact, it’s the sharpness of this drama – much like the Donmar’s “fear the power of the papers” Dollhouse – that made this show seem so relevant. The language was thick at times, but the story was 100% now.

But the drama of a sister trying to save her brother from death, well, that cranked it up a big notch. Anna Maxwell Martin seemed a bit stiff as Isabella, somewhat overprone to holding her hands, but she was playing a woman who was a few days away from becoming a nun, and she did have a lot of begging to do to try to keep her brother Claudio (Emun Elliott) from being beheaded for (snicker) fornication. Oddly, no one seems concerned that he’s about to leave his girlfriend behind to take care of their soon-to-be-born child, but I was aware – every minute that Isabella attempted to convince Claudio that it was better to die that to live without honor – there was a lot more at stake than her virginity. Yeah, if she gave in to Angelo, she’d lose her job as a nun, but sister-outlaw Juliet would have a lifetime of struggles in a society not very supportive of unmarried moms.

Amidst all this, Vincentio (Ben Miles), the duke, the man whose departure has put Angelo in charge, wanders, talking to people about “the state of the kingdom” and what they think of him. His performance is fine but flat; as a character, he is static and just not nearly as interesting as Angelo. He also gets burdened with most of the long speeches in this play; it seemed nearly every time that I checked out mentally because I wasn’t able to make sense of the language, Vincentio was talking.

Despite the occasional lags, this was a consistently top-notch performance in a delightfully intimate space, with sets that were both inventive and deliciously flexible. As we walked out of the theater talking about the performance in great detail, we all agreed on one thing; we are spoiled by the quality of theater London offers, and the current production at the Almeida wonderfully shows off just how good we’ve got it.

(This review is for a performance that took place at 2:30 PM on Saturday, March 13th. Measure for Measure closes Saturday, April 10th, 2010. For a compilation of reviews, please see UpTheWestEnd.com. I’d be surprised if there were any tickets left, so be sure to call and ask for returns, or pity.)