Posts Tagged ‘Kings Head Theatre’

Mini-Review – Half a Person: My Life as Told by The Smiths – Kings Head Theater

February 5, 2014

It seems kind of embarrassing to admit it these days but, yes, I’m a Smith’s fan and have been since I got that first grubby 45 off of the back of a copy of NME I bought at Tower Records Phoenix back in 1984 – an event which also led to me discovering The Cocteau Twins and, in a tale best suited to a pub, having my Siouxsie collection stolen after attending a Smiths gig in sunny California. Yes, I wasn’t always going to the theater five nights a week – I used to listen to music a lot. And who better for a depressive, intellectual teen to listen to than the Smiths? I certainly wasn’t going vegetarian but I was absolutely not getting laid and I certainly didn’t have any money so I was very receptive to the Smiths message (even if I also didn’t have a clue who Myra Hindley was or what a headmaster did). I mean, hey, just when you thought everything really was shit, there was Johnnie Marr coming through like a little beam of sunshine to remind you that there are still flowers peeking through the mud after whatever devastation has wiped your emotional landscape clean. Sunny days and cemeteries, finding out getting what you want still leaves you miserable; good lessons for life, really. And, later, a good reason to laugh because it’s all so sincere and miserabilist, but still fun to sing along with as you gently mock your teenaged self.

Then suddenly it’s twenty five years later and you’re in a theater watching someone tell a story about their life during the period when they were hopelessly obsessed with the Smiths. Half a Person is a bit of a cruel concept as a show, because it’s almost impossible to be that caught up in your own emotions and not look pathetic. In William’s case, he looks far worse because his degree of being caught up in his own life means he’s entirely oblivious to the struggles of those around him – including his so called best friend. I can accept that William (Joe Presley, very yummy in his inappropriate-for-a-skint-boy Armani underpants) was unaware that his writer friend had a crush on him, but to just totally not notice he was dying of cancer? That’s beyond tragic, so far beyond that it’s comic. “Hi, yeah, really sorry I was too busy having sex and then trying to figure out why my girlfriend dumped me, but I didn’t bother looking up from my shoes long enough to notice you’d lost a lot of weight.” Wow, now that’s a best friend for you!

What’s really odd is that both of the main story lines, of the girlfriend and the friend dying of cancer, seemed to have the reality of someone’s actual experience underneath them, but added together, they weren’t enough to make William a particularly interesting character – sadly, he was a bit too much the half a person mentioned in the story title. I think writer Alex Broun probably should have picked one story or another and really gone for it, and possibly fleshed William out a little more. Unfortunately, songs seemed to take the place of plot, which just didn’t work for me. (And can I say how dreadfully obvious it was for me as a Smiths fan to have characters named William and Sheila and then spend the next half an hour just waiting for the song to start? Urgh.)

As far as plays celebrating the work of a particular band, though, this show certainly hit the nail on the head for Smiths fans. But for me, as a person whose identity is more about excellence in theater and less about staring in the mirror and wondering if I got the waistband of my cruelty free jeans arranged just right on my hipbone, it just wasn’t enough, although for the price and the time invested, I still felt it was worth seeing. But, as I said, I am a Smith’s fan; if you’re not, the show may leave you singing a different tune: “Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now.”

(This review is for a performance that took place on Sunday, February 2nd, 2014. It continues through February 16th.)

Review – L’elisir d’Amore (The Elixir of Love) – Opera Up Close at King’s Head Theater

February 6, 2013

I wasn’t planning to go to this, given that I am not an opera fan, but a last minute invitation from my husband and £10 tickets sealed the deal – if it was bad I could always leave at the interval, right? The posters looked quite cute, with their 1950s/60s Hollywood feel, and I do like classical music – though 19th century is not really my bag (I’m a Baroque girl). I was treated to a half pint (it is at the King’s Head after all) and in I went.

