Tag: Theatre

Answering the siren call of David Suchet

Oh, I love London Society! It is entirely composed now of beautiful idiots and brilliant lunatics. Just what Society should be.
–Oscar Wilde

The conversation that led to this adventure, almost verbatim:

Me: “David Suchet is in the Importance of Being Earnest, in drag, as Lady Bracknell. I’m not so much asking for permission to buy tickets…as telling you that we’re going.”
Jeff: “Obviously.”

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Excuse the hilarious faux-fashion shot (stolen from Jeff’s Instagram) but I finally got the chance to break in my kimono evening jacket after scoring it for a bargain when good-luck-charm Caitlin was in town, and it was an event that needed to be documented.

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And if ever there was a night for pink suede stilettos, Oscare Wilde calls for it, I feel.

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Beloved in this household as the definitive Agatha Christie’s Poirot, the guy has some serious comedy chops. It’s impossible to leave an Oscar Wilde production feeling glum, but on this occasion we downright laughed ourselves silly and left in a good mood to forage up some dinner. Happily we quite literally stumbled upon Sticks’n’Sushi in Covent Garden, who proceeded to put a dent in our wallets because the food was so darn good that we couldn’t stop ordering it.

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In a final burst of hedonism, we went for their combo deserts which I cannot recommend enough. The “black” box (as opposed to the “white”) was particularly delicious, but scarfed down my bergamot creme brulee with the most enjoyment.

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A midnight slaughter, Titus Andronicus after dark

“In peace and honour rest you here, my sons;
Rome’s readiest champions, repose you here in rest,
Secure from worldly chances and mishaps!
Here lurks no treason, here no envy swells,
Here grow no damned grudges; here are no storms,
No noise, but silence and eternal sleep:
In peace and honour rest you here, my sons!
― William Shakespeare, Titus Andronicus

It is a truth universally-enough acknowledged (ie, by Katarina) that the very best poetry I ever wrote happened in 8th grade and involved a tongue-in-cheek examination of all the misery and slaughter in Shakespeare’s plays. As I was of tender years at the time, my poem did not contain anything of Titus Andronicus since I’d yet to encounter it. In fact I’d never seen a production of it until a couple weekends ago when Jeff and I trotted off to The Globe, about half an hour’s walk from where we live (I know, my life is such a trial…) for this season’s midnight matinee.
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I’m pretty sure I first heard about the midnight production from the indomitable Kerry over at Planes, Trains, and Plantagenets, though I don’t remember precisely in what context, but I leapt at the chance for tickets this year. ‘Round midnight we convened and flooded into the theatre, feeling very Tudor-ish.
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The production itself was very well done. It was incredibly well acted, especially the disturbed and disturbing role of Lavinia who is traumatized (understandably) nearly out of her humanity. Titus is a hard play for me because while I can handle sex and violence in my entertainment, I don’t do well with sexual violence. Of all Shakespeare’s various victims, to me Lavinia is without question the most victimized and her whole narrative, though important, is incredibly difficult to watch. The direction gave her some wonderful moments of self-realization and justice…though of course her end is pretty terrible. Hats off to Flora Spencer-Longhurst for a powerful performance. Tamora was played by Indira Varma, of Game of Thrones fame (seriously, GoT actors are all over the London Shakespeare game), and William Houston absolutely nailed the role of Titus.
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The director made excellent use of the audience and groundlings, bringing much of the action out into the pit itself to use the audience to portray the Roman mob or Gothic hordes as needed. Titus’ entrance involved being carried through the audience in triumph while the crowds cheered his victory.

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Minions, it was fantastically gory! By my count, at least four people fainted and had to be carried from the theatre.

Perhaps that’s too enthusiastic a review? I can’t help it. The staff had an amazingly effective system in place. Something horrible would happen on stage, one of the groundlings would wobble for a second before going over, a staff member would make their way into the pit and stand guard while signalling the medic team, who would assemble and quickly cart the senseless, hapless individual away. Like unto the violence itself, there was a sort of method that was admirable and cynical at the same time – how meta!

The Globe, true to its roots, tends to do highly stripped down productions set-wise. It gives things an authentic Tudor feel on the one hand, but also makes their use of 21st century special effects downright eerie. When there is no complex set or costumes to distract you with their modernness , the scene where Titus lays his hand down to be hacked off in order to save his sons’ lives is horribly realistic. Let’s just say that intermission heavily involved mopping up the stage blood and gore from the first half of the performance. It was terrific fun!
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Our view, which admittedly did not suck in the slightest, offered a great sense of the stark design of the stage.

