Posts Tagged ‘Trafalgar Studios’

Review – The Hothouse – Simon Russell Beale et al at Trafalgar Studios

May 22, 2013

It’s been nearly six years since I saw The Hothouse, and my notes on the last viewing were quite short: as I liked it, that meant I thought it would be even better as performed by Simon Russell Beale at the conveniently located Trafalgar Studios.

Well, hmm. I think I may have been wrong about this. The marriage of the top male comedic performer on stage today and Pinter is not, shall we say, made in heaven. I found much joy in a play set in an insane asylum in which everyone is working to their own advantage; you get to wonder what each character’s real goals are. But in this version … every thing seems muddy. Miss Cutts, is she really a nymphomaniac looking to seduce every male member of staff, or is it just how Indira Varma plays her? (Jessica Rabbit, of course, was just written that way.) Gibbs, is he really there to help Roote (Beale), and, if so, what is he doing with a knife in his shirt?

The conflict between the characterizations and how the play is written becomes most glaring when Roote suddenly attacks Lush, with whom he had been drinking just a moment before. It seems completely out of keeping with his character, which is that of a bumbling official not much in charge of his subordinates. Where did the anger come from? Why would Lush submit to such horrible treatment? The more I thought about it, the more it all seemed a clash; Pinter has written the man to be violent and capable, not to be a doddering fool. The characters need to all seem murderous; instead, it’s the play that gets it in the neck.

I watched this play from the cheapie “on stage” seats, and the overall experience was very odd: not just a backstage feel, but the exposed “three hundred people are watching me” thing combined with not very good angles for about half of the show (not a lot of backs but too many). I liked how cheap the seats were, but given that many of them weren’t even padded, by the interval I found my bum had gone completely numb. In a way, I was glad the show was played for laughs, because it kept my attention; overall, though, I was disappointed by this show and by my seats, and I certainly wouldn’t have thought it worth paying £45 or up to sit in the stalls. This Hothouse is merely tepid: give it a pass.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Tuesday, May 21st, 2013. It continues through August 3rd, at which time the cast will go on a well-deserved holiday.)

Mini-review – The Play That Goes Wrong – Trafalgar Studios

May 14, 2013

With the one week of spring sunshine gone like cherry blossoms in a storm, I was in the mood for some cheering up, and what should appear but Nick’s review of The Play That Goes Wrong and I thought, now, that’s the show for me – one hour long, like all of the best bits of Noises Off (or so Nick claimed), and cheap to boot. Its popularity was spoken for by the endless series of “sold out” flags for the 7:45 showings (there are two a night), but on a whim I went by the box office hat in hand – or, rather, twenty pound note in hand, which I exchanged for a single seat for the earlier show. Hurray! Let there be laughter.

And … well … is there really any need for plot? And yet there was one, a horrible murder mystery, feeling very familiar after The Mousetrap and Deathtrap: a bunch of rich people (one of them dead) are trapped in a manor while a detective tries to work out whoddunit. Did we really care? No, we were too busy listening to the light board operator complain about his missing Duran Duran cd, watching the techie girl stick her arm through the curtains to provide missing props, and awaiting the painful results of people barrelling around the set oblivious to the body parts of the “dead” character. And let’s not omit the horrible anticipation built by a bottle labelled “Toxic” being sat on the tray with the whiskey glasses: not since Drowsy Chaperone had I seen so much liquid sprayed across a stage.

On one hand you’re waiting to see how the actors can overcome the obstacles in front of them; on the other hand, you’re looking forward to seeing them fail. In fact, as the evening snowballs way past the point of believability, any time an actor actually manages to get a bit to end on approximately the right note seems like a triumph, with cheers and applause from the audience. But most of all, we were laughing our heads off – me not so much as some, but still loudly enough to get stares from some uptight woman in the front row. Whatever: you’re the one who went home covered in, um, “whiskey,” and I can’t help but feel you had it coming.

(This review is for a GIRLS ON FILM performance that took place at 7:45 PM on Monday, May 13th, 2013. It continues through TWO MINUTES LATER June 1st. Note that the 21:15 performances are £5 cheaper and GOT YOUR PICTURE may be available on the day at the TKTS booth for £10.)

