Posts Tagged ‘Soho Theatre’

Review – You’re Not Alone – Kim Noble at the Soho Theater

March 4, 2015

There’s no doubt in my mind that I am not the intended audience for Kim Noble’s work. But because Stewart Pringle gave it five stars (and his taste is good), I decided to go anyway, curious about a show about loneliness – figuring it would be a good bookend to Happy Days (theme: you’re born alone, you die alone) – and also interested in seeing a totally new performer.

Well, to some extent, I think there’s a little bit of buying into the Kim Noble persona required to get into this show, and I just didn’t. He’s very deadpan about everything he talks about, but I began to find most of what he was doing pretty damned creepy. Pretending to be someone else on the internet in part to provide material for a comedy show: well, kind of funny, maybe. Showing movies of these people actually showing up to meet said imaginary person: uncool. Secretly videoing a retail clerk – someone who can’t really escape due to the nature of their job – then wearing a mask of their face, stalking them to their house, pressuring them to let you in all while making videos – I found this really upsetting. I wanted it to not be real. But like so much of what he was showing to us, well, it all seemed entirely believable. I think maybe there was supposed to be a feeling of sadness about how hard he was trying to get attention or how hard he was working to get total strangers involved in his life, but by putting their lives – their phone numbers – their private conversations on screen in front of an audience night after night, that upset me. And taking a shit in a church? It seemed like a pathetic attention getting stunt and also just rude and inconsiderate. When he later flashed his own phone number and email on screen and said he was looking for a new place to live, my thought was, “Like anyone would want to be your friend after you’ve shamed, abused, and made a joke of them in front of an audience.” He got an ASBO for pulling his crap in Ikea? A miracle he doesn’t have a desk drawer full of them.

To “soften” this all, or something, Noble put in a bit about his dad. To me, it felt like an attempt to universalize or somehow provide justification for all of the other offensive stuff he’d been doing. Yes, he’s a lovely old man, he’s in a nursing home, and he’s adorable. And all I could think is, why, Kim, are you sitting around showing us pictures of you fucking a watermelon and cum shots that your “pals” on the internet have sent you when you could have been spending part of most of this day with a wonderful person that adores you no matter what you do? Are you trying to make us sad? Are you trying to provide a deeper commentary for the evening? Because it feels a stuck on as a red clown nose and it just didn’t work.

Back in Arizona in the 80s, John Waters did an obscenity trial for Pink Flamingoes that focused on whether or not the scene of someone eating shit was 1) real (experts testified it was) and 2) obscene (it failed because it was inherently gross rather than sexually inspiring). At the Soho Theater, I saw a work that would have sent the old sheriff going completely batshit, but, ultimately, the entire experience was depressing. Not because it was gross; not because Kim Noble shows a blatant disregard for the dignity of other human beings; but cause it just tried so hard to be revolting that it wasted an opportunity to say something that mattered even the least little bit. John Waters would have yawned. I know I did.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Tuesday, March 2nd, 2015. It continues through Saturday.)

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Mini-review – Soho Cinders – Soho Theater

August 5, 2012

My reasons for attending Soho Cinders were not the strongest. I needed to entice a down friend out of her house and a musical seemed like just the trick, but given that it was a new musical and expensive to boot (I wound up paying 35 quid for our tickets), I feared it might leave us both disappointed. Stiles and Drewe did a nice job with Betty Blue Eyes, but … well, then there’s the part of me that always wants to see a new show, especially a new musical, given how few new musicals are created in a given year. So we went, and I brought fancy chocolates from Paul Young and hoped they would console if the evening wasn’t going well.

The space is very intimate – about 150 people, I think, with a good rake. However, the lower half of the stalls were FREEZING. And all of the “stalls” bench seats were that horrible Soho theater special, two lobes all the way across each row, the forward one raised just high enough to slowly cut your circulation off during the course of a show. I’d say you’d be totally safe with any seat in this house, so no need to splurge on the most expensive ones – they won’t be any more comfortable.

The set up of the play is that a Soho rent boy (Robbie, played by Tom Milner) has had the misfortune to fall in love with a politician (James Prince, played by Michael Xavier) … who is in the closet and engaged. Said rent boy is also occasionally providing services for the politician’s main campaign donor (Lord Bellingham, played by Neil McCaul). Cue Robbie showing up at a fund raising ball that both men are attending … it’s, as he says, “Awkward!”