We didn’t get home until nearly 4 a.m., and it being summer in London which is a lot further north than a lot of people realize, the sky was already starting to get light as dawn approached. That Sunday was a bit long, but completely worth it, and I absolutely plan on repeating the occasion next year. Alas, it probably will not be nearly as bloody.

Sometimes You Go To Covent Garden And It’s the Olivier Awards

“All the world’s a stage.”
― William Shakespeare, As You Like It

The other weekend, after I emerged from a project based fog and Jeff finished up a major bout of studying, we were in need of a treat. We counted the coins in our spare change jar and to our delight it added up to two concretes from Shake Shake so off we went to Covent Garden. When we got there we noticed it was unusually crowded, even for a weekend, but it turns out that they were filming live events for the Olivier Awards and several West End actors and and troupes were putting on live performances which were being broadcast to the main stage and events elsewhere.

Not just any performances, mind you. Whole numbers and sections of shows you otherwise have to pay a decent amount of money to see. It was a wonderfully unexpected way to enjoy the evening!
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The live stage was sent up in front of the famous St. Paul’s church, where Eliza Doolittle met professor Higgins in My Fair Lady and today is known as the Actor’s Church for its long history connected to the theatre world and community of the West End
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Performers, puppet and human from the award winning Avenue Q.
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No biggie, just Javert communing with the cosmos and swearing his unique brand of justice upon parole-breakers.
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Do you hear the people sing? As it happens, yes!

Girls Night (At the Savoy. No Biggie)

“Well I really am not going to be imprisoned in the suburbs for dining in the west-end!”
– Oscar Wilde, The Importance of Being Earnest

Jeff is working in Peterborough again this month which means after a long day of typing away at my desk, I’m responsible for keeping myself entertained. Luckily I have the internet…to make friends.

I’m part of several groups that have personal, practical, journalistic, and academic interests in feminist movements and initiatives in religious cultures and communities. Through these groups I’ve met a whole host of fascinating, hilarious, scarily smart ladies whom I’ve been lucky enough to become friends with over the years. Two such ladies currently live in London, so naturally we decided to have a hang out. One is an academic and author who works for the Princes School for Traditional Arts the other is a graduate student from my alma mater currently the resident TA for a study abroad program, and working on her thesis. And then there’s me. Professional scribbler.

I procured theatre tickets, another made a reservation, one thing led to another and the next thing you know we were sitting down to dinner at the Savoy like a proper bunch of 1920s and 30s celebrated smart types.

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The Savoy was the first high luxury hotel in Britain in the 19th century, featuring such innovations as running heated water and electricity, and remained the dernier cri of good living. It’s still a byword for class (and a bit of snobbery) and a luxurious time. Frequented by film stars of the Golden Age of Hollywood, royals and their various entourages of coutiers and mistresses, sports stars, and artists, not a few favorites of mine have bedded down here. Alas it has had some challenges. A few years ago the hotel closed for a major refit and redecoration, one of the restaurants lost one of its Michelin stars, and business has been tricky in times of austerity. Nevertheless, it was the Savoy – of course we were going to go if we got the chance!

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We were served by a marvelously sardonic and sly witted waiter. We weren’t drinking (which surprised him, since the wine and cocktail list is legendary) but he seemed delighted when we ordered mocktails instead because they presented a challenge. Lisa  in particular won him by asking for a non-alcoholic surprise from the bartender. He returned with a gorgeous drink whipped up especially for her smelling of fruits and rosewater and named, on the spot when we asked for one, “an Unexpected Pleasure.”

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Don’t mind the turtle face, I’m just having a taste of Lisa’s drink. And it was delicious (we were promiscuous with our beverages, sharing sips and straws and probably horrifying the waiters). Clearly we had a great time!

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Soups and sauces were poured out onto delicious dishes, crumbs were scraped away with solid silver utensils built just for that purpose, and the bread basket was kept filled with piping hot offerings. We shared foods and deserts without any thought of propriety, swapped deserts and petit fours with one another, compared work and life stories, and debated deeply for two hours before hustling to the theatre.

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I walked home across the Thames absolutely cocooned in contentedness.

(Rose had the good sense to bring a proper camera so better photos can be seen on her blog here if you want better close ups of the food. Which you do, trust me.)

Spectre At the Feast

Where no gods are, spectres rule.

A couple of weekends ago, Jeff and I went to see The Drowned Man: A Hollywood Fable, a production by Punchdrunk and the National Theatre. It was a very new sort of theatre experience for us but from scope to scale, one of the most ambitious productions I’ve ever seen. Walk with me, kittens. Literally.

