Posts Tagged ‘travellex £10 series’

Review – Women Beware Women – National Theatre

April 24, 2010

Thomas Middleton is a writer whose position in the body of English plays is that of an entire genre: the Jacobean equivalent of the slasher flick. Off to see Middleton? Expect a cast full of nasties and an ending that leaves you feeling not particularly sad about how many people died at the end; somehow, his deaths seem not so much tragic as well deserved, and the quantities of them are so generous as to lean toward laughter.

Unfortunately sometimes this all becomes just a bit too heavy and the two plays I’ve seen of his before this one (The Changeling and The Revenger’s Tragedy) left me bored long before their resolution; the first show went for a Grand Guignol approach, the second (at the National) was like a watered-down Three Penny Opera with the charm sucked out of it.This plus a rumored three hour running time nearly stopped me in my tracks on my way into the National to see Women Beware Women; I was tired, it had been along day, and I couldn’t imagine myself suffering along happily while a variety of people were evil to each other and then finally met a come-uppance I predicted in the first twenty minutes (or even before buying the tickets). I’m glad, though, that I didn’t, because this is not just the most successful rendition of Middleton I’ve seen, but was a dark and exciting night of theater that richly rewarded my time and financial investment.

We start in a setting of not quite genteel poverty; a young clerk (Leantio, Samuel Barnett) is returning to his mother’s house with his pilfered noblewoman bride; a sixteen year old beauty who is a cross between Catherine Deneuve and Jaqueline Kennedy, clearly slumming in her husband’s pitiful household. Theirs appears to be a relationship driven entirely by lust, appropriate enough in two such young people; but Bianca (Lauren O’Neil) appears pitiful, a gracious woman with a poor future ahead of her.

Bianca’s situation contrasts strongly with Isabella (Vanessa Kirby), a young, intelligent woman who, rather than running off with her lover, is about to be married off to an utter dolt, with her father giving her no choice in the matter. Yet, “thanks” to the intervention of her aunt Livia (Harriet Walter in a truly grand role), suddenly she’s able to face her horrid future with hope; the man whom she loves can be her secret lover and support her through this upcoming lifetime of matrimonial misery. In this “happy ending” we have our first betrayal, for the man she loves is her uncle Hippolito (Raymond Coulthard), and it is her aunt who tells her a lie to recast this affair as something besides incest so that she will accept him as her lover. Woman Beware Woman indeed. Auntie Livia is a real piece of work; intelligent, twice-widowed, “all of 39,” and independently wealthy. She seems to have fallen right off of the map of morality, yet not actually appear evil; her acts seems to be ones merely aimed at procuring pleasure for those whom she loves, at the expense of those who are, well, in the eyes of the nobility, nobodies. Nobody (nobodies) are harmed, so where is the harm in it?

Livia is a lovely model of feminine power and awareness and the horrible easiness that allows people to be cruel to those who don’t really exist in their eyes. The next victim of her machinations is Bianca, whom “the duke” (Richard Lintern) has seen and wished to seduce. The power play between Bianca and the Duke becomes a very powerful thing; given that Middleton doesn’t really write heroes and can barely be bothered with creating sympathetic characters, the question is not so much what will be her fate, but how will she take revenge on those who wronged her. I was quite excited about seeing “Kill, Barbie, Kill Kill!” in action, a veritable inverse of Elle Woods, all deliciously full of rage. Forget a sisterhood between the women; these people’s interactions were dictated soley by age, money, family, honor, and perceived advantage. Love never has a hope.

