Posts Tagged ‘Donmar Warehouse’

Review – The Recruiting Officer – Donmar Warehouse

February 21, 2012

As I walked into the Donmar Warehouse for The Recruiting Officer, I was amazed at what I saw: the theater was joyous inside! There were people lighting scores of candles and singing (and playing music) while they did so. It was like a party – soft golden candles, jolly music – had I gone into the wrong theater? No, same wooden floor, same shallow back, same crammed seats on the sides – it was certainly the Donmar I’ve formed a close relationship with over the years, only without the heavy overlay of gloom. What, was I not going to be getting a play about incest, obsession, and/or lies? I guess it just didn’t seem like the same old Donmar, but I was willing to give it a try.

As my reward, I got a positively jolly evening being walked through a classic play performed by a group of real pros who were entirely capable of making a 300 year old play come to life. Sure, some of the specifics have changed – recruiting officers don’t go into town stealing away the local labor force with a series of questionable promises now that they’re likely to get sued for breach of contract – but much of the underlying sentiments of loyalty to one’s gender and to one’s job over one’s affections seemed to hold true. I could see it being just as much a play set in Austen’s England, and, while it couldn’t really be done today (there’s not so much concern about finding a marriage partner with inheritable wealth, or the distinctions of behavior based on gender), the rules under which they were operating were laid out pretty clearly and then it became a bit of an anthropological study in the mentality of the time and how people sought to bend the barriers that constrain them in order to achieve their goals. And the goals are in high conflict (and high contrast): we have a woman and a man who want to get marriage proposals in from people they love (both flawed and undesirable in my eyes); then we had people (female and male) who sought to achieve social advantage over others. Finally, the recruiting officers seemed to have simple goals, which were, by hook or by crook, to get people to enlist in a volunteer army. This provided a far clearer picture of the times than poor old Bingo at the Young Vic: we had people who wanted to escape bad marriages, people who wanted money, people who didn’t want to fight at all but were clearly tricked, and people who had fantasies of a better future (aided in this case by a crooked fortune teller) that they thought would be theirs in the army.

Meanwhile the recruiting officers themselves came off as an immoral pack of crooks, willing to tell nearly every lie (to man and magistrate) to fill their ranks: I’m sure it was all exaggerated (and was certainly comic) but it all had an undertone of truthfulness that was chilling. Yet they created a compelling counter-drama to the typical “oh will this warring couple finally get over it and come together” as well as the “seen this before” trope of “woman dresses as a man and is completely unrecognized by all and sundry” that could have made this a cookie-cutter drama lost in the slop called “Restoration Comedy.” I had a darned good laugh at it all, especially Mark Gatiss’ foppish Mr Worthy (with audience interaction) and the sharp Nancy Carroll as Silvia (did her father really recommend she just “hook up” with an officer?). Tobias Menzies, however, came off most unsympathetically in the role of Captain Plume – not that he wasn’t a believable jerk but I couldn’t see why Silvia had any interest in him. And the first half of the play seemed a bit slow and I was drifting off just a bit while the officers were working their way through bamboozling the local underemployed. However, it all ended quite nicely, I enjoyed myself greatly, and I felt like the 15 quid I spent on my side view seat was rewarded with top performances. All this and I got to leave at 10:10? Well played, Josie O’Rourke, well played.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Thursday, February 16th, 2012. The show continues through April 14th.)

