Posts Tagged ‘jude law’

Review – Richard II – Malachite Theater at St Leonard’s Church (Shoreditch)

July 8, 2014

This year is one in which I’m pretty much seeing no Shakespeare at all. I blame burnout – last year I saw, what, seven versions of three plays? – but also a rebellion on my side: I’m tired of theaters making lazy programming decisions because they want secure audiences (as I’m convinced it’s not the lack of copyright that’s the motivating factor). Seriously, the Michael Grandage season featured two Shakespeares out of the five plays they did, wasting what could have been an incredible opportunity to expose people to new work. So this year my new year’s resolution was to see no plays I’ve seen before, a vow I took mostly because I was burnt out on Shakespeare hashed and rehashed and hashed again. It’s saved me from Malfi but perhaps led to a mistake in View from the Bridge … and yet, there I was Friday night in Shoreditch getting ready for Richard II. What gives?

In this case, it’s partly living up to my “duties” as a reviewer, but it’s also a desire to see a project through. See, the Malachites are doing all 19 of Shakespeare’s Bishopsgate plays to Shoreditch, and I want to see the project through. But also, I was so impressed by their Titus that I’ve wanted to continue supporting the company by reviewing their shows (as long as you understand this is a bit of a risk for both of us, because I’m not going to hide the bad news if that’s what I have to give – my contract with you, my imaginary reader, holds true, that I will give you an honest take on whatever I see).

So: I last saw Richard II at the Donmar, where I came up with some distinct impressions of the script: Richard, a king who is obsessed with his God-given right to kingship; the extraordinarily melancholy garden scene with Queen Isabella listening to a painful metaphor delivered by a wise servant; and the extraordinary speech Richard gives while he hands his crown (and his ability to direct his life) to Henry IV.

For this Richard, the Malachites presented us with Nick Finegan, who, with his strawberry blond hair, pale skin, and sense of utter composure seemed every bit the man who believed in his own divine right to rule. There was no sense of his needing to get assent from the commons or even the nobles; he was above and beyond all of this earthly nonsense. Interestingly enough, Finegan’s interpretation was less otherworldly than Eddie Redmayne; he also seemed more, er, heterosexual (although it is a bit difficult to imagine Richard bothering with this kind of proletariat stuff I thought it was very odd how effeminately he was played at the Donmar).

In vivid contrast to him is Martin Prest as Henry Bolingbroke, who is incredibly dynamic and charismatic as the wronged king-to-be. I couldn’t help but contrast his performance with that of the watery Jude Law as Henry V (one of the shows that burnt me out on Shakespeare for the year). Instead of watching a name actor swagger lazily through one of the best written roles in English-language theater, we got a man fighting to be vibrant, likeable and believable … and succeeding. Bolingbroke is a man who still respects the monarchy yet also wants to fight for justice (admittedly in this case for himself). I couldn’t help but get swept up in Bolingbroke’s cause: he seemed like a natural leader and the description of the commons fawning before him as he paraded through the streets of London seemed all too believable. Prest has the crown coming to him from the moment he challenges Thomas Mowbray to a duel; Richard’s voyage to Ireland to lead the army seems, by contrast, a little boy going on a school holiday. Both of them are noble, yet both of them portray opposites of the spectrum of what it means to be a king. Watching their war of words (and silence) as Richard struggles to hand over the crown to his successor is simply electrifying. (And let’s not forget watching Richard “negotiate” while hiding in the organ loft: wearing a not very scary helmet, he looked like a child playing at soldiers, yet also an adult realizing that he has, in every way, lost.)

Even if he seems out of touch, Richard’s end is heartbreaking. Trapped in the Tower, in the dark (the church was lit only with candles for an amazing effect in this scene), naked but for a cloth around his hips, Richard can only be pitied. He understands all he has lost, and it seems that even his hold on his mind has been loosened; he fears death at every step. Finegan seemed just insane enough to kill by accident, while sane enough to fully understand how tragic his fall is; this effect is emphasized by the thick shadows, which has him looking like a Caravaggio Christ. At the end, when his broken body is brought to the king, it’s hard not to feel crushed by sadness; who would think that Richard II could be so fragile?

While I once again had troubles with the acoustics in this building, the strong performances, charismatic leads, and inventive staging made it a Richard to remember. It’s certainly more than worth the £12 ticket cost – and just 50 pence more buys a cup of tea at the interval! Life in the Cheap Seats very much approves.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Friday, July 4th, 2014. I saw origins of American attitudes towards rule of law – the attitudes that led us to our revolution – in this play. Most fitting! It continues thorugh July 26th.)

