Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Romeo and Juliet at Middle Temple Hall

Interval Drinks has ceased running around her new garden long enough to go and see some actual theatre. Though it wasn’t in a theatre, oh no, it was in the rather grand setting of Middle Temple Hall with its ornate beamed ceiling and stained glass windows.

A company called Theatre of Memory are currently staging an agreeable version of Romeo and Juliet there as part of the 2008 Temple Festival and there was something rather exciting about making my way through the courtyards and cloisters behind Fleet Street to this Elizabethan building and getting to explore its wood-panelled corridors before the show. I even forgot to visit the bar, distracted as I was.

And the production itself? Well Interval Drinks has been known to get a little swayed by beautiful buildings and places into which you wouldn’t normally venture, to the point where she can rather overlook a show’s flaws (Hysteria at St Barts earlier this year being a case in point) but this was a far more coherent and satisfying production than that. A solid, safe thing with solid, safe performances. Juliet Rylance was a decent Juliet, if a tad too composed and grown up. Romeo, played by Isaac from Heroes (Santiago Cabrera) was a bit insipid at first but he grew on me. Ann Mitchell, as the nurse, stole her scenes by sheer force of personality and heft of considerable bosom.

The room itself presented a number of challenges to the cast, being long and narrow, with the audience seated on three sides. Despite the audience’s proximity to the performers, the high ceilinged space made intimacy difficult and acoustics were also an issue at times. The lights too flickered on and off, seemingly at random, on more than one occasion in a pleasingly spooky and, I assume, an unintended fashion.

The costumes however were a joy, all whites and creams and golds. The Montague and Capulet men wore lace-fronted shirts, cockily angled hats, three quarter length trousers and gun holsters. They looked absurd but it worked, in context, surprisingly well.

So hardly a revelatory production of Romeo And Juliet but an enjoyable one if, at three hours, something of a slog. Interval Drinks believes tickets are available via the Barbican website.

Oh and, after this post, Interval Drinks promises not to write about herself in the third person any more. Personal pronouns are definitely the way to go.

Friday, August 22, 2008

The Vortex

A Non Theatre post, as I’ve been doing predominantly non-theatre-y things this week, mainly involving running round the garden, as mentioned, and exploring my new neighbourhood. (And can I just ask whether there is a word for the kind of hypocrite who waves her hands around in vaguely classist alarm when a branch of Cath Kidson opens up the road from her old flat and then gets over-excited when she realises her new home is within walking distance of a Waitrose? Because, it seems, that this is exactly the kind of hypocrite I am.)

Anyway, continuing down the non-theatre line, the man known as Barry and I skipped over to Dalston last night for an evening of Turkish food and jazz on the Kingsland Road and it was lovely. We saw a young vocalist called Mishka Adams at the Vortex and it was everything you want from a night like that: red wine, low lights, smooth music. I don’t think I have the necessary vocabulary to talk about jazz, not in any analytical way at least; I just know I enjoyed myself and will be repeating the experience at some future date.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Piaf at the Donmar

Hurrah! I am all moved in! I am now a resident of Balham, in a proper house with stairs and a garden and everything. I also ache muchly from all the lifting and shifting. But it was worth it. And it wasn’t nearly as stressful as it could have been due to some incredibly helpful and generous friends.

I have not had much time for theatre this past week, not had much time for anything else in fact. I did however have tickets for Piaf at the Donmar Warehouse which I had been looking forward to and which I enjoyed hugely, despite the fact that Elena Roger’s performance totally eclipsed the play itself. Her performance was genuinely captivating; good enough, I thought, to make one overlook the fact that Pam Gems’ play was a rather spindly thing. Anyway I have blogged about it over here, so I won’t repeat myself. Besides I have to go and run round my garden some more like an overexcited three-year-old, making happy noises.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

On The Move

It has been a bit quiet here of late, as foolhardy woman that I am, I am once again packing all of my worldly goods into boxes and ferrying them from one bit of south London to another bit of south London. There were good reasons for doing this, I’m sure there were, I’m just struggling to remember them now as I unload books from shelves (books that appear to have independently bred in the last twelve months) and empty kitchen cupboards. Again.

