Posts Tagged ‘review’

Review – Singalonga “Hairspray” – Prince Charles Cinema

July 21, 2008

This is a guest review from K, who took a Saturday afternoon to go to the Prince Charles Cinema to check out the Singalonga version of the movie Hairspray
Sing-a-Long Hairspray at the Prince Charles

Apparently, “the first ever sing-a-long happened at an old people’s home in Inverness. The nurses wanted to involve the old people in an interactive group therapy and so screened Seven Brides For Seven Brothers and gave out song sheets so that everyone could sing-a-long”. A Sing-a-Long was then held at the Gay and Lesbian Film Festival in London in 1999 and subsequently ran at the Prince Charles Cinema, where it has found a permanent home. A global franchise has now developed: The Sound of Music is probably its signature show, but it also encompasses Joseph, Annie, Rocky Horror and now Hairspray. And soon, Abba.

Waiting outside the Prince Charles on Saturday afternoon, I could see that the audience for the show was going to be enthusiastic. A lot of them were wearing 1950s/60s outfits. Some of them were in costume as characters from the show. Almost all of them were female – this is apparently standard for the Sing-a-Longs. When we’d settled into our seats, we found the row behind us was mainly made up of pre-teens, which was reassuring. There are ten-year-olds who know all the words to Hairspray. That makes me very happy.

Before the film started, a cheerful and bossy woman in a wig told us what was in our plastic bags – a bell to ring during I Can Hear the Bells, a piece of sparkly fabric to wave during Welcome to the 60s, cards to hold up during Without Love, and so on. We had different noises to make when the different characters came on – wolf-whistles for Link, boos and hisses for the von Tussles and Penny’s mother, and so on. She made us stand up and practise our dance moves. I was glad I’d chosen my companion for the event carefully: P is, like me, a massive fan of Hairspray, and, not like me, an extrovert. He danced and waved and joined in, and I did too, but it took me a while to warm up to it all. It probably would have been easier at an evening showing after a couple of drinks.

There was a fancy dress competition – two in fact, one for adults and one for children – and then the film started. Watching a film in a Sing-a-Long atmosphere changes it, I found. You’re always waiting to join in. It’s now an interactive experience, not a passive one. After the first couple of numbers I started relaxing about it all, and I did enjoy singing along to everything. And dancing, although the amount of dancing you can do standing in a row of cinema seats is limited – I wonder what it would be like holding a Sing-a-Long in a nightclub? I even waved my various accessories, and the experience of holding up a placard saying ‘Integration not Segregation’ during I Know Where I’m Going was actually rather moving.

Ultimately, Hairspray is a great film, and being in a cinema full of other people who loved it and wanted to celebrate it was a feelgood experience. P and I came out smiling, although we admitted our feelings about the event were mixed. Maybe it would have helped to have had people at the front, as Rocky Horror does, to help us get in the mood. Maybe it felt a little too much like organised fun. I would definitely say that this is a show for people who have already seen the film and loved it – anything less and I think you’d feel out of place. I’d also suggest a couple of drinks beforehand. But maybe I’m just too English and introverted.

Review – Will Tuckett’s “Faeries” – Royal Opera House, Clore Studio

July 14, 2008

After trying for weeks to find a time when my only friend with a child could accompany me (with her daughter) to see Will Tuckett’s “Faeries”, I was delighted when I got a phone call offering me a pair of free tickets with no strings attached (other than that I not post my review until today). A lot of people wouldn’t perhaps just be wandering around central London with nothing to do an hour before curtain time, but there I was, and I was completely willing to drop everything and run over to the Royal Opera House to see a show … for free! (How did my friend know that I’d be likely to do that? I must have a reputation …)

