Posts Tagged ‘The Print Room’

Review – Tutto bene, mamma? – The Print Room

July 2, 2013

After seeing the brilliant Going Dark at the Young Vic last year, I was all afire for a chance to do another play in which sitting in a REALLY dark room was part of the experience – in the case of Going Dark, the experience of going, and then being, blind. And Tutto bene, mamma? at the Print Room seemed to take it even further, as the play is performed in complete darkness for both actors and audience (I kind of think the actors had infrared goggles on, though, as they were walking around the set). What were we going to experience that required sitting in the dark? What would it mean to “share a world that is in complete darkness” with the actors? How were our heightened (other) senses going to be made use of? What would be learn?

In the case of this play, I think there is no doubt that “they accomplished so little with so much.” The sound design was incredible (nicely capturing the sounds of the city, people having two way conversations on a cell phone, the use of stoves, locking doors, jingling keys, etc.), and there was even an attempt at olfactory creation (I smelled lavender and onions: my husband smelled a burnt cake); but with nothing to see (and a lot being described), it was my ears and my nose that made this play completely unbelievable. First, the person playing the young boy simply sounded too old. I know a child’s voice is not really possible for someone with long vocal cords to do: but with the body, it’s easy to convince an audience that what you’re watching is a ten year old, not an adult. Instead, our actor (actress, I think) characterized a child by using a speech impediment, turning their “S”s into “Th”s. This was grating and made it seem to me like the child was meant to be somehow mentally impaired.

Then, well, there were the smells, or rather, lack of them. In a house as full of rot as this place would have been, you should have been able to really smell the reek and not just hear the flies buzzing around. The smell is mentioned, but nothing is there; and given that other items had nasal enhancement, the lack of engagement on this level for this critical area just … well, left a gap. Sure, the child was talking incessantly about what was going on and building the story in our heads (of the “scene” in front of us), but … um … it just wasn’t believable. And the child wasn’t believable, either: smart enough to understand hibernation but not smart enough to understand death?

At the end, it seemed like I’d sad through a much longer play than the 50 minutes it was advertised at. I’ve decided that 90% of the fault of this play is the script: the child is not written to be believable, and so he was not. And, really, while this may have been based on a “haunting real-life story,” it just didn’t make for a good play; in fact, there was only one moment (a conversation between the boy and his mother near the end of the play) where the darkness really, really worked. Otherwise, it’s only purpose was to let it get by without the budget for the special effects it would have needed to have worked if we could have seen what was happening in front of us, and to hide the horror of an adult playing a child very, very poorly.

(This review is for a matinee performance that took place on Saturday, June 22nd, 2013. Based on the nearly empty house, I think word had already got out about what a stinker this play was. It continues through July 6th.)

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December theater mini-reviews – A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings (Little Angel), Driving Miss Daisy (Wyndham’s) and Judgement Day (Print Room)

December 30, 2011

It’s nearly the end of the year and I’m realizing that I haven’t been able to keep up reviewing shows this month at all, an unsurprising consequence of thirteen shows, four dinners with friends, three parties, two full days on the road and two evening classes in a twenty-two day period. My time on trains has been used for napping; and my job has been too busy for me to write at work. What’s left? Why, an eight post extravaganza over the Christmas season. Don’t say you weren’t looking forward to it. Everyone else is doing recaps; hell, I haven’t even discussed the shows in the first place!

Right, so first off is “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings,” a collaboration between Kneehigh and the Little Angel. As a Marquez fan, I found much to recommend it: the incredible feeling of sadness (despite the chipper, English seaside setting) of both the angel and the underlying Marquez truth that people are perfectly willing to ignore magic in favor of making money; the lovely puppets; and the moments of wonderful … cinematography? (The scenes of the storm over the ocean and of the hosts of angels singing were particularly good.) It took advantage of its format to tell the story in a way that made the magical realism easy to swallow (and which would be nearly impossible to do with actors). Yet I was frustrated by the pointless songs and the occasional dumbing down of the story – both things that helped make the story more palatable for  younger audiences but which I found cluttering. Overall I enjoyed enough lovely moments in this show to find it worth the trip to Islington on a Sunday, but it frustrated me too much to really get behind it as a show. (This review is for a performance that took place on December 11th, 2011: continues through January 29th, 2012.)

Next up was Driving Miss Daisy at the Wyndham’s Theater. I wanted to see this in New York but couldn’t afford it: happily, at the end of the run, 10 quid tickets were available way up in the 2nd balcony – and for that price, I wasn’t going to complain. I mean, Vanessa Redgrave! Darth Vader – er, James Earl Jones! I knew the story generally from seeing the movie, but the undercurrent of the evolution of race relations was stronger than before – the scene where Daisy has her driver leave her at the door so she can attend a Martin Luther King dinner was particularly bitter. I couldn’t help but think of the Cracked magazine article on “Old Timey Prejudices in Movies” and its final assertion, “We Still Don’t Care About History That Doesn’t Involve White People.” This play totally seemed to be drawing from that vein of American popular culture. But still, the other story in this play – the one about aging and independence and friendship – was a joy, and I let myself be completely emotionally manipulated for the entire enjoyable ninety minutes of this show. I didn’t even care that most of the set was cheap projections of the sort that normally piss me off with their obvious cost-cutting; instead, I got into the characters and the story and even got sniffly at the end. Really, it was a perfect after work treat and I’m glad I managed to break away from Christmas programming in time to see this before it closed. (This review is for a performance that took place on December 12th, 2011. The final performance was December 17th.)

