Mojo – Dec 21st, ’13

london west end

I was a bit leery about Mojo. I didn’t know anything about the play, didn’t have the time to look it up and the cast was a bunch of very famous TV- and movie-actors who could or could not be good on a stage. It smacked a bit like stunt casting. Then I read raving reviews and got even more nervous. And while waiting to be let into the theatre I asked one of the ushers: Is it as good as they say? and she said: It’s even better.

Well, I’m happy to report: she was right.

The story spans two days in the lives of six guys, not very successfully running and working in a nightclub in London, trying to get famous, trying to get the best act on stage – in their case Silver Johnny who the girls love. He’s also the reason why there’s a secret meeting in the private rooms of the club – someone from the mob tries to get his hands on the new successful talent. And Sweets and Potts (Rupert Grint in his West End debut and brilliant – and Daniel Mays as his more sophisticated partner) try to listen in. Both high on pills and not very bright in the first place they can’t make out what this is all about – just: it’s bad.

And it is bad indeed, as the boss of the club is found in the back alley of the club… dead in the bins – in two bins, in fact – the next morning. Partner Mickey (Brendan Coyle and so very very different than in his downton part thank god) takes over as he tells Baby (Ben Whishaw, yes he was good) that his father had died. Baby, it turns out, is more than just a bit crazy and has it in for the club’s waiter Skinny (Colin Morgan. I am so glad he does theatre now) whom he razzes mercilessly as Skinny has the hots for him. And Silver Johnny has disappeared.

Cooped up in the empty club the remaining five are getting more and more paranoid, nervous and dangerous, with no food, no drugs nor explanations and only insecurities left. Skinny is sent off to buy a gun and comes back with a tiny Derringer, the dialogue gets weirder and more bizarre by the moment, then Baby disappeares as well. But when he comes back he has not only found his father’s killer, but also Silver Johnny and he fights to get revenge, his place in the world, his life on track. There’s a gunshot from the tiny Derringer and rather unceremoniously Skinny, the boy who just doesn’t wanna be grabbed by his balls any longer as he might want kids one day, dies.

The play has the most hilarious moments, when the clueless guys try to make sense of things they do not understand. It is also a rather nostalgic glance back into the 60ies, when dumps like the club in question were apparently everywhere in London. It even shines a harsh light onto the music business that doesn’t seem to have changed that much in recent years. It’s a great show and to see these actors give it their all is a joy. Go, watch, it just got extended. You’d miss something brilliant otherwise!

Henry V – Dec. 21st, ’13

london west end

 

Henry V certainly was a joy to watch – not just because of the fabulous Jude Law who was truly great but also because of James Laurenson whom I happened to see in an Australian TV show called Bony – which was probably the first time I realised that sometimes good books get tampered with! Read more about Bony here

But back to Henry V. Another Grandage production, another smash hit – on yet another empty stage made of barely treated, whitewashed wooden logs that are walls, pavement, niches and doors. As stated in the choir:

The flat unraised spirits that have dared
On this unworthy scaffold to bring forth
So great an object: can this cockpit hold
The vasty fields of France? or may we cram
Within this wooden O the very casques
That did affright the air at Agincourt?

It is simply amazing how vivid both story and surroundings unfold, told by a young black actor who, dressed in a washed out grey-ish shirt with a colorless union jack printed on it and in black jeans, blended into these whitewashed walls as if he wasn’t even there.

The story: Henry V has the reputation of a wild prince with no skills of a ruler, but after his father’s death he abandoned his juvenile ways and tries to be king. When he tries to recover parts of his lands in France, the French king sends “the child” a trunk full of tennis balls, to entertain him. War ensues. And is won by Henry and his troups despite being desperately undermanned and the odds being in favour of the French the whole time. When their king admits defeat, Henry chooses the French princess Katharine as his queen, to settle their argument through their offspring once and for all. Well, we all know how history decided to play that.

It is a rather short play, but due to battles and tense scenes before the battles an incredibly intense drama, that only gives way to more lighthearted dealings when Harry, the soldier king, tries to woo a woman who barely speaks English. I bet Shakespeare had a lot of fun writing those scenes.

Very impressive also the mention of Falstaff who – after two incredibly successful appearances in Shakespeare’s plays (Henry IV, both parts, and Merry wives of windsor) gets his swan song – never appearing but lovingly referred to as he now can no longer accompany his drinking buddy’s son, prince Hal, to battle.