I have to interrupt the rest of the review with the reason why getting this call meant so much to me. I had known about this show for four months and had been trying to buy tickets for it when they went on sale but was unable to come up with a day that worked … because the ROH required each party have a child in attendance and in all of London I am only aquainted with one child, who would have to be brought up from Worcester Park in order to allow me to attend the show. What is up with the ROH saying you need to have a child with you to attend? Are they worried that the show will attract pedophiles, or is this just a blatant attempt at discriminating against the childless? As a woman who does not have any children nor, indeed, any relatives in the entire country, I found this policy onerous and incredibly unfair to me, a childless person. It’s bad enough that I can’t sit down and have my lunch in Coram Fields, which is only a block away, but to be forbidden from attending an art event because I can’t access a child? In 10 years of attending puppet and children’s theater this has never been an issue before. If I want to attend, I should be allowed to attend, understanding that there will be many children in the audience (and frankly they were better behaved than MANY audiences I’ve been stuck in the middle of, especially at the ballet. Must we talk during the overture?). Otherwise, if they want to be sure a certain number or percentage of children attend, they should just reserve seats for them rather than forbidden adults, flat out, from attending without children.

Walking into the show I had little idea of what to expect. I was thinking: the guy who designed the really cool looking Wind in the Willows ballet! Fairies! The … er … guy who choreographed the Pinocchio ballet I didn’t care for so much … well, maybe I should forget about that bit. At any rate, I was pretty excited about seeing a brand new ballet, as I always am.

However, it had never occurred to me what the plot might actually be about. In this case, it was sort of a Railway Children story, about two London kids sent to the countryside during the war. The girl gets split up from her brother and winds up running around in the woods and fields … and of course meets fairies. She makes friends with one, gets caught by another, and eventually gets caught up in needing to defeat an evil fairy “who wants to steal our freedom” (or something like that).

Walking into the hall, the atmosphere was good … there were period-dressed “Station Agents” handing out identification tags to the kids, and on stage was a fairly large puppet playing an old woman telling the kids where to sit and hurrying them along (a nice way to establish the puppets as “people” early in the performance). We took a seat near the very back of the stage so we wouldn’t have to get shoved off to the side, as everyone that sat down in the middle was asked to move to the edge of the risers – a bit of a punishment for people who came in on time!

Though the human cast initially seemed to be around ten people, I think there were only 2 actual speaking human roles, and after Our Heroine ran off, it was really just her and a phalanx of people operating the puppets. Unlike bunraku (or even Avenue Q), the people manipulating the puppets were all dressed in period clothing, which distracted a bit from the action. I thought that the woman with a red and white band on her head was going to turn out to be a fairy queen, but eventually it seemed that she was, really, just a woman wearing a scarf knotted on her head as if she were cleaning the house. I did like the fact that the people manipulating the Evil Fairy were dressed as soldiers, but otherwise the clothing didn’t add to the narrative. I don’t think it put the kids off, though, so maybe I’m just too picky.

The puppets were, in my mind, the best thing about this show. They came in a variety of sizes and took full advantage of their ability to be free of the normal laws of gravity and, er, bodily coherence, that human actors are limited by. This, of course, made it easy for the fairies to fly (and levitate), but they could also just stand sideways, or have their heads and tails come off and go on their own adventures. I also loved the detailing of the smallest puppets, all little fairies. I wanted to just pop them in my pocket and take them home with me. (Nice work to whoever designed these – brilliant!) And they were actually handled as characters, with their own voices, movement styles, and emotions – important aspects in making an object take on life and make it possible to focus on the face of the puppet instead of the person who was speaking for it.

The dance, however, wasn’t particularly interesting, and I wonder if the kids liked it or even cared. The scene where Our Heroine was dancing with her fairy friend was good, but the parts where, perhaps, emotion was being expressed were … I don’t know, meaningless. To me, they didn’t add to the narrative and just weren’t interesting to watch – they just seemed obligatory. While I went to see the dance, because that is what I love, and I enjoyed the show, if I had been expecting to enjoy it because of the dance I would have considered this show a complete failure. However, I’m open to enjoying any theatrical experience on its own merits, and as I enjoyed the other aspects of the show quite a bit, I can’t say it was a bad show because the dance was bad/boring/unimpressive.

Note that the evil fairy was actually scary enough that he was making the kids in the audience cry. I’m curious if they were going to try to lighten him up or just roll with it. For really little kids, he could easily be the incarnation of bogeyman nightmares.

