Posts Tagged ‘Jessica Raine’

Mini-review – Roots – Donmar Theater

October 22, 2013

It is depressing to spend a night at the theater listening to people expound politics and be dull, more so when the point they’re making (or the side they’re taking) is one you approve of … on paper. Shaw and Miller, J. B. Priestley, these are people who can take politics and make them dramatic. Roots, on the other hand, is lecturing with an obvious point at the end told over far too much time. The Donmar turns it into a true masterclass in the Norwich accent, solidly acted, and I found much to admire in the realistic depiction of how people lived in the 50s (running water and electricity a luxury!) not to mention the new vocabulary used (“clobber” for clutter and “squit” for “crap,” as examples). And, my, the way the family shut down expressions of emotions was really, really eye-opening for me as a west-coast American.

But, seriously. I went to a nearly three hour play in which people 1) clean house 2) make cakes 3) take baths (after pumping and heating the water and pouring into a tin tub). The sprinkling of lectures about appreciating music and “solving moral problems” (et cetera) were just dull, dull, dull. Does it matter how much effort was poured into this play or how beautiful Jessica Raine was? At the end, she stands up and announces, “It’s happening to me!” and I couldn’t help but add, “Yes! You’ve become an incredible bore!” This obvious and dull play was just not really worth the trouble of reviving. Next time I’ll stick to Shaw: politics and plays mix at their peril.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Monday, October 21st, 2013. It continues through November 30th.)

Review – Earthquakes in London – National Theatre

August 3, 2010

Earthquakes in London is a strange beastie of a play. Coming off of the high of author Mike Bartlett’s superb (if short) Cock (at the Jerwood last fall), I expected – well, almost nothing, really, other than his perfectly created dialogue. I certainly didn’t expect a play with a running time of three hours and ten minutes, and I never thought that anyone could have expected the audience (including me!) to STAND through the show. Admittedly this is because I am a bit thick and when I bought my tickets I sincerely did not understand what I was being offered (as there was only one type of ticket available when I bought, I didn’t realize that sitting down was even possible, or that this was to be standing and not moving as per a normal promenade show). Unless you are under thirty with particularly strong knees, you must avoid the £10 “pit standing” seats at all costs – with my sprained ankle, it was a one way ticket to hell.

Well, except, as it turns out I wound up getting a spinning bar stool in front of the swirling catwalk of a stage that wends through the middle of the Cottlesloe, and from this vantage point, with actors stripping, grinding, fainting, getting stoned, and dying in front of my very face (seat 12 FYI), I had massive, exciting theatrical overload, far better than most promenade shows. My God. It was like … really being there, or, really almost being there, but just far more immersive than almost any play I’ve ever been too – there were actors in front of me, behind me, above me, to my side, just everywhere, and the action was changing from one place to another so quickly I was whirling around like a kitten tracking a laser pointer, never sure if I was supposed to be looking at the robo-Stepford mummies rocking their prams, the strange singing men coming up through holes in the catwalk, the latex-clad nursie, one of the two cut-in stages on the opposing walls, the video projections on the sides (for once helpful, decorative in a useful but not oppressive or “we were too cheap to do this right” way), or everything at once. To make it even more clear, scenes took place in which characters were supposed to be in different places (a house and Soho) but walked through each others’ physical place on the set, leaving my brain to resolve just what was going on. I loved this; it was exhilarating. I sat there in the middle of act one going, “My God, this is a major theatrical event, and I am here for it!” Relations between sisters, very modern politics, and the end of the world hanging over it all? Where was it all going?

But … it became clear as the act wound down (some two hours in) … where we were going was to very familiar territory, in this case Playwright Gets Preachy Land. It was NOT some bizarre “deus ex machine” catastrophe designed to bring us all together, no, it was … wait for it … a three hour polemic on how We All Need To Change Our Behavior To Save The World From Climate Change. Seriously. It got into it hard core at about 90 minutes in and it never stopped shaking that rag doll. Did the question of a father and daughter both selling themselves out for financial gain really matter? Did a father’s abandonment of his family matter? Did dealing with pre-natal depression matter? Did any of the struggles that any of the characters had ever go anywhere interesting? Yeah, sure, youngest sister Jasmine (Jessica Raine, totally hot and very “on” for the whole show) took her clothes off, and Lia Williams was utterly brilliant as environmental minister who couldn’t balance her work and home life (and bullied her husband), but Anna Madeley spent the whole damned play crawling around dealing very unconvincingly with the “struggle” of bringing a being into a world that was going to collapse during the baby’s lifetime, and I didn’t care. All of those solid characters (well, not Anna Madeley’s), all wasted. It was the one time I’d seen the multiple story line thing really seeming to work, but Bartlett splorted it all away to get into a polemic (leading into a ridiculous fantasy world) that left my heart shrivelled.