Review – Luise Miller – Donmar Warehouse

June 12, 2011

It’s hard to figure out how to write a one hundred percent spoiler free review for Luise Miller – the play is hardly a classic (despite being 250 years old) so almost anything I write is going to be a plot reveal (for those unfamiliar with Verdi’s version). I went into this play knowing absolutely nothing about it (other than a quick giveaway about it being 18th century and German). This is, actualy, how I like to experience my plays – totally at the mercy of the playwright and whatever ride he’s going to take me on, trying to see where his hints are (“This will all end in tragedy!” usually seems a pretty solid clue), trying to outguess his twists and turns via leaps of logic (“but if he’s in love with her, too, then he will probably ….”). This is much more of a hair-raising, visceral experience, and while I know there is much to be said for seeing a show you know inside and out so you can truly judge, say, the superiority of a performance or adequacy of a given translation, I say there’s nothing that beats getting that first night’s audience experience. This is one of the reasons I avoid reading most reviews before I go see a show: I really just don’t want to know the details, I just want to know if I should or shouldn’t go! And for those of you who want that kind of review from me, I think I can tell you just enough by saying the production reminds me of The Revenger’s Tragedy meets Sorrows of Young Werther via Dangerous Liaisons, that it’s a solid, middle of the road show that is not outstanding but still entertaining, and that it’s the plot that holds the show back from greatness as I cannot really buy into a show so driven by small-town, 18th century ethics for this play any more than I could for Faust. This is the end of the spoiler-free section of this review; if you were wanting to make up your mind based on the lightest touch of information needed to do so, you now have what you need. Scurry off as I am now about to get down to the meat of the review, and I shall be telling much more than I would have wanted to have heard before I went.

Alright, is this the rest of you, the ones who don’t mind knowing more about a show before you go? Or are you perhaps among those who sat through this tragedy of comic proportions and wanted to see if your experiences matched my own? Well, read on …

Luise Miller is about a young man of noble birth (Ferdinand, Max Bennett) in love with a young woman of low birth (Luise Miller, Felicity Jones) whom he meets while taking violin lessons from her father. The play starts with thick tragedy warnings from the start, made even more alarming once young Ferdinand appears on stage, in his officer’s uniform, with innocent, virtuous, highly religious Luise and promptly appears to be telling her every line of bull in the book about how he absolutely will find a way to make their relationship work. He was laying it on so thick I was expecting Luise to promptly dance herself to death and be brought back by the Queen of the Wilis. Three characters stand in their way: his father (The Chancellor, Ben Daniels), the neighbor in love with Luise (Wurm, appropriately enough, John Light), and the king’s mistress (Lady Milford, Alex Kingston), who wants to marry Ferdinand herself. Leaving still a bit of room for surprise, I’ll say the plot does have a few twists and turns, but ends in keeping with the early expectations, with an overblown, overacted death scene that hit all the buttons if you’re feeling spiteful about all of the sap on stage.

I had some serious problems with the script for this play. A huge gap exists between the people in the world of the court (the Chancellor, Lady Milford) and the world of Luise. On Luise’s side, religion and morality are of utmost importance; at the court, it’s power and getting what you want. And, unexpectedly, it’s the manipulative court people who actually are more interesting. I’m sure Schiller meant our sympathies to be with Luise and Ferdinand, and while I felt sorry for the way their beliefs and sense of honor were used to manipulate them, it didn’t change the fact that they came off as two dimensional. This was especially bad in the case of Bennett, who, as Ferdinand, had a wide range of emotions to cover – passion, happiness, rage, jealousy – and didn’t really seem up to the task (though he did have passion-inspiring shoulders). I wondered if it was just too far removed from his personal experience for him to “get” what he was acting. As for Jones, well, she was sweet, but in her confrontation with Lady Milford she moves beyond sugary into insightful and empathetic – giving Jones more chance to show dramatic range and winning me over as a character and an actress. Sadly, both of the young’uns were weak when they were meant to be crazy … but this was during the point when the religiosity was being cranked up to my breaking point anyway so I was checking out a bit and waiting for the God talk to be over. I’m sure, though, Schiller did NOT mean for me to be humorously indifferent to Luise and Ferdinand’s suffering …. but they did both really need to do some growing up.

Overall, this play was kind of typical of the gloom and doom style I’ve come to associate with the Donmar, but without the really brilliant script to make it all amazing. Still, I walked into the night feeling a sense of joy at having seen the destruction I’d anticipated all night wreaked so thoroughly at the end, and, given that it was just past 10PM as I headed out the door, it seemed like it had been a good evening, but one that definitely called for a bit of ice cream, so off to Scoop I went for a little bit of sweet and cold to end my evening perfectly satisfied.

(This review is for a preview performance that took place on Friday, June 10th, 2011. Luise Miller continues through July 30th.)

