Shoot from the Hip’s Improv Jams and Workshops, London (HT: WP).
On Friday, I was privileged to see a final dress rehearsal of King’s Shakespeare Company’s production of Measure for Measure. Performed as a cabaret, the production is set in Weimar Germany, and the songs make this a production to remember. They are fast, witty, tuneful and memorable expressions of the interior lives of the main characters, and they add a depth of meaning to a play which is otherwise confusing. It is impressive how much intellectual heft and coherence the cabaret setting gives to the play.
The production is directed by Lauren O’Hara, with music by Henry Keynes Carpenter, and the cast includes: Rhia Abbott, Henry Keynes Carpenter, Hannah Elsy, Freddie Fullerton, Serena Grasso, William Holyhead, and Rupert Sadler. The production is only on for five nights, tomorrow Monday 21 July to Friday 25 July 2014, at the Bierkeller in Bristol. Go see it if you are anywhere nearby.
Lucy Corley has a review here.
The actor Richard Burton famously played Hamlet at the Old Vic in 1953. The following story is from a profile of Burton written by journalist John McPhee in 1963 for Time Magazine, and recounted in the current New Yorker (“Elicitation”, 7 April 2014, p.57):
He [Burton] had completed about 60 performances and the box office was beginning to slide when the house manager came to his dressing room one evening and said, “Be especially good tonight. The old man’s out front.”
“What old man?”
“He comes once a year,” said the house manager. “He stays for one act and he leaves.”
“For God’s sake, what old man?”
As Burton spoke his first line – “A little more than kin, and less than kind” – he was startled to hear deep identical mutterings from the front row. Churchill continued to follow him line for line, a dramaturgical beagle, his face a thunderhead when something had been cut. “I tried to shake him off,” remembers Burton. “I went fast and I went slow, but he was right there.” Churchill was right there to the end, in fact, when Burton took 18 curtain calls and Churchill told a reporter that “it was as exciting and virile a performance of Hamlet as I can remember.” Years later, when Winston Churchill – The Valiant Years was under preparation for television, its producers asked Sir Winston who he thought should do the voice of Churchill. “Get that boy from the Old Vic,” said the old man.
They got that boy from the Old Vic.
When a group of people jointly undergo an intensely searing experience, especially one where they face a mortal enemy or opponent, a bond is created between the participants that outsiders can find hard to penetrate or even to understand. Soldiers in battle, for example, often experience this, as good novels and films have long shown.
Last night, the audience at a King’s Players’ production in London had such an experience, and we will remember for the rest of our lives the courage and fortitude, resilience and – yes, dammit! – just plain, old-fashioned grit we all showed in the face of great odds. Nobody left, nobody laughed out loud, nobody became an alcoholic, nobody set off the fire alarm to bring this cruel and unusual torment to an end. During the quiet patches, those long dark nights of the soul, our focus on survival was so intense that the only sound you could hear was the swiveling of eyes.
Our first enemy was the play itself, Trojan Barbie, by Christine Evans. What an appalling piece of radfem agitprop! The writing is surely a parody of feminism, not intended to be serious, written as if by a teenager discovering poetry for the first time. The male characters are all evil rapists and thugs, and the women are either harlots or mad. Even the everywoman character Lotte is dotty. Not a single character appears real or embodied, a normal human being. No one grapples with the actual moral dilemmas of war, no one weighs pros and cons of different courses of action, not even in dialogue with one another. What plot there is is too ridiculous to be described, but involves unexplained time travel between ancient Troy and the present-day, with scenes set in doll repair shops, Mediterranean street cafes, refugee camps, battlefields, and the odd zoo. You couldn’t make it up if you tried.
Our second enemy, colluding with the first, were the cast and crew. Given the flaws of the script, one can only sympathize with actors having to make something of this. But why would anyone even try? Life is too short to waste it on such dross. And if, for some reason, you had to try, why not do it well? Why act badly? Why run around like a horse? Why impersonate Che Guevara and Zsa Zsa Gabor? Honestly, the only person missing from the production was Carmen Miranda with her hat made of fruit – although, there was in fact a samba. What was that doing there?