First of all, it’s an immersion experience. It’s promenade style theatre so you’re walking around, on your feet the entire time (and performances can last up to three hours). Second of all, you’re supposed to go exploring. Wander through the set, which takes up four floors of an entire building, poke into closets, rifle through papers, open shut doors to see what character or secret passages lurk inside. And lastly, everyone wears masks giving you a sense of anonymity as part of the set, and also the feeling of being a ghoulish sort of voyeur into the scenes you witness.

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It’s supposed to be creepy…but I sort of get Donald Duck does Phantom of the Opera.

The play itself is loosely inspired by Georg Büchner’s famously unfinished play Woyzeck, set in a faded Hollywood production studio and the dying town surrounding it where has-beens and wannabes mingle together either waiting for their second chance or big break. There are two main plotlines both involving infidelity and the descent into madness. But, and this is the most interesting part, there are other storylines that intersect and weave throughout the main ones. Wearing your mask, you must follow the characters you wish to throughout their plot to understand what’s going on. All the while, though, you’re crisscrossing other characters, other plotlines and getting hints of other stories. It’s possible to mix up the crowd of other witnesses you’re in and end up following a different character entirely from the one you started.

Like not a few of the minds they are portraying, it’s very fractal and disorienting. Much like most people’s everyday experiences, a lot of things are going on around you as a viewer, but you can only focus on one or two of them at a time and get the sense that you’re missing out on a lot of information.

Wisely the production cycles through itself a couple of times, allowing the audience more than one chance to grasp onto a tale and follow it to its conclusion. But it is impossible to follow every character and every plotline in the time allotted, which means you as the audience member have to decide. The feeling is very similar to those choose-your-own-adventure books for children, but all grown up, adult and darker.

A shabby sort of town, a movie lot, a trailerpark, nightclubs for the beautiful people and honkytonks for the less so, a church, the woods, a cinema, doctors’ offices are all laid out in such a way that if you follow a character, the layout blends together and creates a plot. But if you don’t you’ll find yourself lost and turned around almost immediately. Watch the trailer below to get some idea of the set and creative. The whole thing is a labyrinth fearfully and wonderfully made, I cannot imagine the time it took to coordinate a dozen storylines simultaneous over multiple building stories, multiple sets, and interacting with one another.

For example, at one point one woman looks in a mirror and is clearly contemplating whether she should go through with her affair. The mirror fades to partial transparency and the audience can clearly see that the reflection is not her but her husband. Because there is no “offstage,” the husband’s storyline is proceeding with its own audience at the same time; he’s in a doctor’s office looking at those one-way mirrors, his mental state beginning to deteriorate and hallucinating his wife. Those sorts of integrations run throughout the production. And yet somehow, every audience member ends up at the finale in the same place at the same time. I seriously want to shake the hand of the person who blocked this thing because I have no idea how they did it.

As theatre goes there are times it stumbles – sometimes you can’t even hear the actors speaking because you’re too far away from them, and other technical concerns – but as an immersion experience goes it’s absolutely stellar. It’s intimate, closeup, and deeply personal. Audience members jockey for position to follow and get best views to the storylines, and in the end (as both the main plots end in murder) you’re left very aware of your own voyeurism.

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Boo, darlings!

Friday Links (Theatre Week Edition)

“All the world’s a stage.”
― William Shakespeare, As You Like It

What a week! And it’s not even over, Jeff and I are going to Jeeves and Wooster in: Perfect Nonsense tomorrow evening. With Matthew Macfadyen and Stephen Mangan – otherwise known as Mr. Darcy and Dirk Gently. Somehow in one form or another I’ve combined Shakespeare, superheros, Jane Austen, Douglas Adams, P.G. Wodehouse, and most 90s romantic comedies into this week alone. I’m pretty sure fanfic has been written about this very scenario in some dark corner of the internet.

In summation, I have not a single thing to complain about. You may find me this weekend by following the intolerable air of smug contentedness that will be wafting from my desk as I work away, happy as a clam. Here are your links, kittens, and tell me what you’re getting up to this weekend.

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Stick a fork in me, I’m done!

The potential future of marketing alarms me. (h/t Kerry)

As a former flatmate of mine once put it after a frustrating day of shopping for underpinnings, “I’m not sure bosoms are worth the trouble.” This rundown of a 17th century guide on their maintenance – yes, you read that correctly – might lend force to her proclamation. Skip this one, Dad, even though it’s hilarious. “We find by lamentable, if I may not say fatal, Experience, that the the world too much allows nakedness in Women.” Dear me, how glad I am that the writer never lived to see the lasciviousness that is jeggings, it might have killed them!

