Monday, 1 March 2010

NOTES: ‘Modelling Spitfires’ / ‘Lost Soul Music’

Hard though it may be to believe, I’ve actually been to the theatre lately and HAVEN’T gone solely to review a show or because a friend was involved or because I was working on it. And since I’ve got deadlines for other work today, these are going to be mercilessly brief. Cast and creative information for Lost Soul Music is not present on the Pleasance website and I didn’t buy a programme.

First up, Modelling Spitfires at the New End. When Maruice comes back to the family house after a stay in a mental institution, sister Marcia’s life is turned upside down: she was planning to sell the house, move out of the city, and start living life for herself after caring for an abusive elderly father and raising a daughter as a single parent. Maurice has other plans, and the manipulative genius with the emotional maturity of an eight year old has been hard at work to ensure that Marcia stays put.

There’s some interesting work going on in Spitfires about how we handle family responsibilities: the drain they take on those doing the caring, when we put ourselves first, and so on. The problem, though, is that Spitfires fails my basic test of a family drama, which goes like this:

‘Can all of the problems be resolved by either shooting an instigator or having one of the sufferers commit suicide?’

If the answer is yes, the play fails. And, in this case, there would be an instant happy ending for Maurice if Marcia kills herself, and an instant happy ending for everybody (namely the audience) if she shot Maurice ten minutes in. This isn’t for lack of trying by the actors, particularly author Vanessa Rosenthal, who also plays Marcia, and it’s nice to see a proper set in the New End and all, but August Osage County this isn’t, and sitting through three hours of August was nothing compared to the 95 minutes (with interval) of Spitfires.

Speaking of death as a release, there is much soul searching and selling at the Pleasance in Islington these days as they present a series of Lost Soul Music. A set of six one-act musicals about losing your soul, and hemmed by the team behind TONY! The Blair Musical, Lost Soul is presented in sets of two, so a patron needs to visit three times to see all six pieces. Being an anthology of sorts, there’s the benefit that if the first show isn’t to your fancy, the second very well may be.

The day I went, the selections were ‘All the Best Tunes’, about a boy who sells his soul to be able to sing, and ‘Soldier of Fortune’, about a time jumping coward who goes from battle to battle, ultimately becoming a shell shocked god of war. Both pieces have doubled cast members (as do the other four), and the set is a simple, yet effective way of using the Pleasance’s size and revolve, relying upon a well constructed and positioned flat.

Musically, ‘Tunes’ is the more original - a jazzy set of tracks and perfectly in line with the history of jazz and blues being termed the devil’s music and the religious imagery involved. ‘Soldier’ relies heavily upon traditional tunes (e.g. ‘Bring Back My Bonnie To Me’) with repurposed lyrics.

The books....could do with a bit of trimming. Despite each piece being around 50-55 minutes, they both felt like they were running out of steam by the end, and some minor edits for pacing could easily keep the energy from flagging. I don’t really have anything else to say about ‘Tunes’ - there’s nothing groundbreaking in its story or the way it’s told, but it’s solid and works well. ‘Soldier’ is a bit more problematic, as the audience often shares in the protagonist’s confusion about where (and when) he is, particularly for the first third. The anti-war message also feels like less of a gentle leaflet and more like a conceptual cricket bat by the end, but it undoubtedly will appeal to many in the audience.

To sum up: Avoid Spitfires, take a chance on Lost Soul.


Roo said...

You do get around, don't you? Should I be ashamed to say that I've never been to the Pleasance? For some reason it never comes up on my radar.

Anyhoo. Your acid test for family dramas is interesting, if a bit harsh. By your reckoning The Anniversary would never have made it to the stage, let alone to film and THEN where would we be?

Rogue Zentradi said...

This was my first time going to Pleasance and I certainly hope it's not my last - it's a beautiful venue with an awesome vibe. Oh, and of your particular interest, the bar prices are quite cheap - all soft drinks under £2, booze around standard pub rates.

I have to confess that I've never seen The Anniversary, but reading the entry on Wikipedia makes it sound like it's worthy of an exception in that the characters are interesting and sympathetic. What drives me to the acid test is when they're not.

In this case, Maurice is rather like the family in Christopher Durang's "'dentity Crisis", who are charmingly annoying for about five minutes and then just grate. Sort of like Ricky Gervais in...well...anything.