Sunday, 24 June 2012

'La Cage Aux Folles', The Orpheus Club, King's Theatre, Glasgow, 23/6/12

The Orpheus Club continue their alliance with director Walter Paul who presides over an enjoyable production of the classic Jerry Herman/Harvey Fierstein show based on the original French farce by Jean Poiret.

Led by Michael McHugh as 'Georges' and Jim McPhee as 'Albin' the cast are generally very good but it's certainly these two leads who stand out, together with Sean Stirling camping it up as 'Jacob' and Jamie Walker whose brief moments onstage as 'Francis' with his amusing minor sub-plot involving a somewhat vigorous love-affair are highly amusing. Much of the humour comes from the dated types presented but this being a farce it matters so little. McPhee as 'Albin/Zsa Zsa' embodies memories of several of the greatest drag artists including Danny La Rue, Dame Edna Everage and there is even a bit of John Inman thrown in for good measure.

Neil Thompson's musical direction is assured, despite a trumpet player being a little off-key at times, and he brings out some quality vocals from the cast. Preston Clare's choreography becomes a little repetitive at times but is nonetheless enjoyable.

As for Walter Paul's direction well, I have never been a fan of the man's work, finding him a competent director at best. This show is the best I've seen him, no doubt being aided with a fine score and libretto by Herman and Fierstein respectively.
That said he is still an uneventful director who relies too much on stale, safe staging which renders some scenes verging on the dull, relying on the same set-up time and time again - fortunately the cast refuse to let this happen. Paul is also guilty of often ignoring logic and reason not to mention detail and the director has also yet to truly deal with scenic transitions: He allows the story's flow to stop to have scenery moved when there is no need: Any director worth his salt would rectify this with clever staging and distraction. If this is truly unavoidable then a director should make something out of the scene change and the closest Paul gets here is in the transition to the Restaurant where the crowd create something to watch and look at while the locale is changed. Such peaks are rare where this director is concerned although the final image of Act One where the back-cloth is raised to reveal the real backstage area of the theatre creating a beautiful image of light and shadow as 'Albin' walks away, toward the paraphernalia of artifice, from 'Georges' after being told the reality that he is surplus to requirements. It is worth noting that here the lighting reaches a peak amongst the otherwise fine lighting of Rod Littlefield.

All in all a very enjoyable production where the sum of all its parts came together to create something worthy of viewing.

Saturday, 16 June 2012

'Macbeth', National Theatre of Scotland, Tramway, Glasgow, 15/6/12

Touted as a one-man performance of the Scottish play by a well known Scot in Scotland's second city this production of Macbeth is rather hit and miss.
The setting by Merle Hensel is some sort of cell or ward within a mental institution complete with tiled walls, security cameras and a steel staircase to the secured door and this reminded me of the hospital setting used a few years back in a production that featured Patrick Stewart in the title role. Here we have Alan Cumming playing almost all the roles and speaking the majority of Shakespeare's lines.
The concept is one of the things that work completely; indeed the concept itself seems confused - was this man who we see confined to this ward part of the events he replays in his mind or is he so utterly delusional that he creates the play complete within himself (albeit with the addition of props that are either part of the 'evidence' that come with him or just happen to lie about the stage)? Beyond the man himself there is the doctor and orderly who infiltrate his delusions - what is there purpose?

The production starts slowly and I tended to drag at times in the first half. Once Macbeth's ascent to power is completed and his descent begins things move along at a more appropriate pace, thankfully. Throughout the sound effects and music were a constant and often annoying presence and were clearly used to set mood and effect, as was the constant variation of lighting; sometimes it seemed barely a minute would pass before the next lighting cue was executed. This rushed execution was also given to the text, which was quite truncated, and often seemed to be rushed through virtually eliminating the power and rhythm of most of the words. I must note that I felt most of the issues I had in this regard are with the directors John Tiffany and Andrew Goldberg rather than with Cumming himself. Cumming showed instances of brilliance in some of his many portrayals although they could often be so confused that a familiarity with the plot, if not the text, is essential. It is also a shame that the directors elected to, wittingly or not, play down the gravitas of Macbeth and the actions preceding his rise to power and replace them often with a comedic spin. The better performance that Cumming ultimately gave was as the man (whom Cumming has apparently named 'Fred' as you can read here) who we see glimpses of between his delusional states. 'Fred''s breakdowns and wistful moments are indeed poignant and wrenching and show that Cumming is capable of so much more than he is given the chance to do here.
Because of the difficulty in distinguishing between characters (partially intended by the directors but perhaps not to the degree that the final production offers) it is a welcome relief when the two medical staff finally utter a few lines of Shakespeare and have some sort of real interaction with the man. Here one could see a germ of what could have been from this production.

