Posts Tagged ‘3 star’

Price of Money, The Albany 18 September

September 18, 2014


This devised show about…err…money contained the following elements:

i) scenes from ‘Plutus’ by Aristophanes;

ii)  Belarusian folk songs;

iii)  stories improvised by cast members;

iv)  musical numbers not being Belarusian folk songs:

v)  human rights abuse in Belarus;

vi)  testimony from Stéphane Hessel.

Of these, Aristophanes certainly came off best (you can’t beat a pro!), followed by the folk songs.  Certainly whoever was playing the Old Woman (as above) gave an excellent performance, though I’m not sure why Poverty was well-dressed, well-made-up, well-coiffed and generally rather attractive.  At the beginning, a lot of lines (in subtitled Russian) were shouted staccato so that I couldn’t make them out, while later on there was a chorus (in English) that seemed to be about ‘the gap’, but I couldn’t make that out either.  If you want to hear what’s going on it’s best to sit at the sides, while taking sensible precautions to avoid audience participation.

Apart from the devised show format and the weakness of much of the material, I had problems with the underlying premise.  It probably seemed like a good idea at the time, but that was then and this is now.  Take Belarus, for instance.  Minsk is prominent at present as the site of negotiations between Russia and what is left of Ukraine.  Now, annexing parts of Ukraine is not going to make Russia rich–in the best case it will impoverish the country not too badly, and in the worst case it will turn it into a colony of China.  Money is not the issue.

I didn’t see any sign of the promised contribution from Ben Jonson’s The Staple Of News.

But it was all right if you like that kind of thing…


Flight, Brockley Jack 15 January

January 19, 2014


I  think that this production would give you an idea of what the play by Bulgakov was about without being the thing itself.  The action follows a group of assorted characters during the Russian Civil War as they flee from the Red Army through the Crimea and on to Constantinople and even Paris–the title is flight as in ‘run away’, not ‘flap wings’.  The play was never actually staged in Bulgakov’s lifetime, though it did appear in the Soviet Union from the 1970s.  It’s meant to be the typical Bulgakov grotesque comedy, where the characters are both…er…grotesque and pitiable, but here it was all far too matter-of-fact.

For instance, great play is made of the row of victims the Whites have hanged at the railway station where the early scenes occur, and when I last saw the play in 1992 or thereabouts we did indeed have a line of draped figures with nooses around their necks.  Here we had suitcases.  Suitcases.  Well, OK, suitcases.  Or maybe trunks.

And the playing was generally at the phlegmatic one-thing-after another level:  the one exception was Michael Edwards, a late replacement in the part of Khludov, the White Chief of Staff tormented by his past atrocities.  Even though he wasn’t necessarily word-perfect all the time, he did at least manage to play at the right emotional level.  I sometimes thought he was playing George Gordon, Lord Byron at the right emotional level, but he got a great deal nearer to what was required than anybody else.

Without asking for a naturalistic portrayal of Russian mores, you need to ask yourself:  What kind of people would say and do these things?  Consequently, In what manner would that kind of people say and do these things?  The plodding regularity of the action also meant that nothing was emphasised and nothing was a surprise…

I’m not going to complain about the White Minister of Trade and Industry speaking French badly, or about the soldiers and officers failing to move and bear themselves like soldiers and officers.

At least the actors were not made to speak with comedy Russian accents this time.  Turkish and Hungarian-Irish, maybe…

See here for what I know about other Russian plays on in London.

Bussy D’Ambois, St Giles Church 30 November

December 1, 2013


During the afterpiece

During the afterpiece

Our readers will readily understand the French court as a place replete with corruption, treachery, traffic with unclean spirits, adultery, deceit and malice.  But this version of Bussy D’Ambois rather downplayed the context and left Bussy as an over-reacher floating free of Christopher Marlowe.

The story is as ever set out in Wikipedia.  I enjoyed the elements of original practice and the way the play had been made to work in the nave, aisle, gallery, choir and pulpit of the church.  The fight scenes were especially impressive, and the black-clad spirits did very well in representing sex on stage without it becoming ridiculous and in representing black-clad spirits as well.  However, the reverberant church acoustic made it difficult to catch all the words and some plot points like the friar dying and then continuing as a ghost rather passed one by; as did the distinction between Monsieur (the king’s brother who recruits the destitute Bussy to do his evil bidding) and Montsurry (the husband of Bussy’s love).