And thus you get some of the key elements of the Cinderella story, with Robby running away and leaving his phone behind. The show takes on other areas using a very panto-y approach, replacing the Wishy Washy washhouse with a laundromat that Robbie runs with his best friend Velcro (the adorable Amy Lennox). Comic relief is provided by the very trashy and rather dragged up stepsisters, Dana (Beverly Rudd) and Clodagh (Susie Chard), who own a strip club next door – and want to expand into the laundrette. The parallels are easy enough to see and provide a reasonable framework to hang this original story from. (For full details and song snippets, see the synopsis on the Stile and Drew site).

The question is, of course: does it work? For me, the answer is no, and this comes down in a great deal to the songwriting. I want musicals to have songs that are catchy, that send me home whistling a new tune. Now, I laughed my head off at the Evil Stepsisters’ song “I’m so over men,” and there were quite a few very smart lyrics over the course of the evening, but the individual songs seemed to disappear into an unmemorable morass of tunefulness that lacked definition. The night before I’d gone to a second-rate Kander and Ebb, and walked out singing, “It’s a Business:” at the end of this show, I struggled to remember the melody of even a single one of the songs even as I stood in the lobby afterwards. This is not good.

As a play with some singing (and not very interesting dancing, so let’s call it “movement”), it’s not bad, taken from a lighthearted panto for adults standpoint. Robby is just terribly sincere and adorable, and James Prince is awfully sweet in that “I’m confused about what I want” kind of way. And, well, the stepsisters steal the show, what with their garish clothing, panty flashing, and filthy mouths. Fantastic!

However … I think it’s time someone had just a little bit of a look at this play from a bi visibility standpoint. James Prince’s fiancee says she loves him and they had an active sex life … so why can’t she just accept his bisexuality instead of saying that she’s going to leave him because she doesn’t want to have to share? Both the fiancee and Velcro make it out that men are either gay or straight, an attitude that actively disappears a large swath of Soho denizens. Prince is actually far more of a villain than he’s made out to be in the play, because he’s incapable of being honest with the person he says he wants to be a part of his life. Why can’t he accept himself as he is and try to find a way to make it work?

Maybe it’s ultimately because fairy tales need easy answers and bisexual people just don’t fit as nicely into boxes as this play needed. But I think that, even though this play seems very modern for saying that you can run for office and be gay (and that’s a step forward), that being bi would not be okay. Because in fairytales, people don’t have to worry about being torn between two different elements of their identity: they are good or bad, pretty or ugly, loving or cruel. They can’t be confused. And I agree, if life were really never like that, we would truly be living a life in which there were nothing but happy endings.

(This review is for a preview performance that took place on Saturday, August 4th, at 8 PM. There were some problems with miking and sound cues that I assume will sorted out in a day or two. It continues through September 9th.)

Review – Audience – Ontroerend Goed at the Soho Theater

December 10, 2011

I came to Ontroerend Goed’s “Audience” having seen them before at the One on One Festival at Battersea Arts Center, but knowing very little about this performance other than that I had some free tickets secured courtesy of the Twespians. But it’s not fair to say I had no preconceptions: in fact, I had a negative experience at my previous encounter with this troupe that heavily affected my mood going into this show. Last spring, I saw “Internal,” which B.A.C. described as “speed dating meets group therapy,” but I found it something verging on audience abuse. Admittedly, I was there to challenge myself (as part of a series of short shows that were billed as edgy), but I did not care for having a cast member share with nine strangers information I’d given him when asked privately to reveal a “dark secret;” I was offended and I interrupted his monologue to tell my side of the story (which had been recast to put me in a particularly ugly light), even though I felt that my speaking up wasn’t really part of show. But I was angry, and I wasn’t going to be treated like a fool in public by a total stranger.

Afterward, thinking about the effect they had on the other people I’d seen the show with – leaving my compatriots thinking they’d actually made friends or romantic connections with the performers – I was disturbed by Ontroerend Goed’s callous manipulation. They had broken the rules of interaction laid down as the Law Of The Theater, and caused my companions to think we were thus no longer in a theatrical environment dealing with actors, but were in fact dealing with “real people” who were actually talking about their feelings rather than following a script. Oddly, at the same time Ontroerend Goed expected us to continue following the theatrical paradigm, not speaking out of turn (certainly not challenging what was said on “stage” like I did), and generally letting the experience be run for us rather than directed by us and our wills.

