Book review: "In Spirit" by Tara Beagan

In Spirit  

A copy of "In Spirit" by Tara Beagan was kindly provided to me by Playwrights Canada Press in exchange for a free and honest review.

 

Summary

 

Twelve-year-old Molly was riding her new bicycle on a deserted road when a man in a truck pulled up next to her, saying he was lost. He asked if she could get in and help him back to the highway, and said he could bring her back to her bike after. Molly declined, out of interest for her own safety. The next things Molly remembers are dirt, branches, trees, pain, and darkness.

 

Molly is now a spirit.

Mustering up some courage, she pieces together her short life for herself and her family while she reassembles her bicycle—the same one that was found thrown into the trees on the side of the road. Juxtaposed with flashes of news, sounds, and videos, Molly’s chilling tale becomes more and more vivid, challenging humanity not to forget her presence and importance.

 

About author

 

Tara Beagan is a proud Ntlaka’pamux and Irish “Canadian” halfbreed based in Calgary, Alberta. She is co-founder/director of ARTICLE 11 with her most cherished collaborator, Andy Moro. She served as the artistic director of Native Earth Performing Arts from February 2011 to December 2013. A Dora Mavor Moore Award-winning playwright, she has been in residence at Cahoots Theatre, NEPA, the National Arts Centre, and Berton House. Five of her twenty plus plays have been published, and her first film script, 133 Skyway, co-written with Randy Redroad, won the imagineNATIVE award for best Canadian drama. Beagan is also a Dora and Betty Mitchell Award-nominated actor.

 

Review

 

Similar to my experience with “This Is How We Got Here”, I was lucky enough not only to receive a copy of “In Spirit” but also see Tara perform a piece from it at Playwrights Canada Press Fall Launch party and the readings as part of Native Earth’s Weesageechak Begins to Dance festival in November of 2017. Together with Keith Barker’s play, "In Spirit" by Tara Beagan was one of my most anticipated reads, and I am a bit sad I got around to reading and reviewing it only now.

 

"In Spirit" serves as an important message about an ongoing issue of missing and murdered indigenous girls and women in Canada. Based on a true story with amended names and places, it pulls us into a mind of a young girl, who is trying to figure out what had happened. Slowly, we realize that she is a spirit and what she is trying to piece together is not just a broken bicycle but is her murder.

"In Spirit" is one of those plays that makes you feel uncomfortable, guilty and sad. Aand as it should. Because no child deserves the fate that had befallen Molly. It can happen to anyone and is still happening. And we must feel responsible for it.

 

It is disconcerting to say that ‘I liked the play’ as the word ‘like’ seems to be inappropriate due to the subject matter. I liked Molly as a character and found her to be in some ways more mature than her age - the way she feels threatened by the stranger on an instinctive level and how she notices his eyes lose a smile, etc.

 

A broken bicycle represents her life and her fragile body - the image striking enough to be a character on its own in this play. As she picks up pieces one by one, marvelling at how similar this broken bike is to her new one, Molly attempts to reassemble her identity and her memories. It is heartbreaking to read, especially her mentions of the family and dogs.

 

Oh god, the dogs!

 

As Molly reflects on her life, we learn that every dog that she ever owned was killed in road accidents (as their house is next to a road). Molly says:

 

“But do you think one of them even stopped to see what it was they ran over? ... Not even once! And sometimes for sure other people saw what happened, and they didn’t even say nothing either.”

 

That paragraph strongly resonated with me. It almost feels as if Tara is alluring to the society and police who seem to be doing nothing about the violence against indigenous people, who are going missing or killed and nobody seems to care.

 

I had, however, some issues with stage directions. There was a moment in which Molly drops the handlebars she was holding, and next direction says that she still holds them, and then after another couple of lines, she drops them again.

 

I am a visual reader. When I read, I visualize all the events as in a movie. Which means that whenever there is a tiny inconsistency in my “brain movie” script - I will most probably pick on it.

 

With "In Spirit", I had some issues visualizing the events. The descriptions of visual and sound effects of the billboard were not enough for me to recreate a full image of the play in my head. Perhaps, it would have achieved the desired effect, had I an opportunity to watch it on stage.

 

Sparse stage directions forced me to lower the rating of this play. Some may not find it enough for axing one star, but as I only go by the script, I can’t have incomplete or inconsistent directions. Perhaps, it was intentional to give actors free reigns, but I felt as if the play was lacking something.

 

I encourage you to read this play and educate yourself on the issues that are still plaguing our society.

 

Together with links to GoodReads and Playwrights Press pages, I added some links to articles on the topic.

 

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Book review: "This Is How We Got Here" by Keith Barker

This is How We Got Here  

I received a copy of "This is How We Got Here" from Playwrights Canada Press in exchange for a free and honest review. I requested it based on the description and, let’s be honest, the cover.

 

Description

 

It’s been a year since Paul and Lucille’s son Craig committed suicide, and their once-solid family bonds are starting to break down. While the now-separated couple tries to honour their son, Lucille’s sister Liset and her husband Jim refuse to discuss their nephew. The ties that keep the four together as sisters, best friends, and spouses are strained by grief and guilt… until a visit from a fox changes everything.

 

About author

 

Keith Barker is a Métis artist from Northwestern Ontario. A graduate of the George Brown Theatre School, he has worked professionally as an actor, playwright, and director for the past sixteen years. He is a recipient of the SATAward for Excellence in Playwriting and the Yukon Arts Audience Award for Best Art for Social Change for his play The

Hours That Remain. He has served as a theatre program officer at the Canada Council for the Arts, and is currently the artistic director of Native Earth Performing Arts in Toronto.

 

Review

 

I was lucky enough, not only to read the copy "This is How We Got Here"  but also listen to Keith Barker read excerpts from it at Playwrights Canada Press Fall Launch party and the readings as part of Native Earth’s Weesageechak Begins to Dance festival in November of 2017. Keith’s voice as he read the dialogues was so perfect and natural for the story that I kept hearing his voice in my head as I read the play.

 

Even before starting "This is How We Got Here", I knew that this play would be a hard one to swallow. The premise of the story is tragic, more so, since Keith Barker had to deal with a similar tragedy in his family and some of the situations were drawn from his own experiences.