It seems to me that the high concept has outweighed the production, confused itself whilst losing relevance to the story and text. There is so much that is unnecessary in this production that it threatens to completely nullify the necessary. The setting is quite vast and while this allows much space for which Cumming to play with (movement by Christine Devaney) one wonders whether a more claustrophobic setting might not have been more effective. Likewise the seemingly endless sound by Fergus O'Hare became simply annoying. Natasha Chivers' lighting became as frivolous as a child's finger upon a light switch.
The use of security cameras, in particular in evoking the weird sisters, was one of the better aspects of the production. These cameras would show real time footage of Cumming in his cell, lulling the audience into a false sense of security, before pulling some intriguing tricks and twists upon them. Ian William Galloway (Video Designer) and Salvador Bettencourt Avila (Video Production Engineer) create a sense of unease in their use though some of the execution needs a bit of tweaking.
The mental institution idea, whilst somewhat cliche, is a valid concept but the concept that surrounds Shakespeare's play as a jacket is simply too confused and offers no real purpose in being. It asks question that are irrelevant to the Shakespeare and which are never dealt with - Who is this man? Why is he here? What has he done? What are the origins of the objects that arrive with him and that are lying about the place so randomly? It's almost as if the concept has generated a play within a play unconsciously and as such has seen no reason to answer and explore these questions which, ultimately proved at least as interesting as the story 'told' by the man.

Myra McFadyen and Ali Craig provide solid support as the medical staff and I only wish there was more interaction between the three actors. Alan Cumming, as stated above, really should have been served better by his directors and, at least for most of the duration, we are not engaged with the play and Shakespeare's text as we are the ability for someone to memorise so many words and recite them in so fast a time as he does. I have seen a few production which use the concept of a mental institute and to better and more appropriate effect.

The germ of a possibly mesmerising (and Cumming was such at many a time throughout) production is here but it has yet to take root firmly. Perhaps with further development, more interaction, more precise execution ...

Saturday, 2 June 2012

A note on 'Prometheus'

Beware of SPOILERS!

A Precursor to a full review but I thought I'd jot this down nonetheless.

There are far too many questions and far too few answers. This is also the same syndrome that put me off Lost. If an audience is willing to put so much time and faith in a film or television series the creators have to acknowledge their existence and need for some closure - for answers. Not necessarily to everything but to at least something. Here we get almost no answers whatsoever. I can only hope that any future sequel solves this issue. Together with answering plot-holes(e.g. exactly what caused the holes in the engineer corpses? If it was the black oil material then surely we would have seen the same fate applied to some of the Prometheus' crew? And how can the silicone-based xenomorph evolve from the genetic material of Carbon-based life-forms? Have we to await a potential sequel for that issue to be resolved also?).

Don't get me wrong I thoroughly enjoyed the film, it looked gorgeous and had probably the best 3D I've experienced. And to be honest I wasn't exactly sure what to expect so I can't say I was disappointed in that regard. There were sufficient surprises for my liking.

