Posts Tagged ‘Ben Wishlaw’

Mini-review – Mojo – Harold Pinter Theater (formerly the Comedy)

February 2, 2014

Mojo, also known as “that all-male comedy starring Ben Wishaw,” seems to have been doing a bumper business at the Harold Pinter since its opening in November – helped, no doubt, by a few people like RevStan, who’s been to see it at least five times. (This is made possible by the day seating program and its £10 tickets.) I, however, have no stomach for standing in the cold (and wet) for two hours to see a show; and the ticket prices were otherwise just too rich for me. This left me feeling pretty frustrated as I kept hearing good things about it; I mean, what if they were right? I was going to miss out!

Fortunately my whimpers of distress were noticed by a person I will euphemistically refer to as “Santa Claus,” who bought me tickets for an evening in January. So there I was on a Friday night, in the dress circle (actually in very nice seats), ready to have my world rocked (and looking suspiciously around for Harry Potter fans. I’m pleased to report Rupert Grint may be allowed to actually develop as an actor rather than being penalized by his fan base).

I don’t know, I kind of wonder now why I went. I’d really avoided reading much about the plot, and was pretty surprised when nearly the entire first act consisted of two guys talking so quickly and in such weird, slangy English that I really could not follow their conversation. The audience was laughing, though, not that I knew why. Instead, I was sitting there, watching, trying really hard to hear, and wondering, what, exactly, is going on here? They’re at a club? There’s a young blond Elvis performing? They are taking drugs? Lots of drugs? They might be playing cards? Something about serving tea? Um, minge joke, okay, that was a little bit funny, but … um, what?

And then we suddenly wind up in a scene where some guy is tied to a jukebox (nearly) naked while some other guy is swinging a sword around and then another guy comes in and is all grim, and, I don’t know, WHY WAS ANYTHING FUNNY? I was finding it tense and uncomfortable and I might have considered leaving because I really was just not following along. And then it seemed to become more of a mobbish/revenge kind of thing but, really, I would have preferred being back at The Dumb Waiter, where people said less but meant more.

I left the play without ever figuring out what happened in the first act. But sometime in the second act I realized that all of the characters worked at a nightclub in Soho that had apparently become the target for some kind of gangland takeover. The focus of events turned to Mickey (Brendan Coyle), the standout single competent employee in the club, and Baby (Ben Wishaw), the son of the club owner and massive head case.

So … let’s talk about Wishaw. In some ways, this was really a star turn, as watching him prowl/stagger/swagger across the stage, you could help but feel he was in a different world from the other characters. But the you couldn’t help but try to figure out what world it is. I hate to think that I’ve been living here so long that I too have become obsessed with actors’ accents (though it’s hard not to when every time I see a play with British actors playing Americans I get asked if the accents were authentic or not). I couldn’t tell if I was watching an English actor attempting to do a Brooklynese accent badly, or if I was watching an Italian-English character attempting to do an American gangster-type accent badly. It just all didn’t make sense. And, for once in my life, because the way a character was speaking in a play didn’t make sense, I wasn’t able to give him any kind of context that could make him come to life. I was just watching a person act – dramatically, mind you – but I wasn’t engrossed in the play.

Now let’s not be mistaken: the tragic, violent turn things took in the final act certainly made me sit up and pay attention (especially as I thought it might have all been a dream of Baby) and really just upended my whole perception that I was watching a comedy. I’m not sure how the rest of the audience took it (aside from the walkouts) but I wound up feeling quite discombobulated and a whole lot more convinced that I’d actually seen some good theater because what happened in the final act made clear the relationships between the various men in a way that I could feel. But I can’t forgive this play the first act. Worth seeing: well, probably; worth two hours: maybe; worth 60 quid: absolutely not. Twenty pounds max: day seats or nothing. Unless, of course, you somehow are able to cobble something together out of the first act.

(This review is for a performance that took place on January 24, 2014. Runs through February 8th.)

Review – Peter and Alice – Michael Grandage company at Noel Coward Theater

March 10, 2013

GRANDAGE: So it’s going to be a season of five plays, and I thought we would mix old plays with new.
WRITER: Excellent! And we can use the star power of the big names to encourage people to see the new shows!
G: Well, just one new play, actually, but with Judi and Ben on board that will pack the house.
WRITER: Ooh ooh let’s get all meta and make them play OTHER FICTIONAL CHARACTERS. Well, real people, but fictional characters at the same time.
G: Hmm, sounds intriguing. But they only want to do ninety minutes. You can make it short, right?
WRITER: Sure, no problem! We’ll explore …
G: Make sure they each get a chance to give some nice speeches.
WRITER: Um, yeah, I can do that.
G: And it had better be some fairly intriguing fictional characters. Popular. With some in jokes about fame. The audience will love that.
WRITER: I can make the whole thing about the disjunction between fame and reality …
G: Works for me. Okay, I need to have another meetings. Get me the script by September, and a working title in time for the announcement and publicity.

