Category Archives: Theatre

Three One Acts – ITS Amsterdam 2016

Almost forgot to write this one up.  Oops!

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While the title “Theatre Triple Date #2” doesn’t convey too much information, it was an interesting night of theatre.  First up was Play Maids by ArtEZ Music Theatre and Acting, Arnhem, directed by Mart van Berckel and performed by Margreet Blanken, Anne Freriks and Robin Kuiper.  The latter two play a pair of maids, Claire and Solange, loosely based on Jean Genet’s The Maids, by way of Grey Gardens. Here’s an excerpt from the Wikipedia article on The Maids:

Solange and Claire are two housemaids who construct elaborate sadomasochistic rituals when their mistress (Madame) is away. The focus of their role-playing is the murder of Madame and they take turns portraying both sides of the power divide. Their deliberate pace and devotion to detail guarantees that they always fail to actualize their fantasies by ceremoniously “killing” Madame at the ritual’s dénouement.

In Play Maids, these games appear at first to be more playful than anything, but we shall see.  Performed in the round (mostly) the set consisted of a sort of wire-frame wardrobe from which hung garments and from which sprouted work surfaces and other accoutrement necessary to the maids’ work.  The setting and props were fresh and inspired; the performances frenetic, farcical and fun.  Blanken as the matron was marvelous, and her seeming obliviousness lent much to the production.

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Perhaps a bit longer than was needed, the entire enterprise was well done and a joy to watch, perhaps more so because of the physical similarity of the two young actresses.  I could see this doing well in a Fringe (and, indeed, they will be at Fringe Amsterdam this September).  Interestingly, fashion label Maison the Faux is listed as a collaborator, for Scenography.

Next up was De Spectacular Schandelijke van Een Jong Meisje en het Tragische Einde Dat Daarop Volgde, again from ArtEZ Music Theatre and Acting, Arnhem.  Herein a single performer, Laurien van Rijswijk, performs an augmented monologue.  I can’t tell you too much about it, as it was all in Dutch, which I don’t speak.  I think the gist of the piece was that this young woman is coming into her own as her mother is dying of cancer, but that’s just a wild guess.  It did have moving scenes, which I could judge by the waterworks in the audience.

Lastly was The Sound of Circles, Codarts Circus, Rotterdam.  Ralph Ollinger and Marko Hristoskov conceived and present this piece of juggling accompanied by string bass.  It was lovely and well executed.  Seemed an odd fit after the earlier entertainments, but it did leave one with a clear head.

Hedda a resounding Success!

Pawn loves a good drama, especially something new and edgy, and if it’s got a dark and funny aspect as well, more the better.  No, this is not another Brexit article.  That’s tonight’s performance of Hedda in spades!

Director Loek de Bakker has collaborated with fellow script writer Belle van Heerikhuizen and scenographers Studio Dennis Vanderbroeck to present a taut and suffocating take on Ibsen’s classic drama.

The original Hedda Gabler, along with Ibsen’s similar pieces, particularly Doll’s House, are the very first “Modern” theatre productions, in that they had fully realized three-dimensional, sets, not simply flats and drops. The script begins with a description of the single set, and tonight this was read aloud by the actress playing Hedda:

A spacious, handsome, and tastefully furnished drawing room, decorated in dark colours.  In the back, a wide doorway with curtains drawn back, leading into a smaller room decorated in the same style as the drawing-room.  In the right-hand wall of the front room, a folding door leading out to the hall.  In the opposite wall, on the left, a glass door, also with curtains drawn back.  Through the panes can be seen part of a verandah outside, and trees covered with autumn foliage.  An oval table, with a cover on it, and surrounded by chairs, stands well forward…

Vanderbroeck turns this on its head, or perhaps more accurately on its side.  The set could barely be simpler than it is.  A white triangle, parallel to the stage, hangs 8 feet above it.  From this strong horizontal element hang three pairs of “Vertical Blinds” of the kind found on patio doors or glass-walled conference rooms.  That’s all.

