Domini Public – National Theatre, Square2,Friday 23rd July 2010 – Review

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It’s with great pleasure I have my first guest writer for the Theatre Thoughts Blog – Whoohay!!

Kevin and I met via our course at Rose Bruford College and have shared many a conversation and laugh about theatrical things. (especially on whether Ibsen was an Aquarius 😉 – ask us when you see us)

Without further ado here is Kevin’s review of Domini Public:

Were you born in London, were you born abroad… simple questions, not hard to answer and not that moral, but how would you react to being honest about how much you earn, whether you thought you were clever than the average person, if you were creative? How about the really personal stuff, the embarrassing information, the things that would influence how others see you? Would you lie?

Spanish theatre maker Roger Bernat brought his latest and most ambitious production to the space outside the National Theatre where those that bought tickets were both audience and performer. On arriving at the venue, you were given in exchange for some form of id, a pair of wireless earphones (the sort you may have at a silent disco), the play begins and you are guided through the space. Two signs orientate you on says ‘left’ the other ‘right’.

You are asked a series of question; if you were born in London go left, if you were born abroad go right, if you were born in England but outside London stand in the middle, if you know your teams hymn raise your fist, if you ever fell in love with someone you wouldn’t have expected to hold you hand on your heart. You buy into the concept, as an audience member, you want the production to succeed, you want it to be good, so you feel you have to comply with the instructions. If you lie, you may ruin the production.

So, then the questions start to get more personal and works on your petty prejudices; If you have ever been suspicious of an Arab looking man move left, If you feel looking good can help social cohesion raise your hand, if you own property that you rent out move right. Slowly you see factions starting to appear, who are the people that earn the most? Who are the people that are concerned about how they look? Who are religious? Who have children? Then the performance begins.

By seemingly arbitrary questions the group are divided into groups of characters and provided with props and costume and through instructions in the headphones the story of abuse, freedom, capture, hope, despair, rape and genocide is played out. The impact of this play is in its questioning of the conventions of theatre making. We are not actors, but when we raise a gun to someone’s head we are acting. As observers of the action, we are audience, but at a certain part of the play we are asked to look away and by ‘not observing’ we read a new even stronger meaning into what we are not seeing.

Is this theatre? Yes, definitely. Is this a psychology exercise? Yes, probably. Did this fit in my ‘I go to see theatre and hope that I am a different person when I come out to the person that went in’? Absolutely!

Monday Mamet Musings

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I thoroughly enjoy David Mamet’s books, and so thought I’d go through chapter by chapter of his latest book “Theatre” on the blog as and when I have time to. Feel free to comment, and add your views. Mamet isn’t a divine authority, but he certainly gets me thinking, and I trust he does the same for you.

His first chapter is The Hunter and the Game, here he makes an important observation that the Broadway ( as an American he obviously focuses on American theatre) audience is now predominantly made up of tourists;

“The tourist has no memory of last year’s play and actors…He comes to see spectacle, which will neither provoke nor disturb, whose worth cannot be questioned.”

The tourist has a different “agenda” when viewing theatre, they want to be able to go home having had an experience and brag about it. The West End thankfully is seeing a rise in attendance of plays (and of newly written ones too), but it is dominated by spectacles, and some even describe and sell themselves as such. Obviously it’s good that the “spectaculars” bring in tourists and therefore help the economy, but isn’t it a shame that so many of the musicals on currently are simply “juke box” shows or revivals.

Mamet then goes on to say that plays have to succeed in New York for them to then be able to even be printed, tour or be picked up and produced by amateur groups and thus provide a continued income for the playwright. He’s quite scathing regarding the critics, which is interesting as The Stage has recently run  a few articles on the future of the critic and has a good podcast on it (available for free via iTunes).

After reading this chapter, I gained a sense of how fortunate I am to be in London and the UK, which even though I moan and grumble (on occasion), we have a huge amount of theatres in London (40 in the West End alone) which put on a the whole kaleidoscope of theatrical productions one could want to see. See some of my previous reviews from the last months for a variety of what’s been or is currently on.

He ends on a positive note, saying that perhaps the internet will be a way of plays/playwrights being seen by a wider audience. I suppose time will tell.

Fabulous Featrical Feasting

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Yes, I know to my college peers it’ll seem like I’m being smug, but I’ve been cracking on with my background reading for my modules which are due to start next month. Being brutally honest this is the first time that I’ve actually got disciplined to read through as much as possible before the module starts, and so to my peers I highly recommend you get on with some, as I’m finding it exciting and also feel like I know a little bit now about the subjects I’m about to study.

So over the last two weeks I’ve been reading through several of the plays I’m going to be looking at more in-depth, and it’s been great to be reading such a variety. Here are a few of the highlights:

Joe Penhall’s Blue/Orange, totally surprised me, I’d never heard of it or Joe Penhall. The background blurb mentioned that this play had won the Olivier for Best New Play in 2001. I absolutely loved it, it covers a subject (schizophrenia) that is close to my heart as a close friend suffers with this condition. More than this though, it’s so well written and “tight”, no line of dialogue is superfluous, and the conflict of interest between the three characters, really made me want to yell at the character Robert for being such an egotistical numpty!

