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HIR Bush, W12

MILLENIAL  LUKE JONES TIRES OF THIS GENDER AGENDA

 

 

There aren’t many issues in life that haven’t been solved, rationalised or  helpfully knocked about by plays. ‘What to do when you lose your identical twin and feel the urge to cross-dress and a random lady falls in love with you’ being one of the trickier knots: Will managed it. But the modern gender revolution, with its own thesaurus and code of conduct, has yet to trouble the mainstream London stage in an effective way.

 

 

So I understand the effort here. But Taylor Mac’s play HIR doesn’t get us any closer to an intelligent, insightful or useful theatrical outing (pun intended). The Bush’s traverse stage is a filthy American house. The aircon is blasting, dirty clothes outnumber visible floor-tiles and Arthur Darvil’s Isaac has returned from war to find his father in a dress (massive stroke), his sister with a beard (transitioning) and his previously beaten-down mum alive with the excitement of gender debate.
Nothing is how he left it. I rubbed my hands ready for a ride through identity, home, belonging, family. I got sitcom. Loud conversation, with little to say.

 

 

Characters have ‘a thing’ and they stick to that. Anything we slowly learn about them (the Dad was horrible, the Mum now humiliates him in his infirmity), just slides off, leaving little impression. And because the characters don’t move, neither does the dialogue. Every conversation fits the formula ‘indignant person explains being transgender to shocked person’. There are occasional laughs (Noah and the Ark being transphobic) but the debate isn’t up to the fight, and the performances are far from fit enough to save it. Arthur Darvil just shouts every line in surprise, Ashley McGuire as the mum delivers speeches as the primary-school explanations they are, and Griffyn Gilligan (Max, Darvill’s transgender sibling) fails to make anything convincing of what should be the most emotionally engaging part.

 

 

It’s clear the playwright is excited by the topic. Rightly so, it’s fertile ground. But for us to care as well, there needs to be some soul, some humanity beneath the debate .

 

 

Box Office: 020 8743 5050 to 22 July
rating: one  Costume design mouse resized

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ROMEO & JULIET Globe, SE1

GUEST REVIEWER CHARLOTTE VALORI SEES ANCIENT GRUDGE BREAK TO NEW MUTINY AT THE GLOBE

The recent spats at the Globe, between the now outgoing Artistic Director Emma Rice and The Powers That Be, have become uncomfortably public of late; they now seem to have spilled onto the stage, and regrettably, made a right mess. The question of sound effects, and sound equipment, was a bone of contention: the result is that Romeo and Juliet barely gets through 15 lines at a time without throbbing universal synths, yearning solo nondescript wailing, or one-size-fits-all dance music blasting (everything blasts, all the time) through the accursed /much-maligned (choose your corner) speakers. Indeed, at the Capulet ball, the entire company go into a fully choreographed version of YMCA, sung in full by Lord Capulet for no discernible reason whatsoever, bar allowing director Daniel Kramer to nick a key idea from Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet: Romeo and Juliet glimpsing each other through partying crowds. There must be less painful ways to achieve it. Worse, each fight scene gets the same aforesaid piece of dance music. The stage reverberates, literally, with an anger which has nothing to do with this play, and perhaps everything to do with bruised egos behind the scenes.

The larger problem with this production, however, is the insincere treatment of the play itself; everything is brash and coarse, overacting is rife, and delivery is loud, shouty and often faux hip-hop: the effect is patronising and alienating, not accessible as presumably intended, provoking misplaced laughs from a giggly tourist audience. Whenever anyone doesn’t seem to understand their lines, Kramer resorts to meaningless erotic bouncing to distract us. Even the fight scenes get dancers – presumably, in case we get bored – and although the programme lauds the fetishisation of violence, the fight choreography wouldn’t convince a tranquilised toddler, as Tybalt points a gun and says “Bang!” at Mercutio. Kramer’s vision of Romeo and Juliet, like his doubtful Tristan und Isolde in 2016, is more vague associative muddle than pioneering synthesis: a loud, incoherent Romeo and Juliet for the emotionally numb ADHD generation. It’s thoroughly disappointing, entirely unmoving, and at times actual agony to witness.

