Monday, 12 September 2011

The Kitchen Review

The Kitchen
by Arnold Wesker

And Who's Going To Do The Washing Up?

"Talk to him, he's your generation!"  This memorable line rings out as one despairing kitchen worker tries to lessen the disruption to a large post-second-world-war cosmopolitan  restaurant. Indeed this seems a production for a generation brought up on credit-boom TV cookery programmes, where promoting sleek, clean kitchens went hand in hand with enticing folks into sub-prime mortgages.  It's a magnificent set and a production interpreting the kitchen as an enormous circus ring, where the first act ends with a literal high wire act. However, in TLT's opinion, this misses the point of this fine 1957 play - a gritty behind-the-scenes view of a working establishment where the performance is for the customers in the dining room, not in the kitchen.  Such an interpretation with moments frozen in time and balletic choreography disrupts the play's rhythm which should reflect the lulls and crescendos of  the working routine. Instead the kitchen is likened to a continuous dream-like circus performance with stylistic differences between the televisual realism of the first act short scenes and the tragedy of the second blunted. No wonder our neighbour found it confusing: It is hard work trying to find meaning in a metaphorical interpretation instead of the story!  At the same time, there are some great turns from the thirty odd ensemble cast - Ian Burfield as the ungainly beer-swigging bigot of a butcher Max sticks in the mind, Paul McCleary as the head chef who disclaims all responsibility, as well as  Bruce Myers' exotically-named, if not accented, boss Mr Marango,  and the actors sweep around the large stage effectively. But with all the distractions, some of the dialogue was lost for the audience in the circle, along with  the links between the first and second act, and therefore the story arc. At the same time, it made us realize how influential Arnold Wesker, a former pastry chef who knew what he was talking about, has been as a playwright on later plays like Trevor Griffith's Comedians and even Harold Pinter's The Caretaker.  All in all, an intriguing experiment and an amber light. And perhaps a play that could make a terrific movie (it's already been a musical in Japan!)?

Monday, 8 August 2011

A Woman Killed By Kindness Review

A Woman Killed By Kindness
by Thomas Heywood

A Play Of Two Halves

Apparently, according to those in the know, director Katie Mitchell is an auteur who polarizes audiences and critics. Well, TLT does remember, before the start of her bloggery, sitting through the sheer unadulterated boredom of Her Naked Skin directed by the aforesaid Ms Mitchell. In fact, TLT already feels  like she’s revved up her pompous fuddy-duddy-Muppet-grumpy-old-man-like-side using the epithet “Ms" Mitchell for this production of 1603 play A Woman Killed By Kindness by Thomas Heywood. Except that, quite unexpectedly, TLT enjoyed it.  TLT and her side-kick have little idea whether what they saw reflects the original play – but hey, Mr Heywood’s been published – it’s not like there can be an unresolved squabble in the audience’s mind as to what is the writer and what is the director (even though a “text editor” Lucy Kirkwood was involved).  Anyway, it's a tale of two households played out on a split stage, one aristocratic and one middle-class, one with an adulterous wife and the other a sister more or less sold to a creditor. While some have noted an updating to 1919 brings it  into the time of Downton Abbey, it is, in TLT’s opinion,  a critique of bodice-ripping modern cinematic or television portrayals of such eras.  This makes it a very cool, but  nevertheless always gripping production with the implications of debt and money lending adding a certain relevant frisson. A couple of missteps – the entry of one of the women with a suicidal rope round her neck seemed crude and unwarranted; the final line sent TLT scurrying to the NT bookshop to look it up and find her disquiet  about its attribution in the on-stage version was well-founded. However,  these two  quibbles apart,  “out of tune, out of time” is in the text and with wonderful parallel staging, design and always engrossing acting, it worked for TLT, who with her side-kick, awards this production a coveted green light!

