Ticking

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Seen 3 November 2015, Trafalgar Studio 2, London

Written and directed by Paul Andrew Williams

Last post of the year before we travel to London later this week to start off 2016 with a few days of theatre.

Unfortunately, work was insane in the last months and the one long weekend between the business trip that allowed me to see ‘Ticking’ and Christmas was spent theatre-less in Dublin, so this is extremely late but the play still haunts me after almost two months.

I didn’t know a lot about this beforehand. When I was buying the tickets for my November trip, The Commitments were a last minute decision for sentimental reasons hoping it would be fun and I was planning on seeing Mr. Foote’s Other Leg on the other free evening. While I still would have loved to see it (the continuing slightly gleeful tweets from the actors about fainting audience members are quite intriguing), I am very glad my sister ‘steered’ me towards Ticking. She desperately wanted to see this production and since she couldn’t go herself, at least this way she got a first hand report that consisted of me calling her upon leaving the theatre with the words ‘what the hell did you talk me into?!’.

Trafalgar Studio 2 is tiny, with only 98 seats, so everyone is very close to the action. The entire play takes place in a visitor’s cell of an Asian prison, where young Brit Simon (Tom Hughes) is waiting to learn if his American lawyer Richard (David Michaels) can  obtain  a suspension of his execution, which is planned for midnight. In the meantime, Simon’s parents (Niamh Cusack and Anthony Head) have one hour to say goodbye to their son.

This hour is what the audience get to witness; in this time we learn that Simon has been sentenced to death for murdering a prostitute, but we don’t know if he’s guilty or innocent. There is also no debate or judgement about the death penalty itsef, but something way more complicated: the workings of a family.

The family dynamics were acted extremely well by Hughes, Cusack and Head. Tom Hughes scared an elderly couple right next to his cell bench a couple of times with Simon’s unexpected outbursts. His performance was a tour de force throughout and I can imagine this role to be very emotionally and physically exhausting. Simon is already shaking like a leaf when things start and doesn’t stop; within the next one and a half hours (no intermission), there are not just a lot of lines, but all emotions possible. The play is in turn tragic, funny, touching, heartbreaking and shocking.

And here’s the real beauty of it: this could have been one hell of a tear jerker, milking Simon’s tragic fate for what it’s worth,  but every time the majority of the audience was on the brink of outright bawling, we were pulled back from the brink.

I don’t cry when I watch movies or series (with very few exceptions) and I am still waiting for the horror movie that actually manages to scare me because I know it’s not real. Actually, a co-worker recently asked me if anything scared me at all (clearly forgetting the times he had to heroically rescue me from wasps) and my reply was ‘people’. Having said this, Ticking and its family dynamcis were so realistic, my contact lenses didn’t dry out as they often do in theatres. Of course there is also a big difference between watching something on screen or up close, which made it only more real.

The intimate setting in this tiny studio was at the same time working brilliantly for the play and the only negative thing about it because due to the size of Studio 2, not as many people will get to see it as they should.

This production is definitely in my top 3 of this year, Tom Hughes is one to watch, Niamh Cusack broke my heart and as a fan of almost everything Joss Whedon, it was a great joy to see Anthony Head on stage, even though his character should have been tarred and feathered.

While Ticking’s run at Trafalgar Studios has ended, there is a Twitter account to keep informed about it being staged elsewhere if you are interested.

I’m off to give a piece of lamb a rosemary, thyme and garlic massage in preparation for its big debut (and dernière) as New Year’s Eve dinner tomorrow. May you all have fun journey into the New Year!

 

The Adventures of Pericles

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Seen June24 2015, Tom Patterson Theatre, Stratford Ontario

Written by William Shakespeare

Directed by Scott Wentworth

Stratford’s pledge to perform Shakespeare‘s entire canon within the next decade gives the opportunity to (re)discover plays that are not often performed. Last year, King John was one of the biggest surprises for us, so we didn’t hestiate to get tickets for Pericles.