Warheads hang overhead, everyone wears black and revels in facepaint located somewhere between clown makeup and A Clockwork Orange, the Prince is a Big Brother voiceover: all derivative clichés. You can’t tell the difference between Montagues and Capulets unless you know the play really well; if you do, you can play the confetti game. Kramer has decided to reapportion some lines, and splice scenes together: Shakespeare’s script is now confetti. So, Romeo gets the Prince’s final condemnatory speech at the end, which he declaims while executing all the parents, but before he dies. The wedding is spliced into the fight with Tybalt; Tybalt’s death is spliced into Juliet’s waiting soliloquy. This wouldn’t be so bad if it added tension, or illuminated any theme; but it doesn’t. It merely mauls and maims Shakespeare’s flow of ideas.

A very few actors salvage reasonable performances from Kramer’s car crash: Blythe Duff is a genuinely believable and affecting Nurse; Golda Rosheuvel makes a nice Mercutio, with beautiful diction; Kirsty Bushell’s Juliet is appealingly vulnerable in the main, though shrill at times, and not possibly 14. Biggest disasters are the Capulets: Martina Laird just plain irritating as an exceptionally gross, incoherent Lady Capulet, Gareth Snook permanently shouting as Lord Capulet, with the result that we care for neither of them (and mainly just want them off stage fast).

Until 9 July 2017

Box office: +44 (0)20 7902 1400

Rating: one 1 Meece Rating

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NOTMOSES Arts Theatre, WC2

NOTAHIT

 

On the banks of the Nile, the princess of Egypt lifts a Jewish baby from the Nile waters, but changes her mind, chucks him back and chooses a prettier one. The reject survives, is named Notmoses and winds up among the toiling Jewish captives, under a camp, leatherclad slavedriver who enjoys skipping with his whip as they build the Pyramids (“Its a pyramid scheme, we sell them before they’re finished”). The chosen Moses struts around as a Prince of Egypt until God tells him to lead the people to freedom after inflicting seven plagues on the captors, including a rather pleasing shower of frogs. It is, however, Notmoses and his girl Miriam who prove more effective, and who challenge the psychopathic spite and caprice of the Old Testament God, who booms and thunders from the skies and flickers in the Burning Bush.

 

Gary Sinyor, writer-director, acknowledges his debt to Monty Python’s Life of Brian, and it must be said that this play has its heart in the right place, questioning and mocking the more fossilized aspects of religious observance. There are some reasonable gags about dietary and clothing laws and the affinity of Jews and Arabs in the ancient desert. Fine. It is, as Sinyor writes in the programme, hard to imagine a world where Jews don’t laugh at themselves. “the Jews can take a joke only because we have confidence. Where is Jewish humour strongest? In the USA, where the community is more secure in itself than anywhere in the world”.

 

Fine. It could have worked. But it doesn’t, not at full length. A fast-moving, unbroken 85 minutes, culling the worst jokes and polishing the best, could have given it a Reduced-Shakespeare kind of charm, and still made its final point – about rigidity, about conflict, about women. It is an agreeable idea that Miriam has to lead the exodus in a false beard because Moses has Passover matzo constipation. Greg Barnett and Thomas Nelstrop are watchable as the Moseses, Antonia Davies assured as the Pharaoh’s sister-wife; Joe Morrow as the camp slavedriver is fun in a Carry-Onway. But it’s slow, too often juvenile, more like a university freshers’ revue than a professional show. Disappointment creaks through a friendly audience.