And so, I imagine, was born the play that became Peter and Alice – looking good on paper (“the characters that inspire to works of children’s fiction speak to each other about their experiences”) and with seemingly everything it needed for success (money, publicity, actors who truly were skimmed from the highest echelons of the British theater scene and had done film as well so as to pull in the punters), and with a highly attractive running time that seemed guaranteed to keep Ben and Judi free to do other works on the side if they felt like it. And the house overflowethed and there was a queue around the corner waiting for returns and the standing spaces were full as well.

And … there they were, his skinniness and her lordliness (she lords rather than ladys on the stage), sort of inhabiting these recreations of Alice Liddell Hargreaves (inspiration for Alice in Wonderland) and Peter Llewelyn Davies (inspiration, or perhaps just namesake, for Peter Pan). Playwright John Logan certainly researched them, but, per the results, without ever finding a way to bring them to life. Davies certainly had many personal tragedies to endure at a young age, and Hargreaves seems to have overcome any possible inappropriate behavior from Dodgson to have become perfectly boring; both of them really suffered during World War I.

But I couldn’t really find much to grab on to in this slight work. Fantasy is more fun than reality, and we should accept our childlike natures? Book authors can be a bit odd? Celebrity doesn’t save you from misery? It almost felt like an act of desperation when Logan added Alice (of Wonderland) and Peter Pan into the mix; clearly, the lives of Alice L and Peter D themselves just didn’t have enough material to fill the evening even when the authors were added to stretch it out.

When all was said and done, my memories of this play will be watching Peter’s brother Michael commit suicide in a lake rather than face the disapproval of his guardian (as J.M. Barrie became) because of his homosexuality; and discovering that Peter had thrown himself in front of a train at Sloane Square. There really wasn’t much else, and I’m afraid for me the thrill of a Dame Judi and His Hotness Wishlaw aren’t enough to compensate for a poor script (not that if they were individually or together on stage again I wouldn’t likely still go, they are really that good). At least the tickets were 10 quid and, of course, it was all over fairly quickly (though it seemed at least thirty minutes longer than it really was). And, gosh, I kind of want to take the Wonderland bits of the set home with me. But otherwise … it was just a big, big waste of an opportunity to do something amazing. Oh well, new plays: you win some, you lose some, and at 90 minutes and 10 quid I didn’t really lose much.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Saturday, March 9th, 2013. It’s been extended to June 1st so if my review didn’t turn you off, don’t despair. Also, as with all performances in this series, “a limited number of £10 day seats will be released at 10.30am on the day of performance.”)

Review – Cock – Royal Court

December 1, 2009

How good was Cock? How very good was Cock. Cock was the play that keeps me going to shows night after night, waiting for that magic to happen. Cock was the play that, when my lover says, “You see theater too much,” makes me think, “No, I barely go enough, because if I hadn’t been dedicated and willing to stand in line in the mere hope of getting a ticket, I would have missed seeing this comet shoot across the horizon, illuminating us all as it passed.” Cock made it all worthwhile.

In the round, we have presented to us a conundrum; a man all but married to his (male) lover, who has left and found himself a very new thing; a woman, intelligent and gentle and so very different from this blundering, powerful man he’s left behind. But then, he’s not left him behind; he’s left neither behind; he’s left himself behind and can’t find his way back. Is he straight, is he gay, is he just a manipulative cock who wants to feel important, somehow, by hurting other peiople and seeing just how much they’ll humiliate themselves for him? Or is he really torn between two identities, or maybe two lovers, not sure which – identity or lover – is right for him? Which is family? Which is his future?

While I could have hated the in-the-round staging of this show, in fact, the incredible intimacy overwhelmed the occasional frustrations of not being able to see an actors face. Almost always, I felt I could tell what they were doing, because the brilliant characterizations filled in the gaps. The twitching cheek; the arrogant poses: I felt no gaps in the action anymore than I would have felt I was “missing the expressions” while watching a domestic dispute in my living room.

Andrew Scott was especially brilliant as the tortured boyfriend; never once did I find myself doubting his arrogance or the pain he was going through. Now that it’s done, though, I find that I’m getting lost in the conundrum of which gave the perfection, the cast or the play, and I have to just sit back and smile, or dance with joy, for Thanks Be that amidst all the dreck and staleness that too frequently hits My Lady – the theater – the other woman in my life – there can still be nights like these, when I spent two hours watching and then another hour questioning, What did this mean? Why did he treat her/him so cruelly? all the time willfully forgetting that it was all sound and fury – and instead buying that what I saw was real and worth caring about and feeing hurt over (and with) the characters as I watched them suffer. Truly, this was a night that repaid every evening I spend in the dark waiting for magic to happen in front of me.

(This review was for a performance that took place on December 2st, 2009. I did drink rather a lot of wine afterwards but I can say, if you didn’t get tickets to this show, I fully authorize you to cry about what a great experience you missed. Thanks to Mzendle for braving the returns line to get us seats; you are ace!)