Posts Tagged ‘Old Vic Theatre’

Mini-review – Noises Off – Novello Theater

June 26, 2012

I can’t tell you how much it pleases me after going to one or two duds to then finally hit a show that’s really in its groove. I’ve read nothing but positives for Noises Off all the way back to before it transferred from the Old Vic, so I was hoping for a good time (and chose it specifically because I needed a pick-me-up). Still, I had a bit of dread heading into a show that was closing two months earlier than expected: would it have that leaden feeling so many shows under the hangman’s axe have?

Walking into a lobby full of perky people, there was nary a whiff of failure in the air (a bit surprising considering how many shows I’ve seen there that have gone into the turkey annals despite my enthusiasm for them). Folks were cheerful, upbeat, and generally acting like they were expecting to have a good evening – which made me wonder why the show was closing early. But given that the theater has three different balconies and that two of them were closed, I can see where the producers had decided it was time to call last round – a fact which in no way had dampened the enthusiasm of a Monday night crowd. In the auditorium, people were chattering in an animated fashion, explaining what to look forward to and expressing enthusiasm for the evening ahead. Clutching my dreadfully expensive ticket (£35 – ouch!), I did my “man in seat prayer” and hoped they were right.

What I knew going in advance was this was a farce about actors in a farce, and that some scenes are set backstage, while others are set on stage (I had heard back, back, front, but it was actually front, back, front). I didn’t realize that one of the scenes is actually a final rehearsal, which meant that the three scenes were all quite differently textured and paced (though the first act was a bit long). I also didn’t realize that the comedy of people performing a farce was going to be part of the hilarity of this play. Yeah, sure, doors and boobies hah ha; but when you turn it into the wrong doors backstage, insanely jealous actors and the wrong girl’s boobies (panties, actually), it just all becomes much more hilarious. You’ll probably not be laughing about sardines by act three, and if you’re me you’ll find the bit with the cactus a little hard to support mentally, but the scene where a man is hopping upstairs in a race to make his cue because his shoelaces are tied together just had me busting out laughing.

And, mostly, after the first act act was over, the whole show was a bucket of fun. The energy onstage never dropped; the feeling of commitment to the script was 100%; and the audience was utterly ready for every moment. Was this a show about to close? From row G, I wasn’t seeing it. I was only feeling sorry because I knew how close to the end it all was; like about a third of the people there, I would absolutely go see this again. You’ve got a few days still and there are good seats going cheap (especially if you get them in the gods as you’re pretty much assured an upgrade unless you pick Friday or Saturday night); try to catch it while you can.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Monday, June 25th, 2012. The last show will be Saturday, July 30th, 2012.)

Mini-review – Duchess of Malfi – Old Vic Theatre

May 19, 2012

Why, I wondered, would the Old Vic be hustling Duchess of Malfi tickets on every forum possible, promising two for ones, upgrades, free drinks, and what have you from shortly after the play opened? If you’d been trying to get a ticket for their long and popular run of Noises Off, this was a completely new experience. Previously, The Old Vic couldn’t get you a seat anywhere no matter how much you were willing to pay; but now they … if I was reading it right … they couldn’t seem to find anyone to watch their show at any price. Not very reassuring given that I’d bought the tickets weeks before opening and couldn’t exactly trade them in for something else.

If nothing else I was relieved that my crummy (and expensive) full price second balcony tickets were upgraded to stalls (row O!), so I didn’t have to be bitter about all of the people who had got better seats that me for less. As it turned out, we’d booked in for the closed captioned night, so the audience was full of people signing to each other from across the room. Being able to talk to someone in the first balcony when you were in the stalls without disturbing your neighbors – how neat was that! And there was a REALLY snazzy set on stage that looked like it was pulled straight from an early Renaissance painting made to demonstrate the principles of perspective – three levels of church-looking balconies inside of a stone box (on three sides) – I was reminded of the La Cuba palace in Palermo, inspiration for part of the Decameron.

However, instead of Classic Literature Done Live, what we got was … well, revenge tragedy, which was classic literature, only without any expectation of the characters to become interesting … or really to change at all over the course of the play, except to go mad. The bad people are pointed out at the beginning and stay bad (or get worse). The only character that’s the least bit interesting is the duchess herself, who is trying to have a life of her own in a society where, although a widow, she is still basically chattel.

Unfortunately one person does not an engrossing night make. I was assisted in killing time by the captioning screens, which allowed me to follow the dialogue more closely than I would have managed on my own, and by the incredibly inept person who left their cellphone on during the interval, thus creating a profoundly memorable moment as the Duchess is slowly strangled to the theme song of The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. It’s the small things, right? Otherwise, the best thing I can say about the evening (other than the wonderful company I had) was the scene near the end where the Duchess’ commonlaw husband is creeping through the ruins of a cloister, hoping to end the feud between the brothers Malfi and himself. As he speaks of his hopes for reconciliation, the duchess’ ghostly voice repeats back his words in an attempt to warn him off. Let me quote this to you:

ANTONIO: Echo, I will not talk with thee,
For thou art a dead thing.

ECHO: Thou art a dead thing.

