Posted in books, public art, Theatre

October 16: The Trench; Weeping Window; Man Booker

A busy day today. The Trench is a one-act play with puppets and live music, performed by Les Enfants Terribles.

I have seen this company’s work before, and I wasn’t disappointed. The terror of war was depicted graphically at times, and there were no happy endings for the miner hero. Lighting was used very effectively, and the actor-musicians told a difficult tale very well.

On my way home from the theatre, I passed the Imperial War Museum, where the wonderful Weeping Window poppies installation is to be housed until after Armistice Day this year. I have only seen pictures of this work before, and they do not do it justice. The installation is very beautiful, in stark contrast to the war it commemorates.

Finally today, the Man Booker prize winner was announced. I got it wrong, unsurprisingly, but the winner was the book I liked most from the shortlist, and is coincidentally about a time of trouble which we don’t quite call a war.

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Posted in puppetry, Theatre

October 12: The Paper Cinema’s Macbeth

My fourth Macbeth of the year, and I have to say, the most imaginative telling of this story that I have ever seen.

The Paper Cinema use pen and ink drawings to bring the play to life. It is a little like shadow puppetry, and a bit like old-style TV animation (think Noggin the Nog). There were some very clever effects using ink dropped into water and 3-D objects, and some very impressive music played on a variety of instruments by just two musicians, who doubled as very clever foley artists.

The play was short (75 minutes), and had no dialogue. Hard to imagine a silent movie of Macbeth without even subtitles, but this little company did and it worked absolutely brilliantly.

I shall be keeping an eye out for more by the Paper Cinema.

Posted in Theatre

October 9: The Sweet Science Of Bruising

“Bruising” is a slang term for fighting. But the bruises in this play aren’t all collected in the boxing ring.

I was very moved by this account of four very different women struggling for emancipation. I found the medical/surgical intervention to deal with “hysteria” particularly distressing, even though it was not portrayed in any real detail at all. I hadn’t realised that this type of mutilation was carried out in England, seemingly quite commonly, in the upper classes. The casual violence by men against their wives, mistresses, servants wasn’t overdone dramatically, but was a definite theme.

The violence, and the other punishments for women standing up for themselves were all too close to what is still happening.

The end of the play sees the women standing up for each other, and beginning to gain strength in sisterhood, but it is clear that there is still a long way to go.

Posted in Theatre

October 6: Peer Gynt

I looked out at the rain bucketing down and debated whether I wanted to face the weather enough to see a small-scale production of what is generally presented as a loooong play. In the end, I shrugged on my trusty “Vera” mac and trekked across London to the Arcola. I was very glad I did.

Roberto Ciulli and Maria Neumann (Theater an der Ruhr) acted their (in her case, mismatched) socks off. These two actors are not young, but the acting, (by Maria in particular, playing almost all the parts (the young Peer, Solveig, Anitra, the Troll King, the Woman in Green, etc etc)) was very physical. There were some eye-watering moments – in one scene she had to rip a raw onion to shreds with her teeth. The whole audience winced and dabbed their eyes – the Arcola space is quite small and the onion was huge.

This version of the play was a two-hander in German (with surtitles), and ran for a straight ninety minutes, which went by in a flash. If it ever comes to a theatre near you, I would recommend that you see it.

Posted in Theatre

October 4: Dust

I was early at the theatre, but I decided to just have a glass of fizzy water while waiting to go in. I wished I’d had a nice big glass of red wine. It might have taken the edge off what for me was a very distressing hour and a half.

The play was very good. The acting was excellent. The portrayal of mental illness, depression, dysmorphia, was outstanding.

There were moments of comedy, but they were very dark comedy, and only highlighted the dreadfulness of the story.

It was a very good play. Just don’t expect to come out smiling.

Posted in Theatre

October 27: Othello

I like the Globe, but I like it less when I am seated amidst a school party of teens. I feel that there should be a special colour coding on the seating map for school parties, so that they can be avoided. I was the only person in the whole block who was not a member of a school group, and was subject to a lot of whispers along the lines of “Who is that odd person in the middle of the front row?” The other thing that you get when you are seated amongst school-teens is whispered conversations and giggling right through the play. And the this was Othello-not the most comedic of Shakespeare’s writings.

