Posts Tagged ‘donmar’

Mini-review – Henry IV (parts I and II) – Phyllida Lloyd at Donmar Warehouse

November 7, 2014

What happens when a New Year’s resolution clashes with an overwhelming desire to, well, break it so as to get an outstanding artistic experience? This was the conundrum I faced when I realized the Donmar had brought back Phyllida Lloyd to do another Shakespeare – I’d turned down so many shows based on my resolution to see no plays I’d already seen this year, was I going to break it just because I liked the director? It hadn’t been enough for Enemy of the People or the supposedly outstanding View from the Bridge or even the Simon Russell Beale King Lear. But then a solution presented itself: it appeared I had not actually seen this play before, at least not on a stage. Ha HAH! And with a £10 seat happily secured, I made my way to the Donmar guilt free.

Now be warned: you won’t be allowed in the Donmar at the typical entrance until 15 minutes before show time; ticket collection and general milling pre-show all happens across the street. We’re all sent over en masse as if we’re being transported between prisons: or so I assume because I showed up about 5 minutes beforehand so missed most of the sturm und drang and just followed the blue or yellow line to my appropriate seating area, only I stopped paying attention to what the “guard” said as I was looking for the toilet and promptly went into the wrong seating area. So much for us being under lock and key. Frankly, after 7 years of getting the “immigrant special” treatment from UKBA, I found this all very soft touch. It was interesting seeing the inside of the Donmar all lit up with fluorescents and, yes, it did look very industrial, but this really wasn’t hitting the immersive theater level of experience for me.

And … on with the play. Although I hadn’t seen it before, I had very recently read John Julius Norwich’s Shakespeare’s Kings, so I was on top of the plot as well as the historical truth underneath the story (or occasionally warring with the play): the genuine problem Henry IV (Harriet Walter) was having with rebellions, the fictitious nature of Falstaff, the gross exaggerations of “Hal’s” behavior. The core of the story was a section of comedy, about Prince Hal and Falstaff getting up to tricks, and the ongoing murderous soon to be civil war, with Shakespeare’s overarching narrative of the illegality of Henry IV’s assumption of the throne (nicely told in Richard II).

This time, however, Phyllida Lloyd’s treatment did not hit the kind of emotional heights her Julius Caesar did. The “we’re really in a jail, look, see?” bits seemed forced (the greatest one being when Falstaff tells off the female barkeep), the emotional underpinnings of both the relationship between Hal and Falstaff and the relationship between Hal and his father – these things should have moved me, but they didn’t. I was watching actors playing inmates, but mostly playing characters in a Shakespearean play. The most effective elements were the battle prep and then battle scenes, done as appropriate for women in a prison – a lot of weightlifting, some very effective chin ups, and then for the battle between Hotspur and Harry, a nice boxing ring smash-up that seemed entirely perfect and much more potent in a jail setting.

But, well, that really just makes it a gimmick, don’t you think? Caesar hurt because the actresses were women struggling to make something of their lives behind bars and finding refuge in the bigness of this story; Henry IV was just a play set in a prison. Ah well. It was a fine show and a very good value for £10 but not earthshattering; but at least I’ve finally seen this play.

(This review is for a performance that took place on November 3, 2014. It continues through November 29th.)

Mini-review – Trelawney of the Wells – Donmar Theater

February 20, 2013

Ah! The promise of the Donmar’s production of Trelawney of the Wells! A late Victorian comedy, by the well-known Arthur Wing Pinero (whose The Magistrate had me rolling in the aisles), that was billed as a love letter to theater!

It’s hard to express, in as many words as would get the feeling across, how unbearably dull this entire evening was. Too much of actors hamming it up (actors playing actors, my God, I could be forever put off the idea after this and Kiss Me Kate), too much of actors rehearsing a play, too much obvious plot twists, and not nearly enough funny. I was unenthusiastic in the opening scene in the back stage of the Wells theater, for Trelawney’s going-away dinner; I had a few laughs during the scene in which she attempted to enter normal society (“Stop your crying! Save your tears for the bedroom! This is WHIST!”), but come the interval I was wondering how I was going to get through to the end of the show (and finding the answer at the bar). Trelawney’s second act conversion from successful comedienne to starving artiste didn’t touch me at all; and I felt disassociated from the entire show and impatient for it to end.

