Friday, 29 February 2008

REVIEW: "Jersey Boys"

Oh Jersey Boys. You made this cynical musical fan admit that jukebox shows could be decent when he first saw you back in 2006, but that was a world of mindset away. Now, in your newer, bigger London home, you seem... different... somehow.

The script is still the same, American humour and all, and perhaps part of the issue is the obviousness of the foreign tourists laughing at the jokes when the locals are oddly silent (minus, of course, the Ringo joke at the end) or dealing with a theatre that holds 600 people more than in New York. Perhaps it’s the feeling of being in on the gig as the audience stumbles for the first time through Act One, still maintaining an old locomotive’s slow yet steady acceleration, and then watching as they facepalm one after another as the crowd begin to recognise the songs and make the association with the band whose name nobody can remember and whose material none shall ever forget.

Seriously, though, Jersey Boys has made it across the Atlantic with few hitches and speed bumps, and while it’s not a sellout - yet - the producers are counting on word of mouth to make this show a hit, and if last night’s first preview crowd is anything to go by, a hit they shall have. While some of the material hasn’t translated (and may be subject to change during previews - nothing was altered for this first performance), the core story of rags to riches, brotherhood, and the trials and tribulations of fame is universal. So are the songs, catchy as ever and more lush than when done live originally, thanks to the joys of pit singers and expanded arrangements. Des McAnuff’s kinetic Dreamgirls-inspired staging is still as fresh and energetic as it was in 2005, and the punters up front were more than happy to join the party, dancing along to the final number and singing along during the encore.

Of course, the heart and soul of any transfer is the cast. While Ryan Molloy is slightly more nasal and lacks the power John Lloyd Young did on Broadway, he’ll certainly grow into the role with time, and as he is starting with a six show week, is less likely to destroy his voice doing it. Glenn Carter is a pushy Tommy DeVito, but his accent needs work and he (like the production in general) lacks the edge and confidence of his American counterparts. Rounding out the group, however, are two solid and likely to be underappreciated performers: Philip Bulcock as the quiet Nick Massi, and Stephen Ashfield as the boyish, brainy Bob Gaudio (whose real life counterpart is in town supervising previews). The ensemble are already up to a solid, engaging level, but can still benefit from notes and refinements during the preview period.

Barring any unforeseen difficulties, Jersey Boys will undoubtedly be giving a sharp, exacting performance in time for the March 18 press night. In some ways, the RZ is thrilled: the American musical is riding high and reminding the West End that well crafted entertainment is still out there, but in others is depressed, wondering when a worthy new production will sprout domestically from the UK. In the meantime, keep the imports coming until one does.

Where: Prince Edward Theatre
When: M-Sa @ 19:30, Tu/Sa @ 14:30
How Much: £20-£40 through 18 Mar., £32.50-£60 after
Concessions: Students can get 50% off 60 min. prior and subject to availability (read: when it’s not well sold). Restricted view seats in the upper circle are £20 including some in the first few rows (yay for safety bars).
RZ Unofficial “Worth Paying”: £42.50
RZ Other Notes: This is a hard one to assign the value to. On the one hand, it’s a smartly presented, well constructed crowd pleaser and every musical fan should see it once. On the other hand, Hairspray will stick with you longer and provide a more satisfying overall experience. If you’re British, the value listed is probably accurate - some of the material clearly went over peoples’ heads (perhaps they should watch The Sopranos more?). On the other hand, American tourists may find it well worth the full £60 just because it buys a decent seat, whereas a ticket of equal value in New York will set you back £175+ as a premium and £60 gets you a restricted side view or chopped off rear seat. Then again, the US tour almost certainly provides a better overall value with lower prices than either production and a reportedly excellent cast.

