Posts Tagged ‘Indira Varma’

Review – The Hothouse – Simon Russell Beale et al at Trafalgar Studios

May 22, 2013

It’s been nearly six years since I saw The Hothouse, and my notes on the last viewing were quite short: as I liked it, that meant I thought it would be even better as performed by Simon Russell Beale at the conveniently located Trafalgar Studios.

Well, hmm. I think I may have been wrong about this. The marriage of the top male comedic performer on stage today and Pinter is not, shall we say, made in heaven. I found much joy in a play set in an insane asylum in which everyone is working to their own advantage; you get to wonder what each character’s real goals are. But in this version … every thing seems muddy. Miss Cutts, is she really a nymphomaniac looking to seduce every male member of staff, or is it just how Indira Varma plays her? (Jessica Rabbit, of course, was just written that way.) Gibbs, is he really there to help Roote (Beale), and, if so, what is he doing with a knife in his shirt?

The conflict between the characterizations and how the play is written becomes most glaring when Roote suddenly attacks Lush, with whom he had been drinking just a moment before. It seems completely out of keeping with his character, which is that of a bumbling official not much in charge of his subordinates. Where did the anger come from? Why would Lush submit to such horrible treatment? The more I thought about it, the more it all seemed a clash; Pinter has written the man to be violent and capable, not to be a doddering fool. The characters need to all seem murderous; instead, it’s the play that gets it in the neck.

I watched this play from the cheapie “on stage” seats, and the overall experience was very odd: not just a backstage feel, but the exposed “three hundred people are watching me” thing combined with not very good angles for about half of the show (not a lot of backs but too many). I liked how cheap the seats were, but given that many of them weren’t even padded, by the interval I found my bum had gone completely numb. In a way, I was glad the show was played for laughs, because it kept my attention; overall, though, I was disappointed by this show and by my seats, and I certainly wouldn’t have thought it worth paying £45 or up to sit in the stalls. This Hothouse is merely tepid: give it a pass.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Tuesday, May 21st, 2013. It continues through August 3rd, at which time the cast will go on a well-deserved holiday.)

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Review – Dance of Death – Donmar Warehouse West End at Trafalgar Studios

December 20, 2012

In the season of Nutcrackers, Christmas puddings, and panto, I thought nothing would break up the sugary monotony better than a little bit of Scandinavian realism. That’s right, right in the middle of Christmas week I booked myself a ticket for Strindberg’s Dance of Death at the Trafalgar Studios. Counter-programming? You’re darned tooting. I figured after Jack and the Beanstalk, the Messiah, and two Dick Whittingtons I’d be VERY ready for something bleak that made me feel like humanity wasn’t worth saving.

As it turns out, I was TOTALLY right. The Dance of Death was so negative and full of hate – and so beautifully active – that it (perversely) left me feeling elated at the end of the evening. I love Strindberg for his incredibly realistic portrayals of the twisted outcomes of people’s long-term interference in each other’s minds. In this case we’ve got Edgar (Kevin R McNally) and Alice (Indira Varma), two people who’ve been married for just shy of twenty-five years and seem to have hated each other for most of it. Edgar’s in the army and has a heavy drinking habit; Alice is proud and beautiful and conniving, but no more so than he is. He craves death; she is anxious for him to get on with it so she can move on to a better phase of her life; he’s holding on just to keep her from getting remarried. Was there ever a stronger picture of marital concord?

And yet somehow, they stay together, and the arrival of an old friend (Kurt, Daniel Lapaine) just seems like an opportunity for them to throw new balls of shit at each other. Kurt, of course, has no idea what he’s got into. Does he need to save Alice? Does he need to save (the seriously ill) Edgar? Or, in fact, does he need to save himself? He manages to get into a compromised enough position that he winds up on his stomach, on the floor, licking Alice’s boot. I never figured out to what extent Alice was playing him for a fool or Edgar was playing both of them in his own game; at the end, I think, maybe it was Strindberg playing with all of us, making us wonder just what it was going on between this couple for so long. A great mystery, but with great performances that kept me thoroughly absorbed in the paint-peeling spitefulness being splashed around like bucketsfull of acid. Strindberg sold me, the actors sold me, and somehow, at the very end, I found myself laughing at Edgar and Alice and the ridiculous situation they were in. Life is just a game, and if you can’t have a little fun playing with each other’s minds, you just haven’t been trying hard enough.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Wednesday, December 19th, 2012. It runs through January 5th. My tickets were about £25 quid and it was well worth it!)

Review – Ingredient X – Royal Court

May 21, 2010

Last night was the opening night of the new show at the Royal Court, Ingredient X. The play was billed thus:

“I’ve always said I’ll stop just as soon as The X Factor stops. The X Factor stops I stop that’s the deal.”

It’s Saturday night and the judges are gathering for their prime-time slot, feeding the nation their weekly fix. Except the harshest critics are sitting on your sofa and the mute button doesn’t seem to work. A tough new comedy about addiction.


Okay, I admit, I must not have been paying attention. See, what I thought this play was about was TV addiction, a topic I’ve been fascinated by for years, ever since I walked away from the boob tube in my teens. Picture me, in my college years, with my “Just Say No … to Television” shirt, and then the me of today, living in a TV free household (no matter how little the licensing authorities want to believe it). Yet I am surrounded by a society that oozes television out of every pore. This is especially frustrating to me as a theater goer, because all of the time I hear about some “new talent” who’s actually a TV “star,” which to me is about as meaningful as hearing that they won the blue ribbon for watermelon pickles at the Johnson County Fair. People are obsessed with television, they organize their life around television, they think the people on it are somehow important and that what happens on a TV series matter.

