Earthquakes in London, you should be shaking in your seats

23 August 2010

Last week I went to see Earthquakes in London at the National. A play about the legacy of the babyboomer generation on the planet it’s certainly food for thought about climate change.

How many people can this planet sustain? What kind of world are we leaving future generations? They’re questions that have been posed before: “When environmentalists say that the world is overpopulated, they mean that the environmental consequences of the excessively high human population are destroying the biosphere–the Earth’s life-support system”. What are the environmental consequences? How many people can the Earth really support? What kind of world do you want?

If you have children, or – as in my case – a new niece, you surely must wonder what kind of future you’re leaving your child. A world where populations displaced by climate change – climate refugees. If you think that immigration and refugees in your country now are a problem, what about a future where whole populations are displaced?

Mike Bartlett hit the nail on the head with his play. It can’t be an easy topic to encapsulate in a script, but he does incredibly well. And it’s a topic that perhaps drama needs to address. It’s a medium that can bring a subject to peoples minds and make them think.

Jason Hall has a much better review of the play than I ever could. Read the review. See the play. Then contemplate what kind of future you’re leaving.

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NYC: Next Fall

7 March 2010

Last Tuesday, while I was still in New york, I went to see another Broadway show. The play, Next Fall, has had a magnificent welcome. Starting out last year off-Broadway it progressed and was in previews at on Broadway when I saw it.

It’s a play that deals with relationships between couples, parents, friends, and God. The relationship at the haeart of the play is a gay one. But it could be any one. I tend to connect with plays that have a theme about relationships (how could one be written without such?), but in particular gay oned (I also saw a tremendous piece of gay theatre off-Broadway, The Temprementals, while I was in New York). The play opening formally in March, was written by Geoffrey Nauffts and produced by Elton John and David Furnish.

Next Fall one opens in a hospital waiting room – a place where, no matter where in the world you are (New York, London, Bogota) the same emotions come to the fore: fear, worry, stress, loss, worry, concern… The story is about a gay couple and starts in what is, essentially, the final scene. It progresses with a series of flashbacks to tell the story of Luke, who ens up in a hospital bed, and his partner Adam.

The synopsis:

Luke believes in God. Adam believes in everything else. “Next Fall” portrays the ups and downs of this unlikely couple’s five-year relationship with sharp humor and unflinching honesty. And when an accident changes everything, Adam must turn to Luke’s family and friends for support… and answers.

The religion aspect is one which interests me in particular. Growing up ‘different’ and having a faith are things that are not necesarilly easilly reconcilable. They’re something that takes some personal struggle. And this play asked some uncomforable questions as part of the plot. But it also proved that understanding it requires a personal belief.

The play particularly shows how this, combined with family relationships, can cause gay people to remain uncomfortable. In a country where Proposition 8 has recently been introduced, to stop the progress that had recently been made on introducing gay marriage in the US, it’s a situation that remains, and a story that should be told. Ironically, Porposition 8 was voted for the same day as President Obama won the US presidential election – and this juxtaposition brought forward the ideaf for Next Fall.

At times, through the flashbacks, I felt like only part of the story was being told – I felt as though the struggle between faith and sexuality was not being fully explored. But alongside resolving the sixth character’s position the reason for Luke’s understanding of faith and exuality became clearer.

It was brilliantly acted, but – even more so – a fantastic, emotional funny and thought provoking well-written script. I’d gladly see it again, and I’d most likely well-up in the same way. If you get the chance to see this Play in New York, or wherever it is lucky enough to be produced next.

Read more here, see the show’s website here and twitter page here.


NYC: “Valium is my favorite color”

23 February 2010

Next to Normal on Broadway

Next to Normal, a relatively new and award-winning musical on Broadway, was recommended to me by a number of different people. Being in New York, it was on the list of shows we had in mind to see.

Next to Normal is ‘Rent‘ for the desperate housewives generation. Out goes illegal drugs, squats, AIDS and angst-ridden love affairs, in comes prescription drugs, suburbia, depression and angst-ridden family relationships. It’s been described as not a feel-good show but a feel-everything show. I think I’d agree with that. It’s not an emotional rollercoaster like Rent but an emotion provoking ride nonetheless. Perhaps, I’d say, a little too much in a downward direction. It’s a single story, there’s no inter-twining of different story lines, which meant that subject matters of family relationships, grief and mental illness are dealt with with little humour of escapism (the rock star psychologist isn’t quite Rent’s moo-ing cow-belled Maureen). The story lacks the humour and hopefullness which drove the characters in Rent and in Spring Awakening. There’s no message of hope, nothing that is clearly driving the characters forward through the dispair they’re coping with, or not. And perhaps it was a little too close to the bone for the Broadway theatre crowd. Afterall, while they’re unlikely to be living with a rent boy in Alphabet City chances are they could very well be stranded in Diana’s suburban family-constrained mental distress. The story didn’t inspire me to change my own life, as good theatre often does (although perhaps I’m closer-related to the Rent/Spring Awakening characters than I am to these) nor did it provide the escapism I like to get from musical theatre.

However, it’s highly-praised score was performed brilliantly by a tiny cast – just six actors – cemented with amazing stamina by the lead actress Alice Ripley (who won the ‘Best Lead Actress in a Musical’ Tony award for this role in 2009). Her son in particular, played powerfully by Aaron Tveit complemented her extremely well.

Overall, a musical worth seeing, with brilliant performances.


