Posts Tagged ‘National Theatre’

Mini-review – The Beaux’ Stratagem – National Theater (and National Theater Live)

September 9, 2015

I do like restoration comedy, and the allure of the £15 Travellex series is not to be undersold …

But maybe, sometimes, it is.

Full of silly schemes and two dimensional (yet still funny) characters, The Beaux’ Stratagem is a clever play, making good use of the trope of two brothers pretending (in turns) to be each other’s servant and the rather common plot line of men marrying in search of a fortune. We get bonus fun in the character of an innkeeper and his daughter – a good counterbalance for any actually moral, upperclass folks – and the comic servants at the house of the women the two beaux have their eyes on (one married and frustrated, the other a maiden, starry-eyed, and of good fortune).

It’s generally fun and has some great scene changes and a lot to laugh about, but oh MY the pacing just dropped like a … badly placed metaphor (your suggestions welcome) every time the ensemble had to sing. I was bored and fidgety – let’s be honest, this play is not short – but we could have moved forward at such a nicer clip if this stuff had been cut.

I’d meant to post this review earlier, to warn people who might have seen this as an NT Live performance, to say, for the cost of a cinema ticket, this is not worth your time; but it’s too late to warn these folks. For £15, this play skirts the edge of what I can tolerate. Despite its high quality of acting and zesty script, the length and the fat just add up to a rather indigestibly (and possibly indefensibly) long evening – worth the entry fee of the cheap tickets but only just. In retrospect, I could have skipped this evening and I don’t think I’d have lost much, and that’s not really what I’d call praise.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Monday, August 31st, 2015. It continues through Sunday September 20th.)

Review – People, Places and Things – Headlong at the National Theater

August 29, 2015

Considering how much I loved The Effect – a show which has stayed with me strongly even three years on – there was little doubt in my mind that I had to go see People, Places and Things at the National. But the cost of tickets put me off – £35 quid in previews and all of the cheap seats sold out! What was a girl to do? The situation was not helped by the general sold-outness of the shows – if I didn’t get in, I was going to miss out. Argh! Fortunately I remembered I had a credit slip from my cancelled trip to Everyman, so I was able to tell myself I was really only paying 20 quid and just went ahead and bought a ticket. There, done.

I’m glad I did, because People, Places and Things is a very interesting look at a slice of modern life I haven’t seen on stage much: addiction recovery. That said, this was also hit quite recently by The Motherfucker with the Hat, and one particular aspect of twelve step programs came up in both: the “give up responsibility for yourself to God” or something like that, it’s the big issue I have with twelve step programs as well – what’s the point if it’s going to be so focused on the Great Sky Father that I don’t believe in? Emma (later revealed to be named Sara, Denise Gough), the protagonist of People, Places and Things goes through this mental journey quite convincingly – I very much enjoyed the opportunity to see an almost Shavian confrontation with modern bullshit philosophies.

Earlier on, though, when Emma checks in to the clinic, we get an extended section of classic Headlong work as she comes on to whatever drug she ingested before she walked in the door and then starts coming off of the anti-anxiety meds (and God knows what else) she’s become addicted to. The exit signs warp and twist (thanks to some excellent animated projections – I hadn’t realized they weren’t real), the tiles on the walls slowly warp and float away, and an entire bevy of Emma clones come crawling out of the bed she’s been sleeping in. It was an excellent depiction of hallucinations and nicely captured the unreality of what Emma was going through, including all of the vomiting and loss of bladder control.

Almost a third of the play seems to center on Emma’s experience dealing with the group therapy aspect of the treatment, and, while this provided a great opportunity for many members of the cast to show their chops, I didn’t really get a good feel for how it was supposed to work in terms of her experience. Clearly, when she embraces doing it, we’re meant to see that she’s had some kind of internal change that has pushed her to committing to the program, but exactly what this is is never revealed; and, unfortunately, it’s this giant missing plot point that undid the play for me. So many good performances, such a well-crafted production, and yet the script completely failed to deal with something so very vital to character evolution – ultimately letting down the whole evening. While this is a very engaging show, I think Duncan Macmillan is going to have to find something a little more solid than Wile E Coyote’s outlook on life to get us to buy into the overall arc of this play. Ah well, it nearly got there.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Thursday, August 27th, 2015. It continues through November.)

