The Aeneid Sept.13th, ’16

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This is a shiny example of a play you either love or hate. So let me tell you why I don’t love it 😉

First of all: the cast was very good. Aeneas (Gareth Potter), Ascanius (Malakai Magassouba) and Hector (Mike Nadajewski) are doing a great job. I also liked the stage design, minimalist and dark, it lent an additional flair of depression and anxiety to the production.

But. What I didn’t realise beforehand but probably should have guessed: this was a total rewrite – and admittedly the logical way to deal with the ancient play in this day and age. So we have fugitives running from their burning homes in the face of a war they don’t want, to places where they’re not wanted, repeatedly giving up security and happiness for what they think is their right: land. Not A land, but land to rule over. Slowly everybody dies around Aeneas, (the princess being another fugitive who has a job, the trip into the underworld a drug addled nightmare, friend Ascanius prostituted out to the female rug dealer and finally as the last of his friends dying in the last desperate attempt to flee from yet another fugitive camp) until Aeneas, his young son and his new lover/wife find a place where they are allowed to stay, a land for them. Hope blossoms.

Unfortunately I had one feeling throughout the play: the irrational urge to scream: thank you, Canada, with your 20.000 fugitives, mostly families, for telling me, the European, overrun by approximately 2 millions of fugitives, mostly young men, that these people need help and support. Franco Canadian writer Olivier Kemeid (who apparently won prizes for this play) draws a bleeding heart picture, efficiently omitting the glaring problems European countries face under the onslaught of fugitives. Yes, I do want to help them, and I did/still do. Yes, nobody should have to run from his home. But to make fun of overwhelmed officials who are bound by laws is a cheap way of creating sympathies and in my case played not in the narrative’s favour. To leave out the problems of concerted attacks on female victims because they dress differently in the streets or -even worse- in public swimming areas, the fact that so many young men come without any passports because they are advised to burn them in order to conceal their origins and lastly the -luckily very few- men who come in the guise of fugitives but are in truth part of IS’ agents … all that makes for a poorly written one sided script that misses diversity as much as another angle of approach.

Mr Kemeid’s family apparently was forced to leave Cairo in 1952 and came to Canada. In his small autobiographical blurb in the programme he emphasises that they didn’t claim to be of a chosen people – an uncalled for slight against Judaism. He speaks of the Epic of the dispossessed and how Aeneas seeks a state, a country for his son, in which they can live , basically ruling out any form of adopting another peoples’ way of life. It is this kind of entitlement that is actually building walls between people. Walls that are enforced by an almost stubborn inability to at least learn the new language that some fugitives make their own. It would have been nice if these problems were addressed in the play, but that – seems to me – was to much to want from this script.

Fun facts: according to my wonderful host Joan, a couple of British guests left at intermission, calling the play “rubbish”. And even some of the actors themselves aren’t totally sold on it: at least one can’t wait till It’s done.

 

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The Physicists Sept.17th,’15

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Know the sarcastic proverb “the inmates are running the asylum”? Well, that’s what it pans down in Duerrenmatt’s Physicists. The play is brilliant, sharp, political, irreverent and current and with the right kind of actors it’s a hoot.

It is a hoot in Stratford. Which is no surprise given that Mike Nadajewski, dry witted Graham Abbey, Seana McKenna and Geraint Wyn Davies are sparring with each other.

The play opens with a gruesome murder:a nurse of  the renowned private sanatorium of Dr Mathilde von Zahnd has been killed by one of the inmates, erm patients. The killer, who firmly believes he is Einstein, plays the violin to calm down. He cannot be made responsible for his deed, he is, after all, ill! Just like a couple of months ago when another … patient killed another pretty nurse. Then ” Isaac Newton” could not be made responsible, much to the chagrin of police detective Blocher who understandably itches to bring both delinquents to justice. Alas, as fraeulein dr von Zahnd explains, not gonna happen.

The third patient, Möbius, has company. Years ago, after a nervous breakdown he started to see Solomon. Now his divorced wife comes to say good bye to him. She will accompany her new husband, a preacher, to the pacific. Möbius seems almost relieved about that, as if a heavy load has been taken off his shoulders.

Nurse Monika Stettler is relieved as well. She finally dares to talk to Möbius about her feelings for him. Not only is she in love with him, she also has taken his life in her hands, organised a position at a prestigious university for him and given his writings to a fellow Physicist who is impressed by his findings. Now she presents Möbius with a new life outside the confines of the sanatorium, with the life of an honoured physicist he deserves. Is it a surprise that Möbius kills her?

The third death of a nurse does have consequences though. Only male nurses will be allowed in the future, impressive massive men who are boxers and the likes.

And this leads to a surprising twist. Newton (who only pretended to be Newton because in fact he was Einstein but someone else was already thinking he was Einstein) is quite clear of mind. He is Beutler (Graham Abbey), a fellow Physicist in the pocket of an unnamed authority, paid to befriend Möbius and to garner his findings. And Einstein, it turns out, is Ernesti (Mike Nadajewski), another physicist working for a different unnamed authority. Driven to action by the newly installed safety measures, the two, even though wary of each other, approach Möbius. But he (Geraint Wyn Davies) is it seems the only one with a conscience. His findings during his time in the sanatorium might mean the end of humanity so he prefers to stay and not share his work with anyone.

