Friday, 28 September 2007

Reviews: Twelfth Night; I Am Shakespeare; Silence; White Boy; The Boy Friend; Reverence; When Midnight Strikes

Some Quick Reviews, Part 1.

I’ve been madly distracted by life since coming back from Edinburgh a month ago, weddings, holidays, job hunting and house cleaning have taken most of my daytime attention, with the theatre taking up the evenings. So here is a round up of my thoughts on various productions, in brief (sometimes brief-ish):

Twelfth Night, Chichester Festival Theatre: Patrick Stewart disappointed as a Scottish Malvolio in Philip Frank’s post World War One production. Compared to the electric, vibrant and urgent Macbeth, with the same company of actors in the Minerva Studio (now transferred to London), Twelfth Night seems flat and lacks much comic brio or verve. I just felt mildly bored by the whole production. I should mention the superb Filter Twelfth Night I saw in Edinburgh (and which will play for one night only at Stratford’s Courtyard next season), only 90 minutes, with a relatively tiny company, and as riveting and funny as could possibly be imagined.

I Am Shakespeare, Minerva, Chichester: This only appeals to Shakespeare nerds, and if you’re one of those you will have a slightly diverting time and either be angered or encouraged with Mark Rylance’s position on the Bard of Avon, which is basically to cast doubt that William Shakespeare was the author of the 37 play and various poems that we venerate today (well, I’m not personally venerating Two Nobel Kinsman or Henry VIII, the only two of the surviving plays that I’ve not seen). I could write several paragraphs telling you have wrongheaded and silly Rylance is, but I won’t. William Shakespeare (however you chose to spell it, whichever variation you favour) is William Shakespeare, I have seen nothing to seriously make me consider otherwise. I think much of the ‘evidence’ against him is snobbish invention, cooked up by people with too much time on their hands, and who are frankly, a tiny bit tragic. The play shows a sad sack teacher (Rylance) hosting a lonely webcam show exploring the ‘real’ identity of Shakespeare, the man himself and3 other pretender to the title then appear and rather didactically expound their cases. To me, infuriating, dramatically unfulfilling, but watchable enough (even just to trash the predictable arguments in your head).

Silence, Wilton’s Music Hall & White Boy, Soho Theatre. National Youth Theatre: Two triumphs for the NYT, showing us the really talented and interesting faces of the future. Silence is a beautiful and very funny revival of Moira Buffini’s 1999 play about a medieval forced marriage, where the groom turns out to be a woman, unbeknownst to him/her. I can’t praise the acting enough, the whole company was superb (and my 15 year old sister was impressed by the presence of a Skins cast member when I told her about the show). Paul Roseby, the NYT’s head, directs in the stunning and decaying old Music Hall, with great skill, making me glad he’s training the actors of tomorrow, but sad we don’t see him in the ‘real’ theatre so much. White Boy is a highly interesting and relevant new play by Tanika Gupta about inner city life, cultural identity, belonging and friendship. Perhaps that sounds predictable and hackneyed to hardened new playgoers, but Gupta weaves a wonderfully gripping story, and really made us care about her sometimes damaged characters. Again the acting is terrific, and direction by Juliet Knight is also crisp and moves along at great pace, with physical elements also taken nicely into account.

The Boy Friend, Open Air. Not quite as good as the first time round last season, but a welcome evening of camp fun none the less. Sandy Wilson’s 1950’s parody of 1920’s musicals is gentle and loving (and not rammed down your throat like the awful, and not lamented Drowsy Chaperone). Director Ian Talbot relishes his role of Lord Brockhurst, a comic lord who espouses the charm of the older gentleman to younger ladies.

Reverence, Southwark Playhouse: Nice to see the Southwark Playhouse back, now situated in arches underneath London Bridge Station (yes, just like Shunt, but unlike Shunt they actually put on shows!). A very atmospheric (i.e. slipper, dusty, uneven, dank but quite charming) space, used to full extent by the Goat and Monkey Theatre Company in their staging of the tale of Abelard and Heloise, a smitten Monk and his love, naturally domed never, ever, to be happy together. The actors are all decent enough (perhaps a hint of ‘big’ theatre from some, but it is a huge space, even with such an intimate gathering), but the staging throughout the railway arches is great. We all had to be initiated as monks first, robed up and flagellated, then we follow the action via the library, chapel, bedrooms and hallways of the monastery. An enjoyable experience, and the company have improved on their last outing (The Ghost Sonata at Trinity Buoy Wharf, which is a wonderfully semi-deserted wharf in Docklands, untouched by developers and including London's only lighthouse- used for training years ago). Certainly ones to watch, especially if you like meticulous promenade productions, but also like a storyline and the chance to see the whole play unfold rather than just snatches (you know who I mean).

When Midnight Strikes, Finborough: I’m not an evangelist for this musical I’m afraid, I thought it rather predictable with unremarkable music. That’s not to say that I didn’t have a good time all things considered, just that many of the parts don’t fit for me. The cast (a huge 12 for the tiny Finborough, a room above a pub) are charming and probably give just about the best account of the show possible without a huge amount of money being spent, and several of them were excellent. Fenton Gray directs on the tiny stage surprisingly well, but Kevin Hammonds (book and lyrics) story of a 1999 New Year’s Eve party in New York is pretty write it by numbers, and Charles Miller (music) is workmanlike and unmemorable. Some praise this as showing the future of British musical theatre, that may be hubris at the moment, but I’d certainly say that they are a competent pair and I’d more than happily see their next show (should their be one). Also drop the disgusting smoking, the number which goes with it might be a highlight without it, we have imaginations.


Anonymous said...

your review of when midnight strikes is quite at odds with the bulk of professinal reviews!

Sean said...

What an interesting and illuminating point Mr/Ms anonymous! Have you seen the production; would you like to give us your own views? Are mere mortals allowed to have views on this show, or only the ‘professional critics’ on Mount Olympus worthy (whom I suspect you would dismiss if they were critical towards this show, and then you’d be praising certain positive musicals groupies online instead)?

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