Posts Tagged ‘ibsen’

Review of “Rosmersholm” – Almeida Theatre

June 13, 2008

Last night my uncle and my husband and I went to the wilds of Islington (which is actually far less wild than Dalston, where Ibsen and I last crossed swords) to the Almeida to see Ibsen’s Rosmersholm. I’m on an Ibsen quest, like my Pinter quest, though Ibsen is making it easier by being dead and thus not making it possible to have new play added. We ponied up for a program, which revealed some important Ibsen tidbits for me, especially regarding the order in which he wrote his plays: Rosmersholm preceded Hedda Gabler by four years (1886 and 1890), and was written just before The Lady from the Sea. This gave me an idea of where he was in terms of his skills as a playwright – oddly, near the height of his powers, given that the nearly perfect John Gabriel Borkman was written in 1896 and his last play in 1899. (I can also now say that I have my list of plays to see: I’m going to plan on skipping the critical failures, which I don’t think will ever be produced anyway, but I also have a dire need to see Ghosts and Peer Gynt.)

Rosmersholm (the home of the Rosmer family is the correct translation, I believe) is an odd play. I ended the first act feeling elated, but the second act left me dissatisfied and the third disgusted. As in Lady from the Sea, this comes down to problems with the script. The first act was very naturalistic, mostly concerning a confrontation between Mr. Rosmer (Paul Hilton) and an old friend of the family, Doctor Kroll (Malcolm Sinclair, last seen in Dealer’s Choice – boy, can this guy act!). Listening to Kroll go on about the values of conservatism, the ignorance of the masses, how wives should get their opinions from their husbands, how liberals are evil and a force of corruption to true and noble values, and how wretched the press is was (etc.) was actually a blast. He was strongly opposed to many of the things I personally believe in, but, even though some of his opinions were merely dated, so many of them seemed to still hold relevance today and I found his rants quite intriguing. I was also fascinated by how quickly he shrugged off Rebecca’s (Helen McCrory) attempts to engage him in conversation – after all, what could a woman know about politics! Then Rosmer dropped his bomb on Kroll, the shit hit the fan, exciting debates about atheism and what liberals believe in ensued, and I was hooked, and ready to recommend this play to all of my friends.

Unfortunately, act two descended into, I don’t know, something like “truthyism” but perhaps better described as “writeryistic.” Plot points need to be made, and what better way to do it than two letters sent by a dead person! (I was kind of reminded of the arrival of heralds in the Greek plays, describing off-screen action, such as murders and wars.) We just weren’t buying it and the endless exposition was beginning to grate. I couldn’t buy Kroll rejecting Rosmer’s friendship outright in act one, and his subsequent return in act two layered a second thick improbability on the first. C’mon, this is all supposed to be naturalistic, have the people actually act naturally!

Speaking of which, I was really having problems with Helen McCrory’s costuming and performance. Victorian women didn’t keep their hair in modern office girl fluffy half-twists, they didn’t slop their bodies all over the place, and, in general, I just think she didn’t do her research on properly playing a woman of the era, even if she was a free thinker. I also found the way she made herself tremble when she was confronting Rosmer just a little too much. How is it that an English actor can go to so much effort to get an accent right and then totally drop the personal representation of a historical era?

The penny finally dropped in the third act, when Ibsen threw reality out the door and suddenly went for a sort of Young Werther gothic drama. Rebecca’s revelations were all a little too much to be believed, Rosmer’s endless mood changes were completely over the top, and the ending was just … ridiculous and as over the top as a pasted on Hollywood ending a la Lady and the Sea. If Ibsen has gone to all of this trouble to create real people with real problems, why have them start acting like silly ninnies just to wrap up the show conclusively? All three of us grumbled as we left – such high hopes, so cruelly dashed! I’ll still keep seeing Ibsen, but I’m hoping he doesn’t let me down as roughly as he did last night.

