Posts Tagged ‘Duke of York’s Theater’

Mini-review – The Dresser – Duke of York’s Theater

January 13, 2017

I knew little about this play before I went … I thought I’d seen some blurbles in the Evening Standard ages ago (back when it opened) but they had mostly faded into dim memory. Ah yes, the show about the guy who helps an actor dress up before shows … why, certainly I’ll go at the bargain price I was being offered a ticket for. I was actually unsure if I was going to see someone who was a costume designer or a wardrobe mistress or what, exactly, and just what the arc of the story was going to be. Frankly, it was the ideal situation for me, to walk into a theater having no idea what would happen on stage but feeling confident I was going to have one of those lovely experiences that I’ve come to expect thanks to living in the world capitol of English language theater.

Plot summary: it’s World War II, and bombing is going on. We’re in the dressing room of a famous actor (Ken Stott), who’s possibly not very good, and the man who helps him get ready to go on stage (Reece Shearsmith) is worried about whether or not “sir” is going to make the show tonight. He’s never missed a performance before, but something about all of the bombing seems to have unhinged “sir,” whom his dresser, Duncan, most recently saw wandering a market taking his clothes off and babbling. Duncan’s concerns seem well founded, and we sit with him as he nervously picks his way across Sir’s dressing room, talking with Sir’s partner (Harriet Thorpe) about Sir’s mental health, and generally setting us nicely for the big arrival of The Man Himself.

A lot of this play should be about the relationship of Sir and Duncan, but it’s actually more about the interaction of all of the personalities in a touring company, as we see when the long suffering (yet apparently devoted) stage manager appears – Duncan becomes all confidence, protecting Sir from the humiliation of a cancellation – and then again when a young, manipulative actress attempts to weasel her way into Sir’s dressing room (Normal threatens her with violence). Its all nicely balanced with the actual performance at the center of the play – a Noises Off romp through King Lear, with the backstage shenanigans front and center.

While seeing Duncan disintegrate in parallel with Sir may be what this show is supposed to be about, my enjoyment was most greatly because of the complex interleaving of this play with the text and characterization of Lear. To me, Lear is the the embodiment on many levels of an actual, inevitable mental and physical collapse of older actors, who may get decades on stage but will still eventually struggle to carry on doing what they love when their bodies and minds decide they can do no more. Semi-fictionally, this was wonderfully captured in My Perfect Mind, about an actor struggling to recuperate after a stroke had while in rehearsal for Lear: more meatily, however, this struggle for an actor to keep himself together was quite viscerally brought home two years ago when Brian Blessed had a physical collapse while playing the role, a trauma nearly immediately followed by a production where another actor failed to get his head wrapped around the hard work of dialogue memorization. Macbeth may be the unlucky play, but as a role that attracts older actors, Lear is now, to me, a role far more likely to see on stage tragedy. And seeing Sir struggle to remember his first line … indeed, to even remember which role he was about to play … was the truth of life as an actor being told on stage. It was heartbreakingly real, and a pleasure to watch.

It’s all for the best, then, that so much of this play ultimately has comedy at its heart; it makes for a brisk, exciting evening despite its 130 minute running time. It’s only on through this weekend, but I do recommend a watch; I for one will probalby try to find a way to see the BBC version with Sir Ian. Either way, it’s a treat.

(This review is for a performance that took place on January 5th, 2017. It continues through January 14th.)

Mini-review – Jeeves and Wooster – Duke of York’s Playhouse

January 23, 2014

I realize there’s not much of a point in reviewing Jeeves and Wooster. It opened in November, and based on the lack of discounting of the last two months, it’s clearly found an appreciative audience. With two television actors (Stephen Mangan and Matthew Macfadyen) and the promise of light comedy, well, it must have been a producer’s fantasy booking. Given that it’s extended until September (no idea who’s in the lead roles after April), it’s really pushing the right buttons – to call the audience “appreciative” would be understating their enthusiasm.

Anyway, I didn’t go because of the TV actors, I went because the person who’d introduced me to P.G. Wodehouse invited me. This meant tickets bought at his price range (60 quid, ouch!) and preferred location (in the stalls but on the side). This was all fairly painful for me, but, well, having anybody outside of my group of hardcore theater people inviting me out is pretty rare, so I wanted to take advantage of this. And I was genuinely curious about how these funny books could be turned into an equally funny play; so much of the laughs come from snickering at the narrator (Wooster), who doesn’t seem to realize how pompous and stupid he is – but also admiring how clever the “lesser” of the two, Jeeves (the butler), is. It sounded like a set up that would be fraught – I mean, it could just so easily become plain old mean. And, really, the tone of the novels is not in any way mean – they are kind and jolly and friendly (Wooster coming through).

