WEST END THEATRE, May, 2013 Featured
Some Of It Accompanied By Champagne…
We’re in London for a week, of course seeing theatre.
Amongst the shows we’ll see are three that are completely sold out – PETER AND ALICE, THE AUDIENCE, and THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME – and three that originated at the National Theatre: CURIOUS INCIDENT, BULLET CATCH, AND OTHELLO.
What follows are less reviews than commentaries.
Friday, May 24, 2013
The National Theatre’s Artistic Director, Nick Hytner, directed this new version of OTHELLO, which has been lauded in across-the-board five-star reviews.
Hytner gives most of the play a modern-military look, with plain concrete exteriors (inspired by the National’s exterior?), harsh lighting, and lethal weapons straight out our current wars (And will they never stop?).
The acting is of course superb, though I disagreed with the critical opinion that Adrian Lester’s Othello ran away with the show, as good as most of his performance was. For me, Rory Kinnear’s Iago stole the show.
But both were so good that making any comparison feels like splitting hairs.
Nick Hytner – Sir Nicholas Hytner – has been A.D. of the National for the past ten years, and in my view has far surpassed his predecessors in moving the theatre to new heights. Nick’s announced he’s retiring from the NT in two years.
The guessing game as to his successor runs hot and heavy.
Whoever it turns out to be, he – or she – will have to go a far mile to live up to Nick’s record in the job.
Thursday, May 23, 2013
THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME
I have some personal history with CURIOUS INCIDENT.
As I’ve written elsewhere, the National Theatre has a marvelous program called NTLive, for which they do a six-camera shoot of some of their plays, then show them in movie theaters.
We’ve enjoyed many of these videos, but I didn’t connect with that version of CURIOUS INCIDENT, so we left at halftime.
But then the show won seven Olivier Awards, which happens to be the greatest number any show has ever won, so I decided I’d have to see it “in person” when we came to London.
And we did.
And I was completely hooked in the first 30 seconds. This is a perfect example of what makes theater different, the live actors connecting with the audience in a way impossible to capture on film or video, no matter how well those may be done.
CURIOUS INCIDENT is a marvelous play, riveting throughout, touching, funny, thought-provoking.
I know the following description of the story may well turn you off, so please try to keep an open mind.
Christopher is a fifteen-year-old boy who suffers from what’s variously been described as Asperger’s syndrome or autism. He’s brilliant at math, has a photographic memory, and obviously of exceptionally high intelligence, but he can’t recognize any subtleties in his human interactions, can’t stand to be touched, and goes into a fit whenever something upsets him. As a result, he’s in a special-needs school, and has never been far from his home in rural England.
A series of events causes Christopher go looking for his mother, whom he’d been told by his father had died, but who in fact was alive and living in London. Such a trip through what is for him entirely unknown territory – in all senses – is of course terrifying, but he manages it somehow, so great is his desire to see his mother once more.
Marianne Elliott, the co-director of WAR HORSE, directs CURIOUS INCIDENT with a particularly inventive and deft touch.
This play brings its audiences the best kind of theater, providing an experience play-goers will remember and discuss long after they’ve gone home.
There’s talk of bringing THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME to New York, which will give you a chance to see it without coming to London. I predict it will be a sensation there as well as here.
Wednesday, May 22, 2013
THE AUDIENCE is really comprised the weekly audiences that Queen Elizabeth (Helen Mirren) has held with her Prime Ministers over her 60+ year reign, except for Tony Blair, for some reason. They’re held in a special room in Buckingham Palace – the Palace evidently having rooms to spare for every event – whenever the Queen is in residence.
The stated purpose of these audiences is for the P.M. of the moment to bring the Queen up to speed on what’s going on in his government. Her Majesty has sworn to support the P.M. and government in all of its actions, notwithstanding her personal feelings, but she can hint at those feelings during the audience.
In the audience we see with Margaret Thatcher, the Queen opposes the position being taken by the Iron Lady on sanctions for South Africa. After repeating she is sworn to support the P.M, the Queen asks Maggie if just this once she couldn’t bow to what the Queen thought best for the Country – the Commonwealth, really, in this case – and Maggie in effect tells HRH to bugger off. This sets the tone for the relationship between sovereign and her various prime ministers. Based on THE AUDIENCE, they aren’t cowed in the least by being in the royal presence.
I’d guess that part is true, but question the substance of these imagined meetings in other ways. In THE AUDIENCE, Mirren’s Queen is funny, warm, and caring of the P.M.’s personal problems, which doesn’t quite jibe with what I’ve always read and been told about Queen Elizabeth.