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.)

Review – Putnam County Spelling Bee – Donmar Warehouse

February 17, 2011

Unlike many, I went into the Donmar Warehouse’s production of the Putnam County Spelling Bee completely cold – I think I didn’t even know it was a musical, and I certainly hadn’t seen a previous production. Therefore, when, shortly before I was due to meet my very large group of fellow theatre die-hards at the pub, I got a message saying that there was audience participation to happen, and that if one wished to participate one must be at the stalls bar at the Donmar at 6:45, well, I’ll have you know I was all up for it. I mean, I remember the glory that was the Holiday Gameshow Spectacular back in Seattle, where I won the grand prize with my glamtastic rendition of “My Way” … could the magic happen again?

I did manage to get on the list, but, to eliminate any possible tension in this review, no, I did not make it on stage. Was the choice of people truly random? Somehow I think not, else why the photographs et cetera? Still, be aware that you, too, could be among the lucky four that spend 30 or so minutes (or less if you can’t spell well) on the stage of the Donmar, dancing, fending off the cast, and generally feeling unsure if Joseph’s Amazing Dreamcoat was in Technicolor or Technicolour (I suspect the correct spelling is whatever will result in your being kicked off stage).

The Donmar’s interior was done in a classic American school fashion, with school banners everywhere, Putnam County logo clothing on the front of house staff, rows of blue plastic seats in the stalls, and a basketball hoop hanging from the back of the stage. It was great to see and I’m pleased to report the cast held up their end of creating the illusion, with nary an English mispronunciation in sight. I’m embarassed to report I actually had a wave of nostalgia as we were all forced up to recite the Pledge of Allegience, though I was snickering that the pledge leader was having to recite the words in small sections for us to repeat as if we didn’t all know them already.

Our bee-ers were a motley collection of nerds: the pushy science master with the unfortunate nut allergy; the over-achieving Asian student who speaks six languages; the home-schooled kid with the strange clothes; last year’s winner, a boy scout with way too many badges; a girl whose parents were too busy to bother to come (this one hit a note with me). Of course the entire cast was played by adults, and, while I didn’t buy the kid-ness of the cast (I kind of wanted to mess with their clothing a little bit to make it look more naturalistic and less like Beryl the Peril), their various responses to what was going on and the event they were participating in were appropriately child-like without being nauseating. I loved their (pretend) raw enthusiasm as they jumped around singing about how exciting it all was – it was just so much more fun than many different versions I’ve seen of this same excitement.

Shortly after the beginning, four schmucks were picked from the audience to fill out the ranks of the spelling bee participants. For us, we got a woman in her 20s, one in her late 30s, a cute tall guy in his early 20s (apparently one of the crew I was there with although we hadn’t met before), and a man in his 60s. I am pretty sure they are very controlled about who stays on and who goes off, and though I wrote down the words as they were spelled (it was fun to see how good my spelling was 🙂 ), I think they make sure that you leave when the story dictates you will. So if you are number one to be picked, you’re just going to leave as soon as you are called – take your juice box and walk away with dignity, knowing many other people wished just to make it as far as you did. It’s rather a nice metaphor for a real spelling bee, I think.

While I admired this show’s brisk pace and running time (hurray for 9PM exits), the music wasn’t outstanding and the emotional content was thin. That said, I did get some laughs, and it was certainly more engaging than Ordinary Days or Frankenstein, both of which had similar running times. I also had fun comparing my spelling of the words as the show went along (easy enough with my little notebook already there) and liked the jokes they made by mispronouncing words and giving comic examples of their use in daily speech. I’d say overall it’s an amusing post-work evening, certainly worth the £10 I spent for it, but nothing to cry over if you can’t get a ticket.

(This review is for a preview performance that took place on Tuesday, February 15th, 2011. It runs through April 2nd. Sample words for the geeks among you: elanguescence, flagellate, cuniculus, strabismus, capybara, telepathy, cystitis, mammilaria, boanthropy, xerophthalmia, titup, hausehole, chimerical, omphaloskepsis, phylactery and weltanschauung. For those of you who prefer your reviews spoiler-free, the Whingers have reviewed this same night’s performance – fair enough as they’re the ones who arranged my ticket!)

