Posts Tagged ‘the mountaintop’

2010 Olivier Awards – did they deserve it?

March 22, 2010

Reviewing the final list of winners for the 2010 Olivier awards, I had to ask myself: did they deserve it? Aside from Spring Awakening, I did manage to see pretty much every show that got a nod (well, a major nod – Hello Dolly also slipped through my fingers due to being staged outdoors). So, first, a look at the shows that won minor awards (each linked to my original review).

PRISCILLA, QUEEN OF THE DESERT – THE MUSICAL: Best Costume Design I have continued to be mystified by the popularity of this thin on the ground musical. But one thing I wouldn’t deny: it’s got great costumes. In fact, that was about the only think I really liked about the show.

The Brandstrup-Rojo project’s GOLDBERG: Best New Dance Production I disagree with this. The production was nice but the output sterile. I’m sure there was something better out there that was overlooked. Did Birmingham Royal Ballet’s E=MC2 just not count? They did it in London, too …

Royal Court for COCK at the Jerwood Theatre Upstairs: Outstanding Achievement in an Affiliate Theatre Well, this show was my pick for best of the year, so I’d say: yeah, damned right it was an outstanding achievement. Or perhaps “upstanding” would be more appropriate.

So – this leaves the shows that were up for the major awards. Only one thing surprised me: CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF: Best Revival I thought this cat was a dog. Did the performances improve tremendously after the time I saw it? I sure hope so.

Meanwhile, there’s no doubt that JERUSALEM deserved its best actor award for Mark Rylance (though I don’t think it really hit Best Set Design – was the competition slim, or did the live chicken make the difference?). I, however, just never really “got” this play, much as I wasn’t able to quite buy Rachel Weisz (Best Actress, A Streetcar Named Desire at the Donmar Warehouse) as Blanche DuBois. Not that she was bad, mind you, but Ruth Wilson (Best Actress in a Supporting Role, same show) inhabited her role with seamless perfection.

So we’re left with the top new play of the year. I actively go see new plays, so this is a category that matters to me. And Enron (Best Director: Rupert Goold), well, it had good direction, but it wasn’t a story for all time. And … I hate to say it … but … Jerusalem … it may be where England is here and now, but it didn’t move me. Me? I’ve been to THE MOUNTAINTOP (Best New Play), and I saw the promised land, a land where artists lose themselves completely in their roles, where I learn more about the world, where I walk out with my skin shivering with excitement. Hats off to you, Katori Hall, for making theatrical magic happen: you really deserved it.

Best London theater, 2009

December 19, 2009

While I’ve still got three more shows before the season’s entirely over, I feel confident that I can now get the “what was the best” posts out of the way (complete list of shows here, grand total estimated to be 116). Best dance, best musical/drama are my categories, as well as a few special celebrations and a shaming here and there. Read on …

Discovery of the year: the Southwark Playhouse. A Midsummer Night’s Dream at this small and atmospheric venue blew me away; the shows I’ve seen since have been of mixed quality (the recent and continuing Christmas Carol was a treat to be sure) but never made me feel financially cheated. Generally worth going to “just for the heck of it.” Now, mind you, Royal Court has been crowned “The New Donmar” (affordable prices, adventurous programming) and I’m planning on buying something akin to the entire spring season there, but it was hardly a discovery; it just became noticeable for its greatness this year.

Overdone gimmick of the year: “event” theater with movie or TV celebrities. Please, let’s have less of the classics being butchered by people who can’t act at extravagant prices. I realize this is probably singlehandedly responsible for the fantastic income London theater is experiencing this year, but good theater is not just about filling seats. I feel like seeing Jude Law/David Tennant/Keira Knightly on stage gets people to go just so they can say “ooh ah I was in the same room as INSERT NAME HERE” and does little to encourage the creation of good shows. The Donmar deserves an especial drubbing for going so mad for celebrity casting in their West End season – and what a horrible mistake to waste Judi Dench in that Mishima dog they put on.

Dance performance of the year: Birmingham Royal Ballet’s “E=MC2” (full discussion here) I saw the Royal Ballet many times this year and they just weren’t doing anything this exciting – not really helping the cause of getting ballet into the 21st century and recruiting new audiences so much as sticking with tried and tried and tried and true (“Mayerling” twice in two years, please!). I also give BRB points for “best new story ballet of the year” even though I don’t think Cyrano was new and I don’t think I saw any other new story ballet this year (even though I do try to go see them when I can – well, okay, there was the Wuthering Heights ballet but it seemed more like a thought than a story).

Painful lesson of the year: modern opera, I really shouldn’t bother. Die Tote Stadt, Into the Little Hill, Grand Macabre; I really want to support new opera but unfortunately I think it’s almost entirely unmusical, like it’s designed by academics to adhere to certain structures and generally not to be musical in any way.

Musical of the year: the nominees were: Priscilla, Queen of the Desert: The Musical*; Company; Forbidden Broadway; (the all male) Pirates of Penzance; Silence the Musical. After tossing and turning, debating the hysterical brilliance of Silence (full of hummable, if utterly rude, tunes) and the extravagant, seedy intensity of Pirates, I’ve decided the award goes to … Pirates, which made an arthritic script come to life in a way I truly did not think possible. Rumor has it it’s going to be reprised at Wilton’s Music Hall this spring, though unfortunately I can’t find any information about it on their calendar. That said, Silence: the Musical is going to be done again at the Above the Stag theater – don’t miss out as there’s really little reason for it to be staged again so soon and it really is a hoot.

