Monday, 2 July 2012

So, I have been a complete slacker, not about going to the theater, but in terms of writing about what I've seen. I've disappointed myself but I also finished that novel I've been working on forever so there is a silver lining. I know, excuses, excuses.What follows here is really just a glorified list of what I've seen since my last post, and in no particular order though I'll begin with the most recent:

Birthday by Joe Penhall directed by Roger Michell at The Royal Court

What if men could have babies? Joe Penhall sets up and delivers on this premise in a both excruciating and hilarious play. In 90 minutes he explores the subject to the hilt, and provides a searing condemnation of the NHS--and those who use it--along the way. I went with three women and afterwards we were all so glad we had no plans for having any more children. Steve Mangan was so perfectly cast I can't imagine anyone else in the role. The play ultimately rings only one-note, if smashingly. I wish there had been a subplot, but what could that have possible been?

Uncle Vanya by Anton Chekhov in a new version by Mike Poulton directed by Lucy Bailey at The Print Room

I love The Print Room, a small theater in a '50s warehouse in Notting Hill (very close to Hereford Road where we had dinner afterwards) and I loved this production of Uncle Vanya, which is on for one more week so go, go, go. I saw it during its previous run and found it exhilerating. I had actually never seen the play before and my companion Paola said this interpretation took broad liberties, but any translation worth its salt does just that. Besides it was very funny. I know Chekov can be funny but you don't usually think of him as a comedic playwright. Uncle Vanya, was played brilliantly by Iain Glen of Downton Abbey (Mary's suitor, the Rupert Murdoch of his day).

The Physicists by Friedrich Durrenmatt in a new version by Jack Thorne, directed by Josie Rourke at the Donmar Warehouse

What a terrible disappointment! An absurdist play from the '60s about theoretical physics--it was as if the play had been written for me. (I'm serious. My first novel combined quantum mechanics and classic Hollywood cinema). But, alas, it was tedious, not that funny, and so very dated. I can't imagine why anyone thought it was a good idea to revive this. I took some enjoyment in the fabulous performance by Sophie Thompson as the hunchbacked founder of the insane asylum in which the play is set, where she specializes in the mental disorders of physicists (it sounds great but isn't). She was some combination of Igor in Young Frankenstein and Greta Garbo.

Wild Swans by Jung Chang directed by Sacha Wares at The Young Vic

Communism seems to be all the rage these days, in terms of things cultural at any rate, and this play was a didactic view of an oppressive system, with extraordinary sets. It was edifying to be reminded of how China has come to take over the world. If you can't beat 'em, join 'em, but do it better.

Collaborators by John Hodge directed by Nicholas Hytner at The National

Simon Russell Beale playing Stalin? Irresistible, and he was. Only SRB could make this hideous tyrant sympathetic while maintaining his monstrousness. Collaborators was inspired by a footnote in a biography of the young Stalin, stating that Mikhail Bulgakov had been commisioned by Stalin to write a play about his youth in Batumi. Bulgakov's play was written in 1939, approved by the cultural apparatchiks, but never produced. John Hodge has written a very clever play about Bulgakov's flirtation/collaboration/compromise with his hated leader and does wonders with the old theme of the fine line between the oppressor and the oppressed. In 1940, just before he died, Bulgakov, would publish his anti-Stalinist masterpiece The Master and Margarita in which the devil comes to Moscow.

The Master and Margarita based on the novel by Mikhail Bulgakov adapted by Simon McBurney at The Barbican

Butchery. Somewhere else in a previous blog I swore to never see another Simon McBurney production, but at my peril I took another risk because when he is good he is very, very good, but when he's bad...I left at the interval along with at least half of the audience.

The Oresteia by Aeschylus in a translation by Ted Hughes by Theatre Lab Company at Riverside Studios

I would see anything these guys do. It was totally sublime. And in that tiny theater at Riverside, it's all so intimate, gory, and in your face. Took my 15 year old son, who also admitted to being glad I had dragged him--or he knew that if he said so I was more likely to allow him to go to a Mud Honey concert the following week.

Gross und Klein (Big and Small) by Botho Strauss via the Sydney Theatre Company at the Barbican

Like The Physicists, why, I ask? This avant-garde German play from 1978 does not hold up well, even with Cate Blanchett's muscular performance to aid it. They did better with A Street Car Named Desire, which I saw in NYC though Blanchett again stole the show. Hmmmm.

Venus in Fur by David Ives, originally at the Classic Stage Company in NYC.

I saw this in New York and I can't tell you how many people told me I would love this. And I did. I was thoroughly entertained by this drama exploring relations between the sexes via heady intellectual literary discussion and S&M paradigms. Just my cup of tea! But ultimately, after I left the theater and thought about it for half an hour I realized it was the same old story. In the battle between the sexes, no matter how smart, witty, intelligent, domantrix a woman is portrayed, if she has to perform for nearly two hours practically nude, often with her legs splayed, while her male interlocuter on stage is fully dressed, she is the object of humiliation.