Continuing on the UK vs. US theme, the question raised in the RZ’s classroom, on the message boards, and in the minds of the producers really is whether or not the British public will take to the show enough to keep it running in the barn that is the Prince Edward. After going to last night’s preview, the RZ still isn’t sure, but is leaning towards the positive side: if word of mouth can get people to give in and buy tickets over the next three months, the show will be a hit and if the advance stays up for six months, will definitely stay put. On the other hand, if ticket sales are respectable but not mind blowing, the RZ could see Jersey Boys transferring to the Novello as the message boards predict, as it may maintain a healthy extended run in a smaller house (building the hype of a harder to get ticket as a result) while, say, Oliver comes in from TV casting to take the Prince Edward.

While the public will probably be converted to this show’s cause, the RZ is doubtful that the London critics will be equally entranced. Jersey Boys is well written and entertaining, but lacks the depth and layers that Billington, Spencer, de Jongh, etc. seem to require from anything that goes near a stage. While the local critics lack the power they do in New York, they are undoubtedly more demanding. The RZ also suspects that comparisons to Buddy, the biopic musical about legendary rocker Buddy Holly, will be unavoidable in the press.

Thursday, 28 February 2008

REVIEW: "Speed-the-Plow"

“I wouldn’t believe that bullshit even if it was true!”

The RZ’s affinity for David Mamet isn’t exactly a secret, so it should be of no surprise that he greatly enjoyed the Old Vic’s new production of Mamet’s 1988 classic Speed-the-Plow and its uniquely American sensibilities.

It is these sensibilities, summed up beautifully by another American David, David Ives, which encompass Mamet’s first decade (and change) of playwriting: keep it short, make it fast, and curse like a true red blooded American man. Plow fits the first and last criteria to a T, but is weighed down by an odd middle scene which feels leaden compared to the rocket engine first and third scenes.

A bit of explanation now for those not so versed in Mamet-ology. Speed-the-Plow is the story of Charles Fox (Kevin Spacey), a film producer who’s never received the credit due his loyalty and Bobby Gould (Jeff Goldblum), his recently promoted friend, and colleague. When Fox lands his opportunity to make a star studded action blockbuster, he bursts into Gould’s office, makes his pitch, and the two look to have a hit on their hands. Unfortunately, the film needs to be greenlit by studio head Ross who is gone for the day. After meeting Gould’s temporary secretary Karen (Laura Michelle Kelly), the two make a bet over whether or not Gould can sleep with her. Under the guise of a work assignment, Gould orders Karen to read a philosophical novel on post-apocalyptic radiation survivors and report to him on it that night.

The leaden scene is this report, where Karen acts like a 60’s reject by quoting peace and love and the merits of the book’s philosophy. After fifteen minutes, Gould begins to break down, coming forward with the truth, but Karen doesn’t care. She sees this as Gould’s chance to do the good he claims he wants to do and continues to pressure him towards making a film of the radiation book vs. Fox’s action flick. When the scene finally ends and we return to Gould’s office, his mind is changed and tempers flare as Fox returns for their now cancelled meeting with the studio head.

Mamet wrote this play after a number of projects in Hollywood, including the film adaptation of his prior play Sexual Perversity in Chicago, where he was fired as screenwriter of the adaptation. While Mamet claims Plow is not anti-Hollywood, his resentment is present as Fox and Gould stay focused on the bottom line and a bums on seats approach rivalled only by his contemporaries in the commercial theatre. The question of a moral obligation to educate, heal, or spiritually engage with an audience rather than providing empty entertainment is one all theatre producers(especially in the commercial sector) fight with on a regular basis as well as film studios looking to balance high risk (and cost) projects. As Gould says, “We’re looking to make what we did last year because we know people will come.”