And the set! It included the world’s largest collection of Barbie Dolls, a massive pink cellophone heart, and the odd tiger. What normal person could possibly imagine that a large stuffed animal, a children’s toy, would convince us we are in a zoo? At first I thought it was intended as a visual metaphor for something else, something profound, perhaps a subtle reference to well-known war poet William Blake. (“Tyger! Tyger! Burning bright, In the forests of the Night.”) But No: the stuffed tiger behind a cage on stage was intended to be what is was: a tiger in a zoo. It roared through the sound-system, and it magically moved between scenes, sometimes lolling this way, and sometimes that. I have to say its acting was perhaps the most realistic of the evening, and I’m sure the tiger’s agent will be fielding many calls this morning.
No one would be converted to the merits of feminism by seeing this play, and lots of people would be deconverted. But that’s the usual way with agitprop: if you preach only to the choir, you lose the rest of the congregation. But of course, as with all agitprop, the preaching is not aimed at converting anyone, it’s aimed at making the preachers feel good about themselves. Shame about the poor audience, but.
However, we did make it through, we survived to the end without a single casualty. True, we lost two hours of our life that will never be regained. But we saw what we were all capable of under extreme pressure, we showed grace under fire, and we stood by each other right to the end. Being under fire together has made us life-long comrades, and at the annual reunions we survivors will no doubt tell and retell our stories of the time we fought Trojan Barbie, like the Band of Brothers that we now are.
Message to Homer: Your position as Trojan War historian is safe. No need to call your office.
PS (2014-04-06): Another review is here. “The stuffed animal representing the tiger was a bit unnecessary”
Police report of “Romeo and Juliet” Confidence Scam:
Location of crime: Upstairs Foyer, Greenwood Theatre, Guy’s Campus, King’s College London.
Date of crime: Evenings of 5th, 6th, 7th February 2014. The crime may also have been “rehearsed” before these dates on unwitting spectators.
Financial sponsors: A group calling itself King’s College London English Literary Society.
Nature of crime: Deconstruction of playwright’s text without single reference to post-colonial or feminist perspectives. Co-conspirator “The Friar” tore out pages of “Romeo and Juliet” text to manifest true nature of crime.
Key victims: William Shakespeare, women.
Perpetrator: Unknown. Calls himself “The Director”. Identity: Elusive. Real identity unknown. May use pseudonyms: W. Nash, Rookie Monster, DPR, Edward Snowden.
Known Co-conspirators: Marcus “The Friar” Bazley, Hillary “The Counsellor” Chua, Laura “Juliet” Deering, Jackie “Lady Capulet” Edwards, Matthew “Romeo” Hodson. Others involved in supporting the scam thought to be: Catherine Walters, Elena Gillies, Emma Lawrence, Aja Garrod, Aggi Cantril, Sophie Omar, and Kate Gardener. Notes found at crime scene indicate others may also have assisted, almost certainly without realizing the consequences.
Modus Operandi: Perp takes out-of-copyright play text, reducing number of characters, even using unwitting mark in audience to play role in deception. Play cut down and cut up, and done as crime scene investigation, with scenes “reconstructed” by “actors”. Legal counsel present to narrate events and give illusion of objectivity.
Perp uses intelligence and wit to produce amusing, clever, and sophisticated version of play, which is used as a “script” that is then executed (“performed”) by co-conspirators in front of marks. Performance of script of professional standard, and very realistic. Thus, marks easily deceived and soon suspend disbelief. Only one of the known co-conspirators is believed to actually make his living in theatre. Remaining co-conspirators possibly being groomed.
Co-conspirators take on “roles” to execute script. Thus, “The Friar” is a Cockney ex-junkie offering life advice to the other conspirators, along with marriage ceremonies and store-and-forward messaging services; “Romeo” is a lovestruck young man, writing dreamily in his Moleskine; “Lady Capulet” is a tyrant of the household interior, a dictator of the domestic. The different “roles” cleverly interleave, and jointly enable confidence scam. Indeed, witnesses report that the acting was so intense that it approached the threshold of caricature, but without ever crossing that threshold, making the performances thrilling to watch. Co-conspirators all appear to be under direct influence of Perp.
Co-conspirators use a variety of names, including real names, to confuse audience about when co-conspirators are “acting” in their “roles”, and when not. Humour and wit used to distract attention of audience from reconstruction of double suicide, following madness of young love, set amongst inter-gang warfare in inner-city Italy.
