Posts Tagged ‘paradise found’

Webcowgirl’s Best of London Theater 2010

January 1, 2011

Wow, what a year it has been. After resolving to see less shows in 2010, I wound up seeing more – 143 total versus last year’s 116. What was I thinking? Actually, this year I really upped the number of dance performances I saw (helped, as ever, by Sadler’s Wells’ fine programming), and though, at the end 2009’s 116 shows I was feeling grumpy and ill-treated, 2010’s cornucopia left me feeling exhilarated about all the fun to be had in London, even when you’re on a budget. The dance helped; it also means that my numbers of “shows seen” misses many of the shows my my more prolific show-seeing friends have attended. On the other had, I have more people to see shows with now, and I thought it was a year well wasted, so that’s what counts, right? Anyway, my list is based on what I saw, and not what I should have seen or what all is out there. Of all of the shows I went to, I paid for all but three of them, so there are limits to what I could manage. (Note: I’m waiting for my free tickets to The Children’s Hour as there is no way I can afford decent seat to this show.)

Best play performed entirely in a foreign language: this was almost Shun-Kin, a truly spectacular work of theater in the pared-down (Empty Space) vein I enjoy so much. But in fact, I walked out of the door of Sadler’s Wells babbling and giddy after seeing Yoshitsune and the Thousand Cherry Trees. I mean, come on, fox spirits and slow-motion sword fights! I was so glad that whoever ponied up the money to bring this production here from Japan (the Japan Foundation?) did so; I felt extremely lucky to get to see it. Kabuki rocks!

Most magical theatrical production of the year: When I go to a show, I pray a little prayer (just like Man in Chair) that it will take me away – make me forget I’m in a theater, let me overlook plot holes or cheap sets, just make the magic happen. This is what I hope for and it really only rarely happens. Sasha Regan of the Union Theatre must take baths in the stuff, though, because her threadbare rendition of dusty old Gilbert and Sullivan staple Iolanthe won me over all of five minutes into the show. And this, mind you, was with me sat behind an iron pillar. Take that, National Theater and your wastefully overproduced Men Shall Weep. Less really is so very much more.

Best play of the year: nominees are 11 and 12, London Assurance, All My Sons, One on One Festival, Shunkin. While London Assurance had the advantage of both a top-notch cast and a hysterical script (and was so good I saw it twice, the only show I did this for all year), and would deserve the best “play” of the year, the winner for this is the Battersea Art’s Center’s One on One festival, which was a game-changer for me, a theatrical experience I’ve been talking about ever since. Thank you to all of the people who worked so hard to make this event come together; next year I will try to come as many times as possible – if it happens again.

Most “so close and yet so far” play of the year: an hour into Earthquakes in London, I thought I was seeing the most original theater likely to hit the London stage in 2010. Two hours in, my ass had gone numb, and yet we were barely past the halfway mark. At some point between these two moments I realized I’d just been locked in a room to listen to a three hour long art school lecture on climate change, complete with dancing nannies, bad science fiction, and a fanatical devotion to the pope. Well, the last one wasn’t there, but you know what I mean, and God knows the show had no concept of a sense of humor about its topic. Mike Bartlett proved himself still a most competent playwright later in the year with Contractions, but this show had a lot to answer for, not the least of which was leaving a third of the audience on their feet for way, way too long. Of course, this wouldn’t have mattered nearly enough if it hadn’t also been preachy and dull. Please save me from this kind of self-indulgent, self-righteous clap-trap in the future: and please, let’s get the outstanding production values going for a more worthy show.

