Posts Tagged ‘Mark Ravenhill’

Mini-review – Ten Plagues – Marc Almond at Wilton’s Music Hall

May 10, 2013

More ambitious in concept that execution, Ten Plagues held high promise: gay cultural icon and passionate vocalist Marc Almond, the disintegrating elegance of Wilton’s Music Hall, and an original libretto and score by by Mark Ravenhill and Conor Mitchell (respectively). The theme of the plague coming to London is one that is extremely resonant today with the AIDS crisis; this was alluded to nicely in some animations of a ripple-ab’ed man that Almond at one point addresses as someone who has brought disease to him (and whom Almond sends away).

It all felt so good and so promising and yet …

Looking at it, I can’t help but think the horrible, dissonant, modernistic music was just too agonizing to make for a pleasant evening even at the trim time of sixty minutes (and about one couple evaculating per row). And then there was the thick banality of Mark Ravenhill’s lyrics: I thought of what a difference W. H. Auden would have made and wanted to cry at the wasted opportunity. Almond was dramatic and a pleasure to listen to, looking alternately (and sometimes simultaneously) debauched, decadent, and decayed (especially with his gold teeth and tattoos) – the perfect performer for the space. But he just wasn’t given enough to work with. A few wigs, the pianos, and a bit of lighting – aw, hell, but it all would have been different with better music and lyrics, wouldn’t it?

I’m not sorry I went even for £25, but it all just made me sad and gave me this incredible nostalgia for Susan Philipz’s Surround Me, because her nod to the plague history of London (at Tokenhouse Yard) did so much more and with so very little. She brought tears of nostalgia, grief, and loss to my eyes; Ten Plagues made me want to cry with frustration. Ah well.

(This review is for an event that took place on Thursday, May 9th, 2013 at 8 PM. It continues through May 18th.)

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Review – A Life in Three Acts – Bette Bourne and Mark Ravenhill at the Soho Theatre

February 11, 2010

A Life in Three Acts is actually a very odd show. I was there because I’d seen an offer in the Standard for £5 tickets; I knew almost nothing about Bette Bourne (“Bloolips” rang a little bell but I couldn’t contextualize it, like “Greek Active” might to a non-Seattlite). Reading the blurb intrigued me: drag queen extraordinaire and major figure in the early English gay rights movement? I knew almost nothing about that era other than what I’d seen in movies, and, well, I’ve been hanging out with drag queens since I was 15, so I was pleased to take up the offer and truck on over to Soho.

The format for this show is as follows: Mark Ravenhill and Bette Bourne sit on a stage, as if they were in Bette’s apartment, and chat, chronologically, about Bette’s life, recreating Mark’s original interviews at Bette’s home (which have been edited down to what we hear). Behind the stage, photos and occasionally movies are displayed (and at one point we even hear an old recording Mom Bourne made of herself singing “Ave Maria” while on an outing in central London). Mark and Bette mostly read from scripts; Mark did a better job of keeping it actually feeling like a fresh event (that is, he didn’t appear to be reading), while Bette, who had quite a career as a “straight” actor, did more reading but also enlivened her anecdotes with bawdy jokes and occasional songs.

So this isn’t a performance, per se, or a real interview; it’s a dramatization of one person’s life, and this means that much of its interest is going to hang on whether or not you are interested in them as a person. Well, I hadn’t come to satisfy some burning curiosity about Bette, but I was fascinated to hear about how one working class gay man got on with his life, from the experience of being queer in the 50s (no guilt, lots of sex, and now I understand a bit more about how and why Hampstead Heath figures in Pinter’s work), to creating a career as an actor, to the difference between working class and middle class activists (talking about philosophies in books versus living it), et cetera etc. And while all of that bio was certainly fun – the pictures of the Bloolips era made me really sad that I’d never seen them perform – it was the person that came through that was ultimately fascinating. Bette goes to auditions in a dress; walks around Notting Hill in lippy; and does this all even though, truly, society is still just not all that tolerant. But she says, “I’ve got to be me.” And, in a society where we are still having roles squashed on us and people just hate it when you don’t want to get in that box, whether you’re male or female – because God knows I’ve spent my life fighting to just have the space to be me – it was cheering to see someone who’d gone through the fire and out the other side and had got to that space where it wasn’t about shock or spectacle but just being yourself. And thanks for giving us that insight, Bette. Sure wish we could sit down and have a cup of tea and reminisce some day.

