Human Animals June 18th, ’16

theatre misc

 

The play is a “shorty”, 75 minutes,  no intermission, written by Stef Smith, and it is powerful. Even more so in the light of the current Brexit vote of Britain it shines a glaring light on how easily “people” are influenced through fear mongering, insecurities and hate. It starts lightly enough and ends in total destruction, burning houses and finally a tiny flicker that could be hope if it weren’t for the last chorus, uttered together, that tries to unmask the real threat but only manages to deepen the fear of the unknown that’s only conquered by trying to be as normal as humanly possible – they’ll take it down for christmas (the rope with which someone had hanged herself) – it will get in the way of all the lights.

The cast, of course, was amazing, especially Sargon Yelda as Si, the closeted married man with a child who rises in the ranks during this crisis. And Ian Gelder as John, who is trying to uphold normality within the chaotic breakdown of his world – he turns into the rock of his family, quite surprisingly so it seems, and he is also the one who loses everything in the process.

On to the play now: The leaflet says – In the overcrowded city, nature is getting out of control. The mice are scratching between walls, the pigeons are diseased and the foxes are beginning to rule the streets. The problem is growing. It’s contagious. it has to be stopped, before it’s too late.

What it doesn’t say, is that the play is a brilliant analogy to the fear mongering of today’s right wing politicians and the way they influence and steer people to their political advantage.

It starts with pigeons flying against the windows and dying in the backyards of family homes. Soon some unnamed higher power decides that they spread some kind of plague, undefined, but potentially dangerous. Even though Jamie decides to save one of the birds, and doesn’t get ill, consensus is that all birds must die. There are armed men in decontamination suits in the streets and they get rid of all birds – and foxes, because they spread illness as well. Si, charming and charmed by John, is ordering more and more “stuff” to deal with the “problem” – that is now approached with fire – they are burning the trees, the bushes, and after killing all the animals in the zoo, they’re setting fire to the last park, even though Alex, home from travelling abroad, chains herself to a fence to save the park in which she played with her late father.

John’s house burns down when they tried to kill a songbird on the roof – for the greater good. And he visits his sister in hospital who had tried to kill herself, deeply depressed about the death of her husband as well as about the collapse of her world. He sees her desperation, her lack of hope and even buys her a gun –

Jamie is given up to the authorities for having birds and foxes and mice in his attic – his wife who works for Si made the call. It was the right thing to do. And so Jamie is  bludgeoned half to death and left outside his raided home to fend for himself, alone, frightened, until the foxes come at night to feed on him.

Until there are no more animals – except for the lioness from the zoo who escaped and vanished and now roams the derelict city – and rebuilding on all the expensive ground that had been emptied through the fires. No longer family homes but apartment buildings with expensive units, profitable…

When they ask us what we saw and what we did

All of us will just say

I stood and watched    –    I stood and watched   –    I stood and watched

and as the body began to disappear their beaks turned into noses, and their wings into arms, their feathers flatten and dulled into skin…

and their bodies became wrapped in cloth and they wiped the blood off their faces and topped up their Oyster cards and took the district line into town. And no one noticed. No one turned and stopped and said NOT THIS WAY…

*

at which point we were all sitting there, breathless, shocked and still shivering from the impact of the words and the acting. Especially when John finally reaches breaking point and confronts Si – who is trying to bully him – and gets very physical on stage.

So glad I got to see it – twice😉 I hope they’ll be able to bring it back to the Royal Court Theatre or to the West End. As for stage door: I was there for the last show, which is traditionally the time for a farewell party. but my wonderful friends and I were certainly more than compensated as Ian Gelder sacrificed his break to come to the bar for a little chat. Thank you, Sir, it was more than just appreciated.

 

 

Breath of Kings -redemption May, ’16

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This is the second part of Graham Abbey ‘s Breath of Kings. It has a life of its own but is more fun to watch in order.

Abbey has the play starting with whispers and a parade of former characters; and Richard II in his golden robe but without the crown he gave to Bolingbroke/Henry introduces us to the play. The floor is bare and barren, an intricate but dead puzzle of marvel and someone is breaking out a big piece in the form of a small coffin, his strenuous tries in perfect synch with the tock-tock  of king Henry’s staff. Because Henry never recovered from the wound he received in battle. Now, death imminent, he feels the burden of the crown, and the sins he committed while wearing it are weighing him down. Even more so as his son is still galavanting around with Sir John Falstaff.