 

This is a story about a close-knit family which starts to fall apart as some of them refuse to acknowledge and deal with the loss and others lose themselves in it. "This is How We Got Here" is full of raw and unapologetic dialogues between couples, friends and siblings, as they all try to make sense of what their lives should be. They lash out at each other in the way that only the closest people can - pushing the buttons almost to the point of no return with the words that hurt the most.

 

The writing in "This is How We Got Here" is so realistic and true to life that anyone can relate to the story regardless of whether they experienced a profound loss or not. You can take any line from the play, and I am sure you have either said it yourself or had it said to you. In spite of the grievous theme of the plot, I can see myself reading this play over and over.

 

The introduction of a fox into the plot was rather surprising as I did not expect it to be relevant at all. It can be viewed as either an aspect of magical realism in the play or just the struggles of an unravelling mind of Lucille. I am a bit torn as I like both ideas equally, so I’d rather stay in the dark as what was the actual intention of the author.

 

I don’t know how to recommend "This is How We Got Here" well enough without making it sound as if it is only about grief. Yes, it is the story of grief, and loss, and mental health, and, perhaps, even bullying, and about broken families, and, yes, it will make you cry. But it is also the story of hope and trying to rebuild what is broken. It was very much worth your time.

 

I am very grateful to Playwrights Canada Press for once again giving me an opportunity to read and review one of their brilliant plays.

 

Rating: 4.5 stars

 

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Play review: A Woman of No Importance

  A Woman of No Importance

 

I have already published my reading and entertainment goals for 2018, in which I mentioned that I aim to watch 20 plays this year. And what a better way to start the year than with an Oscar Wilde play.

A Woman of No Importance

 

Filmed live at the Vaudeville Theatre, London on 28 November 2017.

Cast: Eve Best, Anne Reid, Eleanor Bron, Crystal Clarke, Emma Fielding, Dominic Rowan, Lister Smith, William Gaunt

Synopsis: Olivier award-winner Eve Best (A Moon for the Misbegotten and Hedda Gabler) and BAFTA-nominated actress Anne Reid (Last Tango in Halifax) star in this new classically staged production of Oscar Wilde’s comedy directed by Dominic Dromgoole, former Artistic Director of Shakespeare’s Globe. The first play from the Classic Spring Theatre Company’s Oscar Wilde Season, A Woman of No Importance will be captured live for cinemas from the Vaudeville Theatre in London’s West End. An earnest young American woman, a louche English lord, and an innocent young chap join a house party of fin de siècle fools and grotesques. Nearby a woman lives, cradling a long-buried secret. First performed in 1893, Oscar Wilde’s marriage of glittering wit and Ibsenite drama satirised the socially conservative world of the Victorian upper-class, creating a vivid new theatrical voice which still resonates today. ‘One can survive everything nowadays, except death, and live down anything except a good reputation.’ Oscar Wilde

Review

I had not read this play before watching it, so I went into it rather blind. Judging by the summary, I expected it to be along the lines of “Importance of Being Earnest” - the play that I watched a couple of years ago and absolutely adored. However, “A Woman of No Importance” didn’t have the exact same effect on me.

The play is funny and brilliant in its own way - don’t get me wrong, however, in my opinion, it too much focuses on the society’s perception of propriety and prudishness. Obviously, that was the point as the social satire is the main theme of the play, but for me, it was just a bit too predictable.

The plot of the play didn’t go into the direction I thought it would. For some unknown reason, I was rooting for some side characters to be more prominent, e.g. Mrs Allonby whose flirtatious conversations with Lord Illingworth were fabulous. I would have loved to watch a whole play of them just flirting and insulting each other.

Mrs Rachel Arbuthnot, one of the key characters in this play, is portrayed by Eve Best who did a great job. However, the actress herself reminded me strongly of someone I know at work and I found it very distracting to the point that I couldn’t focus on her character. It has never happened to me before.

I was happy with the ending, even though I sort of wish the play was more satirical and fun. It is called be feminist in nature as it deals with lots of societal perceptions of women’s role in the world.

I think Mrs Allonby was my favourite as she was the only female character who constantly rebelled against the limitations put on her gender. She is witty and silver-tongued and I enjoyed her character way more than others.

There were several songs in the play, which took me by surprise, as they were weaved in as performances by the Lady Hunstanton, the host of the party. It was nicely done, in my opinion, and the songs were performed by the actress herself with the household staff and Lady Stutfield playing musical instruments.

I found the play lovely, but nothing beyond that and a couple of rather stellar lines.

Rating: 3 stars

 

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Sources:

  • https://www.cineplex.com/Events/Stage
  • https://www.vaudevilletheatre.org.uk

Book/play review: "Outside" by Paul Dunn

I would like to start my review by saying thank you to Playwrights Canada Press for giving me an opportunity to not only read the play but also attend the launch party and the performance at Buddies in Bad Times theatre.  

My review might contain some spoilers.

Outside cover

Synopsis

 

Daniel’s ready to talk. And his friends Krystina and Jeremy are ready to help. But is it too late? Set in separate but simultaneous lunch periods at two different high schools, the teenagers are faced with acknowledging what drove them apart. At his new school, Daniel speaks to the Gay-Straight Alliance about the bullying and depression that forced him to move. He looks back fondly at the bond he formed with Krystina and Jeremy in history class and the trauma he faced from anonymous text messages. At his former school, Krystina and Jeremy are setting up for their first GSA meeting while grappling with the guilt of not doing more to help their friend. For the first time Daniel has an appreciative audience, but his friends face an empty room. The narratives intertwine as Daniel gains more confidence in his queer identity and Krystina and Jeremy try to assess their boundaries as straight people who want to create a safe space. By talking about mistakes, abuse, a suicide attempt and a move, the teens find comfort in perspective and power in numbers.

 

Review

 

I read Outside in one go - it is a short and a quick read. The perspective shifts flawlessly from Daniel to Krystina and Jeremy and back. It is not easy to read this play, as you can see from the very beginning how everything starts to snowball and you begin to dread the ending. As always when I read about bullying, I was overcome with annoyance towards adults in the play who would not interfere or do enough to help Daniel. The thoughts of ‘what if’ and ‘if only’ followed me throughout my reading experience, and once the play was over, I was left feeling slightly bereft. As if there was something else that was missing from it. Something vital, but I couldn’t put my finger on it.

