Archive for April, 2012

Sonata Movements, Blue Elephant Theatre 25 April

April 26, 2012


Picture from dulwichonview

So this is a sonata made from four movements which combine texts with different pieces of piano music.  At the post-show discussion,  the extravagantly gifted An-Ting Chang, pianist and instigator of the project, explained how she had been frustrated at the way classical music was cut up and used in plays, and she had wanted to find something better.

I was interested in seeing how the thing would work.  Would the actors speak at the same time as the music or in-between?  Would it be like melodrama?  In fact, a wide variety of things happened, including the piano being used as a prop in many different ways and a trill in Schubert’s D960 sonata representing the memory of a doorbell.

I felt that during the first three movements (Abortive, Caryl Churchill/Schubert; Other People’s Gardens, Kenneth Emson/Chopin; Portrait of a Lady, T.S. Eliot/Prokofiev and Chopin) what was happening for me was that the music was creating emotion by conditioned reflex and the plays were merely illustrating it.

The final movement  (Swan Song, Chekhov/Beethoven) was different and not just because we had a writer on the same level as the composers.  The way the play summed up the themes of isolation in someone at the end of his life and recapitulated pieces of Pushkin and Shakespeare in the same way the performance as a whole held within itself the separate plays and pieces of music–and at the end the old actor’s eyes, his ancient glittering eyes, were gay!–gave me a real sensory overload of delight.

Very definitely one to see, and it will be interesting to see what AT ConcertTheatre does next.

Borderland, Brockley Jack 24 April

April 24, 2012


OK so this play depicts life in a semi-abandoned estate in the dystopia of the near future with a range of stereotyped characters who talk at each other in laboured and unconvincing phrases.  It lost me at the beginning when derelict old Oliver rotting and abandoned in his flat was dressed in a dressing-gown much neater and cleaner than mine.  Then Lucy the looter came in to engage in some inconsequential dialogue and I thought it was a smear of dirt on her face–realism indeed!–but it was a bruise from her boyfriend Darren, broken and returned from foreign wars.

It was all so dragging and unengaging.  It was without either any recognisable time and place or univeral mythic resonance.  (Hard to see that it had to do with South London, though you did have the black guy as pimp and apprentice gangster.)

So let’s be positive.  Darren getting kicked and beaten by Tray was quite nicely choreographed.  The scene between Lucy as prostitute and her client was interesting because playwright Carol Vine clearly didn’t really believe that people could do such things.  Kirstie Brough as Lucy put in a brave and determined performance.  I think I learned some new words:  flid, t-bar, jesy, but maybe not with those meanings.

…it didn’t last very long…

Горизонтальное положение/Horizontal position (Dmitri Danilov)

April 22, 2012


This book comprises a deadpan diary-style account of a year in the life of the narrator, a not especially successful author who finds himself writing publicity material for firms in the oil and gas industry, having his job on a magazine downsized, going to readings where everything that is read is declared excellent.  I think that the interest comes from the way that Danilov doesn’t tell us the kind of things you might expect in such a memoir, so the whole weight of literary expectation presses through the words we actually see on the page.

There are an awful lot of these books in both Russian and English where the hero is an unsuccessful literary man.  Normally he is supported by a rather more competent wife (who in the invariable plotline leaves him for someone more useful) and expresses detailed and bitter opinions about the unfairness of it all and the marginal position of literature.  Not here.  The narration sticks to the facts and the narrator lives alone and spends his evenings playing at being a football manager on the Internet.  He also visits a literary conference in New York and–as one does in foreign places–spends his time wandering around in a half-dazed state and looking for electrical adaptors, a place with Wi-Fi, and collecting superficial impressions of what he sees around him.

The way the narrator charges in and pays full price for everything must be another play on our expectations, like the anti-literary style.  We give an extract below.

22 April

855 bus, Vykhino, Kuznetsky Most, Prospekt Vernadskogo, the building where the company that controls gas is located.  Interview with a boss who was boss of the company that controls gas for twenty-one years.

Narrative of the former boss of the company that controls gas about how the company (in those days–Administration) controlled gas under his direction.

