Posts Tagged ‘royal court’

Review – The Ferryman – Royal Court (transferring to the Gielgud Theater)

May 20, 2017

There is nothing like having the curtains rise and feeling this wave of emotion rolling off of the stage before even one word of a play has been said. The emotion I’m talking about here is confidence and pride: it’s an entire room full of actors, those on the stage and those hiding behind it waiting for their cues, all thinking as one: I am in the best thing happening right now and every one of you is damned lucky to be here, and you know it. And we did know it. And, well, they were right, not just that I was lucky to be there, standing (standing!) so far on the side of the stage that I never saw one character for most of a scene, but that I was watching the best thing on stage right now and likely for all of this year. The Ferryman is a miracle, really, and although it’s transferring and I could have held out to see it at The Gielgud, no, I wanted to see it in the teeny, intimate Royal Court, and I wanted to be there while the energy was crackling and every person sat down was expecting nothing short of a miracle. They, and I, were not disappointed.

What do you need to know about this show? It’s about a family living on a farm in Ireland in the early 80s, and the discovery of the body of the head of the household’s brother in a bog – where it’s been since he was shot and “disappeared” – raises, pretty literally, ghosts for everyone, but most especially for Quinn Carney (Paddy Considine) and his sister in law Caitlin (Laura Donnelly). They’ve had to try to move forward with their lives while being held back just as if a chain held their collars to a stick in the ground – that stick being the unknown fate of their brother and husband Seamus.

I worried that this play was going to be a horrible weepy overpolitical drag, because I hate political plays – I like plays to be about the relationships between people. And oh, how The Ferryman took that vein and went deep. This is so much a play about people – about love and hate and the ties that bind us together and the words that untie and undo us – about how you decide who to hate and who to love and who is family and who is not – about how you decide what sort of compromises you can live with to be able to get on with that thing called life. We get some background about what the political elements are in play – the Easter Uprising very nicely brought up in a character-illuminating story moment – but everything all comes together not to lecture us on right and wrong but to show us people, complex and conflicted and oh so very real in their flaws and hopes and bitternesses. These characters were every bit as believable to me as the smell of baking dinner that wafted through the auditorium at the start of Act Two.

And the construction of this play – oh, the construction and destruction that takes place over just one day in time – it is a thing of rare beauty. We have very little of back story and lots of tale telling between people, between bragging teenaged boys, between curious young girls and their Aunt Maggie Far Away (Brid Brennan), between long-winded, dreaming Tom Kettle (John Hodgkinson) and his neighbors, between liars and the people they wish to deceive. And we have some singing and dancing, all completely natural and joyous; and eating; and quiet moments; and people who are angry from selfishness and angry from being done wrong; and people who have buried their hurts for a long, long time and see them rising at last to the surface like, well, a body will after it has filled with enough gas from decomposing. But not in a peat bog; never in that deadest water will a body rise again. And just for a moment of amazement we have not just a life rabbit but a goose on stage, and miracle of miracles and actual living baby, because life does actually make that full circle even if we don’t see it on stage.

But in this play, we do; we see beginning to end; we see the outcome of what men’s hands wrought and women can choose to untangle or spin into a noose. It was all a tremendous emotional journey (I cried a bit) and at its end, with nearly three and one half hours on my feet, stuffed in a corner, as barely there as Aunt Maggie in her chair, I felt not a moment’s exhaustion, but just that exultation that I have but rarely felt at the end of a truly tremendous show given its all by a team of spectacular talent, and I felt grateful that I could have been there and shared that long moment with them all.

(This review is for the performance that took place on Monday, May 15th, 2017. Tonight is its last night at the Royal Court before it transfers to The Gielgud. Do not hesitate to make your ticket purchase now.)

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Mini-Review – Cyprus Avenue – Royal Court

May 6, 2016

We’re nearly at the end of the run for Cyprus Avenue, but given what an outstanding night at the theater this was – a blazing bargain at £20 – I didn’t want to fail to take the chance to draw my readers’ attention to David Ireland’s excellent play. It is a play firmly set in now, in the current situation we live in, and it takes full advantage of the benefits of playwriting – to be able to respond to life now without a two year drag to get produced, filmed, and distributed – to make theater that reflects a mirror back at society and says, “This is the world and these are the people that are in it, even if you haven’t noticed them before.” And I hadn’t. What do I know of what it is like to live in Northern Ireland today? What do I know about what it is like to have spent your entire life growing up with an “us” and a “them” who lived side by side and killed each other, and had been for years? What does it mean to be a person who defines themselves as British but when they open there mouths would be labeled by any person (nearly) living in London as Irish? And to reject the label of Irish?