 

Outside launch party

 

I went to the launch party and got to listen to Paul Dunn and Andrew Lamb, the Artistic Director of Roseneath Theatre, talk about the inspiration behind the play, the research they did, and the reception by the targeted audience. Since I barely skim through synopses on the backs of books before reading them - for the fear of spoilers - I had not realized before coming to the launch that this play is written as an educational piece for the way younger audience than myself. It is targeted at grades 7 to 12 kids and is intended to be a conversation starter about bullying in schools and how this behaviour can lead to serious consequences. The play was partially inspired by the stories behind "It Gets Better" campaign, and we see Daniel when he is already in a better place and safe, as his story unfolds through the series of flashbacks.

 

After the party - and getting my copy signed by the author, yay! - we went to see the play. It was a great production with some ingenious set design that allowed the actors to quickly change the scene by moving parts of it. The design is minimalist and parts of the costumes are interchangeable, which allows actors to do everything on stage themselves, and makes touring across the province possible. I loved the cast! They all fit their characters perfectly. The cast is as follows: G. Kyle Shields as Daniel, Mina James as Krystina, and Giacomo Sellar as Jeremy. (I couldn’t place where I had seen Mina before, but then found out that she played Helena in “All’s Well That Ends Well” in Canadian Stage’s Shakespeare in the Park in 2016. That was a fun play!)

 

Cast of Outside

 

After the performance, the actors stayed on stage and explained how they usually follow up the performance with introducing themselves, and then starting the dialogue with the audience and answering questions. They talked both about their experiences as actors and as educators and how much impact the play has on schoolkids. Some kids even came up to them after the show, identifying with the characters and sharing their stories.

 

Outside creative team

 

One of the interesting aspects mentioned by the cast is how different it is to perform this play (or read it for that matter) in front of adults and children. Adult viewers can tell immediately how serious things are and how potentially dangerous situation was for Daniel - and this was exactly how I felt while reading the play. Kids, however, are not able to foresee the consequences. In some aspect, their reactions to what is happening on stage is genuine and uninhibited. For example, kids tend to find certain things funny and would laugh in the places, where adults would not. The actors mentioned that even if there is noise during the performance at the beginning, it usually dies down by the end of the play.

 

Andrew Lamb mentioned that after their performances many schools across Ontario started their own Gay-Straight Alliances. To date, over 34,000 young people have seen the play. This is amazing!

 

I was absolutely delighted by the concept of blending theatre and education! Needless to say, the bullying is an incredibly serious problem and can lead to devastating results as it is proven again and again (as I am writing this, there was another story on the news about the boy committing suicide after being severely bullied as school in QC). It is on us, adults, to prevent this from happening not only by executing vigilance, but also by educating kids.

 

This is a wonderful and educational play, and I hope that it would continue its touring across Ontario, and there is also a possibility for it going to US! Wishing all the best to Paul Dunn and the creative team behind the play!

 

Book rating: 4 stars

Performance rating: 5 stars

 

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Play review: Cyrano de Bergerac (Broadway HD, 2008)

Cyrano de Bergerac  

Being as smitten as I am with theatre, I almost never get to see Broadway productions. Most of the plays that are screened at Cineplex are by National Theatre or Royal Shakespeare Company. One in a while, though, we get rare gems, like The Crucible, and this time - Cyrano de Bergerac.

 

It was the first time I got to see this play on stage and was fairly entertained by it. Cyrano de Bergerac was written in 1897 by Edmond Rostand, and there are two most famous English translations - by Brian Hooker and by Anthony Burgess. This production used the text translated by Anthony Burgess. The play was on stage briefly in 2007, then revived and filmed in 2008.

 

Synopsis

 

Soldier and poet Cyrano de Bergerac (Kevin Kline) is in love with Roxane (Jennifer Garner), but he’s too ashamed to admit it because of his big nose. When a cadet, Christian (Daniel Sunjata), falls for Roxane, he asks for Cyrano’s help in sharing his feelings. Cyrano writes love letters signed with Christian’s name, and Roxane doesn’t realize that it is Cyrano’s words she falls for.

 

The events of the play take off in Paris, in 1640.

 

(I have slightly abridged the synopsis as I felt that it was too spoilery otherwise.)

 

I didn’t realize that the production was from several years back - almost a decade - and wondered why I hadn’t seen this play before.

 

Kevin Kline was fantastic as Cyrano - he was both witty, eloquent, touching, and a bit tragic. It took me some time to get used to Roxane as her character seemed to be a bit exaggerated. I even sympathized with Christian a bit, although he did look way too snobby and uptight at times. The play is set at my favourite time period - the same time as the events of The Three Musketeers, so I was delighted to see the play in the full period costume. Needless to say, the duels were among my favourite parts (and I kept getting flashbacks to BBC series The Musketeers).

 

I enjoyed the play for the duels, wit, and all the schemes that Cyrano comes up with. I felt that Roxane was a bit too one dimensional, as her role was basically that of a swooning and spoiled lady, but I enjoyed Jennifer’s acting a lot. I just didn’t like the fact that the only prominent woman in this story was just an object of affection and nothing more.

 

Overall, it is not too spectacular, but funny enough to keep you entertained. Make sure to grab enough snacks and drinks before the broadcast, though, as the whole 2.5 hours of the play screened without an intermission.

 

Rating: 3.5 stars

 

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Musical review: Falsettos (Broadway Revival) - Live from Lincoln Center

Falsettos  

I am so used to going to special events and broadcasts at Cineplex on Thursdays, that I almost completely missed a broadcast of "Falsettos" on Wednesday, July 12 (yes, I am a bit behind on reviews - thanks for noticing ?).

 

"Falsettos" was one of those classic ‘know nothing about but it sounds gay, so I am going to watch it’ moments for me. I got a ticket almost last minute - which for me means a day or two ahead - and spent a lovely evening laughing my heart out.