I have to admit not really knowing the play, but from what I read about the original text so far, there must have been a vast amount of editing necessary. The title character Pericles, a prince, has a knack for getting lost at sea and ending up in different kingdoms. The kings and princesses he encounters are brilliantly played by Wayne Best and Deborah Hay, who even ends up playing Pericles‘ daughter Marina.

Having the actors portray several characters was a clever play by director Scott Wentworth, who also added Diane (Marion Adler) instead of the Chorus as a link between the kingdoms and storylines. Unfortunately, some didn’t realise what was going on; the ladies in front of me in the line for the washrooms complained about the kings and their daughters looking too similar and thought, they should have cast actors that looked less alike. Whoopsie.

I thought the differences in the characters were well acted, so I wasn’t confused. Our friend who didn’t know about it beforehand said she needed a moment to realise after the first switch, but then it was all good. And she’d like to add that the incest storyline was disgusting. Which Pericles apparently thought as well, getting out of there as quickly as possible.

What the play itself may lack, direction and actors compensated for. It was a suspensful production that also made most with very little props and I’d like to give special kudos to Sean Arbuckle, who stepped in as the title character Pericles for Evan Buliung the evening we saw the play.

Of course the cast does play a role in choosing which plays to watch – along with the director – but in the end, the play’s the thing. When I read that the role of Pericles was to be played by Sean Arbuckle instead of Evan Buliung for the performance we went to, I wasn’t worried in the least. After all, who better to have adventures at sea than a former pirate king?

If I was a betting woman, I’d wager that several people in the audience didn’t even realise the actor playing Pericles wasn’t the guy hired to do so every night. It also highlights the wealth of good actors this company has. This wasn’t the first time we got to see an understudy shine in a title role in Stratford.

The only thing that irks me about it is that I’m always left wondering what the other actor would have done differently and cursing the fact that I can’t just come back later in the season to rewatch the play, but that’s what we call complaining on a high level.

If you want to see a Shakespeare play where you don’t think you know everything that is going to happen, go see The Adventures of Pericles.

 

 

 

The Trials of Oscar Wilde

3 November 2014
Trafalgar Studios, London

By Merlin Holland and John O’Connor
based on the original words spoken in court during the libel and criminal trials of Oscar Wilde

Cast: John Gorick, Rupert Mason, William Kempsell

Directed by Peter Craze

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Mother Courage and Her Children

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Seen: September 6 (Matinée), Tom Patterson Theatre

Cast: Seana McKenna, E.B. Smith, Antoine Yared, Carmen Grant, Randy Hughson, Wayne Best, Sean Arbuckle, Geraint Wyn Davies, Ben Carlson, Peter Hutt, Daniel Briere, Deidre Gillard-Rowlings, Jennifer Mogbock, Anthony Malarky, André Morin, Brad Rudy, Karack Osborn, Stephen Russell, Jamie Mac, Andrew Lawrie, Ryan Field, Brigit Wilson, Patricia Collins, Andrew Robinson, Cal Potter, Laura Burton

Directed by Martha Henry

Firstly, apologies for the delay in writing this. Not only were we running around like headless chickens during our time left in Toronto, for some reason it’s possible to get a decent internet connection in Stratford but not in the big city, so I couln’t have uploaded the remaining two reviews anyway. If you can read this, the connection over the pond was stronger 😉

We are currently getting shaken through over Newfoundland on the way to London where we are going to see The Crucible at the Old Vic later today and Richard III at the Trafalgar Studios tomorrow night before going back to Vienna (and a live screening of A Streetcar Named Desire), so there will be more posts some time next week.

There seems to be a second motto in Stratford this season next to ‚Minds Pushed to the Edge‘: Actors Mingling with the Audience. Before Mother Courage and her Children (Mutter Courage und ihre Kinder) started, some of the actors were walking around, chatting up unsuspecting patrons.

The stage was bare except for a chopping block and a ramp and of course once the play got underway Mother Courage’s wagon – both home and business to her and her children.

