Posts Tagged ‘Jermyn Street’

Review – Pictures of Dorian Gray – Jermyn Street Theater

June 13, 2019

While Oscar Wilde’s plays mocking Victorian society are regularly revived, his novel of art and evil – The Portrait of Dorian Gray – doesn’t have a standard theatrical version, despite being popular as a film and even having some luck as a ballet and even as a promenade theatrical event. It’s a great novel, deliciously fin de siecle, a perfect companion for Jeckyll and Hyde, the poetry of Baudelaire, and the art of Von Stuck. And it deserved better than I had seen it get on stage before, and my hopes were high that Lucy Shaw’s fresh adaptation at the Jermyn Street Theater – and the decision to use four different configurations of the cast, including two versions with a female lead – would bring fresh insights and real vibrancy to this play.

As a female Dorian, Helen Reuben is deliciously chosen – endlessly fresh faced, a delight for the eyes, absolutely believable as the person whose portrait could capture the essence of beauty – or someone’s soul. As her tempter, Basil Hallward, Stanton Wright nicely forms heartless words to entice Dorian away from anything other than the worship of the self; and with the two of them decked in black velvet and gilding, they create a feeling of late night menace and brutality that makes the sensibility of the novel feel very alive. The portrait itself is left unseen, as is best for horror: it is merely a reflective pond beneath a muddled shining wall that might have been a mirror. The agelessness is left to the true Dorian; the ugliness of the portrait is created entirely with words.

These words, however, prove a distraction in too much of the story. With two more actors (most memorably painter Henry Wotten – Richard Keightley – and Sibyl Vane – Augustina Seymour) left with not quite enough to do, they are sent to speak Wilde’s words describing Gray’s words much like a Greek chorus – as a near constant chant beneath the dialogue on stage. The words do a lot to help pump up the atmosphere of poisoned flowers and redolent evil – but they prove too much of a distraction and ended in reducing the sense of impending doom. It’s all extremely successful when Dorian is immersing herself in corrupting literature – hard to convey what she is taking in otherwises – but when she’s going to opium dens and corrupting the wives and sons of the elite, the audience is given little sense of just what she is doing and why she is so out of control. Admittedly Wilde himself doesn’t go into much detail about Gray’s activities, but her time spent in the depths and ultimate ruination could have been built up to much better effect. Still, the ending is handled nicely, with beautiful theatricality, and the night ended with a grand feeling of satisfaction.

Picture C Cast, Pictures of Dorian Gray

Picture C Cast, Pictures of Dorian Gray: Helen Reuben, Augustina Seymour, Stanton Wright, Richard Keightley (L-R)

One thing really had me struggling, though: to a great extent, Gray’s fall is the fall of a man, and a gay man at that. While Reuben and Wright have a delicious electricity between them, it felt to me like it was only because Gray was a man and an affair between the two could not have been portrayed on stage (or in a book!) at the time this novel was written that they did not consummate their relationship. And women cannot ruin men the way Gray ruined both men and women. It was a pleasure to see this play done with a woman in the lead role, but I think some changes to the script for the “Picture C/Picture D” cast could have amped the impacted tremendously. That said, given Stanton Wright’s charisma, I think it would be worthwhile to see it again in the “Picture A/Picture B” configuration … this fine story has been brought to life with London smoke and back alleys intact, and I’d enjoy taking another trip down the road to glorious self destruction.

(This review is for a performance that took place on June 11th, 2019. It runs through July 6th.)

Review – The Creditors – Jermyn Street Theater

May 1, 2019

It’s a pleasure to go to the theater knowing you’re going to see a fresh take on a classic you love. Strindberg has become a favorite of mine as I’ve settled into middle age and learned to enjoy his realistic portrayals of people who have been made bitter by life – well, by other people, in particular their husbands and wives. So I was enthusiastic for seeing how Creditors managed ten years further along in my life, in a new version by Howard Brenton that the Jermyn Street Theater is performing in rep with Miss Julie.

