Posts Tagged ‘Royal Court Theater’

Mini-review – God Bless the Child – Royal Court Theater

December 1, 2014

I have to say, given my general dislike of child performers, God Bless the Child at the Royal Court seemed like a show custom designed to send me screaming out of the theater. And then as I walked into the Jerwood Upstairs, and lo and behold, I was walking into a primary school classroom, going down the hall past the low-hanging coathooks and lockers, and then sitting on plastic chairs on the edge of a room with shortened tables (and lilypads and toadstools) in the center, and paper maché mobiles hanging from the ceiling, and posters covered with class projects. And then the actors marched on stage and suddenly the weird comments in the program (“Thank you Vicki Featherstone for never being tempted to use puppets”) made sense – because there were, what, nine kids of about 8 years on stage? The horror! The horror!

The story was actually not only new but quite modern in its concerns and electrically focused on modern politics – to be honest, blazing quite confidently into Shavian territory but with nearly no need to lecture us as the expense of entertainment (unlike some shows I could mention). Yet even without the politics the premise is interesting: a young girl decides that the teaching program she’s being a subject of/subjected to is ridiculous, and begins to protest against its methods in ways that underline its ineffectiveness. The heat is turned on when it’s revealed to us by Headmistress (aka school principal for us Americaners) Ms Evitt (Nikki Amuka Bird) that she’s putting the squeeze on the class’s teacher Ms Newsome (Ony Uhiara) to make it work or else … or else the school will continue to struggle financially. So despite us sympathizing with Louis (Nancy Allsop)’s campaign of undermining this corporate sponsored pap, we can’t help but also feel that the adults are trying to make it work out of generally positive concern for the school.

However, as the play carries on, while Louis (now styled King Louis) continues her reign in increasingly mad fashion, we get the addition of both the not very nice creator of the Badger Does Best system, Sali Rayner (Amanda Abbington, chilling), and some frightening realizations about just why having Badger teaching the kids might not be a good idea. In fact, by the time the denoument rolled around, between the increasing hysteria of Sali and The King, I was beginning to think we were looking at a very grim play indeed. That’s some of the fun of seeing a new show – you never know what to expect. And for this show, I think you can take my word that it’s just a really great ride and go for it.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Monday, November 24, 2014. It continues through December 20th.)

Mini-review – Birdland – Royal Court Theater

May 20, 2014

It seems almost pointless writing up Birdland given that it’s closing in less than two weeks: but I just have to stand up and say HOORAY! for a show that makes me feel like we are truly living in a golden age of theater. I can almost imagine fans of German theater saying, “Oh, but British theater is all so realistic!” or perhaps other people saying, “Oh, but this show is gloomy!” but to me, any play that makes me experience real feelings, that makes me, for example, genuinely embarrassed for actors reading a script as if I were actually listening to a real conversation between two people in a semi-public place … while, in reality, I was just watching people who were being paid to speak lines which they had said again and again night after night … WHEW!

Now admittedly there’s a bit of typecasting in putting poor old Andrew Scott in the role of yet another whiny git we’d just love to slap (as Paul, an egotistical front man for some kind of chipper pop band), but then, wow, look, there’s the utterly amazing Daniel Cerquiera just seamlessly playing so many utterly different roles … Paul’s smarmy band manager, the distraught father of a suicided groupie, and Paul’s completely grounded and rather sad dad … I mean, where has Cerquiera been hiding? He’s the kind of perfectly formed actor that the London theatrical scene seems to be exhaling through its gills, so perfect at so many roles that, even with the (mere) six actors on stage for nearly the entire two hours (I could see them! right there!) I kept thinking some other guy had shown up to do whichever role I was watching. I mean, listen to this speech Cerquiera made as the father whose daughter has died, it’s going to sound so trite but I have to quote it:

[S]he’s in my head all the time. Do you see? I feel heavy with sadness. I feel like my clothes are heavy with sadness. The physical effort of getting up in the morning is crippling to me.

I felt heartbroken listening to him say that. For God’s sake, I was just listening to an actor! On a stage that didn’t even pretend to be realistic! (Actually it was like the Old Vic’s Much Ado set was recycled by someone who was determined to make a point that it could be used in a way that was not shit, with a bonus “drowning” metaphor thrown in to make the entire experience not just a little bit more beautiful but, I have to say it, profound.) How could I lose my sense of separation? He was speaking words that were WRITTEN for him to say (by Mr Simon Stephens, and full credits for your plot twists, sir), I shouldn’t have felt a thing.

