Sunday, 22 February 2009

REVIEW: "Toyer"

Back in July, the Arts Theatre (of death!) was all but doomed to permanent closure: a costly and extensive string of flops, combined with urban redevelopment plans, meant the end of a long running and historic theatre. Fortunately the venue has been saved by new owners management, and with a renovated front of house (it’s nice and airy but has fewer places to sit), but what of the debut play itself?

Toyer, adapted by Gardner McKay from his original novel and directed by William Schoular, is a standard two-hander suspense thriller a la The Woman in Black or Dark Yellow. Maude, a psychiatrist, is deeply unnerved as she gets home after a long day of work: her job involves looking after the victims of the Toyer, a serial assaulter who drugs and lobotomises his female victims. She’s been the target of voyeurs and stalkers before, and combined with the current madman on the loose is on the edge, medicating herself through alcohol. After another frustrating day at work, she arrives home only to be interrupted by the slightly disturbing neighbour who offered to fix her car...

I’d go further into the story, but anything else from here would be a massive spoiler. I will, however, attempt to make a few spoiler-free general observations. First, there is a stage direction which gives up the game pretty early on. After the event in question occurs, I kept wondering if it would be undone or not, but as the play approached the end it became clear that my early hunch was right. Bad director. Bad.

Second, a major plot twist is undone if anybody checks their watches during the brief 80 minute runtime. As the seats at the Arts aren’t the most comfortable - they were NOT part of the renovations - I did twice. After that point it was waiting for each of the shoes to drop, as fans of the genre will be able to predict the remainder. Not literally, though plenty of other articles of clothing did. Stage nudity is always a plus.

Despite these issues (the first can be fixed, the second not so much), there are some genuinely frightening and suspenseful moments in the show. Alice Krige is very late 80’s cliche as Maude in a way which makes her one of those vulnerable ice queen types. Her acting’s not particularly deep, but it’s effective and when given the chance to monologue she shines. Al Weaver, on the other hand, is genuinely creepy. I can honestly say that I have no idea how either of them manage to perform this piece eight times a week, as my brain would be thoroughly and totally fucked by the end of each performance.

In short, it’s a good but not great return for the Arts, and London audiences dig this kind of play so we may actually see something at this great space actually finish a run that’s longer than a week. Or at least we can hope.

Where: Arts Theatre
When: Until 11 April. M-Sa @ 19:30, W/Sa @ 15:00
How Much: £22.50-£29.50
Concessions: £20 M-Th only. All seats £15 until 24 Feb.
RZ Unofficial “Worth Paying”: £15. It’s so short that a higher ticket price would feel like a rip-off.
RZ Other Notes: I found myself wondering how the furniture manages to stay in place on the hellishly raked stage, but otherwise liked the set quite a bit.

Saturday, 14 February 2009

REVIEW: Saturday Night

Back in the golden age of Broadway, there was a subset of musicals known as “tired businessman” shows. These were typically mediocre affairs that were decent in terms of quality, mildly entertaining, and inoffensive (Sweet Charity is a prime example, though Bob Fosse’s choreography and Gwen Verdon’s performance lent it extra weight.) Sondheim’s “lost” Saturday Night is a tired businessman show through and through, being unperformed until the 1990’s (despite being written in the 50’s but unproduced due to a funding crisis) and currently revived in a cleverly(?) timed production at the Jermyn Street Theatre.

Keeping the plot details short and spoiler free, Saturday Night focuses on a group of friends in late 1920’s Brooklyn who have two things on their mind: pulling girls and making some fast cash in the stock market. Led by wannabe playboy Gene, the group try to score with buddy girl Celeste’s lady friends and pool together on a tip that Gene received. This being a strictly by the book show complete with a checklist of clich├ęs, I’ll leave it to you to guess what happens. Chances are you’ll be mostly right.

It’s sad that the show itself is so unimpressive, Sondheim or not, because the production tries so hard to outdo it. Engaging the increasingly common actor-musician concept (the male ensemble only - no female musicians here), director Tom Littler makes the best use possible out of the Jermyn Street’s tiny stage, and Tom Attwood’s arrangements are well played and never feel hollow or reduced. The cast, including reality show contestant Helena Blackman, vary between quite good and decent, though the accents were straight out of a gangster film and had their occasional lapses. The cast try desperately to land their jokes (they frequently succeed) but I never connected to David Ricardo-Pearce as Gene, and while the antics of the supporting cast are amusing, they wear thin.