Walking into the theater, I was amused by the cute backdrop, with a swimming pool painted on it (the actors leaned against a floating mattress as if they were “in” the pool, while standing up) and cheap fake flowers making a technicolor budget set. Then our performers came on – two women in 50s bathing suits and cute sunglasses and three men – and BANG BANG they were singing. (Saying this I’m suddenly reminded of the scene where Adina is chasing her would be lover around with a water pistol – what a laugh!) The first ten minutes or so, though, I was desperate to find things to enjoy, because even though the performers were singing in English, everyone was going at the same time and I had a sudden feeling of DOOM DOOM DOOM I am never going to be able to follow a damned thing in this show! They were smiling, posing, making lovely music, but I just couldn’t get the context for what was going on and I was immensely frustrated.

Then “Nemorino” (I thought of him as “little Nemo”) , the pool boy, started singing about his love for Adina and, if I’m not mistaken, Adina’s friend was singing about what a terrible flirt Adina was. And … well, all of a sudden I was able to follow along with the story: Nemo wants Adina to love him, but Adina’s thing is to just be a flirt and stay free. The other, more rugged man at the poolside (he was supposed to be in the army but looked like Cary Grant so I wasn’t buying it) asks Adina to marry him, and she agrees, just to egg him on … but it seems, a little bit, so that she can also torture Nemo.

And then, well, the game was on. I loved having people come and sing, as if to me personally, from about three bodies away; and the lyrics were just so funny and modern: Adina claimed to be heartless like a “prom queen” and at some point I heard someone called a “cheeky monkey.” Normally with opera, well, of course it’s in a foreign language so you can’t really catch any jokes, but then when you do see it in English it’s some entirely bloodless translation that your granny would be sure to approve of. This was none of that: it was lively and sharp and really WORTH listening to, even better than Gilbert and Sullivan because it was all from an era that I’ve lived through (though I think the writer misunderstand the socioeconomic class inherent in “Pasadena” – it is not a place where bums come from!). I was sorry when I couldn’t hear what the singers on the other side of the stage were saying, because the audience on that side was laughing and I was missing out! Nice job, Thomas Eccleshare, you made me regret not buying the program so I could catch the jokes I missed.

After the interval, I came back to one of the most clever lighting effects I’d ever seen – clearly love was in the air! And the act raced along with several unexpected plot twists, but, of course, a happy ending, and it was all done within about two hours of its start. So much cleverness and wit for a mere ten quid at a preview (£21 after AND RESERVED SEATS)? What a stinking deal! And, let’s be honest, the singers were really good, the kind of talent people in London don’t realize we’re lucky to have. My final thoughts? Opera Up Close have got a hit on their hands!

(This review is for a performance that took place on Tuesday, February 5th, 2013. It continues through March 16th.)

Mini-review – Vieux Carré – Kings Head Theatre, Islington

July 31, 2012

I am a fan of Tennesee Williams so was excited to have the opportunity to see one of his lesser known works performed locally, especially after the glowing reviews I read on Twitter from many of my friends. I’d worried that this was a rightfully forgotten work, but the thought of a play that openly dealt with being gay set in New Orleans … What could go wrong?

As it turns out, there were some serious structural issues with the play that I think have rightfully kept it on the shelf. The ten or so characters seem to have been leftovers from other plays – they all seem to have a back story, but none of them really seem to evolve during the course of the play. It felt like watching a long-lived TV series where they just keep adding to the number of characters there and plot convolutions as long as the ratings are good.

The various characters all have interesting tiny arcs, almost enough to make the evening worthwhile as a series of sketches, but they’re hampered a bit by some overacting (not to mention some of the most misplaced American accents ever – since when is St Louis the deep South?). However, the sex really makes the show worth attending. The lead character’s struggle with his sexuality, the old painter’s lecherous acceptance of his own, the crackling energy between the New York blonde and her boytoy – top it all off with one of the most amazing male physiques I’ve ever had the joy to witness from near touching distance, and WOO WHEE. Yeah, that was £15 well spent.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Friday, July 28th. Vieux Carré ends August 4, 2012. Bring a fan.)