But it is far too late already. Fraeulein dr von Zahnd has been copying Möbius’ work from day one and built an empire of power and wealth. The end of time has already begnnjun. And so Newton, Einstein and Möbius/Solomon retreat to their rooms, prisoners forever, not able to stop the course of history they unwittingly and unwillingly set in motion…

I of course adored Graham Abbey. His dry wit is hilarious (the translation by Michael Healey is brilliant btw) and his switches from seemingly normal to hysterically bonkers are quite something. Geraint was obviously reigned in and a bit subdued which made his part all the more plausible and Seana McKenna rocks it as the power greedy oligarch.

And that’s the amazing thing: even written in the early 60s ( it premiered in 1962) this play is hauntingly current with its depiction of ruthlesness in the pursuit of money and power, the obvious neglect of human rights and the greed that drives people to extremes. That said, I laughed throughout the play’s satirical dialogues and I’m very glad I get to see it again, because once just isn’t enough!

midsummer night’s dream, a chamber play Sept.12th, ’14

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It’s four amazing actors playing with most of the parts of Shakespeare’s midsummer night’s dream. I was glad I was familiar with the play, as otherwise it would have been a lot less interesting. Dion Johnston, Mike Nadajewski, Sarah Afful and Trish Lindstroem were absolutely fabulous.

And that’s all the good things I’m able to say about the thing. It was shown in what appeared to be a dirty basement with 12 rows of seats. An installation by an artist seemed to me as if everything that had been stored in there was now tucked to the ceiling, but hey, that’s art. Also, I had ordered my ticket in November, when they hadn’t even known yet what venue to use. And then I was seated in the second to last row, and basically didn’t see a thing. I admit I raised a stink and the marvellous stage manager sat me and 3 others in row b.

Unfortunately the directing – by Peter Sellars! – consisted mostly of turning down the lights on the dark coloured stage. It was a bit tiresome. So not really a huge win, this one.

Jacques Brel July 2010

Jacques Brel is alive and well and living in Paris

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It’s not a play with a plot. It’s all about the gripping, often raw ballads of the most incredible songwriter and singer ever gracing this planet. A fan of Jacques Brel, me? oh, but of course.

The only drawback of this absolutely brilliant revue is that all of the songs except two have been translated into English (and luckily so, as Brel’s songs always were about the words and not just the melody …) but in translation some of the weightless flow of the rhythm of the songs is lost – which you realize as soon as you hear the two songs still in French. Somehow though this doesn’t take away from the enjoyment of the songs, but even enhances it.

The revue has a subtitle “songs of self expression” and that is aptly chosen. Because if you want to see some story arc, there you got it – the development and maturation  of a soul in the span of a lifetime.

Now on to the truly exceptional cast: Jewelle Blackman and Nathalie Nadon and Brent Carver and Mike Nadajewski are four voices matched to perfection, each adding their certain special quality to the songs and the ways of interpretation. “My Childhood” brought tears to my eyes – partly due to the interpretation of Brent Carver who stands out even in this really brilliant cast. I adored “Middle Class” and (sadly) recognized myself in it and therefore had a good laugh at my own expenses thanks to Carver and Mike Nadajewski, whose comic timing and expressive face and body language are just brilliant.

And then there is “Amsterdam”. With Brent Carver interpreting it, it’s a hypnotic chant driving you in with no hope of escape – just as the sailors don’t have an escape out of their hard, often miserable lives. Everyone is driven into the same escalating beat of life that is “Amsterdam”. It’s brilliant. Someone told me they had seen the show four times just because of this song and I have to say I definitely understand that.

In the second half Brussels stands out. And The Bulls, of course, once again with Nadajewski lending an innovative touch to the song that leaves the audience hooting with laughter. Then there is Marieke and I think that was the song where they left the original Flemish in the chorus.

And finally there was Carousel – La Valse a mille temps – interpreted by Blackman. I had only heard it sung by men before, Jacques Brel himself on an old recording and Michael Heltau, now the doyen of our most renowned theatre in Vienna, Burgtheater, whose brilliant revues of Brel’s music introduced me to French Chanson. And yet: Jewelle’s voice added a new level of intimacy to it and she made the song spin through your head like a carousel that’s holding you hostage while it’s turning and turning and turning even faster until you surrender to it’s beat.

Standing Ovations at the end. So very well deserved for an evening of undiluted fun with Brel’s chansons interpreted by truly gifted actors.

Plus: I rarely saw a cast so nice and giving at the stage door. One has to remember that they don’t have to talk with fans or even sign – it’s not in their contract. And yet they all do and are friendly and patient and incredibly open, which is very much appreciated by yours truly!

The show’s mostly sold out, by the way. But go, try to get spare tickets – it’s worth it!!