Posts Tagged ‘National Theatre of Scotland’

Review – The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart – Royal Court/National Theatre of Scotland at the Welsh Center

July 30, 2013

Rarely have I left a theater full of the sense of elation I felt at the end of The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart. It all seemed so unlikely: after the catastrophe of Fram the chances of getting me inside a theater for a verse play (rhyming couplets no less) were hovering below zero. But the word on the street was that the show actually worked (and, in fact, was good) – the text and the unusual location (inside the pub at the top of the Welsh Center) blending together and reinforcing each other. By the time I’d decided I should go, it was almost too late – but Royal Court $10 Mondays are still in effect and I managed to snag a day-of seat. And for a bargain hunter like me it was a complete bonanza, as everyone is offered a free shot of whiskey AND free sandwiches in the venue! I was sold before it even started. Whee!

The concept of this play is that there is a female academic studying ballads (Prudencia Hart, Melody Grove) who gets snowed in while visiting Kelso for a conference. She winds up not just stuck with her most irritating colleague, but locked in a pub where a bad folk night somehow transitions into a nightmarish karaoke evening, celebrating the shortest night of the year. And then ….

Well, somehow, with this fairly plebeian setting, you wouldn’t expect this story to make the transition to High Ballad Fairy Tale very well, but because of the use of the couplets all the way through (until the interval), I was already in a mindset of heightened reality – rules were being broken and, well, _things_ were possible, especially after the shock of the blackout. And, may I mention, the lighting design for this show was REALLY good – flashlights, candles, and normal florescents all combined to create a very magical atmosphere. (That said I had some problems with the sound design and lost about 20% of the words – something about people ten feet away speaking with their backs to me while a stand fan roared behind me was not working. I actually checked the script at one point during the play to figure out something I’d missed. That’s not good.)

At the end of the show we were cheering and singing and, even if we’d been encouraged by the cast, well, I was completely into it. I’d just been on, not an undoing, but an amazing journey with one Miss Prudencia Hart, and there was a lot to be happy about (including the fantastic music, much thanks to Annie Grace’s talents, including her lovely voice). And YOU might cheer because 1) as it’s cooled outside, the pub is much more pleasant and 2) although it’s sold out, there will a final series of shows in Peckham from August 5th through 9th.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Monday, July 29th at 8 PM. Its final date at the Welsh Center is August 3rd. And boo to the Royal Court for merely listing the actors as “cast” – there isn’t even any photos on the website to help me, so I wasn’t able to credit even one of the men who performed in this show.)

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Review – Black Watch – National Theatre of Scotland at the Barbican (2010)

December 3, 2010

One of my theatrical regrets of 2008 was missing Black Watch, the enthusiastically reviewed National Theater of Scotland’s production about Scottish soldiers in Iraq. I wasn’t particularly interested in seeing a war play – too often theater on modern themes winds up being nauseatingly moralistic, and I thought this production might also suffer from being mawkish. Still, I was put off by the high prices, then the “sold out” notices made it impossible to get a ticket. I thought I had a reprieve when the show was moved to New York in perfect timing for a family trip, but $100 tickets wound up being even more than the Barbican! I gave up; it was not to be.

That is, until the Barbican’s fall 2010 season was announced, and there it was again: critical favorite Black Watch. The tickets were still way over what I like to pay (I’m more of a 15 gal, these were 32 even with my member’s discount), but I choked down my “I could see two shows for this” feelings and forked it over … then waited two months for the show.

