True West Jan 8th, ’19

london west end

I’m shallow. I wanted to know if Jon Snow can act. Yes, he can

 

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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.

The height of the storm Nov. 19th,’18

london west end

The Height Of The Storm
It’s an incredible play, cleverly done without an intermission to discuss it, showing  two daughters and their disfunctional relationships and their father in the aftermath of tragedy, their mother the glue to hold the family together and keep the father, obviously suffering from dementia, safe.
Only, is she…

The more the play progresses, the more it becomes clear that large parts of what is happening in that big house the father will not being able to keep is happening in the father’s imagination. His wife, engaging in quiet housework, makes him feel comfortable, the daughters, insisting he gives up the big house, not. There’s a brief moment of clarity, when he stumbles upon a card left in flowers. But to him it ends while sitting next to his wife, promising to not go before him. The light on her dims. He is alone…

Jonathan Pryce is amazing. Nuanced from slightly lost to desperately alone, from safe to scared and alone, he makes the part, shines in all of his helpless mourning.  It was a riveting show of range. Thank you…

Don Carlos Nov 16th,’18

theatre misc

 

Don Carlos at the Rose Theatre. The cast is amazing, the translation great, and works well with the pathos of Schiller’s play. Schiller – one professor calls him the German Shakespeare, which I think is a bit (overly) enthusiastic. But he certainly was a theatre man, with highly socialist/democratic views which had him investigated and at one point even fleeing authorities. He raged against the rule of crowned authoritarianism but lived just long enough to see the French revolution devolve into Napoleon being crowned emperor.

Don Carlos is about a crown prince who draws the short straw in everything in life except his birthright. He will inherit the Spanish crown, as soon as his father dies. He wants a peaceful future for the Netherlands , a country currently rebelling against the catholic Spaniard who’s oppressing them and is willing to negotiate,  but his father, the king, is sending troops. He’s in love with the French bride that was chosen for him and she loves him back, but his father, the king, steps in and marries her instead, having a daughter with her. It’s no surprise that the young man (I’m 23 and haven’t accomplished anything yet) rages against conventions. (Samuel Valentine is perfect for the part, down to the firy red hair he sports)

When the Marquis Posa, a freethinker, his former teacher/friend/mentor comes back to court, Carlos is already involved in desperate attempts to reconnect with his stepmother, whom he still loves, ignoring the fact that another strong woman, the princess Eboli, a concubine of his father, has set her eyes on him. She lures Carlos to a secret room, and he comes, thinking it’s the queen who wants to see him. Thus compromised, and found out by Eboli, his life and the life of the queen are in mortal danger.

And then it seems that his friend Posa, who shares his political views and understands his love for the woman who is now queen, has been instrumentalised by the king to spy on Carlos. Which of course sends the prince further into a downward spiral. What Carlos doesn’t realise is that Posa is trying to help and keep the prince safe from repercussions a jealous court has been planning. He manages to secure incriminating letters, sharing only harmless ones with the king, the one Eboli wrote amongst them. This leads to Eboli being despatched into a nunnery, and, because a jealous king needs a scapegoat, to Posa’s downfall. When the Marquis comes to explain every detail of his plan to the prince, he knows he lives on borrowed time. He has arranged for Carlos to flee to France, and to say a last farewell to the queen, who has been under investigation herself by the king. But just as Carlos urges Posa to join him, a shot is fired. The king himself has killed Posa, but reinstates his son as prince. He then seeks pardon for the murder from the head of the inquisition (also played by Tom Burke, which I thought was a cool idea, to see the two ends of the spectrum portrayed by the same actor, seeing the same kind of passion given to frighteningly different view points). They come to an understanding that’s chilling in its simplicity.

When Carlos uses his new freedom to meet with the queen, to inform her of his departure to France, another shot echoes. The queen falls, dead. The Prince collapses in tears, but is pried from her body by the inquisition to be taken away to an uncertain/certain future. The king prevails, his crown hollow.

