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Posts Tagged ‘Sydney Theatre Company’

Jean Genet’s fame is surprising given his limited output (five books and five plays). His plays are rarely revived here and this 1947 play has been given a rather radical makeover by Benedict Andrews & Andrew Upton. It originated at the Sydney Theatre Company in 2013 (with Cate Blanchett and Isabelle Huppert as the maids!) but now has two black actresses as the maids, giving it another twist in Jamie Lloyd’s visceral production.

The setting has moved to the US. The time is contemporary. Mistress is a rich woman, perhaps a celebrity (think Kardashian!). Her two black maids are sisters and they have a bizarre ritual where one dresses as Mistress and they act out scenes between her and a maid. The conclusion is meant to be Mistress’ murder, though it never seems to get that far. Mistress’ husband is in prison following a tip-off to the police, which appears to have been made by the maids, though he is released on bail on the day / night of the action.

The relocation to the US with black maids works really well. The problem with the play is that the maids’ ritual takes a whole hour before Mistress arrives home, then we have a 30 minute scene involving all three, then she’s off again and we continue with the maids. At almost two hours with no break it’s way overlong (particularly sitting on seats that are amongst London’s most uncomfortable).

Designer Soutra Gilmour has created a clever structure, like a giant four poster bed made of wood with ornate gold decorations. The trouble is, the four large posts ruin the sightlines and from our top price third row side seats we were often listening to a character who we couldn’t see. Jon Clark’s lighting is just as striking as the design and Ben & Max Ringham’s sound design adds a suitably spooky feel. There are a lot of paper petals!

I was hugely impressed by Uzo Aduba as elder sister Solange, in her UK debut, particularly in the final scene where she was mesmerising. Zawe Ashton is much more physical and frenetic as Claire, perhaps a bit too frenetic, but it’s a virtuoso performance nonetheless. In her last West End outing, Laura Carmichael was heckled (perhaps unintentionally) on opening night by a theatre director Knight. Well, she proves her stage acting prowess here with an excellent performance as Mistress.

I much admired the production and the performances, but it’s not a great play and the length, sightlines and discomfort made it worse. Still, good to see such stuff in the West End .

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I decided on one blog for the Barbican’s International Beckett Season after I’d written about Sydney Theatre Company’s Waiting for Godot (https://garethjames.wordpress.com/2015/06/10/waiting-for-godot) so here’s the rest…..

Rough for Theatre I & Act Without Words II

I’d seen both of these short plays before, but their pairing, and the outdoor location, made this a very different and somehow more intense experience. In the first a blind man is playing, well scratching, his fiddle on the street when he is befriended by a one-legged man in a wheelchair. They seem to be exploring the possibility and potential mutual benefit of hanging out together.

The second piece starts with two men in sleeping bags. One is prodded by a rod from the side and proceeds to get out of the sleeping bag and dress, an agonising process which takes an age. After he undresses again and returns to his bag, the second man does the same, except he’s quicker and the process is easier, with more than a touch of OCD. When he returns to his bag, the first man starts again as the play ends. Both characters are mute.

They took place in the Barbican Estate, the first outside St. Giles Cripplegate and the second by a small lake nearby. The evening sounds – planes, a helicopter, birds, passers-by, children playing, a distant choir – all seemed part of it. It was a lovely evening and rather a unique experience and the performances by Trevor Knight in the first, Bryan Burroughs in the second and Raymond Keane in both were superb.

All That Fall

When I saw this radio play on stage 2.5 years ago, I wondered what it would be like on the radio (https://garethjames.wordpress.com/2012/10/22/all-that-fall). Well, this was the next best thing – listening to it siting in a rocking chair in a carpeted Pit Theatre, with gentle orange light emanating from lots of light bulbs hanging from the ceiling. We’re all facing the same direction, a wall of orange spotlights, and that’s it. The spotlights sometimes shine, in differing configurations, and the overhead bulbs come on and off, bright and dim, but it’s also pitch black at times.

The experience didn’t really live up to the excellence of the idea, I’m afraid, adding too little value to what I would imagine it’s like listening at home. The answer to my earlier question appears to be that it’s better staged after all, even if that wasn’t Beckett’s intention.

Krapp’s Last Tape 

This sits alongside Waiting for Godot, Endgame and Happy Days as one of only a quartet of Beckett’s ‘fully formed’ pieces and actors are understandably attracted to the monologue of a 69-year-old man looking back and listening to his annual recordings as he begins the final one. American avant-garde artist Robert Wilson has lengthened it by 20 minutes. It begins with a long period of very loud rain and thunderstorms with a mute Krapp in clown-like make-up on stage eating two bananas. He eventually sits at his desk, though it then didn’t feel like any other performance of this piece. I can’t be sure, but there seemed to be a lot less dialogue, both live and recorded. The vast Barbican stage had high level windows on three sides, what looked like cages at the rear and tables with boxes and papers on both sides. Everything is monochrome, except Wilson’s red socks. It’s a very different playing space to any other I’ve seen this piece in.

He had a lot to live up to as I’ve seen Max Wall, Harold Pinter, John Hurt and Michael Gambon as Krapp, and he didn’t. I was surprised that someone as precious about his work as Wilson would take such liberties with someone else’s, especially as he knew Beckett. I was also surprised the Beckett estate didn’t intervene as they have in the past (Deborah Warner’s Footfalls, to name but one). This is Wilson’s Krapp, not Beckett’s.

