Posts Tagged ‘Shaun Dooley’

Review – Between the Dark Earth and Light Sky – Almeida Theater

November 25, 2012

A new play about a poet and the language of poetry – a tempting thing , I tell you: a new play, a play with enough content to mine that it could hit greatness; and me invited along to a bloggers night, a night where I could sit with other hardcore theater fans and discuss and dissect to my heart’s content. Really, I couldn’t ask for much more (other than a slightly less chaotic day at work so I could properly enjoy a glass of wine beforehand).

As it turns about ,the premise was even better that I’d hoped: the play was set in rural England before World War I (a time that bred both great poets and excellent poetry) and also featured Robert Frost (Shaun Dooley) as a friend of Edward Thomas (Pip Carter), the poet around whom the play centered. Having Frost as a character was a real treat for me: while I considered him a banal writer, I liked seeing an American character featuring prominently in this play. It was not just a writer I was familiar with; it was a chance to see through the play my own experience in the world, as an American living in England, with all of the foreignness of viewpoint and experience.

As it turned out, this was one of my greatest joys in the play; my stranger’s eyes, spoken through someone else’s mouth, with the distance of a century making little difference to the similarities of national origin (perhaps the author holds the blame for this). I also revelled in the discussions of language and poetry, of what makes a meter ring, of dissonances and subtlety and what you need to leave behind. This caught my mind and tossed it like a bird into the air; I left finding myself, among other things, willing to reconsider my fleering attitude regarding Frost.

But Edward Thomas: well. As a character, he was written so as to be impossible to like or even feel respect for. He was self-indugent; moody; rude and disrespectful toward his wife; self-pitying; willing to utterly ignore the suffering of others. Points to Nick Dear for making him life-like if this was indeed how he was: I found him insufferable and found it hard not to shout at his wife to kick the bastard out and get on with trying to make something positive out of her life. Thank God we were told at the beginning that he died young; I found myself getting rather eager for it to happen as the play went on. While this play was, to me, a success for the thoughts it provoked and its depiction of rural English life before the war, I find it hard to believe it was entirely successful given that, now that it is over, it is Frost’s poetry I will go back and read.  Ah well: the American regional reps will no doubt embrace it eagerly.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Tuesday, November 20th, 2012. It continues through January 12th.)

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Review – Stovepipe – National Theater/Bush Theater at West 12, Shepherds Bush

March 23, 2009

Today I went up to Shepherds Bush to see Stovepipe, a new play by Adam Brace that the National is mounting in conjunction with the Bush Theater at … er, a shopping mall in Shepherd’s Bush.

Now, this was weird. I mean, I knew it was in a mall, but still – West 12 is one of those sad little run-down malls that seems to have seen its heyday eclipsed (by Westfields, I think) and has lots of empty storefronts and fairly low-rent retailers in the space that remains. On the other hand – what better place to do a show? And for us sad saps, there was a nice sign right on the front telling us where to go – straight back to the Morrisons and then to the right, where a little storefront had a sort of bar/coffee shop installed so that show go-ers didn’t just have to mill about in the mall’s halls waiting for something to happen. Sadly, I wasn’t able to laze around in the environment, as I needed to go to the ladies, and people were being led out the doors as I came out (at about 3 minutes ’til showtime) to a back alley exit from the mall to the actual place where the performance would happen. (Be warned: get there at least 5 minutes before showtime or risk being left behind!)

Then we went down the stairs into some sort of storage slash utility system underneath West 12. It was a world of heavy cement bricks, flat walls, Arabic graffiti … we were sliding into the world of Stovepipe. We walked into a sleazy looking conference center, where we were given passes marking us as contractors, and were welcomed into a world of … displays of military equipment and TVs showing videos of the many remarkable accomplishments that had taken place since the invasion. “Thousands of new homes built!” (And me personally responsible for them being destroyed in the first place.) Later talks of how loyalty could be bought with food and a steady electricity supply rang with a certain degree of irony. We were then led into a side hall, where we were sat down and given a speech from “a great war hero and man of business,” which is suddenly interrupted by … an emergency … light overhead … we need to evacuate.

WOW. What was actually amazing me about this show was that it was running enough on the edge that I was actually feeling a little nervous as I went through the space and kind of unsure about what was going to happen to us. Sometimes we were watching a clear “scene,” in which we were pretending to watch guys in an armored vehicle driving, but with the guns pointing everywhere I found myself distinctly uncomfortable and unclear about how well the audience/performer line was being drawn. Most of the scenes had a feeling like we were just dropping in, watching Alan (Shaun Dooley) hanging out with his friends Eddy (Niall MacGregor) and Grif (Christian Bradley – as well as playing the soldier of war we saw earlier), laughing about how weird their job is, tossing back drinks and fooling around with each other, just being guys. The production was both sympathetic and, I think, realistic about the situation of these “mercenaries” – yeah, sure, they are soldiers for hire, but they’re also guys who maybe don’t have a lot of other marketable skills and may not be nearly as capable of walking away as we imagine they are.

I particularly liked the scenes where we were effectively part of the action. This would not be when Alan was arguing with his boss’s wife, Carolyn (the extremely talented, quick-change-artist extraordinaire Eleanor Matsuura) in their offices, but rather when he and his friends, say, went into a darkened building where we had been forced to huddle like refugees while they searched for explosives or other contraband. The experience was sharp and the fact of where we were and what we were doing fell away from me. I distinctly no longer felt like I was watching a show; I was in it, in a way Masque of the Red Death had not managed to accomplish. Yeah, sure, I recognized that the chick with the high cheekbones was the same in each scene, but clattering around in cheap high heels, she was so clearly the Russian prostitute, and there was no mistaking her with the (perfectly accented) American journalist that never seemed to have any real purpose in the plot. And Sargon Yelda – I can’t believe he actually had more than one role, as he disappeared as an obnoxious American and then seemed to only have shown up for the very first time as the Iraqi translator hiding in Jordan. I was really quite impressed with the acting talent on display.

Overall, I consider this to have been a very high value return on my twenty quid, despite the fact that I got blisters from all the walking around I did in my new shoes. If you like this kind of stuff – or if you like plays about modern society, politics or war (would really like to know how this compares to Black Watch!) – this would be a good show for you to see.

(This review is for a show that took place on Sunday, March 23rd. Stovepipe continues through April 26th, 2009.)