Oh, how I wish that I had a handy transportation device that would whisk me and my things straight into the new place. But I do not, so everything must be wrapped and hauled and lugged, fortunately we have many kind friends who have offered to help share wrapping, hauling and lugging duties. And though the process of moving is daunting, the prospect of setting up somewhere new is rather exciting; I am not good at staying still, I like newness and adventure. Uncharted waters and all that.

Lately (perhaps in response to the inherent passivity involved in sitting in so many darkened theatres - even if you are, you know, actively, critically engaged like what I am) I have been writing stories and painting mediocre - but oh so satisfying - pictures of flowers and grapes and peppers, and baking cakes and cookies; revelling in the feeling of creating and completing a thing even if its edges are a trifle charred or smudgy with blue. It is a nice feeling.

Friday, August 08, 2008

A Mad Macbeth and Then The Menier

If you’ve been to the South Bank this week you may have seen that the National have erected a big-fenced off area near the stage door. This is Square2, and for the next couple of weeks it is home to two international former Edinburgh hits, the first is Macbeth: Who Is That Bloodied Man?, a condensed al fresco take on Shakespeare’s tragedy full of motorcycles, stilt-walkers and guns, by a Polish theatre company. (There was going to be a rather laboured riff here on the production featuring an abundance of poles – the wooden kind – and Poles, but I suspect that would be scraping the bottom of even my shallow barrel).

We were ushered into fairly large space where the audience were made to stand behind crash barriers and, given that this is open air theatre in London in August, it immediately started to rain. Everyone fiddled with hoods and scarves and brollies in a stoic manner but fortunately it didn’t last long and the residual damp in the air kind of complimented the production’s war-scarred, slightly Mad Max-ish landscape. I was particularly taken with the witches, who strode around the place on stilts, dressed in black, their faces covered with white veils. When shot by the gun-toting Macbeth they would drop to the ground before silently rising again like Michael in the Halloween films. It was really rather creepy.

The production is short, just over an hour, and they’ve ripped out nearly all the dialogue, except for a few key passages (which are delivered in over-amplified and accented English). Instead they really fairly firmly on the visual to convey the power of the narrative, acknowledging that if you’re going to make people stand around for an hour you better give them plenty to look at. It was a visceral and memorable experience, one that had a pleasing cohesiveness, a sense of an over-arcing vision at work, rather than just being a string of striking images. However I suspect the National’s health and safety officer must have developed a whole collection of nervous ticks by now, what with the heady blend of flames and petrol on display here and the onstage fires lit every night in …some trace of her

This week I also saw They’re Playing Our Song at the Menier Chocolate Factory, a production that, while not truly awful, left me shrugging my shoulders and wondering what the point of it was. It seemed to be wholly an exercise in 1970s kitsch. That’s it. Ho, ho, look: orange curtains, a turquoise cardigan, some bad wigs, and so forth and so on. At least the costume changes raised a few laughs, as the one-liners, particularly in the first half, fell rather flat, leaving quite a few of those awkward, empty moments where you knew a laugh was supposed to be required, that a line was meant to be funny, only it hadn’t quite worked out that way.

While the leads – Alistair McGowan and Connie Fisher – were both amiable enough (she has a lovely singing voice and he has, well, he has a voice) and did much to make me feel warmly towards the production, they both seemed miscast as fast talking New York types and the play itself (it’s not really a full-on musical) seemed a ridiculously inward-looking piece of writing, a musical about a composer and lyricist who meet, bicker a little, get together, break up and get together again. Apparently it was based on the relationship between Carole Bayer Sager and Marvin Hamlisch who supplied the (forgettable, except for the title number which was just annoying) lyrics and music that accompany Neil Simon’s book. But that doesn’t excuse the lack of dramatic tension and the songs that evaporate from the memory the minute you step outside the theatre. It raised a couple of smiles I’ll admit, but I couldn’t shake this so-what feeling the whole time I was sitting there.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Two Nights At The National

Things have been a bit quiet around here recently. Well that’s not strictly true, life has been the opposite of quiet, with weddings to attend and house-moves to plan. But, in theatre terms, things have been quiet. However at the end of last week I did have a couple of lovely back-to-back nights at the National. On Thursday I met up with my friend Nikhilesh for the opening night of Rebecca Lenkiewicz’s Her Naked Skin, a big sweeping play set against a backdrop of the Suffragette Movement and, as nearly every reviewer – me included – felt obliged to point out, the first original work (not an adaptation) by a living woman writer to be staged in the Olivier.

