Posts Tagged ‘great shows on now in London’

Review – 11 and 12 – Peter Brook’s Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord at the Barbican

February 6, 2010

Last night I went with J and A to see the new Peter Brook show at the Barbican Center. To be honest, I hadn’t really cared much about what it was about: I just wanted to see something by Peter Brook! I mean, can you say legend? I personally can barely remember any names of people involved in theater at all (it’s a personal failing, or, rather, it’s how I like it to be); mostly I worship the cult of The Author. Anyway, I had bought tickets back in December for this thing, and I’d gone for a preview performance (extra savings), and, in a moment of genius by the Barbican in their pricing structure, I’d actually bought second row seats for far cheaper than anything in the middle, meaning that I was feeling quite damned smug when I realized that for a mere six quid (with further member discount) I’d scored an entirely brilliant position right in front of the stage, second row center.

Okay, well, truth be told, I wasn’t actually feeling that gleeful, because the description of the show I was about to see made me think of, I kid you not, skipping out on it altogether. Colonial Africa – oppression – stupid religious factionalism driving people apart. It just all seemed like another opportunity to be lectured at from the stage by yet another smug white person who wanted to make sure we all were feeling guilty about how we’d screwed the world up. GAH message productions GAH depressing content GAH being lectured to on stage. It just made me want to club a baby seal, or, you know, sit and drink instead of watching the show. But, crap, it did say that it was less than two hours running time (around 90 minutes), straight through no break, so … I made myself go.

As the curtain metaphorically opened on the stage (as there was no curtain but you know what I mean), I saw an utterly stripped down set, basically four tree-ish sticks on rolling platforms in front of a very large rectangle of fabric, with a musician (Toshi Tsuchitori) off to the side. Its “lessness” was like being hit in the head with a … er, club, and what it said was This Is Peter Brook. Because, you know, Peter Brook is Mr. The Empty Stage and pretty much any time you see so very little on a stage it is saying Peter Brook Was Here even if it’s not a show by him. But this was a polished perfection of lessness. Nothing looked cheap or “settled for;” it looked “I thought very long and hard and this is exactly, without question, how I wanted to express my vision.” I was impressed, not by it’s “lessness,” but by … well, shit, it was like seeing some painting by Dali or somebody of that caliber, where just nothing was left to chance. It was like an altar, every tiny bit seething with meaning and potential. In London, the received theatrical style is so much one of explicit realism, and, while I do really appreciate the perfection of that form, this was every bit as powerful as any overdesigned, 100% historically accurate reproduction of the sort I feel I’ve seen rather a lot of in recent years. Brook’s set was like leaving the planet London for, er, Antartica.

Or, in this case, Africa. 11 and 12 is set in Mali, in the Africa that was ruled by the French, in a period of time that’s not discussed too explicitly in the play but which seems to be about thirty or forty years that end after World War II (based on a description of the types of people who were kept prisoner at a certain jail in France). But we’re not loaded under a mountain of teachy historical specificity and boring recitations of begats: instead, we’re given a few people, a random occurrence, and one young man (Tunji Lucas) making his way through life.

Now, there’s a weighty atmosphere of Life Under the French (a matter of some interest to me after my visit to Morocco; I’ve felt hatred for America before but never such a loathing as I experienced there for a nation as individuals), but the skein is one of friendships and the strange ramifications of the inadvertent twelfth recitation of a prayer. The young man is the student of a kind, religious man (Tierno, Makram J Khoury) who tells parables and basically teaches peace and acceptance; but in an atmosphere of paranoia and control where the French Directorate is basically a stand-in for every police force in the world that could just as easily been created by Kafka. The ongoing questions is, why are two halves of this country arguing to the point of murder over whether or not a prayer should be recited eleven or twelve times? This is the question that weighs heavily on the play, not which number is right. The French see eleven as a point of rebellion; the people see the choice of one or another as a matter of identity; those who worship the way of peace – for so Tierno and his peer (Cherif, Khalifa Natour) are despite being on opposite sides – see it as a matter of no importance.

