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Posts Tagged ‘Kings Cross Theatre’

After the Donmar’s second all-female prison set Shakespeare, Henry IV, I suggested it might not be wise to do a third (https://garethjames.wordpress.com/2014/10/09/henry-iv-at-the-donmar-warehouse). Well, here’s the third, this time off-site in a purpose-built pop-up theatre in Kings Cross, in rep with revivals of Henry IV and the first in the trilogy, Julius Caesar (https://garethjames.wordpress.com/2012/12/20/julius-caesar).

Our entrance this time is through an ante room where we are penned as prison officers lay out the rules, which I can testify is an authentic prison entrance as I’ve experienced it for real at Wandsworth Prison a few times (attending a show!). In this specially created space we have an even more authentic caged prison gym with seating on four sides. After an introduction from lifer Hannah, we launch into the prisoner’s production of Shakespeare’s play.

It’s uncanny how the dialogue takes on real meaning for incarcerated women. It’s as inventively staged as the first two, with only items you would find in such a place for props and costumes. The performances are extraordinarily committed and passionate. A grey vest, tracksuit bottom and no make-up must be the most unglamorous stage get-up any theatrical Dame has donned and here Harriet Walter as Hannah playing Prospero is the beating heart of the piece. The great Sophie Stanton as Caliban is as at home as she was as a Dagenham Ford machinist or a Thamesmead mum or a series of Spitalfields barmaids. I very much liked Jade Anouka’s Ariel and Leah Harvey’s Miranda and Karen Dunbar was a terrific Trinculo. The last time I saw Sheila Atim, in Les Blancs, she was mute but hugely charismatic, which she is here, but with dialogue as Ferdinand.

I didn’t think the play’s story and themes suit the setting as much as the power, control and revenge of the previous two plays, but it’s a great pioneering achievement which will go down in theatrical history. Oh, and the blue plastic chairs are a lot more comfortable than the grey plastic ones at the Donmar, though not as plush as the Lazarus seats next door!

 

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A collaboration between a musical hero for 45 years and a favourite theatre director. What could possibly go wrong? Well, an awful lot it turns out, starting with Enda Walsh’s obtuse and incoherent book.

Apparently it was all David Bowie’s idea. Producer Robert Fox came on board first, and he introduced playwright Enda Walsh, to whom Bowie gave four pages of notes and a selection of music to choose from. Director Ivo van Hove came on board last. What further involvement Bowie had is unclear. It would be impossible to stage The Man Who Fell to Earth, in which Bowie made his screen debut, but the idea was to take his character Newton and sort of pick up where the film left off.

It takes place entirely in a Manhattan apartment (uncannily like the one designer Jan Versweyveld built last year in the Young Vic for Song from Far Away).The band is on the other side of the apartment windows, with screens and curtains sometimes putting them out of our view. There are video projections on a central screen, and also on the apartment walls and ceiling, and even behind the band; they are very effective.

Newton is an alien who came to earth to find water and a way of transporting it home. He made a fortune patenting technological ideas from his more advanced planet. Now he’s stuck on Earth drinking gin and watching endless TV, and we’re watching him as he interacts with three new characters – some sort of mass murderer, his assistant Elly and a girl. There are a handful of others. Exactly who they all are or whether they’re even real is unclear. In fact, it’s a complete lack of clarity and coherence that’s the show’s problem. Apparently, during gestation, Bowie’s assistant said ‘yeah, but what happens?’. I couldn’t have put it better myself. The narrative is a bit of a mess and the show is ever so dull.

The score is a mixture of old and new, from 1969’s The Man Who Sold the World through to the wonderful Where Are We Now? from The Next Day. The trouble is they all sound so cold, clinical and bland, devoid of energy and emotion, as if they’ve had the very life squeezed out of them, and the sound doesn’t help. When a club scene turned up accompanied by that Glam Rock anthem All the Young Dudes, I went from disappointment to despair.

You can’t fault Michael C Hall as Newton, sounding uncannily and spookily like Bowie, or Michael Esper as Valentine, the scary ‘mass murderer’. Sophie Anne Caruso as ‘girl’ and our own Amy Lennox as Newton’s assistant Elly are good too, but a fine young musical theatre talent like Jamie Muscato is wasted, I’m afraid. I bet he wished he was back in Bend it Like Beckham or Dogfight.

Whatever the quality of the creative inputs, it’s the material that kills it. It was a long unbroken 110 minutes. A huge disappointment.

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