Posts Tagged ‘Pleasance Theatre’

Mini-review – Civil Rogues – Pleasance Theater (London)

September 5, 2014

Let’s be honest: Civil Rogues is not Wolf Hall. It’s a comic look at a bitter period in English history where theater was crushed flat and people spent a lot of time killing each other (an obvious choice, yes?). The destruction of the rich theatrical ecology of the Elizabethan period was one of many of Cromwell’s goals: and, actually, it was something I’d not seen on stage before, so it had the interest of novelty. And the whole thing seems done a bit hastily and without a whole lot of effort being made in the historical accuracy vein under what I assume were the pressures of getting this puppy on the road in time for Edinburgh. God knows they skipped making any sort of proper ending!

On the other hand, this bizarre hybrid of Shakespeare in Love and The Play That Goes Wrong shares the raw love of the theater that powers both of those plays, and, combined with the rather powerful acting of most of the cast (the three “skirt” actors were all rather impressive), I found myself feeling forgiving about a certain sloppiness in the script and a lack of discipline in the language. The characters were genuinely engaging, the use of Shakespeare to move the plot forward entirely plausible, and we had to just agree that the plot only existed to create an excuse for the play in general to happen and had no relationship to reality. End result: totally enjoyable theater, affordably priced, with lots of laughs. Yeah, sure, it had a whiff of amateurism/fringeishness to it, but with an 80 minute run time, I found it called for more praise than forgiveness.

(This review is for a show that took place on Friday, September 5, 2014. It only runs through the 7th so get your booty over there.)

Review – Office Party – Mick Perrin for Just For Laughs Live at the Pleasance Theater

October 23, 2011

DISCLAIMER: This review is for a show for which I received free tickets. And which I left before it was over.

“Hey! How’d you like to come to a free show at the Pleasance? It’s called “Office Party” and it’s an interactive experience …” On my calendar was nothing more than an aspirational space for Driving Miss Daisy, which, truth be told, is not really something the Life in the Cheap Seats budget has been able to squeeze in. So I said yes, and invited a friend to be my plus one.

The day of the show arrives and I have got a tremendous cold. I’ve gotten past the body temperature fluctuations and am now at the endless sniffling and lack of energy stage. Of course, I made it to work earlier, and in keeping with the best office tradition, I am propped up with Day Nurse. I’d said I’d go, I promised to write a review, so by gum I was going to show up – just like I had at work. After all, with many office parties, it’s not really about enjoying yourself, it’s about showing you’re willing to make an effort – right?

It was clear at the beginning that many of the performers were scattered amongst us – greeting us as we dropped off our coats, visiting when we got our name tags ( and were assigned to various departments – I got put in Marketing). The it was time to sit and have a (free) drink while we waited for other people to show up. We talked about … nothing. Plays. Work. Crap. We were getting bored.

Finally, the event started as we were split up into small groups and led off to meet the other members of our work groups. My group was shown a movie and given the task of coming up with a jingle to sell the company. I wasn’t engaged. We were given some small glasses of punch, then hustled back through the bar area to the main party room (the large stage at the Pleasance), where the rest of the the divisions slowly congregated. In this room there was a cash bar, a large danceflor, a DJ booth, a curtained stage, a raised stage across from it, and a balcony area overlooking it all.

There was some dancing. There were some group games. There was a performance in which someone (Ursula Martinez?) lip synched a song dressed half as a man and half as a woman. There were more contests. We were encouraged to dance. The head of the company spoke to us (and behaved inappropriately). We saw office politics in action. The actors intermingled and stayed in role. There was more cabaret. My husband ate a donut on stage.

Looking at my watch, I saw that after 2 hours I had got to the point where I regularly get with office parties: I was bored. I didn’t want to play games, I certainly didn’t want to dance, I didn’t feel like standing up and drinking, and I was sincerely disappointed by the deliberately bad cabaret performances. I’m sorry, but I’m a sophisticated theater goer, and this wasn’t hitting my bar. Now read this description (from the Time Out promo for Office Party):

“Get ready to be recruited as an employee of a fictitious company and where you will be witness to all the hilarious activities at this riotous annual party. Immerse yourself in the surreal world of Product Solutions Head Office and let your Head of Department take you on a wild night out involving outrageous comedy and cabaret.”

Hilarious? Surreal? Riotous? I WISH. I got an update from two people who stayed (it only went for another half an hour) but I don’t see how even in that time they could have possibly crossed the barrier to making me care. I wish like hell the stage performances had been outrageous – instead they were flat as a joke about boob jobs gone wrong. Just naked doesn’t cut it. Even naked audience members isn’t enough. In fact, the whole thing was just too much like a real office party for me – an event I typically avoid. Since the evening was organized by the co-producer of La Soirée, a production I really enjoyed, my hopes were much too high. Still, there was just nothing for me to enjoy. Two other girls who had been there were on the same platform as me on the Tube and we shared our joy at escaping. Thank goodness it was free – my one consolation in an evening poorly spent.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Tuesday, October 11th 2011. My cold continued to torture me for another week after I left. Office Party is booking until January 21st. Alternately, I see La Soiree is actually back starting from November 23rd – perhaps you should see it instead?

Review – The Mercy Seat – Glowbox at the Pleasance Theater

September 2, 2011

What if something happened that could change your life forever?

What if, instead of it being something good (like winning the lottery), it was a disaster?

What if it meant you could walk away from your life?

Would you do it?

