12 Angry Men Feb.21st, ’14

london west end

This play was probably the main reason for my London trip. The cast is outstanding, big names, big talents and a tight play about integrity, prejudice and the way people treat each other all wrapped in one theatre evening. I was drooling for weeks.

Funny as it is, I am not totally sold on the greatness of the show though. I assume everybody knows what it’s about (and has probably seen the movie a thousand times in reruns): twelve jurymen are to decide if a 16 year old black kid is going to die on the electric chair for stabbing his abusive father to death. What seems to be an open and shut case turns out to be a much longer discussion, when one of the Jurors, Martin Shaw, votes innocent – just to spark a discussion. During the following arguments the jurors reveal much, too much, about themselves – there’s the racist, the tough guy, the sly wise man, the pragmatic, the guy who just wants to go home. And while the votes start out with 11 to 1, they soon are 9:3 because if there is the slightest doubt, they can’t find the accused guilty.

And doubts they start to have. There’s the knife that isn’t so unique and also was held the wrong way. There’s the main witness who didn’t wear glasses. And another witness who wasn’t fast enough to actually see the kid running down the stairs. And all of a sudden the case isn’t as clear any more.

Grudgingly the tough guy (Jeff Fahey and brilliant) has to concede that maybe not all has been brought up during the trial. And the wise old man with his voice of reason (Robert Vaughn – awesome) keeps the racist in check with some well placed words. And then, when all is said and done, they acquit the kid because of all the doubts they now have…

I loved the play. it was well executed, the stage design was gritty and fitting and the actors were really amazing. I am in awe of Robert Vaughn, who – when I saw him later on the street – seemed frail and tired, yet very friendly – his stage presence is still strong and captivating.

Jeff Fahey as the bullying tough guy who is all for discipline and strong arming this kid, turns himself around  in the course of the play and finally reveals that he hadn’t spoken with his own son in years, as he had scared him away. The look of loss and sadness, the very real tears – all that made his monologue a remarkable piece of acting.

The only player I wasn’t totally happy with was Martin Shaw. His voice easily lends itself to a declamatory way of (over-)acting and did so this time. He himself seemed tired, and sometimes even a little bored while on stage. It could have been just me, but I had hoped for “more” from this actor. (It’s a bit unfair, I know, but I did compare his performance to Henry Fonda’s and Fonda was truly brilliant)

stage door note: Robert Vaughn. Awesome. Jeff Fahey: damn, he’s good looking. steel blue eyes. easy smile. (yes, I’m drooling, why do you ask?)

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Red Velvet Feb.20th, ’14

london west end

I know, I know – it’s already done (but certainly not dusted). But I just had to see it again. And I admit: it was – if that was possible – even better than the first time around. Same cast, same stage, but apparently different views on if it’s easier or harder the second time: I had asked Adrian Lester if it’s harder or not to perform the same play a second time and his answer was: much easier. less rehearsal times. When I asked Eugene O’Hare (he played the impresario) though, he revealed: much harder, less rehearsal time!

Again the performances of the castmembers were incredibly captivating, the chilling underlying notion of the ever present racism a stark reminder of how it is till this day and age and the full circle of Edmund Kean and Ira Aldridge both dying on stage a very fitting, beautiful arc – even though Aldridge never found the recognition Kean got in London, in his last moments he was equal to the man who both started and ended Ira’s career in those two performances of Othello in the West End…

Fun addendum: When O’Hare asks “Ira” to proceed “gentler” for their audience is “older” he seemed to look directly at me – I had a 3rd row seat in the middle. So when Adrian Lester finally came out to sign for me, I mock scolded him for his colleague’s words. And with a totally straight face, the giggle barely hidden in his eyes, Mr Lester stated: that was althogether out of line of him.

so yes, it was a great play at a cute venue (their coffee saved my life and the red velvet truffles are a dream) and I even got a taxi for the drive back to the West End.

I’d go and see it a third time in a heartbeat. Too bad I can’t afford to go to NY for its broadway run!