Review: Lost in Business Translation in Chinglish, Park Theatre

Chinglish - Lobo Chan  Candy Ma  Windson Liong and Gyuri Sarossy  (courtesy Richard Davenport for The Other Richard)
Chinglish - Lobo Chan Candy Ma Windson Liong and Gyuri Sarossy Photo courtesy of Richard Davenport for The Other Richard

Remember the film Lost in Translation when an ageing actor played by Bill Murray is given badly translated instructions from a Japanese director? David Henry Hwang's play Chinglish plays out a similar scenario but with an American business man Daniel Cavanaugh (Gyuri Sarossy) trying to navigate a business deal in China for his Cleveland-based signage company.

The play opens with Daniel giving a talk on how to do business in China, three years after trying to secure that first deal. He illustrates his key point about taking your own translator by showing a series of signs that have been amusingly mistranslated. The narrative then takes us back to the time of the deal when Daniel has enlisted the help of 'business consultant' Peter (Duncan Harte) who has been living in China for several years and whom can help him navigate the business culture. In China, Peter tells Daniel, building a relationship with potential business partners is key.

And so we get an interesting and often amusing study on not just the differences in doing businesses but also relationships both of which are often cleverly illustrated through bad translation. The initial business meeting sets the tone with Peter acting as Daniel's translator and Miss Qian (Siu-see Hung) amusingly out of her depth as the translator for Cai Guoliang (Lobo Chan) and Xi Yan (Candy Ma) with whom Daniel is trying to do the deal. We see the accurate translation in subtitles above the stage while Miss Qian gives her own version. It is slickly done.

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Review: Tweeting, taking photos and the audience on stage, it's the Roman Tragedies experience, Barbican Theatre

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Roman Tragedies, Barbican: About to begin and a warning

Last year's King's of War, at four and half hours long, was just a warm up for Ivo Van Hove's Roman Tragedies in which Coriolanus, Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra have been simmered down to a six hour single play. But this isn't just six hours of Shakespeare in Dutch (with English subtitles) Van Hove has taken the notion of a theatre 'experience' (read: long or multiple plays in one day) and then broken the taboos of theatre-going.

Phone off during the performance? Oh no, tweeting and taking pictures is actively encouraged. The traditional 15-20 minute interval has been replaced with a series of 3-5 min scene changes - the voice of an MC tells you how long until the next one. Not that it matters, you can pop out to stretch your legs or take a comfort break whenever you like.

After the first scene change you can change seats or even opt to find somewhere to perch on stage if you wish. There isn't on-stage seating - this production has made that passé - you just find a chair or sofa or something else that is part of the set. There's even a café/bar counter towards the wings where you can purchase a drink or a snack to enjoy during the performance.

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Roman Tragedies, Barbican: Spot @weez and @naomi_jw centre stage

Because the Barbican stage is so big and the set made up of different areas Van Hove once again uses camera's to beam close ups of the actors on a large screen above the stage so you never miss a thing. Once the audience is invited up they become part of the spectacle their reactions and concentration caught in the close ups. It raised a few laughs at times. 

All this serves to put Roman Tragedies firmly on the awards list for 'theatre experience of the year' and for very good reason. It is an experience and one you'll never forget. While it's not necessarily a production to see to get the nuances of the individual plays - there are periods where it starts to wash over you somewhat - you do, however, get a good sense of the narrative and dramatic tensions. And in allowing the audience on stage it serves to demonstrate how public politics and political life is.

It is a production with a handful of really memorable scenes (and moments of startling performance) rather than a whole. Hans Kesting, who was superb as Richard III in King's of War, in this plays Mark Antony in Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra and pretty much steels the show. He got a spontaneous round of applause at one point.

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Review: David Tennant is the smutty Don Juan In Soho, Wyndhams Theatre

379395_770_previewI've seen David Tennant play Shakespeare's leads Hamlet, Richard II and Benedick and he's brilliant but I've had a hankering to see him in something more contemporary on stage. Step forward Patrick Marber's Don Juan In Soho, a modern tale of debauched hedonism based loosely on Moliere's Don Juan.

If it was a deliberate move of David Tennant's part to choose a stage project that contrasted with his classical roles then he has succeeded in part at least but I'll come onto that.

Don Juan isn't a play that is going to worry the grey matter, instead is an entertaining romp through 48 hours in the life of the titular character who is the estranged son of a lord. He lives for pleasure and in particular pleasure of the flesh with his trusted, if often reluctant, chauffeur/butler Stan (Adrian Scarborough) to clear up after him. There is nothing too sordid or morally reprehensible that Don Juan won't consider; he doesn't love, he lusts turning on the charm and saying whatever is necessary to get what he wants.

Stan tells us right from the start that he isn't a very nice person and Don Juan's behaviour quickly proves the point and yet when he is doing his worst deeds it doesn't feel shocking, or really that bad. And I'm not sure if this is because David Tennant has too much charm or if that is how the character is drawn. I've heard of some people not returning at the interval but I didn't find anything in the play remotely shocking and I have to confess I was very slightly disappointed by that.