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The device is brilliant, absolutely brilliant!!  Throughout the play, various characters open and close one or more blinds, making windows, doors, archways.  They lurk and listen on the other side, they draw a door and walk through it, or open a window and peer out it, or walk behind a wall and listen at it.  They twist the panels from thin slats to opaque panels, sometimes to devastating effect.

The script is another wonder.  Pawn has bridled at poor cuts of Hedda Gabler in the past, but cutting this otherwise 3 hours behemoth is not at all unusual.  In this case the story is modernized, a lot of historical referential cruft is tossed out (along with all minor characters), and along the way a bounty of hidden humor is uncovered, all to great ends.  The show tonight came in at a tight 75 minutes, which is amazing, given that all of the bones of the story remain.

I would give nods to the performers, but without a cast list, that’s hard to do.  I will say this; there was not a weak performance in the lot.  Here are the performers, I just cannot tell you who played whom: Sven Bijma, Yela de Koning, Marit Meijeren, David van Uuden and Abel de Vries.

Costumes by David Laport were spot on for a late ’60s country club feel, with Hedda in a pale blue shift, Thea in a tight, short tennis outfit, Judge Brack in professorial-looking corduroy, Eilert Lovburg a disheveled mess and Tesman in a pale pink shirt and khaki shorts.

If there is a weak point in this production, that would be the lighting design, uncredited in the only guide I’ve got.  The choice was made to use only low sources, mostly from oblique angles, which yields long shadows and poorly lit faces in many scenes.  While I might be able to be convinced that there were valid artistic reasons for this, I’m at a loss to tell you what those might be.

I hope this production sees more life than just this single performance.  It’s a real gem, and all involved should be very very proud.  I’ve spent about $70 for tickets to five shows at ITS Festival 2016, and if this were all I were to see, it would be worth it.  It’s worth the visit here.  Luckily, given how good Een Lolita was earlier today, I have no worry that it need be all there is.

ITS Festival 2016

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Coincident to my visit to Amsterdam is ITS Festival 2016.  Here’s how they describe themselves:

Every year, at the end of June, the latest crop of performing artists will flood the city of Amsterdam. Graduating actors, dancers, mime artists, (film) directors and other performing artists – national and international – will make their first appearance at several professional theatres in the cityheart of Amsterdam.

The International Theatre School Festival Amsterdam is the biggest European student festival where you can scout over 200 theatre talents in more than 50 unique productions. It is a wonderful opportunity to catch a glimpse of how the performing arts will look in the coming years. Alongside the productions, the festival programme is filled with inspiring debates, lectures and workshops.

Fertile ground for this fan of New Work and New Talent.  This afternoon I saw Een Lolita, a meditation on a future for Nobokov’s characters, taking off on the idea of unrealistic expectations which faced the young anti-heroine and her lustful suitor:

We all know the famous characters of Nabokovs masterpiece. The sensual teen Lolita and the more-than-twenty-five-years-older man Humbert Humbert who falls madly in love with the girl, with fatal consequences.

In this play a man and a woman, no longer man and girl, wander around in the memory of the most important memory of their lives, thirty years ago.
With might and main they try to keep the memory alive. What if the highlight of your existence lies far behind you?

Quite good, although I sat too close to be able to both read the supratitles and watch the acting.  Lesson learnt!

Tonight brings Hedda, a modern take on Ibsen’s classic:

It’s better to burn out than to fade away.

She is gorgeous, rich, adventurous, bored and suicidal. She is the female Hamlet and a desperate housewife. She is Hedda.

Loek de Bakker graduates with his own version of Ibsens Hedda Gabler (1890). His Hedda is young and wants to live life to the fullest, but she can’t escape being bored to death. In an attempt to feel any kind of excitement, she manipulates the people around her. When she’s about to lose her last shred of freedom, she leaves this humdrum life with a bang. If no one around her acts big, she will.

Tomorrow I have a triple-header of shorts, following my conference, but I may not be able to actually make that.  Wednesday brings The Odyssey, in which 8 different theatre academies each undertake to dramatize one of the islands in Homer’s tale, with heavy metaphorical reference to today’s refugee crisis (or so the promotional materials imply) in a performance which will have us audience trudging around from place to place.  Not sure I have the best footwear for that, but I think so.