And then the two monologues that shape this play, that, if they aren’t done convincingly, kill this play as efficiently as guns kill people. or people kill people. anyway. VERY efficiently.

The first is to rouse them to capture the city:

I see you stand like greyhounds in the slips,
Straining upon the start. The game’s afoot!
Follow your spirit; and upon this chargeCry
‘God for Harry! England and Saint George!’
And then they charge and I swear I had to hold onto myself to not run with them to fight the just cause or whatever, just fight.
The second is the famous St Crispin’s speech, while facing a far superior army – ten times more soldiers than the English, and knowing that many of the men will not come home again…
This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered-
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother;
And as he says “we band of brothers” – goosebumps.
Sheer goosebumps.
So: Jude Law once again proved that he is indeed a fantastic actor and not just a movie star (thank you!), James Laurenson was incredibly convincing and has a royal air about him that is remarkable. And the “choir” which constituted of one actor, Ashley Zhangazha, was amazingly good. I was asked during a chat with my friend if I had thought that it was a play that solely lived through Law’s interpretation. And I was glad I was able to say – no, the rest of the cast was great as well, as was direction by Michael Grandage. I love his productions. He is a genius. Therefore: go and watch it. It’s so worth it!

Dick McWhittington – Panto Dec. 14th, ’13

theatre misc

Awwww, it’s like coming home for Christmas. Yet another year in Glasgow having a Panto-Fest with John Barrowman as the lead, Pete Gallagher as the baddie – in this case the Rat King – and the Krankies instead of the Dame. Only the key elements survived the adaption of Dick Whittington, the (true) story of the young man who is called by the churchbells to become the Lord Mayor of London, said bells being one of the casualties, to make the story fit John Barrowman and his home town Glasgow. Instead there are lots of hugely funny scenes like the haunted bedrooms (this time with two beds and almost the same dialogue like the years before between Ian, Jeanette and John) that lend spice to the old story. Sadly those funny scenes seem to lack a common thread and that makes the story seem a bit thrown together with unmotivated singing numbers added to showcase the main man. (and yes, he’s really good at them and a joy to watch. they just don’t fit into the story and don’t make much sense).

The high energy Pantomime is fuelled by Barrowman’s obvious joy to be on stage, a brilliant musical number – proud (or happy? correct me, please) to be your best friend – is done all Fred-Astaire-Style with John in a black Tailcoat complete with an elegant walking stick to swirl around and it blew my mind. To imagine him in Top Hat or any real Musical – I’d go and watch it! 😉

Act one shows us how Dick gets acquainted with Councillor Krankie and wee Jimmy – and of course Ailsa, the beautiful daughter of Krankie. He and his faithful tomcat TomTom (and yes, there is a sat nav joke being made later on) win the first round against the rats that inhabit the City of Glasgow and defeat the Rat King. But at night King Rat – almost drowned out by boos and hisses – breaks into the safe and slips Ailsa’s birthday present – a diamond necklace – into Dick’s bundle. Dick is expelled, but comes back at night as he has no place to sleep – awwwwwwww – and is allowed to rest with wee Jimmie. But they don’t get much sleep as there’s no alarmclock so they have to blow the trumpet (who’s blowing the trumpet at two in the morning????? It’s two in the morning then….!) and then they’re surprised by ghosties and ghoolies (and yes, that joke “I don’t wanna be grabbed by the ghosties… was utilized again). So it is morning and the Councillor decides to go to Morocco where Sultan Vinegar will buy his last remaining cookies.

There’s also a lavish sing and dance number at the end of act one, with Barrowman in a tableau with the dancers at the end, in the midst of a wide, golden and red coat train that dazzles everyone. Why this number is there, is not explained though and it feels a bit unmotivated again.

The second act is a bit disjointed but doesn’t lose the drive and energy of the first half. First we have Dick and Ailsa reunited on the deck of the Saucy Sally with a little help of the good fairy Aurora, then the Rat King arrives and sinks the ship with the help of a giant octopus – this is where they are separated and we see Dick and Jimmie swimming, high up in the rafters, dangling from hopefully strong cords – a huge achievement for Jeanette I thought!

Ailsa – after a solo singing number that just seemed to showcase her inability to hold a tune – gets kidnapped by King Rat, (Pete unfortunately doesn’t have a big singing number this year, which is quite a shame as he has a wonderful voice, but as always he’s a reliable and brilliant baddy in this panto) who is going to sell her to Sultan Vinegar’s harem.