As I said before, i liked the cast, esp. Darrell dSilva as king and Tom Burke as Posa (duh). I remembered the play as being a pathos laden – sorry – clunker, and was positively surprised by how relevant it was made  and of how much of Trump’s spiralling was incorporated into the portrayal of the king. Loved the monologue with which Posa seems to win over the ruthless regent (Sire, give people the right to think!) which of course is the heart of the play, made even more powerful because in the end everyone is punished for the things they dared to think.

I loved Valentine as Carlos. He had the perfect measure of rage and desperation, all of Sturm und Drang and never came across as hysterical or a drama queen. Both Alexandra Dowling and Kelly Gough (queen and Eboli) were great, though laden with the tall order to speak as fast as humanely possible which makes it a bit hard to actually understand a thing. Takes a while ti get accustomed to the speed.

dSilva is a wonderful – in a scary frightening as shit, crazy terrible way of course – king whose sole reason to live is holding on to the old ways. His portayal of the sheer mistrust that leads to murder is a fast spiral into madness. Brillinatly done.

Tom Burke. Yum. I’m trying not to be overly shallow, but of course his good looks help the portrayal of the hero. He is the quietly passionate philosopher, the herald of a future without repercussions, of a better way of living and a cleaner way of politics. Schiller with his way of writing invites great gestures and pathos but thankfully this Posa is one of subtlety, which makes his supplication in front of the king while demanding Gedankenfreiheit –  freedom to think – even more impressive. And while Iliked the cast, he’s the only one NOT to fall into the pathos trap. Thankmyou for that.

I was not overwhelmed by the lightless stage. It’s an interesting idea to place one spotlight on stage that glares i to the face of the poor actor who has to talk, but it is not an ideal thing. Loved the mostly empty stage, it gives your imagination a nudge and doesn’t clutter your brain. And i understand why the actors don’t like the empty space on the floor in front of the stage, where people can buy cheap pillow seats. While i understand the need for cheap seats – even in front of the stage -, I hate when only four people brave the hunkering down. Talked to an usherette, who rightfully remarked, when it’s a children’s play it’s packed. That’s right, but a play that starts at 8 pm and has only grown ups as audience (and a good dozen fled during intermission, obviously not up for the heavy lifting the play affords) should be given more seating right up front (they’re working on just that, btw)

Stage door… damn but Tom Burke looks fiiiine. Is all I’m saying

Professor Bernhardi Oct. 4th, ’18

theatre misc

Professor Bernhardi is one of the best known plays written by the Viennese dramatist, short story writer and novelist Arthur Schnitzler. It was first performed in Berlin at the Kleines Theater in 1912, but banned in Austria until the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire as a result of World War I.

The story makes it clear why it was so controversial: jewish Professor Bernhardi bans a priest from the death bed of a young girl who had a botched – illegal – abortion, and has no idea that she’s dying of sepsis. She’s happy and thinks she’ll go home in a few hours. She dies when a nurse tells her that a priest wants to apply last rites.

Because of Bernhardi’s faith (even though he’s not an observant jew) and because he’s the director of the clinicum where a christian nationalist doctor is vying for his job the case is made public and politicised until the mostly jewish staff of the clinicum resigned in protest and Bernhardi is sentenced to two months in jail because the nurse gave false witness by claiming Bernhardi pushed the priest and even said priest spoke in favour of Bernhardi.

Two months later  Bernhardi is free and his students are in the streets, celebrating. His opponents are in power, both in parliament and in his clinicum, and he has stopped writing a book about his ordeal. The nurse has come forward and confessed to lying in court because her confessor told her so. Bernhardi lost his licence to practice.

The play is indeed as bleak as it sounds and was on point and very much in tune of the times in 1911 and – unfortunately – in 2018 as well. Antisemitism, xenophobia and nationalism are on the rise again and it seems we haven’t learned a thing from our recent history. Sigh

Now to the actors. It’s an all male cast except for the nurse, but the actress is only on for minutes in the first act and didn’t stay on for curtains. Probably because the play  is 3 hrs plus, partly because herbert föttinger (bernhardi) indulges in pregnant stares and equally pregnant pauses that were mostly annoying. Brilliant and brilliantly disgusting florian teichtmeister as Bernhardi’s nemesis who wins everything he fought for by using politics. Awful. Disgusting. Brilliant. Bernhard schir is the politician who turns to whoever, whatever suits him best. He’s one of Austria’s best actors and rightfully so. I recognised several politicians in his portrayal and his characterisations are flawless.

