Archive for the ‘theatre’ Category

As expected from the title, this is a re-telling of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, done by a group from Hackney in London. They brought the story into a modern world, where the mechanicals were police officers and construction workers, where the fairies were ‘invisibles’, the unheard youth. They brought in step, rap, hip hop, R&B. They made the story theirs in some very interesting ways.

The acting, on the whole, was not good – with Puck and the mechanicals (who were hilarious) being notable exceptions. The cast were talented singers and dancers, but they were not actors. And it wasn’t until the first mechanicals scene that they really engaged me, really got me in to their production. I’m told they’re an amateur group, so I’m not going to judge them for this, but I did end up with some time at the beginning to think about things.

And what I was thinking about was this: they took the play out of the original language. Now, I’m not a purist by any means. I don’t consider the text sacred. If you need to, by all means cut it the hell down. If you want to change fairies to invisibles, go for it. And, as a friend pointed out, they did change the name. They weren’t trying to claim this was Shakespeare’s Dream.

But. It makes me wonder… What are you saying when you keep the exact story, but take it out of the original text? Are you telling your audience you don’t trust them to be able to understand it? Or is it more important to get the story across and the text can come later?

Because I firmly believe that Shakespeare is understandable, if presented in the right way. For nearly two years I worked with a company that put on Shakespeare for high school students. We cut it down to two hours, because (due to bus schedules) that was all the time we had with the kids. We had young performers and we played it very broad. And the kids loved it. And they understood it. The language doesn’t have to be a barrier.

Thinking about it afterwards, I began to suspect that the cast were asked to put their parts into their own words and that the script came out of that. The most successful at it was Helena, who took her part right down into Essex girl and it worked perfectly. Some of the others ended up with dialogue that floated somewhere between Shakespearian and street talk, and it didn’t quite sit right.

As the show went on, though, more and more of Shakespeare’s text crept into the play in bits and snippets. I wonder if that was a deliberate choice, to introduce it slowly in as the audience comes further into the story, or whether it was the actors becoming more comfortable with the original text themselves.

There was so much that was good, so much that was new and fresh in this production. And the cast had so much passion for it, so much energy. And there was one moment where it all came together and showed me what it could become. Puck’s last speech. They left it entirely in the original text, and rapped it. It was awesome.

They have something wonderful here, and I think the next step would be to put it back into the original language and bring the rap and the hip hop and the R&B to that. Use the original text, but present it in a way that’s theirs. I would love to see that.


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This was a show on the free fringe. My first attempt to see it was a complete and utter failure. I got to the venue to find that the show had started half an hour before the time I had read in whatever review.

I went inside, thinking I would watch it anyway, but couldn’t find the room. The only person in the foyer of this place was a company member from a different show. He had never heard of the show I was trying to see, had no interest in helping me find the room where it was on, and tried to convince me to see his show instead. No chance, buddy.

In the end I went around the venue and just stuck my head into every room, figuring if they can’t even organise one person who knows what’s going on, then they can deal with the interruptions.

If this had involved money of any kind, I would not have gone back. Since it was free, I tried again the next night.

The show was ok. It was an Aussie stand-up comic basically doing his riff on ‘isn’t the universe awesome’. Most of it was funny. It was also meant to be informative, but having absorbed a lifetime of science fiction, there wasn’t a lot he told me that I didn’t already know. The thing that tickled me most of all, though, was the very dirty joke that required a working knowledge of the whole Schrödinger’s Cat theory in order to be funny. That’s asking a fair amount from your average free fringe audience.

He finished up with some quantum physics stuff that just bends my brain. He was riffing with just a layman’s knowledge, and I was happy to sit and listen. As I was walking out though, all I could picture was Lexi ranting about how he had no idea what he was talking about and listing all the ways in which he was wrong.

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This is possibly the most fun I’ve had at a show since I’ve been here. It’s the a capella singing group from Oxford university – read: twelve incredibly charming young men in blazers with stunning singing voices.

They sang a wide variety of songs, from Tom Jones to the Backstreet Boys (complete with choreography), from ‘Lion Sleeps Tonight’ to Lady Gaga. And their multi-part harmony rendition of Billy Joel’s ‘Lullabye (Goodnight my Angel)’ nearly made me cry.

And throughout the whole thing, all I kept thinking was ‘this is what Glee should have been like’. They traded off the lead with every song. There was no magical appearing/disappearing pianist. They created all the harmonies and back-up they needed among themselves, singing guitar parts, trumpet parts, whatever was necessary. And the only microphone onstage was traded between the guys doing the beat-boxing.

They had huge energy, wonderful charisma. They were funny. They danced. They made each other laugh. (At the start of ‘Poker Face’ they had to hold for a minute, because they kept corpsing, one after another.) They seemed charming and wholesome and just a little bit naughty, and had I been ten years younger, I would have been crushing madly on all of them. As things stand, I may have had my first cougar experience.

The audience were all essentially bouncing in their seats, they clapped along, and there were big cheers at the end of every song. It was just a huge amount of fun, and I didn’t want it to end.

