Category Archives: Three Mice

OBSESSION Barbican, EC2

VAN HOVE, VISCONTI, AND OUR JUDE

 

London is  getting used to Ivo van Hove of Toneelgroep Amsterdam. But his tremendous A View from The Bridge (in a bleak arena)  and his striking NT Hedda (in a bleak white room) were written as plays: whereas one of his great tastes  as a director is adapting film screenplays. Not of the bubblegum family-fun variety, perish the thought: he best likes Visconti. Though the plays are made without re- watching or copying the original’s look and interpretation: rather his idea is to go right back to the screenplay and suck out the essence of it. If tonight is anything to go by, he is actually better with the comparative discipline enforced by stage plays.

 
But play or movie, the van Hove trademark fascination is with pressure. Put humans under increasing emotional stress and watch them wince, resist, dent and finally blow up: Eddie Carbone with a knife, Hedda with a gun. Here it’s Gino with a lorry,   plus a rubbish-hurling rage from his illicit lover Hanna. The various crises are accompanied by  exceedingly loud – and I fear rather clunkingly  obvious – music: Traviata for forbidden love, hard-rock for a brawl, French chanson for Hannah  throwing dustbins around, Woody Guthrie for Gino running away. Plus a lot of random sinister  angel choirs and some ominous silences. Especially early on, when distant cats miaow and Joseph (Gijs Scholten van Aschat) goes out and shoots them seven times. With all this racket, it is as well that the cast are heavily miked.

 
This tale, a  timeless one , requires the drifter Gino, an impoverished ex-soldier,  to be as the press release promises  “powerful and graceful as a puma”. So that’s a case for casting Jude Law, and puma-like indeed  he is.   Add a bored young wife in a rough roadhouse, a choleric older husband who takes Gino in to mend his lorry, and we are set for  passion and murder , remorse and disillusion and  classic betrayal and the whole stage suddenly turning into a lot of crashing waves of doom. Projections remind us of its film origins more than once: not least the remarkably sensual giant close-ups  of the skin-on-skin moments.

 
True to form, van Hove attempts no period or Italian  setting, but in the great bleak stage gives us a  block bar counter, a treadmill insert for Gino to keep trying to run away on, and a bath for Hannah to strip off into, and for the men to shave at in a combative manner. Oh, and  hanging overhead, ready to emit sparks, deafening engine noises and a cataclysmic oil leak , there’s a whole lorry engine which travels up and down on wires. Looming over them. The lorry is in the plot, but one darkly suspects that its suspension overhead has something symbolic to do with Sophoclean nemesis.
 
Halina Reijn is good as the tempestuous, changeably cautious love object, and van Aschat as Joseph convincingly patronises his wife and  belts out the Di Provenza bass aria from La Traviata shortly before getting lorry-murdered.   An  unusually helpful corpse, he then has to mop up the oil-leak mess while the guilty pair scrub one anothers’ beautiful backs. I think that’s symbolic too.

 
But to be honest, for all the aesthetics, the sustained Van-Hovery is as tiresome as it is inventive. So the 105-minute evening stands or falls on Jude Law alone. Fortunately, he is magnificent, and somehow snatches from the overweening directorial pretensions a genuinely felt performance of young Gino’s passion, poverty, damaged emotional confusion, baffled remorse and mournful yearning for the simplicities of the road. From his first seductive swaggering entrance, playing the mouth organ rather badly, to the obsessive need and rage and tragic grandeur of his fate Law moves through the slow, portentous interpretation like an actual human being, restrained and strong and heartfelt. Two of the mice are for him alone.

 

 

Box Office : http://www.barbican.org.uk to 20 may
then touring Vienna, Amsterdam, Luxembourg
NT Live in cinemas Thurs 11 May

rating  three 3 Meece Rating

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WHISPER HOUSE The Other Palace SW1

GHOSTS OF WAR AND SHIPWRECK

 
“When all the world’s at war, it’s better to be dead”. Pallid pessimistic ghosts roam around a lonely Maine lighthouse in WW2, with heaving sepia seas behind (Mark Holthusen’s projections are ace, atmospheric, and so is Andrew W Riley’s circular pit of a set). The two disaffected phantoms roam around  singing , between the two halves of the band, and serve as narrators, when not looming over the other dramatis personae like singing Dementors, or luring  the young hero Christopher onto the causeway to drown.
 