And it was all … perfect. And it wasn’t some shit celebrity rehash of Shakespeare that nobody really needed to see or put on. I was fully in the moment even when the idiot six seats over had her MP3 player go off late in the show. (I imagined throwing it into the canal surrounding the set. A fitting end, I think.)

At least, well, I can feel good knowing that this show is pretty well sold out for the whole run, like it ought to be. Five stars, baby, five stars: it doesn’t get any better than this. I can prove it with numbers, and numbers never lie.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Monday May 19th and cost me all of TEN POUNDS, baby. Ten pounds isn’t even real money. Well, not to Paul, anyway. Maybe to his dad. If they were actually really people, which they’re not. I think. I kind of wasn’t sure for a bit. Anyway, Birdland runs through May 31st. Please try really hard to go see it.)

Mini-review – Pests – Royal Court Theatre

April 7, 2014

You’d think as an American that I’d like my theater to be all Hollywood, happy endings and mindless entertainment. But it’s not so. Although I don’t like blood and violence, I do like plays that are hard, that don’t have happy endings, that may deal with, shall we say, uncomfortable subjects. And Pests, at the Royal Court, is exactly that kind of play. The one liner I had (spoiler free, I think), was that it was about two sisters in a dysfunctional relationship, and that it was really good. It was hard, hard work as an audience member, and it left us with more questions than answers. But it was decidedly excellent, not just for plot and acting but frankly amazing language use. I say this as a warning that I shall now spoiler the rest of the play so I can have some fun talking about said questions.


Part of the reason I was so impressed by this play was its head on, authentic depiction of heroin addiction. Pink (Sinead Matthews), the older sister, is delusional, occasionally violent, and extremely driven … to do the wrong things. And her brain now has fucked wiring, whether caused by junk or other things isn’t certain, but it makes her behavior even more erratic. We’re handily clued into this by a creeping flickering that is projected on the stage as her sanity wavers. I could see in her highs (manic and sleepy happy junk induced) and lows (oddly never questioning her life) the same brain patterns I once saw in the junkies I knew in the arts scene in Phoenix. In a play, this knocked me flat. (Now, mind you, even with fake bruises and scabs, Sinead Matthews was too clean and healthy looking to be a real junkie living in the kind of situation depicted, but no reason to be too, too accurate.)

But what I loved even more about this play was the amazing relationship between the two sisters. When Pink and Rolly (Ellie Kendrick) first see each other, there’s a burst of kinetic energy that reads as aggression, full of swearing and tussling as it is. But the dynamic proves to be loving despite the fake scuffles. Or is it? Watching the two of them over the course of the play, it begins to seem that if anyone suffers from their toxic existence – and Pink goes for robbery and GBH as well as her stock in trade prostitution – it’s the sisters themselves, ruining their own lives and each other’s. At the end of the play, I expected to see sororicide …and my partner was sure it had happened.

As ever, I find seeing plays where the lives of the characters seem to exist before and after the moments where I am actually watching them exhilarating, and the mark of truly fine writing. Pests is such a play, and at the affordable Royal Court, it is a must-see.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Saturday, April 5th, 2014. It continues through May 3rd.)

Mini-review – The River – Royal Court Theater

December 30, 2012

There’s no doubt in my mind that for theater fanatics in London, The River was the event of the year: a new play by one of the writers with the biggest buzz in the biz, yet staged in a theater that only holds about 90 people, and with tickets only for sale on the day (20 for in-person buyers and the rest online). Me and my theater loving acquaintances were not pleased. Many of us saw it as a publicity stunt; most of us doubted the play could really only be successful in a small space (was Butterworth really being that much of a princess?); some spent months planning their schemes to ensure they could get a ticket (I’ll admit the day of scheme took care of most scalping possibilities) while many of us just figured it wasn’t going to happen. I, personally, saw this as the lynchpin in letting my membership of the Royal Court lapse despite generally enjoying the work done there. What was the point in supporting a theater that would leave me, as a member, completely out in the cold? I was so disappointed by the whole thing I put it entirely out of my mind as something that just wasn’t going to happen.