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It has marched past the front door of my workplace every night (and twice on Saturdays) since it began. It was wonderful to see, but also the worst kind of tease, because all the tickets were sold.

I managed to… acquire a ticket yesterday, though, with about 15 minutes’ notice. I joined the huge queue that snaked past our front door and actually got to go in and watch. And it was wonderful, despite the fact that it rained on us for about an hour and a half.

I fished an old map of Marrakech out of one pocket and a slightly newer one of Edinburgh out of another and sat on those to keep my bum dry. And while we weren’t allowed to put our umbrellas up, I did still have mine with me, so I opened it just a little and used it to make a tent over my knees to keep them dry. My raincoat more or less covered the rest. That and the fact that we were wedged in like sardines (my estimate was about 6000 people in there – they must make millions on this), which actually kept me reasonably warm, too.

They had giant torches, lit and flaming, along the ramparts of the castle, which made my romantic heart very happy. When the show began, there was a perfect line of drummers along the lower ramparts on one side, a line of brass players along the other, their scarlet coats glowing in the strategic uplight. They played the first notes and then the military band in the esplanade joined in. At the end of the number, all of the cannons in the ramparts fired off at once and then the massed pipes and drummers marched out through the castle gates.

The pipes and drums were probably my favourites, just because. There were also military bands from Poland, Jordan, and the United States. There were exhibitions of precision motorbike-riding from kids aged from 5 to 17. There was highland dancing, and a sword dance. There was a vaulting display from the military department of physical fitness (they all wore the goofy tank tops and shorts that look like they’re from the 1950s).

My favourite of the more traditional bands were the New Zealanders. Not only did they march in formation and play their instruments, they also danced, sang, performed a haka (the kama te!), then brought out a singer and performed a lounge act. It turns out even the kiwi army has a great sense of humour.

One of the British regiments (one of the really old ones – I think they said it had been serving for 310 years) tried to do something similar and played Robbie Williams’ ‘Let me Entertain You’. They didn’t quite get the tempo right or something, though, because it just wasn’t the same.

I thought it was good that they also brought out drummers from a unit recently returned from Afghanistan, dressed in desert camo. It’s helpful to remember that the military isn’t all about music and dancing and gymnastics. They did a very nice salute to the soldiers serving in Afghanistan and to those who have fallen. I could have done without the re-enactment of the soldiers on peace-keeping patrol, though, particularly since the ‘women’ in burqas were clearly rather burly soldiers underneath.

The last number brought everyone out onto the esplanade to play together. Very impressive. (There was one regiment that walked between the ‘aisles’ created by the ranks of other regiments, and I was convinced one of them was going to be taken out by a particularly enthusiastic cymbals player, but he got through without incident.) There was a lone trumpet (bugle?) player on the lower ramparts that played ‘Sunset’ and then the lone piper on the upper ramparts played as well.

And then everyone joined in as they marched off down the hill. The pipers were last, and they finally played my favourite song. I don’t know the name, but I could hum it for you…

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Now is the Winter

I made the mistake of standing still (to be fair, I was standing in line to see Simon Callow’s show) and I ended up being flyered to within an inch of my life. It’s a hazard of the fringe. Most of them I chucked out soon afterwards, but one of the people doing the flyering stopped to chat for a while and got me interested. (We bonded over a mutual dislike of ‘actor voice’.)

The woman doing the flyering for this particular show really picked her targets well. The show – of which, it turns out, she is the writer/director/producer – is called Now is the Winter, and is a re-telling of the story of Richard III from the point of view of his servant. It’s a one-woman show, and I believe it’s a mixture of lines from Shakespeare’s Richard III and some new writing.

I went to see it on my day off. I had read a review stating that it was hard to keep up with the content unless you were familiar with the period, so I found myself going over the program before the show started as though I was studying for an exam. Even so, it was challenging and I had to pay very close attention. Not only was I trying to keep up with the politics, but also with the people’s names. Everyone had both name and title – sometimes more than one title – and they were referred to by either interchangeably. And not having the physical body to which to attach the names made it harder.

It was an enjoyable show, though, with a good gossipy tone. It was nice to see the servant going about her business as she talked, cooking, folding, sweeping and so on. It built a whole kitchen out of just a few props. I got an excellent sense of her and her world, although somewhat less of a sense of Richard. He was the master and quite a distant figure, although it was clear that she adored him.

A good show. I’m glad I went.

Putting it Together

This is a show I’ve seen before. A Broadway musical. (And I don’t quite understand the place that established musicals have at the fringe – why not bring a new one? – but there do seem to be a lot of them.) Although technically, I suppose, it’s a Sondheim Review (not ‘revue’, one of the actors points out in the introduction, as Sondheim wants us to think about the result).

Usually, I steer clear of amateur Sondheim; the intervals are tricky, the music is often not exactly lyrical, and the lyrics are complex and fast, all of which can sound terrible when butchered by amateurs. But this production had received some very good reviews. So, as a treat, I decided to go on my day off. To see something familiar.