There are times when the production resembled a parody of Jacobean tragedy, where everyone is killed and tortured but continues to speechify at length, and the text would have made a wonderful libretto for a Verdi opera, but has its problems as a play, at least to modern sensibilities.

But I would certainly recommend people to take advantage of the remaining dates–there is a great deal to admire and learn from in this production, and at £5 it’s very good value for money in anyone’s terms!

The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds, Brockley Jack 02 October

October 2, 2013


This is a man-in-the-moon marigold.  It was produced in an attempt to breed a white marigold, so it's not brash & marigoldy in colour.

This is a man-in-the-moon marigold. It was produced in an attempt to breed a white marigold, so it’s not brash & marigoldy in colour.

In this play, dating from 1964, we follow the fortunes of Tillie Hunsdorfer as she tries to escape from the chaotic influence of her mother Beatrice and first of all go to school and then win the school’s science fair.  She also has an epileptic sister (Ruth) and a ‘$50 a week corpse’ of a lodger to contend with.

The good things about the text are the striking and beautiful images drawn from stellar nucleosynthesis and radioactivity; and the idea that is good for girls to go to school and study science.  It’s also rather funny.  The bad thing is the feeling that you’ve seen all the rest somewhere before, if not in something by Tennessee Williams then in an improving Young Adult book.  Yes we can work out that Tillie is the mutant or hopeful monster produced by the loathing radiation from her mother that will destroy her sister.

As presented by OutFox at the Brockley Jack, I thought we really needed a more over-the-top performance from Betty ‘the Loon’ Hunsdorfer to keep the audience interested, but then maybe she would have been the central character rather than Tillie.  I thought that both Evelyn Campbell as Tillie and Katherine Rodden as Ruth did very well, while the production was lucid and unpretentious.  In fact, if it had been me I would have been tempted to use the extraneous light projections from their Spring Awakening to illustrate the scientific processes and the other world separate   from beauty salons, real estate businesses and hopeless teashops.

Now, with slight modifications, beauty salons, estate agents and coffee shops does sound rather like Brockley in fact…


I am Nasrine, Stratford Picturehouse 4 July

July 14, 2013



My interest in this film was that I’ve been to Tehran and lived in Newcastle-upon-Tyne. That’s a slightly strange perspective and may explain why I didn’t get on so well with the film.

We follow the story of Nasrine (meant to be about 16 I think) who rides home in Tehran on the back of a boy’s motorbike wearing a coloured headscarf.  She is picked up and (we fear) raped by the Vice Police.  Her father decrees that she and her brother Ali have to go to England.

So they arrive in Newcastle; she goes to school and falls in with a community of travellers which gives her the chance to ride horses and have consensual relations with the brother of her new friend Nichole.  Ali meanwhile takes two illegal jobs and struggles to come to terms with his sexuality…

There seemed to be two main themes here:  the idea that you become an adult by casting off what you were before and the treatment of refugees in the UK.  But they weren’t integrated but rather went on in parallel.  There were other points being made in the contrast between the saturated colours of Tehran and a washed-out Newcastle; between motorbike + bad boyfriend and horses  + good boyfriend;  and how even in going to school Nasrine found herself becoming part of a marginal group, while Ali’s encounter with the normal inhabitants turned out to be fatal…

All in all I didn’t quite get it.

Micsha Sadeghi gave a brilliant performance as the heroine, while still looking even older than Carey Mulligan in An Education.


STELLA, Greenwich Theatre 11 July

July 14, 2013



…or STELLA, a story of women and astronomy by Siobhan Nicholas, who also played Caroline Herschel.  So this was the story of how William Herschel, musician and astronomer, made his sister into a singer and astronomical assistant so that at the end she became an important astronomer in her own right, at the expense of any possibility of a personal life.  On top of that was overlaid the story of a modern-day radio astronomer (not quite called Jocelyn Bell Burnell)  who is writing an article about Caroline and resents the implication that she will follow her musician husband to Germany.