Two more mentions because they were good and good looking (yes, I’m shallow): oliver rosskopf as the Dr med whose patient died and nikolaus barton as Bernhardi’s son.

The Misanthrope Aug/Sept ’18

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misanthrope
ˈmɪz(ə)nθrəʊp,ˈmɪs(ə)nθrəʊp/
noun
a person who dislikes humankind and avoids human society

 

Only that Moliere’s Misanthrope doesn’t avoid human society, he’s just really pissed at it. In 1666 Moliere wrote this masterful hissy fit of a play to get even on a society he didn’t agree with and – that didn’t agree with him quite often. At the time the play didn’t receive much accolade, probably because a strong female character, Celimene, gave as good as she got and strung along a line of contenders for her affection until she is put in her place by said men and the help of a pious woman (because women have always been their own worst enemy), so everything’s in order again on the 17th century front where women didn’t have any rights. The Misanthrope himself, Alceste, is the other extreme: Moliere portraits him as a man in search of truth and honesty and in love with a flighty woman, who gets cut down by a society that lives a double standard at the royal court. Talk to your face one way, stab you in the back the other. No surprise it wasn’t a huge success.  Nobody likes to look into a mirror and face their worst self.

In this new production, a fresh translation by Justin Fleming successfully transponds the satire into present day Sydney, the French royal court to a court of different royalty – the music industry. We are witness to the filming of the music video of a number one star, appropriating all the necessary looks and pieces to make it a success, gratuitous bare skin, Michael Jackson pose and even a unicorn included.

But Lee Lewis, the genial director, put yet another twist on the original: she brilliantly gender swapped parts of the cast, making Alceste the female producer in love and turning Celimene into omnisexual Cymbeline. Arsinoe turns into Arsenio, the boss, the money, the power … and the one jealous of Alceste’s love for Cymbeline.

The story is fairly well known, I guess: Alceste is facing court over some false accusations and enters the massively cluttered stage in a strop, stomping away from her – only – friend Philippa, also her lawyer, because Philippa was friendly with someone she, Alceste, didn’t like. She then proceeds to mock Orton’s new song, making yet another enemy in the process. We meet Eleanor (no genderswap) who has a crush on Alceste and is the secret crush of Philippa. Cymbeline is introduced as eye candy, shirtless, pouting into an imaginary camera, presenting his goods, a very clever analogy to his whole life – presenting his goods to everyone and anyone who is able to further his career.

And there is much feared Arsenio (who is played by Simon Burke who brilliantly takes on being cast as the ice cold, powerful a..hole) who arrives in time to scare away two more appreciators (Angus, Cleveland) of Cymbeline’s charms with just a look. He proceeds to emasculate Cymbeline with razorsharp wit only to receive the same treatment by the younger man.

The victory is Arsenio’s though, as he is able to present the coveted Alceste with written proof of Cymbeline’s infidelity. In a fast paced, cruel second part Cymbeline is confronted with various letters he wrote to various men and to Alceste, giving each one the impression he loved only them while dissing the others. The hardest blow lands Alceste who’d be okay if Cymbeline would commit to him on a deserted island, away from a nosey society, but not with marrying him in the public eye. On a now empty stage everybody leaves to fanfares of shame (and the roar of a very expensive car in Arsenio’s case, who exits after icely denying that he ever was even remotely attracted to Alceste, who had rebuffed him) until Cymbeline walks out to the thunder of oncoming rain. The only happy couple are Philippa and Eleanor,  the two level headed protagonists who think of others and not just themselves. Awwwwwwww

Now I admit to having a few problems with how the show is presented. I applaude the gender swaps. I love them. They make for beautiful bi and same sex relationships in the most casual way imaginable and I consider myself incredibly lucky to have seen them. I just find there’s two things that don’t work with it.