Months went by, the show opened, and exactly twice early on I was at my computer at the right time and actually saw the “for sale” button lit up on the Royal Court’s ticket page. But somehow I just couldn’t be quick enough. A few people I knew went and said it was good; the reviews came out and agreed; I gave up because I hadn’t left every day of the run open in the hope that one of those days I would buy tickets and just got on with my life.

And then, well, a friend of mine said he had a tip about how to work the computer system to get to the tickets about 10 seconds faster than anyone else, and on the last Thursday of the run I managed to have an afternoon free and have my act together enough to be right there, online, perfectly at the moment I needed to to have my sweet little booking scam ready to go (one of the tips being to make sure you were already logged in). Bang bang, I was off to a matinee of the show I thought I was never going to get to see! I could finally decide for myself if a one act play was really worth the hype.

Embarrassingly (given what a grinch I was about the whole thing), without the poison of the ticketing system hanging over me, there is no way I can deny that this was anything but an excellently written play, beautifully performed. I found the writing left me with more questions that it answered, one of my favorite situations to be left at at the end of the play. The Hemingway-like dialogue was very intense and paired nicely with Ted Hughes poetry (and of course the fishing setting, and the general hypermasculinity of the play and its lead character), but what I wanted to know was: did someone die here? Was it one of the women? Did he push her in the river (and why), or did she fall? The echoing nature of the play just made it all seem so possible, and seem so very likely that the way the two women interchanged with each other was because one was a ghost. What Butterworth couldn’t teach Conor McPherson about how to write a spooky play! But then, I wondered … was the guy just living with his memories? Or was he maybe, as he said his grandfather did, reliving the same behavior patterns with different people, stuck in a loop he could never break out of?

The play ended, leaving me surprised and exhilarated. None of my theories could be proven, but it had all seemed very real and was enlessly watchable (and an amusing counterpoint to the similarly structured Ding Dong The Wicked, which I saw barely a month before). British playwrights, Jez spanks you: watch and learn at the feet of the master.

(This very belated review is for a performance seen on Thursday, November 15th, 2012. Since the play is long closed, I didn’t worry about spoilering it. Thanks to Andy for helping me get in.)

Comments – Haunted Child – Royal Court Theatre

December 5, 2011

You’d think I could sit through a two hour play on any night, even if it were without an interval. “Haunted Child,” the new show at the Royal Court, is two hours with an interval. And yet, I used the interval as my cue to leave the theater

I guess I’m losing my dedication to my blog; but I’m just not staying anymore when I want to fall asleep during the first act of a show. And this talky, dull show was once again “the play that I hate” (see Chicken Soup with Barley and Ecstasy) – a horrible, talky party in which I am stuck listening to people who aren’t interesting but still yammer on, scene after scene. Yeah, Dad (Ben Daniels) ran off and joined a cult, and now he’s talking shit, frustrating his wife and filling his kid’s head with garbage. Unfortunately I’ve had to deal of plenty of people like this and letting them go on just encourages them in their delusions. I felt no sense of pathos for Mom (Sophie Okonedo) or her bratty kid. She, like me, needed to cut her losses; I succeeded. She is strong and will get along fine on her own.

More interesting to me would have been a play about Dad’s time in the cult. But, well, I didn’t get that play. Instead, I got an interval and a nice quick trip back to Tooting.

In short, I’ll think of this as the night the Royal Court let me get a full night’s sleep. Bless those 10 quid tickets for making me not feel guilty for doing it!

(This review is for a performance that took lace on December 5th, 2011. Jack Boulter played the son and was rather wooden. Rather makes the accomplishments of the Matilda cast that more impressive. Here’s a link to Ian’s review now that he’s finished; he noted, however, that many other people in the vicinity cleared out at the interval, so it wasn’t just me.)

Review – Over There – Royal Court Theatre

March 6, 2009

Last night I went with J to see Over There, a new play by Mark Ravenhill dealing with the topic of German reunification. Now, I admit, I went to see this for the worst of all reasons – because there were twins playing the lead roles (Harry and Luke Treadaway). Well, that’s not entirely true – I wanted to see it because the article I read in the Observer two days before, which told me about the twins gimmick and also made the play sound like it wouldn’t suck in spite of its rather overly earnest subject matter – because, let’s face it, everytime I’ve seen a play about current events, it’s either been nauseatingly preachy/self-loving or just generally lame due to unimpressive plot and characterization (“Gesthemane“). This, however, not only had twins, but (per the story) was actually more about how the East Germans actually have a fair bit to be pissed off about. This sounded like a really refreshing viewpoint. I mean, talking about it with my cube neighbor at work, she kept harping on about how expensive it was for the West Germans and how resentful they were and how the East German factories were all crap, anyway. So, if that’s the viewpoint I’ve been hearing for ten/twenty years, what’s REALLY been happening? I thought this play might give me a better idea of the truth of the story rather than the, “We saved the East Germans from their own backwardness” attitude that seems to be the party line out here in Freedomland.