This is the world of Cyprus Avenue, a complete mess of squished up past, present and future, with labels that may or may not have any meaning to me but which are as potent to the participants as a Confederate flag in the United States. Smack in the middle of this seething pit of unsettled change is Eric Miller (Stephen Rea), a British Protestant who can’t see what the future of Northern Ireland is supposed to look like no matter how clearly his daughter Julie (Amy Molloy) does. In fact, he’s been buried in looking for Fenians for so long that he thinks his baby granddaughter looks like Gerry Adams. And while this seems very funny … and the whole play is comic right up until the last twenty minutes or so … Eric’s belief is, in fact, a golden bell ringing ring a ding ding saying, “This man has actually plunged over the edge.”

As a play about madness, Cyprus Avenue was wholly satisfying, only really exceeded by 4:48 Psychosis. But the side of madness that this play showed was just how damned logically satisfying it is when you’re on the inside of the brain that’s gone bad. Eric is totally sensible; he’s even able to convince other people that he’s on the right track. But it’s the conclusions he draws about what his delusions “force” him to do, as a defender of the Republic, that show how clearly mad he really is. And watching this all happen – the story of his poor collapsing brain turning into a pile of rubble as sure as the Sands Casino – is absolutely a fantastic night of theater, the ending made all the more powerful by the glad-handing comedy of most of the show. Once again, the Royal Court has proven to me that for theater that really matters, just climb up those four flights of stairs to the Red Door.

(This review is for a performance that took place on April 27, 2016. It continues until May 7th. It is worth standing for two hours in line to see. Trust me.)

Review – X – Royal Court

April 22, 2016

I really enjoyed Alistair McDowall’s Pomona, a delicious yet imperfect horror play that posited that no transdimensional monster could be as terrifying as the evil within the human heart. So I was excited to see that he was taking on the science fiction world with his new play, X, set at some point in the future on the planet Pluto, where the earth’s outpost has suddenly been cut off from home.

X delivered drama hand over fist, choosing wisely to focus on the human impacts of extreme circumstances; of removal from human society; of removal from belief in a future; of removal from the underpinnings that cluster together to keep us sane. With these bits and pieces extracted slowly from the cluster of people living together for what increasingly begins to feel like forever, how would they react? How would they treat each other? Could they even survive? Would they want to? But in addition to a compelling narrative, there was something I didn’t expect from this play: a fantastic approach to the conundrum of living in a world of dwindling resources. I can’t even be bothered to go to plays about climate change any more because they are such uniform failures as works of drama, but McDowall made a man playing bird calls the core of a scene that could raise tears in its simple sadness.

To make everything more fun, McDowall has added in time shifts …. jarring at first but extremely absorbable if you’re used to the genre … and then made the protagonist “unreliable.” To some extent it makes this play a bit more of a psycho-thriller; but what it really means is that we, the audience, are forced to constantly question what the “real” narrative is. This questioning continues long after the show is over.

So what does all this playwriterly tricksteriness mean? It means that I just had a really f**king good night at the theater. My companion and I were, in fact, jumping up and down with excitement about what a really good play we had just seen. And because it was a play, and not a book or a movie, the warping of convention was not just unexpected by truly remarkable. Sign me up for McDowall’s next play: I think I’m officially a fan.

(This review is for a performance that took place on April 18th, 2016. It continues through May 7th. Bless the Royal Court and their £10 Mondays – it means so many more people that ought to see this show are going to be able to afford it.)

Mini-review – Escaped Alone – Royal Court Theatre

March 3, 2016

It’s been a week since I saw Escaped Alone at the Royal Court Theater and it’s been difficult to get motivated to write about it. I like short plays, I like plays written by women, I like plays starring women. But between Cleansed,

Mini-review – Hope – Royal Court

December 7, 2014

After three nights of pantos, I was certainly ready for some straight theater, and Hope at the Royal Court seemed promising. A “a funny and scathing” “urgent” political play sounded like just the thing for me, since I feel really angry about what’s been going on in the UK since the ConDem coalition got in and I think it’s exactly the kind of topic that is well handled by playwrights – fast to get out the satire while the burn is still there.

