Posts Tagged ‘Wyndham’s Theatre’

Review – No Man’s Land – Wyndham’s Theater

October 26, 2016

On walking into my nosebleed seats in the back of the top balcony of Wyndhams, I thought to myself, “My god! I am sure I have seen this play before, and from an equally ridiculous vantage point!” On the stage a circular room with a bar at the back and handsome windows stood waiting for its occupants; and I remembered the exact same sense of vertigo mixed with a tiny bit of looking into a well from when I’d been to see it eight years back at the Duke of York’s. I could only hope that nearly a decade of watching Pinter would help me understand this play better than I had the last time, when I came away feeling menaced but unsure what the actual threat was.

Can I say my experience of London life since then means that now I know quite clearly what Ian McKellan was referring to when he was talking about the bushes of Hampstead Heath, and that I also now feel 100% positive that he, too, when he mentioned it, knew quite clearly what his character had been up to before he met up with the man hosting him at his posh Hampstead home? And certainly Patrick Stewart’s character has a poor memory, as he’s easily confused about just how long he’s known the drunken “poet” he invited back to his house. And the grousing match they get into about who was a bigger cad is a funny bit of dialogue wittily delivered.

But, really, just how good of a play is this? And did most of the people there care? I found the audience far too worshipful and think both of the gentlemen were strutting a bit, not feeling the need to try to give a good performance but merely to deliver comfort. The other two actors, playing some kind of servants, were giving their all, and I finally started watching them more because they were just more interesting. In the end, though, my feeling was that the whole show was a bit flaccid; but with the entire run close to sold out and premium seats over £100 quid each, my opinion will count for not a fig. I was relieved I’d only paid £25 for my seats, which is about the right price for what was essentially a “see the famous actors” circus; those who want to pay will and if you’re looking for a night of strong theater I’d advise you to fork over everything and go see Travesties at the Menier instead.

(This review is for a performance that took place on September 27th, 2016. It’s booking until December 17th: some seats can still be found, at normal prices, on the Delfont Mackintosh site.)

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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.)

Mini-review – View from the Bridge – Ivo Van Hove at Wyndham’s Theatre

March 11, 2015

Of the shows I chose to skip last year due to my ban on seeing any plays for a second time, the only one I really regretted missing was Ivo Van Hove’s production of A View from the Bridge at the Young Vic. Fortunately it came back for a second round in 2015 at the Wyndham’s Theater (but at greatly inflated prices). I decided to suck it up and fork over the (rather stunning amount of ) £60 to see the show, as several people had told me it was their production of the year – how could I give it short shrift?

Two nights later and I still feel bitter about this show and my misguided belief that it might ever have been possible to make a silk’s purse out of this sow’s ear. It was only a few years ago that I saw this play at The Duke of York’s, and I actually wasn’t eager to see this Arthur Miller work again. But now I can put my finger on a lot of what isn’t right with it. Neither Eddie Carbone, his wife or his niece seem like well-rounded characters; Carbone’s anger doesn’t make sense, wife Beatrice sees danger but is kept (by Miller) in the shade, and niece Catherine doesn’t seem to have nearly as much of an emotional connection to Rodolpho as she’s accused of.

But this production makes them even shallower and more unbelievable than they were written. Nobody sounds natural: these folks all have the accent of long term Brooklynites without a trace of their Italian ancestry. For the new arrivals from Sicily, the choice of thick American accents makes them cartoon cutouts – but then, Miller wrote them speaking English, somehow magically showing up in America completely fluent. And Catherine’s behavior, constantly leaping on her uncle and wrapping her legs around him – I found it just utterly unbelievable that any 17 year old would act this way. And putting her in skirts so short we in the audience could see her underwear as she crawled around the floor wiping up water – how much more did Van Hove need to sexualize Catherine? My stomach was turning a little bit. No wonder Beatrice saw fit to warn her that her behavior needed to change.

