Posts Tagged ‘theatre’

Voices from Chernobyl, Brockley Jack 2 May

May 3, 2017

****

chernobyl

Picture from Tenere Arte Facebook page

This adaptation of the book by Svetlana Alexievich lasted 60 minutes straight through without an interval and contained a great deal of material in that time. It was presented in the devised theatre style (think Belarus Free Theatre) in both English and Russian–the Russian was normally translated by an other actor or back-projected, but the normal Russian chaos was just repeated.

It benefited from a very strong cast of both English- and Russian-speaking actors, and a previous outing at the Cockpit meant that everyone knew their lines (well, I can think of one minor exception).  The final scene delivered by Kim Christie as the newlywed wife of a firefighter dying from the effects of radiation was extremely affecting and marked by a wonderful sense of restraint…

..but…

the thing about the lies she had to think up to see her husband (two children already, certainly not pregnant) really went by very quickly if you didn’t know the source text and it’s important because it reflects the relation of the individual and the State which found its final expression in Chernobyl.  I think the devised theatre kind of thing tends to to become a documentary rather than a drama, and we could have done with seeing more of fewer characters.  I think that the points that Alexievich was trying to make about the uniqueness of the Soviet experiment, Chernobyl as a rent in the fabric of reality and even as an attack on Belarus rather went missing.

What could you do with them in 60 minutes?  Well start off with what you want to say and shape your narratives to achieve that, which I think is what Alexievich did.

Certainly well worth seeing and thinking about!

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Crime and Punishment, Brockley Jack 8 February

February 8, 2017

****

At the end of this second preview, which played to a full house, the actor playing Raskolnikov (Christopher Tester) asked audience members to say something nice about the show on social media, or indeed in real life.

We are happy to oblige.  As a text, this was an excellent adaptation, which embodied the bright idea of getting to the basics of the characters and their story and the author’s intentions and reconstructing that from the ground up as a play.

I thought that both Christopher Tester and Stephen MacNeice (who played Pofiry Petrovich, Marmeladov, and a couple of other characters) were excellent.  We had a harried, ratty, unEnglish Raskolnikov and a Porfiry Petrovich who for once did not bore me to death.  His Marmeladov was impressive in letting you find the degradation, not drowning you with it.  I also thought that Christina Bastion was just too posh as Sonya-we are given to understand that she can read only with some difficulty and she looks up to Raskolnikov as an educated man–and as the pawnbroker Alyona, who also turned out to be Scottish.

But the production moved forward vigorously with clearly-delineated characterisations and a few well-chosen props.  And the well-worn scene where Sonya and Raskilnikov read the Bible together really got to me…

There is a video trailer here, but I’d say the show is better than it suggests.

 

 

 

 

 

Prometheus Bound, Greenwood Theatre 1430 8 February

February 8, 2017

**

prometheus

At the end:  chorus–Prometheus–Io

Prometheus Bound certainly made an interesting choice for this year’s KCL Greek Play in Greek.  One question is whether it actually is a play or merely a scene-setting for following parts of a trilogy.  Nothing much happens apart from various characters coming to sympathise with or talk sense into Prometheus and him referring to the injustices he has suffered and the dark secret he knows.

I remember a production at the Soho Theatre where the clientele were expected to be satisfied by a combination of the manly heaving of the hero’s bare breast and chains.  Lots of chains.  But here it wasn’t quite like that.  We had a female Prometheus, and Oceanus, and whichever it is of Force and Violence that doesn’t actually say anything.

More generally, I’m afraid that there was no sign of a solution to the severe problems posed by staging this piece.  It started off with projections of various modern figures, especially Donald Trump, and you could see how Prometheus might be a kind of Nelson Mandela in captivity, but his captors needed him more than he needed them.  Or Trotsky perhaps, who thought he had the earth-shaking prophecy and was a prisoner to his own well-founded fears. But nothing came of this possible line of thought.

Rather than being chained to a cliff with a wedge through her chest, our Prometheus had to top of a table to call her own.  For some reason sound effects and lianas suggested that this was in the jungle somewhere.  Loud sound effects meant you couldn’t hear what was being said, though the Greek verse sounded to be spoken competently enough.  At the end, Prometheus’s final defiance got lost in underwhelming stroboscopic effects..

On the positive side, the entrance of the chorus was effective, as were some of their choreographed moves.  Likewise for Io’s entry and exit, though I’m afraid she did rather remind me of the domovoy from Morphine.  And indeed there were similar surtitling issues, with lots of text appearing some time after the event.