 

Information

 

DIRECTOR

James Lapine

 

CAST

Christian Borle, Stephanie J. Block, Andrew Rannells, Brandon Uranowitz, Anthony Rosenthal, Tracie Thoms, Betsy Wolfe

 

SYNOPSIS

Live From Lincoln Center & Lincoln Center Theater present “Falsettos” Nominated for five 2017 Tony Awards, including Best Revival of a Musical, Falsettos is a hilarious and poignant look at a modern family revolving around the life of a gay man Marvin, his wife, his lover, his soon-to-be-bar-mitzvahed son, their psychiatrist, and the lesbians next door. Originally created under the specter of the AIDS crisis, this timely musical about middle-class family dynamics manages to remain buoyant and satirically perceptive even as it moves towards its heartbreaking conclusion. Lincoln Center Theater’s production stars Christian Borle, Stephanie J. Block, Andrew Rannells, and Brandon Uranowitz, all of whom received Tony nominations for their respective performances.

 

"Falsettos" is absolutely hilarious. There are lots of middle-age crisis jokes, lots of Jewish jokes, lots of ‘my husband is gay and I don’t know how to deal with it because I kind of support him and also want to stab him’ jokes. The time flew by as I watched it.

 

Since I did not know that one of the plotlines of "Falsettos" would touch upon AIDS or I would have mentally braced myself. Earlier in July, I watched the brilliant production of “Angels in America” that I loved to the very bottom of my heart, and was not ready to revisit the subject matter.

 

The musical went from extremely funny and happy to sad by the end of the story. Someone in the audience behind me was crying hysterically at the very end. And believe me, it was indeed really hard not to do the same.

 

Jason, the young son of Marvi, is torn between his drifting apart parents. He is confused by the appearance of a boyfriend in his father’s life, as well as the crazy obsession of both parents to celebrate Bar Mitzvah in the way they want. Jason definitely steals the show at times, but my heart is firmly with Marvin and his relationship with Whizzer.

 

Marvin tries to be both true to himself and also keep his tight-knit family. It is both funny and heartbreaking to watch as he goes between his wife and son, and his lover. I don’t want to spoil it for anyone but even when things seem to be getting better - they actually aren’t.

 

I liked the music, and jokes, and the acting, but I would not call "Falsettos" the best musical I have ever seen. The plot is somewhat predictable at times, and as it was set in a certain time period, the ending is sad but unsurprising. I wish it had ended differently, though.

 

Acting deserves at least 4 stars, but the plot is about 3 stars.

 

Overall rating: 3.5 stars

 

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Book/play review: "The Crucible" by Arthur Miller

The Crucible  

This is going to be the review of both the text of "The Crucible" by Arthur Miller and the Old Vic production of 2014, which was shown in Cineplex on July 2, 2017.

Play

 

Everybody has heard of Salem witch trials, one of the most well known cases of mass hysteria in Colonial America between 1692 and 1693, that resulted in trials and executions of over a dozen of people accused of witchcraft and consorting with devil. Arthur Miller wrote his version of the events based on the evidence, adding some fictional elements and changes to the story. He wrote the play as an allegory for the contemporary hysteria and accusations surrounding communism propaganda.

 

That was in 1953.

 

Needless to say, that this play is as relevant as ever today, and "witch hunt" is still used as a popular rhetoric in politics.

 

Old Vic Production

 

I watched the play first and then read the text, but I adored it even more for it. The text is not dense at all, and reads fairly easily, in spite of an old type font in my copy. Arthur Miller breaks the third person narrative by historical references and his own thoughts, which works really well and adds his perspective on the events and characters.

 

I thought it was a relatively new production and was surprised to learn that it was originally staged in 2014 at Old Vic theatre in London, captured by Digital Theatre, then released digitally in 2015. Can’t believe it took Cineplex 2 years to bring it to their viewers in Canada!

 

Old Vic’s production of "The Crucible" was directed by Yaël Farber. It was the second play directed by her that I saw this year. The first one being Yerma, and I could definitely tell that both plays shared the same dark and gruesome feel.

 

Yaël is a multiple award-winning director and playwright. Her production of Mies Julie won a string of international awards at the 2012 Edinburgh Festival, was named one of the Top Ten Productions of 2012 by The New York Times, and Top Five Productions of 2012 by The Guardian.

 

Before “The Crucible”, I had never seen Richard Armitage on stage (unsurprising really, as he turned on stage after 12 years gap), although I, naturally, saw him in The Hobbit trilogy and loved his acting. His performance as John Proctor is absolutely stunning. Delivered by Richard in his deep, gruff voice, Proctor’s words piece you to the core as you see this strong-willed and honest farmer struggle with fanatics and ill-wishers, only to eventually succumb to his own guilt and politics.

 

The stage decorations are minimal; the attention is focused on stage with the audience sitting around it. The stage is dark and the smell of incense is obvious (sadly, not in the cinema broadcast). Yaël once again managed to stun me with her direction and heightened sensory experience. Similar to Yerma, "The Crucible" is not just a visual experience, but a bodily experience as well. Something that you let course through your whole body.

 

The production is very true to the text, almost word to word. If you have an opportunity to watch this recording from Old Vic - please, do! It will make an impression on you, I swear.

 

In this interview to The Guardian, Richard mentioned that he would like to work with Yaël Farber again, which would freaking fantastic. His portrayal of John Proctor will always have a special place in my heart.

 

To be fair, I was not familiar with any other cast member before watching the play, but it would not be fair to praise only Richard for his acting, when Abigail Williams and other girls in the play delivered a no less stunning performance. Abigail was played by an emerging actress, Samantha Colley. She was so defiant, so cunning, and that the same time so naive, that I still can’t decide if I admire her or despise her more.

 

Definitely a must watch!

 

Plot/script: 4 stars

Production: 5 stars

Overall: 4.5 stars

 

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Play Review: Yerma - National Theatre Live

  Yerma National Theatre Live

Please beware of spoilers to the plot of both the play and the NT adaptation.

 

I have never found it this hard to start a blog post about a play. The subject matter of Yerma threw me off completely. But allow me to start from the beginning.

 

I purchased a ticket for the live broadcast of Yerma months ago. As per usual, I was motivated not to miss a single broadcast with the added incentive of seeing Billie Piper on stage. I loved Billie as the 9th Doctor’s companion back in a day and was excited to see her perform.

 

I had not known the plot of Yerma before I picked up the book, although I did know of Frederico Garcia Lorca. I got myself a copy of Four Major Plays by Lorca and was surprised to see that the play was only 50 pages long. I managed to read it in two sittings on the day of the broadcast.

