Posts Tagged ‘Kings Head Theater’

Review -Magic Flute – Charles Court Opera at Kings Head Theater

May 15, 2017

Walking into the King’s Head Theater, I was amazed to see the space fully transformed. The exit doors were still in place, but look! We stood inside a jungle! Creepers twined up the walls, ferns sprouted from the railings, and an inpenetrable canopy of leaves blocked the ceiling from view. Combined with the normal damp and warmth of this enclosed space, it was very much like being in the Amazon … or perhaps somewhere on a mountainside in New Guinea. It was wholly exotic, and a marvellous concept for a Magic Flute. I had no idea what else Charles Court Opera had in store for us, but I was very excited to be finding out!

Our Tamino (Oliver Brignall) was an intrepid English explorer who has been caught by three ladies (Jennifer Begley, Sarah Champion, Polly Leach) who’ve mistaken him for a wild animal. Amusingly, each finds him attractive and hopes to discourage the others so as to get him for herself … but they all scatter, leaving Papageno (Matthew Kellet) to arrive, birdcage in tow, to get the credit for rescuing Tamino.

And then, well, you know, we have the rest of the show, which generally follows closely to the original but has a lot of clever rhymes (occasionally slangy) thrown in that make it a pleasure to listen to – important as we’re not given any supertitles to crib us through it. Being forced to pay attention to what they singers are saying as well as whether or not they hit the notes – well, that was a change! There were occasional problems with following the words – the Queen of the Night (Nicola Said) had particularly bad diction in her spoken dialogue, and occasionally when a character had their back turned to my side of the audience, I couldn’t catch what they were saying – but overall, forcing us to listen, well! I felt like, for once, the audience was really engaged, and not just watching a concert.

A most terrifying Queen of the Night

The Magic Flute, Hannah Sawle as The Queen of the Night, photo Bill Night


Costuming and special effects isn’t really what Magic Flute is supposed to be about, but there was so much charm and surprise in Charles Court’s interpretation that it’s impossible to remain silent on the subject. The use of a trio of bird puppets to discourage Papageno (and Pamina, Emily Jane Thomas) from self-harming … the hysterical creepy giant Papagena puppet … the REAL FLAMES that were brought out when it was time for Tamino to face his trials … the tattoos down the Queen of the Night’s chin … the overall effect, of jungly savage scariness really amplified the dichotomy the story was trying to pull out, of a contrast between light and darkness, between civilization and superstition. And it made it possible for the magic, for once, to seem real. In fact, it was real: it was stage magic of the highest order, done on a cheese paring budget but with all of the “gouda” things left intact. And if you think that pun was uncalled for, well, you can’t say I didn’t warn you. This is without doubt the most imaginative interpretation of the Magic Flute I’ve ever seen and the wordplay only made it better. Go!

(This review is for a performance that took place on Friday, May 12th, 2017. It continues through June 4th and is already mostly sold out so GET ON IT.)

Advertisements

Review – The Chemsex Monologues – Dragonflies Theater at the King’s Head

August 17, 2016

I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect from The Chemsex Monologues, because, well, despite being a fag hag, I am definitely not on the scene. In fact, when two gentlemen of my acquaintance used the term “chemsex party” just the night before I say this play, I had to restrain myself from leaping in and saying, “What’s this all about anyway?” I mean, obviously, I’m not getting to invited to these parties, but I’m so behind the times I didn’t even know what they were about.

So: let’s start from the beginning. Chemsex parties appear to be events where young gay men (and maybe not so young gay men) go and do lots of drugs – meth (not sure if it’s crystal meth or methedone), maybe Ketamine, something called G (I don’t know what that one means!) – and then have lots of sex while very high with other toned young gay men from the clubs and listening to thumpy music. From the atmosphere described in the Monologues, it’s a late night scene, sometimes involving porn, porn stars and hustlers, and …. well, probably also involving a lot of bad decisions. And some non-consensual sex. And maybe some sex because you feel obligated to because people are giving you drugs.

I think there are probably a lot of people going to this play, though, who are familiar with this scene, either from being in it or being on the fringes of it. I think this play is aimed more at them rather than “tourists” like me – although two of the characters, Fag Hag Cath (Charly Flyte) and sexual health outreach worker Daniel (Matthew Hodson) are definitely on the outside of the scene. They provide some, I think, good perspective on how things look from the point of view of someone who, say, is trying to survive their twenties rather than die having what seemed at the time the best time possible. But we also get the point of view of “the narrator” (Richard Watkins), a rich boy teetering on the edge of making some really bad decisions; and “Nameless” (Denholm Spurr), who’s really deep in the scene and not particularly concerned about next week, much less next year.