And, really, I just loved it all. Our beautiful, well-decked, arrogant nobility; the weak and stupid poor they preyed on; the gleeful anticipation of everyone getting their comeuppance. The whole was done on a brilliant set that for once used the Olivier’s revolve without making a big show of it, nicely catching the Duke’s palace on one side and the dingy backside of Florence on the other; the music captured both the 60s ambiance the design team was aiming for and the horrid rigidity of 17th century morality; and _oh_ but the staging was a treat, from the duke’s grand parade, in a spotlight with glitter showering down on him from above, to the madness of the final bloody dinner scene, with dagger-wielding masked angels smoking drugged pipes with their soon-to-be victims, the nearly dizzying revolution of the stage, the lighting highlighting one horror after another (the ghost of one murder victim being especially delicious), the fights of victims and aggressors which, flickering in a well-placed spotlght, Bianca, now shimmering with sexuality and triumph like Poppeia, reigned above an entire dining hall full of flowers and murder and nearly no blood at all. It wasn’t needed; we saw each of them die, and, truth be told, we had to feel good about watching this room full of evil people meet the fate they deserved. My goodness, it was a very satisfying night. And all of this is available under the Travellex 10 program – I’d say book your tickets now.

(This review is for a preview performance that took place on Wednesday, April 21st, 2010. It continues through July 4th, 2010. For more reviews, please see UpTheWestEnd.com.)

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Review – Every Good Boy Deserves Favour – National Theatre

January 15, 2010

Russian history? Tom Stoppard? And yet you say – only an hour? I was worried that EGBDF would be an unbearably pretentious evening, but assured that I had a sixty five minute window before my chance to exit – to exit permanently for the night – I decided to take the chance. And hey, a Travellex show, so only £10. What’s not to like?

In fact, though it felt much longer than it was, EGBDF did not wear out its welcome. Its conceit, of a man (Julian Bleach) in an asylum who hears a symphony (which is actually on stage) playing constantly, worked fairly well for me. He talked to them, he gave them directions, they underscored his actions and words on stage, it was all fine and fun and just a wee bit over the top but there you have a show at the National with more budget than it knows what to do with. Yes, indeed, EGBDF is known as “that play where there’s a full orchestra on stage,” and fortunately the orchestra (both as creator of sound and collection of people) actually adds to the story instead of just being a sort of very expensive set piece a la the helicopter in Miss Saigon.

But of course since it’s Russia we have to have Grand Sadness, in this case people struggling for freedom against the regime. (Since EGBDF was written in 1974 it was a bit more topical but in this instance the subject now appears very much historical.) This gives us the other character, a man who is sane but is in prison because of his political beliefs (Adrian Schiller). He finds it unbearable to be incarcerated with a genuine lunatic (and a kind of scary one at that), and to make it all the more tragic he has a son who is suffering without his dad there to guide him. A bit of comedy comes in when the patients turn out to both have the same name, not to mention when the prison doctor is revealed to be a violinist. The darkness, however, is almost unrelenting despite the bits of leavening.

The play makes some points about how bizarre the Soviet regime was, emphasized by having the musicians artfully beaten on stage, and proves its legs by providing parallels with the “now,” in which once again we see people can be imprisoned for having “the wrong books” and jailed because their opinions “incite hatred.” How long is it really before we resort to judgments of insanity and verdicts of hard labor for our malcontents? But the play itself is just a short story brought to life, ultimately, and not the best short story at that – it’s hardly “Metamorphosis.” Still, though, it wasn’t a bad night out, and it’s probably good in this age of Russian billionaires to remember how things used to be, and think upon how easily they could be that way again.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Wednesday, January 13th, 2010. It continues through February 17th.)

Desperate for content, I wordled my blog

August 15, 2008

I was in high hopes of getting a scoop by seeing the first night of the “Threepenny Ring Cycle,” but the performance was postponed due to rain and I found myself having serious doubts the show would occur at all – so I exchanged my tickets for the Pinter double header taking place in September at the National (tickets in the very front at the very back for only £10, a good deal at five quid a play – Landscape and A Slight Ache if you were wondering). Watching the crew pour buckets of rain off of the tent that sat over the show sealed the deal, and we were home at about 9:15.

Thus, for a lack of content, I “Wordled” my blog. Tomorrow, or tonight, you’ll get my take on what £20 tickets for West Side Story at Sadler’s Wells will get you.

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?