Narrative of the former boss of the company that controls gas about how at the beginning of  his career he worked on the construction of the Seroukhov-Leningrad pipeline and how once during the night there was an explosion on the pipeline, and for a long time KGB agents questioned him about how and what.

Narrative of the former boss of the company that controls gas about the difference in the principles of construction of the gas transport systems of Russia and the USA.

Narrative of the former boss of the company that controls gas about the terrible explosion on the pipeline near Voroshilovgrad.  The explosion occurred beside a railway track, as a result of the action of high temperatures the rails changed from a solid state to a liquid one, and just then a train came along, the driver managed to brake, and if he had not managed then people would have perished, but fortunately nobody perished because the driver managed to brake and if he hadn’t managed to break then people would certainly have perished, and not just people, but children, the train was full of children who they were taking from the south to somewhere in the north, the children had been on a holiday in the south and they were going to their permanent location, and then there was such a terrible accident, a good thing that no-one was hurt, that the driver managed to brake.

A pleasant man to talk to, cheerful, with an attentive, lingering gaze he could probably have managed the company that controlled gas for another twenty or twenty-five years but there you are–he doesn’t manage it.

Painful sensation in the hip region, limping. 

Prospeky Vernadskogo, Kuznetsky most, Vykhino, the 855 bus, Kozhukhovo.


Need to devote some more time to the company that controls gas, but OK, it’s not compulsory, play at football manager on 11×, win, win, win, draw, loss, win, win, win, draw, loss, win, win, win, draw, loss, loss, win, win, draw, loss, loss, loss, loss, that’s enough now, as much as you can manage, horizontal position and, as usual, sleep.

Oedipussy, Lyric Hammersmith 2.30 pm 14 April

April 15, 2012


Picture from another venue with different lighting

It’s not that this show was bad, I just found I was more interested in doing my washing.

At the beginning, the cast appeared in civilian dress to discuss a critical review of an earlier show by Joyce McMillan and say they were going to do it different this time, it wasn’t going to be safe. I think the joke is that they then did exactly the same kind of thing, a mildly-amusing skit that the audience thoroughly enjoyed.  It wasn’t a critique of Greek Tragedy from some fixed standpoint nor really the collision of two disparate worlds (there were a few scattered James Bond references).  Nor was it an incompetent troupe putting on Oedipus and being overwhelmed by their own disasters–the sections where the actors stepped out of character and addressed the audience about their personal problems were deeply boring.  So the afternoon proceeded amiably enough from gag to gag, and none of them had the surrealistic madness of Aristophanes or the erect phallus and bra over dress.  If you want to have something like a satyr play releasing the tension of tragedy, then you need to allow the tragedy and its sex, blood and guilt some space to develop.

I rather liked the depiction of the oracle as blind people holding giant eyeballs, as shown above.  But the narrator-with-a-column-on-his-head rapidly lost my interest.

As a final comment, people sitting in the front rows will find there are many opportunities for audience participation of various kinds.

Chalet Lines, Bush Theatre 7 April

April 8, 2012


A picture I swiped from twitpic

So the important question is: five actresses giving us their Newcastle accents, who came off best?  Well four of them I didn’t believe at all, while I was prepared to give Sian Breckin (from Leeds) the benefit of the doubt.  You might say that Monica Dolan (from Middlesbrough) should have had it easy, but that just shows how little you know.

Anyway, the play follows the lives of the womenfolk of a Newcastle family in reverse chronological order as they assemble at Butlins in connection with significant life events.  And the first scene–set in the present day–was very successful, with a series of successful jokes:

–Men’s minds, you don’t want to go there.  It’s all porn and sheds.

–I was trying to explain to the lass on the phone, it was no use, she was from Poland or Russia or somewhere. They should have got someone northern.

After that, as we journeyed into the past to see how things had ended up the way they had, I got very bored at what seemed like acres of featureless feminist diatribe. Loretta (Monica Dolan) was supposed to be drunken and emotional but didn’t manage to suggest either drunkenness or impulsive mood swings.  Abigail the shy daughter (played by Laura Elphinstone) managed to come off as a poor actress waving her arms about rather than a shy daughter–I think the direction may have been at fault here.