He is a doughty child (a fine debut on press night for Stanley Jarvis, sharing the role with Fisher Costello-Rose) . He has lost his airman father, his Mum is in an asylum after trying to drown herself, so he is sent to live in the lighthouse with his curmudgeonly club-footed Aunt Lily who “isn’t used to children ” . She has a dark sad secret sin in her past which the ghosts understand daily resent, and puts cod liver oil in the boy’s  porridge. The ghosts have it in for him too,  and howl in his little ears in his bed as the seagulls shriek and the waves roar, Gothically moaning in mid-market rock “If this doesn’t terrify you, it should”.
 

 

So here’s a rock-opera cross between Turn of The Screw and Silas Marner, with – as it turns out – a dash of The Go-Between. For little Christopher is a patriot, determined to do his duty and tell inconvenient truths to the simple hearted sheriff . Which is awkward, since Lily”s longtime assistant and friend is a tall, kindly Mr Yasuhiro, who before long she is ordered to give up as a potential spy an enemy alien. The friendship between the pair – gentle giant Nicholas Goh beautifully restrained, and Dianne Pilkington, gruff and enduring – is the psychologically solid anchor of the story, though needs more work in the script.
The plot thickens,  quite satisfyingly, before a dramatic U- boat bombing, fight, ghost-drowning in smoke, and a resolution happy enough to make is safe enough to bring any child old enough to see Goodnight Mr Tom.  Actually, for an early taste of rock musicals, it’d be ideal.  Tickets go down to £ 15.

 

 

That it is here at all is encouraging.  Andrew Lloyd Webber, well on a roll after the smashing School Of Rock – which he opens in workshop form – has taken over the former St James as a crucible for experimenting with new musicals, pocket shows which might grow, and unreviewed experiments. This one is more finished, and up for review, though interestingly its advertised 2 hrs 10 came in at under two hours: one suspects late cuts in Adam Lenson’s production. That makes for a briskly enjoyable evening, though the music is not particularly memorable, and themes recur in both tune and lyrics more than often enough.  The composer is Duncan Sheik, who hit awards with Sspring Awakening, the book and other lyrics by Kyle Jarrow , inspired by true wartime events and sharpened by Trumpian 21c xenophobia. There’s a ghoststory-within-a-ghoststory too, because our moaning phantoms were drowned in a yacht cursed by its owner “Solomon Snell, Ring the Bell, Too much trust is the road to Hell”. He got buried alive. Eeek.

 

Actually, It’s not a bad yarn, and top marks for not being a movie-echo. Needs more varied numbers, though, to develop the characters of Lily, Yasuhiro and the sheriff. Simon Bailey and Niamh Perry are fabulous as the ghosts though, every bit as petulant, resentful, threatening and glamorous as one could ask.

 

box office 0844 264 2121 to 27 May
rating three  3 Meece Rating

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SEA FRET Old Red Lion, Islington

A CANUTE FOR THE AGE OF ANYWHERES

 
This substantial début play by Tallulah Brown hits an intriguing syncope with David Goodhart’s much-discussed definition of the UK tribes. Not left and right, not even just Brexit and Remain: “Anywheres” and “Somewheres”. The first are confident, mobile, probably graduates: their identity is rooted in their own achievements and portable abilities . The Somewheres, in contrast, draw their psychological strength and happiness from belonging to a community, a place, sometimes a trade (“I am a Durham miner. I am Yorkshire / Suffolk / East End” etc). Deracination or an overwhelming influx is a problem to them more than to Anywheres, who just float away and choose a home that suits. We all have elements of each, but there is a real clash.

 
In this play, two girls on an East Coast shore are childhood friends. Now (in a rather overlong first half) they are school-leavers having all-night beach raves, necking absinthe and sniggering about sex in the manner of girls thee years younger: their territory a half-submerged WW2 pillbox on the shingle, on which they have scrawled memories of childhood and teens. Ruby’s mother is long gone, her piratical father Jim complicit in her drug-dealing. Exams and the outer world mean nothing to her, as her passion is for home , the beach and fun in the moment. Whereas Lucy is an embryonic Anywhere, off to “uni”. Her middle-class mother Pam (here’s an invisible commuter Dad) is exasperatedly helping Jim in his protest against the Environment Agency’s decision to let that bit of beach go, and his clifftop house with it.

