Posts Tagged ‘Kevin Bishop’

Review – Once in a Lifetime – Young Vic

December 11, 2016

Tell me what the movies Singing in the Rain and Prix de Beaute have in common? What, you haven’t heard of the second one? Well, this 1930 Louise Brooks film, made in two versions, is a real treat. So the secret is that both films are deeply immersed in the effect that the introduction of sound had to the evolution of the movies … and, if you look over your shoulder, to the effect that movies had on the support for live theater (as it’s sound cinema that killed vaudeville/music hall culture, putting Gypsy on the stage and making Norma Desmond mad). I am very interested in the change that The Jazz Singer brought to the world of cinema … and having the chance to see a play set during this fruitful era was one I could not let pass me by. And it was written by Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman … my hopes were high!

I’ll warn you that this show will go down best if you have a taste for the “screwball comedies” of 1930s Hollywood – with plots built around things like debutantes taking care of chimpanzees (or maybe cheetahs) while wearing an improbable series of expensive dresses. Yes, reality isn’t really a consideration, and the sooner you stop expecting it, the easier it will be for you to enjoy Once in a Lifetime.

The show opens in the hallway (?) of the tacky hotel the vaudeville troupe of May (Claudie Blakley), Jerry (Kevin Bishop) and George (John Marquez) are sharing. May has some bad news: they’re running out of money. It seems like this group has run out of steam. But suddenly Jerry bursts on the scene and announces he’s sold the act so they can run to Hollywood and, somehow, make a fast buck out of the rise of the talking picture. He’s just seen The Jazz Singer and he’s sure there’s money to be made in Hollywood. Give him credit: he has certainly seen the sea change moment. However, he has no idea WHAT to do, and it winds up being May who comes up with the idea of running an elocution school. While the trio are on a train to the promised land (Hollywood), May somehow manages to convince an influential friend of hers, film critic Helen Hobart (Lucy Cohu), to get behind their crazy idea, and suddenly, boom, it’s Hollywood at one of the most chaotic times ever, and our silly little play is off careening down an iced slalom with a complete disregard for logic.

Along the way, we get to see all of the people constantly thinking they have something that ought to be in pictures, tons of glamorous dresses (no cheetahs or chimpanzees, alas), an endlessly rotating stage, way to many Indian nuts, a complete simpleton running an expensive Hollywood production, and an endless paean to the idea that it’s not skill but luck that leads to success.

The acting is not as energizing as it could be (and neither is the script at first), but there are so many astoundingly comic characters for the rather bland leads to bounce off of that I began to feel like I was, actually, watching a 1930s movie, with the incredible depth of character actors they had to choose from. Throughout it all, though, I maintained a high degree of ironic separation from the unreality of what I was seeing on stage … only, underneath it all, it seemed the lesson that the monkeys are actually in charge at the zoo seemed as correct in real life (say, in banking, business, and politics) as it was in this play. Oh, it’s all so funny because it’s just all so true. Skill and talent mean nothing; the ability to spin a convincing line of bullshit and get powerful people on your side is everything. And how can that not make you laugh? This play may have its faults, but I found it an effervescent slice of topsy-turvy reality wholly suited to the end of this most topsy-turvy of years. Who needs panto when you’ve got Once in a Lifetime?

(This review is for a performance that took place on Saturday, December 3rd, 2016. It continues through January 14th.)

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Review – Fat Pig – Comedy Theatre

September 26, 2008

After reading the Whingers’ enthusiastic review of Fat Pig, I was eager to go … but apparently the cat was out of the bag, and night after night I was unable to get an affordable seat at Trafalgar Studios. Fortunately, it’s been moved to The Comedy Theatre, so I had a second chance to see this play – and when an offer came up for free tickets for the first hundred people to buy a pair, I leapt at the chance.

Oddly, I had a bit of trouble convincing other people to see this play with me. I think the title really puts people off – it did me and only the positive review of several people I respect convinced me to go. This isn’t an anti-fat play, no matter what you might think.

My posse convened at Red Hot, a new Szechuan restaurant on Charing Cross Road (actually quite close to the theater, though closer to Wyndhams). I could go on and on about how good the food was – or the irony of going to a play called “Fat Pig” when I was so stuffed I could barely walk – but I’ll save that for later. At any rate, I feared I would fall asleep during the show and downed cup after cup of green tea during the meal. Thankfully, service was fast and we made it from arrival at the table (at 6 PM) to arrival at the Comedy in a mere hour and twenty minutes. More restaurants should follow this example!

At any rate, I was surprised to find Wilco playing over the loudspeakers when we arrived. How pleasant! Unfortunately the theater appeared to only be about half full, which did result in us being moved forward about ten rows (to my relief, I really dislike being under a low ceiling in the stalls). And the program came with free chocolates! I was still too cheap to buy one, but it almost changed my mind – and if there’d been a bit of room inside of me, I’m sure I would have been swayed.

To my surprise, this play is actually set in America. This is pretty nice for me, to see my home depicted in a modern play (as opposed to some Tennessee Williams chestnut – we have moved on!). The actors actually did fairly well with the accent as well (with the exception of Joanna Page, who kept falling apart around the edges). I couldn’t place the location – while with its mention of “beach” and “big office” it seemed like it was supposed to be New York or East Coast, but the way people were acting made me think much more of Ohio. And the reference to the Albertson’s grocery store was very West Coast, but it was clear this wasn’t taking place in California.

The story is about a youngish man, Tom (played by Nick Burns) who meets a girl named Helen (Ella Smith) while having lunch one day. They hit it off pretty well, and soon he’s dating her – a fact he hides from his best work friend/tormentor Carter (Kevin Bishop) and office accountant Jeannie (Page), who (oops!) Tom was apparently dating but hasn’t really had the guts to break up with. She still thinks it’s going on, Carter wants to make them fight with each other, and the next thing you know, the whole office has had the picture of the “Fat Pig” Tom had dinner with plastered on their desktops.

The cast is apparently just half of what it was originally, as both of the women carried over from Trafalgar Studios, but the men have both been replaced. Bishop seems to have jumped in with both feet, but Burns has more work to do, as a lead character who is basically weak is hard to make sympathetic (witness Rosmersholm). I found Smith’s Helen just incredibly sympathetic, and while much of this can be ascribed to great dialogue, she also just really seemed to “get” the character 0 – the self-deprecating humor, the honesty, the brave girl face on top of the person who actually still wants to be accepted and loved. I was also really surprised that her conversations with Tom were so incredibly naturalistic – normally in plays, couples are in high drama mode, but this “working through our issues” stuff could have come right out of my mouth. It was especially a contrast with the high-octane bragadoccio and just plain filth that came out of Carter’s mouth – it got a lot of laughs but over and over the audience gasped at his unrestrained words.

This was really a good show and all of us got into it. Though the set is simple and the costumes plain (really, could Jeannie have had more than just two outfits – one of them the swim suit in the final scene?), I found the dialogue great and the play really convesation provoking. Despite my very full stomach, I had absolutely no problems staying awake for this entire show. It’s worth seeing, absolutely, and I think the people who didn’t come with me didn’t know what they were going to be missing.

(This review is for a performance that took place on September 25th, 2008. Ambassadors is running a deal for £20 tickets: “Best Tickets £20! (Valid all Mon- Fri eves & both mats until 10 Oct)
Enter Promotion Code: FPSTAND.” Also Kelly Brook, whoever she is, is taking over the role of Jeannie from October 13th, and someone named Katie Kerr is taking over the role of Helen, I think from the same time. )