Posts Tagged ‘Harold Pinter Theatre’

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 – Mojo – Harold Pinter Theater (formerly the Comedy)

February 2, 2014

Mojo, also known as “that all-male comedy starring Ben Wishaw,” seems to have been doing a bumper business at the Harold Pinter since its opening in November – helped, no doubt, by a few people like RevStan, who’s been to see it at least five times. (This is made possible by the day seating program and its £10 tickets.) I, however, have no stomach for standing in the cold (and wet) for two hours to see a show; and the ticket prices were otherwise just too rich for me. This left me feeling pretty frustrated as I kept hearing good things about it; I mean, what if they were right? I was going to miss out!

Fortunately my whimpers of distress were noticed by a person I will euphemistically refer to as “Santa Claus,” who bought me tickets for an evening in January. So there I was on a Friday night, in the dress circle (actually in very nice seats), ready to have my world rocked (and looking suspiciously around for Harry Potter fans. I’m pleased to report Rupert Grint may be allowed to actually develop as an actor rather than being penalized by his fan base).

I don’t know, I kind of wonder now why I went. I’d really avoided reading much about the plot, and was pretty surprised when nearly the entire first act consisted of two guys talking so quickly and in such weird, slangy English that I really could not follow their conversation. The audience was laughing, though, not that I knew why. Instead, I was sitting there, watching, trying really hard to hear, and wondering, what, exactly, is going on here? They’re at a club? There’s a young blond Elvis performing? They are taking drugs? Lots of drugs? They might be playing cards? Something about serving tea? Um, minge joke, okay, that was a little bit funny, but … um, what?

And then we suddenly wind up in a scene where some guy is tied to a jukebox (nearly) naked while some other guy is swinging a sword around and then another guy comes in and is all grim, and, I don’t know, WHY WAS ANYTHING FUNNY? I was finding it tense and uncomfortable and I might have considered leaving because I really was just not following along. And then it seemed to become more of a mobbish/revenge kind of thing but, really, I would have preferred being back at The Dumb Waiter, where people said less but meant more.

I left the play without ever figuring out what happened in the first act. But sometime in the second act I realized that all of the characters worked at a nightclub in Soho that had apparently become the target for some kind of gangland takeover. The focus of events turned to Mickey (Brendan Coyle), the standout single competent employee in the club, and Baby (Ben Wishaw), the son of the club owner and massive head case.

So … let’s talk about Wishaw. In some ways, this was really a star turn, as watching him prowl/stagger/swagger across the stage, you could help but feel he was in a different world from the other characters. But the you couldn’t help but try to figure out what world it is. I hate to think that I’ve been living here so long that I too have become obsessed with actors’ accents (though it’s hard not to when every time I see a play with British actors playing Americans I get asked if the accents were authentic or not). I couldn’t tell if I was watching an English actor attempting to do a Brooklynese accent badly, or if I was watching an Italian-English character attempting to do an American gangster-type accent badly. It just all didn’t make sense. And, for once in my life, because the way a character was speaking in a play didn’t make sense, I wasn’t able to give him any kind of context that could make him come to life. I was just watching a person act – dramatically, mind you – but I wasn’t engrossed in the play.

Now let’s not be mistaken: the tragic, violent turn things took in the final act certainly made me sit up and pay attention (especially as I thought it might have all been a dream of Baby) and really just upended my whole perception that I was watching a comedy. I’m not sure how the rest of the audience took it (aside from the walkouts) but I wound up feeling quite discombobulated and a whole lot more convinced that I’d actually seen some good theater because what happened in the final act made clear the relationships between the various men in a way that I could feel. But I can’t forgive this play the first act. Worth seeing: well, probably; worth two hours: maybe; worth 60 quid: absolutely not. Twenty pounds max: day seats or nothing. Unless, of course, you somehow are able to cobble something together out of the first act.

(This review is for a performance that took place on January 24, 2014. Runs through February 8th.)

Review – Chimerica – Almeida Theater (transferring to Harold Pinter Theater)

May 31, 2013

It was a bit intimidating to walk into the Almeida Theater’s blogger’s evening for Chimerica not two days after going to see Strange Interlude and discover that I had signed myself up for a second three hour play in one week. Arrgh! My sleep schedule!

But I was very interested by the subject material – a view of modern China as seen by a man who’s looking for the person in the infamous “Man confronts tank at Tian An Men Square” photo. It seems that “changes in China” is quite the topic, since both the Ai Wei Wei play and Consumed were newly produced and written just this year. And for me, well, Tien An Men is at the heart of my political consciousness – it was an event that changed the course of my professional life, putting a stop to my plans to go to Beijing and ride the surging tide of what would soon be the world’s largest economy. I watched the protests day after day on TV, and had been following the rapid changes in the newspapers … and twenty-five years later it seems to have been completely disappeared by the monster nation, swallowed up by stories about pollution, worker abuses, political corruption, and the excesses of the nouveaux riches.

The tale was spun in the very movie-like Headlong way that pretty much guaranteed that you could never get bored as the central cube of the set whirled around, opened screens to show little sets inside, was covered by animated images as it spun to another setting, then carried on WHOOPS HOW ABOUT A GHOST? Lucy Kirkwood wrote the scenes in a short, television-esque style that kept us moving from Beijing to New York to an editor’s office to a strip bar to Beijing circa 1987 and so on, barely a moment to think. Most of the cast played multiple roles, except of course for leads Stephen Campell Moore (as photographer Joe Schofield), Benedict Wong (a radicalizing professor Zhang Lin) and Claudie Blakeley (marketing executive Tessa Kendrick). All of them did solid jobs with their characters, although it was odd seeing Wong back on stage so shortly after his star turn in Ai Wei Wei – a particular accent that he has really marked it as “his” performance. And there was just a tiny bit of spoken Mandarin in many of the scenes just to keep it all real (in small enough drabs that I was able to follow along but felt sure nobody was really missing all that much).

Despite the loveliness of seeing a play with so much in the now in its dialogue, with so much of very modern politics and a genuine humanity at its core, I felt that Chimerica was both too long (several scenes seemed rather pointless) and too skewed toward a white, English-speaking audience. Who really could care about someone looking to “get a story” by finding someone in a twenty-five year old photograph? Joe wants to exploit “tank man,” and in the same way Chimerica exploits its subject(s) to produce what is ultimately a fairly empty entertainment at the expense of creating a deeper understanding …something which could only have happened if the people of China were its core rather than its window dressing. Whether as immigrants, dissidents, cheerful patriotic consumers or cog in the machine of the state, there’s a lot more to China and the modern Chinese condition than this play can be bothered to discuss (perhaps because it would be too “boring” or, God forbid, “foreign” to its intended audience). Maybe the author just didn’t want to do any more research. Who knows. I’m glad, in retrospect, that this play does so much to raise the profile of the Tian An Men square massacre; but ultimately it’s a bit like a fortune cookie: sweet and digestible but only with a Westerner’s ideas of Chinese culture at its heart.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Thursday, May 30th, 2013. My ticket was generously provided by the Almeida.)