Waiting For Peer Gynt — London 2018

Photography by J. Schmitz

Yesterday was a busy day of theatre, and started with Henrick Ibsen’s Peer Gynt in a German language production by Theater an der Ruhr.  This is the third Ibsen piece I’ve seen in the past 30 months, and all have been in different languages: Hedda Gabler first in Norwegian, in Amsterdam in July 2016, then in Czech in Prague in 2017, now Peer Gynt in German.  One of these days I’ll enjoy hearing the words of Ibsen once again, in a language I understand, but for now, surtitles will suffice.

Photography by J. Schmitz

But the words of Ibsen seemed rare in this production.  This two-handed presentation was more of a rumination on Peer Gynt, a sort of Meta-Peer Gynt, or, as alluded to in the slug for this post, a couple of clowns interpreting Peer Gynt.  The two performers seem to be passing the piece back and forth, between them, as they consider the story, characters, scenes, and settings.  First one then the other is the titular Peer, or the father or mother, or Solveig, the desirable neighbour’s daughter, or Ingrid, a former girlfriend of Peer, now seduced by him in the woods, on her wedding day.

Photography by J. Schmitz

For me this performance was so reminiscent of Waiting for Godot, not so much in content as in the feeling one got, in the audience, as two clownish performers tossed language around between them, each holding the story-telling “ball” for a moment or two, commenting upon it, observing it, and then tossing it back.  Neither performer, Maria Neumann or Roberto Ciulli, plays any given part for long, and while this can be confusing at times, one soon learns that it doesn’t really matter so much who is playing whom.  The cast of forty-odd characters are dispatched with alacrity by this able duo, and we soon just stop bothering to keep track, and enjoy their faces, their pose.

That these two have performed together a long time seems a given, and they are both resident members of the company; Ciulli, and Italian director, being one of the founders.

In Loyal Company — London 2018

In Loyal Company, from Lab Rats, blew through town last night for a One-Night-Only engagement at Pleasance Theatre on Caledonia Road and Pawn was there for the whole hour of it.  Yes, 1 entire hour; this being a piece conceived for the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, it was constrained in length.  A one-hander staring David William Bryan, who also wrote it, with Sascha Moore, tells us the story of a young Liverpool lad, Arthur (Joe) Robinson, who joins up during WWII and is sent off to the Pacific theater.

Joe, Arthur’s family nickname, is telling us his story, while skillfully acting out the best bits of it, on a mostly bare stage.  He tells of his time in training, for reconnaissance, and his deployment.  He tells of Loyal Company, his battalion, and his reassignment to an infantry division.  He tells, of the hardships of slogging through jungles and confronting an enemy unschooled in the gentleman’s battle behaviour Joe has trained for.  When a Japanese unit breaches a line of barbed wire — the first wave throw themselves upon the wire and subsequent waves cross their backs like a bridge — he is shocked.

He was shocked?!?  We were shocked, such is Bryan’s amazing ability, through both his storytelling and his delivery, to draw us into the world he’s inhabiting, and to let us see through his eyes, feel through his soul.  More than a few times I was left scrobbling for tissues to staunch the tears as one trial, indignity or another was visited upon poor Joe; when we heard the notes his Mum wrote on his behalf, or those he crafted (wrote upon his mind, lacking stationary) to her.

I won’t tell any more of the story, as this show “has legs,” as they say, and will likely end up on telly or tour or otherwise present many opportunities for more audiences to see it.  And it deserves to.  Bryan has given us not just a view into the unsuspecting young lads thrust into unconventional warfare, but this unsuspecting lad was Bryan’s great uncle, and the story is true.  He has researched it with great effort, and crafted a compelling narrative which brings the audience along with self deprecating humour and magnetic pathos.

Kudos to Bryan and his team for a job well done, a story well told, and for not being afraid of the raw nerves and emotions which come from telling true stories of people we love.

La Maladie de la mort — London 2018

Photography by Stephen Cummiskey

This is a bit of a delayed reaction post.  Pawn attended the Wednesday 3 October performance of The Malady of Death (La Maladie de la mort) by Theatre des Bouffes du Nord, at Barbican Centre.  But, it’s taken me a while to get around to writing about it, and to clarify my thoughts on the piece.

