Hello, my about five loyal readers! I have had an incredibly crazy past few weeks, full of lots and lots of traveling and exploring and not nearly enough sleep. Now that I’m finally home, I have time to update the blog. Look out for likely two photo posts showing my various adventures, but because I said I would review every piece of theatre I go see while I’m abroad, here are my mini-reviews of what I’ve seen in the past few weeks.
Potted Potter at the Garrick Theatre
Though clearly a kids’ show, Potted Potter, a parody written and performed by Daniel Clarkson and Jefferson Turner, was a ton of fun for everyone in the audience. The two actors attempt to perform all seven books of Harry Potter in seventy minutes, and while the gimmick of ‘actor who knows everything to do with the books versus actor who knows nothing’ gets quite old at times, their various observations about what was actually important in each book are often brilliant. Highlights include the slideshow lecture of Prisoner of Azkaban which lays out a formula for the book to satisfy any Potter fan in about ninety seconds, and the Quidditch match in which two rings are suspended from the upper circle and a beach ball tossed into the crowd while a rather terrifying small child from the audience tackled the actor dressed as the Snitch to the ground. The improvised feeling of the whole show keeps it alive and fresh, and keeps the audience eager to see what’s coming next.
Hamlet at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre
Nestled away in idyllic Stratford-upon-Avon (photos coming in the travel post), the Royal Shakespeare Company is pulling out all sorts of new tricks for this season’s production of Hamlet. Directed by David Farr, this modern-dress version of the classic play features adorably hipster Horatio and Ophelia, soldiers in full camo combat uniforms and a motif centred around the use of Hamlet’s and King Hamlet’s deteriorating fencing uniforms to signify his madness. This is physical, corporeal Shakespeare, with Hamlet able to fully embrace his father’s ghost, passionate kissing and the completely wild, surreal play-within-a-play.
Mirroring the depiction of Hamlet’s breakdown was the design decision that any debris from earlier scenes would remain onstage throughout the rest of the show, including antlers from the Players’ show and even Ophelia’s body for the entire fifth act of the play. Hamlet’s (Jonathan Slinger) madness felt a little too loud, too outwardly performed for me, losing much of the ambiguous trickster nature of the character, but allowed for a suitably dramatic conclusion. I was also rather confused by the decision to eliminate the character of Fortinbras, crown prince of Norway, who in Shakespeare’s text serves as a clear foil for Hamlet by showing him what the dutiful son and prince should be. Instead of the play concluding, therefore, with Horatio passing off the crown of Denmark to a suitable king who has proved his worth, the ending is a fall into chaos and insecurity about the future of the kingdom. Perhaps a more realistic and modern interpretation of the play, one leaves wondering if that ‘something rotten in the state of Denmark’ can ever be cured.
The Judas Kiss at the Duke of York’s Theatre
David Hare’s play about the downfall of Oscar Wilde received a brilliant revival this season in the hands of director Neil Armfield and actors Rupert Everett (playing Wilde) and Freddie Fox, depicting the beautiful and shamelessly self-centred Lord Alfred Douglas. The play shows two days in Wilde’s life: the afternoon before he is officially arrested for gross indecency (homosexuality) and the evening in Milan after his release from prison when Douglas leaves him. The two acts, showing Wilde at his peak and at his most desperate, could not be more different; while one shows decadence and deference, the other sees Wilde treated with pity while in the midst of poverty. What links the two scenes, other than a tendency toward arguably unnecessary but hilariously shameless nudity amongst the minor characters, is the language of Wilde himself–as brilliant and witty as the writer’s own prose, Everett’s words bring the character to life and make him the centre of the action and energy while hardly even needing to move.
Wallace and Gromit’s Musical Marvels at the Hammersmith Apollo
Commissioned by the BBC, this all-ages performance is a delightful mash-up of entertainment cultures. The first act of the performance focuses more on the orchestra, both their actual playing and the relationship the conductor has with Wallace and Gromit waiting ‘just offstage.’ Pieces both well-known (Claire de Lune, Firebird) and obscure are interspersed with original scenes on the projected screen of Wallace trying to prepare for his piano concerto later in the show. There are a few clip reels that play along with some of the pieces, but the music still kept centre-stage. The climax of the act is an original duet performed by the head of the orchestra and Gromit himself up on the screen: Concerto for Violin and Dog, maintaining both the humour and genuine musical quality of the performance.
The second act of the piece is the more traditional orchestra/film mash-up–the musicians accompanying the full length W&G ‘A Matter of Loaf and Death,’ which is both hilarious and incredibly adorable. While the two halves of the show did not really seem to mesh together, both were very enjoyable, a celebration of both orchestral music and the classic cartoon.