Toying with nature of “acting” indicates this is crime of real sophistication by people with extensive experience in deception and illusion. Perp and co-conspirators may have worked in Elizabethan theatre before. Crime shows many hallmarks of two known literary deceivers and wits with Elizabethan previous, Thomas Nashe and Kit Marlowe. Neither likely involved: Nashe believed deceased, Marlowe either deceased (Deptford Regional Office view) or living in exile in Italy.
Production involves post-coitus scene, drugs, violence, suicide, and death. No rock and roll, but. One person injured by vicious slap. Music deployed very effectively to “set the scene” and relax audience in preparation for confidence scam, and at various times during the operation to manipulate emotions of marks.
Use of Barber’s Adagio for Strings obviously intended as subtle allusion to FDR’s funeral and Oliver Stone’s film about Vietnam. This double allusion should allay concerns of English Department about absence of references to post-colonial oppression and the wickedness of US global hegemony, as well as providing a warm glow of self-satisfaction to the one person who caught the allusions.
Related scams: West Side Story, High School Musical.
Known beneficiaries of scam:
- Perp and co-conspirators
- KCL English Literary Society
- Greenwood Theatre
- King’s College London
- The Horseshoe Inn, Melior Street, London
- The London theatre world
- The audience.
Progress of investigation: Police seeking the 132 witnesses to garner further information.
Public warning: These people are armed with professional acting skills and are very dangerous. Perp may be serial dramaturge, intent on career in intelligent theatre or deception. Co-conspirators capable of superb acting at the highest level.
Deptford Regional Office reports rumour that next confidence scam may take place in Copenhagen.
Conspirators also believed to hold raucous after-play parties to celebrate success of scam, involving alcohol, tobacco, witty conversation, and profound arguments about the existence of God and the nature of relationships. Kit Marlowe would feel at home. US State Department Advisory: Americans visiting London particularly at risk.
Note: Potential side-effects of scam include reviews written as police-reports, pretentiously imitating style of the production itself.
Having created lists of concerts I have attended, bands I have heard, galleries I have visited, etc, I overlooked theatre and dance productions I have seen. Herewith a list, sometimes annotated, to be updated as and when I remember additional events.
- Goethe and Christiane performed by One Night Stand Productions and eurus ops theatre company, written and directed by Joseph Prestwich, at the Bread and Roses Theatre, Clapham, South London, on Saturday 26 August 2017. This was an interesting and amusing new play based on Goethe’s life and his engagement with Italy. The staging and acting were both excellent. Webpage here.
- Henry V by Cyphers Theatre Company at The Proud Achivist, on Sunday 25 October 2015, the 600th Anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt. Directed by Marcus Bazley, and starring Paul Anthony, Carmella Brown, William Holyhead, Dylan Lincoln, Rupert Sadler and Louise Wilcox. As before, this is an exciting and energetic production, and was again superbly acted. One had to fight hard to ignore the leaking sound of the fine ragtime and blues pianist in the bar outside.
- A Midsummer Night’s Dream, at Tutu’s, King’s College London, 23-25 March 2015, directed by Luke James Boneham, and starring Joe Prestwich, Grace Farrell, Ally McDermott, Rosalia Mythos-Perris, Tom Marsh, Ben Dallyn, Emily Brown, Travis Alabanza, George Collecott, Akshay Sharan, Ioana Andrei, Aurelie Blanc and Jackie Edwards. This was a very good production. I particularly liked the detailed choreography of fast-paced, witty movement in the scene where Lysander (Tom Marsh) and Demetrius (Ben Dallyn) were both besotted with Helena (Emily Brown). Not sure if this choreography was planned and directed or was improvised by the actors – in either case, it was very good.
- Proof, a play David Auburn, at Tutu’s, King’s College London, March 2015, directed by Mathew Hodson and supported by the Faculty of Natural and Mathematical Sciences of King’s College London.
- Great Expectations, at The Proud Achivist, February 2015, in a Cyphers Theatre Company production, directed by Marcus Bazley, and starring Chris Anderton, Victoria Hamblen, William Holyhead, Dylan Lincoln and Rupert Sadler (as Pip). Another superb production from this ensemble – fast, frenetic, fluent, folksy, feisty and fun.
