Posts Tagged ‘Kate O’Flynn’

Mini-review and musings – A Taste of Honey – National Theatre

April 9, 2014

I was actually quite discouraged between the time I bought my tickets for A Taste of Honey at the National and the time I went to see it: the comments I saw on Twitter had been along the lines of “boring” and “stuck through the whole three hours but why.” But I’d made plans to go with a friend (who just wanted to see Lesley Sharp), so I felt stuck. How good could a play by a one-hit wonder be?

A few days after seeing it, I’m surprised by how much I enjoyed myself. It’s always easier to enjoy a show when your expectations are set low, but I had no problem making it through to the end: but I think this is a bit because of its relevance to me, and my cultural experience – but also, oddly, because of having just come from seeing Pests two nights before. How poor women interact with each other and live their lives was on my mind. So, instead of doing a review here, I’m going to talk rather more about why this play was interesting to me, and how it was similar (and different) to Pests.

The concept of a glamorous, poor, and self-centered mother is one that’s sadly familiar to me. Helen (Sharp) is a bit of an extreme, so gorgeous and well dressed she’s hard to believe; but a woman who puts making herself happy over looking after her children is not unfamiliar to me. Her daughter, Josephine (Kate O’Flynn), doesn’t make a whole lot of sense as a character; she’s just not really as rooted as you tend to be when money and looking after yourself are your top two musts in life. But, sadly, it was easy for me to accept that Helen would be pushing her young daughter out the door so that she could have better times with the men in her life; that’s just how things are for some people. And yet … I just didn’t feel sympathetic for Jo. She doesn’t treat the people in her life with affection – she doesn’t even seem to have feelings at all – and she whines constantly; she is grossly immature and so blocked into short-term thinking that you want to give her a slap.

But then … well, there were lines in the play I knew best from songs by the Smiths: “I dreamt about you last night/And I fell out of bed twice” (from “Reel Around the Fountain”) and “The dream is gone but the baby is real” (from “This night has opened my eyes”), and remembering those and the turbulent emotions of my teens, I was able to remember a lot of feelings Jo was probably having: experiencing (what you think is) love only through the hands of someone who wants to use you for sex; the horrible deadness caused by constantly having your dreams and aspirations shat on; realizing you’re really never going to get more than just the most damaging forms of happiness and going for it even though the consequences are likely to be a disaster for your life. Man, what a rollercoaster. I’m not sure why Morrisey picked on this play so strongly for influencing his own writing, but he and Sheelagh Delaney really captured that dead end miserabilism perfectly.

Side by side to this play about two women who sell each other out for sex (which I think is the “taste of honey”), I had a play about two sisters who actually do love each other to bits but who still utterly fail in the common sense department. Yes, I’m talking about Pink and Rolly, the two leavings at the bottoms of the garbage can of society who make up Pests. Pink is positively disgusting, crude, stupid, desperate to prove how much smarter she is than her little sister, and, as it turns out, nursing a deep and long held resentment against the things Rolly had as a child that she didn’t. Pink could easily be a modern Jo. But she looks out after her sister and genuinely cares for her; the ways she actively seeks to damage her sister’s life are, to her, only an attempt to not lose her. I couldn’t help but feel for Pink; she really does have nothing. The fact that she wants to make sure her sister has nothing, too, is awful; but Pink really seems to have convinced herself that she experiences happiness and there’s really nothing out there. And, even despite realizing the extent to which Pink has screwed her over, Rolly still loves and wants to look after her sister. It’s just heartbreaking. There’s no way you can’t see that these people have fallen even further down than the women of Taste of Honey: but it was Pests where I saw that real family love come out.

All in all, I think both of these shows were well worth my time; but I also recommend seeing them both together, and having a think about what it is that makes people tick. Kudos both to Delaney and Vivienne Franzman for making characters and situations that I could care about this much.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Monday, April 7, 2014. A Taste of Honey continues through May 11th and it really is a modern classic.)

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Mini-review – Port – National Theater

January 30, 2013

I did not plan on going to see Port at the National Theater. The tag line, “two kids, largely abandoned and growing up in the deprived suburban shadows of Manchester,” made me think it was likely to be cutesy or preachy or maudlin and, even worse, feature child actors. However, when I got an invitation to go to press night for free, I’m afraid I wasn’t able to resist. Free theater! Starting at 7 PM! Hurray!

Unfortunately, I can’t say I enjoyed this play at all, though the impressions I got from the info on the National’s web site was pretty much entirely incorrect. I really thought it was going to be about an eleven and a six year old kid running wild, living under bridges and dumpster diving while they tried to keep together; instead, it was about some weird little kids growing up into profoundly fucked up adults in an environment where they could have learned some humanity at some point along the way but seemed to have nearly entirely failed. I’ve rarely seen a bleaker portrait of a sub-middle class existence; and although this would seem to be the same income level of the people that I grew up with in America (i.e. “trailer trash,” bottom of the barrel poor), for some reason either as life is lived in Stockport or as playwright Simon Stephens chose to portray his characters, I found myself utterly unsympathetic to these two near-animals. Kate O’Flynn was completely believable as Rachael Keats, but after watching her attack her grandmother in a nursing home garden I no longer was rooting for her (and had lost my taste for chocolate). There may have been a bigger political message that I, as a foreigner, was indifferent to: but as a play watcher, I got neither much of a plot nor really any other reason to be sitting in the dark while these horrors played out in front of me. I grew up in worse circumstances than this and not only clawed my way out, but kept my ties to my family and friends. These people, Rachael and her brother Billy (Mike Noble), I wanted nothing more than to get away from them and get out of the room and let them carry on with their misery far, far from me.