This attitude of theirs is what makes this play more than just a perfectly told tale of one man’s life as a bureaucrat under an oppressive regime and turns it into something rich. I loved the presentation and the imagery and the cat and mouse games the locals played with each other and the French; I was interested in the history that was being slid in; but I really enjoyed feeling my mind expanding to think about the philosophical questions Tierno and Cherif brought up. This was no glad-handed Hakuna Matata crap; it was solid questions about what divides us, what makes us human, how does religion fit into it all, why are people cruel. I wasn’t just getting a story; I was getting an insight into humanity.

As it ended and I sat there thinking (and talking) about what we’d just seen, I tried to pick it apart to find the flaws. Yeah, the women depicted didn’t have very flattering roles. And there was a certain lack of spontenaeity to the production – everything seemed to have been thought out to the very last second and to lack room for … I don’t know, breathing, for the actors to be in the now and not just performing the perfectly chosen “this is the word, this is the movement” the production seemed to dictate. The only second I saw that didn’t seem to be prechosen was when Khoury couldn’t get a tree to sit still and had to move himself to the ground, soon after to be followed by Khalifa. But otherwise, every lovely moment of ever so very little seemed to have been scripted from the ceiling right down to the floor.

Still, though, it was all really done so well. As we left, I remembered that I’d seen Peter Brook’s name a million times at my house, on the side of a little textbook my husband has from his college days. How could someone I associated with crumbling paper create something so alive? I went expecting to be preached to and instead enjoyed this lovely vision of people living and thinking about their lives that seemed so just … perfect. Like everything I always hope theater will be. And I only paid six quid to be in the middle of all this. I felt a bit like a cheater; I hadn’t paid so little to have so very much given to me. But how would Tierno have seen it? I think he would have seen it as an opportunity to give back. And so I give this to you. 11 and 12: gosh, it was good. I know it was better than almost everything I saw last year, and will likely rise like cream amidst the shows of 2010, as it is a piece of truly outstanding theater. Don’t miss the chance to see this. 11 and 12 is theatrical perfection.

(This review is for a performance seen on Friday, February 5th, 2010. It was supposedly a preview but I have no idea how they’re going to improve it. For further reviews, please see A Younger Theater and The Guardian. My husband is going to buy the book it was based on, Hampate Ba’s “The Life and Teaching of Tierno Bokar: The Sage of Bandiagara.” Also,Toshi Tsuchitori was fantastic. The show runs through February 27th. Hesitate to purchase tickets and live to regret it.)

Review – Sondheim’s “Company” – Union Theatre

May 26, 2009

On Sunday, J and W and I headed to Southwark for the current musical at the Union Theatre, Stephen Sondheim’s Company. Ever since Annie Get Your Gun I’ve been hoping to catch another red-hot musical there, but the Mikado sold out before I could go and an anti-Sweeney guest kept me from making it to see the Demon Barber of Fleet Street. This time I was quick out of the gate, though, as Company had been open for all of four days when I saw it, which meant the cast was nice and fresh – and yet the audience was still on top of things, as there was only one seat open in the house!

I hadn’t heard of Company before, despite having heard of a song from it (“Side by Side,” as in Side by Side by Sondheim). I’m a little late to the Sondheim game, anyway, since I have long disliked Into the Woods and took it as being representative of his style and thus a good warning to stay away. Rambling weird non-singing and non-music? Not really my bag – I want hummable tunes and the occasional anthem a la Anything Goes and Drowsy Chaperone. But, who knows, I’ve got this theory that Sondheim may be something that grows on you as you age – like a taste for red wine and truffles – since I enjoyed A Little Night Music when I saw it at the Menier this fall. The songs aren’t really any more tuneful than they ever were, but something about the crap people have been churning out (modern musicals, I mean, think “Wicked”) has made brilliant lyrics that much more important to me, and I found myself paying attention 100% to what people were saying on stage during that show … and looking forward to this one, even though I knew little about it.