Yerma - The Play

 

Yerma is identified by Lorca as “a tragic poem in three acts and six scenes”. It was written in 1934, right on the brick of Spanish Civil War in 1936 and the author’s demise. The play takes place in a rural Andalusia, where Yerma, a married woman, suffers from the inability to conceive a child. Every woman in her seems to be pregnant, but yet she is still waiting after two years of marriage. Her husband Juan doesn’t seem to be at all concerned about it. His concerns more lie within Yerma’s increasingly erratic behaviour and worry about the spreading rumours that Yerma is unfaithful. Desperate, Yerma goes to a place of pilgrimage but refuses to lie with another man. Finding out that Juan never really wanted children and never will, Yerma kills her husband, killing with him her only hope to have a child.

 

Set in a time and society where the only place for a woman was to sit at home and raise children, Yerma is a tragic story of a woman trapped between her sense of duty and honour (toward her father and husband) and her desire to have a child (for which she requires her husband’s permission). Yerma is judged by other women and men in her environment for not having children yet. Her name itself means ‘barren’ in Spanish, although it is not clear whether it is true or not.

 

I can’t say I liked the subject matter of the play, however, Lorca’s writing is so lyrical and vivid, that I couldn’t help bookmarking a couple of passages.

 

Yerma: “Are you supposed to want a man just for being a man and nothing else?”

 

Yerma: “If I could suddenly turn into an old woman with a mouth like a crumpled flower, I could give you a smile and cheerfully share my life with you. But now, just leave me alone with my pain.”  

 

The play has a lot of songs and lyrical passages woven into the dialogues. Considering that and the length of the play, I was rather curious to see National Theatre production.

 

National Theatre

 

The play ‘Yerma’ was adapted and, essentially, re-written for modern London by Simon Stone. It is an hour and a half long play with no intermission. It was originally produced in 2016 and brought back to Young Vic in 2017.

 

Here is the official synopsis:

 

The incredible Billie Piper (Penny Dreadful, Great Britain) returns in her Evening Standard Best Actress award-winning role.

A young woman is driven to the unthinkable by her desperate desire to have a child in Simon Stone’s radical production of Lorca’s achingly powerful masterpiece. The unmissable theatre phenomenon sold out at the Young Vic and critics call it ‘an extraordinary theatrical triumph’ (The Times) and ‘stunning, searing, unmissable’ (Mail on Sunday). Billie Piper’s lead performance is described as ‘spellbinding’ (The Evening Standard), ‘astonishing’ (iNews) and ‘devastatingly powerful’ (The Daily Telegraph).

Set in contemporary London, Piper’s portrayal of a woman in her thirties desperate to conceive builds with elemental force to a staggering, shocking, climax.

 

The play was split into ‘chapter’, each introduced on a black screen with a title and live music. The blackout allowed a change of scene and decorations. The whole play is conducted in an enclosed space, which looks like a glass box or an aquarium, turning the actors into the subjects of observation. And isn’t it how life is? Both ‘Her’ (Yerma), who has no actual name, and John (Juan) are symbols of any couple struggling to conceive. She is a journalist and a blogger; John is a businessman who is always away.

 

There are a lot of changes in the play. It is hard to call it an adaptation. Rather, Lorca’s Yerma was an inspiration for Stone’s Yerma. Both Yermas are pressured by society, but they struggle and attempt to cope with it in different way. There are a lot of feminist dialogues in the Stone’s play, which are only ever hinted at (if you squint) by Lorca.

 

Similar to a modern version of Hedda Gabler, I couldn’t fully connect with modern Yerma or her obsession to have a child. A modern Yerma didn’t really the same pressure from her family. Rather that pressure came from within. Perhaps, that is why the ending of Stone’s Yerma was different from Lorca’s.

 

Billie was stunning. I loved her on stage and, I admit, if it weren’t for her captivating performance, I would have been bored out of my wits. Neither perceived societal norms or expectations regarding women's reproductive system or what they should or should not do with them are of no interest to me. Personally, I can not relate to the desire to produce an offspring, and so strong to that. But regardless of my own feelings on the matter, the play is well written and adapted for stage. Billie’s performance is riveting and well deserved of all the praise. She received several awards for her performance in Yerma, including the prestigious Best Actress at the Laurence Olivier Theatre Awards.

 

If I am to split the ratings between different parts, I would give:

 

Plot: 2 stars

Writing by Frederico Garcia Lorca: 3 stars

 

I will give the play the average of 3 stars.

 

Adaptation by Simon Stone: 4 stars

Performance: 5 stars

 

I will give the production the average of 4 stars.

 

More of my theatre play reviews.

 

Sources:

THEATRE BLOG: The Day of Open Doors at Wiener Staatsoper (Der Tag der offenen Tür)

Wiener Staatsoper  

For most people, who visit Vienna, Wiener Staatsoper (Vienna State Opera) is the first attraction that they are introduced to. It is a prominent landmark, from which the most sightseeing tours around the city start and end. I have met with people numerous times around Opera. I have had an Apfelstrudel in Opera Cafe. I have used Opera as a starting point of my walks in the city, and this is where I always come back.

 

History

 

The structure of the Wiener Staatsoper was planned by the Viennese architect August Sicard von Sicardsburg, while the inside was designed by interior decorator Eduard van der Nüll. Neither of the architects survived to see the opening of the opera house: the sensitive van der Nüll committed suicide, and his friend Sicardsburg died of a stroke soon afterwards. The building was majorly damaged during the WWII. Only the main facade, the grand staircase, and the Schwind Foyer had been spared from the bombs. It was reconstructed after the war, and in 1955, the Vienna State Opera reopened with a new auditorium and modernized technology.

 

Wiener Staatsoper

Wiener Staatsoper is one of the leading opera houses in the world. Each season, the schedule features 350 performances of more than 60 different operas and ballets. It is said to have one of the largest repertoires in the world.

Wiener Staatsoper

 

Open Doors Day

 

Every year, before the official start of the season, Wiener Staatsoper holds the Open Door Day. This event is free of charge, but the tickets have to be picked up beforehand in the theatre’s ticket office (Bundestheaterkassen). I learned about this event only this year, even though it was far from my first (or my second) visit to Vienna. Years ago I was even lucky to score a ticket for the performance. But I didn’t know that the opera house hosted Open Doors Day. This year, it took place on September 3rd, Sunday. I knew that I would be in the city on that day but all the traveling, and scheduling, and meeting my parents and friends, the fact that I had to acquire the tickets beforehand had totally slipped my mind.