Review – Dance of Death – Donmar Warehouse West End at Trafalgar Studios

December 20, 2012

In the season of Nutcrackers, Christmas puddings, and panto, I thought nothing would break up the sugary monotony better than a little bit of Scandinavian realism. That’s right, right in the middle of Christmas week I booked myself a ticket for Strindberg’s Dance of Death at the Trafalgar Studios. Counter-programming? You’re darned tooting. I figured after Jack and the Beanstalk, the Messiah, and two Dick Whittingtons I’d be VERY ready for something bleak that made me feel like humanity wasn’t worth saving.

As it turns out, I was TOTALLY right. The Dance of Death was so negative and full of hate – and so beautifully active – that it (perversely) left me feeling elated at the end of the evening. I love Strindberg for his incredibly realistic portrayals of the twisted outcomes of people’s long-term interference in each other’s minds. In this case we’ve got Edgar (Kevin R McNally) and Alice (Indira Varma), two people who’ve been married for just shy of twenty-five years and seem to have hated each other for most of it. Edgar’s in the army and has a heavy drinking habit; Alice is proud and beautiful and conniving, but no more so than he is. He craves death; she is anxious for him to get on with it so she can move on to a better phase of her life; he’s holding on just to keep her from getting remarried. Was there ever a stronger picture of marital concord?

And yet somehow, they stay together, and the arrival of an old friend (Kurt, Daniel Lapaine) just seems like an opportunity for them to throw new balls of shit at each other. Kurt, of course, has no idea what he’s got into. Does he need to save Alice? Does he need to save (the seriously ill) Edgar? Or, in fact, does he need to save himself? He manages to get into a compromised enough position that he winds up on his stomach, on the floor, licking Alice’s boot. I never figured out to what extent Alice was playing him for a fool or Edgar was playing both of them in his own game; at the end, I think, maybe it was Strindberg playing with all of us, making us wonder just what it was going on between this couple for so long. A great mystery, but with great performances that kept me thoroughly absorbed in the paint-peeling spitefulness being splashed around like bucketsfull of acid. Strindberg sold me, the actors sold me, and somehow, at the very end, I found myself laughing at Edgar and Alice and the ridiculous situation they were in. Life is just a game, and if you can’t have a little fun playing with each other’s minds, you just haven’t been trying hard enough.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Wednesday, December 19th, 2012. It runs through January 5th. My tickets were about £25 quid and it was well worth it!)

Review – Dublin Carol – Trafalgar Studios

December 9, 2011

Every year I have three Christmas theater traditions: I try to see one Nutcracker, one Panto (or two, or three), and one “Christmas Carol.” This year I did a combo “Christmas Carol” outing, with one trip to hear a reading of Dicken’s story “The Chimes” in the Garden Court Chambers (satisfying the Dickens part) and one trip to see a show with the word “Carol” in it that I thought might have more than a passing nod to the more famous body of plays borrowing on the Dickensian trope. And, well, one act play with seventy minutes running time, what’s not to like?

As it turns out, about the only thing this show has in common with Dickens’ “Christmas Carol” is that it takes place on Christmas eve. John (Gary Lydon) isn’t rich and certainly doesn’t lord it over the poor; his sin is that of being long a drunk and willing to point the finger of blame for his wreck of a life to anyone but himself. It’s a skill he’s eager to teach Mark (Rory Keenan), his assistant-du-jour at the funeral home John manages. In grand style, John jaws his way through most of the first forty minutes of the play, going through mortality and the benefits of dating stewardesses to the point where my brain came to a complete stop.

In the second scene, John’s daughter Mary (Pauline Hutton) comes by, apparently on the same day, to tell him her mother is in the hospital dying of cancer. John then stands there and makes a bunch of excuses for pretty much his entire life while Mary nails him to the wall for being a shoddy excuse for a father. It all seemed rather a bit too familiar for me, although I was distracted by listening to the characters speak the words; it sounded like good Irish accents that had not had much practice – not surprising given that this was first preview (and the only night I could come as most performances were already sold out).

