Apr 20, 2007

Of Novotels and Miserable Theatre

Watch and admire as Lyn Gardner takes a wrathful sledgehammer to Menopause: The Musical
Like Mum's the Word and Bernadette the Musical before it, Menopause has very little to do with theatre and everything to do with canny special-interest marketing and merchandising. Anyone for a Menopause the Musical mug? Mum's the Word realised there might be a ready-made audience of women who would apparently like nothing better than to spend their evening away from the kids hearing about other women's leaking breasts and sleepless nights. Back in the 80s Bernadette miraculously kept going for months - despite stinking notices - thanks to coach parties of church groups, although in the end even God couldn't save the show from itself.
As an additional note its playing at the Shaw Theatre - a venue attached to a Novotel with all the atmosphere of said Hotel's lobby. Without a doubt the most soulless, miserable theatre I have ever been in. Probably an appropriate venue then, by the sounds of it.

Apr 17, 2007

Wonderful World of Dissocia at the Royal Court

I know, I know you've been sick with worry but the lack of posting is because I have had to escape to Edinburgh for a few days. But just wanted to write a few words about Wonderful World of Disocia at the Royal Court, which I had the chance to catch before I went away. It is an absolute delight.

I will try and write on this a little more when I get back but for me it completed a trilogy of productions that I have seen this year that would have been impossible without film and television.

The first, Love Song, was a rather confused and anaemic rehashing of a series of hollywood conventions that failed to lure a different audience to the theatre with its superficial newness.

The second was the much, much, much talked about Attempts on Her Life, that gloriously (and indeed beautifully) deconstructed the conventions of film and television to lay bare their artificiality.

Without giving too much away, one of the reasons that Dissocia was so effective was that its two utterly disparate halves were presented through two different sets of convention; Neilson (as writer and director) created such a startling disonance between the first and the second half as much through form as through content. In the first half (deep within the world of Dissocia) theatricality reigned supreme, characters sang and danced, they played out to the audience, actors and props doubled up (in one case with such seamless ease that the lead character herself wasn't sure what was going on...) - like David Eldridge's Marketboy the joyously raucous conventions of the theatrical spectacle were harnassed by a fiercely intelligent writer in love with his medium.

The second half however didn't just change to a set of different theatrical conventions, it almost transfered to a wholly different medium - that of film. This was clear from the moment that (with an audible gasp) the safety curtain rose. Suddenly the audience viewed the stage through a letterbox shaped piece of glass surrounded by black (the panoramic scope of the cinema screen). Like Drunk Enough to Say I Love in the same theatre, here was a deliberately filmic (or in Drunk Enough... televisual) framing of the stage. Within this cinematic frame, the actors now played only a single character, speaking totally naturally, their disembodied voices (like those of film actors) amplified through the theatre's sound system.

Unlike Love Song that floundered and eventually collapsed between its two stools, Neilson is a writer/director with a keen sense of his medium - he plays with the cinematic gaze to transport us to the cold, naturalistic, voyeristic universe of film. The half plays out like an Ingmar Bergman film, where even the tiniest starkly lit movement is almost unbearable. There is none of the anarchic joy of the first half, for the audience as much as for the characters, now there is only isolation and indifference.

Michael Billington is utterly wrong to suggest that one half is better than the other; it is the contrast between the two universes that is shattering. The first half suckers you in with its grab-bag of theatrical tricks that almost invite the audience on to the stage - the second half spits you back out again and leaves you brutalised, the stage feeling as distant now as the other side of a cinema screen.

It is a magical piece of work by a writer/director (maybe a writer for theare) who arguably loves and understands his medium better than anyone of his generation.

Turns out it wasn't quite that quick a note after all. But hope you like it nonetheless. Back from the north soon.

Apr 7, 2007

Prince of Thieves, King of Kings...

Regular readers may or may not know that I am irony-free, heart-on-my-sleeve fan of California's sad eyed prophet-auteur Kevin Michael Costner.

With this in mind I have decided to direct you all to the (admittedly tightly focused) If I Blog It They Will Come - a website set up entirely for the purpose of pursuading Hollywood's last cowboy to a) read the blog b) send in a photo of himself reading said blog. With typically Costner-ian valour they continue to send messages out into the dark, hoping Kevin (or anyone) is reading them on the other end.

And in this spirit, I have decided to set my own Costner-related challenge. If anyone has the strength of character (or the time on the hands) to read this desperately self-indulgent post and post anything in the comments - I will honour them with an even more self-indulgent offering - A grand sweeping essay outlining in detail the importance, and indeed the brilliance, of mr Costner and his oeuvre.

As you can tell. It's Easter Holiday weekend, and I'm feeling in a silly mood.

Apr 4, 2007

Update on me

People love to talk about movements. Groups of inspiring people all inspiring each other being generally inspirational. I never found it that inspiring. I was secretly achingly jealous of the entire idea. I've never being particularly great at being part of a movement - mainly because of impatience - my impatience with the group and the group's impatience with me.

I've also (as my pocket-sized string quartet hastily tune up and slip into a self-pitying dirge) never been the kind of person that people particularly want in their group. Not in a bolting-the-door-and-throw-boiling-oil-over-the-parapet kind of a way just in the way that what I like to think of as a the nice parts of me don't ever make a particularly forceful impression and the not so nice parts frequently rear the ugly head when I get nervous and say fucking stupid things that leave me shaking my head furiously as I repeat them to myself on the long walk home.

This may only be my grass-is-greener imagination but things always seem to be happening in an unseen room on the other side of a closed door. And its not that the door is locked its merely that I feel it would be rather awkward of me just to invite myself in unless I can justify my doing so. And I very rarely can.

Maybe I should stop griping and let the things I enjoy doing speak for themselves. Am at the moment beginning work in earnest on an as yet untitled Shoreham Village Project with a friend of mine. We started with the idea of a day trip - and the nice idea that theatrically you could do a piece of theatre about a day trip while physically taking people on a day trip. Since then it has morphed into something rather larger involving nostalgia, the imagined countryside, nostalgia for the imagined countryside and Alfred Hitchcock. Still, one of the main points in doing it is the the interest in having a piece of theatre (in a Platonic sense often seen as an artificial simulation of reality) that necessitates the realisation of its subject in the real world. Or, in other words, we are creating a story about the escape from the city to a nostalgically constructed rural idyll that requires the audience to physically escape from the city to a countryside that we have, in part at least, constructed. If all this sounds slightly like its vanishing up its own site-specific arse, never fear, It will also have disappearing ladies and sports cars.

Meanwhile in another part of the world looks like I might still have a lovely job at the loveliest of venues at the Edinburgh Fringe. More on that later. I am still however considering a move to Canada to do a PHD on the history and theatrical/theoretical connotations of the rise and rise of Site Specific/sympathetic theatre. Any advice from those in the know (hint, hint Mr Craig Walker) about how and where I might do this would be much appreciated. Have been thinking recently that, for a lot of reasons, seems like a good time to get out of dodge and I've been longing to go back to Canada for years and at this fairly infantile stage in my theatrical life I have as many friends in Toronto as I do in London - though having them (and Canadian immigration) invite me in is another thing entirely.