That said, putting bums on seats is certainly a worthwhile goal if done well and for good reason, and Kevin Spacey has done it again at the Old Vic. His Fox is an anxiety attack waiting to happen as he bounces off the walls with anticipation over his 15 minutes of producing fame and the money his one chance can bring in. When his hopes are dashed in the third scene, the scale of his breakdown is terrifying as he reaches for his final chance in a similar manner to Shelly Levene in Glengarry Glenn Ross. Jeff Goldblum’s Gould is a racecar, changing gears from a calm beginning but ramping it up as the two engage in a verbal jack-off, building towards a climax of agreement and a shared goal. Laura Michelle Kelly does what she can as the typical Mamet female who fucks (and fucks up) the men, but the character is annoying.

In the end, we have a biting look at the entertainment industry, fronted by two of its most recognisable members undoubtedly appreciating the irony and loving every minute of it - and so should the audiences. The run is sold out, but returns are available most evenings.

Where: Old Vic
When: M-Sa @ 19:30, Sa @ 14:30
How Much: £10-£47.50
Concessions: Under 25’s can enter a lottery for £12 restricted view seats. Seniors can get best available Mondays and matinees for £20. Locals can get bench seats some nights for £5.
RZ Unofficial “Worth Paying”: £47.50 despite issues with the middle scene for a star studded and in your face performance that lets you get home at a decent hour.
RZ Other Notes: Choosing the opening quote was a tough one, with “I believe in the yellow pages but I wouldn’t make a film about it!”, “Life in the movie business is like the beginning of a new love affair: it’s full of surprises and you’re constantly getting fucked.” and “And whose names will be above the title?” “Fox and Gould!” “Damn straight!” being equal contenders.

Monday, 25 February 2008

NEWS: Site Update...

Could it be? Another week without a review?

Yes, it's unfortunately true. The RZ caught a cold/flu/something that caused lots of coughing and an inability to breathe easily last week, which meant skipping out on The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui at the Lyric Hammersmith (although the Telegraph implies that it's for the best).

That said, as a pre-paid class assignment, he did catch Tough time, nice time at the Barbican on Wednesday. As the RZ watched it through a haze of cold medication, cough drops, and sleep deprivation, it would be unfair to you, the reader, as well as Ridiculusmus (who undoubtedly earned every penny of their £70,477 Arts Council grant for 2008/9) to even attempt to write a proper review on the piece. What the RZ will say is that his classmates and course tutor liked it, as did most of the mainstream critics. While he agrees with the Whingers that the piece wasn't explicit enough to deserve its strict 18+ (The Pillowman was far more shocking and unsettling in his mind), there's enough to make the middle-aged blush and to upset the non-cynical in the crowd.

While he was too inert to approach the piece intellectually, the RZ did feel that the piece shared its tone (and some of the issues discussed by critics and classmates alike) with the 2006 American work Dark Yellow, which he rather enjoyed.

Meanwhile, onto some good news. The plague has (mostly) passed, and the RZ has two shows on his agenda for this week: Speed-the-Plow at the Old Vic and first preview for the London cast of Jersey Boys. Huzzah.

Tuesday, 19 February 2008

THOUGHTS: "Shadowlands"

(A delayed entry and a quick one due to the subject's exposure and the RZ catching the plague.)

The press, blogosphere, and message boards have all had their say on this play from a movie which became a play then a movie and brought back again as a play. And with Shadowlands closing on Saturday, there isn't much to add to the comments. Still, as someone who fell in love with the first three Narnia books in fourth grade (the real first three - Lion/Caspian/Dawn Treader, not the reshuffled order they sell them under now), the RZ was intrigued at the possibilities this bio-play had to offer.

So, the story (briefly): CS Lewis reluctantly agrees to meet a pen-pal from the US when she visits England, as much out of curiosity as to who this frustrating and argumentative woman is as a hope to be left alone afterwards. The two meet, become fast friends, and much to the dismay of Lewis's social circle, fall in love only to have tragedy strike.

Charles Dance is touching and heartfelt as Lewis, and Janie Dee exudes life as his penpal-cum-lover (no pun intended), the fireball American Joy Gresham. Matthew Wright's modular library set is clever, though a scene in which Joy's son is shown to be entering Narnia is unintentionally comedic. The minor characters, including two understudies, represent the stuffiness and sexism of the age and ivory towers, providing much comic relief in a work that establishes up front that things are not to end well.