Then it was the final scene, in which John starts out passed out at his desk and then gives Mark a stunning bit of bad advice about blaming women for making you feel bad when you hurt their feelings, essentially saying they’re probably trying to manipulate you and at best if they were decent they would keep their feelings to themselves. Mark, shockingly, actually decides this is bad advice, forcing John to dump a bunch of his own emotional garbage on Mark in order to save face (by earning pity). In retrospect: wow, John is just a total piece of work.

And the play, well, it’s a little bit of misery at Christmas time, the kind that makes you want to drink until you can’t remember the names of your children much less how to make your way home from the bar. I don’t feel I saw any character evolution in this, and it made me yearn, I tell you, yearn for the bigger focus of Dicken’s Carol. Since when did Christmas become the holiday for self pity? At the end of Dicken’s story, Scrooge changed, but I saw no sign of this happening for John; in fact, I expected that shortly after he went to the hospital (if he made it at all), he was about to slide back down the hole of alcoholism. It was pretty bleak. That said, it wasn’t all that long – but neither was it too particularly interesting. I’d call it a good show to perform as a high school character practice piece, but there are a million things much better available right now and in general, I’d say you should go see one of those.

(This review is for a preview performance that took place on December 8, 2011. Performances continue through December 31st and are nearly entirely sold out.)

Review – Betwixt! – Trafalgar Studios

August 13, 2011

This is a sad week for me as my cohort in musical theater mayhem, Exedore, is departing the UK and won’t be back any time soon. We had one last night to go out and paint the town red in our usual way (“Let’s see a show!” “Okay!”), and I let him make the pick. Imagine my dismay when he said he wanted to go back a second time to Betwixt!, a show I had already dismissed based on the description on the King’s Head website: “Take … a pair of unlikely heroes, mix with a teaspoon of princess … blend with musical comedy …” Bleah! I was already sapped out and completely unwilling to buy their claims that the score was “masterful.” I mean, who doesn’t crank up the hyperbole? I was actually quite surprised to see that it had apparently transferred to Trafalgar Studios, given that it sounded like such pap (I mean, princesses, BLEAH). But then, it’s summer, theaters are desperate to get fresh things in as we all become bored of the same-old, same-old, so maybe a second rate show could find a home in the basement of Trafalgar Studios -it’s a tiny house, even smaller than the King’s Head (if I’m remembering right). And it’s what Exedore wanted to see. Surely a bitsy two hour show couldn’t hurt me, right?

The show opened with a red haired man (Bailey, Benedict Salter) singing, in a very “musical moderne” style, about his struggles writing. Oh NO. I had sudden flashbacks to Bright Lights, Big City – not just my least favorite style of music, but a trope I hate, the tortured artist. At least he wasn’t an architect. I settled down in a huff, determined to somehow make it to the interval before begging off for the night.

And then blond and very gay Cooper (Steven Webb) shows up, and the whole “let’s spend two hours talking about writers’ block” thing goes out the window (instead becoming “let’s talk about how fabulous I am,” a much better place for me), and the show becomes much snappier, with the first of many jokes making fun of the theatrical conventions we (as audience members) observes enlivening the evening by tickling my brain. I was still worried when we moved into the fairyland scenes – the costumes area really off the rack and the volume issues (i.e. “What did he say?”) began to manifest, but the moment Cooper was greeted as the “great queen of legend,” I put my skepticism away and just went along for the ride.

I’m glad I did, too, for while the lyrics were occasionally hard to pick out (shocking in such a small space, though of course Ellen Green in a triple role of princess/witch/siren showed the young ‘uns how its done), they and the dialogue were very funny. We got a numb-skull soap star, an egotistical actor, and, in a gag of genius, a head in a box, plus comic seduction scenes, not very magical transformations (with hysterical commentary), and JOY OF JOYS a fantastic tap dancing scene during my favorite song, “The Paparazzi Rag.” I was laughing out loud throughout and REALLY enjoyed myself – it was just so clever and fun and SUCH a good time.

