Posts Tagged ‘Cock’

Review – Love Love Love – Palace Theatre Watford

March 17, 2011

I may be terrible at remembering the names of directors and actors (especially those people on television) but I am very loyal to writers who produce good works for the stage. I have a list of “see everything by” that includes Ibsen, Pinter … and Mike Bartlett. His play Cock blew me away and was without reserve the best play I saw in 2009, convincing me he had a powerful insight into the strange convolutions of the human mind and a craftsman’s love for creating dialogue that sounded like real people talking. Earthquakes didn’t bring me entirely down to ground (I can’t expect a living playwright to have already had the dross culled from the folio), but the deliciously evil, dystopic Contractions had me again.

Thus, wonders of wonders, I, the nine to five girl who will have her eight hours of sleep, agreed, no, chose on her own, to trek across London into the veritable hinterlands, to Watford, on a school night, so that I could see a new(ish) play by this genius among men. Watford. It was only there for four performances, I was gone for two, so Wednesday night it was, and Tim Watson gamely agreed to accompany me (he even knew where the theater is). And looking at the schedule of the other performances for this tour, by “Paines Plough and the Drum Theatre Plymouth,” Watford was in fact the only even slightly possible city besides Oxford I could see it at. It turns out this company has a “thing” for not doing shows in London, which I found rather ironic (and snobby) considering that much of the play talks about how you just have to live in London if you’re going to have any kind of exciting life (and later on about how if you life in London you basically can’t afford to have a life, period). But, you know, these people don’t care if I get my Mike Bartlett fix or not, so I found my way to the Palace Theater for a 7:45 show (and opening night of the run).

Love, Love, Love runs us through forty years of history and… gosh, I don’t really want to give anything away because so much of my enjoyment was about never having a clue about what the curtain was going to rise on as each of the three acts begin, so I’m going to have to be really careful here. It starts in Swinging London with two brothers from a dull town somewhere else both making a go of life in the big city. Only, really, only one of them is trying; the other is his layabout brother Kenneth (Ben Addis) who does a fantastic job of establishing character as he falls off of a couch attempting to get a glass of whiskey with the minimum amount of exertion. Act two is set in an upper-middle class family’s home in 1990, and introduces two fascinating characters; a fourteen year old boy Jamie, who’s crazy about Stone Roses (James Barrett), and his sixteen year old sister Rose (Rosie Wyatt). They have an extraodinarily naturalistic teenaged brother and sister dynamic going on, and I loved seeing how they dealt with the frustrations to their lives caused by their parents and each other.

Various of the characters travel through time as the scenes change, but I found myself distracted by the lack of attempt at making them up to age: characters from the first scene basically remain eternally young. I think this was a deliberate choice (should have picked up the script but a friend confirmed this was how it was the first time around), as it could be seen as nicely symbolizing the “love” generation’s failure to grow up; but I was confused when parents and children appeared to be more or less the same age. This was especially a problem for Lisa Jackson; her mannerisms simply didn’t evolve in a way that was suggestive of age at all; instead, I found her acting more and more like (a young) Katherine Hepburn as she was supposed to be actually older. Grr.

The play manages to make a political point, that the children of the seventies are basically selfishly sucking up all of the money that could be making the lives of their children better, but I found it easy enough to absorb as partially just the point of one character (likely representing the playwright’s point of view) and not as “THIS IS HOW THINGS ARE WE MUST RISE UP IN REVOLT.” As a message, I didn’t find it grating like Earthquakes was because it was framed very much in the context of telling a story and building up character. Instead of leaving me feeling preached at and used, this jibe served as a sort of glossy icing on top of the cake of the story. I found it something that I could ignore in pursuit of coming up with my own answers to the question, “Why does the modern generation seem to have so much less than their parents did?” It just seems to simple to pawn it off as the fault of selfish hedonists of the late sixties but it was fun to have some real ideas to chew on after the show was over.

However, this is not what makes a good night at the theataer. I was very engaged by the story of one family and how they wound up, through their idiocy and bad decisions and horrible parenting, just utterly and completely screwing their kids. It was very believable, if depressing, and the fights that Rosie has with her parents seemed completely realistic, as did the various not very healthy coping strategies she developed to handle their shortcomings. In fact, message or not, I found myself just really caught up in the drama between the four people who ended up together in the final scene. Really, would any of them ever get their lives together, and would any of them ever have the ability to have any kind of meaningful love and connection in their lives? It seemed so sad that only the people who loved, basically, themselves would wind up happy; but to me, this seems quite a truthful ending for Bartlett to choose. The “good guys” don’t necessarily wind up happy, just like in real life, and that, for me, made for a damned good night at the theater.

(Running time was 2:25 including interval. This review was for a performance that took place at the Watford Palace on March 16th, 2011. Love Love Love continues on tour through June 11th at the Curve, Leicester; the Live Theatre in Newcastle; the Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough; West Yorkshire Playhouse; the New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich; the Nuffield Theatre, Southampton; the Liverpool Playhouse; the Citizens Theatre, Glasgow; the Hull Truck Theatre; the Royal & Derngate, Northampton; and finally, the Oxford Playhouse. For an alternate review, please see What’s On Stage.)