Indeed, my biggest issue with Saturday Night was that even though I entered the theatre on Thursday night, it felt like I didn’t get to leave until Saturday in spite of a svelte 2:10 runtime. While I like old-fashioned musicals and understand that they run at a slower pace, Saturday was content to plod rather than keep marching along. Those who bemoan the loud music and hectic nature of more contemporary shows, however, may find themselves taken in by the show’s charms. I, however, will be spending my Saturday night at Avenue Q.

Where: Jermyn Street Theatre
When: Until 14 March, Tu-Sa @ 19:00, Sa-Su @ 15:00
How Much: £18
Concessions: £15
RZ Unofficial “Worth Paying”: £9. Half price for “okay but not amazing.”
RZ Other Notes: (In?)conveniently enough, I saw the Menier’s A Little Night Music the night before. I didn’t fall in love with it either, but that’s another review...

Also, I've been asked to point out that due to scheduling issues on my end, I went New York style and attended the final preview instead of the press night.

Monday, 9 February 2009

NOTES: “Maria Friedman sings the British Songbook”

Maria Friedman loves songs. And finding new songs, and new things to bring out in songs. And she loves singing them and the audience loves watching her sing them because there’s so much warmth and heart behind them that one can’t help themselves but be drawn in.

And so went another lovely evening with this lovely singer who knows not to take herself *too* seriously (“I’ll get all of the lyrics I flubbed right tomorrow.”) And if she did flub a few lyrics or wasn’t always in the best of voice? So what. Every time I see Maria Friedman I can’t help but fall completely in love with her performance, and I’m thrilled that she’s finding success in her concerts. Add to this an almost full set of new material for Ms. F. and a magical evening was all but guaranteed from the start. Absolutely wonderful.

The next person to do the “British Songbook” series, though? Scream-tweenie favourite Kerry Ellis. I think I’ll be staying home for that one, though.

Thursday, 5 February 2009

CATCHING UP: Bad blogger. Bad.

I'd like to think there's a reason I haven't blogged the last three things I've seen other than laziness. Well, four actually. But even so...

RAM Showcase Concert - students, friend had a friend in, and it was long. Very long. As in it started at lunchtime and let out for dinner.

Casanova @ Kings Head - I hadn't planned on going to the aforementioned concert, and didn't know about it until about 90 minutes before it started. As such I hadn't done silly things like eat, grab water to take, etc. and the result was that I left quite tired and dehydrated with a killer low water/sugar headache. Needless to say that despite wolfing down a fast dinner in between events, I was in a far from useful state of mind and body as was my companion who hadn't slept the night before. The result? The first act felt like 120 minutes instead of 75 and we bolted rather than risk passing out. Were I alone I'd have likely toughed it out, but it's not fair to review a show in that condition, especially after just the first act. I'm going to try and make it back, but the next two weeks are solidly booked for me so we'll see...

Dick Whittington: Another Dick in City Hall @ Kings Head - A charity gig and one that is likely sold out for its second and third performances this Sunday. Despite being a song-free show this very (extremely) gay themed and political work made for some excellent adult panto with the right blend of sharp satire and crudeness. It was also pleasantly short - about 100 minutes including interval. Tickets are likely to be scarce or nonexistant for the last two performances this Sunday, but go if you can.

Avenue Q - I already saw the show in New York and avoided the London production due to the changes made (and subsequently put back into New York) and a dislike for the idea of a male Gary Coleman. What dragged me back, however, was having a friend in the cast making her debut as a cover. At least 20 of us showed up and it was a grand event, but I don't review shows with friends in.

And what's on the upcoming agenda? Next week looks to be a 5 show wonder with one show for official press, one by request of the press office, a return to AveQ, and two more! So much to see, and so little time.

On an unrelated subject, do any of the loyal (or disloyal) readers out there play City of Heroes? Other than the spambots, of course. It would be fun to have a theatre geek supergroup.