Sometimes I feel like I go see so many shows that I’ve become a horrible burnout and I’m hardly capable of enjoying a night at the theater any more. But it’s not true: I’ve just been waiting for the right gem to come along. And Betwixt! is the musical I’ve been hoping for all year – a real “forget about your troubles, c’mon get happy” good time. It’s a real deal at Trafalgar, too, with tickets in the $20-$25 zone. My advice: don’t miss out.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Tuesday, August 9th, and which we went to see despite the fear of riots in the streets. It was glorious to be completely swept away for the two hours we were in the theater. Anyway, it’s booking through September 10th, and I highly advice you get off of your tookus and go see it.)

Mini-review – Ordinary Days – Trafalgar Studios

February 14, 2011

The modern musical: is there any hope for it? Well, I am constantly hoping I’ll find something that catches me, though only Drowsy Chaperone and Avenue Q have really rang my bells in the last few years. Mostly, I feel like the lifeform has been dying a prolonged death post-Chicago, but I’m ever hopeful that some work of genius will show up – and how can it be created if there is no audience there to support it? Thus I took up a last minute invite from Tim Watson (neglected blog here, rather more lively London theatre podcast here) to see Ordinary Days at Trafalgar Studios. I went totally cold, knowing literally nothing about the show other than the ticket price (£15-£25, so affordable) and the running time (80 minutes). And, really, for that price and that time commitment, I say, why not?

Ordinary Days is about four people living in New York City in the more or less current time. There is a couple, Claire and Jason (Julie Atherton and Daniel Boys), who start with the song “I’m Moving In” (or something, amusingly followed by a song best summarized as “Where Does All of my Crap Go”) There’s also Warren, a male artist-type (Lee William Davis), and Deb (Alexia Khadimo), a graduate student. They sing songs about going to the Met and visiting the sights of the city and worrying about grad school; Warren and Deb meet and become friends, while Claire and Jason seem to be drifting apart. Unfortunately, I found most of the songs very same-same – the music and the way things were being sung seemed neither memorable nor interesting. Some musicals seem to only have one song, and this could almost be said to be true of Ordinary Days, except that I felt it had no songs. This caused me to get bored and kind of drift away during Jason’s big solo, facilitated by the fact that from my position at the extreme sides of the stage I wasn’t able to hear the words the actors were singing and thus had no narrative thread to support me.

There were some good moments in the show – I liked the scene at the art museum where all of the characters were talking about how they responded to art in different ways, and the bit at the top of the skyscraper where I suddenly thought the play was going to turn tragic – but then right before the end Clare did a song about 9/11 and I just burst into tears. Apparently I’m still a bit sensitive about the whole thing. Despite this, I think its use as a device to get her over a character crisis in the play wasn’t very believable, although the song itself was … well, the one I liked the best in the play. Overall, though, this seemed like more work than it should have been for its length and I didn’t care for it. If you know the style of the music, you’ll probably like it a lot, but I really prefer my musicals to have hook and a bit more story to boot.

(This review is for a performance that took place the night of Saturday, February 12th, 2011. The play continues through March 5th. For an alternate take, please see Jake Orr’s review on A Younger Theatre. While there, I was recommended to see the play Hot Mikado at the Arts Depot in East Finchley. “All of our songs sound different, I promise,” the man whispered in my ear before he ran out into the night.)

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.)

MLK play “The Mountaintop” available for £10 from LastMinute

July 16, 2009

I’ve been waiting for a month and a half for an opportunity to see the play The Mountaintop ever since the review I read in The Metro caught my eye. It seemed like such a timely play now that Obama is president ofthe United States, and in the intimate space of a bar sounded even more exciting. But the play was sold out for the rest of the run even when the review came out: blast!

Now, however, this play has been transferred to Trafalgar Studios, and I’m excited to note (as of this morning’s email) that LastMinute.com is offering £10 tickets to see it! I jumped right on this offer and got tickets for next Saturday, in part because 1) I want to see it and 2) I’m sworn to only buy tickets for £10 for the rest of the month due to overspending on a trip to Greece.

So jump on this, folks, the £10 seats could sell outat any time and this promises to be a great show!

Entertaining Mr Sloane deals – £10 off or half price?

