Posts Tagged ‘Paul Ritter’

Review – Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time – National Theatre

July 26, 2012

“So I went to this PLAY and it was about this BOY and it had a lot of MATHS in it and it was REALLY COOL and I was in a PRIME SEAT so I had a PRIME NUMBER and I was Technetium and I was SPECIAL and then I won a prize.”

That is the eight year old inside of me trying to explain how excited and happy I was at the end of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. Yes, okay, maybe there were a few things nice going on outside of the two hours and forty five minutes I spent under Marianne Elliott’s control (I did, actually, win a prize, for having a name that added up to a prime number – in my case, 109 – and having the good fortune to sit in one of the “prime” seats in the first place … plus it was the middle of the most glorious week of the entire summer), but my joy was pretty much entirely caused by what happened inside the theater. So many times I go to see new plays, get my hopes up, am briefly suckered by some interesting design work, then WHAM, the true horror hits as I realize that all of that buildup has come to nothing: it’s a dud.

But not last night. Oh no. Curious Incident had the cool movement going (which reminded me of Earthquakes in London), really great projections on stage (well, on the floor) that absolutely added to the story (and which were added to by actual embedded lights, and chalk) and helped build the world of the protagonist’s mind for us and … er, for once, practically no set at all, at least not in the National’s usual way of telling us every little detail of the play by building it for us in an utterly realistic way. And this matters because all of it made a good play better. If you don’t know the book, it’s about an autistic boy who discovers a dead dog and then decides to solve the mystery of who kills it. Conceptually it’s a story about where this leads him, but I believe it is a story much more about what it’s like to be inside of an Aspberger-y mind; and also a play about what it is like, on a daily basis, to live with someone who is both highly intelligent and very, very difficult (and occasionally violent).

And the play just utterly succeeds. I’m not convinced that the performances were 5 star amazing (but since this was a preview, I’d say give it some time to cook), but the protagonist’s father (Paul Ritter) is heartbreakingly convincing – tender, frustrated, angry, loving, despairing. Luke Treadaway as Christopher doesn’t quite feel natural enough, but holds the stage well and in no way appears to overplay his character’s disabilities.

There is so much to say about how much I enjoyed this and all of the reasons why, but I don’t want to take away from the enjoyment so many people are going to have watching this show by telling too much. There are three coups de theatre that left me laughing with joy (before the interval), gasping with surprise, then finally crying (with joy again); I kind of think the director and design team deserve a special prize for making a crusty old burnout like me feel so excited to be seeing a show again. I left feeling high as a kite in the special way I only get when I see something new and wonderful at the very beginning; if nothing else, I was able to thank Nicholas Hynter personally for making this show happen. It’s sold out for the entire run so it may be hard to get a ticket: but it’s utterly worth the risk of day seating and of course regularly refreshing your browser in the hopes of returns, for this show must be seen and it must be seen in the Cottlesloe while it is possible, before it transfers (which it will) and while you can still enjoy the wonderful creation the National team has made for us in its lovely, intimate, black box environment. It will, of course, play in other houses, for this is a play I feel has a long future ahead of it. But in this place, with this design work and this cast, on that beautiful summer night, and in seat 43, I feel so damned lucky I got to see this.

(This review is for a preview performance that took place on Wednesday, July 25th, 2012. It continues through October 27th. I may just go see it again but I’d feel guilty taking a seat from someone else who hasn’t.)

Review – Living Together (The Norman Conquests) – The Old Vic (and soon The Circle in the Square Theater, NYC)

September 18, 2008

This show is being transferred to the Circle in the Square Theater in New York. Consider yourself warned!

Disclaimer: somehow, several years ago, I inadvertently watched Living Together (The Norman Conquests) on video back in Seattle. Normally I don’t watch plays on video tape, but I was broke (as I got this from the library it was free) and it was English and I figured it would be funny.

