Posts Tagged ‘cottlesloe’

Review – The Effect – Cottlesloe Theatre, The National Theatre

November 8, 2012

It seems presumptuous, somehow, to write a review of a play so quickly that the salt of your tears is still crackling on your face. But I wanted to get my thoughts on Lucy Prebble’s new show down while the ache is still fresh. I saw it on a day when I was extraordinarily susceptible to the emotions of love and abandonment; it took the raw emotions I provided, stuck its fist in my psyche, and pulled out my guts.

What is love, really; what is depression: what makes any of us think we are happy? Is it just really chemicals? Does life, does the way we treat each other have anything to do with it? Are we safe to say,”I’m not responsible, you own your own feelings,” or do we say,”This is all just chemicals nothing is real” so we can discount our hearts breaking inside us?

These questions come up in the context of a clinical trial involving two college kids who may or may not be getting placebos …or real drugs possibly simulating love. Or is what they’re feeling real? As they laugh and tell each other the stupid stories that make up the banal reality of whom each of us is, you, the audience member, can’t tell which is real and which is fake anymore. It’s really love. It’s just a placebo. But the emotions are strong, ridiculous, authentic, like every crush you’ve ever had, like every boy who was just too perfect and left you.

And what are we all in the end but sad depressed people trying to medicate ourselves through the harsh winter of reality. Are we lying to ourselves and just pathetic? Is it preferable take drugs to protect ourselves from the psychological damage of being honest about our ability to affect outcomes? Is it even reasonable to hope that maybe, somewhere, there is one human enough that can love us, horribly flawed though we are?

As the show ended I cried openly, trying to restrain myself from sobbing, hoping the actors could see me trying to clap through it all. I love plays that explore what it means to be in the now, in a world of cell phones and drug trials and tap dancing in mental asylums; but even more I love a play that explores what it means to be human, and to live and love and try to be ethical in the crazy world of conflicting emotions and priorities that is life with other people .

(This review is for a preview seen on Thursday, November 7th or so. It was awesome. Book now.)

Review – Mike Leigh’s Grief – National Theater Cottlesloe

September 23, 2011

Normally I don’t identify a play first by its author’s name (unless there’s a chance of confusion with another play), but in all of the coverage of this play it’s been “Mike Leigh’s New Play” and the title has been completely missing up until just the last few days before opening. The buzz has been more about Mike Leigh and about how he’s “written a new play for the first time in years ZOMG and is directing it too!” and I have to admit as marketing it worked for me as I am a Mike Leigh fan – well, of his movies, anyway. But then I’ve only really seen Secrets and Lies, Topsy Turvy and Vera Drake, so I’m hardly a connoiseur, and I should mention I’ve also been to the quite grim play Ecstacy

And when I think about it, I think perhaps I have not thought enough about the stylistic unities of these works. All of the movies have made a great emotional impression on me, but, in retrospect, all of them seemed stunningly lacking in plot. (Okay, Vera Drake not so much, but still a bit.) Instead, they were just a bunch of seemingly random incidents captured along a forward moving timeline, all leading to … a feeling of … something … that life was slipping through my fingers. Maybe that was it. Anyway, it was a feeling I enjoyed being made to feel, so I decided Mike Leigh was a genius and have tried to make an effort to see his stuff when possible. Even the unrelieved misery of Ecstacy didn’t turn me away.

However, what is life really but a vale of sorrows? Grief, set in 1957 and 8, is about three characters who seem to live lives that give them no joy at all: widow Dorothy (Lesley Manville), her brother Edwin (Sam Kelly), and her daughter Victoria (Ruby Bentall) struggle side by side to get through days that seem completely meaningless. Gertrude (Marion Bailey) and Muriel (Wendy Notthingham), Dorothy’s old telephone operator friends, blow in and are cheery and upbeat much like Ewin’s friend Dr Hugh (David Horovitch); but the only support Dorothy and Edwin really have is each other. And it seems to be expressed primarily through their singing lovely old songs together, as if reliving the times when they had hopes for the future. None of these people touches each other; none of them acknowledge that any of them might be suffering (excepting when Dorothy actually bursts into tears, which earns her an offer to have a bath ran for her and a parting “Buck up”).