Review – Pagliacci – London’s Little Opera House at King’s Head Theatre

May 9, 2011

I am a reluctant opera goer: while I enjoy music and singing, and plays in which people sing and there is music, when presented in the opera context I find myself too often bored and disengaged long before the performance is over. Frequently this is because of the topics or characters: I don’t like weak women and rather a lot of 19th century opera centers around dull women who make bad choices (a big exception to this is Carmen, my favorite opera – she may make bad choices but she is never dull!).

However, I keep going and hoping for a winner, and the King’s Head Theatre production of Pagliacci seemed very promising. I figured an opera set backstage at a theater centering on clowns seemed very novel, and, per the website, this was their “most successful” production. Well, alright, and it was being done in English, and was short, and I was interested to see what the producing group was doing with this opera lark … so what harm could a little opera do on a Sunday afternoon?

As it turns out, this wasn’t too bad of an outing. I hadn’t really done much research on the show itself (in keeping with my normal desire for surprise, but let’s say a manic clown declaring in the first act that he’d kill his wife if he found out she was cheating on him kinda spelled out where the show was going from a story arc perspective). The production focused on Nedda’s (Katie Bird) extra-marital romance with Silvio (David Durham), but they seemed like cardboard cutouts (or Star Trek “redshirts”) and were given little time to flesh out their characters enough to make us care about them. Nedda grabbed her stomach constantly as if she was worried we’d not gather she was pregnant based on her costuming (it was a mild bump admittedly); Silvio had a lovely voice but just did not have the stage time to explain why his relationship with her was something we should care about. The two of them were nice to listen to but I found them not compelling.

Against these two ciphers we had the much more exciting characters of Pagliacci (Paul Featherstone) and Tonio (Dominic Barrand). Tonio was supposed to be Iago crossed with Caliban; ugly, lecherous, and vengeful. Except, as it turns out, Barrand was actually an extremely handsome man with a rich bass voice; I loved watching and listening to him on stage. He was a fun villain with a powerful presence – I only wish they could let him be more evil!

By comparison, the anti-hero Pagcliacci was a weak and ineffectual bad guy, about what you would expect of a cuckold (and with a voice that seemed rather worn out for my matinee performance). Yeah, sure, you give him a knife and he’s a murderer (in fact I suspect this show is the origin of all examples of clown fear), but you couldn’t see any love in his interaction with his wife – she is (as the text makes clear) just another puppet for him to control. Yet in spite of this, Nedda isn’t able to build sympathy either. So you end the play with two unsympathetic characters coming to a homicidal head, meaning the focus of the action in act two is watching the Punch and Judy show taking place at the back of the stage and laughing at its comedic commentary on the live actors. Fortunately it was all short enough (not even ninety minutes) that my attention span wasn’t stretched – but I would have preferred it have a bit more dramatic – dare I say – punch. Ah well. This show didn’t capture my imagination, but it did show the potential of the company, so I expect I’ll be back for more later.

(This review is for a performance that took placy on Sunday, May 8th, 2011. It continues in rep through the end of May.)

Review – Phil Willmott’s musical “A Christmas Carol” – King’s Head Theatre

December 17, 2008

PLEASED TO SAY THIS REVIEW IS GENERATING PERSONAL ATTACKS ON ME! And thanks for visiting the review of last year’s production of A Christmas Carol. Here’s what I had to say in 2008:

Friday night I went to the official opening of the musical “Christmas Carol” that’s taking place through January 4th at the King’s Head Theatre in Islington. A friend was involved in it and thus I had a bit more awareness than usual about this show – I’d had a peek at the script a few weeks earlier and was almost talked out of going by the use of “In The Hall of the Mountain King” as a sung bit. Still, I had a friend visiting me that night, and she was up for seeing the show with me (and supporting said mutual friend), so off we went.

I’d never seen a show in a pub before, even though I know it’s a fairly common thing in London. The theater, all the way behind the bar (on the main floor), was really small (eighty or so seats) with rather low ceilings. It was also completely jammed with performers – at least twenty were on the stage, in the aisles, or standing off to the sides, chatting and playing musical instruments. It was amazing how full of humanity the little theater was. Still, sightlines in the middle section were good, and I figured with my glass of mulled wine I was sure to be good through an hour and a half no matter what they threw at me.

