Posts Tagged ‘Rosmersholm’

Review – Creditors – The Donmar

October 22, 2008

It is not often that a night at the theater leaves me feeling a little breathless, but last night’s trip to the Donmar did – it was an outstanding combination of a powerful script, absorbing acting, and an environment intimate enough to make it all feel real. Creditors was fantastic. It’s hard to believe that before the show I was thinking about not going because I was so worn out!

I’ve never seen a play by Strindberg before, and the only way I can describe him is “like Pinter, only with all of the words.” There were only three characters – Tekla (Anna Chancellor), her husband Adolph (Tom Burke), and the mysterious Gustav (Owen Teale). The program notes advised us to see them not as characters, but rather as archetypes, which worked well – I was reminded of Albee’s Sandbox and of No Exit when observing their interactions, which seemed hyper-real, especially in the first scene, in which a mysterious man, Gustav (a doctor? a figment of the imagination), counsels Adolph about his life. He’s already convinced Adolphe that his artistic career is meaningless, then proceeds to completely and utterly tear him apart. How does he know so much about Adolph? How is he able to hone so perfectly into his weak spots? His knowledge of the man seemed unreal. Gustav was also possessed of an unbelievable misogynism. While I could believe the character could see a woman as “a blank page upon which the husband writes” (it seemed fairly typical of other 19th century drama, Ibsen in particular), his foray into the repulsion of women’s “hemorhaghing 13 weeks out of the year” and “having bodies that are that of a fatty, slovenly youth” (paraphrased) were just too much for me to digest. On the other hand, Adolphe’s nearly pornographic sculpture of his wife – on her back with her legs spread – was also just too much for me and made it hard to not burst out laughing. This was Adolphe’s ideal? He seemed to be rather humorously focused on her crotch. Ah, the Victorian psyche – who knows what made them tick!

As the play continues, we have Adolphe tear into Tekla, followed by Tekla and Gustav going at each other, and all of it ending in a glorious menage at the end – a wonderful celebration of the way human beings get to know each other so well through the bonds of love that they well and truly aquire the power and knowledge they need to completely destroy each other, mentally and physically. Chancellor is electric as Tekla, managing to be flirty, disgusted, loving, seductive, hateful, and very much her own woman throughout the show. Gustav seems rather a bit too mental … but provides a great foil for the rather evil (and certainly hateful) Adolphe. It all reminded me of Rosmersholme – and what a failure I consider that play to be, with its ultimately weak characters and over the top storyline. If only it had been as succinct as Creditors!

I was surprised to see the Donmar as sold out as ever for this evening and with standing room seats taken yet again – can this place ever produce a bomb? And who’d have suspected Alan Rickman of such directorial depths? For its 90 minute running time, it’s well worth standing through. That said, I must thank the West End Whingers for a heads up on getting tickets for this great show, which I consider to be the second best thing I’ve seen on stage this year. (Noel Cowards’ Brief Encounter is still my favorite, and it’s still running for a few more weeks – why not see them both?)

(This review is for a performance that took place on Tuesday, October 28th. Creditors runs through November 15th.)

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Review – Fat Pig – Comedy Theatre

September 26, 2008

After reading the Whingers’ enthusiastic review of Fat Pig, I was eager to go … but apparently the cat was out of the bag, and night after night I was unable to get an affordable seat at Trafalgar Studios. Fortunately, it’s been moved to The Comedy Theatre, so I had a second chance to see this play – and when an offer came up for free tickets for the first hundred people to buy a pair, I leapt at the chance.

Oddly, I had a bit of trouble convincing other people to see this play with me. I think the title really puts people off – it did me and only the positive review of several people I respect convinced me to go. This isn’t an anti-fat play, no matter what you might think.

My posse convened at Red Hot, a new Szechuan restaurant on Charing Cross Road (actually quite close to the theater, though closer to Wyndhams). I could go on and on about how good the food was – or the irony of going to a play called “Fat Pig” when I was so stuffed I could barely walk – but I’ll save that for later. At any rate, I feared I would fall asleep during the show and downed cup after cup of green tea during the meal. Thankfully, service was fast and we made it from arrival at the table (at 6 PM) to arrival at the Comedy in a mere hour and twenty minutes. More restaurants should follow this example!

At any rate, I was surprised to find Wilco playing over the loudspeakers when we arrived. How pleasant! Unfortunately the theater appeared to only be about half full, which did result in us being moved forward about ten rows (to my relief, I really dislike being under a low ceiling in the stalls). And the program came with free chocolates! I was still too cheap to buy one, but it almost changed my mind – and if there’d been a bit of room inside of me, I’m sure I would have been swayed.