The Odyssey – a theatrical investigation freely based on Homerian motifs

One of the most pressing problems facing our society at present is that of refugees, people who leave their home country for a variety of reasons in search of help, security, and a new start. And most of them come to us because of an idea: the idea of Europe. Europe is more than a common economic area and common external borders. Europe has a common system of values which starts with human rights and cultural similarities. It is absolutely true that this will change the very core of our society. But there are achievements that we can agree on, that make us who we are and are therefore part of our identity. To this end, the Platform of European theatre academies starts a theatrical investigation with the purpose of exploring this question of cultural unity. We do not want to leave this research to sociologists; we are interested in the attitudes of young people who are currently about to join the cultural sphere.

Finally, Thursday is Geisha’s Miracle, a dance piece featuring three young Asian performers testing the limits of western stereotypes of Oriental womanhood:

Three Asian performers invite you to experience their universe; shiny and blue, light and white. They take you on a journey to a place in between live and death, a place in between a transformative reality and a fountain of imagination. Geisha’s Miracle is a synesthetic physical experience that reaches out to the perception of the audience. The surreal visual and musical landscape speaks not only to the ratio but also to the irrational sides of our beings, and asks us to immerse in the absurdity..

Lots to see!

 

Elevation, Evacuation and Rapture

The day began with a stroll east along the Regent’s Canal to Cambridge Heath and Vyner street, to meet with the lovely ladies of Degree Art, my favourite gallery in London.  Along the way I received an email from Is:

Am currently sitting in the coffee shop on the corner of Vyner St as I had to lend my keys to one of the members of staff yesterday and because of the storms and flooding, the trains are very delayed and everyone is running behind schedule, so if I spot you coming down Vyner Street before I get into the gallery, I might leap out and grab you for a coffee in here!

There had been raging thunderstorms in the overnight.  Nothing too severe to my Midwestern sensibilities, but quite out of the ordinary here.

Sure enough I fond Is sitting in the cafe, and as we waited for the rest to show up, we had a nice chat about art & business.  Then off to the gallery to look over some new artists and confer on recent purchases.  A joined us there, and once all was sorted, she & I said our farewells and hopped a bus down to Millennium bridge and over that to Tate Modern and its new Switch House expansion.

The Switch House represents a significant expansion of the already mammoth Tate complex, and is a stunner.  Rising 10 storeys, just to the south of the Boiler House and Turbine Hall, Switch House springs from large concrete silo bases.  We first queue with many others for one of the four elevators to the observation deck on 10.  Shockingly, each elevator is quite small, claiming a capacity of 17 each, but we figure more like 12.  People pack into each car, often to the point where doors won’t close.  The whole lift situation seems poorly considered.

Here are views from the 10th floor:

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A points out just how new this addition is; the paint is still wet!

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The Shard, commonly known as The Salt Cellar.

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The neighbours likely didn’t expect this level of exposure.

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New Blackfriar’s Bridge.

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St Paul’s, across the Millennium Bridge, Boiler House in the foreground.

Once done on 10, we descended to 9 for the restaurant.  We were seated, ordered a glass of champaign, and made our selections — blue cheese soufflé starter and lemon sole main — when all of a sudden a klaxon sounded and a voice came over the PA, “Please follow your steward’s instruction and evacuate the building by the nearest exit.”

Lovely.

We walked down countless flights of stairs and spilled out into the rear courtyard. Here’s the crowds outside

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We did ultimately get back inside, but had to settle for a rubbish meal at Leon’s.  Here’s some of the art from the permanent and temporary exhibits within:

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We did try to go back up the tower, to the member’s lounge on 8, but the lifts were totally unusable, and after waiting about 15 minutes, we gave up.  Grumpy, we left Tate.  “Coffee and cake!” declared A, and off to Paul, a posh French patisserie,  we went.

