16 posts categorized "Tragedy" Feed

The Seagull at the Arcola

Seagullhero-The-London-Magazine-The-Seagull-at-the-Arcola-credit-Simon-Annand-cd912021-1d41-43d9-a6f0-c06a9ae0d981 First trip to the Arcola and it is a little gem of a theatre, one of those that punches above its weight. For all the fabulous big budget productions in the West End it is these tiny, slightly uncomfortable, off the beaten track theatres doing much with little and attracting great acting names that really get me excited.

But before this post turns into something purely about the Arcola and small theatres what of the play? Well The Seagull was also a first for me and it must have been good because otherwise I'd be moaning about the uncomfortable seats and its out-of-tube-station-reach location, right?

Ok so I may be a tad bit hypocritical but my point about my love of small theatres still stands and The Seagull was very good, despite my difficult relationship with Chekhov. I have a problem with stories about people who have it in their power to get themselves out of a mess but choose not to. It's purely a personal thing, every one has their bug-bear and this is mine. It spoils my enjoyment of the Cherry Orchard although I'm hoping that Zoe Wanamaker wins me over in the National's production in a few weeks.

It helps that the Seagull is tragic for different reasons. There is still a lot complaining from the middle-class characters about their lot in life but the central theme is love and success. Konstantin (Al Weaver) is a young aspiring playwright and son of a once successful actress Arkadina (Geraldine James) who has taken successful writer Trigorin (Matt Wilkinson) as her lover.

Arkadina wants always to be the star attraction which causes friction between her and Konstantin as she belittles his work. Trigorin's success does not help. Adding to Konstantin's woes is his love for Nina (Yolanda Kettle) who has her head and heart turned by Trigorin. And then there is poor Masha who is desperately in love with an uninterested Konstantin.

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Did Grandage's Lear win me over?

126651939610 Saw King Lear for the first time three years ago with Sir Ian McKellen in the lead and I confess that I wasn't won over by it as a play despite being a very good production.

But as it's all about interpretation and performance, thought I'd give it another go, this time in the hands of director Michael Grandage and Derek Jacobi at the Donmar Warehouse.

Lear is a difficult character to like. Within minutes of the opening scene he demonstrates what a vain and egocentric man he is, dividing up his kingdom among his three daughters but then asking each to say how much they love him in order to get their share.

His youngest daughter Cordelia refuses to pander to him and he disinherits her starting a chain of events that inevitably lead to tragedy.

The first time I saw Lear, I couldn't help thinking the King got everything he deserved. I didn't see any regret just self pity which made for a slightly unsatifactory ending.

However, in Jacobi's portrayal, that all changed. His descent from raging tyrant to madness and then frail and lonely old man made him a far more pitiable character. And, in the final scene, his distress at Cordelia's death was deeply moving.

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The best plays of the year so far

This year is turning out to be a bumper year for theatre. Not only have I thrown my net wider, taking in more fringe theatre as well as my usual favs of the NT, Donmar and Royal Court but I've already clocked up more than 40 plays - smashing last years total.

So I thought it would be a good opportunity to look back at what I've seen already and try and pick out what might be in my top five plays of the year. Then using the wonderful www.upthewestend.com I'll add in their aggregated review score, if it exists, to see how general opinion compares. Play links are to my own reviews.

It's been tricky narrowing it down as there has been some fab theatre already this year but these nine will definitely be contender for my top five at the end of the year (in order I saw them):

1. Red, Donmar Warehouse - Two-hander with Alfred Molina proving a real stage presence as artist Mark Rothko and Eddie Redmayne his able assistant. If nothing else this earns it's spot for the famous priming a canvas scene which just took my breath away (and that of the actors because of the effort involved). Painting on stage: love it.

2. The Pride, Lucille Lortel, NY - OK so this is always going to be up there because of a certain Ben Whishaw and it prompted my first trip to New York but it was also a really moving and clever play, interweaving two sets of characters in two time periods but with a common thread.

3. London Assurance, National Theatre - Fiona Shaw, Simon Russell Beale, characters with names like Lady Gay Spanker and posh people behaving stupidly in a 19th century set comedy - how could it fail?