What I did know went kind of like this: Bobby (Lincoln Stone) is a single guy in his mid-30s. He has 5 couples as friends (his “company,” who value his company) – who all want to see him coupled up. While spending time with them, we get to see vignettes of each couple’s dynamic, which kind of throws the whole “OMG you must get married it’s THE BEST” attitude into a state of comic irony … while also setting us up for some very deep thoughts on what couplehood actually means. It’s one thing to crack a joke about the ball and chain (and it’s an easy laugh), but couple dynamics actually allow for some really messed up relationships to develop (ie Strindberg’s The Creditors), in addition to the positive ones. And in this examination of complexity, Sondheim’s own intelligence, his skill as a lyricist, really comes through. It’s occasionally a comic play, but at its core it’s a rather bleak examination of marriage as a commodity, of coupledom as a destructor of self, of a society that ignores the failings of this institution in favor of pushing conformity. Really, it practically begs for a few humorous moments to make its underlying themes digestible.

As usual, the Union folks made good work out of the shoestring budget they had – no stinting on talent (fourteen actors and a five piece band), but an ultra-bare set (a column and a table-sized light box) and light costuming. Actually, the costumes looked a little better than they’re usually able to afford, a nice palette of tans and browns that was evocative of the 70s without being a slave to it (witness completely inaccurate Juicy Couture tracksuits with thong underwear peeking above the waistline – absolutely not of the era), jazzed up with splashes of red for Bobby’s various love interests. The cast was also managing to pretend to be American well enough, though gorgeous Jenny Layton’s Southern Susan sounded like she fell out of a can of corn pone (Steven Craven as her husband Peter having more of the Dennison’s Chile sound, say via Montana). Unfortunately the show started with Samantha Seager (Sarah) just completely losing her accent in the middle of her scene, while her character’s husband Harry (Tom Hyatt) seemed confused about the name of the offense for driving under the influence – “drunk driving” in America, not “drink driving” (that would imply the bottle itself was behind the wheel). You’d think with English actors’ general ability to do 40 different accents at the drop of the hat they’d work a bit on throwing a few American options into the mix, but maybe theater schools here don’t find it a worthy thing to study. (New Jersey accents would have been perfect for Sarah and Harry.)

Notably radiating star power was Lucy Williamson as the bitter, three times married Joanne, “a wildy conceited broad with no self esteem.” She only really starred in one scene, but in each of the company ensembles she pretty well owned the stage, and her accent never dropped for a second. In fact, she was the very incarnation of a tough-as-nails New Yorker friend of mine. That said, she got a bit too angry during her big moment with our protagonist, popping me suddenly into “oh yeah, I’m really just watching a show with people acting” mode. I wouldn’t normally push people toning it down, but Ms. Williamson burned so brightly she didn’t actually need to flame out during this scene.

That said, my favorite moment in the show was Amy (Marisa Leigh Boynton) and Paul (Paul Callen)’s scene, in which they are about to go to the church and get married but Amy is getting cold feet – and more than a touch mental. She managed to be completely nuts – even having bizarre fantasies in which a ballerina (Lucy Evans, also hysterical and freakshowish as Bobby’s flight attendant girlfriend April) walks through a church wielding a butcher knife – racist, and ultimately sympathetic. Of all of the couple vignettes, this one showed more than the others how support is part of the equation as well as obligation and every other thing that binds two people together.

Now Lincoln Stone – he’s fine, but in some ways it seems like his character, despite all of the singing, is more of a thread to tie the other couples together rather than an entity with an exciting story of his own to move through. He’s fine (and looks nice in his shirtless scene with April), but … this show really needs more than him. It’s about the company, after all, and fortunately Michael Strassen didn’t pick a bunch of wallpaper for the rest of the show. And they’re there, in your face, in the tiny theater, singing without microphones, and really making it happen. And all this is only £15. Amazing, I tell you. This is a really good show, and you’d be a fool to miss it.

(Company continues at the Union Theatre through Saturday June 13th, 2009. Book now or forever regret you missed this. See Feigned Mischief for an alternate review.)

FYI: Union Theatre is trying to gather enough donations to buy a baby grand piano – checks for £25 per key being accepted. Make ’em out to “The Union Theatre” and send ’em off to 204 Union Street, SE10LX. I feel like I owe them for the good entertainment they’ve provided me and am encouraging anyone else that enjoys what they’ve been doing to pony up.