To me, the scales were not weighted evenly. While I had wanted to be pushed out of my comfort zone, I didn’t like seeing people’s heads messed with. And I was angry at the actor’s violation of my expectation of privacy and secrecy. He broke a social agreement. This caused me to break the actor/audience agreement. I felt in the end that we’d all been cleverly manipulated, that the evening had been something that was less performance and more social experiment, acceptable in the context of a “challenging” “One on One” experience, but on the boundaries of acceptability. I kind of admired it, but it has to be said, when I got to the Soho Theater, my guard was up. “Audience” was billed as “mischievous and exhilarating,” but my expectation was that it was likely to be manipulative and potentially mean, that at the least it might make me feel uncomfortable, but there was also a good chance that it could leaving me feeling angry, used, and possibly betrayed. And this was NOT how I wanted to feel at the end of the night.

And, I was determined, this time I would not.

This meant when I walked into the theater, I was feeling somewhat combative. I didn’t want to leave my bag in the strange little cloakroom; and I didn’t want to be somewhere that might lead the cast to pick me out for any kind of “special attention.” I wasn’t interested in the lecture telling us what proper audience behavior was; and I kept my distance (and refused to participate) as we were run through the paces of how to clap. As it turned out, I did get some attention, as I was featured in a video montage as the “brightest (dressed) person in the room;” but I wasn’t bothered by this (as I showed by flashing my devil horns at the video camera pointed at me). I’m easy to spot. (And for the record: it was what I wore to the office that day.)

By the end of the night, many of my negative expectations had been met. We, the audience, had been treated like mindless sheep, told what we were (leisured and healthy, as qualifying for benefits or having invisible disabilities did not fit in with the narrative any more than my brilliantly patterned clothing), and told how we thought, in an exercise that reminded me of the Riceville blue eyed/brown eyed class exercise or the Sanford prison experiment.

I believe Ontroerend Goed has an expectation of a certain level of response from the audience, and their goal is not just to wait until they get a response (basically, to see when someone will blink), but to coordinate this blinking over the course of the evening so as to move their show forward. In some ways, based on the video montage they showed at the end, I think they wanted us to see how easy it is to slip into the kinds of behaviors that allow things like the rise to power of the Nazis, perhaps because of the restraints caused by social conformity and, perhaps, the desire to “be nice” and not make a fuss.

It was clear to me from before that it’s our sense of restraint (as in, we bought a ticket and thus must follow the “rules” of behavior for an audience) that enables the actions I find offensive in Ontroerend Goed. They let themselves break the rules, but then rely on us continuing to follow them. I was not interested in this game and instead switched to the new paradigm right as they did. But they were unable to adapt: given rams when expecting lambs, Ontroerend Goed had to carry on trying to show how we were members of a unified, single-minded, easily controlled organism. The effect was weak and purposeless given the freedom we had claimed for ourselves. I fear, in the end, my combativeness and what it sparked upended the evening. Ontroerend Goed was simply unableto improv their way out of the mess I’d made.

The show made me angry, even though I realized in the end that I’d probably got upset over something that had no more meaning than any other scene played out on any other stage. But this time, at least, I didn’t walk out feeling like I’d been used. Was I manipulated? Probably. But the rest of the audience made me feel like we had held up the social contract with each other. I had not, this time, been betrayed; I told a mouthy actor we wanted to see a whole new world, and, as the rest of the audience shouted “I am Spartacus!”, this time we got it. Thank you, fellow audience members. I’d always hoped I wasn’t really all alone.

(This review is for a performance that took place on December 9th, 2011. Performances continue through January 7th, 2012. Another analysis of Ontroerend Goed is here; a review by Tipsy Hippo of Thursday’s show here. While I considered this show angry-making, it did lead to three hours of conversation afterward, which, given the show was just barely an hour, was a damned good return on investment. No one was physically damaged in this show except for my friend with hypermobility who had an actor shake her back out of alignment in an attempt to encourage her to stand up and dance to some sexist rap music. Ontroerend Goed, KEEP YOUR HANDS OFF OF THE AUDIENCE. You HURT her. I had to watch her shuffling in pain down one set of stairs after another all the way home because of your thoughtless assumption that anyone without a visible disability must actually be healthy. Don’t be so arrogant next time.)

