Posts Tagged ‘theatre’

How I rate shows

May 5, 2012

You may notice if you read this blog much that I don’t assign star ratings to shows. I was required to for a while when transferring my reviews to Up The West End, a side project of one of the West End Whingers. Mostly, I don’t like to use stars, because for me so much of a show’s “rating” depends on how much I paid for it. Did my seats cost £75, like they did for Mary Poppins and the Bolshoi’s Giselle? Then I am expecting something pretty damned amazing right from the start. But mostly I try to stick to shows where I pay around £15-£20 for my ticket – a requirement when you’re going to see shows four nights a week.

With that cost scale, here’s what my star rating would look like:

5 stars: changes how I feel about theater. I will talk about it for years to come. I might have cried. If it’s sold out, I’d recommend standing outside in the rain for tickets. (Cock, Giselle, Collaborators, Propellor’s Richard II.) This doesn’t happen much.

4 stars: an extremely enjoyable night out, worth more than what I paid for the tickets. I left elated. I would probably go again. (Crazy for You, Jumpy.)

3 stars: fairly standard yet enjoyable fare, done at a high level of professionalism with a good script. I was engaged. (The King’s Speech, Betty Blue Eyes.)

2 stars: if you don’t really have anything better to do, this is probably not a bad choice, but a night at home watching TV might not be too bad as an alternate. Actually, you can probably skip this play, unless you have a compelling reason to go (collecting all plays by this writer, topic you’re interested in, bored and it’s cheap). (Hay Fever, Much Ado About Nothing at the National, Singing in the Rain.)

1 star: I made a mistake buying this ticket. No matter what I paid for it, I thought it might be better to leave during the interval, unless I really had high hopes that something tremendous and unexpected was going to happen in the second (or third) act. I am resentful about staying to see this show. (Woman Killed with Kindness and pretty much anything Katie Mitchell does, Floyd Collins)

0 stars: Suddenly I realized that I have a limited time on this planet and urgently needed to be making the most of the pitiful hours left to me. In some cases, this may mean I have to leap over other people in order to escape the room. Chances of being scarred are high. (Fram, Pierrot Lunaire, 4:48 Psychosis as done by Fourth Monkey.)

I don’t give numbers in my reviews on this blog because it’s all a bit of a finger in the air thing due to the impact on ticket cost on the “value” of a production (as well as the whole question of how long it is). I think, though, it’s obvious from what I write if the show in question is worth seeing or not, or if it’s just forgettable entertainment, or if it’s actually actively vile.

Do you disagree with this approach? To be honest, I do like the West End Whingers’ use of ratings as it makes it easy for me to preserve the surprise for shows I haven’t seen yet by just scrolling down to the number of wine glasses and then buying tickets for it if it’s a 5 glass show and reading the review later (after I’ve written mine). But then, I think they’re too soft and award 3/5 to shows I consider not worth making an effort for. What do you think?

Review – La Cage Aux Folles – Playhouse Theatre

July 31, 2009

On Friday I had the magnificent opportunity to see a well-reviewed play with a topic/theme I found intriguing at the WORLD’s best price ever. Let me be clear about what a screaming deal I am talking about: I saw the Menier’s production of La Cage Aux Folles at the Playhouse, from the third row, for the stellar sum of £5.

To be honest, rather than giving a rip about my review, I think more of you are going to be interested in how I pulled this trick off. It’s all due to joining the Ambassadors Theatre’s mailing list. They have a regular email alert with sort of unimpressive deals, £25 for shows normally £45 or so, which I ignore because it’s not such a good deal. But then this email came out saying “Quick! £5 for first 10 tickets to each show of La Cage for the next month!” And there I was with the email nice and hot in my hand and I was at my keyboard and work was quiet AND I had been planning on seeing this show for ages but just hadn’t done it because I wasn’t willing to cross the £20 price zone and voila magic happened. Seriously.

I’d been planning on seeing this show for ages but was pissed off because the “best seats available for $25” deals all came with a little * and a note at the bottom of the page saying, “*Well, no, not really the best seats, just the seats we’re going to call the best available, because we don’t want to sell you the other seats. You’ll note ‘best’ is ‘really not very good.’ Tough.”

At any rate, I’d almost bought seats a couple of times, and this time I jumped like a spider had just landed on my leg. WHAM. Four seats, 20 quid, HUZZAH! And then I had to wait.

So, after not having seen this show for nearly 7 months since I’d originally been thinking about going to it, how was it, really? Sad to say, I found it unpleasant for a variety of reasons, none of which had to do with the Cagelles, most of whom I wanted to take home with me (or be taken home by). No, it was the script, and the acting, that bugged me. First, Philip Quast (Georges) and Roger Allam (Albin) were … so camp it was positively panto. It felt like straight guys trying to act like how English comedy musical audiences would expect gay characters to be. And then there was the black “maid.” Nolan Frederick may have been an understudy (it seemed like half the cast was), but this wrist flapping, bubbly, squeeing and oohing black man to me was every worst stereotype of a black servant turned gay. I couldn’t believe he found this role within the scope of his dignity to play. I mean, I’ve met plenty of queeny black men in my life but they’ve never felt scraping and servile. It was like being stuck in some horrible revue written by the BNP. Did no one notice how bad it was?