To my surprise, this play is actually set in America. This is pretty nice for me, to see my home depicted in a modern play (as opposed to some Tennessee Williams chestnut – we have moved on!). The actors actually did fairly well with the accent as well (with the exception of Joanna Page, who kept falling apart around the edges). I couldn’t place the location – while with its mention of “beach” and “big office” it seemed like it was supposed to be New York or East Coast, but the way people were acting made me think much more of Ohio. And the reference to the Albertson’s grocery store was very West Coast, but it was clear this wasn’t taking place in California.

The story is about a youngish man, Tom (played by Nick Burns) who meets a girl named Helen (Ella Smith) while having lunch one day. They hit it off pretty well, and soon he’s dating her – a fact he hides from his best work friend/tormentor Carter (Kevin Bishop) and office accountant Jeannie (Page), who (oops!) Tom was apparently dating but hasn’t really had the guts to break up with. She still thinks it’s going on, Carter wants to make them fight with each other, and the next thing you know, the whole office has had the picture of the “Fat Pig” Tom had dinner with plastered on their desktops.

The cast is apparently just half of what it was originally, as both of the women carried over from Trafalgar Studios, but the men have both been replaced. Bishop seems to have jumped in with both feet, but Burns has more work to do, as a lead character who is basically weak is hard to make sympathetic (witness Rosmersholm). I found Smith’s Helen just incredibly sympathetic, and while much of this can be ascribed to great dialogue, she also just really seemed to “get” the character 0 – the self-deprecating humor, the honesty, the brave girl face on top of the person who actually still wants to be accepted and loved. I was also really surprised that her conversations with Tom were so incredibly naturalistic – normally in plays, couples are in high drama mode, but this “working through our issues” stuff could have come right out of my mouth. It was especially a contrast with the high-octane bragadoccio and just plain filth that came out of Carter’s mouth – it got a lot of laughs but over and over the audience gasped at his unrestrained words.

This was really a good show and all of us got into it. Though the set is simple and the costumes plain (really, could Jeannie have had more than just two outfits – one of them the swim suit in the final scene?), I found the dialogue great and the play really convesation provoking. Despite my very full stomach, I had absolutely no problems staying awake for this entire show. It’s worth seeing, absolutely, and I think the people who didn’t come with me didn’t know what they were going to be missing.

(This review is for a performance that took place on September 25th, 2008. Ambassadors is running a deal for £20 tickets: “Best Tickets £20! (Valid all Mon- Fri eves & both mats until 10 Oct)
Enter Promotion Code: FPSTAND.” Also Kelly Brook, whoever she is, is taking over the role of Jeannie from October 13th, and someone named Katie Kerr is taking over the role of Helen, I think from the same time. )

Review of “Rosmersholm” – Almeida Theatre

June 13, 2008

Last night my uncle and my husband and I went to the wilds of Islington (which is actually far less wild than Dalston, where Ibsen and I last crossed swords) to the Almeida to see Ibsen’s Rosmersholm. I’m on an Ibsen quest, like my Pinter quest, though Ibsen is making it easier by being dead and thus not making it possible to have new play added. We ponied up for a program, which revealed some important Ibsen tidbits for me, especially regarding the order in which he wrote his plays: Rosmersholm preceded Hedda Gabler by four years (1886 and 1890), and was written just before The Lady from the Sea. This gave me an idea of where he was in terms of his skills as a playwright – oddly, near the height of his powers, given that the nearly perfect John Gabriel Borkman was written in 1896 and his last play in 1899. (I can also now say that I have my list of plays to see: I’m going to plan on skipping the critical failures, which I don’t think will ever be produced anyway, but I also have a dire need to see Ghosts and Peer Gynt.)

Rosmersholm (the home of the Rosmer family is the correct translation, I believe) is an odd play. I ended the first act feeling elated, but the second act left me dissatisfied and the third disgusted. As in Lady from the Sea, this comes down to problems with the script. The first act was very naturalistic, mostly concerning a confrontation between Mr. Rosmer (Paul Hilton) and an old friend of the family, Doctor Kroll (Malcolm Sinclair, last seen in Dealer’s Choice – boy, can this guy act!). Listening to Kroll go on about the values of conservatism, the ignorance of the masses, how wives should get their opinions from their husbands, how liberals are evil and a force of corruption to true and noble values, and how wretched the press is was (etc.) was actually a blast. He was strongly opposed to many of the things I personally believe in, but, even though some of his opinions were merely dated, so many of them seemed to still hold relevance today and I found his rants quite intriguing. I was also fascinated by how quickly he shrugged off Rebecca’s (Helen McCrory) attempts to engage him in conversation – after all, what could a woman know about politics! Then Rosmer dropped his bomb on Kroll, the shit hit the fan, exciting debates about atheism and what liberals believe in ensued, and I was hooked, and ready to recommend this play to all of my friends.

