Posts Tagged ‘jez butterworth’

Review – The Ferryman – Royal Court (transferring to the Gielgud Theater)

May 20, 2017

There is nothing like having the curtains rise and feeling this wave of emotion rolling off of the stage before even one word of a play has been said. The emotion I’m talking about here is confidence and pride: it’s an entire room full of actors, those on the stage and those hiding behind it waiting for their cues, all thinking as one: I am in the best thing happening right now and every one of you is damned lucky to be here, and you know it. And we did know it. And, well, they were right, not just that I was lucky to be there, standing (standing!) so far on the side of the stage that I never saw one character for most of a scene, but that I was watching the best thing on stage right now and likely for all of this year. The Ferryman is a miracle, really, and although it’s transferring and I could have held out to see it at The Gielgud, no, I wanted to see it in the teeny, intimate Royal Court, and I wanted to be there while the energy was crackling and every person sat down was expecting nothing short of a miracle. They, and I, were not disappointed.

What do you need to know about this show? It’s about a family living on a farm in Ireland in the early 80s, and the discovery of the body of the head of the household’s brother in a bog – where it’s been since he was shot and “disappeared” – raises, pretty literally, ghosts for everyone, but most especially for Quinn Carney (Paddy Considine) and his sister in law Caitlin (Laura Donnelly). They’ve had to try to move forward with their lives while being held back just as if a chain held their collars to a stick in the ground – that stick being the unknown fate of their brother and husband Seamus.

I worried that this play was going to be a horrible weepy overpolitical drag, because I hate political plays – I like plays to be about the relationships between people. And oh, how The Ferryman took that vein and went deep. This is so much a play about people – about love and hate and the ties that bind us together and the words that untie and undo us – about how you decide who to hate and who to love and who is family and who is not – about how you decide what sort of compromises you can live with to be able to get on with that thing called life. We get some background about what the political elements are in play – the Easter Uprising very nicely brought up in a character-illuminating story moment – but everything all comes together not to lecture us on right and wrong but to show us people, complex and conflicted and oh so very real in their flaws and hopes and bitternesses. These characters were every bit as believable to me as the smell of baking dinner that wafted through the auditorium at the start of Act Two.

And the construction of this play – oh, the construction and destruction that takes place over just one day in time – it is a thing of rare beauty. We have very little of back story and lots of tale telling between people, between bragging teenaged boys, between curious young girls and their Aunt Maggie Far Away (Brid Brennan), between long-winded, dreaming Tom Kettle (John Hodgkinson) and his neighbors, between liars and the people they wish to deceive. And we have some singing and dancing, all completely natural and joyous; and eating; and quiet moments; and people who are angry from selfishness and angry from being done wrong; and people who have buried their hurts for a long, long time and see them rising at last to the surface like, well, a body will after it has filled with enough gas from decomposing. But not in a peat bog; never in that deadest water will a body rise again. And just for a moment of amazement we have not just a life rabbit but a goose on stage, and miracle of miracles and actual living baby, because life does actually make that full circle even if we don’t see it on stage.

But in this play, we do; we see beginning to end; we see the outcome of what men’s hands wrought and women can choose to untangle or spin into a noose. It was all a tremendous emotional journey (I cried a bit) and at its end, with nearly three and one half hours on my feet, stuffed in a corner, as barely there as Aunt Maggie in her chair, I felt not a moment’s exhaustion, but just that exultation that I have but rarely felt at the end of a truly tremendous show given its all by a team of spectacular talent, and I felt grateful that I could have been there and shared that long moment with them all.

(This review is for the performance that took place on Monday, May 15th, 2017. Tonight is its last night at the Royal Court before it transfers to The Gielgud. Do not hesitate to make your ticket purchase now.)

Mini-review – Mojo – Harold Pinter Theater (formerly the Comedy)

February 2, 2014

Mojo, also known as “that all-male comedy starring Ben Wishaw,” seems to have been doing a bumper business at the Harold Pinter since its opening in November – helped, no doubt, by a few people like RevStan, who’s been to see it at least five times. (This is made possible by the day seating program and its £10 tickets.) I, however, have no stomach for standing in the cold (and wet) for two hours to see a show; and the ticket prices were otherwise just too rich for me. This left me feeling pretty frustrated as I kept hearing good things about it; I mean, what if they were right? I was going to miss out!

Fortunately my whimpers of distress were noticed by a person I will euphemistically refer to as “Santa Claus,” who bought me tickets for an evening in January. So there I was on a Friday night, in the dress circle (actually in very nice seats), ready to have my world rocked (and looking suspiciously around for Harry Potter fans. I’m pleased to report Rupert Grint may be allowed to actually develop as an actor rather than being penalized by his fan base).

I don’t know, I kind of wonder now why I went. I’d really avoided reading much about the plot, and was pretty surprised when nearly the entire first act consisted of two guys talking so quickly and in such weird, slangy English that I really could not follow their conversation. The audience was laughing, though, not that I knew why. Instead, I was sitting there, watching, trying really hard to hear, and wondering, what, exactly, is going on here? They’re at a club? There’s a young blond Elvis performing? They are taking drugs? Lots of drugs? They might be playing cards? Something about serving tea? Um, minge joke, okay, that was a little bit funny, but … um, what?

