Posts Tagged ‘Tricycle Theater’

Review – The Invisible Hand – Tricycle Theater

May 28, 2016

The lead up I got to the Tricycle’s presentation of The Invisible Hand was that it was some kind of international finance thriller set in Pakistan. Boy, it was really hard for me to imagine mortgage derivatives being in any way exciting! But, in fact, The Invisible Hand manages to develop a John LeCarre level of tension with a story that manages somehow to be intellect expanding as Stoppard’s lectures on quantum physics in Hapgood (but without the buzz kill feeling of being talked down to). The situation is fantastic: American banker Nick Bright (Daniel Lapaine) has been inadvertently captured by a small group of Pakistanis, who are holding him hostage in the hopes of getting an outrageous ransom. But Bright isn’t who they were trying to capture, and can’t possibly come up with a $10 million ransom. His three captors – the kind hearted Dar (Sid Sagar), leader of the pack Imam Saleem (Tony Jayawardena), and “I grew up in Hounslow but now I’m keeping it real in the ‘stan, innit” Bashir (Parth Thakerar) – decide to let Bright earn his ransom, using his own money as a basis for some shady trading.

Now, at this point, to try to explain just what is going on with the making of the money seems unbearably dry, but since the Imam doesn’t trust Bright to use a computer, Bashir has to do all of the work, and Bright has to painstakingly explain to him how it works. Along the way, we get some major insights into the kind of corruption that is endemic to second and third world countries as well as the ridiculous near-religious belief that many people (especially Americans) have that the behavior of markets is outside of the hands of man … that it is, essentially, an invisible hand moving money around. This belief in the “rightness” of markets’ behaviors is very much like a religious belief, only without any examination of the rightness or wrongness of what happens when “the market moves.” And Bashir points out to Bright the immoral outcomes of the actions of the people who hold to this world view … as well as proving to him that sometimes the forces that move “the invisible hand” aren’t as neutral as Bright likes to believe.

Despite the fairly intense audience/character education that has to go on to make this story move forward, the overall feel is very tense and action driven. Bright, the Iman, and Bashir begin to form quite a triangle; Bright trying to find some advantage between the two of them, while the two locals work on their own unknown schemes. The scenes are all so short that there seems to be a bit of a lack of breathing room (certainly all room for complexity has been driven out), but given that this whole play takes place in one tiny room, I’d say we’re taking on an exciting enough journey that I’ve really just got quibbles. The whole thing is less than 2 hours and it really has a great payback, even if in the end perhaps what Bright earns isn’t quite what he was hoping for, as an audience member you’ll certainly feel like you got your money’s worth.

(This review is for a performance that took place on May 23, 2016. It continues through July 2nd.)

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Review – Ben Hur – Tricycle Theater

November 24, 2015

The genius of The Thirty-Nine Steps (the play) was that it took a sweeping story and managed to turn it into a rip-roaring comedy, all performed on a nearly empty set by a cast of four playing a cast of about fifty. I loved this show and would constantly take visitors to see it with me during its long West End run; the jokes held up well and the mugging of the cast never failed to crack me up. It was also, I believed, an excellent example of “less is more” theater, the kind of stuff that assumes the audience has imagination and is willing – nay, eager – to be taken on a trip to fantasyland. So when I heard the same creative team was taking on Ben Hur, and that it was going to be getting a run at the Tricyle (which is just a bit smaller than the Criterion), I was pretty darned excited – so excited I got a ticket for first preview, because some good things can’t wait.

Again, we’ve got a big story – bigger, even, than The Thirty-Nine Steps (it does include a sea battle and a chariot race) – and very, very few actors. We were given a clue as to how the night would progress at the beginning, when the “writer” (John Hopkins – also Ben Hur) came out to introduce his show … and his costar (the stunningly multi-roled Alix Dunmore). Here, clearly, was a person (the writer) with many, many problems, and the victim(/love interest) of some of his problems – and we, the audience, were going to watch his ego and their relationship play out on stage. This bit of farce was an extra dimension to the evening’s affairs – and what fun!

A lot of the joy in watching this show is not just in the silly jokes and bad puns but in the visual humor, and to that extent it seems like a lot of the fun would be taken away from you if I said how they took care of things like the sea battles and the chariot races. I think, though, I’m safe in saying that AUDIENCE PARTICIPATION DOES OCCUR and it really heightens the moment. I made my theatrical debut that night … lines and everything!

Just when you think the jokes have been played out, the second act manages to raise things to a whole new level and the laughing starting coming out thick and heavy. Earlier, though, I felt things were a bit layered on and didn’t feel natural – but I’m willing to ascribe this to having seen it in the very early days. These people know what they’re doing and could wring laughter out of a cabinet member from the Kremlin. I’m more than willing to believe things have tightened up and will continue to become shinier throughout the run.

