Posts Tagged ‘1 star’

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…

Four Quartets/Edward Fox Riverside Studios 6 March

March 6, 2011


Edward Fox doing Trollope (not Eliot)

The fault here his entirely mine.  I’d forgotten how deadly dull the Four Quartets were.  Edward Fox sat in a leather armchair in front of some bookcases as in a gentleman’s club.  He recited rather as Eliot himself used to read, with the addition of some actorly affectations.  But the material was just so boring (the crosstalk apparently from the lighting box threatened to be more lively).

Thou hast nor poetry nor philosophy,
But, as it were, an after-dinner’s sleep,
Dreaming on both;

If you read the text you might be able to make some argument out of it, but that’s not really possible receiving it aurally.  If High Church sermonising is your thing on a Sunday, there must still be plenty of places in London where you can get it for free, and with music to listen to and nice gilded idols to gaze upon.

T S Eliot (so serious he caused the Queen Mother to laugh uncontrollably)

As I escaped gratefully at half-time, I was accompanied by some American girls laughing madly from relief…

A Disappearing Number Novello Theatre 20 September

September 22, 2010


Projection of Ramanujan

This Complicite show took about three minutes to lose me completely, which must be something of a record.

At the beginning,  Saskia Reeves as maths lecturer Ruth Minnen was establishing the well-known mathematical joke 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + …. = -1/12.  You do this by some plausible but incorrect manipulations of the Riemann zeta function ζ(s).  Unfortunately, here Ruth Minnen wrote (many, many times) ξ (xi) for ζ (zeta) and unfortunately ξ(s) is a different function (in fact, it’s related to ζ(s)), so this is not something a maths lecturer would have done.  That threw me completely!

There was a similar episode at the end–though this time you really had to be looking for a fight to take it amiss–where after she had died Ruth quoted the following beautiful passage to console Al:

What reconciles me to my own death more than anything else is the image of a place: a place where your bones and mine are buried, thrown, uncovered, together. They are strewn there pell-mell. One of your ribs leans against my skull. A metacarpal of my left hand lies inside your pelvis. (Against my broken ribs your breast like a flower.) The hundred bones of our feet are scattered like gravel. It is strange that this image of our proximity, concerning as it does mere phosphate of calcium, should bestow a sense of peace. Yet it does. With you I can imagine a place where to be phosphate of calcium is enough.

What’s wrong with that (apart from showing up the rest of the text)?  Well, would an overworked maths lecturer really have known a passage from an obscure work by John Berger (And our faces, my heart, brief as photos)?

Then again, there was the irritation of a series of jokes all of which I felt I already knew too well, from ‘What’s the difference between a pregnant woman and a terrorist?’  to 1729 = 13 + 123 = 103 + 93 , and even something about conformal symmetry in string theory.

Apart from annoying me, the show seemed to be about the romance between American (Indian-descended) businessman Al Cooper and English maths lecturer Ruth Minnen in apposition to the collaboration between Cambridge mathematician G. H. Hardy and untaught Indian genius Srinivasa Ramanujan, and made a series of points like:

–India is an important country these days

–call centres are outsourced to India

–Uxbridge is near Heathrow

–lots of people originally of Indian descent live near there

–academics are often overworked

–India can be overwhelming for foreign visitors.

Must have been aimed at the tourist market then, since none of this could be new for a London audience!

There’s more about the maths–and a positive view of the show, not to mention the source of the picture above–here.

Fuente Ovejuna Southwark Playhouse 09 August

August 9, 2010


Some kind of an idea....

This was the first of the previews of ‘Fuente Ovejuna’ by Tangram Theatre at the Southwark Playhouse.  Actors mingled with the audience, making friends with them and encouraging them to join in before the beginning and involving them in community singalongs and pieces of comic business during the action itself.

To me it just didn’t work.  The timing was off, partly because there was too much space to fill which meant that things didn’t happen quickly enough and partly because a lack of positive direction meant that you would have one exchange or piece of action and then things would slip into neutral before the next one began.  The only consistent performance I saw was that of Richard Cunningham as the exaggeratedly villainous villain Fernán Gómez de Guzmán; a lot of the rest of the time it was the panicky kicking of arms and legs when you fear the water won’t bear you up–if you don’t believe in the play, then don’t put it on.

All of those involved seemed like very nice and enthusiastic people to me, and I hope that things work out for them.  There’s an English synopsis of the play here, and a Spanish text here.

Hippolytus White Bear Theatre 19 May

May 20, 2010


A bit of a disaster!

Well, let’s look on the bright side.  There weren’t any flagrant cuts.  The set–whitewashed walls and a twisted tree thing–was perfectly sensible.  The costumes were generally serviceable, and the dress that Artemis wore at the end was truly lovely. In fact both Aphrodite and Artemis were effectively kitted out, with contrasting gold and silver paint on their faces, so we had ‘golden Aphrodite’ and Artemis with a crescent moon round her eye-socket.

Artemis (from Tough Theatre FB page)

And some of the performances were very good.  As Aphrodite (and one of the chorus), Charlotte Powell managed to get the light and colour and meaning into her lines that were missing from the adaptation by David Crook, and as Artemis Daphne Alexander was truly goddess-like at the end.  The young and cocky (rather than priggish) Hippolytus of Nick Lawson had his moments, as did the Chorus of Cameron Harris.

In fact, Charlotte Powell did an even better job of making something out of almost nothing than she did in the Yorkshire Tragedy a few months ago.

That’s about it.

On the minus side: the idea of treating Greek tragedy as a realistic story  of domestic mishaps is always wrong–Greek tragedy was a large-scale public event that explained how things are–and the new version grated severely on me as well.  The prevailing language was one of bureaucratic cliche–for all the characters.  So we had Phaedra talking of Ariadne’s pained and crisis-ridden relationship with Dionysus, and the most famous line –when Hippolytus says that his tongue was sworn and his heart unsworn when he made a promise to the Nurse–was rendered as I merely recited a formula.