Review – Passion – Donmar Warehouse

September 12, 2010

Let’s start out by saying I’m no Sondheim fanatic. In fact, until two years ago, I did not care for him at all based on the two versions of Into the Woods I’d seen. However, A Little Night Music (at the Menier) gave me an inkling that there might be more to him that first met the ear, and Company convinced me there was. And, well, apparently everyone likes him, so perhaps this was a late arrival for me. I thus jumped on the chance to see an early performance of Passion at the Donmar Warehouse. As usual, I did nothing to inform myself before the show so I could take it in raw: I only knew that it would be one hour and forty minutes with no interval (and thus, to me, a perfect post-work show).

Passion is a decidedly weird show. At first I thought it was about frustrated lovers, and thought there might be an early suicide (in the traditional “passion is bad” style of the era it was set in, seemingly any time from 1810-1890); then I thought we might have a true love tale; then I thought it was all going to go very, I don’t know, stalkery, kinda The Woman in Black meets Fatal Attraction, but it managed to completely elude all of my guesses and become none of these things whatsoever. There was a soldier (Giorgio, David Thaxton), and a girl (Clara, a very nubile Scarlett Strallen in fluffy wigs), then a bunch of soldiers and (to spice it up) another girl (Fosca, Elena Roger), a sickly one who starts the play off screaming from her distant room like the wife in Jane Eyre. As we’re feeling sorry for the soldier separated from his girlfriend and hostile to the clingy, freaky sick girl, suddenly it comes out that Clara is actually a married woman, and suddenly Giorgio’s relationship with her seems a little … bizarre. What was it built on, really?

I could go on about the plot, which made no sense to me, but I’d rather get to the point and say I did not care for this show. There was singing, but there was little in the way of memorable music of any sort. Despite her intense and hair-raising performance, I was disturbed by Elena Roger’s intense Piaf-isms; I kept expecting her to launch into “La Vie en Rose” (and I had never seen Piaf so I was going purely based on her voice and not the memory of what she’d done before, but the sound is, to me, that of a particular person, and NOT the sound of a character in a Sondheim show). Strallen and Thaxton executed nicely, but their performances could not paste over holes in the plot so wide a ski jump could not have helped them bridge the gap.

But you know what could have? A really excellent song or two. And today I saw another musical, of an older vintage (1968 vs 1994), which convinced me in a song about making a cup of tea that a society artist had fallen in love with an ignorant widow. It doesn’t matter that I saw a preview (and spent 20 minutes wondering if the actors were going to slip on spaghetti or 10 minutes earlier wondering if anyone was ever going to shut that damned door upstage); I just don’t think Passion is all that good. I’m sure the run will be sold out all the way through and people will convince themselves that they saw a great show; meanwhile, I’ll be looking eagerly forward to the Union Theatre’s revival of Bells Are Ringing at the end of the month.

(This review is for a preview performance that took place on Friday, September 10th. The show runs through November 27th and is already sold out. I’ve got a ticket for a show November 10th: if you’re really dying to see it, make me an offer. Meanwhile Paul In London’s review is so opposed to mine I feel it worth pointing out in a point/counterpoint kind of way. Truth be told, Elena Roger did really own the role of Fosca, but I still hated the show.)

2010 Olivier Awards – did they deserve it?

March 22, 2010

Reviewing the final list of winners for the 2010 Olivier awards, I had to ask myself: did they deserve it? Aside from Spring Awakening, I did manage to see pretty much every show that got a nod (well, a major nod – Hello Dolly also slipped through my fingers due to being staged outdoors). So, first, a look at the shows that won minor awards (each linked to my original review).

PRISCILLA, QUEEN OF THE DESERT – THE MUSICAL: Best Costume Design I have continued to be mystified by the popularity of this thin on the ground musical. But one thing I wouldn’t deny: it’s got great costumes. In fact, that was about the only think I really liked about the show.

