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The Two Gentlemen of Verona

2014-08-23 USA 026asI was lucky enough to be able to sit in Central Park this afternoon and enjoy Barefoot Shakespeare’s The Two Gentlemen of Verona. I really can’t think of a better way to spend a Saturday afternoon than lazing about in a park while a bunch of very talented performers work very hard to entertain me!

Hard work is exactly what it looked like. The area they were performing in was a particularly busy area of the park, and contrary to the image New Yorkers like to project of their favourite open space, Central Park is not by any means an oasis of calm in the middle of the city’s bustle. To be heard, they had to compete with a loud concert barely 100 metres away, constant helicopters and sirens, and the occasional heckler. But they handled all of this with aplomb, especially Michael Pettey, in the role of Proteus, who improvised marvellously when a particularly rowdy bunch suddenly noticed that he was performing and announced it for all and sundry.

The rest of the cast also delivered an outstanding performance, and although I did struggle to hear above the hubbub of the park, I did manage to follow this play, which I was not very familiar with beforehand.

Courtney Moors also impressed with her portrayal of Silvia. The pathos in her responses resonated brilliantly above the hubbub of the park, and I was certainly taken along with her in her pursuit of Valentine (played by James Kivlen).

In all, a great way to encounter such a fun little play, and a great performance.

 
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Posted by on Saturday, 23 August 2014 in American Theatre, Theatre

 

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Burbage

burbageThere really is an over abundance of plays derived from the stories that surround Shakespeare’s life. Though I am getting a little bored of them, I am nonetheless drawn to further explorations of the context in which the Bard lived, and speculations about his times.

Burbage has been one of the better ones I’ve seen lately. Essentially a one hour rant imagined from the realities of Richard Burbage’s life and the common themes of the actor’s existence, it explores these with some depth and develops a strong image of the man left behind as the great playwrights and actors of the Elizabethan era fell off the twig in the early seventeenth century.

Richard Burbage, for those who’ve either forgotten about him or never heard of him (really?), was an actor who performed lead roles in the premieres of many now-canonical works of Elizabethan drama. Playwrights such as Shakespeare and Marlowe wrote roles with him in mind, and he was owner of the Globe Theatre with his brother.

In this monologue, he engages an imaginary young actor, Tom, who is seeking to continue his acting career past the roles of his youth.

Neil McGarry’s greatest achievement in his performance is creating a believable ‘Tom’ in the auditorium. While I am not a fan of monologues, and the idea of an invisible and inaudible second character in a monologue usually seems extremely naff, I was impressed to find myself fully engaged in the reality of the piece. The result is an engaging performance that gives humble recognition to one of the artists who contributed so much to the golden age of English theatre.

Despite some oddities of accent (which I will happily forgive with the knowledge that the English of Burbage’s day sounded a little more like the modern American accent than modern Received Pronunciation), McGarry was entirely believable and made a strong connection with his audience.

This was the last performance at the New York Fringe, but it’s likely to pop up again with the Bay Colony Shakespeare Company, and is worth a look if you’re an artist.

 
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Posted by on Friday, 22 August 2014 in American Theatre, Theatre

 

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Cortez

cortezCortez is an engaging little story by Milkwood Theater told in a very physical manner, playing as part of the New York Fringe.

The story centres on Mike (played by an engaging David Riley), a marine biologist studying the tomatian, a species he claims is actively pursuing its own extinction. Riley portrays Mike with an endearing bumbling manner that deteriorates into unconscious undermining of his relationship.

With Mike on his expedition into the Sea of Cortez is his girlfriend Heather, an enthusiastic humanist who gradually wearies of his pessimism, leading to the breakdown of their relationship. The air of timidity Heather (played by Heather Holmes) begins with is supplanted by a more relatable frustration over the course of events, and the relationship demonstrates some recognisable features.

Two crew members function something like a chorus to the pair, and their physicality punctuates the tension developing between the couple. The story is told quite cleverly as the action moves between the US, the Gulf of California, and La Paz, and allows for a particularly energetic story about the complexity of romantic relationships in a working context.

In all, this is an interesting play that doesn’t quite manage to get across the line of engagement. The relationship between Mike and Heather needs further development to become fully engaging, and the physicality is often too abstract to be of any value. But the bones of an interesting piece are here.

 

 
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Posted by on Thursday, 21 August 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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The Lion King

lion kingCostume designers, choreographers and technicians need to be reminded occasionally that nothing is more important than character and plot. Unfortunately, this clearly did not happen with this production, which largely fails to engage on the two substantive elements of dramatisation.

I don’t think it’s the book. The stage version adds a couple of numbers that seem rather superfluous and have no purpose other than to allow the promoters to differentiate it from the animated film, but they don’t really detract. And the costumes aren’t bad either, but when the audience erupted in tremendous applause for the mere appearance of a (magnificent) life-size elephant puppet, I started to get an idea of what this was about, or more importantly, what it was not about.

