Posts Tagged ‘Dominic Rowan’

Review – Ah, Wilderness! – Young Vic

April 22, 2015

I’ve really warmed up to Eugene O’Neil since seeing his Long Day’s Journey Into Night at the Apollo some years ago. I’d previously thought of him as a writer of go America rah-rah schmaltz (based upon reading the script for Wilderness in high school, apparently), but now I see him as a modernist with a well-honed ability to create characters with real depth. Maybe that’s the secret to the great American dramatists of the 20th century – being born to families that were deeply, deeply messed up, providing them with rich source material to build their semi-fictions upon. However, there’s none of his usual grimness visible in this play, which is quite accurately described as his “warmest, most delightful play” (some slight references to alcoholism do NOT take it to the “dark undertow” stage). Instead, what you get is a family where the mom (Janie Dee) is absolutely devoted to and protective of her children – while being aware of their faults – and a father (Martin Marquez) who claims to be willing to wallop his offspring and yet chooses to give up the main advertiser for his paper rather than punish his son unjustly. How can _that_ be a dark world?

The Young Vic’s Ah, Wilderness is set in a clapboard house with sand spilling through every door into a pool on the stage, where Old Eugene (David Annen) watches his younger self relive his memories. Now, Old Eugene is not a character in the play – he’s used to read bits of description and to occasionally show emotion in response to things that happen – but he effectively adds layers of sadness and nostalgia to what happens, in this house that’s full of memories and near the beach, the ocean sand covering nearly everything a metaphor for all of the overlayers of years and passing time. Young Eugene – er, Richard Miller (George MacKay) – is a hysterically overemotional teenager who reminded me of nothing so much as a modern day Goth kid. Who’d think the trappings of rebellious, literate teenagerdom would be so exactly the same in 1906 as in 2015? He’s reading Oscar Wilde, talking about taking the rich away in tumbrils to the guillotine while waving around his copy of Carlyle’s French Revolution … all he needs to do is start carrying on about Morrisey and wearing eyeliner. My friend and I were practically in tears in the opening scene, as his family debates Richard’s tastes in literature while butchering one British word after another (I thought “gaol” was pronounced “gay-el” as well before I moved here) and an elder brother declares to all that Wilde’s great crime was bigamy. Oh God. When Essie Miller came in at the start of the scene complaining about her son’s “awful books” I would have never thought I’d have read all of them or that it would be the springboard for such a moment of shared literacy (and laughs) amongst the audience. (For details on his horrible books, this author did all the homework for me.)

For good comedy, not having everything be funny is key: and underneath this play is the pain of lost love, suffered temporarily by Richard and eternally by his uncle Sid Davis (Dominic Rowan), both of whom address their ills with alcohol. Sid’s bender with his brother in law leads to an uproarious dinner scene with Sid chewing on lobster shells and making fun of both his sister and her husband to great effect; but his funniness loses its edge when we realize he’s drunk himself into unemployment and out of a marriage both he and Lily (Susannah Wise – dad Miller’s sister) want. These four characters – the mother, the father, his sister, her brother – are all likeable and yet none of them perfect; on stage, their interactions speak of lives that have touched each other for ages before and will continue to be entwined into the future. They’re masterpieces of writing and absolutely pitch perfect on stage, each one of them, the actors inhabiting them as if they carry them around like their own skin when they walk out of the building.

In fact, the only real complain I could have about this show is that it’s a bit too happy. Nobody I know has an entire family familiar with Omar Khayyam and able to leap to the defense of an overreaching youth on an instant’s notice; running out of work, especially when you live in a small town (and have been run out of your work) is much more of a tragedy than this show plays it. And we all know that this is not his life he’s showing us, and somewhere bubbling under the giggles is the wretched truth brought out in Long Day’s Journey into Night. But this is the play that rewrites the facts of O’Neill’s life to find comedy and warmth; and there’s more than enough misery out there, in real life as well as on the stage, that I think it’s okay for us to take the opportunity Natalie Abrami has given us to sit back and enjoy ourselves for a while. Here, it’s the Fourth of July; put your rose-colored glasses on and join me on the moonlit beach and let’s watch the fireworks for a while and just live in the moment.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Monday, April 20th, 2015. It continues through May 23rd. I suggest sitting so that you’re slightly on the right side of teh stage – if you’re facing it – so you can see Sid’s face during the dinner scene. This play is an excellent value at £20 and a good night out at £35, with bonus value if you want to have a good laugh and walk out feeling like the world isn’t such a bad place after all.)

