Sunday, May 31, 2009

Theatre: Grasses of A Thousand Colours

Saturday morning over breakfast, we were discussing how it was possible to have sex with a cat. There was a general consensus at the table that it would be quite difficult as unlike a cow, a goat (Silvia perhaps), or a big dog, a cat would have other ideas. I hypothesised that perhaps the cat could be used like some sort of muff. Such was the fascinating conversation that ensued after seeing Grasses of A Thousand Colours at the Royal Court on Friday evening.

This play is part of the Wallace Shawn season at the Royal Court, and is a world premiere featuring Miranda Richardson, Jennifer Tilly and Shawn himself. Shawn plays a scientist who has managed to manipulate the food chain with rather surprising results. In amongst all that he has three women in his life and sex with a cat that ends up bruising his penis (or giving it a funny colour at least).

Most of the story unfolds through a series on monologues. A series of monologues that lasted nearly three hours with only two ten minute intervals. It was the first play that I had been to that comes with instructions as well. Sitting down to dinner at the theatre beforehand (something low in carbs is necessary to avoid falling asleep), you were strongly encouraged to order your interval drinks right there as the intervals would be brief. I was wondering whether this contempt for the audience was part of the experience of the play. Naturally being presented with such recommendations I ignored them, although with hindsight making time for coffee during the brief intermissions might have been a smarter choice.

It could have been worse I suppose. A month or so back I received a worrying email from the theatre saying the play was going well over three hours and that you better not be expecting to get the last train home. Of course there always was the easy (and quite popular option if Friday night is anything to go by) of skipping the third act altogether. It was during the second act when the cat sex entered the story so perhaps these people were dog lovers. Still, as fascinating and rewarding as it was to see Miranda Richardson lick Shawn's bald head and Jennifer Tilly in her underwear, those people that missed these and other things in the third act, didn't really miss that much.

Monologues are interesting stuff when they are witty and unusual and have a new point to make but when it is just relentless cat sex it does just become a bit of a drag. My mind started wandering to thinking about the cat I used to torment when I was growing up that met a gruesome end from other cats in our neighbourhood. Or the cat that was nearly eaten by a friend's dog. Then there was the cat that ate the garlic prawns about to be served at dinner... It was only when the dialogue between the characters started happening in the third act that I snapped back into attention.

If the night was warmer and the play was duller I definitely would have left at the end of act two. Well summer is here and the pubs stay open longer now. Life is just too short to sit through something that could have been edited. But given the quality of the cast and the fact that the production was not that bad, curiosity did get the better of me. There was general agreement that the cast made it almost worth hanging around to see, but coffee would be advisable. All things being equal, it is probably worth seeing, but beware of the conversations that might ensue the morning after... It runs until the end of June...

Friday, May 29, 2009

Theatre: The Cherry Orchard

Thanks to the West End Whingers, I had long held a ticket to Tuesday night's preview of The Cherry Orchard. This was a show that Time Out listed this week as the one thing you should go and see. I always have relied on friends, bloggers or just passing people on the street to be slightly fashionable and this was no exception. I was lucky too as the play turned out to be a real treat.

Confusingly however, I had the play in my diary as the Bridge Project. Well that is the name of the co-production between the Old Vic, the Brooklyn Academy of Music and Neal Street Productions, under the direction of Sam Mendes. The acting troupe including Simon Russell Beale, Ethan Hawke and Rebecca Hall will perform Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard and Shakespeare's The Winters Tale at the Old Vic over the summer here before continuing to various other locations around the world for the next two years. It has been described as a new model for theatrical productions , which hopefully does not turn out to be some sort of enslavement for actors. Afterall the works they are performing are not exactly light fare.

Having not seen Chekhov's play before, I found it all rather fascinating. There was something very appealing and topical about a play where unpaid mortgages and changing times were at the heart of the drama. The comedy of this play (if you believe the notes and other reviews) has been heightened and the long soliloquies many of the characters have to deliver were all rather imaginatively staged and delivered.

