Posts Tagged ‘Old Red Lion Theater’

Review – Botallack O’Clock – Third Man Theater at Old Red Lion Theater

January 25, 2016

Plays about artists. How do you do it, really? How do you show the creative process? Playwrights, well, they’re easy; and for some reason people have tended to think (especially in film) that painters can be shown … well, by showing them painting. But that’s not really showing the creative process. And I don’t think showing them dealing with their personal relationships really captures it either. So this play, to my relief, has taken a completely different approach to showing how an artist works.

But first, a little background. Roger Hilton was a painter who lived in the Cornish town of Botallack from 1965 until 1975, when he died. This play is set at some point during the last two years of his life, which he spent essentially living in his bed and painting over its side, onto sheets of paper on the floor and, apparently, drinking like a fish. It’s the wee hours of the morning and Hilton is bouncing around his flat my himself … well, more like flopping that bouncing. He’s talking about what he has to drink, he’s talking about the little things that interrupt his thinking, he grumbles about the cat drinking his paint water. And then he turns on his radio, and he starts talking to it.

Hilton’s ramblings (as imagined by Eddie Elks) cover a bit about his life and a bit about his art, but what I think they’re doing on a bigger level is showing the leaps that the artist makes from one idea to the next, from the mundane to the bigger arc of life to what it’s like to be an artist to … well, everywhere. To Lear, to women, to bears, to Beethoven. All of these things make the soup that forms his brain and somewhere out of this the art comes out. As a work of written theater, it’s quite a feat to string so much randomness together, but, as a work of watched theater … well, there may have been an arc but I didn’t see one for the character or a story; it was just like bobbing around in somebody else’s brain. Dan Frost was very convincing, but I found myself not really happy at going on this ride; rather, I was restless. What I think Botallack O’clock has created is a very convincing imagining of what really goes on in the mind of an artist; I’m just not convinced that I wanted to go on that trip with him.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Thursday, January 21, 2015. It continues through February 6th at the Old Red Lion.)

Preview – The Xmas Carol – Vulcanello Productions at The Old Red Lion

December 10, 2015

It’s that time of the year when I try to hit my three holiday touch points – one Nutcracker, one Messiah, and one Christmas Carol. Two years ago I went a bit overboard and saw three, and had this revelation: this story matters, not because times have changed since it was written, but because they haven’t. The rich still put themselves above the poor, and think they deserve what they get; in fact, the entire politics of the previous five years has been about putting the poor down for not having enough money, depicting them as scroungers. A Scrooge today wouldn’t just not give money to the poor, he’d help write a law that would take away Tiny Tim’s wheelchair … and his dad, if he were an immigrant. Maybe they could turn to reality TV to make up the difference in what they were legally denied … but chances are, they’d just never get it.

This, then, was my inspiration for writing The Xmas Carol, a modern-day political satire inspired by Dickens’ classic. I thought I’d seen it enough times to understand it, but now, wow, I can tell you I know it inside and out. And I still think it’s a story that matters – not just because of its great characters, but because of its great message, which isn’t about Christmas – it’s about the enduring value of caring for one another. I think it’s gone a bit out of style, but I’d like to change that, so I wrote a little play about it, and this Sunday and Monday it’s going to be happening at The Old Red Lion.

It would be nice to see you there. Won’t you join us?

(I apologize for not blogging much over the last few weeks, but, really, this show thing has been keeping me really busy. Don’t worry, I’ll try to make up for it in the next 10 days.)

Review – A Naughty Night with Noel Coward – Old Red Lion Theater

August 13, 2015

Frankly, it doesn’t take much to convince me to watch Noel Coward, but if I’d known in advance I was getting in two saucy plays in less than an hour, I would have beaten down the door of the Red Lion instead of waiting as long as I did to see it. I enjoy Coward’s writing quite a lot, but the chance to see some works that might have set off the censors really caught my attention. I mean, Coward has a reputation for raking up trouble, for dropping hints of (some of) his characters’ bisexuality and treating the “state of matrimony” as more of a “state of mind” – but in his mainstage shows, you barely get a hint of actual scandal. I’m pleased to say this sense of restraint is utterly discarded, like a filmy negligee,

The first play, “We Were Dancing,” had me laughing from about two minutes in, when Louise (Lianne Harvey) attempts to introduce the man she’s fallen madly in love with and realizes she doesn’t actually know his name. I thought it was hysterical that she could actually think she was in love, but her husband (John MacCormick)’s attempts to negotiate this field of landmines was even more funny. I felt we were supposed to double Louise’s ability to actually understand her emotions – the new beau, Karl Sandys (James Sindall) also claims it’s love – and in some ways the ending is both a bit of a relief and a reassurance to the audience that we were right to have doubts. The actors played it all very straight, which made it even merrier. Have a nice stiff drink beforehand so you can join in the fun.