Review Preview: Sondheim’s “Company” at Union Theatre Southwark awesome

May 24, 2009

Review now available

I went to see Sondheim’s Company today at the Union Theatre in Southwark (they have Sunday matinees!), and while I’m too tired to write up a review right now, I will tell you to GET YOUR GODDAMN BOOTIES IN GEAR and get some tickets while you can. This is going to be a sell out. I mean, insofar as people go to the Menier to see the next big West End hit while they can in a small space, THIS theater is like where you would go to see something before it hits the Menier – only it’s better because it’s actually people singing WITHOUT MICROPHONES and practically in your lap. I promise to give you fuller details in the next day or so, but at $15 a ticket, why are you not already picking up the phone?

Company continues at the Union Theatre through Saturday June 13th, 2009. Don’t hesitate, make reservations before it’s all sold out!

Ambassador’s Theatres tells me lies, tells me sweet little lies

April 14, 2009

So, I come home from my long visit to Sicily, and, while digging through the monstrous backlog of emails I’ve got, I see one from Ambassador Theatres, “Last Chance to see Graham Norton in La Cage Aux Folles,” well! “SPECIAL OFFER – BEST SEATS £25!” (Monday – Thursday performances until 30 April, using promotion code ATGLAST.)

How exciting! I’ve been wanting to see this for ages and now my chance has come. And I could get good seats in the stalls! So I went to the website, picked my date of choice (April 23rd), entered the promo code, then clicked on a swathe of four lovely seats, right there and row J, and found …

NO! I can’t have those seats, not for £25! And the best best seats, Cabaret Table D, are those available? No!

What are they willing to let me have? Stalls N2-N3. Dress circle row J (the back). Dress circle row A (“The safety rail may affect the view”). Are any of these the “best seats?” I think not. It says in the fine print of the ad that the discount can’t be used on premium seats, but, let’s be honest, BEST SEATS is not a way of saying “the best seats that have a restricted view” or “the best seats under the balcony,” it means the BEST seats. If they’re not willing to let the so-called premium seats go at this price, than, as far as I’m concerned they are engaged in false advertising. Ambassador Theatres/Ambassador Tickets / Ambassador Theatre group, I call you out here as LIARS for misrepresenting your wares. Don’t dress your sheep in ringlets and tell me it’s a spring lamb – this email was simply a LIE.

Review – Entertaining Mr. Sloane – Trafalgar Studios

January 28, 2009

Last night I went with Katy and the West End Whingers crewe to see Entertaining Mr. Sloane at Trafalgar Studios. I did my best to shield myself from any information about the show before I went – I mean, the tickets were bought, I was going, why pollute the experience with a bunch of preconceived notions? All I really knew about it was that it was by Joe Orton (who I’d heard a bit about but never seen or read anything by) and starred Imelda Staunton, who is a super nova in my tiny pantheon of stars I really quite like. I figured it was likely racy and possibly had some gay themes in it, to which I said, hurray! I was just looking for a good evening out and I figured this was going to be a great start to my theatrical year.

Well! What I didn’t expect was that this show was going to be hysterically funny and the kind of top quality event that makes me grateful to live in London. (Sadly, the rest of the cast can’t be found on the Ambassador Theatre’s website – what’s wrong with them? Richard Bremmer and Simon Paisley Jones were fantastic!) Staunton was great as sexually chained Kath, the landlady who is utterly taken in by the brash and physical Mr. Sloane (Matthew Horne), the swaggering young man who comes looking for a place to live and acts like he owns the place before he’s even agreed to move in. The cast is rounded out by the twitchingly stiff brother Ed (Simon Paisley Jones) and the doddering DaDa (Richard Bremmer).

