Posts Tagged ‘David Bradley’

Review – Moonlight – Donmar Theater

April 11, 2011

My first exposure to the incredible depth that can be found in the works of Harold Pinter came with the Donmar’s production of Old Times back in 2004. It was astounding; I felt like I’d finally found a playwright who respected his audience enough to not feel the need to tell them everything. This was a person who was writing for me, and if I found it hard going, well, it was my job to figure it out.

Since then I’ve been seeing Pinter plays as often as I can, not trying to see everything that is done but trying to see every play at least once. Thus, Moonlight was a ticket I bought automatically, as it’s a Pinter play I haven’t seen and, well, the Donmar, you know, they may have a style but this play firmly is in the middle of what they do well and was absolutely guaranteed to be a great production (not to mention deliciously affordable at £10 in the balcony). Excitingly for me, I recognized two of the actors from other shows, one (“the wife,” Deborah Findlay) from the fabulous John Gabriel Borkman (same role, different husband) in this same theater; the other (“the husband,” David Bradley) from the Tricycle’s Caretaker where he played the eponymous role: so funny to see him transformed from creepy old bum to semi-respectable asshole – somehow it seemed that it was all on a continuum of “life in Pinter” where one could just go from one state to another, much as one goes from “mother” to “grandmother” or possibly “serving wretch” depending on how the circumstances of your life change in the intervening years. But I digress.

So I’m sitting here now, writing this, wondering: what do I talk about, the production? The plot? The questions it left behind? It’s the third I’m most interested in, but I suspect only Pinter fanatics feel that way. The set is lovely, blues framed by a line of occasionally blinding white whose fading seemed a literal echo of Dylan Thomas’ “dying of the light” (against with Bradley spends the play raging); the sound design is sparse but gets special mention for use of the Cure’s “Love Cats” (first time I’ve heard a band from my wasted college years used in a show) in a throwaway moment. And the set, showing two different environments (a seedy flat, the bedroom of a well-to-do household) side by side is sparse and effective, a perfect accompaniment to the script, showing that the four main actors are both hopelessly intertwined with each other while emphasizing the chasm in their daily existences.

Overall, this seems to me to be a lesser Pinter play, if well done. Bradley is strong in the main role of the dying, hallucinating former civil servant who seems to revel in torturing his wife with his past excesses; Findlay neatly conveys long-term suffering tempered by the knowledge of her certain release from her husband’s foul mouth. But their two sons, who seem to be dole-funded layabouts who spend their days playing mind games with each other, don’t have clear roles in the show and seem disposable. Ultimately, they only really seem to matter in the scene where their mother takes her one solo action in the play; calling to their apartment to ask them to visit their dying father. In this we get our long, Pinteresque moment of silent and tension, as the phone rings and rings while the boys stare at it as if it were a terrorist buzzing their doorbell, finally answering, “Laundry service.” The mother attempts to get them to engage with her struggle, then breaks down into playing the game with them; showing her connection with them and emphasizing the uncrossable divide between them and their father.

It was a perfect moment, but in many ways the play might be even better if the sons (and their 20 or more minutes of stage time) were eliminated altogether and we just focused on the couple as they moved slowly toward death. The noticeable slowing at the end would disappear and we, the audience, would have a much tidier set of destroyed human beings to deal with. It seems to me the play was far more vibrant in the scenes in which the father and the wife argue about their lives together and what death means; when they are not the focus, it seems garbled. Though I know Pinter constructed this deliberately, still, this time he said too much; but I considered it a good evening out and rewarding viewing nonetheless.

(This review is for a preview performance of Moonlight that took place on Friday, April 8th, 2011. It continues through May 28th and looks to be sold out for the entire run.)

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Review – No Man’s Land – Duke of York’s Theatre

January 2, 2009

Well, tonight is closing night for this play, so there’s not really much to say – it looked pretty sold out last night, and it will probably also be so today. We had a hard time getting seats at all, especially given that we’re operating on a tight budget so close to Christmas and our upcoming house move. Thus I was excited to get ten quid seats, as it enabled me to justify a play I needed to see in order to accomplish my goal of seeing every play ever written by Pinter – an easier goal to accomplish now that the list is fixed due to his death, which I’m very sad about.

It should be noted, though, that ten quid tickets with the kind of restricted views we had may not be such a deal. Here is my sketch of the stage from our seats in row C of the upper balcony:

The circle with the nose in my lower right palm is Michael Gambon. There was another actor in this scene, but as you can tell from the pictorial record, I could in no way SEE him (though I could hear him talking). At another point there was a scene with THREE people, of which you could see the lower half of one of them (David Bradley as Spooner) and then the shadows of the other two guys (Rupert Goold and Nick Dunning, never did figure out their characters’ names but they’re available online), which I thought made the whole thing look just quite dramatic – as a painting. As theater, it was very irritating. Wechsler calls it the “Curse of Low-ro,” but it’s the curse of tight budget for me. On the other hand, I was at least able to see it.