The plot is about a group of councilors in a smallish town in the Labour part of England who are having to make decisions about where to make cuts in order to manage their budget under the much reduced financial situation they’ve been handed by Westminster. Now, as an American, I was finding a lot of the background information very confusing. I didn’t get the feeling these people actually were elected locally – they seemed to be picked by their party – and they seemed to depend solely on money derived from the central government to cover their expenses. They did point out that they could raise some taxes, but that there was a (Westminster generated?) law that tax rises over 1.9% had to go to “the people” for approval. The near complete reliance on external money and the total non-concern with re-electability was a change in world view I had to accept; but an environment in which a local government was controlled by the opinion of the central government about how they spent their money blew me away – tabloid press hysteria was winning the day and being so swayed by social media was hard to conceive. Nobody in Arizona gives a second thought to DC complaining about how Arizona makes their budget; and DC would never tell Arizona to go back on a budget they’d made. Setting voting districts, maybe: but not spending money.

But I do understand all too well that the current government has managed to dance away from taking responsibility for cuts by letting “local” governments figure out their own budgets and then take the heat. But where, I ask, is the rage about the people who decided to cut the money in the first place? How did it become the different people who might lose money fighting against each other? Watching the little people running around on stage (for little they were from my perch in the balcony), the whole thing just seemed tragic and depressing. What is wrong with people? How has saving the banking industry and making it easy for international corporations to move their profits to their shareholders instead of spending it in the country where it was earned become the status quo? Why aren’t people more outraged? If only Hope had really been a comedy instead of being a play with some funny bits (best scene: schoolboy Jake – Tommy Knight – trying to be ultra suave with councillor Julie – Sarah Duncan Brewster – and getting called out for staring at her chest) and a few interesting characters. It sucked all of the hope out of me and left me pretty down. Ah well, back to bread and circuses tomorrow

(This review is for a performance that took place on December 4, 2014. It continues through January 10, 2015.)

Mini-review – Wolf from the Door – Royal Court (Jerwood Upstairs)

September 16, 2014

For the fan of bargain theater, it’s hard to beat the upstairs space at the Royal Court: with every seat priced at £20, it’s right on the edge of “hey it didn’t cost that much so why not” for me (depending on employment circumstances: otherwise, there is still £10 Mondays). Pretty much everything I’ve seen here has been brand spanking new, so it really gets that theater addict blood pounding: is this going to be the amazing show I talk to my friends about for years? So far this year it’s given me a five star show and that’s more than enough to convince me to buy tickets to Wolf from the Door, which, with an approximately 90 minute running time, pretty much was ticking all of my boxes. Actually, this whole “no plays I’ve seen before” pledge I made this year has been working pretty well – I’m actually seeing shows that I’m excited about!

As this play is new and the description is a bit sparse, here’s a (mostly spoiler free) synopsis: a strange young drifter (Leo – Calvin Demba) connects with a much older woman (Lady Catherine – Anna Chancellor), whose attraction to him seems highly suspicous. (In fact, the scene where they meet seems so wholly divorced from the social contract that I thought he might just bludgeon her to death right there. What does happen is far less believable.) She is a Woman On A Mission, and Leo is an integral part of the world she is trying to bring to life. And, for some reason, he goes along with it.

And now for spoilers. While “the total destruction of society as we know it” seems like an unlikely outcome for nearly anything other than ineradicable disease or war, this play was able to convince that the goals that Lady Catherine was trying to accomplish were possible, in part because the whole production had an aura of surreality (the projected and announced titles and violence; the extremely simplified set; the constant reuse of two other fairly recognizable actors in the many varied roles). But also the regular banality of the discussions kept things feeling fairly here and now: discussions about what to eat; a bank manager helping a client; the interminably long scene in a minicab that had me checking my watch.

