Posts Tagged ‘Juliet Stevenson’

Review – Mary Stuart – Almeida Theater

January 27, 2017

The Almeida’s Mary Stuart opens with the most fabulous coup de theatre I think I’ve ever seen: a coin is tossed and, based on which actress has called the coin, the outcome determines who gets to play Mary Stuart, prisoner, and who gets to play Queen Elizabeth. The person who loses has their jewelry removed and their shoes taken off and walks off the stage barefoot; the other actress keeps her jacket and becomes power bitch, ruling over her court and completely in control. The point we’re trying to have pointed out to us is one made explicitly in the script; the person who is the “winner” and the person who is the loser is completely chosen by the hands of fate and has little to do with their own choices. However, what we witness is two actresses taking an incredible risk; can they each remember a bucketfull of dialogue, and be a different person, at the flip of a coin? ARE THEY ALL POWERFUL MAGICIANS?

As I watched the show, though, I stopped thinking about the role of chance and started thinking more about the action and the characters. I somehow started seeing Juliet Stevenson (our Elizabeth) as Theresa May … unsure how to deal with all of her power but desperate to show she was the one in charge. Sure, Elizabeth had a lot more to be weepy about than Theresa May, like managing foreign relations via her own marriage, but as Elizabeth became more cornered I saw more and more the modern politician with a shag blonde cut. And Queen Mary, well, the foreign devil held prisoner with no course to help … how could I not see Mary Stuart (Lia Williams) as a refugee held in some ridiculous Home Office limbo, denied access to her friends, family or legal council … with no choice but to beg for mercy from an arrogant sovereign who saw crushing her as a way to prove her own power? Theresa May, tyrant; Mary Stuart, every person ever desperate to escape death. And I can’t tell you how horrifying it was to watch Mary try to escape someone who’d decided that she owed him sexual favors because, really, when you’re in that kind of powerless position, how much ability do you have to say no? How much can you even protect yourself? And how much does each and every man who helps a woman in those kinds of desperate straights think that he now has a right to her body?

While the show itself is a bit of a marathon (and certainly has lots of history in it to keep you feeling like you’re getting an edumacation as well as being entertained), what I found amazing, more that the gobstopping interchangable actresses, was the crisp, vivid relevance of what I was seeing on stage to what is going on in the world around us. It’s not just a world where we’re fighting for how to spend our theater dollar, it’s a world of politics and power that theater can reflect back at us through a thinly curved mirror. Oh yeah. Mary Stuart. I came for the acting; I left feeling energized to go back out there and fight for oppressed people everywhere.

(This review is for a performance that took place on January 19th. It continues through January 28th. I had the supposedly crappy £12 side seats and was grateful for them and felt like they were excellent value for the price.)

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Mini-Review – Happy Days – Young Vic

February 20, 2015

I’m pretty sure that nobody in London would have bought a ticket for Happy Days at the Young Vic thinking that they were going to be listening to 50s music and watching The Fonz. No, amongst theater goers it’s quite famous as the play where the actress spends the performance buried from at least the waist down. It’s a play from the Absurdist period, and, given that it’s a Beckett, its themes are predictable at the start: our impending annihilation, the futility of existence, et cetera. The play can be accused of being about how people attempt to maintain their equilibrium in the face of unavoidable death (or perhaps a big metaphor on the hopeless loneliness of marriage or, more broadly, life), but I don’t want to examine it in that way. It’s certainly more powerful to see a play than just to read it, and this is a fine production (lively, unironic Winnie – Juliet Stevenson) with a truly impressive set (it looked like a slice of a mountain and even had regularly trickling rocks burying Winnie just a tiny bit more while we watched) and painful sound effects (I was tempted to pull in a health and safety inspector as I suspected ear damage might have happened – it really hurt my ears) – and for many of us, it’s a play you want to have on that life list.

But … why bother? I’m not interested in seeing a play just so I can sit around and discuss the symbolism of it all, especially given that this topic has been stamped into the ground long ago. It’s an existentialist museum piece brought to life. The sad thing, though, is that the Absurdism style is still massively relevant and an incredibly powerful theatrical tool when brought out in a vibrant context. When we need to shine a light on the ill doing of the powers that be, you can hardly do it any better than in a theatrical piece that mocks them. But how much safer to watch this gelding than go see the stallion currently prancing at the Bush Theater (Islands, closing this Saturday). If you want to see an animated (but convincingly life like) dinosaur, go see Happy Days, but if you want to see absurdist theater that leaves bruises, you’d be a fool to miss Islands – in fact, I would advise you to abandon Happy Days tickets bought for this weekend, take the loss, and see Islands instead; and if Beckett or Ionesco were around, they’d say the same thing.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Thursday, February 18th, 2015. It continues through March 21st. Ice creams are compulsory at the interval.)