My God, when will playwrights learn that a good play ultimately comes down to the relationships between the characters in it. You can use the platform to sell a point but if what’s going on between the people isn’t interesting, the pontificating is dull. Shaw managed to walk this tightrope generally quite well; Bartlett has unfortunately fallen prey to the David Hare syndrome: too in love with beating the audience about the head with his Really Important Point to make a Really Good Play. Me, if I want to read about climate change, all I have to do is pick up the paper any day of the week; it’s covered extensively in the news. I don’t go to the theater to hear this all over again: I go to learn about people and what makes them tick. At the end of the night, this focus on politics and news of the day has already hopelessly dated Earthquakes in London, making it stale even as the package is being opened. The fantastic staging is something I will remember for a long time; but the play itself, I’m afraid, will not, and for the talented cast and the teasing hints of an amazing storyline that was squashed flat in order to get a point across it’s all a damnable shame.

(This review is for a preview performance that took place on Monday, August 2nd, 2010. It continues through September 22nd but appears to be totally sold out. For another point of view and much more detail on the plot, please see the West End Whinger’s review; a comprehensive listing of reviews from the majors can be found on UpTheWestEnd.com. Note that if you are very concerned about climate change you will probably find this a wonderful show LATER: Or so I thought when I wrote this: Robert Butler apparently did not!)

Review – Gesthemane – National Theatre

December 2, 2008

Last night by uncle and I took advantage of the 10 pound day seats offer and were squeezed into a performance of David Hare’s new play, Gesthemane. It was quite a challenge to get these days seats, however, as there were already 8 people in line at 8:30 and then another 30 in line when the box office opened an hour later! So I feel my uncle actually worked to get these supposedly cheap tickets, but given that the show is sold out until February, it was the only way to see it at all and both of us were quite interested in checking out the latest by this playwright. (Okay, I admit, I’ve actually never seen anything by him before, but I thought that, given how prolifically he writes and how very many of his shows get produced, there was probably something there worth taking note of.)

The show was billed as being about politics and the “loss of idealism,” but it seemed to be to be a direct blast right at the Labour government that is really hitting the target now that the economy has tanked. “How long can this [incompetence/bullshit] continue?” “As long as the money does,” said two characters, and I had myself quite the laugh in this Last Action Hero – like moment of theatrical prescience. The story is something about a minister (Meredith Guest, played by Tamsin Greig) who is struggling because of the hijinks of her husband (financial) and her teenaged daughter (sexual), along with a parallel story of the party fix-it man, Otto Fallon (played by Stanley Townsend) who fundraises and manages things behind the scenes. In a bid for attention, the daughter Suzette (Jessica Raine, positively brilliant) decides to spill some dirt about Otto to the tabloids, putting her mother’s political career in jeopardy.

While this “story” is of some little interest, the play is more sharply focused on the conflicts between the various characters, many of whom provide Shavian speeches that pepper the ends of scenes. The characters argue about what they value (Minister Guest: more concerned with the party or her family?), who they trust (Prime Minister Beasley: in the pocket of his money man, or focused on his political allies?), and the sanctity of personal life versus fame (journalist Geoff Benzine – he chooses fame and notoriety). As the lights come down, they address us on topics as varied as religion (are political leaders more naturally zealots), keeping state secrets (you must trust that we as politicians are looking out for your best interests – and I do mean trust, blindly!) and proper party fare (my personal favorite – why not to serve neither chicken or salmon sandwiches, ever).

I continually felt during the speeches like I was being addressed by the playwright himself, and, though I mostly found myself agreeing with his points (as also delivered by Nicola Walker as disillusioned school teacher Lori Drysdale), the fact of the matter was that these screeds were already feeling like they were dated by the current economic collapse. They are already talking about the good old days, when the rich were getting richer and the poor were getting poorer, but at least there were some jobs out there. To be honest, I would have preferred to have seen a play that was a bit less topical and a little more long lasting, something that would be a permanent addition to the canon rather than a flash in the pan only interesting as long as the issues it cares about are current. Suzette’s desperate angling for her mother’s attention? Timeless (and brilliantly acted to boot). Meredith’s fight for her career with her former friend, Beasley? Not as razor sharp as David Frost taking on Nixon, but a good depiction of politicians under pressure nonetheless. (This scene was rather sadly held back by Anthony Calf’s performance – he never looked to me like anything but an actor on stage pretending to be a prime minister.) But this wasn’t enough to make up for the rest of the play, which had dramatic tension but not enough drama and certainly not more than two characters that were worth paying attention to. It’s a shame, really, but maybe we’ll get lucky and next time Mr. Hare can get on with a good family feud a la August, Osage County and save the speeches for his personal appearances.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Monday, December 1st, 2008.)