Posts Tagged ‘Nick Payne’

Review – Incognito – Bush Theater

June 4, 2014

Who wasn’t left gobsmacked by Nick Payne’s Constellations? Writing a play that deals with the mutability of human relationships, the transience of life, and esoteric science seems a Herculean feat; to have it then be the kind of thing that made even the most jaundiced theater goers (me and OughtToBeClowns) cry, well, it doesn’t even seem possible. But it happened, and it’s kept me going to everything he’s done since, both the poignant and the, well, merely entertaining. Where would Incognito fall? I wasn’t sure, but I went ahead and bought tickets long before it opened, as I didn’t want to miss out. And hey! It meant I finally got to see the Bush Theater, which I’d been hearing about for ages but not attending as they’re really a hike from Tooting.

Incognito is one of those stories that is made up of several stories sliced together, with a few actors (four) playing about twelve or so roles. I was unsure about the timelines – some things appeared to be in the present, some had to be in the past – the 70s? Older? – and as the cast didn’t change clothes, I couldn’t really work it out. The accents were spot on, though, especially for the American characters, so I had little difficulty keeping track of who was who once they started talking – but when was when, now that is only becoming clear now that I’m sitting here with the script-program in my hands.

The actual individual threads aren’t particularly compelling – you see a scientist accused of infidelity and yet it seems trivial, and you should really care – but the bubbling connection between them, of what it is that constitutes human identity, is presented clear and gleaming like the head of John the Baptist, and taking that in and experiencing what it means, not to the characters but to yourself as a person, is what I think this play intends us to do. I, for one, embraced the task wholeheartedly, in part because it’s something I’ve been looking at my whole life. What makes us who we are? How do we define ourselves? Is it our brains? Is it our work? Is it all, in fact, an illusion? One character, a research psychologist, asserts that our brains take the chaos of the many moments that are our existence and choose to make an order out of them; that they practically have to in order for us to keep our sanity. (The common metaphor, as show in this New York Times article on free will, is a monkey riding a tiger – it thinks it’s driving but the tiger is making the actual decisions about where they go.) What happens, then, when the order breaks down, when we can’t make them relate? Do we recover? Do we lose it?

These questions are brought most vividly to life in the scenes featuring Henry the amnesiac. He meets (seemingly) the same people over and over again, forgetting their conversations about five minutes after they start. Wuth the cast not aging, we can’t tell if time is passing, and Henry doesn’t seem to, either: but he does notice when his wife disappears; later, we are told he has spent some fifty years constantly asking after her because he cannot remember she has died. You think this could maybe seem like a blessing, but for me the thought hit like a knitting needle in the heart; his grief hit anew every day. And on the days when no one would tell him what happened, he missed her all day long.

In the end, some of the strands wind together, but the sense of heartbreak and my feeling that we”re all just sad monkeys desperately fighting against the randomness of the universe with all the power of out little monkey brains would not go away. An excellent play, and one which well rewarded my trip to the wild, wild West (of London).

Mini-review – The Same Deep Water as Me – Donmar Warehouse

August 8, 2013

I’m not one much for following an actor from show to show, but I do enjoy seeing everything a playwright has to offer. This often leads to me being first in line to book tickets for some overlooked “classic” from Tennessee Williams or Henrik Ibsen; but occasionally non-dead playwrights also get the star billing in my theater world. Nick Payne is on that list, and when his new work (The Same Deep Water as Me) was slated to debut at the Donmar, I knew I wanted in.

I’m pleased to report that The Same Deep Water as Me displays the same flair for dialogue and characterization that his previous works (that I’ve seen, Constellations and When We Were Young). The plot is markedly different: the shyster school friend (Marc Wootton) of a young attorney (solicitor? – Daniel Mays) comes to see him at work to pursue an accident claim, and, well, things don’t go as planned. The four main characters – Andrew (the young attorney), his boss, Kevin (the friend) and his wife – are all very well drawn. Kevin is especially interesting because his attitude and speech are that of a much different type of person than normally appears on stage, with his gold chain, questionable morals, and get-rich-quick visions. It’s hard to see what his wife (Niky Wardley) sees in him – but then, it’s hard to see how Andrew could ever have been in love with her, or feel so snobby about her working at Marks & Spencer. Still, the wealth of details made all of the characters seem very solid.