One of the greatest causes (and radiators) of misery is Victoria, a teenager whose shockingly hateful treatment of her mother had me cringing in my seat. I was given no clue as to what the source was of her anger and resentment, though it did certainly seem in keeping with modern teen angst, but it seemed to be incredibly vitriolic. Noticably, she seemed to be incapable of giving or receiving even the tiny, silent sympathies her mother and uncle shared, which made me think that perhaps she had a boyfriend on the sly or a drinking problem – but none of this ever comes out. She wound up as the puzzle to me at the end of the night, and, I think, the ultimate cause of this play’s failure to achieve greatness despite its unquestionable emotional impact. Leigh (and the actors if I understand his method correctly) has certainly created a household populated with realistic people, but without a bit more clue as to what is really making them tick, I can’t say he really took me anywhere. Instead, it was all a bit like – dare I say it – watching a movie about an extremely dysfunctional family. They didn’t succeed at the game of life, but I don’t need to care about why; it’s enough that I was able to share their grief. Or perhaps Leigh thought so. Me, I wanted more, much as I did when watching Ecstacy. Frankly, I can lock myself in the pit of human misery any time I feel like visiting my family, and having that experience recreated on stage doesn’t do a bit to give me more insight into the human condition. I want to learn a little more about how they tick. I can’t deny the brilliance of the performances – but theater needs more than just acting to be great. Overall, this was a good effort that I’m sure will be well received by those who like what Leigh does, but as a theater fan, I was disappointed.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Thurday, September 22nd, 2011. It continues through January 28th. Although it’s currently sold out, keep coming back to the National’s website as tickets do get returned.)

Review – London Road – National Theatre Cottlesloe

June 5, 2011

A musical written using interviews with regular people as the book, with the neighbor’s response to the murder of five women working on London Road as the topic? To me, this sounded like the epitome of theater I’d rather skip. I figured it was likely to be preachy and reverent or nauseatingly simplistic. Yet, despite this, the West End Whingers said it was amazing and tweeter after tweeter said it as a must see. What was I missing out on? Sensing a sell-out and worrying about missing out on the event of the year, I hurriedly booked some tickets a few weeks after opening and sat down to wait my turn.

While not exactly simplistic, I have to say this show was in some ways nauseating. My previous theatrical outing had been Betty Blue Eyes, and I was shocked to see the residents of Ipswich displaying far less sympathy for the murder victims than the characters in Betty Blue Eyes did for a pig. Again and again they said how much more pleasant it was now that the sex workers were gone, with occasional brief mentions of “a blessing in disguise” and one woman finally saying if she met the murderer she’d “shake his hand.” While no one seemed bothered by just how the women were earning a living, they mentioned that they were rude and threatening, indiscreet, and basically dirtied up the place. Much like the police cordon and media spotlight, they were an inconvenience – but nothing a few hanging baskets couldn’t easily replace. Every word of sympathy came out sounding like “and this is what we kind of feel we have to say” – but I heard little reference to the children or families the victims have, and over the entire show the names of the women were said maybe twice. The playwright meant to focus on the residents, and I think her choice for a narrow focus might have helped the play, but I couldn’t help feel an implicit acceptance of the residents’ attitudes. The women were throwaways, creatures who existed in essence because they set a plot rolling that allowed this play to take place. Ignoring them could safely be done, with the milksop of a charity collection at the end of the night to help us all reassure ourselves that we aren’t really lacking in sympathy – as long as these eyesores keep themselves out of sight.

That said, there was a lot to think about in this not-quite-a-musical, with its impressive narrative through-line (I was never once bored, like I was in Love Story and, I admit, Umbrellas of Cherbourg). I was particularly impressed by the documentation of the town’s descent into a hysteria – the women questioning if every man is the murderer (the men participate in this, too); the terror caused by lack of security (although someone wryly adds that it’s all pretty silly given that unless you’re actually a prostitute you don’t seem to be in any danger); the media circus and the lynch mob mentality after Steve Wright was caught (rather surprising how angry people were given that some saw him performing a public service, like the dog catcher). But in the London Road residents’ parts, as they go on about their efforts to clean up their street, I felt this “elephant in the room” moment rather reminiscent of Proust’s great scene as Charles Swann attempts to say goodbye to his lifelong friends the Guermantes in the way the beautification committee members chirpily avoid discussing the deaths that motivated their efforts. Ah, the banality of everyday life, and the willful avoidance of the truth of the ends we all will all meet; is this not just the core of suburban existence? It was almost as depressing as the ugly attitudes underneath the potted petunias.

Despite my real engagement while watching this show, I can’t say it deserved its praise as a musical: the tweedly Phillip Glass-like score (not a compliment) didn’t have any sort of melody at all. And while London Road is a very interesting social document – rather like a master’s thesis in urban anthropology – I didn’t really feel as a play it’s going to have a long life, as this smallish mass-murder fades from the public consciousness. However, there is no denying the theater was packed to the rafters and on a Wednesday night there were some 15 people queueing for seats. Perhaps given the popularity of this show the National ought to give up its current focus on plays about climate change; it seems that to fill the houses earnest educational shows are out and serial killers are the rage. I’m guessing a revival of Silence: the Musical should come next and then maybe something about the man in Vancouver who lured streetwalkers to his slaughterhouse before killing them. At least in England the police treated the murders (if not the disappearances) of Gemma Adams and Tania Nicol as a crime that needed to be pursued instantly rather than letting them continue to be picked off one by one for five years; and in that, at least, London Road shows a tiniest candle of hope in a world lacking in empathy.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Wednesday, June 1st, 2011. It has been extended through August 27th so now if you want to see it there is hope.)