Certain elements of this I adored. The scene where Jemima Rooper’s Eve was forcefed is one of the most upsetting things I’ve seen on stage in a long time – I found the image following me around all weekend, refusing to vacate my mind. The performances of the three women, Lesley Manville, Rooper and the wonderful Susan Engel, were also superb. But – and it’s a big ‘but’ - I found the central love story, the relationship between Manville’s Lady Celia Cain and Rooper’s seamstress character, far less involving than the era evoked. And I agree with all those who’ve mentioned the fact that there are too many short scenes, that the revolve is forever revolving, the cage-like set constantly swinging in and out of view. The play reminded me, favourably, of some of the things the Orange Tree has been staging of late, but it was crying out for a good monologue, a good, long passionate piece of oration.

On Friday I returned to the South Bank to see Katie Mitchell’s …some trace of her. But first I stopped to pick up coffee and nibbley things from the Slow Food Fair behind the Royal Festival Hall, then I settled on the ‘grass’ outside the theatre to half-watch something that may have involved juggling and mime, but made me laugh on more than one occasion. Feeling warm and content, I tottered around to the Cottesloe and my mood was not dented by the production. I was worried that not knowing the book – Dostoevsky’s The Idiot - would be a handicap but I did not find this to the case, the production conveyed the essence of the thing well enough, it did not try to be retain every element of the narrative, that was not the point, but as a riff on the text, a kind of game played with it, there was much to take pleasure in.

I have not seen Mitchell’s Waves, which I gather uses many of the same techniques (though I will try to rectify this when it returns next month) and so much of what she was doing here was new to me.

A screen fills the back wall of the stage and the actors create scenes which are filmed and projected onto this screen. Every frame is beautifully composed and lit, shot in rich black and white. The performers double as technicians, setting up props, positioning cameras, wielding microphones, and all the while hitting their cues with perfect timing. It’s a hypnotic process, thrilling to watch.
While the images created are already, individually, arresting (a vase apparently spinning in midair, a plate of burning banknotes, a soup bowl teeming with maggots) the contrast with the manner of their construction is equally fascinating. Sound effects are created in front of us, music is played live and rain comes out of a plastic bottle.

There is an intentional dislocation between what can be seen on the screen and what is taking place on the stage below. Moments of conversational intimacy are filmed with the actors sitting on opposite ends of the stage with their backs to one another, each facing a separate camera; close ups of hands and faces are filmed using different performers and then seamlessly edited together on screen; a couple who appear to be lying in bed are actually standing upright with a sheet wound around them, the camera tilted to give the impression they are horizontal. In this way the onscreen image, the illusion of reality, is picked apart, deconstructed, but in a way that adds to, rather than detracts, from the image itself.

If I’d seen this done before, I wonder if my response would have been quite so positive, but I hadn’t, so it was. Yes, it was frustrating at times, having performers such as Ben Whishaw and Hattie Morahan on stage and having to see them running around all the time moving props and fiddling with cameras when I was hoping for a bit more acting, but again, from a technical point of view, there was something quite fascinating about seeing the differences, the contrast, between what works for stage and screen, the tiny gestures and expressions that can took on new meaning. Ultimately the piece excited me on an intellectual level more than on an emotional level, though I’m not sure that’s a criticism, not in this case at least.

Sometimes London starts to wear me down and I seem to forever be running for (and missing) buses or fretting over bills or skating along on too-little sleep. Sometimes I think a change would be good, an adventure, a new start, somewhere less frantic and friendlier, and then I have a couple of nights like this where everything seems to slide together in a satisfying fashion and I reconsider. Surely I’d miss this, I’d long for this, this richness, if I lived anywhere else but here?