This anachronistic behavior has got to stop!” (I laughed for a solid five minutes, Lady Mary needs to do comedy next, I think!)

In related news, I would totally play this. Although I’m perturbed at the lack of poisoned pastry.

Science is weird. Also, headline of the week.

The other contender for headline of the week.

Buzzfeed is almost entirely ridiculous (the weekly tumblr find attests to this), but I quite liked this article on girls and issues of likability.

 The fraught conversation…or lack of one around guns in the US. (h/t Caitlin Kelly, who knows whereof she speaks. See her book, Blown Away: American Women and Guns for more info!)

Holy cow! I thought my goal of all 7 continents was cool, clearly I set the bar too low!

NPR’s Ari Shapiro is really diving into his new London assignment. Perhaps I shall make him my next celebrity sighting goal (since I’m on a freaking roll!)

More excellent maps to reshape your understanding of the globe.

The Slings and Arrows of Outrageous Fortune, Take II

“God’s will! my liege, would you and I alone, Without more help, could fight this royal battle!”
― William Shakespeare, Henry V

Awash with theatrical good fortune, I decided to meet up with Katie this morning so we could try our mutual luck at getting day of tickets to Henry V, starring Jude Law, with the Michael Grandage Company. We got in the queue early, and none too soon because the line was even longer than Coriolanus on Monday. But somehow I scored literally the last ticket of the day (Katie was just ahead of me and got in too, never fear).

What is happening?! Which good fairy/benevolent deity do I owe some serious devotions to?

You and me both, Hal.
You and me both, Hal.

(image via)

Coriolanus: A Series of Improbable Events

“That thing is magical, and you are never taking it off, do you understand me?
– C.

This is the tale of how a navy sports coat started a chain reaction that culminated in Tom Hiddleston being mere inches away from my face. And that’s not even the most amazing part.

Jeff had been on the hunt for a jacket for a while and since January kicked off sale season, we headed down to Seven Dials for a look around a few shops that intrigued us. He found what he was looking for and on the way back to Leicester Square tube station, we literally stumbled upon a poster for a production of Shakespeare’s Coriolanus, starring Tom Hiddleston at the Donmar Warehouse.

Donmar is a small, not for profit that has a really strong reputation as a producing theatre, and can boast nearly bursting at the seams with some of the highest acclaimed actors in Britain on any given performing night. We hadn’t heard of this performance prior to coming face to face with the poster, but naturally we both were wild to go see it. In addition to Hiddleston, whom we both really like, it had Mark Gatiss (of Sherlock fame amongst a great many other things), Deborah Findlay, and the list just goes on. Seriously, read the cast bios. Everything’s represented from Restoration comedy to Game of Thrones.

We also figured we had about a snowball’s chance in hell at getting tickets (most were sold out weeks in advance), but decided to try our luck anyway. On Monday morning we doubled teamed it; Jeff stationed himself at the computer in order to try and get a couple of the few that they release online, while I got in the queue at the theatre itself in the morning to try and snag some in person.

Even arriving quite early I was at the end of the line. My hopes sank a bit, but I decided to wait it out. At one point the queue divided into those hoping for day-of tickets and those chancing their luck with the handful of tickets provided by the main sponsor, leaving me with fewer rivals but still at the end. I watched people ahead of me walking away from the booth, clearly not willing to purchase what was available, but I’d already guessed we’d be getting the “standing room only” type. By the time I trotted up to the box office window and chirruped, “What’s left?” that was indeed all that remained, and only a handful at that. I was just thrilled to get it, I actually skipped back towards the tube station texting Jeff the good news.

Gratuitous sidenote. I couldn't tell what so many people were snapping photos of waiting in line, until I got into the main box office and saw this. And immediately followed suit. What? I'm human!
Gratuitous sidenote. I couldn’t tell what so many people were snapping photos of while waiting in line, until I got into the main box office and saw this. And immediately followed suit. What? I’m human!

We worked all day and then headed out to our evening at the theatre excited to see the show. The Donmar has only 250 seats, and a significant portion of those are standing room, which actually makes it feel not unlike going to see a traditional Shakespeare performance at the Globe, except that the locations are reversed. The privileged get seating on the ground floor with the stage and first level, while the cheap seaters line the narrow balconies and looked on.

The middling seats.
The middling seats.
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Where we were standing.

It was mere seconds to show time when an usher tapped me on the shoulder and asked if Jeff and I were there together. I answered in the affirmative, wondering if we’d done something reprehensible without being aware of it. I actually was in the process of pulling out our tickets to prove we were there legally when she continued, “We have a pair of unclaimed seats on the main floor, would you like them?”

