Posts Tagged ‘Riverside Studios’

Review – Mies Julie – Yael Farber at Riverside Studios

March 12, 2013

Not being one to travel to Edinburgh or read the New York Times‘ theater reviews (it’s just such a tease!), I wound up missing most of the pre-London hype surrounding Mies Julie, the updated version of Strindberg’s play set in modern South Africa. Even though the seriously hot posters in the Underground really caught my eye, I wasn’t going to go see a play I’d just seen last year, especially not way out west in Hammersmithville.

But then the Guardian put out a preview that really changed my mind. Thinking of that master/servant aesthetic suddenly reconfigured in the context of post-Apartheid South Africa … that’s a place where it would actually mean something. And apartheid didn’t end that long ago. In this context, being a bored, spoiled girl interested in playing with one of the servants … well, the stakes would be much, much higher than they are in my world, or in the world of a hundred and fifty years ago, when, even if you were a servant, you really could just pick up and leave and move to the big city. The original Miss Julie may have geuninely believed in her superiority to the servants, but how does it change if the people who you thought existed to serve you are now legally your equal? What if some of them have a grudge about their situation?

What if they’ve been there for a really long time and remember quite well how badly they were treated?

What if you’re actually living on their land?

Now THAT is the kind of powderkeg I wanted to see blow wide open on stage. Director/writer Yael Farber doesn’t have to make John (Bongile Mantsai) cultured and “nearly one of us;” from his accent to his body to the way he brushes boots and keeps busy doing chores every minute, he is fully “other;” but an incredibly sexy other. He has had a long relationship with the brittle, brutal Julie (Hilda Cronje, a bit one note but still charismatic), the only daughter of a Boer farmer who’s promised to put a bullet through the head of any (black) servant who dared touch her – and then shoot Julie. She’s fresh out of having her engagement broken, has a likely history of mental instability (mom committed suicide), and has the sultry, sex-focused vision of a girl just of age on a place where there’s really not a lot to do for fun. It’s inevitable that their desire will finally break down the huge barriers of class and race and history that divide them; when it does, it’s a tempest of a power that leaves King Lear’s looking like a few raindrops on an otherwise clear day. But with all of that attraction, all of that chemistry (woo! burning it up from the 20th row!), the sex just isn’t enough for them to change their lives into some new structure, no matter how much they dream. And really, just how much do they even like each other? Is John just trying to get revenge for the theft of his family’s land? Is Julie just looking for a way to frame John? Was it a mutual power trip? Is there even room for love in this tsumani?

What I love about Strindberg is that, in his plays, the games people play with each others minds never stop. Add into the mix John’s mom’s bone deep love (for John and Julie) and religious conviction (great performance by Thoko Ntshinga), the freaky spiritual connection with “home” (as represented by the ghost woman who also served, to me, as herald of impending death), and the shock-you-out-of-your-seats rawness of the sexual explosion between John and Julie and, as an audience member, you no longer know what to believe. Is this play a tragedy? Is it a political drama? Is it just the horrible truth of how fucked up people really are underneath the little skins of manners that society has us put on? That, I think, is Stringberg’s real truth, and Mies Julie hugely succeeds my making that gory, wretched, untamed core of human nature visible to the naked eye.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Sunday, March 10th, 2013. It continues at Riverside Studios through May 19th. Totally worth the trip to Hammersmith and as a bonus it’s only 80 minutes long. Phoar.)

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Review – Salad Days – Tête à Tête at Riverside Studios

January 25, 2011

“I’m going! I’m not going! I’m going! I’m not going!”

and so I dithered the last two weeks over seeing Salad Days at the Riverside Studios. It had completely flown under my radar for the first six weeks of its run – despite it being “one of the happiest and best-loved classic musicals ever” I’d never heard of it – and somehow Ian Foster’s strong recommendation (it even made his best of the year list) flew right by. Pathetically, it took a review in the Metro in January – more than a month after it opened – to draw my attention to this show. Peering at my paper in the gloom of a cold, dark, January morning, I saw the words: “Happy! Classic!” and the kicker … “Magic piano!” with a rave review attached. I read three sentences and folded it up; clearly, this was the musical I’d been waiting for and I didn’t want to ruin the fun by reading too much about it. In fact I’d done such a good job of completely NOT hearing about it I almost missed it entirely!

