Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Coffee, Ice Cream & London in the Summer

Yesterday I had one of those perfect London afternoons – affogato (black coffee over vanilla ice cream) and book browsing on the South Bank, followed by dinner and an evening at Sadler’s Wells. I was there to see a production of Carmen by the Catalan Compania Metros. The choreography was a blend of modern dance and flamenco accompanied by extracts from Bizet’s opera. It was intense and alluring and quite beautiful, even if a clear emotional narrative never really emerged.

The dancing was very striking and compelling to watch especially when the rhythm was beaten out solely in handclaps, finger-clicks and the stamping of feet. The costumes were vibrant and the set created a suitably sultry atmosphere. The ending however was curiously underwhelming, with water cascading over the stage but none of the impact of real tragedy.

In other news, the search for a new place to live continues slowly but surely. Lisa and I have a rough idea of our budget and our preferred location. We had a cursory look at estate agents’ windows a couple of weeks ago (an excursion that happily gave way to another of those perfect sunny, city afternoons, lounging in a Clapham cafĂ© for hours) and we will begin looking in earnest when I get back from Paris.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Easy Targets

Alecky Blythe's company Recorded Delivery specialise in a kind of documentary theatre where the actors wear headphones and draw on the vocal tics and speech patterns of their subjects in their performances. Their new show, Cruising, forgoes the broad canvas approach of their previous productions for a more intimate approach, focusing on the life - well, the sex life to be exact - of 72 year old widow Maureen.

Maureen was quite a character - played superbly by Mirandra Hart - but the whole concept of the show could be condensed as: "Gosh, old people enjoy sex too." It was a pretty slight idea, and often you seemed to be invited to laugh at these characters - real people interviewed by Blythe - rather than with them. It was funny in places but as sometimes happens, I was swept along with the laughter of others. It was only when I thought about it on the way home that i started to feel rather uneasy about the production. Plus there was some rather dodgy 'old person acting' from the cast. Not great.

This was my first visit to the Bush Theatre in ages, but I saw a couple of my favourite fringe shows of last year in the place (Dennis Kelly's tense After the End, Amelia Bullmore's superficially conventional but hilarious Mammals) and it's usually worth the schlep over to Shepherd's Bush, even on a sticky summer evening. This just wasn't up to their usual solid standards and, though Hart's sympathetic performance kept me entertained, I found the experience disappointing.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Free Market

I've been looking forward to Market Boy at the Nationalfor a while now. I loved David Eldridge's adaptation of Festen, love it, loved it, and was intrigued by his faith in the idea of 'Monsterist' theatre - big themes dealt with in a big way.

Well Market Boy is big, there's no doubting that. A big cast that completely fills the Olivier stage. Eldridge's play is set in Romford market in the 1980s and takes on every excess of the decade, but some of its targets were awfully broad - the bad hair, the bad clothes, the bad music. The plot was non-existant and it was difficult to care about the thinly sketched characters.

The humour was pretty crude as well, though admittedly very funny. I did laugh a lot. So I guess that's something. Especially at the cartoonish Maggie Thatcher who occasionally interrupted proceedings in her blue suit and gravity defying hair do. But, having only recently seen Festen, as part of its UK tour, and having its intricacies still fresh in my mind, I was expecting so much more from this and was disappointed. I seem to be in the minority though. Most of the major critics have given it rave reviews.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Secret Spaces

On Thursday night I met with Jeins for Japanese food followed by a stand-up show from a deceased comedian. The Venue, the ramshackle subterranean theatre next to the Prince Charles cinema, is currently showing a pre-Edinburgh run of Bill Hicks: Slight Return, where the late comic returns to offer his views on the 21st century in the body of a “little known British actor.” I was quite a fan of Hicks and found the whole idea slightly unsettling, especially given the accuracy of Chas Early’s impression, yet because the writers showed an awareness of the weirdness of the enterprise, raising questions about the whole dead comedian theatrical sub-genre that’s currently prevalent (while admittedly being part of it) I thought they pulled it off. I spent a good chunk of Friday listening to my cassettes (yes, cassettes) of Hicks’ live shows, so something clearly clicked.

I was back in town on Friday night to see the new production by Angels in the Architecture, a company that specialise in putting on plays in unusual spaces. They were staging Christopher Marlowe’s Dido, Queen Of Carthage in the House Of St Barnabas in Soho. The building is a former refuge for homeless women, and its chapel is tucked away on Manette Street opposite Foyles. I’ve been intrigued by this place for years and was very pleased to finally get a chance to look inside. I have an inherent dislike of audience participation so was rather unsure about what to expect as we were plied with wine and handed playing cards by the cast on arrival, but once the play was underway I found the production incredibly inventive, especially in its little details: the ‘Gods’ who hovered on fire escapes and rooftops. An unusual but very enjoyable experience, and there was something rather thrilling about watching a play in a secluded courtyard in the hidden heart of Soho.