And it did. As a comedy, it had a happy ending. As an audience member, I had the thrill of getting out the door at 10, which wasn’t quite as good as the thrill of not having bought tickets to this would have been, but so it goes.

(This review is for a performance that took place on February 19th, 2013. The show is booking through April 13th.)

Mini-review – Julius Caesar – Donmar Warehouse

December 6, 2012

This has been the year for Shakespearean double vision. Not content to see Henry V, Winter’s Tale, and Julius Caesar once this year, I’ve been forced by outstanding casting, adventurous producing companies, or unusual interpretations (a musical?) to see them all twice. But none of these rewind shows has excited me as much as the all-female Caesar presented by the Donmar this winter. Though I love Propeller Theater and the Globe’s Twelfth Night pleased, I was mesmerized by the idea of women driving this most masculine of Shakespearean dramas. And what a counterbalance to all of the “traditional” all-male shows. Phyllida Lloyd, bring it!

In practice, the show delivered. The setting, a prison, prepared us with a sentiment of why the show was happening as performed; but quickly the novelty of women kissing and being brutal to each other disappeared into the solidity of the text, with only the occasional clumping of the guards overhead to remind us of where we really were: a place ruled by honor, violence, and power. Caesar convinced with both arrogance and superstition; Marc Antony was righteously wrong and a deliciously duplicitous self-claimed non-orator; Brutus was noble, heartbreaking and heart broken.

Small, apt touches punctuated the fiercesome tide of the text: the sad, weak seer, with her babydoll and pig tails; the inmates gathering to watch TV; the single snare drum pop with which Caesar, her ghost miraculously appearing amidst a percussion kit, marks the death of Brutus. And then towering above it all, the amazing battle scene as loud rock breaks out and the band is wheeled across the field (er, the floor of the prison), all pain and noise and flickering light and chaos, like War Pigs in the theater. It’s not glory, boys, it’s death and destruction, and it may just be we chose the wrong side.

And then it’s time to go back in our cells, and the night’s over, and I thought, “Fuck yeah, Shakespeare meets Black Sabbath,” and, “Why aren’t there some better plays out there about what life is really like in prison,” and, finally, “Yep, it rocked.” And I realized that I totally forgot who was playing what a long time ago. That, to me, is a sign of some damned good theater.

(This review is for the performance that took place the night of December 6th, 2012. It continues through February 9th.)

December theater mini-reviews – Donmar “Richard II” and Hackney Empire “Cinderella”

December 24, 2011

Santa is leaving nothing for me in my stocking because I’ve been neglecting my theater blog. There’s been so much to see, and I’ve traveled so much (with indulgent trips to Birmingham for “The Nutcracker” and Leeds for “Beauty and the Beast”) that actually getting words on paper (or whatever I’m doing right now) has not been happening. So there’s probably 8 shows I’ve seen this much that I’ve neglected to write up. However, I’m going to try to get reviews up for a few of them that are still open: just be advised I’m doing this in an airport with limited internet access and no programs to reference for actors’ names.

First, the Hackney Empire’s “Cinderella.” Hackney has been the gold standard for pantos for me: aimed at the kids, affordable for families, with an excellent atmosphere that helps me be a kid, too. But they’ve shot over the top with the incredible skills of their dame, Clive Rowe, and the clever songwriting skills and script (full of political jokes and local references) that have made every dusty old fairytale fresh and fun.

I had my worries about “Cinderella” as Clive was taking the year off. What would we do without his wisecracks, amazing improv talents, and fabulous voice? According to a friend, Cinderella doesn’t actually need a dame as the mom is played by a woman, while it’s the stepsisters who do the drag duties. I’m pleased to say that the voices were on and the stepmom was a delicious villain, but a lot of the snap had gone. The improv (from the sisters) was soft (they apologized for going off script, whereas I thought they should have revelled in it!), the references to Hackney were few, and the only real political jokes I heard were references to phone hacking and the difficulty of getting Olympics tickets. Sure, it was good, but I just couldn’t get my enthusiasm up to the wild levels of the past even with front row tickets. Apparently “Aladdin” at the Lyric Hammersmith is the one to beat, but I won’t get to see it. That said, this is still a good show and lacking in the nauseating commerciality I’d seen at some more upscale venues, so I can recomend it as a family afternoon or evening out … and they do need our support. *sigh* PLEASE CAN WE HAVE CLIVE BACK NEXT YEAR? (This show was seen on Wednesday, December 15th, 2011.)

