Posts Tagged ‘Islands’

Mini-Review – Happy Days – Young Vic

February 20, 2015

I’m pretty sure that nobody in London would have bought a ticket for Happy Days at the Young Vic thinking that they were going to be listening to 50s music and watching The Fonz. No, amongst theater goers it’s quite famous as the play where the actress spends the performance buried from at least the waist down. It’s a play from the Absurdist period, and, given that it’s a Beckett, its themes are predictable at the start: our impending annihilation, the futility of existence, et cetera. The play can be accused of being about how people attempt to maintain their equilibrium in the face of unavoidable death (or perhaps a big metaphor on the hopeless loneliness of marriage or, more broadly, life), but I don’t want to examine it in that way. It’s certainly more powerful to see a play than just to read it, and this is a fine production (lively, unironic Winnie – Juliet Stevenson) with a truly impressive set (it looked like a slice of a mountain and even had regularly trickling rocks burying Winnie just a tiny bit more while we watched) and painful sound effects (I was tempted to pull in a health and safety inspector as I suspected ear damage might have happened – it really hurt my ears) – and for many of us, it’s a play you want to have on that life list.

But … why bother? I’m not interested in seeing a play just so I can sit around and discuss the symbolism of it all, especially given that this topic has been stamped into the ground long ago. It’s an existentialist museum piece brought to life. The sad thing, though, is that the Absurdism style is still massively relevant and an incredibly powerful theatrical tool when brought out in a vibrant context. When we need to shine a light on the ill doing of the powers that be, you can hardly do it any better than in a theatrical piece that mocks them. But how much safer to watch this gelding than go see the stallion currently prancing at the Bush Theater (Islands, closing this Saturday). If you want to see an animated (but convincingly life like) dinosaur, go see Happy Days, but if you want to see absurdist theater that leaves bruises, you’d be a fool to miss Islands – in fact, I would advise you to abandon Happy Days tickets bought for this weekend, take the loss, and see Islands instead; and if Beckett or Ionesco were around, they’d say the same thing.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Thursday, February 18th, 2015. It continues through March 21st. Ice creams are compulsory at the interval.)

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Mini-Review – Islands – Bush Theatre

February 18, 2015

If you’re a little bit into this theater thing, you’re probably aware of the existence of plays which use (occasionally heavy handed) metaphors to make a wider point about the world around us. A good example of this is Ionesco’s Rhinoceros. It’s a play about the rise of fascism, but it uses the metaphor of people turning into rhinoceri to show the changes caused in the brain; but the whole thing is played pretty straight. We, the audience, never are TOLD what we are watching is not, well, a strange group metamorphosis. This “theater of the absurd” school to me seems more focused on being funny and goofy (I’m expecting the same at Happy Days tonight) rather than the more interesting “calling truth to power,” a thing I think theater is really uniquely qualified to do: because of its quick turnaround time, theater can publicly mock the powers that be much more quickly than a painter or a novelist. We’re certainly in a time when there’s a lot going on that needs to be called out, but instead of getting The Crucible we’re getting drippy crap like 2071 and Hope (and some good shows like God Bless the Child and Great Britain).

But, really, I think the degree of outrage about the corrupt underpinnings of our society has not been fanned nearly high enough by the theater that is currently being produced: and in this vacuum of politically relevant, highly charged theatrical events has been sucked Islands, a play that fully embraces the unreality of the absurdist theater movement but, rather than looking safely backwards, contorts itself madly at something happening right now that we’ve just come to accept as the way things are: offshore tax havens. Now, unless you’re an investor trying to shelter your money, you would probably not think about this for more than a minute a month, and only if some big corporation has gone up against the legislature and been shamed for “not paying their fair share of taxes.” I mean, these days, the conversation is so weakened, the outrage has become so feeble, that there are terms for “egregiously” avoiding and, presumably, normal levels of tax avoidance. Setting up an LLC to avoid tax on working for yourself, well, everyone does it: but pretending your company is based in Luxembourg so you can avoid paying VAT …. well, that’s egregious. And yet, as we know, completely and utterly legal. And while the UK government is working it’s hardest to squeeze an extra £20 a month out of people living on benefits, I haven’t heard sweet jack about any efforts to get Amazon, Starbucks, and Apple to pay their fair share of UK taxes – not a word. Nope, it’s make unemployed 20 year olds work full time for a fifth of the minimum wage and push apprenticeship programs that have wages so startlingly low only people whose parents are paying their rent can possibly afford to take one.

Islands jams all of this hypocrisy and bullshit into one glitter-filled clown car packed full of blood, shit and cherries, whipping off the doors to show us, laughingly (as if how could we ever think this is actually okay? we’re actually outraged, right?), via powerful, committed performances, that we have parallel worlds existing nearly close enough to touch, but the people who have the power to cut off the rich islands scudding overhead have somehow bought into the idea that it’s okay for them to be there. It’s not. We should be mad. We should be screaming. We should be setting their homes on fire. But we don’t. And really, if that’s the case, isn’t the joke on us?

(This review is for a performancet hat took place on Tuesday, February 17, 2014. It closes February 21.)