- Heels of Glory: A Drag Action Musical, by Tricity Vogue (writer) and Richard Link (composer), directed by Stephen Heatley, at Chelsea Theatre, London, January 2015. Some good music, and the henchpersons were choreographed well. But lyrics and words and comedy and plot and singing and acting and lighting could all do with some more work. OTOH, perhaps best to ignore my comments, as I’ve never really got drag.
- Great Britain, National Theatre production of play by Richard Bean, directed by Nicholas Hytner, at the Theatre Royal, Haymarket, 29 December 2014. I lasted just the first half, and would have left earlier if I could have done so without disturbing anyone. Not at all funny – there were perhaps just three mildly-amusing one-liners, none of them particularly witty or satirical, in the first half. Lots of swearing and explicit sexual innuendo (both verbal and physical), which I assume was intended to be funny. But who laughs at swear words and extreme male chauvinist displays of sexist insults these days? Who ever did, come to that? (In my entire life, I have never met anyone who laughed at Benny Hill, for instance, which may only show what sheltered upbringings modern Australians have.)The script had the feel of something written by someone in late middle age, trying his hardest to be down and dirty with the kids – and missing it completely. As an example: Why was the Police Commissioner’s secret gay lover half-Chinese and half-Welsh? I imagine such specific detail was intended to be funny. But it wasn’t funny, and no one laughed at it. Nothing was done with this detail (at least in the first half), so why was it there at all? It was as funny as saying he was half-Welsh and an architect, ie, not at all. Perhaps it would be funny to people who don’t know any Chinese people or any Welsh people, or people who don’t live in modern Britain. Perhaps Benny Hill would have found it funny.The actors did their best with a script that should have gone straight from paper factory to wrapping fish-and-chips. I have known a dozen people wittier everyday, all the time, than anything I heard here, and encounter similar people frequently. The average stranger in a British post office queue is funnier. And they do not have the luxury of writing their words in advance.Perhaps the play was funnier on another night, the night the critics went. Or perhaps I just wasn’t in the target demographic, since I was expecting to see clever political satire and sharp wit, rather than f-words, unfunny d-jokes, and stale, ham-fisted political commentary. However, no one around me was laughing either, so there must have been a lot of us from that wrong demographic there.
- King Lear, at the Greenwood Theatre, by the King’s Shakespeare Company, directed by Freddie Fullerton, produced by Aja Garrod and Serena Grasso, and starring Steffan Rizzi (Lear), Lydia Fleming (Goneril), Bex Evans (Regan), Juliet Wallace (Cordelia), Matthew Aldridge (Gloucestor), Rupert Sadler (Edgar), Magnus Gordon (Edmund), Joe Prestwich (Fool), Tom Marsh (Kent), Benjy Cox (Albany), Will Holyhead (Cornwall/Old Man/Captain), George Colecot (Oswald/Burgundy), Andrew Marks (France/Knight/Servant/Messenger), Ally McDermott (Curan/Knight/Servant/Gentleman), and (as Knights) Marcus Bell, Charlotte Downes, Liam Flaherty, Ollie Harrison, Nessa Khurram, Mattho Mandersloot, Zack McGuinness, Holly Nicholls, and Tallulah Smart. This was a monumental production, intelligent, violent, and morally serious. December 2014.
- Romeo and Juliet, by London Theatre Workshop, The Eel Brook, Fulham. Audience only a few more than cast, sadly. Some inspired performances, but felt like the troupe were still finding their feet with the play. Perhaps would have been better later in the run. Hard to discern what this production was for. Why another production of R&J? Why now? Why this way? A lot of knives, unnerving to those of us awake in the front row.
- Henry V, at The Proud Achivist, October 2014, in a co-production of Cyphers Theatre Company and King’s Shakespeare Company, directed by Marcus Bazley, and starring Chris Anderton, Victoria Hamblen, William Holyhead, Dylan Lincoln, and Rupert Sadler. This was a very impressive production, of high professional standard. Who wouldn’t want to be an actor, when you get to run around in public like this, shouting and fighting? A superb production, fast-paced, clever, and witty. All the sound effects – seagulls, sailing ships, war drums, swells – were produced by the actors themselves, and transported us instantly. The costumes were cleverly and subtly colour-coded so that we could tell French from English characters played by doubling actors. Some nice public participation, such as asking audience members to donate coins for the welfare of incognito Henry’s soldier challenger. And some clever improv by Will Holyhead when an audience member handed him a kangaroo-laden Australian dollar coin. Who wouldn’t want to be an actor, when you get to engage in banter like this?