Note: on the night we went there was a presentation of “My life in 100 Words or Less,” which was fun to hear, but we did wind up having an interval though I’d thought this show ran straight through 90 minutes. Our total running time was around two hours.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Wednesday, February 10th, 2010. A Life in Three Acts continues at the Soho Theatre through February 27th. As a crass ending, I’d love to add on Bette’s joke about the old queen with back problems but I’ll leave it to her to share it with you.)

Theater deal: “A Life in 3 Acts” (Soho Theater) for £5 & writing contest

January 13, 2010

Last night I read about this contest the Evening Standard is running in conjunction with the Soho Theater and its production of “A Life in Three Acts” (with Bette Bourne and Mark Ravenhill). Basically you write your life up in one of a variety of formats, then have it performed on stage for one special evening! (It says you pick an actor of your choice, but seriously, I don’t think Nick Garrison or Alan Cumming are likely to play me no matter how hard I ask – if they were even available.)

In addition, the play itself sounds really interesting – there was an article about it in the paper. I’d never heard of “Bette Bourne, Soho legend and pioneer of gay theatre,” but I want to find out, and to make it sweeter, the night they’re showing the play written by the audience (10th February), they’ve got £5 tickets. I just booked mine (call the Soho Theatre box office – 0207 478 0100 – and ask for the “Evening Standard.” Limit of 2 tickets per booking) – what a deal.

I know not all of you can enter this contest, but I am fascinated and will be doing it. (Here’s the link if you want to see it on the website.) I think a lot of you might find it fun to do just for the heck of it.

“London Artists Projects and the Evening Standard celebrate the opening of A Life in Three Acts with Bette Bourne and Mark Ravenhill by giving you the chance to have your life performed in a hundred words or less by an actor of your choice.

To be in the running, send us your story, script, or even a poem, in a hundred words or less and name the living actor you’d most like to play you.

A Life in Three Acts – your chance to have your life performed by an actor of your choice

London Artists Projects and the Evening Standard celebrate the opening of A Life in Three Acts with Bette Bourne and Mark Ravenhill by giving you the chance to have your life performed in a hundred words or less by an actor of your choice.

To be in the running, send us your story, script, or even a poem, in a hundred words or less and name the living actor you’d most like to play you.

We will then do our best to cast your chosen actor to perform your story as part of a Standard Readers’ Night on Wednesday 10 February at 7pm at Soho Theatre, to be followed by a performance of A Life in Three Acts at 7:30pm.

A Life in Three Acts is the award-winning show on the life of legendary actor and drag queen Bette Bourne as told on stage by Bette himself and the playwright Mark Ravenhill. The story moves from a post-war East End childhood, through to Soho in the swinging 60s, gay lib in the 70s, and on to the immortal Bloolips Theatre Company in the 80s and 90s in London and New York. The piece marks a different series of events in Bette’s life to reveal a portrait of an amazing individual and celebration of the momentous struggles and achievements of gay liberation.

Entries are open until 23.59 on 31 January and will be judged by playwright Mark Ravenhill, Fiona Hughes – Arts Editor for the Evening Standard, writer and journalist Paul Burston, and Artistic Director of Soho Theatre Lisa Goldman.

To book your £5 tickets to the Standard Readers’ Night on 10th February, call Soho Theatre box office on 0207 478 0100 and quote Evening Standard at the time of booking (limit of 2 tickets per booking). You don’t need to enter the competition to attend the Readers’ Night but it’s a lot more fun if you do!