What sort of a question is that?! Feeling a bit dazed she led us down to the main floor and seated us on the third row corner, with a completely unimpeded view of the stage that (I later discovered) also put Tom Hiddleston’s cheekbones within touching distance. His cheekbones rank right up there in my book with Vegemite’s Bandersnatch’s and Jeff’s, so you can imagine the thrill this caused, to say nothing of having a truly marvelous vantage point of the whole play.

We sat down just as they started the whole, “Please silence your mobile phones now,” spiel when I happened to glance to my left. And saw Rufus Sewell, one of our very favorite actors, sitting ten feet away from us.

And that, kittens, is how I died.

Exiting the theatre.
Exiting the theatre.

The production itself was excellent, really one of the top Shakespeare performances I’ve ever seen. The set was minimal and used to superb effect, while the performances were absolutely spot on. The themes of power, populism, and politics intertwined cleverly with the creative, and the degree and type of special effects were exactly correct. Coriolanus is  ruthless, dangerous, compelling, and persuasive, and you find yourself at times siding with nearly all of the characters at one point only to question your own judgement five minutes later.

An absolutely banner night that, as far as I can tell, defied every single law of probability.

Thanks for being the first domino, jacket!
Thanks for being the first domino, jacket!

I Am The Very Model of a Modern Major Theatre Geek

“Oh Frederic, can you not in the calm excellence of your wisdom reconcile it with your conscience to say something that will easy my father’s sorrow?”
“Can’t you cheer him up?”
– The Pirates of Penzance

Ah yeah, ladies, you want this.
Ah yeah, ladies, you want this.

Without doubt, one of the best things about working for a university with several renowned performing arts programs and groups, and the talent they manage to attract – is coupling all that with the sweet staff and faculty discount I get on tickets. I’ve seen at least one opera or musical and play every year I’ve lived here (The Magic Flute was painfully mediocre – although the witch trio was amazing, Die Fledermaus was one of my favorite comic performances ever, The Phantom of the Opera could have been mistaken for a Broadway or West End performance, Love’s Labour’s Lost – set in WWII France – was brilliant).

Today I bought my last tickets as a staff member: a summer performance of Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Pirates of Penzance (the movie version of which starring Kevin Kline and so delightfully, purposefully camp was a childhood favorite). It felt bittersweet tucking my last discounted ticket envelope into my bag.

Then I got an email about next year’s lineup for touring performers. John Lithgow, Audra McDonald, and Joshua Bell. As well as a Middle Eastern group performing an adaptation of Hamlet in Farsi, a marionette troupe, and some really great looking Shakespeare.

Bittersweet to just bitter, alas!

…But then I think about how I can go to performances at The Globe and in the West End…and I’m mollified.

The London Chronicles: To the Theatre

“I regard the theatre as the greatest of all art forms, the most immediate way in which a human being can share with another the sense of what it is to be a human being.”
– Oscar Wilde

We did manage to cram in two shows on our hectic house hunt from Hades, and thank goodness otherwise I might have staged a minor revolt.  We saw “The Mousetrap,” because I’m a huge fan of Agatha Christie and “War Horse.”

Indulge me minions, but I’m issuing you an order.  If ever, ever you get the opportunity to see “War Horse,” do it.  Drop whatever amount of money, take whatever roadtrip necessary, hitchhike to the theatre if you must, but see this play.  It is hands down the best production I have ever seen in my life.  It is one of those rare productions that the acting was excellent, the plot was good, but combined with the creative, it was stunning!

It tells the story of a English farm boy and his beloved horse who is sold to the cavalry just before WWI (when tanks and machine guns were about to break the world apart).  The problem the producers had to solve was how to make a play where the main character is a horse when having an actual horse in a play is simply not possible.  The solution they came up with is spectacular: they employed the Handspring Puppet Company from South Africa to develop puppets for the animal, and even some of the human characters.

Before you roll your eyes and picture a bunch of cheap marionettes, you need to see what HPC came up with.  Here’s a TED Talk about the development and creation of Joey the War Horse, watch it and you’ll see what a feat they pulled off.  Out of plastic, wood, and some easy mechanics, they created a living animal.

Pardon my enthusiasm, but it really is that incredible.  It’s currently playing in London and New York (watch the previews to get a sense of the feel and creative of the play), but next year it’s going to start a national tour of the US.  Apparently Spielberg has bought the rights and is making it into a movie, which I’m sure will be the new Black Beauty, or whatever, but I think that books, theatre, and movies are entirely different mediums and hit different chords in our psyche.  Enjoy the movie, by all means, but if you ever get the chance, see the play.

It’s magnificent.