Tommy Sept.14th, ’13

stratford logo

It’s Tommy!!! It’s the Pinball wizard!!! See me, heal me, touch me, hear meee!!!!

ahem.

Awesome orchestra. Awesome dance choreography.
Great leading man Robert Markus who has a great voice for rock’n’roll.

The story itself … well, it’s difficult. I’m not so sure if a great Rock-album translates so well onto the stage. Tommy, who has witnessed his father – just home from the war – shoot his mother’s lover. When he is advised to forget what he saw he becomes mute to his surroundings, autistic in his behaviour. And he is again victimised by his drunk uncle who molests him. Only in front of a pinball machine he actually shows he is able to see and hear. He becomes the Pinball wizard, winning every game, coming to stardom.

And it is only when his mother, trying to get any reaction out of him, destroys the mirror he otherwise spends time staring at, that he breaks out of his shell. By now he has a pop star following, but when he just tries to be normal, to live with his parents, they turn from him – and we are back to See me…

 

The music is great and very well interpreted. The play less so. I hear it was Des McAnuff’s last directing work here and he also wrote the book. oh well…

Advertisements

The Thrill Sept.14th, ’13

stratford logo

The Thrill is a new play, commissioned by the Festival, by Judith Thompson and before I even saw it a friend of mine claimed – she (Judith) should be VERY VERY grateful to the actors indeed.

Said friend was right – the play is a doozy at the best of times, dealing with euthanasia as well as the right to choose ones own time of death. But it also is rather inconsistant in its views, which does not make a good play, but at least one that people are talking about.

There is crippled Elora (Lucy Peacock and can this woman be anything but brilliant???) suffering from a degenerative illness that is never fully explained. When we meet her, she’s confined to a life in a wheel chair with the outlook of not being able to eat soon … she is a firecracker of a lawyer, though, trying to get national funding redirected from “Gulags” – homes for the sick and elderly – to homecare. And then there is Professor Julian (Nigel Bennett!!!) who wrote a best seller about how there should be a choice for parents to end the lives of their suffering children, a choice for everyone who suffers, illustrated by the fate of his own younger sister who, in the course of a few years, turned from a gifted, healthy child into a blind, deaf and screaming in pain sufferer with no life ahead.

Elora protests during Julian’s lecture – and then the unthinkable happens – the twain meet. And they talk. And they understand each other and each other’s pain. Elora points out that if her parents had chosen to not have her, the world would have lost a brilliant lawyer, and Julian insists that he just wants to give everyone a choice – a choice that he didn’t have when his sister was day in day out screaming in pain and seizing. When the two fall in love it is against all odds and beautiful.

But when Julian comes back from his marketing tour to sell his book (and the movie rights etc), six months have passed and Elora now has a feeding tube. Her voice is on the verge of breaking and it is a downhill battle from now on.

Elora wants a way out with dignity and Julian, deeply in love with her, is not capable of providing it. He wants every minute with her, even when she’s not able to see or understand him.

So Elora gives in and lives her life out, helped only by her paid carer Francis, Robert Persichini, who is her only company when the lights in her brilliant mind dim…

There is also a sub plot with Julian’s mother, who is increasingly suffering from dementia and depression, but it’s not very well executed by the author and didn’t bring the story along.

So for both main characters there is a complete change of mind – and there is the weakness of the play. To me it is only too understandable why Elora would want to go out with dignity. It is not understandable why she then changes her mind back to continue her suffering. And I do understand Julian’s love for her – but that he is then both not man enough to end it for her, yet also doesn’t come by to see her any longer, is an inconsistency that leaves the play without any kind of resolution. Yes, the ending had me in tears – thank you Lucy, Nigel, Robert – but it also had me wishing there was more to it. But – at least – people were talking on the way out – even though it was mostly about the actors 😉

The Three Musketeers Sept.12th, ’13

stratford logo

They actually managed to follow the brilliant Richard Lester movie from 1973 to a T!!
It’s a brilliant romp excellently played by boys having fun. The boys being: Graham
Abbey as Athos, Jonathan Goad in a fatsuit as Porthos, the delightfully young Luke Humphrey as D’Artagnan and Mike Shara as Aramis in search of his soul.

The story is well known and could have been worn out, but luckily wasn’t: D’Artagnan wants to become a Musketeer but within minutes is quarreling with all three most famous men. He takes on the Cardinal’s men, earns the trust of the Musketeers and falls in love with Constance who gets abducted by the Cardinal’s men. Milady deWinter steals diamonds from a necklace the Queen, Anne of Austria, has given as a token of peace and her love to the Duke of Buckingham. In order to not cause a major state affair, the Musketeers must retrieve the necklace, save Constance and get rid of deWinter who turns out to be a common whore who once betrayed Porthos.