Next up is Richard II at the Donmar Warehouse. Wonderfully, this was a show I didn’t know at all, so I had NO idea how it was going to end: history plays, to what extent are they comedies and to what extent tragedies? It was a typical Donmar set (dark floor, balcony above) but with bonus incense filling the room and a lovely churchy-gold-wood thing going on that helped illustrate Richard’s point about the divinity of kinghood. I thought this was a good insight into the medieval soul as well as some of the core issues that have continued to dog English politics – the peasants will love you as long as you kiss their ass and don’t take too much from their purses. That said, Richard II himself was a queer bird and seemed just bizarrely affected in a way that was possibly meant to indicate impending madness but that came off as “I’ve just come out of acting school and this is the “method” I’ve chosen for this role, you will of course go with it.” I found it off-putting, but with a strong cast, and, hey, Shakespeare, plus ten quid tickets, it was certainly worth my time. Not worth standing the whole evening, mind you, but a great way to knock out a history. Someday perhaps Propeller will do it and then I’ll see what they can really achieve with this script. (This show was seen on Wednesday, December 12th, 2011).

Both of these shows are certainly worth a gander though neither blew my socks off – I’ve really only been reviewing shows I have a lot to say about. Anyway, call ’em serviceable. (Richard II continues at the Donmar through February 4th, 2012; Cinderella through January 8th, 2012.)

Two tickets for Sondheim’s “Passion” at the Donmar

October 24, 2010

Well, I inadvertently got tickets to see this very early in the run, so I’m looking to sell the tickets I bought for myself. One pair for Sondheim’s Passion at the Donmar on November 10th, side circle (close to the middle circle so good view), 100 quid or best offer. It’s sold out so if you don’t feel like standing through it, these tickets might be your best chance to see the show. If you want them, comment on this post with your email address and I’ll contact you. I have the tickets in hand so will meet you somewhere in Covent Garden to hand them off.

Review – Hamlet (with Jude Law) – Donmar “West End” (at Wyndham’s Theatre)

August 22, 2009

The Jude Law Hamlet put on by the Donmar is, I think, the most-hyped show of this year’s West End season – sold out sooner than Helen Mirrim’s Phedre, source of more “guess how many foolish tourists were waiting in line for returns at God awful o’clock” jokes than Sir Ian and Patrick Stewart’s Godot, basically Hot Hot Hot at least as far as how many tickets people wanted and how few were available.

I knew about the show more than early enough to get tickets, but I didn’t buy them, despite the fact I think Jude Law is quite sexy, for three reasons. First, I have an annual Bard limit, and I just wasn’t interested in blowing it on yet another Hamlet. (The Donmar West End series as a whole was so very un-risk taking, except for the excrable Madame de Sade, and anyone with eyes to read the script with could tell THAT didn’t deserve a revival. Still, Hamlet, bah and yawn.) Second, the early reviews (such as the West End Whingers) weren’t very enthusiastic. And third, well, I just didn’t want to bother with this show simply because a cinema star had been cast in it to pull in the punters. I think this is poor practice as it results in shows being performed by people who aren’t really cut out for it, and a disappointing night out for me. Shakespearean actors who’ve made the leap to the big stage is one thing, but to be honest, the magic just doesn’t seem to work in the other direction.

And yet … and yet. I, too, apparently can fall prey to hype, and after a whole summer spent pooh-poohing the whole affair, I finally broke down when I saw it was being transferred to Broadway. “My God!” I thought. “Perhaps I am missing the show of the year” (a la Black Watch), “and even if I did make it to New York, I wouldn’t be able to afford it!” So I took advantage of my gardening leave and found myself a single ticket for a Wednesday matinee, and off I went.