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Review – Keira Knightley’s “Misanthrope” – Comedy Theatre

December 12, 2009

Keira Knightley on the West End is one of the most hyped “event theater” moments of 2009, and it was with bated breath I went to see a preview (read: semi-affordable) of “The Misanthrope.” Now, Moliere is just brilliant; his witty couplets leave Fram bleeding by the wayside. I had high hopes for this new translation leading to a good night out. High hopes were very appropriate given my 2nd tier seats – according to the barman, the space had previously been used as storage, and God knows that in my many visits to the Comedy I’d never seen the stage from high up. Still, seated only one row ahead of the very last in the house, I had a generally unobstructed view of the stage, so there was only the quality of the acting to worry about and not “can I enjoy this with only 1/3 of the theater visible” as I’ve experienced on other occasions.

Actually, though, there was a wee matter of the script. Fortunately, it has been updated pretty well, with references to post-Modernism, deconstruction, Derrida, feminism, the media, and the transience of fame. The structure and feel of Moliere has been – well, not entirely preserved, but rather “paid homage” to, with lots of little couplet-y rhymes thrown in and a nice iambic meter causing the script to flow trippingly off the actors’ tongues (occasionally perhaps a bit too much so), and a few references to the Baroque thrown in to remind us all of its origins (though I doubt anyone in the audience besides me had a clue who Marais was, despite his music playing at nearly every scene change). I’d say it smelled like Moliere, which was more than enough – the story itself is very good and the script did not need to be slavish in order to feel right.

This Misanthrope is set in the media-frenzied now, with Alceste (Damian Lewis) an unappreciated playwright with a dedication to utter honesty in one’s relations with others. This causes his best friend (Dominic Rowan) a great deal of amusement as Alceste’s standards are completely undermined by his brainless affection for Jennifer (Keira Knightly), an American actress who lives for attention (and appears to have got most of it by her half-naked film appearances). Comedy turns are provided by the critic who seeks Alceste’s approval of his script and the feminist professor (Tara FitzGerald) who claims concern for Jennifer while seeking Alceste’s attention, but mostly the play is about a grumpy old humbug who wants to love someone for what he wants her to be and not for what she really is. It’s timeless, really, and I found Alceste’s self-righteousness just as recognizable today as it was 300 years ago.

Sadly the weakest cog in the machine was Knightley herself, who managed to get her accent right but failed to do the acting. Her “I love you, Alceste” was as limp as a dead goldfish floating in a tank, and when she wasn’t being coy or making fun of people, she just failed to hit the mark. I wasn’t sure to what extent the script was to blame for this – she’s not supposed to be very intelligent or deep – but I think the character really deserved more texture than she got. Jennifer is a bit of Legally Blonde‘s “Elle,” but with a lot more snark, and Knightley wasn’t managing to make the character believable, getting the dumb but not much else. Had she perhaps not had that much time to rehearse and get into the character – or was it her lack of stage experience showing? The weakness she showed in her confrontation scene with her former teacher (who really owned the stage during their catfight) was so notable that I’m convinced it was her own inexperience showing. Perhaps her performance will gel more over the course of the run.

Fortunately the rest of the performances and the show itself was more than enough to make up for a less that star powered turn by the lead female. The supporting cast was charming and sharp; the set was gorgeous; the costumes nicely done (especially in the over-the-top fancy dress ball at the end); and, well, the story was VERY funny. I would, in fact, consider this a perfect Friday night’s entertainment – chances are I’ll come back to watch from the floor – if I can get seats I can afford (I’d spend about 30). It’s practically a must that I sit somewhere else given that the squeaking of the seats in the back row caused me not to hear much of the dialogue of the first two scenes. While I got my twenty quid’s worth for my tickets, consider yourself warned.

(This review is for a preview performance that took place on Friday, December 11th, 2009, and it was about 2 1/4 hours straight through. Security is ridiculous and overbearing and offensive to normal theater goers, so consider yourself warned. The show continues through March 13th. My guess is that it will probably really be worth watching some time in January, so no rush. For an alternate view, I offer the wit and wisdom of the West End Whingers.)

Review – Under the Blue Sky – Duke of York’s Theatre

July 23, 2008

Last night I went with the WestEnd Whingers and crewe to see “Under the Blue Sky” at the Duke Of York’s theater.

Ostensibly this should segue right into a review of a show, but I have to pause and take a moment to praise the company. To go see a show with the Whingers means that, for once, I am surrounded by a crowd of people who can talk really intelligently about theater. By this, I don’t mean “namedrop famous actors/productions they’ve seen” (God only knows a lot of people think that constitutes clever conversation on the topic), and I also don’t mean “try to top each other in snarkiness” (because while they will baste and roast a turkey when they find one, it’s the underlying enthusiasm for the medium that makes the conversation even possible). No, I mean they can talk about other shows, new ones worth seeing, old ones worth remembering, connecting them to other plays and other works of art … letting me listen, learn and participate in great conversation in a company of my peers (and beyond). Sue, CitySlicker, Helen, Phil, Andrew, Graham, Paul (the GWTW Twitter man) … spending the evening with you is like a dream come true for me.

