Posts Tagged ‘Vaudeville Theater’

Review – Handbagged – Vaudeville Theater

June 3, 2014

I wasn’t sure what to expect of Handbagged, the play about Margaret Thatcher and Queen Elizabeth, other than it looked to be a two hander (wrong!) and funny. So when I was contacted with a request for blogger feedback from a publicist, I was pretty pleased – things have been a bit grim in Webcowgirl-land the last three weeks and I was in dire need of a good laugh. I mean, I had no idea why the thought of these two women was supposed to be humorous (although “So Maggie Thatcher and Queen Liz walk into a bar” does makes me giggle) or even under what circumstances they would have come into contact (it was based on actual events? – shock!), so there was a leap of faith involved. I’ve done the Life in the UK test but Handbagged assumed a level of knowledge beyond what I, not born English, possessed.

So, factual basis: not only does the PM go to the queen and ask for “permission to form a government” after the election, but apparently the traditionally have some kind of weekly catchup as well. Now, I’d been a tiny bit exposed to this from seeing The Queen, but this is all from the post-Thatcher era and I wasn’t entirely sure how much the interaction of the queen and the PM as depicted in this movie represented reality at all. That said: how much does anything that happens in the palace represent reality? It seems as likely a topic for comedy and satire as any; theatrically, King Charles showed there’s much to be explored in the workings of a monarch in modern times (as opposed to the rather more active workings of historical times).

The play itself is a story told on two sides, that of the queen and of Thatcher; but it’s also told from two points in time, that of the near-present (maybe five years ago), with a gray-haired monarch and “elder statesman” Thatcher, and their “actual” selves at the time of the events. Their older selves correct their younger selves’ mistakes and laugh (or harrumph) at their stupidity – and by “their” I mean of both of their younger selves. I found the imagined evolution of each of their perceptions very interesting – how the queen had grown, perhaps, more disillusioned; and how Thatcher grew, I think, more rigid – and in some ways simply failed to evolve at all, parroting exactly the same things at her height as she does in her retirement.

Fleshing all of this out are two other characters, originally a butler in the palace and Thatcher’s husband (I’d never heard of him before), who wind up playing many varied roles: Ronald and Nancy Reagan, President Kaunda of Zambia, and, well, themselves, as actors with opinions. These two do a lot to fill in the gaps in my historical knowledge of the times – although addressed at the “young folks in the audience who weren’t even alive at this time,” it was helpful to me as a person who, while born, wasn’t really reading international news.

In the end, I feel like I was both educated and entertained, although the whole thing was done with such a light touch that I never felt lectured to. And look: a play in which there are four roles for women in their fifties or older! Really, the only thing I needed to make this night perfect was a cream tea at the interval: it was a very enjoyable night out.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Thurday, May 29th, 2014. It continues through August 2nd, 2014. As I researched this, I found more an more that the events that took place outside of “the audience” all really seem to have happened – i.e. per this article – which makes me enjoy the play even more.)

Review – Volcano – Vaudeville Theater

August 28, 2012

Or: Lava … And Leave her!

Once upon a time there was a brilliant playwright. His name was Noel or Tennessee or something like that*. He had written some plays that were amazing and timely and deeply illuminated the human condition. He was a success. Time went by. He kept writing but, at some point, maybe because he had been a success, the magic went away. Toward the end he might have been writing out of habit more than because he still had something to say.

This is the background from which I suspect Volcano sprung. It hasn’t been performed since it was written, and although this is supposedly because it was held back to save people from shame, I think there’s a lot to support the fact that it wasn’t rushed to the stage because, frankly, it’s not very good. It’s not even sort of good.

Actually, an argument can be made (I shall do so) that it is bad, really bad, especially if you consider that this play was written just one year before The Birthday Party. Drama had moved on since the 20s, yet as this play opens, we have a woman in a little black dress and a large rhinestone necklace hanging out in a garden while a greasy haired man in a suit – practically a mustache-twirling panto villain – explains to her in comically debonair tones why she’s made a mistake in not sleeping with him. She admonishes him to keep his distance or she will mash a rocks glass in his face – then dramatically (“dramatically”) throws it to the ground and stiffly looks away.

About four lines of dialogue in I was wondering just what sort of disaster I had belly-flopped into (though I was suspicious anyway given that the theater was half-empty). Was Nimax just desperate to get something, anything into the Vaudeville after pulling What the Butler Saw? (The set certainly looked cheap – a few little buildings and some large seashells – which supported the idea of a “anything else might work” approach.) Had they not given the actors sufficient time to rehearse? Or perhaps … the script was just a wreck and Coward was to blame?

As I watched these ridiculously dressed people spouting off these canned lines, as stereotyped as any Sun editorial, I started to feel that what I was actually watching was one of those plays within a plays … with the trope “the really, really bad play where even the actors didn’t seem to believe what they were saying.” Had I inadvertently walked into a parallel version of Noises Off? Could Coward possibly have thought any of these characters were interesting or appropriate for the fifties? I mean, the discussion of sexual desire was a bit more frank, but the hamming and false emotions, was I supposed to believe it?

Was I too far from the exit to carefully leave? Was this level of badness going to be sustained all the way until the interval?

Fortunately, when the next scene started (with new actors to break up the congealed goop between the leads), the urge to gag (my urge, not theirs) lightened, but the triviality of the dialogue and banality of the “situation” continued. Infidelity: really more boring than you might think, not inherently interesting like the script assumes. I sat there numbly watching people over dress, drink too much, and be jerks while a volcano rumbled behind them. My thought: the world wouldn’t miss them a bit if they all fell in, and my evening would perk up considerably.

And with that, I took my leave at the interval. I made it through half of it; you’re stronger than me if you can stomach more.

(This review is for a performance that took place on August 23rd, 2012. The play continues through September 29th. This play was already at the Richmond theater so if you were going to give it any slack because it was early in the run, you would be making a mistake.)

*Most decidedly not Henrik.