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Shortly after we settled in to chairs at Paul, with our coffee and cakes, a downpour ensued.  Everyone in the shop looked on with awe at the sheer volume of water coming down; fists full of rain lashed the windows and overtopped the table umbrellas outside the door.  We hid out there over an hour, waiting for the storm to clear.  I went to find the gents, and what I found was a toilet spewing shit into the air, overwhelmed by the torrents of rain hitting the sewers.

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A long, grueling bus ride up to Camden Town took us to Oxford Arms and Etcetera Theatre for Rubber Duck Theatre’s production of Rapture.  This taut little show envisions a near future in which medical wonders have rendered much disease moot, and with the long lives which ensue, there is now a need to cull the population.  The process by which this happens is the Citizen Review.  Our four protagonists are there to represent, to justify their existence.  A fifth, the auditor, is there to facilitate the process.

I won’t delve further into details, but it was a good and thought provoking piece of social commentary, especially crisp on this night of Brexit.  Kudos to the entire cast, who took on archetypal roles with gusto and nuance (more than was written for them) and found humanity within each of them.

Ambitious Isn’t Always Good

Last night brought Pawn the first performance of this trip; Karagula by Philip Ridley, at the new Styx performance space in Tottenham Hale.

I’ve long been fond of Ridley’s work, since seeing Pitchfork Disney at Arcola, back in 2012. That show has stuck with me ever since, and represents a high bar for any new work to overcome. Sadly, this latest from Ridley, Karagula, does not achieve escape velocity.

Last year Ridley’s Radiant Vermin, at Soho Theatre was a quirky & delightful treat, with strong performances, concise direction, a clean book, and good lighting. A highlight of that trip’s shows. In contrast, however, Karagula is quite simply a mess.

It should be a tip-off when all of the review quotes on the adverts use some version of the word “Ambitious.” That’s a good term for this sprawling Sci-Fi/Poli-Sci mashup which takes place in a galaxy far, far, away, in a time other than now (we think) and spans centuries. The dozens of characters are performed by just 9 actors, with varying degrees of success. The fault lies not with performances, however, but with the far-too-messy script and poorly executed technical aspects.

This show is 3 hours long, with a single interval. The entire theatre is rearranged during said interval, going from audience seated along the two long sides of the rectangular black-box space, to all seated along one short side.

The basically unadorned stage of the first half is supplanted in the second act by a cave set, in which the ceiling is represented by a patchwork of parachute fabric, coffee & tea stained in colour, held aloft by ropes. These ropes are affixed to the fabric by Velcro, to facilitate tear-away scene changes. Unfortunately, early in the action, a critical support tore away prematurely, leading to the collapse of one side of the drop, and flooding the audience with bright, white light from the back-lights. No effort was made to correct for this, leaving a blinded audience to squint at the rest of the scene.

There is much frenzied action during this play, which like most of its genre depends heavily on seemingly important exposition delivered in opaque language with unfamiliar or invented terminology. Unfortunately, in this case much of that is shouted, with or wihout amplification, with a very wearing result. By the time of the final scenes, Pawn found he just wanted it to be over, and was actively rooting for the doomsday device to be triggered.

Fans of Burgess, Orwell & Huxley will find many familiar themes here, from milkshakes to Marshalls, teachers to cheerleaders, oracles to animals. Little coherency binds them to the story, and one often might think they’ve napped through some vital section, but with no awareness of such nap.

You’ve let me down, Mr. Ridley. I do hope this show returns to workshop, however, and reëmerges some day, trimmer, sharper, quieter and more orderly.

Waiting For Dimeitravitch

The Trunk is a new piece by Savio(u)r and Crow Theatre, at The Space, in Isle of Dogs.  We know little about it beyond these few comments,

Inspired by Chekhov’s short stories, The Trunk paints a blackly comic portrait of our everyday introspections.  It tells of five characters forced out of their routine by the peculiar, unexplained actions of a sixth.