However, I found the idea that Lady Catherine would really have roused people to do what she said unbelievable; and the motivations of Leo were nonexistent. He wasn’t supposed to entirely be real, as he was a person who claimed to not need to eat or sleep; but I couldn’t believe he would accept the role Catherine intended for him, or indeed most of the things she wanted him to do, with such utter passivity. She also constantly treated him like a servant, which I found a bit gross but also a point that weakened her character’s believability. So, while, ultimately, I was reasonably engrossed in watching this completely bizarre dystopia build itself in front of my eyes, I simply was unable to believe in it enough to get truly emotionally involved. It was Science Fiction Theater but without the beautiful cinematography or deeper commentary on what makes us tick as people. So while I felt like I got my money out of it and I know some people will enjoy it, I can only recommend it to the really hard core theater fans – or maybe people who like German style theater or dystopian lit. But it did get me out the door at 9:10 and that is always a positive.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Thursday, September 11th, 2014. It continues through November 1st. It’s mostly sold out but really that’s no reason to fret.)

Mini-review – Let The Right One In – Royal Court at the Apollo Theater

May 6, 2014

It’s been a few months since the very sold out production of Let the Right One In closed at the Royal Court. I’d been unable to get tickets for it during the run, but that was in great part my fault. It was December, I was in a holiday/panto mood, and I wasn’t entirely sure where blood and vampires fit in to my general vibe. Once I’d had a friend assure me there wasn’t all that much blood in it (and it was rather good), it was too late to buy tickets, and I missed out. Ah well, by then I already knew it was going to transfer, and when tickets came up on Travelzoo for £15 during the first weeks of the run, I grabbed a pair and was pleased to see I was upgraded to stalls seats upon arrival at the Apollo. Sadly, this seemed in part due to the tube strike going on, and I found myself feeling antsy wondering if the nearly 2 1/2 hour running time was going to mean I got home around midnight or later.

What I wasn’t counting on, however, was that I was going to find the production left me squirming in my chair uncomfortably in a way that encouraged me to heed caution’s call and run for the border at the interval. The first scene had too, too much blood in it for me, and was done in a way that, well, probably maximized horror/gore/terror levels. It’s vampires, right, so therefore it must be bloody and scary? Well, not really – it’s a directorial choice. I hadn’t seen the movie so I was going in completely unprepared and, frankly, human execution is the thing of which nightmares are made for me.

Then, well, there was the question of adults playing child actors. Yeah, sure, one of them is a vampire, but that doesn’t entirely excuse the wooden acting – I just couldn’t buy it. It seemed strained. She seemed … straining. LIke she was constantly sitting on the can, secretly, while performing. And the entire set up seemed too literally to follow how scenes are set up for a movie rather than a structure that would work for a play – it felt like I was watching “the movie reenacted on stage” rather than an adaptation that focused on the elements of the original work that made compelling live theater.

Anyway, between being fully grossed out by all of the blood, distanced by the acting, and left with the feeling that I was just watching a live action movie, I decided that if I really cared about the ending, I could get the DVD. And I did make it home by ten, and I felt like I’d got my money’s worth and would be best served by getting a full night’s sleep as well. Fans of the movie, fans of horror will probably enjoy this play; I enjoyed being in bed at my normal time.

(This review is for a partial performance watched on April 29, 2014. It’s continuing through September.)

Review – The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart – Royal Court/National Theatre of Scotland at the Welsh Center

July 30, 2013

Rarely have I left a theater full of the sense of elation I felt at the end of The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart. It all seemed so unlikely: after the catastrophe of Fram the chances of getting me inside a theater for a verse play (rhyming couplets no less) were hovering below zero. But the word on the street was that the show actually worked (and, in fact, was good) – the text and the unusual location (inside the pub at the top of the Welsh Center) blending together and reinforcing each other. By the time I’d decided I should go, it was almost too late – but Royal Court $10 Mondays are still in effect and I managed to snag a day-of seat. And for a bargain hunter like me it was a complete bonanza, as everyone is offered a free shot of whiskey AND free sandwiches in the venue! I was sold before it even started. Whee!

The concept of this play is that there is a female academic studying ballads (Prudencia Hart, Melody Grove) who gets snowed in while visiting Kelso for a conference. She winds up not just stuck with her most irritating colleague, but locked in a pub where a bad folk night somehow transitions into a nightmarish karaoke evening, celebrating the shortest night of the year. And then ….