While the stark setting of this play (a grey low wall around 3/4 of the stage, a plain grey wall with an open door at the back, a chair) may have won it accolades, as I found myself caring less and less about the characters (as they receded from believability), I began to believe that it’s really just the setting that has convinced people that this show is great. It’s a real contrast with the National’s usual florid approach, but it’s hardly new to be stripped down, and it was done far more effectively for Belvoir Sydney’s Wild Duck. This play just doesn’t deserve the effort. Miller just wants to get to his plot points and his social pontification, to show “that the common man is as apt a subject for tragedy in its highest sense as kings were.” But he does this lazily, with two dimensional people who become common (by dint of their poverty) without ever showing them enough care (as an author) to make them men. We, as an audience, get a stunt involving a chair being lifted off a stage and a final ending in which the cast is all showered in smelly, watered down red paint. All of this money and effort spent with so little result: truly, if ironically, this can be said to have been a tragic night out.

(This review is for a performance that took place on March 20, 2015. Seats in the front five rows and possibly even further back will suffer from having the actors’ faces frequently cut off by the low grey wall. It continues through April 11.)

Mini-review – Abigail’s Party – Wyndham’s Theater

June 2, 2012

When “Abigail’s Party” was playing at the Menier this winter, I was torn about going. “Oh, a Mike Leigh play!” said the angel; “Arrgh, it’s set in the seventies and seems to be celebrated as much for its canapés as anything else.” In the end it sold out and that determined it for me; no luck getting $15 tickets like I could have for Pippin!

But then it was transferred to Wyndham’s, and while tickets seemed too expensive ($35!) a friend who needed cheering up wanted to go, and I thought, hey, an actual Mike Leigh comedy, let’s do that – plus it’s just around the corner from work, and a short play, so perfect for working girl me.

Well. I’m not sure how I missed this in all of the Twitter commentary, but in addition to being a play that features horrible 70s clothing (and canapés), Abigail’s Party has to be one of the unfunniest plays ever. It’s light hearted on the face – our hostess just wants everyone to have a good time – but she’s going to steamroll everyone into doing it her way. Meanwhile the one decent character is regularly humiliated (and kept from leaving!), and we get to watch two married couples bicker with each other horribly and very realistically to the point that I wanted to leave, too. The audience, however, was laughing fit to burst – I can’t help but think it’s because they were finding watching people be made uncomfortable and degraded struck them as great good fun.

As a record of life in the English suburbs in the 1970s, there’s no doubt that this is a very accurate play, and the acting was really very good from everyone, but I have just had enough with Mike Leigh setting up these parties in which miserable people make other people miserable. I don’t understand why other people find this so damned hilarious, either. I was barely able to keep my companion there through the second act (it now runs with a break, so 7:45 to 9:45) and only because I think this play is a British classic; but it’s one I won’t be revisiting. If only I could have actually been to a play about the real Abigail’s party, which was supposed to be taking place next door; I’m sure they were having a much better time.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Monday, May 28th, 2012.)

Review – The King’s Speech – Wyndhams Theatre

May 1, 2012

The last two years have really changed how I decide what shows I want to see. Before, it was a blog post from a trusted source: now, it is far more likely to be a breathless post-show tweet from one of a short list of people I follow and have flagged as simpatico to my tastes.

Or, in this case, it’s a show I might have dismissed as riding on a movie’s coattails, only someone I know off Twitter (actor Adam Lilley) has been writing about it from audition through tour through early closing notices (last week). So The King’s Speech was higher in my sights than it might have been: still, even though it was just around the corner from my new work, I hadn’t been in a rush to see it: then the people running the Twitter account wrote me and asked if I’d like comps to review it. Well, you know, it was clearly time to get off of my chair and go, although I was disturbed by how quickly it was closing. Why the struggle to sell seats? Was it bad? The tour sounded like it had gone well … what was the problem? Did it not hold up against the movie? I had never seen it, so I’d be approaching it from a fresh perspective – with luck, this would work in the show’s favor.

