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!

Monday, November 13, 2006

Zerbombt(Blasted), Barbican

Eleven years ago I called Blasted "naive tosh". Six years ago, I decided that this was because I didn't yet know that she was about to have a tragic life, so it wasn't my fault. Today I'm right.

The perrenial danger with Blasted is that it looks like a play of two halves. Of, course, that's because it is. But my unfailingly exclusive and conservative definition of what makes good theatre isn't going to be ruined by any old good theatre. So lets pretend it isn't.

It's lucky, then, that this production is tense from the start, because that allows me to make it sound as though this production isn't a production of two halves which is what the danger of doing a production of the play Blasted is. Ian, the drunk paranoid journalist, reacts nervously whenever the phone rings. Which is tense. There are even echoes of Pinter's The Dumb Waiter. Which is tense.

I still feel this is a young play. (Note - I use the word young in its pejorative sense.)

Halfway through, the set is blown apart, which is shocking. But far from seeming gratuitous, it is a reminder that we live in a world where everything can suddenly be ripped apart. Literally. It actually can. Actually.

What comes across unexpectedly in this production, is the way that Kane actually gives a fuck about her characters. I have even discovered an underlying lyricism in the play. How unexpected to discover the very qualities that make the play worthwhile in a production of the play!

It may not be much, but it is all I have to cling onto.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

How Do You Solve a Problem Like Profumo

I would like to begin by pointing out that the title for this article was written by a sub. I would never use something so frivolous. I called it "profumo musical". I take these things seriously.

I would like to begin with a link to the wikipedia page for Karl Marx. Have you heard of him? He was an important thinker who had a beard, so I expect not. He once said that historical events and personalities appear first as tragedy, then a second time as farce. Did you know that? I thought not. Maybe you should look at the wikipedia page about him, so you can understand him with the depth that I so obviously do. Although, come to think of it, i'm not entirely sure how a personality can reappear as farce. It's almost as though I've misquoted him.

Anyway, someone or other is going to make a musical about the Profumo affair. I've not seen it yet, becuase it's not come out yet, so this isn't a review and the following isn't a star rating: **.

Of course, you can make musicals about historical figures, but the thing I'm trying to says is that you can't. Most of you won't have heard of it, but there was once a musical called Evita which was something to do with someone to do with the past. It only goes to show that all such shows are flops.

Of course, there's been some limited success for musicals to do with historical events. Les Mis is rubbish, but Miss Saigon is about Vietnam! And no one liked it, but it fits with my argument to throw in The Beautiful Game. And apparently someone had a bit of success with something called The Sound of Music which had something to do with a minor historical event in the middle of the last century.

I like Nixon in China. It's an opera.

The thing about this play is, who cares? Politicians sleeping with prostitutes doesn't bother us any more; Prescott and Blunkett get the sex, and half the Liberal MPs are hapless pooves. In much the same way, I'm not much bothered by questions concerning the divine right of kings, so Shakespeare's Richard II seems a bit pointless to me now. And, although it may be natural for Christine Keeler to burst into song, because she is a female and a prostitute, one wonders how you work in suitable numbers for Profumo himself, Harold Macmillan or the Russian diplomat, Captain Ivanov who were Men. Of Politics. And so entirely innapropriate to be represented in frivolous, feminine music.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Timon of Athens, Stratford upon Avon

Cardboard Citizens love to add extra bits to Shakespeare. If this production works, its not because of that, but because of the Shakespeare.

If this play has a general social conclusion, I find it difficult to say. If Director Adrian Jackson thinks it does, it's that it's a metaphor about a culture that sanctifies "personal growth". But if audiences and actors don't like this play, perhaps it's because one of the characters says "The middle of humanity thou never knewest, but the extremity of both ends" which is not audiences and actors like if it isn't.

If Jackson interlards the text with things to do with homelessness, it's to give me an opportunity to interlard my text with verbiositanisms. If he follows William Empson in highlighting the text's obsessive dog-imagery, he does.

The acting is good.

If the production may be intended as a moral warning, it might not be, becuase if I'm going to commit to anything, it might be that it's about what Shakespeare understood, which is Timon's tragic bipolarity. If I haven't really talked about this at any point in the review so far, it's not because I don't consider it to be the whole point but nevermind it's too late becuase this is the end. Probably.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Have audiences forgotten how to think?

There are 2 kinds of audiences: gawping morons and frowning morons. And then there is the third kind, who is right, and is called Michael Billington.

Alan Bennett once went to see Complicite, and didn't like them when other people did. This proves that everyone else had decided that Complicite were great before the show. This proves that it's the fault of popular music, where people will listen to any old shit.