The Brandstrup-Rojo project’s GOLDBERG: Best New Dance Production I disagree with this. The production was nice but the output sterile. I’m sure there was something better out there that was overlooked. Did Birmingham Royal Ballet’s E=MC2 just not count? They did it in London, too …

Royal Court for COCK at the Jerwood Theatre Upstairs: Outstanding Achievement in an Affiliate Theatre Well, this show was my pick for best of the year, so I’d say: yeah, damned right it was an outstanding achievement. Or perhaps “upstanding” would be more appropriate.

So – this leaves the shows that were up for the major awards. Only one thing surprised me: CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF: Best Revival I thought this cat was a dog. Did the performances improve tremendously after the time I saw it? I sure hope so.

Meanwhile, there’s no doubt that JERUSALEM deserved its best actor award for Mark Rylance (though I don’t think it really hit Best Set Design – was the competition slim, or did the live chicken make the difference?). I, however, just never really “got” this play, much as I wasn’t able to quite buy Rachel Weisz (Best Actress, A Streetcar Named Desire at the Donmar Warehouse) as Blanche DuBois. Not that she was bad, mind you, but Ruth Wilson (Best Actress in a Supporting Role, same show) inhabited her role with seamless perfection.

So we’re left with the top new play of the year. I actively go see new plays, so this is a category that matters to me. And Enron (Best Director: Rupert Goold), well, it had good direction, but it wasn’t a story for all time. And … I hate to say it … but … Jerusalem … it may be where England is here and now, but it didn’t move me. Me? I’ve been to THE MOUNTAINTOP (Best New Play), and I saw the promised land, a land where artists lose themselves completely in their roles, where I learn more about the world, where I walk out with my skin shivering with excitement. Hats off to you, Katori Hall, for making theatrical magic happen: you really deserved it.

Review – A Streetcar Named Desire – Donmar Warehouse

August 27, 2009

Coming out of Hamlet, I was feeling pretty chary about going to A Streetcar Named Desire. Woo woo, another celeb driven classic that should have been revived simply based on its own merits and not because some screen star felt like spending his/her time slumming on the stage. I had been really excited about getting tickets to it (mostly thanks to the West End Whingers’ review), but this had all trickled away by the time the actual day rolled around. And, well, I had a cold (which I still have, three days later), and I actually tried to return the tickets, but the Donmar wouldn’t accept them as we actually had the paper tickets in our hands and couldn’t get them in theirs without trudging into town. So we trudged, bringing lots of cough drops and hoping we didn’t irritate the other patrons too much.

In retrospect, I’m glad they wouldn’t accept my tickets over the phone, as this was really a spectacular presentation of what I’m now convinced is one of the best plays of the 20th century – a play that far surpasses its silver screen version. Sure, the movie is an hour shorter, but the stuff that’s packed into that hour, which we get to see on stage, is really amazing. Tennessee Williams convinced us that these people existed – Stella (Ruth Wilson, incredibly superior to the film’s Stella), making a life for herself with the cards she was dealt, and succeeding at it far better than her sister; Stanley (Elliot Cowan), a violent bully who’s also loving and protective; Mitch (Barnaby Kay), a man who wants love in the form of someone who appeals to his better nature; and Blanche (Rachel Weisz), who’s pretentious and a liar but still trying to get through a life that seems headed downhill in a way that won’t leave her utterly broken. After the show we wound up debating what their pasts were like and what their futures were likely to be – meaning we’d accepted them as real people. Now that is some damned fine writing.

It has to be said that the presentation of this show did much to make it feel so real. J, who’s a big burnout due to getting a theatrical MFA and having spent most of his 20s in the theater, actually gasped when he walked in and saw the Donmar had been entirely transformed into the French Quarter, complete with replacement lacy ironwork surrounding the upper floor of the theater instead of the normal workaday iron bars. (This made us feel like we were spectators for a bunch of family fights in our neighborhood, quite appropriate given how close these folks lived together.) The set captured nicely both the airiness of the French Quarter and the very much run-down nature of life there pre-gentrification – a gorgeous spiral staircase wound up almost three stories but still, it was just two crappy two roomed apartments piled on top of each other – beauty, rot and claustrophobia all right there.

