Posts Tagged ‘Theater Royal Haymarket’

Review – Queen Anne – Royal Shakespeare Company at Theater Royal Haymarket

July 12, 2017

As a blogger, I don’t usually get invitations to West End shows, so it was hard to not say yes to an opportunity to see the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Queen Anne here in Londoninium. I was also intrigued by the subject matter, a modern treatment of a lesser monarch (by Helen Edmundson), and given that I’ve recently been to Blenheim Palace (for the Max Richter concert of music from Woolf Works) there was some additional interest for me. And the RSC is a rare treat for me, as I don’t usually travel to see shows and their tickets when they’re in London are not inexpensive. I expected high quality acting, costuming, and sets … the question would be how is the play?

The set for this show was gorgeously simple, an arched double level wall that from the top occasionally served as windows or balconies and from the bottom, the doors to various rooms. But most of the action took place in bedrooms – usually that of the princess and later queen, Anne (Emma Cunniffe), although also that of her closest friend and confidante, the Duchess of Marlborough (Romola Garai). It is in the interaction of these two women that most of the play’s plot is twined, although there is also some forward motion brought to play by the distant cousin (Abigail – Beth Park) that the Duchess (Sarah) has placed in the queen’s household. It’s interesting to see how close both women are to the queen – while the Duchess advises (and cajoles) on politics in contrast to Abigail’s job of changing the bandages on Anne’s suppurating legs, they both sleep in her bed regularly and provide as much emotional support as they do practical. There’s also a hint of a more sexual tone to Sarah’s relationship with the Queen, although it seems to be of far less import than the fact that the poor monarch endured 17 pregnancies with no surviving children to show for her efforts.

Anne’s personal tragedies – the loss of so many children, her own bad health, and the death of her husband midway through her reign – are certainly remarkable, but the historic times in which she lived, with ongoing Catholic versus Protestant conflict, substantial wars abroad, and the battle for Scotland via “The Great Pretender” are of such import that the story of her impact as a monarch is just as weighty a story and one well worth being told on stage. We get a fair amount of detail about the War of Spanish Succession (including financing thereof) and the maneuvering to get peace with Scotland; all of which are most welcome to see covered on stage. Even better is the Whig versus Tory split which makes itself known in attempts to influence Anne to pick one versus another to advice her cabinet. And yet, for some reason, the author of this play chose to focus on … Sarah’s temper tantrums when she thinks Abigail is now more popular with the queen than she is?

Really?

All of this history and suddenly we’re watching Mean Girls?

What makes it even worse is that neither the political wisdom Sarah Churchill must have had through close contact with her husband (or which she shared with him!) nor the relationship that Anne would have had with her own husband (who must have taken some interest in the country he lived in!) receive much attention at all. The broadsheets that mocked the queen get some attention, but a play just about how they worked behind the scenes to rake mud seems like a more intriguing yarn. Instead, we watch these two women play out one-note lives – Anne as Eeyore and Sarah as Regina George – while Abigail is entirely ignored as a plot opportunity. Cunniffe probably could have eked a bit more out of Anne but ultimately this is a case where the blame falls firmly at the writer’s feet. People interested in filling an evening with a learning a bit of history may find this show passable; but it is far from a classic. Let us hope the misadventures of the pamphleteers get their chance at some point in the future.

(This review is for the performance that took place on Tuesday, July 11,  2017.)

Review – Daytona – Theater Royal Haymarket

July 14, 2014

New plays set in America aren’t as common in London as I’d hope (Mr. Burns aside), so I was quite intrigued when the opportunity came up to see Daytona, which debuted last summer at the Park Theater. I’d guess that it’s season at the Theater Royal Haymarket is more about replacing a failing show than about moving something with a huge groundswell of support into an appropriate sized venue: as a three-hander, it’s a bit intimate in this barn; its replacement, Great Britain, will be much more appropriate in the space.

But Daytona is still a compelling, enjoyable piece of theater that well deserves a chance for a wider audience. It features three characters late in their lives – husband and wife, Elli (Maureen Lipman) and Joe (Harry Shearer), and Joe’s brother, Billy (Oliver Cotton) – all with vibrant life stories and in no way suddenly made irrelevant since they’re past retirement. The play start with Joe and Elli at their apartment in New York, and they seem almost dismissable in their cute bickery old couple-ness. But Billy’s arrival sets off chain reactions that show that, even in their sunset years, all of these people have decisions to make about what it means to live right and well and we, as audience members, have no idea what any of the three of them are going to decide.

Unfortunately, rather a lot of the play is devoted to Billy’s long ramble about his recent trip to Daytona, which spends a lot of time not getting to the point and simultaneously manages to avoid Joe’s big question: why did Billy walk out of his brother (and sister in law’s) life thirty years ago and just completely disappear? We are, fortunately, given the opportunity to explore this ellipsis in more detail in the second act: but, although Cotton (as writer) comes up with an answer, I found it not entirely satisfying as why a person would not just walk away from his only family but completely reject his culture. Furthermore, I really just couldn’t believe that a traumatized Eastern European could have assimilated so seamlessly into American culture as Billy is supposed to have done. Sure, his accent is perfect Midwestern – but, despite his slip-up in Daytona, he doesn’t feel in any way like a man with a complicated psychology and cultural depth.

Elli and Joe, well, I can by them as old people who love ballroom dancing and who have been together for decades, but the feeling of having struggled as hard as they must have during the war – from what I’ve heard, there are scars, some of which manifest themselves in some pretty strange ways (i.e. avoidance tactics in conversation, a certain hard-headedness) and Elli and Joe really seem just a bit too soft to sell me on their histories. Even Elli’s little “slip” into slight European-ness in her second act accent wasn’t enough – frankly, I think she would have just started talking in her native language instead of slipping Yiddish phrases in – and neither of the other guys, well, they weren’t believable as people who hadn’t been in America their whole lives. They didn’t feel like immigrants.