Some parts of this were very nice:  the pictures of stars projected on the backdrop of course and the further use of projections as Jessica communicated with her husband and daughter in distant parts.  And the circular carpet and circular table around which Caroline and William orbited and argued while Jessica followed along like a satellite; also the refusal to glamorise or prettify Caroline.

But there was also a certain amount of extraneous matter forced into the eighty-minute running time:  Caroline was permitted to foresee radio astronomy and the  Herschels between them adumbrated relativity, though it would be hard to say whether it was the Special or the General theory that was referred to.  Then there was the subplot of Jessica’s daughter Eve going to Alexandria on her gap year to form a human chain round the new Bibliotheca Alexandrina (which is in my recollection built like a bunker–a wise precaution in Alexandria) and drag Hypatia into the proceedings.

Then there were some bizarre errors:  Caroline calling her brother ‘Sie’ in German, and Jessica’s student allegedly being engaged in the hunt for the Higgs boson.  Not as mad as the idea of the gap year daughter in Alexandria IMHO, assuming her parents ever wanted to see her again…

This is not just pedantry:  one of the points made was Caroline’s records were detailed and accurate (and so useful) while William’s weren’t.

But as ever the main point for me was that you need to get what you want to say into your characters and their relationships and the actions that spring from their relationships, not paste it on in the form of a lecture.

Stella is funded by Arts Council England, Science and Technology and Facilities Council and The Institute of Physics–some of those excellent bodies may have wanted a lecture of course.  As far as I can see, if you have £ 700 (or negotiable) to spare, Take the Space will also come and do this show for you…

That Is All You Need To Know, Greenwich Theatre 08 June

June 9, 2013



Ubiquitous image for this show

That Is All You Need To Know (which ran for 80 minutes or so; no interval) told the story of the Bletchley Park codebreakers and the parallel story of how enthusiasts struggled to preserve and restore the place in recent times.  I thought it was highly effective, making good use of projections and recorded extracts to establish time and place, and a rather more numerous than normal audience in the Greenwich Theatre agreed with me.

The main male characters (Hugh Alexander, Alan Turing, Gordon Welchman) were effectively characterised, although doubling of the female ones made them a bit less clear.  Many weighty themes were touched on lightly and skilfully–the fate of Alan Turing, for instance, or Gordon Welchman as being a kind of reflection of Oppenheimer–and I think the story of the preservation attempts showed that we were still confined within a frame of eternal England, rather than reducing it all to complete bathos, which it might easily have done.

I liked the fact that the contribution of the female wireless operators in intercepting and transcribing signals was recognised, and also that of the Poles in making initial breakthroughs and managing to pass on the necessary results and hardware.  I was disappointed that there was no real attempt to illustrate the regularities in the Enigma-induced mapping that allowed it to be broken–explain would have been too much to ask, but a couple of visuals might have done the trick–the thing at the beginning about Turing pedalling backwards once every twenty revolutions might have been an allusion, but that was about it.

Well worth seeing!

A Long Way Down (Nick Hornby)

March 22, 2013



This book, following the fortunes of four ill-assorted characters who decide to commit suicide by jumping from a tower block on New Year’s Eve and then don’t, provoked a storm of apathy among the members of Try Books!  Not that it was the first book to do so.

An attempt to decide whether the characters had really meant to commit suicide foundered on an inability to engage with them, or to believe in them in the first place.  You might say it was a good thing to show suicidal characters as unattractive and certainly unromantic, and their non-suicide as being just that–continuing to live in the same kind of broken and unsatisfactory way, without any revelation or reward, just living.  But the book really wasn’t well enough done to make these kind of points effectively.

There was a feeling that it resembled a young person’s book–certainly families appeared from the viewpoint of children-as-victims, while the ‘adult’ characters Martin and Maureen were rather as young people might see adulthood.   While the narrative consisted of sections from each of the four in turn, they all sounded rather like Nick Hornby and they all had a clear view of what was happening.  There was none of the disorders of thought or perception you might expect from the suicidal, or even the kind of misperceptions and missing information you might expect from people in general.

Of course the answer to the original question is that they weren’t really going to kill themselves and this was pointed up by encountering a genuine suicide on a rooftop reunion.

The thing quite often had the air of a stand-up comedian doing a set on the subject of suicide, and indeed some of the Nick Hornby jokes were very good Nick Hornby jokes.