Having said that, I really enjoyed the play. Mark Rylance was an inspired Iago, and carried the show. The moment when he broke Roderigo’s neck with a sickening crack will stay with me for a while. I was glad the director chose not to include a rape scene as so many directors do.

Costumes were a little strange, and footwear in particular, and set dressing was about as minimal as you could get, even for the Globe. I was interested to see how they would handle the traditional song-and-dance at the end of a Globe performance, and they did it very well, with a sombre and restrained tune to begin with, echoing the sombre end to the play.

On my way out, I overheard a young man say that he thought the cast contained “too many women of colour”, which puzzled me, as I had only counted two (I looked up the cast list later, and raised that to a possible three). Three actors in a cast of twelve doesn’t seem to me to be a terribly high proportion.

Posted in Musical theatre

September 22: Midnight

The Union Theatre is a small space that manages to put on some “big” shows.

Midnight is a musical about the last moments of 1937 in Azerbaijan under Stalin. The main characters are a husband and wife, Party members, and an officer of the NKVD (or is he?) who arrives to turn their comfortable life upside down in the dying seconds of the year.

The cast comprised three strong leads and a quartet of fabulous actor-musicians playing all the music and taking on minor roles in the drama.

The set was a standard apartment interior, but with doors and windows picked out in neon light. This turned from bright white to ominous red as the story descended into infernal action.

I liked this production a lot, and especially liked the first act, before the supernatural took over from the more human horror of Stalin’s Terror.

Posted in Theatre

September 12: Allelujah!

Off to the Bridge again for Alan Bennett’s newest play.

This play portrays old people fairly unsympathetically. I found some of it upsetting, as I always do when dementia rears its ugly head on stage, and it was really heartbreaking when the work-experience oik inadvertently precipitated the death of the civil servant’s father.

The play was dark in that it dealt with an “angel of death” in an NHS geriatric ward, and yet light in its treatment of the geriatrics. The humour was old-fashioned, and one or two of the characters were caricatures.

The set was very clever. Sliding walls produced exact facsimiles of hospital rooms and corridors, and everything was painted that awful cream/green combination that screams NHS.

I wouldn’t say this was a good Bennett play, but it definitely was unmistakable as a Bennett play.

Posted in Musical theatre

September 6: Little Shop of Horrors

I took myself to the open-air theatre in Regent’s Park as a treat. I hadn’t been there before, so didn’t know what to expect. I was pleasantly surprised. The seats were reasonably comfortable, the sight lines were good, there were plenty of options for food and drink, and luckily, there was enough cloud to lessen the impact of the sun. I imagine that a few weeks ago it would have been unbearable to sit in the auditorium for the duration of a show. I chose the right week!

I have seen “Little Shop…” live twice before – once in a tent, with a professional cast and the expected big puppet Audrey 2, and once as a student production, with all main parts doubled up, (ie two people singing at the same time for each role- a very interesting and quite memorable production, particularly as one of the Audrey 1 parts was taken by a young man and played very well).

I’ve seen the film as well, of course, and am very familiar with the songs. Sadly, the audience I was in were a little lacking in the dancing in the aisles department.

This production was excellently kitschy, with a terrific twist on the plant provided by Vicky Vox. The “Greek chorus” (Crystal, Ronette and Chiffon) were very strong, even if nowadays the name joke goes over much of the audiences’ heads.

I particularly liked Marc Antolin’s Seymour, and was sorry to miss Jemima Rooper as Audrey, although her understudy was very good.

I didn’t get to see the full spectacle of the green lighting, as it didn’t get dark enough, but there was a lot of compensatory green smoke and a lot of green glitter and streamers.

I had a lot of fun, and managed to catch a streamer.

Posted in Theatre

September 4: Exit the King

I am not familiar with Eugène Ionesco’s work and hadn’t realised that this play is part of the “Berenger Cycle”, so I took it at face value as s standalone play.

I found it disturbing. The portrayal of gradual sickness and loss of memory was upsetting, despite it being presented in an absurdist, occasionally comic way.

The acting was good. Rhys Ifans was terrific. The costumes were excellent, in particular the King’s train, which he dragged past me where I was sitting at the back of the stalls. The set was cleverly constructed to gradually fall apart and disappear, just like the characters and eventually, the king.