Was this play realistic? Probably. Was the acting good? Yes. Was it worth watching? I think not. As I dashed into the comfort of sleeting rain, I wondered why in the hell wasn’t The River done here and Port done at The Royal Court? Does the National just have really poor standards for script acceptance? Does the Royal Court have much better connections with people who know how to make good plays? The whole thing is a mystery to me, but there’s no doubt in my mine that Port was a waste of money and effort.

(This review is for opening night, which was Monday, January 29th, 2013. It continues through March 24th.)

Mini-review – “One Day When We Were Young” and “Lungs” – Paines Plough Roundabout Season at Shoreditch Town Hall

October 12, 2012

It’s been almost a week and I’m feeling guilty about not getting up my review of this excellent set of shows currently taking place at Shoreditch Town Hall. There are actually three plays in the Paines Plough Roundabout Season – Nick Payne’s One Day When We Were Young, Duncan Macmillan’s Lungs and Penelope Skinner’s The Sound of Heavy Rain – and I’d bought tickets for all three (they play together on Saturdays and Sundays, and you get a £15 discount off of the series), but the night before I got an email saying that Rain had been cancelled because of a technical problem. Fortunately, this was the first show of the day (rather than the one in the middle), so what it wound up meaning was that I got to have a nice roast on a Sunday before heading over to Old Street – I was a bit irritated about not seeing all three but actually feeling a bit intimidated about being in the theater from 2 to 9PM (as opposed to my initial WAHOO response), so all things considered, I started the day feeling quite good – but must apologize for what I consider to be an incomplete review of the series as I have not been able to fit the show in.

What I did see was two two handers, both of which moved me quite a bit, and quite a bit more than what I was expecting. I came in expecting One Day When We Were Young to be the star in the crown, and it started off deliciously simply – two young lovers getting together for a fun night before the man headed off to war (the Asian theater for World War II), with lots of flirting and fun and positively the most sexual scene I’ve ever seen on a theater – I’m sure the actors both had their underpants on but it was rather a LOT like watching a live sex show and if you were planning on taking a member of the family I would NOT advise it. Otherwise: actually really hot, and with the two virgins trying to talk through just how what they were trying to do was supposed to work, just incredibly charming, a scene that really built a connection and affection to the characters, and something I have never seen handled on the stage before. It was really well done and will NOT be seeing the local high school auditorium any time soon.

As it turns out, this was one scene of three, and I don’t want to ruin any more surprises, but all scenes feature the characters aging and having to deal with each other as their lives and expectations change. At the very end, the woman said something to the man that about broke me … that she needed him for emotional support because there was nobody left. Imagine being eighty years old, with children, and yet having nobody to turn to for support in a crisis. I may have felt put off by the stiffness of the second act, but I felt a universal human quality to the last. It put me in a melancholy state of mind as I headed out the door, clutching the button I’d been given to indicate my random seat allocation. Thank goodness Ian and Paul were there, or I might have gotten into quite a mope. Instead, we went to the pub around the corner, got some pizza and beers and had us a good old visit. Ah, yes.

Ninety minutes later and we went back, changing to some front row seats in the wooden arena (borrowed, I was pretty sure, from <I>Cock</I>, but with an extra row on top – there is NO room for anything underneath your legs so take advantage of the free, serviced cloakroom). We managed to get in shortly before Sir Ian arrived with companion – sadly he would not sit next to us (“I’m not allowed to sit in the first row”) and wound up somewhere near the top. We, however, had a great view of the next play (including being close enough to see Kate O’Flynn squeeze real tears from her eyes – impressive!), which was an intense, ninety minute nearly breathless dialogue between a couple.

Now, I am going to take umbrage at the sad justice done this show by its National Theatre copy, which would have, frankly, in its banality, kept me from seeing the show if I’d bother reading about it beforehand. Instead, read what I have to say.

Lungs is a show about how couples fail to communicate with each other despite being so close you’d think they tie each other’s shoelaces. The two characters could be described as “quirky” if you want to use lazy shorthand but would be better described as “realistic,” “flawed,” and “like a few people I went to school with and no longer invite over for dinner because one half of the couple is so self-righteous I can’t stand her and the guy defeats his own intelligence with his utter lack of backbone.” Despite the fact that, as a couple, they made me want to shout, “NO FOR GOD’S SAKE DON’T HAVE A BABY!”, the reality of their relationship was undeniable and became slowly, tricklingly, heartbreaking. Bad things happened, she broke, they failed to cope, and two people who clearly loved each other the way that trees love the sun crumbled into dust like a mummy’s hand. And then I actually felt bad for them, and what a pathetic situation they were in, and how heartbreakingly real it all was.

And then I realized I’d stopped feeling like I was in a play, watching actors mouth words written on a piece of paper. I cared, even though the people were irritating, even though there were some weird things going on (like the way they’d shift scenes by hours or months by just saying, “Hi, how have you been?” as if they’d ever actually stopped talking for a breath). Duncan Macmillan had taken me somewhere.

And at the end, it seemed, the world blew out of the auditorium, the light from the stage expanding out the cupola above me, all of the little sadnesses and disappointments that make up our tiny lives becoming universal, utterly transcending the theater in which we sat on a rainy Sunday night in October in a run down corner of an often unfriendly town. And I walked out into the night and thought about my own sadnesses, and fiddled with my little yellow button.

And it was good.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Sunday, October 7th, 2012. The Paines Plough Roundabout Season continues through October 27th, and you’d be a fool to miss it.)