Well, it wasn’t. An utterly dull lead character, a rather silly sex farce plot … I turned it off midway and got to work on something more exciting (doubtlessly sleep, or possibly washing the dishes). I couldn’t figure out how it had just turned out to be an utter and complete dud, like a can of soda pop with no fizz, or chips that had gone stale in the bag. So the chance of any real surprises for this show were low. And yet … years later, its existence had slipped my memory. Title? Playwright? Nada. Zip. It was as if it had never happened.

And so, happily lacking a key bit of information about a certain playwright, I chose, back in December, to see “Absurd Person Singular,” which I considered at the time to be my first play by Alan Ayckbourn. In an unsurprisingly similar vein to the video I had once watched, my reaction was that … it was just so dated. I found it a real struggle to get through and really not particularly funny. The only consolation was that I went with the West End Whingers, a pair of guys I’d been dying to hang out with, as they seemed to be pretty sharp theater goers and also completely capable of knowing when to cut and run rather than insisting on punishing their theater companions while at a dog.

So another ten months or so rolls by, and yet I’ve still not made the connection about the video I saw years back and the lame play I saw in November. I was unable to properly weigh the value of watching Alan Ayckbourn versus the pleasure of a night out with the Whingers. So what did I do? When invited, I said yes, thinking perhaps Absurd Person Singular was a one-off dud. I mean, hey, this guy’s written practically hundreds of plays – everyone gets it wrong now and then, right?

The correct thing, apparently, would have been to have trusted my instincts about Ayckbourn being the Neil Simon of English theater and somehow to have REMEMBERED the horrible video I watched years ago. And yet … memory like a sieve, I forgot and I went. And if maybe the description on the Old Vic’s website rang a little bell, I just figured, eh, with a professional cast, this will be so much better, right?

Well, I’d say the only thing I got right about this evening was that it’s nice to hang out with savvy theater folk. I loved the lovely reconfiguration of the Old Vic into an “in the round” theater, until I figured out my seats were basically level with the head of the person in front of me; while I’m okay with not being able to see everyone’s faces in this configuration, I’m not okay with not being able to see them because I have someone else’s head in my face. But it was cool to see the rows of seats, like bleachers at the circus, lining the space behind where the stage normally is. I think it made the Old Vic a lot more fun.

Otherwise, well, the play is a dog. There’s just no getting around it. Who cares about Norman? (Stephen Mangan, nothing personal, mate, you did your best.) He’s not an interesting character and it’s impossible to believe anyone would want to sleep with him. Yeah, he does do some fairly comic lying and BSing, but he doesn’t seem to have any motivations behind his words or even behind his existence and didn’t seem the least bit believable. In fact, he was every bit as much of a dullard, a fizzless soda, a non-crispy chip, as he was in the horrid video. If only he’d killed himself like he’d been threatening to in the first act the whole thing would have been so much better!

Sadly, many of the doubtlessly undertheatered audience were laughing at the thin humor in this show. Now I’ll admit, the cast was good. In fact, I loved Amanda Root as Sarah, the uptight wife of Reg (Paul Ritter). She was completely inhabiting her anally retentive character, and when she finally flipped out at Annie (Jessica Hynes), I was lapping it up. But what was the point of this show? I was far more interested in the home made games that Reg was describing than anything else going on stage, though I got a little giggle when it became clear that Norman had (insert spoiler here). That said … what is the logic of the mountaineering game? It has sherpas, but what else does it have? Does everyone climb the mountain at the same time? Are there funny costumes to wear like for the cops and robbers games Reg had everyone playing during the first act? How do you win?

Now, the gimmick of these three plays (for there are two others) is that they all show different takes on the same weekend (description here). I wish that was an interesting enough reason to see them, but I think there’s a reason these plays haven’t been mounted for 34 years. In short: they are dated and they stink. Please save yourself the trouble and stay at home. Perhaps you too have dishes to wash or even some sleep to catch up on – better to do so in your house than in the deliciously reconfigured confines (and I emphasize “confine”) of the Old Vic.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Tuesday, September 16th, 2008. I have little hope that further performances will improve the script, so consider yourself warned. The Whingers’ take on Norman is also online.)