Finally, and there’s nothing to be done about it (other than a major update), but I could not swallow the primary “twist” of the script, that Georges would allow his son to bully him into kicking his life partner out of the house they shared, even for a night. What The F**k. It’s just not done, and I don’t care if it was the 70s. He wouldn’t have put his mother or granny on the street for the night, how could he possibly be okay with doing it with someone he supposedly loved, even for one evening? IT WAS THE HOUSE THEY BOTH OWNED, YOU CAN’T KICK THE OTHER PERSON OUT. And for the son, Jean Michel (Ben Deery), well, he came off as so slimey and unsympathetic that it killed rather a lot of the “comedy,” but it was ultimately Georges betrayal that killed the fun in this comedy. I couldn’t get over the hump of this person being so horrible to his partner and I wasn’t really able to get my funny bone tickled during the show, even when the horrible in-laws-to-be showed up. The songs were kind of nice, I did enjoy all of the numbers with the Cagelles and the big silly scene at the restaurant, I really liked when Georges was wooing Albin at the seaside restaurant, but too much bothered me for me to really enjoy this show.

Here’s what I think. This show should be set to England (to get rid of the comedy element of 9 cast members with English accents and only one with French) and the show should be rewritten so “George” does NOT agree to kick “Al” out, but does agree to pretend to be married to “Gene’s” birth mother (Gene of course never asking for anything so caddish as to have Al turned out of his home). Then we could do the rest of the laughs without the pallor of heartlessness and selfishness that turned La Cage for me. While I can’t say it was a bad show, the way it plays now I found it was a far cry from the light evening of comedy and fun I was expecting.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Friday, July 24th, 2009. La Cage is booking through 2010. FYI, John Barrowman is taking over as Albin/Zasa come September 14th.)

Review – Dickens Unplugged – The Comedy Theatre

June 27, 2008

Choosing theater as a pick-me-up may seem a little odd to some, but I find that a really good show will really raise my mood. With that thought in mind, I invited a friend who’s a big Dickens fan to accompany me and my husband to see Dickens Unplugged at the Comedy Theatre last night. My uncle had seen it two weeks back and given it a rousing review, so I had high hopes that I had a good evening ahead of us. To improve the matter, Last Minute has been consistently flogging tickets at £10 a pop (and the Ambassadors themselves are doing a two-fer), so the risk level was very low.

I personally have a bit of a mixed history with Mr. Dickens. I was forced to read A Tale of Two Cities, Oliver, and Great Expectations while I was in high school, and I didn’t like any of them. Now, mind you, being able to refer to these books has been good for me in terms of my ability to get western culture (most recently while I was reading the Jasper Fforde “Thursday Next” mysteries, in which Miss Havisham plays a very important role), but I just found the stories themselves mawkish and trying to finish them was like a death march through fields covered in treacle. Bah. That said, I am very much pro-Dickens insofar as he was a real mover for improving the lot of the poor in Victorian times, and I am a big fan of A Christmas Carol, so I figured a night watching people re-enact scenes from his books in a comic matter would be pleasant enough.

I was not, however, expecting the show to be so musical. About half of it is sung, and, you know what? It’s good. I liked the songs and found myself humming the opening tune after the show was over (which did not happen at Marguerite). The performers were very good – all five of them played something, sometimes three guitars, sometimes an upright bass, once two trumpets (muffled), all acoustic and therefore “unplugged” (how I missed the reference I do not know) – other than one hysterical visit from an electric guitar. The men sang in fine harmony, the lyrics were clear and relevant and very often funny – it was great! And for me, it was nice to see Americans on stage doing comedy in an American style, even though it was a bit odd to hear Mr. D himself talking like a Californian.

In fact, this whole evening was a really good time. The actors interwove bits of Charles Dickens’ life with the stories he was writing, making for an interesting narrative with lots of costume changes as they each wound up playing as many as three or four characters in the course of a given story. They were great comedians and completely had my attention, especially during what I fear was an unscripted bit when Charles Dickens’ wife’s skirts started slipping off. (Ah, improv!) The highlight of the night was either the brilliant bit of stagework when they figured how to have the recently beheaded Sydney Carton come back to finish the last line of the song he was singing or the Tiny Tim rock show at the very end of A Christmas Carol.

I was cheered to see how animated and happy the audience was as we left the theater – people had really had a good time! Sadly, though, this show appears to be closing this weekend, so if you want to see it, you’d better get your tickets bought ASAP. I recommend it highly as a fine value for your theatrical dollar – er, pound.

(This review is for a show that took place on Thursday, June 26th.)