That said, I believe this show just isn’t going to be up there with The Thirty-Nine Steps, and I blame the source material. A book that was ultimately written as a kind of a sideline to telling the story of Jesus for me has a bit of the humor wrung out of it at the start, and while we can have a laugh here and there at the religious schtick shoved in (as much to sell the original, I believe, as anything else), I found these elements just not nearly as comic as they needed to be to bring me along. In fact, the whole thing would have been a lot better if the Jesus bits were cut out as the comedy failed during these moments. Still, the actors were very good, and it will be tighter, and, in days like these, don’t we all need a good laugh, not to mention lawn-mower powered chariots?

(This review is for a preview performance that took place on Thursday, November 19th, 2015. It continues through January 9th and is really a great alternative to panto.)

Review – The Colby Sisters of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania – Tricycle Theater

July 22, 2014

Before every show I say a little prayer, which is lifted right from The Drowsy Chaperone: “Dear God, please let it be a good show. And let it be short!” And for once, I’ve actually been given a show which admirably meets half of this prayer while utterly missing the mark on the other. I present to you: the show that’s so short you think they might have left something crucial out of the play. In this case, it’s a reason for the play to exist, a dramatic surge that forced this play into being. The Colby Sisters does not have that. There’s a bit of a build up, a teetering tension that seems ready to explode and create a completely new world … but instead of riding that wave, we get some flashbulbs and the end of the play. Huh. You think it’s going to be a modern The Age of Innocence and then you’re left with simply “there were some rich people in New York City and they were a bit sad sometimes.”

The Colby sisters are five women ranging from early forties-ish to early twenties-ish, who are drawn with fairly distinct personalities (much like the Spice Girls) and given little quirks that are easy to read so that we can tell them apart. We have the bossy Gemma (Charlotte Parry), please-every one and prettiest India (Isabella Calthorpe), “I don’t have it together” Willow (Claire Forlani), tragic Garden (Patricia Potter), and “I have just met the love of my life, no that guy was last week” Mouse (Alice Sanders, reminding me a whole lot of Edie Sedgwick). As they come together for a fashion shoot (we’re never told why anyone wants their picture or where their money came from), we are introduced to each of them in a way that allows us to see the dynamics that exist between them – settled roles of leadership and popularity, differing levels of support and hassling – but which doesn’t reveal much depth. Each of the characters seems to have been given about one note to sing and this note moves slowly from a life ring to which they cling to, gradually, a lump of cement pulling them under the waves.

Now, I know I’m murdering this metaphor, but as the play moves on we get some moments where we could either have probed the depths of who these characters are (underneath the facade, one imagines) or to show an evolution of the relationship between the characters, but it just fails mightily to happen. Bossy starts picking on Slutty, and Princess and Loser actually unite to support Slutty; but the scene fails to turn into a springboard for a deeper shift. Princess finally blows up at Bossy during a tennis game, but Bossy’s attempt to defend her behavior falls so quickly into clumsily delineated back story that I found myself becoming all to aware that I was watching people deliver lines in a play in a (thankfully air conditioned) theater.

And then the ending, in which three of the sisters unite against their one foe: the tabloid press. Their conversation again avoids anything that might actually be revealing, leaving me to believe the final line about “they’ll never understand us” is actually just the author engaging in wishful thinking, rather than how the reality of the Colby sisters: they are finger paintings made of personality quirks and hairstyles, somehow thrown together to make a play.

I’ve said many times that the mark of a great play is one where I go home trying to figure out the childhood of a character that was actually generated out of pen and ink and an actor’s breath: in this play, this never happened. The characters weren’t believable and the actresses struggled to make something of them and failed. Even the one outsider, personal assistant Heather (Ronke Adekoluejo), is utterly wasted as a character, although as an actress she convinced me that there was a life and a personality behind her rich silences. Heather and her sisters: for that play, I would have been happy to come back for after the other women walked off into the flashcubes. As it was, I was just glad I got to go home.

(This review is for a performance that took place on July 21st, 2014. The play closes Saturday, July 26th.)

Review – The Great Game (part 1) – Tricycle theatre

May 8, 2009

Last night J and I went to the Tricycle to see the first third of “The Great Game,” the series of plays on Afghanistan newly commissioned for this event. The plays are set up so that you can see all of them at once, as an all-day event, or split them up into three different evenings, in chronological sets. I’m not really one to sit in a chair watching anything for eight hours, but the promise of new theater (which I like to support) broken into bite-sized chunks (several short plays in each set, meaning the chances of seeing really good stuff was higher and the amount of time you needed to survive a bad one was lower) was irresistable.

The night I went was the earliest set, from about 1860 through the 1920s, with brief modern interludes to provide background. We opened with the Taliban arresting a sign painter, doubtlessly for a variety of crimes (the hugely informative program suggested that listening to music, painting a woman, and not wearing a beard were all likely reasons for his arrest). We then slipped into the best play of the evening: “Bugles at the Gates of Jalalabad,” a play about the tragedy of the 16000 British soldiers “and camp followers” (including wives and servants) who died while attempting to escape Kabul for Jalalabad.