A Life in Three Acts is a London Artists Projects production in association with Soho Theatre

Review – Nation – National Theatre

November 15, 2009

I am afraid I did not enjoy Nation. Perhaps I went for the wrong reasons: my best friend loves Terry Pratchett, and I loved Melly Still’s direction of Coram Boy. Both of us frequently love children’s theater.

But, but, but.

The story, for those who don’t know it (I didn’t): it’s roughly 1850 in a parallel universe (one in which there was no Queen Victoria, but it’s still basically this world), and a tidal wave has left 15-ish Mau (Gary Carr, very solid acting and very YUM) the last person alive on his South Pacific island. The same tidal wave casts 13 year old English girl Daphne (Emily Taaffe, energetic, lovable, and thus clearly also doing a nice job) on the island along with the ship’s parrot Milton (charmingly portrayed by Jason Thorpe). The kids become friends and have to start making a new life and culture, a new nation, on what’s left to them of the old – the wreckage of Mau’s people and Daphne’s ship. They are joined by other people from more distant islands, eventually, and conflict develops from Mau’s attempt to create a truly new world and the other people’s wishes to stick to their old. Then, in a more traditional plot mold, a scary other survivor of the shipwreck has become the leader of an island of cannibals … and (for reasons clearly having to do with “keeping the story moving forward” and little else) wants to see Daphne dead. Of course he will have to come to the island she is on and have a showdown at some point. The show is just that kind of surprising.

For some reason that I can’t help but feel has to do with the “children’s play” the National chose to make of this book, there is rather a lot of singing and dancing, and this is pretty much where it started to lose me. The singing, while in tune, is just flat out horrible and insipid and ACK and does NOT add anything to the show.

Even worse and absolutely insulting is the horrible dancing they pastiched in. Parallel universe or not, this show should have really made a bit of effort to pull in actual Pacific Island dance traditions instead of some half-baked crap that didn’t have a bit of nod to the real thing other than grass skirts. Pacific Island dance is so amazing, and so fantastic for men to perform, that it was a fist in the gut to watch this fakey-fakey hoodoo garbage on stage. Maybe I’m a little protective of my Hawaiian compatriots and the tradition they are a part of (Tahitian dance also being a big favorite and SO fun to watch), but this was like some horrible “white man does all-cultures-are-the-same” BS that just stuck in my craw. The sad thing was that if they had gone for the real thing, this show could have become genuinely special and given something truly unique back to London theater audiences. Instead, it was … bad.

Unfortunately, rather than just a few awful moments of dance polluting a great night, instead what happened is that most of the first act just wandered around aimlessly, not pulled down by the dance all that much because, in fact, it just didn’t have very far down to go. Story-wise, the kids worked through the language issue; someone has a baby; there are discussions about God. It was like having someone read through the various chapters of Robinson Crusoe as he figures out how to solve one puzzle after another. There were no fresh insights to the characters or moments of lasting beauty; it was just boring. I thought about leaving after the interval, but it wasn’t actually awful … and my row J center upper balcony seats had a nice view … and I wanted to be able to finish my review … and I didn’t want to insult my friends by leaving … so I stayed. (PaulInLondon did not. However, most of the audience appeared to stay, so clearly few people found it intolerable.)

Anyway, the second act moved a little better, as a lot of the threads of the first came to fruition (and there was a magnificent duel on a boat that took full advantage of everything the National has to offer technically), but it couldn’t wash the taste of disappointment out of my mouth. Kids plays can be better than this. With more than a week until the official opening of the play (November 24th), here’s hoping Mark Ravenhill cuts a good 20 minutes from the first act and somebody pumps up the dance scenes. Otherwise … I’d say if you’re looking for a fun family night out, hit the Hackney Empire’s Aladdin panto, which will be entertaining from start to finish, feature songs that engage your brain, and cost a hell of a lot less than this did. Otherwise, a rousing game of charades played at home will likely provide better entertainment and prove more memorable in the long run.

(Nation continues at the National Theatre until March 28th, 2010. This review is for a preview performance seen on November 14, 2009. There is some swearing: “asshole,” “bugger,” possibly “fuck” and definitely “is a frog’s ass watertight.” PaulInLondon‘s review is now up.)

