Posts Tagged ‘Ding Dong the Wicked’

Mini-review – The River – Royal Court Theater

December 30, 2012

There’s no doubt in my mind that for theater fanatics in London, The River was the event of the year: a new play by one of the writers with the biggest buzz in the biz, yet staged in a theater that only holds about 90 people, and with tickets only for sale on the day (20 for in-person buyers and the rest online). Me and my theater loving acquaintances were not pleased. Many of us saw it as a publicity stunt; most of us doubted the play could really only be successful in a small space (was Butterworth really being that much of a princess?); some spent months planning their schemes to ensure they could get a ticket (I’ll admit the day of scheme took care of most scalping possibilities) while many of us just figured it wasn’t going to happen. I, personally, saw this as the lynchpin in letting my membership of the Royal Court lapse despite generally enjoying the work done there. What was the point in supporting a theater that would leave me, as a member, completely out in the cold? I was so disappointed by the whole thing I put it entirely out of my mind as something that just wasn’t going to happen.

Months went by, the show opened, and exactly twice early on I was at my computer at the right time and actually saw the “for sale” button lit up on the Royal Court’s ticket page. But somehow I just couldn’t be quick enough. A few people I knew went and said it was good; the reviews came out and agreed; I gave up because I hadn’t left every day of the run open in the hope that one of those days I would buy tickets and just got on with my life.

And then, well, a friend of mine said he had a tip about how to work the computer system to get to the tickets about 10 seconds faster than anyone else, and on the last Thursday of the run I managed to have an afternoon free and have my act together enough to be right there, online, perfectly at the moment I needed to to have my sweet little booking scam ready to go (one of the tips being to make sure you were already logged in). Bang bang, I was off to a matinee of the show I thought I was never going to get to see! I could finally decide for myself if a one act play was really worth the hype.

Embarrassingly (given what a grinch I was about the whole thing), without the poison of the ticketing system hanging over me, there is no way I can deny that this was anything but an excellently written play, beautifully performed. I found the writing left me with more questions that it answered, one of my favorite situations to be left at at the end of the play. The Hemingway-like dialogue was very intense and paired nicely with Ted Hughes poetry (and of course the fishing setting, and the general hypermasculinity of the play and its lead character), but what I wanted to know was: did someone die here? Was it one of the women? Did he push her in the river (and why), or did she fall? The echoing nature of the play just made it all seem so possible, and seem so very likely that the way the two women interchanged with each other was because one was a ghost. What Butterworth couldn’t teach Conor McPherson about how to write a spooky play! But then, I wondered … was the guy just living with his memories? Or was he maybe, as he said his grandfather did, reliving the same behavior patterns with different people, stuck in a loop he could never break out of?

The play ended, leaving me surprised and exhilarated. None of my theories could be proven, but it had all seemed very real and was enlessly watchable (and an amusing counterpoint to the similarly structured Ding Dong The Wicked, which I saw barely a month before). British playwrights, Jez spanks you: watch and learn at the feet of the master.

(This very belated review is for a performance seen on Thursday, November 15th, 2012. Since the play is long closed, I didn’t worry about spoilering it. Thanks to Andy for helping me get in.)

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Review – Ding Dong the Wicked – Royal Court

October 4, 2012

Who isn’t up for a little bit of structural fun in a play, especially when it’s NEW WRITING and TWENTY MINUTES LONG and by an awesome playwright and TEN QUID? Well, not me, anyway, so when my Italian class got cancelled at the last minute I suddenly found myself with a window of opportunity to run to the Royal Court to see Caryl Churchill’s new playlet, Ding Dong the Wicked. The schedule for it is quite bizarre, with most showings at 6:30, but since you’re done at 7 this means you can fit in another show if you’re quick off the mark (and, say, heading to the National or maybe seeing a 7:45 show).

As a play, the story, such as it exists, is that people are gathering together before sending someone off to war. The country appears to be some nationalistic place; the people against which they are fighting is unspecified. Given some vague hints (in the title), I had this feeling that the Munchkins had invaded and the person being kept prisoner upstairs was the Wicked Witch of the West. But at no point was anything said along these lines; you never know who the protagonists are at war with, or what, if anything, the title is referring to.

What is fun about this play (and makes it well worth a visit) is its structure: as a play, it unspools like a villanelle (here’s a nice example by Auden, this Plath one is also excellent). The two halves of the play seem to nearly entirely reuse all of the dialogue of the first half; but the speakers are changed and even the phrases are broken up, so in one the words of a woman talking about being bullied as a child change to two people’s words, out of sequence, about abusing someone and hating a certain kind of skinny woman. I relished seeing how the meanings of the exact same sentences bent and flowed depending on who said them to whom and in what order – it was really just a lot of fun. Still it was a bit mentally exhausting, and in the end I was glad the play was short enough that I didn’t have to break myself trying to make all of the connections.

Still … for a hardcore theater goer, this was well worth the trip to Royal Court, and made me want to see more of Caryl Churchill … or, perhaps, to read it.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Tuesday, October 2nd, 2012. The play continues through October 13th.)