Posts Tagged ‘Rosalie Craig’

Review – Threepenny Opera – National Theatre

May 24, 2016

I swear I’ve seen The Threepenny Opera before, but I’m beginning to think either it was very, very long ago (a student production when I was in college?) or perhaps a film? Was it just tapes of the music? Or perhaps … was the National’s reimagining of this show so original that it just blew all of my memories away? It’s so difficult to say. I mean, everyone knows Mack the Knife(er – Captain Macheath – Rory Kinnear) is a murderer … but do I remember him as being so hopelessly weak around the ladies? Did he also sleep with men? Was Mr Peachum (Nick Holder) as corrupt as all that? The only thing I was certain was absolutely, positively NOT in the original was the newly tarted up Polly Peachum (Rosalie Craig), who was more of a gangster’s moll than an innocent led astray by love. And of course I’ve never seen the cast be such a variety of races and even disabilities – assuming Jamie Beddard as Matthias “the Shadow” is actually really handicapped and not just playing “a bloke in a wheelchair with a speech impediment,” which would be just too incredibly distasteful for the National to contemplate and which caused a friend of mine to leave the theater in outrage, believing him a stereotype rather than an example of incredible casting. I found it all perfect, and well suited to a show set in London’s East End. So perhaps there really have been huge changes to the script. Rather than comparing it to what’s gone before, I’m going to treat this show like it’s all brand new, because, really, I felt it was a whole new ball game, and that’s how I’m going to write about it.

So. It’s London, and it’s time for a big celebration – the Silver Jubilee? The Golden Jubilee? Who knows. It seems to be today, a time when British soldiers are back from Afghanistan (including Macheath and Chief Inspector Brown – Peter de Jersey) – but simultaneously an older London, where criminals and prostitutes have their “patch” and beware those who cross it – most of all anyone else trying to earn a living begging or stealing on the streets. The evil Mr Peachum runs a gang of beggars which seems, all things considered, to be quite copacetic with the police, because each is as corrupt as the other. Peachum seems to be a man of no morals – he’s unconcerned who his wife Celia (Haydn Gwynne) has sex with – and he celebrates violence. But for some reason he is outraged that Macheath has married his daughter Polly. Possibly he was planning on keeping her around to sell for sex – it’s all a little unclear – or perhaps Mac is just his enemy from past deeds. Polly runs home from her nuptial deflowering, grabs some clothes, and is off again, and the plot is set in motion: Peachum wants to catch and kill Mackie. Songs ensue.

The set for this show is stripped back, with the walls of the theater exposed and the various elements (staircases, platforms, etc) done very bare-bones, with the occasional burst of excitement from, say, an extremely realistic car, a sparkling hoop of a cartoony moon (best decorated with George Ikediashi standing on it and singing), or a giant British flag that’s about the size of the entire Lyttleton. The characters, however, are dressed richly, with extravagant hair, makeup, and costumes helping to bring all of the principals (and secondaries) to life. This is the kind of theater where we are being forced to use our imagination, and with that little help a rich, seedy world comes brilliantly to light.

Yet somehow the combination of music, story, and setting didn’t gel for me. I didn’t feel anything for anyone on stage. They seemed like cartoon characters, as unrealistic and formless as Marvel superheroes but without the outrageous back stories. And I found that without sympathy, there was no tragedy, merely a tale of several lives gone bad, done to music. Is it because I was watching a preview? Or perhaps that was all the effect that the show sought? Either way, it was a dissatisfying evening, with some musical highlights and a few coup du theatre but nothing that really grabbed me. I was in the back row, though, so perhaps it was just too hard to get to me. Still, it seemed like a good production of this show, and if you’re paying more than £15, you may find you get a more intense experience.

(This review was for a performance that took place on Thursday, May 19, 2016. It runs for a while.)

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Review – The Light Princess – National Theater (or “National Theatre” for some)

October 14, 2013

Although I finished my review of Ghosts first, there’s no doubt in my mind that The Light Princess is the bigger theatrical event – any new musical would be, but this one has the advantage (over Bare, for example) of having Tori Amos write the music and, well, the National Theater to back it. But it really wasn’t on my radar because, well, Tori Amos, and, er, the National Theater – I figured it would be lifeless, pretentious, tedious, and full of boring music.