I love it when the degree introduces me to great plays and playwrights, I can’t praise this play enough, and look forward to reading more of Joe Penhall’s work.

Next I read my first ever Terence Rattigan play  last week. The Browning Version was the play and again I enjoyed this, it again had a link that I could identify with, as I went to a Grammar School. The character Millie is certainly  up there with the list of “stage bitches” such as Hedda and Lady Macbeth. I found the introduction about Terence Rattigan at the start of the book, fascinating, his struggles, and life certainly make for a good read. I’m not sure what I’ll make of his other work but The Browning Version is certainly worth reading or seeing.

Into the Absurd with Jean Genet and his play The Balcony, I read this on the train during rush hour this week and I wonder what my fellow passengers thought as they read snippets over my shoulder. It’s set in a brothel and the first few scenes are rather “kinky” in places.

However as the play develops, Genet’s genius shines through, what or who is real? What is merely illusion? Who really has power?  These are all questions he brings to the fore with this clever play, with sometimes uncomfortable answers. The absurdity of existence is shown in an entertaining and powerful play.

Other writers I’ve read are Ionesco, Pinter and Wesker, more on them in the not too distant future.

It’s great to be challenged, stretched and have my mind and eyes open to such a wealth of theatrical writing, bring on August when the modules start!

Penn and Teller – London Apollo – Review

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As a fellow practitioner of the “dark arts”, I’ve long admired the work of Penn and Teller, yet I’ve never seen them live, as for the last nine years they’ve been based primarily in Las Vegas with their hit show at the Rio Hotel.

After a hiatus of 15 years they announced they were returning to the UK for five dates only, I immediately booked my tickets and have been waiting patiently.

Last nights performance was certainly the best magical performance I’ve ever seen.(I’ve sat through some truly dire magic acts in my time) The magic truly was magical, mouths were just dropping, gasps were audible as they performed their effects. From the opening where a block is smashed off Teller’s head, to the quiet but poignant fire eating end, this was a stupendous piece of live entertainment.

Of particular joy to me was seeing Teller perform his “Shadows” effect, this is a beautiful piece of theatre. Rarely is a magician so creative and clever. His “Misers Dream” effect where coins are produce literally from nowhere, again was just gorgeous and the climax, literally took my breath away (you’ll have to go see them to find out what happens.)

Penn handled his spectators with such charm and reassurance it was a pleasure to see how they interacted and included them in the show. Penn is a consummate raconteur and showman and his witty lines, slick and fast paced presentation was a great foil to the silence of Teller.  Penn’s nail gun trick had me wincing, but in a good way!

The final monologue was a great way of bringing the show to a close and Penn’s fire eating was wonderful and as he stated, “not a trick, just skill and getting used to be burned”

To describe this as a “magic show” , really would be to belittle it, it is a piece of theatre (which most magic acts are anything but). As they renounce religious beliefs, charlatans and psychics, you get caught up in their passion that the human being has an ability to see the miraculous when actually it’s aways just a trick. I’m currently studying a module on “Theatre of the Absurd” at college, and without wanting to sound pretentious, this show fits perfectly into that genre of theatre (looking in the programme, some of their influences were Absurdists).

I left the theatre  in wonder, and a smile on my face content in the knowledge that I went to see the best magicians on the face of the planet, I can assure you that’s no hyperbole, but a fact.


Relatively Speaking by Alan Ayckbourn – Review

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Forty years ago Alan Ayckbourn was commissioned to write a play for the summer season at Scarborough’s Theatre-in-the-Round. His brief was simple, it could have no more than four in the cast, was to be funny and couldn’t cost more than £10!! The result was Relatively Speaking, which launched not just Ayckbourn’s career but also Richard Briers as an actor.

The Miller Centre Players have chosen to present this as the final play in their successful and creative 2009/2010 season. 40 years later does this play still offer us something funny?

Chris Butler’s wonderfully resourceful set, skilfully sets the first scene in Greg and Ginny’s small shabby London flat (in a perfect 1960’s style), we’re then whisked away (courtesy of the newly refurbished revolving stage) to Philip and Sheila’s country residence, this transformation is brilliant and shows the resourcefulness and skill of Chris Butler and the backstage team.

With such a small cast, the play hangs on each of their performances and each one delivered. Robin Clark acted the role of Greg, just right, his delivery and facial expressions were spot on. Kirsty Pannett, looked stylish in her sixties mini skirt and hair do –   and as the culprit of why the characters are in their series of misunderstandings, wonderfully deals with each situation as it arose. John Lacy, was a great Philip, several of the biggest laughs were on his lines and reactions, and rightly so, they were delivered with just the right timing and tone. Suzi Whittle, as Shelia, reacted superbly to all the goings on as her home is invaded and delivered the last line with a fabulous twinkle in her eye. This cast understood that this play required the right rhythm and they worked well together to see this happened and the lines got the laughs they deserved.