Well, somehow, with this fairly plebeian setting, you wouldn’t expect this story to make the transition to High Ballad Fairy Tale very well, but because of the use of the couplets all the way through (until the interval), I was already in a mindset of heightened reality – rules were being broken and, well, _things_ were possible, especially after the shock of the blackout. And, may I mention, the lighting design for this show was REALLY good – flashlights, candles, and normal florescents all combined to create a very magical atmosphere. (That said I had some problems with the sound design and lost about 20% of the words – something about people ten feet away speaking with their backs to me while a stand fan roared behind me was not working. I actually checked the script at one point during the play to figure out something I’d missed. That’s not good.)

At the end of the show we were cheering and singing and, even if we’d been encouraged by the cast, well, I was completely into it. I’d just been on, not an undoing, but an amazing journey with one Miss Prudencia Hart, and there was a lot to be happy about (including the fantastic music, much thanks to Annie Grace’s talents, including her lovely voice). And YOU might cheer because 1) as it’s cooled outside, the pub is much more pleasant and 2) although it’s sold out, there will a final series of shows in Peckham from August 5th through 9th.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Monday, July 29th at 8 PM. Its final date at the Welsh Center is August 3rd. And boo to the Royal Court for merely listing the actors as “cast” – there isn’t even any photos on the website to help me, so I wasn’t able to credit even one of the men who performed in this show.)

Review – Circle Mirror Transformation – Royal Court at a real community center near Haggerston

July 19, 2013

If you see as many plays as I do, you may have to admit you have certain … weaknesses. It might be for a theater, a performer, a director, or something more obscure such as “plays with puppets” or “plays written with community involvement” (both of which are horrors for some and thus must be pleasures for others). I’m soft for site specific plays, Ibsen, Pinter, new plays, and, um, Imelda Staunton.

I’m sorry! It’s really embarrassing to me because I am really anti-celebrity (especially as a gimmicky way of getting punters to buy tickets) but … well, I think she’s become MORE famous since I’ve developed my man-crush on her, and the only reason it even exists is because SHE’S AWESOME ON STAGE. But, see, the embarrassment comes in because I first saw her in a movie, Vera Drake, and she blew me away. And then WOW I moved to London where WOW Staunton could be seen IN A PLAY which I immediately booked tickets to (There Came a Gypsy Riding at the Almeida – this was before this blog existed but I’ve migrated my review). Then she returned in Entertaining Mr Sloane and was so funny I nearly peed myself laughing. And she sings (Sweeney Todd)! So, in short, I consider my fannishness towards La Staunton COMPLETELY reasonable given that she’s, basically, awesome in everything. (But it’s still embarrassing given that most people recognize her from a trashy movie series of the sort that tends to send non-theater aficionados to the box office.)

Anyway, without her, I might not have been tempted to see Circle Mirror Transformation. Plot: a bunch of people in a small town in Vermont sign up to take an acting class, with surprising results. Reality: IT IS IN AN ACTUAL COMMUNITY CENTER NEARLY 90 MINUTES FROM MY HOUSE AND IT WAS 32 DEGREES OUTSIDE AND THE BUILDING WAS NOT AIRCONDITIONED. And the plot sounded cringetastic in the worst possible way. And yet I called the box office in the hopes there might be a return ticket for the matinee DURING THE ROASTINGEST PART OF THE DAY because 1) the show was sold out yet I was ever hopeful 2) I still wanted to go 3) I don’t have a job so weekday matinees are possible 4) I was hearing good things about it. And yes there was a ticket and YAY off I went to the darkest depths of Dalston.

Surprisingly, I’d actually been to the venue before – it was the home of Retz’ The Trial, but it was the main cafe area that had been set up as a theater, with bleachers rising up in front of a flat, gym-like floor illuminated by overhead fluorescents. With a piano in the back and various junk scattered on the sides, it required no effort at all to make it a community center in my mind! The staff was kindly handing out glasses of water, and we were promised (as we sat in the 32 degree minimum building!) that if we wanted to leave at any point, they would break with normal polity and let us back in at an appropriate time – indeed, they were willing to refund us our money now if we didn’t feel like we could make it through. I whipped my fan out of my bag (thinking ahead!), tucked the bottle of water at my feet, and settled in for the duration – two hours straight through.