Fresh from my night out, I’m happy to say The King’s Speech is a well acted, enjoyable play that surpassed both of the West End shows I’d seen in the previous week (Hayfever at the Noel Coward and Making Noises Quietly at the Donmar Warehouse) and was well worth taking the time to see. I found myself sucked into the plot and the “what happens next”-ness: it’s set as the Nazis are rising to power and the question of what would happen if Great Britain were ruled by a fascist sympathizer was quite … well, emotional, even though the monarchy is portrayed as having a whole lot less to do with “rule” and more to do with “morale.” But Great Britain (during the time period of this play) is a country that’s about to need a lot of work in the morale zone … and with the war and the Blitz on the horizon, suddenly you, too, want to see that someone who actually cares about the people (and not just about nice clothes and champagne) is holding down the position.

I was also very involved with the struggles between the various personalities. While I learned a lot about the battles within both the cabinet (well, amongst the monarch’s advisors) and within the monarch’s (monarchs’ ?) family, I was utterly absorbed not so much by these historical figures as by the struggles between therapist Lionel Logue (Jonathan Hyde) and patient “Mr Johnson” (a.k.a. the Duke of York and later George VI, Charles Edwards ). Logue was trying to get Mr. Johnson to deal with him as a person, not in the stand-offish way “royals” acted with the plebes and even their own family (as near as I can tell); Mr. Johnson was so caught up in the prison of his role and family (none of which he could discuss in therapy!) that he couldn’t work on the problem that was making his life hell. Logue’s attempts to draw out Bertie (as he’s finally called) were the kind of personal manipulation I love to see on stage: as intense as Frost/Nixon, but done out of care for the individual (rather than a desire to gain power).

I also loved Logue and his wife’s presentation as people who had just moved beyond all of that silly class stuff (thanks to being Australian): when the Duchess of York (“Mrs Johnson,” first name Elizabeth, Emma Fielding) winds up in Mrs. Logue’s kitchen, I could just hear Myrtle (Charlotte Randle) complaining to her husband, “I have never been treated so rudely in my life!” (Although in fact she did not say this, displaying a bit more grace than I thought Elizabeth deserved.) Frankly I was a bit sad at Myrtle’s giving up her dream of going back home; it was the only false note in the night.

I’m glad I finally got the opportunity to see this show. It’s a good theatrical presentation, with a compelling narrative and fine acting – with a bonus history lesson for those of us who are a bit weak about what was happening in the UK in the thirties. I can only imagine it’s not selling well because people feel over exposed to the story – but it is a very fine play. Tickets are now easily available in the £20 range, and it absolutely delivers value in that price range. If you’re looking for a good night’s entertainment, don’t hesitate to go as it’s closing May 12th.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Monday, April 30th, 2012. It closes May 12th.)

Review – Tennant/Tate “Much Ado About Nothing” – Wyndham’s Theatre

August 19, 2011

You know there’s something going on when a friend who normally only pings you to talk about books suddenly sends you a text saying OMG DR WHO IN SHAKESPEARE WHR CN I BUY TX THXPLZSOS! Doctor Who? Shakespeare? What? Was there a celebrity casting event happening? Was someone just rumor-mongering on a fan bulletin board? It took me a few hours but I figured it out: David Tennant was going to be appearing in Much Ado About Nothing, though it wasn’t going to be with the RSC or at the Globe; instead, he would be at the Wyndham’s, which did quite well for itself with the Jude Law Hamlet and probably thought that putting another celeb in a copyright free show couldn’t help but make for a juicy summer at the box office. What better for “two great tastes” than Shakespeare … with a Dr Who star in it? As an added bonus, they threw in Catherine Tate. Result? A critic-proof show that’s sold out week after week – despite there being nothing available below £50 in the stalls and Royal Circle.

