Posts Tagged ‘Harold Pinter’

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.)

Review – Pinter Double Header (Victoria Station and One for the Road) – The Print Room (moving to Young Vic)

September 23, 2011

I was VERY excited when I saw the Pinter double header (at The Young Vic) was actually dipping its toe in the London theater scene at The Print Room on Notting Hill before its later October run. This was exciting to me, first, because I was having a hard time fitting the Young Vic shows into my October schedule, and, second, because the Print Room’s location is five minutes’ walk from the Notting Hill Taqueria. (And if you go, be alerted that all tacos there are half priced there before 7 PM. This was a very bright spot in my week after a few too many nights of cold sandwiches.) Pinter in Notting Hill, bring it!

There was a bit of a spooky atmosphere going to the theater, with a candle lit path guiding us to the garden. The set up in the theater itself is an open space with chairs placed around all edges, in the center of which was a man sitting at a table with his head down (I managed to not even really notice him as I was looking for my seat, he was so still). Suddenly the lights flickered down and a bearded man (Keith Dumphy) appeared at a table kitty-corner to the first. The two begin to have a conversation over a sort of walkie-talkie system (bearded man amplified with a convincing public address system metallicness). The controller asks the other, older man some questions, then begins to berate him. The hostility and frustration of the controller is obvious; but the mystery, to me, is why does the older man (Kevin Doyle) not know where he is? How could he possibly be living in London and not know where Victoria Station is? What has gone wrong here? In delicious Pinterian fashion, we are never given an answer to this, nor to the disappearance of (seemingly) everyone else from these two people’s world. Was it nuclear holocaust, the rapture, or a zombie attack? I was left with plenty of mysteries to solve and absolutely no answers, with my hair just a bit on edge from the barely restrained violence. Dee-lish!

Next up (after a startling transition to the horrible florescent overheads typical of so many offices) was a complete transition as Doyle now became Nicolas, a sadist with a taste for whiskey (“One for the Road”), who for reasons unknown has Victor (Dunphy) under his control. Why is Victor there? What world or country is this where patriotism and religion have become so important? Is it America in ten years? The raised hand feeling, the implied violence behind so many Pinters, has rarely felt so very intense as it did in this play. No one was actually struck, but off the stage people’s bodies and lives were being destroyed. Doyle wasn’t quite note perfect – I think not enough coldness in his heart – but the show was intense and nearly unbearable. My friend thanked me for inviting him after it was all over, and, truly, it was a really great night of theater – ninety minutes in which I fully forgot everything that existed outside of the tiny room I was in.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Tuesday, September 20th, 2011. It continues at the Print Room until October 1st then moves to the Young Vic for an October 6-15th run.)

Review – Moonlight – Donmar Theater

April 11, 2011

My first exposure to the incredible depth that can be found in the works of Harold Pinter came with the Donmar’s production of Old Times back in 2004. It was astounding; I felt like I’d finally found a playwright who respected his audience enough to not feel the need to tell them everything. This was a person who was writing for me, and if I found it hard going, well, it was my job to figure it out.

Since then I’ve been seeing Pinter plays as often as I can, not trying to see everything that is done but trying to see every play at least once. Thus, Moonlight was a ticket I bought automatically, as it’s a Pinter play I haven’t seen and, well, the Donmar, you know, they may have a style but this play firmly is in the middle of what they do well and was absolutely guaranteed to be a great production (not to mention deliciously affordable at £10 in the balcony). Excitingly for me, I recognized two of the actors from other shows, one (“the wife,” Deborah Findlay) from the fabulous John Gabriel Borkman (same role, different husband) in this same theater; the other (“the husband,” David Bradley) from the Tricycle’s Caretaker where he played the eponymous role: so funny to see him transformed from creepy old bum to semi-respectable asshole – somehow it seemed that it was all on a continuum of “life in Pinter” where one could just go from one state to another, much as one goes from “mother” to “grandmother” or possibly “serving wretch” depending on how the circumstances of your life change in the intervening years. But I digress.