Best theater blog: I’m not going to list the ones I read (mostly because it’s a short list), but once again the West End Whingers have proven to have the blog that gets me the right hot tips on what shows to see. Sometimes it was a show I’d unimaginatively rejected; sometimes it’s a show I never heard of; almost always it was a show that was on the verge of becoming unattainable. It’s even better now that they have a Twitter feed: getting a line from them to “buy your tickets for Jerusalem now” will send me immediately to my computer. Every now and then we utterly disagree on a show; but mostly they are like having my own private theatrical pimp. I like that.

Show of the year: the nominees were: Entertaining Mr Sloane; Kursk; The Mountaintop; Enron; Cock. (Note absolutely nothing from the Donmar this year, for shame). In a year in which great shows were thin on the ground in comparison to the volume of productions being cranked out, this wasn’t nearly as competitive as I was hoping it would be. Still, I’ve weighed the best of the year (that I saw), and it’s clear: not only as best production but also as best script, Mike Bartlett’s Cock blew me away. Each performance was perfect; the close confines made it all that more intense; the words were exactly what they should be. It’s a damned shame it sold out so fast, but such good theater should never experience a single unoccupied seat for even one night. I can’t imagine it being remounted elsewhere without watering down the impact of seeing this in the round in a tiny (80 person?) house, but this was really just a tiny drop of perfection in a year that was otherwise a bit of a desert.

Right, that’s it for me: 116 shows in one year was probably about thirty more than I should have seen. I don’t even think I’m capable of remembering who the best actor and actress even were anymore. Next year, I’m hanging up my hat and taking it easy; I want 2010 to be a year when I see less shows and more that I like. This will require waiting until the reviews come in so I can more easily identify the productions that will suit me, and might mean that I miss a few that sharper people snapped up sooner – but I think it’s probably the way to go. Even sticking to a budget like I try to do, this year was taxing on my wallet as well as my sleep schedule. See you in the second balcony …

*Actually, Priscilla was never a contender for me. I just put it in there because it seemed like it should have been, especially given how expensive it was.

Review – The Mountaintop – Trafalgar Studios

July 20, 2009

On Saturday, J and I went to see The Mountaintop, which had just transferred to Trafalgar Studios after a successful (and sold out) run at Theatre 503. I had wanted to see it but missed out as tickets weren’t to be had, and gave up; but then I got an email from the Ambassador’s Theatre Group announcing that it had been picked up for a run at one of their properties, followed by a hot £10 deal from LastMinute.com. Woo! As I’m spending July in brokeville, this was great news – a show I really wanted to see … and could afford! Even in row N I was still excited to be there – and though many people came in late (when King takes a phone call), based on the fact the house was full, I think there were a lot of people who were as excited as I was. (Pent up consumer demand, perhaps?)

“The Mountaintop,” in summary, is a play about Martin Luther King Junior’s last night on earth, which was spent in a hotel room in Memphis, Tennessee. We know it is his last night, and that he will be assassinated at 6 PM the next day, but he does not. He has just given his glorious “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech, in which he says God’s allowed him to go up to the mountain and see the Promised Land. But with the door shut behind him in his hotel room, the playwright (Katori Hall) has King (David Harewood) display more of what is going on in his head – a man who is (rightfully) fearful of spies, startled painfully at every crack of thunder, and jonesing for a hot cup of coffee and a pack of Pall Malls to get him through the night and the speech he’s writing.

Hall adds to this already emotional mix Camae, a saucy, sexy hotel maid (Lorraine Burroughs), who seems initially to be a dramatic means of lightening up the grim mood. She gives King someone to talk to about his fears – about his worries about his people’s commitment to the movement, about people’s lack of involvement and quickness to criticize, about what would happen to the movement in the seemingly inevitable case of his death. In addition to providing King with his much longed for cigarettes, Camae gives him someone to tease, flirt, and have a pillow fight with (showing us a much more human side of his nature), but also pushes back on his assertions and give him flack for being a “bourgie negro” – which really tones down what could have been some syrupy hero worship.

In retrospect, I have to say I was pretty slack-jawed to discover the leads were actually both English, since not once did I catch their accents slipping (and they both had noticeably different accents, appropriate given that they came from such different backgrounds). I was unsure about Harewoods portrayal of King insofar as he kept fairly frequently falling back on King’s “preacher voice,” which I felt sure would have been used less when having a discussion behind closed doors. (While pleading with God to see things his way, sure, he could pump it up, but not while discussing which brand of cigarettes was his favorite.) However, thanks to the seamlessness of the acting, I was quite caught up in the action for the entirety of the 80 minutes running time. Hall threw a ringer in the show by having it seriously go off into left field “la la” land at about 50 minutes in – a good thing given that it seemed the next turn it was going to take was going to be very X-rated – but somehow I was able to swallow this Deux Ex Machina and just roll with the rest of the show.

And God, you know, I really liked it. It could just be because I’m American and this stuff really resonates with me. It’s my history, it’s the one American of the last 50 years I’m most proud of, it’s stuff I really care about. And the last 5 seconds of the play – this is embarassing – made me tear up.

I can’t say whether or not everyone will enjoy this play because it hit my own personal buttons way too well. But I had a great night, and I’d like to see the theater just as full every night of its run as it was for mine. It’s very much about two characters dealing with their own issues and not some cheesy preachy show that’ll leave you feeling like someone just read a history book out loud to you, even if you do wind up learning something in the end.

God, it was good.

That said … I’d like to leave you with the words of the man himself, one of the greatest orators of the 20th century, in the guise of putting some historical context to the title of the play.

But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life – longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over, and I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people will get to the Promised Land. And so I’m happy tonight; I’m not worried about anything; I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.

(The Mountaintop continues at Trafalgar Studios through Saturday September 5th, 2009.)