Posts Tagged ‘Tricycle Theatre’

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 Father – Tricycle Theatre at Wyndham’s, London

November 17, 2015

I didn’t catch The Father when it was at the Tricycle, so I completely missed any hype about it – best new French play of 2014 – but I did see some nice things said about it once it made it to Wyndhams. One of the things I found appealing was a 90 minute running time – ideal for after work – and, as it turns out, rather affordable seats (my back of stalls jobs were £35 and clearly cheaper can be had as the upper sections of the house were closed off when I went).

So …. we have a father (Kenneth Cranham) and his daughter, Anne (Claire Skinner), and dad is obviously a bit unwell as Anne’s need to have a carer around. Dad’s been fighting with the carer – she’s a thief! Or, actually, she’s not – Dad just forgot where he put his watch. And (scene change) maybe Anne isn’t really his daughter, maybe it’s a woman with brown hair. And what about dinner? Didn’t Anne’s husband go into the kitchen with a chicken? But Anne says she hasn’t been married for years … so who’s this other guy? And who is making Dad cry? (And can someone please tell me why Dad prefers his other daughter so much and why he has to constantly mention she’s the one he really loves?)

A lot of elements of this play are just perfect. I loved the way it showed the way time elides for those with Alzheimers, backwards, forwards, sideways, while simultaneously there are moments of pure lucidity that make both the patient and the carer unsure of just how well the patient is. I also enjoyed the realistic depiction of the truly incredible stress it puts on all the family – from the carer who’s life is taken over, to the partner who’s totally lost the ability to have a family life other than as a carer’s adjunct, to the father who simultaneously argues his wellness while abusing people and is also himself the victim of abuse.

However, the desire to show non-narrative time wound up leaving me feeling too jounced around. While I got answers to some questions, I was never sure about most of the ones concerning the daughter, and the experience of time began to seem to me more important than actually expressing a plot. In the end, this was an interesting play, but not, I think, an excellent one; still, it was worth my time and certainly deserves its West End run.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Monday, November 16, 2015. It continues through November 21st.)

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.)