Review – Rules for Living – National Theater

June 27, 2015

I am mystified by the English concept of the embarrassment comedy, a la Abigail’s Party. To me there is little humor to be found in people spending time together being immensely uncomfortable. However, I do not come from a country where embarrassment is glorified as part of the national identity; thinking on it, Americans’ lack of embarrassment is probably one of the little things that makes them so unpopular (or, indeed, objects of comedy) in the UK.

Yet, here is Rules for Living, a new play substantially built around the same concept as Abigail’s Party – a family (and a stranger) spent an extraordinarily uncomfortable time together preparing for and then having a party, and we laugh and cringe as they make asses of themselves – only this time it was funny. Sam Holcroft has a strong idea of what it is that makes families tick, what the resentments are they build up over the years, how they learn to accept pathological behavior (of various sorts) as normal – and he knows we’ve also had our own experiences with this. So this time, instead of having us wait until the great reveal to discover the source of people’s various miseries, we’re given “the scores on the doors,” or in this case on the wall: a physical display on the set of what it is that makes these people tick. The playwright has told us, but this puts us into a privileged position: we know what the characters do and don’t allow themselves to do, but the other characters do not. So we’re now able to tell when a certain character is lying, when another wants to be confrontational and can’t, and so on. For most of the first act, this means we laugh as we see the characters’ own constraints limit them; it’s almost a bit like a sit com in that the chuckles come so fast and uniformly, and from identifiable triggers on stage.

Things took what to me felt like a darker turn in the second act, as family secrets began to come out, the first one being the biggest (and the one having the most immediate impact): the father/grandfather, whose arrival everyone has been preparing for, suddenly appears on stage and we discovered he has had a [SPOILER ALERT] horrifying health change that his wife has been hiding from the rest of the family. Holcroft tries to weave this truly devastating event back into a comic narrative quite deftly, by raising the stakes of people’s misbehavior (drinking and pill popping all happen but are, somehow, laughable); horrible backstory comes out that will probably result in family ties being undone; and yet we don’t cringe, but enjoy watching this family fall apart fantastically. I mean, there’s a food fight, and the characters are actually awarded points (on the score board) for being terrible to each other and acting like children.

But what I found just utterly amazing about this is the practically swept aside story of dealing with a person who’s lost the ability to talk and has lost their memory. John Rogan is devastating as the impaired patriarch; you can see he’s thinking behind that partially immobilized face, and I believed that I understood what he was saying when he was talking to his wife and his sons. What frustrated me particularly is how quickly the sons gave up on trying to understand him; admittedly, for comic pacing, if a lot of that had happened, we would have gone way off course – but I know it’s possible and I hated that they weren’t trying more. And then there’s a situation of inappropriate sexual behavior which I have NEVER seen on stage and which I also wish could have been dealt with in more depth rather than being used as a springboard for more comedy. But that’s me.

And you know what? It was still a really good show, a solid new comedy with some good bones to support it; a bit shallow in some of the characterization (Maggie Service got a bum deal with Carrie), but still a good ride and absolutely worth the 15 quid I paid for my slightly restricted view seat. The comedy was fluffy, but the issues driving it were rock solid; and I was in the mood for a good laugh. With luck it’ll get a transfer and an opportunity for more people to enjoy it.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Friday, June 12, 2015. It continues through July 8th.)

Mini-review – Man and Superman – National Theatre

March 16, 2015

WARNING: There’s some kind of famous actor in this show and this means that it is massively sold out. However, this is not why I wanted to go, to see yet another stage star polishing his chops at our expense (my expense being 38 quid, an unsupportable price level for my budget): no, I wanted to go because I really, really like George Bernard Shaw and had never had a chance to see this play before.

So: you’re considering seeing this play, and, as a Life in the Cheap Seats devotee, you have one question: is it worth it? Cheap seats are £38 (technically £15 but no chance of finding one of those), time investment (far more important) is 3 1/2 hours. My God. That is a very, very long time to be sat down in a chair. Don’t drink anything beforehand (or during the interval – but do have a bottle of water with you) and I highly advise a small package of chocolate or possibly Mentos.