Lianne Harvey and James Sindall

Lianne Harvey and James Sindall


Next up was “The Better Half,” which, per the program notes, was written for the London Grand Guignol theater. Although this is, once again, a play that makes fun of the institution of marriage, it’s actually quite valid in Grand Guignol due to its focus on manipulation and violence. However, the possibly depressing (or murderous) tack this could take is overwhelmed by Alice (Tracey Pickup)’s focus on the self-congratulatory, prideful smugness of her husband (Stephen Fawkes) – don’t we all know people like this, people who are so obsessed with being accepting and understanding that you just ache for them to get mad about anything, once? I certainly sympathized with Alice – although she was frighteningly sanguine about her husband’s teetering on the border of infidelity – and found the ending extremely satisfying. If only I could have jumped in and given the characters a little slap!

Adding to the general atmosphere was some very nice work at the piano from Mr Tom Self and a pair of songs from Mr Coward’s oeuvre – poignant and lovely to hear. So much entertainment and all over in about sixty minutes – just in time to refresh your drink. I’m sure Noel would have approved.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Saturday, August 8, 2015. It continues through August 29th.)

Review – Portia Coughlan – Aria Entertainment at Old Red Lion Theater

May 6, 2015

Although Portia Coughlin is a revival of a show that previously played at the Royal Court, I knew nothing about it – 1996 is a million years ago in theater time. So I’ll give some background and plot to help you out in deciding whether or not to see this play, but I’ll try to make it fun.

Step RIGHT UP to the amazing FREAK SHOW LIFE of PORTIA COUGHLIN (Susan Stanley), supposedly irresistibly attractive but clearly just a MESSED UP ALCOHOLIC. Meet her CRAZY CIRCLE OF FRIENDS that make absolutely no dramatic sense including THE WARM HEARTED ELDERLY HOOKER (Veronica Quilligan, who easily steals the show) and her AMAZINGLY TACKY YET WELL LOVED BIRTHDAY PRESENT (a ceramic horse “from the garden center,” which Portia prefers to the diamond bracelet her husband gave her earlier). WITNESS A CAVALCADE OF GOTHIC SECRETS as we discover PRETTY MUCH EVERY CHARACTER HAS SLEPT WITH ANOTHER including the brothers and sisters DOUBLE DOUBLE INCEST TROUBLE!!! SEE Portia try to strangle her mom WISH Portia would strangle her granny BE AMAZED as Portia zig zags from one emotion to the next. WITNESS credulity-defying over-salting of the plot! GASP at the clothes everyone wears to the funeral! And finally … LAUGH as Portia’s blind best friend invites a barkeep to screw her in her eyesocket!

The surprising thing about this play, in retrospect, was how very strong I found each of the performances, from the alternately dead-eyed/totally mad Portia to her warm, loving best friend (Karen Cogan), from the sleazy barman (Conan Sweeny) to Portia’s bitter mother (Susan Cummins). Each single one of these characters (and there were about ten) was vibrant and believable, absolutely conning me into believing they’d only ever existed as the person I saw on stage and not as an actor. But the story itself, the way we were thrust into so much misery so fast, just killed my ability to buy into what was happening on stage. Really, there’s enough bad news to sustain a year long TV series, but far, far too much for a seventy five minute play. The characters go careening from one peak emotion to the next, switching from highs to lows faster than a barrel racer at the rodeo, and I just couldn’t go along for the ride. And then, while I couldn’t fault the accents, the depiction of Irish townsfolk as being “mystical,” “in tune with the supernatural,” “loose,” “violent toward women,” and, let’s be honest, a pack of drunks, seemed to me like the grossest kind of stereotypes that stained the play so much that the perfectly executed accents could not polish it clean again. There must have been about five plays jammed into this one work, one play about dealing with loss, another play about a mystical relationship with a river, and a really great little play about an elderly sex worker and her charming autumnal romance. The whole thing needs a serious rewrite by Marina Carr, and this script should be relegated to the “things wot inspired me to do other things” bin and not restaged again – it’s just too hopelessly flawed. Except for that one line about the eye socket – that will live forever.

