Posts Tagged ‘Harold Pinter Theater’

Mini-review – Nice Fish – Harold Pinter Theater

November 29, 2016

Obviously with Mark Rylance being such a genius and all, it’s “miss it at your peril” whenever he decides to hit the stage again. So I bought super cheap tickets for Nice Fish knowing nothing about it other than MARK RYLANCE WOO and then was overjoyed to discover I’d manage to bag seats for a 90 minute show. Wahoo! And it got better because we were magically upgraded to a BOX SEAT. Now, mind you, this meant that a fifth of the stage was invisible, and there were actually some bizarre things going on on the edge of the stage (puppets, a man standing around), but the LEGROOM and the TABLE. If only we’d had something to drink. Alas.

So Nice Fish is ostensibly about two men who are ice fishing in Minnesota. It is also about pretty much anything BUT ice fishing. There is certainly a lot of talking, and a lot of being silly, and it seems like it might have some point to it. It could have been about the nature of friendship … it could have been about the nature of Americans (you’ll certainly get some insights, as there’s no doubt in my mind that Ron (Mark Rylance) and Eric (Jim Lichtscheidl) are profoundly American in ways that I found oddly relaxing) … but a lot of the big moments that we’re moved between, on a road peppered with conversations about baloney sandwiches, Moby Dick, and the relative merit of different kinds of vitamins … is conversations about the nature of life. Yep. we are watching an absurdist existentialist drama, somewhere between Happy Days (you know, the woman buried below her neck in sand) and Tree, but with none of the “yeah it’s all just waiting for death” of Albee and a lot more of the “it’s actually about the journey, and maybe having a little bit of a laugh” of the Kitson piece.

In the end, this play doesn’t choose to hit you in the head with some big existentialist revelation (even though it does have a piscis ex machina in the final scene), but the semblance of the experience of endurance ice fishing combined with the moments of shimmering metaphors – like a brown trout flashing in a beam of sunshine – is actually rather fulfilling. You sit down, you sit back, you take a moment (or ninety) just to have experiences. It’s actually almost a mini-lesson in how to live life. And in that, the play was successful – not quite genius but still a perfect little lesson in zen.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Monday, November 28, 2016. It continues through February 11th, 2017.)

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Mini-review – Sunny Afternoon (the Kinks musical) – Harold Pinter Theater

May 27, 2015

If you’re a Kinks fan, this isn’t the review of Sunny Afternoon you should be reading. This review is for someone who knows next to nothing about the Kinks but likes musical theater. Should you, oh fellow cultural outsider, see this show? Is it a good musical – or really just a jukebox musical, a way for fans to relive the experience outside of the concert hall?

But how could it be that I didn’t know much of the music of the Kinks? First, I’m too young; second, I’m not British. I was aware of the song “Lola” and “Come Dancing,” but those were the only two songs by the Kinks I could have dredged up out of my memory: “You Really Got Me” I certainly knew, but as a background song from the oldies radio station. I had never heard “Sunny Afternoon” or “Dedicated Follower of Fashion” (and not really “Waterloo Sunset,” at least not ’til I moved here): but I discovered (during the course of the show) that I had heard a few via The Pretenders – “Stop Your Sobbing” and “I Go to Sleep.” So there you have it, Kinks fans – I’m really sorry, but they just weren’t as fantastically big in the US as they were in the UK. My 60s listening has tended toward psychedelic music and girl bands, anyway.

So, then, why did I go? Well, it’s actually due to the talk on the show presented at the Hampstead Theater’s Page to Stage Festival, in which the show’s playwright Joe Penhall and its director Edward Hall talked about the complexities in building this story and bringing it to the stage. The writing process was fantastically exciting to me, as Ray Davies was directly involved in it – I mean, who gets to have the subject of your show walk in and say, “Yeah, that’s good, but did you know about this other story?” There was also some mind-expanding talk about recreating the sounds of this band during the sixties, ranging from getting the right kind of amplifiers to teaching all of the actors to not just to act the roles of musicians but to perform in the style of the musicians who they were emulating (i.e. one of them was always a tiny bit off-beat). It sounded like such a great artistic effort that I got really interested in seeing the output of all of this effort – and, I figured, at the end I’d know who the Kinks were in a way I certainly did not before the show started.