Review – A Life in Three Acts – Bette Bourne and Mark Ravenhill at the Soho Theatre

February 11, 2010

A Life in Three Acts is actually a very odd show. I was there because I’d seen an offer in the Standard for £5 tickets; I knew almost nothing about Bette Bourne (“Bloolips” rang a little bell but I couldn’t contextualize it, like “Greek Active” might to a non-Seattlite). Reading the blurb intrigued me: drag queen extraordinaire and major figure in the early English gay rights movement? I knew almost nothing about that era other than what I’d seen in movies, and, well, I’ve been hanging out with drag queens since I was 15, so I was pleased to take up the offer and truck on over to Soho.

The format for this show is as follows: Mark Ravenhill and Bette Bourne sit on a stage, as if they were in Bette’s apartment, and chat, chronologically, about Bette’s life, recreating Mark’s original interviews at Bette’s home (which have been edited down to what we hear). Behind the stage, photos and occasionally movies are displayed (and at one point we even hear an old recording Mom Bourne made of herself singing “Ave Maria” while on an outing in central London). Mark and Bette mostly read from scripts; Mark did a better job of keeping it actually feeling like a fresh event (that is, he didn’t appear to be reading), while Bette, who had quite a career as a “straight” actor, did more reading but also enlivened her anecdotes with bawdy jokes and occasional songs.

So this isn’t a performance, per se, or a real interview; it’s a dramatization of one person’s life, and this means that much of its interest is going to hang on whether or not you are interested in them as a person. Well, I hadn’t come to satisfy some burning curiosity about Bette, but I was fascinated to hear about how one working class gay man got on with his life, from the experience of being queer in the 50s (no guilt, lots of sex, and now I understand a bit more about how and why Hampstead Heath figures in Pinter’s work), to creating a career as an actor, to the difference between working class and middle class activists (talking about philosophies in books versus living it), et cetera etc. And while all of that bio was certainly fun – the pictures of the Bloolips era made me really sad that I’d never seen them perform – it was the person that came through that was ultimately fascinating. Bette goes to auditions in a dress; walks around Notting Hill in lippy; and does this all even though, truly, society is still just not all that tolerant. But she says, “I’ve got to be me.” And, in a society where we are still having roles squashed on us and people just hate it when you don’t want to get in that box, whether you’re male or female – because God knows I’ve spent my life fighting to just have the space to be me – it was cheering to see someone who’d gone through the fire and out the other side and had got to that space where it wasn’t about shock or spectacle but just being yourself. And thanks for giving us that insight, Bette. Sure wish we could sit down and have a cup of tea and reminisce some day.

Note: on the night we went there was a presentation of “My life in 100 Words or Less,” which was fun to hear, but we did wind up having an interval though I’d thought this show ran straight through 90 minutes. Our total running time was around two hours.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Wednesday, February 10th, 2010. A Life in Three Acts continues at the Soho Theatre through February 27th. As a crass ending, I’d love to add on Bette’s joke about the old queen with back problems but I’ll leave it to her to share it with you.)

Review – “I, Lear” – Trafalgar Studios

August 9, 2008

Friday night is often a difficult night to watch theater for me. All of the mainstage shows (that aren’t crap) are frequently either sold out or only offering outrageously priced tickets, and I don’t really have the energy to watch anything more than two hours long or in any way an energy suck. Fortunately, Trafalgar Studios came to my rescue. They (along with the Soho Theater) have been staging a lot of fun one acts that in many cases have had a previous life as fringe theater (often actually from the Edinburgh Fringe festival, so “creme de la fringe”) and are perfectly suited to after work on a Friday night. Also very kindly, these productions often come with a sweet price tag, in this case a mere £10, and, in the case of Lear, a relaxed start time of 7:45, enough for dinner without needing to rush. What a winner!

We’d actually seen the Sir Ian King Lear in November, so the show was still pretty fresh in my mind, and when I’d seen the ads for a comedic short version (by the Black Sheep, aka Andrew Jones and Ciaran Murtagh), I was very up for seeing it. The show was quite different than I’d originally thought, though: rather than just being Lear, it was also a bit of a tour through other plays and playwrights, framed as “the history of British theater” (starting with the Greeks and including Chekov and Tennessee Williams) and a sort of demonstration of the various acting techniques that make these shows come to life (or not).