Anyway, I was naughty and didn’t read anything about the show before I went. Basically, it had Catherine Tate in it, whom I’ve had a good time watching on YouTube (even though it’s frequently been in car crash mode – it’s embarrassing but I can’t turn away), and, well, I was invited to go by people I wanted to hang out with, so I just went for it. The day of I realized I didn’t actually even know what theater it was in! And when I got there, I had a “bad theater experience” flashback (rather like the ones caused by Fram nowadays) right before the show started, as I remembered struggling through almost two hours (so it seemed) of the first act of Rock and Roll with seven cups of tea crying for a quick departure from my body. I finally leapt over four or five other audience members to make it to an exit door during a between-scene dark bit (and there were rather a lot of them) and spending the rest of the act watching the play through a bit of scratched-off paint on a window while the assistant director whispered to me a summary of the dialogue.

Er, so, back to the show. Uhhh …. well, it’s about teachers shagging teachers, and it’s kind of funny in bits, but touching in others (I cried during the last scene and felt just horribly manipulated, even though I liked it), and it plays straight through with no interval. I’d find it okay to recommend to people in general, in a great deal because it knows when to stop – it’s not a bad night out, really.

But. (I’m sorry, I just can’t stop myself, I have to say more.) The play is … incoherent. It has three scenes that don’t really seem to have anything to do with each other, even though the playwright has ensured that the characters in scene one are mentioned in the subsequent ones. The acting in the first scene is wooden – Chris O’Dowd’s first lines read to me as, “Hi! I’m acting in a play and these are the words I am supposed to say!” And while I don’t know what his accent was supposed to be, it seemed kind of … fluid. Lisa Dillon seemed to jump more readily into her character, but for both of them I found neither their words nor their actions made any sense. There was a sense to the situation … but not their responses to it or to each other. They seemed just like people who existed only as words written on a page. Only the writer can ultimately take the blame for this. (That said, huge kudos to the both of the actors for actually succeeding in making chile on stage during a show. I could smell each of the ingredients cooking in the pan from my second row seats and it smelled good.)

The second scene was the big blow out (well, in terms of “what the audience came to see”) with Catherine Tate and some actor that wasn’t Catherine Tate (in the minds of the audience – but seriously, it was Dominic Rowan, who gets brownie points for conjuring up tears on stage). This was a sort of sex farce scene that cracked me up because, er, the one teacher I know in the UK public school system is really as much of a ballbreaker as Catherine Tate’s character was and it all just seemed too likely to be true. That said … as she got meaner and the guy got weaselier/creepier … I found myself not liking either of them. In fact, I wanted terrible things to happen to both of them just to spice up the scene. (I thought this during the first act, too.) Since neither of them really managed to seem real, it just didn’t matter to me what happened to them. I laughed at the crude bits and thanked God that actual nudity was never involved as it would have been Too Much, and while something terrible did happen, I was happy about it.

The final scene was for me the best part of the play, even though the long speech in the middle was, once again, completely unrealistic and took me out of the “lost in the show” mindset (and made me firmly aware of being at a play). Actorially speaking, we had two powerhouses: Francesca Annis (whom I had not previously seen but who held the stage … I mean, she just had it) and Nigel Lindsay (who smoked the Almeida in Homecoming and was quite charismatic in a rather limp production of Awake And Sing at the same theater). Lindsay was brilliant, utterly unselfconscious, perfectly in character, completely believable – I hung off of every word that came out of his mouth. His body language, everything was perfect for the character he was portraying. (And who knows, maybe the playwright understood this language better than that of the other characters he was creating dialogue for.) Watching him interact with Annis was a pleasure for me. That said … when they said that another character was dead, my feeling was actually one of relief, that I wasn’t going to have to see the rest of the wooden characters brought back on stage for some sort of horrible resolution (a la any number of cheesy movies) after the interval, but just instead could walk out of the theater with the show wrapped and on a bit of an up note.

Anyway, my summary is that this show was flawed but, still, not a bad night out, and, in fact, I think most people who would enjoy it wouldn’t really care about the stuff that bothered me. For the folks who are super diehards: it’s not a bad way to spend a free night, but, you know, there are likely to be other options. Try Brief Encounter first if you still haven’t been – it’s still the best thing on right now.

(This review is for a preview performance that took place on July 22nd, 2008.)