La Maladie was written by Alice Birch, based on a 1982 novella by Marguerite Duras.  This production is hard to describe, so bear with me.  The basic story is that of a man and a woman in a hotel room.  The man has hired the woman, for a rather high fee, to spend a series of nights there with him, as he tries to learn how to love, how to admire, how to relate, intimately, with another.

The set is of a hotel room, the hallway outside, a window upstage looks over a courtyard and the sea, beyond.  The hallway leads upstage, and we can see one or two other room doors along it.  An elevator lurks upstage right, we are lead to believe.

To far stage right, however, is a small sound booth.  A woman sits in it, dimly lit.  Before her a stand with pages on it.  She is the narrator, hers is the predominant voice we hear.  The two characters, the woman and the man, are not silent throughout, but any thoughts they have, are spoken by the narrator.

Photography by Stephen Cummiskey

That’s not the whole story, nor the whole cast, however.  For this is a live piece of film making.  Above the set is a projection screen, and upon that screen is a film maker’s view of what’s happening in front of us, augmented by interwoven clips from other settings, such as the woman’s private life, or the beach beyond the window; the elevator we hear but cannot see.  Around the set are three camera teams, a sound man with a boom mike, a couple of stage hands and dressers.  These folks are not on the periphery, they are in the middle of the action, all beautifully choreographed.  Never do they get in the way of each others shots.

Photography by Stephen Cummiskey

Key to the story telling here — and I shan’t get into the story itself — is the frequent transition from the male to the female gaze.  The woman undresses and lays out on the bed.  The man looks at her, but it’s not just that he looks at her, it’s how he looks at her.  He makes a comment, and the woman looks at him.  Again, it’s the how that matters.

Photography by Stephen-Cummiskey

So this is commentary, then, not just on how men and women regard each other, not just on isolation and personal distance, not just on prostitution and pornography (the man a frequent user of such), but a holistic examination of these themes, a realization of their inter-dependency upon each other.

The work is impressive and compelling.  The story, I found, fell, at times, into easy tropes.  Sometimes the characters seemed to resort to actions simply for the shock factor, or for the In Your Face aspect.  As a whole, it was a grand new kind of performance, pushing at the edges of film and theatre in ways we haven’t seen before.  But story, no matter how it is told, must still speak for itself, and here, Duras’s story let me down.

Performances were brave and bold by Laetitia Dosch as The Woman and Nick Fletcher as The Man.  Irene Jacob narrated, Katie Mitchell directed, Paul Clark composer.  The final show at Barbican is this evening, 6 October 2018.

Immersed in a Kettle of Fish

Photography by Helen Murray.

Last night took Pawn to the latest at The Yard theatre, A Kettle of Fish, by Brad Birch, performed by Wendy Kweh and featuring a rich soundscape by Max Pappenheim.  It was an immersive treat, to be sure.

The set (above) is simple, a linear space divided into thirds: lounge, cabin and cube.  The former serves as a space grounded in reality, the middle, a space in motion — train car or airplane cabin, the latter is dream, or fear, somewhere within the mind.  The mind of Lisa, that is, played expertly by Ms Kweh.  Lisa is a single woman, recently looking after her newly widowed father, and working a high-stress job.  This job is taking her on a business trip, and that trip makes up the meat of this show.

Photo by Helen Murray

The set is a wonder of simplicity, and serves its purposes well.  Designed by Ingrid Hu, lit by Joshua Gadsby, it provides a pallet upon which Kweh can move from place to place, mood to mood, with just a step or two.  Projections by Tegid Cartwright play upon a scrim draped across the face of the cube, stage left, and, through that, upon the wall behind it.  Within this cube Lisa may wander within her mind’s eye, or be cast into harsh reality, by Cartwright’s deft control of the visual mood.  All under the direction of Caitlin McLeod, this team of designers have taken the spare and small stage of The Yard and within it take us from Lisa’s house to the train station, the train itself, airport, plane.  All along the way we are surrounded by Pappenheim’s soundscape, inescapable due to the wireless headphones each of us wear.

