Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Review: Mr Burns, Almeida Theatre, 21st July 2014

You know what, I'm going to put it out there, call me a maverick if you will, call me crazy, go ahead. I like the Simpsons. Yep, there you go. That's it, the confession of the year. Start throwing your stones, I just don't go in for the mainstream, what can I say? Innit. Everyone loves The Simpsons don't they, find me someone who doesn't. So in the lead up to this show I predictably found myself texting carefully selected quotes to my pals (“hello, my name is Mr Burns, I believe you have a letter for me”, “Alright Mr Burns what’s your first name?”, “….I don’t know”), to which I would almost always receive a lightning flash response ("They're fighting like Iran and Iraq!", "What?", "...Persia and Mesopotamia") I should also mention that I never called this show ‘Mr Burns’, always ‘Mr Boo-urns’ (“I was saying Boo-urns”).  

So, with all that in mind, Anne Washburn's depiction of a post-apocalyptic world where The Simpsons becomes shared conversational fodder around a campfire doesn't seem like the most far-fetched situation. Indeed the beauty of Washburn’s script is its recognition of this near ubiquitous knowledge of Springfield and its hilarious inhabitants, and the manner in which it becomes inevitably misquoted and corrupted over time. Washburn’s script is such a little flirt; it keeps you gagging for those classic moments, forever yanking them away at the last minute. The action tiptoes on the precipice of hilarity with a seething underbelly of unease and uncertainty and the tension comes from what isn’t revealed as quotes become intellectual property to be violently bartered. Mr Burns shrugs off traditional structure, opting for three acts and two intervals; a unsettling but welcome change which shakes up the typical experience; whilst also allowing you valuable extra time to discuss what the hell just happened. However, the palpable tension and mystery of the first two acts is spoiled by the third; which lays it on just a bit too thick. Whilst being suitably disorientating and removed, depicting a post-apocalyptic future shrouded in corrupt oral tradition (mash-up Britney, Eminem, The Simpsons and elaborate ritual ceremony and you’re about half way there), it’s all just a bit much. Whilst an elucidating, explanatory third act would be inappropriate, this tribal, post-apocalyptic Simpsons-centric civilisation veers a little too much towards cliché. Chilling, innovative but clumsily concluded, it’s definitely worth catching; but after veering towards a 4 I'm it’s going to have to be a 3. [3/5]

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Review: A View from the Bridge, Young Vic, 9th April 2014

Ivo Van Hove slams Arthur Miller’s play to the Young Vic stage, a simmering, foreboding take on ‘the American Dream’ which continues to hit home and spurt relevance sixty years after it was written and a few thousand miles away from the city in questions. Recently commenting on this production in the Guardian, Van Hove claimed, “my aim is the ultimate production”, whilst the performances are toe-curlingly brilliant, erupting a bubbling pit of jealousy, hardship, cabin fever and frustration, Van Hove’s excellent production is crushingly relegated to at least the ‘penultimate’ by sadly ill-fitting choices of design and soundtrack.

In light of the passing of the gay marriage bill in the last month, Eddie’s allusions to Rodolfo’s homosexuality and being “not right”, are particularly relevant, evoking more than a few self-conscious titters around the audience, Van Hove adapts these lines beautifully, acknowledging Eddie’s ignorance whilst also implying that his prejudicial views are far from unusual. Van Hove’s direction is flawless (bar a prolonged ‘awkward conversation’ scene that should have stayed in the rehearsal room), and Mark Strong broods onstage as an utterly terrifying Eddie. One half-expected him to leap-frog the stage and unleash a murderous brawl in the front row. A caged animal imprisoned by his own obsession, simmering violence and inner-turmoil; there’s no need to wait until the first punch is thrown an hour or so in, the violence seeps out of Eddie the second the lights come up.
As mentioned initially, objections are from a technical perspective. Whilst the sparse, clean-cut lines are indicative of a community unaccustomed to luxury, scraping by what they can. Miller’s play centres on a cramped, deprived microcosm in flux, where a sheltered ward, to the bubbling, fermenting near-incestuous dismay of her guardian is exposed to the bright lights of the city and the lurid vividness of first love. As said above, the acting, spot on. Whilst simplicity can indeed ensure that style doesn’t deviate from grittier substance, Jan Versweyveld’s clean black and white lines divorce the story from its heady, atmospheric context, depriving the audience of a gritty insight into the collision of grime, sweat and hardship with hope, big-city and bright lights.

Similarly, whilst a drumming motif works throughout to an extent, and a choral soundtrack adds a certain ambience evoking the clash of Italian Catholicism with modern America, it’s all just a bit much. The constant drumming feels too much like a rehearsal technique that’s slipped into the end product whilst the amped up music in the famous ‘chair’ scene, elicited a wave of hearty laughter rather than the loom of foreboding violence which Van Hove presumably intended.

Don’t get me wrong, this was pretty good. However, can the drums and pipe down the music a little and Van Hove could have had the “ultimate production” for which he strived. 3/5

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

RETURN FROM THE DEPTHS. Review...ish Blurred Lines, National Theatre Shed, 3rd February 2014.

First things first. Hello. It's been a while. Right. Pleasantries over, let's go...

Don’t get me wrong, there’s so much that I loved about this show. How bloody marvellous it is to see a stage occupied solely by woman without bearing the warning disclaimer that you’re about to endure an ‘all female’ production (I know…can I get you a glass of water?). How often do you sit in the theatre for two hours and the only woman you see is in your peripheral vision, and it’s the mate you turned up with. Yet you’ll receive no warnings, you won’t have to sign any forms, don a radiation-proof jumpsuit or go into quarantine to attend one of these ‘all male’ productions. Whilst some might harp on condescendingly about how traditional Jacobean theatre was always that way, I might barricade entrances to the foyer bathrooms and invite members of the audience to find a suitable corner to defecate in at the interval, because clearly, when in the theatre, do as the Jacobean’s did…no loo roll? No problem, use the corner of your tunic…

Anyhow, I digress. The point I’m trying to make is that, in the theatre, you don’t usually get a fanny-fest onstage, and it’s great to see one without having been extensively warned of it beforehand. In fact the greatest thing about Blurred Lines is the immediate and sad realisation that this particular collection of genitals onstage is an unusual one. My niggling problem is that I wanted to feel significantly less comfortable. Half the audience was bopping away in their seats to Robin Thicke’s bestselling single of 2013, and I have a feeling that they’ll do the same thing next time it pops on the radio.

The production creeps forward with claws bared in its last scene, but retreats before any real confrontation materialises. Compare that with the audience member who was asked to cough up some change or requested to publically admit whether they’d touch a homeless person in ‘Protest Song’ last month, and the confrontational chasm is exposed. ‘Blurred Lines’ has incredible content, but feels a little incoherent in places, which would be fine if we were wrenched out of our seats into the chaos. I just wanted to hear more, I wanted to feel compelled to kick off, start a protest, ANYTHING. The reality is that last night’s performance felt like a quickly resolved pub kerfuffle that fizzled with no need for intervention, when what I really wanted was an all-out brawl, a chance to emerge with a bit of a sore brain and a sense that I was being dealt a strong dose of injustice. Maybe I just enjoy a bit of a barney. I’ll indulge my temptation to flog out a tiresome metaphor further, I just wanted to feel a bit of a punch in the head, something buzzing through my head on the train home…instead I looked up pictures of cats wearing hats on tumblr.

I’d love responses on this one. So if you’ve seen it. Go, go, go. 


PS. Sorry for saying ‘fanny-fest’, I tried a number of alternatives but they just weren’t as good.

PPS. ‘Fanny-fest’, sorry? Nah.