As for the play itself, the RZ must concur with those who found it charming, touching, and a powerful night out, though it's also a long one - 160 min. including the interval, and the first act especially tends to drag. That said, the quality of the performances makes up for the briefly flagging moments, and those who haven't made it to the Novello yet should before this one slips away into the shadows itself.

Where: Novello Theatre
When: Through 23 Feb., M-Sa @ 19:30, Th/Sa @ 14:30
How Much: £10-45
Concessions: Seniors can advance book Thursday matinees best available for £25. Students can go £22.50 best available stalls from 1 hr beforehand.
RZ Unofficial "Worth Paying": £30 for beautiful acting in a smart, moving production.
RZ Other Notes: This could go down as one of the most bungled transfers in recent West End history. After a successful run at the Wyndham, the transfer was done with as little down time as possible, and minimal marketing - the same poster as the prior run was used, just with a tag saying "Now at the Novello". A smart marketing firm would have used a new publicity shot to get peoples' attention to make it clear that the show was still running (and not competing with posters featuring the closing date at the Wyndham) and reset the piece in the public's mindset. On a more positive note, the show's official website is nice, featuring full cast/crew details and concession information.

Friday, 15 February 2008

NEWS: Orbital Presentation

Hey there readers,

For those in the London area, the RZ will be giving a presentation at Orbital 2008 on Saturday, 22 March. The subject will be cult genres in musical theatre, and with 90 min. to talk, discuss, and show videos, it should be something of a blast.

A few details and clarifications for those who are (rightly) having trouble parsing the above.

Q: What is Orbital?
A: Orbital 2008 is this year's UK National Science Fiction convention.

Q: Where is it?
A: Some hotel by Heathrow. Full details are on the website.

Q: How much does it cost?
A: Saturday only registration is £20. Consider it the cost to see Neil Gaiman and get the RZ's presentation as a bonus.

Q: You mentioned a hotel?
A: People staying multiple days usually get hotel rooms. The event is entirely commutable for locals.

Q: What do you mean by "cult genres"? Aren't musicals already pretty cult?
A: In this case, "cult genre" refers to things you can buy at Forbidden Planet - scifi, horror, comic books, etc.

Q: There are actually enough musicals about these things to warrant a 90 minute presentation?
A: Yup. And that's only choosing prime examples. Maybe the RZ's PhD will be a book on the subject.

Q: Will the RZ be any more articulate in person than on the website?
A: Probably not, but we can all hope.

Tuesday, 12 February 2008

REVIEW: "The Mikado"

When the RZ first visited London in Spring 2004, he happened, by chance, to see the English National Opera’s legendary production of The Mikado. Having just seen Jerry Springer the night before, he was asking for recommendations at the TKTS booth and a lovely camp fellow pointed out that nobody should ever miss a British production of G&S. How right he was - the RZ scored front row seats for a song and had the show ruined for him forever, as no other production he has seen since lived up to that night.

Needless to say, a chance to revisit the Coliseum for this year’s short (9 performances over three weekends) revival was one he refused to miss. While his seat wasn’t as good, the orchestra suspiciously smaller, and the audience a bit noisier, Jonathan Miller’s production (slavishly reconstructed here by David Ritch) is still every bit as funny, stylish, and entertaining as before (with the added bonus of surtitles this time!)