It is a joy to watch young Hal (Araya Mengesha)  turn from obnoxious teenage brat rebelling against authorities in the first part to young hero and finally king Henry V in the span of two plays. Reconciled with his father on the deathbed he takes on the crown, the only outward change being the dreadlocks giving way to a tightly woven hairdo. This and the way he treats Falstaff – sending him away and ultimately killing him with his decision – is the first sign of growing up. 

In battle he and his comrades forge a union strong enough to take on France . And amongst his men there are the same actors who played Henry and Falstaff (Geraint Wyn Davies hilarious and insightful and wise as the Welsh commander) and it is as if all ancestors had assembled to fight the battle of Agincourt.

Again the floor does play his part in this production. The more Britain and later France is war torn and in battle, the more pieces of the floor get ripped out, revealing the bloodied soil of the homeland in the form of red wood chips. And when Henry finally meets Catherine of France,his intended wife, he has to climb over the disrupted pieces in order to get to her.

Of course the important speeches of Henry V are kept, and his passionate rousing “we lucky few, we band of brothers” gave me goosebumps. Also historically correct a scene where they kneel with British longbows and shoot and the air is whirring with the sound of arrows – brilliantly executed. (Add.: The French lost over 10.000 nobles and soldiers because of the force with which the arrows pierced armour. The English lost three nobles and “five and twenty”)

To follow both parts of Breath of Kings means you follow three generations of Kings, their lives and their influence on both Britain and France, both Wales and Scotland in a gorgeous arc of history. Add to that great actors down to the smallest parts, and you got must see theatre at its finest. The whole cast is outstanding; but magnificent in their portrayal were of course  Tom Rooney, Graham Abbey, Geraint Wyn Davies and Araya Mengesha. These four shine – and special kudos to Graham Abbey who not only wrote and birthed the plays but also directed the second part, redemption, and lent life to the uneasy, hesitant king Henry IV.

Oh and btw: they’re all incredibly friendly, nice and sweet at the stage door. You just have to be really fast to catch Geraint – he’s out and about in a minute.😉 Also don’t make my mistake and bring chocolate for Graham – he needs to maintain his lean and fabulous six-pack for the rest of the season (remember, he’s shirtless for a few moments in part one:) )

 

Breath of Kings – rebellion 30th, ’16

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I’m a little bit at a loss, mostly because I’m still overwhelmed by the sheer brilliance of the production. The play and its second part redemption take Shakespeare’s greatest dramas (Richard II, Henry IV part 1, Henry IV part 2 and Henry V) and weave them together into a vivid, clear and magnificent history lesson – aided of course by the outstanding cast of the Stratford festival and actor/director/ write Graham Abbey who is responsible for the play. This is how it’s done. This is how (and I am tempted to compare it with a historically accurate and better written Game of Thrones but that wouldn’t do it justice at all) you follow the lives of kings, queens, their heirs and enemies and their lives, by allowing their soliloquies and scenes come to life in a way that captures the audience and is riveting and stunning in its complex simplicity. We see Tom Rooney turn from proud hero to lost king, Graham Abbey as Bolingbroke rise from shunned son to newly hailed king Heny, who is a hesitant leader with a hot-headed son Araya Mengesha, who has to grow up in battle to be formed into a worthy successor by steel and blood.

With Graham Abbey’s adaption of the humongous plays they turn into a very intimate chamber play, despite the violence of battles, betrayals and brutalities. This is when history becomes a clear, a clean line of meaning, an interpretation that loses nothing of Shakespeare’s magic, but contributes by focusing on visceral scenes that grab the audience and never let go.

The stage itself is beautifully empty. Just a flat surface filled with wood chips. and yet: the less influential Richard becomes, the less wood chips are on the stage, the smaller the parts of a united Britain are. At last there is everything gone, shoved towards the edges, when Richard gives away his crown to Henry Bolingbroke. And only years, if not decades later , during the battles against Scots and Welsh purpose, the ground is filled again, a country united in a war against each other. Again it’s beautiful in its simplicity and yet powerful and brutal.

Part one ends on a high note: the battle won, Henry saved by his unruly son Hal, and Sir John Falstaff (a brilliant and fat suited, sweaty Geraint Wyn Davies) has the last words … let’s kick up some more dirt tomorrow, or something to that extent.