I do think it unfair to compare Prometheus with Alien as the former is certainly a film independent of its source. But there are aspects that cross over: Namely the engineers and the concept of bio-mechanical life - which is never explored. In this regard the design is a bit of a let down as it appears that biological and mechanical aspects of the engineer civilisation are independent of each other. To that end one wishes that Giger had a far more active involvement beyond the murals he created which appear all to briefly - indeed they are one of the more satisfying aspects of the design.
So, if we are to believe this is a stand alone film, one simply has to concede that it is heavily flawed - albeit very enjoyable - and offers many questions but almost no explorations of those questions and certainly no answers. Perhaps we should see Prometheus as the question and the future sequel(s) as the answers.
At least I hope so.

And, yes, the proto-xenomorph was rather too Bambi-like to be satisfying and one wonders how many generations it will take before it evolves into the well-known xenomorph and in such a short period of time - Alien is set only 30/40 years beyond Prometheus.

I guess time, and Twentieth Century Fox, will tell ...

This is also worth a good listen (be warned it contains many SPOILERS and some BAD LANGUAGE): Listen

Friday, 1 June 2012

'Educating Rita', Theatre Royal, Glasgow, 31/5/12

I've never seen the film version of 'Educating Rita' so I came to the play with no expectations.

Willy Russel's play is both witty and charming and I found myself enjoying it more and more as the play progressed. The story of a working class lass who wants to be 'educated' and the man who is to educate her brings up interesting points about education and culture itself.

As 'Rita' Claire Sweeney is pretty much spot on. Her entrance immediately sets the tone of the character and she evolves effortlessly as the play progresses.
Matthew Kelly is a wonderful actor and as 'Frank' he lives and breathes each aspect that the role presents. I was most impressed by his acting skills which I'd never witnessed previously.
Tamara Harvey's direction is pretty straightforward and she is able to bring out performances that excel without having the need to create any fussy business. Her only possible misstep is at the very end when a piece of staging, where 'Rita' is to give 'Frank' a gift, seems somewhat out of step with the rest of the production.
Paul Anderson's lighting is likewise uncomplicated and functional as is Tim Shortall's design which consists of shelf upon shelf of books. The passing of time is visualised in a tree that stands outside the window; a tree that undergoes the change of the seasons.

The play is both funny, poignant and even thought provoking. Whilst the situations presented may be a trifle outdated it still stands on solid legs. My only real quibble is that I wish the transfers between scenes was smoother and speedier.

Now I must talk about theatre etiquette. The afternoon I saw this play there were many OAPs and school children in attendance. Now I believe that all members of society should see theatre and that it should be open to all. But. But I wish someone,be it a teacher or carer - whomever, had had some words with some members of these groups. Throughout the show there were numerous annoyances and distractions from the audience; children dropping cans and even coins and some elderly people talking rather loudly. We even had to put up with some people who are outright disruptive and shouting. Now in the latter case I feel that these elderly patrons were perhaps the victim of some medical condition that facilitated these acts. But surely the person or persons who accompanied these people to the theatre should take into consideration that a theatre tends to have more audience members present than themselves. And that, if it is known that a person can be disruptive, then that person should not be presented in a situation where one is expected to pay due respect to the artists onstage? As for the children - well, we all know they can be disruptive but I do wish the teachers present had taken it upon themselves to acknowledge their wards and put pay to their behaviour.

As it was Mr Kelly and Miss Sweeney ploughed on regardless for most of the play, never dropping their energy levels. However at one point where one elderly audience member was at their most disruptive Mr Kelly took it upon himself to simply stop after a suitable line and stare at the guilty party. He never once said anything to this audience member and may have seen the possible nature of the predicament. He casually waited until all had settled then resumed the play as if nothing had happened with not a single dip in the energy or pace of the play. Miss Sweeney's response was a simple reaction Mr Kelly; she quickly stole a glance in the direction toward which he were looking.

In the theatrical press instances of disruption (from those who should know better and who are certain to have all their faculties) are becoming more noted and I think that something needs to be done. Is it so hard to tell a child about, and to reinforce the idea of respect for a performer to do their job and to respect other members of the audience? Likewise those factors should be taken into account when planning a trip to a theatre; if one is aware that that respect in the form of silence and attention cannot be paid then perhaps it's best that one doesn't go in the first place.
The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. Or the one.

Rant over.