But, God, you know what? It’s funny. It’s really funny. The story of an anarchist fighting to escape from the love of a conventional (and highly manipulative) woman just seems on the face of it to have no hope as a comedy at all. The anarchist’s obsession with “woman’s highest purpose” – having babies – seems on the face of it to just be so offensive that you can only see him as a villain. But somehow the combination of all of the videos of flowers blooming (in the background) and the scraps of music from Don Giovanni give the whole enterprise this air of the irresistibility of sex (defined as the “reproductive impulse”). Our anarchist is a man who wants to stick with his morals – honesty and truthfulness held highly among them – and, faced with a woman who wants to be loved for who she is (rather than who she pretends to be), he is simply incapable of clinging to the high ground – that is, remaining a bachelor and practitioner of “free love.”

Most delicious and delightful is an extended scene set in hell, with the main actors reappearing as various characters from Don Giovanni (and, well, Lucifer). Now, if they were trying to keep this play down to a reasonable amount of time, this would have been the scene to cut: but, really, it about had me in tears with its endless flagellation of the hypocrisy of society (both ancient and modern, things just haven’t changed). What was that quote? Ah yes, loved this bit: “At every one of those concerts in England you will find rows of weary people who are there, not because they really like classical music, but because they think they ought to like it. Well, there is the same thing in heaven. A number of people sit there in glory, not because they are happy, but because they think they owe it to their position to be in heaven. They are almost all English.” PEALS OF LAUGHER. And, I thought, rows and rows of just these folks were sitting there at the National on this chilly afternoon, only we all were laughing, because, by God (and the devil), this is a funny play, and it hardly matters what name actors are in it (I’m not even going to mention them, they’re all very good): suffice it for me to tell you it WAS good and it was worth forty pounds, buy your Mentos at a nearby cornershop and go see it. Your life will be the richer for having done so.

(This review is for a matinee that took place on Saturday, March 14, 2015. It continues for a while but as it is sold out your best chance of getting tickets is just to leave the page open on your computer screen throughout the day and occasionally hit F5 to see if there have been any returns.)

Mini-review – Ballyturk – National Theatre

October 9, 2014

It seems like a new, 90 minute play would be the kind of thing I dream of, and it must be a dream for many people, because Ballyturk sold out pretty early in the run. I had a hard time getting tickets at all but finally succeeded; however, I really wish I hadn’t. What, you say, it’s an absurdist drama a la “Waiting for Godot?” Well, you know what, those gimmicky plays actually get boring pretty quickly and from the 30 minute point I was shifting uncomfortably in my chair desperately hoping something would happen that redeemed the time that was ticking by. Loud, incoherent heavily accented rambling, two dudes engaging in bizarre physical comedy: BORING! Boring boring boring! My only pleasures were listening to properly amplified 80s hits (My God Yaz in FULL STEREO! Can’t wait for the Alison Moyet tour!) and a completely surreal moment involving Jenga with wafer biscuits – otherwise I was clock watching and dreaming about other plays I could have been watching – or writing, for that matter.

Now, part of this play seemed to be about the nature of friendship (I felt), and it’s Big Picture Message was about how all life is ultimately a journey toward death and we all have to learn to let go. Well well. I can’t argue with a flaming cuckoo clock but it all just took SO long, and even for £25 I felt it was time and money poorly spent. Oh well – obviously many other people disagree and my review is coming too late to influence YOU, but I’ve said my bit: phooey.

(This review is for a performance that took place October 8, 2014. It ends Saturday October 11th.)

Review – The Key Will Keep The Lock – James Play #1 at National Theater

September 12, 2014

A month or so ago I was reading the news from the Edinburgh Fringe, and in the midst of all of the lack of coverage of the Scottish Independence vote from the stage (the specific article said that people just became uncomfortable unless it was dealt with as a joke), I saw a mention of the James plays that utterly pulled me in. New theater about Scottish kings? I knew nothing about them, really (always looking to bone up a bit on my history), but then to make it all more attractive I read that these plays were (supposedly) really engaging – even though there were three of them? And there was going to be a transfer to London? I went immediately to the National Theater website and found space in my calendar for all three of the plays (fortunately on the Travelex $15 series). Unsuprisingly the two days when all three plays were being done in rep were all sold out – a taste, I guessed, of the word of mouth effect on these shows. Tickets secured, I did my usual thing of going into a media blackout so I could enjoy the plays as fully as possible.