 

I truly hope we get the textbook and a DVD of both parts soon. This is how theatre is supposed to be. Imagination at its best.

 

And yes, adds the shallow within me with a silent snicker: it doesn’t hurt that Graham Abbey’s Henry gets a huge cross tattooed on his back and then shows off his naked torso while thankfully slowly slipping into his shirt. 😎

A Streetcar named Desire. May ’16

theatre misc

 

Firstly: I really liked the play. Great actors succeeded to bring the story to life and the staging was very well done, if a bit much. Also: this is Portland, a city teeming with creativity and love of life, so that was amazing as well.

You all can taste the huge BUT that’s about to come, can’t you?

Well, streetcar is all about a high-strung teacher, Blanche, who makes up her own reality, lives in her own world and knows only her own rules. She brilliantly manipulates everyone around her – almost on a subconscious level. All she wants is being loved. She loses the family mansion in the American south because she cared for ailing family members … or because she bought jewellery and dresses to look pretty for her admirers. she teaches in a private school… until she is fired because she seduced a boy … and she suffered through a terrible break up with her first love when it turned out he was gay  and hanged himself.

When she doesn’t know where to go, she imposes herself onto her married sister, pointing out just how bad her husband is until he checks out her past and tells his wife about it. When Blanche confronts him, a violent quarrel ensues and he forces himself onto her. Now in light of all her previous lies nobody believes her and a doctor (a new admirer, she thinks) picks her up to admit her into an asylum.

With today’s knowledge about mental illnesses we realise of course that Blanche has schizophrenia and that this affliction is the root of her erratic behaviour. Tennessee Williams knew that as well when he wrote this story about the downfall of the southern nobility as his sister was a sufferer as well. Today I can’t help but feel that the impact of the story is a lot less strong than it was when the play first came out.  Then Blanche was a delicate flower, a crazy woman. Now she could be medicated and live a decent life. add to that a completely black cast (they were marvellous btw) and the story takes a new turn without the power of the one left behind. There is no downfall of southern nobility – to my knowledge there were no ppl of colour who owned a mansion. So to me the story as told on Portland ‘s centre stage didn’t work. Partly because it needed me to suspend my belief that no one would diagnose her as schizophrenic and partly because of the experiment to stage the play colour-blind. Sometimes works. Sometimes it really doesn’t.

That’s one of times…

Hairspray April, ’16

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Disclaimer

I’m still not a musical lover. But thanks to Simon Burke I actually learn to love some of them. Be afraid, be very afraid…  ;)

 

We are in Baltimore in the 60ies, where being different is still a bad thing and segregation and racism are still very common. But there’s Tracy Turnblad (the brilliant Lauren McKenna), who is different – she’s plump, she’s fun loving and adorably naive and she thinks that everybody should have the chance to just dance together. Her favourite show is the Corny Collins (Tim Campbell and very over the toppish glam – in a good way!) Show and her favourite part of it is negro day. She wants every day to be negro day.

When one of the main dancers of the show drops out ( for, like, nine months),Tracy auditions, only to be laughed off the stage by Amber von Tussle and her producer mother Velma, an ex Miss Baltimore Crab.

But she doesn’t give up. With moves learned from her new black friend Seaweed in detention, she catches the eye of both Corny and the wanna be Elvis Link and is a new regular on the show. When she tries to include her black friends into the all white dance group, they’re all apprehended and land in jail. But in the big finale all is well again: Tracy wins Miss Hairspray and Link commits to her, her black friends are finally integrated into the show and racist von Tussle is put in her place.

Doesn’t sound like much?

Oh but it is.

Not only did the producers manage to get 900 ( nine HUNDRED) kids from 7 to 22  on stage in absolutely riveting choreography. With clever lighting, minimum props and two raised main stages they were able to hold the audience’s focus fixed on the main characters who are able to show off their acting and singing skills.

There we have Tracy, 22 year old Lauren McKenna in her first leading role and she’s killing it. Basically present on stage for almost all the time and singing, her strong voice is a reliable source of joy. She does an amazing job and hers is a name we will have to remember. Wherever she goes next, follow her. She’s amazing.

Obnoxiously racist Velma von Tussle is unashamedly camp played by Amanda Muggleton, who unfortunately suffers from a cold which of course affects her voice. But she is brilliant when she summons her frightened staff with clapping twice and I do believe her when she claims to have a politician in here pocket and damning Polaroids in her safe. Her daughter Amber is unfortunately played by a weaker actress. At first I thought that was a directorial decision, but she actually does lack charisma and stays as bland as she is blond.

