Monday, September 17, 2007

Who needs reviews?

Blogs are changing theatre criticism because now critics are held accountable for their opinions. Only the other day my editor threatened to fire me because someone wrote a blog which said that one of my reviews was wrong.

This is a good thing, but not totally. For instance, in the past, arguments about George Bernard Shaw used to drag on for weeks. Now they're all over in minutes. Also, blogs make people write about things they haven't seen yet. How stupid is that?

Still, there's nothing like the printed word! Word counts make you write shorter and better! Blogs are unfocussed ramblings. Reviews are perfectly structured gems of prose.

Also, critics are uniquely equiped to see through all of the PR and marketing that surrounds plays. They do this by going to theatres on special nights set aside for them, where they are met by the play's publicist, handed a handy press pack put together by the marketing department and given free drinks at the interval which come from the play's marketing budget. How could an ordinary member of the public possibly see through the marketing, which, from the theatre's point of view, I am a part of?

In the end, proffesional critics live or die by their independence of mind and the ability to string a few sentences together. Knowing what the word "accountable" means is a bonus.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Monday, May 21, 2007

Vernon God Little, Young Vic

Given recent events in Virginia, this may not seem the ideal time to be staging a show whose background is a high school massacre. (Incidentally, I apply the same logic to plays about the Iraq war. Oh, wait, hang on...)

In turning a first-person narrative into drama, Ronder (the adaptor) inevitably sacrifices some of the throwaway brilliance of Pierre's prose: this is the essence of theatre being different to books. No play can match such lines, saying of a bus-station oldster, "the skin of his face hangs down in pockets, like he has lead implants". No play.

Even if the structure, like the frankly perplexing grammatical construction of this sentence, is fragmented, Rufus Norris's production also captures the contrast between Texan materialism and the impoverished gaiety of the Mexico to which the hero flees. Imagine how much easier it would have been without all that nasty fragmentation though.

The acting is good.
The Globe tour has a fine Elizabethan ring to it

The Globe are doing a tour. Gosh.

I did a tour once. With Ken Loach! (KLANG!) and Dudley Moore! (KLANG!) and some guy who's a judge! (err, KLANG!)

Still, if they do it outside, what if it rains? I mean, how rubbish would that be?

Thursday, May 17, 2007

A Matter of Life and Death, Olivier

A Matter of Life and Death is an old film which was optimistic. Now it’s a new play which isn’t! Fascinating! And undynamic!

Where the film is clearly all lovey, the play is clearly all warry. In his heavenly trial, the protagonist is confronted by his war-victim father, the widows of the Coventry and Dresden bombings, and, somewhat tendentiously, by Shakespeare. The meaning is clear: war and Shakespeare will always triumph over private passions.

What prevents this pessimistic, death obsessed coda being bleak, is the way it’s full of life! There’s a calypso band, a ping-pong game and a sexy bit, as well as a Norwegian and a panorama of life on Waterloo Bridge. Some of this is virtuously delighting, but some of it is self-delighting virtuosity. Spot the difference.

If the production, with its constant use of clever-clever bicycles and too-clever-by-half hospital beds, sometimes seems self-consciously clever, at least there’s a good actor. And thank God someone’s finally been brave enough to stand up against war!

Friday, December 08, 2006

Dick Whittington And His Cat, Barbican

Isn't it surprising that Mark Ravenhill is writing a pantomime? We all thought he only did plays about sodomy and swearing. But surprisingly, he's left that out of this children's Christmas show.

Summer Strallen (Dick) is pleasingly shaped. Mmmmm.

Roger Lloyd Pack has some rude lines that the children don't understand, and does some good acting but isn't funny which is either good or bad acting.

Summer Strallen has lovely legs. Yum.

Overal, the show is jolly, and has some topical gags, which, if we can't have big ideas, are the next best thing I suppose.

What's that? You want to know what Summer Strallen's acting is like? I told you! She's a certainly a stocking filler!


