Posts Tagged ‘Young Vic’

Trash Cuisine, Young Vic 1 June

June 2, 2013
Picture from sponsume

Picture from sponsume

I went along to this preview of the new show from  Belarus Free Theatre out of curiosity rather than expecting I was going to like it.

The first thing to say is that it was in the nature of a franchise, since the cast certainly included non-Belarusian actors who got to play the main (speaking!) parts.   The piece itself proceeded in the familiar devised show fashion.

To start with, an introduction from a seedy compere promised us a tour of the world’s culinary delights, especially those involving meat.  Then two women, apparently of East Asian and African background respectively, sung operatically a scene from Richard III before eating strawberries and cream in the guise of a Thai and a Belarusian executioner….Later on, the cast disposed as a cabaret audience lip-synched an account by Clive Stafford-Smith of an execution he had failed to prevent…

After that, a scene of a nervous impressionist doing different methods of execution was rather effective.  Towards the end, Russian and Belarusian began to break in, and there followed the story of Vladislav Kovalev (executed for terrorism in 2012) with family photos projected on the back wall and movingly concluding with a Belarusian folk song.

Then a massacre of onions.

And my reaction was the same as last time:  you need to stick at something you know long enough for the story to twist round and draw the audience in.  Also if you attach what you are trying to say to the details of a particular episode it is too easy for the audience to hold it at a distance:  We did not do that.  There are surely two ways of opposing evil by way of theatre:  try to change the audience so that they are less capable of evil,  or you can let them go on thinking they are fine but rouse their indignation at what other people do.

I think the second was being attempted here, but there were too many and disparate other people for it to be effective.   In the final analysis, it was neither a universal history of infamy nor a tract about capital punishment, since we had episodes concerning Liam Holden (who was certainly brutalised, but not executed) and the Rwandan genocide, which hardly counts as a judicial proceeding.

As for the culinary devices:

London is full of chickens on electric spits,
Cooking in windows where the public pass.
This, say the chickens, is their Auschwitz,
And all poultry eaters are psychopaths.

Well, no, not really…

And see here for what I know about Russian plays in London.

Minsk, 2011 A Reply To Kathy Acker, Young Vic 16 June

June 16, 2012


Another show I would have liked to like but couldn’t.

At the beginning, the ushers repeated No filming, no photography very insistently presumably to get us into the mood for state repression.  Then there followed a number of scenes illustrating life in Minsk:  arrest of peaceful demonstrators, official approval of an erotic dance routine, and explosion on the Metro and blood mixed with sugar, a workers’ canteen by day becoming a wild nightclub by night, the river Nemiga and its associated street (like the Fleet River in London), the sexiness of scars and how the speaker got them, Katya who wanted to avoid sex while being an erotic dancer and dies of anorexia.  That last one sounded quite Kathy Acker, but most of it was sub Vladimir Sorokin.  The argument about the authoritarian regime repressing sex which meant that everything became sexy was never really made–at least not so that I understood it–and I thought the thing fell between two stools.  On the one hand, the scenes weren’t sharply defined enough to make up a brightly-coloured mosaic–the actors were also guilty of mumbling at each other and relying on the audience reading the surtitles–while you didn’t find out enough about for instance Katya to engage with her either.

At the end, the cast recounted their own experiences from 2011 and sang a Belarusian folk song.  That was good, and moving.  And after that there followed the ‘Please put money in the bucket’ speech, traditional for British theatre and surely much more urgent here.

A special message from Belarus Free Theatre:

“We wanted to share with all of you who came to see our performance of Minsk 2011: A Reply to Kathy Acker that all of our actors and team managed to get back to Belarus by different flights and trains and will get together this week to start to perform underground in Minsk.

Every night I came on stage to ask for your help so that we could continue to perform for underground Belarusian audiences. Your generous donations to our bucket collection will allow us to perform in Belarus for an entire month. We can’t wait to come back to you, to perform for you and hear your great applause that inspired us and gives us the strength to perform in the last dictatorship of Europe.”

Natalia Kaliada and Nicolai Khalezin, Founding Co-Artistic Directors of the Belarus Free Theatre

Government Inspector Young Vic 16 June

June 16, 2011


Picture from

There were two main things this production lacked for me.  It was  an opera–in fact, an archetypal ENO staging–without music or without enough music anyway.  It was also  Gogol’ without the  tacky vulgarity raised to the status of existential horror (poshlost’ in a word), and that poshlost’ spread thinly over a vacuum that threatens to consume all at any moment.  What you see in the picture above is not poshlost’ but normal healthy bad taste that any right-thinking person would wish to see in his home.

What we got instead was whacked over the head with bits of funny business: NOW laugh, NOW laugh, NOW laugh…Julian Barratt as the Mayor did a very good impression of a former boss of mine, but both he and Kyle Soller as Khlestyakov were really too straightforward and…err…normal.  This could be a another case of ‘What do I expect if I go to something I know too much about?’ since in my time I’ve both played the Mayor in this piece and been mistaken for an important visitor in the Russian provinces.

Yes I remember now–the Mayor here made no attempt to approach the required level of slavish Oriental abasement.

I would have been quite interested to see how they did the dumb scene at the end, but I was so bored I’d started trying to read the back of my programme-cum-playscript.  [Gets out p-cum-s.]  Well, it’s not a dumb scene in the script here!  A very good job I went home to do my cleaning…

Elektra Young Vic 02 July 

July 4, 2010


Picture from Young Vic Facebook page

The question is always how to adopt the distancing and generalisation of Greek tragedy to the modern stage, which operates by precisely the opposite principles, and where Elektra’s sweatstained singlet and bloodied face are present all to present.

This interpretation, using a new translation by Anne Carson,  followed Milton:

No light; but rather darkness visible
Served only to discover sights of woe,
Regions of sorrow, doleful shades, where peace
And rest can never dwell, hope never comes
That comes to all, but torture without end

and the lighting by Guy Hoare certainly deserved credit for making the darkness visible (able to be seen through, in this context).

In pursuit of the same idea, the text left out rather a lot of the mythological and gnomic structure of  the original.  The Clytaemnestra of Nadia Cameron-Blakey impassively delivered her lines from an infinity of cold, while I enjoyed the nervous Chrysothemis of Amanda Hale in an Emily Dickinson dress.

Amanda Hale as Chrysothemis

But did Lydia Leonard as Elektra show the true Sophoclean adamantine intransigence, obdurate pride and steadfast hate, or was she merely put-upon?  Well, after receiving the false news of Orestes dying, she began to dig, and then a little of the magic appeared like the corner of a coffin.  But I think that the recognition scene between her and Orestes works better if they dispute for the ashes-containing urn as for his identity; here she took it away and cradled it in her arms.

I’m not sure that it really makes sense if the action already seems to be taking place among the chthonic deities; it is the actions of the characters above the earth while they can see the light that lead them there.  But this was a serious and highly competent attempt at tackling the problems of staging Greek drama, and I’ve no idea why the Young Vic felt they had to put it on for free.  It was co-credited to Headlong Theatre, and was without doubt a great deal better than the paid-for productions of theirs I’ve seen.

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.