The whole thing feels like a sort of madcap Pinter, as if the bleak living situation of “The Birthday Party” and the freakishly charged sexual politics of “Homecoming” (and all of the implied class attitudes and repression of the 50s, which didn’t smell much like it had changed even in ’64) had been shaken up with “Boeing Boeing.” Kath can’t keep her pants on, but in the environment of this play, it just seems like so much comedy that she’s spent her whole life locked up by her brother and unable to create any sort of existence for herself because of some teenaged sexual shenanigans. And her brother could come off as a rigid tyrant and supporter of sexual oppression, but his own, visibly vibrating self-repression (best during the scene when Mr. Sloane’s recital of his various forms of exercise leaves Ed nearly cross-eyed – only to end the scene all but drooling on the floor as he describes the leather chauffeur’s uniform he will have to outfit Mr. Sloane in once he comes to work for him) makes him a figure of comedy. And Da is just brilliant – an old, weak man who seems like a fool but has a sharp mind under his failing body (Richard Bremmer in a performance of complete genius).

With a script that borders on ludicrous, it takes an amazing cast to pull of its cheesy lines without having it completely disintegrate – and this group of actors delivered in spades. Every one of them completely holds the stage (as if they were all attempting to upstage each other simultaneously), and while a leather-clad Mr. Sloane might catch the eye, the glowering Ed is just as powerful – though Staunton prancing around in a horrid, see-through negligee pretty well steals the show (and had nearly all of my party falling out of their chairs). She really just has the verve and wow and timing and … God, just the whole package! I really had no idea she was such a brilliant comic actress, but she is just the highlight of this show. And Bremmer’s crotchety old man was great – such a sense of menace in his own way, but absolutely no dummy, and a keen hand with a hot poker.

Who knows, maybe there was some kind of extra energy with the preview audience, but it was just an electric exchange between stage and stalls and I feel lucky to have been able to see it. Trafalgar Studios is a smallish theater, this play is just a revival, not a premiere, but damn, here I am living in London and this kind of stuff is just going on all of the time. Or not, really, because there are certainly plenty of dogs out there. But if you’re looking to get your laughs in, I gotta say, get your buns in a seat in Studio 1 and get ready for great night out – Mr. Sloane will deliver.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Tuesday, January 27th, 2009. For an alternate, yet similar take, please see the West End Whingers’ review. It runs through April 13th – don’t wait too long or it will be gone!)

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.)

Review – Hairspray – Shaftesbury Theatre, London

July 10, 2008

Way, way back at the dawn of time (in the theater sense, so four months back), I was idly crusing LastMinute.com and saw they had 20 quid tickets for Hairspray. Hairspray! The show everyone I know loves and which never makes it to the TKTS booth! For twenty quid! Well, the sad thing was that in order to get these great tickets, I had to book waaaaay in advance, but I found four seats available on a night when Michael Ball was performing (that is, not on a Monday and before October 25th), invited two friends of mine to come with me and J, and … well, sat and waited for months and months for the big day to finally arrive.

This leads into last night, which was FINALLY spent watching Hairspray with Bathtubgingirl and Spikeylady (as well as, and of course, my husband). I can see that the hype has been, well, not just hype. The songs were really fun (I like the 60s musical style), the costumes were great, and the big dance scenes were awesome. I can now see why Booklectic has been again and again. Clearly she’s not the only one, as a plaid-shirted teenager a few seats over was singing along to the final number. I bet all of the actors in all of the other musicals on in London right now are wishing they could work in this show – the energy was really high and the quality of the performers was tops. It was, as ever, sold out. I hadn’t seen either of the Hairspray movies, but I’m glad I went into it knowing nothing, as it meant it was all one fun surprise for me. I could probably go on about it ad nauseum but there have been so many great reviews of it that I feel like I can’t add much more (and am, in fact, mostly just writing about it here to record that I finally went).

I’d like to add that this was the most amazingly fat-positive show I’ve ever seen. I don’t mean that it was about how gaining weight is great; it actually addressed the issues of anti-fat prejudice straight on, and had the message, “You can do it! Be yourself!” This was great. I mean, it’s one thing to be overweight and have health issues, but why should feeling like a failure be so much a part of the experience of being a fat person? Is it pleasant to hang out with people who hate themselves, or to feel that way about yourself? Wouldn’t you look up to, say, a person in a wheelchair who had a sunny attitude? And yet, if you remember highschool, “gimps” and “crips” got all sorts of hatred and attitude thrown their way. Hairspray had an immensely positive message about liking yourself as you are and not letting other people’s hatred get you down, and I really, really liked that. I must add … for my two girlfriends, who have issues about their weight, this was a GREAT play for them to see, and I just hope it can help them look in the mirror and see how gorgeous they are – because they are!