For those short on the G&S canon, The Mikado is set in a rather Victorian representation of “Japan”. Nanki-Poo (Robert Murray), a wandering minstrel with a secret, falls in love with Yum-Yum (Sarah Tynan), a beautiful schoolgirl. Unfortunately, Yum-Yum is set to marry Ko-Ko (Richard Suart), the town’s tailor who becomes Lord High Executioner to prevent his own beheading for violating Japan’s laws against flirting. When word comes down from The Mikado that an execution must occur to ensure the laws are being upheld, Nanki-Poo agrees to die in exchange for 30 days with Yum-Yum. Hilarity and panic ensue as we find out Nanki-Poo is heir to the throne and due to a mix-up at court, is set to marry the foul and demanding Katisha (Frances McCafferty). Saying more would be a spoiler (such as a 100+ year old show can have), and watching Gilbert’s madness unfold and resolve itself is a joy to be experienced rather than described.

And then there’s the mandatory update to “I Have A Little List,” Ko-Ko’s song about those who should die if he ever has to perform his duties. Changed regularly to fit the day’s headlines and sensibilities, Richard Suart writes his own material, and has perhaps outdone himself this year with references to David Cameron, Facebook, Northern Rock, and bringing the show to a near halt with the Archbishop of Cantebury’s recent comments on Sharia.

Given that the first production of this staging occurred 20+ years ago and many of the cast have been repeating their roles for any number of the revivals, opportunity abounds for empty, stale performances. Thank goodness that (as other critics have mentioned) that a rival production ran in competition ten minutes away, as the performances remained fresh (as it should anyways - nine performances are not hard to fake your way through!) and Stefanos Lazaridis’ raked art-deco set of doom was thoroughly well dusted.

The RZ has only a few grievances with this production, primarily administrative. First, while the ENO deserve props for making a free cast and crew list available, the members of the company’s singing chorus are not listed in either the free handout or the paid programme (though the dancing chorus are). Likewise, for a company that receives tens of millions of pounds in subsidy, why are the ENO’s programmes £4.50? Even the most expensive West End offerings are £3-3.50 at last check. Last, while Mr. Suart is indeed very funny, it’s rather tasteless to leave A4 photocopies advertising his book all over the seats of the theatre. This is the opera, something advertised as classy, high culture, not the circus.

That said, most people don’t care who’s in the singing chorus, won’t buy a programme anyway, and can throw out the book advert. And right they should (the last two) - with a top ticket of £83 for weekend performances, this Mikado is perhaps the most expensive show yet reviewed by the RZ, but one that should not be missed and indeed stay on everybody’s theatre-going list.

Where: Coliseum Theatre
When: 15, 21, 23 Feb, 04 Mar @ 19:30, 23 Feb @ 14:30, 2 Mar @ 15:00
How Much: £10-£83 (prices change by date, check the ENO website for details)
Concessions: Students on “Access All Arias” can get upper circle for £10, dress circle for £20, and stalls for £30 by booking on the phone or at the BO. Sky Arts have a subsidy that varies production to production at ENO, check the ENO Website for the special number to call.
RZ Unofficial “Worth Paying”: £55 to match the majority of West End top tickets.
RZ Other Thoughts: An excellent production of a legendary show, but likewise a testament to the money pit that is the opera. For those who will not be able to attend this run (or don’t have the money to buy non-student passes), an official DVD is out in Region 1 featuring this production’s original 1987 cast, including Eric Idle as Ko-Ko, and also includes a behind the scenes documentary in the bonus features.

Monday, 11 February 2008

REVIEW: "Sweet William"

There are two kinds of theatre fans in this world: those who are fans of Shakespeare and those who do not exist in the eyes of the former. Indeed, how could one fail to be charmed by the language, the sweeping epics, and the legacy left behind by the Bard? To be completely honest, the RZ finds it pretty easy. He would rather sit through a repeat visit to An Audience with the Mafia than go to a production of Shakespeare, and the only time he has ever found himself engaged at all by the master was watching Slings & Arrows - and even then it was the acting and the set-up rather than the words which blew him away.

That said, classical actor Michael Pennington had an entirely different and wholehearted appreciation for the man, leading him to devise and perform the new one-man show Sweet William, now running at the home of the Dyson 2.