 

But – Sinyor being a successful film-maker – I must admit that the projections are very fine – Egyptian scenes, distant labouring slaves, the Nile, the Red Sea. Trouble was taken. More of that trouble should have involved cutting, sharpening and comic timing.

 
box office 0207 836 8463 to 14 May
rating one

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CYRANO DE BERGERAC Royal, Northampton

RHETORICAL ROMANCE…
Ah, Cyrano! Fighter, scholar, poet, maverick: ever since Edmond Rostand’s 1897 play, set in an imagined musketeer-y 17c, he has been an archetype of reckless generosity. Last of the courtly-love serenaders, patron of all unrequited lovers who nobly plead their rival’s cause. No wonder stars from Jacobi to Kevin Kline have been delighted to slap on the rubber conk and do him honour.

Loving Roxane, but cursed with that immense red nose, Cyrano writes divine love-letters for the “comely but dumb” Christian , thus convincing her that her lover has a great soul. Cyrano brokers the marriage, and struggles with his feelings when (somewhat unconvincingly) she declares that the letters are so great she would love Christian for his soul even if he was ugly. He comforts her long widowhood, only to reveal accidentally in his lengthy, delirious, sword-waving death scene that the great soul was him all the time.
The play has become a musical and several versions. but this is the most famous: Anthony Burgess’ translation is partly in verse like the French alexandrine original and, unfortunately for us, is faithful to its extreme Gallic ornamental verbosity. The first hour of the 105-minute first half , despite the side-plot about Ragueneau the provisions man and the envious grandee Ligniere, provides nothing exciting except the ensemble of Gascon cadets in white fencing-gear shouting a lot. The word ‘gruelling’ should not occur to one in a theatre: if director Lorne Campbell irreverently took the Burgess by the horns and did some brisk telescoping, it might not do so.
It is set – play-within-a-play – not as per original in a hotel, but for some reason in a gymnasium where the ensemble put bits of costume over their white fencing-kit to express each part. I can’t say that the gym added anything: if you’re not going naturalistic, black curtains would do as well in such an excessively verbal and often static play. Comedy and feeling both improve, though , as Nigel Barrett’s Cyrano takes Chris Jared’s Christian in hand and dictates every swooning line for him to speak under Roxane’s balcony, saying her name swings like a brazen bell, etc. Christian wins his kiss and betrothal while the big distorted man sits grieving nobly in the shadow. At which point I must say that Barrett is absolutely tremendous in this title role: declamatory and dry by turns, physically commanding, every inch the warrior. No complaints there.
But despite the point well made in the programme about Burgess’ empathy with flawed, gallant extreme mavericks, there is something curiously out of tune about the play: more so than Shakespeare or Sophocles. The courtly-love trope, the idea of convincing a woman of your ‘genius’ by larding on intemperate praise, feels almost insulting even when filtered through French 19c cynical asides. Roxane’s eager demand that Christian’s stumbled “I love you” should be “embroidered with golden tapestries” is downright irritating.
Cyrano’s generosity – as evoked by Barrett – is moving, and the concept of the “panache” betokening his pure soul is well carried. We believe his “I am a tree, not high, not beautiful, but free”. Roxane is chirpily strong-willed and turns up on the very battlefield to join her lover; Cath Whitefield plays her very beguilingly in black tights, and achieves genuine dignity in the final fifteen-years-on scenes in the convent with sick impoverished old Cyrano. But a question kept rising in my head: “Do we need this play, in this style, here and now?” Not convinced.

box office BOX OFFICE 01604 624811 http://www.royalandderngate.co.uk to 25 April
A joint production with Northern Stage; runs in Newcastle from 29 April

rating three 3 Meece Rating

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JOHN Lyttelton, SE1

IN WHICH GUEST CRITIC AND TOP THEATREKITTEN LUKE JONES IS SADLY UNDERWHELMED

 

 

This – created by Lloyd Newson of DV8 physical company – wasn’t quite the piece of dance theatre that had been sold to me. There was quite a bit of writhing around towards the end, but for the most part it was a lot of shuffling with quite dry verbatim dialogue. John follows the story a man with a hefty claim to having the most depressing life story. We start with domestic abuse, shuffle over to promiscuity, then to drugs, obesity, prison, then over to more promiscuity although this time gay. It is given to us as one man’s tale, although it lands as quite a hodgepodge. We rattle through traumas with little to chew over other than basic facts. Some are just casually slipped in – such as the fact that this lean dancer is meant to be 25 stone? Sure.