 

 

A summers-end rave ends in a boy overdosing, eating pebbles and ending in a coma (this has happened: I too live along that coast). At the same time Jim’s protest fails. The second act shows the girls’ social estrangement and Ruby’s obsessive – and guilty – use of her earnings to organize truckloads of spoil and rubble, Canute-like, for a private battle with erosion. That has happened too, at one famous point along our Suffolk coast.

 
“Loving where you live with every bone in your body has got to count for something” cries Ruby, aggressively furious at the public meeting. There is some lovely writing here, romantic about the bleak North Sea and its phosphorescent or stormy moods. Jim – who may owe a bit to Rooster Byron in Jerusalem – punctuates scenes with Shallow Brown, Lowlands Away and other sea songs in a properly thrilling folk voice (Philippe Spall is immensely watchable, and nicely subtle in his later un-Rooster capitulation to reality). He is terrific, but the necessary engine of the play is the troubled, determined Ruby (Lucy Carless).

 

 
It is a professional debut, and taken a bit too fast and garbled at first in the naturalistic teenage chatter. The author would also have done her a favour by making her less obnoxious in her sexual bragging, contempt for her friend’s ambition and shrugging at the overdosed boy. But Carless certainly scores a startling theatrical first when she hurls a tampon from under her PVC kilt to go skinny-dipping, and there is real, solid tragic feeling in the second act as she labours with her barricade and her conscience.

 

 

As Lucy Georgia Kerry is a good contrast, torn between maturity and a desire to be as sexily cool as Ruby; Karen Brooks is Pam, every fed-up commuter wife, having a credible salty exasperated friendship with Jim. Who knows really, that you can’t ever stop the sea and that great sections of our coast will vanish without it being anyone’s fault (he haltingly brings up an old Devon case, Hallsands, caused by a shipyard development but geologically completely different). It is Ruby, the passionate damaged child, who can accept neither erosion nor adulthood. That’s what you leave remembering.

 

box office oldredliontheatre.co.uk to 22 April
rating three    3 Meece Rating

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THE FROGS Jermyn St WC1

AN AMPHIBIOUS SONDHEIM ROMP
Here’s the god Dionysius, deprived of his Noel-Coward smoking jacket and unconvincingly disguised as Heracles in a lion skin. He’s having a panic attack on a ferry across the Styx while a chorus of marauding frogs sings a menacing staccato and Charon the ferryman sleeps off a spliff. The frogs represent apathetic conformity – “Brek-kek-kek-kek! Brek-kek-kek-kek Whaddya care the world’s a wreck? Leave ’em alone, send ’em a check, Sit in the sun and what the heck?”. But as the God of theatre our hero is on a quest to bring back a great playwright – George BErnard Shaw of all people – to improve the world with questioning.
There are many fingers in this mad frog pie. Aristophanes, the Ancient Greek playwright who wrote, for the feast of Lenaia, about a journey into Hades to bring back the dead Euripides. Then Burt Shevelove who updated it to include SHAW and Shakespeare in debate, and Stephen Sondheim who wrote the music and lyrics, and had it performed in the unfriendly acoustic of the Yale swimming pool. Now add Nathan Lane, who fell for it as if for “a little homely rescue dog”, messed about and wrote new bits. And here it is at the ever-adventurous Jermyn.
Rarely have I been in a more Marmite show. A couple left furiously at the interval, not getting it at all: another woman rhapsodised in the interval expressing surprise that they didn’t adore it like her, then unaccountably picked up her many bags and left ten minutes in making the rest of the row stand up for her.  Me, entrancedly amused mainly by the Sondheim lyrics, I stayed and enjoyed the character of Pluto the underworld king as a leather queen with a whip, the assorted choruses, and the very funny advent of Martin DIckinson as George Bernard Shaw himself, pompous , emitting his famous epigrams and excoriating the frivolity of Shakespeare and his ‘Purple patches on borrowed rags”,.
Dionysius holds it together, the affable Michael Matus alternately alarmed, determined, and nicely gushy as the top Shaw fanboy, praising his “gravity of subject and levity of manner” , which actually describes this whole show quite nicely. The duel of quotations between Shaw and Shakespeare is wonderful, with quite the right winner.

 

So I enjoyed it, crazy as it is, and the music – piano, woodwind, trumpet and cello, is beautifully Sondheim, and Grace Wessels directs with cheerful speed. It feels more like a clever college romp than anything else, but it is a romp composed by a genius, an eloquent wise clown. For Sondheimites, it has the buzz. Or croak.

