Posts Tagged ‘Phil Wilmott’

Mini-review – Road Show – Phil Willmott at the Union Theater

February 23, 2016

It seems odd that the most recent musical by Sondheim (well, hardly recent: it’s been bouncing around since 2003) is making its second UK outing at a tiny venue like The Union Theater. But Road Show seems to be a troubled show with a troubled life. It’s been renamed twice, and it’s never really had a West End run.

What’s the deal, then? In fact, the musical is a bit of a mess. I mean, we start of the night with the jolt of a character coming on stage and singing, “I’m the one you fucked.” Is this all that was left, for Sondheim to choose to shock? The music, you can hear the Sondheim all the way through it, but the story … oh, the story. It’s kind of “backstage at Funny Girl,” the true story of the “lovable scoundrel” Fanny Brice married … though this is the story of two brothers of that era, one of whom gambled and swindled (and was popular – Wilson Mizner), the other of whom (Addison Mizner) was a bit of a wallflower and a failure until he takes up being an architect. The musical follows along their adventures, as well as covering their relationships with each other and their mother … and, eventually, with Addison’s lover, Hollis Bessemer. We cover a large swath of American history over the course of the evening, from the Alaskan Gold Rush to gilded age New York to land speculation in Florida …

… but it all seems to add up to nothing. The characters didn’t enchant me, the songs slipped away, the story felt as cobbled and mish-mashed as a four hundred year old English farm house. I imagined Sondheim wanted to keep some of the songs, but then let the plot get worked and reworked until there was almost nothing left, and this nothing is what we got to see. It was well sung, and the production did a lot to make the space come alive … but it all felt hollow, like Wilson Mizner’s promised investment opportunities. This show will sell out, I’m sure – it’s a must for Sondheim completists – but in its current form it simply isn’t suitable for a grander outing.

(This review is for a performance that took place on February 18th, 2016. It continues through March 5th.)

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Review – The Ring Cycle Plays – Gods and Monsters Theatre at The Scoop

August 25, 2014

If there’s one thing I like, it’s a bargain: and The Ring Cycle Plays, performed outside, for free, was really ringing the bells for me. And as a theater-obsessive, I feel a twang of guilt about the fact I’ve never made it through the Ring Cycle. In fact, I haven’t been to even one of the operas, because they’re always sold out and the prices are above Webcowgirl means. But I console myself that I don’t really like the music anyway and besides, the bunch of them are just too long, too much of a commitment, and for that much money I want to be sure I’m going to enjoy myself before I go. So here I got the opportunity to enjoy the story (hey, I like Norse mythology as much as any other … er, mythology nerd), skip the music, and pay not a penny.

Given that this is an outdoor event, I think there might be a need for a bit of a survival guide. First, it starts at 6: given that it’s 4 hours (plus) long, this is a good thing, but since I was coming over from Paddington, it didn’t work in my favor. However, they are perfectly fine with letting you in pretty much whenever you arrive, so it’s not as bad as being late at, well, The Royal Opera House. Second, AHEM it is outside (The Scoop does not get special covers for the event), so bring a few layers and consider water resistance when packing. Third, The Scoop is made of cement. I have to say, it really gave The Globe a run for the money in the bum breaking challenge, but fortunately we’d brought a picnic blanket which folded nicely in fours (and made a good warmer later). Fourth, while they sell food, I highly advise you to bring a picnic; all of those horned helmets just made me want to quaff mead and there’s a lot of comedy to be found in Doom Doom End of the World Doom as watched while eating popcorn.

As I arrived, puppet-tailed Rhinemaidens were floating around the bottom of the Scoop, begging the very round dwarf Alberich to give them back their gold. (I never figured out where they got it from, or how he knew it was there, but this is what you get for being late, I supposed.) Something about the high pitched voices of the women and the sort of “big movement” put me off – I mean, I think they were really trying hard to make some theater magic happen in this scene, but I absolutely wasn’t there with them. It wasn’t the best puppetry (it all looked a bit done on the cheap), and as the actors couldn’t hide most of the time I just felt like I was watching people wearing funny costumes and being silly.