Link is the perfect budding Elvis-copy and the weakling Amber first fell in love with. He is good looking enough to carry his playboy/idol role off and good enough to succumb to Tracy’s charme.

Barry Conrad,  a finalist in the Australian x factor, shows off his moves as well as his strong voice as Seaweed and is especially sweet when playing with his love interest Penny (Emily Monsma) whose talent for comedy shines. She’s incredibly cute and lovable.

Tim Campbell does a perfect stereotype of a show host, constantly smiling and focused on himself until he starts to fight for his integration ideas and luckily his poster boy good looks, his voice and his talent provide him with the tools to pull that off without a problem.

Christine Anu (the producer of negro day, Motormouth Maybelle) – awesome. Her voice: damn great. She IS soul music. Damn, she’s good.

Now on to the one drag  part of the musical. (The one played by the absolututely dreadful John Travolta in the movie, whose lack of acting and singing made a mockery of the part)

Here it’s Simon Burke who dons a dress and does his or rather Edna Turnblad’s roots to look good for the cameras, before she, devoted wife and loving mother, goes out to join her daughter in the fight for equality. Having the best lines and being the comic relief could be enough but Simon does so much more with his part. He conveys the slightly frustrated working mum with no time to care for her appearance just as believable as the glam, self assured woman with a cause and a lot of sequins.

But it’s his voice that makes his portrayal so special (and I’m not talking about his choice to not use  falsetto to mock-play a female! I always find that slightly offensive, actually). No, it’s his singing that keeps blowing me away. He simply soars. His ad-libs and ensuing giggles are infectious and despite his (private) claims that he can’t dance he’s really very good at it.

I just wish he’d have a better “husband”. Wayne Kermond, a delightfully pleasant and nice man, comes from Vaudeville royalty and it shows. He strongly reminds me of those old Hollywood vaudeville comedies. Not a bad thing if it fits. Unfortunately it doesn’t in the time set for hairspray. His style is not 60ies, it’s 20ies and 30ies. It also doesn’t help that he’s huffing and puffing through the one song he has. At one point in the show he twirls a cigar like the Marx brothers, for heaven’s sake. too bad his audience isn’t old (or nerdy like me) enough to realise that. I have to say, though, that by the end of the run he had calmed down considerably. A relief, really.

Bastard Territory April 5th, ’16

theatre misc

 

A play about searching for ones identity – with very different outcomes. A father running from the truth, a mother desperately looking for love and a misplaced gay son who can’t find the answer he’s looking for, because no one knows the answer (who his biological father is). On their way they influence and destroy the lives of the people they touch , sometimes more,sometimes less. In the end there’s death and alcoholism and a son who sets out to find his mother, as he hadn’t been able to find his biological father.
The play is very good, the actors are strong. But 3 hours with 2 intermissions is too long. The play could use some clever cuts and would profit from it. But other than that it was a really great evening / night at a very cute and charming theatre.

A Winter’s Tale Jan.,’16

theatre misc

 

This production got nominated 5times – outstanding male and female (McCamus and Peacock) costume design, play and direction – which of course was Graham Abbey. Damn, but that play was magical.

Brought to us on a teeny tiny stage in a small Torontonian theatre (sold out for the whole run) the audience was as close to the actors as humanly possible. In the cramped setting the story unfolds just like intended, a tale told to children, on a cold winter’s night, to lift your spirits and shorten the long and fearful dark hours.

Tom McCamus ‘ very distinctive voice captured the audience from the first moment on when we see a movie of happier days long gone, when his wife and son were still alive. The storyline was mercifully decluttered and made easier to follow without losing any of the great monologues nor one of the twists and turns that make the play unique. The terrific cast, “borrowed” from the Shakespeare festival in Stratford, breathed life into it and it was no real surprise that there were ppl patiently waiting in line for return tickets.

Personally I think I liked this version even better than the brilliant interpretation Kenneth Branagh brought to stage.his was more opulent, this one more intimate and thus even more heartfelt. But ultimately the two versions can’t really be compared.

I of course was really happy – stood in line when. Graham Abbey stopped by, he saw me, hugged and kissed me and left me with about 50 posting enviously at me.🙂 Life is good!