So how does the play stand up 40+ years later? I really enjoyed it, as a fun evening of summer’s entertainment it was a pleasant and fun evening. On a deeper level Ayckbourn’s play is about the miscommunication that exists between people, and while in daily life it’s often not quite as funny as this, I found it an accurate observation. In an age of emails, mobile phones, blogs 🙂 etc. It is still hard for us to communicate despite all these “communication mediums”, and yet tragically it’s often toughest to communicate to the people we’re closest too.

Women Beware Women – Review

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Thomas Middleton is a name I’ve heard of and knew about in the context that he’s a contemporary (some scholars say collaborator too) of Shakespeare, yet I’ve never seen one of his plays, until yesterday.

Women Beware Women is regarded  as one of Middleton’s best works and it’s currently on at The National Theatre.

The first thing that strikes you is the stylish set that fills the Olivier Theatre stage. Director Marianne Elliot has chosen to set this in an art deco style and this helps to make the play seem more modern while allowing it to have the style and glamour of a bygone era. Lez Brotherston is to be congratulated on this fabulous set and costuming.

The play is 3 hours in length and  have to say I found the first half did drag. As to be expected Middleton introduces us to the characters, twists and plots in this first half, there were some great witty moments and as the plot thickens we get to see the webs that are being weaved.  The highlight is the scene that involves a chess game being played between Leantio’s mother and Livia as the game is being played another “game” is being done in Livia’s house, it is this scene that is quite famous and I was pleased to see it done so well. I recommend reading; http://streathambrixtonchess.blogspot.com/2006/10/chess-in-art-postscript-game-at-chesse.html for some more info on this scene.

The second half goes with much more punch and panache and was thrilling.

Midd
leton has been dubbed “the Tudor Tarrantino”, and I can see why as the murders come thick and fast. The webs that are woven trap all and sundry and usually ensnare the wrong people with tragic consequences. The final masked ball scene was gripping as the stage revolves around repeatedly the cast run/leap/sneak around and it’s one of the most memorable scenes I’ve scene in theatre.

The cast performed superbly and brought the wit, darkness, tragedy of this play to life (and death) before our eyes.

The gallery band were a subtle and suitable addition to the play and added the right mood as appropriate with their jazz music.

What struck me more was how contemporary this play felt, the issues of greed, lust, manipulation, power are issues that are still prevalent in our society. The programme contains a  wonderful essay by Linda Davies that really links this play with the 21st centuries god of materialism. As a former investment banker she hauntingly tells us;

“Nothing’s changed.

The stage just got bigger.”

Middleton is an accomplished wordsmith and has many memorable lines in this play, one of my favourite sums up the play (and perhaps the human condition) ;

“Sin tastes, at the first draught, like wormwood water

But, drunk again,

’tis nectar ever after.”

Aspiration or Desperation?

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This post is inspired by a few thoughts I’ve recently had and also an interview I read a few weeks ago with Quentin Letts, The Daily Mail’s Theatre Critic. I’m not a reader of The Daily Mail (phew I hear a few of you say!), unless I’m around my dad’s as he gets it. So I’ve seldom read any of his reviews, or his writing. I’ve also no idea where I read the interview with Quentin Letts which is a shame, I think it was The Stage (or possibly the Evening Standard), but I can’t seem to source it now.

Anyway he made a very valid point that a large proportion of modern plays tend to focus on the worst possible people and scenarios, that they wallow in the slurry of 21st Century Britain. That modern playwrights use too much disgusting language and that the Theatre which could  give people aspirations doesn’t seem to be aspiring to that.

I finished reading Jez Butterworth’s Jerusalem, the other day and I have to say I’m a bit disappointed. This has been the “hit” play recently and all it is about is a vile doser and bunch of chavs. Now I’m sure Mark Rylance’s performance as Johnny Byron was superb and I can imagine for many going to see the performance was a key element of them going. However as a piece of drama, I found the play lacking. I also found it a very hopeless piece (perhaps Jez Butterworths aim?).

The play is going to Broadway and it’ll be interesting to see how the Americans respond, however I feel a bit ashamed that this is showcasing “Britain” to them, a bunch of foul mouthed, loose, selfish,drug taking, freeloaders.

I appreciate I sound like “disgusted of Tunbridge Wells” (ironic as I’m from TW), and I’m not averse to plays being used to show us the more unsightly aspects of society or being used to shock, or having “fruity language” but are playwrights being lazy by using the worst of society and placing it on stage as spectacle for the middle classes? While thinking about this I thought how would I write a play that showed something a bit more positive and my answer was that it’s pretty difficult. (I may take up my own challenge one day).

Well I’m not offering any answers, and I’m still thinking this through. Perhaps I’ve misunderstood Jerusalem.

Thoughts and comments more than welcome!