Review – Terror 2009: Theatre of Horror and Grand Guignol – Southwark Playhouse

October 22, 2009

Last night I went with J and two friends to see Southwark Playhouse‘s early Halloween offering, “Terror 2009: Theatre of Horror and Grand Guignol.” Back in Seattle I used to attend Open Circle theater’s regular Halloween offering of HP Lovecraft plays, and I was eager to recreate the experience. Apparently a lot of other people were eager for some chills & thrills as the evening was sold out. While I like the energy of a full theater, piling in to the darkened room (supposedly an electrical issue but in fact an artistic decision) was a huge hassle; I don’t like trampling over people to get to a seat, I don’t like being forced to scoot down to the ass end of a 15 person bench when I’ve chosen to sit where I can see, and I don’t like being forced to walk over people in near total darkness to find your own seat.

Things got off to a grand start as the usheress battered to death a “patron” who’d failed to turn off his cell phone. We then progressed to play number one, my favorite of the evening and worth the price of admission alone: Lucy Kirkwood’s “Psychogeography,” which was sort of on the traditional haunted house lines only … way creepier. I don’t want to ruin the fun, but I have to give credit to the amazing design of this piece, which created a full environment for being spooked – sound, visual, touch … even the trains going overhead added to the atmosphere. The lighting design, basically a flashlight, a half-covered lantern, and an overhead light (which was rarely on), was perfect – guiding the audience’s eyes here and there and hiding things very effectively from us. But none of this would have meant much without the great script and the convincing performances (which I can’t credit as I’ve lost my program). The psychological dynamics between the two characters was very believable (after a bit of grinding at the first) and I competely bought their relationship and the tensions within it, which was crucial to making this piece work. High fives to all for a great play.

Next was Mark Ravenhill’s bizarre monologue “The Experiment,” which charted a convoluted tale of torture and amoral behavior. It was uncomfortable and had the possibility of feeling very ugly if the protagonist had seemed more in touch with reality, but fortunately its shifting, Rashomon-like qualities kept me wondering what the real story was all the way through and didn’t affect me much emotionally.

Returning from intermission, we had the very tight drama of Anthony Nielsen’s “Twisted,” a sort of “Silence of the Lamb” jailhouse psychodrama which left me wondering just who was the victim. While I felt the interviewer was too young to be a seasoned psychologist, there’s no doubt that the tension that developed between her and the man she was interviewing became very real, and I found myself very caught up in the action (not to mention trying to work out the puzzle of “what’s really going on here?”).

Afterwards, I actually hustled my ass out of the theater to miss the Neil LaBute “Some White Chick:” extreme sexual violence doesn’t sit well with me. My husband reported that it wasn’t worth staying for, so I’m glad I saved myself the 40 minutes or so. As it was, I had a great evening anyway and really felt this evening was well worth the thirteen quid I shelled out.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Wednesday, October 21st. The last performance is on Saturday October 24th, but be warned: Thursday is sold out and Friday and Saturday probably will, too, so shop now if you are interested.)

Review – Over There – Royal Court Theatre

March 6, 2009

Last night I went with J to see Over There, a new play by Mark Ravenhill dealing with the topic of German reunification. Now, I admit, I went to see this for the worst of all reasons – because there were twins playing the lead roles (Harry and Luke Treadaway). Well, that’s not entirely true – I wanted to see it because the article I read in the Observer two days before, which told me about the twins gimmick and also made the play sound like it wouldn’t suck in spite of its rather overly earnest subject matter – because, let’s face it, everytime I’ve seen a play about current events, it’s either been nauseatingly preachy/self-loving or just generally lame due to unimpressive plot and characterization (“Gesthemane“). This, however, not only had twins, but (per the story) was actually more about how the East Germans actually have a fair bit to be pissed off about. This sounded like a really refreshing viewpoint. I mean, talking about it with my cube neighbor at work, she kept harping on about how expensive it was for the West Germans and how resentful they were and how the East German factories were all crap, anyway. So, if that’s the viewpoint I’ve been hearing for ten/twenty years, what’s REALLY been happening? I thought this play might give me a better idea of the truth of the story rather than the, “We saved the East Germans from their own backwardness” attitude that seems to be the party line out here in Freedomland.