To save her, Dick, TomTom and the councillor have to sneak into the sultan’s castle – this is where 3-D-glasses come into play again. It’s a rough ride filled with spiders, snakes, grabbing hands and bone heads that brings them to the Sultan, yet considerably shorter than in previous years and with no new features as well. There we are treated to a strange march of the sultan’s slaves, complete with an elephant (don’t ask me, I didn’t get it either) and a cool singing number by Sultan Vinegar (Aaron Romano) that then turns into a bollywood ballet – and no, I didn’t understand that one as well….. Vinegar will not part with Ailsa, no matter what she says. And not even wee Jimmy as Madonna (living in a miniature world – and very brilliant) can change his mind. But then the first rats appear and Dick and TomTom come to the rescue, so Vinegar gives Dick gold and – the hand of Ailsa. Huge kiss, the auditorium goes awwwwwwww and bleurgh given their age 😉

Now comes the big number by the Krankies, not changed at all from the last years. It’s what people want to see, I get told and I believe it, yet…

It gives the cast the chance to change into the glittery costumes they need for the last number and bows, which are quite awesome – the costumes, that is. Even though they seemed to have been nicked from other pantos  for this one – there is a tableau of playing cards, and another one in black and white geometrical lines and both have no connection whatsoever with the play at all. But they do look amazing. And Barrowman in midnight blue tights – is always a sight to behold! (it takes a better woman than me to avert the eyes from them…)

And then it’s over and the kids in the audience are still wired and on a sugar rush from all the candies and that is a good thing just before christmas. (and after, as this panto continues till Jan. 6th). Me, I loved the innuendo laden dialogues between John and the Krankies, even though we have heard some of the jokes in other pantos of theirs before. I did miss the Bells (the calling back to Glasgow was in this case done by the audience), Pete’s song-number and of course that there were no kids on stage. I also had the feeling that it was a bit shorter than the last few times. But all in all it’s still  family fun with a cool leading man who I’d want to see in something more … “fleshed out” than pantomime.

****

Unfortunately as it is with Panto with John Barrowman, the fans get increasingly undisciplined the further the show proceeds. I do realise that they all want their signature and their photos taken but:

I don’t understand why certain ppl have to come back for more EVERY night while we were there, why certain ppl keep whining when J. tries to get out of the rain and the cold in order to stay healthy for the show and why certain ppl don’t even have the decency to leave his husband alone – who snuck into the car without being seen as he acc to John “feels weird” about being asked for an autograph or a photo. Last night certain ppl banged against the car windows to force him out for a picture. And then seemed to claim that S. actually LIKES that and comes to THEM during concerts etc. Yeah, right. pull another one…

Catch me if you can Nov.30th, ’13

theatre misc

I’m not sure – am I too biased already? Have I seen too many really good shows (lucky me!) to have standards too high for Vienna? Or does Vienna have different standards than the West End or Broadway? Or any theatre in Canada and Australia? Fact is – I sat through three hours of Catch me – and it sure was dragging.

And yes: the lead Frank Abagnale jr (Rasmus Borkowski) certainly played his little heart out and was a charming charmer who charmed his way to more than 2 million dollars before he was 19. And FBI-sleuth Carl Hanratty (Martin Berger) was a great pedantic hunter (even resembling Tom Hanks at some point – everyone does know the story? Frank runs away at 16 to make a fortune by forging checks and impersonating a pilot, a doctor and finally a lawyer, sleeping his way through throngs of stewardesses, nurses and various other females till he finds Brenda Strong and falls for her. As he wants to marry her, he can’t shed his name again and therefore finally gets caught. But Hanratty, long since a grudging “fan”, offers him a job after he’s finished his sentence.)

But – the dancers were out of synch more often than not (which is probably because they don’t play this every day but only three times per month) and lacked the precision and professionalism I have seen in other productions (though not in Vienna). The songs try to establish a film-noir feeling and succeed at times – but carry on and on and on and it’s dragging. My biggest beef though is with the translation of the original English to German. German, and it’s a sad truth, is NOT made to properly fill songs that were written for English words. The translation was bumpy at best, unintentionally funny at times and the rhythm was off throughout the musical.

The rather small theatre (Kammerspiele is an intimate venue and very lovely) was sold out, but the audience was not greatly moved by the jokes and rarely laughed. They were probably anesthetized by both the bad air and the sheer length of the thing – the last hour of three really dragged on – maybe because then Frank was all of a sudden portrayed as a sad child who didn’t enjoy his impersonations any longer. As I said – cuts and a bit more rehearsal time would have done that play a world of good.