Posts Tagged ‘John Gabriel Borkman’

Review – Great Britain – National Theater

July 12, 2014

Given the National’s track record of reviving the dullest chestnuts on God’s green earth, you can’t imagine my surprise when I heard they were mounting an original comedy – Great Britain. And the way things have been going with me, hey, a comedy is what is called for, and with just a few rumors of it being an actually funny show, I ponied up £28 each for seats (these were the cheapest I could find) and hurried off to the quickest show I could fit in my calendar.

A quick plot summary: Paige Britain (Billie Piper) is a news editor at a tabloid that bears a shocking resemblance to News of the World, so much so that it’s eventually closed down due to a history of its management paying people to hack into the voicemail of various people living and dead. To make this more clearly a work of fiction, we have, well, the Billie Piper character, and also changes in the critical story (murdered twin girls) that tips public opinion against the paper’s activities.

Otherwise, though, it’s really a comic look at the whole trashy episode of extremely recent British history, with plenty of characters you can recognize (oh look, it’s Rebekah Brooks! It’s Rupert Murdoch being questioned by Parliament – only no cream pies) but all sorts of purely imaginary detail (such as the sexy cop who’s literally in bed with the papers) and flights of fancy (the fake YouTube spoofs of the gay Chief of London police are a riot, as is his entire plot line and his “straight out of George W Bush’s mouth” dialogue).

But Great Britain rides an edge that I found uncomfortable. A lot of people in this play kill themselves because of the pressure that’s put on them by the tabloids, and this element is one that I have found horrifying as it has played out in the real world. Listening to Paige say that as far as she’s concerned, she did nothing wrong (in regards to these deaths), well … I was hearing a bit of John Gabriel Borkman, but I was wondering if what I was hearing was also Richard Bean’s take on how either the newspapers or the British public sees these events. To me they are truly horrifying, but I don’t see this play tackling that problem head on. It also brought up the issues of tabloids collaborating with cops and politicians, but it didn’t seem to really address just how cozy they are as, well, something that is wrong. But then, these relationships are purely exaggerations made by Bean to make a better play – or are they? In the world depicted in this play, the police work with the tabloids to try to make themselves look better, and the papers tell politicians that they’ll make sure they’re elected if they can get some favors done for them, which seems pretty damned close to reality based on what I’ve read. Is this really how things are done? Or am I just so American that I can’t tell that everybody already knows this and nobody cares?

At any rate, while I did find this a very fast moving show (and there were some laughs), overall it had enough about it that depressed me about the world and the country I live in that I didn’t exactly walk out with a spring in my step. Excellent performances all around, though, and plenty of surprises, so I think this is going to be a popular show and good on the National for laying off the dusty old crap for something that actually addresses the society we live in in a way that theater can do more quickly and more daringly than either TV or the movies.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Wednesday, July 9th, 2014. It continues at the National Theater until August 23rd, after which time it will be transferring to the Theater Royal Haymarket. The consumption of cornettos during performances of this play is not advised by this author.)

Review -John Gabriel Borkman – The Donmar

April 13, 2007

Last night: I’m on an Ibsen/Pinter/Tennessee Williams kick, “collecting” their shows like one would Beanie Babies or BPAL imps, and last night was Ibsen’s John Gabriel Borkman. The language was thick, but the plot was crystal clear and the characters fantastic. I didn’t know a thing about it (other than “financier’s ruin causes long-lasting rifts within his family”), but as the various relationships of the characters – estranged twin sisters, one the wife of Borkman (who has not seen her husband in eight years, despite the fact he lives upstairs – Deborah Findlay); the son; and the sexy widow next door. (An unseen other character is “the lawyer” next door who’s having a party “the son” is invited to; he’s the man who revealed JGB’s malfeasance and, in essence, ruined him and his family.)

Kurt Vonnegut (RIP) once said (and Scarlettina reminded me) that “every character should want something,” and, by God, these people did. Whether it was power, love, money, revenge, happiness, or freedom, they wanted it like fish want water and humans want air, with great, gasping breaths to suck it in. Their stiff, nineteenth century language (Victorian formality) was delivered as a package to the same, burning desires that animate people today – and I loved it all. It reminded me of the very unhappy version of The Voysey Inheritance, which is a look at the same kind of financial finaglings gone “right.” In this play, you see exactly the kind of ruin Voysey Junior expects, and you understand why he is so very afraid of the consequences of his father’s actions.

Ibsen (thinking of Vonnegut again) rushed us straight to the non-stop action as the years of built-up frustration spilled out. What a great night of theater! I wasn’t bored for a minute, and at the end, I wanted to thank each actor personally for delivering, at last, on the contract we made when I bought my ticket: that I would willingly suspend disbelief, and they would become, not actors on a stage, but people who had stories (and pasts) I cared about. Thanks for a great night, guys!

(This review carried over from my previous theater blog. The performance took place the night of April 12th, 2007.)