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Review: Young, gay and in love in Run, The Bunker

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Tom Ross-Williams as Yonni in Run, The Bunker

Jewish teenager Yonni's eyes meet Adam's and they are planets circling each other, perfect orbits, in sync. It's as if their relationship is written in the stars.

Against a back drop of growing anti-Semitism outside Yonni's north London community and potential homophobia within it Stephen Laughton's play Run examines young love. Delivered as a monologue by Tom Ross-Williams we follow the blossoming relationship with its ups and downs, discoveries, fun and drama. Stephen Laughton has a keen eye not just for domestic detail but also how first love feels for Yonni something which is reflected in the mixture of vernacular and poetic imagery in the script.

There is humour in Yonni's innocence and intense moments when time seems to stop which all serve to beautifully capture this love story and the growing tensions in the teenager's world.

Tom Ross-Williams' performance is one of innocent joy and the energy of youth indeed he seems to positively glow as if with new found feelings. He has you rooting for Yonni, smiling with him and worrying for him. There are some slightly clunky segments movement but otherwise the story slides easily from episode to episode painting a vivid picture of this first love. 

It's a lovely, simple piece of theatre that is both funny and at times moving and I'm giving it four stars. It's 70 minutes long without an interval and is at the The Bunker in Borough until 1 April.

 




"Alas he is mad" - How Andrew Scott's Hamlet, Almeida Theatre, scared me

Hamlet_1470x690_version_3REVIEW (contains potential spoilers) In 2011 Michael Sheen played Hamlet as the inmate of a mental hospital at the Young Vic hallucinating ghosts and prone to ranting and raving. Since then we've had a string of comparatively sane Hamlets, that is until now. The big difference in Robert Icke's approach, compared to Ian Rickson's, is in the process of the decline, the gradual loss of faculty.

The pomp and ceremony of court have been stripped away much like the Royal Exchange production which starred Maxine Peake. This is a modern royal family with modern, minimalist Scandi decor within their ancient castle - you get glimpses of the stone corridors via security cameras. Indeed the security cameras and the occasional appearance of suit and ear-piece wearing heavy are one of the few concessions to the fact that this is a royal family. The politics and threats of war are kept to TV news reports (in Danish with subtitles)

It is a loving family too, relaxed and at home in each others company or at least the extended family unit is. Ophelia (Jessica Brown Findlay) is a daddy's girl and Gertrude (Juliet Stevenson) is genial and tactile, you get the sense that Laertes (Luke Thompson) and Ophelia are like a much loved nephew and niece. They sit relaxed on a sofa together just like any other family. After Gertrude and Claudius's (Angus Wright) wedding party, the newly weds are drunk and giggly and roll around lustfully. And, while Hamlet (Andrew Scott) is the quietly grieving and melancholy son, when he and Ophelia are alone there appears to be a genuine love or at least affection between them.

Under Robert Icke's direction there is back story in every gesture, touch and look in these opening scenes which makes the betrayals, hurts and horrors to come all the more stark. It is also a perfect back drop against which Hamlet and Ophelia can lose their minds. And this is what sets this production apart. Andrew Scott's delicate soul Hamlet is slowly pulled apart by grief, the weight of revelation about his father's death and the way his uncle and Polonius (Peter Wight) try to manipulate him.

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REVIEW: Cooking up behind the scenes politics in Limehouse, Donmar Warehouse

Cw-13821-mediumSteve Water's last play at the Donmar Warehouse, Temple, about the anti-capitalist protests outside St Paul's Cathedral, didn't particularly set my world on fire. It was one of those plays that while well done, it wasn't fantastic but neither was is bad. At the time I said I probably wouldn't remember it and that's how I remember it, ironically, for not being memorable.

His new play goes behind the scenes at a meeting of the so called 'Gang of Four' labour politicians who, in 1981, frustrated with the direction of the labour party broke away and set up the Social Democratic Party. It is a fictionalised account of what was discussed by the four - David Owen (Tom Goodman-Hill), Shirley Williams (Debra Gillett), Bill Rodgers (Paul Chahidi) and Roy Jenkins (Roger Allam) in the hours leading up to their break from Labour. David Owen's literary agent wife Debbie (Nathalie Armin) suggests he invites his three like-minded colleagues over for an informal brunch in order to persuade them into joining him in breaking away and over an hour and 40 minutes we track their discussions, debate and dilemma.

Given the rift in the current Labour Party, its an obvious piece of history to draw parallels with. However, the play feels structured to give each character their moment of impassioned oratory and once you realise that you are waiting for the next big speech. The rest of the play starts to feel cooked up to contrived to create drama - perhaps knowing how things ultimately end up doesn't help.

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Review: A walk in the dark - Killer, Shoreditch Town Hall

KILLER_Large_450_245_80_s_c1I'm in a cool, bare-bricked, concrete-floored room somewhere underneath Shoreditch Town Hall. I've been given headphones and an actor has run through a sound test to make sure they are working properly.

Then the lights go out and a voice comes out of the dark, it is sounds so close it feels like the person speaking is just an inch or two away from my face. Is that their breath on my neck I can feel or am I just imagining it? It's disconcerting, unnerving and a clever device.