So, overall this wasn’t a bad show, but the degree of excitement I had about going to see it wasn’t really matched by what was presented on stage. That said, the children in the audience were really caught up in what was going on and didn’t complain or barely make a squeak for the entire 75 minutes, so clearly something is working well. If you’re taking a kid to this, they will probably enjoy themselves, but if you were feeling sad because the ROH didn’t want your childless presence at this show, cry no tears – there will be other shows you will probably enjoy more. Me, I’m going to have to question whether or not I want to see Will Tuckett’s shows anymore – this makes the second one I’ve seen that left me flat, and good puppetry just isn’t enough to console me for indifferent dance. I’d rather just see a straight puppet show and keep my expectations set appropriately. Speaking of which, the Metro has £10 off top priced tickets to see Monkey: Journey to the West (the opera!), though it’s only good on matinees for Thrusday July 24 (2:30 PM) and Friday July 25 (4 PM). I don’t have £65 to lay out on theater seats for any show, but if you do, book through the ROH website (www.roh.org.uk/monkeyjourney). Hopefully Monkey will be a show where my expectations are finally met!

Review – Ballet Flamenco Sara Baras – “Sabores” – Sadler’s Wells

July 11, 2008

When Booklectic and I (and others) went to Barcelona two months ago, we debated going to see a “Tablao de Flamenco” at the Poble Espanol, but were put off by the price (55 euros) and the fear of being stuck in a tourist trap. Me, well, I’ve seen what I consider to be some very fine flamenco, starting at the Barcelona flamenco bienalle of 2002, and I couldn’t bear the thought of seeing bad dance, so when Booklectic and I were thinking of fun things to do this summer, I said, “Hey, why don’t we finally see some flamenco at Sadler’s Wells? It’s pretty much guaranteed to be really good …”

Sara Baras in no way let me down. “Sabores” presented a variety of Flamenco styles, danced by her and her troupe of nine (or so) with seven musicians/singers accompanying. I am, alas, uneducated when it comes to the different styles, but what I saw was a variety of group unison dancing (which was reminding me a bit of Riverdance) and brilliant solos, two of which were performed by the ace male flamencos she had brought with her. (I’ll fill in the details when I have the program to refer to.) One of them did a dance with castanets – I found myself hanging on every percussive beat he was making – practically eating out of his hands! – while the other dressed in more of a caballero style, including with a hat and tan boots.

Baras herself carried much of the evening, and she does really have scintillating footwork, but also a strong dramatic presence. She is exactly what I expect of a flamenca – regal, straight-backed, serious, and sexy as all get out. She seemed to lean toward what seemed to me to be a more modern style, one that I think is suited to her personal aesthetic. There was a serious lack of red lipstick, haircombs, and big bangles or earrings on the women of the troupe. I did find it a bit sad that there was no dance done with the really long trailing skirt that the women whip around them, as I find it really hypnotizing and a great dance to watch – but instead, we got Baras in a black top with leather chaps on, WOW! In front it looked like (and moved like) a skirt, but in the back it showed off her strong legs.

The audience at Sadler’s Wells was very appreciative, starting out with some “Ole!”s, then moving to “Guapo!” when the men were dancing. Three quarters of the way in, they were just talking to the stage, mostly in Spanish, and the dancers were preening and parading and looking prouder and more excited and even occasionally talking back to the audience. The energy was really good. The musicians were clearly paying attention to every bit of what the dancers were doing, and even though quite a bit of it was stiff choreographed unison dancing (which I have never felt was very flamenco), there was still a lot of improv going on. The final hoedown was perhaps not as good as it could have been, if it was planned and not just a spontaneous reaction to the crowd’s enthusiasm – personally, I wanted to see the many corps dancers get their moment in the sun, since they barely seemed to have any solo work at all over the course of the entire evening. Overall, though, it was a not large complaint to make for what I found to be a very enjoyable evening.