I think it was a testament to both the high quality of the acting – all around, not just of one person – that not a single person left the show at any point during this sweltering afternoon. Watching the “learn how to think like an actor” exercises was somewhat painful at time – and included long, uncomfortable (and very, very natural) pauses – but as we worked through the various scenes (most quite short) and we got to know the characters and they got to know each other – well, something very believable happened, and we were watching an acting class with a bunch of bored/lonely/untalented people all taking it for their own reasons, and we were very interested in what was going on, and where it was going.

And then it was the last night of class, and people were saying their goodbyes, and people had changed, and the lights came up and we were applauding, and, wow, so maybe there were a few too many breathing scenes or maybe too many “set people up as furniture” scenes, but it had made the experience come alive. And it was over, for them and for us, and we were walking out into the cooling evening, and I thought, my God, it was actually totally worth it. And Imelda Staunton is still awesome, but so was everyone else, and I wanted to hug all of my fellow theater goers, because it had really made me feel like I was back in America and hugging is just what you do after a group experience like that.

(This review is for a matinee performance that took place on Wednesday, July 16, 2013. It is sold out but tickets become available sporadically on the Royal Court Website, and it’s absolutely worthwhile to call and check on returns. In addition, the person at the box office said no one on their wait list had yet been turned away, so if you’re reading this and wondering if you should roll the dice and go queue, Simon says “yes.” The last day is August 3rd. Now together, everybody: breathe, and slowly count to ten, one at a time.)

Review – Constellations – Duke of York’s Theater

November 28, 2012

There are plays you dream of, and plays you wait for, and plays you give up hope of seeing ever again, as they swim into the depths of a pool of sold out shows and wasted time spent queueing for returns, nothing left but a closing date that flickers on your consciousness like the tail of a wily brown trout as it flies away from you, never to be seen again.

Plays, though, have occasional second lives, as very popular productions can be nearly immediately remounted in larger (and more remunerative) venues. I didn’t expect this to happen with Constellations, the Royal Court’s near mythic (amongst hardcore theater goers there are rarely so many tears) tale of love, loss, and physics: as an Upstairs show, it was at the fringes of public recognition – a new play by a newish playwright, a two-hander, even! It was hardly a crowd-pleaser like Jumpy much less a Cock (with its big name stars). So when, after weeks of trying to snag just a single ticket, I saw it had closed, I just closed down that little part of my heart that had been open to a night of amazing theater in an intimate environment. Constellations was the one that got away.

And then … It wasn’t. It was bundled with Jumpy and Posh as the Royal Court at the Duke of Yorks and suddenly they had a season and I had a second chance. But oh noes! It was in a BIG theater and oh noes! it wasn’t the sweet ticket prices that make the Royal Court a positive gift to us theater fanatic types. Yeah sure it wasn’t going to be the same, but hey, they were releasing 20 £10 seats a day, and wouldn’t it still be wonderful even in a barn? And at £10 and only 70 minutes, wouldn’t good be good enough?

The price may be too high (based on the 20% empty house – meant I could move myself into a less neck-craning spot than row AA), but I do believe the play is still very good. It’s a look at a relationship though the mirror of different concepts of time (helpfully explained by the woman to the man while they’re both drunk). Is there one universe with time happening linearly, or are there multiple universes all existing simultaneously where different things happen in each of them? Whether or not you buy the theory, it’s easy enough to understand the concept of, say, the 15 ways to people may or may not have met and become a couple at a barbeque. The universe where he was married and uptight? Not so much. The version where he is willing to try licking his elbow but is still married? You get to see some many junctions and conjunctions that it’s never clear what is supposed to be the “reality” of the show, but immensely fun to watch.

And then … And yet … It seems like, jumping back and forth in time (or perhaps across realities) that a narrative is happening, that amongst the multiplicities there is something important happening, and that the net effect is that actually, maybe we should care how the universe is shaped. It sound like it’s oh big scary too many hard ideas but it’s not, really, because in the end it’s all once upon a time, somewhere, there were some people that loved each other. And there are some balloons, and there are bees, and I’m afraid there were some tears, and maybe a few more balloons. And more tears. Two people alone in the universe. It could have/might/did happen. And I’m glad I was there for it.