The text, about four soldiers waiting for “the other survivors” (there was only one) was enhanced by text from the diary of Lady Sale (performed by Jemma Regrave), who’d been left behind as a hostage. The performances of the four men (Daniel Betts, Tom McKay, Rick Warden, and Hugh Skinner) nicely captured the madness of war, especially the way they turned on the Afghani (Nabil Elouahabi) who came their way. Imperialism, cultural idiocy, the futility of invasive wars, religious animosity – so much came out in this short time of the problems that basically have not managed to go away. But, more importantly, it captured the eerie feeling of the unbelievable, savage deaths of so many to an extent that it almost felt like a ghost story. It was the highlight of the evening for me.

Of the remaining plays, I felt they suffered from overacting and belaboring their point. Siba Shakib’s “Duologue,” abut the heroine Malalai, who rallied her people to fight against the British, was practically a propaganda piece, and Jemima Rooper didn’t seem to have the least bit of humanity in her portrayal of this person. It is possible that this was really a problem of the script, but hard for me to tell. “Durand’s Line,” about the borders set by Sir Mortimer Durand for the nation of Afghanistan, almost had a comic-book portrayal of Abdur Rahman (Paul Battacharjee), the Amir of Afghanistan from 1880-1901 – he was like Ming the Merciless. The play succeeded in expressing the political and social reality of that time, so I think was somewhat successful, but the acting needed work (again – though actually Michael Cochrane seemed letter-perfect as the pushy civil servant who could easily ignore he was dealing with a man who boiled people alive, and I had no complaints about either Danny Rahim or Rick Warden’s performances) and I felt the character of Abdur was also extremely thin.

After intermission, we return to two eminently forgettable playlets: “Campaign” (by Amit Gupta) which appeared to primarily be concerned with feeding the audience the history of early 20th century Afghanistan via the character of the professor (Paul Bhattacharjee), and “Now is the Time,” which depicted the end of the rule of the man who attempted to modernize Afghanistan in the period the professor had just been describing. “Campaign” seemed like it might have been attempting to insert a little humor with its trope of “the civil servant trying to get some free information from an intellectual,” but I didn’t find it very funny and since I’d just read the story of Amanullah’s failure to bring Attaturk-style reforms to Afghanistan in the program, I also found it boring. It was like one of those horrible moments in SF novels where the author decides they need to explain the details of faster-than-light space flight that they’ve made up for their universe. “Now is the Time” (by Joy Wilkinson) had a real “End of the Tsars” feeling to it, but instead of really focusing on the human drama and the interaction between the characters, it just kept layering on the historical detail as if that were the real purpose of the play. It’s a shame, really, because the question of whether or not Amanullah Khan shot his own father to become king of Afghanistan was really interesting and highly relevant to the question of whether or not he’d just betrayed his father in law (Mahmud Tarzi, played by Vincent Ebrahim) in order to save his own skin. We’re talking serious tension, all of which is eventually let out like air from a balloon as the three leads pile back into their car and head off to Russia with their driver. It really just was not good enough, and Jemima Rooper was also failing to hit it as Soroya Tarzi, daughter of Mahmud and wife of Amanullah. To top it off, I swear their accents all sounded fake.

Overall, though, with such a fast moving pace (six stories between 8 PM and 10:05) and low ticket price (£13), I considered this a good evening – not enough to make me want to sit through the full day showing off all plays in the cycle, but enough to want to come back for part 2 or part 3.

(This review is for a play seen on May 6th, 2008. The Great Game continues through June 16th at The Tricycle. Support new theater – go see this show!)

Review – The Caretaker – The Tricycle

April 12, 2007

Dinner last night at Buka was not as good as forgettable because it was actively bad. This came down to three things: tough/burnt meat, overly spiced food (with no actual flavor), and the nauseating smell of fish paste. I ate half of it and felt the rest of it burning a hole in my stomach through the rest of the evening. It was actually at the second level of really hot, the one where my ears ring, and while I can make it through to the third level, I will only do this for food that actually tastes good. Perhaps I will try Nigerian food again, but, frankly, I’d rather pick Somali/Ethiopian/Eritrean after this horrifying experience. And it was overpriced to boot. Bah.

Pinter’s The Caretaker was mis-described as “comic.” Me, well, I think watching a messed up homeless old man try to find a safe place to live isn’t intrinsically humorous, nor is listening to someone try to process the horror of being incarcerated in a mental hospital (though that soliloquy was the highlight of the play). We both found it … overdesigned, or something – careful spotlights, overly polished music cues, a set that was 100% realistic and all built out. Where was the room for the imagination? That said, the character of the caretaker was utterly believable, and I found myself trying to figure out just what his childhood would have been like to have got him to this point … fantastically acted and obviously written to perfection. That said, I wasn’t compelled by the show, and figured I’d get just as much out of the second act if I’d bought the script and read it at home – I was emotionally checked out. And I didn’t get home until 11:45 to boot, which has, in respect, made me resentful. Give this one a pass.

(This review is for a performance that took place on April 11th, 2007. The review was written for a different blog.)