 

The dance too feels like a stray addition, which slowly sneaks in across the dankly lit revolving stage. At first it is just a lot of poses, twitches and high-concept walking, but its airtime increases and becomes it itself becomes more confusing. A court scene choreographed to manic shuffling or a conversation given from a tumbling ball of limbs. I get it, but is it just making up for the stale dialogue?
However it does have a sly wit which punctures some of the more worthy or strange moments – such as him spending a good 35 minutes of this 75 minute play in a gay sauna for no apparent reason. ‘Credit card fraud – that’s just using someone else’s credit card’ he lists off in a roll call of his crimes. Lloyd Newson has created such a debauched world, that by the time John is out of prison, off drugs and just hanging around in gay saunas for company it seems totally normal.

 

All this would be terribly unwatchable were it not for the excellent turn (shuffle, slide and wiggle) by Hannes Langolf as John. His quiet regional voice brilliantly captures a confused, lost and quite apathetic character in the midst of all this high art. It is a testament to his performance that his dialogue never lost me, despite his flailing arms’ best efforts. But unfortunately this plays like one of those films an art gallery. You could walk in at any time, sit down and watch a bit. There was little arc, nothing to keep me in my seat. It could very well have been on loop and me just passing.

Box Office: 020 7452 3000 to 13 Jan

rating: Two  2 meece rating

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THE COLBY SISTERS OF PITTSBURGH, PENNSYLVANIA – Tricycle Theatre, Kilburn

GUEST REVIEWER LUKE JONES ENDURES GLOSSY EMPTINESS AT THE HANDS OF NEW YORK SOCIALITES

Ever wondered what happens to Disney princesses when they grow up boring? Adam Bock has. His new play, premiering at the Tricycle, sets out with such rich pickings: five immaculate sisters, all varying degrees of gorgeous and at the centre of New York high society. The mind can genuinely boggle at this premise; so much to satirise, explore and comment upon. However, this play opts instead to sit and fester. The only injection of drama is that some of the sisters don’t get on that well; a device which is so laboured over and so uninterestingly dealt with that one of the characters takes the initiative and shoots herself. A shocking relief.

Although the play is vaguely threaded around the marital breakdown and eventual suicide of one of the sisters (Patricia Potter), the main bulk of the action concerns a series of extremely flat scenes. At one point they are trying on dresses for the Gala, then they go to the Gala, then they mourn the death of the sister who shot herself at the Gala, then they play tennis. Obviously.

This absolute fluff (not condescendingly satirised, but positively indulged in) is decorated with inane conversation desperately trying to buy subtext. ‘It’s so tiresome not having money,’ Willow sighs, whilst Mouse (these are their actual names) shares that her new boyfriend is a ‘barista, whatever that is. I think it’s some kind of lawyer for the poor’. The entire text is a loathsome cliché with nothing going on underneath. Paparazzi are following them, most of them are extremely wealthy, one has a PA, yet none of it is explained. The poor, poor actors have nothing to get their teeth into and only Claire Forlani (as Willow) manages to scrape together anything interesting as the victim of the others’ snobbery.

The dialogue – a flick switch between dull conversation and raging argument – is exceptionally poor and verging on offensive. We laugh at Made in Chelsea and Keeping Up With The Kardashians because they know it is meaningless distraction, and to some extent play up to that, whereas this production approaches essentially the same group of people but with a worthiness and self assurance that it is something more.

‘Nobody knows us. They think they do. But they don’t,’ Mouse says at the very end of the play, as the three remaining sisters prepare to strut out into the gaggle of photographers. I am here to testify that there is nothing to know. And if there is, this play doesn’t have a clue either.

– LUKE JONES

Rating: One 1 Meece Rating

At the Tricycle Theatre until 26 July. Box Office: 020 7328 1000

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