- Blackshaw Theatre New Writing Night, 30 September 2014, Horse and Stables Pub, Waterloo, London. Five very good items tonight, especially Luca Vigano’s short play about a hit-man commissioned to kill his client, Slice of Death, directed by Stephen Bailey and starring Annie McKenzie and Oscar Porter Brentford.
- Teh Internet is Serious Business, play about Anonymous and LulzSec by Tim Price, at the Royal Court Theatre downstairs, Sloane Square, London, 23 September 2014 (press night). I recommend the play very highly. As someone remarked afterwards, there can be few plays around that present C++ code through the medium of interpretative dance. The play is fast, kaleidoscopic, witty, and visceral, and some scenes are very funny. I think there are many possible explanations for the actions and evolution of Anonymous, and the play essentially presents just one narrative. The one it presents is plausible, however. It is also good in capturing the specific personalities and motivations of some of the LulzSec members, particularly Tflow and Topiary.
- Solo for Two, Natalia Osipova and Ivan Vasiliev, London Coliseum, London, August 2014.
- Blackshaw Theatre New Writing Night, 29 July 2014, Horse and Stables Pub, Waterloo, London. Of the events featured this night, only Gravy, written by Harold Kimmel and directed by Christian Durham, was worth writing home about: this presented a very funny NYPD investigation of the crime scene that ends Hamlet, with the Ghost and Horatio called in for questioning over the multiple murders, incest, and various perversions discovered.
- Gulf, performed by Pivot Theatre Company, written by Jeff Scott and Alister MacQuarrie, directed by Charlie Kenber with music by Patrick Sale, at Camden People’s Theatre, London, July 2014. The play explored relationships between a mother and her teenage daughter, the daughter and her school headmaster, the mother and her colleagues and a psychiatrist, and issues of pedophilia, teenage sex, and the internet. I found the play confusing, especially with actors switching roles apparently randomly, and lots of scenes made no clear sense. Perhaps the play was about too many issues and too many relationships to be adequately covered in the time. I liked the music, as music, but not sure it worked with the play.
- Measure for Measure in Cabaret, by King’s Shakespeare Company, directed by Lauren O’Hara and music by Henry Keynes Carpenter, final dress rehearsal, London, July 2014, prior to participation in the Bristol BardFest.
- London Student Drama Festival 2014, Teatro Technis, Camden, London, 21 June 2014. Five short plays: 12″; Honestly (both Imperial College); The Parting Glass (UCL); Lizards (SOAS); Guilty Parties (KCL). Best by far was the KCL entry, very funny and well acted, written by Alister MacQuarrie, who rightly won Best Writer award for second year running. SOAS entry was workshopped and showed it; could have done with more work. UCL play was an Oirish drama about The Troubles – oh so serious, so overdone, its conclusions telegraphed ahead of time, with melodramatic acting, cod accents, two anti-minimalist sets leaving nothing to our imaginations, an upright piano, and enough actors for a Cecil B. De Mille epic, including even a 5-person Celtic band on stage: Holy Mother of Mercy was this awful! For reasons unknown, this insult to those of us of Irish descent won award for best entry. And speaking as indeed such a person, why must any Irish drama be accompanied by Celtic folk music, as if Irish people can’t appreciate any other type of music? Has no one heard of John Field, James Galway, or the Vanbrugh Quartet? Even The Messiah had its first performance in Dublin! Five centuries of English condescension towards Ireland embodied in one folk band onstage tonight.
- Another Country, by Julian Mitchell, directed by Jeremy Herrin, at Trafalgar Studios, Whitehall, London, June 2014. A superb production of a play which imagines what events in an English public school in the 1920s might have led the Cambridge 5 to betray their country. Rob Callender superb as the young Guy Burgess: authentic, spirited, leopardesque, riveting.
- Blackshaw Theatre New Writing Night, 27 May 2014, Horse and Stables Pub, Waterloo, London.
