Posts Tagged ‘Tara Arts’

Mini-review – Consumed – Border Crossings at Tara Arts

March 1, 2013

Consumed had a lot of ingredients that I was interested in theater-wise: new writing, the impact of technology on how people interact with each other, a look at how China had changed in the last 25 years. As a bonus, it was to be performed partly in Mandarin (how would they handle this?), at a theater near my house (Tara Arts) and I was offered free tickets – so hurray!

I was pretty unclear about what the subject of the play was supposed to be (“Tong Zheng returns from the States – to sell Wall Street. Who is the fascinating ‘Shanghai beauty’ he meets online?”). With all of the cyberpunk I read, I expected that we were going to explore virtual realities, and find out that Tong Zheng had actually fallen in love with a computer (a la Mona Lisa Overdrive), or some person masquerading as a different person (gender, age etc.) online (like Me and You and Everyone We Know). But I liked the idea of plunking this storyline into something linked up with the financial crisis – where would it all go? How would the mistakes of modern banking play out in this kind of storyline?

The actual plot is this: John Bartholomew, a British financier (Serge Soric), is carrying on an affair with Su Chen, a Chinese executive (Song Ru Hui), despite the fact neither of them speak the same language. (Their dialogue is frequently not translated at all; but at other times the Chinese to English translation appeared projected on the wall behind them.) The financier is trying to set up a shady deal to get a government contract to build a shopping mall, which he’s doing in partnership with Tong Zheng (Ning Li), a Chinese man who has been in the US long enough to get an American wife and family and who can provide the hacking skills Bartholomew needs to make sure their deal is at just the right price point to win the contract. Bartholomew then comes up with the idea of having Tong Zheng translate his and Su Chen’s text conversations (also broadcast on the screens behind the stage); but at some point Tong Zheng decides to just carry on the romance without Bartholomew. The deal goes wrong, the affair goes wrong, and Tong Zheng’s secret is revealed … I think that’s enough to keep you interested without revealing all of the plot.

The story is sectioned off in chapters (about 19) which are introduced in Mandarin and then English. It’s an interesting framing device, but isn’t really able to overcome the two shortcomings of this play: the script and the acting. I found the little segments didn’t really piece together to make sense, and didn’t explore the things I was interested in. Yes, it’s a different culture than ours, yes, things have really changed in China a lot since I was there in ’88 (this bit was conveyed well); but what was happening in the present, the actual plot, just seemed … irritating. Trivial. Cobbled together.

Sadly, I think much of the blame for this came from the poor performance of Ning Li. I can forgive him for not sounding all that much like he’d just spent a decade in America, but I can’t get over the fact that the night I saw the show, he seemed to be forgetting what he was supposed to be saying, then spitting something out with no affect, like he was trying so hard to remember what to say that he couldn’t manage to stay in character and like it wasn’t likely actually the correct words. I felt distanced from the entire effort from his performance. Soric seemed wholly confident and Song Ru Hui seemed convincing in her role (which seemed pretty two dimensional) but I cringed a bit when Tong Zheng had a scene. There was one terribly beautiful moment when he translated a poem from literary Chinese into English … but it was fleeting. Rather like the romance at the heart of the play, if you think about it.

At the end, Ning Li gave a long speech describing his character’s past in Mandarin, and a piece of paneling fell down behind him, missing him by about a foot. He didn’t miss a beat. I was impressed; but sad, later, that for me and my roommate, this was the emotional high point of the evening. Oh well. Someday my Chinese cyberpunk play will become a reality.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Friday, February 22nd, 2013. The show is now touring.)

Review – Kanjoos (The Miser) – Tara Arts Theatre

October 1, 2012

While the “guess what’s going on at our theater” emails have been coming fast and furiously this September, most of them have been going into the rotating “I’m very sorry but I’ve failed to get excited” bin, save one: an announcement of a production of “The Miser” being done by Tara Arts theater in Earlsfield. This theater has a warm spot in my heart, partially because it’s so close to my house and I’m excited about being able to see shows in my neighborhood; but also because the last show I saw there, A Bollywood Cinderella, stole my heart away as the best panto of the year. Would turning a South Asian eye to a French classic bring the whole endeavor more brilliantly to life? I felt hopeful and kept a date open to go early in the run (and Tara kindly furnished me with much appreciated comps).