Now, before I get into it with the play, I want to talk about what was actually really interesting about this show (aside from the fact it was 70 minutes long and my seats were only £12 – and genuine Corinthian leather): it did actually make me aware of the … perhaps limited is the word? … nature of the theater I’ve been watching. The article mentioned that English theater’s “restrictive naturalism,” and German theater’s “liberatingly playful” nature, and after seeing this show, I am really wondering about what I have bought into here with all of the theater I keep piling into my brain. Am I becoming the master of a tiny slice of world theater – and completely ignorant of anything else that is out there? Would I only ever see shows through the filter of the English language theater scene because of my own limitations? And what is that keeping me from getting to see and appreciate? Or, maybe, is this the only kind of stuff I could really enjoy, anyway? I certainly don’t get much out of theater spoken in languages I don’t understand, but if I see it done here, in translation, I am only seeing the same style imposed on different words.

And, I think, much of what I enjoyed about this play was the way it joyously ignored the existence of the theatrical reality that might have held it back. NOTE: SPOILER ALERT, SUMMARY: FUN SHOW. The story wasn’t really about the twins’ relationship, or their development as human beings; it was a full-on, full-length, extended metaphor for the assimilation of East Germany by West Germany, with each of the twins representing one side far more than they were meant to be real people. It was all delightfully removed from reality, from the sponge that stood in for the West German’s son to the scene in which the East German brother covered himself with flour and Nutella and was then mopped off by his brother (in a scene wildly reminiscent of Karen Finley’s performances, though it contextually was triggered by “Ostalgie” rather than abuse). What I got out of this show was that actually there were far more things going on well in East Germany than we (as in “we, western capitalist civilization”) have been willing to admit, or even knew about, and that West Germany may really have been quite the arrogant colonizing force, perhaps even a bit … cannibalistic toward their supposed “brothers” in the east.

But (you may ask), how was the “gimmick?” You know, the part where it was a show about two twins … played by two twins? While I fear it may make the show difficult to produce in the future, this really worked for me. To have East German Karl (Luke Treadaway) have shared experiences with West German Franz (Harry Treadaway) via “special twins telepathy” seems really silly, but somehow just close enough to what people expect of twins to be a completely acceptable trope. And to have them speaking together simultanously – the blending of voices couldn’t really happen so well with any other people (though even they didn’t synchronize quite right at times). The costuming and makeup were also quite helpful. Even though the guys did several scenes in really horrifying tighty-whites (or in this case reddies and greenies), the way Karl’s hair was fluffed up and unfashionable always made him look different from Franz. Furthermore, their physiques (visible rather a lot given the underwear scenes) showed viscerally that two people could be in close in blood and thought as these two were supposed to be, and yet the condition of their existences would still cause them to be differentiated from each other as adults, much as Franz and Karl have different attitude about what they value in life and what goals they should work for. (That said, the telepathy bit made it really hard for me to believe that neither knew of the other’s guardian parent’s death … which I wondered meant either that they were lying to each other or that their initial enthusiasm for the innocent versions of each other, i.e. when they first met, was becoming overlaid with lies and concealment of their feelings as they grew to know each other better.)

At any rate, I found this quite entertaining, though you should be warned it features both masturbation (hands in shorts, no genitals visible), a naked butt, and a man (in a TRULY jaw-dropping moment) doing an on-stage “tuck” so he could perform a nude scene as a woman. WOW. These guys are really brave actors! And did he ever need a towel to do his bow. I recommend this show, but be sure you know what you are in for because this was _not_ what I expected – more like Ionesco’s “Rhinoceros” than anything else I could compare it to, absurdist to the core.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Thursday, March 5th, 2009. “Over There” continues until March 21st. Another take is also available courtesy of the WestEnd Whingers.)