If you ask what I would have done–well, have a much larger chorus and have them sing and dance.  In fact, have them on stage the whole time and have them  hold up the surtitles on placards, to give the idea of a debate of some importance not people  coming on stage and exchanging words about mouldy mythology…But making something out of Prometheus Bound would be difficult with the best performers and technical resources in the world…

 

 

 

 

 

Morphine, Etcetera Theatre 7 February

February 8, 2017

**

morphine

Picture from Anna Denshina’s Twitter feed

So let’s think–what problems might there be with staging Bulgakov’s ‘Morphine’, about a country doctor who falls victim to…err…morphine? Well, putting a non-dramatic work on the stage is always problematic–if the author had wanted to write a play he’d have done things differently. And especially in a case like the present, where the original text is in the first person and reflects the hero’s diseased apprehension of reality more than actual happenings between people. The latter is where you need to have things in a play. Here we also have some more objective narration from ‘Notes of a young doctor’ brought in to set the scene as well.

That said, the show combined the Russian tradition of having music in lots of places where you don’t want it with the English one of having characters shuffle on, deliver their lines through a mask of embarrassment, and then shuffle of again. The cast members showed various levels of comfort with appearing on stage and the Russian language…that said, I thought that Anna Danshina put in a good and affecting performance as the love interest called Anna.

There were also sutitling issues–the surtitles contained a lot of text at one go and tended to catch up after the event.  But I suspect the proportion of the audience who neither knew Russian nor the storyline of ‘Morphine’ was rather small…

Hamlet, Bread and Roses 29 September

September 30, 2016

****

 

hamlets

Hamlets, father and son

 

I enjoyed my trip to Clapham to see a sensibly slimmed-down version of Hamlet that also included a song from Cymbeline interpolated.  In true Shakespearean style we had an all-male company entering and exiting by the door of an upstairs bar to play on a stage erected at one end of the room; a strategically-placed curtain led me to expect Polonius to be stabbed through it, but that was not to be.

I thought that Benjamin Way’s mercurial and mood-shifting (but not mad) Hamlet was very good, and I also enjoyed the Queen Gertrude of Lee Peck.  The production kept the action moving and was as promised crystal-clear. At times I thought we might be going in a different direction with Hamlet just Hamlet and his rages and reveries and the rest orbiting distantly around him; but that was not to be either.

During the interval Claudius was anxiously checking his smartphone and behind me the young people were keen to see who had got whom on Tinder and Plenty of Fish; but maybe these were not connected.

When I was a young, I was tormented by the characters’ names clearly not being Danish–apart from Gertrude. Last night, that was still worrying me-the back of the Signet edition says that the story comes from one Saxo Grammaticus who had Feng instead of Claudius, Gerutha for Gertrude and no names for the rest.   It also occurred to me for the first time that if you took away the poetry [laughs bitterly], the story with its rain, death, cold, death, infidelity, death, treachery, poison, death, muddy graves, regrettable gravedigger jokes, rats, cold wet death and so on could be typically Danish.   But the willow grows aslant a brook is surely nowhere else but Warwickshire…

See here for a video clip from a performance in Norway.

Three Irish Classics, Pentameters Theatre 23 August

August 26, 2015

*****/**/***

'Riders to the Sea' from irish-theatre.com

‘Riders to the Sea’ from irish-theatre.com

I was somewhat daunted by my first visit to Hampstead this millennium, with the climb up the hill once I had scrambled off the bus and the shops with their signs in Hampstead-French.  But the young couples on the pavements seemed to be talking German to each other.

But once I had found the pub and climbed up some stairs, I was reassured by the welcome from producer Léonie Scott-Matthews and her charming assistants, not to mention the pleasingly mismatched seating.

Of the three pieces that made up 65 minutes’ running time, Riders to the Sea (J. M. Synge) was the first and best, and Maura’s despair struck home with me:

Michael has a clean burial in the far north, by the grace of the Almighty God.  Bartley will have a fine coffin out of the the white boards surely…What more can we want than that?

The Pot of Broth, by W. B. Yeats, was a peasant farce where the tramp hero had undergone gender reassignment and the plot recycled the good old nail stoop story.  Perhaps the tramp’s imaginings could have been given more space to breathe and the host and hostess changed their minds less easily.

