Posts Tagged ‘Much Ado About Nothing’

London 2013 Spooky Theater Roundup

October 31, 2013

After a brief discussion with some other theater bloggers, I’ve decided to do a SPOOKY THEATER SPECIAL for you guys out there in readerville. Do you want to get SCARED for Halloween? Read on …

If you’re looking for traditional chills and thrills, it’s the last night of the third annual London Horror Festival. Perhaps you might enjoy a modernized Fall of the House of Ushers? Poe is perfect for Halloween and I think making the lead characters conceptual artists provides all sorts of opportunities for creepiness. Get in!

If you want to be frightened by what might be, I’d suggest visiting the Suspense Festival of Puppetry, a multi-week event being put on by the good folks at the Little Angel Theater – puppetry but not for kids. Tonight I’m going to see The Fantasist, a show about bipolar disorder – something which can be deeply terrifying, especially if it’s happening to you. If you’d prefer a classic tale of terror, you might want to try Little Angel’s own Macbeth – not on tonight but still a good time.

How about being frightened at how justice can be perverted in a nation in which “all men are created equal?” Yep, I’m telling you straight, if you want to feel like your heart is being ripped out of your body, The Scottsboro Boys at the Young Vic is like being strapped on top of an Aztec pyramid and awaiting communion with the sun god, only with really great music.

Would you prefer a show in which you WISH for death to come? In that case, perhaps From Here to Eternity is your cup of tea. As the actors totter woodenly about on stage while hauling out yet another cliche, you’ll be thinking that being bombed would be a relief.

Finally, what is scarier than OLD AGE? Even if you hang on that long, the possibilities of ill health and dementia are terrifying. Nothing captures that feeling better than Much Ado About Nothing at the Old Vic, which at least has the comedy value of the producing company having the brass balls to charge people 65 quid a pop to watch this turkey. You’ll want to run away as if a wall of blood was chasing you down the aisles. And suddenly, even though puppets are scary to some people, I’m guessing that Macbeth is sounding better and better …

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Review – Much Ado About Nothing – Old Vic Theater

September 10, 2013

“It just doesn’t get much worse than this.” – elderly audience member, Monday night.

Rarely has a title for a Shakespearean show proven so prophetic. With Vanessa Redgrave and James Earl Jones as the newly geriatric Beatrice and Benedict, it promised so much, especially given their long-standing stage relationship (in Driving Miss Daisy). I figured, hey, they’re awesome, they’re great together, they can make this work! And director Rylance decided to address the racial component of this romance head on, turning Benedict and his fellow soldiers into Tuskeegee Airmen seemingly on visit to an English country manor during World War II. You can’t imagine how proud I felt to see this moment in my country’s history coming to life on stage, with a plethora of American acting talent to make it all feel even more happy-making for me.

That was probably the last moment of pleasure for me during this show. Do American actors get really different training from British actors? I puzzled over this as I listened to Claudio make his way woodenly through his lines. I understand that most of the “soldiers” were speaking with Southern accents, but did Shakespeare really need to sound so bad? Given how well Don Pedro did, I’m sure it wasn’t the case. On the other hand, there was bad guy Don John. He had the gravitas and speaking voice of Snidely Whiplash. I couldn’t help but think of Stephen Boyce’s Aaron from Malachite’s Titus Andronicus: now THAT was a villain. Why wasn’t HE in this play?

And then, well, there was Redgrave and Jones. Um, guys, I know you’re famous and stuff, but, seriously, LEARN YOUR LINES. Jones flubbed enough that I thought the person sitting in the stage left box might have been a prompter; Redgrave was smoother in her speaking but, still, it sounded like she was in a dress rehearsal rather than second preview. I can only assume that they were both so busy they tried to cram the whole thing in their heads with two days’ notice, because, you know, HOLLYWOOD.

Finally: the set. Given that it was the EDGES of a box on a bare stage, I couldn’t help but wonder if the entire budget was spent on the big name cast (both of them). I wouldn’t normally have been too bothered by this, but the whole thing just came off so badly that I felt I had been sold a false bill of goods. You can’t just parade two actors around on a bare set and call it Shakespeare, especially not at the prices they’re charging to see these two.

There’s some hope that in a month’s time this show might settle in, but I’m deeply resentful they didn’t make a bit more of an attempt to practice the show before our paid attendance. It was just lazy and bad. I won’t be able to afford to come back, but I don’t really care: I walked out at the interval (with many others) and was completely thrilled to finish my night reading a wonderful novel by John le Carre. Now THAT was a good way to spend my evening!

(This review is for a preview performance that took place on Monday, September 9th, 2013. It continues through November 30th, by which time it might have become less of a turkey and more of a, say, goose.)