However, there’s really nothing about “Dr Who/Comedy star” to catch my attention, as with Shakespeare there’s just so damn much of it on that I try to only hit artistic highs (this year, Propeller) and limit myself to three a year. So I missed all of the excitement of the early days this how was on (it opened in May) and just finally got around to seeing it this month, four months on and only a few weeks before it is to close. Ah well: no excuses about the performance I saw only being a preview this time, eh?

As it turns out, I’d never seen this play before at all, which added a certain frisson of anticipation to the evening’s events; yet much of the pure joy I might have experienced was hindered by Catherin Tate’s incredibly heavy-handed performances. The woman’s got an easy career to come in panto, I’ll say that. And David Tennant, well, to be honest he executed well in Shakespeare, and his skinny, very tall figure worked convincingly as a character billed as a bit of a clown and an outcast. Still, I felt that even his jokes were cranked up to 11, and while most of the audience was roaring hysterically, I was wondering how I’d wound up back in One Man Two Guvnors. All we needed was two men in a horse suit and a singalonga. I mean, was the director afraid we wouldn’t understand that it was a comedy?

Overall, I found it was a competent production, but I wasn’t feeling the love. And it hardly matters: everyone else, including the people I’d treated to the show (giving experiences not stuff, don’t you know) loved it, and it is a hit. I’ll just sit in my Grumpy Critic’s Corner all by myself and wish I’d instead made it to see Propellor’s Comedy of Errors when it was in town. Hmm: I see they’re bringing a pocket version of it to the Hampstead at the end of September. I think I’ll book for it and call it my consolation prize, nicely rounding out my Shakespeare for the year with two great productions and one … new one.

(This review is for a performance that took lace on Thursday, August 18th, 2011. Much Ado continues at Wyndhams until September 3rd.)

Review – Hamlet (with Jude Law) – Donmar “West End” (at Wyndham’s Theatre)

August 22, 2009

The Jude Law Hamlet put on by the Donmar is, I think, the most-hyped show of this year’s West End season – sold out sooner than Helen Mirrim’s Phedre, source of more “guess how many foolish tourists were waiting in line for returns at God awful o’clock” jokes than Sir Ian and Patrick Stewart’s Godot, basically Hot Hot Hot at least as far as how many tickets people wanted and how few were available.

I knew about the show more than early enough to get tickets, but I didn’t buy them, despite the fact I think Jude Law is quite sexy, for three reasons. First, I have an annual Bard limit, and I just wasn’t interested in blowing it on yet another Hamlet. (The Donmar West End series as a whole was so very un-risk taking, except for the excrable Madame de Sade, and anyone with eyes to read the script with could tell THAT didn’t deserve a revival. Still, Hamlet, bah and yawn.) Second, the early reviews (such as the West End Whingers) weren’t very enthusiastic. And third, well, I just didn’t want to bother with this show simply because a cinema star had been cast in it to pull in the punters. I think this is poor practice as it results in shows being performed by people who aren’t really cut out for it, and a disappointing night out for me. Shakespearean actors who’ve made the leap to the big stage is one thing, but to be honest, the magic just doesn’t seem to work in the other direction.

And yet … and yet. I, too, apparently can fall prey to hype, and after a whole summer spent pooh-poohing the whole affair, I finally broke down when I saw it was being transferred to Broadway. “My God!” I thought. “Perhaps I am missing the show of the year” (a la Black Watch), “and even if I did make it to New York, I wouldn’t be able to afford it!” So I took advantage of my gardening leave and found myself a single ticket for a Wednesday matinee, and off I went.

Well, I don’t know if it was the fact I was seeing a show in the middle of the day or if it was because I was seeing yet another (yawn) Hamlet, but GOD was sitting through this play work. Law was waving his hands around like he was conducting an orchestra (causing me to laugh during his speech to the players, “Nor do not saw the air too much with your hands”), and I found myself wishing the man who was playing the ghost, clearly a pro, was actually in the title role. The actors were in general serviceable, but in no way memorable, and I found myself yearning for the hair-raising brilliance of Stewart’s Macbeth. Really, must Shakespeare be so dull? Though the bit where Ophelia was being lectured by her brother and father on Hamlet’s lecherous nature provided some giggles, mostly it felt like the long-awaited end of a show that had just run out of energy.

