Posts Tagged ‘White Bear’

School for Wives, White Bear 07 March

March 8, 2013



Dress rehearsal picture from Mercurius site

The School for Wives has the typical old fool and young wife plot, except here he’s bought her at a very tender age and  brought her up to be stupid and innocent.  But of course young love triumphs.  Moliere even wrote it at about the time he married Armande Bejart, twenty years younger than himself, and it gave him his first big success.

This updating by Neil Bartlett frequently had a packed house helpless with laughter, and Tom Barratt as Arnold [formerly Arnolphe] used the proximity of the audience very effectively in some nearly-unhinged monologues.  The centre of interest here was certainly the discomfiture and even disintegration of  Arnold, rather than the young lovers’ troublesome path to a happy ending.

The adaptation was very good and rhymed a satisfying number of times, while the production (director Jenny Eastop) was clear and direct and made very good use of the White Bear space.  I enjoyed many incidental felicities, such as the servant Alan [Alain] becoming a truculent but mercenary Scotsman and the turn by Stephen Good at the beginning as a very upper-class Chrysalde [no change of name].  While the other servant Georgette got to keep her name, and a French maid’s outfit as well.  Also the jeune premier Jonathon Reid was very fetching in red trousers…

This blog urges you to go along to the White Bear and have a very good time at this show.

Bel-Ami White Bear 17 July

July 17, 2011


I had a friend once who advised me not to earn my living as a gigolo in Paris.  I took his advice.  He, on the other hand, got a job in corporate finance and married a Frenchwoman. ..He would have fitted in well in this musical adaptation of the novel by Guy de Maupassant.

The story of Bel-Ami is of an ambitious young lad from the provinces who rises to the top in the murky world of journalism through being of service to women.   I thought it worked well as a musical, and the music (by Joe Evans, who also played the keyboards) was a lot better than I expected; I also liked the way the other instrumental parts were played by members of the cast.

The cast were uniformly strong, though they hadn’t yet necessarily all quite mastered their lines.  Gary Tushaw had true naughty boy charm as Bel-Ami, while for me the best performance came from Penelope Dudley as the conflicted older woman Madame Walther who betrays her husband’s secrets to Bel-Ami and ends up pimping her daughter to him in an attempt to keep him.

The production was both imaginative and lucid, though given the constraints of the form the love intrigues came through more clearly than the political ones.  There was a nice elegant set that easily suggested a bar, the interior of rich people’s homes, and several other locales as well.

I’m not sure that the production quite decided on its approach to the story–a gay acceptance of “Fortune’s a whore, and so are we” would have been the natural thing in a musical, but there were traces of moralising.  The singing was of variable quality–in particular, there was a song that came round twice about SOMETHING being a bitch that poisoned the moonlight, but WHAT it was I still don’t know.  If you don’t trust yourself to say ‘Sharl’ in place of ‘Charles’, then say ‘Charles’–‘Sharlz’ is the worst of both worlds.

Englishwomen (even regrettably Englishwomen who work as actresses) tend to have an ineradicable well-scrubbed wholesome quality that only becomes more pronounced the more kit they take off, so having the female characters adopting basques and luscious kimono-style dressing-gowns as their indoor wear didn’t really do it for me in suggesting how corrupt and sinful they were.

But enough of these reservations!  This is a highly enjoyable show, and well worth seeing.

Update 25 July  Two commentators below who have been more recently say the show is rotten and well worth avoiding.

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.

More Greek Drama in London 2010

May 3, 2010

Picture of Euripides

I’ve come across the following items in updating my bookmarks.

The White Bear in Kennington will be performing Euripides’ Hippolytus from 18 May to 13 June; details here.  Interestingly enough, the Blue Elephant in Camberwell, which is about a mile away, also did Hippolytus a year or so ago. And that was strangely reminiscent of a production of Mikhail Bulgakov’s ‘Heart of a Dog’ in the same venue (under a different name) fifteen years previously.  Maybe this means that compulsive celibacy is of urgent interest for us inhabitants of South London.