(This review is for the opening night performance that took place on Friday, May 1st, 2015. It continues through May 23rd.)

Review – The Verb, “To Love” – Aria Entertainment at Old Red Lion Theater

May 3, 2015

I booked myself in to see The Verb, “To Love” knowing absolutely nothing about it other than it was a new musical. I love musicals, I very much support new plays, and I especially support new musicals because if we don’t get out there and make audiences for them, people are going to be afraid to put them on. So I showed up all bright eyed and bushy-tailed, but inadvertently set myself up as an object to be mocked by the musical, and even created an audience of one to watch a parallel comedy taking place in the the audience starring me. Yes, I was at the Old Red Lion on an internet date, a fact which I shared with another critic, Jordan (it was opening night so many of us were there), as a sort of an icebreaker while I sat and nervously nibbled on a cupcake. This meant that, no matter how you sliced it, I was absolutely the target audience for this play – practically the subject of it – or perhaps I’m being too maudlin. I think what I’m really saying is, despite this play seemingly being written for a very specific audience, it is, in fact, quite universal – at least, if your universe consists of being a middle aged saddo attempting to rebuild his or her life after the rather catastrophic end of what had seemed like a life long relationship. This is all verging heavily into oversharing, but hey, this is a blog and I’m not a professional critic, so sometimes you get some backstory and sometimes I talk about my cat and isn’t this the great thing about not being beholden to advertisers – it’s just me and, what, my thirty or so readers, none of whom (hopefully) see me as the horrible failure I often feel like outside of the pages of this blog. And what I was looking at on stage was someone who looked a whole lot like me, but was a gay man. Simon, I feel your pain.

If you haven’t managed to turn this first paragraph into something mimicking narrative coherence, I’ll give you a plot summary: The Verb, “To Love” is a musical about a middle aged man trying to rebuild his life after the end of a 20 plus year relationship. He manages to pull a much younger man, and we are taken on the entire arc of this experience, from seeing his “Two Eyes in a Doorway” to a long period of questioning if they were more than friends, then questioning if they were more than friends with benefits, then to questioning if it were actually love, you see how we’re going here? It’s almost entirely a one person show, and with so very much input from Simon (Martin Neely, effortlessly believable and a lovely voice) we’re able to follow very closely along with his heart as he goes on this emotional journey. There’s a lot of struggling with the age difference, but it turns into a struggle about how his career seems to be taking a back seat to his partner’s, and a whole host of associated feelings with that (especially regarding moving houses) that seemed remarkably universal, but, oddly, not the kind of thing I think I’ve heard as the subject of a song in a musical, or even in a play. Relationships are really complex things, and the emotions that accompany them are so much more than you get from, say, Rogers and Hammerstein – I found myself really pulled in to this story, which was the kind of soul baring you might only get from your very best friend and even then quite rarely because, well, it’s embarrassing to be as honest and imperfect and insecure as Simon is.

And then, shockingly, it was over. Well, not the musical, but Simon and Ben (Gareth Bretherton, the pianist, who couldn’t have surprised me more when he started singing than if the spider plant itself had struck up a tune), and although we could have stopped the musical there, instead we get to go on another journey with Simon as he tries to deal with his grief (and the joy of going from “I have to rebuild my life from scratch” at the beginning of the musical to “I’m just too old to do this any more,” and, brother, have I ever been there). We get to see some real ugliness (and hear an extremely modern song, “Talking/Stalking”) as Simon tries to sabotage Ben’s new thing via Facebook, then get some real comedy as Simon tries to give his heart a push start with “Online Dating.” The room was getting very warm, I was realizing I couldn’t talk about any of this stuff with the person sitting next to me, and I was thinking, wow, I’m at a musical that both in style and substance is truly 2015, capturing so many of the details that mark how life is being lived now, in fact, how I’m living my life at this extremely uncomfortable second.

This chamber musical was a real treat, tying my heart in knots no Boy Scout could unravel. Or maybe the knots were there when I walked in, but Andy Collyer had just found the words to describe them better than I ever could have myself. I only hope I can have my interior musical end on such an up head space as “Strong Alone” – but since the night ended with my date running off (hayfever set off by the astroturf on the set, apparently) and my new critic friend and I having a good laugh together, perhaps there’s hope after all.

(This review is for a performance that took place on May 1, 2015. It continues through May 23rd.)