Category Archives: Theatre

Clara: One-woman show

Clara_ElenaMazzonWhen hearing the name Schumann, many will first think of Robert. But what about the other Schumann whose music can transport us just as much? In Clara, we get to know the woman who tried to pursue her prolific music career after marrying Robert Schumann and despite getting increasingly lost behind her husband’s shadow – and name.

Elena Mazzon presents her one-woman show which has just premiered in London at From the Forest Festival. In the play, she plays Clara Schumann (1819-1896) who is preparing for a date with Johannes Brahms while sharing her memories about what led her to this date in the first place.

She married Robert right before her 21st birthday against her father’s will, who would have preferred her to become an independent musician. This relationship between father and daughter is described movingly by Mazzon, certainly touching soft spots of many in the audience. In addition, one can’t help but note the importance of putting a woman in the spotlight who had to fight to be respected by the many men in her field, starting with her husband who gave her ultimatums and worried about being overshadowed by his wife’s talent.

Directed by Catriona Kerridge, Mazzon supports her speech with piano music, composed either by Clara herself, Robert or Brahms. It is amusing to notice how when she leans on her piano, Clara feels secure. However, as soon as she walks away from her piano, she starts panicking, losing some her control. Music was everything for Clara, and always in first place, even in front of her many children.

This is a show that I hope will tour the world, giving a new voice to this maestro who herself visited and graced many cities with her music in the Romantic era. I also hope that with time it will contain even more played piano, as it adds such a beautiful element to the play. Stay tuned by following https://www.elenamazzon.com/clara-a-show-for-an-actress-and-a-piano/

 

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Love in Idleness – Apollo Theatre

Would you like some sherry? It’s pre-war.

Love_in_idlenessI was delighted to receive tickets from boxoffice.co.uk this week for Terrence Rattigan’s high-spirited 1944 comedy play Love in Idleness. It is not so often that I attend a play in the West End, and this was a delightful evening full of laughs and wit, excellent acting but, I must admit, an eventual feeling of wondering what the play was actually trying to tell me.

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Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead – Old Vic Theatre

Guildenstern – “I don’t believe in England”

rosencrantz-and-guildenstern-are-deadThe reason Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead may be my favourite play is because of the deep existence-related questions it raises while making the audience laugh and renew their love for what theatre does best: turn reality on its head. In addition, its connection and reorganising of Shakespeare’s Hamlet gives me that little satisfied feeling of knowing something others may not.

The play has just opened at London’s Old Vic for its 50-year anniversary starring Daniel Radcliffe and Joshua McGuire as the two leads. In case you haven’t recognised the title’s names, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are the two courtiers in Hamlet who we don’t see for long but who take centre stage in this play as they wait for instructions without really knowing what is going on around the court and why there seems to be so much of a to-do around the Danish prince.

The two friends, or colleagues, spend their long and boring days playing games such as heads and tails or one that involves answering a question with another one. We notice that Rosencrantz (Radcliffe) is very forgetful, drawing a blank at what happened just a minute ago. Nevertheless, he is quite curious about what it must be like to be born, or what it may be like to wake up dead in a box.

Guildenstern (McGuire) may seem more sure of himself but he is just as bewildered about his situation. The pair is witty without knowing it, and well-educated, mentioning the Greek tragedies during the play, but seem to lose their brain power as soon as they are in front of the original Shakespearian characters who completely intimidate and astound them.

This is essentially a spin-off, as it were, of the great tragedy of Hamlet, and it’s delightful to meet the players who Hamlet hires to call out his uncle’s behaviour backstage and in their “off” state. The company of cross-dressing players eagerly waiting for an audience, any audience, is hilarious and endearing. Their movement is ethereal, which adds a new level of performance to this play, following the blurriness of the Shakespearean characters and the realism of our heroes. The company is led by its director played by David Haig, a ball of passion.

The grand stage of the Old Vic may be bare but it is enlivened by a rich blue sky and white cloud horizon, as well as split by a curtain representing a map to show the journey the two characters go on toward their death. This gives space and emphasis on the actors and the text, which are enough to fill any space: McGuire is tragically funny in his lost state, while Radcliffe, in his philosophical tirades, reveals the child and need for protection in his character. We just want to hug them both and warn them – but what good would that do? They’d forget what we’d said in a minute, or they would not believe it. Indeed, the only truth they know is that of their superiors, and even they are not telling them much.

This topic of truth is definitely what stayed with me in Stoppard’s play: what we know is all assumed. We are sure about birth and death. What is in between is all interpreted through different voices and eyes – or shadows, as is alluded to at the very end of the play with shadows resembling Plato’s cave. We choose to believe, we assume things to be true, because doing anything else would never have an end. And we don’t have time, do we?

This feeling of endlessness is brought out in Stoppard’s text through many repetitions and inconsistent reactions to questions (“Is he there?” – “When?”) that highlight how fragile communication and meaning can actually be in our lives. Guildenstern thinks he knows what it is to die, or at least he thinks he knows what it’s not like to die, condemning the actors’ constant pretending. But later, when the theatre director pretends to die, Guildenstern believes it really happened!