March 30, 2009

I’m pleased to say that Entertaining Mr. Sloane has been extended until April 11th. Ambassadors reminded me of this with an email exhorting me to save £10 off of top priced tickets, but why do that when I can get them from the TKTS booth for £27.50 rather than £35? Still, £35 is an excellent price to play for this hysterical production, and if you’d like to take advantage of it (and want to see the play on Wednesday evening or Thursday matinee), go to their website and where it says “PROMO CODE” enter “EASTER” (no quotes of course). Or, you know, roll the dice with TKTS – you might get lucky!

Review – Entertaining Mr. Sloane – Trafalgar Studios

January 28, 2009

Last night I went with Katy and the West End Whingers crewe to see Entertaining Mr. Sloane at Trafalgar Studios. I did my best to shield myself from any information about the show before I went – I mean, the tickets were bought, I was going, why pollute the experience with a bunch of preconceived notions? All I really knew about it was that it was by Joe Orton (who I’d heard a bit about but never seen or read anything by) and starred Imelda Staunton, who is a super nova in my tiny pantheon of stars I really quite like. I figured it was likely racy and possibly had some gay themes in it, to which I said, hurray! I was just looking for a good evening out and I figured this was going to be a great start to my theatrical year.

Well! What I didn’t expect was that this show was going to be hysterically funny and the kind of top quality event that makes me grateful to live in London. (Sadly, the rest of the cast can’t be found on the Ambassador Theatre’s website – what’s wrong with them? Richard Bremmer and Simon Paisley Jones were fantastic!) Staunton was great as sexually chained Kath, the landlady who is utterly taken in by the brash and physical Mr. Sloane (Matthew Horne), the swaggering young man who comes looking for a place to live and acts like he owns the place before he’s even agreed to move in. The cast is rounded out by the twitchingly stiff brother Ed (Simon Paisley Jones) and the doddering DaDa (Richard Bremmer).

The whole thing feels like a sort of madcap Pinter, as if the bleak living situation of “The Birthday Party” and the freakishly charged sexual politics of “Homecoming” (and all of the implied class attitudes and repression of the 50s, which didn’t smell much like it had changed even in ’64) had been shaken up with “Boeing Boeing.” Kath can’t keep her pants on, but in the environment of this play, it just seems like so much comedy that she’s spent her whole life locked up by her brother and unable to create any sort of existence for herself because of some teenaged sexual shenanigans. And her brother could come off as a rigid tyrant and supporter of sexual oppression, but his own, visibly vibrating self-repression (best during the scene when Mr. Sloane’s recital of his various forms of exercise leaves Ed nearly cross-eyed – only to end the scene all but drooling on the floor as he describes the leather chauffeur’s uniform he will have to outfit Mr. Sloane in once he comes to work for him) makes him a figure of comedy. And Da is just brilliant – an old, weak man who seems like a fool but has a sharp mind under his failing body (Richard Bremmer in a performance of complete genius).

With a script that borders on ludicrous, it takes an amazing cast to pull of its cheesy lines without having it completely disintegrate – and this group of actors delivered in spades. Every one of them completely holds the stage (as if they were all attempting to upstage each other simultaneously), and while a leather-clad Mr. Sloane might catch the eye, the glowering Ed is just as powerful – though Staunton prancing around in a horrid, see-through negligee pretty well steals the show (and had nearly all of my party falling out of their chairs). She really just has the verve and wow and timing and … God, just the whole package! I really had no idea she was such a brilliant comic actress, but she is just the highlight of this show. And Bremmer’s crotchety old man was great – such a sense of menace in his own way, but absolutely no dummy, and a keen hand with a hot poker.

Who knows, maybe there was some kind of extra energy with the preview audience, but it was just an electric exchange between stage and stalls and I feel lucky to have been able to see it. Trafalgar Studios is a smallish theater, this play is just a revival, not a premiere, but damn, here I am living in London and this kind of stuff is just going on all of the time. Or not, really, because there are certainly plenty of dogs out there. But if you’re looking to get your laughs in, I gotta say, get your buns in a seat in Studio 1 and get ready for great night out – Mr. Sloane will deliver.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Tuesday, January 27th, 2009. For an alternate, yet similar take, please see the West End Whingers’ review. It runs through April 13th – don’t wait too long or it will be gone!)


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