Pennington’s tale is an intertwined blend of his own life and experience with the material with that of Shakespeare’s. From his first visit to Macbeth to forming a politically charged troupe, Pennington relates to and through the great texts, coming in and out of characters related to the times and events in the discussed lives.

And that’s about it, really. It’s hard to go into great detail about such a simple show, other than to point out that it’s obvious from beginning to end how passionate Pennington is about his source material. Despite his age, he maintains an approachable warmth and vigour through two acts with only a chair to accompany him.

And because there’s so little to comment on, it’s a rather easy judgement to call to make. Shakespeare enthusiasts will feel at home with this production, and while non-enthusiasts are unlikely to be converted (the RZ wasn’t), it’s a more entertaining lecture than the far more sensationalised pap mentioned above.

Both groups, however, should be outraged at the Ambassador Theatre Group for having the gall to charge £27.50 for this production. One man, a chair, and a single lighting preset doth not such a high price justify, and as one of the RZ’s companions pointed out, one could see a musical for that (or two or three fringe productions elsewhere). The show is touring, however, and will undoubtedly be cheaper at the Kingston Rose or Greenwich Theatre (it’s playing one of them....)

Where: Trafalgar Studios 2
When: M-Sa @ 19:45, Th/Sa @ 15:00 until 16 Feb.
How Much: £20 Mon. Eve, £27.50 all other performances
Concessions: Book by phone and mention “ATG Email Offer” to get £20 tickets. Students and usual suspects can likely get day seats as well.
RZ Unofficial “Worth Paying”: £12.50. It would be worth top price at a smaller venue with a more reasonable price.
RZ Other Notes: Readers who have not seen the brilliance that is Slings & Arrows (a Canadian TV series about a Shakespeare festival) are deprived and should rush to the nearest R1 DVD store of their choice to pick up the new and highly affordable boxset. Also, both of the RZ’s companions commented on Trafalgar’s use of Dyson Airblade hand driers, officially making Trafalgar Studios the trendy place to use the loo in the West End.

Sunday, 10 February 2008

REVIEW: "Brief Encounter"

(Post #2 for today. Please read below for more.)

Site Specific (or at minimum Site Inspired) theatre is quite the rage in London these days - Punchdrunk are the toast of the town, and as Masque of the Red Death comes to the end of its third extension the reopening of Shunt’s vaults are coming forward in the news. For those of us, however, without such avant-garde inclinations, Kneehigh Theatre have taken over the main screen at the Cineworld Haymarket, restoring it to its original live performance roots and bringing forth an inspired adaptation of Noel Coward’s classic film Brief Encounter.

Brief Encounter shows the darker side of Coward’s canon, with its ill-fated lovers separating at the end of their relationship as the play begins. What follows is the stormy, tumultuous burst and ebb of love between a research surgeon (Tristan Sturrock) and apathetic housewife (Naomi Frederick) set against a pair of more fortunate budding relationships in the train station cafe where the two first meet. The production revels in the show's age, with the serenades of early World War II and dance hall tuners bridging the scenes (all by Coward and in the original film), and while we know how things will end, we are reminded that the journey itself is far more important.

Regarding the novel usage of space, Kneehigh have truly made the Cineworld their own. With the band and minor characters dressed as period usher(ette)s, the audience is serenaded while being seated, and each act features a quintet setting the mood and scene. Kneehigh also pay tribute to the work’s original media, using projected backgrounds for moments of internalisation as well as a variety of clever foreground films including an end-of-interval satire on classic cinematic commercials. Neil Murray’s bridge and tower set effectively convenes a variety of locations, and one can almost feel the dirt in the railway platform’s air.

Despite a second act which could use a five to ten minute trim, Brief Encounter is a magical evening out and one well worthy of the hype surrounding the production. Tickets are going fast, so book while you can.