This is one of the key questions that is asked during the play The Mercy Seat. Billed as Neil LaBute’s 9/11 play, in fact it’s only peripherally about 9/11 – its situation is as easily transposed to a tsunami or an earthquake. I’m grateful for this as I didn’t want to see a show that had me reliving the devastation of that day. And it was supposed to be incredibly controversial, I’m guessing because it has some explicit discussions of sex. But it wasn’t wallowing in the disaster and it wasn’t in anyway pornographic.

Instead … well … Okay, I have to tell you, I’m going to put in enough spoilers that you should stop reading here if you don’t want some important plot points discussed. Summary: very good, do go. And stop reading here if you want it your experience to be almost entirely a surprise.

Back to the review. Instead of being about people screwing their way through the devastation (which I was kind of expecting), it’s a cold and painful look at the way people lie to themselves and others about what they want and why. Two lovers, Ben (Sean O’Neill) and Abby (Janine Ulfane), are holed up in her apartment the day after the blast. At first, it seems like Abby is being a complete hardass with Ben, hassling him for lying on the couch in a completely believable state of shock while she’s out trying to get them some food when she thinks he should be helping with the rescue efforts. But as the story unfolds, Abby starts delving more explicitly into what is going wrong with the two of them and why Ben’s wild plans seem utterly senseless. Her dissection of their relationship – while he loudly insists that if the sex is good, then what is there to be wrong, and he knows it’s good – captures perfectly not just their own strange mental states but the insecurities and lies they’ve been telling themselves and each other to keep things going for the last three years.

What blew me away about this play was Neil LaBute’s effortless creation of naturalistic dialogue and characters. I spent an hour and forty minutes watching Ben and Ellie bicker, tease, berate, kiss, push, and question each other, and not once did I feel like I was listening to something written. The actors have to take credit, too – Janine Ulfane and Sean O’Neill were on stage for the entire time and they didn’t let up. In fact, they kept the pressure on so tightly I felt like just anything, just anything, might happen between the two of them in this lawless space where death was at the front and all the known rules of the universe were suspended.

I was worn out at the end of this show but excited about what I’d just seen. This is a timeless play despite having a very specific setting, and very much worth reviving. I’m really pleased I got to see it for free as a guest of Glowbox, but at £12 it’s a screaming deal despite the occasional bad sightlines and sound quality in the Pleasance and at 1:40 it still gets you home at a good time. In short: go.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Thursday, September 1st, 2011. It continues through September 18th.)

Review – Lost Soul Music (The Devil You Know) – White Rose Theatre at the Pleasance

February 25, 2010

On Wednesday I went to the opening night performance of “Lost Soul Music,” a series of one act musicals being performed in pairs at the Pleasance Theater in Islington (near Caledonian Road station). I was intrigued by the premise – I’m a big fan of the musical and I most certainly want to encourage the production of new ones, and White Rose Theater company’s mission to “save the musical” is decidedly a noble one. Producers Chris Bush and Ian McCluskey also had some pretty good creds from earlier productions at the Edinburgh Fringe, so when Mr. Bush contacted me about coming to review this show, I figured, why not.

The night I attended, the two productions on offer were “The Devil You Know” and “Simon Says” The curtain (as it were – there was none, but work with me) rose on a young woman in a one-shouldered red dress singing what was likely the theme song (“The Devil You Know”) to the accompaniment of three musicians, in a languorous, loungey way that I found very non-musical theater but still very enjoyable. What would be next? I imagined perhaps a hard-boiled detective story, or any other tale in which you could reasonably involve a woman who sings in a nightclub (somehow this worked in State Fair so I figure it can be incorporated into any show).

Then she peeled out of this into a monologue about growing up (in northern England? Southern England? Australia?) in a seemingly normal family that was somehow haunted by her mother’s ancient bedstead and its carvings of imps and devils. This rambled on until … ta dah! A man with heavy eyeliner and gray blusher came out of the back of the set. He quickly established himself as the “devil inside” of this character. Optimistically, I thought that this might mean she was actually possessed (shades of Carrie!) or that perhaps she was an ax murderer (Lizzie Borden!).

But, as it turned out, this devil, and the she-devil who sowed up later, were actually only her internal voices of self-doubt. We were treated to a list of these doubts: did she make the right decision here, was a friend who disappeared actually running away from her, did her choice to reject a man she loved because he was violent lead to his actual wife’s breakdown. In short, did every decision she made in trying to do right ultimately result in her doing wrong?

Despite the fact that there were also songs by the demons, there was little this show could do to rise above what was ultimately a thin, and, in my mind, essentially non-musical theater premise. A struggle with doubt over such uninteresting actions simply didn’t have the oomph to make a musical. Now, struggling over whether or not to avenge your father’s death by murdering your uncle … that’s more like it! This show, however, wouldn’t have succeeded even without music – it was just too thin a premise to be interesting. It was a good showcase, in a fringe theater way, for the actress in the red dress … but it was just dull. When the act was over, we were “invited to come back after the interval,” which I took as an invitation to head back home. Unlike the lead character of this show, I had no doubts about what was the right thing for ME to do. Were any of the other shows, such as the pair “Fisher of Men” and “Signed, Sealed, Delivered,” better? You’ll have to wait for them to be reviewed on A Younger Theater to find out; as for me, I won’t be returning for more.

(This review is for a show seen on Wednesday, February 24th, 2010. There are two entirely different shows in the repertory besides this one and its companion piece; see the White Rose Theater website for details. Lost Soul Music continues through Sunday 14th March at the Pleasance Theater.)