Then comes the boring part – after I picked a day, I couldn’t find a date, and then I couldn’t find tickets that were in my budget (currently topping out at about £15 a show). I hemmed and hawed and finally decided to save the money but then happened to ping a theater-loving friend to ask what he was doing on a Sunday afternoon – and he was off to see Salad Days! Well, clearly, it was Kismet (tee hee), so I just gave in and forked over for full price tickets and ran off to Hammersmith with a fire under my tail (arriving with 10 minutes to spare).

As it turns out this was utterly worth my time though given the cheapish set it was pushing the limits of value-for-the-pound at £25. That aside, you could see where the money did go every time the cast sashayed on stage. My God, the dresses, I couldn’t remember how long it had been since I’d seen a fringe-esque show that actually got the era right! They looked very much like new build but the cut and styling were perfect and very nicely put me in a 1950s kind of mood.

This would, of course, be a light and fluffy kind of mood, with a heavy dose of Nancy Mitford in its depiction of the apparently useless upper classes. Somehow in a milieu in which freshly graduated men are admonished to “find yourself something to do” (though in no ways to work hard) while the women need to hurry up and get a rich husband, the concept of a magic piano that makes people dance and sing – in a park! – is bizarrely liberating. It should all just be too much – too stupid, too “nobody will fall for this any more” – but the whole thing was handled with a very light and richly comic touch that kept us all bubbling along in suspended disbelief rather like a room full of souffles. The comedy element about broke me during a scene in which our heroine’s mother is getting “done” at a salon and takes a phone call. She’s massaged, dried, made up, and manicured, all while carrying on the most ridiculous conversation, her voice vibrating, warbling, and modulating as she’s squeezed, stretched, and pummelled by the staff – and as a result of the clever staging and “let’s push the volume to eleven” upstaging by the supporting cast, I was in stitches. Was the point of this scene to reveal great secrets about the character, or perhaps to morally edify the audience? No, its goal was to make us laugh, and it was very successful at doing so.

Oh, the whole show is just too much the sort of thing “Man In Chair” from Drowsy Chaperone adores and exactly the kind of musical that’s utterly fallen out of style, and OH the dancing was fun (not brilliant but good to watch) and OH the songs and singing a pleasure (how have I never heard any of these tunes before?) and somehow the Deus Ex Machina they pulled out in the last scene was just camp enough to sell itself. Really, no one could possibly buy such a silly plot, but with the kind of joy Tête à Tête infused this production, it was just impossible to care about reality. I walked into Riverside Studios and spent two hours lost in musical theater land. And it was good.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Sunday January 23rd, when Andrew Ahern nicely filled in in the role of Timothy. It continues through Sunday, February 8th, and I expect it should be selling out fairly regularly now – there were no more than ten seats left the day I went and given it’s five glasses rave by the Whingers I expect they should all be filled going forward. As a side notes, the bad puns in this review are wholly supported by the book, and if you don’t believe me, then lettuce alone.)

Review – Gekidan Kateisha’s “Bye Bye Reflection” – Riverside Studios

December 1, 2007

Gekidan Kaitaisha (a modern Japanese dance troupe) was quite good. I was fortunate enough to get free tickets (this always makes a show better in my book) and convinced a former coworker to come see it with me.  It was a rough show for someone who doesn’t watch a lot of modern dance – no music and absolutely no “rythmic movement” – but Josh soldiered on despite his jet lag. A few audience members lacked his fortitude. I don’t know, half naked people standing nearly motionless above a mirror in the floor, does this lack intrinsic interest?

While I thought it was going to be more about 9/11, it was also quite a bit about the “comfort women” of World War II, and of course the overall negative effects institutionalizing violence has on a society. (One particularly memorable scene had a man slamming his hand into an evening-gown clad woman’s back, then sitting down and taking notes at a desk, while another man in a waist-high cage talked about deciding who to torture at Guantanamo.)  I found it quite thought provoking. And it made me wish M. Vermillion was watching it with me, even though Josh liked it.