Best dance of the year: nominees are Maria Pagés and Company (part of the 2010 Sadler’s Wells Flamenco Festival), the Bolshoi’s Giselle, Bolshoi’s “Russian Seasons” mixed bill (Russian Seasons, Petrushka, Paquita pas de deux, not written up as I was gorging on dance and had no free time), Pointes of View (Birmingham Royal Ballet at Sadler’s Wells, also didn’t write this show up), and the Royal Ballet’s October Mixed Rep (La Valse / Invitus Invitam / Winter Dreams / Theme and Variations). This is a hard one because I saw so much great dance this year. Natalia Osipova totally sold me on the Bolshoi and made me willing to play the pauper for the rest of August and September (summer holiday? what summer holiday?) so that I could see her dance as often as possible. Nearly every mixed bill had one weak point, but despite the loathing I felt for “Winter Dreams,” the Royal Ballet’s mixed bill for fall 2010 was so strong I wanted to get right back in line and have another ride. This was impressive given that I’d just seen about five shows by New York City Ballet and found myself yawning. The Bolshoi brought the most exciting program of dance to London that was available this year, but on this one night the Royal Ballet showed its dedication to the past and the future of dance in a way that really, really worked.

Most “I don’t get why people like this so much” play of the year: seriously, why did people think Clybourne Park was so funny? Is racism amusing? The joke passed me by, I’m afraid. Makes me think Scottsboro Boys might go over better in London than it did in the US …

Worst scheduling catastrophe award: initially I thought of this category as my way of venting about The Mikhailovsky Ballet coming to London as the same time as the Bolshoi and then Carlos Acosta squeezing in a week of performances while the Bolshoi was still here but as it turns out, this was only hard on my wallet – eventually I gave in and bought far more tickets than I planned – and proceeded to enjoy myself tremendously. So, at the end of the year, this award actually goes to the Living Structures/Old Vic for the Cart Macabre fuck up, which meant that I was booted out of a show I had tickets to … and then was never able to reschedule in part because they had to cancel all of the last week of their shows. They never said why. I never got to see it. I am resentful.

Biggest barking dog award: there were the shows I walked out of at the interval (Maurice at Above the Stag, A Rat’s Tale at Lyme Regis’ Marine Theatre, the Sellador Dracula at the Greenwich Playhouse, none of which I reviewed), the shows where I would have walked out had there been an interval (Ingredient X at Royal Court, Pieces of Vincent at the Arcola, Headlong Theatre’s Salome, Passion at the Donmar, that misbegotten Nutcracker I saw at the Pentameters Theater), but I guess for true disappointment, you have to be willing to come back – or be kept from leaving – all the while desperately hoping you will get back the value of your ticket. Thus, the nominees are: Paradise Found, Carlos Acosta’s Premieres, and Punchdrunk’s The Duchess of Malfi. Net hit? £140 for three tickets. Net joy? Zero, other than the pleasure of trashing them here.

Biggest loser? While there were many worthy contestants, the most shocking failure of these three was doubtlessly Paradise Found. With a cast of such high quality and so many worthies involved with the show, you really just couldn’t have seen this one coming – especially if you saw it early in the run. Seriously, THANK the bloggers that give you a chance to steer away from icebergs like this – if we weren’t sounding an early warning system, you, too, might have been dunked for a fat wad of cash AND a bad night out. As it was, we headed off a Broadway production and probably saved the investors rather a lot of money. The rest of the people, their careers won’t be too stained by this disaster.

This leaves me wondering where this blog should go in 2011 – should I make more of an effort to review the dance I see? Should I do more essays? One way or another, I’ve discovered there are limits to how much writing I can do – limits caused by having a day job *sigh*. Ah well, it keeps me in tickets at least, and that’s what counts.

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Review – Paradise Found – Menier Chocolate Factory

May 23, 2010

As I sat in the bar of the Menier Chocolate Factory on an extraordinarily sunny Sunday afternoon, it was hard to describe the atmosphere amongst my 10 or so theater loving friends. Was it glum? Was it funereal? It was certainly creative, as we struggled to put into words the experience we had just lived through.

