Posts Tagged ‘Theatre reviews’

Review – Over There – Royal Court Theatre

March 6, 2009

Last night I went with J to see Over There, a new play by Mark Ravenhill dealing with the topic of German reunification. Now, I admit, I went to see this for the worst of all reasons – because there were twins playing the lead roles (Harry and Luke Treadaway). Well, that’s not entirely true – I wanted to see it because the article I read in the Observer two days before, which told me about the twins gimmick and also made the play sound like it wouldn’t suck in spite of its rather overly earnest subject matter – because, let’s face it, everytime I’ve seen a play about current events, it’s either been nauseatingly preachy/self-loving or just generally lame due to unimpressive plot and characterization (“Gesthemane“). This, however, not only had twins, but (per the story) was actually more about how the East Germans actually have a fair bit to be pissed off about. This sounded like a really refreshing viewpoint. I mean, talking about it with my cube neighbor at work, she kept harping on about how expensive it was for the West Germans and how resentful they were and how the East German factories were all crap, anyway. So, if that’s the viewpoint I’ve been hearing for ten/twenty years, what’s REALLY been happening? I thought this play might give me a better idea of the truth of the story rather than the, “We saved the East Germans from their own backwardness” attitude that seems to be the party line out here in Freedomland.

Now, before I get into it with the play, I want to talk about what was actually really interesting about this show (aside from the fact it was 70 minutes long and my seats were only £12 – and genuine Corinthian leather): it did actually make me aware of the … perhaps limited is the word? … nature of the theater I’ve been watching. The article mentioned that English theater’s “restrictive naturalism,” and German theater’s “liberatingly playful” nature, and after seeing this show, I am really wondering about what I have bought into here with all of the theater I keep piling into my brain. Am I becoming the master of a tiny slice of world theater – and completely ignorant of anything else that is out there? Would I only ever see shows through the filter of the English language theater scene because of my own limitations? And what is that keeping me from getting to see and appreciate? Or, maybe, is this the only kind of stuff I could really enjoy, anyway? I certainly don’t get much out of theater spoken in languages I don’t understand, but if I see it done here, in translation, I am only seeing the same style imposed on different words.

And, I think, much of what I enjoyed about this play was the way it joyously ignored the existence of the theatrical reality that might have held it back. NOTE: SPOILER ALERT, SUMMARY: FUN SHOW. The story wasn’t really about the twins’ relationship, or their development as human beings; it was a full-on, full-length, extended metaphor for the assimilation of East Germany by West Germany, with each of the twins representing one side far more than they were meant to be real people. It was all delightfully removed from reality, from the sponge that stood in for the West German’s son to the scene in which the East German brother covered himself with flour and Nutella and was then mopped off by his brother (in a scene wildly reminiscent of Karen Finley’s performances, though it contextually was triggered by “Ostalgie” rather than abuse). What I got out of this show was that actually there were far more things going on well in East Germany than we (as in “we, western capitalist civilization”) have been willing to admit, or even knew about, and that West Germany may really have been quite the arrogant colonizing force, perhaps even a bit … cannibalistic toward their supposed “brothers” in the east.

But (you may ask), how was the “gimmick?” You know, the part where it was a show about two twins … played by two twins? While I fear it may make the show difficult to produce in the future, this really worked for me. To have East German Karl (Luke Treadaway) have shared experiences with West German Franz (Harry Treadaway) via “special twins telepathy” seems really silly, but somehow just close enough to what people expect of twins to be a completely acceptable trope. And to have them speaking together simultanously – the blending of voices couldn’t really happen so well with any other people (though even they didn’t synchronize quite right at times). The costuming and makeup were also quite helpful. Even though the guys did several scenes in really horrifying tighty-whites (or in this case reddies and greenies), the way Karl’s hair was fluffed up and unfashionable always made him look different from Franz. Furthermore, their physiques (visible rather a lot given the underwear scenes) showed viscerally that two people could be in close in blood and thought as these two were supposed to be, and yet the condition of their existences would still cause them to be differentiated from each other as adults, much as Franz and Karl have different attitude about what they value in life and what goals they should work for. (That said, the telepathy bit made it really hard for me to believe that neither knew of the other’s guardian parent’s death … which I wondered meant either that they were lying to each other or that their initial enthusiasm for the innocent versions of each other, i.e. when they first met, was becoming overlaid with lies and concealment of their feelings as they grew to know each other better.)