A much bigger complaint: our dinner beforehand was at a restaurant called Tortilla and while their burritos are fine and their frozen margaritas most tasty, their tacos are an absolute disgrace. Even though they’d “double-bagged” them (two tortillas) and they actually used proper corn tortillas, all four of the tacos my husband and I ordered completely disintegrated before the third bite, the contents falling out of the bottom of the split and flaking “shell.” I know these were “soft” or street-style tacos, but in all my years of ordering off of taco trucks I’ve never seen such a shameful performance. Never again!

(This review is for a performance that took place on Thursday, July 10th.)

Revew – The Revenger’s Tragedy – National Theatre

June 16, 2008

I am a big fan of the £10 series at the National – top quality shows at a quarter of the normal asking price! – so when I saw that tickets had gone on sale for The Revenger’s Tragedy during the week when my cost-conscious (read = OAP) uncle was coming to vist, I snapped up a set (though I went for £15 seats so that we could be a little closer to the action).

The Revenger’s Tragedy is a sort of anti-Hamlet, with a lead character who is hurting over someone’s death – and determined to make the bad guys pay. This leads to a bit of the silly identity-changing hijinks along the lines of some of the goofier Shakespearean comedies, but with a cast of characters which seems universally unworthy of any sympathy and the most sex and violence I’ve seen since Coriolanus – more, even. It’s kind of fun to see this group of baddies get their come-uppance, but without any one sympathetic characters it became more like watching Natural Born Killers or something of that ilk.

While the show was in no ways boring, it seemed to me like the director felt obliged to overdecorate it with fluff to make it “relevant to the modern audience” or something of the sort. Pounding techno, projections and depictions of people having sex, a woman leading a hooded man about on a leash, animated stage decor – was any of it really necessary? The text itself was pretty clear about what was going on, and clever to boot, but it seemed that there were doubts as to whether or not it could carry the story on its own. Me, I’d prefer less show and more tell. Overall, while this production wasn’t bad, I found it just didn’t capture my imagination.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Saturday, June 14th, 2008.)

Review of “Dances at a Gathering” (Jerome Robbins) – Royal Ballet – Royal Opera House

June 10, 2008

Last night while J was in his French class, W and I headed to the Royal Opera House to see Jerome Robbin’s “Dances at a Gathering.” Both of us were pretty worn out from a long day at work, but with 6 quid day seats, we thought we’d give it a go and just see the first part of the show (the second half, a Midsummer Night’s Dream-based ballet by Frederick Ashton, just didn’t interest me much). We met first for dinner at Inn Noodle, then walked over to Covent Garden in the lovely summer evening.

The ballet was lovely, full of the humor that I expect from Robbins, and the music, by Chopin, was a treat to listen to. While I expected Marianela Nunez (as “Pink”) was going to be the be the star of the evening, it was in fact Tamara Rojo (as “Mauve”) whose performance I enjoyed the most. In one scene, late in the ballet, three men, backs to the audience, are holding three women, facing forward, on their shoulders and Ms. Rojo’s leg arched up just so, an absolutely perfect curving line the other women seemed a bit too tired to emulate. But, really, each of the dancers was a pleasure: “Brown” (Johan Kobborg) and “Brick” (I think – Sergei Polunin if it was) had a great duel (and Brown’s solo near the end of the evening was spectacular), and “Green” (Lauren Cuthbertson) had a wonderful bit as an ignored dance partner, fluttering and flailing and just hamming it up like you think ballerinas could never do.

Part of what I enjoy so much about Robbins is the way each dancer seems to have a personality and character – the dancers aren’t bodies on stage, they are performers with relationships to each other. They flirt, they are shy, they show off, they challenge each other, they are irritated. Watching this show was so fun that I couldn’t help compare it to some of the shows I’d seen earlier in the Linbury this year. It’s probably not fair to compare the dancers of the Royal Ballet, performing choreography by Robbins, to about anything else, but, well, they were great and at the top of the pack, surely a standard by which to judge others. It was a good evening, though I was grateful to have decided to leave early as I was just plain worn out and wanted to get to bed before 11:30.

A special callout to Paul Stobart, who filled in as the piano soloist at the last minute. How he was ever able to figure out the proper timing of the pieces on such short notice is beyond me, but he very much deserved the applause he got at the end of the evening!