Unfortunately, act two descended into, I don’t know, something like “truthyism” but perhaps better described as “writeryistic.” Plot points need to be made, and what better way to do it than two letters sent by a dead person! (I was kind of reminded of the arrival of heralds in the Greek plays, describing off-screen action, such as murders and wars.) We just weren’t buying it and the endless exposition was beginning to grate. I couldn’t buy Kroll rejecting Rosmer’s friendship outright in act one, and his subsequent return in act two layered a second thick improbability on the first. C’mon, this is all supposed to be naturalistic, have the people actually act naturally!

Speaking of which, I was really having problems with Helen McCrory’s costuming and performance. Victorian women didn’t keep their hair in modern office girl fluffy half-twists, they didn’t slop their bodies all over the place, and, in general, I just think she didn’t do her research on properly playing a woman of the era, even if she was a free thinker. I also found the way she made herself tremble when she was confronting Rosmer just a little too much. How is it that an English actor can go to so much effort to get an accent right and then totally drop the personal representation of a historical era?

The penny finally dropped in the third act, when Ibsen threw reality out the door and suddenly went for a sort of Young Werther gothic drama. Rebecca’s revelations were all a little too much to be believed, Rosmer’s endless mood changes were completely over the top, and the ending was just … ridiculous and as over the top as a pasted on Hollywood ending a la Lady and the Sea. If Ibsen has gone to all of this trouble to create real people with real problems, why have them start acting like silly ninnies just to wrap up the show conclusively? All three of us grumbled as we left – such high hopes, so cruelly dashed! I’ll still keep seeing Ibsen, but I’m hoping he doesn’t let me down as roughly as he did last night.

In other news, my esteemed colleagues the West End Whingers have been blamed by a cast member of Gone with the Wind for that show’s “untimely” demise. I think it’s ridiculous to think that anyone who pays to see a preview as putrid as the one they described should be considered in anyway obliged to keep mum about it – in my mind, they were doing a public service! If you want it to be a secret, then workshop the show or have more dress rehearsals, and if you’re genuinely concerned about what to add and what to keeep and how it will play in front of a live audience, then for God’s sake do what they did for Hairspray and trial it in some smaller theatrical markets (Seattle and Chicago in this example). Could this show have succeeded? Possibly, with months more of rewrites – but from what I heard about the songs, I think perhaps not.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Thrusday, June 12th.)

Pre-show anticipation – Matthew Bourne’s “Portrait of Dorian Gray” – the excitement is building! – and discount tickets for Peony Pavillion

June 2, 2008

I actually broke down and bought my tickets for Portrait of Dorian Gray today. I’m not going to be able to make it Edinburgh to see it as part of the Fringe (that weekend was already booked), but the September London presentation at Sadler’s Wells is a must. I will now be seeing it on Wednesday, September 3rd, and I’m excited! It’s also now the theatrical event that’s booked furthest ahead on my calendar. Tickets for most of the main floor were already sold, which I think is pretty impressive.

Oddly, this all came about because I was rebooking my tickets for The Peony Pavillion, since a fabulous deal came my way – £15 stalls seats for any show, if you use the promotion code pcdchineseopera . For all of the people who’ve come to this blog looking for info on authentic Chinese cultural presentations, I’d like to encourage you to see this show – it should be top of the line and it’s not the thing I’ve ever had the opportunity to see. Go go go (both of you)!

I also booked tickets for the Sara Baras flamenco show in mid-July (also at Sadlers Wells), and I’m kind of wondering about seeing the English National Ballet’s show at the Royal Festival Hall in early July. It’s got choreography by three people I’ve never heard of before, but it’s also butting right up against my departure date for the York Early Music festival, so I might be too pressed to catch it. Sadly, I’ve never been particularly electrified by any performance I’ve seen by ENB, so this is also making me think I shouldn’t go … but maybe this time things would be … different.

Closer in, I’ve got a pile of tickets accumulating in anticipation of my uncle’s arrival next week – the Marguerite the Musical set, a quartet of Revenger’s Tragedy at a delicious £10 a pop, a trio for Romersholm at the Almeida (I never see discount tickets there – makes me think they must do a better job at picking the right shows for the right length of time, or maybe they’ve done a good job of cultivating a steady audience) … now all I need is to have those silly Powder Her Face tickets jump in my hand for the Sunday June 15th performance, and somehow get a few for the Edith Bagnold’s Chalk Garden at the Donmar on Wednesday June 11th – but it looks sadly like they are sold out and you can forget my doing standing room for anything these days. Perhaps Afterlife at the National will prove an acceptable substitute, but with my luck it won’t even be on that day.

In a final note, I am still beating myself up for not ordering my Jordi Savall tickets for the York Early Music Festival early enough, and am praying to the gods of returned tickets to show me some mercy on this – he’s the whole reason I’m going!