Structurally, we’re given the view of the narrator to pull us in; then some really sweet moments with Nameless, which to me captured the euphoria and sparkling sexuality of the good moments of the scene. There’s no denying, Nameless’ monologue about fucking a porn star in a bathroom while drugged out of his eyeballs is written to be blisteringly, squirmingly not; but a lot of that high sprinkled down like snow to chill me with the news that both of them were going to be obligated to have sex with everyone as more or less a cost of entry into the party. I hold consent as a value up there with freedom of religion and free speech, and to be told that these characters didn’t have it anymore just took all of the shiny off of the good time they were having. Still, playwright Patrick Cash’s words were compelling, and I think he made that scene come vibrantly to life: so we, the audience, get to experience a little of that high alongside with a lot of the less joyful moments.

It’s possible that this play is meant to be a discouragement to people who are in the scene to maybe have a think about being sensible with what they’re doing with their bodies (certainly it’s something you’d have to be blind to not take out of this play if you’re seeing it as a representation of reality); but what it also is is a good take on several different experiences with the Chemsex scene, told through interwoven characters that make it easy to keep track of how they all relate to each other. It’s an interesting evening but very raw and not for the faint of heart or easily offended.

(This review is for the performance that took place on August 16th, 2016. It continues through August 20th.)

Review – Fucking Men – King’s Head Theater

September 1, 2015

I know myself pretty well. I don’t just go to theater to be enlightened or entertained; sometimes I like to get a little sexy going, too. Usually I can get my bourgeois porn fix at the ballet or the circus; but theater aimed at gay men will often do it pretty well (and then there’s Briefs, a transvestite circus spectacular, that’s all the boxes ticked in one). In the case of Fucking Men (now on at the King’s Head Theater), I wasn’t entirely sure just how much of an enlightenment I would experience as to the world of gay men on the prowl; but I felt pretty sure that some pecs and glutes in compromising positions were very likely to be on offer. What better play for a first date, I ask you?

As it turns out, Fucking Men, despite its modern title, is just an update of La Ronde, that hundred year old chestnut about people sleeping with each other in a chain. It manages to follow the original structure to the tune that it’s a whore in the first and last scenes; but in between, we have a porn star, a student, an idealistic teacher, an actor … well, actually, looking at La Ronde, it looks like the structure has been followed pretty closely. Still, the devil is in the details, and the hard conversations about what it is that’s turning the various men on is entirely outside of the heterosexual narrative I’m familiar with and much, much steamier. We get crotch-rubbing, naked bums, and sexy torsos galore, not to mention implied oral sex and a fair amount of post coital what have you, with a bit of bonus drugs … my my!

When I could rip my eyes away from the candy on stage, I’m afraid I was occasionally finding the acting and even the dialogue a bit flat – the old married couple arguing was stiff, and the man who played the famous TV personality decidedly wooden – but the action still got a rise out of me. (And, truth be told, the playwright was hilarious, even if he was just too camp to be believed.) But I enjoyed myself anyway – sometimes it’s not all about having your intellectual funnybone tickled.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Friday, August 28, 2015. It continues through September 26th.)

Review – Autobahn – Kings Head Theater

August 31, 2014

I’ve been a fan of Neil LaBute for some years now, and when a chance came up to get reviewers comps to see the London debut of his short play cycle Autobahn, I was all over it. New job leaving me too tired to go out? Fie, I say, I will survive!

And yet, even with a 7:15 start time and seven playlets tucked inside its two hours, Autobahn struggled to keep my attention. I struggled especially with the ones that were essentially monologues with an audience: “funny,” a young girl (Zoe Swenson-Graham) talking to her mother (Sharon Maughan) as she drives the girl away from rehab and back to normal life, struggled to become interesting – her own lack of awareness of how much she was monopolizing the conversation and how little she had to say left me empathizing with the mother. Later on, “long division,” which had one man ranting at the other about how incredibly unjust it was that his friend’s ex had kept his video game player, seemed to be struggling for a reason to exist. I couldn’t understand why the silent member of these two parties didn’t just stop the car and get out.

Much more interesting were the skits in which the characters were engaged in conversation. I was quite caught up with the unspoken violence underneath “bench seat,” “road trip,” and “autobahn,” where we were merely given snippets of what had happened to bring the characters to the point we joined them and then plenty of time to watch the story spin out, leaving us wondering when the explosion would happen. (In all cases, we never get to what seems to be the “inevitable” violence – a relief, really.) My favorite, though, was “merge,” in which a man (Henry Everett) and a woman (Maughan again) try to work out just exactly what happened to the woman when some men broke into her hotel. It reminded me of Rashomon – just what version of reality is the real reality?

While the cast was uniformly good at creating substantially different characters without even the benefit of a change of scenery (everything took place in the front seat of an American automobile), I have to give special credit to Zoe Swenson-Graham, who was fully believable as a semi-psychotic small town sweetheart and as a fairly innocent teenager with a violent past (and possibly a violent future) to deal with. It was hard not to get caught up in the stories she was representing, but unfortunately they were whisked away and replaced with less interesting ones. I’m glad I got to catch up with some shorter works by LaBute, but unfortunately I ran out of gas long before it did.

(This review is for the opening night performance, which took place on Friday, August28, 2014. It runs through September 20th.)

