Posts Tagged ‘Lia Williams’

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 – Old Times – Harold Pinter Theater

March 15, 2013

It’s finally getting to the point where in my quest to see all plays by Pinter, I’m now starting to see plays for the second time. I have to say, I’m enjoying this. Part of it is because so many Pinter plays are so attractively short, perfect for a quick theater dip on a work night. But part of it is because I’m still attracted to the mysteries of Pinter, to the fact that when I see his shows I don’t always know what’s going on, but I get the fun of trying to work it out.

So we come to Old Times, the first Pinter play I saw done well, at the Donmar back in 2004 (how time flies!). I was more than willing to see it again at the (newly christened) Harold Pinter Theater, though I was indifferent to the “star casting” of Kristin Scott Thomas; I just wanted to see a good play.

What I got, to be sure, was a short play, and all of the words were still there like before. It was a Thomas as Anna night (with Lia Williams as the mousy and nearly silent Kate), so we had a big-smiling, lovely blond woman with lots of legs and flouncing and necklace playing. There was certainly an underlying, interconnected set of tensions: Anna’s chatter was interrupted by the occasional burst of temper from Kate’s husband Deeley (Rufus Sewell), and Kate’s taciturnity and body language seemed to indicate something was bothering her … though rather often she just seemed invisible.

As before, I found myself sucked in by the little slips in time, when Kate and Anna of yore, young girls in London, seemed to materialize for a brief moment, and their closeness and the vibrancy of their life became real. Watching it, you have to ask yourself, what happened to that? What happened to the happy Kate? What happened to the close friendship between her and Anna? I no longer believed (as I did the first time) they’d been having an affair, and my thoughts that perhaps Anna was killed by Kate (she does say she saw Anna dead) now seem just a matter of my taking one sentence too literally (as it’s immediately contradicted). But there was clearly a moment when Kate turned against Anna. Was it really so simple that Deeley is hiding an affair with with his wife’s former best friend? But … I’m still not sure. Maybe it happened in Sicily. Maybe, really, Kate was just angry at all of Deeley’s friends. The possibility that Deeley might have slept with Anna “back in the day” is there, but I wasn’t buying it. It’s all still a bit of a mystery to me.

Problematically (with getting the “right” interpretation), I felt a lack of commitment from the actors – perhaps not so surprising so late into the run; but the obvious wrongness of Anna and Deeley’s flirting while Kate bathes, and the lack of subtlety to the whole thing, just felt like … well, heavyhandedness in the face of a lack of clarity. But they also just seemed to be going to their paces. A pity, really: I recall seeing Lia Williams before and thinking how amazing she was. Maybe I need to come back on a night when she’s Anna. Or, maybe, I got my money’s worth out of my 2nd balcony restricted view seat and that’s how it goes.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Tuesday, March 12, 2013. It is booking through April 6th.)

Review – Lady from the Sea – Arcola Theatre

May 16, 2008

I don’t know about how you like to celebrate anniversaries, but to me nothing seemed better than going up to the ass end of north east London to see a show about a woman thinking about leaving her husband. Sounds romantic, eh? And if you’re me (and the ever-suffering Shadowdaddy, you’ll want to start of the night with some Jamaican food hot enough to peel the enamel off of your teeth. Mmm, mmm! Jerk chicken, rice and peas, stewed pork, polenta, $16 for two people, Centerprise, you make the grade! (We also got to see a guy chased out of the restaurant by the cashier and the store guard, who called him a crook. It was quite a scene. Review of restaurant here.) Then it was off to the Oz Antepilier for some tasty Turkish baklava to keep our strength up while we waited in the lobby of the Arcola for the mad dash for our seats.

Anyway, I studiously avoided reading anything that might give me too much of a clue as to the actual plot of the show beforehand as I enjoy having a show unfold and surprise me – I figured the 5 star recommendation it had got somewhere was sufficient, plus Ibsen, for me to watch. The play, in a nutshell, is this: there is a woman, and she is feeling trapped in her marriage. She has stepchildren who seem extraordinarily unsympathetic to her, and, to top things off, she seems like she might be going mad.

Well! Quite the light evening’s entertainment, to be sure. For me, for some reason, the whole show was coming in through the filter of these two articles I read in the New York Times this week about love in Saudi Arabia. The men, for example, would have found it completely fit for a man to tell a woman she’s not a free actor, and that he will decide what is good for her and “protect” her: while the women, I thought, would agree that women are naturally less rational than men.

But they would have had a lot of problems with the rest of the story. The concept of a woman wishing to be a free agent, I think, would not resonate in the least; the thought that it might not be agreeable to essentially “sell” yourself in order to have a roof over your head would also seem mysterious; the odd behavior of the girls (not to mention the wife, Ellida, played by Lia Williams) would certainly have drawn note. I found it all a bit late Victorian feminist, but with a sort of unexpected (and illogical) ending – and very much enjoyed the idea of a play about someone who was on the verge of cracking up throughout.

That said, I think I found more problems with the script than anything else. It just seemed … clunky. People kept announcing other people were about to come on stage, then announcing that they were going to leave. The young, wannabe artist had no real purpose in the show other than to show the selfish side of men (I think) and had utterly corny lines (and pulled faces); the younger daughter (Hilde, Fiona O’Shaughnessy, apparently from the Irish side of this family based on her thick accent) seemed to change her feelings too quickly. The foreshadowing at the beginning (the bit about the painting) was like getting hit with a blackjack in terms of its subtlety, then further added to this point by having the actor say, “The idea was given to me by the lady of the house!” Please, as if the fact that she swims in the ocean every day wasn’t enough clue for us to link her with a mermaid!

While the acting was generally good, Ms. Williams seemed to be pulling rather a lot from Lady Macbeth with all of her hand wringing and twitching. Her face was beautiful to watch but I wanted more of a buildup – as it was, I was completely incapable of thinking anything but madness lied in her future.

Overall I think this was a good production but not one of Ibsen’s finer works, and the 75 minute journey home a bit of a pill – good enough if you like Ibsen or are in the neighborhood, but not worth seriously deforming your week to go see.

(This review is for a performance that took place May 15th, 2008, my fifteenth anniversary.)