The Bridewell will be doing a kind-of-Medea from 29 August to 4 September; they certainly did a Japanesey Medea of it 3 or 4 years ago, and there may have been others in the interim.

The Young Vic are advertising a free Elektra from 23 June to 3 July; perhaps free Elektra  means that Anne Carson, who is supposed to be doing the translation, has disappeared into the Canadian backwoods with her fee.

Theatro Technis are advertising a series of workshops on Greek theatre (see left-hand column) from 13 June to 8 August.  But maybe that was last year!  I’ve now had an email from them saying:

The workshops have now finished. We are at present concetrating on the 5 plays on the Oedipus saga. We presented Seven Against Thebes by Aeschylus ain April nd we are now auditioning for The Phoenician Women by Euripides to be performed at the end of June.

The Double (after Dostoevsky) White Bear Theatre 21 March

March 21, 2010


Picture from Theatre 6 Facebook page

I feel guilty about not liking this more, because in many ways it was very well done and the good ideas exhibited by the director and adaptor Kate McGregor deserve encouragement.  But there were just too many of these good ideas to fit into the time and space available–the rolling doorframes needed to be moved round lots of time and the live music played by members of what was clearly a very gifted cast was just too loud.  And the lamps raised and lowered to show who was at work, the stellazh of candles at the back, the frequent scene changes and rearrangement of props–it was all too much…

I wonder if Kate McGregor as director had really managed to extract the dramatic essence of the source novella–the idea is that the Petersburg clerk Golyadkin has been  behaving a bit oddly and suffered a bit of a setback in both love and career, when another Golyadkin appears and takes over his existence.  So is he mad or is there really a double at work?

The Petersburg point is important–the city has (has always had) the air of a giant theatrical set, indeed of an unconvincing attempt to overlay European order on primeval Russian chaos, and it’s also bloody foggy, so it’s quite easy to see things that aren’t there. Hence or otherwise, Gogol and Dostoevsky (and indeed Pushkin) set a particular type of grimly fanntastic narrative there.

But there was no trace of this here–the action was all too present and real.  Kate McGregor’s production notes attempted to draw a parallel between the novella and Dostoevsky’s own fate when the radical group he belonged to as a young man was infiltrated by the organs of state security, but what struck me was that the ‘real’ Golyadkin of  Ben Galpin looked very like the young Nikolai Gogol, while Freddie Machin as the surrogate (or hallucination) had the look of Dostoevsky himself as a young man.

And they played their parts very well, as did the rest of the cast.  And those who played instruments also played very well.  But we just needed less–less in the text to start off with, and then less on the stage.

A Yorkshire Tragedy White Bear 14 January

January 14, 2010


Picture from

At the beginning, someone (from the photos on the programme it was Tobias Deacon) appeared to say we should turn our mobile phones off, this was a short play of 10 scenes originally ascribed (on the title page of the first publication) to Shakespeare, and that familicide was defined as killing one’s partner and children and 96% of cases in the UK had a male perpetrator.

So the story is simple enough: the Husband is in debt due to carousing, gambling etc and when pressed for payment attempts to murder his loving and dutiful wife and innocent sons (in fact he only manages to despatch two of the three sons–his wife recovers and he never gets to the third son), while at the end the wife is reconciled–the husband says he is now free from demonic possession–the wife unsuccessfully pleads for mercy on him.

The two basic problems here were that the parts were underwritten–the reconciliation scene might have come off with some real poetry–and the part of the Husband was seriously underplayed by Lachlan Nieboer.  Instead of demonic possession or alcoholic psychosis he suggested controlled irritation, whereas Charlotte Powell as The Wife did a very good job within the limits of the lines she was given.