The approach this show went for, as it turns out, was to not have Wooster be a character in a play, but to have him be (as it were) a real person … someone addressing the audience and telling them (er, us) things. This breaking down of the fourth was was very effective in increasing Wooster’s believability as an actual person, and thus made him much less of an object of mockery than might have been. The curtain goes up, and there’s Bertie Wooster, quite surprised to see us. Then he starts rambling about how he has such interesting things happen to him that a friend of his has suggested that he do it as a play – so here he is! However, he doesn’t seem to have much prepared, certainly not any scenery, and hardly any actors, well, except for his butler, good old Jeeves, who dutifully comes on stage when called. As Bertie continues to ramble on about his great idea of being in a show, Wooster slowly brings out one bit of set after another, a gag that runs throughout the play but one which nicely illustrates the core elements of the Jeeves and Wooster relationship – Wooster is stupid, Jeeves gets things done and doesn’t make a fuss. Rightfully, with all of Jeeves’ stagehanding shenanigans, the climax probably should have been a helicopter descending from the ceiling a la Miss Saigon (with Jeeves flying it), but the show doesn’t take it that far – although nearly.

As it stands, the entirely of the show is done with three actors – including a second butler – and every joke gets built up and redone over and over again until it builds up a comic hysteria. The audience was lapping it up, too, which puzzled me a bit as while some of the things were clever, they weren’t particularly “wow” to me. But it was what they wanted, and they laughed and laughed.

Me, I giggled a bit. I liked the cow creamer. I thought Wodehouse did it better. It was, I’ll concede amusing, but there is no way on God’s green earth this play was worth what we payed for it. Oh well, I suppose if you only go out once or twice a year, perhaps a few giggles and a chance to feel modestly literary is all that it takes.

(This review is for a performance of Jeeves and Wooster that took place on Friday, January 17, 2014. It is booking until September although casting will change some time around April.)

Review – No Man’s Land – Duke of York’s Theatre

January 2, 2009

Well, tonight is closing night for this play, so there’s not really much to say – it looked pretty sold out last night, and it will probably also be so today. We had a hard time getting seats at all, especially given that we’re operating on a tight budget so close to Christmas and our upcoming house move. Thus I was excited to get ten quid seats, as it enabled me to justify a play I needed to see in order to accomplish my goal of seeing every play ever written by Pinter – an easier goal to accomplish now that the list is fixed due to his death, which I’m very sad about.

It should be noted, though, that ten quid tickets with the kind of restricted views we had may not be such a deal. Here is my sketch of the stage from our seats in row C of the upper balcony:

The circle with the nose in my lower right palm is Michael Gambon. There was another actor in this scene, but as you can tell from the pictorial record, I could in no way SEE him (though I could hear him talking). At another point there was a scene with THREE people, of which you could see the lower half of one of them (David Bradley as Spooner) and then the shadows of the other two guys (Rupert Goold and Nick Dunning, never did figure out their characters’ names but they’re available online), which I thought made the whole thing look just quite dramatic – as a painting. As theater, it was very irritating. Wechsler calls it the “Curse of Low-ro,” but it’s the curse of tight budget for me. On the other hand, I was at least able to see it.

Am I glad about that? Well, this play is really quite … Pinteresque, or as my husband would put it, “unfathomable ” (actually the quote was, “I got nothing out of that”), at least when you’re still recovering from New Year’s Eve and some really hard core jet lag. While I could noodle on about what I think the plot MIGHT have been about, I’d prefer to complain about Goold and Dunning, who just seemed stiff and uninteresting. I believe in Pinter, and I believe when actors seem so unconvincing in one of his plays, it’s their own damned fault and NOT that of the script. David Bradley looked like he was having a grand time, hamming it up, really enjoying the packed house (there to pay their respects to the great author, so recently passed?), and Michael Gambon was deliciously confused as the rich old codger who couldn’t seem to remember what he was doing from one minute to the next but still faked it like a pro (with a gorgeous voice). Me, I enjoyed my own delicious confusion, and what I wish I could do is sit down, read the text (with all of its extremely rude dialogue), and then go back and see the play. But it closes tonight. At least, then, I am glad that I did see it the once.

And, again, I am very, very sad about Harold Pinter dying. I had wished I could tell him in person some day how much I enjoy his work. I find them to always be a bit of a puzzle, and I will enjoy working this one out.

(This review is for a performance seen on January 1st, 2009. Rest in peace, great man.)

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.)