At last the day of the first show arrived – when I would discover if I’d just made an expensive error of judgment. I had a sweet seat in the center stalls (love those preview prices), but I felt envious when I saw there was a whole bank of seats on the opposite side of the stage – almost the first time I could remember seeing the Olivier being used as a theater in the round. How did those people get to those seats? Were these going to be the great views? (As it turns out, while they had the pleasure/frustration the actors working among them -especially in the scenes involving the throne, which was right in the middle of this set piece – the action was 80% facing the front otherwise and I would not consider these good seats unless they were really cheap, as spending scene after scene craning all the way to the left or right or just watching people’s backs would be very irritating).

And then the show started, sound and fury galore, a four story sword poking symbolically out of the stage (it was generally quite bare except for the occasional table or bed). We were introduced to Henry V (Jamie Sives) and his long term prisoner, James (James McArdle, whom he has kept mostly locked up for some eighteen years. Henry has captured four lesser Scottish nobles – thick accents all around – whom he wants James to make an example of. But James (thicker accent, not sure how he would have kept it being locked up from the age of ten) has other ideas, about the rules of chivalry, which he wants to apply now. Henry instead decides to show James that he still has control over him, and can beat his “rule of law” with the rule of force, because James need to learn what a king must do … and that for him, what he must do is obey.

Thus we nicely have set for us in the very first the themes of this play; of James as a dreamer, of James the king, of James as a man whose psychology might just be a little twisted by the circumstances of his life. But in parallel with this story is not just the extremely human story about his relationship with Joan (Stephanie Hyam), the queen forced on him by Henry, but of the building of the Scottish nation … a historical situation made vibrant and breathing by the current independence vote. The question of Scottish identity and the relationship and difference between Scotland and England is so alive that I could practically see them as other characters in the room, with the audience responding amazingly strongly to the debate on sovereignty happening in front of their eyes, disguised as history, making it clear that the era we are living in is one in which history is being built … on the roots of ancient actions. Wow. I could only imagine what the impact must have been of The Crucible during the McCarthy hearings. It seemed so appropriate, given this, that people spoke this new play in a modern style (complete with swear words), because the words, sentiments, and emotions were those of today. This was not a history play or a history: it was a play about now.

And I loved it. I didn’t read the program notes because I didn’t want to lose any surprises, and I was practically bouncing at intermission waiting for us to get back in and get on with it. I was on the edge of my seat when Queen Joan was being threatened and laughed when her servant Meg (Sarah Higgins) told the courtiers off for bad table manners. This is the kind of modern theater that I love, excellent, confident story telling delivered by note perfect actors with a focus on human interaction and resonance beyond the play itself. I now think the price I paid for the three shows was an incredible deal and I can’t wait for my return next week. Who needs Wolf Hall: the James plays have actually delivered us living, breathing history that makes people care. Thank you, Rona Munro; job well done.

(This review is for a preview performance that took place on Wednesday, September 10th, 2014. It runs through October 28th and is already almost booked solid. Get your tickets now!)

Review – Great Britain – National Theater

July 12, 2014

Given the National’s track record of reviving the dullest chestnuts on God’s green earth, you can’t imagine my surprise when I heard they were mounting an original comedy – Great Britain. And the way things have been going with me, hey, a comedy is what is called for, and with just a few rumors of it being an actually funny show, I ponied up £28 each for seats (these were the cheapest I could find) and hurried off to the quickest show I could fit in my calendar.

A quick plot summary: Paige Britain (Billie Piper) is a news editor at a tabloid that bears a shocking resemblance to News of the World, so much so that it’s eventually closed down due to a history of its management paying people to hack into the voicemail of various people living and dead. To make this more clearly a work of fiction, we have, well, the Billie Piper character, and also changes in the critical story (murdered twin girls) that tips public opinion against the paper’s activities.

