Thursday, 17 December 2009

Inherit The Wind Review

Inherit The Wind by Jerome Lawrence and Robert Edwin Lee
The Old Vic, London SE1

Heresy and Headlines

The trusty jalopy had to tractor along to Waterloo,  if only to see Kevin Spacey act on stage.  Such a celebrity reason was bound to be ambushed – luckily in the best possible way. TLT’s fuzzy historical perception was of a white-haired, short-waisted Spencer Tracey (in this case KS) verbally assailing a court, waving Darwin's Evolution of the Species. But the play turns out to be much more than that,  a gripping  ensemble tragedy, even if apparently noone's life, only a school curriculum, is at stake.  Hard to judge KS’s performance, through no fault of his own. Simply he's known as a brown-haired public personality and much younger than his white locks in this production. Still TLT thought, whether it’s celebrity pre-destination or not, he was fine. But that, to paraphrase a line in the play, is not the point. This communal drama puts everything on the scales and pays the dividends.  Honest voices rising above the mob are the schoolboy who declares he has to think things [pause] over before anyone tries to steamroller him into accusing his schoolteacher of heresy. And  the local merchant who says opinions are bad for business (though later breaks his own rule). Yet who are the lost souls of the play? Not the townsfolk, enveloped in charismatic religion,  nor the beleagured schoolteacher and his daughter-of-the-local-preacher girlfriend, nor the chequebook journalist. Rather it's the two lawyers (KS the defence and the prosecution cum politician played magnificently by David Troughton) left to duel in a fee-driven political limbo like two warring heads on the same body, fulfillling the biblical injunction of inheriting the wind. Definitely a green light.

Sunday, 13 December 2009

Molière or The League of Hypocrites Review

Molière or The League of Hypocrites by Mikhail Bulgakov
Finborough Theatre, London SW10

Periwig and Sickle

Back to the Finborough to see an interesting take on the machinations of artistic life under Soviet rule through the prism of seventeenth century playwright Molière and the machinations of Louis XIV's French court. Lively direction and performances by all concerned, a mix of young and upcoming and more seasoned actors. An appreciative full house added to a play well-suited to the Finborough bijou stage with clever design making the most of the atmospheric fringe theatre. This is a play relying on the audience understanding cathartic codes to escape Stalinist censorship eg For Catholic Church descending on beleaguered playwright, read Communist Party while the farcical features lightly mask a deeply tragic reality. A stand out performance by Gyuri Sarossy as King Louis but all the cast did well in an engrossing piece of theatre. TLT felt it was well worth the price of a ticket and gives it a green/amber light.

Friday, 16 October 2009

Our Class Review

Our Class by Tadeusz Słobodzianek
National Theatre, SE1

Double History

Another National Theatre trip - this time to see a Polish play having its premiere run at the Cottesloe, yet to appear in Poland. The story revolves around Polish Jewish and Catholic classmates together before the Second World War only to be ripped apart in every direction as Poland is overrun first by Soviet troops, then by National Socialists and then as contested truths begin to emerge post war. In TLT's opinion, there's a lot that's very fine in this drama (mainly the second act) but also much that is weak (mainly the self-conscious first act). The first half introduces an unnamed town's Jewish and Catholic children starting 1920s infant class and takes us up to the wartime massacre of the Jewish population by fellow townsmen - and classmates. It felt like a lot of telling. The historical timeline is presented but with no sense of subtext and no link to a newly independent and economically struggling infant democracy emerging from colonial rule.  At least one myth, of how surnames were changed on immigration, seemed to be accepted as an unimpeachable truth and there was a certain amount of stereotyping (even down to wedding day Fiddler On The Roof choreography). One line  put into the mouth of a woman jarred on TLT as if gender roles had been reversed for impact rather than truth. The atrocities,  though undeniably needing to be brutal and powerfully portrayed,  sometimes crossed the line for TLT into sensationalism. The second half  deals with the aftermath of the war up to modern times and, for TLT, was far the stronger,  containing a powerful subtext not only reflecting a certain situation within Poland but also, just as intractably, the world outside. Integrating seamlessly and poignantly political and emotional understanding, it felt much more fluid with fully rounded personalities, a sense of place, and a feel for gender divides  conjured up on the bare stage. Excellent acting throughout. If only the first act had shown more of the insight of the wholly absorbing second act it would have been a green light. As it is, an amber light award from TLT.