A little Russian performance art (reblogging)

29 October 2009

I am reblogging a post from a Twitter friend whom I accomapied to see ‘Made in Russia’ at the Chelsea Theatre on Saturday night:

What happens when you take two Russians, heavily involved in dance, and allow them to collaborate together on a theatre piece that both explores their own identity as performers but also interweaves a narrative of past experiences? Made In Russia is the outcome. A slightly surreal and bizarre post-modern theatre piece created, conceived and performed by Andrei Andrianov and Oled Soulimenko.

It truely was a fascinating piece of theatre, charting (i thought, at least) changing approaches to theatre in the context of perestroika. If you’d rather read a view from someone who has more of an idea of what he’s talking about then click here.


Spring Awakening

14 May 2009

I often leave the theatre and rave about how much I enjoyed what I saw. Usually quirky, odd fringe theatre where you’re sitting thirty centimetres from the action. But tonight I went all out to the West End to watch the musical Spring Awakening. Based on a German play written almost 120 years ago it’s the story of coming of age, sexual awakening and the turmoil of youth.

…and I left raving and amazed at how incredible the musical was.

The amazing combination of fascinating storyline, overtly sexual story, beautiful quirky design and fantastic acting (together with great tunes) left me speechless. I’d laughed, I’d cried and felt the whole range of emotions you could feel while sat in the stalls. It reminded me of Rent in it’s rock musical and emotionally-driven style.

Sadly, it’s closing early at the end of May. I do not think it’s an understatement to say that (although I knew before I went, but after I bought my tickets) I am shocked that such a great show would close so early. I would urge everyone to see it in the last two weeks. If you want to read a review from my friend, who is far better at reviewing these things than I am, click here.


The Importance of Empathy

3 November 2008

Over the last week the crazy story around Russel Brand and Jonathan Ross’s [rather inappropriate] prank calls to Andrew Sachs has been raging. I won’t link to all the articles but you can see more here and here for latest.

Now I’m not here to defend them, and I’m not here to slate them. There has been much written about the history of how this came to be top of the headlines when the Congo’s falling into chaos, the global economic system continues to disintegrate and America could be about to elect it’s first black president (Cosmodaddy appears to have the whole history in the middle of his post), but in summary: two complaints when broadcast, Daily Mail picks up the story leading to thousands of complaints, reporting in less biased media leads to comments even from the Prime Minister…

But it did get me thinking…

Last week I went to see Now or Later at the Royal Court Theatre. Essentially a story about how to spin a story it revolves around the son of the soon-to-be President Elect of the United States and an out-of-context internet-rumour about him with a photograph to boot. The debates are fascinating and raise points on whether freedom of speech would be constrained by apologising for something which, to some people, would appear to be highly insulting.

I started to contemplate the obvious connections between the two. The play was esentially based around an out of context, hyped up internet-fuelled press-spun story of an how an inappropriate action could have offended, or been seen to offend, people who do not have the same fundamental beliefs. And there are undoubtedly similarities to the recent BBC debacle (despite the Brand/Ross debate being far less considerate/intellectual and, most damagingly, bullying of a person).

This led me to a conclusion – that actually what is needed is empathy (sadly after all of this thinking the Guardian beat me to posting a similar view on the issue) and there’s a fundamental lesson for us all:

In a fast-paced world based on an [some may say ‘Thatcher-capitalism’]  ‘every man for himself’ attitude it’s easy to be blinkered to how your actions may be seen (especially in a world where free speech can be so easily taken out of context). What we all (myself included) need to do is contemplate how other people may see our actions (out of context or not), and how it will make other people feel. In a fast-paced world where we communicate through keyboards, microphones, telephones, text and computer screens it is easy to be blinkered to the emotional implications of what we say or do. It harder – but important – not to.


A Wilde Performance: Dorian Gray (Sadler’s Wells)

9 September 2008

I was talking to a couple of friends of mine a few months ago and they mentioned they were looking to get tickets to Matthew Bourne’s Dorian Gray at Sadler’s wells. I was dubious. Ballet’s not my thing. I don’t tend to cope well when there’s no words. But I’m very glad I went.

It’s been a long time since I tried to read Wilde’s book. I only gave up because the small font of my copy wasn’t conducive to the harsh lights of the Northern Line on my journey to work. But, at least after a synopsis, I could comprehend the story presented on stage in all it’s brash, gory and modernised detail.

The Aesthete, Lord Henry’s corrupting influence on Dorian leads him to believe that beauty is the only worthwhile aspect of life. The picture, or in Bourne’s production, photograph Basil Hallward paints of Dorian symbolises that. Dorian wishes it would grow old in his place. The story goes on to tell of his loves and desires, their ugliness, and his experiments with numerous vices. In the modernised version the cocaine, partying and homoerotic sex are portrayed as graphically as I’d imagine ballet would allow (indeed beyond what it would allow).

The show’s received mixed reviews:

The negative commentary on Dorian has been especially interesting because so much of it has focused on the fact that the choreography looks trashy and posey, despite the fact that the world of celebrity it’s portraying is itself trashy and posey. It raises the question of how deep a satire can go into its subject without taking on the qualities it criticises…

Personally I think that Bourne gets away with the limitations of the choreography (even the repetitive shagging and partying scenes) because of the credibility and detail with which he dramatises Dorian’s world.

The performance was incredible – although I admit I have not seen true ballet before. The dancers were beautiful – which was how they were portraying the ugly world of fashion, Dorian’s dismissive nature clearly apparent in the performance. The music has been much-criticised but it served a purpose – mainly to make you feel uncomfortable with what you’re seeing, even though what you’re seeing is ballet. I couldn’t tell after the show whether I wanted to look as good as the dancers, or whether the message of Wilde’s story about obsession with youth and beauty made me disgusted at the thought.

The Guardian has a gallery of photographs here.


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