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Review – Jude Law’s Henry V – Michael Grandage Company at the Noel Coward Theatre

November 27, 2013

For fans of the long winter’s nap, I give to you the final show in Michael Grandage’s first London season, the “Jude Law Henry the Fifth,” just in time for Christmas. We’ve had a surfeit of Henrys in the last few years, but I suppose for someone who’s feeling a little inadequate about their standing in the public affections or their hairline, it must be an irresistible role. And for Grandage, we have another coup: a popular and populist play (hitting many of the old English jingoes) staffed by a movie actor not only well known but of proven mettle (he did hold down Hamlet not so long ago and thus nicely pips James Earl Jones’s Much Ado). So we’re guaranteed another series of sell-out houses and thus very likely another season of Michael Grandage produced plays, about which more presently.

But first, back to the play. Admittedly sitting in the back half of the stalls, underneath the oppressive ceiling, with the whole set looking a bit like panoramic television and my knees tucked to the side to avoid hitting the seats in front of me, I wasn’t really at my best for physically enjoying this play. But as we went through one war preparation after another and the tedious Hotspur scenes, I couldn’t help but feeling something was missing. Were the actors flat? They certainly knew their lines well enough. Was there too much play in total? It was cut down to finish up at about 10 PM, so … just what was it really that made me want to punch the air and say “Yes!” when the Dauphin said, “What a long night this is!” There was just no spark, no energy, and that’s fatal to this play and dishonest to the script. I’ve seen it done in a bunker space where the fear of war had me feeling edgy and nervous, and as a sporting match that had me cheering and laughing, but this version, dry and nerveless, has no reason to exist other than putting butts in seats. It was especially telling that of the three, count them, three women I brought with me, all of whom were excited about seeing Jude Law on stage, two of them left at the interval (both had nodded off) and the third only stayed when bribed with ice cream.

The positive side of this is that the tickets were still only 10 quid each so nobody felt like their money was wasted. But I have to have a word now with Mr Grandage about his overall season.

Dear Michael,
Of the five shows (I saw them all, I stayed all the way through the lot), only one of them was actually worth seeing: Cripple of Inishmaan. I am angry at the amount of effort and energy that has been put forth in delivering bland works to audiences in whom you appear to have little trust. Sure, a celebrity cast Shakespeare is a profit turner, but we had two of those, and the one original play done as a part of this season came off as a painful vanity project driven more by the need to showcase two very brilliant stars rather than to create a good work of theater.

I don’t regret the fifty quid I spent to get my season’s worth of tickets, and I thank you, Mr Grandage, for your effort to make theater affordable to the average Londoner. But next year, you should do MORE new works, fresher plays, and less boring old warhorses. Brilliant actors are wasted on tripe. Next year, I say seven shows: two modern, two new, one war horse, and two mini-seasons (two or three weeks each) for two really new shows that would benefit from a higher profile – things you’d normally see at the Royal Court, like Constellations and The River. We’ve got the most intelligent, best educated theater audience in the world here in London, and we deserve better. Michael Grandage, I want you to step up to the plate, step away from the trough, and really make your next year’s season the golden star it should have been in the West End’s night sky. There is no excuse for the flabby decisions you made this year.

All the best, Webcowgirl.

(This review is for for a performance that took place on Tuesday November 26, 2013.)

Review – Hamlet (with Jude Law) – Donmar “West End” (at Wyndham’s Theatre)

August 22, 2009

The Jude Law Hamlet put on by the Donmar is, I think, the most-hyped show of this year’s West End season – sold out sooner than Helen Mirrim’s Phedre, source of more “guess how many foolish tourists were waiting in line for returns at God awful o’clock” jokes than Sir Ian and Patrick Stewart’s Godot, basically Hot Hot Hot at least as far as how many tickets people wanted and how few were available.

I knew about the show more than early enough to get tickets, but I didn’t buy them, despite the fact I think Jude Law is quite sexy, for three reasons. First, I have an annual Bard limit, and I just wasn’t interested in blowing it on yet another Hamlet. (The Donmar West End series as a whole was so very un-risk taking, except for the excrable Madame de Sade, and anyone with eyes to read the script with could tell THAT didn’t deserve a revival. Still, Hamlet, bah and yawn.) Second, the early reviews (such as the West End Whingers) weren’t very enthusiastic. And third, well, I just didn’t want to bother with this show simply because a cinema star had been cast in it to pull in the punters. I think this is poor practice as it results in shows being performed by people who aren’t really cut out for it, and a disappointing night out for me. Shakespearean actors who’ve made the leap to the big stage is one thing, but to be honest, the magic just doesn’t seem to work in the other direction.

