Posts Tagged ‘Etcetera Theatre’

Mini-review – Meet the Real Maggie Thatcher – Gerundagula Productions at Etcetera Theatre, Camden

March 12, 2015

It’s been eight years since I moved to the UK, and I’ve had a lot to catch up on to be “au fait” with modern Britain. I’ll never get my head wrapped around pop music, sports, and TV, but I figured I could at least get the hang of the political situation since World War II (let’s be honest: in American, that’s pretty much when British history stops). Most particularly, I’ve needed to learn about the history of England that took place during my own life, in particular the 70s and 80s: and to learn about this, I’ve had to learn about Margaret Thatcher. “Maggie Thatcher milk snatcher” was a phrase I’d never heard of growing up in America, and miner’s strikes only existed as a background situation for movies like Brassed Off and Billy Elliot. But I’ve been learning: from cabbies, from cowokers, from total strangers queuing next to me in the rain. I’ve learned a lot from theater, recently: from Handbagged and from Maggie Thatcher, Queen of Soho. And then it became really important for me to learn a lot fast, because I wanted to use her as a character in a play, but I didn’t feel like I had internalized the Thatcher voice well enough to write it myself: thus I wound up in contact with Mike Francis Carvalho and (later) was invited to see a production of Meet the Real Maggie Thatcher (currently at the Etcetera Theater).

The play is a one man show that is essentially a series of vignettes tracing Margaret Thatcher’s career as seen through the eyes of average Joes from around the UK: Somerset, Wales, Liverpool, et cetera. Our lead character switches clothing, hats, accents (and on one occasion teeth) to bring his characters to life. More interestingly, the characters have political views that are all over the spectrum, from a sports fan who talks about Thatcher “making Britain great again” to someone saying that on her death, rather than a bank holiday, we should be partying in the streets. (Me, I mostly hear people speak who oppose her, so, while I know the supporters must have been there, they are invisible to my experience.) The events covered ranged from the obvious (miners’ strikes, the Falkland war) to the more subtle (her visits abroad before her election; the Hillsborough tragedy). The cumulative effect is a good one for the feel of the times, helped (I think) by the fact a person who lived through them is speaking them: rather that the cartoonish version I’ve seen recently (Handbagged, Soho), it’s more of a direct experience of what she actually did as a politician and how it was perceived at the time. Drag queens and puppets are all good fun but it’s helping Margaret Thatcher pass into being a cartoon or a character from folklore rather than a real person whose legacy we are still dealing with today. I think, though, that this play would have benefited more by engaging with her legacy more actively: which, as near as I can tell, is a divided Britain where the parts of the country outside of London are being happily allowed to rot while the government claims “freedom” has wiped out the non-home counties’ economies as if they (the government) wasn’t actually capable of creating a different outcome than the crap one we have now.

With the soundtrack moving us from scene to scene, it’s a fairly fast moving show, albeit one that really needs to be watched with a pint of something from downstairs. It was a good pit stop on my path to understanding just what was going on in England in the 1980s; I recommend it for lefties and Morrisey fans alike.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Tuesday, March 10, 2015. It continues through Saturday, March 14th.)

Mini-review – Grand Guignol “Summer of Terror” – Exeter Alternative Theate at London Horror Festival

October 22, 2013

Autumn has rolled into town, and along with fallen leaves and pumpkins, it’s time for the LONDON HORROR FESTIVAL! I’ve been enjoying the opportunity to catch an annual dose of frights, especially to see the now-out-of-fashion Grand Guignol plays. The “Summer of Terror” triple bill from Exeter Alternative Theater looked especially promising – two classics AND a new play, and a running time of one hour, plus it was in a pub so you could bring in drinks – basically, perfect – in and out and if it all got too scary, I knew I’d be able to hold out long enough for it to wrap up.

The plays had some common themes between them – rage, revenge, infidelity – that made for some interesting thoughts on the common threads of human motivations. Grand Guignol can be about mad scientists working in laboratories or the ghosts of serial killers, but what’s really terrifying is how the behavior of normal human beings can snap under certain kinds of pressure. In the first playlet, “The Last Kiss,” “he” (for so the male lead is called) has clearly gone round the bend some time before the curtain rose. “He” (Leigh Steadman) is blinded, but still has an overwhelming desire to his ex-lover, despite the fact that “she” (Carolyn Macey) blinded him. You know it’s not going to have a happy ending, but just how bleak is it going to go? I would have preferred Steadman to have dialed down “his” madness a bit, so we were sucked into the turnings of his mind, but I thought Macey was on as the dead-eyed girlfriend who couldn’t resist the call of curiosity – and maybe still had a fire burning for the man she injured in a fit of jealousy. And, to be clear, she was stunningly beautiful, exactly the kind of girl you could imagine “him” pining for and desperately trying to get back. Fin O’Leary’s landlady provided a lovely touch of normality to the whole business, which was over and done with before I’d made it to the bottom of my half of cider.