Where: Cineworld Haymarket
When: Tu-Sa @ 20:00, W/Sa @ 15:00, Su @ 16:00. Open run.
How Much: £25/29.50 until 2 March, £35/39.50 After.
Concessions: Cineworld Unlimited cardholders can get £5 off during previews when booking in person or over the phone.
RZ Unofficial “Worth Paying”: £25. Excellent but lacks the repeat visit factor necessary to earn a fuller value.
RZ Other Notes: Someone needs to tell the house ushers (not the ones who double as actors/musicians) to back off of the customers. On the night he went, the RZ was approached no less than four times by programme sellers (twice by the same one). To top things off, he was sent in the wrong direction by the house supervisor when entering the auditorium. While the latter can be forgiven (the whole thing must be rather new to everybody onsite), the former almost caused the RZ to complain to a manager or SEE. Yes, this is where the house makes its money but enough is enough.

THOUGHTS: "A Prayer For My Daughter"

(Going rapid-fire here, four shows in a week and behind on updates...)

The RZ is one of those wacky types of people who will go to a show just to see a new venue and its use of space. In this case, his first exposure to the Young Vid is the odd reshaping of the auditorium for Thomas Babe’s A Prayer For My Daughter. Using a v-shaped auditorium and strip stage (which almost certainly has a proper term that the RZ can’t remember), Dominic Hill’s direction fails to invoke the desired effect of a claustrophobic police station in a 1970’s New York summer.

Indeed, Hill’s stage picture (coupled with Giles Cadle’s designs and Bruno Poet’s lighting) is strange and unnecessary given the story: two corrupt police officers bring in a gay junkie couple of distinctly different ages on murder charges. Alcoholic!Cop has a parallel story revolving around a suicidal daughter calling from various locations around the Bronx. As time starts running out, the goal becomes clear: extract a confession from one of the hoods first and deal with family crisis second. From here, a mess of psychological intrigue and dialogue unfolds as the cops and crooks are separated, spar verbally, philosophise, and throw around the word daughter and the associated relationships lending a twisted angle to the proceedings.

Despite the messy and underused designs, the play shines through: the audience are captured by the events and mental (mis)state of the characters, and while the cast can’t always keep their accents, they fill their roles well.

While some will be turned off by the graphic use of drugs and full frontal male nudity (or full rear male nudity depending on which side of the V you’re sitting in), fans of plays like The Pillowman will be taken in by the layered depth of this work.

Where: Young Vic
When: M-Sa @ 19:30, W/Sa @ 14:30. Through 15 March.
How Much: £25 General Admission
Concessions: Students for £10, other groups get £5 off.
RZ Unofficial “Worth Paying”: £17.50
RZ Other Notes: The restaurant at the Young Vic is rather nice, not too expensive, and makes a mean tofu burger and excellent chips.

Thursday, 7 February 2008

THOUGHTS: "RENT Remixed" Closing

(Second post today, read below for more.)

So the RZ bit the bullet and went to the production of doom for a third time. It just seemed like the right thing to do - having been in the front row for the first production, he was in the back of the circles for the last. And what do you know, this time it almost clicked. Perhaps it was Jesse Wallace not being as vulgar and in-your-face as Denise Van Outen. Perhaps it was having a Mimi who could sing without gasping like she were drowning and fading into the ensemble. Or maybe it was just not caring anymore. The production retained its major flaws in structure and text, but taken as a concert of Larson's songs, it was a passable and dare the RZ say, entertaining evening. While it fails as a production of a cohesive musical, the RZ still feels there is enough interesting material here to justify aural preservation but doubts a legit CD will ever come.

Meanwhile, as far as the West End Disaster Watch goes, the internet is eagerly anticipating April's opening of Gone With The Wind, and the RZ's first preview ticket is thankfully purchased and at the ready. For the musically deprived otherwise, Stratford East have a Barbican transfer opening soon, an in-house production doing the same, and Hackney Empire are working through a musical about Sister Wendy, the great art-show Nun. Indeed, there are good times ahead.