We arrive at The Space a bit early, after a mad rush-hour, packed-in-like-sardines tube and bus trip from Soho, and grab a quick bite at Hubbub, the bar and café upstairs (quite good food!).  As we emerge from the café, we are greeted by travelling waifs, a card sharp dealing Three Card Monte on a trunk, and other assorted characters who people the courtyard around the building, an old church.  Once we finally file into the building, we find a charming performance space and some inhospitable looking folding chairs.  I lunge for a well padded one, front row, and X slumps into a less friendly looking one next to me.  You’ve gotta be fast to save your tuccus in this town, I tell ya!

The show is an ambling, and wander, by five characters – a maid, a professorial type, a bag woman, a traveller and the station master.  Oh, and a trunk, a large, heavy trunk, which the maid, after great effort, positions centre stage.  There is a small stage-like area to the back end of the space, but most of the action takes place before that, on the floor.  Where the trunk sits.

We are to believe that there is a man in the trunk, Dimeitravitch, whom the five other people inveigh upon to come out and reveal himself.  They talk to him, singly and in pairs, and seem, for the most part, ignorant of each other.  There are times when these people interact in pairs, but that’s about it, they are otherwise in their own worlds, and we are brought along on their musings and meandering thoughts.

No real point to this, at least as far as I could tell, but that doesn’t really matter.  It was a fun night of theatre, not deep, but sometimes deep, not powerful, but sometimes…

I liked it, I guess, but sometimes not.

Leaving Skagway

A favourite venue here in London, for our theatre viewing pleasure, is Arcola by Dalston. This year they are in the midst of a Spanish play series, which don’t much interest either of us, but also host In Skagway, by KTR Productions & Irish theatre company Gúna Nua. This four-hander, all-woman show by Karen Ardiff, directed by Russell Bolam, occupies the small Studio 2 space.

In Skagway

This is a story of four women in Alaska at the end of a late 19th century gold rush, in the lonely village of Skagway, as the claims have been spent. May (Geraldine Alexander) is taking care of her sister Frankie (Angeline Ball) following the latter’s stroke. Frankie is a faded dance hall performer who had also relied on prostitution to get by, May her younger (?) sister who follows her slavishly from Ireland to New York to Alaska — and all points between — fawning over her and taking whatever scraps may fall to the floor, be it food, funds or men. T-Belle (Kathy Rose O’Brien) is May’s daughter, a miner herself, and as we learn the issue of Frankie’s one-time pimp, to whom she had sold May for a night or two.

The script has its moments, but is in general a confused muddle with May’s worship of her sister the only apparent motivation for half the action that unfolds. We’re given hints as to the origins of this madness, but not enough to be able to sort it out satisfactorily. Adding to our confusion is the age indifferent casting. May looks quite a bit older than Frankie, but the script seems to imply she’s younger. Frankie is a vivacious young woman, but described as a wretched old krone by T-Belle. T-Belle returns from weeks in the wilderness, of mining and frolicking with her Indian lover, Joe, but looks ready for a night on the town with her plucked eyebrows and perfect face.

T-Belle and Nelly

A breath of reality comes in the form of Natasha Starkey in the role of Nelly, a local barmaid and dancer with whom T-Belle tries to hatch a scheme. Starkey is believable in the role, and provides a depth to the performance which seems lacking elsewhere. Not that Ball, Alexander and O’Brien turn in poor performances, but they have great heights to scale to overcome the casting, make-up and costuming choices which have left them at a distinct disadvantage.

Not our best night at the theatre, I dare say.

A special note, too, for Arcola. This small studio could be a nice space, but the seating is atrocious. This 87 minute, one act play was about a half hour too long for one to sit comfortably on these terrible plank benches. There have been nice improvements elsewhere in the facility — the new toilets, well appointed bar and evolving lobby — but the seating in the studio is in desperate need of upgrading. I shan’t come back here until that’s been done.

Tempest From The Front Row

People thought I was mad, mad, when I suggested it, but now that it’s done, I say Brilliant!