This, of course, leaves the story. I felt it was … well, kind of unfinished, still. Things seemed to be building up plot-wise that didn’t happen; the really interesting character conflicts that started to surface never really came to a boil (other than in one brief flash at the end, which seemed to come from out of the blue). Did some important scene get left out? It felt to me more like it was never written, especially given the snappy two hour running time. I was expecting this play to really go somewhere, and instead it spent rather a lot of a time being boring in a courtroom. Well, who knows, maybe it’ll get rewritten later and something more interesting will come out of it. It was fine as a ten quid night out (love the Donmar’s pricing!), but, despite the title, this play never got deep.

(This review is for a performance that took place on August 7th, 2013. It continues through September 28th.)

Review – Constellations – Duke of York’s Theater

November 28, 2012

There are plays you dream of, and plays you wait for, and plays you give up hope of seeing ever again, as they swim into the depths of a pool of sold out shows and wasted time spent queueing for returns, nothing left but a closing date that flickers on your consciousness like the tail of a wily brown trout as it flies away from you, never to be seen again.

Plays, though, have occasional second lives, as very popular productions can be nearly immediately remounted in larger (and more remunerative) venues. I didn’t expect this to happen with Constellations, the Royal Court’s near mythic (amongst hardcore theater goers there are rarely so many tears) tale of love, loss, and physics: as an Upstairs show, it was at the fringes of public recognition – a new play by a newish playwright, a two-hander, even! It was hardly a crowd-pleaser like Jumpy much less a Cock (with its big name stars). So when, after weeks of trying to snag just a single ticket, I saw it had closed, I just closed down that little part of my heart that had been open to a night of amazing theater in an intimate environment. Constellations was the one that got away.

And then … It wasn’t. It was bundled with Jumpy and Posh as the Royal Court at the Duke of Yorks and suddenly they had a season and I had a second chance. But oh noes! It was in a BIG theater and oh noes! it wasn’t the sweet ticket prices that make the Royal Court a positive gift to us theater fanatic types. Yeah sure it wasn’t going to be the same, but hey, they were releasing 20 £10 seats a day, and wouldn’t it still be wonderful even in a barn? And at £10 and only 70 minutes, wouldn’t good be good enough?

The price may be too high (based on the 20% empty house – meant I could move myself into a less neck-craning spot than row AA), but I do believe the play is still very good. It’s a look at a relationship though the mirror of different concepts of time (helpfully explained by the woman to the man while they’re both drunk). Is there one universe with time happening linearly, or are there multiple universes all existing simultaneously where different things happen in each of them? Whether or not you buy the theory, it’s easy enough to understand the concept of, say, the 15 ways to people may or may not have met and become a couple at a barbeque. The universe where he was married and uptight? Not so much. The version where he is willing to try licking his elbow but is still married? You get to see some many junctions and conjunctions that it’s never clear what is supposed to be the “reality” of the show, but immensely fun to watch.

And then … And yet … It seems like, jumping back and forth in time (or perhaps across realities) that a narrative is happening, that amongst the multiplicities there is something important happening, and that the net effect is that actually, maybe we should care how the universe is shaped. It sound like it’s oh big scary too many hard ideas but it’s not, really, because in the end it’s all once upon a time, somewhere, there were some people that loved each other. And there are some balloons, and there are bees, and I’m afraid there were some tears, and maybe a few more balloons. And more tears. Two people alone in the universe. It could have/might/did happen. And I’m glad I was there for it.

Mini-review – “One Day When We Were Young” and “Lungs” – Paines Plough Roundabout Season at Shoreditch Town Hall

October 12, 2012

It’s been almost a week and I’m feeling guilty about not getting up my review of this excellent set of shows currently taking place at Shoreditch Town Hall. There are actually three plays in the Paines Plough Roundabout Season – Nick Payne’s One Day When We Were Young, Duncan Macmillan’s Lungs and Penelope Skinner’s The Sound of Heavy Rain – and I’d bought tickets for all three (they play together on Saturdays and Sundays, and you get a £15 discount off of the series), but the night before I got an email saying that Rain had been cancelled because of a technical problem. Fortunately, this was the first show of the day (rather than the one in the middle), so what it wound up meaning was that I got to have a nice roast on a Sunday before heading over to Old Street – I was a bit irritated about not seeing all three but actually feeling a bit intimidated about being in the theater from 2 to 9PM (as opposed to my initial WAHOO response), so all things considered, I started the day feeling quite good – but must apologize for what I consider to be an incomplete review of the series as I have not been able to fit the show in.