2011 Theater Review Revue

January 1, 2012

While for most people who do reviews, picking the best shows is as easy as going to your five (or four) star list and then culling from there, it’s a more difficult matter for me. First, I don’t really “star” reviews – certainly not on my blog. For me, the issue is enjoyment, and my enjoyment of a show is tied to the entertainment value crossed with the amount of money I had to pay for the ticket. Did I fork out sixty quid? Wow me, baby. Did I pay ten? I’m hoping for an evening that chases my troubles away, not one that knocks my socks off. Too frequently, though, I find the expectations set with less expensive tickets means I’m much easier to make happy in less extravagant shows.

Best comedy of the year seems like a shoe-in for the very popular One Man Two Guv’nors, which I certainly enjoyed, but it just had too much of a whiff of Benny Hill and bad panto for me to get behind it. Instead, I vote for Royal Court’s Jumpy, as a play that addressed modern concerns as well as age-old problems AND had a great scene with a disco-dancing, pony girl dominatrix. What did that have to do with mother/daughter relationships? Who cares? All I know is that I went to the theater desperately needing to have my blues chased away and this Jumpy had me laughing so hard I cried.

The best Shakespeare production and second best show overall (and the only full priced one I can get fully behind – thirty quid well spent) was Propeller Theater’s Richard III, a show I gave up paid tickets to another event just for the off-chance there might be a return ticket available. There was. I was blown out of my seat by this freakish combination of Edward Gorey and Neil Gaiman sensibilities. Every now and then you see a Shakespearean performance that sets the standards by which other performances will be judged: this was that play for me. It left all the other Shakespearean performances I saw in the dust – the Tate/Tennant Much Ado, the weird Donmar Richard II, the National’s Comedy of Errors. That said: the most magical show of the year (and also a bargain) was the wonderful Tempest done by the Royal Shakespeare Company and the Little Angel Puppet Theater – I don’t feel like it should be in with the other Shakespeares as it was edited quite a bit and some of the actors were, um, puppets, but it made a script I’d previously found stuffy positively sing. And at 10 quid a ticket, it was an incredible deal – the kind of show that makes me feel lucky to live in London.

This leads me to the Best Theater Tip Generator of the year: and the winner is … Twitter. There’s a pile of theater tweeters out there who in addition to talking about work and (occasionally) TV talent shows also will on a nightly basis let you know if what they saw was good, great, or a trainwreck. When I hear two or three of these people say a show is a knockout, I will do what it takes to make sure I get a ticket before it sells out – or decide to stand in line, hoping against hope for returns. They haven’t led me wrong – and they’re saying that this year I need to go see Sweeney Todd since I didn’t make it to Chichester. (I got the memo!) I’m a member of that community, and if you want a short summary, may I suggest you add @140thtr to your followed tweeters? It will expose you to a variety of writers and help you decide if you want to follow any of them directly.

Most misconceived revival/debut has got to go to the interminable Emperor and Galilean, an Ibsen play which was making its debut at the National some 150 years after it was originally written. Per the notes, it wasn’t MEANT to be staged at all; based on what I saw, tradition should have been maintained. It’s about enough to make me think that really, forgotten plays are forgotten for a reason, but then I saw The Belle’s Strategem at Southwark Playhouse and I was proven wrong. I think it might be a bit much to call it best revival of the year, but insofar as it was head to head in the same category as Emperor and Galilean, Red Handed Theater’s joyous Belle knocked it out of the ballpark.

It was a great year for musicals in London, and I took full advantage of this. We had a glorious crop of new ones – Betty Blue Eyes, Umbrellas of Cherbourg, Ghost, Top Hat, Love Story – well, Top Hat was only new to the stage and Love Story was more sonorous than glorious – but I was able to revel in my joy of watching people sing (and frequently dance) on stage again and again. Matilda is the one everyone is cooing over, but I got my happy on at Crazy for You (tears in my eyes – tears!) and the warped revival of Salad Days. Sadly, I don’t think any of the songs from the new shows are destined to become standards – though if there was a show I think should be revived quickly, it would be the clever production of Betwixt I saw at Trafalgar Studios. Perfectly suited to a theater geek’s sensibilities, I found myself carefully listening to the lyrics – and laughing a lot. Thanks to all of the people who worked so hard (and put so much money!) into making these shows happen – I realize you may not have had your aspirations met, but as a Londoner, I felt spoiled.

For best dance of the year, it’s the companies that came to London that gave me the big thrills. Merce Cunningham’s troupe left me heartbroken at never seeing them but accepting the closure; the Sadlers Wells Flamenco festival was good but didn’t blow me away. Instead – well, it was the damned Mariinsky with their Balanchine/Robbins program that left me with that spooky, goosebumpy feeling you get when something just perfect has happened while you were in the room. As a bizarre bonus, this was the only program of their generally astoundingly expensive series where any kind of discount could be found; I got stalls seats at half price thanks to Last Minute. All I can say is that going to Russia is now seeming like a reasonable thing to do to get my dance fix going, especially now that Vasiliev and Osipova have left the Bolshoi for the big M.

