Posts Tagged ‘Reviews’

Antigone/Lysistrata, Cambridge Arts Theatre 13 October

October 14, 2016



Set for Antigone (picture acquired from Twitter)

So this year’s Cambridge Greek Play (in Ancient Greek, with surtitles) was a double-bill of Antigone and LysistrataAntigone is these days as close to being unsinkable as a Greek play can be, while productions very often make a mess of Lysistrata by taking it literally–seriously, even.

Things turned out rather differently this time round.  Antigone displayed a fine collection  of the clichés that even the London stage has finally managed to just about rid itself of:  fences, barbed wire, battledress, battery-powered torches, submachine guns, men in suits…I closed my eyes and endured.  To be fair, it got better as the thing went on and they performers relied more on their native wits.  And there was a standout performance from counter-tenor Jack Hawkins as Teiresias with very beautiful counter-tenorial music too.  But why (for instance) did Antigone dart anxiously upstage and downstage when she was supposed to be processing towards her bridal tomb?

I would have given up and gone home at half-time but I didn’t want to disturb the couple of old dears who had me wedged in.  The young woman of East Asian heritage sitting on the other side of me asked whether this was it–I replied that there was another play to come, a comedy indeed.

Then we had Lysistrata done as a musical comedy, and very funny it was too.  This time, we had the standout performer (Natasha Cutler-a real musical comedy princess) in the title role, and that helped a lot of course.


ἀφεκτέα τοίνυν ἐστὶν ἡμῖν τοῦ πέους. (=it is necessary then for us to give up cock).

The audience also got to sing along with οὐδεὶς οὔτε μοιχὸς οὔτ᾽ ἀνήρ (line 212=no-one, neither lover nor husband), while the surtitles promised a Cambridge Scholarship in Classics for an explanation of the lion-on-a-cheesegrater position. (Line  231 οὐ στήσομαι λέαιν᾽ ἐπὶ τυροκνήστιδος = I won’t crouch down like the lioness on a cheesegrater. You’d better ask Simon Goldhill about that gender reassignment.)


No.  Not like that.  Not at all like that.  (Picture from Twitter.)

The pedant could of course cavil–once Boris Johnson and Donald Trump had appeared on stage they should have been properly savaged, especially in respect of diminutive and deformed genitalia, while a headless pig looking for David Cameron would have been a good Aristophanic joke. The famously…well, tedious…ball-of-wool metaphor was interpreted via interpretive dance, when one thing it certainly recommends is favourable treatment of useful foreigners–surely an opportunity for further kicking of the Brexit-Trump gang. You can also ask whether a production largely attended by pupils of fee-paying schools could ever permit itself proper Aristophanic obscenity…

The Silence Of The Sea, Trafalgar Studios 12 January

January 13, 2013


This play–let’s not worry about the original novella by Jean Bruller, alias Vercors–is set in Occupied France during World War II.  Very probably.  Most of the time.  But sometimes the characters refer with poetic vagueness to ‘this country’, ‘foreign soldiers’ and the like, so maybe you’re not meant to be so sure.

The basic idea is that an old man and his niece have had a German officer billeted on them.  They settle down into Survive Unwanted Meeting mode and refuse to speak to him.  I could certainly sympathise, because I was in SUM mode as well, and was rationing myself to one glance at my watch every quarter-hour or so.

The soldier (Leo Bill) addressed the other two and of course got no answer.  The uncle (Finbar Lynch) addressed the audience (or himself), and in a bit of an Irish accent as well.  The niece (Simona Bitmaté) didn’t get to say anything until the very end, but did a lot of miming.

At the beginning, she mimed opening the shutters (lighting effect), opening the piano (sound effect of piano lid), playing the piano  (sound effect of piano playing), and then the uncle carried the piano stool right through where the piano was meant to be.  (I guess that may have been a scene change.)

There were many of these kinds of inconsistencies in 90 minutes’ worth of sparse text.  On the one hand, the old man seemed to be some kind of simpleton isolated from the realities of normal life, while on the other he discoursed knowledgeably about classical composers (while being unable to pronounce the names of the French ones correctly).  The German officer similarly couldn’t manage simple German words like das Meer, but at least we were saved from comedy foreign accents.  The old man managed to buy pieces of fish that then required gutting.  The local village (presumably on the Atlantic coast) apparently featured an abandoned synagogue, which seemed a bit unlikely also…

Now this may all have been meant to evoke a sense of dislocation and numbness, in the style of Kurt Vonnegut and Flann O’Brien, all of a piece with the strategy of denying the invaders beauty, comfort and piano-playing–but it just irritated me.  Similarly the officer’s speeches were probably meant to show him drowning in ghastliness as he became aware of it.

Perhaps even the way we were charged £ 3-00 for the Internet booking system that sold tickets for seats that were not available was calculated to the same end, like the waiter on the officer’s Paris jaunt deliberately mixing everything up.

It got a bit more interesting at the end, where something actually happened…

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.

Fiona Shaw Does The Police In Different Voices

January 3, 2010

The Waste Land Wilton’s Music Hall 03 January (Afternoon Performance)


It was on in New York, so it must be good...

A capacity crowd crammed into an extra performance of The Waste Land as monodrama, and for the first time in my visits there the derelict state of the venue was an important part of the experience.

Fiona Shaw appeared wearing the apparel of a female academic of a certain age (jeans, warm sweater, scarf) and we began, on a suitably bare stage.  From time to time (as in A Game of Chess) a spotlight threw a giant silhouette on the rear wall.

At the beginning, I was having my doubts about the enterprise–Miss Shaw was determined to display all of her actorly wares and the combination of her Irish accent (meaning that she rhotacistically pronounced her ‘r’s at the end of English words) and principled distaste for foreign languages (which meant that she didn’t pronounce her ‘r’s at the end of German words) was rather unsettling–Italian and (more surprisingly) French were treated with equal disdain.

And she sang as well–but at least didn’t attempt the helmsman’s song from Tristan und Isolde.

Surely if you take


in capitals as meaning you have to shout, then (for instance)

Poi s’ascose nel foco che gli affina

in italics ought to sound like Italian?  It also sounded like we had Phlebus the Phoenician (not Phlebas), and I’m not sure I’d have caught all of the words if I’d not known what they were already.

But The Fire Sermon and What the Thunder Said worked their anticipated magic, and I strode off to Tower Gateway happy enough with my afternoon’s entertainment.

Eliot vs Shaw

I’ve now had a listen to my recording of  T S Eliot reading The Waste Land, and there are some interesting findings.  Eliot (who reads or recites rather slowly) takes 25 minutes, as against 35 minutes for Shaw.  His style is incantatory-bleating, with the stresses carefully marked and a tendency to bleat when the line ends with an unstressed syllable, as against actress-showy for Shaw.  He shows no tendency to rhotacism (must have painstakingly eliminated it over the years), and in general the foreign insertions sound as though he knows how they ought to be, but he’s making concessions for an English-speaking audience.  And he pronounces ‘clairvoyante’ French-style, which is what you’d expect with that ‘e’ on the end.

He doesn’t sing, but his jug-jug-jug does sound like a nightingale.  He doesn’t shout HURRY UP PLEASE IT’S TIME, but this section is where the comparison is most in Shaw’s favour.

In all, and leaving aside differences in knowledge of foreign languages, the basic contrast is that Eliot is trying to make it all sound like a unified whole, while Shaw emphasises the differences of the different voices.

So perhaps the logical answer would be for Miss Shaw to do one of the earlier versions–with more contrasted dramatic monologues and less pretence of unity–of what was originally called He Do The Police In Different Voices.