I mean SERIOUSLY DO NOT GO INTO THE BASEMENT. But he has to, because is a revenge tragedy, and everyone has to die, and all you can do is just wait it out until the final curtain. But really, that scene with the echo, it was great, but I’ll probably tell more people about that stupid cell phone, because after two and a half hours of BLOOD BLOOD SEX DEATH EVIL MORE DEATH MADNESS SCREAMING a little humor was a thing of beauty, indeed.

(This review is for a performance that took place on May 15th, 2012. It continues through June 9th. This may possibly be a perfect production of this play, but I must remember in the future I do not care for the revenge tragedy. Maybe some day I’ll get to see Noises Off, though. I do like a good laugh.)

Review – Inherit the Wind – Old Vic (2009)

November 8, 2009

On Wednesday I went with J and Amy to see Inherit the Wind at the Old Vic Theatre. It had had fairly good reviews since its opening, and though that encouraged me to see it, the fact it was a dyed in the wool “old chestnut” and the rather painful cost of undiscounted tickets made me think that this was going to be yet another show at this venue I took a pass on in favor of a future, more affordable production. But Amy encouraged me, and, well, I’m really not too hard to convince to see a show (unless it’s something yawningly commercial, or an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, in which case I’ll choose reading at home over going out, even for free), plus she found some £15 seats “partially obstructed by a column.” I couldn’t help but think it was Kismet (even though it was actually not a musical at all), so off we trucked to Waterloo via happy hour at Cubana (two mojitos for £4.95, yum!).

The plot of this show is inspired by the Scopes monkey trial, a famous American court case in which a high school teacher was prosecuted under Tennessee state law for the heinous crime of teaching evolution (and out of a biology textbook, too), but with the name of the teacher changed as well as the state and other pertinent details to make it clear it’s merely “inspired” and not “based on.”

It’s billed as a courtroom drama, and much of the best dialogue does take place as arch-conservative and bible thumper Mathew Harrison (David Troughton) attempts to grandstand during his various witness examinations , while defense attorney Henry Drummond (Kevin Spacey) fights back by arguing that the law itself is unjust – not that his client is innocent. In short, it’s “uphold the moral fabric of our society” versus “man must be allowed the freedom to think his own thoughts,” conservatives versus liberals on a stage of their own making, with nary a lick of true concern for the person in danger of imprisonment.

While this revival was done in honor of the 150th anniversary of Darwin’s “Origin of Species,” in fact the core conflict between science and “the beliefs that uphold our social values” has just recently proven itself very much alive with the dismissal of David Nutt for scandalously asserting that alcohol is more dangerous than marijuana (somehow using. science to support his beliefs, rather than toeing the government’s anti-drug line). Will people in power use their efforts to suppress the views of those whose opinions counter their policies even when science backs them up? All I can say is, if he’d been Copernicus, you can damned well bet they’d have been lighting a bonfire to burn him on.

Ahem. Anyway, the story was deliciously topical, but, even better, the story was much more than just two lawyers duking it out; there was also a great underlying conflict between the teacher and his girlfriend Rachel Brown (Sonya Cassidy), the daughter of the town’s preacher. She wants to please her dad, but also wants her boyfriend to just say he was wrong so things can get back to normal. Unfortunately, Cassidy played the role just a bit too hysterically. Where was her arc, where her ups to go with her downs, where her middle? I could sympathize with the point of view she represented – and she did make the townsfolks’ attitudes seem more plausible – but she was just an actress saying lines on stage and never really came to life as the character

To some extent it seems she was taking her cue from Mr. Spacey, as his Henry Drummond was, every limping, shuffling, hunched-over minute, an actor who was playing, not to the back of the stalls, but to some point across the street (possibly La Cubana). I couldn’t figure out why he had to be so heavy-handed – the Old Vic isn’t exactly stadium-sized. Troughton, in comparison, was most perfectly the larger-than-life character that one would expect a washed up, evangelical, former politician (with current political goals) to be – his was a life lived as if on a stage, and his performance perfectly captured the reality of this type of personality. Perhaps Spacey felt the need to upstage him, but his clumsiness failed to hit the mark, and when even the preacher hit his role better, Spacey was left looking like the weakest point in a fairly good evening.

The entire production benefited from a gorgeous, realistic set with amazing depth, and a staging that included piles of Americana – church singing, outdoor suppers, lemonade stands, and prayer meetings, to name a few (and impeccable accents other than Nutt’s occasional slip into Brooklynese). The singing was actually enjoyable – one of the few times I’ve seen a play done with music that added to the production instead of feeling like a clunky afterthought. It all felt very … well, professional, very much English-style theater. I can see why it’s been packing in the punters night after night, especially the school groups (whom I imagine running home to laugh about those backward Americans and not so much actually discussing Darwin like I imagine their teachers hope they will). But what bothers me is that it seems not nearly enough people are actually taking home the real message of the play, of the value of conscience over the will of the state, and of the never ending conflict of science and “hysteria knows best.” At least, I like to think, amidst the shame of the still ongoing battle about biology instruction in America as the church tries to take over the state, we’re at least coming out as a country where people will take a stand against unjust laws, and people will stand up for science no matter what lawmaker finds it inconvenient. I can only hope people in this country do the same.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Wednesday, November 4th, 2009. Inherit the Wind continues at the Old Vic through december 20th, 2009.)