 

To 8 April. Sold out, but you never know.

RATING three 3 Meece Rating

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ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford upon Avon

ETERNITY WAS IN OUR LIPS AND EYES….
..and also, frankly, in the stalls. Some evenings, often here at the RSC, three and a half hours pass in a flash leaving you dazed, affected and tearfully glad to have been there. Not this. After the bracing Julius Caesar, this second in the Roman season picks up – very nicely – design details like he Forum’s pillars and the statue of a lion savaging a horse now high above. Robert Innes Hopkins also creates a credible Egypt alongside it, with Cleopatra’s stiflingly exotic interiors (dig that 7ft sacred cat!) and the pillars of Alexandria remind us pleasingly of our own Needle on the Embankment. It opens with a wild masked dance and Cleo and her man rising on a platform, still a-romping, in a tangle of sheets and flowing nightwear.
So we settle contentedly to the epic tale of disastrous cross-cultural love, of Antony’s dereliction of “Roman thoughts” and the Egyptian queen’s magnetism, defeat and demise. But goodness, Iqbal Khan’s production is slow! Keeping a long text is fine, respecting the complicated politics, betrayals and battles; so is it fine to let a production relax into a few dances, fights, and drinking-bouts.

 

 

But even without Antony’s famously protracted death it feels constipatedly slow (everyone else dies briskly after one good stab, but he lasts long enough to be triple-stabbed , manhandled around and hauled up the Monument in an unlikely manner without even dripping any blood). After James Corrigan’s mesmerically fascinating Mark Antony in the last play, we now have him relegated to being Agrippa while here the Roman lover is Antony Byrne: middle-aged, thickset and powerful as a ginger-bearded bull. He bellows like one too, at times, indeed is far better in rage than in love. The other Romans are good too – especially Andrew Woodall’s rough-spoken Enobarbus. Making him a bit geezerish was a good stroke, because it gave an extra poignancy to his descriptions of Cleopatra’s magnetic and exoticism “The barge she sat in, like a burnished throne..” . It is one of the few moments when you remember how lyrical the play is.
The weak spot is Cleopatra herself. Josette Simon is on her fifteenth RSC appearance, was a fine Rosaline and Isabella, is experienced, physically astonishing (tall, lithe, a fine mover). She is intelligent too, has talked of her research and reflection on the character and position of this ancient queen. An interviewer the other day, who can’t have yet seen her Cleopatra, talked of her “rare gift for stillness”.
Therefore having seen it, I can only point a trembling finger of bitter blame at the male director. Who must have lost his usual judgement and encouraged her to play it as a cross between a non-singing Eartha Kitt and everybody’s nightmare classmate, the Most Annoying Girl In The School. Oh, the writhing! The capering! The silly voices killing the lines and the meaning, the sexy, playful kittenishness which has to illustrate “O happy horse to bear the weight of Antony” by pretending to ride on Charmian. Oh, the self-absorbed one-note vamping!
In the interval, hoping to be fair, I canvassed some men as to whether this was indeed the kind of woman to whom they were drawn like moths to a flame. After a moment one said “Well… legs to die for, character to die OF”.
This hectic performance, and Byrne’s stumping solidity, means there is no credible chemistry between the lovers. Unless one makes the simple, possibly valid, assumption that every drama queen likes a thug and vice versa. In the second act, Antony finds a certain nobility (in between the bull-bellowing). And at last, at the very very last, Simon herself is allowed to deploy that gift for queenly stillness. And briefly it is moving. But after feeling one’s fingers itch for a venomous asp all evening, its arrival is, frankly, welcome.

 

box office rsc.org.uk to 9 Sept
rating three.   Not two, because I might be wrong about what some men fall in love with.  3 Meece Rating

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BANG BANG Mercury, Colchester

CLEESE MEETS FEYDEAU. DOES IT WORK?

 
Farce. French farce. Feydeau farce. Fin-de-siecle farce with curly cornices and ladies in corsets. Feelings about the genre are always, for me,  mixed. You can sigh at bit in these post-stigma days at attempted infidelity being quite so compulsorily hilarious; at emotional improbabilities camouflaged by a formulaic comedy of embarrassment. You know there’ll be wardrobes, doors, beds, trousers, comedy policemen , possibly (as here) a bribeable nephew. You can feel – as I did in the last two Feydeau revivals, despite great talents from Tom Hollander, Hannah Waddingham and the like – something I glumly recorded as “a despondent sense of being trapped in a museum of bygones”.