I ended up being distracted into trying to work out how old the characters were meant to be at various times, and also by the way the doubling of roles meant the actresses with the less pronounced accents played a couple of characters from the more distant past, thus implying that regional accents were less rather than more pronounced in the past.

I can’t fault Loretta’s advice to Abigail on how to put a condom on your partner though:  clear, concise and accurate, if also a little out of place…


While it seems to be Loretta who causes all the mischief, we never find out why she is the way she is.  There’s no indication that she realises her father is not her father.  When she was forcing Abigail into a not-very-concealing dress before making her go on a date with a couple of redcoats because that’s what lasses do, I did wonder whether this was advertising for the hijab shop across Uxbridge Road from the theatre.  Even if it wasn’t, you could see their point.

Secret sponsors maybe?

Le gamin au velo, Ritzy Picturehouse 7 April

April 7, 2012


I wouldn't let him near your bike if I were you...

The basis of this film is that young Cyril (an amazing performance by Thomas Doret) is in a children’s home after being abandoned by his father and hopes for some miracle to reunite them.  After running away to visit his father’s flat in the hope he will really be there, he ends up clinging on to Samantha (Cecile de France), the proprietor of a local hairdressing salon.  In an act of gratuitous goodness, she recovers his precious bicycle which serves as the symbol for all he has lost and takes him to stay with her at the weekends.

Well that’s what I like.  That’s what people are like.  Well maybe she wanted a kid anyway–He can hold onto me, but not so tight she says when he’s clinging on to her to resist being taken back to the home.  In fact, many of the actions in the film are presented without explicit motivation and you have to work it out just like in real life.

Can we say bike good:  car bad?  The bike is associated with Cyril and also with Samantha and in one idyllic scene Cyril allows Samantha to ride his bike, showing that she has now earned his love.  The car of the dealer Wesker surely represents everything undesirable, while Samantha’s car seems to be possessed by the (ex-)boyfriend Gilles except when it has the bike inside it.  Similarly city good: countryside bad, bad things happen in the waste land next to the estate where Cyril and Samantha live; but they include a kind of resurrection of course.  Not to mention women good:  men bad, but then Samantha is the only female character and really the only positive one as well.

Surely there was at least one plot hole:  Samantha tells Cyril to keep away from Wesker, who tries it on with all the new arrivals in the estate. But Cyril’s not new, he used to live there with his dad, that’s the whole point…

The Women of Troy, Blue Elephant Theatre 4pm April

April 4, 2012


The first and main thing to say is that this production worked, which modern attempts at Greek tragedy most often don’t.  So much so indeed, that the apparent school party who made up most of the audience staged a mass walk-out after the reinterpretation of the killing of Astyanax as an enforced abortion.

At the beginning, as in the same company’s Hecuba, there was an effective stage presentation of Trojan glory and collapse.   After that, a lot of the action went on in semi-darkness, which is definitely un-Greek as an idea:  let him at least kill us in the light.  The characters on stage arranged themselves in static patterns that recalled at times David and at times Alma-Tadema.  In fact, the possibility of having any impressive choral movement was vitiated by most (but not all) of the stage being occupied by a raised dais.

But there were many stage devices employed more effectively.  Having the cast sing a vocalise, then one character sing the words, that at the end a triumphal two-part chorus after which Hecuba’s face alone illuminated in the midst of darkness reflected all the pain and tragedy that had passed.  Hecuba (Alice Brown) was very good throughout, while Kerrian Burton as a fey red-haired disengaged dissociated Cassandra made by far the best Cassandra I’ve ever seen, and in her first professional performance too.

I suppose I should have been irritated by the hand-me-down katiemitchellism of this production:  the sound of the roller door without the thing itself, for instance.  And the female character relaying the words of Talthybius who couldn’t run to a clipboard and so had to sort frantically through bits of paper instead.  But at least here we had a representation of Greek tragedy as being about something, even if feminist rant is not what Euripides had in mind.  I thought the adaptation–I can’t work out who did it from the programme, unless it was ‘Dramaturg Bobby Brook’–was highly effective, and made skilful use of rhyme where it helped.

Definitely worth seeing, and even staying for the whole 70 minutes.

See here for other Greek plays I know about in London.