Pawn is no stranger to immersive productions (a term often abused in its vagueness, but quite appropriate here) nor are wireless headphones a novelty, having been used to great effect by Silent Opera in their La Bohème some years back. (interesting side note, these headphones were branded with a logo for “Silent Disco”).  Whereas Silent Opera’s use was to pipe in the music of a recorded orchestra (and reinforce vocals), in this case it is a panoply of music, sound effects, aural nudges.  And Lisa’s voice, sometimes her live voice, as she addresses either the audience (a common feint) or her unseen characters, or send us her (normally unspoken) thoughts.  It is this last use which most sets this apart from your typical single handed production, as Lisa serves as her own Greek chorus at times.

I’ll come right out and say it; the design team, as a whole, deserve whatever award can be given for this sort of work.  The whole of it is so brilliantly executed that it easily overcomes the limitations intrinsic in so small and under equipped a space as Yard.  For being a one hander, this feels more like a fine ensemble production, the tech is so intimately woven into the work Kweh makes on stage.

The production, then, is as good as can be.  The script, however, could use some work.  Before picking nits, however, let me say that I left the theatre happy, thrilled, and moved.  One cannot ask for much more.  That said, there are times when we audience members feel as unteathered as Lisa appears to.

The story (no spoilers) starts with some plain exposition.  We meet Lisa, learn of her contentious relationship with her father, and of her stressful work life.  As the story progresses, through her commute to the airport, she lets us in on some truths about her job, her employer, and her sidelines.  She is involved with the data side of PR, the polling and data mining which go into understanding a market, whether it’s customers or business partners.  She shares that she’s heavily active on social media, maintaining numerous false identities so as to insinuate herself into fora and discussions that her real identity would preclude.  The people with whom she works are, to her, schemers and climbers and otherwise incompetent.  But Lisa is junior, and so must appease.

Photo by Helen Murray

Shortly after the flight begins,  a flight attendant taps Lisa on the shoulder, takes her aside, and tells her something dreadful is happening on the ground.  Lisa’s life is upended, but she’s trapped on this plane, 30,000 feet in the air, and can do nothing about it.  What ensues, as Lisa tries in vain to phone down to Earth, is a fugue state anxiety attack.  Lisa drifts in and out of her present reality, ruminates on her firm and its plans, experiences flash-backs to happier times, sees in her fellow passengers the faces she has stolen, online, as avatars for her false identities.  All of this is happening as the plane hurtles towards a former East Bloc nation to which her firm will be relocating.  Or will it?  All depends on Lisa and her persuasive powers and data-mined factoids.

That’s all I’ll tell you of the story, but of my complaints let me say this; the orthogonal narrative forays sometimes seem too highly contrived, and, at times, wholly disconnected.  One wonders if the piece were edited by a non-English speaker?  But, and this is significant, I cannot say if this ultimately detracts from the theatre going experience.  Odd as it might sound, this sort of disconnectedness, detachment, as it were, from the narrative train, might just be working, under the psychological hood, to bring us all along with Lisa on this hellish ride of hers.

You have until 13 October to find out for yourself.  Tickets still available, and in this intimate space, all seats are good.

Post Photos 1

Various images taken of posts, walls, windows and barricades from a stroll along Columbia Road, Hoxton High Street, Shoreditch and climes.  Images are in hi-res, click on one to see full version.

Please Help Yourself!

Please Help Yourself!

Available Options

Available Options

Chicken kabobs

Chicken kabobs

THEY

THEY

DO NOT TRUST ROBOTS

DO NOT TRUST ROBOTS

Brought to you by robots

Brought to you by robots

Steal Happiness

Steal Happiness

Safety first

Safety first

Got my eyes on you

Got my eyes on you

Looming threats

Looming threats

Birdman

Birdman

Manifesto! The Velvet Reunion!

As mentioned in an earlier post, this is the anniversary of the Velvet Revolution of 1989, but it’s also the commemoration of the student uprising of 1974, a full 15 years earlier, and a communist crackdown which followed on the heels of that.

So I went to the National Gallery, and caught my tram, the number 17, suitably enough, on 17 Listopadu, (17 November) street, so named for the more somber commemorative event.

A plaque there reminds us, in English & Czech

This, combined with my early morning hectoring (see a couple of posts down), served to jog my brain’s connective tissues and I suddenly realized why there were no performances at area theatres, etc. this evening.  The Velvet Reunion is today!  That explains those temporary stages I saw being put up in Wenceslas Square yesterday!

Doh!

