Monthly Archives: April 2014

Privacy

Privacy 2

‘Privacy’ by James Graham

at the Donmar Theatre

21st April, 2014

‘If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear’  

Within the first few minutes of the play’s opening, I could be forgiven for thinking that I had walked on to Dara O’Brien’s TV programme: ‘The Science Club’, with a design to tackle the biggest threat to man who thinks he is immune to the prying eyes of the surveillance state. Such is the witty tenor and pace of delivery of razor sharp lines of enquiry that the play seems part documentary and part satirical sketch.

 No, this is ‘Privacy’ by James Graham which arrives at the Donmar in a tsunami of expectation after the success of his play, ‘This House’ about coalition politics.

Placing himself as the troubled author (Joshua McGuire) on a journey through the digital quagmire of our age, Graham uses discussions of privacy focused on data collection by giant advertising and analytics companies. The whole cast (Gunnar Cauthery, Paul Chahidi, Jonathan Coy, Joshua McGuire, Nina Sosanya, Michelle Terry) are just superb; very versatile in acting a variety of roles for enquiry. Continue reading Privacy

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels

‘Dirty Rotten Scoundrels’

at the Savoy Theatre

April 2014

A guest review by Claire Linney

Since my mother hardly relishes the world of Musical Theatre, I have been coerced into writing a guest review on my latest trip to the theatre to watch ‘Dirty Rotten Scoundrels’, based on the Steve Martin and Michael Cane film of the same name. I should add, before I begin, that contrary to almost everyone else I know who loves Musical Theatre, I hated ‘The Producers’ so I might not be the best person to be critiquing this particular style of the genre. However, I can’t deny I thoroughly enjoyed ‘Dirty Rotten Scoundrels’,.

 Jeffrey Lane’s book is witty and engaging; the art deco-inspired set design beautifully creates the  novel’s scene of a decadent casino culture in the French Riviera. We are introduced to the two conmen; the suave, effortless charming and ruthlessly exploitative Lawrence Jameson (Robert Lindsay) and the rough edged, coarser, but no less determined protégé, Freddy (Rufus Hound). An initial harmonious partnership in fleecing the Riviera’s wealthiest visitors quickly descends into a wager between the two conmen then predictably chaos and hilarity ensue. Continue reading Dirty Rotten Scoundrels

Occupied

Occupied‘Occupied’ by Carla Grauls

 At Theatre 503

8th April 2014

‘We are creating little territories in your country, a hostile takeover of your garden sheds, houses and your toilets. The occupation has begun.’

Within a fortnight, a return trip to Theatre 503 entertains us once again by showcasing another new talent, Carla Grauls’s unusual and innovative play,  ‘Occupied’. The title is a tidy sound bite to explore a range of issues which are in the forefront today. So in keeping with the dictionary definition of ‘occupied’:

1. To dwell or reside in – Literally, ‘occupied’ evokes public lavatories and thus a disused Victorian loo provides an inventive setting to explore how we can soil, damage and ruin people.

2. To seize possession of and maintain control over by or as if by conquest – Shockingly, the first scene opens to Tom (Luke Waldock) lying tied up and seemingly unconscious on the floor. He is being held hostage by Alex (Mark Conway) and Andreea (Josie Dunn) who are Romanian immigrants living in the toilet.

3. To fill up (time or space) – Alex’s simple motivation for imprisoning Tom is to be empowered by understanding English characteristics, and spend time learning how to be English and fit in order to get a job and to pick up English girls. Josie Dunn’s adept and sombre playing of ‘Rule Britannia’ adds a dark irony to Tom’s interrogation.

4. To engage or employ the attention or concentration of  – At first the central issue seems to be about immigration with the toilet walls plastered with articles from tabloids. Daily Mail headline cuttings such as: ‘MIGRATION – I DO SHARE YOUR CONCERNS – serves as a reminder of Middle England’s approach to cultural stereotypes and prejudices which are deliberately satirised but sadly true.

Quickly, the thrust of the play has a stab at exploring the complex nature of national identity and what it takes to survive in western society. Migration of identity is seen as precarious and contradictory. One minute, Alex and Andreea are savouring their culture through their nation’s music and drinking pálinka, only for Alex, to be destabilised by the ghosts of communism and Ceausescu, cleverly depicted by the repugnant smell of a Romanian bag lady ( Fiz Marcus). In his quest for understanding, Alex is exposed as a dangerous fantasist as he is unaware of his own limitations to realise his expectations.

Conway delivers a gritty performance of Alex’s insecurity and extreme volatility. He is able to rescue Andrea from a brothel yet he manipulates her to prostitute herself and steal to survive.

5. To hold or fill (an office or position) –Tom’s character is less well developed even though Alex sees him as a wealthy self-martyr who has lost the appetite for material indulgence and one  whose earnings have contributed to deep anxieties. Andreea could be labelled as one of the popularised ‘New Fagins’ but invites the most sympathy with her disciplined daily routine of silently saving up the money she has pickpocketed. Alex regards employment as a task that is built on the equality of opportunity rather than oppression, but he merely becomes frustrated. Continue reading Occupied

Die Frau Ohne Schatten

Die Frau Ohne Schatten‘Die Frau Ohne Schatten’

at The Royal Opera House

 2nd April, 2014

‘Ye wedded folk, lying in each other’s arms, you are the bridge against the great abyss, on which the dead return again to life! Blessed be the fruit of your love!’