X and I had already planned our trip to London when I first heard of Kate Tempest, an amazing young poet and playwright from South London. Tempest is the winner of the Ted Hughes prize for innovation in British poetry, and well deservedly, for her epic poem The Brand New Ancients. It was on Charlie Rose on 16 January that I first saw her. I highly recommend that you watch that clip, and you’ll understand a lot about this young writer. Tempest, at the time, was in the midst of a 9 day stint at St. Anne’s Warehouse in New York (BAM). No way I could make it to see that.

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Upon searching YouTube for that clip, so I could share it with others, I came across this clip, from Battersea Arts Center. That lead me to the BAC home page, where I learnt that her tour of the UK would be ongoing during our visit. After telling X of this, she checked the venues and we found that they either were sold-out, or close to it. Our first choice of Oxford — just an hour by bus — was already out of reach, but Manchester — 3 hours by train — was still available. This meant an overnight hotel stay, in addition to the not-cheap train fare, but I had a feeling that this would be something special. Plans were made, tickets and hotel booked, train timetables consulted. We were set.

Was it worth it?

In every trip, one hopes to find an event — a show, exhibit, event — which all by itself would make the entire trip worthwhile. In London, 2012, it might have been Pitchfork Disney, or shows by Paper Cinema or Silent Opera, or even a Punch & Judy show. In New York, 2013, it was Event Of A Thread, by Ann Hamilton at Park Avenue Armory. This trip? Well, it’s not over yet, but so far — as good as everything has been — I’d have to say this is it, The Brand New Ancients has set a new bar which will be hard for anything to surpass.

X was nearly speechless (and if you know X, that’s saying a lot). The 2,000 people who came to Manchester to see Prince performing in the arena next door to Contact Theatre may have thought they were seeing the best show in town that night, but they’d have been wrong. Tempest is a powerhouse performer and Brand New… is just that good of a piece.

Tempest starts out by asking us to accept a fairly simple premise:

In the old days
the myths were the stories we used to explain ourselves.
But how can we explain the way we hate ourselves,
the things we’ve made ourselves into,
the way we break ourselves in two,
the way we overcomplicate ourselves?
But we are still mythical.
We are still permanently trapped somewhere between the
heroic and the pitiful.
We are still godly;
that’s what makes us so monstrous.

We have jealousy
and tenderness and curses and gifts.
But the plight of a people who have forgotten their myths
and imagine that now is somehow all that there is
is a sorry plight,
all isolation and worry —
but the life in your veins
is godly, heroic.
You were born for greatness;
believe it. Know it
Take it from the tears of the poets.

The Gods are all here.
Because the gods are in us.

Tempest takes to the stage with her 4 piece ensemble behind her: Kwake Bass on percussion, Jo Gibson on Tuba, Natasha Zielzinski on cello and Emma Smith on violin. This band will provide the pulse beneath her words, and a pace through those portions where Tempest falls silent and recovers a bit. For hers is a titanic performance of mostly rapid fire delivery over an hour and twenty minutes. These silences from Tempest are rare, but necessary for her and for us.

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The poem itself is a story of two families and several side players, and takes place across some 25 years or so. The lives of these people are at once banal and heroic, simple and convoluted, noble and shameful. Theirs are real lives in real places with real consequences and are described in a performance style which struck me as operatic, but plain spoken.

You’ve heard of “Rock Operas” like Tommy (by The Who) but this is something different; this is a hip-hop flavoured, jazz laced, epic non-stop aria, a spoken-word tour-de-force. Tempest’s voice, one moment plaintive and thin, is then vengeful and sharp. Using her voice with all the temper of a well trained singer, she moves us with her, the ups and down, the epic peaks and disastrous crevasses.

When complete she is spent. The blackout seems almost gratuitous, for we know the journey is over. We’ve met the gods, and have celebrated and mourned them in equal measure. We have seen ourselves and our loved ones, and she has shocked, entranced and taught us.

The audience stood almost as one, a rare sight indeed in England, where ovations are more parsimoniously given than in the states. Also worth noting is this; Tempest rarely deploys flowers of language or clever turns in her work, it is much more spare and plain than that, but when she does hit us with a beautiful phrase, one hears the snapping of fingers in the audience, redolent of the coffee house reception of the beats.