I’m not really sure what else there is to say about this show that hasn’t been said elsewhere: the trope is guys from a Scottish regiment being interviewed about life as soldiers and in Iraq, with the story flipping beteween scenes of them being interviewed after they’ve returned to Scotland, illustrations of them talking about what they are showing rather like in a graphic novel (in particular, the regiment’s history and how it got its uniform), and them just basically living their lives as soldiers, hiding out in their quarters, talking to the press, making jokes as they go on patrol, et cetera. The “life as lived” clearly seems to mostly follow a forward narrative that explains how a group of 6 men in a bar lost half their number after an ambush; it comes as no surprise that it will happen and to whom it will happen. To be honest the deaths, the lives of the victims, and the actual death scene were in no way sentimental, to my relief. It is war and soldiers die in it, and it is not about them being good, or having connections at home, or being bad (and “deserving” their deaths); all of the guys knew they had signed up for a job in which death was a likely component, and all of them seemed very practical about this. In some ways, it seemed to inform a bit of their hysteria and excess of living in most of the show, and that edge was probably part of the reason they joined up, because fighting, killing and living a dangerous life is a real high. The show is mostly just about what a soldier’s life is like, with a specificity to a particular war enabling the surrounding politics and conditions on the ground to be brought into play, to illustrate what they men were dealing with; and, to my pleasure, the text of the play freely acknowledged this was a “controversial” war … one that in two years ruined a fighting force that had taken 300 years to build.

While the energy of the cast was very high (and the sound painfully loud for both mortar shelling and musical interludes), I’m afraid I found this show … well, a bit canned. It’s so tightly choreographed that there seems to be no room for play or improvisation. I truly bought the cast members in their roles and had a hard time remembering that they were just as likely to be gay as well as the hypermacho straight men they were playing, but … I couldn’t connect with it. It was done as a bit of theatrical reportage, and I responded to it unemotionally. I was shocked to hear that this was a completely new cast from the one that had toured before, as they seemed to be tired, or just lack the engagement I would like to see. Perhaps this is due to them having fairly recently arrived at the Barbican, or perhaps the forty empty seats that greeted them proved dispiriting (the snow kept many folks away, it seemed). I can’t say one way or another, but I’m sorry to say that this just wasn’t the “must see” theater I was hoping for. Perhaps you will have better luck.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Wednesday, December 1st, 2010. It continues through January 22nd, 2011. Running time is less that 2 hours so it is an ideal play for a school night.)

“Peter Pan” at Barbican for £6; Mick Sergeant at Soho Theater for £5

May 11, 2010

Twitter’s serving up the hot deals today. First, National Theatre of Scotland’s “Peter Pan” can apparently be had for £6. Here’s the tweet:

BarbicanCentre: See J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan for just £6! See the Barbican Theatre Facebook fanpage for more details http://bit.ly/9CYQBA

Looking at the FB link, I see this (which I’m reproducing for you because FB is blocked at work for me): For more info visit http://www.barbican.org.uk/theatre/event-detail.asp?ID=10533, choose your seats for 12, 13, 14 or 15 May (evening performances only) and enter the promotional code 10510.
This offer is… limited & subject to availability. Bookable online only.

Next up: Mick Sergeant, Soho Theatre, £5. The tweet says:

sohotheatre: A limited number of tickets for the hilarious Mick Sergeant are a steal at only £5! http://bit.ly/akB9OW Call 02074780100 & quote ‘£5 offer’

The link takes you directly to the show info (he’s a stand up comedian and it’s a solo show).

If nothing else, this once again proves the value of Twitter to the committed theater addict – it’s a perfect way of communicating last minute deals like this to us. If you’re not on it, time to join now!

Review – Peer Gynt – National Theatre of Scotland and Dundee Rep Ensemble at the Barbican

May 3, 2009

On Thursday night J and I went to the Barbican to see the National Theatre of Scotland and Dundee Rep Ensemble‘s production of Peer Gynt. I was excited about this show for two main reasons. First, I love Ibsen, and I have never seen Peer Gynt before. Second, the National Theatre of Scotland’s Black Watch was supposed to be one of the theatrical events last year, and since I’d missed out on it, I wanted to see just what made this company’s work so outstanding. High hopes, eh? And I’d managed to score 8th row center seats, probably the best I’ve ever had at the Barbican.