Now, before I get into it with the play, I want to talk about what was actually really interesting about this show (aside from the fact it was 70 minutes long and my seats were only £12 – and genuine Corinthian leather): it did actually make me aware of the … perhaps limited is the word? … nature of the theater I’ve been watching. The article mentioned that English theater’s “restrictive naturalism,” and German theater’s “liberatingly playful” nature, and after seeing this show, I am really wondering about what I have bought into here with all of the theater I keep piling into my brain. Am I becoming the master of a tiny slice of world theater – and completely ignorant of anything else that is out there? Would I only ever see shows through the filter of the English language theater scene because of my own limitations? And what is that keeping me from getting to see and appreciate? Or, maybe, is this the only kind of stuff I could really enjoy, anyway? I certainly don’t get much out of theater spoken in languages I don’t understand, but if I see it done here, in translation, I am only seeing the same style imposed on different words.

And, I think, much of what I enjoyed about this play was the way it joyously ignored the existence of the theatrical reality that might have held it back. NOTE: SPOILER ALERT, SUMMARY: FUN SHOW. The story wasn’t really about the twins’ relationship, or their development as human beings; it was a full-on, full-length, extended metaphor for the assimilation of East Germany by West Germany, with each of the twins representing one side far more than they were meant to be real people. It was all delightfully removed from reality, from the sponge that stood in for the West German’s son to the scene in which the East German brother covered himself with flour and Nutella and was then mopped off by his brother (in a scene wildly reminiscent of Karen Finley’s performances, though it contextually was triggered by “Ostalgie” rather than abuse). What I got out of this show was that actually there were far more things going on well in East Germany than we (as in “we, western capitalist civilization”) have been willing to admit, or even knew about, and that West Germany may really have been quite the arrogant colonizing force, perhaps even a bit … cannibalistic toward their supposed “brothers” in the east.

But (you may ask), how was the “gimmick?” You know, the part where it was a show about two twins … played by two twins? While I fear it may make the show difficult to produce in the future, this really worked for me. To have East German Karl (Luke Treadaway) have shared experiences with West German Franz (Harry Treadaway) via “special twins telepathy” seems really silly, but somehow just close enough to what people expect of twins to be a completely acceptable trope. And to have them speaking together simultanously – the blending of voices couldn’t really happen so well with any other people (though even they didn’t synchronize quite right at times). The costuming and makeup were also quite helpful. Even though the guys did several scenes in really horrifying tighty-whites (or in this case reddies and greenies), the way Karl’s hair was fluffed up and unfashionable always made him look different from Franz. Furthermore, their physiques (visible rather a lot given the underwear scenes) showed viscerally that two people could be in close in blood and thought as these two were supposed to be, and yet the condition of their existences would still cause them to be differentiated from each other as adults, much as Franz and Karl have different attitude about what they value in life and what goals they should work for. (That said, the telepathy bit made it really hard for me to believe that neither knew of the other’s guardian parent’s death … which I wondered meant either that they were lying to each other or that their initial enthusiasm for the innocent versions of each other, i.e. when they first met, was becoming overlaid with lies and concealment of their feelings as they grew to know each other better.)

At any rate, I found this quite entertaining, though you should be warned it features both masturbation (hands in shorts, no genitals visible), a naked butt, and a man (in a TRULY jaw-dropping moment) doing an on-stage “tuck” so he could perform a nude scene as a woman. WOW. These guys are really brave actors! And did he ever need a towel to do his bow. I recommend this show, but be sure you know what you are in for because this was _not_ what I expected – more like Ionesco’s “Rhinoceros” than anything else I could compare it to, absurdist to the core.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Thursday, March 5th, 2009. “Over There” continues until March 21st. Another take is also available courtesy of the WestEnd Whingers.)