But, well, I did my usual thing of asking my theater loving friends, “What’s really good right now?” and got an earful about this show from Ought To Be Clowns. He RAVED about it, said he’d seen it several times already, and that if I liked Sondheim, there was a good chance I’d appreciate its non-tune oriented musicality. I was pretty impressed, and with a bit of luck on my side managed to get some 12 quid tickets for opening night. (They were the side seats in the very back of the theater but when I picked them up, they’d been magically upgraded to row F circle. Rah!)

A bit of plot as this is a new play: there is a princess, Althea (Rosalie Craig), whose mother died when she was young. All of the kingdom was plunged into mourning; Althea, for some reason, “rose above it all” quite literally, not only not crying, but literally losing her groundedness, becoming a floating (“light”) princess. Her father, King Darius (Clive Rowe), has her confined to a tower and focuses on her brother as his heir. Meanwhile, in a neighboring kingdom, Prince Digby’s mother also dies … but under mysterious circumstances (as she criticized the king). No one is allowed to mourn her; he becomes the solemn prince (Nick Hendrix), known for never smiling: ideal, as he is heir and his father wants him to be a heartless killing machine, with a life aim of taking over Althea’s gold-rich (but water-poor) kingdom. It seems inevitable that they should meet ….

For a good long time at the start of The Light Princess (well, once the animated background movie was over), I was utterly absorbed in how Althea was made to float. Although at times it was via a harness, in fact, most of the time she was being moved by people, turned and supported (sometimes with their feet!) as if she were a bunraku puppet. Craig appeared to be entirely unaware of the hands and bodies manipulating her; she simply seemed buoyant. While I don’t want to say it was distracting – it was actually fairly invisible IF YOU STOPPED STARING AT IT – it was still such an unusual effect that I missed most of what she was saying (singing, actually, as there was little straight dialog) for at least half an hour.

Crisis time comes, inevitably (as princes and princesses from differing kingdoms must meet in any self-respecting fairy tale), as Althea runs away from her duty to her kingdom and Digby runs toward his (as leader of his kingdom’s army). They both meet in the great wilderness that divides their kingdoms, in a beautiful, magical lake.

Um. I have to stop here, because even before we had got to the lake, my theatrical suspension of disbelief had kicked in and I was just buying everything I saw. King Darius’s Amazonian major general in her amazing gold armor; the falcon that was Digby’s only friend (and the lady falconer with her red glove); a flying princess who could make friends with a beautiful blue bird (surely actually a hyacinth macaw!); Digby and Althea falling in love. I was completely ready for the unbounded amazingness that was the lake: cheesy simple effects with black lights and puppets making fish jump and water lilies bloom and the whole thing feel almost like a stop-motion animation come to life. And, yes, they were still mostly just singing. What could be more appropriate in a world so full of magic?

In retrospect, I had some quibbles: the music felt a bit samey-samey and wasn’t hitting a lot of different emotions; the lyrics, similarly, struggled to get beyond childishness and were crippled by repetition and a lack of imagination (the word H2O shouldn’t really be sung more than once in an entire evening). But otherwise I felt like I was seeing the grand flowering of British theatrical creativity taking place on stage in front of me, the culmination of fantastic set design, costuming, acting and singing talent (that could perform, night after night, while being tossed around like a football!), and a creative approach to movement (animation! puppets! acrobats!) that all blended together to create something I simply cannot believe I got to see in a space as intimate as the Lyttleton. And, man, I got to hear Clive Rowe really sing out, and I got to hear people sing about things I thought mattered – like being accepted for who you are, like not turning your back on things that make you uncomfortable – and, um, all that for twelve pounds? Wow.

The Light Princess is the kind of thing that makes me feel lucky that I live in London. I don’t know if I’ll be able to go again, but I feel sure lots of other people will, and will love it. And you, if you’re thinking about it, I advise you to not hesitate: this is going to be a sell-out.

(This review is for the opening night performance that took place on October 9, 2013. It is booking through January 9th, 2014.)