Posts Tagged ‘patrick stewart’

Review – No Man’s Land – Wyndham’s Theater

October 26, 2016

On walking into my nosebleed seats in the back of the top balcony of Wyndhams, I thought to myself, “My god! I am sure I have seen this play before, and from an equally ridiculous vantage point!” On the stage a circular room with a bar at the back and handsome windows stood waiting for its occupants; and I remembered the exact same sense of vertigo mixed with a tiny bit of looking into a well from when I’d been to see it eight years back at the Duke of York’s. I could only hope that nearly a decade of watching Pinter would help me understand this play better than I had the last time, when I came away feeling menaced but unsure what the actual threat was.

Can I say my experience of London life since then means that now I know quite clearly what Ian McKellan was referring to when he was talking about the bushes of Hampstead Heath, and that I also now feel 100% positive that he, too, when he mentioned it, knew quite clearly what his character had been up to before he met up with the man hosting him at his posh Hampstead home? And certainly Patrick Stewart’s character has a poor memory, as he’s easily confused about just how long he’s known the drunken “poet” he invited back to his house. And the grousing match they get into about who was a bigger cad is a funny bit of dialogue wittily delivered.

But, really, just how good of a play is this? And did most of the people there care? I found the audience far too worshipful and think both of the gentlemen were strutting a bit, not feeling the need to try to give a good performance but merely to deliver comfort. The other two actors, playing some kind of servants, were giving their all, and I finally started watching them more because they were just more interesting. In the end, though, my feeling was that the whole show was a bit flaccid; but with the entire run close to sold out and premium seats over £100 quid each, my opinion will count for not a fig. I was relieved I’d only paid £25 for my seats, which is about the right price for what was essentially a “see the famous actors” circus; those who want to pay will and if you’re looking for a night of strong theater I’d advise you to fork over everything and go see Travesties at the Menier instead.

(This review is for a performance that took place on September 27th, 2016. It’s booking until December 17th: some seats can still be found, at normal prices, on the Delfont Mackintosh site.)

Review – Bingo – Young Vic

February 20, 2012

“You know what would be great? A play about Shakespeare! Not a play by Shakespeare, but a play in which he’s the lead character! Just think of it … we’d pull in all of the punters that would normally go see a Shakespeare play but want to push the envelope a little, flesh out the things they had wondered about … His life is so little known! I’m thinking … him and Thomas Marlowe in a pub! No, that would never work … let’s do Ben Johnson, at least they hung out together. They can discuss writer’s block! And get drunk together! Now, that sounds like some great theater!”

Nearly forty years after Bingo was written, I find myself wondering what the point was in remounting this weak show. Where we’ve gotten used to excellent wordsmithery (the ideal home for an actor such as Patrick Stewart), instead we are given an utterly uncompelling two and a half hours polluted by modern speech patterns, relationships, and concerns. Yes, the enclosure act was happening at the time this play was set, yes, Shakespeare left his (invisible in this play) wife a bed in his will, but I could not once believe the words that came out of the characters’ mouths had any basis in an Elizabethan reality.

And Shakespeare himself is set up as such a non-entity, his greatest acts (in this play) being 1) rolling around in the snow and 2) shoving the pages of his will under a door. Otherwise he says and does almost nothing while his daughter (Catherine Cusack) complains about how much better he likes his friends in London, and an important farmer with an improbably American accent (matching his Chicago school of economics nonsense at least) convinces Shakespeare to keep his yob shut in exchange for a guaranteed income. Meanwhile a sequence involving a homeless woman being gradually ground down by her inability to find work or a place to live (highly relevant to modern goings-on) seems to ultimately go nowhere, other than providing a set piece for the second half of act one; her effect on the people she has met seems to ultimately count for nothing in the arc of the story. And if this is the case, then what was the point in the first place?

Take out the boring and pointless scenes of this play and what are you left with? Patrick Stewart falling down drunk while “Ben Johnson” (Richard McCabe) talks to him about writer’s block. Does any of the rest of it matter? Not really. Stewart barely hits the levels he is capable of as his character spends most of the play mute. It was a shocking waste of talent all around. For your money, I’d recommend going to hear the bard’s own words at the Midsummer currently on at the Lyric Hammersmith; your time will be much better spent and you won’t end your evening with such a bitter taste of disappointment in your mouth.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Saturday, February 18th, 2012. It continues through March 31st.)

Review – A Life in the Theater – Schoenfeld Theater NYC

October 8, 2010

With only one week to see shows in New York, what was I going to see? I have been dividing my time between ballet and theater, but ballet was easy; there’s really only one place to go (City Ballet) and it was just a matter of figuring out which casts I wanted to see. In figuring out which plays to see, I used Steve On Broadway’s website, which has listings of new show openings, and picked from them … well, amongst other shows, A Life in the Theater, because 1) it’s by David Mamet, who I think writes good plays 2) it is only 90 minutes long, leaving me time to socialize with my hostess 3) it has Patrick Stewart in it, and he rocked my socks as Macbeth a few years back. So, tickets in my grubby hands, my hostess and I headed to Times Square and ducked down a little street (full of amazing theaters!) for our $75, 3rd row (but rather a bit off to the side) seats.