Next up was Mike Poulton’s “Judgement Day,” his version of Ibsen’s “When We Dead Awaken.” This was a must-see for me, as I love Ibsen and have never seen this play performed in any version: it got bonus must-see points for being straight through (about 80 minutes I think) and from the latter era of his writing (which I think is stronger) and in a lovely intimate space (the Print Room). However, the play is a bit melodramatic at its heart: an old sculptor (Michael Pennington) has lost his ability to create art anymore, but winds up being tracked down by the muse (Penny Downie) whom he’s convinced stole his artistic soul away – but she thinks he stole hers and is out for revenge. Meanwhile, the sculptor’s wife (Maia, Sara Vickers) is married to someone who doesn’t respect her in the least – a relationship that had me confused as it had very little to do with the central story other than to provide a contrast of a couple who is embracing life (Maia and massive jerk Baron Ulfheim, Philip Correia). The whole thing was so heavily metaphorical that it just didn’t work for me, and while Pennington was perfect, Ms. Downie just didn’t seem to get “crazy.” To be honest, I haven’t seen a crazy person portrayed believably on stage (except by Ben Daniels in Haunted Child) in so long I think maybe actors don’t actually realize how generally sane crazy people are – it’s an important survival tactic if you want to stay out of the loony bin. Anyway, I found myself still getting a bit bored despite what should have been a whip-cracking running time, so I must consider this play to have ultimately been a failure, not helped by the fact that the main characters were just painfully unsympathetic: you shouldn’t be hoping as hard as I was that they’d just fall down a cliff face and be done with it. (This review is for a performance that took place on December 13th, 2011: it closed on December 17th.)

That done, I’ve hit all of the reviews for this year I’m going to write (unless I do a round up of the Suspense Adult Puppetry festival, highly unlikely now that it’s almost two months over): time for the end of the year roundup!

Review – Pinter Double Header (Victoria Station and One for the Road) – The Print Room (moving to Young Vic)

September 23, 2011

I was VERY excited when I saw the Pinter double header (at The Young Vic) was actually dipping its toe in the London theater scene at The Print Room on Notting Hill before its later October run. This was exciting to me, first, because I was having a hard time fitting the Young Vic shows into my October schedule, and, second, because the Print Room’s location is five minutes’ walk from the Notting Hill Taqueria. (And if you go, be alerted that all tacos there are half priced there before 7 PM. This was a very bright spot in my week after a few too many nights of cold sandwiches.) Pinter in Notting Hill, bring it!

There was a bit of a spooky atmosphere going to the theater, with a candle lit path guiding us to the garden. The set up in the theater itself is an open space with chairs placed around all edges, in the center of which was a man sitting at a table with his head down (I managed to not even really notice him as I was looking for my seat, he was so still). Suddenly the lights flickered down and a bearded man (Keith Dumphy) appeared at a table kitty-corner to the first. The two begin to have a conversation over a sort of walkie-talkie system (bearded man amplified with a convincing public address system metallicness). The controller asks the other, older man some questions, then begins to berate him. The hostility and frustration of the controller is obvious; but the mystery, to me, is why does the older man (Kevin Doyle) not know where he is? How could he possibly be living in London and not know where Victoria Station is? What has gone wrong here? In delicious Pinterian fashion, we are never given an answer to this, nor to the disappearance of (seemingly) everyone else from these two people’s world. Was it nuclear holocaust, the rapture, or a zombie attack? I was left with plenty of mysteries to solve and absolutely no answers, with my hair just a bit on edge from the barely restrained violence. Dee-lish!

Next up (after a startling transition to the horrible florescent overheads typical of so many offices) was a complete transition as Doyle now became Nicolas, a sadist with a taste for whiskey (“One for the Road”), who for reasons unknown has Victor (Dunphy) under his control. Why is Victor there? What world or country is this where patriotism and religion have become so important? Is it America in ten years? The raised hand feeling, the implied violence behind so many Pinters, has rarely felt so very intense as it did in this play. No one was actually struck, but off the stage people’s bodies and lives were being destroyed. Doyle wasn’t quite note perfect – I think not enough coldness in his heart – but the show was intense and nearly unbearable. My friend thanked me for inviting him after it was all over, and, truly, it was a really great night of theater – ninety minutes in which I fully forgot everything that existed outside of the tiny room I was in.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Tuesday, September 20th, 2011. It continues at the Print Room until October 1st then moves to the Young Vic for an October 6-15th run.)