The play is lavishly interspersed with brilliant fight scenes, flawlessly executed by Fight Director John Stead, and shows off the main cast’s fervor and talents as sword wielding noblemen perfectly. It’s loud, it’s fast paced and fun – go watch it! it’s worth it for the guys alone. Because like after reading the book I am now officially in love with Athos, Porthos and Aramis… 😉

Blithe Spirit Sept 13th, ’13

stratford logo

 

Very apt to watch this on a Friday, 13th! (wasn’t planned though, I admit, just my luck)

It’s fun, it’s cute, it’s brilliant Noel Coward at his best – most of all when it’s played by Ben Carlson as Charles and Sarah Topham (Ruth and brilliant in this), Michelle Giroux (Elvira) and the incomparable Seana McKenna as Madame Arcati (damn, she was good in this, really!)

When Charles, famous author, is struck with a mild form of writer’s block, he invites a medium, Mdm Arcati, to gather some insight in a character for a novel. His second wife Ruth has arranged a nice dinner and everything moves smoothly until –

Until the moment the curtains flutter and Charles’ first wife Elvire stands in the garden door. Charles’ deceased  first wife…

mayhem ensues as Charles is the only one able to see and hear Elvira and Elvira isn’t too fond of Ruth, the new wife in her widowed husband’s life. Then “accidents” start to happen – to the slightly overzealous maid Edith (Susie Burnett with a lot of courage to look her worst) and then to Charles himself.  it is then Ruth finally believes her husband’s tale of the ghost of his first wife and she promises to get Mdm Arcati to help to send Elvira back where she came from. unfortunately she takes the car –

the same car Elvira has rigged in order to kill Charles to live with him happily ever after…

And so Charles is widowed AGAIN and now has TWO ghosts haunting his house and his life. Mdm Arcati is no help, until they figure out – it was Edith who conjured up the ghosts in the first place.

a hopeful and probably free of ghosts Charles is taking a leave from his house in a blithe spirit while his earstwhile wives wreak havoc in it…

 

it’s brilliant. it’s fun. And I love Noel Coward.

Mary Stuart Sept. 12th, ’13

stratford logo

 

This is basically Seana McKenna as Queen Elizabeth of England and Lucy Peacock as Mary Stuart, former queen of Scots, duking it out on stage. Friedrich Schiller created a fabulous fast paced play about two women in a to the death fight over power. And if that wasn’t bad enough already, the men around them try to get a hand on that power as well. It is mainly the Earl of Leicester – earstwhile lover of Mary and still collaborating with her (after all, you never know who wins this fight in the end) – who is Elisabeth’s favorite and most likely lover who tries to advance his political career one way or the other. Somehow both furthering and stalling Mary’s death sentence, he weasels himself through the political maze (beautifully depicted on the stage’s floor through light direction) to tell both women what they want to hear.

He even manages to organise a meeting (that in real life never happened, btw) between the two queens – and intermission starts at the precise moment when the two women first face each other, still gives me goosebumps.

The big confrontation doesn’t solve the problems of the two women though. Queen Mary is adamant she is the rightful queen as she wasn’t born out of wedlock and deemed a bastard by her own father, Queen Elisabeth sees her as an even bigger threat now that the cards are on the table. And the Earl of Leicester (Geraint Wyn Davies, great as always) has to think on his feet and fast as he had organised this meeting in the first place. So now he is advocating the death of Mary Stuart to remove a threat (and to clear his name in the process) – and Elisabeth, pressured by him, signs the decree which will have Mary beheaded. She then hands it over to a servant, not long in her service, with no concrete advice whom to hand the decree. unfortunately the young man hands over the document to Lord Burleigh (Ben Carlson!!) who has Mary executed. this of course leads to uproar and to placate her people the young servant has to die. But things go from bad to even worse when it turns out that all the accusations against Mary Stuart had been made up under pressure.

So when a devastated Elisabeth wants to confer with Leicester… but …  he is on a ship to France.

Schiller’s play is archetypical in the way he shows the fight for power and of course the fight for the right religion – Mary of Scots was catholic, Elisabeth was not. so the bigger cause behind the war for power was undoubtedly – will the Pope win or the anglican church? The play was written in 1800 – during and shortly after the French Revolution when it already became clear that killing a king doesn’t equal political bliss, but yet another dictator with a bigger title doing the same as before (Emperor Napoleon) . It also foreshadows the era of “Aufklärung” where science became more important than religion, showing that religious fanatism leads to war and not to enlightenment.

All in all the play is eerily current and frighteningly so and it has been translated with care, giving it a bit of a modern touch without being too overtly “new”. Another brilliant example of how to do a classic in today’s theatre.