To my disappointment, the audience gave Stewart an ovation for the act of walking on stage. People! He is an actor, wait to applaud until he’s actually done some acting! However, once that was over, we settled down to a very pleasant show with a shocking lack of swearing (though it was funny to hear four letter words in such distinguished tones). The play is set up as a series of scenes between two actors, done back stage, on stage, in the wings, after the show, et cetera, though always in the theater. I thought it was going to be kind of “All About Eve” ish, with the young actor, John, (T.R. Knight) trying to step over the established pro Robert (Stewart); but the scenes they were shown doing on stage didn’t indicate that the younger really was ever understudy to the older. Instead, it was more about the older actor passing on the traditions of the theater to the younger one … but also about the younger actor rising up in his career and sort of getting to the point where the older one, rather than feeling superior because of his knowledge, is now feeling insecure because his career is fading in comparison to John’s.

However … this may have been a theme and what created the “story,” such as it was, but what I liked about this play was not the character development so much as the scenes they did when they were actually on stage during shows. There are a lot of things that can go wrong during a show, and I LOVE it when I get a chance to see an actor having to ad-lib or otherwise dig himself out of an unexpected situation on stage (like the time the power went off when I was watching a Theater Schmeater show in Seattle, or when the chair collapsed in Too Close to the Sun) as the tension is nearly unbearable. This show had several scenes in which the actors were forced to deal with a variety of such catastrophes, and while I realize these were probably not what this show was about, they were just so damned funny that, well, if I had any question in mind about whether or not to recommend this show, they’re what have pushed me over into the OMG so funny MUST SEE camp. Sure, the acting is good (Knight seemed fine but not amazing, Stewart glowed in his role, handling both comedy and pathos well), but what mattered to me is that it was a good night out, 90 nearly perfect minutes, absolutely up my alley as a topic, and some laughs like a cherry on top of the deep stuff. I think $70 was still too much to pay for this (given how spoiled I am by UK theater pricing), but I was really glad to have a chance to see this show and I’ll be pushing it to all of my friends as a perfect after work treat.

(This review is for the evening preview performance that took place on Wednesday, October 6th, 2010. A Life in the Theater officially opens October 12th and runs through January 2nd, 2011.)

Review – Macbeth (the Patrick Stewart one) – Gielgud Theatre

October 19, 2007

After spending the night thinking about what I’ve just seen, I have to say … it’s worth paying full price for this show. This isn’t “Patrick Stewart’s Macbeth,” it’s a fantastic, top-quality production of Macbeth that was so good at one point I heard the entire audience holding its collective breath for three minutes. I had goosebumps several times – never has the element of the supernatural in this play read more clearly. And this was also a play about evil, and it was very dark, even all the way up in the £20 seats.

The whole conceit of having the “weird sisters” played as nun-nurses was especially cutting, given the recent trial here of a male nurse who “chose when people would die,” as well as another story about NHS hospitals where the nursing staff told sick patients to lie in their shit because the hospital was more concerned about saving money than providing good care; it seemed very topical and extremely believable.

And the production values of this show were REALLY good. No silly “we need to make this hip for the young’uns” or “hey, let’s be cutting edge and use video:” instead, it was a single, static set that increased the claustrophobia (and yet performed as well as a dining room, a music hall, a train, a kitchen, and a hospital), lighting that served the show instead of itself, and use of (shock!) video that enhanced the story instead of calling attention to itself. Macbeth talking to a guard through an intercom and watching him on a security television? Totally believable. The … video of blood dripping across the walls? Ooh, baby, a white tiled set has never made me feel so creeped out before – it was like The Shining.

And the cast was good – the WHOLE cast (well, maybe not the ten year old girl), so this wasn’t Patrick Stewart’s “Macbeth” at all, like a lot of pathetic, celebrity-driven shows here. (Jessica Lange’s The Glass Menagerie proved you could ruin an excellenet script with weak casting.) The minor characters all had life – I mean, I saw them doing things on stage that made me think about them, and then they’d blossom to life later and be just as real as if the show had been about them. I remember seeing this done by a “Shakespeare in the park” group back home and it was all muddled who was who – but this was not the case last night.

Anyway, if you’ve been reading about how this is “the greatest Macbeth ever” or “the Macbeth of a generation” or some such overenthusiastic twaddle … I can’t say whether or not it was true, but I can say this is a truly great show. (I also enjoyed the company of , , , Mr. Mel, and – especially because now we can enthuse together and use it as a touchpoint for discussing how good or not other shows we see are.)

Four stars, baby. Go get your tickets now or join the people who said, “Yeah, I could have seen it, but …”

(This review is for a performance that took place on October 18th, 2007.)