Am I glad about that? Well, this play is really quite … Pinteresque, or as my husband would put it, “unfathomable ” (actually the quote was, “I got nothing out of that”), at least when you’re still recovering from New Year’s Eve and some really hard core jet lag. While I could noodle on about what I think the plot MIGHT have been about, I’d prefer to complain about Goold and Dunning, who just seemed stiff and uninteresting. I believe in Pinter, and I believe when actors seem so unconvincing in one of his plays, it’s their own damned fault and NOT that of the script. David Bradley looked like he was having a grand time, hamming it up, really enjoying the packed house (there to pay their respects to the great author, so recently passed?), and Michael Gambon was deliciously confused as the rich old codger who couldn’t seem to remember what he was doing from one minute to the next but still faked it like a pro (with a gorgeous voice). Me, I enjoyed my own delicious confusion, and what I wish I could do is sit down, read the text (with all of its extremely rude dialogue), and then go back and see the play. But it closes tonight. At least, then, I am glad that I did see it the once.

And, again, I am very, very sad about Harold Pinter dying. I had wished I could tell him in person some day how much I enjoy his work. I find them to always be a bit of a puzzle, and I will enjoy working this one out.

(This review is for a performance seen on January 1st, 2009. Rest in peace, great man.)

Review – “The Quiz” – Trafalgar Studios

June 25, 2008

(Note: this show closes Saturday, June 28th, so make your plans to see it right away if you’re interested.)

I have a reputation for being terminally allergic to one-person shows. Just too often they descend into a bunch of self indulgent twaddle, and I find my mind has left the room long before my body can. However, Venus as a Boy was so brilliant that I’ve been rethinking my feelings toward the form. Perhaps … when performed at one go without an intermission, there is hope.

The Quiz, therefore, hit the right buttons at about one hour in total, and the review I read in Monday’s Metro (why they won’t put the damned things online I do not know) indicated it was a comedic twist to a retelling of the Grand Inquisitor (InQUIZitor, get it?) sequence from The Brothers Karamazov, done as a burnt out actor telling the tale of telling the tale to the audience, like HamletMachine but without being so irritating. As I expected, tickets were available today at the TKTS booth (13 quid a pop – but you can also get them in advance for £15 from the Ambassadors website with coupon code “ATGQUIZ.”), so we had a quick takeaway curry from Thai Cottage, then headed off to Trafalgar Studios this evening with fairly high hopes (though the Pimms at the Wetherspoons next door did help).

I found the show quite pleasant, a good value for the money (I know this is a terrible way to view how good a show is, but since I see so many shows that I wear myself out, it’s one of the yardsticks I use) and the investment of time (I was grateful to be home before 11). I love the “breaking the fourth wall” stuff even though I didn’t know how to react to it – did he really want to have us talk back to him? And how would he have handled it if I answered his endless calls for his prompter? Would he have changed the end of the show? Would it have broken his focus?

Anyway, David Bradley was ace – just the kind of person whose hands you want to entrust yourself to when you’re going to spend an hour locked up in a dark room at someone else’s mercies. He handled the transitions between himself, the Inquisitor, his dad, Jesus, and just whomever else he wanted to be beautifully – and when he had the hood on his head, I swear to God, he looked just like Emperor Palpatine. It’s actually a bit of a shame it was only an hour long, though the BIGGER shame was the fact there were only twenty people there the night I went. Get with the program, people! The audience was laughing and chortling quite merrily so it seemed to me like this show MUST be able to pull in more punters to fill the seats. Bradley didn’t seem to stint but I’d really like to see him preening and glowing in the glare of a full house – I think he would have been even better.

Overall, I think there were a couple of points being made – a parallel between the missing prompter and Jesus (I didn’t catch this myself and fully blame the Pimms), and some more grand stuff about the light being extinguished that slipped through my finer filters for drama. But since it was all quite brief, I think the overall point is that it was interesting and funny, well lit, and a great opportunity to watch a top notch actor do it stuff. Catch it if you can! (But the theater is cold, so bring a jacket or a wrap if you don’t have sleeves.)

(This review is for a show that took place the night of Wednesday, June 25th.)

Review – The Caretaker – The Tricycle

April 12, 2007

Dinner last night at Buka was not as good as forgettable because it was actively bad. This came down to three things: tough/burnt meat, overly spiced food (with no actual flavor), and the nauseating smell of fish paste. I ate half of it and felt the rest of it burning a hole in my stomach through the rest of the evening. It was actually at the second level of really hot, the one where my ears ring, and while I can make it through to the third level, I will only do this for food that actually tastes good. Perhaps I will try Nigerian food again, but, frankly, I’d rather pick Somali/Ethiopian/Eritrean after this horrifying experience. And it was overpriced to boot. Bah.

Pinter’s The Caretaker was mis-described as “comic.” Me, well, I think watching a messed up homeless old man try to find a safe place to live isn’t intrinsically humorous, nor is listening to someone try to process the horror of being incarcerated in a mental hospital (though that soliloquy was the highlight of the play). We both found it … overdesigned, or something – careful spotlights, overly polished music cues, a set that was 100% realistic and all built out. Where was the room for the imagination? That said, the character of the caretaker was utterly believable, and I found myself trying to figure out just what his childhood would have been like to have got him to this point … fantastically acted and obviously written to perfection. That said, I wasn’t compelled by the show, and figured I’d get just as much out of the second act if I’d bought the script and read it at home – I was emotionally checked out. And I didn’t get home until 11:45 to boot, which has, in respect, made me resentful. Give this one a pass.

(This review is for a performance that took place on April 11th, 2007. The review was written for a different blog.)