Posts Tagged ‘shoreditch’

Review – Titus Andronicus – Malachite Theater at St Leonard’s Church, Shoreditch

August 13, 2013

Moving to the top of the Life in the Cheap Seats’ “great deals for great shows” list is Titus Andronicus as presented at St. Leonard’s Church in Shoreditch for the shockingly low price of £13. I was lucky enough to get offered comps for this show – and I say lucky because, well, the quality of shows I’m invited to review varies really widely. I was kind of enthusiastic about going to see Titus, though. Basically, it’s the Roman Sweeney Todd, and if you’re in the mood for some gory and gothsome theater, this revenge tragedy cuts the mustard.

The theater itself enhances the atmosphere nicely – while it’s still very visibly a church, with pews and an organ, it’s all set up with faded flags and dusty plastic coverings that enhance the feeling of an empire that’s on its way out. The director has wisely chosen to keep the set simple, allowing us to focus on the words and the action: after all, if Shakespeare has the actors describing the copse they are in, do we really need to have trees? No. And we have plenty to keep focused on, with executions and murders happening left and right. A lot of them happen off-stage, but on stage, well, we have MORE than enough blood for even the most jaded Grand Guignol to sit up and take notice. In fact, I think a couple of audience members may have got a bit more than they were expecting; I saw a woman looking distinctly green as Lavinia drooled blood from one foot away. The front row seats are great: we took hers after the interval, when she failed to return, full of stunningly cheap tea and slices of cake (not pie).

Titus, Lavinia, and Marcus of Malachite Theatre’s Titus Andronicus – photo credit NICOLAI KORNUM

While I could carp a bit about the occasionally bad sound quality (it’s a church, things echo, words get lost), what struck both me and my companion was the uniformly high acting quality. Tamora (Jo Price) took a while to find her stride (we’re supposed to buy her transitioning from broke captive to vengeful empress in about five minutes time), but Titus (Charles Cromwell) was unfailingly on from start to finish. Also great was the nearly unremittingly evil Aaron: Stephen Boyce took a character that could have come off as cartoonish and made his entire panoply of emotions (including revenge and passion) believable. And throughout the evening, not for a minute did it seem like a single actor did not fully understand the meaning behind their words and respond accordingly. It was easy for the fourth wall to drop and to lose myself in the raw emotions playing out before me – though I held back enough to remind myself it was stage blood, and no actors were harmed in the making of the pie.

In a summer heavy with Shakespeare, Malachite Theatre has succeeded in upstaging The Globe and Propellor by providing a performance that you can really sink your teeth into, at a price that means there’s no excuse not to go. Excellence has rarely been so affordable.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Friday, August 9th, 2013. It continues through Saturday, August 31st. Running time is about 2:15.)

Review – The Trial (experiential promenade) – RETZ at Shoreditch Town Hall & other locations

March 9, 2013

I was really pleased when I heard that Retz had been recognized for their great work with a fat grant of £30K from Sky Arts; their amazing accomplishment with their six part Tempest was something I wanted to see recognized and rewarded … so I could have more really great theater to go to. The intensity and detail made it clear that it was
My reward for their largesse started last night, with a trip to the first half of their two-part, experiential/promenade The Trial. I’d had a bit of a prequel/preview the week before, at their “portal opening” party in the basement of Shoreditch Town Hall. It was a treasure trove for those who like Jasper Fforde’s Bookworld: a series of display cases each with treasures found while exploring “an alternate world of narrative,” i.e. King Lear’s crown in the Shakespeare section, a ray gun in the Science Fiction , and I swear some kind of relic from the world of the Existentialists (perhaps a vial full of gloom). After wandering around for a bit, Felix and then Yuri the Bordurian guard came up to address us and point out the portal (to the world of fiction) in the back of the room, and to announce that they were pioneering travel to this great land! I was pretty excited as for me this was The Eyre Affair come to life. But suddenly … a man came dashing through the door, from the other side! He ran up to the microphone and made an impassioned speech about how he wasn’t a fictional character, he was a real person like you or me, not some thing in the cinema or a promenade art performance … he was real! Yes, it was Josef K of Kafka’s seminal work The Trial, making a run for freedom, and I was there to see it. He dashed into the heaving mass of partygoers (followed by several security guards) and that was the last I saw of him … until yesterday.

I returned to a much changed Shoreditch town hall (now the Bureau for Information Security or something like that), and was checked in for my … was it a pre-trial hearing? I wasn’t sure. But I took a “wrong turn” (you know that you are set up to go this way) and wound up somewhere I wasn’t supposed to be … and then I began to live Josef K’s nightmare. Caught up in a security sweep, hustled off by a rent-a-thug … in some ways it felt like the way I, as an immigrant, have always expected to be treated. Silent rooms, unhelpful lawyers, whispered secrets about the particular wordings you might be able to use to convince the implacable authorities to finally apply “the law” in a way that worked in your favor … I was swept from one location to another, told tall tales, and finally met Josef K … neither of us able to control our fates. A surprised teenager on a phone peered at me from their car as I was hustled by, local guys fresh from prayer watched us bemusedly, but as always, no one dared to interfere, or even speak. To not see is to protect yourself, and I had suddenly become one of the invisible.

My next trial is set for early April. I will report back … if I survive. (LATER: here is the review of the second half.)

(This review is for a performance that took place on Friday, March 8th, 2013. The similarity of this experience and that of trying to get UKBA to look favorably on my various applications for permission to work and reside in this country are not to be overlooked, nor the fact that I am about to throw myself upon them for the final mercy or killing in the next seven days. Wear clothing suitable for walking, bring an umbrella and a cell phone, and do yourself a favor and bring enough money for a pint at the Howl at the Moon Pub, as you will find yourself nearby and my their cider is tasty.)