In other news, my esteemed colleagues the West End Whingers have been blamed by a cast member of Gone with the Wind for that show’s “untimely” demise. I think it’s ridiculous to think that anyone who pays to see a preview as putrid as the one they described should be considered in anyway obliged to keep mum about it – in my mind, they were doing a public service! If you want it to be a secret, then workshop the show or have more dress rehearsals, and if you’re genuinely concerned about what to add and what to keeep and how it will play in front of a live audience, then for God’s sake do what they did for Hairspray and trial it in some smaller theatrical markets (Seattle and Chicago in this example). Could this show have succeeded? Possibly, with months more of rewrites – but from what I heard about the songs, I think perhaps not.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Thrusday, June 12th.)

Pre-show anticipation – Matthew Bourne’s “Portrait of Dorian Gray” – the excitement is building! – and discount tickets for Peony Pavillion

June 2, 2008

I actually broke down and bought my tickets for Portrait of Dorian Gray today. I’m not going to be able to make it Edinburgh to see it as part of the Fringe (that weekend was already booked), but the September London presentation at Sadler’s Wells is a must. I will now be seeing it on Wednesday, September 3rd, and I’m excited! It’s also now the theatrical event that’s booked furthest ahead on my calendar. Tickets for most of the main floor were already sold, which I think is pretty impressive.

Oddly, this all came about because I was rebooking my tickets for The Peony Pavillion, since a fabulous deal came my way – £15 stalls seats for any show, if you use the promotion code pcdchineseopera . For all of the people who’ve come to this blog looking for info on authentic Chinese cultural presentations, I’d like to encourage you to see this show – it should be top of the line and it’s not the thing I’ve ever had the opportunity to see. Go go go (both of you)!

I also booked tickets for the Sara Baras flamenco show in mid-July (also at Sadlers Wells), and I’m kind of wondering about seeing the English National Ballet’s show at the Royal Festival Hall in early July. It’s got choreography by three people I’ve never heard of before, but it’s also butting right up against my departure date for the York Early Music festival, so I might be too pressed to catch it. Sadly, I’ve never been particularly electrified by any performance I’ve seen by ENB, so this is also making me think I shouldn’t go … but maybe this time things would be … different.

Closer in, I’ve got a pile of tickets accumulating in anticipation of my uncle’s arrival next week – the Marguerite the Musical set, a quartet of Revenger’s Tragedy at a delicious £10 a pop, a trio for Romersholm at the Almeida (I never see discount tickets there – makes me think they must do a better job at picking the right shows for the right length of time, or maybe they’ve done a good job of cultivating a steady audience) … now all I need is to have those silly Powder Her Face tickets jump in my hand for the Sunday June 15th performance, and somehow get a few for the Edith Bagnold’s Chalk Garden at the Donmar on Wednesday June 11th – but it looks sadly like they are sold out and you can forget my doing standing room for anything these days. Perhaps Afterlife at the National will prove an acceptable substitute, but with my luck it won’t even be on that day.

In a final note, I am still beating myself up for not ordering my Jordi Savall tickets for the York Early Music Festival early enough, and am praying to the gods of returned tickets to show me some mercy on this – he’s the whole reason I’m going!

Review – Lady from the Sea – Arcola Theatre

May 16, 2008

I don’t know about how you like to celebrate anniversaries, but to me nothing seemed better than going up to the ass end of north east London to see a show about a woman thinking about leaving her husband. Sounds romantic, eh? And if you’re me (and the ever-suffering Shadowdaddy, you’ll want to start of the night with some Jamaican food hot enough to peel the enamel off of your teeth. Mmm, mmm! Jerk chicken, rice and peas, stewed pork, polenta, $16 for two people, Centerprise, you make the grade! (We also got to see a guy chased out of the restaurant by the cashier and the store guard, who called him a crook. It was quite a scene. Review of restaurant here.) Then it was off to the Oz Antepilier for some tasty Turkish baklava to keep our strength up while we waited in the lobby of the Arcola for the mad dash for our seats.

Anyway, I studiously avoided reading anything that might give me too much of a clue as to the actual plot of the show beforehand as I enjoy having a show unfold and surprise me – I figured the 5 star recommendation it had got somewhere was sufficient, plus Ibsen, for me to watch. The play, in a nutshell, is this: there is a woman, and she is feeling trapped in her marriage. She has stepchildren who seem extraordinarily unsympathetic to her, and, to top things off, she seems like she might be going mad.