What I did see was two two handers, both of which moved me quite a bit, and quite a bit more than what I was expecting. I came in expecting One Day When We Were Young to be the star in the crown, and it started off deliciously simply – two young lovers getting together for a fun night before the man headed off to war (the Asian theater for World War II), with lots of flirting and fun and positively the most sexual scene I’ve ever seen on a theater – I’m sure the actors both had their underpants on but it was rather a LOT like watching a live sex show and if you were planning on taking a member of the family I would NOT advise it. Otherwise: actually really hot, and with the two virgins trying to talk through just how what they were trying to do was supposed to work, just incredibly charming, a scene that really built a connection and affection to the characters, and something I have never seen handled on the stage before. It was really well done and will NOT be seeing the local high school auditorium any time soon.

As it turns out, this was one scene of three, and I don’t want to ruin any more surprises, but all scenes feature the characters aging and having to deal with each other as their lives and expectations change. At the very end, the woman said something to the man that about broke me … that she needed him for emotional support because there was nobody left. Imagine being eighty years old, with children, and yet having nobody to turn to for support in a crisis. I may have felt put off by the stiffness of the second act, but I felt a universal human quality to the last. It put me in a melancholy state of mind as I headed out the door, clutching the button I’d been given to indicate my random seat allocation. Thank goodness Ian and Paul were there, or I might have gotten into quite a mope. Instead, we went to the pub around the corner, got some pizza and beers and had us a good old visit. Ah, yes.

Ninety minutes later and we went back, changing to some front row seats in the wooden arena (borrowed, I was pretty sure, from <I>Cock</I>, but with an extra row on top – there is NO room for anything underneath your legs so take advantage of the free, serviced cloakroom). We managed to get in shortly before Sir Ian arrived with companion – sadly he would not sit next to us (“I’m not allowed to sit in the first row”) and wound up somewhere near the top. We, however, had a great view of the next play (including being close enough to see Kate O’Flynn squeeze real tears from her eyes – impressive!), which was an intense, ninety minute nearly breathless dialogue between a couple.

Now, I am going to take umbrage at the sad justice done this show by its National Theatre copy, which would have, frankly, in its banality, kept me from seeing the show if I’d bother reading about it beforehand. Instead, read what I have to say.

Lungs is a show about how couples fail to communicate with each other despite being so close you’d think they tie each other’s shoelaces. The two characters could be described as “quirky” if you want to use lazy shorthand but would be better described as “realistic,” “flawed,” and “like a few people I went to school with and no longer invite over for dinner because one half of the couple is so self-righteous I can’t stand her and the guy defeats his own intelligence with his utter lack of backbone.” Despite the fact that, as a couple, they made me want to shout, “NO FOR GOD’S SAKE DON’T HAVE A BABY!”, the reality of their relationship was undeniable and became slowly, tricklingly, heartbreaking. Bad things happened, she broke, they failed to cope, and two people who clearly loved each other the way that trees love the sun crumbled into dust like a mummy’s hand. And then I actually felt bad for them, and what a pathetic situation they were in, and how heartbreakingly real it all was.

And then I realized I’d stopped feeling like I was in a play, watching actors mouth words written on a piece of paper. I cared, even though the people were irritating, even though there were some weird things going on (like the way they’d shift scenes by hours or months by just saying, “Hi, how have you been?” as if they’d ever actually stopped talking for a breath). Duncan Macmillan had taken me somewhere.

And at the end, it seemed, the world blew out of the auditorium, the light from the stage expanding out the cupola above me, all of the little sadnesses and disappointments that make up our tiny lives becoming universal, utterly transcending the theater in which we sat on a rainy Sunday night in October in a run down corner of an often unfriendly town. And I walked out into the night and thought about my own sadnesses, and fiddled with my little yellow button.

And it was good.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Sunday, October 7th, 2012. The Paines Plough Roundabout Season continues through October 27th, and you’d be a fool to miss it.)