Monthly Archives: August 2013

The Amen Corner

Amen_CornerThe Amen Corner by James Baldwin at National Theatre, London, 14th August 2013

‘I’m Not Tired’   (Quotation from the music used for The Amen Corner)

 Praise the Lord’, the National Theatre continues to surprise and engage audiences with culturally diverse plays and all-black casting. Rufus Norris’s revival of James Baldwin’s 1965 gospel drama was certainly good news which also dispelled any prejudices I have ever had about being subjected to a musical.

The first ten minutes are disquietingly invigorating yet devotional for a non-Christian audience. The visceral gospel singing by the rightly acclaimed London Community Gospel Choir quickly immerses us into the emotional complexity of a Pentecostal corner church community in 1950s. Its pastor, Sister Margaret (brilliantly delivered by Marianne Jean-Baptiste) drives the simple plot. Her relentless, uncompromising sermonising both unifies the community and divides them. Continue reading The Amen Corner

Chimerica

Chimerica‘Chimerica’ by Lucy Kirkwood at the Harold Pinter Theatre, London, by the Headlong Tour company

19th August 2013

“We see only what we know” (Goethe)

Chimerica’s  quizzical title -an amalgam of China and America – from the historian Niall Ferguson, is a new play by Lucy Kirkwood. The play, a magnificent achievement of its six year evolution, only slimly surpasses Lucy Prebble’s ‘ Enron’ – a reminder of the exciting new female talent in the country.

Chimerica begins with the iconic image of the Chinese protester/ the ‘Tank Man’, armed only with two shopping bags, stopping the might of an oppressive institution, symbolised by his stand before a phalanx of tanks.  This is captured by the photojournalist, Joe Schofield (Stephen Campbell Moore), an American then aged 19, who just happens to have the perfect view from his Beijing hotel window of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre. Years later, the fictional quest to find the Tank Man drives the deceptively simple narrative to achieve a transition from the opportune photo moment to the ramifications of Jo’s personal reckless pursuit. Continue reading Chimerica

Steve and Then It Ended

Steve_and_it_endedSteve and Then It Ended by Adam Usden at Theatre 503: 12th January 2013

“This is the way the world ends

Not with a bang but a whimper.”  T.S. Eliot

Adam Usden’s apocalyptic drama is a consciously crafted debut play which is the stuff that popular disaster films have explored for decades. Some people have been unsettled by Mayan prophecy that some catastrophic event would occur and the world would end on Dec. 21, 2012. The focus is on a small family unit to discuss what matters most in the world when that world seems redundant.

It is the end of the world when Steve (Matt Sutton) opens the play, marooned on a chair, dangling a trainer to measure the boundaries of what still exists. Nothing is clear at this stage. Has he survived? Is he merely deranged? Is he in limbo en route to purgatory?  A series of flashbacks offers some initial flippancy and later dark humour. The family eventually provide a collective consciousness uniting together to support and love one another.

The ending, perhaps, is a little too abrupt, but then again, life happens and forever rushes forward. It is an ambitious play which is enjoyable, and though areas could do with some pruning, I look forward to seeing more of Usden’s work.

 

Avenue Q

Image-AvenueQlogoAvenue QCity Academy’s five day musical workshop production at Sadler’s Wells – Lilian Bayliss Studio

No, it sucks to be me!

Ok this will be short… Once the audience got over being crammed into a tiny workshop space, we were bombarded with mischief, bad behaviour and political incorrectness – a porn-loving Trekkie monster, some suicidal fluffy bears and just ‘a little bit of racism’.

Avenue Q is a hybrid of South Park and the Muppet Show in an all singing, all dancing musical “fur-fest”.  As its creators explain, ‘The metaphor is a children’s show to tell you about adult life’ and it is in this paradox that the attraction lies.’ I do have a sense of humour but this was not up my ‘Sesame Street’ of entertainment when confronted by a cast of fluffy, filthy and forgettable characters.

The narrative is simple: a story of Princeton, a bright-eyed college graduate who comes to New York City with big dreams and a tiny bank account. He soon discovers that the only neighbourhood in his price range is Avenue Q; still, the neighbours seem affable. There’s Brian the out-of-work comedian and his therapist fiancée Christmas Eve; Nicky, the good-hearted slacker and his roommate Rod—a Republican investment banker who seems to have some sort of secret; an Internet addict called Trekkie Monster; and a saccharin-cute kindergarten teaching assistant, named Kate.