Measure for Measure Sept.11th ’13

stratford logo

 

It’s a convoluted story and certainly neither Shakespeare’s best nor my most favorite play. The story of the Duke who is “testing” his subjects while he is gallivanting about in disguise to see what his people think of him and then is surprised when the one man who didn’t even want to be his replacement not only fails to lead – and executes the law by the letter, without compassion – but also gives in to temptation is weak, to say the least.

The story’s set in Vienna shortly after the second world war which is as it may, and young Claudio is set to die because of a draconian law against fornication. (funny, during the time of Empress Maria Theresia, who bore her husband 16 children, such laws were first introduced in reality – a chastity commission was trying to keep a lid on the obvious lust not only for life the Viennese were famous for, Even the empress’ husband, you see, was fornicating left, right and center)

Now Claudio has made his lover pregnant and even though he wants to marry her he is in jail. So his sister, living in a convent and soon to be a nun, is sent to sway governor Angelo (a brilliant Tom Rooney) and have her brother freed. Angelo though falls in love with Isabella and presents her with an ultimatum: She has to sleep with him or Claudio dies.

Desperate, Isabella confides to a monk – who is the duke (wonderful: Geraint Wyn Davies) in disguise – and he comes up with a plan. He substitutes Isabella with Angelo’s ex fiancee who willingly shares his bed. But Angelo has already signed the death warrant and it’s sheer luck or fate that nobody dies that night.

the next morning the duke confronts Angelo: he had fornicated as well, so what would his penance be? But in the end, Angelo will marry his ex, Claudio his lover, and the Duke has eyes on Isabella (one of the lesser believable turns in this play, I have to admit) and nobody dies except a career criminal.

The rather convoluted plot as well as the not very likeable characters make this play neither easy nor does it seem like Shakespeare’s usually very cleverly plotted ones. I appreciated the acting that was really amazing as usual, but all in all the play itself didn’t endear itself to me. oh, well, they can’t all be winners 😉

Othello Sept 11th, ’13

stratford logo

 

I said it before, I’ll say it again: I wished I hadn’t seen Othello in London – the one with the brilliant Adrian Lester and Rory Kinnear as psychopatical calm killer in a production that was set in some modern day anonymous war. because then I might just have enjoyed this Othello a little bit more.

First the things I really liked in Stratford’s production: I liked the deconstructed stage with its moving platform as the only prop they used aside from the odd pillow or candle, it really made you focus on Shakespeare’s beautiful words and the way the actors delivered them. I also loved the period costuming that once again showed great love for detail and brought back Shakespeare’s world.

And I really really liked Graham Abbey’s interpretation of Iago. Where Kinnear was an analytical psychopath, clinical, dangerous with no emotions, Abbey’s Iago is driven by passion, frustration and rejection, feelings I can relate so much better to than the more clinical (but not less scary) approach of Kinnear.

I then had the pleasure of listening to Abbey, Dion Johnston and Desdemona during a lecture and I found Abbey’s explanations of Iago – the way he is going from plan a to plan b and the next and the next and still is in charge of the whole operation – till the very last moments, when he makes one decision that is wrong for him – he sends his wife – while all the while he was so successful in keeping everyone from ever simply talking together – not only highly entertaining but also very enlightening.

So this could have been a thoroughly enjoyable play, you say? Yes, could have. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to “get” Othello at all. first of all they gave him a Caribbean accent (why???? in Shakespeare’s times surely the Moors he saw were from Africa!) so every time I didn’t look at Othello while he was speaking I saw dreadlocks and a big fat pot cigarette – yo, Man. Why they gave him that accent I never found out but found it highly distracting. After Johnston’s Caliban in the Tempest I had been looking forward to seeing his Othello, but was a good bit unimpressed and put off, sigh

And while Lester managed to give his Othello the depth of a man thoroughly damaged by war and not able to deal with even the most basic feelings of love, of doubt, Johnston – to me – was never able to lift the character out of a situation of domestic violence gone horribly wrong, “Aided” in this he unfortunately was by his Desdemona, Bethany Jillard, who in the lecture I saw described the violence as being about love – and only because this was live streaming I kept from jumping up and screaming, noooo it’s not love, it’s domestic violence!!! Interesting that I didn’t have that feeling in the London production at all…

****

Back to the positive things:

Graham Abbey turns out to be a highly intelligent person who is quite funny as well. Very lovely at the stage door (where Scott Wentworth had just seen Othello as well and was standing there waiting for them to come out. not intimidating at all – yeah right), So I brought chocolates to the talk – which he accepted, then positioned them in the middle of his table and said into the cameras – just so you all see: I’m such a nice guy (implying aside from playing Iago as he had been teased mercilessly before intermission) I even get chocolates!!