At any rate, I can now say “I saw it when,” but to be honest I wish I could just say I’d gone to see a show I enjoyed instead.

(Hamlet closes tonight. Don’t worry, it’ll be done again soon.)

Review – Twelfth Night – Donmar at Wyndham’s Theatre

February 22, 2009

I admit, I was slow on the uptake with the Donmar Warehouse’s Twelfth Night (part of their season at Wyndham’s). It opened December 5th, and the WestEnd Whingers saw it not more than a week later. And here it is February, and the show closes March 7th … and I only bought my tickets in January to see it February, despite the Whingers’ effusive praise (key elements of their review for me: actually funny; not overly long running time – vital for a possible weeknight trip to the West End). And yet … well, finances, you know.

And a review. I feel … hesitant. The show’s got two more weeks, and if I’m not mistaken it’s about sold out for the run. So what is there to say, really, and who will it influence? The ten or so people behind me who had standing seats (way up in the balcony behind me – what were they thinking?) and the 20 or so folks who’d been standing in line waiting for returns could clearly never be swayed by anything I have to say here. So it seems a bit pointless to add my comments to what must be the great heaps of praise this production has been wallowing in.

Except … I’m not going to. And you know why? Because the Midsummer Night’s Dream I saw last week at the Southwark Playhouse smoked this production’s ass. Maybe it’s because Derek Jacobi (as Malvolio) and company have been doing this show for so many weeks that they’ve just lost their excitement. I can’t really fault the production values: the costumes were lovely (Indira Varma as Olivia was especially ravishing) and I liked the simple set (nice work on both, Christopher Oram), but I can say that this script just isn’t of the quality that Midsummer is, and there’s not much you can do with that. And yet a tale of lovers split by warring fairies is surely no more ridiculous than that a brother and sister can so successfully pass for each other that they woo each other’s lovers?

No, no, that’s not it. What it comes down to is that Southwark Playhouse made theatrical magic happen, and the crew at Wyndham’s only put on a play – they provided an evening’s forgettable (if quality) entertainment. I suppose this is what happens when you see a show so late, when the actors are less excited about doing the show – maybe even now Imelda Staunton’s Kath is no longer making the punters howl in their seats, but I’m convinced the final weekend of Midsummer will be so much more exciting that 12th Night was at this point in time. So cry not if you haven’t got seats for the Wyndham’s Twelfth Night and take yourself instead to the south side of the river, where I promise you that the folks at the Southwark will deliver a memorable theatrical experience that will leave you enthused about the bard.

My other complaint about this show: can we please do a Shakespearean comedy where people don’t have to illustrate sexual humor by making crude fucking gestures? I’m able to work it out from the words alone, thanks, I don’t need to see characters mock-humping the air and pretending to fondle themselves.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Saturday, February 21st, 2008. It’s nice to know that since this is a review about a professional company that for once the miffed actors and incensed relatives will not be slagging me off for not forcing a bunch of ass kissing in my writeup.)

Mini-review – History Boys – The Wyndham

January 26, 2007

We saw The History Boys tonight at the Wyndham. It was good, but … well, I really thought it was just not deep, and it just didn’t get into the stuff that would have intrigued me. And I couldn’t help but wonder if its treatment of homosexuality among teenaged boys (and sexual abuse of same was realistic. The boys I knew at that age tended to be way more homophobic than the characters in this play. It did give me lots of nice poems and songs to think about, though, and I sure would have liked it if any of my classes had ever been that fun, with people doing such energetic improv scenes in French and then doing a bit from Now, Voyager. But … I don’t know. It was a fine play but I didn’t find it to have lasting historical impact, just an overall good ensemble production. Frost Nixon kicked its ass six ways to Sunday.

(This review is for a performance that took place on January 26th, 2007. It was copied over from another blog of mine.)