Posts Tagged ‘old red lion’

Review – The Local Stigmatic – Melies Productions at the Old Red Lion

May 16, 2016

I was intrigued by the invitation to see a play described as a “sinister, disturbing study of psychosis, fame, obsession and envy. Darkly comical at times, it reveals society’s fascination with ‘celebrity’ and the resentment it can provoke.” This is an ongoing problem in our society, where there are more celebrities than ever thanks to reality TV and social media. I mean, who had heard of a “fashion Vlogger” ten years ago? Or “noted pundits” without a newspaper column to their name? The Local Stigmatic seemed to offer a prescient look at issues I wouldn’t have thought existed fifty years ago … so off I went to the Old Red Lion to catch this show in person.

So: Soho, mid 60s, before the summer of love. It seems to be the tail end of the Mod culture. Graham (Wilson James) and Ray (William Frazer) share an apartment (with posters of bands and celebrities on the walls). Graham is obsessed with dog racing; as he talks to Ray, he begins to sound like he’s actually teetering on the edge of violent insanity. Why would Ray want to live with this nutjob? When they agree to go out for drinks, I fear that Ray is going to have Graham turn and beat the living daylights out of him.

But no. For some reason, they decide to go to Soho, where Graham decides to pick on a blind man (Tom Sawyer, who plays all other roles). Then he and Ray go to a club and set up a near total stranger for an attack. Why?

I watched this and found myself unable to buy into the relationship between the two characters at all. Graham seemed five minutes away from a flip out constantly through the show, and I can’t imagine anyone wanting to live with this nut job. Ray seemed ridiculously passive, then utterly willing to go along with Graham’s more violent side. It just didn’t make any sense. The person who got beat up – well, his responses were believable – but Graham was like a cartoon drawing of a real person and Ray seemed like an empty bubble. The overall effect was like watching a live action Clockwork Orange set in a dystopian past instead of a dystopian future. Maybe this was an accurate representation of some people at this historic period of time, but I found it wholly unrealistic (and a little bit nauseating – I don’t like violence). I left wondering why this play was revived, which seemed ultimately to make no more sense than Graham and Ray did. It’s completely blown out of the water by Barrie Keefe’s Barbarians, which came along 10 years later, and I’d say if you’ve seen the second you can give this one a miss.

(This review is for a performance that took place on May 11, 2016. It continues through May 28th.)

Review – The Liz and Dick Show – Dhanil Ali at The Old Red Lion

January 17, 2015

A million years ago, the first time I ever saw a show in London, it was something my grandmother picked: Little Foxes with Elizabeth Taylor. It wasn’t a show I cared for (or knew anything about) although I noted the audience applauded, just like they do today, when the aged actress walked on stage. “Her eyes are still so beautful,” my grandma cooed, although to me she was already no more than a character out of the tabloids: aging, leathery, and overmarried.

Still, thirty some odd years later, I was intrigued by the premise of The Liz and Dick Show: two in/famous actors, backstage, take the gloves off and really let each other have it. In my imagination, it was going to be something like Kiss Me Kate but with drugs, alcohol, and lots of swearing. Mmm mmm a down and dirty catfight between two people who really had chips on their shoulders!

In retrospect, though, I recognize that I really have no idea of what conflict existed between these two people, and just the vaguest idea of why their marriage ended (information probably gleaned from The Intimate Sex Lives of Famous People, which I read around the same time I saw Foxes). The play posits that they had a really strong sexual connection, but that Burton was constantly teasing Taylor – quite cruelly – because he considered her rather ignorant and not much of an actress. The scenes in which he mocks her (as well as stupid, he also keeps calling her fat) were actively painful for me to watch: this was funny? And there was Liz, seemingly unbothered by any of it. It was as if the actress had been told to look like Taylor, but the writer had neglected to give her a person to make come to life. The effect was of having a giant, drunk, tan doll on stage that someone else was trying to poke until he could make it come to life.

Was this play actually a realistic representation of how these two actors interacted backstage? If so, they were more tedious than I could have ever imagined. I think I learned some things about both of them as historical
figures, while never believing in the reality of the characters on stage. I was hoping for some catty fun, but in retrospect I’d be better off rereading my book and settling down to watch Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. Now that would be an evening well spent.

Review – Neil Bartlett’s A Christmas Carol – Metal Rabbit at Old Red Lion

December 15, 2014

Christmas is here! That means mince pies and pantos and paper crowns and presents! Lots and lots of presents! Spending money and getting things and STUFF and eating and drinking too much and fun!

And that’s it, right?

Or … maybe there’s a little something more to it.

The little bit more is posited in Charles Dicken’s “A Christmas Carol,” which I try to see at least once a year. Its message, which is, in part, that the poor will (probably) always be among us and that caring for them is actually a duty of being human, is one I find extremely relevant these days. As libertarianism, Ayn Randism, and other isms look out upon the poor and label them “scroungers” who deserve what they get, I can’t help but think this Victorian tale sounds as if it could have been written by a modern day Swift who wants to show us the ugliness underlying our opinions.
Christmas Carol

It’s hard not to see how these many adaptations have glammed it up and emphasized the ghosts and the noise and fun of this story: but, thankfully, in this production at the Old Red Lion we get a chance to see the story stripped down like an old piece of furniture: the knots and burls, the joins and the texture all brilliantly visible without layers of paint between us and it. We have six actors: a Scrooge (Alexander McMorran, weep that he does not sing more) and five others, and no Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come at all. The actors move fluidly from role to role, with only Scrooge staying the same.

The effect, in this small theater, is quite intense. We are forced to use our imagination, to see snow in tossed paper, coins in clinked chain, and generosity in handfuls of tinsel. It is a very effective Empty Space aesthetic, which comes home to me most painfully in two scenes. The first is the Cratchits’ Christmas dinner, which is a puffed up paper bag which the five of them tear to bits; their Christmas pudding is revealed, with great to-do, to be an even tinier paper bag, perhaps the size of a fist. It’s all so pathetic, the desperate scrabblings of a family who almost never get to have meat, and who won’t have more than a teaspoon of pudding each: I couldn’t help but think of that damned Baroness who said just a few days ago that poor people don’t eat well because they don’t know how to cook. Even Scrooge is horrified by just how little the Cratchits have to go around, but at least he’s not blaming their want on poor culinary skills.

Later we come to the scene where Scrooge sees a dead man stripped of his burial garments, to his horror. Normally this is done with Scrooge on the side with the Future Ghost watching a fake corpse in a bed, but in a “do less with more” moment we have Scrooge himself lying on the floor, his trousers and jacket being pulled off of him (he hasn’t been in his nightgown as is usual) by human scavengers who praise each other and vilify the man they are denuding. Scrooge’s paralysis, fright, and horror during this scene are palpable; and to have him end the moment wearing just his long johns physically shows us where Scrooge has come to mentally. His walls of protection, his emblems of status, have been taken from him, and now he is but a man, who must consider who he is in light of how he behaves toward other people. He has discovered not just that he is unloved and unwanted, but that he is a source of misery for others; and, indeed, that by his actions he could become far more than just a person who has put yet a bit more money in the bank. He now wants to create something of real value, something that holds meaning even when you stand alone and nearly naked; and to do this, he must act to care for his fellow man. He has been transformed; and in the 70 tight minutes of this show, it is difficult to imagine how more junk or people could have expressed this better. I can only hope that Baroness Jenkin herself might realize that instead of blaming the poor for their struggles, she should try taking direct action to alleviate poverty: to be a little less Marie Antoinette and a little more “God bless us every one.”

(This review is for an opening night performance that took place on Saturday, December 13th, 2014. It continues through January 3rd.)