Oh, Democracy! Theatro Technis 27 February

February 27, 2013


This was a musical adaptation of The Knights by Aristophanes, of which the original would have been pretty musical anyway.  There is a useful plot summary on Wikipedia–in brief, the People (Demos, an elderly householder) have been taken in by the Paphlagonian Slave (Athenian politician Cleon) and an even more shameless scoundrel–in the form of the Sausage Seller–is needed to save the day.

When I arrived, director George Eugeniou was telling someone that the previous evening’s first night had been something like a dress rehearsal; this was like being present at a workshop and only just managing to avoid taking part on occasions.  The audience were equal in number to the cast, and contained a certain number of claqueurs or at least people who hoped to appear in the show on a future occasion.

The idea of the production was that Europa was dominated by Paphlagoune, who had managed to hoodwink Demos (the people).  The advantage of this was that George Eugeniou could use actors who were not native English speakers without the usual incongruity, while the disadvantage was the lack of hatred and obscene innuendo directed at recognisable targets.   Indeed we Brits have the great advantage over our fellow Europeans that our leaders continue to engage in foreign wars out of cowardice and venality, a good Aristophanic theme that could not be used here.

I suppose it was all rather too genteel:  Marco Aponte was hardly shameless (more of your Italian diamond geezer) as the Sausage-Seller, while Jackie Skarvellis was a muted Cruella De Ville as Paphlagoune.  At least the fart jokes survived, and also provided the best of the song-and-dance numbers–in fact, I enjoyed those, even though the words could not always be distinguished.  And some of the bathetic contrast between fine words and the homely comforts  sufficient to win the heart of Demos worked as well.

Ellen Patterson impressed in the chorus–she could sing and dance, as well as looking pretty.

So why did I enjoy this?  I suppose it was the that workshop thing, the feeling We’re all in this together as someone once tried to claim.

See here for what I know of other Greek plays in London.

Later:  It took me 3 days to work out the Brexit joke (like Grexit–Greece leaving the Euro) and another two to decide it was daft since we’re not in the Euro.

A Russian Fairytale (with Q&A), Riverside Studios 31 January

February 1, 2013



Denis, Irina, Ksusha

The film followed the lives of a group of homeless young people in the city of Perm, beginning in Winter and ending in Summer, though it was difficult to see exactly what period it was since footage from different visits had been edited together.  They sniffed glue, they injected drugs, the girls turned tricks at 500R a time, Denis begged in the market…They also laughed and joked and hung out, while Kolya got to visit his family’s dacha, have lunch in the sunshine and swim in a lake.,

My own feeling was that if it had been done more competently it would have been unbearably moving, and even as it was there were many opportunities for tears.  My heart went out to the young women Irina and Ksusha because you could see what they would have been like–should have been like–in different circumstances.  Scenes like Irina going to see her mother in the hostel where she lived with her present ‘boyfriend’ and the mother shouting at her to go away, or Ksusha’s pregnancy test where she clearly had not the slightest resource if it proved positive–apart from a determination not to have an abortion–will be very difficult to forget.

There was a certain amount of the film telling you what to what to think, both in the titles at the beginning giving some over-simplified background information and in the music.  Also it was another of those situations where I knew a great deal more about the subject-matter (drug use and its effects; children in need; Russia) than the film-makers did, which as ever led to discomfort.  The shocking revelation at the end merely caused me a momentary spasm of fucking drug users.

The film was enthusiastically received by a large and predominantly young audience.  Nicolas Doldinger (co-director) said that they had wanted to make a film that dealt with an ugly situation in a beautiful and engaging way.  In answer to a question about whether the young people had been paid, Jake Mobbs (the other co-director) said that they had brought them bread and mayonnaise and lent them a mobile for emergency calls.  They didn’t actually know what their interviews were about until they took the film home and scraped together some money for translation.  The fact that the only rehab available was run by Evangelicals gave rise to a facile comment about this being merely a different form of addiction.   Jake Mobbs said there were plans to show the film in Perm, though there might be difficulties with the authorities.

So I’m left feeling a helpless horror that there should be such lives, and also that the film should have been better to do them justice.

The charity Love’s Bridge works with street youth and at-risk children in Perm.