Friday, July 28, 2006

Melting at the Chocolate Factory

Laura and I went to see The Last Five Years at the Menier Chocolate Factory on Wednesday. This is a venue I really like, they stage interesting work and have a good track record with small scale musicals (the current production of Sunday in the Park With George started life in the Menier) but they really need to do something about the air con - or rather the lack of - in the theatre. They were handing out battery-powered fans in the cafe beforehand (and I'd brought a fan along with me anyway because I remembered how stuffy it was when I saw Jonathan Larson's Tick, Tick...Boom! there last summer). But this was something else. I know it's a fringe venue with limited resources but there are limits to what people will put up with.

Shame, as in many respects it's a great space and the show, while often problematic, is worth seeing. It's an account of a five year relationship - told forwards by the man and backwards by the woman, dueting only once in the middle for their wedding scene. Apparently it was based rather closely on composer Jason Robert Brown's own marriage (his ex-wife even brought a law suit against him as a result). It definitely favoured the male character's perspective and because, due to the show's quirky structure, the couple rarely interact, it's difficult to empathise overly with either of them.

Still it had a very New York sensibility to it, which I liked - I'm a sucker for jokes about Random House and the agony of searching for an agent (though I can understand why some people might find that kind of thing insufferably smug and elitist) - and I enjoyed Brown's lyrics particular in the Shiksa Goddess song about his parents' desire for him to date a nice Jewish girl. I'm glad I went along to see it but won't be going back to the Menier in the summer again if I can help it!

As for the flat, we had a second viewing and made an offer on it. We're swimming in paperwork at the moment but hopefully this is the one.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

On The Move

Where to start? Been a packed couple of weeks, a lot happening. First there was Paris. Three days in the French capital; having visited the city before we didn't feel the pressure to cram in tons of cultural trips, to zip around the sights, instead we took things easy, eating long lunches, stopping for coffee, traipsing through the shops. We ate at a couple of wonderful restaurants and stayed in cosy but stylish hotel on a Left Bank side street, near the Luxembourg Gardens. We did spend a morning in the Rodin museum, sheltering from the heat in its tranquil sculpture garden. The whole trip was lovely and over far, far too quickly.

Since getting back everything has revolved around sorting out a place to live (though Lisa and I did find time to see the messy but entertaining Under the Black Flag by simon Bent at the Globe last week). We want to be in by September and have been trawling the internet for suitable flats. Lisa made dinner (and sublime cheese cake) for Matt, Sarah and I on Wednesday and we chose a few to arrange viewings for. We looked at the first four yesterday and surprised ourselves by liking two very different places; we hadn't expected to see something that good so quickly. They're very different places but I think one had the edge on the other, better location and a quirky charm, lots of odd angles, whereas the other was big and airy but kind of soulless.

It was an incredibly tiring day and sitting with L&D and the Gin Soaked Boy at the Hope on Wandsworth Common later that afternoon I felt absolutely shattered. I think the magnitude of what we're doing finally hit home. Today Lisa and I chilled out with a double bill of noir influnenced movies at the Richmond Filmhouse, including the fabulous Brick which really warrents a repeat viewing. We'll find out more about the flat situation tomorrow. Trying not to get too excited until Lisa speaks to the estate agents.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Puppets and Acrobats

Finally had the pleasure of seeing Avenue Q on Tuesday – and it was a pleasure. I can’t remember laughing that much in the theatre for a long while. Yes, a lot of what the critics had to say is true; it is hopelessly slushy, about three songs too long and it does lose something in the second half – but so what? A warm-hearted send-up of Sesame Street was never going to contain razor-sharp satire or relentless narrative drive. It does exactly what it set out to do, keep its audience entertained and send them happily out into the streets. I had a great time as did Laura, who came along with me.

The following night I went to check out the return of Vesturport Theatre’s Woyzeck to the Barbican. I remember being rather intrigued by this production last year when it was part of the Barb’s Young Genius season but never got around to going along. Since then Lisa and I saw, and adored, Kneehigh’s wonderful Nights At The Circus with the Icelandic Gisli Orn Gardarsson as the sceptical journalist Walser. That closing scene of Fevvers and Walser spinning in midair - reaching out to one another - was one of the most beautiful things I have seen on the stage this year.

Well, Gardarsson directed Woyzeck and the production contains many of the circus-influenced elements that Vesturport are renowned for and that, obviously, featured a great deal in Nights. This was the main draw for me - I love the gleefully physical nature of their work. I knew very little about Georg Buchner’s play before I went, and if I’m honest don’t think I came away from it knowing much more. The production contained some stunning moments, but it felt very episodic – perhaps inevitably given that Buchner died aged 23, before Woyzeck was completed, leaving only a series of fragmented scenes – and the whole thing was rather bemusing: the podgy Cupid character with a bow and arrow? The Godlike Elvis-impersonator chappie with the giant inflatable globe? I’m still none the wiser as to what they were there for. Still, the tragedy of the central story eventually shone through the oddness and the final scenes were rather disturbing - powerful and unsettling to watch. In other words, the antithesis of Avenue Q.

Woyzeck may have been dark and ambitious and pushed its performers to their physical limits, but if I were going to sit through either again it would be the one with the puppet porn!

Sunday, July 02, 2006

More City Bliss

The National’s new production of The Seagull was one of the productions I was most looking forward to this summer. I really relished the prospect of seeing Juliet Stevenson on stage and was intrigued to see Ben Whishaw especially as I now know he’ll be playing the lead in the upcoming film of Patrick Suskind’s Perfume. But, once again, I went to the National with high hopes and came away feeling rather underwhelmed.

I’m a bit of a novice when it comes to Chekhov. I’ve not seen The Seagull performed before so it was difficult to appreciate what I gather was the radical nature of Katie Mitchell’s production. The play had been set in some vast warehouse like space, with peeling paint and an air of decay. Servants zipped back and forth constantly and doors slammed with regularity. I could kind of see what she intended, life progressing while these characters were content to stew in their own self-induced torment, oblivious to all else. But all the running about ended up muffling a lot of the dialogue, which grew to be irritating in the end.

Thursday’s excursion was more successful. Matt and I went to see Matthew Todd’s play Blowing Whistles at the Sound Theatre, a cold, curious space in a club off Leicester Square. The play started off as pure sitcom, but slowly evolved into something darker and more contemplative. It was a bit formulaic but it had some great lines, and realistically recreated the repetitive and painful nature of a relationship in meltdown.

The flat-hunting has progressed no further but Lisa and I, and some of her work colleagues, had a nice, long gin-sprinkled lunch in Covent Garden last weekend, followed by a bit of shopping – another of those blissful city afternoons that makes me long for the autumn, when all this will be possible without an hour’s journey each way on the Shepperton train.