The stage is fully opened and very bare as the story starts. The Barbican’s main stage is just a barn, and it really makes it difficult to get an intimacy to the proceedings with the 50 foot tall rafters looming above. A table and a chair or two stood in front of what looked like a billboard of the fjords of Norway; to the sides, a lowered area held chairs and what looked like about 16 people (8 on each side), sitting in chairs, who appeared to be fresh from a wedding party or hen do (the trampy clothing of the woman were confusing me but one woman was in her bridal gear); behind the wall a ramp led some two stories up from the rest of the proceedings, to a platform that looked like rather a drop to the floor below. In front of the billboard, a man dressed all in white (Cliff Burnett, sort of a cross between Nick Cave and Colonel Sanders) was playing an accordion, but he moved off stage as Peer Gynt (Keith Fleming in a tour-de-force performance) appeared, being bawled out by his old mom (Ann Louise Ross) for disappearing on a bender.

Peer Gynt looks to be an out of shape man in his middle 20s, and there’s no doubt in my mind that his character is truly a touchstone of Western play writing. I can’t speak to Ibsen’s original, but this Gynt was a grandiose drunk prone to big dreams (singing “Peer Gynt the emperor” to a tune by the Pet Shop Boys) and telling ridiculous stories to mask his shortcomings. And his shortcomings are many; no job, no girlfriend, mocked by the town (played by the wedding guests, who make snorting noises when they see him), his family’s money dwindling around him. His mom wants him to use his limited charms to actually pull the only girl in town who likes him enough to marry him, just to save her from financial ruin; but Gynt is terminally incapable of following through on any plan, even if it’s only one that would take a few hours to execute.

What he does truly excel at is storytelling, even if it’s clear that the yarns he spins are nothing but lies, tales he’s often heard elsewhere and then tried to sell as his own (as he is caught doing several times). He starts the play out taking his mom on a magic reindeer ride (on the top of a spotlit table), telling her how he rode one across hill and dale and finally down over the edge of a cliff, plunging through clouds of seagulls as he fell, a moment of storytelling and dramatic imagery that actually set the wrong stage for the evening, as this was the very best moment of the entire play, when two people standing on a table created a forest with trees and giant stags in my mind simply through their words, and nothing that happened for the rest of this evening, an evening focused on spectacle over drama, would come near it.

I want to emphasize just how much of a spectacle this evening was. I saw many things I’d never seen on a stage before: a hanged man disco-dancing; a person having a near-death experience in a plane while being seduced by a demon; the lead character being sexually assaulted by a person in a gorilla suit; a woman giving birth to a wriggling piglet. I mean, WOW, there was so much going on stage – so much that I lost my ability to care about anything I was watching around about the second hour (despite going, “Wow, never seen that before. How long is this play again?”).

Peer Gynt, touchstone of Western drama that he is, is a hard character to like, as all anti-heroes are, but I felt like I should have been more emotionally invested in what was happening to and around him. But I couldn’t rouse myself to care about Gynt any more than he could rouse himself to fix his life. The pretty girl he loved, the strange journey through his future, all of the madness with trolls … none of it moved me. It’s like somehow amidst the cavernous spaces of the Barbican’s stage, the story just got lost. Maybe it was hiding under a pile of trolls. Really, I didn’t care; I just wanted it to be over, or to get interesting again, but it didn’t happen.

Needless to say, I was disappointed by this show, even while I was occasionally impressed by its scale and vision. But like Gynt himself, Peer Gynt would have benefited from focusing on having a focus instead of flailing all over the place in a desperate attempt to make and be something grand. At three hours and eight minutes running time, it just doesn’t reward its investment. I’ll be waiting for a real production to come by and advising people to skip this.

(This review is for a show on Thursday the 30th of April, 2009. It continues through May 16th. For other opinions, see < ahref=”http://www.viewfromthestalls.co.uk/2007/10/peer-gynt-october-2007.html&#8221;)View from the Stalls and the London Theatre Blog.