The trope for this show is that Charles Dickens is trying to sell his publisher on this new book idea of his that he thinks will be incredibly popular (and make money), and he starts telling him the story that is “A Christmas Carol” in a pub in Victorian England, with the idea that if he can capture this audience, his story will surely sell well. This is all good and fine, except … well, I don’t give a rat’s ass about Charles Dickens as a person. Furthermore, I’d just been to the Dickens museum, and the false historical references (his previous novels being a failure and him being any way in financial straights when he wrote “A Christmas Carol”) really irritated me. Please! He was an established, well-to-do writer when he cranked out “Christmas Carol!” My friend was also going nuts because the costumes were a complete hodge-podge of pseudo-Victoriana (and she used to be a costume designer – how was I to know?). The bigger problem for me was that this story doesn’t NEED a framing device – it’s fine all on its own – and the time spent with Dickens took away from the story itself. (Note: Charlie Anson was totally hot, but that’s not the point. If I wanted to ogle him, I’d see him in … hmm … Equus … well, okay, a different show. What plays feature male actors taking it all off besides Equus? I must not be getting out enough to not be able to answer that question quickly. Anyway …)

Historical accuracy having been set aside, would the story at least be followed somewhat faithfully? Well … in my mind, no. I’ve seen a version of “A Christmas Carol” pretty much annually since I saw the Annex Theater version in Seattle some years ago (the one with the positively evil Tiny Tim), and the story isn’t as flexible as this production imagined it might be. To start, Scrooge (a delightfully curmudgeonly Mark Starr) gives no speech about the poor needing to make more of an effort to die, thus “decreasing the surplus population” – a sentiment which I’ve heard expressed nearly verbatim by a friend of mine this very year and one which I think bears regular repeating and thinking about. (It’s ludicrous to say that poor people simply shouldn’t exist and thus aren’t our concern.) Yet despite this, Cratchit (a good looking James Hayward) was out of the house and off for Christmas eve, leaving Scrooge to his lonely apartment, in about five minutes flat.

This gave us plenty of time to have fun with the haunting of Scrooge, but I found the spooky masked singing spooks just … a little too heavy handed, to be honest. This is actually a spooky and fun scene in the book, but I found its subtlety, and Marley’s message, got lost along the way.

And then the ghost of Christmas Past came along … and she was a girl, in a white dress, basically looking to me like a tarted up Miss Havisham. Where were my candles? When in the world did it get decided that she was “Cinderella, that you left behind when you left behind your books” (not a quote)? What a bunch of claptrap! Christmas Past as Cinderella! Yeah, sure, it was cool when they were “flown” over London (really awesome special effect involving not too much effort), but … CINDERELLA. You might as well have made … Tiny Tim the Ghost of Christmas Future. Oh wait, they DID! Forget the traditional image, this show came up with something so entirely ludicrous I found myself sighing and wishing for the finer points of the Stone Soup Theater’s Black Light Christmas Carol of some years past.

Good points: the singing of the cast was really enjoyable, Scrooge’s old girlfriend Belle (Poppy Roe) was really excellent in her scene (actually I enjoyed the whole Fezziwig scene rather a lot, though I thought the “On the First Day of Christmas” at the end was clunky), the tech crew/director did a great job handling some really challenging stuff in a tiny space (I liked the puppetry, and the lighthouse in the “Christmas by the Sea” scene was a treat), and the acting was far better than I would have expected from a space like this.

Overall this wasn’t a horrible show, but … I just think this script isn’t worthy of being produced. It’s not a bad Christmas Carol, and the price is low, so if you’re less particular about things like historical accuracy and fidelity to the text, you may enjoy it. Me, well, I can’t help but think fondly of the amazing South African “Christmas Carol” I saw last year, that captured all of the message of the story and fully bent and played with the structure while still feeling one hundred percent right. Oh well.

(This review is for a performance on Friday, December 12, 2008.)