While the focus of the show (and my review) could easily be on Ms. Rachel Weisz as Blanche (she was, after all, on stage for pretty much every minute of the show), I wasn’t so amazed by her performance – it was good but I don’t think defined the role in the way I was hoping for. (She was too shrill at times and just a touch too young for the role.) However, the supporting cast was so generally outstanding that I’d like to pay them tribute. My favorite was Ruth Wilson as Blanche’s sister, Stella. This role was pretty much a cipher in the movie – a pregnant woman married to an abusive husband. But in this play, it was clear she was also a woman who’d given up a glorious past and let herself go with her passionate side – yet wound up in a much better place than Blanche, because she’d turned her back on it and never looked back. Ruth (as Stella) was really convincingly in love with Stanley and made the strain she felt being pulled between her husband and her sister very visible. She also had a bit of the look of someone who used to get all dressed up and know what proper manners were supposed to be. What was amazing was how she and Elliot Cowan were really able to carry off the dynamic of two people who were both intensely sexually attracted to each other but also could fight violently – then pull through the anger and make up to each other, all the while showing how close they were to each other – this was a vision of life in America that had so much truth to it I couldn’t believe it had ever really been portrayed as well on the stage before or since. God knows Carousel didn’t manage it.

While this may not be the Streetcar of a lifetime, still, it was vibrant and alive and worth dragging myself off my sickbed to see. And, I’m pleased to say, we didn’t wind up coughing our way through it, and even though we were stuck way off on the sides we could still see it pretty darned well. If you haven’t got tickets, well, time to hope this show gets transferred – though to be honest I don’t think you’ll ever capture that famous Donmar intimacy (and the effect this has on you as an audience member) anywhere else. Recommended.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Tuesday, August 25th. It continues through October 3rd. The Donmar releases standing room tickets for every performance, and this is worth standing through. Else, please see my tips on getting tickets for sold out shows.)

Doing the impossible: finding tickets for the Donmar’s “Hamlet” (with Jude Law)

August 17, 2009

You know, you go back to the Donmar West End‘s ticket site and over and over see “Hamlet is now sold out” and you call the theater and they say, “Oh NOES we has no tickets, please go wait in line in front of the theater with the other losers for a chance at standing through the show” (after standing in line for eight hours) and then you realize that YES you have magic and you say, “I shall call and see if I can get just a single ticket for the very last Wednesday matinee as I am free that day” and the lovely lady goes ahead and looks for you (as you have urged her to do) and LO there is not a sold out show in London that I have not been able to get tickets for yet and I shall see my cinematic idol performing the works of the bard before it goes to Broadway and for the mere price of £25 quid. And sitting down to book. Lo, truly, I am magic!

(Note: I’m pleased to see that they are actually going to make an effort, in the Donmar style, to keep this Hamlet affordable when it makes it to the other side of the pond. Pere Telecharge, regular price for evening tickets for this show in New York on a weekend is $251.50; weekend matinees are $226.50; otherwise it’s $116.50 and then the $25 tickets. I admit that part of the reason I am seeing it here, now, is because I am saving so much money over what I would be if I were seeing it in New York. That said, people who shop now for this show can get $25 tickets in the upper mezzanine; good on the Donmar for making an effort to actually let normal people enjoy theater instead of it just being a treat for the fat cats!)

1. Be flexible about the date you can go and number of tickets you need.
2. Call the house and keep checking on availability.
3. On the day of, it may pay to check several times a day, especially as it gets toward the end of the day.
4. Wheedle with the ticket staff to check.
5. Ask if there’s a waiting list and ask to be put on it.
6. Show up night of and get in line.
7. If you’re in line, have cash in your hand (and be ready to pay it out for the top priced ticket)
8. See someone looking like they’re going to sell a ticket and you’re in line? See if you can make eye contact with them and get them to just sell it to you, but be sure that if you do this, you’re buying a real ticket. You’ll make everyone else in line hate you if you effectively queue jump them, but hey, it’s a tough life and you’ll never see them again.
9. Matinees are magic because there are always less people looking to see those shows.