That said, all three of them were convincing as people with a fifty year history, and this is what I loved about the play, as well as the pleasure of watching the story unfold because I truly never knew what was going to happen next. Sure, there were gaps, but with pros like these on stage I was willing to go for the ride. The interval came and I was eager to get back in my seat and see what happened next – an experience I get about four times a year. So even though Daytona may be too intimate for the Haymarket, it’s still an enjoyable evening of theater that well repays its investment in time. I see it’s touring, and that makes me glad: more people deserve a chance to let this well-polished cast take them on a trip of imagination.

(This review is for the opening night performance that took place on July 7th, 2014. It continues through August 23rd.)

Review – Great Britain – National Theater

July 12, 2014

Given the National’s track record of reviving the dullest chestnuts on God’s green earth, you can’t imagine my surprise when I heard they were mounting an original comedy – Great Britain. And the way things have been going with me, hey, a comedy is what is called for, and with just a few rumors of it being an actually funny show, I ponied up £28 each for seats (these were the cheapest I could find) and hurried off to the quickest show I could fit in my calendar.

A quick plot summary: Paige Britain (Billie Piper) is a news editor at a tabloid that bears a shocking resemblance to News of the World, so much so that it’s eventually closed down due to a history of its management paying people to hack into the voicemail of various people living and dead. To make this more clearly a work of fiction, we have, well, the Billie Piper character, and also changes in the critical story (murdered twin girls) that tips public opinion against the paper’s activities.

Otherwise, though, it’s really a comic look at the whole trashy episode of extremely recent British history, with plenty of characters you can recognize (oh look, it’s Rebekah Brooks! It’s Rupert Murdoch being questioned by Parliament – only no cream pies) but all sorts of purely imaginary detail (such as the sexy cop who’s literally in bed with the papers) and flights of fancy (the fake YouTube spoofs of the gay Chief of London police are a riot, as is his entire plot line and his “straight out of George W Bush’s mouth” dialogue).

But Great Britain rides an edge that I found uncomfortable. A lot of people in this play kill themselves because of the pressure that’s put on them by the tabloids, and this element is one that I have found horrifying as it has played out in the real world. Listening to Paige say that as far as she’s concerned, she did nothing wrong (in regards to these deaths), well … I was hearing a bit of John Gabriel Borkman, but I was wondering if what I was hearing was also Richard Bean’s take on how either the newspapers or the British public sees these events. To me they are truly horrifying, but I don’t see this play tackling that problem head on. It also brought up the issues of tabloids collaborating with cops and politicians, but it didn’t seem to really address just how cozy they are as, well, something that is wrong. But then, these relationships are purely exaggerations made by Bean to make a better play – or are they? In the world depicted in this play, the police work with the tabloids to try to make themselves look better, and the papers tell politicians that they’ll make sure they’re elected if they can get some favors done for them, which seems pretty damned close to reality based on what I’ve read. Is this really how things are done? Or am I just so American that I can’t tell that everybody already knows this and nobody cares?

At any rate, while I did find this a very fast moving show (and there were some laughs), overall it had enough about it that depressed me about the world and the country I live in that I didn’t exactly walk out with a spring in my step. Excellent performances all around, though, and plenty of surprises, so I think this is going to be a popular show and good on the National for laying off the dusty old crap for something that actually addresses the society we live in in a way that theater can do more quickly and more daringly than either TV or the movies.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Wednesday, July 9th, 2014. It continues at the National Theater until August 23rd, after which time it will be transferring to the Theater Royal Haymarket. The consumption of cornettos during performances of this play is not advised by this author.)

Marguerite the Musical – the search for cheap tickets continues!

April 22, 2008

My uncle, a big fan of new theater, is coming to visit in June, and I’m planning to have a week full of fun for him. He’s retired so very cost conscious, which makes him extremely amenable to cheap seats up near the roof. I’ve managed to book us some decent seats for The Revenger’s Tale on Saturday the 14th of June. It’s not really new but since it’s £10 a pop, it hits a lot of other criteria quite nicely. (The summer season just went on sale at the National, so now’s the time to grab those £10 Travellex seats for the prime Friday and Saturday slots.) This puts me back to figuring out how to get us tickets for two other shows – Powder Her Face (an opera at the Linbury) and Marguerite, a brand-new musical based on La Dame Aux Camelias, which I’ve heard of but otherwise no nothing about (not being so big on opera).

Now, official tickets for Marguerite (per their website) are in the pricey range – £63 and £58 for stalls, £43 for upper circle, £27 for “cattle class”/nosebleeds. LastMinute.com (which has screwed up by not listing it in the musicals section) is not really doing better, but does have an amusing £25 deal in which (it appears) you get the equivalent of a free meal at Pizza Express along with your crummy pigeon-loft seats. This is a real disappointment to me because when I see shows at the Haymarket, I like to eat across the street at Galileo, which has genuinely good Italian food and a killer £10 prix fixe pre-theater meal deal (plus the owner is really funny and always very welcoming to me). So I did a search for “Marguerite the Musical” on Google, and what did I find – gallery seats on some site called DiscountTheatre.com for a mere £15. That will get me dining at the restaurant of my choice. Next stop, the Royal Opera House for Powder Her Face tickets, perfect for that hard to fill Sunday afternoon slot. Now, when will they release some more tickets?