Well! Quite the light evening’s entertainment, to be sure. For me, for some reason, the whole show was coming in through the filter of these two articles I read in the New York Times this week about love in Saudi Arabia. The men, for example, would have found it completely fit for a man to tell a woman she’s not a free actor, and that he will decide what is good for her and “protect” her: while the women, I thought, would agree that women are naturally less rational than men.

But they would have had a lot of problems with the rest of the story. The concept of a woman wishing to be a free agent, I think, would not resonate in the least; the thought that it might not be agreeable to essentially “sell” yourself in order to have a roof over your head would also seem mysterious; the odd behavior of the girls (not to mention the wife, Ellida, played by Lia Williams) would certainly have drawn note. I found it all a bit late Victorian feminist, but with a sort of unexpected (and illogical) ending – and very much enjoyed the idea of a play about someone who was on the verge of cracking up throughout.

That said, I think I found more problems with the script than anything else. It just seemed … clunky. People kept announcing other people were about to come on stage, then announcing that they were going to leave. The young, wannabe artist had no real purpose in the show other than to show the selfish side of men (I think) and had utterly corny lines (and pulled faces); the younger daughter (Hilde, Fiona O’Shaughnessy, apparently from the Irish side of this family based on her thick accent) seemed to change her feelings too quickly. The foreshadowing at the beginning (the bit about the painting) was like getting hit with a blackjack in terms of its subtlety, then further added to this point by having the actor say, “The idea was given to me by the lady of the house!” Please, as if the fact that she swims in the ocean every day wasn’t enough clue for us to link her with a mermaid!

While the acting was generally good, Ms. Williams seemed to be pulling rather a lot from Lady Macbeth with all of her hand wringing and twitching. Her face was beautiful to watch but I wanted more of a buildup – as it was, I was completely incapable of thinking anything but madness lied in her future.

Overall I think this was a good production but not one of Ibsen’s finer works, and the 75 minute journey home a bit of a pill – good enough if you like Ibsen or are in the neighborhood, but not worth seriously deforming your week to go see.

(This review is for a performance that took place May 15th, 2008, my fifteenth anniversary.)

Review -John Gabriel Borkman – The Donmar

April 13, 2007

Last night: I’m on an Ibsen/Pinter/Tennessee Williams kick, “collecting” their shows like one would Beanie Babies or BPAL imps, and last night was Ibsen’s John Gabriel Borkman. The language was thick, but the plot was crystal clear and the characters fantastic. I didn’t know a thing about it (other than “financier’s ruin causes long-lasting rifts within his family”), but as the various relationships of the characters – estranged twin sisters, one the wife of Borkman (who has not seen her husband in eight years, despite the fact he lives upstairs – Deborah Findlay); the son; and the sexy widow next door. (An unseen other character is “the lawyer” next door who’s having a party “the son” is invited to; he’s the man who revealed JGB’s malfeasance and, in essence, ruined him and his family.)

Kurt Vonnegut (RIP) once said (and Scarlettina reminded me) that “every character should want something,” and, by God, these people did. Whether it was power, love, money, revenge, happiness, or freedom, they wanted it like fish want water and humans want air, with great, gasping breaths to suck it in. Their stiff, nineteenth century language (Victorian formality) was delivered as a package to the same, burning desires that animate people today – and I loved it all. It reminded me of the very unhappy version of The Voysey Inheritance, which is a look at the same kind of financial finaglings gone “right.” In this play, you see exactly the kind of ruin Voysey Junior expects, and you understand why he is so very afraid of the consequences of his father’s actions.

Ibsen (thinking of Vonnegut again) rushed us straight to the non-stop action as the years of built-up frustration spilled out. What a great night of theater! I wasn’t bored for a minute, and at the end, I wanted to thank each actor personally for delivering, at last, on the contract we made when I bought my ticket: that I would willingly suspend disbelief, and they would become, not actors on a stage, but people who had stories (and pasts) I cared about. Thanks for a great night, guys!

(This review carried over from my previous theater blog. The performance took place the night of April 12th, 2007.)