Mary Stuart Feb 2019

theatre misc

It’s Schiller’s play, revisited by the magnificent Kate Mulvany. And thus it is  amazing. It’s no longer spoken in verse (and thanks and many thanks for that),  and she took inspiration over translation (and many thanks for that as well), but the main focus points are the same as in Schiller’s play. Two women in power, and yet powerless, in a court of powerhungry, conniving men who view women either as frail and soft and thus inferior or as dangerous witches who use their sex to lure men and thus have to be erased, at best in the name of god. It’s Mary’s kindhearted jailer Paulet who in his male centred way of seeing things finds the words in the end: if only you two women would have found a way of communicating. To which Mary answers, wearily: if only you men had made some room for us, we all could have thrived (I’m paraphrasing).

I have, because I am a nerd and also because everything else in this new play is absolutely fantastic, one little thing to bemoan. Schiller has Leicester fleeing the country after Mary’s execution, with one of the courtiers icily and bitingly and maybe just a bit gleefully declaring: Lord Leicester sends his apologies, he is on his way to France, when Elizabeth is asking for him. In this adaption Leicester simply walks away, larmoyantly uttering ‘home’ when Elizabeth asks where he’s going. I do consider Schiller’s approach better.

The story itself is even more poweful today, in times of #metoo and the heightened awareness of how men execute their male privilege over their female counterparts. A time where this was not only the rule but also the law, as seen by a woman writer/actor (who is a f***ing genius, btw) makes the story of two warring women even more poignant. It is also a gift when the two feuding women are played by Helen Thomson and Caroline Brazier. The men are written (and rightly so) as archetypical males, not stereotypes, but examples of common male behaviour. There’s Burleigh, the career politician with his own agenda, ignoring everyone else; Shrowsbury, the elderly philosopher who served for many years, who walks away in the end to wash his hands of what happened; Leicester, the lap dog who stonuops low by finally even attempting to rape Elizabeth, but in the end gains nothing;  Mortimer, the hot headed and not very bright follower with the blue inked skin ‘with pretty pictures’, who aimes too high and therefore loses; the ambassador whose skills leave him finally over yet another diversion tactic; and the new secretary, who breaks under the pressure an insecure/cornered queen inflicts on him. And then there’s Paulet, the jailer to Mary Stuart,  who after 19 years of looking after a then beautiful, spirited, intelligent woman has found affection for her, much to the chagrin of his wife and daughters. But he is also loyal to his queen and torn between two women who have more in common than first meets the eye. Simon Burke’s layered portrayal of power vs helplessness, affection vs rejections gives us more than glimpses into Paulet’s soul. Yes, I’m biased, as you all know and I don’t deny, but his acting lifts this character up and is a joy to watch. And yes, I did cry in the end – not for Mary, mind you, but for Paulet who was not able to save her and has to live with the knowledge of it….

Beautiful how Mulvany and the amazing director Lee Lewis create echoes that draw you in. There is the start of the play – total darkness, chopping sounds – it’s Mortimer, making kindle of a piano in search of Mary’s letters, yet another nail in the coffin of Mary’s case before the judges. The play ends again in total darkness, chopping sounds make the audience witness to a very botched (and historically correct, I might add) beheading of Mary.

And then there are the prayers. Because both women, so very different in their upbringing, their experiences, their lives, are deeply religious,  even driven by their different faiths that are so similar that when the two queens pray, they sound the same, they act the same, they gain the same kind of consolation from it.

In the end both women are alone. Mary, because she is isolated from potential co conspirators, and Elizabeth, because she can’t rely on any of the men in her court who all have only their own agenda in mind.

The men in the play stand for violence; violence against women and violence in order to gain power or love or both.

The women, always in danger of being crushed by the male power plays, peruse their femininity,  a more subtle approach yet equally or even more successful. Mary sweetly convinces Paulet she only wants to go home to Scotland, to her son, and only reveals her true feelings at the very end, when she is alone, as a final confession. Elizabeth ruthlessly uses her new secretary so that she doesn’t have to take responsibility for the death sentence to be carried out.