To my delight, this show was a reunion of some of the key creatives of the earlier show, with Hardeep Singh Kohli and Jatinder Verma as writer/co-writer (Verma also directing as he did for Cinderella) – something I didn’t know as I walked in but was able to tell immediately based on the snappy dialogue and the deep engagement with the South Indian community. The play stuck very closely to Moliere’s original – a tightfisted old man with two children eager to wed – but took a million liberties that made the play both very stuck in to its Indian setting (i.e. Harjinder, the miser, is a devotee of the path of Ghandi – at least from the point of how much money he wants to spend) and very fresh and engaging (I liked that the asides were often done as songs, with Sohini Alam in the wings singing the actor’s parts, and I couldn’t help but laugh at the misguided westerner, Frosine, explaining how her chakras were all in alignment as she attempted to work her matchmaking magic).

The acting was really very zippy, with Krupa Pattani back as the miser’s daughter, Dimple (so adorable!), the very sexy Sam Kordbacheh as her boyfriend Valmiki (the ideal lover, I couldn’t help but seem him as a Krisha/Adonis cross, yum!), and the remarkably harsh Antony Bunsee as Harjinder the miser, so very much in love with his money more than any of his children (and Deven Modha, Mehrish Yasin and Caroline Kilpatrick filling out the cast). Though there wasn’t much budget spent on extras, still the simple costumes captured character well (I loved the flowered dress for Mariam and the over the top fat dress for servant Lalli Farishta) and the tiny set changes very successfully made the brick walled building into (for example) a garden.

In short, this was a perfect jewelbox of a play, with engaging acting, a riotous script, and lovely touches (like the music, which could have stood on its own) that made me believe that these classics really did have a life outside of the Dead White Men world of theater. And all this for only 15 quid! I’m sure there will be lots more sold out houses; as for me, I’m getting my tickets to Dick Whittington Goes Bollywood before the word gets out how great the home-grown shows at this off the beaten path venue are.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Friday, September 28th, 2012. It closes on October 13th.)

Review – Bollywood Cinderella: the Pantomime! – Tara Arts Theatre

December 13, 2011

Cross “Bollywood” and “Panto” and you know that I’ll be beating down the door. I was clued in to this show by, of all things, Time Out‘s London panto listings (rather than the seemingly more comprehensive It’s Behind You). Everything got even better because the theater, Tara Arts, is right down the street from where I live, and as it was early in the run, they were nice enough to give me a free set of tickets (though for cushion seats on the floor). Saturday matinee after a yummy lunch at Tooting Broadway’s Dosa and Chutney, how could this not be a totally brilliant afternoon?

As it turns out, I could not have asked for a better time than this authentically British panto. From the pink Christmas tree decorated with plastic fruit and garlands of flowers in the lobby to the tiny auditorium (seating for maybe 50?), it was shiny, glittery, high energy, and fun, fun, fun. The lights went up on a cast of mixed familiarity (evil stepmother and stepsister in traditional eye-burning bad drag – Simon Norburry and Ali Zaidi) and the more glamorous and exotic Prince Raj (Nitin Ranpuria, my God the muscles) and Sunder(ella – Krupa Pattani, as beautiful and graceful as a princess should be, but with way more attitude than the normal humble and somewhat dull Cinders). The bridge between the two worlds is the Buttons-like character of Nitin (Maya Sondhi), who is the prince’s butler/companion. Nitin explains a lot of the Bollywood traditions (and Hindi words) for the benefit of us less clued-in types, so the “dream sequence” and lip synching make more sense. That said, singer Sohini Alam had such a great voice I was happy to have her doing all of the songs – it’s rare to get such raw talent in a “backing band” and I revelled in every note.

The story is not much changed from the original, except that the stepmother is a queen (having won the right to the kingdom from Sunder’s father in a bet), and the prince actually meets Sunder before the ball as he roams the countryside looking for someone who loves him for himself, not for his title. This leads to some interesting scenes as both the Queen and her “daughter,” Happy-Lucky, fall in love with the wrong guys. But we of course have a ball, and there is a missing slipper, so most of the traditional elements are firmly in place even though the dancing and singing vegetables (with their hilarious cast-off sweater costumes) are nowhere to be found in the original. There are even a few topical political jokes for the adults.

With all of the energy of this show, it’s a grim faced grinch who wouldn’t get into it, as the dancing five year old seated on the front row cushions demonstrated. It’s original, witty, musical, fun to watch, loaded with puns, and has a okra/aubergine romance – and rounds it all out with this year’s obligatory Lady Gaga reference. And it didn’t wear out its welcome. If I were looking for a really fun panto that was a good time for all ages of audience, I would absolutely pick this little diamond. Tara Arts is going to be one to be beat this year!

(This review is for the matinee performance that took place on Saturday December 190th, 2011. It continues through December 24th.)