Thursday, December 07, 2006

Don Juan in Soho, Donmar Warehouse

Patrick Marber's radical rewrite of Moliere is far less subversive than Moliere's original. Moliere's hero is consumed in the fires of hell at the end of the play, presumably as some kind of punishment for his transgressive behaviour. Marber and his secular audience, on the other hand, don't believe in hell and so can't subversively confirm a conservative moral code like Moliere does.

Despite Rhys Ifans looking like Peter O'Toole, the acting is good.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

The Vertical Hour, Music Box Theatre, New York

You can't divorce plays from their context, and the context of this new play by David Hare is that I've been sent to New York by work! Wicked!

In many ways it's a typical David Hare play, but this time it's in New York. Where I am. I was moved by how hungry the Broadway audience (that's Broadway, New York, geography fans!) was for meaty serious British drama about Big Issues. Big Issues are great, aren't they - they help the homeless, and they're a great read on Tube. Or in my case, the Subway(that's what they call it in New York).

As I was saying, the Americans are clearly thirsting for serious British Theatre like this production which is being produced in America and not in Britain. Subtract the Brits and Broadway(NY) drama is negligible. But Hare's new play also deals with Iraq. Although there are aspects of The Vertical Hour I find unpersuasive, what finally matters is the play's total gesture, which is that the Iraq War was totally wrong even if some Americans disagree.

What do we mean by patriotism? Is it just politics? Or does it more truly reside in a love of poets? And landscape? And wine? And quail?

The acting is good.

Juliane Moore has an extraordinary physical quality in that her flame-red hair is offset by a skin of almost translucent whiteness. Which is great acting!

And Bill Nighy looks like a man who has suffered interestingly, perhaps of an illness, or maybe he has been subjected to some kind of unexpected mental torment - the loss of a loved one? - or perhaps he has a sore foot and it hurts everytime he puts pressure on it. Anyhow, that's what he looks like. Which is great acting!

Sam Mendes' production is good and is in New York where I saw it.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The Glass Room, Hampstead Theatre

I for one welcome Ryan Craig's themes, which are big, whilst admitting that he sometimes manipulates characters to suit his subject. Still, at least he doesn't do that to people who aren't fictional constructs of his own imagination, eh?

Elena is a historian who denies the existence of Nazi gas chambers. Myles, the human rights lawyer hired to defend her, is in denial about his Jewish ancestry. Politics!

The play rests on a shaky premise in that Holocaust denial is not a legal offence in Britain. I also found it unrealistic the way that the actors were actually in a room with lots of people who were in the audience, and yet were pretending that they couldn't see them, as though there were some kind of invisible fourth wall between them.

If at times the play resembles a debating-chamber, it is at least pursuing an issue of burning topicality. And I prefer debating chambers to plays anyway.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Top Marx - Why it's time to stage non-fiction

Some German's are staging Marx's Das Kapital. Not, you'll be relieved to hear, as a musical!!!!!!!!!?!

Lots of theatre is based on stories that someone's already written. But why must they always be made up? Why can't we have factual theatre? I once saw Alec McCowen reading some of the bible.

You could even combine instruction with an artificially imposed and ultimately fruitless tension, which rests not on drama, but on the antagonism of ideologues. Why not have a reading of Genesis mixed up with Darwin's Origin of the Species followed by a debate between Science and God? I would suggest a reading of Mein Kampf, but I only want to see fruitless mudslinging between scientists and theologists, not right and left wingers!

My God, I've just invented the lecture! And the debate! Why is no one doing this?

You think I'm kidding, but actually I'm not. People have actually been making factual theatre for ages. Which rather makes the bit where I asked why people aren't making factual theatre seem redundant. And of course, all of my examples of things people should make aren't actually factual works - they're theoretical ones, but if thinking about factual theatre has taught me one thing, it's that paying too much attention to fact isn't something I'll be doing too soon.

The Reduced Digested MickyB

Plays should be more like politics which should be less dramatic. And no songs!