So I’m sitting here now, writing this, wondering: what do I talk about, the production? The plot? The questions it left behind? It’s the third I’m most interested in, but I suspect only Pinter fanatics feel that way. The set is lovely, blues framed by a line of occasionally blinding white whose fading seemed a literal echo of Dylan Thomas’ “dying of the light” (against with Bradley spends the play raging); the sound design is sparse but gets special mention for use of the Cure’s “Love Cats” (first time I’ve heard a band from my wasted college years used in a show) in a throwaway moment. And the set, showing two different environments (a seedy flat, the bedroom of a well-to-do household) side by side is sparse and effective, a perfect accompaniment to the script, showing that the four main actors are both hopelessly intertwined with each other while emphasizing the chasm in their daily existences.

Overall, this seems to me to be a lesser Pinter play, if well done. Bradley is strong in the main role of the dying, hallucinating former civil servant who seems to revel in torturing his wife with his past excesses; Findlay neatly conveys long-term suffering tempered by the knowledge of her certain release from her husband’s foul mouth. But their two sons, who seem to be dole-funded layabouts who spend their days playing mind games with each other, don’t have clear roles in the show and seem disposable. Ultimately, they only really seem to matter in the scene where their mother takes her one solo action in the play; calling to their apartment to ask them to visit their dying father. In this we get our long, Pinteresque moment of silent and tension, as the phone rings and rings while the boys stare at it as if it were a terrorist buzzing their doorbell, finally answering, “Laundry service.” The mother attempts to get them to engage with her struggle, then breaks down into playing the game with them; showing her connection with them and emphasizing the uncrossable divide between them and their father.

It was a perfect moment, but in many ways the play might be even better if the sons (and their 20 or more minutes of stage time) were eliminated altogether and we just focused on the couple as they moved slowly toward death. The noticeable slowing at the end would disappear and we, the audience, would have a much tidier set of destroyed human beings to deal with. It seems to me the play was far more vibrant in the scenes in which the father and the wife argue about their lives together and what death means; when they are not the focus, it seems garbled. Though I know Pinter constructed this deliberately, still, this time he said too much; but I considered it a good evening out and rewarding viewing nonetheless.

(This review is for a preview performance of Moonlight that took place on Friday, April 8th, 2011. It continues through May 28th and looks to be sold out for the entire run.)

Review – No Man’s Land – Duke of York’s Theatre

January 2, 2009

Well, tonight is closing night for this play, so there’s not really much to say – it looked pretty sold out last night, and it will probably also be so today. We had a hard time getting seats at all, especially given that we’re operating on a tight budget so close to Christmas and our upcoming house move. Thus I was excited to get ten quid seats, as it enabled me to justify a play I needed to see in order to accomplish my goal of seeing every play ever written by Pinter – an easier goal to accomplish now that the list is fixed due to his death, which I’m very sad about.

It should be noted, though, that ten quid tickets with the kind of restricted views we had may not be such a deal. Here is my sketch of the stage from our seats in row C of the upper balcony:

The circle with the nose in my lower right palm is Michael Gambon. There was another actor in this scene, but as you can tell from the pictorial record, I could in no way SEE him (though I could hear him talking). At another point there was a scene with THREE people, of which you could see the lower half of one of them (David Bradley as Spooner) and then the shadows of the other two guys (Rupert Goold and Nick Dunning, never did figure out their characters’ names but they’re available online), which I thought made the whole thing look just quite dramatic – as a painting. As theater, it was very irritating. Wechsler calls it the “Curse of Low-ro,” but it’s the curse of tight budget for me. On the other hand, I was at least able to see it.

Am I glad about that? Well, this play is really quite … Pinteresque, or as my husband would put it, “unfathomable ” (actually the quote was, “I got nothing out of that”), at least when you’re still recovering from New Year’s Eve and some really hard core jet lag. While I could noodle on about what I think the plot MIGHT have been about, I’d prefer to complain about Goold and Dunning, who just seemed stiff and uninteresting. I believe in Pinter, and I believe when actors seem so unconvincing in one of his plays, it’s their own damned fault and NOT that of the script. David Bradley looked like he was having a grand time, hamming it up, really enjoying the packed house (there to pay their respects to the great author, so recently passed?), and Michael Gambon was deliciously confused as the rich old codger who couldn’t seem to remember what he was doing from one minute to the next but still faked it like a pro (with a gorgeous voice). Me, I enjoyed my own delicious confusion, and what I wish I could do is sit down, read the text (with all of its extremely rude dialogue), and then go back and see the play. But it closes tonight. At least, then, I am glad that I did see it the once.