At any rate, I found this quite entertaining, though you should be warned it features both masturbation (hands in shorts, no genitals visible), a naked butt, and a man (in a TRULY jaw-dropping moment) doing an on-stage “tuck” so he could perform a nude scene as a woman. WOW. These guys are really brave actors! And did he ever need a towel to do his bow. I recommend this show, but be sure you know what you are in for because this was _not_ what I expected – more like Ionesco’s “Rhinoceros” than anything else I could compare it to, absurdist to the core.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Thursday, March 5th, 2009. “Over There” continues until March 21st. Another take is also available courtesy of the WestEnd Whingers.)

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Review – Venus as a Boy – Soho Theatre

September 5, 2007

“Self- knowledge is knowledge of the divine … that the self and the divine could be identical.”

It was like “Breakfast on Pluto,” but, you know, if the movie had been interesting.

Tonight I went and saw a play called Venus as a Boy.

Doubtlessly some of you have read the book. I had not. I saw the ad on the Soho Theater’s website, which said “An explosive and haunting story about the miraculous power of sex,” and me, well, I’m interested in sex-positive theater. Inside it’s further described thus: “With just one touch or kiss, he can reveal a glimpse of heaven in all its resplendent glory. Some call him Cupid. Or Venus as a Boy.”

Another quote (from the play) goes, “My reward is the understanding that, for those I’ve touched, knowledge of me is knowledge of the divine.”

And, well, I really liked this play. At first I thought it was a fairy tale about a person who gives people visions of heaven, then, well, it was a bit of a nightmare, and then it could have been a very stupidly “In search of Twoo Wuv” tale, but instead it was kind of, to me, about … how sex can really bring out the higher side of people, how, rather than being something to be rejected as sinful, it is a way of getting closer to the divine. And the lead character, well, maybe he was “just a whore,” but I really bought him as a sort of Christ figure, helping people who had no joy to have a brief time when they thought that they might at least find joy in the afterlife as they’d glimpsed a tiny bit of delight on earth.

I also thought that the character was a positive portrayal of a bisexual, and the complications in people’s sexuality and sexual identity and how labels never really get it right or have much to say about who the person really is who’s wearing that tag. Yeah, sure, it was tragic, but sometimes life goes wrong, and really happy stories can be so boring, don’t you agree?

Afterwards I turned to and said, “Well, for a total crap shoot, that was a winner, don’t you think?” And he agreed. It’s especially amazing because it was a one man show (with guitarist, actually the author of the book), and I usually HATE them because a lot of people can’t hold the stage for an hour, but this guy did. Go, Tam Dean Burn. And go you, oh my flisters. THe show is only 10 quid through the end of this week and runs through September 22nd; you won’t want to say you missed it. I mean, we even liked the lighting, and the costuming made me think I should dress like Greed for Halloween (see icon above). How much more can I say?

To make my night perfect, I came home and discovered the Hotel Chocolat people had inadvertently sent me two free introductory boxes. God, life is good.

(This review is for a performance seen the night of September 5th, 2007.)

Mini-review – History Boys – The Wyndham

January 26, 2007

We saw The History Boys tonight at the Wyndham. It was good, but … well, I really thought it was just not deep, and it just didn’t get into the stuff that would have intrigued me. And I couldn’t help but wonder if its treatment of homosexuality among teenaged boys (and sexual abuse of same was realistic. The boys I knew at that age tended to be way more homophobic than the characters in this play. It did give me lots of nice poems and songs to think about, though, and I sure would have liked it if any of my classes had ever been that fun, with people doing such energetic improv scenes in French and then doing a bit from Now, Voyager. But … I don’t know. It was a fine play but I didn’t find it to have lasting historical impact, just an overall good ensemble production. Frost Nixon kicked its ass six ways to Sunday.

(This review is for a performance that took place on January 26th, 2007. It was copied over from another blog of mine.)