Of course it helped having Feigned Mischief sit beside me. As more than just a casual fan of Simon Russell Beale, she took enjoyment of the play to a whole new level. I wasn't too sure if she cared so much about Chekhov, but she was focussed on Simon's part. Actually I didn't mention it to her, but in a way I could appreciate what she likes about Simon. He he is a bit grrr woof (if you like that sort of thing). All of London who reads the Saturday Times have some idea of Feigned Mischief's devotion to SRB as well. She informed me that she is going quite a few more times to see both plays in the Bridge Project so your chances of seeing her at the Old Vic are probably quite good... But then again even if you're not sitting next to a Simon Russell Beale stalker, it is still worth a look...

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Hot news this week in London...

Headline News, originally uploaded by SteveM51.

The third tube baby in history... Ew...

Friday, May 22, 2009

Hot news this week in London

The invasion of the gnomes starts in Chelsea...

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Theatre: Madame De Sade

Maybe after watching Angels and Demons on Friday, I was in the mood for something with a little less action, fewer explosions and better dialogue; but I actually enjoyed watching the Saturday matinee performance of Madame De Sade. The play, which is nearing the end of its run, has had largely negative reviews in The Times and The Telegraph (and luke warm reviews in the Guardian and Evening Standard).

The review in the Telegraph prompted Dame Judi Dench to describe the Telegraph's critic as an absolute s---. Well to be fair to both, the quality of theatre criticism in London is dire, and this will probably not be the most memorable of Dench's performances on stage (as she mostly has to move between being outraged, cunning and just over it all). However all that being said, there is much to go for the play, particularly the quality of the acting, the fabulous costumes, wigs, lighting and set.

I had been forewarned that the action takes place off stage and the drama unfolds by the conversations and perspectives of the cast on stage, so I came prepared for a long afternoon. I had also gathered that that playwright Yukio Mishima's fascination with differing ideals of morality also annoyed the hell out of people. Perhaps in this day and age there is nothing so shocking about what the Marquis De Sade got up to. But if you bear that all in mind what you have is a simple story that is elevated to an engaging afternoon (or evening) of drama. Perhaps a month after the opening night and those ambivalent reviews the actors have managed to make the most of this unusual work too.

There were plenty of squirms in the audience when some of the acts of the Marquis De Sade were described in rather vivid and graphic detail. Scanning across the audience, I could see many men with their legs crossed and their hands in their crotches... Now that is the hallmark of a good play. If only they had copies of the Marquis De Sade's books on sale in the foyer to enable we patrons to take home some of the drama...

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Theatre Revisit: La Cage Aux Folles

Sometimes it is good not to be the first to see some things. In the case of the first preview of La Cage Aux Folles I saw in November 2007 it was hard to tell what would become of it. Particularly since many technical problems (like curtains not coming up and so forth), made it hard to watch. Well last year it transferred to the West End and became one of the big hits of 2008. Having finally caught it in a proper theatre it is easy to see its appeal. Some updated observations:

It is a family musical (of sorts) and the enjoyment of the show probably depends on how much you believe the performances by the two male leads. In this case, the run now has Roger Allam and Philip Quast in the lead roles and they can come up with the goods. Within moments from when they appeared on stage and started arguing you could believe that they were a couple who had been living together for over twenty years.

The group I was with were initially disappointed that Graham Norton had finished his run, but by the end of the show were glad they saw real actors and singers, even if there wasn't the novelty and curiosity factor of such stunt-casting.

The musical is still quite long, but the performances of this cast (particularly Allam), will make you overlook the fact that you don't get to intermission until around 9pm. The dancing is still scary but I was sitting back enough not to be intimidated by it (or by Quast's ad libs with the front row tables).

The music ranges from the sublime to the sub prime, and while it doesn't have a big dazzling bus and a deafening soundtrack like in Priscilla, it has a lot more heart. A show definitely worth another look. Good tickets are available at the usual outlets such as the Official London Theatre TKTS booth...

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Hot news this week in London

img_0893, originally uploaded by Paul-in-London.

The slow and overly detailed drip of news about MPs expenses continues... Well at least the headlines are sort of entertaining...

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Hot news this week in London...

Or rather... Something for everybody in Stoke Newington...