And, again, I am very, very sad about Harold Pinter dying. I had wished I could tell him in person some day how much I enjoy his work. I find them to always be a bit of a puzzle, and I will enjoy working this one out.

(This review is for a performance seen on January 1st, 2009. Rest in peace, great man.)

Review – Pinter’s “A Slight Ache” and “Landscape” – National Theatre

September 16, 2008

I am a big Pinter fan, so there was no doubt in my mind that I was going to be heading to the National to see “A Slight Ache” and “Landscape,” a (second) set of Pinter one act plays (“The Lover” and “The Collection” being the ones I saw and loved earlier this year). But I was shocked to find out that three weeks beforehand, it was already nearly sold out! Who were these maniacs with a strange inclination toward highly modern story telling … in the form of one acts? Well … who knows, but with £10 tickets (in some areas), I wasn’t going to question it too much.

Once I got to the theater, which was full and rather noisy, it came to me … people were here to see Simon Russell Beale. Now, I haven’t really got the hang of the British theatrical establishment (in part because I really detest the culture of celebrity here, but also because I’m usually too cheap to buy programs and have a mind like a sieve), but I did start remembering seeing him rather a lot … like in the extremely fun Major Barbara … and apparently also The Alchemist and even Galileo. He did actually make a bit of an impression, so perhaps there’s something going on here with this person that I’ve been missing. And, gosh, it appears I’ve also seen Clare Higgins acting alongside him, in that very production of Major Barbara. I almost feel gauche to not have remembered her name. Ah, well, I’m sure they’ve both long forgotten about me.

Anyway, as to the plays: um.

*sigh*

I’m SO sorry, but I was really disappointed! “A Slight Ache” was acted extremely well, but the director made the horrible mistake of actually embodying the third “character” – I think it was a mistake – well, if it was actually originally a radio play, this non-speaking role wouldn’t have been filled. But why bother? To me, it would have been far more satisfying with the two of them talking to thin air rather than actually having to make “Mr. Death” have some sort of a body and face and move. And … the script! PLEASE was every playwright REQUIRED to write a play about boring middle aged people having to confront death in a surrealist/absurdist fashion (“The Sandbox,” “The chairs,” “Waiting for Godot,” etc. ad nauseum). Sure it was Pinter, and the dialogue was interesting, and there was a bit of implied or actual violence and some odd tension, but I got bored and never particularly cared what happened to the characters. In fact, they pretty well lost me the minute the husband decided to send his wife out to invite Mr. Death in for a cup of tea. Aside from the fact the whole thing was set on my birthday (“It’s the longest day of the year!” – Freudian slipped that as “longest play of the year,” can’t imagine why), I really didn’t get a lot of sparkle out of this show. And someone’s hearing aid was uttering a high pitch shriek that was particularly audible during all of those Pinter silences. I wanted to stick an ice pick in my own ear and make the noise go away. Who’d think Pinter’s quiet bits could actually be so painful?

I was left hoping for more during the second (shorter) play, “Landscape,” but it just didn’t happen. This play was more attractively mysterious – why were these two people living together? What had happened between them? Was she mad? – but just unfortunately not engaging, possibly due to burnout earlier in the evening. I did learn an awful lot about proper care of beer in a traditional pub, but that really wasn’t enough to justify the evening.

In short: I’d probably advise a miss on these, even if you really like Beale. Not everything a playwright creates in genius, and this night is only for the hardcore, which means I probably deserved every minute of it.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Monday, August 15th, 2008.)

September Theatre preview

August 27, 2008

This is the most shocking of weeks – I have no theater trips planned at all! That, however, is how the cookie crumbles when out of town trips come along (and no, I didn’t do Edinburgh this year). I do have plenty of shows planned for September, though … well, not nearly enough as I have an out of town guest staying for a week (with no interest in theater, as near as I can tell), but I will do my best with the time remaining.

