Posts Tagged ‘Stephen Mangan’

Mini-review – Jeeves and Wooster – Duke of York’s Playhouse

January 23, 2014

I realize there’s not much of a point in reviewing Jeeves and Wooster. It opened in November, and based on the lack of discounting of the last two months, it’s clearly found an appreciative audience. With two television actors (Stephen Mangan and Matthew Macfadyen) and the promise of light comedy, well, it must have been a producer’s fantasy booking. Given that it’s extended until September (no idea who’s in the lead roles after April), it’s really pushing the right buttons – to call the audience “appreciative” would be understating their enthusiasm.

Anyway, I didn’t go because of the TV actors, I went because the person who’d introduced me to P.G. Wodehouse invited me. This meant tickets bought at his price range (60 quid, ouch!) and preferred location (in the stalls but on the side). This was all fairly painful for me, but, well, having anybody outside of my group of hardcore theater people inviting me out is pretty rare, so I wanted to take advantage of this. And I was genuinely curious about how these funny books could be turned into an equally funny play; so much of the laughs come from snickering at the narrator (Wooster), who doesn’t seem to realize how pompous and stupid he is – but also admiring how clever the “lesser” of the two, Jeeves (the butler), is. It sounded like a set up that would be fraught – I mean, it could just so easily become plain old mean. And, really, the tone of the novels is not in any way mean – they are kind and jolly and friendly (Wooster coming through).

The approach this show went for, as it turns out, was to not have Wooster be a character in a play, but to have him be (as it were) a real person … someone addressing the audience and telling them (er, us) things. This breaking down of the fourth was was very effective in increasing Wooster’s believability as an actual person, and thus made him much less of an object of mockery than might have been. The curtain goes up, and there’s Bertie Wooster, quite surprised to see us. Then he starts rambling about how he has such interesting things happen to him that a friend of his has suggested that he do it as a play – so here he is! However, he doesn’t seem to have much prepared, certainly not any scenery, and hardly any actors, well, except for his butler, good old Jeeves, who dutifully comes on stage when called. As Bertie continues to ramble on about his great idea of being in a show, Wooster slowly brings out one bit of set after another, a gag that runs throughout the play but one which nicely illustrates the core elements of the Jeeves and Wooster relationship – Wooster is stupid, Jeeves gets things done and doesn’t make a fuss. Rightfully, with all of Jeeves’ stagehanding shenanigans, the climax probably should have been a helicopter descending from the ceiling a la Miss Saigon (with Jeeves flying it), but the show doesn’t take it that far – although nearly.

As it stands, the entirely of the show is done with three actors – including a second butler – and every joke gets built up and redone over and over again until it builds up a comic hysteria. The audience was lapping it up, too, which puzzled me a bit as while some of the things were clever, they weren’t particularly “wow” to me. But it was what they wanted, and they laughed and laughed.

Me, I giggled a bit. I liked the cow creamer. I thought Wodehouse did it better. It was, I’ll concede amusing, but there is no way on God’s green earth this play was worth what we payed for it. Oh well, I suppose if you only go out once or twice a year, perhaps a few giggles and a chance to feel modestly literary is all that it takes.

(This review is for a performance of Jeeves and Wooster that took place on Friday, January 17, 2014. It is booking until September although casting will change some time around April.)

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Mini-review – Birthday – Royal Court Theater

July 3, 2012

Great news, guys! For this episode of Saturday Night Live, we’ve managed to line up not just Jerry Hall, but, for one crucial segment, we’ve got her husband Mick Jagger! And this is going to be a funny one, guys: we’re doing a bit in which the gag is that MEN CAN HAVE BABIES. Yes, that’s right, we’re going to have Mick Jagger in a hospital bed, nine months’ pregnant, with Jerry Hall comforting him as he’s about to go into labor! We’ve thought about some of the medical details, which since they’re not possible means it’s going to have to be set a little bit in the future, but basically this is going to be PURE COMEDY GOLD, people. Imagine him whining about how “she can’t really understand the pain” while she tells him that “the children make up for all of it.” Then we’ll have a nurse come in and make him undergo humiliating medical procedures!

Yes, that’s right, we’re going to have Mick Jagger on his knees in a hospital bed while he has a rectal manipulation! And for extra fun, we’ve made the nurse character black, so she can be an unsympathetic, practical, and somewhat cruel stereotype of what you expect when you have to go to a publicly owned hospital! I mean, the jokes practically write themselves! I’ve got twelve waiting to go right now, but just picture this: Jagger, in a preggo suit, saying, “I’m hormonal, I can’t help myself!” IT’S GOING TO BE BRILLIANT!