And then strangely enough, as in the original, Theseus told the servants to unbar the doors [originally the doors of a hut thing at the back of the stage] so that he could see the body of Phaedra…and they brought her in on a litter, when there’s a door at the side of the White Bear stage that would have done perfectly well for her to stay hidden behind while Theseus registered shock, grief and anger.

Another photo from Tough Theatre FB page

Mike Aherne (Theseus) and Natasha Alderslade (Phaedra) were especially…unsuccessful…at making anything of the rubbish they were given to speak.  And there were strange directorial decisions: characters were rather too often addressing the back wall (or the far corner) rather than the audience, while I didn’t understand why the Nurse was using a generalised North Country accent to deliver the same kind of high-flown verbiage as the noble characters.

It would be unfair to mention the actors who fluffed their lines–I think that tomorrow is  Press Night, so this was in the nature of a preview perhaps.

Oh well.

The Magic Toyshop Oxford Playhouse 30 January

January 30, 2010


Picture from Magic Toyshop group on Facebook

Oh dear.  The moment this began with Melanie (Bella Hammad) praying downstage centre I knew it was all a mistake and I wanted to leave and go home.

I  think the main problem was that this was a student production where the director’s wealth of extravagant ideas was not curbed by the normal lack of resources.

And the adaptation seemed not to have managed to get the essence of the thing out, so that what was implicit in the novel (and should perhaps have emerged from the interactions between the characters in a stage adaptation) was made painfully explicit–as in Melanie’s opening prayer, voicing her unspoken and unrealised desires.  But I suppose if you start off by remarking It may seem odd that a group of modern students should want to take on and perform a fairly obscure 1960s feminist text, then this doesn’t bode very well for what happens.

There were some decisions I just didn’t understand:  in the novel, for instance, Melanie is struck by how dirty Finn is at their first meeting (dirt…adult male flesh…sex), but here he was perfectly well-presented and only appeared dirty in a later scene so that Uncle Philip could berate him.  And how can Uncle Philip’s small shop of hand-made toys have a cellar full of large tea-chests with say Philip Flower/ Legs stencilled on them, as though it was a mass-production outfit?

As to the performances:  all the actors were obviously the same age, which you can’t help in a student production.  Will Spray’s Uncle Philip was handsome and upright, not squalid and confined as the part demanded, while  Bella Hammad as Melanie did not really seem to internalise her exile from Eden.  Ollo Clark and Chris Morgan had good Irish accents as Finn and Francie.  Madeleine Dodd’s accent as Mrs Rundle was less convincing, but did remind me that Angela Carter was surely removed from South London to Yorkshire at a tender age.

I enjoyed the string quartet.  Dismiss me.  Enough.

The Resurrectionist (Jack O’Connell): A Bad Book Is A Big Evil

January 20, 2010



Our hero is one Sweeney a pharmacist whose son Danny is in a coma following an accident.  So Sweeney gets a job at the mysterious Peck Clinic where they are good at rousing coma patients.  Danny was keen on a comic book called Limbo and there is a parallel narrative of a group of circus freaks there.

The basis of the main story is that the eponymous Dr Peck wants to recall to Danny to our world as someone else by injecting him with foetal stem cells while a biker gang (headed by one Nadia, who is working as a nurse at the hospital) who travel the country injecting themselves with cerebrospinal fluid from coma patients to join them in their world provide the opposition.

The problem with this story is that there are far too many characters, all of whom are unbelievable and undercharacterised.  And the city of Quinsigamond is a nightmare place where everything tends to go wrong, so there’s no reality as an anchoring-place to give the comic-book story a context.

The comic-book story is actually less inept–the main problem is that there are too many of the circus freaks and since you can’t see them as in a comic book or film it’s very hard to tell which is which.

The narratives aren’t anything like interesting enough to justify the absent characterisation, though the author has obviously exerted himself introducing laborious  correspondences between them.  And if you don’t have proper characters, you expect a decently-articulated plot; here, at the end, the two worlds bleed together into one and nothing much is resolved.


A Cloud in Trousers Wilton’s Music Hall, 30 September

October 1, 2009


A picture of Mayakovsky

A picture of Mayakovsky

Well,  this certainly managed to irritate me.  First of all we had some quite nice music on violin and piano and reasonably respectable number of people came into the auditorium from the bar, but most stayed there.

Then Samantha Bloom read a letter (possibly a confection of several letters) from Lili Brik to Mayakovsky.  Then she went off and got changed (music and scene change) and came back on en travesti to perform extracts from Mayakovsky’s poems about dysfunctional love from a masculine point of view.

But why was she so genteel in her diction?  Mayakovsky described himself and tried to act as a hooligan, though he didn’t always succeed.

If you want

I will be irreproachably gentle,

Not a man, but a cloud in trousers!

Well, quite, but that’s not where we’re starting from–in fact it’s the potential of a strenuous self-abnegatory miracle–and there is a reason why the lines are broken up like that, so one shouldn’t just flow over them.

I also quite often couldn’t hear what she was saying, which rather spoils the point of poetry.  I spent what seemed like several ages contained within one hour wishing it had ended or I was elsewhere,

The boat of love broke up on the grind of everyday life.

Oh dear!

But soon after it was the end–the actress went off, came on, took a bow, ushered forward the musicians.  Some people sat in their seats waiting for more, thinking perhaps that £ 10 for 55 minutes of one performer was rather short measure, but I was off, down the street, on my way home.

P.S.  Mayakovsky was not in any sense ‘a Georgian poet’ as claimed in the programme–although it seems that Stalin was…