Picture from

At the end, there were voice-overs suggesting parallels with some distressing recent cases, but again this was insufficiently prepared: the psychological basis of these cases seems to be the perversion of a loving father’s desire to protect his family, rather than a grudge against the world and bad temper.

The Japanese-style forest-influenced set featured pieces of bark on the floor, stylised branches on the rear wall, Brecht-style titles for the various locales and some grey steel boxes; and that was all quite interesting and could probably be recycled for a better play.

There’s an interesting Wikipedia article with some useful further links here.

Madness in Valencia White Bear Kennington 30 August 2009

August 30, 2009



This was a translation of ‘Los locos de Valencia’ by Lope de Vega.

To start with, we saw the author (or madman Martin) revising the play in a cage while leaning on the madman Tomas. Then someone came on to announce that Fedra had damaged her leg so would have an extra prop in the form of a stick to play with.

And so we begin. We are in Valencia and Floriano appears in a panic having killed a Prince Reinero in a quarrel over a lady in Saragossa. He begs his friend Valerio to save him. Valerio suggests that he hides in the madhouse. Some mildly amusing exchanges with Tomas and Martin, a pair of inmates, ensue.

Then Erifilia (a young woman of the nobility) appears together with Leonato, her servant. They have eloped and Erifilia praises Valencia as a city for lovers.  Leonato robs Erifilia of  all her possessions and then runs off.  She is admitted to the madhouse, faute de mieux.

The administrator’s niece Fedra (green band) and her servant Laida (purple band) fall in love with Floriano, because he’s so good-looking.  Floriano is quite keen on Fedra (if also mad), until Erifilia enters, weighed down by a great burden of beauty.  They fall in love with each other to the accompaniment of philosophical speeches.  Laida imitates madness to attract Floriano’s sympathy and Fedra (with some vigorous hopping) imitates Laida imitating madness.  Valerio falls in love with Erifilia too and decides he is her cousin and will take her home.

Meanwhile Doctor Pisano has been doing an agreeably louche turn.  His cousin, an agent of law and order, appears with a portrait of Floriano.  Floriano and Erifilia engage in some noisy bits of business to persuade him it’s not him.

Fedra is still mad.  Her uncle the administrator is worried.

At the interval, Pisano elicited suggestions from the audience as to what to do with Fedra.  Some tender-hearted people suggested ‘tea’ and ‘TLC’, while I put forward ‘chlorpromazine’.

So the action restarts.  All agree that Floriano must ‘pretend’ to marry Erifilia to preserve her sanity.  Floriano agrees because the alternative is begging in the streets in honour of Shrove Tuesday and Erifilia is not unnaturally upset and goes off with Valerio.

The others attract the attention of a visiting nobleman while begging; Pisano invites him to the madhouse wedding.  Floriano and Fedra are about to be wed when Erifilia rushes in saying she can’t do it she loves only him etc.  In the ensuing confusion, the visiting nobleman turns out t0 be Prince Reinero, not dead only resting while his page lies in the grave.  Floriano and Erifilia are married, then Valerio says he will marry Fedra as long as she’s not mad only crippled and she says she was only pretending.  Exeunt omnes, apart from Laida who remains unprovided for.  So she calls them all back and they do it again da capo, except this time Reinero has a servant to marry her.

William Belchambers as Floriano was convincing after a bit of an uncertain start and Kathryn Beaumont’s Erifilia really was unbelievably beautiful as demanded by the text but unfortunately waved her arms about rather a lot; and Jonathan Christie as Valerio left a suitably ambiguous impression.

The play was fun and I laughed several times.  As translated, there was no poetry that made any impression and the pseudophilosophical bollocks exchanged by Floriano and Erifilia was just bollocks as opposed to leaving you wondering as in Shakespeare (or Calderon or Victor Pelevin).

But whatevs.  The men’s toilets in the White Bear were more reputable than they used to be, if still not exactly good.

There’s a facsimile of some old edition of the Spanish play to be found here.