I wish I could give you multiple brilliant examples from the text, but I don’t have it in front of me. What I love about it is that it faces us with the reminder that we don’t know much at all, and certainly not about ourselves.

This production is a joy to watch, especially for its text, fantastic ensemble and its deep feeling of humanity. All you can do is laugh at this play within the play within the play – it’s just a delight.

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Nuns – Etcetera Theatre (Camden Fringe)

It’s such a shame that the production of NUNS by Perform and Give, a theatre production company that donates all its ticket earnings to charity, was only on for four days this week during Camden Fringe. The hard work put in by the actresses, lighting and stage design and director should not go unnoticed.

Robert Luxford’s play introduces us to 3 nuns and their Mother Superior, all of whom should certainly not be judged by their habit. Indeed, we first meet Sister Catherine (Sarah Malcolm) and Sister Roza (Mia Hall) smoking behind the church and telling prim Sister Bernadette (Kesia Guillery) about their recent sexcapades with certain priests. While Mother Superior (Michèle Belgrand) seems to be trying to control the sisters to maintain tradition and order in the convent, we learn she also has quite some secrets to hide.

nuns

This is a really fun play. When you think about it, nuns are some of the most mysterious creatures. Is there ever rule bending? Do they even want to bend rules? With so much negative emphasis on male members of the Church in recent years, it’s great to watch a completely female story and hear these characters express their desires to become bishops and popes.

The production design was certainly memorable: set designer Reiko Tanaka put the small space to very good use, making certain props easily available on a table which was also serving as a private room for nuns to enjoy erotic literature. Sam Killingback’s lighting and Fintan Davies’s sound went hand in hand to create time jumps and a rock n’ roll feel. Finally, the costumes by Alexandra Kapsala and Felicity Wood gave each nun their own personal style and edge – either through their shoes when they were in their habit, or through their choice of underwear when they were undressed.

Finally, Edwina Strobl succeeded in giving history and detail to these nuns’ lives, as well as an intimacy between them. The four talented actresses completed each other very well, from Malcolm’s provocative and fun-loving character and Hall’s never ending curiosity as her sidekick to Guillery’s sweet innocence so easily picked on and Belgrand’s hilarious coolness – who knew such a strict nun would be the one recommending marijuana?

All I can say is this has certainly made me want to see more pub theatre! Congratulations to Perform and Give!

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People, Places and Things, Wyndham’s Theatre – Review

"'People, Places and Things' Play by Duncan Macmillan performed in the Dorfman Theatre at the Royal National Theatre"

Denise Gough in People, Places and Things

There is a wonderful podcast called Honest Actors that was recently put on hold. This was such sad news because listeners were able to regularly listen to an interview of a theatre actor who commented on what it is really like to be a working actor, the rejection involved, and the whole question of self-confidence, of knowing who you are in a context of judgement.

One of the recent interviewees was the Irish actress Denise Gough. I really enjoyed hearing that in periods of little acting work she would go back to her family and the importance of children in her life. She stressed how important valuing yourself outside of your acting ability and most importantly acting employment is.

On April 3rd, Gough won an Olivier Award for her role in the new play People, Places and Things written by Duncan Macmillan and directed by Jeremy Herrin (who also directed the memorable The Nether, No Quarter and Hero) and I was reminded that I just had to run out and go see it. Indeed, Gough and Herrin make a thrilling portrait of survival and belief in oneself when any minute, a human grenade could go off.

The play introduces us to an actress in her 30s, let’s call her Sarah, who is a drug addict and alcoholic and who checks herself into a rehab institution. While she knows she would be in trouble if she hadn’t done this, she has trouble admitting her addiction and where it comes from during her first weeks at the centre. It turns out she had a brother who died recently and parents who do not communicate or support her life choices. But can one really only blame those elements for her addictions? She certainly refuses to believe so.

And she’s right to! Why do we always look for a reason for someone’s depression, she asks, when it’s actually the world that is screwed up? Why always point a finger? This point actually reminds me of an explosive production by the Schaubühne of Enemy of the People, which brought up the same questions.

There is an interesting contradiction, however, in how on one hand Sarah doesn’t want to rationally explain her illness and on the other hand demands the certainty that she will leave the centre as quickly as possible, pass a “test” and be given a piece of paper to ensure she is not a risk to a future employer.

So far, she has constantly lived in the certainty that drugs will satisfy her without fail, while balancing the risk, uncertainty and irregular nature of her acting career. Following her stay in the centre, she knows nothing will ever be certain again, but that work and love will be all that matters.

This is a really exciting play by Macmillan, with philosophy introduced through Foucault or Baudrillard, group scenes with dialogue that made me gasp and want new plays about each of those centre patients and speeches that I know actors in the audience will love. One in particular regarding why Sarah is an actress and couldn’t live without acting is so familiar but I also know it can only be uttered by someone in either a state of excitement or real trust. Acting is vulnerable enough, but explaining to someone why one acts can be too.