The cast is made up of a mixture of humans. and puppets which are skilfully manipulated by City Academy’s actors, who are clearly visible,  deliver the dialogue and songs. The impressive thing is that so much prep work must have been done that often you watch the puppets rather than the real people operating them – even when one person is doing the voices of two different characters onstage at the same time, and someone else is moving another one – it all gets very complicated!

For a workshop, the cast is, in the main,exceptionally strong . Versatile Paul Moore’s, Rod certainly adds robustness to every scene. Justin Jeffrey’s’ Princeton achieves a credible puppyish appeal.  Helena Tang is Lucy The Slut – one of her most convincing roles to date. While Aika Nishimura provides many comical moments as Christmas Eve, she seems to struggle vocally  and remembering her lines at times. In contrast, hearing my daughter, Claire, cast in the New York tradition as the male Gary Coleman, sing ‘You can be as loud as the hell you want when you’re making love’ gave me much to think about!

Director, Alex Sutton ticks all the feel good boxes; Pippa O’Brien adds energy to a somewhat tedious predicable musical score, by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx so that the harmonies of Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist, It Sucks to be Me and The Internet is for Porn are slick.

All in all, it was a savvy, sassy production which I found in part endearing and for the most laborious as the central concept is stretched to almost breaking point –  I can think of more enjoyable coming of age stories than ‘Avenue Q’ ….. I enjoyed some of it – sort of, though I was distracted by a very young girl sitting on the floor nearby who was far too young for this dramatic impropriety.

 

The Captain of Kopenick

CaptainofKopenickThe Captain of Kopenick by Carl Zuckmayer at Olivier Theatre

6th February, 2013

“I used to think all the trouble in the world was caused by people giving orders. Now I reckon that it’s people being so willing to take them.”

The Captain of Kopenick, a 1931 German play by Carl Zuckmayer (subtitled ‘a German fairy tale’)that has been robustly adapted by Ron Hutchinson and directed by Adrian Noble.

Basically, set in the regulated Prussian society 1910, it is based on a true story concerning a petty criminal, Wilhelm Voight who is released after fifteen years in prison.  Wilhelm becomes trapped in a bureaucratic maze and becomes an administrative oddity. In other words, he doesn’t exist. It is a Kafkaesque situation whereby he cannot get a job without a residence permit and vice versa. Then follows a series of Montypyhonesque events: he wanders Berlin in desperate, hazardous pursuit of identity papers. Luck changes when he picks up an abandoned military uniform in a fancy-dress shop and finds the city ready to obey his every command. At the head of six soldiers, he marches to the Mayor’s office, cites corruption and confiscates the treasury with ease. But still what he craves is official recognition that he exists. Though he was arrested and, once again, imprisoned, he was later pardoned and made money touring Europe as ‘The Captain of Köpenick’.

This production is awkward. The crudely caricatured performances are tiresome enough to induce sleep. Antony Sher plays Wilhelm as a mole-man who is vocally transformed from a feeble, uneducated thief with an irritating nasal groan into an authoritative officer.  Certainly,  there is too much reliance on Sher  to propel the production. Continue reading The Captain of Kopenick

The Witches of Eastwick

WitchesThe Witches of Eastwick – Riverside Studios – 28th July 2013

“The only way to get rid of temptation is to yield to it. Resist it, and your soul grows sick with longing for the things it has forbidden to itself.”  Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray

A musical? I hear myself groan but hey, loyalty demands that a mother sees her daughter perform. Based on an early novel by John Updike, the show tells a semi-Faustian tale of three dis-satisfied women, tired of their mundane lives and hungry for a man. Their desires are answered by the arrival of the devilish Darryl Van Horne, who seduces all three women, unlocks their true power and sparks controversy in the town of Eastwick. As their modern day witchcraft becomes darker and out of control, the women realise their mistake and seek to cast Darryl out of their lives.

Helena Tang as Jane Smart excels in the scene during which Van Horne seduces her through her love of music, Claire Linney is a revelation as Alexandra Spofford, and Katharine Banbury (Sukie Rougemont) is a perfect example of frustration personified. All three have confident vocals and forcefully carry the show with the full support of an enthusiastic cast. Continue reading The Witches of Eastwick