Posts Tagged ‘The Lyttelton Home of Bad Theater’

Mini-review – Ballyturk – National Theatre

October 9, 2014

It seems like a new, 90 minute play would be the kind of thing I dream of, and it must be a dream for many people, because Ballyturk sold out pretty early in the run. I had a hard time getting tickets at all but finally succeeded; however, I really wish I hadn’t. What, you say, it’s an absurdist drama a la “Waiting for Godot?” Well, you know what, those gimmicky plays actually get boring pretty quickly and from the 30 minute point I was shifting uncomfortably in my chair desperately hoping something would happen that redeemed the time that was ticking by. Loud, incoherent heavily accented rambling, two dudes engaging in bizarre physical comedy: BORING! Boring boring boring! My only pleasures were listening to properly amplified 80s hits (My God Yaz in FULL STEREO! Can’t wait for the Alison Moyet tour!) and a completely surreal moment involving Jenga with wafer biscuits – otherwise I was clock watching and dreaming about other plays I could have been watching – or writing, for that matter.

Now, part of this play seemed to be about the nature of friendship (I felt), and it’s Big Picture Message was about how all life is ultimately a journey toward death and we all have to learn to let go. Well well. I can’t argue with a flaming cuckoo clock but it all just took SO long, and even for £25 I felt it was time and money poorly spent. Oh well – obviously many other people disagree and my review is coming too late to influence YOU, but I’ve said my bit: phooey.

(This review is for a performance that took place October 8, 2014. It ends Saturday October 11th.)

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Review – The Silver Tassie – National Theater

April 15, 2014

(Based on a conversation with my husband)

99 puce balloons/dragging on the Lyttelton stage
Great war sells/Its red alert
The second scene from somewhere else
It brought the pyrotechs to life
Making us all squint our eyes
Waiting for the songs to die as 99 bad ideas go by

99 scripts they must read
98 the bin will meet
This one they’ll make all a flurry
Add some Tommies in a hurry
People speak and then they’re gone
What’s the audience waiting for?
Any play that features war?
Hynter’s job ain’t on the line
Was this the best play that they could find?

99 plays I have seen
Only one with puce balloons
It’s all over, I’m feeling shitty
Was this limp show supposedly gritty?
Not one character made me care
And this play’s seen lots of wear
The joyous bits went flopping by,
I think of home, and then I go.

(This review is for the first preview of The Silver Tassie, which took place on April 15th. While some of the performances will improve over time, nothing can be done to rescue this deeply flawed script. I imagine the person who revived it getting the V.C., which if you’ve seen the play you will understand is a joke meaning they should have just let it die.)

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.)

Review – Juno and the Paycock – National Theatre

November 16, 2011

Although my trip to the Lyttleton to see Juno and the Paycock was for a preview performance (tonight is the official opening at the National), I’d like to note that there’s no reason not to judge it fully as it stood last night – the production of this 1924 play is a transfer (and coproduction) with the Abbey in Dublin (which has already been reviewed).

Thursday, September 8th, 2011. In a frenzy of purchasing I attack the National Theater website with the aim of securing, at the lowest possible price, tickets to all of the shows in the fall season – all of the ones I think I will enjoy, that is. I read the description of Juno and the Paycock: “One of the great plays of the twentieth century, Sean O’Casey’s Juno and the Paycock offers a devastating portrait of wasted potential in a Dublin torn apart by the chaos of the Irish Civil War, 1922.” Oh, well, okay! A great play, something to teach me about Irish history, and the pain of wasted potential – sounds like another August: Osage County or even Cat on a Hot Tin Roof! I happily dropped two tickets in my basket (balcony at £20, not as cheap as I was hoping) and went on to the rest of the season.

So. Intense struggling characters; a tightly knit family with their long connections (and resentments) carefully revealed through dialogue; some specifics about living conditions among the poor in the early twenties; a decent leavening of
Irish history. This is what I hoped for.

Horrible, comic, painful overacting (particularly from Ciaran Hinds and Risteard Cooper, who seemed to be in One Man Two Guv’nors); conversations that killed time but went nowhere; lines shouted from the stage; history as window dressing; characters cut from cardboard and moving like paper dolls on a set that looked like a rotting mansion. And worst of all, the play turned “the poor Irish” into caricatures: drunk, lazy, supersitious, ignorant, everything I would criticize as a ridiculous stereotype in a new show. I could feel no sympathy for any of them, because they were not sympathetic; but I felt genuine anger at the playwright, who, I felt, had not made an honest play.

This show was for me like being stuck at two of my least favorite shows of the last thirteen months, Men Shall Weep and Chicken Soup with Barley, as I frequently could not understand what was being said on stage (my American-ness working against me) and had a real dislike of the core characters. But Men Shall Weep at least seemed realistic (and sympathetic, if schmaltzy) and Chicken Soup incorporated the history of London communism to an extent that I became interested enough to do further research. And both of them had characters drawn from the fabric of reality, not from the funny pages, with relationships between them that held together after the curtain dropped. Juno and the Paycock, though – I am convinced that it is fatally flawed as a work on the 21st century stage; and the production could not convince me it had any merit at all.

At the interval (ninety minutes in and at least thirty minutes after I started wondering when we were to be set free), I consulted my companions about our courses of acction. Only one of us wished to stay and it was only so that he could finish his review by saying that he’d actually seen it all; but without me by his side, he didn’t feel he could stay awake. I was not willing to stay just so I could say that I had. I hated it. I wanted to leave the theater with a violent passion. We compromised by looking up the ending on Wikipedia, decided we didn’t really care how it played out, then all melted into the night.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Tuesday, November 8th, 2011. It continues through February 26th, 2012. If you feel eager to see this play, I advise patience as you are very likely to be able to get discounted tickets later in the run.)