Otherwise, though, it’s really a comic look at the whole trashy episode of extremely recent British history, with plenty of characters you can recognize (oh look, it’s Rebekah Brooks! It’s Rupert Murdoch being questioned by Parliament – only no cream pies) but all sorts of purely imaginary detail (such as the sexy cop who’s literally in bed with the papers) and flights of fancy (the fake YouTube spoofs of the gay Chief of London police are a riot, as is his entire plot line and his “straight out of George W Bush’s mouth” dialogue).

But Great Britain rides an edge that I found uncomfortable. A lot of people in this play kill themselves because of the pressure that’s put on them by the tabloids, and this element is one that I have found horrifying as it has played out in the real world. Listening to Paige say that as far as she’s concerned, she did nothing wrong (in regards to these deaths), well … I was hearing a bit of John Gabriel Borkman, but I was wondering if what I was hearing was also Richard Bean’s take on how either the newspapers or the British public sees these events. To me they are truly horrifying, but I don’t see this play tackling that problem head on. It also brought up the issues of tabloids collaborating with cops and politicians, but it didn’t seem to really address just how cozy they are as, well, something that is wrong. But then, these relationships are purely exaggerations made by Bean to make a better play – or are they? In the world depicted in this play, the police work with the tabloids to try to make themselves look better, and the papers tell politicians that they’ll make sure they’re elected if they can get some favors done for them, which seems pretty damned close to reality based on what I’ve read. Is this really how things are done? Or am I just so American that I can’t tell that everybody already knows this and nobody cares?

At any rate, while I did find this a very fast moving show (and there were some laughs), overall it had enough about it that depressed me about the world and the country I live in that I didn’t exactly walk out with a spring in my step. Excellent performances all around, though, and plenty of surprises, so I think this is going to be a popular show and good on the National for laying off the dusty old crap for something that actually addresses the society we live in in a way that theater can do more quickly and more daringly than either TV or the movies.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Wednesday, July 9th, 2014. It continues at the National Theater until August 23rd, after which time it will be transferring to the Theater Royal Haymarket. The consumption of cornettos during performances of this play is not advised by this author.)

Review – Hotel – The Shed at the National Theater

June 11, 2014

It’s hard to tell from the descriptions on the National Theater website whether or not you’re going to enjoy a show. Check out this blurb for Hotel:
A tropical thriller, where nothing is quite what it seems, Hotel explores the cost of integrity.

Well, just what does that mean, right? It sounds like a prequel to the horrible kind of drivel Michael Billington gets so excited about, the plays that “ask important questions.” Bah! I can appreciate that playwrights are concerned about the world they live in, but too many times this leads to plays that wind up lecturing rather than creating good theater. I want a play to aim to succeed on the stage first rather than valuing its ability to be a political platform: this requires well written dialogue and a focus on human relationships over speechifying. If I wanted to be speeched at, I’d go to church or a political rally. A playwright breaks his contract with us, the audience, when he takes advantage of us being trapped in our seats to try to enlighten us. And this makes me angry.

Fortunately, Polly Stenham is reading from the same invisible contract I am – but to tell you about it, I’ll have to be careful to follow the rules I have agreed with you, my imaginary reader, and not ruin the experience by telling you too much about the show. I might do a spoiler filled analysis later, but we have an agreement, you and I, that I tell you if you might enjoy a show (and explain why), but I don’t tell you so much that it takes away the fun of the evening. I highly value going to a show and being surprised – it’s why I don’t read scripts and why I won’t read reviews in advance of seeing a play.

What I loved about Polly Stenham’s Hotel is not just its position 100% on the knife edge of the modern world – a world in which a micro scandal ruins a political career, a world in which the terror of social media sends people to court and to their deaths. What I loved was its white-knuckled clench in the guts of how families tick. I can’t tell you how perfect the relationship between teenager Ralph (Tom Rhys Harries) and his younger sister Frankie (Shannon Tarbet) was – the details of them teasing each other, fighting with each other, and standing up for each other left me truly moved. I was completely bought into their genuine existence as siblings (despite the fact Harries was just too yumalicious to possible be seen as anyone’s brother).

