City of Angels

DSCN2002

Seen January 3 2015

Donmar Warehouse, London

Book by Larry Gelbart

Music by Cy Coleman

Lyrics by David Zippel

Directed by Josie Rourke

Cast: Sandra Marvin, Jennifer Saayeng, Kadiff Kirwan, Jo Servi, Rebecca Trehearn, Tam Mutu, Katherine Kelly, Hadley Fraser, Peter Polycarpou, Rosalie Craig, Tim Walton, Nick Cavaliere, Adam Fogerty, Marc Elliott, Cameron Cuffe, Mark Penfold, Samantha Barks

On the first Saturday of 2014, we started our theatre year with Josie Rourke’s Coriolanus at the Donmar Warehouse. The plan was to spend the first week of 2015 in London again anyway, so we decided to start a new tradition. Even if City of Angels turned out to be the second play we saw this year instead of the first, we still happily spent Saturday evening at the Donmar.

I’m not the biggest fan or connoisseur of musicals, but I’m always willing to try something new and in this case I was once again glad I did. I also detected a pattern of liking the ones where someone dies and being the musical version of a film noir, City of Angels ticked that box too.

Josie Rourke’s first musical production is stylish, funny, well acted and even better sung. From the costumes – I had some serious wardrobe envy, especially concerning the green dress, but I digress – to the stage setting that mainly consisted of piles of scripts and easily changeable features that allowed to switch not only to different locations in record time, but also between the world of philandering writer Stine – who has to deal with marital troubles, a movie producer and said producer’s cunning secretary – to the world of his creation Stone, a private eye hired to find an heiress under questionable circumstances with the LAPD on his heels.

The entire musical was a masterclass in lighting design. Stone’s film noir world was lit in black and white, Stine’s Technicolor. When the two men started fighting for dominance on stage during ‘You’re Nothing Without Me’, the colour scheme was a third character on stage that contributed a lot to the scene.

Hadley Fraser seemed a lot more at home as singing writer Stine than as Aufidius last year and Tam Mutu’s Stone brought a Cary Grant like presence as well as a serious set of pipes. In fact, the entire ensemble was fantastic, most  of them playing several roles in the parallel worlds and some of it even in reverse when Stine changed the script. I really would have loved to see rehearsal footage of the rewound scenes.

As for the musical numbers, they are catchy to the point that reading the song titles now when I checked if I had them right, the chorus of each title popped into my head immediately. I have no idea why this gem of a musical isn’t performed more often. Oolie/Donna’s ‘You Can Always Count On Me’, performed tongue-in-cheek by Rebecca Trehearn is another one that stayed in my ears for a few days.

If there was a cast recording and/or DVD of this production, I would buy it in a heartbeat. There might even have been singing and humming on the way back to the hotel.

Coming up this year

20150102_082605

Hi there! Just to let those of you following know that this blog hasn’t been abandoned. Things have been even more busy than usual at work and since sleep is overrated, I also did a twelve weeks Edx course on ‘Shakespeare: On Screen and in Performance’ by Wellesley College which was a lot of fun, but also time-consuming.

The new year started just like the last one: with a trip to London (the photo above shows the Austrian alps from the plane en route there). We saw East is East at Trafalgar Studios, City of Angels at the Donmar Warehouse and King Charles III at Wyndham’s. The reviews are coming up asap! The latter two are only on for a few weeks more and East is East is now touring, so a quick spoiler should you be undecided whether they are worth it: definitely.

This blog is now one year old and I never thought it would be so much fun. A friend kept suggesting I should blog about my visits to the theatre and after dismissing the thought for years, another friend said she’d start a band if I started the blog, so I went for it, thinking no one would read my ramblings anyway. Boy, was I wrong. A huge thank you to all of you who read, commented, contacted me via the contact form or retweeted!

Another big thank you goes to my sister iwishyoumuchmirth, who has kindly been contributing reviews to the plays she’s seen without me or when my day has not enough hours to get a review done in a timely fashion.

I can already say that this year will be as full of theatre as the last. We will watch all broadcasts of NT Live and RSC (as long as I’m in the country) and I’m still hoping the three plays filmed at the Stratford Festival in Canada are going to be made available in Europe too.

Additionally, we have tickets to The Ruling Class at Trafalgar Transformed, there will be at least two Hamlets (one in Stratford, On and one at the Barbican in London), The Pysicists, The Adventures of Pericles, Taming of the Shrew, She Stoops to Conquer, Oedipus Rex, Possible Worlds and an amateur production of Ödön von Horváth’s Jugend ohne Gott (Youth without God). I’m sure there will be more productions announced within the year that we won’t be able to resist.

In the meantime, I’d like to recommend spending your time over at Mingled Yarns (her review of King Charles III convinced me to get tickets) and for those of you who understand German, Singende Lehrerin. Don’t open the e-mail alert for a new post of hers if the title contains ‘Stilblüten-Quickie’ and you are in public or at work. Her English students provide her with the bloopers, but her commenting them is what is going to crack you up.