I don’t know if or when Kate Tempest will come back to the USA, but if she does I will go see her, and encourage you to do likewise. The Brand New Ancients is available on Picador.

From Here To Eternity

Darius Campbell (Warden) and Rebecca Thornhill (Karen) in From Here To Eternity at the Shaftesbury Theatre.

Darius Campbell (Warden) and Rebecca Thornhill (Karen) in From Here To Eternity.

We always manage to fit in at least one West End production whilst in London, and this trip we’ve chosen the recent musical adaptation of From Here To Eternity, known to most from the successful 1953 film by Fred Zinnemann, from the novel by James Jones. The musical has music and lyrics by Stuart Brayson & Tim Rice and book by Bill Oakes.

A musical of From Here To Eternity? you might well ask. Well, yes, and as it turns out it works as such pretty well. To answer the question of Why?, just read this paragraph from the WikiPedia page:

Jones’s novel From Here to Eternity was a best-seller and well known for its successful movie adaptation. Jones’s manuscript was heavily censored by his publisher to remove profanity and references to gay prostitiution; the unexpurgated version was not published until 2011. Once it was, composer Stuart Brayson thought it might be adapted as a musical, and proposed the project to Tim Rice, who acquired the stage rights and wrote the lyrics.

And there you have it; a sub-plot of gay/straight relations, and the tension therefrom, take a significant role in this telling of the tale.

A scene in the barracks.

A scene in the barracks.

A mid-afternoon visit to the Liecester Square TKTS booth yielded three in stalls (7th row center) for X, A and I. A hasn’t been to a West End show in years, so appreciated the treat. Also appreciated was the American-style “Proper” burgers at Byron before show. (note to Byron, American pickle spears are dill, not sweet, and while our malts may be made in the steel cup, they are not served in it).

The show was a joy to watch, quite beautiful and great story telling. The sets, costumes and lights were all one expects, the usual high West End standard. Choreography was quite good, especially near the end of the piece (not giving anything away, as this will likely transfer stateside).

The Boxing match.

The Boxing match.

No stand out performances from this cast, although I quite liked Ryan Sampson’s portrayal of Private Angelo Maggio and Siubhan Harrison’s Lorene. The entire ensemble is strong, however, and acquit themselves well throughout the 2:45 (with interval) performance.

All in all, I’d give it 4 stars, and know that X & A loved it, too.

Art Is… Continued

A bit of a break has ensued since last we’ve written, but now that we’re back on it, here’s a continuation of Thursday, the 20th.

Following the advice of the shopkeeper from Book Arts Books, we strolled back down to the Shoreditch high street and Merchants Tavern for a lovely and extravagant dinner and cocktails: cauliflower croquettes, seared scallops, leek and bleu cheese tart and X had encrusted fillet of cod with creamed celeriac root. Yum YUM!! It helped, ho doubt, that we were being served some well made Martinis, which are a rarity here.

Doing-the-Business

Dinner settled, it’s back to the theatre, a double bill of works by Doug Lucie. First up was a revival of Doing The Business, in which Peter (Matther Carter) a smarmy City Boy in a bright red tie and tight hip-riding blue flood pants held up by braces tries to explain to Mike (Jim Mannering) a grammer school chum newly in charge of a theatre company dependent upon Peter’s largesse, that if they would just make some changes (not compromises) to the company’s plans, there would be cash aplenty to sort their debts and deficits.

This is a taut play of speeches, mostly, with very little actual back-and-forth dialogue. Written in reaction to the draconian cuts to government arts funding in the late 1980s, this is a sermon preached to the choir. These two, while hard to imagine as schoolboys of the same cloth, have matured into archetypes of the most severe sort. Peter is smug and self privileged, father of two young girls, who are the receptacles of his only true charity. Mike is self righteous and suffering, with high-minded ideals uncompromised by the vicissitudes of real-world life.