A thin line is also brought up between trying to be good to others and having to be selfish to get there. The rehab centre encourages its patients to come to terms with themselves and apologise openly to the loved ones they have hurt. When this happens in reality in a final scene, Sarah’s father points out the selfishness in her apology. In these extreme situations, how can we stay emphatic if we don’t know what the other is going through, how hard they’ve worked?

While on the subject of this family relationship: upon finally discovering Sarah’s mother after she kept mentioning her throughout the play, I wondered whether Sarah would really call her a c*** and ask her on the phone to throw away her medication right before signing herself into rehab. But I suppose my argument forgets how high she was.

The set and lighting designs by Bunny Christie and James Farncombe highlight Sarah’s nightmare, fear of death and vicious circles. In two scary bad trip sequences with multiple silhouettes looking just like Sarah emerging from under the covers of her care bed and the walls, Sarah’s description of auditions and the countless girls sitting in the waiting who look just like her receives a new haunting dimension.

Gough is also a phenomenon in this production. The detail in her drunken movements and easy delivery of Macmillan’s words make her unforgettable. This is the kind of role you sensed her wanting to sink her teeth into during the Honest Podcast, and here, you feel her giving her heart and tears to her audience and the world.

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Review of Harlequinade / All On Her Own for Box Office

Last week, I was invited by Boxoffice.co.uk to review Harlequinade / All On Her Own. Here is the first paragraph, and you can find the full article on their website!

Ever since Kenneth Branagh announced that he was going to take over the Garrick theatre for a new season of plays in repertory, the West End has been buzzing with excitement – or at least I’ve been! What a refreshing format repertory is! I must say I don’t see that very often in the West End, with actors performing in a different piece every night. The Plays at the Garrick include a palette of plays from Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale and Romeo and Juliet to French farce The Painkiller.

Read the full article here: http://www.boxoffice.co.uk/news/actress-sophie-tergeist-reviews-harlequinade-all-on-her-own-for-box-office-1172.aspx

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Gypsy (West End) – Review

Imelda Staunton in Gypsy.

If you’ve been anywhere near a London Underground escalator lately, you can’t have missed the posters exclaiming how exceptional Imelda Staunton’s performance in Gypsy at the Savoy Theatre is. Bugged by being reminded of this all the time, I decided to see the show for myself, and so I booked a seat in the last row, right next to the sound booth.

Last rows don’t bother me. Besides, the Savoy Theatre is smaller than other West End venues. I remember tearing up from the very last row during Miss Saigon, and this time, during Gypsy, it happened again.

This new production of Gypsy, directed by Jonathan Kent and choreographed by Stephen Mear, is quite a treat! It is very colourful, funny, and quite emotional. It tells a story inspired by the memoirs of Gypsy Rose Lee. Momma Rose (Imelda Staunton) is determined to turn her kids, and a few other children she discovers, into show stars. From very young ages, she trains them in dance and song and tours with them around the USA in the 1920s. As the kids grow up, the choreographies stay the same, which starts frustrating the members of the company. The “kids” are grown and ready to lead their own lives.

When Momma Rose’s kids company slowly disintegrates, her daughter Lee reluctantly still stays with her, but for how much longer can she stand living with her controlling mother? As the years and shows progress, we learn where Rose’s obsession with show business really comes from.

There is so much talent in this production, from the set design and its complementing costumes to the lighting, especially as the children’s choreography leads into adulthood.

What particularly stood out for me was some of the choreography, for instance between Tulsa (Dan Burton) and Louise (Gemma Sutton), as Tulsa is trying to explain that he wants to be a dancer, but independently from Momma Rose. As Burton sings and dances, it is as if he is floating on air. Stephen Mear’s choreography shows Tulsa’s longing for something sweet beyond the life he is living. He is a true artist and expresses great passion through his movements, without wanting to make a sound in case he is overheard. This passage is exquisite.

Lauren Hall as June is also a joy to watch as Gypsy Rose Lee’s sister with the bigger dancing talent between the two. She also has so much to express through her body, and we sense her frustration at her life being overly “choreographed” by her mother.

Finally, Staunton is the true sensation of this show, with her petite figure giving it all in this role. She plays a fidgety and perhaps hyperactive woman who can never be satisfied or truly settle down with any man: none of her former husbands ever understood her obsession with show business and divorced her. While she is hurt by this abandonment, as she calls it, her true pain comes from her wanting to be in the spotlight herself but feeling she missed the opportunity. She is probably the original stage parent!

As the children’s company she’s built and nurtured (but without pay) progressively leaves her, she notices how much she’s lied to herself. A heartbreaking sequence in the final act shows her utterly speechless when trying to express through song what she truly wants from her life.

This is a beautiful show with lessons on all fronts about the passions we should pursue in life and how happiness is found within, not through others.

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