“The singing. The performers had good voices.”
“And their professionalism. They weren’t holding back. There was no sense of unwillingness or self-consciousness in their performances. They were really giving it their best.”
“The costumes were good, weren’t they? And many of the roles for older women were really good.”
“Oh yes, it was great seeing Nancy Opel on stage again.”
(long pause)
“You know what’s weird about this conversation? It’s like listening to people talk about a Thanksgiving dinner where you’ve burnt the turkey, and everyone’s, ‘Ooh, the pie was really good, I loved the pie’ or ‘Gosh you did a nice job with the salad …’ ”
“All while we’re all staring at the big burnt turkey in the middle of the table?”

Yep, that’s exactly what it was: a gigantic, horking, charred and smoking turkey carcass, and not an accidental turkey you blundered into while slumming in some pub theater (or at the National), but some well-financed, “we’re taking it on a trial run before it goes to Broadway” (I shit you not, it says so right here) with BIG names (Hal Prince, Susan Stroman, Mandy Patinkin) behind it, all of whom should have at some point stood up and said, “My God! We are all making tremendous fools of ourselves! This thing stinks!” (So badly, in fact, I fear the smell may creep upstairs and scare of patrons of the Menier’s cafe.)

It is hard, hard I tell you, to figure out where to start a level discussion about a play which I can say so little on the positive side of the ledger other than that everyone sang on key and I adored the costumes (kudos Judy Dolan, it was nice to see that money well-spent and from my second row seat I got an eyeful). The plot was some bizarre flip of Mayerling (fin de siecle Vienna, only everyone’s a happy hedonist) and Measure for Measure sprinkled with a hefty dose of The King and I; following a Muslim emperor and his eunuch (both claimed to be from Persia but were clearly both from Panto-land, where everyone is white and the women all wear belly-dancing costumes) as they try to get the emperor’s libido working again and the eunuch (Mandy Patinkin) learns about love by going to whore houses and sex clubs. We got to hear songs about love, about masturbation, about love, about pleasure, all sort of set to some waltzes …

but I stopped listening. The words came in my ears and then went flat, the songs failed to illuminate the characters in any sort of interesting way. I enjoyed the fun and raciness of the scene in “Club Bat,” where the Viennese were running in and out of rooms having little sexual encounters behind the curtains while lovely girls danced around in front …

but I’d long ago lost my interest in what the eunuch was going to do, or how he was going to interact with these people. Instead it was one scene change after another, clumsy throwaway dialogue, absolutely nothing of interest happening with our so-called lead character (other than him mopping his head repeatedly – I’m pleased to say there is AC in the Menier and it was working, so it won’t be so painful if you’re in the audience). It all winds up building to some weak switched identity thing …

which led to intermission, which I came back from …

… and then it got even worse and I wondered, my God, could they really take the male non-lead of act one and suddenly turn him into Pierrot Lunaire/Paul (from Die Tote Stadt), only we’re really supposed to believe he got a job at as an actor and he’s going to try to kill himself but then suddenly …

I’d say I’d worry about giving too much away, but instead I’ll relate this quote from our post-show recap:

“Wow, how about that last scene in the dressing room?”
“I don’t know, what did you think?”
“It was just so amazing, I was hoping it would never end?”
“What?”
“No, I’m kidding.”
“God, you had me fooled there for a minute. You’ve got a great delivery!”

I find myself relieved that this show came to The Menier Chocolate Factory before anywhere else, because I’m convinced that this massive pile of talent has the opportunity to something so much better – in fact, almost anything better – and with the money they saved by discovering what a horror they’ve given birth to BEFORE they blow a wad taking it to the Great White Way, there’s that much more hope for them getting their acts together and doing something worthy before Hal Prince kicks it. Gene Kelley never got another chance after Xanadu: Hal may still have hope.

Based on this show, I have coined this new name for the venue. The Menier: where dreams go to die. I mean, hey, I only had 30 quid and 2 1/2 hours invested in this; things could have been so much worse.

(This review is for a matinee performance that took place on Sunday, May 23rd, 2010. Please don’t encourage them to continue this horror by going to see it and let it die a peaceful death at home with its loved ones, thereby freeing everyone involved with it to get on with their lives elsewhere.)