So I caught my tram up to the Trade Fair Palace, which houses the more modern portion of the Czech National Gallery collection (it’s scattered about among several museums, the main one of which is closed for renovations until 2019).  This building, about a century old, is a functionalist marvel, and pretty darn cool.  Makes a good museum, too.

Turns out that this being the Velvet Reunion day, admissions to national museums is free.  Cool!  Still have to pay for the temporary exhibit I want to attend, but at 150 CK (about $6.50) I don’t mind one bit.  Less than the cost of a matinée at your local movie theater.

And that’s a bargain, since what I’m going to see is the Julian Rosefeldt film Manifesto, as it was intended to be seen, on thirteen separate screens, in one large room, all going at once.  Splendid!!

Those of you who were lucky enough to see this during the 2017 Milwaukee Film Festival, or on DVD (Netflix has it, which is how I saw it, thanks to X) you already can imagine where this is going.  For those of you who know not of which I speak, allow me to summarize.  Actually, allow the mystically translated words of the National Gallery serve that purpose:

The 13-channel film installation Manifesto pays homage to the moving tradition and literary beauty of artist manifestos, ultimately questioning the role of the artist in society today. Manifesto draws on the writings of Futurists, Dadaists, Fluxus artists, Suprematists, Situationists, Dogma 95 and other artist groups, and the musings of individual artists, architects, dancers and filmmakers. Passing the ideas of Claes Oldenburg, Yvonne Rainer, Kazimir Malevich, André Breton, Elaine Sturtevant, Sol LeWitt, Jim Jarmusch, and other influencers through his lens, Rosefeldt has edited and reassembled thirteen collages of artists’ manifestos.

Performing this ‘manifesto of manifestos’ as a contemporary call to action, while inhabiting thirteen different personas – among them a school teacher, a puppeteer, a newsreader, a factory worker and a homeless man – Australian actress Cate Blanchett imbues new dramatic life into both famous and lesser known words in unexpected contexts.

In the anteroom of the gallery is an exhibit of manifesti (what is the plural of Manifesto?), many of which are featured in the film.  Here’s some unartful snaps of them; pardon the glare:

No, I didn’t read them all.  But, the photos are actually pretty hi-res, so I probably still can.  I did enjoy listening to the Czech-lish descriptions of them all from the multi-lingual tour guide who’s group was lagging a little behind me as I browsed.  It was especially fun to hear him explain such concepts as Fluxus, Dada and such in the context of today’s “Fake News!” world (his citation, not mine).

Now into the main gallery.  The darkened room is quickly filled with light from a large projection screen, which is filling with licks of flame as the first of the manifestos is spoken in voice over by Ms Blanchett.  I am drawn not to sit before this screen, however, as I want to get a sense of how the whole thing is laid out.  I enter further into the space.  The walls are all blacked out, as are the pillars.  All that’s not black are the screens and the benches before them.

The screens are scattered around the space, and not too close together.  Not all of the screens have sound on all of the time.  Some have sound throughout, but others only have sound at the “golden moment” (as I’ll call it). Back to that shortly.  Each screen is showing a segment in a loop.  All of the loops are the same length, and all have just the right kind of beginning and ending that they loop seamlessly, more or less.  I hadn’t recognized this when seeing them all strung together into a sequence, in the film.  But it becomes quite clear when you’re watching one and all of a sudden realize that you’ve come around full circle.

You can generally hear some sound from other screens around you, but it’s not intrusive.  Some of the characters voices carry more than others.  The high-strung, severe choreographer, for example, can be heard just about anywhere in the space, as can the vagrant with a megaphone atop the ruins.  The mother saying grace (sort of) is fairly quiet, as is the woman saying a eulogy.  But then the Golden Moment arrives.

This moment comes about 2/3 of the way through the loops, I think, but it’s not really clear to me that all of these loops start and end at the same moment; just that they’re synchronized with each other,  That much is clear.  At this moment, every screen is taken up with a close up of Blanchett’s face, who is staring straight into the camera, and speaking in a high-pitched, almost robotic voice.  Each iteration of Blanchett is speaking words which belong with that incarnation’s manifesto, but there is an almost unison effect between them.  As I’ve previously stated, this is the only time when all of the screens have audio, so it can be quite arresting when the stock trader you’ve been watching in relative silence suddenly is starring straight at you and barking out some pith.