For the Shakespeare fans: There’s a MOOC about Hamlet starting on Futurelearn January 19, followed by Much Ado About Nothing (both by the University of Birmingham in collaboration with the RSC). Also, should you not know her work yet, http://goodticklebrain.com/ (or @GoodTickleBrain on Twitter) is hilarious.

And now I’m off to write the promised first reviews of the year. Talk you you soon!

The Weir

The Weir by Conor McPherson
Wyndham’s Theatre (West End transfer from the Donmar Warehouse)

Directed by Josie Rourke
Risteárd Cooper, Brian Cox, Dervla Kirwan, Peter Mc Donald, Ardal O’Hanlon (nominated for 2014 Olivier Award as best supporting actor)

Seen 26 February 2014DSCN1525

Location, Location, Location….

When I learned I was going to go on a business trip to Liverpool and London, one of the first things I did was checking if there were any tickets to shows I had grumbled about not being able to see. Fortunately, the West End transfer of the Donmar Warehouse production of Conor McPherson’s The Weir had just begun, and I was lucky.

A few weeks later, and I really wished someone would finally manage to beam entire human beings (and not in a Galaxy Quest way if possible), so seeing shows at their original venue was possible more often. While I did think the play was very well staged and acted, I thought it got a bit lost in the bigger theatre.

The Wyndham’s fits 970 versus the 251 person capacity of the Donmar. The Weir is basically a chamber play – four guys and a mysterious female newcomer from Dublin talk in a pub – so not being able to properly read facial expressions from the first row of the Grand Circle took away quite a bit from the experience. It would be interesting if and how the opinion about the play changes from being seated in the stalls/royal circle/grand circle/balcony.

The play itself is quite funny and the conversation very natural. I could imagine most of it taking place in the last pub in Dublin I visited – if the patrons there actually had had full sets of teeth. This was only the second play directed by Josie Rourke I saw, but I do get the feeling that she is more interested in people, their actions, reactions and flaws than in flashy productions which I do appreciate a lot. By foregoing the interval (the play clocks in at 1hr 45min, so it should be possible to sit through it even for the most weak-bladdered), the risk of ripping the audience out of setting and story is also cleverly eliminated.

The one big disappointment for me comes down to marketing. I am so used to watching Shakespeare plays and the likes that I ususally know the story very well before watching the play, so I decided to go ‘spoiler-free’ for this one. Or would have, if the promo text plus the artwork for the poster hadn’t been such a dead giveway that reading the playtext beforehand wouldn’t have made a difference.

Look away NOW and scroll down to the next paragraph if you don’t want to  know the big secret. For those still reading: woman with mysterious past+girl under water+ghost story=ghost of dead daughter hunting mysterious woman causing her to leave Dublin and flee to the countryside, right? My sister’s opinion on this is that I am just weird and have – thanks to jobs past and present – watched way too many TV shows and movies.

I do hope the pubs in walking distance of the theatre send thank you notes to the production team and cast. If you walk out of the play without having the strange urge to drink some thrice distilled goodness from Bow Street or its brewed, dark cousin from St. James Gate, you have my utmost respect. If the actors really had to drink what it says on the labels, evening shows after a matinée should be a hoot. Maybe they should take this into consideration for their dernière 😉

 

 

NTLive Coriolanus Live Broadcast, Jan 30

DSCN1521Cinemas in Vienna jumped on the theatre bandwagon only very recently, so this was the second live broadcast (after the RSC’s Richard II) we had the opportunity to see and the first where I had seen the play live before. I am not going to wax on about the play itself – I have already done that here – but on the cinema screening.

Of course there is a huge difference in being in the actual theatre and seeing a broadcast, but it’s really the next best thing and gives a lot of people who otherwise wouldn’t have the chance to see the play access to great productions.

It is also a great way to discover new things about a play you have already seen. You never catch everything and there were a lot of plays I would have liked the chance to revisit and dissect more. In this production for example, I had missed the moment Volumnia finally realised she just practically killed her son. I think I was checking if there were already swords being sharpened or tempers rising stage left right then.

On the other hand, some things are hard to be picked up by the cameras, especially in such a small theatre as the Donmar. When one of Aufidius’ men (Mark Stanley) was stealthily creeping up behind Coriolanus, I had one eye on Coriolanus and Aufidius and one eye on him. In the broadcast, he popped into the frame rather suddenly when he was already right behind Coriolanus which caused some in the audience to laugh.

Technically, the broadcast was really well done. There were a few minor sound glitches in the beginning and two tiny camera mishaps, but none of those lasted more than half a second and there were no issues for the rest of the play.

The interview with Josie Rourke during intermission was dispensable even though she managed to gracefully make the most out of being asked stupid questions. I would have been more interested in the production process than in why people chose to sleep in front of the theatre hoping for day tickets. Rourke is not only the director of the play but also artistic director of the Donmar, for crying out loud.

The really embarrassing part was the sexiest man alive question (if you can call that a question at all). Not only did Emma Freud put herself in the same league as the two girls jumping up and down yelling ‘oh my God!’ in the loo in our cinema, it was disrespectful and insulting to both the director and the actor to insinuate the play’s lead might have not been cast on merit but for looks and fanbase.