Not entirely accurate, probably, but infinitely more entertaining. She has a favorite P.M. – Harold Wilson, a boisterous working-stiff’s rep – and consoles several others about their problems of the day, meaning their non-political problems.
THE AUDIENCE hasn’t been lauded by the critics or by the serious theatre-goers I’ve discussed the play with, but – as with Judi Dench – I’d go anywhere to see Helen Mirren, and she’s quite wonderful in portraying QE at various times of her life: different body shapes, different levels of mental acuity (she falls asleep during her audience with the current P.M., David Cameron), and so forth.
In the end, THE AUDIENCE isn’t a play at all, but a character study of the Queen, probably greatly inaccurate. I found it entertaining. Most of the readers of this blog are American, though one or more tune in from more than 30 countries, my favorites being China and Albania. I assure you a knowledge of British politics is not a requirement for enjoying THE AUDIENCE.
Rumors abound the show is headed to Broadway; if it gets there, I think the Yanks will enjoy it.
Tuesday, May 21, 2013
The greatest theatre in the world, by which I of course mean The National Theatre, is in the midst of a remodeling program meant to convert the most aggressively plain building in the world to something far more appealing. As part of this program, a new "temporary" theatre called The Shed has been built to be used for small productions while the Dorfman Theatre (nee the Cottelsoe) is made nicer.
I'll believe it's in fact temporary when I see it pulled down, because it's a beautiful, rough-hewn structure (the exterior facade is made up of tall, bright red (Tim) or bright orange (Terri) boards), that's just plain fun to see from the outside, and wonderfully intimate when you’re inside.
One of The Shed's early productions is BULLET CATCH, a one-man sort of magic act written, directed, and performed by a young Scot named Rob Drummond. The show was the hot ticket in last year’s Edinburgh Festival, and played briefly at our very own 59E59 Theater, where Charles Isherwood reviewed it with considerable favor.
BULLET CATCH is described by Drummond in the program – six under-sized pages for a pound! – as a theatre show featuring magic, rather than a magic show, and that’s an apt distinction. During the course of his show’s 75 minutes, he creates a wonderful feeling of eeriness that is truly unsettling, as he tells the story of those magicians who died doing the trick, which Houdini warned against.
Drummond focuses particularly on the death of a then-famous Victorian magician named William Henderson, who died onstage in front of an audience of 2,000 when – and this ties to the theme of the show – he just may have committed suicide in a spectacular way. A volunteer is called from the audience at The Shed to, among other things, play the part of the man who fired the shot that killed Henderson, was arrested for murder, released, and later committed suicide himself.
Though there are several magic tricks in BULLET CATCH, the heart and strength of the show is in the way Drummond uses his volunteer not only to act as the magician’s “stooge”, but to probe the meaning of life in ways that never fail to entrance the viewer.
I have the feeling this show will be around for a long time, probably playing short runs in many a locale.
If you get the chance, see it.
Monday, May 20, 2013
PETER AND ALICE
I’d see Judi Dench in anything, and just did, at considerable expense.
PETER AND ALICE is the second in the five-part (director) Michael Grandage series at the Noel Coward Theatre.
To call it sold-out is an understatement, since even the theatre owners could offer no seats. “Fortunately”, a friendly broker could, through the Covent Garden Hotel concierge, for $250 per, which would be a cheap premium seat for a sold-out show on Broadway. The Brits being more generous than are we (or more conscience-stricken), threw in a bottle of Champagne.
John Logan (REDS, I’LL EAT YOU LAST, and the latest James Bond thriller, "Skyfall") wrote the script of PETER AND ALICE. As has been said about his two Broadway scripts, Logan seems to be a facile writer who comes up with one idea and stretches it out for 90 minutes or so.
In this case, the idea is that children can escape the vicissitudes of real life by losing themselves in fantasy, whilst grown-ups can no longer achieve this. Pretty obvious to anyone who’s been a child and then grown up, but Logan demonstrates the idea with two grown-ups who were used as models for immortal children’s fantasies.
Alice Liddell Hargreaves (Dame Judi Dench, "Skyfall") was the girl upon whom Lewis Carroll based the heroine of “Alice in Wonderland”; Peter LLewelyn Davies (Ben Whishaw, "Skyfall"), the boy upon whom James Barrie based Peter Pan.
When they meet at the start of PETER AND ALICE, she’s an impoverished woman of 80, he a young publisher. Before long, both Carroll and Barrie have joined the action, as have a green-attired Peter Pan, and a young actress who confusingly plays both the storybook Alice and Peter Pan’s Wendy.
PETER AND ALICE has some lovely moments, but John Logan stretches his idea until it’s rice paper-thin. This 90-minute Logan play could have been improved by lopping off 10-15 minutes.
I’ll bet it would still have sold out, even without the Champagne.