Thursday, 28 July 2011

Anne Boleyn Review

Anne Boleyn
by Howard Brenton
Shakespeare’s Globe SE1 

The Courtly Lives of Others 

On Newsnight the other day a former Labour minister regaled us with the theory that the ‘welfare state’ should become the ‘protection state’. Well, this play by Howard Brenton, ostensibly chronicling the life of Anne Boleyn, second wife of Henry VIII,  gives us rather sex and money in the 16th and 17th  protection racket state.  Despite its eponymous title, TLT and her stalwart motorised steed felt there were times in the uniformly well-acted first half where the role of Anne in the play seemed like an afterthought tacked on, diluting a much more male and, dare TLT say it, interesting play on the court, religion and politics. The collage feel of the first act, which structurally does a naked steal from Shaw’s St Joan, nevertheless gives way to a much more integrated and feeling second act.  Anne reaches tragic dimensions as one figure on a bloody tapestry of expediency stretching from Henry VIII’s breach with Papal Catholicism to King James I’s initiation of an English translation of the Bible. The second half achieves a complexity and depth where professions of acting for the public good translate the past into the recognizably worst excesses of modern statehood and politics. So no surprise at the end to discover even the foundation of the translation of the King James Authorized Version Bible, given to others to author, turns out to have been a  version filched from an earlier writer and Protestant pioneer, and then twisted for political ends.  An amber stroke green light for a lively and eventually engrossing play and production.  

Sunday, 26 June 2011

Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead Review

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead
by Tom Stoppard
Theatre Royal Haymarket SW1

Once More With Feeling

There is a Second World War poem by WH Auden Musee des Beaux Arts  about artistic and human perspectives on suffering, so maybe such ideas have had currency for a long time. But even an old idea can lead to something real and  heart-breaking in the centre. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are two minor Shakespearean characters whom Shakespeare (and possibly his source?) predestines to as grisly an end as most of the other characters in HamletAccording to the playwright Tom Stoppard, a fellow journalist on its first night, just over halfway through the 20th century,  was convinced Stoppard's play was actually about “two reporters on a story that doesn’t stand up”. Whatever, the idea of an anachronistic pair in Hamlet out-takes, trying to work out what the hell is going on in the dark and murky world of the King’s court was then new-ish and compelling. Knowing philosophical quips are a bit of a Stoppard trademark (TLT is an expert of course, having experienced, oh, at least four Stoppard plays … ;) ) and some critics have begrudged the clever-clever banter, finding the 1960s' post-modern premise a little dated. TLT had some sympathy for this view during the first half but it all still stands up in the context of the whole play – maybe today’s equivalent could be two elite economics students smugly debating their university theories and computerized financial models  – then after the interval cometh the crunch … (© TLT ;) ). It’s the second half of the story which comes up trumps with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern’s last journey, a poignant sea voyage,  stateless between Denmark and England, as they carry unwittingly the visa to their execution. Excellent cast and the final journey towards the inevitable eventually clinched it for TLT. An amber light.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Emperor and Galilean Review

Emperor and Galilean by Henrik Ibsen
National Theatre, London SE1

Bird’s Eye Ibsen

An odd, vertiginous night for TLT and her trusty automated Tonto for Henrik Ibsen’s longest play Emperor and Galilean. Odd for the moments of longeur and even the occasional sneaky peak at the watch. Yet, at the end, with a more aerial view, and arguments and imagery brought together, the experience felt valuable and moving. Set in classical times, it starts as a kind of Scandinavian Hamlet (yes, TLT knows where Elsinore is, but neither Shakespeare nor the Emperor Julian of this play were Scandinavian and Ibsen was!). Then transforms  into some kind of Macbeth before a painful and anguished sacrificial finale. Actually, if one is to have confidence in the conclusions of translation and adaptation, it follows one man’s life from  immature philosopher to warrior leader and final physical and spiritual defeat in the never-ending battle between pagan and Christian. At least, TLT would like to think of it as never-ending rather the more absolute idea of  Third Reich fusion, apparently later adopted by National Socialist philosophy for its own ends. There were junctions when everything sparked with flickerings of contemporary resonance – even with touches of piercing humour to warm up the austere, gargantuan text and design.  But other times it felt just too schematic. Nevertheless the passage from  lush Eastern religiosity through clean classical architecture to modern warfare and then back to the pathos and agony of the ending framed like a painting, classically-clad but New Testament-inspired, did eventually impose a pictorial and sensory logic. The acting was uniformly magnificent; the design, including multimedia, awe-inspiring but the length of the play gave TLT time to reflect  the Olivier is a big stage to fill. So hovering above this with hindsight, a green light for the acting and imagination behind this production, but, factoring in the ups and downs of a long evening, an amber light.