Fairy tale conventions feature conflicts between good and evil, with magic and luck usually determining happy endings. Universal human emotions such as love, hate, courage, kindness, and cruelty  are the main ingredients. William Strauss’s ‘Die Frau Ohne Schatten’ has all these though there is some over indulgence from the librettist Hugo von Hofmannsthal’s plot that defies summary – it is absolutely stuffed with symbol and parable. Therefore, it does not have customary fairy tale simplicity; the complexity of the opera leaves you wondering just how much has been absorbed.  Perhaps, for the greatest part, the opera is clearly an allegorical fairy tale reflecting on a loveless marriage. Here, the idea that a woman can only be fulfilled by having children would cause Germaine Greer and Caitlin Moran to scream in protest.  But hey, this is early twentieth century with an all pervading sense of patriarchy.

The richness and complexity of Hofmannsthal’s writing obviously inspired Strauss to compose one of his densest and daunting scores. So it is not surprising that his magnum opus is rarely staged.

The narrative concerns two couples: the Emperor (Johan Botha) and Empress (Emily Magee)—he, a mortal human, she, the daughter of the spirit god Keikobad—and Barak, the Dyer (the opera’s only character who has a name), a poor but decent man, and his dissatisfied young wife who is vulnerable to being unfaithful. Between them stands the Empress’s Nurse, a diabolical woman of the spirit world who hates anything human. After a year of marriage, the Empress is still without a shadow—Hofmannsthal’s symbol for motherhood. If she doesn’t conceive, her human husband will be turned to stone and she will have to return to her father. Like all good fairy tales, a deadline of three days is imposed for the Empress to succeed. In order to aid her mistress, the Nurse plots to steal a shadow from the Dyer’s Wife (Elena Pankratova). Continue reading Die Frau Ohne Schatten

Versailles

Versailles‘Versailles’ by Peter Gill at Donmar Warehouse

5th April 2014

A guest review by Derek Linney

Write a 5,000 word essay on ‘The Versailles Treaty as an illustration of the choices facing the British after the Great War’. Your answer should pay particular attention to the disposition of the Saar coalfields and whether ceding them to France, as reparation or punishment of Germany, was political expediency at the cost of longer term stability in post-war Europe. If you can link this theme to the social changes, or lack thereof, occurring in upper-middle class English households and to women’s suffrage, bohemianism, shell-shock, capitalism and Bolshevism, Empire and also the relationship between the civil service and politicians then additional marks may be awarded.  Introducing the subject of homosexuality  into your answer may also improve your grade.

This, well the first part anyway, could be one of the essays in the final year of my History degree. But rather it is the starting point for Peter Gill’s three-hour long play that has just finished its run at the Donmar Warehouse. I was first attracted to the play by its subject matter related to the Versailles Treaty but it turned out to be an enjoyable theatrical experience. Gill succeeds in treating his audience as intelligent and knowledgeable rather than spoon-feeding us the historical background and without the need to sign-post the points he is making. The majority of theatre critics liked the play although some commentators have been less generous, obviously finding three hours of largely intellectual discussion too much for them.

Continue reading Versailles

Elemental

Elemental‘Elemental’ by Diane Cutlack at Strawberry Hill House, Twickenham.

29th March, 2014

‘.. …my job is to draw what I see, not what I know.’

As artist, William Turner was driven by his desire to see, his tremendous love for light and what it could do; but in his life he was too much driven by his desire to hide, to be in the dark. ‘Elemental’ is Twickenham resident, award-winning playwright and producer Diane Cutlack’s  most recent play  and was performed at Strawberry Hill House, Horace Walpole’s gothically indulgent home.  ‘Elemental’,  written on behalf of Turner’s House Trust, succeeds as a  well researched, potted ninety minute biography of the artist, William Turner, one of England’s most original painters of landscapes and seascapes.  Scenes alternate smoothly between Turner’s gallery in Harley Street and his home, Sandycombe Lodge, in Twickenham.

The play opens with a viewing in Turner’s private gallery in 1822, a time when he was becoming financially secure and his output had become undoubtedly prodigious. Immediately, through the caricatured Lady (Anneli Page) and Gentleman (Raymond Daniel- Davies), we sense that the artist is used to and even courted controversy, learning to use it to his advantage.

Robert Blackwood as Sir George Beaumont is wonderfully menacing as he slides on stage like a Dickensian Podsnapp parasite.  Like the Gentleman, Beaumont plays the role of an arbiter of taste and tradition: an embodiment of the establishment  who ridiculed Turner’s work and subscribed to many  derogatory anecdotes about him.  Beaumont serves as both Chorus and Turner’s nemesis, passing judgement on his lack of heritage, but also as a reminder of artist’s hubris. It is clear that the public wanted near-photographic realism in the treatment of material objects, not an exploration of the subtle interplay of light and atmosphere.  So Turner’s growing influ­ence was deemed to be dan­ger­ous for young artists. Beaumont concludes Turner was doing more harm in misleading taste than any other artist. Fashion paid lip service to the slower-drying oils which were highly regarded culturally and which delivered the warm tones of the old mas­ters (partly due to the yel­lowed var­nish and dirt accu­mu­la­tion). Therefore Turner was con­sid­ered treach­er­ously too bright. Nevertheless, wealthy patrons took note of Turner’s artistic genius and the latter ironically gained membership and approbation from the organisation that represented the heart of the British art establishment. Continue reading Elemental