And there’s the rub. This show is just not about Simba. The Lion King is about Simba (or Hamlet (or even Joseph if you like)), but this show is about puppets and stunts. Simba and his story are a mere sideshow here, they’re not the main event at all.

I don’t know if it was a unique technical problem on the night, but the other contributing factor was the balance of the audio mixing. The singers were barely audible over the (brilliant) orchestra. Enrique Segura, playing Timon, certainly had his microphone turned on late a number of times, and occasionally cut out mid-song. But they all seemed to struggle with the crescendos of Tim Rice and Alex Menken’s music. I felt more and more deflated every time I heard a clipped attempt at emoting something of significance for the plot. It was clear the plot just didn’t matter.

But whether I liked The Lion King is another question. It is not bad as performance art, but it doesn’t quite commit. If you’re not going to bother with the characters, then how about some more acrobatics? If you don’t really care about the ebb and flow of the plot, why not bring the performers more fully into the space? If you’re going to reduce a dramatic masterpiece that is derived from one of Shakespeare’s greatest works and one of the most grandiose tales of the Judeo-Christian canon to a mere circus performance, why not do it with aplomb? It seems to me that the creators just didn’t quite decide whether this was theatre or circus. And that’s what left me feeling flat.

When’s a Canberra company doing this one? I think someone needs to show Broadway how it’s done.

My daughter posted about this show on our travel blog, Walkabout. You can see what she thought here.

 
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Posted by on Wednesday, 20 August 2014 in American Theatre, Theatre

 

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The Peablossom Cabaret

Peablossom Cabaret Sofa Press ShotAfter a false start yesterday, where the performers found out at the last minute that their venue wasn’t opening, I am incredibly glad we made it back to see this brilliant performance today. Unfortunately the alternate venue they had secured was an over 18s venue so I was unable to bring Offspring Number One along to that performance, and today we had to change our plans to get there, but get there we did, and it was well worth the effort.

The Peablossom Cabaret is cabaret improvised in response to conversations with the audience. And as such, it hinges entirely on the personalities and talents of the two performers, Dylan Townley as Mr. Pea, and Sylvia Bishop as Miss Blossom. These two consummate performers had their audience laughing before the show even started, and it only got better throughout with their clever banter, quick wit and charming voices.

The pair improvised a song about an audient’s sister reading her diary, then about a lad who admires his brother for not being boring. I could go on, but the very nature of improvisation means it would not be terribly interesting; you really have to be there. And the more people who are there the better; these splendid performers deserve all the applause they can get!

 
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Posted by on Monday, 4 August 2014 in Cabaret, Improvisation

 

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Trainspotting

trainspottingI wasn’t prepared for an immersive experience when I went to see In Your Face Theatre‘s production of Trainspotting, and when I realised there was no auditorium, I will admit to a little hesitation. The experience, however, was just as this incredibly grimy story needed it to be, and was only enhanced by not knowing where the performers were off to next.

The venue could not have been more appropriate. This former Masonic Lodge occasionally flashed up glimpses of the names of its members or phrases such as ‘trust in the lord’ all in a gold print that jarred eerily with Irvine Welsh’s confronting story of the lives of urban junkies.

Though I’ve not been able to find the names of the performers anywhere, they were all very impressive (and this is a very large cast). Rents, Sickboy and Tommy were at once pathetic and yet able to command my sympathy. And a chorus, accompanied by a very appropriate soundtrack from the last twenty years was not a mere addendum to the action, but was critically important in establishing the atmosphere and moving the audience to the appropriate part of the space (or distracting us from the set change).

While the script seemed to skim too quickly over some moments of character development, and though I felt the use of narration didn’t really suit this style of performance, in all, I was surprised at how closely this production elicited the same emotions in me as the novel and film did so long ago.

This is a story that has neither aged nor lost its edge, and remains as gritty as it was when it first saw the light of day in 1993.

 
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Posted by on Sunday, 3 August 2014 in British Theatre, In Your Face Theatre, Theatre

 

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Bunbury is Dead

Disappointed twice in a week by productions that stem from Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest? I never thought it would be possible.

Bunbury is Dead is not really about the friend Algernon Moncrief makes up as an excuse for not performing his social duties in Wilde’s play, though the character does share much of Algernon’s DNA.

As the plot unravels, it is clear that Christopher Cutting’s script has a lot to offer. The concept is unique, new and engaging. Bunbury, a character who had to be created out of source material from Wilde’s plays, is every bit as strong as Wilde’s Algernon, and his butler is an equally fine creation. But just about all of the dialogue is borrowed from Wilde, and this I don’t understand.

The play is strong, and could be set in the 19th, 20th or 21st centuries perfectly well. The plot is relatable and the characters recognisable. Wilde’s words simply have nothing to offer here, and they become a distraction. As an inspiration for a lead, even Bunbury is perfect, but as far as I can tell, Cutting really doesn’t need Wilde’s help. The story would be more interesting without being interrupted by Wilde’s words.

It is unfortunate that this didn’t live up to its possibilities.

 
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Posted by on Sunday, 3 August 2014 in British Theatre, Theatre

 

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