Finally, The Travelling Man by Lady Gregory (in fact, both of these two were more like collaborations between her and Yeats) got a little stuck between being a much shorter Playboy of the Western World and a Biblical parallel. Again, the mother passed a little too matter-of-factly from ejecting the Traveller to despair on realising she had lost the King of the World.

Definitely an experience worth ascending the Golden Mountain of Hampstead for.

I sit through one part of the Almeida ‘Oresteia’: Facebook exchanges and other reflections

August 25, 2015
Iphigeneia clutches her teddy-bear

Iphigenia clutches her teddy-bear

Have invested in a half-price ticket for the Almeida’s five-star, critically-acclaimed, award-winning *chorusless* Oresteia. That may turn out to have been a brave decision…

Brave? How about reckless?

With Greek drama, the first and main question is what they have done with the chorus.  If they’ve just left it out, the only thing is to stay away.  I knew that perfectly well.  But I was curious.

The portion I succeeded in sitting through was misguided in the way I expected, but rather more inept. The remaining 2/3 *may* have been wonderful, But I somehow doubt it. Let’s hope for better luck with ‘Tamburlaine’ tomorrow!

oh dear!

the first bit of the Oresteia is usually the best! I have a ticket for 19th September frown emoticon

The first part here is more like the adapter’s ruminations on ‘Iphigeneia in Aulis’, so his ‘Agamemnon’ may follow after. I was in a very small minority with my views here, so you will soon be able to judge between me and the rest of the world. Call me Antigone…or an old man with wrinkled female dugs…or Cassandra would be quite appropriate…

so the first third still hasn’t reached Agamemnon? that doesn’t sound good

No it was Iphigenia in Aulis, but different. **SPOILER** Iphigenia is not a young woman of marriageable age by the rather regrettable Greek standards, able to understand and comment on what she is suffering, but a primary-school-age girl who is chemically put down without knowing the first thing about it…

The whole point about Greek tragedy, indeed Greek literature in general, is that you suffer the most terrible things, but you are able to see them, to understand them, and to react to them in words.  The deliberate unmerited killing of a young woman who has the agency to understand, react and express is the extremity of human evil while it is still human.  Putting down an unaware little girl like an unwanted dog is something very different and much, much worse–the kind of punishment the divinity will inflict on you for the first misdeed.

It is hard to imagine that a random person plucked off the street could react with words so inadequate if he found himself in Agamemnon’s position.  Some poetry–even the poetry of pauses–is obligatory.  What we had here might at best pass for some also-ran Ibsen in the hands of a third-rate translator.

oooh well I think I will just close my eyes for now and hope it is all better than I am imagining it!

Closing your eyes won’t help you with Clytaemnestra’s Samantha-Cameron-style mockney accent. But–who knows!–there may be a Cassandra and she may rave & rage like no Cassandra has ever done before…

Sam Cam as Clytemnestra! sacrilege! Though there is the germ of a good idea if we could get her an axe …

It was Blair who deserved an axe.  Cameron is more of an Aegisthus.

Actually, if you don’t come handicapped by knowledge of Greek drama, or modern theatrical practice, and you go to a matinee so that you don’t have a pressing need to go home for your tea and some chores, this may be a perfectly acceptable way of spending some time.  

It apparently enjoyed some success in North London.  

There’s a ticket offer on the Almeida site here and the Leicester Square booth may well have tickets on the day; Theatremonkey may also have some offers.

Leonce and Lena, Brockley Jack 18 August

August 19, 2015

***

leonce

Very nice people at the Brockley Jack, as I’ve said before.  The scampi smelled lovely and in the theatre they had new seating–the bench in front of the tech box is no more.

The idea of Leonce and Lena is that the betrothed but unacquainted prince and princess of neighbouring microkingdoms separately run away to escape their marriage but meet anyway and get married in the guise of automata.  As such, it seems to be about the expectations of the great world confining poor bare unaccommodated man who would writhe like a grub if he were Wozzeck, and subjecting the former to merciless satire.

I think it requires hordes of absurdly identical courtiers, subjects and so on to make its point, while here we had gender-blind doubling of roles and an adaptation that seeks to give more agency to Lena where the original failed to fully realize her character, which is making a rather different point.

Among the actors, the standout was Sam Adamson as a supercharged courtier Valerio, while our Leonce acted well but wasn’t always too sure of his lines.  As for the production–what you would expect from a fairytale satire or satirical fairytale is surely ludicrous exaggeration, and we didn’t get that here.  The keynote was more like restrained and decorous, which I would say is hardly the thing.