(This review is for a performance that took place on June 10th, 2008.)

Review – Pinter’s The Birthday Party – Lyric Hammersmith

May 20, 2008

Normally I don’t bother seeing a play twice unless it’s a razzle dazzle musical (i.e. Drowsy Chaperone). But in this case, I went to see a play I thought was really bad … in the hopes that in more competent hands, it would be really good. As you should know, I am a big Pinter fan. The previous time we saw The Birthday Party was at the Capitol Hill Arts Center in Seattle, Washington. Now, I tend to find fringe theater (of the sort we saw so much of in Seattle) very enjoyable in general – when it’s not actually part of a fringe festival, but rather by an established, small company presenting a regular season. Seattle companies really have very high quality actors, inventive directors, and all sorts of other things going for them that makes their shows generally quite good. But The Birthday Party was a failure. We couldn’t make sense of it, and we felt to a great extent it was because it didn’t make sense to the actors. They seemed to be just saying the lines to each other, as if they were reading a series of shuffled together flash-cards with dialogue written on them, yet not really understanding a word of what was coming out of their mouths. So they successfully showed they’d memorized the play, but, otherwise, they just stumbled through it practically with a look of fear and desperation in their faces that wasn’t really called for by the story line.

Three years later, I’m living in London, and I have really come to believe that American actors just can’t handle Pinter. It’s not, as Ben Brantley says in his review of Homecoming, that they can’t get the class implications in the accents. I fact, it’s so much more than that; it’s a complete miss on the culture underlying the plays, into which I fortunately have a little more insight these days. I was pretty aware of how far I had come watching The Birthday Party tonight at they Lyric Hammersmith. For example, I heard someone talk about getting “fried bread” for breakfast in the first act, and I thought, in America, that would just sound surreal and would probably throw an actor off. In America, you don’t fry bread any more than you fry lettuce or milk. And later, a man talks about coming home with the lights off “and I put a shilling in the slot and, boom! Lights on, nobody home!” This also is completely nonsensical because in America you don’t have coin activated meters to dole out electricity. You have parking meters and you have pay laundromats, but coins in a slot do not turn lights on.

I think these kinds of things would really fluster actors – the play would have to be annotated just as thoroughly as Shakespeare for them to follow along with what was going on. The towns where Goldberg went on vacation all have certain associations and implications, the concept of what it means to be a “deck chair attendant” at a beach resort means something, it all just builds on a life that can’t mean anything to a person who hasn’t seriously researched the culture and, perhaps, lived in it (as much as you can live in 1958). So it’s no surprise that the previous production I had seen was a failure, but I can’t really hold it against the actors too much.

I’m pleased to say that the production we saw tonight at the Lyric Hammersmith was a complete success in nearly every way and has pretty well completely overwritten my previous memory of the play. The doddering old landlady (Sheila Hancock) is not a drooling, brainless maniac – she’s a sweet, friendly, older woman who wouldn’t think it unreasonable to be flirted with (a bit of a Blanche Dubois in some ways), but not nearly the sex fiend she somehow came across before. Petey, the husband (Alan Williams), is a fairly decent man who lives a life that’s very much in many ways built on habit – but he’s still engaged with the world.

Goldberg (Nicholas Woodeson) and McCann (Lloyd Hutchinson) – what is up with Pinter and his fascination with mob types? Hitmen in The Dumbwaiter, a pimp in Homecoming – is this his fantasy of the dark side of London or something? When last I saw them, they were as evil and creepy as Gaiman’s Mr. Croup and Mr. Vandemar, and I found the scene where they were trying to force Stanley (this time played by Justin Salinger) to sit in a chair unbearably tense. I imagined them trying to break his legs once they got him down. They also seemed to be in a struggle with each other, for Goldberg to prove he still retained his youthful power by exerting himself over McCann. This didn’t really seem to be the dynamic tonight. Instead, McCann was the somewhat stupid muscle (with the loveliest singing voice!) who was very obedient to Goldberg’s wishes – including the scene where he blew in his mouth (and WTF was that about – I was cracking up). He had a lovely Irish accent (which Chris Macdonald flubbed) … which put Goldberg’s bizarre English/Jewish accent into high relief to me, as an American New York/Jewish accent leavened with occasional Britishness. It sounded like he’d tried to cram the two things together unsuccessfully, as if to imply the whole schtick Goldberg was doing was a put-on. I imagined the actor had perhaps just failed to get a proper voice coach, but the friends I went with to the play (Trish and Simon) assured me he sounded completely fine to them.

