The culture: Many plays in many theatres over many weeks
The cheap seats: mostly cheap, sometimes splurges because theatre is cheaper than therapy
Oh ok so I’ve been bad at writing about what I’ve been to see recently. There are many reasons why but mostly because I’m trying – sometimes a bit successfully – to write my dissertation. A few little sentences about each one will have to do…
The Forbidden Zone, Barbican Theatre
I saw this when I was on a Katie Mitchell binge. Being a total fangirl I saw Lucia di Lammermoor at the Royal Opera House not once but twice, then the mind-bogglingly excellent Ophelias Zimmer at the Royal Court in the same month. The Forbidden Zone was created by Mitchell for 14-18 NOW in partnership with the Schaubühne, Berlin, one of my favourite theatres to tell the forgotten stories of the wars’ women and the secret heartaches they kept in their lockets. It was a feat of artistry, making cinema-quality film live onstage, but all those cameras and screens made the stage feel cluttered and mediated between the audience and the action. Mitchell’s work works best when it’s full frontal and meets your glare with a knowing grin before punching you in the guts. Metaphorically, of course.
The Flick, National Theatre
Set in an old cinema between screenings, The Flick is slow-paced and full. of. pauses.It’s a play where nothing much happens – to the point where a man exploding a bag of popcorn becomes genuinely shocking – but it’s somehow heartbreakingly beautiful and I sobbed and fell in love with it so much that I went back to see it again before it closed. My experiences of Annie Baker’s play about millenial malaise, the futility of love and life and the unavoidable necessity of human connection, however awkward, is something I want to write about at some point. But the play made me realise a lot about myself and it’s stuff I’m still working out so I’m not ready to do much else except sum it up with the following emojis: 😍 💔.
A shit-tonne of Shakespeare
I’m doing an MA on Shakespeare. I live and breathe Shakespeare. Sometimes I think I’m getting a bit sick of Shakespeare. Recently I’ve seen so much Shakespeare I had to have a night in binge-watching Game of Thrones to balance things out, only for the finale to have a huge, brilliant Titus Andronicus reference. I can’t escape the man. It’s like he’s haunting me. I saw a horrid King John at the Rose Theatre, Kingston in which the actor playing John had learnt everyone’s lines and kept mouthing them – impressive but distracting. The only things I liked about this seriously dated production were Howard Charles as the Bastard and sitting on the floor on cushions like a child. In the past month I’ve seen the Globe’s Macbeth (directed by Iqbal Khan, one of my faves) but it was disappointing, and then had a week that, had it been a Friends episode, would have been called “The One with all the Shakespeare”. First came Kenneth Branagh’s Romeo and Juliet at the Garrick – another disappointment because although Derek Jacobi was hilarious it was weird casting and Lily James and Richard Madden (however gorgeous they are) totally lacked the passion necessary for a believable star-cross’d pair. Next was a gender-bending Henry V starring one of our greatest Shakespeareans Michelle Terry. You can read what I thought about that here. Then a dazzling Richard III at the Almeida starring Ralph Fiennes as a sexy yet utterly detestable Richard. He’s up there with my favourite Richards and the production was very clever indeed. My bard week concluded with The Shadow King at the Barbican, a visiting Aboriginal take on King Lear that I hated – I just can’t imagine what audience it was made for. It felt like such a limited portrayal of Aboriginal culture and if I didn’t quite wince when the actors mentioned didgeridoos and boomerangs I certainly did when a kangaroo was name-checked. It was like Aboriginal bingo. No, thanks.
Two Faustuses, not alike in dignity
Confession: I got quite drunk in the interval of Jamie Lloyd’s West End version of Doctor Faustus starring [get your] Kit [off] Harington. It was that bad. Marlowe’s play is great but it’s a tricky one and, yes, it does get a bit dull in the middle. But, as that production proved, the solution is not to totally rewrite it, casting Faustus as a kind of David Blaine figure hooked on fame. I loved Jenna Russell’s Mephistopheles but really did not love the gratuitous rape. Come on, guys, there are better ways to sex up early modern drama than that. Meanwhile, at the RSC, Maria Aberg’s production was pretty standard Stratford fare but won me over with its aesthetic and the opening moments in which the two leads Sandy Grierson and Oliver Ryan lit matches standing face to face on the stage. Whoever’s burnt for the longest time was Mephistopheles. It was a moment of truly powerful theatre.
I’ve also seen three shows at the National (a disappointing Threepenny Opera, a well-told and feminist-bent Deep Blue Sea and Sunset at the Villa Thalia, which was not as bad as the critics said). The deeply original Unreachable at the Royal Court made me remember that theatre can be not just funny but side-achingly hilarious, and I also watched some academic theatre including a traditional Japanese take on Ophelia from Hamlet and a translation of a Polish play that used Hamlet as a lens through which to explore religion and nationality after WW2.
And there you have it! It’s been quite a month. Here’s to me jotting more thoughts down more frequently in future…