Well, I don’t know if it was the fact I was seeing a show in the middle of the day or if it was because I was seeing yet another (yawn) Hamlet, but GOD was sitting through this play work. Law was waving his hands around like he was conducting an orchestra (causing me to laugh during his speech to the players, “Nor do not saw the air too much with your hands”), and I found myself wishing the man who was playing the ghost, clearly a pro, was actually in the title role. The actors were in general serviceable, but in no way memorable, and I found myself yearning for the hair-raising brilliance of Stewart’s Macbeth. Really, must Shakespeare be so dull? Though the bit where Ophelia was being lectured by her brother and father on Hamlet’s lecherous nature provided some giggles, mostly it felt like the long-awaited end of a show that had just run out of energy.

At any rate, I can now say “I saw it when,” but to be honest I wish I could just say I’d gone to see a show I enjoyed instead.

(Hamlet closes tonight. Don’t worry, it’ll be done again soon.)

Hot tip: tix available for Tuesday August 11th Hamlet

August 5, 2009

I’ve been frustrated by the sold-out-ed-ness of the Donmar’s Hamlet, but apparently there are about a dozen tickets available for next Tuesday’s performance (August 11th). I won’t be able to go as I’ll be out of town, but I thought I’d pass the tip along as someone is bound to want ’em …

Review – Creditors – The Donmar

October 22, 2008

It is not often that a night at the theater leaves me feeling a little breathless, but last night’s trip to the Donmar did – it was an outstanding combination of a powerful script, absorbing acting, and an environment intimate enough to make it all feel real. Creditors was fantastic. It’s hard to believe that before the show I was thinking about not going because I was so worn out!

I’ve never seen a play by Strindberg before, and the only way I can describe him is “like Pinter, only with all of the words.” There were only three characters – Tekla (Anna Chancellor), her husband Adolph (Tom Burke), and the mysterious Gustav (Owen Teale). The program notes advised us to see them not as characters, but rather as archetypes, which worked well – I was reminded of Albee’s Sandbox and of No Exit when observing their interactions, which seemed hyper-real, especially in the first scene, in which a mysterious man, Gustav (a doctor? a figment of the imagination), counsels Adolph about his life. He’s already convinced Adolphe that his artistic career is meaningless, then proceeds to completely and utterly tear him apart. How does he know so much about Adolph? How is he able to hone so perfectly into his weak spots? His knowledge of the man seemed unreal. Gustav was also possessed of an unbelievable misogynism. While I could believe the character could see a woman as “a blank page upon which the husband writes” (it seemed fairly typical of other 19th century drama, Ibsen in particular), his foray into the repulsion of women’s “hemorhaghing 13 weeks out of the year” and “having bodies that are that of a fatty, slovenly youth” (paraphrased) were just too much for me to digest. On the other hand, Adolphe’s nearly pornographic sculpture of his wife – on her back with her legs spread – was also just too much for me and made it hard to not burst out laughing. This was Adolphe’s ideal? He seemed to be rather humorously focused on her crotch. Ah, the Victorian psyche – who knows what made them tick!

As the play continues, we have Adolphe tear into Tekla, followed by Tekla and Gustav going at each other, and all of it ending in a glorious menage at the end – a wonderful celebration of the way human beings get to know each other so well through the bonds of love that they well and truly aquire the power and knowledge they need to completely destroy each other, mentally and physically. Chancellor is electric as Tekla, managing to be flirty, disgusted, loving, seductive, hateful, and very much her own woman throughout the show. Gustav seems rather a bit too mental … but provides a great foil for the rather evil (and certainly hateful) Adolphe. It all reminded me of Rosmersholme – and what a failure I consider that play to be, with its ultimately weak characters and over the top storyline. If only it had been as succinct as Creditors!

I was surprised to see the Donmar as sold out as ever for this evening and with standing room seats taken yet again – can this place ever produce a bomb? And who’d have suspected Alan Rickman of such directorial depths? For its 90 minute running time, it’s well worth standing through. That said, I must thank the West End Whingers for a heads up on getting tickets for this great show, which I consider to be the second best thing I’ve seen on stage this year. (Noel Cowards’ Brief Encounter is still my favorite, and it’s still running for a few more weeks – why not see them both?)

(This review is for a performance that took place on Tuesday, October 28th. Creditors runs through November 15th.)