So, really what do I know, I am still a foreigner here. I will say, though, that this play was a really good time for us and much more clearly comic than it was the last time I saw it. I no longer think it’s meant to be read literally, and the absurdist elements were very clear to me (“We’ll make a man out of you!” “And a woman!”). What, really, is the plot? We weren’t able to make it out. Stanley (Justin Salinger, looking too young for the role) didn’t really telegraph it to me, and Pinter, as usual, didn’t bother telling me up front by having something obvious like an extended, painful mermaid metaphor at the beginning of the play. Bless his black little heart! I was so pleased I went and bought a book “about his thoughts on his work” in the lobby at the end of the night, and I’m going to try to puzzle through it myself. In fact, now that I see that his complete archives are at the British Library, I’m wondering if perhaps I ought to do even more research on him … of the sort that might eventually lead to a book of my own. I bet I’ve got it in me, but it’s going to be hard to do when I don’t want to read any scripts for shows I haven’t seen lest I ruin the surprise. How will I ever have the same amount of fun discussing what happened after a show (as if I and the person sitting next to me had seen two completely different plays) if I already know what the received wisdom is on the play I’m watching? One play at a time, though, I bet I can eventually make it through the oevre, even in enough time to get that book written. It’s a goal!

Review – Lady from the Sea – Arcola Theatre

May 16, 2008

I don’t know about how you like to celebrate anniversaries, but to me nothing seemed better than going up to the ass end of north east London to see a show about a woman thinking about leaving her husband. Sounds romantic, eh? And if you’re me (and the ever-suffering Shadowdaddy, you’ll want to start of the night with some Jamaican food hot enough to peel the enamel off of your teeth. Mmm, mmm! Jerk chicken, rice and peas, stewed pork, polenta, $16 for two people, Centerprise, you make the grade! (We also got to see a guy chased out of the restaurant by the cashier and the store guard, who called him a crook. It was quite a scene. Review of restaurant here.) Then it was off to the Oz Antepilier for some tasty Turkish baklava to keep our strength up while we waited in the lobby of the Arcola for the mad dash for our seats.

Anyway, I studiously avoided reading anything that might give me too much of a clue as to the actual plot of the show beforehand as I enjoy having a show unfold and surprise me – I figured the 5 star recommendation it had got somewhere was sufficient, plus Ibsen, for me to watch. The play, in a nutshell, is this: there is a woman, and she is feeling trapped in her marriage. She has stepchildren who seem extraordinarily unsympathetic to her, and, to top things off, she seems like she might be going mad.

Well! Quite the light evening’s entertainment, to be sure. For me, for some reason, the whole show was coming in through the filter of these two articles I read in the New York Times this week about love in Saudi Arabia. The men, for example, would have found it completely fit for a man to tell a woman she’s not a free actor, and that he will decide what is good for her and “protect” her: while the women, I thought, would agree that women are naturally less rational than men.

But they would have had a lot of problems with the rest of the story. The concept of a woman wishing to be a free agent, I think, would not resonate in the least; the thought that it might not be agreeable to essentially “sell” yourself in order to have a roof over your head would also seem mysterious; the odd behavior of the girls (not to mention the wife, Ellida, played by Lia Williams) would certainly have drawn note. I found it all a bit late Victorian feminist, but with a sort of unexpected (and illogical) ending – and very much enjoyed the idea of a play about someone who was on the verge of cracking up throughout.

