Posts Tagged ‘Simon Stephens’

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.)

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Mini-review – Port – National Theater

January 30, 2013

I did not plan on going to see Port at the National Theater. The tag line, “two kids, largely abandoned and growing up in the deprived suburban shadows of Manchester,” made me think it was likely to be cutesy or preachy or maudlin and, even worse, feature child actors. However, when I got an invitation to go to press night for free, I’m afraid I wasn’t able to resist. Free theater! Starting at 7 PM! Hurray!

Unfortunately, I can’t say I enjoyed this play at all, though the impressions I got from the info on the National’s web site was pretty much entirely incorrect. I really thought it was going to be about an eleven and a six year old kid running wild, living under bridges and dumpster diving while they tried to keep together; instead, it was about some weird little kids growing up into profoundly fucked up adults in an environment where they could have learned some humanity at some point along the way but seemed to have nearly entirely failed. I’ve rarely seen a bleaker portrait of a sub-middle class existence; and although this would seem to be the same income level of the people that I grew up with in America (i.e. “trailer trash,” bottom of the barrel poor), for some reason either as life is lived in Stockport or as playwright Simon Stephens chose to portray his characters, I found myself utterly unsympathetic to these two near-animals. Kate O’Flynn was completely believable as Rachael Keats, but after watching her attack her grandmother in a nursing home garden I no longer was rooting for her (and had lost my taste for chocolate). There may have been a bigger political message that I, as a foreigner, was indifferent to: but as a play watcher, I got neither much of a plot nor really any other reason to be sitting in the dark while these horrors played out in front of me. I grew up in worse circumstances than this and not only clawed my way out, but kept my ties to my family and friends. These people, Rachael and her brother Billy (Mike Noble), I wanted nothing more than to get away from them and get out of the room and let them carry on with their misery far, far from me.

Was this play realistic? Probably. Was the acting good? Yes. Was it worth watching? I think not. As I dashed into the comfort of sleeting rain, I wondered why in the hell wasn’t The River done here and Port done at The Royal Court? Does the National just have really poor standards for script acceptance? Does the Royal Court have much better connections with people who know how to make good plays? The whole thing is a mystery to me, but there’s no doubt in my mine that Port was a waste of money and effort.

(This review is for opening night, which was Monday, January 29th, 2013. It continues through March 24th.)