Biggest non-story of the years: bloggers should not review previews. How many times have people in the traditional media brought this up? How many times have people involved in shows gotten defensive because your poor review is for their preview? (Note this doesn’t happen for positive reviews, which they see as “building word of mouth” before opening night.) For all of you bloggers out there, can we just stop being baited by people who have nothing better to write about than this dull topic? Part of the reason theater blogs are great is because we can get “in print” so quickly that folks who are debating buying tickets can get an early insight into whether or not a particular show is worth forking out for – and my blogging friends have saved me a lot of grief (not to mention intrigued me in Pippin despite the pans). And bloggers ARE fans who like to see shows as soon as possible – it’s rough when you’ve been waiting a year to see the new Mike Bartlett show and it’s RIGHT THERE for sale! Now! – and we pay for the privilege. We see, we pay, we write, and most of us say if it was a preview (or mention the date of the show that was reviewed). Otherwise – this isn’t a story and the theater blogging community should unify in refusing to “feed the trolls.” If theaters don’t want shows written about – then they shouldn’t be selling tickets for them yet.

Given my love for bargains, it’s probably unsurprising, then, that my happiest evening of the year was spent watching Get Santa at the Royal Court.  Not only did I only spend 5 pounds for my ticket, I found the whole evening hopelessly surreal and completely original. I am still laughing about the bacon tree. Why was no script published for this genius piece? I’d be doing it in my house for the holidays every year. Overall, every time I saw another show this year that was great, I’d ask, “But did I like it as much as Get Santa?” And the answer was always no. Thus, for best play of the year, and best night at the theater for me personally, Get Santa takes the prize.

In summary: it was a very good year for me – 136 performances, large chunks of disposable income recycled into the city’s arts coffers, only three walkouts (The Veil, Juno and the Paycock, and Haunted Child) and just a handful of interval-free shows I might have left. I can’t wait to see what 2012 will bring!

Review – Tennant/Tate “Much Ado About Nothing” – Wyndham’s Theatre

August 19, 2011

You know there’s something going on when a friend who normally only pings you to talk about books suddenly sends you a text saying OMG DR WHO IN SHAKESPEARE WHR CN I BUY TX THXPLZSOS! Doctor Who? Shakespeare? What? Was there a celebrity casting event happening? Was someone just rumor-mongering on a fan bulletin board? It took me a few hours but I figured it out: David Tennant was going to be appearing in Much Ado About Nothing, though it wasn’t going to be with the RSC or at the Globe; instead, he would be at the Wyndham’s, which did quite well for itself with the Jude Law Hamlet and probably thought that putting another celeb in a copyright free show couldn’t help but make for a juicy summer at the box office. What better for “two great tastes” than Shakespeare … with a Dr Who star in it? As an added bonus, they threw in Catherine Tate. Result? A critic-proof show that’s sold out week after week – despite there being nothing available below £50 in the stalls and Royal Circle.

However, there’s really nothing about “Dr Who/Comedy star” to catch my attention, as with Shakespeare there’s just so damn much of it on that I try to only hit artistic highs (this year, Propeller) and limit myself to three a year. So I missed all of the excitement of the early days this how was on (it opened in May) and just finally got around to seeing it this month, four months on and only a few weeks before it is to close. Ah well: no excuses about the performance I saw only being a preview this time, eh?

As it turns out, I’d never seen this play before at all, which added a certain frisson of anticipation to the evening’s events; yet much of the pure joy I might have experienced was hindered by Catherin Tate’s incredibly heavy-handed performances. The woman’s got an easy career to come in panto, I’ll say that. And David Tennant, well, to be honest he executed well in Shakespeare, and his skinny, very tall figure worked convincingly as a character billed as a bit of a clown and an outcast. Still, I felt that even his jokes were cranked up to 11, and while most of the audience was roaring hysterically, I was wondering how I’d wound up back in One Man Two Guvnors. All we needed was two men in a horse suit and a singalonga. I mean, was the director afraid we wouldn’t understand that it was a comedy?

Overall, I found it was a competent production, but I wasn’t feeling the love. And it hardly matters: everyone else, including the people I’d treated to the show (giving experiences not stuff, don’t you know) loved it, and it is a hit. I’ll just sit in my Grumpy Critic’s Corner all by myself and wish I’d instead made it to see Propellor’s Comedy of Errors when it was in town. Hmm: I see they’re bringing a pocket version of it to the Hampstead at the end of September. I think I’ll book for it and call it my consolation prize, nicely rounding out my Shakespeare for the year with two great productions and one … new one.

(This review is for a performance that took lace on Thursday, August 18th, 2011. Much Ado continues at Wyndhams until September 3rd.)