Posts Tagged ‘Richmond Theatre’

Mini-review – The Seagull – Headlong at Richmond Theater (then Theater Royal Bath, Derby Theater)

June 4, 2013

Why, WHY would I go see a Chekhov play FOR THE SECOND TIME when I’d already seen it, and should be done with it for all time? Well … to be honest, the last (and first) time I saw it, I thought it was a pretty good play, not nearly as miserablist and pathetic as most Chekhov, with lots of comedy and not nearly as much of an air of “get your shit together, the revolution is about to come and wipe your entire lifestyle off of the pages of history” to it. And, well, Headlong has a really good reputation, and, finally, Lyn Gardner said I ought to (as in, directly to me, in addition to in her tips of the week column). I really thought I could get out of it … I mean, I was hardly going to Glasgow to see it on tour … but then I saw it was coming to Richmond. There were no excuses left: I knew they had £10 balcony seats and with a annual zone three travel card, well, getting there was no problem. The ticket was bought and off I went.

So … you don’t need to know about the plot, right? Fabulous aged actress spending some time at a country house with her sexy younger playwright boyfriend, getting peeved at her wanna-be playwright son (Alexander Cobb, with a delicious layer of puppy fat) and jealous of the son’s wanna-be actress not-quite-girlfriend (Pearl Chanda)? The really bad play the son does? Jealousy and tension and bad manners and a second act back at the country house “some time later” after rather a lot has changed for the two young people? Yeah, that Seagull, complete with all of the self-referential theater jokes (including a discussion of the symbolism of the dead seagull of Act One and how critics approve of plays that propound their own politics, said as if Michael Billington were being addressed directly) that, a century later, are actually still really funny.

It’s all set in the very much now, which means the droopy Goth character Masha (Jenny Rainsford) is tan and trim and wears short black dresses instead of Victorian mourning garb, and glam mom Irina (Abigail Cruttenden) has tousled blond hair and goes about in khaki capris and white Oxford shirts. So, you wonder, can it really work nowadays, when having a child out of wedlock isn’t really the kind of thing that ruins you for life, and women are perfectly capable of having careers and not required to get handouts from their relatives if they’re not employed? The answer is an unqualified yes – unless you have a problem with the use of four letter words on stage (as one couple I heard in the bar did) or find it extremely jarring when someone asks to have the horses brought around so they can go to the station. The hassle of modernizing everything would have been genuinely inappropriate and the out of place bits (frankly making a living off of short stories published ON PAPER seems more of an anachronism than plowing fields with animals) were easy enough to glide over once you were in the groove of the play.

And what a groove it is … so much sexual energy (my heavens!) and such a sense of watching lives teetering on the edge of catastrophe. The whole thing is brought into incredible relief by the stripped down set, just a gray backdrop (that occasionally has a little something sprayed onto it) and a giant trestle that plays the role of seasaw, dock, and dinner table equally well. You’ve got almost nothing to look at but the actors, and it’s really just perfect; it’s treating Chekhov like the Italians do their food – fresh oil, some pepper and salt is really all you need, because the miracle is in how fresh and tasty the ingredients are.

Normally I make really, really bad analogies, but this one is actually just perfect for this show. Chekhov shouldn’t need ultra realistic sets and 100% accurate costumes; he creates characters that are real enough that you can believe their feelings and their backstories. Headlong appreciates that and lets you experience everything that’s right in this play. And, well, maybe the second half was a little long, and it is certainly gloomy in parts, but it was basically perfect. I won’t be seeing any more Chekhov for a long time, but this was, actually, really worth the effort.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Saturday, June 1st, 2013. It opens tonight in Bath: the production continues touring until June 22nd.)

Mini-review – Medea (the Mike Bartlett adaptation) – Headlong at Richmond Theater (then Northcott Theatre, Exeter)

November 22, 2012

I went last night to see a modernized adaptation of Medea at the Richmond Theater, and BOY IT ROCKED. I sat up in the cheapie cheapie seats for ten quid in the back of the 2nd circle but after about 10 minutes I didn’t care about the angle or the bits of the stage that were cut off, because the whole thing was TOTALLY AMAZING. Medea and Jason were English, she was living in some kind of maisonette in the suburbs, the chorus was her nosy neighbors, Jason was getting married to the landlord of their building (who was evicting Medea). She was a career woman who was just too clever to be well-liked. There was a song in which the entirely of David Bowie’s “Aladdin Sane” played while she basically had a breakdown in the kitchen and WOW WOW WOW.

It deserves a longer review, but you deserve to see it, so I’m posting this HEADS UP AWESOMENESS and maybe I’ll get in a longer review later. It’s only 90 minutes so you have NO EXCUSE.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Wednesday, November 21, 2012. It runs through Saturday, November 24th. Then it goes to the Northcott Theatre in Exeter and I HIGHLY ADVISE YOU SEE IT.)

Review – Oscar Wilde’s “Salome” – Richmond Theatre (then Hampstead)

June 4, 2010

Headlong and Curve Theater have created a retelling of Oscar Wilde’s Salome that seems oh-so-very au courant and came to the Richmond Theatre for a four-day visit at the end of May, 2010, with the promise of more touring and an extended stay at the Hampstead Theatre (June 22-July 17th). Thanks to membership in the Twespians theater club, I had an offer not just for free tickets (unsure if they needed to paper the house or promote the show) but also for free wine before the show. Well, Richmond is quite out of my normal stomping grounds, but I’ve wanted to see this piece of Oscar Wilde’s performed for ages, as I am a fan of Aubrey Beardsley’s illustrations and I enjoyed the rather painfully over the top Alla Nazimova silent film version last year. And there was the free wine. How better to get into the spirit of this incarnation of fin-de-siecle decadence than liquored to the gills, unless perhaps I was to watch it dressed in velvet and draped in pearls?