Stenham handles less believably the conflict between husband and wife Robert (Tom Beard) and Vivienne (Hermione Gulliford). That doesn’t mean that both of them don’t get a chance to be excellent later, but this area of interaction seems more clunky. But Robert’s relationship with both of his kids is just right, and a scene in which he berates Ralph in a moment of pure fury had me on the edge of my chair, it seemed so close to ending in violence.

Where the play goes, now, that I’ll just not say (it all reminded me a bit of the ending of Don Giovanni in terms of unexpectedness). It’s a wild ninety minutes that ends, to me, at just the right place, with all of the questions left dangling in front of us. I’ll underprepare you a bit with this quote: “Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy night.” But do make sure to get in that car.

Spoiler alert: this play is not for the squeamish. And take the 15+ guidance seriously.

(This review is for a preview performance that took lace on Wednesday, June fourth. It closes on June 26th.)

Review – The Light Princess – National Theater (or “National Theatre” for some)

October 14, 2013

Although I finished my review of Ghosts first, there’s no doubt in my mind that The Light Princess is the bigger theatrical event – any new musical would be, but this one has the advantage (over Bare, for example) of having Tori Amos write the music and, well, the National Theater to back it. But it really wasn’t on my radar because, well, Tori Amos, and, er, the National Theater – I figured it would be lifeless, pretentious, tedious, and full of boring music.

But, well, I did my usual thing of asking my theater loving friends, “What’s really good right now?” and got an earful about this show from Ought To Be Clowns. He RAVED about it, said he’d seen it several times already, and that if I liked Sondheim, there was a good chance I’d appreciate its non-tune oriented musicality. I was pretty impressed, and with a bit of luck on my side managed to get some 12 quid tickets for opening night. (They were the side seats in the very back of the theater but when I picked them up, they’d been magically upgraded to row F circle. Rah!)

A bit of plot as this is a new play: there is a princess, Althea (Rosalie Craig), whose mother died when she was young. All of the kingdom was plunged into mourning; Althea, for some reason, “rose above it all” quite literally, not only not crying, but literally losing her groundedness, becoming a floating (“light”) princess. Her father, King Darius (Clive Rowe), has her confined to a tower and focuses on her brother as his heir. Meanwhile, in a neighboring kingdom, Prince Digby’s mother also dies … but under mysterious circumstances (as she criticized the king). No one is allowed to mourn her; he becomes the solemn prince (Nick Hendrix), known for never smiling: ideal, as he is heir and his father wants him to be a heartless killing machine, with a life aim of taking over Althea’s gold-rich (but water-poor) kingdom. It seems inevitable that they should meet ….

For a good long time at the start of The Light Princess (well, once the animated background movie was over), I was utterly absorbed in how Althea was made to float. Although at times it was via a harness, in fact, most of the time she was being moved by people, turned and supported (sometimes with their feet!) as if she were a bunraku puppet. Craig appeared to be entirely unaware of the hands and bodies manipulating her; she simply seemed buoyant. While I don’t want to say it was distracting – it was actually fairly invisible IF YOU STOPPED STARING AT IT – it was still such an unusual effect that I missed most of what she was saying (singing, actually, as there was little straight dialog) for at least half an hour.

Crisis time comes, inevitably (as princes and princesses from differing kingdoms must meet in any self-respecting fairy tale), as Althea runs away from her duty to her kingdom and Digby runs toward his (as leader of his kingdom’s army). They both meet in the great wilderness that divides their kingdoms, in a beautiful, magical lake.

Um. I have to stop here, because even before we had got to the lake, my theatrical suspension of disbelief had kicked in and I was just buying everything I saw. King Darius’s Amazonian major general in her amazing gold armor; the falcon that was Digby’s only friend (and the lady falconer with her red glove); a flying princess who could make friends with a beautiful blue bird (surely actually a hyacinth macaw!); Digby and Althea falling in love. I was completely ready for the unbounded amazingness that was the lake: cheesy simple effects with black lights and puppets making fish jump and water lilies bloom and the whole thing feel almost like a stop-motion animation come to life. And, yes, they were still mostly just singing. What could be more appropriate in a world so full of magic?