Paulet is the heart of the play. Torn between his loyalty to his queen, Gloriana, Elizabeth, and the affection and admiration he harbours for Mary, he tries to mediate even though his efforts keep being in vain. In his last scene with Mary his good byes are heartbreakingly personal. Not only as he losing his purpose,  his work, if you like, but also a woman he perceived as a close friend, and as a challenge to his intellect – something his wife and daughters obviously aren’t able to be to him.  After all a single mistake of his could’ve lead to the death of a queen – hers or Elizabeth’s.  It’s not easy to be the keeper of queens!

His uncle gone with the incriminating letters, Mortimer uncovers his true feelings toward Mary. He’d insulted her just moments ago, but now professes his allegiance … his whole body is covered in tattoos of Mary, much to the dismay of the queen, who has heard enough promises and wants her life restored after 19 years in prison.

Enter Burleigh, who brings the verdict of her trial. Guilty of treason – and while Mary seems calm at first, her temperament gets the better of her and in a revealing outburst she destroys the picture of the warmhearted misunderstood woman she had been projeting so far. The fat philanderer and the whore who gave birth to a bastard is not an apt description of a queen.

Unfortunately the actor playing Burleigh is mostly screaming, which rather undermines the picture of being the head counsel of Elizabeth.

Elizabeth , who has her own problems. At 51 she clings to power while everybody in her court wants her to marry and have children (Leicester of course doesn’t,  he helpfully points out that she’s too old to procreate). The french ambassador tries to get a definite yes to the French dauphin’s marriage proposal, but all he gets is a definite maybe. And Shrowsbury was on the receiving end of a bucket full of blood, meant for the queen. Still he is the only one who speaks against the death penalty Burleigh wants to cast on Mary.

 

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The Rise and Fall of Little Voice Feb9th,2019

theatre misc

 

The story is set in the 50s, London, the new phone is being installed. Mum is drunk most of the time, dad died to escape the terrible marriage. And Little Voice is holed up in her room and doesn’t come out and listens to the same old records her father left her day in and day out. It is also the story of how not to deal with an autistic person. Because that’s what Little Voice is. When alone she sings the old records. Shirley bassey, Marilyn Monroe,  Liza Minelli, Judy Garland, come to life in her voice. She doesn’t speak, she borrows the voices of her vinyl idols.

When her mother brings home a guy who works in a nightclub, drama enfolds. While LV slowly starts to trust her new friend, one of the guys who installed the phone and also different than other boys, this new lover recognises the talent she has and wants to exploit it . Forced by her controlling and manipulative mother LV does perform in the sleazy bar. But only twice. Overwhelmed by the pressure and not able to handle the stress she vanishes with her friend, just as the apartment burns down. With everything gone – her mother destroys her records in a rage because they weren’t melted in the fire – LV finally breaks free. Together with her boy/friend Billy she watches his light installation and sings – for the first time in her real voice.

Caroline O’Connor is an amazing controlling, cruel, helpless mother, trying to find a little happiness for herself, but failing over and over again. Geraldine Hakewill dominated with a voice to die for and Joseph del Re was not just good looking and charming but also slimy and suitably nasty.  Great matinee, awesome production.

Oh, and there was Charles Wu as Billy who was absolutely sweet as the nerdy, insecure boy in love. Seen him in Doctor, Doctor and loved him there, but he’s also a highly accomplished stage actor! Loved him!

 

Macbeth Jan 2019

london west end

 

With Christopher Eccleston. A fantastic, brilliant, new production. The three witches are three creepy preteen girls in red dresses. I was scared witless by them. A janitor added chalk marks to the dark walls whenever someone was killed. They made TIME their theme, with a clock ticking down the seconds. Very clever: when Macbeth first sees the ghost of Duncan at the dinner party, nothing is there. Only when he’s alone the spectres of his victims manifest. It was a spectacular production at the barbican centre and Christopher Eccleston really was amazing in it.

