Posts Tagged ‘Charing Cross Theater’

Review – In the Bar of a Tokyo Hotel – Charing Cross Theater

April 14, 2016

Tennessee Williams, as the creator of a body of plays, is … interesting. Streetcar, Glass Menagerie and … well. A long tail. He proved his ability to capture the delicate workings of the inner psyche and the unspoken passions, especially of women, in 1950s America … and then continued writing for a very long time afterwards. This play was written (and set) in 1969, and it is from the era when Tennessee Williams was no longer writing hits.

The plot is fairly small: Miriam, the wife (Linda Marlowe) of an American artist (David Whitworth) is hanging around in the bar of a Tokyo hotel where her husband has taken up residence and is creating paintings in his room. They’ve been married for decades, and she seems to loathe him; she talks about wanting to be free from him, plays with the poison pill she carries with her, and fondles the crotch of the barman (Andrew Koji) while addressing the audience about her sexual appetite. The effect is gross and jarring, and compares poorly with the examinations of late-life relationships provided by Strindberg. Miriam is a cartoon, her husband’s artistic focus unbelievable; it all comes off like it’s Williams’ attempts to examine his own sexuality by cloaking it in his characters.

The three dimensionality of the characters is destroyed by both the clunky dialogue and its painful delivery. I found myself wondering to what extent the actors simply hadn’t been given time to rehearse, and to what extent the actors could just not find a damned thing to work with. I cringed at both of the leads’ line delivery: while I understand Miriam has to address the audience (or someone) in some of her ramblings, why in the world Whitworth turned to faced us midpoint in a conversation with Miriam just stumped me. It was like they were reading off of teleprompters – no feelings of actual humans, just a need to get through the words and to the end of the show. I couldn’t help but think they thought the script was as horrible as I did. “Never worry, never fear, one day you’d meet a rich old queer” – why in the hell did Williams think that was worthy of being spoken by one of his characters? It didn’t even make sense in context. It was like he had a lot of unpacking to do about his own life and was making his characters hash it out, but, my God, with the racism and cultural superiority of a 1960s American so fully on display I just wanted to run around the auditorium and apologize to everyone.

Urgh. This show once again reaffirms my belief that the works of Tennessee Williams need not all be taken in, as there are many cuckoos squawking in his literary nest. This particular one should have been tipped over the edge long before it was due to hatch as a favor to us all.

(This review is for the opening night performance at the Charing Cross Theatre, which took place on Monday, April 10th, 2015. It continues through May 14th.)

Mini-review – Ushers: The Musical – Charing Cross Theater

June 3, 2014

I’ve been intending on seeing this show for ages, in part because the charismatic Ralph Bogard (of Saucy Jack and the Space Vixens) was in it, but I completely missed it during its initial run at the Hope Theater thanks to serious panto conflict. Thankfully, it got a transfer to the suitably divey Charing Cross theater, but its culty, late night start time (10PM!!!) was keeping me away, despite the offer of comps. Argh! Finally, though, Ushers became the main show rather than a sideshow attraction, and with a completely sensible 8 PM start time I was finally able to visit (sadly Ralph had moved on to the Globe, which he no doubt sees as a step up but which I deeply regret). I was more than happy to pay full price (seriously, £15 tickets are right in my sweet spot) for what I was hoping would be a fun night out.

And, it turns out, this was jolly – finally, a comedy with jokes I can get! The fun lasted well beyond the first song (about what it’s like being an usher), with references to the West End Whingers, current popular musicals, universal audience shortcomings, and the insular world of theatrical luvviedom. We had at least three plots going on, one of them a really poignant one for the performing arts crowd – how do you balance a career that requires travel with a romantic commitment? – and I was caught up in the backstage machinations of the house manager as he attempted to bully or sexually harass pretty much every member of the team. The choreography wasn’t really at a West End level of polish, but it was more than suitable and added to the comedy nicely. Frankly, this was a better executed show than Pyjama Game – and it certainly had heart …. miles and miles and miles of heart … miles and miles of Roxie Hart! Er, well, I think I’m taking the trope just a little to far, but you get what I mean. Come to Ushers: The Musica when you want to forget about your troubles and have a laugh – in that, it succeeds as a perfect little musical for even a hardcore West End burnout like me.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Wednesday May 28 2014. It continues through June 6th.)

Review – A Christmas Carol – Charing Cross Theater

December 20, 2013

Who’d expect there to be two London debuts of Christmas Carol musicals in one year? But so there is, the first a remounting of the popular American one by Menken and Ahrens, the second a home-grown effort making its first showing in the Big Smoke after two regional tours. Last night was the opening of the second, a British-created A Christmas Carol (book by Stephen Leask and Joshua Sills, lyrics Jessica Rufey, Music Patrick Rufey), featuring fourteen songs and a big cast (two rotating casts of five children each!). This is what I went to see at the Charing Cross Theater, and I have to say I was seeing it as a bit of a competition: how would it hold up?

This show sticks pretty closely to Dickens’ story, skipping a few minor details while hitting the majors – Scrooge’s rejection of his first love in favor of money, the Fezziwig’s party, the Cratchits, et cetera. It’s all tied together with music, from the opening crowd scene “Christmas Eve” to “A Life of Regret” and “The Man I Meant to Be.” After seeing the Tabard show’s visibly thin budget, it’s clear that a lot of work has gone into this musical, with multiple costume changes, live accompaniment, and several dance scenes.

But many of the details grate in a way I find less forgiving in a bigger show. The costume designer has made a general sort of Victorian looking clothes, which use fabrics and colors unknown to the period and cuts that range from Gone with the Wind to Mommy Dearest. This seems unbearably sloppy given the wealth of data about clothing of the period. The dance scenes also seem to have been done by someone who’s never done historical research – gentlefolk waltzing in the early 1800s? Can can dancing at a company party? Some attempts at research would have really helped add an air of authenticity. There’s also scrimping on special effects, from the missing Marley knocker (come on, even the no budget Christmas Carol did this) to the Ghost of Christmas present flying moment (which consisted of the actors standing in front of the stage extending their arms, then lights out while they ran to the back of the stage). Much better was the Ghost of Christmas future, a simple black curtain that faces were pressed out of – both spooky and a nice transition to Scrooge waking up in his bedroom, wrapped in the curtain. And the Christmas lights that illuminated the theater when the Ghost of Christmas Present appeared were simply magical.

Unfortunately, this magic did not extend to the music. The songs were melodic but entirely unmemorable, and the decision to have extended child solos in several of the songs was an affront to the ears. And somehow, Tiny Tim’s character was left nearly completely hollow by the script, which never really explained (or showed) why Scrooge was so enamored of him. A Christmas Carol has been to Weston Super Mare, Dunstable, and Bridlington, where it probably easily earned accolades, but in London, it’s in the right place in the Charing Cross Theater. There have been many excellent productions of this story, but this is not one of them, and while it isn’t terrible, it’s not really one to get enthusiastic about.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Tuesday, December 17th, 2013. It runs through January 4th and was originally reviewed in The Public Reviews.)

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