Revew – The Revenger’s Tragedy – National Theatre

June 16, 2008

I am a big fan of the £10 series at the National – top quality shows at a quarter of the normal asking price! – so when I saw that tickets had gone on sale for The Revenger’s Tragedy during the week when my cost-conscious (read = OAP) uncle was coming to vist, I snapped up a set (though I went for £15 seats so that we could be a little closer to the action).

The Revenger’s Tragedy is a sort of anti-Hamlet, with a lead character who is hurting over someone’s death – and determined to make the bad guys pay. This leads to a bit of the silly identity-changing hijinks along the lines of some of the goofier Shakespearean comedies, but with a cast of characters which seems universally unworthy of any sympathy and the most sex and violence I’ve seen since Coriolanus – more, even. It’s kind of fun to see this group of baddies get their come-uppance, but without any one sympathetic characters it became more like watching Natural Born Killers or something of that ilk.

While the show was in no ways boring, it seemed to me like the director felt obliged to overdecorate it with fluff to make it “relevant to the modern audience” or something of the sort. Pounding techno, projections and depictions of people having sex, a woman leading a hooded man about on a leash, animated stage decor – was any of it really necessary? The text itself was pretty clear about what was going on, and clever to boot, but it seemed that there were doubts as to whether or not it could carry the story on its own. Me, I’d prefer less show and more tell. Overall, while this production wasn’t bad, I found it just didn’t capture my imagination.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Saturday, June 14th, 2008.)

Links about ballet and show reviews

June 15, 2008

I came home from watching “The Revenger’s Tragedy” last night and fooled around online instead of writing up my review. My goal was to read a review of the play I’d held off reading until after the show (though I found even a second), but there was lots of other good stuff on there I’d missed, like a review of “Dances at a Gathering” (which made me feel good that I’d left after it was over and not stayed for the second half of the evening) and a great discussion about the future of ballet (the idea being the culture here is closed and that new works aren’t really being promoted). It made me get excited about the idea of going to San Francisco for their new works season next year.

Carl Rosa Opera “The Mikado” at the Gielgud Theater

February 11, 2008

For three months or more I’ve been looking foward to seeing The Mikado at English National Opera. And then, a week or so before it was to play, I suddenly heard …. an entirely different company was doing the same production, at the same time, in a smaller house, with the costumes from Topsy Turvy.

Well. Carl Rosa Opera Company, you say? I’d never heard of them, but I dropped ENO faster than you can say “”Three little maids from school are we” (more lyrics and a humorous quiz here) and bought high altitude seats at the Gielgud (where recently we’d seen Macbeth – a more different show could hardly be imagined!). Fortunately the orbital section was lightly populated and we were able to make our way from the very very edge into the center, though still some 500 rows up (and yet still better than the shit seats at Spamalot!). This was enough for a fine view of what were ultimately to be very silly proceedings.

What, really, am I to say about The Mikado in general? I had never seen it before, and thus it was on my list of Shows I Want To See, especially after performing in Patience a few years back in Seattle. It’s just … it’s very silly. “Oh, a missive from the Mikado!” says a character. “But it’s all in Japanese!” (Pause.) “But I am Japanese, and we are in Japan! This means I can read it.” It wasn’t about being authentically Japanese, it wasn’t even pretending – which is good, because the sets were mostly Chinese and the women’s costumes had so many things wrong with them that I would have been really bothered if I’d have thought they were trying to get it “right.” With characters named Peep-Bo and Yum Yum, who were they kidding?

But you know, what’s right for Gilbert and Sullivan? Was it amusing, could you understand the lyrics (which are funny), was it tuneful, did you enjoy watching it? Really, it’s a taste you either have or you don’t, and I kind of have to start from the point that this is the kind of thing you’ll enjoy, with its multiple layers of corn and utter lack of depth, as I do. It’s in some ways a recreation of Victorian society, and, since I find it interesting and amusing, I enjoyed it. The costumes were top quality, the choreography entertained my eye, the updated lyrics (to two songs) were a hoot (“I’ve got a little list” with all of the modern pecadillos and politicos was great), the women’s voices (especially the trios) shimmered. My only complaints were that the men were not tight enough with their patter (and if the Seattle Gilbert and Sullivan society could drill us into the ground, these guys could do as least as well as we did) and the entire performance seemed a bit … well, passionless. Like Lear and the infamous Mary Poppins, this show just smacked of “we could do this in our sleep and some of us may at this very moment be in another room.” They didn’t have the commitment of the Annie Get Your Gun folks, who were singing their damn hearts out to a capacity crowd of about 50. But still, it was professional, at at 15 quid a ticket, we really could not complain. If you like G&S or have an interest in this play or this era of theatrical history, I do recommend this show. That said … I think I’ve had my fill for another six months or so, and will be taking a pass on Iolanthe and The Pirates of Penzance. But in the future I know I’ll see more G&S, and, truth be told, I fancy I’ll want to see another Mikado, but only if done as well as this one was.

(This review is of a performance seen Friday, February 8th, 2008.)