I get extremely ticked off whenever someone suggests a woman might have gotten a job on her looks (or worse), but if we are equally as stupid in judging men, we have absolutely no leg to stand on. If I choose looking at that comment on a lighter note than the above, it was fangirling which is still unprofessional and irksome.

I suspect there were a lot of theatre newbies in the cinemas, for some of them it was probably even the first time they were confronted with Shakespeare. It would be interesting to know how many of those were bitten by the theatre bug. I also hope that the plays are going to be released on DVD/BluRay/VoD at some point, so even more have access to them. Until then, we’ll just keep buying tickets for the screenings as soon as they are announced. Just keep them coming NTL and RSC!

On both sides m…

On both sides more respect
– Menenius, Act III, Scene I

Coriolanus – Donmar Warehouse, London
CoriolanusSeen: January 4, 2014

Coriolanus is not an easy one. To quote the great philosopher Kris Kristofferson, he’s a walking contradiction, partly truth and partly fiction, taking every wrong direction on his lonely way back home.

On the plus side, Coriolanus is a principled guy and I think he’s right in what he is accusing the people of. On the other hand, he’s arrogant, his mother’s puppet (to a certain extent) and easily flies off the handle. What bothers me the most is that upon being banned (or, in his eyes, banning Rome from him), he immediately seeks out Rome’s biggest enemy to take revenge on his former home and everyone in it, including his family and friends. I have this weird thing for loyalty, so this always ticked me off and is in my opinion the crux when casting the title character.

The actor needs to be believable as a force of nature who can charge into a city alone (and come out alive and the victor), an arrogant ass, great soldier but horrible politician, principled but a vengeful traitor, while likeable and mature enough to have a devoted family, friends and supporters instead of having been murdered in his sleep years ago. There is definitely a danger of the audience turning indifferent to the ‘hero’ and checking out emotionally, thinking he’s had it coming. That was not the case in this production; there was crying and sniffling in the audience as well as shocked reactions to his bloody end.

Josie Rourke found the perfect fit in Tom Hiddleston, who seemingly effortless goes from humbly declining a bigger part of the spoils and asking for pardon of his former host (whose name he either can’t remember because of an adrenaline crash or because he never cared enough) and painfully cleaning himself up in private instead of being celebrated, to sharp-tongued, mocking arrogant snob who would rather be cast out and leave his family behind than apologize publicly and acquire some diplomatic skills.

The only gripe I had with Hiddleston’s performance was that I was cringing internally every time he waved his left arm around. While the people of Rome weren’t allowed to see the wounds acquired in battle, the audience did get to see them (nice make-up job and audible reaction from the audience) and that cut should have made moving the slinged arm only possible under considerable pain. Then again I also talk with my hands, so who am I to judge.

Mark Gatiss is brilliant as Menenius, the voice of reason and wise man who knows that some people are best asked for important things when their blood sugar levels are high. I really can’t remember the actor playing Menenius in the last production of this play I saw, this is definitely not going to happen here.

Deborah Findlay was one scary Volumnia – in a good way. Although a lot more politically savvy than her son, she is a woman of equally strong opinion who is not willing to suffer fools. I don’t think I have ever seen someone breathe fire so elegantly before.

Birgitte Hjort Sørensen not only delivers as Coriolanus’ devoted wife and mother to Caius jr., I never would have guessed she wasn’t a native English speaker or a novice to Shakespeare.

Helen Schlesinger and Elliot Levey are deliciously weasly as schemers Sicinia (Sicinius in the original text) and Brutus.

I don’t agree with the criticisms I read about Hadley Fraser’s portrayal of Tullus Aufidius. What did bother me was that I didn’t believe Aufidius’ anger after Coriolanus’ betrayal. This might have been in part facilitated by the earlier scenes in which the part of the cast not currently actively engaged on stage were put in neutral at the back. For me, it took away from Aufidius standing there, listening to Coriolanus being swayed by his family after all and realizing he would be the fool once more. It’s also possible that his reaction felt flatter than the thrown chair’s short flight because Deborah Findlay and Tom Hiddleston really pulled out all the stops just seconds before.

There really is no weak link in the cast or badly directed part of the production and I couldn’t think of anything that was cut in the text that would have been missed. For example, a nice chunk of Act IV, Scene V is substituted by Aufidius’ servants just looking at each other and then to the audience. The play isn’t exactly full of chuckles, but that was quite a laugh, along with others thanks to the skilled and natural delivery of the lines by the entire cast.

The scarce stage setting fits brilliantly both the production and the venue. This was my first visit to the Donmar, but hopefully not my last. The only disadvantage of such an intimate theatre is that performances sell out quickly.

I thought Josie Rourke’s take on the play and direction were impressive and am really looking forward to seeing The Weir the next time I am in London.

In the meantime, I am curious to see if and how the play has to be changed for the NTLive broadcast into cinemas January 30 to fit the cameras. While nothing beats seeing a play live in a theatre, this is a great way for those not able to get tickets or travel to London. I hope most of the atmosphere can carry across the screen and would definitely recommend this production.