UTWE rating: Hot with and editor rating of 4.1/5

4. Private Lives, Vaudeville Theatre - Kim Cattrall impressed in this Noel Coward comedy with great chemistry between her and fellow lead sexy spy no. 1 Matthew McFadyen. Bonus points for Kim Cattrall accidentally spitting a mouthful of half eaten roll into the lap of someone on the front row.

UTWE rating: Hot, 3.9/5

5. The Man, Finborough Theatre - My first outing to this tiny pub theatre in West London was a true stand out. Virtually a one-hander performed (at this particular show) by History Boy Samuel Barnett, its narrative was unique with every performance as the central character Ben randomly collects receipts from the audience recounting a piece of the story related to the receipt. Simple, superb and unique.

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Review: Charlie Cox in the Prince of Homburg at the Donmar Warehouse

PD37911371_THE-PRI_1687121c Bit of a theatre packed week this week and kicked off in good style with a trip to the Donmar on Monday night.

Now the plays they choose can be a bit hit or miss but Prince of Homburg was like a nice roast shoulder of lamb - tasty and with plenty to chew on.

Written in the 19th century as the last play by Henrich van Kleist before he committed suicide at the age of 34 it examines personal freedom versus authority.

The Prince (Charlie Cox) is a popular and successful military leader, charming but impetuous. The play opens on the night before a battle and the Prince sleepwalking in a moonlit garden. The Elector (Ian McDiarmid) and his family are called to observe the Prince's behaviour for their entertainment and decide to tease him in his somnambulatory state.

The next day as the Elector's battle orders are being given the Prince is distracted by the images he perceived in his dream-like state and orders his attack too soon but ultimately wins the battle for the army. Incensed that his orders weren't followed and the victory is one of mere "chance" rather than design the Elector has the Prince court-martialled, the penalty for which is death.

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Rupert Goold's Romeo & Juliet, Courtyard Theatre, Stratford

Sam-Troughton-and-Mariah--001Romeo and Juliet, on the surface, is a very silly story for any sensible thinking person. Two young teens meet and fall in love at first sight (Romeo after only moments before being infatuated with another), agree to marry the next day then end up killing themselves.

Teen love, angst and rebellion is of course a timeless theme but it is the 'gang culture' of Verona which resonates the strongest with modern times - perhaps why Goold eschewed guns for the more traditional blades as weapons of choice?

His approach is to give the play the energy of a teen on Red Bull, keeping the first half sexually charged and full of teasing, fun and humour. There is some brilliant skitting (and scene stealing) by Mercutio, the marvellous bleach-haired Jonjo O'Neill, who plays on the sexual double-entendres to the maximum.

Romeo, played by Sam Troughton (BBC's Robin Hood) is at times excitable and cocky while at others  awkward and withdrawn. However, he could learn something about clarity of delivery from Jude Law as he did have a tendency to garble his lines in the passion of the performance. 

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Elektra at the Young Vic (and it was free!)

Elektra-new_6_wide Greek Gods were my favourite bit of RE at school - they were far more interesting to me as 12/13 year old than the bible which is the only other thing we studied. The Gods were far more colourful and seemed more human to me somehow with their jealousy, anger, hatred, passion and love.

Greek tragedies have a similar appeal but now with the added realisation that they have subsequently influenced so many writers and are still being interpreted today. And Elektra is just one example, this time being retold through the eyes of poet and professor of classics Anne Carson.

Elektra is one of three surviving children of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra (glad we didn't learn about them in school - can you imagine the spelling challenge?). Elektra is kept at home with her sister Chrysothemis by her mother and her mother's lover Aegisthus who both murdered Agamemnon. Her brother Orestes escaped to safety.

While Chrysothemis has accepted the situation the best she can, Elektra is grief stricken and broods on revenge (traces of Hamlet?). Her only hope is that Orestes will return and do the deed thus releasing her.

*Plot spoilers* Luckily for Elektra but unknown to her, Orestes is planning to do just that. He sends a messenger ahead supposedly heralding his death in a chariot-racing accident (cue mother quite relieved the potentially vengeful son is out the way) and he will then follow on, unrecognised by years away, gaining access to the palace by being the bearer of evidence of his own death in the form of a casket of ashes.

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