I have to admit I don’t care much for Bert Brecht or the play. German can be a harsh sounding language at the best of times, to me Brecht manages to make it sound downright ugly. I was still willing to give Mother Courage another try, not only because my sister wanted to see it and I was courious how it would be handled, but also because it’s sadly very current again with all the conflicts rising up in the last years. And of course it was performed in English.

When the cast and director were announced, it was getting clear that the play was in very good hands. Martha Henry is not only a great actress, but once more proved that she’s brilliant behind the scenes too. Seana McKenna is a formidable Mother Courage who almost made me sympathise with the character. Carmen Grant, Ben Carlson and Geraint Wyn-Davies are not just accompanying her along the way and help illustrate different phases and relationships in her life, their characters are all interesting and important to the story in their own right. Grant’s Kattrin is speaking volumes without a single line of text.

While I am never going to be a fan of Brecht’s, I actually really liked this simply staged and well-acted production and really recommend it.

PS: ‚Fichtelgebirge‘ really isn’t pronounced like that 😉

Monty Python Live (mostly)

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One Down, Five to Go

I never thought I would get the chance to see Monty Phython live or as was the case at least in a live broadcast.

When I was ten, I volonteered for a school trial which meant learning French instead of English. That turned out not to be such a bright idea after all when I switched to a different school four years later. Additionally to being bored during French lessons for the next years, I had just two months to catch up to everyone else in English. While not all of the Python’s vocabulary was suitable for school, they – along with countless songwriters and movie makers – played a big part in that.

More than 20 years later I still haven’t grown tired of their shenanigans. The Philosophers football match is still hilarious and more interesting than most games of the world cup. The Batley Townswomen’s Guild going all in reenacting the Battle of Pearl Harbor or the Silly Olympics are still funnier than a lot of stuff I’ve seen in the last years.

It was touching that Graham Chapman was the first Python to appear on screen; the title ‘One Down, Five to Go’ alluded to him in typical Monty Python fashion and it wasn’t the only mention. John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones and Michael Palin were in fine form and seemed to have fun on stage, cracking up several times and improvising as a result. John Cleese’s divorces were even incorporated into the Poofy Judges. There is a picture floating around Twitter showing Terry Gilliam mid-air during the Spanish Inquisition; I dare you to look at it and not laugh.

There were quite a few guests too: it was nice to see Carol Cleveland again; Eddie Izzard and Mike Myers made appearances and Brian Cox and Stephen Hawking popped up in a pre-recorded skit (Hawking was also present in the audience).

While the original sketches played on screen and acted live by the remaining five Pythons are still killing it, Eric Idle added 16 tons of variety show elements in between. Of course you can’t expect a bunch of septuagenarians to do quick-changes and run back onto stage in 3 seconds flat, but – for me at least – those numbers were much too long and frequent and instead of making the transition between sketches smoother, actually made them even more bumpy. On the other hand, they managed to incorporate things they couldn’t have performed anymore (Silly Walk, Never Make Fun…) this way.

The other thing bugging me was the camera direction. I might be spoiled by the terrific work of the fine people responsible for the RSC and NTL broadcasts, but it seemed confused at some points and downright sloppy at others. At the end of the Lumberjack song you could see that there was something about Canada projected in the O2, but they didn’t capture it for the world-wide audiences.

All in all, I’m grateful the gents of Monty Python decided to show us what makes an Ex-Parrot once more and then gracefully told us to ‘Piss Off!”. And now number 3: The Lark…

Pearl Jam @Wiener Stadthalle

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Pictures (C) 2014 Pearl Jam

Seen: Wiener Stadthalle, Vienna June 25 2014

This entry is going to seem weird to those of you having read the blog so far and for good reason. I usually only write about theatre because that was the original idea and a completely personal thing. I work with movies and TV shows for a living, so this is not something that I am going to comment on.

I also don’t write about live music for two simple reasons: firstly I worked in the music industry for almost a decade, so I might have a skewered view and secondly, having been to a few hundred gigs before I even finished school, it is really hard to knock my socks off.