Wiener Staatsoper

So, when we were leisurely strolling past Staatsoper after 1pm and saw lines of people in the middle of the day, something clicked in my mind. It was the Open Doors Day. The event took place twice during the day: first session - 2:00 pm - 4:30 pm; and second session - 5:30 pm - 8:00 pm. We lined up at first for 2pm, but when I rushed into the ticket office, I was informed that they only had four tickets left for 5:30pm session. I couldn’t believe my luck! Of course, I snatched three of those, even though it sort of upset our evening plans.

 

But it was so worth it.

 

Experience

 

The doors of Wiener Staatsoper opened at 5:30pm, and everybody rushed in. We were allowed to walk everywhere, or almost everywhere, including backstage, on stage, up to the rehearsal rooms. Small orchestra was playing on one of the balconies. In one of the halls, the costume department brought out various costumes and hats for the public to try on. On the stage itself, we were introduced to various technical departments and the effects they can produce: foam, smoke, lights - it was so much fun for both adults and kids. The staff were there to explain what parts of the stage equipment was used for what.

 

As a theatre geek, I was in heaven. I couldn’t take enough selfies next to a smoke machine too.

Behind the scenes

At 7:30pm everybody was called to their seats for the Technical Show. (And this is why it is important to keep your ticket till the very end, as those ticket ladies can be very strict.) The Technical show had bits of ballet and opera repertoire, but intercepted with talks and introductions by the technical director of the opera house. Every change of stage was done with curtains up, which allowed the audience to see how it all happens. The decorations went up and down (the stage goes down 11.5 meters!), there was smoke, lights, and fire!

 

Both my parents and I were stunned. It was one of the best technical shows ever. It was fully conducted in German, though, which made it a bit difficult to follow the jokes (as my German is far from good), but it was just a small part of the performance.

 

Trying on costumes

Even if you are not a theatre or opera fan, do not miss out on this opportunity next year. It is a free and fun event for all. Definitely, something that I would love to experience again.

Resources:
My other theatre related posts.

Theatre Blog: The plays I want to see (Fall 2017 - Spring 2018) - National Theatre Live

So far, this year has been absolutely great on all National Theatre Live broadcasts. There were a lot of plays that I loved and would happily watch more than once. I know that I am a bit behind on reviews here, but since I found information about upcoming broadcasts at Cineplex website, I just had to share!

Yerma - National Theatre Live

September 21, 2017 | 2h 00m

GENRE: Drama, Stage

DIRECTOR: Simon Stone (Director), Federico García Lorca (Playwright)

CAST: Billie Piper

SYNOPSIS

The incredible Billie Piper (Penny Dreadful, Great Britain) returns in her award-winning role. A young woman is driven to the unthinkable by her desperate desire to have a child in Simon Stone’s radical production of Lorca’s achingly powerful masterpiece. The unmissable theatre phenomenon sold out at the Young Vic and critics call it ‘an extraordinary theatrical triumph’ (The Times) and ‘stunning, searing, unmissable’ (Mail on Sunday). Billie Piper’s lead performance is described as ‘spellbinding’ (The Evening Standard), ‘astonishing’ (iNews) and ‘devastatingly powerful’ (The Daily Telegraph). Set in contemporary London, Piper’s portrayal of a woman in her thirties desperate to conceive builds with elemental force to a staggering, shocking, climax. Please note that this broadcast does not have an interval.

Links:

My comments: I have already purchased the ticket for this broadcast. I am very excited to see Billie Piper on stage, whom I really liked in Doctor Who. And this time I swear, I will read the play before watching it.

 

Follies - National Theatre Live

November 16, 2017 | 3h 30m

GENRE: Musical, Stage

DIRECTOR: Dominic Cooke

CAST: Imelda Staunton, Tracie Bennett, Janie Dee

SYNOPSIS:

Stephen Sondheim’s legendary musical is staged for the first time at the National Theatre and broadcast live to cinemas. New York, 1971. There’s a party on the stage of the Weismann Theatre. Tomorrow the iconic building will be demolished. Thirty years after their final performance, the Follies girls gather to have a few drinks, sing a few songs and lie about themselves. Tracie Bennett, Janie Dee and Imelda Staunton play the magnificent Follies in this dazzling new production. Featuring a cast of 37 and an orchestra of 21, it’s directed by Dominic Cooke (The Comedy of Errors). Winner of Academy, Tony, Grammy and Olivier awards, Sondheim’s previous work includes A Little Night Music, Sweeney Todd and Sunday in the Park with George.

Links:

My comments: I am not familiar with this story but I am excited to see Imelda Staunton on stage again. After watching “Who is afraid of Virginia Woolf?” (read my review here), I developed a new level of appreciation for Imelda. She was terrific in that play, so I can’t wait to see this production.

 

Young Marx - National Theatre Live

December 7, 2017 | 3h 40m

GENRE: Comedy, Stage

DIRECTOR: Nicholas Hytner

CAST: Rory Kinnear, Oliver Chris

SYNOPSIS:

Rory Kinnear (The Threepenny Opera, Penny Dreadful, Othello) is Marx and Oliver Chris (Twelfth Night, Green Wing) is Engels, in this new comedy written by Richard Bean and Clive Coleman. Broadcast live from The Bridge Theatre, London, the production is directed by Nicholas Hytner and reunites the creative team behind Broadway and West End hit comedy One Man, Two Guvnors. 1850, and Europe’s most feared terrorist is hiding in Dean Street, Soho. Broke, restless and horny, the thirty-two-year-old revolutionary is a frothing combination of intellectual brilliance, invective, satiric wit, and child-like emotional illiteracy. Creditors, spies, rival revolutionary factions and prospective seducers of his beautiful wife all circle like vultures. His writing blocked, his marriage dying, his friend Engels in despair at his wasted genius, his only hope is a job on the railway. But there’s still no one in the capital who can show you a better night on the piss than Karl Heinrich Marx.

Links:

My comments: Can’t say I am very interested in the story of Karl Marx, but Rory Kinnear is a terrific actor. I have seen him in The Threepenny Opera and Othello (both by NT) and I know that this is going to be a great play!