Next up was “Coals of Fire” (which, like “Last Kiss,” was written by Frederick Witney), a two-hander featuring a blind woman (“The Wife”) and her servant (“The Companion”). Taking place in an era in which divorce required proving fault, social services for the disabled were sketchy (as seen by the previous playlet), and unmarried women could be forced to have babies in “homes,” the play was fraught with the pressures both of personal lives and social norms. I found it extremely disturbing to see The Wife feel up The Companion to ascertain if her figure were good; but I also felt strongly the dilemma that any servant would have for being dismissed under questionable circumstances. The ending was brutal and apparently went against the original censor’s recommendations; but WHEW! It crackled! And while both characters seemed stiff at the start, I found myself relaxing into their conundrum quite naturally long before the end, which made for a much higher emotional impact.

Finally we got to the new play, “The Death of Love” (written by director Louis Ravensfield). It started with a highly improbably set up – a man and two women are stuck in a room together, tied to their chairs, and the man (Martin – Alan Smith) has to decide whom to shoot, his wife (Julia – Gabby Dexter) or his lover (Becky – Nicky Crew). It seemed rather ridiculous – I mean, really, how did NONE of them know how they got there (and this was never really resolved) – but, really, it was all just a trope to get us into the action. And it quickly grew very intense, as the women begged for their lives, cast aspersions on each other, and generally ratcheted up the pressure so much that even I was feeling Martin’s struggle. Where WAS it going to go? It ended with a twist and a bang, and, really, provided the biggest sizzle of the evening.

To be fair, there was a lot of clunkiness overall in this evening, but I still left feeling like I’d had a good time – neither too frightened nor in the least bored. Good job, Exeter Alternative Theater, and thanks for coming to London for a visit!

(This review is for a performance that took place at the Etcetera Theater in Camden on Sunday, October 19th, 2013. Final performances are tonight, October 21st, at 19:30 and 21:30. Do not order food unless you have at least a half hour to wait; the pub is VERY slow sserving.)

Mini-review – Crookback – Tim Welham at Etcetera Theater

July 13, 2013

“Woe betide the reviewer who goes to three Shakespearean plays in a week, for she shall be tired by the last one, and peevish.”

Some weeks ago I received an invitation to see a one man version of Richard III – called “Crookback” – performed at a pub theater in Camden (the Etcetera, over the Oxford Arms). It’s a really great script, one of my favorite Shakespeares thanks to Propeller’s excellent version of two summers ago, and I thought, given the great success of Alan Cumming’s Macbeth, this could easily make the transition to a great one man show.

Little did I account for the collective powers of two previous nights of Shakespeare and the heat of a London summer as experienced in the poorly ventilated top floor of a pub.

Tim Welham’s performance was fantastically physical (he ended practically dripping in sweat) – while his hand was nearly always clamped to his body in a sort of bionic vise, with just one other arm and his voice (and a few hats) he conjured a series of other characters, from Margaret (her arm spiralling and grasping like a crone’s) to Buckingham (with his odd American accent). He managed to keep a generally clear delineation between all of the various mains (which almost entirely consisted of “people Richard kills”), and rollicked us along from one merry murder to the next, assisted by a chalkboard (where names were crossed off when appropriate) and a tape recorder.

To be honest, this approach was not what I was expecting. I thought this show would be far more focused on Richard and his thoughts and not be working so hard to drag the other characters in. And the plethora of other characters finally wound up overwhelming me at the point of the death of the boy prince. By the time the swirl of voices came out of the tape recorder (as if to imitate Richard’s fracturing conscience), we were on Bosworth field and I had, genuinely, lost the plot. I was too damned hot and really just ready to be out of the room and cooling down somewhere, but I recognized “my kingdom for a horse” was my freedom bell and soon, we were out.

While Welham was a deliciously convincing Richard, the script itself needed further reworking to reduce the noise and distraction and center more on the key characters. I refuse to entirely blame the heat for my impatience; more could be done to make this work in this format. However, for Shakespeare fans, Crookback is a good stab at the format, though perhaps better enjoyed in open air.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Thursday, July 11th, 2013. It continues through July 13th (tonight). Be sure to dress lightly i.e. sleeveless shirt and shorts, and take advantage of the water they offer as you go in.)