Seduction, Feb. 19th, ’11

It’s a tiny little stage on the first floor of a very cosy pub predominantly catering to a friendly gay clientele called The Stag. It’s got 50 seats. And it presents us with a brilliant rendition of a very peculiar version of Arthur Schnitzler’s Der Reigen. To my surprise it wasn’t the massive (in more than one meaning) display of naked flesh that kept my interest (I’m a dirty shallow woman, for which I apologise regularly, but which I don’t regret) but the quality of the actors who portrayed an impressive variety of characters – La Ronde of seduction, love, manipulation and dependency.

Most fascinating to watch – that even though the gender lines sometimes blurred a little,  to me (I am Viennese, I have to and do love Schnitzler) it was rather easy to follow the characterisation of The Sweet Girl, or The Diva, or The Housewife without any problems. Jack Heifner, who (re-)wrote the play as an adaption of La Ronde, did an amazingly brilliant job! Every actor played multiple parts on this tiny stage, helped only by a few ashlars covered in black felt. They were arranged into beds, desks, garden benches, even walls and it needed no explanations – the acting was that good.

This play taught me one essential thing (other than “god, I love great theatre” and “it’s amazing where you actually find great theatre these days” and “damn, they are brilliant” 😉 ): Archetypes are gender-free as are certain behavioral quirks and characterisations. And that alone was worth the hassle of actually finding the tiny pub. That also was the only drawback – that and that the actors didn’t get a mention on the leaflets handed out in the pub. They would have deserved it!

Other than that: a brilliant evening with an all male cast and an almost all male audience who made us three girls feel welcome and at home immediately. Certainly an address to remember…

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Clybourne Park, Feb.19th, ’11

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It was announced as a hilarious comedy, but I perceived it in a different way – yes, it is funny, with loads of snide side remarks that were quite hilarious, but it is also a very intense drama, its dialogues very tense and sharp, painfully witty rather than haha-funny. It is also a play that shows how little has changed within 50 years and it’s then that it changes from comedy to stark drama.

Clybourne Park is the name of a house set in a typical American all-white suburb in the fifties. The owners Russ and Bev (Stuart McQuarrie and the brilliant Sophie Thompson – that family certainly has the theatre gene inherited at birth – she’s Emma Thompson’s sister) are giving up their house in the cosy neighbourhood to live closer to Russ’ workplace. But in truth this is just a white lie – they leave to rid themselves of their grief and their guilt. Their only son Kenneth (Michael Goldsmith) came home from Vietnam a destroyed soul. After having had to kill to survive he is no longer able to cope with his life in the suburbs. He kills himself – not in a desperate moment of mindlessness, but after a lot of thought and well planned and alone as noone was able to detect the post war trauma and depression he was suffering from. It is the late fifties, after all, and PTSS wasn’t recognised as a diagnose at all.

And so Russ, who has withdrawn into himself after his son committed suicide, and Bev, constantly talking to fill the emptiness of her heart, her life, sell their home at a “knock-down” price – and therefore to the first black couple ever to live in the rather posh neighbourhood that had only seen black servants till then. No surprise that every neighbour shows up on their doorstep to prevent the unthinkable from happening. Very friendly at first they try to talk Russ and Bev out of their plan to move. When reasoning doesn’t work, everyone displays their own prejudices, their own stingy little hate filled quibs, uttered in the selfrighteous way people adopt when everybody around them has the same opinions. And then Russ quietly collects a large locked military box from the basement. As if the wooden box was holding all the rage and desperation of its former owner everybody in the room becomes more and more hostile till Russ finally buries the thing under a large tree in their garden.

50 years later Lena and Kevin (Lorna Brown and Lucian Msamati) have inherited the house from Lena’s great aunt who had worked in the house as a maid. They try to sell it to a white couple who sees the place as an investment in an upcoming and revitalised part of town that for years had been more or less derelict. As the house has been left to decay they plan to tear it down and build something new. And now it is the black couple who argues their case of protecting the neighbourhood from new architectorial influences as this house is – as derelict as it may be – a piece of the black history of the town. It was, after all, the first house black people bought in a white neighbourhood…

The arguments haven’t changed, the prejudices are still the same – no matter if uttered by white or black people – it is the same vicious circle of non-understanding people are ensnared in. And there doesn’t seem to be a way out.

When the builders who are already tearing old pipes out in the garden, find an old military box, the arguments inside the tattered old house get more and more hostile and violent.

When finally one of the workmen breaks the old lock, he finds a letter sealed away – the last words of  a young man mourning his inner peace and his soul he lost in a pointless, meaningless war. A statement, a desperate plea for understanding, so filled with his rage against this war and his hopelessness that it still seemed to hold a powerful grip on anyone who dared coming close enough.