Odin and Fricka then appear (Odin apologizing weakly for being what I’ll call a man-whore), and, while they were supposed to be gods, well, I kind of wasn’t buying it. Again. The scene was being set – Odin needed to sort out a bad bargain he’d made with the giants who were building Valhalla – and we’re introduced to Loki, who, despite wearing a red fright wig, was actually convincing a lesser god dealing with bullying and bad dealing by someone who ought to have been setting a better example – an interesting situation I wish had been more the focus of the play.

Next up was the scene in the dwarves’ lair, where Loki tricks Alberich with the old “ooh if you’re so magical why don’t you transform yourself into something small (so I can trap you)” trick that’s been used a million times. Great fun was had by the audience who are first asked to bang on pans (to create the workshop atmosphere) and subsequently terrorized by whip-weilding Alberich – you can’t wait for him to be taken down a notch! As Odin makes off with the ring (and its curse), I couldn’t help but think, “Oh hey, J.R.R. Tolkein might have had a bit of help when he wrote his little story, didn’t he?”

Unfortunately with the really broad acting and the difficulty in getting interesting characterizations when people are playing gods, for me the whole thing just came off like a summertime panto. This was not helped by Brunhilda, who had the legs of a leading boy and a costume that did its best to divert attention from the action in grand Peter Pan style. Whoa, I’m sorry! Are you feeling genuine grief about your dad casting you out from the gods? I’m sorry, I wasn’t listening to you talk!

I certainly got a kick out of things like the Albrecht actor licking his two “children” and the horribly mismatched Valkyries (including, once again, Albrecht, complete with wig), and I’m sure I would have loved the dragon … but I just wasn’t convinced, I was cold and uncomfortable, at at the second interval I bailed. I’d say it is worth seeing for free, if you’re properly prepared and don’t get rained on, but only if you don’t really have anything better to do and you’re not expecting anything particularly serious. Dramatic, yes, but … well, four hours long and camp as hell. It wasn’t for me, but I could see where it could be for a lot of people, and if you’re waffling, well, it’s easy enough to leave at any moment – which in my mind is always a plus.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Wednesday, August 20th, 2014. It continues through August 31st.)

Mini-review – Fair Em – Claire Evans at the Union Theater

January 14, 2013

In a year in which conservatism has taken over theatrical production, it seems reasonable that even the fringe would want to go but the tried but true – in this case, the “big name” (Shakespeare) with a hint of controversy (but is it by him or is it not?). This time, however, Phil Wilmott has gone not for a “possibly by Shakespeare” show (well, actually King John seems to be fairly secure in its authorship, it’s just not produced much), but a “well it was once in a pile of plays labeled “Shakespeare” so let’s see if this pulls in the punters” title. “Fair Em” ISN’T thought to be by Shakespeare by ANYONE. It is, however, quite reasonable to describe it as a show having its ” modern world premiere” in 2013. And why would this be? I will attempt to clarify in as simple a way as possible – by summarizing the plot.

So, there’s a really pretty girl, named Em (Caroline Haines). She is of noble birth but she and her father are pretending to be millers because of the political changes caused by the invasion of William the Conqueror (Jack Taylor). Being noble, and thus beautiful, Em has attracted suitors above her station – three, in fact. But wait, let’s not forget William the Conqueror. He is also in love – with a woman whose face he saw on someone’s shield. It’s Blanch (Madeline Gould in a comically horned headpiece), daughter of the king of Denmark! He goes there in disguise to woo her, but then falls in love with Mariana (Alys Metcalf), who has promised to wed another. Meanwhile, Em is struggling to deal with her suitors’ competition with each other, and in order to prove herself faithful to her first love, pretends to be deaf and blind to scare off the others, with the comic result that …

Are you lost yet? I promise you will be, even despite the costumes that attempt to keep you cleverly focused on PEOPLE IN DENMARK and POOR YET NOBLE MAKE BELIEVE DEAF GIRL wait DEAF AND BLIND GIRL wait BLIND GIRL wait … and then there’s some sort of a battle and … oh God, it was really all too much. As a bit of Elizabethan theater, Fair Em was like the Dumb and Dumber of its age – no doubt enjoyable at the time but my God, it just did not age well. Or maybe I just go to too much highbrow stuff – I mean, I wound up here because the Shaw triple bill at the Red Lion was sold out. But, you know, um … nice backdrop, and I do think the actors were really giving it their all. Perhaps we might dub this “cringe theater?”

(This review is for a performance that took place on Saturday, January 12, 2013. Fair Em continues through February 9th at the Union Theater.)