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Best London theater, 2009

December 19, 2009

While I’ve still got three more shows before the season’s entirely over, I feel confident that I can now get the “what was the best” posts out of the way (complete list of shows here, grand total estimated to be 116). Best dance, best musical/drama are my categories, as well as a few special celebrations and a shaming here and there. Read on …

Discovery of the year: the Southwark Playhouse. A Midsummer Night’s Dream at this small and atmospheric venue blew me away; the shows I’ve seen since have been of mixed quality (the recent and continuing Christmas Carol was a treat to be sure) but never made me feel financially cheated. Generally worth going to “just for the heck of it.” Now, mind you, Royal Court has been crowned “The New Donmar” (affordable prices, adventurous programming) and I’m planning on buying something akin to the entire spring season there, but it was hardly a discovery; it just became noticeable for its greatness this year.

Overdone gimmick of the year: “event” theater with movie or TV celebrities. Please, let’s have less of the classics being butchered by people who can’t act at extravagant prices. I realize this is probably singlehandedly responsible for the fantastic income London theater is experiencing this year, but good theater is not just about filling seats. I feel like seeing Jude Law/David Tennant/Keira Knightly on stage gets people to go just so they can say “ooh ah I was in the same room as INSERT NAME HERE” and does little to encourage the creation of good shows. The Donmar deserves an especial drubbing for going so mad for celebrity casting in their West End season – and what a horrible mistake to waste Judi Dench in that Mishima dog they put on.

Dance performance of the year: Birmingham Royal Ballet’s “E=MC2” (full discussion here) I saw the Royal Ballet many times this year and they just weren’t doing anything this exciting – not really helping the cause of getting ballet into the 21st century and recruiting new audiences so much as sticking with tried and tried and tried and true (“Mayerling” twice in two years, please!). I also give BRB points for “best new story ballet of the year” even though I don’t think Cyrano was new and I don’t think I saw any other new story ballet this year (even though I do try to go see them when I can – well, okay, there was the Wuthering Heights ballet but it seemed more like a thought than a story).

Painful lesson of the year: modern opera, I really shouldn’t bother. Die Tote Stadt, Into the Little Hill, Grand Macabre; I really want to support new opera but unfortunately I think it’s almost entirely unmusical, like it’s designed by academics to adhere to certain structures and generally not to be musical in any way.

Musical of the year: the nominees were: Priscilla, Queen of the Desert: The Musical*; Company; Forbidden Broadway; (the all male) Pirates of Penzance; Silence the Musical. After tossing and turning, debating the hysterical brilliance of Silence (full of hummable, if utterly rude, tunes) and the extravagant, seedy intensity of Pirates, I’ve decided the award goes to … Pirates, which made an arthritic script come to life in a way I truly did not think possible. Rumor has it it’s going to be reprised at Wilton’s Music Hall this spring, though unfortunately I can’t find any information about it on their calendar. That said, Silence: the Musical is going to be done again at the Above the Stag theater – don’t miss out as there’s really little reason for it to be staged again so soon and it really is a hoot.

Best theater blog: I’m not going to list the ones I read (mostly because it’s a short list), but once again the West End Whingers have proven to have the blog that gets me the right hot tips on what shows to see. Sometimes it was a show I’d unimaginatively rejected; sometimes it’s a show I never heard of; almost always it was a show that was on the verge of becoming unattainable. It’s even better now that they have a Twitter feed: getting a line from them to “buy your tickets for Jerusalem now” will send me immediately to my computer. Every now and then we utterly disagree on a show; but mostly they are like having my own private theatrical pimp. I like that.

Show of the year: the nominees were: Entertaining Mr Sloane; Kursk; The Mountaintop; Enron; Cock. (Note absolutely nothing from the Donmar this year, for shame). In a year in which great shows were thin on the ground in comparison to the volume of productions being cranked out, this wasn’t nearly as competitive as I was hoping it would be. Still, I’ve weighed the best of the year (that I saw), and it’s clear: not only as best production but also as best script, Mike Bartlett’s Cock blew me away. Each performance was perfect; the close confines made it all that more intense; the words were exactly what they should be. It’s a damned shame it sold out so fast, but such good theater should never experience a single unoccupied seat for even one night. I can’t imagine it being remounted elsewhere without watering down the impact of seeing this in the round in a tiny (80 person?) house, but this was really just a tiny drop of perfection in a year that was otherwise a bit of a desert.

Right, that’s it for me: 116 shows in one year was probably about thirty more than I should have seen. I don’t even think I’m capable of remembering who the best actor and actress even were anymore. Next year, I’m hanging up my hat and taking it easy; I want 2010 to be a year when I see less shows and more that I like. This will require waiting until the reviews come in so I can more easily identify the productions that will suit me, and might mean that I miss a few that sharper people snapped up sooner – but I think it’s probably the way to go. Even sticking to a budget like I try to do, this year was taxing on my wallet as well as my sleep schedule. See you in the second balcony …

*Actually, Priscilla was never a contender for me. I just put it in there because it seemed like it should have been, especially given how expensive it was.

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!)