And while Kenneth had been broken by a war that wasn’t his war, all the inhabitants of Clybourne Park since his suicide had been broken by their misconception of their world.

It’s a brilliant play, with a brilliant brilliant cast and a very compelling and raw ending. The last scene certainly left the audience – and me – stunned and thinking. Great Theatre Indeed!!!

 

Lance Horne, First Things Last Jan 30th, ’11

A truly entertaining evening with composer Lance Horne, who gathered West End’s very best to promote his new CD in the Garrick Theatre. Amongst them and foremost – Simon Burke, whose voice shone and set an incredibly high standard. He was just brilliant.

To attend this rather high class gala was a last minute decision – the wonderfully talented and gorgeous Simon Burke had tweeted about it and Beverley and I – already on a theatre crawl – just knew we had to do this; sadly enough we couldn’t make it to Simon’s reading in Camden – but that collided with Ghost Stories, so it was premium seating at the Garrick Theatre for us!

Now I had never heard of Lance Horne before – hanging my head in shame – but therefore I was in for a pleasant surprise: his music is quirky, his lyrics fun (with the exception of the rather drab In The Name Of The Father that came across as a rather morose prayer, but maybe that was just me not liking to start off a fun evening with some strange christian anthem.).

Horne’s guest list was the Who’s who of the London West End, and he brought them all on stage immediately, to sit with him (and every time someone mentioned the CD, they all bent down and held up said CD “available in the Foyer!”): Alan Cumming (who sang “Next To Me”, a song about waking up after a rather rompy night and seeing his beloved lying next to him, therefore guessing it couldn’t have been that bad if he was still … next to him..), Graham Norton – who admitted to not being able to sing but then got us all chiming in at “Haircut”; he really has no voice to speak of, but an incredible stage personality, so it was brilliant to see him live. (how he managed to get through LaCage I will never understand, though), were joined by Norm Lewis who has an extraordinary marvellous voice, and a bunch of seriously talented women – amongst them Cassidy Janson who sang “Hurry Up & Take Your Time”, a bluesy number she was jazzing up brilliantly accompanied by her own pianist, and Meow Meow who in her very revealing three piece (a bra, a corsett and a long skirt) looked as if the dress had been painted on her – marvellous! And her voice matched the outfit!

By that time we were already antsy – We knew that Simon Burke would be cutting it short, making it by tube from Camden to the West End. But by the start of the second half there he was on stage, separately introduced by Horne. He sang The Man In The Starched White Shirt – a song about a terribly repressed gay man (but the sex is great!) who marvels why he isn’t more successful with his relationships (the sex was great!) in his starched white shirt (great sex is just not enough…) – absolutely brilliant. And once again (and I hate to say it like that because I always try not to compare artists – they are all great in their own way and to rate them in any way is always so very subjective, but:) I have to admit: Simon Burke is indeed in a league of his own; the only other artist coming close to his level of mastery of his voice was Norm Lewis who owns a very deep baritone and sounded gorgeous.

Simon Burke though – MARVELLOUS! His voice is so strong, yet he manages to phrase it so delicately. Yes, I am a fan, but his talent makes it so easy to be one! I think I’m speaking for Bev too, when I say we were both in very high spirits – even though there was another rather drab prayer (again from The Center; remind me NOT to go see it should it ever be at the West End) later on. The concert ended with Alan Cumming singing the very satirical “American” from The Strip that had us all in stitches.

*+*+*+*+*+

Now at this theatre crawl I only made it to one stage door – this one. And that was also the highlight of the weekend! We were barely waiting for 15 minutes and the musicians had just left, when Simon came out and VERY graciously signed our programs even though he had to go back inside as they were having a reception there! To think he took the time to greet (and hug, can’t forget the hug!) his fans even though they were already celebrating inside, is just so .. ! He’s such a star! Genuine, warm hearted, talented and gorgeous! I was so happy I’d seen him again.

Ghost Stories Jan. 30th, ’11

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162.000 people have already seen Ghost Stories and not given away anything. Why do I know that? Because when you leave the theatre – no, make that: IF you leave the theatre after the show there is a sign lighting up over the door stating it. And so I won’t be number one!

Just this: It is an incredibly well written story that takes a couple of urban myths and turns them into something shitting your pants scary! The theatre is dark when you arrive and stays dark throughout the whole 80 minutes of the play, there is no intermission. And by the end of it you make your way back through the creepy staircase that’s been wrapped and taped with yellow-black security tape and you never were so glad to see a theatre foyer in all your life!

Remember – everything you see in this brilliant play is of significance. And that won’t protect you from some pretty nasty surprises!