Like Alan Bennett, I agree with Alan Bennett. Look at the Globe. Often the groundlings actually appear to be enjoying the experience! If they really liked the theatre, they'd pay for the expensive seats like I do when I see the shows for free.

More proof: some people liked Kneehigh's Cymbeline! Even though they changed some of the words. Why? Because they're idiots. Like football fans. They came along to support the company and would do so blindly. Like football fans. Who often boo their team if they don't think they're performing. Stupid Kneehigh Orient fans.

Of course there are some people who are wrong in the other way, in that they refuse to surrender to the collective nature of theatre. In my opinion, surrendering to the collective nature of theatre means not using your mobile phone during the performance. More than that would be undue reverence.

Audiences sure have got dumb since shakespeare had hamlet describe the groundlings as "for the most part are capable of nothing but inexplicable dumbshows and noise".

Or for the really lazy:

The Reduced Micheal Billington Digest

I know nothing about Football. And you're all idiots!

Friday, October 27, 2006

How Long is Never?, Tricycle Theatre

There is a terrible thing happening in Darfur. This series of plays about Darfur highlights the terrible thing happening in Darfur. It also highlights theatre's mission to inform. So much so that I will spend much of the rest of this review demonstrating a profound, complacent, lazy and ultimately dangerous ignorance about the situation in Darfur.

The virtue of the plays is that they tell us about Darfur. And also about what we think about it. Jennifer Farmer's Words, Words, Words shows Kofi Annan struggling to complete a crossword clue to which the answer is "genocide". Best of all, Lynn Nottage's Give Again? satirically exposes the liberal dilemma of an American couple divided on what action to take. "What's worse than genocide?" asks one of them. "Maybe knowing it's happening and doing nothing." A humanitarian crisis neatly turned into a play about people a bit like me. Excellent.

Of course, the other way in which these plays are like me is in the unquestioning acceptance of genocide as a basic fact. Nevermind that the UN and Amnesty International have investigated what's going on and said it's not genocide. Nevermind that Jan Egeland, a man so craven towards the Khartoum regime that they've banned him from Darfur doesn't believe there is a genocide. Nevermind that someone like Conor Foley, an aid worker who deals with the kind of humanitarian crisis which is undoubtably occuring doesn't think there's a genocide occuring. Lets all shout genocide and feel good about ourselves.

The result is an engrossing evening that both heightens my misunderstanding of Darfur and outlines the moral and political dilemma it poses to a western theatre critic in the starkest possible terms.
Major Barbara, Orange Tree

Shaw is witty like a paddy and political like a kraut. Consequently, it's hard to understand why there hasn't been more of his work put on for his 150th anniversary. Notwithstanding the fact that he is one the most performed playwrights in the west end.

I had forgotten how wildean Major Barbarra is. And how Brechtian. Andrew Undershaft's insistence that poverty is the ultimate crime, and that society's first duty is to ensure that everyone is decently fed and housed, anticipates by a quarter century Brecht's great dictum in The Threepenny Opera: "Food comes first, then morals." Of course, Jesus anticipates this by 1900 years or so, and Marx by a good 50, but I think by and large we can attribute the origin of anti-poverty thinking to Shaw. You may argue that Brecht's "dictum" is not so much a dictum as a line from a play, spoken by a character and that it's meaning is radically different from the message espoused by Shaw's character, but frankly I'd be too busy wanking over a picture of myself reading a book (hardback, of social import) to hear.

The acting is good.

Even Shaw-haters would have to agree with my opinion, which is this one, that they have just read, and is mine.

Much of what happens is the same as in the film.
Krapp's Last Tape - Royal Court.

Pinter is in a wheelchair. This is the bleakest Krapp imaginable. Excellent.(4/5)
Bent, Trafalgar Studios

I first saw this play the first time, in 1979, when I liked it. Back then it was socially important because no one was talking about how Hitler killed homosexuals too. This play demands restraint, because it is serious. Unfortunately, this production is rather camp for my taste.

The Nazis are awful, but that is typical of this production, which gets accross the point of the play but misses the point of the play.
Waiting For Godot, New Ambassadors, London

The thing about Beckett is that it means whatever I want it to mean, and pertinently, I've seen this twice so my opinion is especially worthwhile this week. I've also recently been reading Don Quixote.

Yet what both actors poignantly express is the Terror of Isolation - so much so that at one point one of them pretends a boot is a baby! It is through details such as these that Beckett's play becomes a metaphor. A poignant one.

It is tempting to shoehorn in some politics. Pozzo is a capitalist. This isn't the point, and i've only mentioned it to point out that this isn't the point. Everything is political! Apart from this bit, which is about a swelling need for desperate companionship. Lucky delivers his monologue and then falls over, which rather proves my point.