 

Hamlet - National Theatre Live ENCORE

March 1, 2018 | 3h 25m

Links:

My comments: Hamlet with Benedict Cumberbatch - what more can I say? I have seen it twice already but will watch it again, and again, and again.

 

 

 

 

Julius Caesar - National Theatre Live

March 22, 2018 | 3h 00m

GENRE: Stage

DIRECTOR: Nicholas Hytner

CAST: Ben Whishaw, Michelle Fairley, David Calder, David Morrissey

SYNOPSIS:

Ben Whishaw (The Danish Girl, Skyfall, Hamlet) and Michelle Fairley (Fortitude, Game of Thrones) play Brutus and Cassius, David Calder (The Lost City of Z, The Hatton Garden Job) plays Caesar and David Morrissey (The Missing, Hangmen, The Walking Dead) is Mark Antony. Broadcast live from The Bridge Theatre, London. Caesar returns in triumph to Rome and the people pour out of their homes to celebrate. Alarmed by the autocrat’s popularity, the educated élite conspire to bring him down. After his assassination, civil war erupts on the streets of the capital. Nicholas Hytner’s production will thrust the audience into the street party that greets Caesar’s return, the congress that witnesses his murder, the rally that assembles for his funeral and the chaos that explodes in its wake.

Links:

My comments: Ben Whishaw on stage. What else do you need? I fell in love with Ben as Freddie Lyon in the British TV series ‘The Hour’. I believe, it will be the first time I see him on stage, and I can not wait!

 

 

This is all that has been announced for the broadcast in foreseeable future. As always, keep an eye on Cineplex and NTLive.com websites for more information. (And, no, I have no affiliation with either companies - I am just an avid theatre goer ♥).

Check out my play reviews here.

Play Review: "Who Is Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" by Edward Albee (NT live)

"Who Is Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" by Edward Albee (NT live)  

Edward Albee’s award winning play “Who is Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” was produced by Sonia Friedman Productions and broadcasted by NT Live. You might have already heard of Sonia Friedman Productions as they also produced Hamlet with Benedict Cumberbatch at The Barbican in 2015 (that was broadcasted by NTLive), Much Ado About Nothing, King Charles III (with David Tennant, Catherine Tate) - to name a few. They plan to bring Harry Potter and The Cursed Child on Broadway on 2018 too. And this year they are producing Hamlet with Andrew Scott (also on stage of Harold Pinter Theatre), and I am keeping all of my fingers crossed that NTLive would pick it up too. Because there is no such thing as too much Hamlet.

“Who Is Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” spots an all-star cast, including Imelda Staunton (Gypsy, Vera Drake, the Harry Potter films); Conleth Hill (Game Of Thrones, The Producers); Luke Treadaway (The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Fortitude, The Hollow Crown) and Imogen Poots (A Long Way Down, Jane Eyre).

 

From NTLive.com:

 

In the early hours of the morning on the campus of an American college, Martha, much to her husband George’s displeasure, has invited the new professor and his wife to their home for some after-party drinks. As the alcohol flows and dawn approaches, the young couple are drawn into George and Martha’s toxic games until the evening reaches its climax in a moment of devastating truth-telling.

 

I had not read the play before going to see it, so the impact of it was quite intense. I loved the build-up and eventual catharsis through which the characters go through. It is a rather intense and harrowing performance to watch as you first think that it is just all innocent fun and Martha just had a couple of too many drinks. But as her voice becomes more shrill and her accusations more sharp, you can’t help thinking that there might be something more behind it all.

 

I must give it to Imelda - she is definitely the driving force of this play, and I admire the way she is able to deliver lines almost at the yelling volume throughout the play without losing her voice. She is a force to be reckoned with and pulls all of the attention towards her, which makes the revelation delivered by George even more astounding. George seems to be pushed around a lot, but he is the one who eventually delivers the final blow.

 

The recurring line of “Who is afraid of Virginia Woolf?” which was sung throughout the play to the tune of Three Little Pigs got stuck in my head for days. It made me also wonder who was supposed to represent ‘big bad wolf’ in this play. Perhaps, it is reality itself, as all characters seem to be living in some sort of fantasy that they have constructed themselves.

 

Nothing as it seems in this play. It is a mix of reality and illusion - and I loved it for it. However, the ending left me feeling desolate and despaired of the humanity, as it intended, I assume. Definitely recommend this play and this production in particular. I spent the whole evening on the edge on the edge of my seat.

 

 

Rating: 4 stars

 

More of my play reviews

 

Sources:

Play Review: Obsession - National Theatre Live

 

I went to see the broadcast of "Obsession" play on May 11. It was broadcast live from the Barbican Theatre in London and was only about an hour and a half long with no intermission. The play is a new stage adaptation of Luchino Visconti’s 1943 film. I have never watched the movie, but I was attracted to this play because of two things: one, the main protagonist Gino is played by Jude Law, whom I had never seen on stage; and two, the play was produced by Ivo van Hove, whose in Hedda Gabler I really enjoyed (he also produced A View From The Bridge).

The movie “Obsession” that this play is based on, was quoted to be the first neorealist movie and an unofficial adaptation of the novel The Postman Always Rings Twice (the book that I have heard of but never read).

 

The play was introduced by a short video clip of the rehearsals and interviews with Ivo van Hove and Jude Law.

 

Here is the synopsis of the play from NT Live:

 

Gino is a drifter, down-at-heel and magnetically handsome. At a road side restaurant he encounters husband and wife, Giuseppe and Giovanna. Irresistibly attracted to each other, Gino and Giovanna begin a fiery affair and plot to murder her husband. But, in this chilling tale of passion and destruction, the crime only serves to tear them apart.

 

No matter, how much it hurts me to admit it, but I was extremely bored throughout the play. The stage decorations and props are so few and minimalistic that it leaves most to the imagination of the audience to decide when the characters are eating, sleeping or how much time has passed. I understand that it comes from the premise and the background of the story: Giuseppe and Giovanna are poor - their restaurant is void of customers when Gino stumbles in. Gino himself barely has enough money for one meal and definitely not enough things to call his own. Even though the attraction between Gino and Giovanna is portrayed interestingly through movements and glances, their love story is nothing new. The whole plot felt trite and predictable, and I was grateful that I didn’t have to suffer through more than one act of it.

