Posts Tagged ‘Shoreditch Town Hall’

Mini-review – “One Day When We Were Young” and “Lungs” – Paines Plough Roundabout Season at Shoreditch Town Hall

October 12, 2012

It’s been almost a week and I’m feeling guilty about not getting up my review of this excellent set of shows currently taking place at Shoreditch Town Hall. There are actually three plays in the Paines Plough Roundabout Season – Nick Payne’s One Day When We Were Young, Duncan Macmillan’s Lungs and Penelope Skinner’s The Sound of Heavy Rain – and I’d bought tickets for all three (they play together on Saturdays and Sundays, and you get a £15 discount off of the series), but the night before I got an email saying that Rain had been cancelled because of a technical problem. Fortunately, this was the first show of the day (rather than the one in the middle), so what it wound up meaning was that I got to have a nice roast on a Sunday before heading over to Old Street – I was a bit irritated about not seeing all three but actually feeling a bit intimidated about being in the theater from 2 to 9PM (as opposed to my initial WAHOO response), so all things considered, I started the day feeling quite good – but must apologize for what I consider to be an incomplete review of the series as I have not been able to fit the show in.

What I did see was two two handers, both of which moved me quite a bit, and quite a bit more than what I was expecting. I came in expecting One Day When We Were Young to be the star in the crown, and it started off deliciously simply – two young lovers getting together for a fun night before the man headed off to war (the Asian theater for World War II), with lots of flirting and fun and positively the most sexual scene I’ve ever seen on a theater – I’m sure the actors both had their underpants on but it was rather a LOT like watching a live sex show and if you were planning on taking a member of the family I would NOT advise it. Otherwise: actually really hot, and with the two virgins trying to talk through just how what they were trying to do was supposed to work, just incredibly charming, a scene that really built a connection and affection to the characters, and something I have never seen handled on the stage before. It was really well done and will NOT be seeing the local high school auditorium any time soon.

As it turns out, this was one scene of three, and I don’t want to ruin any more surprises, but all scenes feature the characters aging and having to deal with each other as their lives and expectations change. At the very end, the woman said something to the man that about broke me … that she needed him for emotional support because there was nobody left. Imagine being eighty years old, with children, and yet having nobody to turn to for support in a crisis. I may have felt put off by the stiffness of the second act, but I felt a universal human quality to the last. It put me in a melancholy state of mind as I headed out the door, clutching the button I’d been given to indicate my random seat allocation. Thank goodness Ian and Paul were there, or I might have gotten into quite a mope. Instead, we went to the pub around the corner, got some pizza and beers and had us a good old visit. Ah, yes.

Ninety minutes later and we went back, changing to some front row seats in the wooden arena (borrowed, I was pretty sure, from <I>Cock</I>, but with an extra row on top – there is NO room for anything underneath your legs so take advantage of the free, serviced cloakroom). We managed to get in shortly before Sir Ian arrived with companion – sadly he would not sit next to us (“I’m not allowed to sit in the first row”) and wound up somewhere near the top. We, however, had a great view of the next play (including being close enough to see Kate O’Flynn squeeze real tears from her eyes – impressive!), which was an intense, ninety minute nearly breathless dialogue between a couple.

Now, I am going to take umbrage at the sad justice done this show by its National Theatre copy, which would have, frankly, in its banality, kept me from seeing the show if I’d bother reading about it beforehand. Instead, read what I have to say.

Lungs is a show about how couples fail to communicate with each other despite being so close you’d think they tie each other’s shoelaces. The two characters could be described as “quirky” if you want to use lazy shorthand but would be better described as “realistic,” “flawed,” and “like a few people I went to school with and no longer invite over for dinner because one half of the couple is so self-righteous I can’t stand her and the guy defeats his own intelligence with his utter lack of backbone.” Despite the fact that, as a couple, they made me want to shout, “NO FOR GOD’S SAKE DON’T HAVE A BABY!”, the reality of their relationship was undeniable and became slowly, tricklingly, heartbreaking. Bad things happened, she broke, they failed to cope, and two people who clearly loved each other the way that trees love the sun crumbled into dust like a mummy’s hand. And then I actually felt bad for them, and what a pathetic situation they were in, and how heartbreakingly real it all was.

And then I realized I’d stopped feeling like I was in a play, watching actors mouth words written on a piece of paper. I cared, even though the people were irritating, even though there were some weird things going on (like the way they’d shift scenes by hours or months by just saying, “Hi, how have you been?” as if they’d ever actually stopped talking for a breath). Duncan Macmillan had taken me somewhere.

And at the end, it seemed, the world blew out of the auditorium, the light from the stage expanding out the cupola above me, all of the little sadnesses and disappointments that make up our tiny lives becoming universal, utterly transcending the theater in which we sat on a rainy Sunday night in October in a run down corner of an often unfriendly town. And I walked out into the night and thought about my own sadnesses, and fiddled with my little yellow button.