These are the shows I’m planning to see (so far) for September:
3 September (Wednesday): Matthew Bourne’s Portrait of Dorian Grey – Sadler’s Wells
12 September (Friday): Wayne Macgregor’s Ignite festival at Covent Garden (this is over three days so I’ll just go when I can manage).
15 September (Monday): The Pinter double header at the National, Landscape and A Slight Ache. The Whingers didn’t care for Ache but that’s no surprise – they’re not major Pinter fans. Me, I love Pinter, and I like seeing two short plays back to back, so off I go.
16 September Tuesday: one of the Norman Conquest plays at the Old Vic. I’m not super enthused about this as I detested the last play I saw by Alan Ayckbourn (Absurd Person Singular, such a dud!), but it was an invitation from the Whingers so I said yes anyway.
17 September Wednesday: Zorro. This initially gave me The Phear, but the Whingers said it was great, so I’m going. (Actually it’s a bit of a surprise that they said it was great, since they’re far less enthusiastic than the average punter, but since they haven’t let me down yet with their recommendations I’m going to give this thing a shot.)
19 September Thursday: Small Craft at the Arcola. I suspect this is just a ploy for me to go out and get more good Turkish food in Dalston, but, whatever, the people at the theater don’t care why I come as long as I pay for my ticket (and I do like Tennessee Williams).
23 September Monday: Kamishibai theater at the Barbican. I like Japanese theater (this sounds like their version of Punch and Judy) and culture so I wouldn’t want to miss this.
25 September Wednesday: supposedly a trip to the ROH to see Callisto, if I can find tickets I can afford.
30 September Tuesday: Stevie Wonder at the O2. It’s a birthday present for my husband (and likely the most expensive night out we’ll have all year, which is why I’m bothering to mention it).

Finally: October 1st is Merce Cunningham at the Barbican, and though it’s not actually in September, I’m starting October with another long bout of being out of the country, so I thought I’d include it in this list. The last person I took with me to see Merce was apparently damaged by the experience (“Did you know it was going to be like that?”) so I’m being more particular and sticking to going with my husband, who, like me, thinks that Merce is one of the true grand masters of modern dance – a living treasure of American culture – and we are excited that we can continue to watch his already excellent art evolving in real time.

Holy shit, and I just found out that Autumn: Osage County, the single play I’ve been most dying to see for the last year, is coming to the National in November! Heads will roll but I WILL see that show!

Mini-review – Hothouse – National Theatre

July 19, 2007

The good part of my evening: we went and say Hothouse at the National. The script was great, lots of really fun dialogue that all read really well (none of that “What?” stuff except when I was going, “What was that about a duck?”) and a lot of good performances – well worth our 10 pound day seats.

Unfortunately as I had a crap day that’s all I have to say. Today can be summed up as “Pinter and morons.” I hate it when work makes me feel like drinking. All I had tonight was half a shot of Campari, though, and it was pretty nasty. Night, all.

(This review is for a performance that was seen on July 19th, 2007. It was migrated from another blog.)

Mini-review – Old Times – Donmar Warehouse

August 8, 2004

(This post imported from my personal blog.)

Yesterday turned out quite well, all things considered. Almost directly upon closing the browser, J appeared with tickets for the 7:30 “Old Times.” We then spent another hour in the National, taking our time with the Impressionist Galleries (that place is a fucking warren, I don’t think five years would be enough time to see it all), getting in some sketching and a lecture that taught me more about painting than I learned in almost all of college. Afterwards we stopped in yet another tea shop and then the Theater Museum, which made me think how difficult it is to create a meaningful exhibit about a performed art (like the Experience Music project, where the only interesting thing is the room where you learn to create music).

We finally headed off to the Brahmah Tea and Coffee Museum, where we actually had the pleasure of a personal visit with Mr. Brahmah at the end as we were eating sandwiches and drinking (more) tea. Alas, our return was a struggle, due to bad bus connections, and we actually gave up midway and returned to Covent Garden for our play.

“Old Times” was pretty freaky. I’m not sure what the play was supposed to mean, but it didn’t seem to be following a linear plot. At one moment a woman and her friend talked as if it were 20 years ago; next, her husband talked with her friend about events that later discussions seemed to prove imaginary. What was true? What was the real story? It was exciting to be in the hands of a playwright who made no excuses to any limitations of the audience’s imagination, and J and I had a good time debating the show on the way back to Victoria.

(This review is for a performance that most likely took place on August 7th, 2004.)