I spent over an hour in this space, wandering about, standing and watching, or sitting on a bench.  I loved the entire experience!  The multi-lingual tour group from the outer exhibit found their way around, and tended to sit, as a group, before each screen, whilst the guide flitted about stage whispering to them in different languages.  I noticed one couple, man and woman in their 20s, just sat side-by-side in front of the puppet maker screen for at least four or five loops.  They were enthralled with it (easy to understand).

What a great way to spend part of my Friday!  I love this stuff.

There was a lot more to see in the museum, and I did thoroughly enjoy my visit.  Didn’t even drop any dough in the gift shop, because it wasn’t a gift shop, it was a book shop, and I don’t read Czech! 🙂

More photos from the day later.

O Egg
GREAT EGG!
OUTSTANDING EGG!
BONJOUR!

Lord Adonis Has His Say

From the Guardian newspaper this morning comes this story, with a term I’ve never heard before:

Philip Hammond is being urged to earmark £7bn for new transport links in the “brain belt” spanning Oxford, Cambridge and Milton Keynes in next week’s budget, and persuade local authorities to build the first new towns in half a century.

Brain Belt, that sounds like something a neurosurgeon installs to knock back the intelligence of an overly smart fellow.  Donald Trump had one installed sometime in the mid-80s.

17 November — Commemorate The Velvet Revolution

In an ironically Big Brother-ish twist, this was the greeting I received from the local ISP when I tried to surf to the Washington Post this morning:

You have attempted to visit a foreign site!

Today, just one click, but before 1989 it was difficult to look beyond the border.
The arbitrary abandon of the Republic was punished freedom for up to five years. If you did not shoot a border guard right when you tried.

Freedom is not a matter of course.

That is why we November 17th commemorate Velvet’s anniversary Revolution, and we are glad that we can bring you free communication with the whole world in the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

Learn more about November 17

I want to continue freely

Yikes!  That last line contained a link to escape this freedom-loving portal page.

Okay then, commemorate I shall.  But first, some coffee!

Train From Berlin

As noted elsewhere, I took a train from Berlin to Prague on Sunday.  Here’s some snaps from that trip.  These were taken with my phone, out the window of a fast moving train, so don’t expect high quality.  First a farm field.

Now some snaps of riverbank villages along the Elbe,

Rounding a long curve, my gaze was drawn to the nearby hilltop, and the old mine buildings there.

Once I got to Prague, I had to figure out how to find the tram, and then get to the flat.  All in a cold rain, in the dark.  Yuck!

I got settled in, located a nearby restaurant, and went for a warm meal.  Being famished, chose Chabad Grill, 50 feet from my flat, Kosher, in Jewish quarter. Suspect it’s a front operation for Mossad, or other Israeli terrorist organization. Ordered beef Stroganoff, served atop basmati rice, with a side salad.  The food came quickly, and was quite good.  The salad, like most simple side salads here, was tomatoes, cucumber and bell peppers, diced up, dressed with a simple oil & vinegar.  Quite good and refreshing.  The Stroganoff, made kosher, was light and just the right portion.  The rice was perfect.

Then to the nearest grocery, for a few morning items.  Took this snap on the way there:

You might have noticed a small pile of sand on the left side.  Most of this neighborhood has similar works underway, which looks to be fibre optics being installed.  A bit anachronistic, no?

Finally, in this series from Sunday, is a single shot from the square outside the grocer.

I just liked the moody feel of that shot, like right out of John le Carré.

As I’ve said, I spent the daylight hours Monday & Tuesday in classes, so took only one photo that whole time.  One of the things I love about Prague is that there is so much art, it’s everywhere.  The Bohemian mindset, at least from ages back, was that the Austrians were artists and the Bohemians were artisans, craftsmen.  Go to the National Design Museum and you’ll find tons of Austrian glass, but virtually no Bohemian ceramics, for example.  That’s not art, that’s decor.

Here’s an example of urban decor, then, from the pavement I was walking on.

A Hedda Of A Different Color

I’ve just come from seeing the Divadlo Dlouhé’s production of Henrik Ibsen’s Heda Gablerová.  This is the first time I’ve gone to see theatre in a foreign language without some sort of translation services — supertitles, subtitles, assistive technology (audio or visual) — and it was kind of a trip, but more so for how the piece was presented than for the language barrier.