And it was good. Great, by fringe standards. All the singers were able to keep up with the Sondheim music and lyrics, which at least meant that it wasn’t a painful listening experience. That said, though, they were never quite able to take control of it. To own it.

To be fair, I am comparing them to the version I’m most familiar with – the DVD recording of the 2000 Broadway production. Carol Burnett, Ruthie Henshall, John Barrowman and Bronson Pinchot leave some big shoes to fill.

And the woman playing The Wife in the fringe production may have been having an off night, because she stumbled a couple of times, and we were all a little worried that she wouldn’t quite make it through ‘Not Getting Married’. She did have a beautiful voice, though, and was one of the best actors on the stage.

I did enjoy it, though. It was really nice to hear some of those songs again. I had forgotten how much I love the version of ‘Being Alive’ that ends the show. And ‘Hey, Old Friend’. And the introduction. I had a big goofy grin on my face.

I’m going to have to re-watch the DVD again as soon as I get home.

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My Name is Richard

I heard a lot of good things about this one before I went to see it, and I wasn’t disappointed.

It is a musical about Richard (not Dick), a teenager with Asperger’s syndrome, which is a kind of high-functioning autism. He is in love with a girl, Anne, who is dating the school bully, but he is determined to win her love.

The score and the book were both good. The interactions between Richard and his parents and his two brothers were very realistic, as were the playground interactions of the teenagers at Richard’s school.

It was interesting to watch the way Richard’s mind worked, convinced that the logical chain of events that he could see in his head was the way things would work in reality. He couldn’t grasp the reality of human emotions that his friend kept trying to explain to him.

It was very well done, very sensitive to the subject matter without tiptoeing around it. The songs were good, and one of them is still stuck in my head a couple of days later.

The Crying Cherry

Ok. This is going to be a toughie. The difficulty comes from the fact that I’m not familiar with the source material. I’ve heard this play described as a live-action Samurai Jack. And I think they’re parodying a whole genre of Japanese films.

It’s a piece of physical theatre. It stars two men in tracksuits who not only play all the characters, but create the entire soundscape as well, using their voices and a handful of props. It’s the story of twin brothers, essentially. Their father raped their mother, and when she was pregnant, the mother was given a prophecy that one of her sons would murder the other. So she sends one of them away, where he is taken in and trained by a Samurai, and eventually journeys back to his homeland where he accidentally kills his brother.

That said, the plot was completely irrelevant, because the whole joy of this show was in the skill of the two performers. They played all the parts, often several at once, including the animals, and did the sound effects. They were phenomenal. It was all performed with complete seriousness, but the result was absolutely hilarious. And it was meant to be.

And, I should say, there was dialogue, and narration, that accompanied the whole show – all of it in gibberish Japanese. Convincing gibberish Japanese.

It was bizarre and surreal, but it was also a feat of physical performance. Very clever and very funny.

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I managed to miss this show on Broadway, in the West End and when the Mirvishes put it on in Toronto. I did finally catch it at the fringe, though, and it was wonderful.

It’s a three-hander, and in this case was mounted in a converted hotel conference room, with simple furniture creating three different living rooms.

It’s the story of three friends. Serge buys a painting – a white background with some white stripes on it – for a vast sum of money, and this kicks off a series of arguments between the three of them. Marc is worried that he can’t be friends with someone who genuinely likes that kind of painting. And conciliatory Yvan is stuck in the middle.

Given its pedigree, it’s not surprising that it’s also extremely well-written. And very funny. And it was very well-acted, too, which was a treat. Yvan in particular blew my socks off.

A truly enjoyable show, and I’ve been recommending it to all and sundry.

Second Star to the Right

I’m not entirely sure what to do with this one. It wasn’t bad. It was odd, but not bad. But at the same time I’m fairly certain I didn’t understand it, and I’m not convinced it actually went anywhere.

Wendy wakes up in the nursery and is taken away to Neverland, where she is told the stories of how the Lost Boys ended up there. The cast was made up of four women – Wendy, and three others who played a variety of parts. The trouble is, I was never exactly certain who they were meant to be.

There were elements of dance, and song, physical theatre and rhyming verse, and it did create a strong atmosphere, but the meaning behind it was never really made clear. The dance in particular didn’t quite work, and I don’t know whether to blame it on the fact that the floor wasn’t sprung or on the abilities of the dancers. You could see the effort going into the dancing, though, which takes away from the effect. It never quite flowed.

The set was interesting, and more complex than is usual for a fringe show. The entire room was draped in fabric, but it had more colour and texture than the standard black theatre drape. The floor was laid with a kind of Astroturf, simulating grass, and there was a big tree made of various fabrics over a structure and draped from the ceiling.

We were greeted at the door and ushered inside by the three Lost Boys, who whispered in our ears as we passed. We sat on cushions on the floor. And at the end, a Lost Boy came and whispered at us that it was time to leave, but without there having been any blackout or applause.

It was interesting. Odd. With a strong style. But I couldn’t quite find the story in it all.

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