The Creditors is a deliciously tight three person show that has the marvellous good fortune off having Dorothea Myer-Bennett in the central role of Tekla. As a Victorian era woman who has a career of her own (as a writer) and has been divorced and remarried, she is a splash of bracing water given how most women were depicted at the time. I mean, look at A Doll’s House, one decade older; how could women have moved along to a position of having so much agency in such a short time? In fact, I’m pretty sure they didn’t: this makes Tekla even more interesting and pushed the play into the realm of … well, all of these people who don’t believe in God, marry and divorce as they please, and (both) work, didn’t it all feel very modern?

This leaves a couple of notes that fell flat, or, rather, seemed out of place perhaps because they were so very 19th century. Adolf (James Sheldon), the carer for Tekla’s husband Gustav (David Sturzaker), is obsessed with men dominating and controlling women; he spends his time with Gustav trying to work him into a frenzy of jealousy about his wife. And, per Gustav, Tekla and he gave up the child they had together – to be honest, I found this just flat out unbelievable. Tekla and Gustav calling each other brother and sister, sure, but that … it just felt like Strindberg was trying to hard. Adolf being a misogynistic control freak, sure, but the abandoned child plus … well, Gustav’s soft-headedness … do people really give up on their art that easily, with just a few days of someone trying to philosophize them out of it?

Dorothea Myer-Bennett and James Sheldon, photo by Robert Day


So, fine, maybe Strindberg isn’t trying for pure realism here, but watching the characters on stage, it was hard not to get sucked into the interaction. Tekla’s affection for her husband seemed fully believable, her connection with Adolf was entirely natural … but the attempt to twist history and, not to spoil the plot (I mean this is not exactly a new play), people’s minds, was like the delightful Machiavellian twist at the heart of many of Shakespeare’s best tragedies. Who needs knives and armies when we can destroy people with words? I suspect the ending wouldn’t have been quite so perfectly tied up outside of a stage, but watching this vibrant cast of three feint and parry with the greatest of all weapons – the human mind – was just rather delicious all the way through. And at ninety minutes, there wasn’t a bit of fat.

(This review was for the preview performance that took place Monday, April 29, 2019. It continues through June first.)

Review – Original Death Rabbit – Jermyn Street Theatre

January 16, 2019

Technology, and how we deal with it, is one of my favorite topics for plays and for new writing. As human beings, we’ve gone well beyond letters and even phone calls; theater has struggled to keep up with the rapid changes in how we communicate with each other. Plays are, at their core, about dialogue; but these days, we talk to each other with text messages, with instant messages, with comments on posts, and with emojis, memes, and captioned photos. None of these translate well to the stage. But what does, and should, is how these changes are affecting us as people and as a society – what does having a thousand different ways to communicate with each other (and often with strangers) do to individuals. And this is what Rose Heiney’s play Original Death Rabbit is about – how life as lived partially on the internet is changing us.

Kimberley Nixon in the Original Death Rabbit at Jermyn Street Theatre - photo by Robert Workman

Kimberley Nixon in the Original Death Rabbit at Jermyn Street Theatre – photo by Robert Workman


Original Death Rabbit is the online handle of a young woman who briefly shot to fame as the originator of an online meme, a la the “icebucket challenge” or “planking.” A photo was taken of her wearing a pink bunny onesie at a funeral and it became an internet craze – taking pictures of yourself (or others) at inappropriate places wearing the same thing. But like any person who gets five minutes of fame, there’s a lot more to ODR than the moment she was caught hiding in a cemetery or when the paps finally found her on the doorstep of her apartment. ODR is a young woman with mental health issues, who comes from a family with mental health issues, who finds that with an unrelenting spotlight on her she is more inclined than ever to not leave the house and to spend her time on online forums and trolling her top enemy on Twitter. Her depiction of a life lived in a tiny flat, only communicating via text, seems remarkably acccurate and depressing – a good reason to unplug forever and force yourself to get back to face to face communication.