And yet … and yet. I, too, apparently can fall prey to hype, and after a whole summer spent pooh-poohing the whole affair, I finally broke down when I saw it was being transferred to Broadway. “My God!” I thought. “Perhaps I am missing the show of the year” (a la Black Watch), “and even if I did make it to New York, I wouldn’t be able to afford it!” So I took advantage of my gardening leave and found myself a single ticket for a Wednesday matinee, and off I went.

Well, I don’t know if it was the fact I was seeing a show in the middle of the day or if it was because I was seeing yet another (yawn) Hamlet, but GOD was sitting through this play work. Law was waving his hands around like he was conducting an orchestra (causing me to laugh during his speech to the players, “Nor do not saw the air too much with your hands”), and I found myself wishing the man who was playing the ghost, clearly a pro, was actually in the title role. The actors were in general serviceable, but in no way memorable, and I found myself yearning for the hair-raising brilliance of Stewart’s Macbeth. Really, must Shakespeare be so dull? Though the bit where Ophelia was being lectured by her brother and father on Hamlet’s lecherous nature provided some giggles, mostly it felt like the long-awaited end of a show that had just run out of energy.

At any rate, I can now say “I saw it when,” but to be honest I wish I could just say I’d gone to see a show I enjoyed instead.

(Hamlet closes tonight. Don’t worry, it’ll be done again soon.)

Doing the impossible: finding tickets for the Donmar’s “Hamlet” (with Jude Law)

August 17, 2009

You know, you go back to the Donmar West End‘s ticket site and over and over see “Hamlet is now sold out” and you call the theater and they say, “Oh NOES we has no tickets, please go wait in line in front of the theater with the other losers for a chance at standing through the show” (after standing in line for eight hours) and then you realize that YES you have magic and you say, “I shall call and see if I can get just a single ticket for the very last Wednesday matinee as I am free that day” and the lovely lady goes ahead and looks for you (as you have urged her to do) and LO there is not a sold out show in London that I have not been able to get tickets for yet and I shall see my cinematic idol performing the works of the bard before it goes to Broadway and for the mere price of £25 quid. And sitting down to book. Lo, truly, I am magic!

(Note: I’m pleased to see that they are actually going to make an effort, in the Donmar style, to keep this Hamlet affordable when it makes it to the other side of the pond. Pere Telecharge, regular price for evening tickets for this show in New York on a weekend is $251.50; weekend matinees are $226.50; otherwise it’s $116.50 and then the $25 tickets. I admit that part of the reason I am seeing it here, now, is because I am saving so much money over what I would be if I were seeing it in New York. That said, people who shop now for this show can get $25 tickets in the upper mezzanine; good on the Donmar for making an effort to actually let normal people enjoy theater instead of it just being a treat for the fat cats!)

HINTS FOR GETTING TICKETS TO SOLD OUT SHOWS without going to scalpers
1. Be flexible about the date you can go and number of tickets you need.
2. Call the house and keep checking on availability.
3. On the day of, it may pay to check several times a day, especially as it gets toward the end of the day.
4. Wheedle with the ticket staff to check.
5. Ask if there’s a waiting list and ask to be put on it.
6. Show up night of and get in line.
7. If you’re in line, have cash in your hand (and be ready to pay it out for the top priced ticket)
8. See someone looking like they’re going to sell a ticket and you’re in line? See if you can make eye contact with them and get them to just sell it to you, but be sure that if you do this, you’re buying a real ticket. You’ll make everyone else in line hate you if you effectively queue jump them, but hey, it’s a tough life and you’ll never see them again.
9. Matinees are magic because there are always less people looking to see those shows.

(Hamlet runs at Wyndham’s through 22nd August 2009, after which it moves to the Broadhurst Theatre in New York, from September 12th through December 6th. $25 tickets are available now, so don’t hesitate to buy if you’re hoping to see this on the cheap!)

Hot tip: tix available for Tuesday August 11th Hamlet

August 5, 2009

I’ve been frustrated by the sold-out-ed-ness of the Donmar’s Hamlet, but apparently there are about a dozen tickets available for next Tuesday’s performance (August 11th). I won’t be able to go as I’ll be out of town, but I thought I’d pass the tip along as someone is bound to want ’em …