And it was good.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Sunday, October 7th, 2012. The Paines Plough Roundabout Season continues through October 27th, and you’d be a fool to miss it.)

Review – New World Order – Hydrocracker at Shoreditch Town Hall via Barbican

November 22, 2011

Who do I love? Harold Pinter. What do I love? Promenade theater. Bring ’em together? It’s like gelato affogato, my favorite dish drowned in a tasty drink of its own. When I read about Hydrocracker’s mini-Pinters promenade, it was the theater event of the fall calendar for me. I got shafted a bit getting tickets due to a miscommunication with the Barbican box office, but, as ever, continuing to check the website meant when some early birds returned their tickets, I was able to jump on them right away and get myself locked in for this show.

Beforehand I was pacing nervously outside Shoreditch Town Hall (near Old Street); we were wanded down, had our ID checked, then were let inside. The evening promised a mix of Press Conference, One for the Road, Precisely, Mountain Language and The New World Order – short plays united by, well, it said human rights but I thought more “torture” – only one of which I had seen before.

We started with a press conference in a bright shiny room with folding chairs and good lighting, and the Inquisitor of “One for the Road” speaking. It’s not just our rights that are being looked out for by our government; it is our mental hygiene. Bad thoughts aren’t just dangerous, they’re an illness in society. We should be grateful caring people are working to keep us clean. Slowly, as the head of the ministry of culture kept speaking, the questions from the press corps died down. I couldn’t help but think it was exactly what most politicians in democratic societies secretly wish they could make happen – God knows the Russians are very effectively putting it into practice through careful assaults and even executions.

After this point I hesitate to speak in too great depth about what happened. We see the same actors several times: the wife in “One for the Road” comes back again and again as “the wife,” attempting to visit her spouse or to negotiate with his keepers; her husband, the torture victim in “One for the Road,” is in scene after scene, as is the Inquisitor (technically named Nicolas in “One for the Road” but I prefer my name). If I’m honest, I found Nicolas less terrifying and The Wife a weaker actress than I did in the September production at the Print Room; but as this evening was aimed at creating a rather different audience experience, this was only a small detraction.

Together, all of these short plays create a reasonably unified narrative, in which families are separated, people are taken into small rooms where they are subject to rules they cannot understand and punished for made up crimes, and wives and mothers desperately try to find and save, or, at least, succour their partners and children. And the environment adds greatly to the effect, as we move from the fairly well kept council chambers to the decaying, forgotten basement rooms, where voices can be heard yelling behind closed doors. It showed how possible it was for this to literally be going on under our feet as we walk down the streets of London.

Meanwhile, we audience members are bullied by the “guards.” I admit, they did a good job of keeping us going from room to room (crowd control is always a problem for promenades) but also of heping us feel a sense of a loss of control and reduction from person into number. We were separated at random from the people we came with; ordered to go this way and that; asked humiliating and pointless questions; had our identities checked at several points; and had to deal with obnoxious flashlights being shined in our faces in an inimidating fashion. I could feel our control being wrested away; and I tell you, it was effective enough that I felt my instinct to fight to preserve my dignity kicking in. One of the women who was being asked obnoxious questions refused to answer; I had a guard grab my arm when I went the wrong way and I tell you I told him off for daring to touch me. In fact, I felt like some people working this show may have been getting just a little bit too much into their characters, much like the ridiculous TSA people do when they think that by harassing people for carrying a slice of apple off of an international flight they’re somehow keeping the United States safe from terrorism. Mr. Arm Grabber did take me aside and tell me rather more politly that due to health and safety regulations I was in fact not allowed into area X; but there was some part of me that was ready to just disturb all of the performances and say, basically, “There are thirty of this here in this room and four of you. Just you try waving that big stick around again and you can guess where you’re going to be finding it in about two minutes.” I had to restrain myself from getting shirty and organizing a citizens revolt. I could see some other audience members were uncomfortable with what was going on, but yet still staying in their/our roles as quiet sheep. Is this how our right to self determination is taken away, by people’s unwillingness to see it happening in front of our eyes?

Overall, I have to give Hydrocracker great credit for creating an environment where they were able to instill a sense of fear of what it would actually be like to undergo the things Pinter writes around in these plays, and to create a sense of urgency to reclaim our own rights from a government happy to take them away in the name of keeping us “safe.” While the acting was not perfect, as a promenade event, “New World Order” is unmissable.

(This review is for the 9:15 show that took place on Friday November 18th, 2011. The show runs through the 11th of December and though it is sold out, returns do appear on the website regularly. Remember to dress as if you were going to be standing outside for the length of the show, as after the first half hour no seating is provided and the basement rooms are very dank.)