Posts Tagged ‘David Greig’

Review – The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart – Royal Court/National Theatre of Scotland at the Welsh Center

July 30, 2013

Rarely have I left a theater full of the sense of elation I felt at the end of The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart. It all seemed so unlikely: after the catastrophe of Fram the chances of getting me inside a theater for a verse play (rhyming couplets no less) were hovering below zero. But the word on the street was that the show actually worked (and, in fact, was good) – the text and the unusual location (inside the pub at the top of the Welsh Center) blending together and reinforcing each other. By the time I’d decided I should go, it was almost too late – but Royal Court $10 Mondays are still in effect and I managed to snag a day-of seat. And for a bargain hunter like me it was a complete bonanza, as everyone is offered a free shot of whiskey AND free sandwiches in the venue! I was sold before it even started. Whee!

The concept of this play is that there is a female academic studying ballads (Prudencia Hart, Melody Grove) who gets snowed in while visiting Kelso for a conference. She winds up not just stuck with her most irritating colleague, but locked in a pub where a bad folk night somehow transitions into a nightmarish karaoke evening, celebrating the shortest night of the year. And then ….

Well, somehow, with this fairly plebeian setting, you wouldn’t expect this story to make the transition to High Ballad Fairy Tale very well, but because of the use of the couplets all the way through (until the interval), I was already in a mindset of heightened reality – rules were being broken and, well, _things_ were possible, especially after the shock of the blackout. And, may I mention, the lighting design for this show was REALLY good – flashlights, candles, and normal florescents all combined to create a very magical atmosphere. (That said I had some problems with the sound design and lost about 20% of the words – something about people ten feet away speaking with their backs to me while a stand fan roared behind me was not working. I actually checked the script at one point during the play to figure out something I’d missed. That’s not good.)

At the end of the show we were cheering and singing and, even if we’d been encouraged by the cast, well, I was completely into it. I’d just been on, not an undoing, but an amazing journey with one Miss Prudencia Hart, and there was a lot to be happy about (including the fantastic music, much thanks to Annie Grace’s talents, including her lovely voice). And YOU might cheer because 1) as it’s cooled outside, the pub is much more pleasant and 2) although it’s sold out, there will a final series of shows in Peckham from August 5th through 9th.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Monday, July 29th at 8 PM. Its final date at the Welsh Center is August 3rd. And boo to the Royal Court for merely listing the actors as “cast” – there isn’t even any photos on the website to help me, so I wasn’t able to credit even one of the men who performed in this show.)

Review – Dunsinane – Royal Shakespeare Company at Hampstead Theatre

March 7, 2010

Dunsinane, presented by the Royal Shakespeare Company at the Hampstead Theatre, had all of the benefits a good budget and well-trained company can bring to the stage with all of the risks of a new script. In this case, the risk was somewhat mitigated by a fairly established playwright (David Greig) working within the context of some extremely well-known Shakespeare (Macbeth); the question than became, could it live up to its source of inspiration? Might it even be another Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead?

What it managed to be was competent and yet uninspiring, a good window into Scottish culture with a nice tie-in to current issues that had occasionally beautiful language. First to appear of the main characters was “The Boy Soldier” (usually called “Boy,” played Sam Swann), who got most of the poetical text (frequently describing the landscape of Scotland) and seemed like he might have come out of Black Watch or some other play set in a modern war – basically an innocent providing a grunts-eye view of conflict. This character was the most unlike anything in the Shakespeare, as instead of operating in the world of royalty and commanders he was stuck in the mud, as far from master of his destiny as one could be. Another new character was “Gruach” (Siobhan Redmond) – well, actually, she was meant to be Lady Macbeth but was completely unlike the character of the first play. She was far more regal and, in my opinion, far more Scottish; less hateful, more nuanced, and more believable, if still ultimately Machiavellian. Redmond played her wearing the world’s worst wig and a dress straight out of a Millais painting, but still was convincing – mostly. At times she sounded heavy and forced, as if she was reading from a ballad.

Most interesting of the characters was red-headed King Malcolm (Brian Ferguson), who was a king unlike any other I’ve seen on stage; seriously concerned with staying in power, weak but thoroughly aware of the cultural milieu in which he was placed and attempting very actively to make the best of it – through wine and wenching. His explanation of his theory of rule was highly unique. I found him reminding me of the Shah of Iran – placed in power from the outside but very interested in keeping control.

Finally, we have Siward (Jonny Phillips), the commander who “just wants to make things right.” He has all of the power Malcolm wants, but no desire to rule; he wants to make Scotland a peaceful country, but because he’s utterly ignorant of Scottish history and culture, he will not be able to succeed. To me, he really seemed to represent the US ambitions in Iraq – dreaming of making a better world for its own sake, but wrecking the country, the people, and himself.

Despite these strong characters and the high degree of competence with which all roles were performed, Dunsinane never managed to get anywhere near the level of a Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, or even a Crucible. Ultimately, I think it will be a bit of a historical curiosity, but unlikely to be revived other than by high schools or Shakespearean societies, and without the top-drawer talent RSC was able to provide, its weak bones will show themselves all too clearly.

(Dusinane ended its run at the Hampstead Theatre on March 6th, 2010. This review is for a performance that took place on Friday, March 5th. For another tardy review, see SansTaste.