The whole thing is done as a monologue by Kimberley Nixon – an impressive feat, and one she carries off with complete self assurance. It’s easy to imagine ODR and Nixon herself as being spoiled, self-obsessed, insecure, raging, and able to completely lose herself in poetry – Nixon wraps the character around herself so much that she disappears, and I found myself lost in the “maze of twisted passages all alike” that is ODR’s brain. How had she become so broken? Why wasn’t she trying to save herself?

Original Death Rabbit is a tightly woven portrait of a person who is allowed to further withdraw into mental illness in a world where it can be hard to tell when people are hiding and when, in fact, they are in danger. That said, I found myself torn between wanting to shout, “Get over yourself!” to the character, to wanting to call the author and ask her to give ODR a little something to make her a bit more well-rounded. Dealing with your own and a family’s mental illness gives an author (and an audience) a lot of material to work with, but having all of a story be told as a video being made for YouTube – or perhaps an extended blog post – is just not quite enough to make me care about the person on stage, or her family. I wanted to see more, to go deeper, to know that the bullshit happy happy faces people put up on social media are very much not representative of the struggles that are happening below – because ODR’s struggles never seemed to get to that key nerve I wanted to get. Still, it’s worth seeing if you want to see theater that’s engaging with the effect of technology on our lives – the topic has much to offer.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Tuesday, January 15, 2019. It continues through February 9th.)

Review – Return of the Soldier – Jermyn Street Theatre

September 8, 2014

This has been the year for theatrical productions with a First World War theme – revivals of old plays (The Silver Tassie), debuts of new (Versailles), and now The Return of the Soldier this strange hybrid of an old story (by Rebecca West) and a new musical presentation (Tim Sanders and Charles Miller) has joined the milieu. Return of the Soldier marries a very modern musical sensibility to a story practically out of the pages of Edith Wharton – a young man from the upper classes (Stewart Clarke) is torn between his commitments to a woman of his class (Zoe Rainey) and his still raging love for a barmaid he fell in love with before the war (Laura Pitt-Pulford).

But piles of additional psychological layers stack up on top of this seemingly cut and dry story. First, there’s his cousin (Charlie Langham), who seems to be in love with Christopher herself. Then there’s the matter of one or two dead babies and some suppressed grief. And then there’s some really strange additional psychological stuff going on that had me wondering just what actually was going to constitute a happy ending and how in the world people of this age ever got by just pretending that they never felt anything. Frankly, Christopher was inconveniencing rather a lot of people by being honest and open: should he just shut up? From the point of view of an author writing in 1918, was the best outcome for the soldier to be a patriot? Did Rebecca West need to support the class system?

While all of these rich options were fighting for supremacy in my head, I got to listen to some very enjoyable Sondheim-esque music. Normally I complain about musicals not being … well … musical enough. I like to walk out of a musical whistling a tune. But in the case of this show, with its rather bleak story, an Irving Berlin-style romp did not seem appropriate. They could have gone for a musical style of the era (music hall tunes) but I think these looser compositions were more appropriate for the very modern considerations the plot brought forward. One notable departure was Dr Anderson (Michael Matos)’s tune “Head Master,” which seemed a very jaunty way to look at the science of trying to get people’s brains to work correctly. I enjoyed it a lot, but at the same time I enjoyed the very modern pieces that had several of the characters working out their contradicting struggles in aural harmony (while, in “real” life, their goals clash).

All in all, in the intimate space (and with the benefit of not knowing the plot or the ending), The Return of the Soldier was an extremely engaging new musical that rates at the top of the First World War shows that I’ve seen this year as well as being one of the rare shows that had me very eager to come back after the interval. It was very enjoyable as a chamber production, but with its deep psychological clashes, I think it may be headed for a larger stage before long.

(This review is for the opening night performance that too place on September 4th, 2014. It continues through September 20th.)