(Hamlet runs at Wyndham’s through 22nd August 2009, after which it moves to the Broadhurst Theatre in New York, from September 12th through December 6th. $25 tickets are available now, so don’t hesitate to buy if you’re hoping to see this on the cheap!)

Streetcar? Sold out? You CAN depend on the kindness of strangers …

July 30, 2009

The reviews for the Rachel Weisz / Donmar A Streetcar Named Desire are coming in, and generally speaking they are VERY enthusiastic. What are you to do, though, when the Donmar’s been saying for a month it’s sold out? Well, if you’re me, you keep checking (click the book tickets link and then look for dates marked “limited availability”). It appears that most of the seats that are open are far side seats (per this map, the 1s and 2s, 41s and 42s on the main floor and 2s, 3s, 44s, and 45s upstairs), but, you know, whatever, even though the view is blocked to some extent on the sides, since it’s the Donmar, the prices aren’t outrageous (£25-£15 for what’s available), so you should still be able to get good value on your money.

At any rate, these seats appear to have just opened today, so if you don’t want to just wait for standing day seats, I’d advise you to jump on them now!

Review – A Doll’s House – Donmar Warehouse

June 23, 2009

Just when you think social media is just a bunch of garbage, you get a tweet from the Donmar Warehouse letting you know that a show you failed to book before it sold out (two months before it opened) has had some seats released. SWEET! And that is how I managed to make it to A Doll’s House last night. I feel like a fool that I wasn’t able to commit to £15 tickets much earlier than I did, but after reading the West End Whinger’s review, I realized I’d made a mistake I was likely to regret for a long time and needed to remedy it – yet without stooping to day standing seats (a sure recipe for three days of aching feet). Saved by Twitter – who’da thunk it?

Because this show is so very sold out (though it’s running for three more weeks), there seems little point in providing an extensive review. I loved that the new version (by Zinnie Harris) is set in England with politicians instead of in Norway with bankers; the painful freshness of being dragged through the papers for some pecadillo and just what you could expect to happen to your reputation if you were accused of fraud added a lot of energy to the text and, I think, led to far more laughs (and tensions) that you often get with Ibsen. And it sharply emphasized the shortcomings of David Hare’s Gesthemane – politicians can make for interesting plays, but the focus needs to be on human relations and timeless concerns, not on some flash-in-the-pan scandal everyone will have forgotten in two months. Of course, Ibsen is a master of social ties, and creates characters who are so real you can pretty well imagine what they were doing before the play started and even twenty years later – not really Hare’s forte but one which makes the question of how will Nora’s husband respond? a matter of vital importance to the theatrical audience. This is expecially impressive given that, well, I knew exactly how he would respond … and it still hurt to see it. Ouch!

Gillian Andersen (Nora) was gorgeous and a bit fluffy as Nora -for some reason, it seemed to me that she had a bit of Marilyn Monroe in her portrayal. She was, however, absolutely convincing as a woman whose husband was vitally sexually interested in her and as someone who could have lived the coddled life she’d had quite happily for a decade. Toby Stephens “Thomas,” Nora’s husband, I couldn’t help but call him Torvald when discussing the play later) had a bit of work trying to portray someone who’s an unbelievable prig and rather unsympathetic … but he generally handled the twists and turns (of self-deception) well, and actually managed to be completely pathetic at the end. And, gosh, Tara Fitzgerald (Nora’s friend Christine Lyle) and Christopher Eccleston (Kelmer) actually made what I thought was a throwaway plot point when I read the script ages ago seem extremely vital (I kind of want to re-read it to see how Ibsen had originally developed it – and surely Christine wasn’t such a socialist?). Actually, the cast was just really good, as was the show – which means – maybe you ought to break down and go for the day seats, and as for me, I think I’m going to gloat a bit for getting to see this gorgeous show in this lovely, intimate space. Yay Team Donmar!

(This review is for a performance that took place on June 22nd, 2009. A Doll’s House continues through July 18th at the Donmar.