I did actually get quite a bit of laughs out of this fast moving show. Not every joke hit, but the energy was very up, and in an intimate space like this, I could really feel it rolling off of the stage. We got a little bit of improv (when the actor’s cane broke as he attempted to lift himself off of the stage with it during the Chekov bit), several very comic lines aimed at the highly theater literate (Alan Bennet – very prolific and terribly boring – oh, why didn’t I take notes!), and a lot of corny jokes and bad puns. There was also some scatological humor (during the Greek scene) and some, er, well, maybe a lot of sex jokes. Truth be told, I was busting a gut during the show, and while the cider, sake, and Pimms might have had a bit to do with that, mostly it was just that I was getting off watching Jones and Murtagh do their thing (especially when things went a little wrong – God, I love to watch actors struggle to get their ship back upright!).

The actual Lear bit was a bit not as exciting as I was hoping for. It was actually a rehash of what we’d seen earlier, so it was a bunch of jokes that we’d been set up for (the re-enactment of Bennet’s “Faces,” the re-use of the Greek tragedy in Lear’s storm scene, the wiping of the nostrils with Marmite – don’t ask), and was fairly clever but, well, not as sharp as I would have liked and not playing on the material as well as I could have enjoyed. Still, overall the night was a good one, and the price was right on and my laughs were hearty, so I’d say “I, Lear” was a success.

(This review is for a performance that took place Friday, August 8th, 2008. I, Lear continues at Trafalgar Studios until Saturday, August 16th.)

Review – Dina Martina – The Soho Theatre

May 3, 2008

Last night we went to the Soho Theater to see Dina Martina with robot_mel, beluosus, and silkyraven.

Dina was totally on and the show was a hoot, filled with many Seattlites (including Imogen Love, of all people). I think I was most hurting when she was singing some horrible eighties song, clutching the microphone stand between her legs, and I noticed it slowly disappearing in the horrible folds of her camel toes. Then, to make it worse (better?) she came to our group of front-row seats and straddled beluosus’s leg, and suddenly I imagined him disappearing into the depths just as the microphone stand had. It was hysterical and horrifying at the same time – sort of a perfect Dina moment. Best Dina-ism? Referring to the people suffering from the Iraq invasion as the “Iraqnids.” It was all quite perfect.

Review – Venus as a Boy – Soho Theatre

September 5, 2007

“Self- knowledge is knowledge of the divine … that the self and the divine could be identical.”

It was like “Breakfast on Pluto,” but, you know, if the movie had been interesting.

Tonight I went and saw a play called Venus as a Boy.

Doubtlessly some of you have read the book. I had not. I saw the ad on the Soho Theater’s website, which said “An explosive and haunting story about the miraculous power of sex,” and me, well, I’m interested in sex-positive theater. Inside it’s further described thus: “With just one touch or kiss, he can reveal a glimpse of heaven in all its resplendent glory. Some call him Cupid. Or Venus as a Boy.”

Another quote (from the play) goes, “My reward is the understanding that, for those I’ve touched, knowledge of me is knowledge of the divine.”

And, well, I really liked this play. At first I thought it was a fairy tale about a person who gives people visions of heaven, then, well, it was a bit of a nightmare, and then it could have been a very stupidly “In search of Twoo Wuv” tale, but instead it was kind of, to me, about … how sex can really bring out the higher side of people, how, rather than being something to be rejected as sinful, it is a way of getting closer to the divine. And the lead character, well, maybe he was “just a whore,” but I really bought him as a sort of Christ figure, helping people who had no joy to have a brief time when they thought that they might at least find joy in the afterlife as they’d glimpsed a tiny bit of delight on earth.

I also thought that the character was a positive portrayal of a bisexual, and the complications in people’s sexuality and sexual identity and how labels never really get it right or have much to say about who the person really is who’s wearing that tag. Yeah, sure, it was tragic, but sometimes life goes wrong, and really happy stories can be so boring, don’t you agree?

Afterwards I turned to and said, “Well, for a total crap shoot, that was a winner, don’t you think?” And he agreed. It’s especially amazing because it was a one man show (with guitarist, actually the author of the book), and I usually HATE them because a lot of people can’t hold the stage for an hour, but this guy did. Go, Tam Dean Burn. And go you, oh my flisters. THe show is only 10 quid through the end of this week and runs through September 22nd; you won’t want to say you missed it. I mean, we even liked the lighting, and the costuming made me think I should dress like Greed for Halloween (see icon above). How much more can I say?

To make my night perfect, I came home and discovered the Hotel Chocolat people had inadvertently sent me two free introductory boxes. God, life is good.

(This review is for a performance seen the night of September 5th, 2007.)