Thank God I’d left my velvet and pearls behind, for this show was as far from any exhilarating tribute to excess as it were possible to imagine – while wholly needing the lubrication of several stiff drinks. We are given the court of Herod, in which the inhabitants supposedly have every luxury – but it is presented as a sort of Iraqi oil dump, with camo-fatigued soldiers looking rough and patrolling around with an excess of energy. The set, a black square covered in ground up tire rubber, with a few pools of black liquid on the edges and towering metal structures behind, certainly created a very modern atmosphere, but I found it completely contrary to anything implied in the text and, to be honest, all rather a bit too in love with itself. Yes, the play can be seen as some sort of rant against the powers of privilege, a screed against corruption, but in this setting, in which all poetry has been stripped away, Wilde’s words had a difficult battle to fight.

For characters and plot, we have a soldier (Sam Donovan) who has an unhealthy attraction to teen beauty Salome (Zawe Ashton), the step-daughter of Herod (Con O’Neill). Herod, meanwhile, has developed his own unhealthy attraction to Salome, which is making her mother, Herodias (Jaye Griffiths) understandably uncomfortable. Salome, utterly stuck on herself, develops her own crush: on John the Baptist (Iokanaan, played by Seun Shote), who is Herod’s prisoner. The source of her attraction is somewhat obvious: he’s the only man who is not obsessed with Salome; in fact, he repudiates her rudely (and yet poetically). And with his ramblings about whores and punishment and saviors, well, he’s just a little bit on the nutso and possibly dangerous side: perfect for a girl who’s been living perfectly sheltered in a hotbed of intrigue. Love the man her powerful “daddy” is afraid of? Perfect!

Wilde’s job is to make this story, to which we all know the ending, intriguing. Iokanaan must seem powerful and intelligent, yet manage to exert attraction even though he’s been living in a cell below the ground; Herod must seem both despotic and weak, lustful and yet frightened, so that he can hold out against Salome’s demands. In some ways, it’s like a Greek play in which we all know the plot and the playwright’s job is to ratchet up the tension without making it descend into farce. The focus on Salome and her power over others is probably the most difficult dramatic hurdle; Wilde attacks this by building up Salome’s attractiveness with lush descriptions (most of which come from the soldiers and are a delight to the ears) but also by showing every character being impacted by her. I bought into this in a way I never had with a film or the opera; Wilde’s words and setting made me see the captivation she creates be due to her being a free spirit – but also because she is a pearl in a cesspit of corruption, pure if only for seeking nothing but her own pleasure. With Iokanaan close to a force of nature, and Herod a man both oozing with power and yet afraid of his own shadow, the stage is well set for the inevitable.

In her horrid gold jumpsuit, Zawe Ashton seems unlikely to convince as this creature “with feet like doves,” but I believed in her performance as an utterly self-centered teen with no concept of consequences, only caring for instant gratification, the sun around which lesser celestial bodies fade into insignificance. She even handled the “dance of Salome” well – she seemed very much the modern, celebrity-obsessed girl, but with a bizarre belief in the value of exposing bits of her body to people in order to get them to do what she wanted. I actually found it hard to buy that anyone could go against the order of a direct boss in exchange for a view of nubile torso – but in the cooked up atmosphere of soldiers on duty in the desert, it kind of made sense.

Overall, though, I found this production depressing and as unsexy as can be. I wasn’t revolted by Salome making out with a bleeding, decapitated head; I was revolted by the ugliness of the show. Wilde has Herod talking of beautiful white peacocks with gilded beaks, of a pearl necklace that is like moons chained in threads of silver, and all of these beautiful words, every word of praise for Salome herself, has the life sucked out of it by the bleak set and the drab costumes. We hear them speak of luxury but see nothing but privation. Is our world not already coated in filth, that we should need to see Herodias stepping in a puddle of scum on stage?

In a week in which I saw three shows, this was perhaps the best; but only because it provided a singular chance to hear the worlds of Oscar Wilde spoken on stage (and the others were the abyssmal Ingredient X and bad-unto-farce Paradise Lost). A live production of Salome this was but it’s hard to say that this show brought Wilde’s words to life as this production did everything it could to ground their power and beauty into the ground like a cigarette butt. I suspect Jamie Lloyd is pleased with how he “updated” it and made it relevant to modern audiences, but to me the production reeked of trendiness and a lack of faith in the script. Given that this show is running through a lovely summer, I can only advise you to take a lovely picnic and a few friends and read it to each other outside, in a field of flowers, where you can laugh and laze and enjoy yourself. Be sure to bring some cold white wine, and when you think about how fleeting life’s pleasures are, raise a glass to Salome and to poor Oscar, then be grateful you’re not inside watching this horrible show.

(This review is for a performance that took place at Richmond Theater on Tuesday, May 25th, 2010. Salome will continue to tour through the end of June, hitting the Oxford Playhouse, the Northern Stage, and Theater Royal Brighton before settling down for a run at the Hampstead. Don’t say you weren’t warned. For other opinions, please see There Ought to be Clowns and of course the compendium at UpTheWestEnd.com, which should grow as the majors review this play.)