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

The Power of Yes Review

The Power of Yes by David Hare
National Theatre, SE1

Foreclosed Minds

What a class-ridden declamatory curiosity The Power of Yes turns out to be. And what are we to make of unperturbed corporate creatures who step forward to rehearse legally safe phrases? No tackling even of basic questions such as what defines a “banker” nowadays when nobody seems to sport the founding name of the financial institution where they work. (Where are Mr Goldman and Mr Sachs or indeed Mrs Goldman and Mrs Sachs?). Instead a drippy fotherington-thomas author wants to have a chat with white middle class people who made a career choice after uni and are deemed to be VERY IMPORTANT. How nice. Let’s have dinner. Let’s commiserate about how things seem to have gone wrong. Except only the proles – oops – debt-laden fellow citizens have to trot along to the Citizens Advice Bureaux. For these on-stage ethereal creatures CAB still appears to mean that thing you hail on expenses. A red light opportunity missed. Or maybe the opportunity has already been grasped?

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Breaking News (warning, this report contains flash beeping)

Beep! Beep! Beep! TLT was, to use a technical theatre motoring term, gobsmacked by an email from Jenni at Stagejobspro that we’re the Featured Theatre Blog of the day! Whoooay! Perfect three point turn, spotting hidden crossroads, passing the test and MOT all at once! My car  is scarlet with pride and my blog is read! Over-excited but conscientious as ever, TLT stopped at a handy layby to look through . Although a cute little burping stream of non-highway code beeps may have distracted passing motoristsBeeeeeep!

Monday, 28 September 2009

The Ones That Flutter Review

The Ones That Flutter by Sylvia Reed
Theatre503, SW11

Leasehold Lives

The fluttering ones being birds shot on a hunt who cling to their lease on life nevertheless … This intriguing yet ultimately frustrating play seems to defy its tag as a death row drama with its centre shifting from scene to scene. This could be one of its raisons d’etre, although TLT found as one scene followed another, moments of conflict felt a little schematic and forced. The play touches on big issues: death row, the svelte representative of a property developer wielding – presumably - pre-credit crunch cash, the relationship between taciturn white warder and his Texan jail tenant, a poetic black prisoner, a claustrophobic and violent childhood, a lost sibling. At the same time, having only hints of emotional connections and threat rather than making us feel them underpowers this one-act play. Yet, alongside atmospheric set design and sound, this drama's pace holds the audience, while there’s enough in the writing and acting to whet the appetite and catch fluttering glimpses of something more substantial. An amber light for a thought-provoking evening.

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Review: Mother Courage and Her Children

Mother Courage and Her Children by Bertolt Brecht
National Theatre, SE1

Ma Courage Struts Her Stuff

First time ever to see this Brecht classic. Mother Courage (Fiona Shaw) less a representation of maternal courage than a would-be profiteer, an obliviously harmful whirlwind, unevenly revealing and suppressing her motherly instinct for children who could just as well be three war orphans picked up on the way. Costumed from 18th century rock-chick bustle via other conflict fashion to a final clinical 21st century boilersuit, Mother Courage sashays behind the lines, accompanied by dreadlocked singer and band. In keeping with Brecht’s theory of distancing (I assume) there’s raucous noise, yelling, some over miked singing and narration and a lot of hammering home of messages.  TLT did wonder if the production would have been a more powerful frayed tapestry with a few less dischordant chords revealing more of the text and plot threads. So, as hit and miss as Mother Courage’s attempt to profit from war (bearing in mind TLT saw a work-in-progress preview). Just about an amber light acquired taste from TLT for a non clock-watching experience while the audience gave it a standing ovation green but several empty seats after the two-hour first act and interval indicated some might see red ... :o

Saturday, 12 September 2009

War Stopped for Heath & Safety Reasons

Mother Courage and Her Children by Bertolt Brecht
National Theatre, London SE1

Apparently in these cash-strapped times we should be grateful for what we get ... This seems to be the attitude of the National Theatre,  informing the audience yesterday only when seated we'd be getting just the first half of Brecht's wartime drama Mother Courage as they hadn't manage to finish the technical rehearsal. This is taking alienation a bit far, TLT thought. Still, unfair to give it the red light purely on the experience as we didn't see the production, opting instead to re-book at no extra cost (excluding fares and time). So we'll let you know when -  [further blogging in this entry is cancelled as we haven't finished the rough copy ...]

Review: Too True To Be Good

Too True To Be Good by George Bernard Shaw
Finborough Theatre, London SW10

The Shawcrank Invention

Shaw has definitely come back into vogue - so full of optimism TLT went to this fringe production. A bad-boy preacher and his piece of hot totty specialise in jewel thievery and persuade a poor-little-rich-girl victim to join them in their exploits.  The trio end up in a colonial outpost where their pasts finally catch up with them. In between there's an awful lot of lengthy speeches which only James Clarkson as the preacher's father seems to scoop up  and imbue with any relish or meaning. A last apocalyptic speech of the preacher appears to indicate what a more mature production could have achieved. It has its moments but we have to give the production as a whole a borderline  amber/red verdict ...