And then we suddenly wind up in a scene where some guy is tied to a jukebox (nearly) naked while some other guy is swinging a sword around and then another guy comes in and is all grim, and, I don’t know, WHY WAS ANYTHING FUNNY? I was finding it tense and uncomfortable and I might have considered leaving because I really was just not following along. And then it seemed to become more of a mobbish/revenge kind of thing but, really, I would have preferred being back at The Dumb Waiter, where people said less but meant more.

I left the play without ever figuring out what happened in the first act. But sometime in the second act I realized that all of the characters worked at a nightclub in Soho that had apparently become the target for some kind of gangland takeover. The focus of events turned to Mickey (Brendan Coyle), the standout single competent employee in the club, and Baby (Ben Wishaw), the son of the club owner and massive head case.

So … let’s talk about Wishaw. In some ways, this was really a star turn, as watching him prowl/stagger/swagger across the stage, you could help but feel he was in a different world from the other characters. But the you couldn’t help but try to figure out what world it is. I hate to think that I’ve been living here so long that I too have become obsessed with actors’ accents (though it’s hard not to when every time I see a play with British actors playing Americans I get asked if the accents were authentic or not). I couldn’t tell if I was watching an English actor attempting to do a Brooklynese accent badly, or if I was watching an Italian-English character attempting to do an American gangster-type accent badly. It just all didn’t make sense. And, for once in my life, because the way a character was speaking in a play didn’t make sense, I wasn’t able to give him any kind of context that could make him come to life. I was just watching a person act – dramatically, mind you – but I wasn’t engrossed in the play.

Now let’s not be mistaken: the tragic, violent turn things took in the final act certainly made me sit up and pay attention (especially as I thought it might have all been a dream of Baby) and really just upended my whole perception that I was watching a comedy. I’m not sure how the rest of the audience took it (aside from the walkouts) but I wound up feeling quite discombobulated and a whole lot more convinced that I’d actually seen some good theater because what happened in the final act made clear the relationships between the various men in a way that I could feel. But I can’t forgive this play the first act. Worth seeing: well, probably; worth two hours: maybe; worth 60 quid: absolutely not. Twenty pounds max: day seats or nothing. Unless, of course, you somehow are able to cobble something together out of the first act.

(This review is for a performance that took place on January 24, 2014. Runs through February 8th.)

Mini-review – The River – Royal Court Theater

December 30, 2012

There’s no doubt in my mind that for theater fanatics in London, The River was the event of the year: a new play by one of the writers with the biggest buzz in the biz, yet staged in a theater that only holds about 90 people, and with tickets only for sale on the day (20 for in-person buyers and the rest online). Me and my theater loving acquaintances were not pleased. Many of us saw it as a publicity stunt; most of us doubted the play could really only be successful in a small space (was Butterworth really being that much of a princess?); some spent months planning their schemes to ensure they could get a ticket (I’ll admit the day of scheme took care of most scalping possibilities) while many of us just figured it wasn’t going to happen. I, personally, saw this as the lynchpin in letting my membership of the Royal Court lapse despite generally enjoying the work done there. What was the point in supporting a theater that would leave me, as a member, completely out in the cold? I was so disappointed by the whole thing I put it entirely out of my mind as something that just wasn’t going to happen.

Months went by, the show opened, and exactly twice early on I was at my computer at the right time and actually saw the “for sale” button lit up on the Royal Court’s ticket page. But somehow I just couldn’t be quick enough. A few people I knew went and said it was good; the reviews came out and agreed; I gave up because I hadn’t left every day of the run open in the hope that one of those days I would buy tickets and just got on with my life.

And then, well, a friend of mine said he had a tip about how to work the computer system to get to the tickets about 10 seconds faster than anyone else, and on the last Thursday of the run I managed to have an afternoon free and have my act together enough to be right there, online, perfectly at the moment I needed to to have my sweet little booking scam ready to go (one of the tips being to make sure you were already logged in). Bang bang, I was off to a matinee of the show I thought I was never going to get to see! I could finally decide for myself if a one act play was really worth the hype.

Embarrassingly (given what a grinch I was about the whole thing), without the poison of the ticketing system hanging over me, there is no way I can deny that this was anything but an excellently written play, beautifully performed. I found the writing left me with more questions that it answered, one of my favorite situations to be left at at the end of the play. The Hemingway-like dialogue was very intense and paired nicely with Ted Hughes poetry (and of course the fishing setting, and the general hypermasculinity of the play and its lead character), but what I wanted to know was: did someone die here? Was it one of the women? Did he push her in the river (and why), or did she fall? The echoing nature of the play just made it all seem so possible, and seem so very likely that the way the two women interchanged with each other was because one was a ghost. What Butterworth couldn’t teach Conor McPherson about how to write a spooky play! But then, I wondered … was the guy just living with his memories? Or was he maybe, as he said his grandfather did, reliving the same behavior patterns with different people, stuck in a loop he could never break out of?

The play ended, leaving me surprised and exhilarated. None of my theories could be proven, but it had all seemed very real and was enlessly watchable (and an amusing counterpoint to the similarly structured Ding Dong The Wicked, which I saw barely a month before). British playwrights, Jez spanks you: watch and learn at the feet of the master.

(This very belated review is for a performance seen on Thursday, November 15th, 2012. Since the play is long closed, I didn’t worry about spoilering it. Thanks to Andy for helping me get in.)