Pinter 5+6 Jan 2019

 

 

london west end

 

4 Pinter shorts at the Harold Pinter Theatre.  Certainly interesting, not what I expected at all. I thought P. was a modern day Oscar Wilde with razorsharp wit. But he’s more of a surgeon, dissecting the very souls with oneliners and sarcasm. Terrific and terrifying to watch.

The general theme of the 4 pieces: the loneliness and fear of being part of a society that doesn’t or can’t communicate any longer.

There’s the quiet man whose wife does all the talking in their basement apartment, who seems so sweet and amicable , until a stranger comes by and it turns out the wife is a rich man’s daughter, invited to come back home. In an explosion of violence the husband kills the danger to his marriage. And the wife talks no more.

There’s the son who finally moved out of his mother’s apartment to gain freedom, but finds himself in the net of a family/inhabitants in his apartment house that are just as controlling as his mother was.

The cab driver who doesn’t  answer his call centre, and when he finally does, it raises alarms. Because he tells about a young girl, in the back of his cab, sleeping? Waiting? For the sun to rise? Drugged? Dead?

And the dinner party that is just words and sentences and attacks and pseudo friendly smiles.

The waiter who dishes the food, with obscure facts or fictions about his ancestors who ruins every dialogue.

The Model Apartment Nov. 22nd, ’18

theatre misc

 

Every decision you make, every turn you take in your life influences who you are  … and who everybody else who touches your life is. This play makes that clear, in the most painful, terrifying way possible. And you can still laugh about it.

Max (the magnificent Ian Gelder) and Lola (Diana Quick, superb) arrive in Florida. They came from New Yor, where they lived, a few days early, so their retirement home / apartment isn’t quite finished and they have to stay in a model apartment. Which looks like a fully functioning apartment, but isn’t . The fridge, the tv, the entertainment centre, it’s all fake.

But then, so is the life Max and Lola had been living. Both survivors of the holocaust, trying to make a new life in the US, came with baggage to the new country. Max had hidden from the Nazis in the woods. His baby daughter, his wife both died at the hands of German troups. As the sole survivor of his whole family he brings his child with him … in his imagination he dreams of her as this beautiful young woman who loves him unconditionally. Lola survived being held in a KZ and might embellish the importance of that by claiming to have been Anne Frank’s best friend there.

But that’s only one aspect of their lives. The other is Debbie (Emily Bruni), their daughter. Overweight, demanding, bullying, full of conspiracy theories that she got from her parents’s war stories, she slyly found out where they were retreating and followed suit. When  her boyfriend, drug addled Neil (Enyi Okoronkwo) bursts in, the four have to face their pasts in order to survive their future. But they can’t.  During their verbal and increasingly physical fights the model apartment is destroyed, just as their lives are. Debbie finally snaps and attacks her father. The police arrives. Lola leaves to enable her daughter because that way she can cling to her own trauma a little while longer. In the end there is only Max, dreaming of his lost daughter, his lost family, unable and unwilling  to reconnect with the real world but perpetuating his own trauma – that he survived while others died…

 

The acting was absolutely marvellous, the terrible trauma each and everone had to endure, palpable. I loved the sequences Ian had to do in Yiddish.  It was a tough play, with surprising laughs and perfect timing thanks to amazing acting.

The Wipers Times Nov 20th, ’18

london west end

In the trenches of Ypres, then at the Somme, half a dozen soldiers and officers write against the warnin the middle of a war that will encompass the whole world. With wit, irony and sarcasm they survive the terrors of bombs, and gas attacks, while making fun of the brass and work through their grief when yet another friend is killed. The thin paper gains both more pages and more readers, until it is a huge success.

Not after the war though. The two main contributers fail in real life, stepping out of journalism, leaving England for Canada and India.

The cast is absolutely brilliant. Sam Ducane and James Dutton are the main editors in the bombed out building that features as office space. Dan Mersh is the printer who makes it happen over and over again.

With song and dance, quips and faked letters and ads it is indeed a laugh a minute even when they suffer gas attacks and exploding bombs. It’s only on till Dec 1st. Go watchnit at the arts theatre. It’s definitely wort it.