…. only instead it was 90 minutes long and it was Lisa Dillon and Stephen Mangan and the jokes stopped being funny long before the show was over. Oh well, win some, lose some, and at £10 I could at least be grateful I hadn’t paid much for the experience. It was a missed opportunity to point out the shortcomings in investment in the NHS, but then the play might have been longer, so … well, you know, at least I was home by 10.

Review – Living Together (The Norman Conquests) – The Old Vic (and soon The Circle in the Square Theater, NYC)

September 18, 2008

This show is being transferred to the Circle in the Square Theater in New York. Consider yourself warned!

Disclaimer: somehow, several years ago, I inadvertently watched Living Together (The Norman Conquests) on video back in Seattle. Normally I don’t watch plays on video tape, but I was broke (as I got this from the library it was free) and it was English and I figured it would be funny.

Well, it wasn’t. An utterly dull lead character, a rather silly sex farce plot … I turned it off midway and got to work on something more exciting (doubtlessly sleep, or possibly washing the dishes). I couldn’t figure out how it had just turned out to be an utter and complete dud, like a can of soda pop with no fizz, or chips that had gone stale in the bag. So the chance of any real surprises for this show were low. And yet … years later, its existence had slipped my memory. Title? Playwright? Nada. Zip. It was as if it had never happened.

And so, happily lacking a key bit of information about a certain playwright, I chose, back in December, to see “Absurd Person Singular,” which I considered at the time to be my first play by Alan Ayckbourn. In an unsurprisingly similar vein to the video I had once watched, my reaction was that … it was just so dated. I found it a real struggle to get through and really not particularly funny. The only consolation was that I went with the West End Whingers, a pair of guys I’d been dying to hang out with, as they seemed to be pretty sharp theater goers and also completely capable of knowing when to cut and run rather than insisting on punishing their theater companions while at a dog.

So another ten months or so rolls by, and yet I’ve still not made the connection about the video I saw years back and the lame play I saw in November. I was unable to properly weigh the value of watching Alan Ayckbourn versus the pleasure of a night out with the Whingers. So what did I do? When invited, I said yes, thinking perhaps Absurd Person Singular was a one-off dud. I mean, hey, this guy’s written practically hundreds of plays – everyone gets it wrong now and then, right?

The correct thing, apparently, would have been to have trusted my instincts about Ayckbourn being the Neil Simon of English theater and somehow to have REMEMBERED the horrible video I watched years ago. And yet … memory like a sieve, I forgot and I went. And if maybe the description on the Old Vic’s website rang a little bell, I just figured, eh, with a professional cast, this will be so much better, right?

Well, I’d say the only thing I got right about this evening was that it’s nice to hang out with savvy theater folk. I loved the lovely reconfiguration of the Old Vic into an “in the round” theater, until I figured out my seats were basically level with the head of the person in front of me; while I’m okay with not being able to see everyone’s faces in this configuration, I’m not okay with not being able to see them because I have someone else’s head in my face. But it was cool to see the rows of seats, like bleachers at the circus, lining the space behind where the stage normally is. I think it made the Old Vic a lot more fun.

Otherwise, well, the play is a dog. There’s just no getting around it. Who cares about Norman? (Stephen Mangan, nothing personal, mate, you did your best.) He’s not an interesting character and it’s impossible to believe anyone would want to sleep with him. Yeah, he does do some fairly comic lying and BSing, but he doesn’t seem to have any motivations behind his words or even behind his existence and didn’t seem the least bit believable. In fact, he was every bit as much of a dullard, a fizzless soda, a non-crispy chip, as he was in the horrid video. If only he’d killed himself like he’d been threatening to in the first act the whole thing would have been so much better!

Sadly, many of the doubtlessly undertheatered audience were laughing at the thin humor in this show. Now I’ll admit, the cast was good. In fact, I loved Amanda Root as Sarah, the uptight wife of Reg (Paul Ritter). She was completely inhabiting her anally retentive character, and when she finally flipped out at Annie (Jessica Hynes), I was lapping it up. But what was the point of this show? I was far more interested in the home made games that Reg was describing than anything else going on stage, though I got a little giggle when it became clear that Norman had (insert spoiler here). That said … what is the logic of the mountaineering game? It has sherpas, but what else does it have? Does everyone climb the mountain at the same time? Are there funny costumes to wear like for the cops and robbers games Reg had everyone playing during the first act? How do you win?

Now, the gimmick of these three plays (for there are two others) is that they all show different takes on the same weekend (description here). I wish that was an interesting enough reason to see them, but I think there’s a reason these plays haven’t been mounted for 34 years. In short: they are dated and they stink. Please save yourself the trouble and stay at home. Perhaps you too have dishes to wash or even some sleep to catch up on – better to do so in your house than in the deliciously reconfigured confines (and I emphasize “confine”) of the Old Vic.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Tuesday, September 16th, 2008. I have little hope that further performances will improve the script, so consider yourself warned. The Whingers’ take on Norman is also online.)