I find this madness comes to a height with the so-called talent reality shows. After reading Ben Elton’s “Chart Throb,” I now believe they only exist to wind people up enough to actually want to make a paid phone call to influence the outcome of the serie, thus leading to buckets of cash being delivered to the series’ producers. Does Britain Got Talent? Sure, but what the TV shows have is grabby hands going for people’s opened wallets. How can the TV viewing public not see how horribly they’re being scammed? And they keep going back for more, year after year! This, I thought, was the addiction Ingredient X was going to tackle head-on – the numbing deadness caused by excessive viewing of reality television.

If it’s not already clear, I was totally wrong. This show is about bog-standard substance type addiction, cocaine, booze, what have you. It’s set in what felt like (but was too fancy to be) a council flat somewhere north of London, where Frank (James Lance) and Katie (Indira Varma, too beautiful for the role) are hosting an X-Factor party for Katie’s friends Rosanna (Lesley Sharp) and Deanne (Lisa Palfrey). All of them seem fairly poor, with at least two kids each, and a lifetime of bad relations with men behind (or in front of) them.

Rosanna, harsh and angry throughout most of the play, is the most lively of the characters, but after about twenty minutes, listening to her hassle everyone and be cruel lost its charm. Deanne comes off as ditzy, but almost entirely forgettable except for her one big speech about alcoholism. I felt like I was trapped at a party with people I really wanted to get away from, and was unable to engage my “suspension of disbelief” enough to actually imagine why Katie let these cretins in her house to abuse her and badmouth her boyfriend. I was briefly excited at the beginning of act two when Frank looked like he was going to take Rosanna off and actually kick her out of the flat; but no. We were stuck with all four of them for another full hour.

Despite the realistic nature of the dialogue of this play, I found it pointless (perhaps preaching was its point, but that’s not why I go to the theater), lacking in dramatic tension while full of unpleasantness. It seemed to be a set-up for each of the characters to monologue about their own addiction issues, but not in a way I found particularly compelling. In fact, when Frank was talking about “walking down that path with my dad,” I completely checked out and had a “I am watching actors reading lines” moment. It’s a bad sign. It wasn’t quite bad enough to walk out on, but it was absolutely and positively not worth watching, unless you enjoy watching small people make each other look smaller, only not in a particularly witty or interesting way. Or perhaps you want to take someone to a show to help them understand just what it is that makes an alcoholic and what a much better person they’d be if they went to meetings.

I expect this show will reappear in cut up form as character studies for actors, and might be performed for groups who want to present plays about addiction, but as a play for a person who wants an evening to enjoy art, it’s eminently missable. Ah well, Royal Court, we shall meet again, because I do really support the creation of new play, and I’m sure we’ll return to the “win some” side of the balance sheet soon enough.

(This review is for a performance that took place on May 20th, 2010. Ingredient X continues through June 19th at the Royal Court, though if I were you I’d try to get tickets for Sucker Punch instead.)

Review – Twelfth Night – Donmar at Wyndham’s Theatre

February 22, 2009

I admit, I was slow on the uptake with the Donmar Warehouse’s Twelfth Night (part of their season at Wyndham’s). It opened December 5th, and the WestEnd Whingers saw it not more than a week later. And here it is February, and the show closes March 7th … and I only bought my tickets in January to see it February, despite the Whingers’ effusive praise (key elements of their review for me: actually funny; not overly long running time – vital for a possible weeknight trip to the West End). And yet … well, finances, you know.

And a review. I feel … hesitant. The show’s got two more weeks, and if I’m not mistaken it’s about sold out for the run. So what is there to say, really, and who will it influence? The ten or so people behind me who had standing seats (way up in the balcony behind me – what were they thinking?) and the 20 or so folks who’d been standing in line waiting for returns could clearly never be swayed by anything I have to say here. So it seems a bit pointless to add my comments to what must be the great heaps of praise this production has been wallowing in.

Except … I’m not going to. And you know why? Because the Midsummer Night’s Dream I saw last week at the Southwark Playhouse smoked this production’s ass. Maybe it’s because Derek Jacobi (as Malvolio) and company have been doing this show for so many weeks that they’ve just lost their excitement. I can’t really fault the production values: the costumes were lovely (Indira Varma as Olivia was especially ravishing) and I liked the simple set (nice work on both, Christopher Oram), but I can say that this script just isn’t of the quality that Midsummer is, and there’s not much you can do with that. And yet a tale of lovers split by warring fairies is surely no more ridiculous than that a brother and sister can so successfully pass for each other that they woo each other’s lovers?

No, no, that’s not it. What it comes down to is that Southwark Playhouse made theatrical magic happen, and the crew at Wyndham’s only put on a play – they provided an evening’s forgettable (if quality) entertainment. I suppose this is what happens when you see a show so late, when the actors are less excited about doing the show – maybe even now Imelda Staunton’s Kath is no longer making the punters howl in their seats, but I’m convinced the final weekend of Midsummer will be so much more exciting that 12th Night was at this point in time. So cry not if you haven’t got seats for the Wyndham’s Twelfth Night and take yourself instead to the south side of the river, where I promise you that the folks at the Southwark will deliver a memorable theatrical experience that will leave you enthused about the bard.

My other complaint about this show: can we please do a Shakespearean comedy where people don’t have to illustrate sexual humor by making crude fucking gestures? I’m able to work it out from the words alone, thanks, I don’t need to see characters mock-humping the air and pretending to fondle themselves.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Saturday, February 21st, 2008. It’s nice to know that since this is a review about a professional company that for once the miffed actors and incensed relatives will not be slagging me off for not forcing a bunch of ass kissing in my writeup.)