- Trojan Barbie, by Christine Evans, by the King’s Players, King’s College London, under Holly Robinson (director) and Dan Bird (producer), in Tutu’s, KCLSU, Temple, London, March 2014. Without question, one of the worst live performances I have had the misfortune to witness.
- Copenhagen, by Michael Frayn, performed by Ria Abbott (Margrethe Bohr), Freddie Fullerton (Niels Bohr) and Tom Marsh (Werner Heisenberg), under Alister MacQuarrie (director), Aja Garrod (producer), and William Nash (executive producer) in the Old Anatomy Museum, King’s College London, Strand, March 2014. Superbly acted and directed, this was theatre of a high professional standard, equal to any I have seen. Another review is here.
- Romeo and Juliet, by King’s College London English Literary Society, under W. Nash (director), at the Greenwood Theatre, London, February 2014. An innovative, witty, and funny treatment, superbly acted.
- The Tempest, by King’s Shakespeare Company, under Hannah Elsy (director) and Aja Garrod (producer), at The Rag Factory, Heneage Street, Brick Lane, London, December 2013. Outstanding performances by Imogen Free (Ariel) and Max Funcheon-Dinnen (Stephano). The modern touches worked very well, and brought the play alive. Was a full house.
- The Magic Flute, by English National Opera, directed by Simon McBurney, London, December 2013. As always with this director, there were some stunning visual effects, for instance, the shoals of actors representing birds, each fluttering folded paper to produce a rustling sound.
- Marlowe’s Edward II, by The National Theatre, London, October 2013.
- Richard II, starring Eddie Redmayne and directed by Michael Grandage, at the Donmar Warehouse, London, December 2011.
- Hamlet, by Schaubuhne Berlin, at the Barbican Theatre, London, December 2011.
- Marlowe’s Dr Faustus, Liverpool, 2004.
- The Elephant Vanishes, by Theatre de Complicite, Lincoln Centre, New York, June 2004.
- Hamlet, by Calixto Bieito, in Birmingham, September 2003.
Belately, I want to record a play seen at the headquarters of The Royal Society in London last month, Let Newton Be, written by Craig Baxter, but using only Isaac Newton’s own words. The play was interesting although the energy of the play sagged at times, particularly in the first half. The story only barely mentioned Newton’s interest in alchemy, and seemed to overlook his brutal, deadly campaigns against money forgers later in life (or did I nap through that scene?)
The play comprised three actors, two men and a woman, who played Newton at different ages – as a child, as a young-ish Cambridge academic, and as an old man. As a work of drama, the conceit worked well, although it was best when one of the actors was playing another person interacting with Newton (eg, Halley, and later Leibniz, who spoke in an amusing cod-German accent). Perhaps the real Newton was not sufficiently schizoid for three actors to play him, at least not when constrained to only use the man’s written words. As I have remarked before, Newton’s personality was all of a piece: it is only modern westerners who cannot imagine a religious motivation for activities such as scientific research, for example, or who find alchemy and calculus incoherent.
The performance was followed by a panel discussion by the Great and the Good – two historians and two scientists. One of the scientists was the Astronomer Royal, Sir Martin Rees, who has subsequently won this year’s Templeton Prize for Science and Religion. The discussion was interesting, so it is a pity it was not recorded for posterity.
A review of another play about a member of the matherati, Kurt Godel, is here.
Last night, I caught a new Australian play derived from the life of logician Kurt Godel, called Incompleteness. The play is by playwright Steven Schiller and actor Steven Phillips, and was peformed at Melbourne’s famous experimental theatrespace, La Mama, in Carlton. Both script and performance were superb: Congratulations to both playwright and actor, and to all involved in the production.
Godel was famous for having kept every piece of paper he’d ever encountered, and the set design (pictured here) included many file storage boxes. Some of these were arranged in a checkerboard pattern on the floor, with gaps between them. As the Godel character (Phillips) tried to prove something, he took successive steps along diagonal and zigzag paths through this pattern, sometimes retracing his steps when potential chains of reasoning did not succeed. This was the best artistic representation I have seen of the process of attempting to do mathematical proof: Imre Lakatos’ philosophy of mathematics made theatrical flesh.
The photograph of the La Mama billboard is from Paola’s site.