While predictable in its story arc, the play none-the-less forces us to consider all of the issues involved with corporate grant giving and the necessary deal making that goes on alongside it. Of course we want to hate Peter and side with Mike (we wouldn’t be in the audience otherwise, would we?) but we see Mike willing to throw away his high morals when presented with the wealth he needs to achieve his (now lowered) goals. Despite the short comings of predictability and convention, this was a bracing piece of theatre. The performances were stunningly clear and utterly believable — we saw two characters on stage, but no actors — as it should be. The technical aspects of this show, as with Blind, are of workshop standards and not to be criticized one way or the other; they sufficed.

Blind, the second half of the double bill, is a newer piece, and has as its subject the interrelations between patrons and artists, and the differences between the commerce of art, the commercialization of art; between the valuation of art and the value of it; between a patron and a sponsor, a buyer and a dealer, a dealer and a market maker; between an artist responding to their muse and an artist responding to a market. This is diamond-hard naval-gazing for the truly ennobled artists among us; and a fun bit of drama for the rest of us around the periphery of that.

Alan (Cameron Harle) is a young artist put up in a studio he could never afford by his patron, Mo (Jon McKenna), an older man with an ill wife and a whole closet full of skeletons. Mo is sitting (nude) for a portrait and as Alan paints, we get the exposition to setup the story of Mo taking a liking to Alan’s work, and deciding to support him via the rental of the studio. We get a sense, too, of a bond, call it paternal, between them; Alan is an investment, true, but more of a spiritual than a monetary one, for Mo.

Maddy (Janna Fox) is an in-your-face artist-cum-anti-artist in the mould of Tracey Emin, and is making work of stark contrast to Alan’s classicist painting. Her’s is a denial of art (i.e. “turd in a teacup), more meta and conceptual, and her personality is half the story. Clashes with the press, insults slung across galleries at stodgy arts types, explosive addictions and abuse of all around her. She takes a liking to Alan, however, and introduces him to her sponsor, Paul (Daniel York) a smarmy, Charles Saatchi type, who eyes art with dollar (or pound) signs in his eyes, always thinking of how an artist can get him to the next market nexus.

As we know it must, a romance of convenience (for which side?) develops between Alan and Maddy just as commerce of convenience develops between Alan and Paul. Where does this leave Mo? A scene of conflict between he and Paul revealing the skeletons in Mo’s past (not as shocking as the playwright may have wanted) is quickly followed by a détente of convenience between Mo and Maddy, who is redeemed by her evident mastery of drawing (a conceptual artist with actual artistic skills, who knew?!?) and as the play comes to and end, we see the depths to which Alan has been drug by the devils he has chosen, Maddy elevated by her return to art’s roots, Mo on the verge of life changing events and Paul has simply vanished, much as the whims of the art world change from season to season.

It is dense and knowing, this work, and presumes both an acceptance of convention (and classical themes) and I dare say an agreement with Lucie’s interpretation of the validity of one take on the art world over another. While I enjoyed the night of theatre, I do not accept the false dichotomy presented therein. Art and commerce are inevitably intertwined whenever the artist seeks to make a living from art. This must be so, whether it is patronage or sponsorship or selling portraits in a market stall, commerce is commerce, trade is trade, custom is custom, money is money. If we monetize the creation of beauty, then we have commercialized it to one extent or another.

If an artist chooses to make art free of commerce, there is ample precedence for that — look at the vital world of what Pawn calls “Private Art”. Often classified as “naïve,” “self-taught,” “visionary,” or “folk” art, this may veer to the commercial (crafty art sold at tag sales) but is often conceived, executed and kept for the artist’s private use and enjoyment. Occasionally hoards of private art are discovered, brought to the world’s attention, and (often posthumous) celebrity rains down upon the artist. Henry Darger and Vivian Maier are prime examples of such private-made-public collections.

All in all, Doing The Business and Blind are fine theatre and represent an ambitious undertaking by Triple Jump Productions. The performances were all stellar. Jon McKenna was a breath of fresh air as Mo Dyer in Blind in that he was age appropriate, as is too rare these days from smaller companies. Daniel York brought just the right level of sneering smarmyness to the role of Paul Stone, and we hated him for it, as with Matthew Carter’s turn as Peter (the City boy).