The play also dealt with (in a not heavy way) the issues of race at this time in history. I really liked seeing racism handled head-on, showing both the good and the bad and, well, just the fair amount of subtlety in terms of how the race issue existed/exists in America. Unfortunately none of the black characters really had a whole lot of dimensionality to them, but, well, I guess that doesn’t really reflect the author’s experience.

Anyway, if you’ve been holding off because you can’t get good priced seats … you’re going to probably still be waiting a while. On the other hand, if you think it’s not worth it … splash out, get floor seats, and I promise you a great night out at the best musical currently playing on the West End. Don’t miss it!

Great deal on Noel Coward’s “Brief Encounter” at the Haymarket

July 8, 2008

I noticed in yesterday’s Metro that the daily reader offer was £20 tickets (buy one at £39.50, get one free) for Noel Coward’s Brief Encounter at the Cinema Haymarket, one of the best shows I’ve seen all year. The deal is “two top price tickets for £39.50,” and, hey, if you get lucky you’ll even get some snacks at intermission. It says “Call 0871 230 1562 and quote ‘Metro offer,’ valid for all performances except Saturday evenings until 31 August.” So, hurray for this – I’ll be going back to see it again!

Review – Noël Coward’s Brief Encounter – Kneehigh Theatre at The Cinema Haymarket

June 18, 2008

(This, my favorite show of 2008, is now in New York City at Studio 54. Both The New York Times and blogger Steve On Broadway love this show – don’t miss it!)

Several months ago I heard about a unique hybrid production of the movie of Brief Encounter and the play that inspired it (Still Life), presented in the cinema where the movie premiered back in the day (restored to its glory for the show). I was intrigued but held off going so that I could attend with a gaggle of my friends. Time passed, the event hadn’t been organized, and my uncle was in town looking for a show to fill the slot on Sunday (which in London means slim pickins, no doubt about it). Torn between seeing an opera none of us had much of an interest in and a show that I personally was quite interested in, based on a movie my uncle loved, it wasn’t too hard to make the argument for skipping Covent Garden in favor of the Cinema Haymarket.

And what a good choice it was! Brief Encounter is pure theatrical magic. I can hardly sing its praises highly enough. In part, I think, I just didn’t know what to expect – I thought it was going to be people performing the dialogue in front of a movie screen. This did happen – for about the first five minutes of the show … but as it was performed, two of the actors were in the audience, and one of the “actors” was on the screen, addressing one of the people in the audience – so it was completely unlike the audience participation version of the Rocky Horror Picture Show, which was kind of what I thought the show was going to be like.

Instead, what we got was a full-fledged multi-media show with just that clip of film as its basis, with live music and multi-tasking character actors (a cast of eight, I think?) that occasionally sang and danced and even bounced up and down in unison to indicate the passage of a train. Our star-crossed lovers, Laura (Naomi Frederick) and Alec (Tristan Sturrock) plunged into it all whole-heartedly, taking us on a boating trip, dancing in the air with joy, being kind and thoughtful to each other, and falling in love in most heart-rending fashion.

Meanwhile the rest of the brilliant cast was hamming it up in a variety of roles my uncle claimed saw little screen time in the original, but which added a lot of texture (in the form of two other love affairs) and provided the opportunity for all sorts of hijinks. It all ended in a fairly melancholy way, but we were so energized from the rest of the show, who could care? And as to the (American) woman in the bathroom who said that she didn’t remember Brief Encounter being a comedy – I say, you make a show that works in the medium you’re using, and this was a brilliant piece of theater.

My uncle, who’s retired, said Brief Encounter was worth paying full price to see – and considering he paid for three tickets, I consider that quite a compliment. (The matinee wasn’t available at the TKTS booth, although it often is for evening shows.) Also, after seeing four plays in four days (six for him), we all agreed that this was the best of the bunch – the icing on the cake for his trip to London. For me, it’s the best play I’ve seen in at least three months, possibly the year to date, and the only one that I’d go see again.