I know Hedda Gabbler very well.  I stage managed a production in college, lo those many years ago, which entails memorizing the entire script (not just one part).  I’ve seen film versions of it; saw Milwaukee’s own Theatre X present it 35 years ago, saw a production in Amsterdam the summer of 2016 (supertitles).  I know the story, so wasn’t really lost in the words.

This lovely little theatre is just a 6 minute walk from the flat, so easy-peasy.  I got there early, paid less than $15 for my ticket (320CK) in the 6th row, center.  The stage was stark.  One set, a sitting room, with an exposed lavatory upstage right and another upstage left.  There was a table mid-stage, some “pit group” type seating downstage right and a patio lounge chair downstage left.  A Lexan (Perspex, Plexiglas, what have you) wall defined the back of the stage, a large projection screen above it.  A digital clock displayed in the top corner.

Another Lexan wall divided the stage left from right, about two thirds of the way over from stage right.  The table pierced this wall, half on each side of the stage.

I already got the metaphor.

Ibsen is famous for a couple of things.  One is for being the first playwright to focus on total realism in his text and settings, his characters and their lives, even in the realization of his productions; sets, lighting, costumes, etc.  All was to be as real as possible.  The other is that he almost exclusively wrote about the sorry lot of women.  His leading characters are women, both in Hedda Gabbler and The Doll’s House.  Like his fellow Swede, August Strindberg, he saw great unfairness in the roles society allowed women to hold, and he pushed back against these in his plays.

Hedda is a fierce creature, she grew up the pampered pet of her strong and important father.  Now she is married off to a bumbling professor of philosophy and bridles at the restrictions of married life.  She has always been the one in control with the men in her life (and there have been, continue to be, a few) and just cannot stand the wifely role of subservience and home life.

The smaller, side of the stage, the right, from the audience’s perspective, was for Hedda.  The large space was for everyone else.

In the production I saw in Holland last year, a similar effect was created by the brilliant set design which was a triangular prism defined by three huge vertical blinds.  A prism which was a prison.  All the characters besides Hedda could walk in and out of this space, but she was forever held within it.

So yeah, I got the metaphor.  It seems nobody can handle Ibsen without steeping the whole thing in metaphor.  Well, hang on, there’s a ton of it here.

In case you hadn’t noticed, the men in this Czech production are all presented as effeminate buffoons.  They’re like a middle-aged, cross-dressing version of the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers of the old comix.

As for Hedda, while she starts out in a shift, she’s soon wearing pants, and for the remainder of the show.

The production design is like David Lynch collaborated with Eddie Izzard, with a little R Crumb thrown in for effect.  There’s the strange omni-present lady upstage, behind that Lexan wall, who serves as a narrator of sorts, a few times during the show, while changing from a “slutty nurse” outfit to sailor duds and then nun’s habit.

Hedda’s relationships with all and sundry are played with the wall always, well almost always, between them.  Whether it’s an intense lesbian S&M scene with Tea Elvstedová, the fiancée to her former lover (and husband’s protégé) Eilert Løvborg, played across the table.

Or the flat out (or flat up) sex scene between her and that same ex-lover

By the end of things, however, all of these men are stripped of their feminine finery, either literally, in the case of  Eilert, or have changed in to (mourning) suits, like Tesman, Hedda’s husband, or Judge Brack, the gadabout.

You see, Hedda, trapped in her marriage, pregnancy, society…feeling powerless, exercises what power she has by preying on and playing with those around her.  She ruins who she can, but ultimately is ruined by them and herself.

The downstage stage lift provides near tectonic effect, and a final resting place.

This was a splendid production all around.  The costuming was cartoonish, almost too much so, but grew more and more somber as the evening progressed.  The performances were brilliant, and I can say that without having understood more than “yes,” “no” and “please” (“ano,” “neh” and “proseem”).  Lucie Trmíková was downright bewitching as Heda, and I could have watched her all night long.  Robert MikluÅ¡, as Eilert was amazing.  The rest of the cast shone just as bright.

The visual effects — videotext scrolling by, with various language’s versions of the seven deadly sins; snow falling; big, bold comic book style “Bang” and such — not so great, but certainly not a defect.  The lighting was effective without being intrusive, which could have easily happened.  The set, all metaphor as it was, worked well.