In this case, I decided to forego the socks right from the start, knowing they would never be found again anyway. Traditionally, the day after a Pearl Jam show is spent with a stupid smile on my face and no voice and it wasn’t any different this time. This is also the reason I decided to break with the usual topic of the blog. Some things just are too good to not be commented on.

Pearl Jam hadn’t been to Vienna since 2006 when one critic rightly remarked ‘the only one not pulling their weight today was the Stadthalle’. Sadly, even though everyone knows it is practically impossible to get a handle on the sound in this venue as soon as you open up the floor and stands completely, nothing is being done about it which caused Eddie Vedder to mention how much the band were looking forward to this gig only to start soundcheck and realise this was probably the second worst sounding venue they’d ever set foot in.

Nevertheless, the room was on fire as soon as the band came on stage and opened with ‘Long Road’, followed up by ‘Can’t Keep’ and ‘Black’ – which would have been held back by most bands for a big sing-along encore – after which EV deduced ‘this is going to be a great night’. And right he was.

Playing ‘Black’ right at the start like this is one of the things differentiating PJ from other bands. There is no fixed set list for an entire tour. Each one is decided on the day (they even stressed out one lucky fan by letting him do one a few years back) and is sometimes changed when things are already in full swing. Most bands can’t do any song requested at the drop of their hats – I have seen too many telepromters, lyric sheets and sheet music on stage to not appreciate them actually knowing their stuff – and still having fun being up there after all these years, swinging from light bulbs and making fun of each other.

Such a swap happened in Vienna this time: a fan in the front row wanted to hear ‘I Got Shit’, so they swapped it for the originally planned ‘I Am Mine’. I love ‘I Got Shit’, but unfortunately, this was the first time my friend to whom ‘I Am Mine’ means a lot saw the band live, so hearing this song would have been the cherry on top for her.

That’s the problem with a band that has such an extensive catalogue though; they could play for a few weeks straight going through all their albums and cover versions (we got a few of those too, ranging from The Beatles, Neil Young or PIL to The Who), and there would still be one missing that you would have liked to hear. I was quite in the mood for ‘Corduroy’ that night, but on the other hand I would probably have blown my voice completely had they played it. Apparently, I am just not built to sing along to 35 (nope, not a typo) songs in a row anymore ;-). I am really looking forward to re-experiencing this show once the official bootleg is released.

Another great thing about PJ: they respect their fans and listen to them (and are concerned about their safety as directing the crowd to move apart the following night at Wuhlheide in Berlin proves). This was the first time the Ten Club offered seats to those of their members for whom things on the floor have gotten too intense (like me) or are just not able to be down there for health reasons. The selection of ladies merch has also gotten better. We were there to pick up our tickets at 3PM and it was fun to see the vast amount of different shirts from all tours and continents trickling in.

There are always fans travelling to several shows, which definitely helps sweep along the audience in usually more reserved towns *cough*Vienna*cough* and it’s fun when everyone starts to mingle and talk while waiting at the 10C entrance or when the gents loo is declared unisex, because there are more for the gents as for the ladies (really, Stadthalle?!).

If I come off as a card carrying Ten Club member now, that’s because I am. I have been a Pearl Jam fan since ‘Alive’ was released and have yet to be let down by the band or my fellow fans.

I have witnessed forum members on their website pitching in when one of us fell on hard times, needed treatment or in the worst cases for funerals. On a way smaller scale, carpooling abroad or pulling out couches is not unheard of. All without the band’s involvement, just because that’s the kind of people that are attracted by them and what they are doing (part of the ticket sales go to the Vitology foundation btw). As my friend observed, ‘Wow, everyone here really likes each other.’.

If you have never seen Pearl Jam live but like that kind of music: do yourself a favour and try to get tickets. Just remember not to wear socks you are emotionally attached to, they will be knocked off.

In the meantime, have a song from their first Album ‘Ten’ (Black, shot by Blanch222) and the current one ‘Lightning Bolt’ (Sirens, shot by Shanti9) live in Vienna. The full set list is in the picture above.