I met this production with a degree of innocence and a sense of stepping into the unknown. I conducted a modicum of research on 1927 and was met with a plethora of positive reviews concerning their first, award winning production, Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea.
This is only their second production since the company’s inception in ’05 and their brand of theatre has been met with comparisons to the early work of Tim Burton; entwining cabaret, silent movie, animation and music hall in to a maelstrom of mordant, sardonic performance. This production far exceeded my expectations, and more than lived up to its comparisons to Burton’s work.
The play is a beautifully crafted tale set within a dark dystopia and focuses on its melancholic, malcontent inhabitants in an environment characterised by misery, disease and crime. The actors embody a series of characters, aided by animation that brings this dark desolate world to the stage. The performers flawlessly interact with the animation to hilarious effect and this dark fairytale left me desiring more.
The tale focuses on the rebellious Zelda, the daughter of a junk shop owner who is surprised by her daughter’s attitude because when she was her age, she was only concerned with ‘contracting herpes’. Zelda wants what the seemingly more privileged have and instigates a rebellion, leading an army of children to take over the more affluent parts of town. This leads to a reaction from the mayor of the town to take direct action against the so-called riff-raff by insidiously luring them with sweets that ultimately pacify their ebullient behaviour, thus depriving them of their innocence and condoning them to a life of misery, characterised by their surroundings.
It is the central character of the Caretaker, who I feel stole the performance. Visually, he reminded me of Edward Scissorhands (minus the scissors); pale faced, forlorn and desperate to escape the ominous surroundings but destined to remain in place which ultimately defined him. His delivery was note perfect and he brought laughter every time he was on stage.
If you have the opportunity to see this wonderful performance then make every effort to obtain a ticket. My sole quibble was the performance was not long enough!
I feel rather fortuitous, given that I stumbled upon an advert for Harold Pinter’s Moonlight at the Donmar a full two months before the performance was to commence. With that knowledge in mind, I swiftly snapped up a pair of tickets with the only drawback being that I had to suspend my anticipation for what seemed like aeons before I had the opportunity to see it on stage- woe is me!
The performance did not let me down as I was compelled, emotionally roused and drawn to constantly search for my own interpretation within Pinter’s typically tacit and nuanced play. The intimate Donmar was the ideal venue for this tragic tale of the embittered Andy, lying on his death bed with his long-suffering wife, Bel, meditating on his past, speaking lucidly and with caustic reverie of his past indiscretions. The two other main characters are their sons, Jake and Fred, who live in a dingy bedsit, both bedraggled and offer no sympathy and very little mention of their dying father, choosing rather to indulge in intellectual wordplay- a clear indication that Andy was perhaps not exactly a model father. Andy and Bel’s deceased daughter also makes a couple of fleeting appearances, to bridge the gap between life and death.
The performances across the entire cast were excellent, with particular reference to David Bradley’s Andy. Bradley has the face of a man who has suffered, worn away by the pitfalls of life and rendered in to a scathing, scabrous malcontent. This play was a meditation of the final moments of death, when you have nowt to do but to think of the most significant memories that have defined you over the years, when all you can do is reminisce and try and celebrate what you have achieved. There is no celebration of life through Andy however as he questions why his sons have not visited him which is never explicitly answered, though through certain allusions to the past you can safely deduct that his rather bitter behaviour has contributed to his loneliness in death. Bel, played by Deborah Findlay, acting as the voice of calm and reason, is a brilliant counterpoint for Max; dry in her delivery but with an undercurrent of warmth that becomes clearer as the play reaches its climax.
It is not difficult to admire the genius of Pinter, his superior command of the language, lines of dialogue which are eloquent and forever poetic and this play showcased his talents in spades. The set was perfectly structured, with the two settings placed next to one another that allowed for swift interchanges between the two scenes; and, owing to the intimacy of the venue and the standard of performances across the cast, it at times felt as if this was not a work of fiction but a tragic slice of real life.
Just last week Lyn Gardner, the Guardian’s famed and feared theatre critic asked “why today’s critics no longer write about acting, or at least not with any of the zest and descriptive power of their predecessors….The lack of attention paid to acting is a loss.”
Upon viewing, Tender Napalm seemed the perfect piece upon which to exorcise this critique of the critics. Witnessing Vinette Robinson and Jack Gordon’s approach these high-context characters felt as if there were needless excesses and a lack of the essentials. Is love really based on winning verbal duels? Their performances failed to move me towards anywhere meaningful other than the door.
This world premiere of Philip Ridley’s Tender Napalm at the Southwark Playhouse marks the first new play in three years from the award-winning playwright. This uninterrupted 80 minute piece begins with Man and Woman entering in a flurry of high energy motion and then settling into chairs at opposite ends of the stage. “Your mouth … it’s such a wet thing. I could squeeze a bullet between those lips.” There they both physically and metaphorically remain, at opposite ends of the spectrum, springing back and forth between sexual confrontation and a distant aloofness all via a seemingly never ending linguistic duel.