Pre-show anticipation – Matthew Bourne’s “Portrait of Dorian Gray” – the excitement is building! – and discount tickets for Peony Pavillion

June 2, 2008

I actually broke down and bought my tickets for Portrait of Dorian Gray today. I’m not going to be able to make it Edinburgh to see it as part of the Fringe (that weekend was already booked), but the September London presentation at Sadler’s Wells is a must. I will now be seeing it on Wednesday, September 3rd, and I’m excited! It’s also now the theatrical event that’s booked furthest ahead on my calendar. Tickets for most of the main floor were already sold, which I think is pretty impressive.

Oddly, this all came about because I was rebooking my tickets for The Peony Pavillion, since a fabulous deal came my way – £15 stalls seats for any show, if you use the promotion code pcdchineseopera . For all of the people who’ve come to this blog looking for info on authentic Chinese cultural presentations, I’d like to encourage you to see this show – it should be top of the line and it’s not the thing I’ve ever had the opportunity to see. Go go go (both of you)!

I also booked tickets for the Sara Baras flamenco show in mid-July (also at Sadlers Wells), and I’m kind of wondering about seeing the English National Ballet’s show at the Royal Festival Hall in early July. It’s got choreography by three people I’ve never heard of before, but it’s also butting right up against my departure date for the York Early Music festival, so I might be too pressed to catch it. Sadly, I’ve never been particularly electrified by any performance I’ve seen by ENB, so this is also making me think I shouldn’t go … but maybe this time things would be … different.

Closer in, I’ve got a pile of tickets accumulating in anticipation of my uncle’s arrival next week – the Marguerite the Musical set, a quartet of Revenger’s Tragedy at a delicious £10 a pop, a trio for Romersholm at the Almeida (I never see discount tickets there – makes me think they must do a better job at picking the right shows for the right length of time, or maybe they’ve done a good job of cultivating a steady audience) … now all I need is to have those silly Powder Her Face tickets jump in my hand for the Sunday June 15th performance, and somehow get a few for the Edith Bagnold’s Chalk Garden at the Donmar on Wednesday June 11th – but it looks sadly like they are sold out and you can forget my doing standing room for anything these days. Perhaps Afterlife at the National will prove an acceptable substitute, but with my luck it won’t even be on that day.

In a final note, I am still beating myself up for not ordering my Jordi Savall tickets for the York Early Music Festival early enough, and am praying to the gods of returned tickets to show me some mercy on this – he’s the whole reason I’m going!

Review -John Gabriel Borkman – The Donmar

April 13, 2007

Last night: I’m on an Ibsen/Pinter/Tennessee Williams kick, “collecting” their shows like one would Beanie Babies or BPAL imps, and last night was Ibsen’s John Gabriel Borkman. The language was thick, but the plot was crystal clear and the characters fantastic. I didn’t know a thing about it (other than “financier’s ruin causes long-lasting rifts within his family”), but as the various relationships of the characters – estranged twin sisters, one the wife of Borkman (who has not seen her husband in eight years, despite the fact he lives upstairs – Deborah Findlay); the son; and the sexy widow next door. (An unseen other character is “the lawyer” next door who’s having a party “the son” is invited to; he’s the man who revealed JGB’s malfeasance and, in essence, ruined him and his family.)

Kurt Vonnegut (RIP) once said (and Scarlettina reminded me) that “every character should want something,” and, by God, these people did. Whether it was power, love, money, revenge, happiness, or freedom, they wanted it like fish want water and humans want air, with great, gasping breaths to suck it in. Their stiff, nineteenth century language (Victorian formality) was delivered as a package to the same, burning desires that animate people today – and I loved it all. It reminded me of the very unhappy version of The Voysey Inheritance, which is a look at the same kind of financial finaglings gone “right.” In this play, you see exactly the kind of ruin Voysey Junior expects, and you understand why he is so very afraid of the consequences of his father’s actions.

Ibsen (thinking of Vonnegut again) rushed us straight to the non-stop action as the years of built-up frustration spilled out. What a great night of theater! I wasn’t bored for a minute, and at the end, I wanted to thank each actor personally for delivering, at last, on the contract we made when I bought my ticket: that I would willingly suspend disbelief, and they would become, not actors on a stage, but people who had stories (and pasts) I cared about. Thanks for a great night, guys!

(This review carried over from my previous theater blog. The performance took place the night of April 12th, 2007.)