That said, I think I found more problems with the script than anything else. It just seemed … clunky. People kept announcing other people were about to come on stage, then announcing that they were going to leave. The young, wannabe artist had no real purpose in the show other than to show the selfish side of men (I think) and had utterly corny lines (and pulled faces); the younger daughter (Hilde, Fiona O’Shaughnessy, apparently from the Irish side of this family based on her thick accent) seemed to change her feelings too quickly. The foreshadowing at the beginning (the bit about the painting) was like getting hit with a blackjack in terms of its subtlety, then further added to this point by having the actor say, “The idea was given to me by the lady of the house!” Please, as if the fact that she swims in the ocean every day wasn’t enough clue for us to link her with a mermaid!

While the acting was generally good, Ms. Williams seemed to be pulling rather a lot from Lady Macbeth with all of her hand wringing and twitching. Her face was beautiful to watch but I wanted more of a buildup – as it was, I was completely incapable of thinking anything but madness lied in her future.

Overall I think this was a good production but not one of Ibsen’s finer works, and the 75 minute journey home a bit of a pill – good enough if you like Ibsen or are in the neighborhood, but not worth seriously deforming your week to go see.

(This review is for a performance that took place May 15th, 2008, my fifteenth anniversary.)

Review of “The Good Soul of Szechuan” with Jane Horrocks – Young Vic

May 13, 2008

Last night Wechsler and I headed to the Young Vic to catch Jane Horrocks in “The Good Soul of Szechuan” at the Young Vic. Beforehand we went to the Bangalore Express, which is my new pre-Vic (young or old) dinner joint; it’s right across from Waterloo and thus easy access from work or home, and they got the food on my table in about five minutes flat after I ordered – “no muss, no fuss,” as they used to say. Their prices are great and they serve duck.

But really, this is about the play, right? Well sated and sufficiently caffeinated to overcome my post-Florida jet lag for the duration of the night, we joined the long, long queue in front of the Young Vic only to discover the savvier Whingers had set themselves up at a bar down the street (their review of the evening, I mean play, here). I briefly joined them (else we would not have been able to enter the theater!) then returned to wait in line for another five minutes or so. Eventually we traipsed in the long (and scene-setting) way, then scored ideal seat about eight rows back. The dust in the air from the set nearly cost me at the outset (and if you’re asthmatic I suggest you highly consider skipping this show), but it settled enough for him to enjoy the rest of the show (despite the smoking).

Sooooo … the play. This is Brecht, right? And you know about Brecht. It’s like Shakespeare; if you don’t want multiple plots and soliloquies and strange words, don’t go. For Brecht, well, he’s got a message: people are basically good, but this society of want in which we live keeps them down and makes them do bad thing. If people just had a little more to eat, so many problems would go away! Creating plays with character “evolution” or, really, introspection isn’t really Brecht’s way. He’s going to put his flat characters on stage and make them dance, and, if you’re like me, you’ll find it generally amusing, except for the singing bit (why do they always having singing in Brecht shows? It’s never any good). I mean, it’s a morality play, basically, sometimes with gangsters, sometimes with ….

Three gods come to a small village in Szechuan (which no one apparently knows how to pronounce, despite living there), looking for a good soul. Inadvertently, they come upon Jane Horrocks (looking twenty years younger than she did in the wretched and unfunny Absurd Person Singular), playing the part of a really pretty prostitute. They give her a pile of money … and now that she’s got something, instead of nothing, her life REALLY starts to fall apart, because, well, when you’ve got nothing, people can’t get much from you, but when you’ve got something, everyone wants to get their piece.

Or, well, so Brecht posits, or perhaps he’s saying that money is just corrupting and the poor can’t win. He gets in his digs at pious capitalists (as embodied by the gods) and other people that do their best to make the lot of the poor worse while supposedly uplifting them (some things do never change). Me, well, I loved Horrock’s charming turn as the two-natured Shen Tay (perhaps really Shen Tai), and found her just as adorable in her little cheap dress as in a suit and fedora (rar!). I also found the boyfriend just as convincing playing a miserable clod who wanted to die as a lying man who wanted to take her for all she was worth – it’s funny how those words can come out of the same person’s mouth and yet still sound like the truth – when not delivered by actors! While other member of the party were finding the script just too cartoony to be managable, I found myself instead nodding along with Horrocks as she looked into the audience and said (of her boyfriend), “He is a bad man! He only wants me for what he can get from me!” And I was also sucked in as she decided to not hate him. It takes really good actors to take this stuff and make it mean something, and I bought it. It’s a good production – but remember, if you don’t like Brecht, there’s probably not much that will change your mind. (That said …. if only they’d really let her sing! What is the next show she is going to be in? Something with songs that don’t make me want to clap my hands over my ears?)