The show is certainly worth seeing if you’ve heard of the play and wonder what it’s about, or if you know someone in the cast of course…I’m not sure about wider appeal.

That bench was actually quite useful–you could put your stuff next to you and not have to search for it on the floor at the end.

The Playboy of the Western World, Southwark Playhouse 1530 15 August

August 15, 2015

****

A picture I found on Twitter (they're watching Christy Mahon win the races)

A picture I found on Twitter (they’re watching Christy Mahon win the races)

Some providential urging led me to read the text before going to see this matinee show, and so I thoroughly enjoyed it.  Otherwise it would have been very difficult to follow what was going on, as various cast members struggled with their Irish accents.  In fact, at the beginning our Pegeen Mike was totally incomprehensible as she delivered her lines facing away from the audience. On other occasions, she would start off speaking quite clearly and then unfortunately remember the Irish accent, which was all the more unfortunate as she played the part very well (but could have given the desperation more space to breathe in the famous last lines:  Oh my grief I’ve lost him entirely.  I’ve lost the only playboy of the western world).

You know what happens in PBWW–Christy Mahon is first of all a hero when he has killed his father, then he loses favour (especially with Pegeen Mike) when it seems he hasn’t, and then at the end maybe he’s a hero again.  So in theory it’s a satire on the mores of rural Ireland, but here the effect was more Shakespearean, with heartstoppingly beautiful poetry accompanied  by unconvincing funny business.

The production was in general lucid enough, though some things worried me. The infamous loy which Christy brains his father was played by a wooden mock-up of a peat-cutting spade.

Peat-cutting tool

Peat-cutting tool

Loy

Loy

Christy Mahon apparently arrived in his stockinged feet, but then his boots mysteriously appeared overnight for the village girls to wonder at. These may be ways of reflecting deliberate absurdities in Synge’s text, and that may also be why our Widow Quin was played with great urbanity and in imperial purple, but combining effortful Irish accents with the English (incorrect) pronunciation of ‘Bridget’ is very strange…Christy Mahon’s interlude of playing the ‘loy’ like an electric guitar made me wonder whether director Polina Kalinina had been thinking of making him into a Khlestyakov and then abandoned the idea…More seriously, perhaps, at the end I still had no idea of the relationship between Christy and Old Mahon.

So what should you do about the accents?  The Irish audience that Synge wrote for will hardly have heard the speech of a different nation, while it would make no sense to deliver the various Irish constructions, Whishts, and phonetically-written-out divil, kidnabbed and so on in RP.  The sensible thing would be to adopt the speech of Irish people who have lived in England for some time–so that you realise that they’re Irish and then forget about it–which is perhaps the way the Irish cast members would naturally speak anyway.

But very much worth seeing all the same!  (Keep clear of the lighting desk for fear of extraneous commentary.)

That looks interesting…

August 14, 2015

Playboy of the WesternWorld P-314

 

Below I list things I have come across and which I ought to remember to do something about:

Three Irish Classics (Riders to the Sea, The Pot of Broth, The Travelling Man) Pentameters Theatre  11-30 August

The Playboy of the Western World Southwark Playhouse, 12-29 August.

Leonce and Lena  Brockley Jack, 18-29 August.

Tamburlaine the Great Tristan Bates Theatre, 25 August-12 September.

The Bald Prima Donna  Cockpit Theatre  26-30 August.

Lunchtime Concert from the Academic Student Choir of the Ural Federal University St-Sepulchre-without-Newgate 2 September.

Filumena (Eduardo De Filippo), Drayton Arms Theatre 6 September to 18 September.

The Way to Ukraine: journalist Sarah Hurst talks about and shows excerpts from her new film on the Russian citizens abandoning Russia for Ukraine, Pushkin House 10 September.

The Colour of Money: Falciani’s Tax Bomb Barbican Cinema 14 September

The Cocktail Party, Print Room at the Coronet, 14 September to 10 October.

Volpone Brockley Jack 29 September to 17 October.

What’s So Special About The Third Sector?  Ye Olde Watling 13 October.

Сердце Пармы (Алексей Иванов)

Ложится мгла на старые ступени (Александр Чудаков)

Здесь был Рим (Виктор Сонькин)

Лавр (Евгений Водолазкин)