In retrospect, I had some quibbles: the music felt a bit samey-samey and wasn’t hitting a lot of different emotions; the lyrics, similarly, struggled to get beyond childishness and were crippled by repetition and a lack of imagination (the word H2O shouldn’t really be sung more than once in an entire evening). But otherwise I felt like I was seeing the grand flowering of British theatrical creativity taking place on stage in front of me, the culmination of fantastic set design, costuming, acting and singing talent (that could perform, night after night, while being tossed around like a football!), and a creative approach to movement (animation! puppets! acrobats!) that all blended together to create something I simply cannot believe I got to see in a space as intimate as the Lyttleton. And, man, I got to hear Clive Rowe really sing out, and I got to hear people sing about things I thought mattered – like being accepted for who you are, like not turning your back on things that make you uncomfortable – and, um, all that for twelve pounds? Wow.

The Light Princess is the kind of thing that makes me feel lucky that I live in London. I don’t know if I’ll be able to go again, but I feel sure lots of other people will, and will love it. And you, if you’re thinking about it, I advise you to not hesitate: this is going to be a sell-out.

(This review is for the opening night performance that took place on October 9, 2013. It is booking through January 9th, 2014.)

Mini-review – Edward II – National Theater

September 5, 2013

Given that Edward II is a major production by the National, you may wonder why it’s only getting mini-review status from me. I’ll summarize it quickly:

VIDEO PROJECTIONS.

Yes, many of the most emotionally fraught scenes of Edward II are marred, not just by having large, distracting video projections on both sides of the stage, but by actually having the actors perform WHERE YOU CAN’T SEE THEM, in a little room in the middle of the stage where “secret things” happen. This was maybe acceptable for the scene where Edward (John Heffernan), Gaveston (Kyle Soller), and Spencer (Nathaniel Martello-White) were having some kind of a party; but under no circumstances to I expect to have to watch a scene take place ON GIANT TV SCREENS when the actors are RIGHT THERE ON STAGE. I was especially wanting to tear my hair out during the scene where Edward is captured at a monastery. It’s thoughtful, sad, painful: and yet it was performed for the camera rather than for me, sitting right there in the third row (£12, a great price!). Seriously, I do NOT come to the theater to watch TV, or to watch actors talking to a camera. There’s a whole PROGRAM of events for people who like that kind of stuff, it’s called the NT Live, but I was actually WATCHING THE NT IN THE FREAKING THEATER AND I EXPECTED TO BE WATCHING ACTORS AND NOT A TV SCREEN.

So have we established that I had some serious problems with this play? I think so. Yet I stayed after the interval when 15% of the audience walked out. I can’t say why they left – maybe boys kissing is a problem for them, maybe the weather was just to gorgeous to be ignored – but I stayed because this was, while not emotionally engaging, still the best Marlowe I had ever seen. I was also freshly engaged in Edward’s story after having just been to Dunstanbugh Castle (it was built by the Earl of Lancaster, who captured Edward’s favorite, Gaveston – and it stands in ruins! What happened?) and very much on a bit of a history kick after seeing the Globe’s production of the Henry VI plays. So I wanted to know the story of Edward II, even if told through Marlowe’s eyes.

Oddly, in the end it was the women who held my attention – Kent, Edward’s sibling (Kirsty Bushell, cross-cast as his sister, with a lovely voice and a role I was willing to believe was historically female); Isabella, his queen (Vanessa Kirkby, regal, gorgeous, and the one person who managed to tug my heartstrings as she was sent to the Tower by her son); and the (also cross-cast) Pembroke (Penny Layden, the only one of the barons who actually seemed to care for Edward). I couldn’t really connect to any of the men, but watching Isabella, who loves Edward, make decisions that seemed Machiavellian but really were just based on ensuring the best chances for her son to, not just be king, but live … it was really very, very hard, and utterly believable. The men, well, they were busy acting for the cameras. It was still a well written play excellently acted, but I found it didn’t move me.

(This review is for a matinee performance that took place on September 5th, 2013. It is in performance until October 26th.)