(This review is for a performance that took place Monday, May 12, 2008.)

Ballet Black – Linbury Studio, Royal Opera House

April 9, 2008

Since this show is sold out, I’m not going to do too thorough a review, even though I took fairly extensive notes – either you’ve got tickets or you can’t get them, and my review won’t affect what you do. (Note that due to demand, an extra Saturday matinee has been added, so perhaps tickets might still be available – check with the Royal Opera House ticket office. Actually, I checked, and they’re available as of Thursday afternoon, so if you want to see them, jump on it!)

Sadly, the choreography tonight was mostly fair to middlin’ and the dancers were …. not impressive. I thought maybe they were not hitting things in the first piece because it was new to their repertoire, but later it became clear there was a lot of missing going on – legs not able to go equally high (and a general lack of unison when it was called for), sloppy handling of partners (“Don’t drop her!”), a clumsiness on pointe (I realized that usually I am focused on a dancer’s face when she is tiptoeing toward me, but tonight, I could tell her mind was on her feet, and I watched them instead) – just a not-entirely polished group. I actually wound up watching the male dancers in hope of getting more satisfaction from their performances (I usually prefer to watch the women as they get more exciting movement), and while I was really impressed with, say, Jaime Rodney’s extension, Darrius Grey’s partner work (again, for example) was just not inspired. On the other hand, Stephanie Williams had great stage presence – though I think in her heart she wants to be doing solos and not ensemble work. (more…)

Stephen Frye’s Cinderella at the Old Vic

December 26, 2007

I don’t want to indicate all we’ve done is eat for the last three days, but my tendency now is to talk about having biscuits and gravy for breakfast and then sausage and booooooze (I mean butterbean gratin) for dinner.  Food food food, eat eat eat! This is probably because today is a holiday in England and you can’t really do much because most of the shops are closed and public transportation is limited. I managed, though, thanks to the Tube and to having tickets bought long ago for … Stephen Frye’s Cinderella at the Old Vic, which we saw this afternoon. In short: you’ll get more panto kick at Dick Whittington’s Cat at the Hackney, and this show is very rude but not that funny.

Oh, gosh, my tummy is so full, it’s just hard to focus on writing right now! Okay, write write write … we had pretty good quality acting overall for this show – the background dancers were all on time and on key, and the costumes looked quite well done and not the least bit tacky. We also had a reappearence of “Man in Chair” as our narrator. That said … it was all a little … too good. This was SERIOUS panto, that was taking itself VERY seriously, and people just didn’t have enough room to be silly. All of the panto “elements” seemed a bit forced – the pie fight had no context, the singalong was not even tied into the theme of the show (in any way), and the audience talk-backs were … quick and perfunctory. Yay, we mocked Cinderella for being just too good for her health, yay, Buttons was gay …. but where were my drag queens, where were my fun and goofy songs? Where were the outrageous costumes? Where was my camp? Where were my tears of “it’s just too much” chortles? Instead we got many little political (and other) inside jokes … but it all seemed to come at the expense of what it is that makes panto fun. At least when you write for an 8 year old you can write with abandon. Cinderella wanted to be clever but seemed to forget how to laugh. Yes, yes, the basket of food had the missing data CDs, now where’s my corny pun? Where’s my OTT costumes?

At any rate, while my visiting Canadian guest found it absurd and enjoyable, I just felt like it could have been much sillier and more raucous and was disappointed. If you’re only doing one panto and you’re looking for a good time rather than being intellectually tickled (and not very hard at that), head to the Hackney Empire instead. I mean – they have monkeys! What more can I say?