1. A young “lad of 20”, a rising music star producing a hit song/video … would he really be slut shamed? Wouldn’t he rather be admired, sought out, getting advertising gigs et al in today’s world?

2. My biggest hang up is with Alceste though. The way she behaves, throwing massive tantrums on stage, lacking any diplomatic skills … in today’s world she wouldn’t have been able to rise to her position. It’s still very much a boys’ only club, and while the old rebuttal “you’re too emotional (are you having your time of the month?)” finally gets being called out, it’s far from extinct. Alceste even mentions that in her scene with Arsenio, that she would be called out by the upper echelons of the business and it’s clear that Arsenio comes to the same conclusion. But I also have problems with the actress’ mannerisms which are mercilessly made fun of by Philippa, Rebecca Massey.  I know it’s satire, I know it should be over the top, but no. Too much, no comical timing. She’s going for the easy laugh, but misses the mark when it comes to precision and pace. Add to that her voice which doesn’t hold up during 3 hours of fast dialogues and again and again goes hoarse, which is a shame. It might be called sexy on TV, but it’s bad vocal training on a vast stage in a large theatre.

I do love the set design. It very cleverly reflects the story as it unfolds, going from an overly cluttered backstage room to less and less props until all that is left is a large white backdrop that gives the actors a blank page to express themselves, to write on, (if they can 😉) a door and a chair.

Cymbeline, Ben Gerrard,  has a drop dead gorgeous body and rightfully uses it, being objectified and half naked most of the time. (I hear his rigorous diet didn’t go over well with his poor partner.) Cleveland, Hamish Michael (who also plays Orton) and Angus, Anthony Taufa, are funny, relatable characters despite being written as over the top (and yes, I love both Hamish and Anthony. Great comical grasp, hugely talented awesome people). Philippa, Rebecca Massey,  is by far the best female on stage. She’s flawless. Timing, posture. Love her. Eleanor is cute and sweet and very good, but doesn’t have enough chances to shine.

Arsenio. Oh he is magnificent. The character needs to be strong, ruthless, oozing confidence with a certain malicious streak and an ample dose of charm and Simon Burke excels in it. With razor sharp disdain for the rival of his interest in Alceste he eviscerates, emasculates the younger man with rapier like wit (I must say the lines “you are quite … for someone so underendowed. youth and beauty are hollow… you should learn to swallow.” And then, about his many lovers ” you are known to open doors, … your lovers sleep themselves to the middle” were masterfully delivered.) The contempt is real and the strikes against Cymbeline are hitting nerves. I consider the scene between Arsenio and Cymbeline as the strongest of the play.

There’s also silky light charm when Arsenio first tries to lure the trophy that Alceste would be and, when he’s not immediately successful , the honeyed cleverness of planting doubt in Cymbeline’s fidelity into her mind. Because of course he has proof. He is the power behind everything after all and manipulation is his second nature.

Now, I loved the flawless translation of the play, and think that the way Justin Fleming brought its rhymes to shiny new life is genial. But even though we live in a highly transparent time with all of social media making and breaking careers, and influencing our every move even though we might not even be aware of, I am not sure if I can relate to all the characters. It might be because Moliere’s play was written in another time AND place, it might be that some of the characters weren’t archetypal enough to survive, or it might just be that certain performers or rather a certain performer wasn’t quite up to the job of playing the lead in this play…

In this case though, you don’t have to believe me.

“The ‘strained’ scene of confrontation between Cymbeline and Arsenio, played flawlessly, and with subtle thought processes as sharp as a rapiers edge, intent in wounding deeply, but with the surface composure of the ‘innocent’ butter-wouldn’t-melt-in-my-mouth ‘dandyisms’ of a super-precise intention by Simon Burke was the highlight of the night – interesting, for it is a scene usually played by two women – neither, of these men in this world show outward bruising, but the internal damage must be a spectacular bleed. Cymbeline and Arsenio do not much like each other.”

This is Kevin Jackson’s take on the play