In the game of competing egos, both Man and Woman use super-heroes from comics, sci-fi ideas, ancient legends and fairy tales as places in which to explore the language of love and to contest rival interpretations of past events. The monologue heavy dialogue follows the basic principle of improvisation – never refuse an idea or image – and so take each other’s suggestions, however interruptive. Images of snakes, serpents, unicorns, monkeys, kings, queens and blood proliferate. There are suggestions of a violent world beyond our immediate experience, Ridley’s script is in constant flux as it examines the multiplicity of this thing we call love. Delving into these minds, I was struck instead by the lack of inventiveness. If this is indeed a dream world, then why not make us dream dizzying heights and catastrophic lows, rather than this flat line comic strip. They rarely venture into this fantasy world together as lover’s so often do, but instead remain in continual combat.
Gordon’s Man while dynamic, lacks emotional depth, his extensive physical work feels messy – riding a unicorn with the same movements upon which he directs a space ship. Robinson’s Woman lacks basic female qualities that could have shifted this piece into a realm of real depth. She maintains the same caustic lack of sympathy of any hint of warmth that she displayed as the Sergeant in the BBC’s recent Sherlock Holmes. Robinson’s eagerness to coldly contradict Gordon’s fiery, fist pumping Man without any tangible or remorse render her character one-dimensional.
Does an exploration of sexual love really need to involve pushing bullets and grenades into one’s orifices? It appears a rather self-destructive relationship that Ridley has created. This couple’s lack of compassion led me to stop caring. Rather dance around the issue, why not get to the heart of the matter. What good is story telling if it fails to move, to inspire, to educate, to enrapture the audience? I very much saw the Napalm, but where was any sincere Tenderness? Despite the lack of a conclusion, I left the theatre, glad that the production itself had concluded.
Beethoven’s only opera, Fidelio, is a complex, politically entwined affair. Originally set during the French Revolution, The Royal Opera House’s production seemed to lack roots as well as a specific place and location. The stage, juxtaposed with a prison on one side and homes and offices on the other never really specified the setting. Ample ammunition in the form of guns never realises a purpose.
Rather than the actions, one feels more bogged down by the bureaucracy of the details. The singers staging felt forced, although the vocal performances were outstanding. Nina Stemme as Leonore nearly had me convinced that she was a man. Elizabeth Watts held the stage well and effectively dominated the mostly male cast. The stage only really came alive for me when the prisoners were briefly released, but even this scene in its staging felt lethargic and appeared as if it was only a mere afterthought.
Real drama emerges once the setting moves below into the deep dark dungeons where Endrik Wottrich’s Florestan is being held as a political prisoner. Yet still here the staging and political furor feels forced.
The interpretation of this performance brought apposite questions to my mind. Why choose this nameless time and town? Why not bring to the forefront today’s multitude of material regarding mistreated prisoners, which would make it all the more pertinent with the latest Guantanamo leaks, or even move it to China to echo Ai Wei Wei’s current plight? Such a passionate play requires a bit more spark before it may catch flame.
Easter themed pieces across the UK on show this holy weekend to help you discover your religion or at least ponder it.
The Bible: An eagerly awaited recital of the King James Bible in its entirety. In celebration of the renowned publication’s 400th anniversary, the Globe Theatre is presenting a reading across 12 sessions in celebration of the oral tradition. A group of actors is to present the text, which was originally commissioned my King James I, in full; taking in total nearly 70 hours of recitation. One is not expected to sit throughout each session as late and readmission is allowed. I cannot think of a better way to celebrate this Easter than experiencing this epic text come to life. A review will soon follow.
Barbican Centre, London
Italian theatre practitioner Romeo Castellucci will be presenting this religious themed, if controversial, piece over the Easter weekend. Before the backdrop of a renaissance image of Christ, Castelluci is to explore the concept of Jesus as icon. Castelluci is well-known for his perfectionism, in fact just a few weeks ago he cancelled the planned show at the Barbican, an adaptation of Hawthorne’s The Minister’s Black Veil, because he did not think it was yet ready for an audience. A follower of the Artaud’s Theatre of Cruelty, it will be interesting to see how this emerges in Castellucci’s discussion of Jesus Christ. Should you be more interested in the theological, self-flagellation side of this holiday, than this is the piece for you.
Part of the London Word Festival and Co-curated by the Henningham Family Press, are throwing their own celebration for the 400th birthday of the King James Bible. The book is to be explored through various artistic mediums including literature, art, film, and music in an evening of performance. From the Garden of Eden to Noah’s Ark, expect a lively theological debate to take place.
Port Talbon, Wales,
What better place than a non-stop three-day theatrical event to have a religious experience! Michael Sheen in association with National Theatre Wales is to produce this play across his home town, involving hundreds of volunteers as well as a dozen or so professional actors. Sheen recalls: “I first saw the Passion Play at Port Talbot when I was about 12. It was a story I knew coming to life in front of me. A ritual taking place before me. A town remembering itself through a story.”