Posts Tagged ‘Gemma Arterton’

Review – Saint Joan – Donmar Warehouse

December 20, 2016

These days it’s so hard to get a ticket for a show at the Donmar that I go for entire seasons without seeing a single thing. I was a bit sad, then, when I saw the promo posters for Saint Joan – a play I’d never heard of (and certainly not seen) by George Bernard Shaw, one of my favorite playwrights – and realized that unless the gods smiled very favorably upon me, there was little chance of me getting to go. And yet, there I was, the Friday before Christmas (well, close enough), rather stuffed full of panto, and there was …. not just a crummy standing seat … but a juicy front row center ticket that would be all mine if I’d just fork over the full price of forty quid. Well. That’s at the top end of what I’m willing to spend for everything, but you could hardly ask for anything better. In fact, I wound up feeling a bit like Santa had come by for an early visit. Religious fanaticism and being burned at the stake? Ho ho ho!

So … this is going to be slightly different review from my normal “I had no idea what was going to happen and this is what I experienced” write up … instead, I’m going to look at this play through the lens of someone who is a fan of Shaw, and who has seen both Shakespeare’s version of Joan of Arc as well as Theo Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc. Briefly, though, the play is given a very modern setting, as the meetings that would normally have taken place at castles or abbeys are instead held around boardroom tables by men in suits (although Joan, oddly enough, appears in Gothic garb). It’s a very effective touch, because what these people are is, really, decision makers, and I found it easy to swallow the ridiculous (miracles and religion) when framed in such an every day context.

Joan as a character needs to carry a lot. Is she an evil witch? The Brits think so (and may have truly believed so in Shakespeare’s time), but Shaw is too much of a realist to go down this path. Is she inspirational? That’s the core of Shaw’s portrayal, and Gemma Arterton embraces that, like a one-woman life coach for the entire French army, seen here coaxing the Dauphin and Archbishop as well as military men with a combination of emotion, religion, touch, humanity, and vision. She seems a dream leader … but Shaw pulls us back to the ground. In a masterful scene – typically Shaw because he’s basically speechifying at us – the English contingent reminds us about the dangers of both nationalism and religious fanaticism. Or, rather, I think Shaw is trying to remind us of where things are going to go historically … but what I heard was a voice from the past warning us that the route to fascism and religious intolerance were often hidden beneath the guise of popularity and “being inspiring.” So here’s Joan … telling people to die in the name of God and encouraging divides based on national origin. Suddenly with that filter it all seems a little more creepy.

Playing a crazed teenager who’s able to rouse a nation to war is doubtlessly not easy. Arterton has the look of someone who can see God, but I felt her sense of betrayal at the end wasn’t as convincing as it should have been (despite the nicely conjured tears). The key role of the Dauphin was also just too weak and wiggly to be convincing. Still, the power players in the rest of the cast – the religious court that sits in judgment in the second act, and the French courtiers – seem strong enough to carry the rest of the play. Overall, it was a good night, and from my front row center seat my interest never flagged. (The gentleman next to me dozed off, however, so caveat emptor.)

(This review is for a performance that took place on Friday, December 16, 2016. It continues through February 18th.)

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Review – The Little Dog Laughed – Garrick

January 21, 2010

On Monday night I went to see The Little Dog Laughed at the Garrick. Little Dog is about actor Mitchell Green (Rupert Friend, well muscled but otherwise flat), who starts the evening defining himself as not gay while calling rent boys to his hotel room. His agent Diane (razor sharp Tamsin Greig) wants to keep him marketable and the truth in the closet. In this case, the truth is said Manhattan rent boy, Alex (Harry Lloyd) who’s also in denial about liking men. Only (hurray!), after a heartwarming scene about formative early sexual experiences (the “merit badge that dare not speak its name”), the guys do admit they’ve got the hots for each other, and it’s trousers down and time to get the gay on. Next problem? Alex’s girlfriend, Ellen (Gemma Arterton), and to say much more would ruin the fun.

Little Dog Laughed is a really odd show to see now, newish, in 2010 (it was written in 2005). I can accept that there still might be people in America and England that are uncomfortable with being gay, but, given how many actors are gay, it just all seemed a little hard to swallow. The whole thing would be completely intolerable if the agent weren’t a lesbian, but, since she is, her “homophobia” really reads as simply an accurate reading of what the American viewing public wants to see (an actor “women can dream of, and men can envy”). Her desire to suppress whatever truth about her “property” she needs to in order to keep him marketable is venality, ultimately, except … well … a 30 year old gay actor who is actually still not willing to admit to himself what gender he is attracted to? I couldn’t buy it. The playwright attempts to jazz the whole thing up with some really fresh dialogue, and succeeds in making a brilliant “actor and his manager negotiate with a playwright” scene, but as an overall work it felt clunky, like it had been written in college by someone destined to go into sitcoms.

I’ve got to give a nod to the costume and set designer for a beautiful palette of black, white and grey – I’m not used to having the actors match the furniture, but this worked for me. And Greig was just hot as the clawing, game-playing agent willing to step all over her client’s personal life to get herself ahead of the Hollywood game. She struggled a bit in the opening scene (the audience interaction was very clunky especially given how unresponsive we were), but went on to basically set the stage on fire for the rest of the show. Friend wasn’t really able to match her, unfortunately, but like Jessica Rabbit, I think this was more about how he was written than a bad performance. Lloyd seemed human and believable, but Arterton wasn’t able to make her character seem like anything more than filler while the set was being changed.

A little bit about the Garrick: the theater is one that I remember both fondly and with aggravation, from when I saw Zorro there; while I loved the show, I was incredibly frustrated with the blocked view of the upper two-thirds of the stage from my way-under-the-balcony seats. Fortunately there was no swinging from chandeliers or second story swordplay (or singing) to drive me batty in my row Q seats – just two little scenes in which someone stood in an open doorway which was blocked (grr!) utterly by the light clamped on to the roof above. Aaargh! Garrick, you win again! But, you know, it was kind of a potluck with the seats anyway, and, as I was asked afterward, I was entertained sufficiently to not mind. Still, this was a fairly slight night overall.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Monday, January 19th, 2010. The Little Dog Laughed continues booking through 10th Apr 2010. A review of the