Thursday, 3 February 2011

Accolade Review

Accolade by Emlyn Williams
Finborough Theatre, London SW10

Normally TLT and her automotive sidekick would hold fire on publishing an opinion of a first  preview. No qualms though about breaking the usual code to praise this beautifully-judged production of Emlyn Williams’s 1950 drama directed by Blanche McIntyre whose Moliere we previously enjoyed. There is a lot made of the play as a disguised gay text but one certainly doesn’t need to know this to relish a well-crafted, finely acted, directed and ultimately very moving piece. Will Trenting (Aden Gillett), acclaimed yet skating-on-thin-ice novelist,  is on the brink of becoming even more a stalwart of the establishment after accepting a knighthood. However his double life,  the security of which he seems to have taken for granted, suddenly threatens to send him, his wife Rona (Saskia Wickham)  and son Ian (Patrick Osbourne) into the clutches of a blackmailer and scandalous freefall.  TLT  would first of all like to make special mention of the exceptional set design by James Cotterill and lighting of Neill Brinkworth, both of which perform a small miracle on The Finborough’s bijou space creating the spacious sitting room and library of the Trenting’s London home.  This is an intricately-woven play matched by cleverly stylised, visceral acting (as well as costumes) making every twist and turn hit target.  Alan Francis as Albert the butler with undercover talents. Patrick Brennan as Trenting’s publisher.  Emma Jerrold as loyal Marian. Simon Darwen and Olivia Darnley as the disreputable couple from Trenting’s alter ego life. And the wonderfully seedy Graham Seed (couldn't resist that adjective!) as Daker  who threatens all their existence.  All spot-on performances in one of those very English plays which yet can cross frontiers. A green light for a class act from all concerned.

UPDATE Sunday February 6 2011: Tickets are now (deservedly) sold out. TLT regulars may have noticed some strange shenanigans going on with 'first preview' changing to 'second' and now reverting to 'first'. TLT and the engine beneath her wings were in fact at the second preview but thought it was the first.  Having learnt we are more read than we - er - um - also thought and that a tweet link to our page mentioned it as a first preview review, we've now changed it back to the original with this update. Bet the Guardian critic never had this trouble ;)

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Becky Shaw Review

Becky Shaw by Gina Gionfriddo
Almeida Theatre N1

Male Fraud

Beep, beep! At last, a new(ish) play in preview that zips along almost as fast as TLT's souped-up chariot! And there is something prescient about this 2008 American piece where the tables are turned on money manager Max (David Wilson Barnes) whose descent starts with a blind date with the eponymous heroine. Or is heroine the right word in an ensemble piece directed by Peter DuBois where Daisy Haggard's Becky Shaw (inspired by Vanity Fair's Becky Sharp) only appears half way through the first act? It's clever and sassy and the acting's good too. While there's a dysfunctional family - Mum Susan (Hayden Gwynne), daughter Suzanna (Anna Madeley) and writer-husband Andrew (Vincent Montuel), the play also metamorphosises into a gangster tale and deconstruction of a TV-shaped society. A play where all the characters, rather than attaining full three-dimensionality, continually try to push, nay force, their version of "real life" and its script on to others and in the end - but hell, TLT mustn't publish spoilers. Maybe the repartee and plot sometimes feel a trifle over-egged, but on the whole it satisfies as a darkly funny and contemporary play in a way that Clybourne Park didn't do for us. From hotel bedroom through Rhode Island boho apartment and then via Starbucks cafe to a widow's luxury pad, the set design, lighting and sound are equally smooth and satisfying. A slick zingy script had the audience laughing. The plot speeds along from the moment we find Suzanna lying in bed, watching a true crime TV programme dressed in black to mourn her father (maybe a clue: how many people actually dress in mourning black except in plays or on TV?) A blurred amber/green light for an enjoyable evening.