I missed the brief visit of Lessness and had seen Lisa Dwan’s Not I/Footfalls/Rockaby at the Royal Court (https://garethjames.wordpress.com/2014/01/20/not-i-footfalls-rockaby), so that’s it!

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Continuing my never ending, and I suspect pointless, search to understand Beckett with the Sydney Theatre Company’s Waiting for Godot at the Barbican Theatre just six weeks after seeing their Endgame in Sydney, also with Hugo Weaving. At three hours, it’s my longest Godot, but it’s also probably the best.

Each production finds something different and this one is funnier and crueler. It’s set in some huge abandoned industrial landscape. Vladimir and Estragon pass the time over two days waiting for Godot, interrupted only by two visits from the blind Pozzo and his dumb ‘slave’ Lucky and two from a boy bringing a message from Godot that he won’t make it until tomorrow. They feel a sense of achievement when they fill time successfully and a sense of hopelessness when they don’t. The attempted diversions are many, but time still drags them down. We see the warmth of companionship and friendship along the way, but pointlessness and despair predominate.

There is much more physicality to the performances, whether it be the pantomime of removing and replacing shoes, changing hats, falling down and picking themselves and others up or the poor treatment of Lucky. They use the vastness of the stage well, but occasionally sit on the front providing intimate moments too. It’s funnier but it’s also more desperate. It seemed more full of contradictions, more expansive and more poignant. Director Andrew Upton suggests it’s creation was particularly collaborative as he had to take the helm at a late stage and somehow you really felt that.

Unlike The Elephant Man last week, but like Endgame six weeks ago, this is no star vehicle. A lot of people are clearly there for Weaving, and he doesn’t disappoint, but they get four fine performances and a much better, if obtuse, play. I’m used to seeing Philip Quast in musicals, so its a treat to see him give such a terrific performance as Pozzo. Richard Roxburgh is Weaving’s equal and the chemistry between them is palpable. Luke Mullins makes so much of Lucky, lurching around the stage and almost falling off twice.

For once my front row cheap seat was a bonus, giving me a close-up view of such thrilling acting. I’m not that much wiser, but it was a theatrical feast nonetheless.

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I bloody love this city!  The setting on the harbour, with the Opera House and Harbour Bridge as features and the downtown skyline as a backdrop, are unrivaled. It’s the most cosmopolitan of places and its people have taken the Aussie casual, positivie trademarks and given them an off-the-wall, cool spin. I could live here – well, if there was (even) more culture.

I landed on my feet with a B&B in the somewhat Bohemian Glebe, a short bus ride from the centre. In addition to a comfy suite and great breakfasts, they provided advice and an Opal card (Aussie Oyster), collected and returned me to the airport and did my laundry! Joining my host for one of his regular ‘old boy’ coffee stops with a local artist and designer made me feel at home. I also lucked out on the weather as the storms earlier in the week disappeared and the sun came out; just a late PM thunderstorm and a drizzly morning to briefly interfere with lovely autumn days.

As soon as I arrived in the city centre on my first morning, I was compelled to take the Manly ferry across the harbour and the short walk from here to the ocean. This whetted my apetite for more ferry journeys so before I was through I’d travelled as far up the Parametta river as I could and hopped over to Watsons Bay for lunch and onward by land to Bondi Beach and the coastal walk to Bronte in an attempt to walk it off. An early visit to the Fish market even had me sampling lobster, scallop and oyster mid-morning. Add in good advice on Glebe dining and Sydney was a great gastronomic stop.

The one rainy morning was a good excuse to spend it in the Art Gallery of New South Wales, a hugely impressive collection with brilliantly curated Asian galleries which juxtaposed the ancient and modern ‘in conversation’, and outstanding Australian art. I even stayed for a lovely lunch to ride out the weather. The Museum of Contemporary Art is a great building, with a striking new extension since I was last here, but needs more art to fill it. It featured a special show on artists who use light and in another of those senior moments, I paid for and entered it before I realised it was the one I saw at the Hayward last year! Still, it was good enough to see again. I walked a lot along the harbourside and through downtown, the trip to the top of the tower provided city views and I even got a personal tour of the NSW parliament.

Sydney was also the trip highlight for theatre and opera. It started at the Belvoir Theatre in Surrey Hills for Elektra / Orestes, a superb modern setting of the story of how the latter returned to kill his mother and her lover in revenge for them killing his dad, goaded on by his big sister. In a theatrical coup, the two halves were mirrors of each other in different rooms. The rain risked the open air Aida on a floating stage in the harbour, but in the end it was clear and dry. Productions like this often put spectacle above music, but this one was briliantly sung, enhanced by the framing of the opera house and harbour bridge stage right and the downtown skyline stage left. Radames triumphant return from war on a real camel (followed by three others) was greeted by a firework display in a stunning end to Act I. The final show was Beckett’s Endgame, which I’ve never understood and still don’t, but it was a particularly funny production with the great Hugo Weaving in the lead role, directed by Sydney Theatre Company’s AD at their home theatre.

Sydney gets under your skin and into your bloodstream, even in just four days. Sad to leave it, and this country, but I feel privileged to have had 2nd and 3rd visits to Melbourne and Sydney respectively and new experiences in Tasmania and the Top End. A stopover in Singapore and Chiang Mai beckons. More from there…..

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