 
This Mercury production is interesting, though, because Feydeau’s little-seen “La Chasse” has been reworked, and well and truly fiddled with, by no less than John Cleese. It has sparks of more modern comedy , despite an elegantly complete plasterwork-to-parquet set which becomes both the bourgeois home of the Duchotels and a love-nest apartment where Monsieur the lawyer – Oliver Cotton, in the role one suspects Cleese fancies himself in – is to meet one of his client’s wives while pretending to go hunting,. And where his wife Léontine – naturellement! – agrees on the selfsame night to a revenge bonk with Dr Moricet. Leontine is quite beautifully played by Caroline Langrishe, decently convincing in her initial stiff virtue turning to indignation and in her panic in the door-and-trouser moments, but really coming into her own in the second act when a kind of mumsy exasperation suggests an actual reality inside her marriage to the straying Duchotel. The lustful doctor os Richard Earl, Sarah Crowden makes the most of being a countess-turned concierge at the lovenest, and Jess Murphy as the maid Babette deploys sone great expressions as the maid. Whose absurd French accent gives Cleese a chance for a splendid non-Feydeau joke when a character asks “Why’s she got that funny accent?” “Must be Belgian or something..”

 

 

Indeed is interesting is that he real barks of laughter are, as often as not, provoked not by the skeleton of the old farce but the furious vigour of Cleese moments – the Doctor’s mutter of “stupid hint!” and the very un-Feyddeau “I suppose a blow-job’s out of the question?”, some brief asides like “Bit corny, isn’t it?” and a moment between Duchotel and the baffled husband Chassagne – Peter Bourke – which is pure Basil-and-Manuel. The more conventional  shrieks, hidings  under the bed etc are far less effective triggers; the philosophical musings on infidelity just plain dull. But Langrishe is a treat. Ironically, it just needs more Cleese and less Feydeau.

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box office 01206 573948 to 11 March
rating three  3 Meece Rating

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ROUNDELAY Southwark Playhouse, SE1

NEVER TOO OLD TO GO ROUND AGAIN…

 

 

In Arthur Schnitzler ’s LA RONDE was a scandal: a chain of sketched sexual encounters in which one of each couple moved on to a new seduction; Count, whore, soldier. and so forth. Sigmund Freud liked it though: he wrote to Schnitzler “”you have learned through intuition—though actually as a result of sensitive introspection—everything that I have had to unearth by laborious work on other persons.”
The sense of emotional understanding, at least, is reproduced in Sonja Linden’s new 90-minute version for VIsible – a company founded to make use of older professional performers.

 
There are seven encounters: first former spouses meet at a wedding and are tempted, then we meet one of them in old age and dementia, with her fond second husband (a wrenchingly touching moment thanks to Holly de Jong’s remarkable performance as the wife). But that husband is then awkwardly exploring whether he is drawn to a male sex worker; who we then meet with a very old bedridden widow who craves once again to feel human touch…and on it goes until the first character finds a final resolution.

 

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All the main protagonists are in middle age or older, and the theme of continuing desire and yearning for love develops a real earnest beauty as it does on: wooing, betrayal, tactility, memory, confusion, the lure of youth, the advancing shadow of decrepitude and dementia, the perennial hope. Linden and director Anna Ledwich, however, have framed it as circus – a pun on “ronde’ – as we surround the action and are lectured , whip-cracked and threatened by a Weimaresque ringmistress in fishnets and top hat , who introduces each section as an act. And indeed between the acts some good professional work on the aerial silks is there to divert us, while the rest of the cast doa few dances and juggle-and-hoop tricks not quite as smooth as they might be.
 
To be honest, this presentation distracted more than it engaged me; we are all now well used to La Soiree and the paraphernalia and Weimar-wannabe cabaret style of the genre. But despite mild irritation – and the ringmistress was perfectly competent, within what was awkwardly required of her – it won me round with the very fine acting, economical scripting and a sort of firm, adult reality of character. It’s a curiosity worth seeing.

 

box office 0207 407 0234 southwarkplayhouse.co.uk
rating Three  3 Meece Rating

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