Review – Between – Fourword Productions at King’s Head Theater

August 7, 2014

After seeing a run of gay themed plays at the Above the Stag theater, I was surprised to be contacted out of the blue (or out of Twitter more precisely) and asked if I wanted to review a gay-themed play at the Kings Head Theater\ – a show that had been already been to Edinburgh but was going to be making its debut in London. So I said yes and waited for Between (and its South African creators) to arrive for late night quickie in Islington. (All of the performances are at 9:30 PM and it’s only 50 minutes long so I feel this is both an accurate description and an irresistible bit of innuendo.) I normally won’t do shows that start that late, but this show seemed promising – anything that’s toured this much has decidedly got something going for it – and I wanted to find out exactly what in person.

The play is a two hander with multiple story lines – I was told three but I wasn’t entirely sure if they were actually two or possibly even just one set of characters at different points in their lives. There were two pubescent boys discovering their sexualities together (and dealing with what it meant to be told you were gay, or to actually do sexual activities with a member of the same sex); a couple reaching the end of their relationship and (I thought the same couple) a teacher and a pupil who develop a connection through their work together. This final story line involved endless readings of sonnet 23 which, at its peak, nearly had me in tears: a delicious, delightful chance to see acting methodology and approach discussed on stage.

My heart was also breaking watching a long term couple break up, but, despite the crush my heart felt, these scenes were least engaging; I think I was having a disconnect between watching these two characters get together early on (as actor/teach) then watching them fall apart and trying to figure out where the cracks came in; in retrospect (and only after a discussion with one of the authors) I think the reason I couldn’t get the matchup – which only was clear to me when the student shakes his teacher’s hand after getting cast in a role – was that this romance actually was one that didn’t happen.

Most fascinating, though, was watching Oskar Brown and Nicholas Cambell as two young men reading porn and fantasizing about sex together. These scenes were also undeniably hot – because what we in reality had were two really good looking adult men in front of us behaving sexually in a convincing way – but also extremely original and painful. I’ve never seen a play that made a real stab at showing how teenagers behave behind closed doors (Romeo and Juliet leaves out a lot), but Closer really, really got it right … the fantasizing, the questioning, and, to be honest, the lying, headgames, and repercussions all rang 100% true at a level that reminded me of Judy Blume and other fiction.

While the script isn’t perfect, the performances are very good, and, let’s be honest, seeing sexy men strip off and kiss is a bonus for most performances in my book. Was it hotter inside the theater or out? On this August night, the boiling air was rolling out from the stage door.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Tuesday, August 5th. It continues Tuesday-Saturday through August 23rd.)

Review – Patience – Charles Court Opera at King’s Head Theater

June 24, 2014

I was absolutely willing to pass on seeing Gilbert and Sullivan’s Patience at the King’s Head Theater, despite it being the one I can sing along to all of the songs, because, well, I just didn’t have much faith in it not being … well, stodgy. I loved the Union theater’s all-male Patience in 2012, but that was just Sasha’s magic at work, right? The last thing I wanted was some historically pure production that sent me off to nap land, no matter how much dragoon guards and aesthetes make me giggle.

But then I heard it was a Goth Patience. And suddenly, it seemed so much more relevant to not just my life but to modernity. The whole “twenty lovesick maidens” who go around being woeful and in love with a total loser poet seemed so absolutely right for this script. And Goth has a lot in common with the aesthetes, especially if you feel like poking a bit of fun at people who take what they wear a bit too seriously. I wasn’t sure how they were going to work in the whole “Patience is a milkmaid” thing but it all seemed very promising and I scooted out and got tickets for my next available free night.

As it turns out, this was a very appropriate adaptation that took the characters of the shallow, fashionable women (and men) and found a perfectly reasonable excuse for them to be among us for, surely, people who value looking a certain way over personal accomplishments are just as present in modern society as they were in Oscar Wilde’s time. It was all set at the Castle pub (a Camden Goth hangout), and Patience herself had changed from a lowly milkmaid to a tan, outdoorsy barmaid … exactly the kind of person Goths would snub. The only clash was the Dragoon guards … I found it hard to believe a bunch of soldiers would ever be the sweethearts of a pack of Goth chicks, but, well, disbelief must be suspended: however, when they came back all in their best version of Goth garb (so to better woo the ladies), the one dressed as a mime had just so clearly got the whole thing wrong that I burst out laughing. Yes, it seems mostly right, just using black and white face paint does not a Goth make.

The singing was very good, with the performers uniformly seeming to have operatically trained voices. However, I got the feeling that maybe Gilbert and Sullivan wasn’t their forte – the songs, to me, would have benefitted from a bit less vibrato and a bit more patter practice. That said, the words were mostly clear, and the “updates” (such as referencing Frank Sinatra, Primark, and Nietzche) made the show even funnier.

Overall this was a very lively evening and well worth the small investment in time (just over two hours with a 7:15 start ensuring I got home at a decent time), especially at the affordable ticket price. Thank you for a fleshly show, of full comedy!

(This review is for a performance that took place on Thursday, June 19th, 2014. It continues through June 28th.)