As a play, this show succeeded in creating some very rich, believable characters – primarily Ray Davies (John Dagliesh) and his brother Dave (George Maguire), whose richly nuanced performances created the semblance of real legends on the stage before us. And to throw us more into the milieu of this extremely creative era, we had a cast with not just the four people in the band singing and playing, but every single actor on stage contributing to the music (as near as I can tell), including some extremely surprising turns as the two posh boys in the first act turned out to play the trombone and the late middle aged actor who played one of the Kinks’ British lawyers turned out to be a rather fine percussionist. The energy on stage was really impressive – everybody seemed to be having a good time. I even caught the background pianist singing along to tunes where here clearly hadn’t been miked. The joy and excitement wasn’t just on stage, either, because by the end of the show all of the people sitting in my section (who all appeared to be in their late fifties to sixties) were up and dancing and having themselves a real knees-up.

This was what I enjoyed about the show – a chance to hear some really seminal British music performed, not just in its original context, but in its current context, with fandom intact. And I was intrigued by the ups and downs of the bands. However … as a story, it just didn’t get very deep. References were made to Ray Davies’ mental health issues – and they were portrayed a teeny bit on stage – but I never got a handle on just what was going on in his head or how it was affecting his daily life or his creativity. The conflict between the band members was laid out clearly enough, but I couldn’t see how it really ramped up or how it was resolved – just transitioning into another song didn’t explain it. And this seemed to be the solution for nearly every moment when the story could have taken us deeper – play a song. This, unfortunately, didn’t enlighten me, and I still have no idea what brought Ray together with his (first) wife, or how she ever found time to make it into the recording studio after the birth of their daughter. She looked groovy and sang great, but …

In conclusion, I think this is, to a great extent, a jukebox musical, because, while there’s lots of story going on, there just isn’t enough personal evolution for me to really rate it as a play. But there’s lots and lots of music and it’s really fun and it tries to really recreate the sound and feel of the era – and maybe that’s enough. It was certainly a good night out and I walked home humming a lot of the songs, and after any musical, that’s the criteria that would make me say I enjoyed myself.

Mini-review – Old Times – Harold Pinter Theater

March 15, 2013

It’s finally getting to the point where in my quest to see all plays by Pinter, I’m now starting to see plays for the second time. I have to say, I’m enjoying this. Part of it is because so many Pinter plays are so attractively short, perfect for a quick theater dip on a work night. But part of it is because I’m still attracted to the mysteries of Pinter, to the fact that when I see his shows I don’t always know what’s going on, but I get the fun of trying to work it out.

So we come to Old Times, the first Pinter play I saw done well, at the Donmar back in 2004 (how time flies!). I was more than willing to see it again at the (newly christened) Harold Pinter Theater, though I was indifferent to the “star casting” of Kristin Scott Thomas; I just wanted to see a good play.

What I got, to be sure, was a short play, and all of the words were still there like before. It was a Thomas as Anna night (with Lia Williams as the mousy and nearly silent Kate), so we had a big-smiling, lovely blond woman with lots of legs and flouncing and necklace playing. There was certainly an underlying, interconnected set of tensions: Anna’s chatter was interrupted by the occasional burst of temper from Kate’s husband Deeley (Rufus Sewell), and Kate’s taciturnity and body language seemed to indicate something was bothering her … though rather often she just seemed invisible.

As before, I found myself sucked in by the little slips in time, when Kate and Anna of yore, young girls in London, seemed to materialize for a brief moment, and their closeness and the vibrancy of their life became real. Watching it, you have to ask yourself, what happened to that? What happened to the happy Kate? What happened to the close friendship between her and Anna? I no longer believed (as I did the first time) they’d been having an affair, and my thoughts that perhaps Anna was killed by Kate (she does say she saw Anna dead) now seem just a matter of my taking one sentence too literally (as it’s immediately contradicted). But there was clearly a moment when Kate turned against Anna. Was it really so simple that Deeley is hiding an affair with with his wife’s former best friend? But … I’m still not sure. Maybe it happened in Sicily. Maybe, really, Kate was just angry at all of Deeley’s friends. The possibility that Deeley might have slept with Anna “back in the day” is there, but I wasn’t buying it. It’s all still a bit of a mystery to me.

Problematically (with getting the “right” interpretation), I felt a lack of commitment from the actors – perhaps not so surprising so late into the run; but the obvious wrongness of Anna and Deeley’s flirting while Kate bathes, and the lack of subtlety to the whole thing, just felt like … well, heavyhandedness in the face of a lack of clarity. But they also just seemed to be going to their paces. A pity, really: I recall seeing Lia Williams before and thinking how amazing she was. Maybe I need to come back on a night when she’s Anna. Or, maybe, I got my money’s worth out of my 2nd balcony restricted view seat and that’s how it goes.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Tuesday, March 12, 2013. It is booking through April 6th.)