REVIEW: "You've Been A Wonderful Audience"

Old comedians never die. Rather, they wind up in sappy works on the irony of laughter and the ultimate tragedy of death. In a play more suited for afternoon radio, You’ve Been A Wonderful Audience looks at the meaning of friendship and value of respect and old-time comedy at the end of life.

Produced by Drowning Fish, Wonderful tells the story of Tony (Martin Wimbush), a well known comedian in hospice being visited by Paul (Mark Katz), a young professional and admirer and Hugh (Peter Saracen), his long time friend and performing partner. The contrast between the three is immediately obvious: Tony is the suave, gentlemanly pro; Paul the rough cynical voice of a new comedic generation; and Hugh the loser, significantly less loveable offstage than on and the receiving end of torment from both. Still, the bonds of loyalty are fierce, even as Tony and Hugh diverge in terms of lifestyle as the latter is forced to confront his own demons, annoyingly whining all the way, in order to bring comfort to the former.

Billed as a tragicomedy, the ending will be of surprise to nobody, and indeed comes some fifteen minutes after the audience is ready for it. The comedic portion elicits a few grins and chuckles, but is far from brilliant, as if we are seeing the lowest echelon of the comedic duos popular in the 1950’s and 60’s: Rowan and Martin these two are not. Jeremy Bond does his best to fill the tiny Baron’s Court theatre, but he lets the pacing drag. Some wise trimming of Andrew Syers’ book would have helped, as would cutting incidental music composer’s Richard Supple’s introductive ditty which plagiarises the verse melody from “Comedy Tonight”.

Needless to say, this play was not to the RZ’s taste. However, those fond of the Hallmark Channel will enjoy this play greatly (if they can get over its at times questionable use of profanity).

Where: Baron’s Court Theatre @ The Curtain’s Up Pub
When: M-Sa @ 20:00
Cost: £12 General Admission
Concessions: Usuals for £10
RZ Unofficial “Worth Paying”: £5
RZ Other Notes: This is a rather noisy venue, but an interesting one nonetheless. This would be an excellent theatre for one-man shows, stand-up, etc. And props to Drowning Fish for providing free programmes, though a listing of actor and role would be greatly appreciated in future.

Monday, 4 February 2008

THOUGHTS: "Angry Young Man"

(Time for catching up after a busy weekend.)

Ben Woolf's Angry Young Man is a slick, professional production about the British perception of Eastern European immigration. With four actors in identical suits splitting the roles, our hero (and I use the term loosely) Yuri comes to London to get a job as a surgeon, but through a set of unfortunate mishaps finds himself confronting skinheads, conspiracy theorists, and wishful leftists who claim to be sympathetically fighting for equality while really just as racist as those on the opposite side of parliament.

The play is distancing as Yuri is played by three actors, forcing the audience to engage the material intellectually rather than emotionally, though leaps in logic are required to navigate some large plot holes. The cast (all members of MahWaff Theatre Company) are solid, but the whole thing felt as thought it was running on auto-pilot.

As someone who has dealt with the "joys" of immigration, it's easy to sympathise with Yuri, but at the same time it's amazing how street-unwise this character can be and I found myself rather unaffected throughout. Someone complaining about "those damn immigrants", however, may take something away from this piece and feel-good types will be inspired to re-examine their perspectives, even for just a few minutes. It is unlikely, though, that Angry Young Man will cause said viewers to stop wishing their barrista at Costa would learn to speak goddamn English (perhaps a new line for Avenue Q playing up the road?).

Where: Trafalgar Studios 2
When: Closed
Cost: £15 Monday Eve., £18.50 all other performances
Concessions: N/A
RZ Unofficial "Worth Paying": £10. Good but not great.
RZ Other Notes: Angry Young Man was originally going to be paired with another one-act from Woolf. but it was canceled due to massive cast illness - something not uncommon in the London theatre community this winter.