Phillip Ridley's play Killer is three odd, horror-tinged stories, each told in a different part of Shoreditch Town Hall's abandoned-looking basement. There are some trademark Ridley features - the squeamish moments with animals that he seems to like - and sledge hammers are one of the recurring features.

The stories are expertly told complete with radio-play style sound effects and it is certainly different from your usual evening at the theatre. Killer seems to have gone down well with the critics with one even describing it as "essential" a word that, when used in relation to theatre, never fails to make me roll my eyes. (It isn't essential - nor vital, while we are in that vein.)

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REVIEW: The little play on the big stage - Ugly Lies the Bone, National Theatre

Ugly-lies-the-bone-2160x2160-sfwUgly Lies The Bone is the story of Jess (Kate Fleetwood) an Afghan war veteran who returns home to Florida after suffering severe burns on her last tour. She is undertaking virtual reality therapy to cope with the pain and as part of the therapy has to create a fantasy world that she can retreat to. It is supposed to distract her from her debilitating injuries and pain but what she really wants is to recreate her old life.

Everything has changed since her last tour including her family and friends and she must find a way of forging new relationships. Jess's sister (Olivia Darnley) wants to her in cotton wool and for her to get on with her new idiot boyfriend (Kris Marshall). And Jess's ex (Ralf Little) has married. She wants to go back to teaching but people want to put her in a back room where no one can see her scarred face.

The staging is pretty spectacular. The sides and back of the stage curve upwards as if you are looking at everything through VR glasses. Images are projected onto this all encompassing backdrop - the VR landscape Jess creates, the streetscape of her Florida home town complete with traffic moving on the roads or the night sky. Visually it is really impressive.

You can sense a 'but' coming can't you? And there is one. Despite the performances the play feels neither as funny as it wants to be nor as hard hitting given the subject matter. I think the problem is that it is a little play that would suit a smaller stage in a more intimate theatre not the vast Lyttleton. The visual feast we are presented with over powers, even distracts from the play making it difficult to get emotional purchase.

Yes there are a few laugh out loud moments and the odd line that makes you gasp but in the end the staging is like the cotton wool that Jess's sister wants to wrap her up in which is a real shame. I give it three stars.

It is one hour and 35 minutes without an interval and is at the National Theatre until June 6.


REVIEW: Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf (and Imelda Staunton)?, Harold Pinter Theatre

9-Imelda-Staunton-as-Martha-in-Edward-Albees-Whos-Afraid-of-Virginia-Woolf-in-the-West-End.jpgWhatever I've seen Imelda Staunton in, she's been brilliant; even if the play hasn't been up to much she manages to shine, so expectations were high for Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

I've not seen Edward Albee's play before so can't compare it with other productions. I've heard some say they thought Kathleen Turner's Martha would take the award if pitted directly against Imelda but, for me, she was everything I expected; she is as scary, damaged and sharp as the promotional picture implies. And, Conleth Hill - who plays one of my favourite characters in Game of Thrones - is the perfect foil, as the listlessly sour George.

Set in their home, Martha and George return late from a party at the University faculty where George teaches. Martha has invited over a young couple  - Nick (Luke Treadaway) and Honey (Imogen Poots) - from the party for drinks. George is in the history department, Martha's father is president of the University and Nick has just started teaching biology.

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That was February in London Theatre land - theatre food and presidential celeb spots

3187725261_f691619f64_z* Following a successful run in Stratford Upon Avon in 2015, the RSC's production of Helen Edmundson's play Queen Ann is to transfer to the Theatre Royal Haymarket in the summer. Romola Garai and Emma Cunniffe star.

* Paddy Considine has been confirmed for Jez Butterworth's new play Ferryman at the Royal Court (directed by Sam Mendes). It hasn't opened yet but buoyed by advance ticket sales a West End transfer to the Gielgud Theatre has already been announced.

* Skins and Game of Thrones star Hannah Murray is to head an all female cast of Posh at the Pleasance Theatre.

* The hot topic for theatre news sites and theatre tweeps was the Harold Pinter Theatre banning food during the performances of Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf (and no ice in drinks less than 10 minutes before performance start apparently). Even the BBC did something on it with the well-worn opposing views. Personally, as someone who can hear the rustle of a sweet wrapper four rows away I heartily approve. But on a slightly more serious note, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf is a play of pin-drop pauses - you don’t want the tension and drama ruined by a rustle or clink of ice cubes. So while it pains me to say a blanket ban across theatre land would be a little unfair, I think for this particular production it is the right move.

Thesp spots: Richard Curtis was spotted at the Four Weddings and a Funeral staged reading at Hampstead Theatre, Andrew Lincoln watching Andrew Scott play Hamlet at the Almeida. Then a whole bunch of thesps at press night for  Ugly Lies The Bones at the National Theatre: Adrian Lester, Anna Maxwell Martin, Denise Gough and David Tennant. Quite a haul, I think you'll agree, but PolyG can top all of those, on her trip to New York she was at the theatre 'with' Barack Obama. Not sure that is ever going to be bettered.

Photo by Fiona Shields on Flickr, used under creative commons license