 

Jude Law is great as Gino, both alluring and wild, but Giovanna was barely anything at all as a character, and it is sad. The most exciting part of the play was how van Hove decided to portray murder and blood. Instead of an actual car, there was a car engine hanging a bit over the stage. It revved and smoked and produced black oil-like substance that covered the characters on stage as they grappled and twisted in fight. That black slime represented the blood and crime, and that was probably the most unique setup that I have ever seen. Definitely an ingenuous idea on Ivo van Hove's part.

 

But otherwise it was so uninspiring - I found the behind the scenes footage more interesting to watch than the actual play - that I couldn't help glancing at my watch, and it never happens! Slightly disappointed, but otherwise content, if not happy, to have seen both Jude Law’s and Ivo van Hove’s work on stage. Can’t say it is something I would recommend, unless you are a fan of either or the movie.

 

Personal rating: 3 stars

 

Sources:

 

Play Review: Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead - National Theatre Live

 

Raise a hand if you can pronounce the title of this play, “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead”, in one go without twisting your tongue - because I can’t! So, I am going to refer to it from now it as ‘RaG’ in my review, because even typing it in full is a hassle.

I heard about this play for the first time at my very first job, where we had the movie with same title available at the library. It was released in 1990 and had two of my (now) favourite actors - Gary Oldman and Tim Roth. I never had a chance to rent this movie and for years ‘RaG’ in my head was labelled as ‘that one movie I never got to watch’. I knew that it was somehow linked to Shakespeare, but only later I learned that it was originally a play by Tom Stoppard and not a movie (the movie had Stoppard as both director and writer). When National Theatre announced this play in honour of the play’s 50th anniversary and casted Joshua McGuire and Daniel Radcliffe (the latter I had been dying to see on stage), I was ready to buy tickets on spot. I believe that the fact that ex Harry Potter was on stage had to do something with the younger than usual audience at the broadcast - which is great as I would love to more younger people go to theatre. I watched this play on April 20, and if I could, I would watch it again.

 

As per usual, I set my mind on reading the play before watching it on stage, but I didn’t have time to finish it. And I am glad it happened this way as I think it is easy to get lost in the absurdist nature of the dialogues and miss the point, while watching it on stage added a different layer of meaning.

 

If you don’t know what this play is about but you feel that it is vaguely familiar, well, you are not alone. Tom Stoppard took two secondary characters, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, from Shakespeare’s Hamlet and wrote an absurdist, existentialist tragicomedy that portrays those two inseparable friends as confused and unwilling participants in the events of Hamlet. There are bits of dialogues and actual scenes from Hamlet, but they are used to only enhance the absurdity of everything that is happening. R and G are confused by their existence, by the world’s existence, by everything that is happening, including Hamlet’s depression and obsession with his father’s death. They futilely try to find the meaning in everything, but eventually, even when they discover that the letter with death sentence that they carry has their names, they still follow the appointed road to the end.

 

The play is funny, absurd, existential, and thought provoking. It is a meta within a meta, and theatrical bits and scenes serve as the commentary and parody on Hamlet. Both Joshua McGuire and Daniel Radcliffe do an amazing job as two confused fellows, who try and fail to make sense of things. They talk about life and death, and probability. The play has too many layers to take in just in one viewing. That is why I hope I would get a chance to see it on stage again, as I feel in no way qualified to talk about the play indepth.

 

The play was introduced by a short movie, as usual, with both actors talking about the play and stage. The Old Vic’s stage was transformed and sort of elongated to bring it closer to the audience. The play originally premiered in the same theatre 50 years ago, which made it an incredible experience for both the actors and the audience to experience it again on the same stage.

 

Highly recommend to English majors, Shakespeare lovers as well as fans of theatre!

 

Personal rating: 4 stars

 

Sources:

 

Book/Play review: The Deep Blue Sea by Terence Rattigan (script + National Theatre)

 

If you have been following me for some time, you probably already know that I go to see every and each NT Live broadcast, time permitting. I saw Helen McCrory in both Medea and The Last of the Haussmans and as a huge fan of The Three Musketeers in general I instantly became a fan of Tom Burke’s Athos in BBC The Musketeers. Needless to say, when I found out that both of those actors were going to be on stage at National Theatre, I knew that I would be seeing it for sure. I purchased tickets for both broadcasts (they were a week or so apart, I believe) and set on reading the play beforehand.

Sadly, I failed at my plan to read the play before watching it as it turned out to be a bit difficult to find a new edition in local stores, and by the time I got my copy from BookDepository, I was already otherwise engaged.

 

I read the script months later after watching the play and, to be honest, I don’t regret it, as it allowed me to process my thoughts and form my opinions, and reading the script later only enhanced the experience. National Theatre production follows the script almost to the point, with the exception of few details, so unless mentioned otherwise my review is applicable to both.

 

From NT Live website:

 

Helen McCrory (Medea and The Last of the Haussmans at the National Theatre, Penny Dreadful, Peaky Blinders) returns to the National Theatre in Terence Rattigan’s devastating masterpiece, playing one of the greatest female roles in contemporary drama. Tom Burke (War and Peace, The Musketeers) also features in Carrie Cracknell’s critically acclaimed new production.

A flat in Ladbroke Grove, West London. 1952.

When Hester Collyer is found by her neighbours in the aftermath of a failed suicide attempt, the story of her tempestuous affair with a former RAF pilot and the breakdown of her marriage to a High Court judge begins to emerge.

With it comes a portrait of need, loneliness and long-repressed passion. Behind the fragile veneer of post-war civility burns a brutal sense of loss and longing.

 

I think this play has one of the most dramatic openings I have ever seen. The play opens with the aftermath of Hester’s attempted suicide, but at first we do not know what is happening and why she did what she did, when she is found. The depth of her despair is unraveled throughout the play. Hester is lost and trapped between the encompassing passion towards Freddie and the realization that he may never love her as much as she loves him. Both strong and weak, Hester as portrayed by Helen McCrory is a beautiful disaster to watch. Hester is desperate and her desperation drives Freddie away. He is scared, but also lost, as after the war he knows naught what to do with himself. ‘We will be death to each other’ is his excuse for leaving Hester. But, perhaps, it is what might help her rise up from the ashes at the end.

 

In spite of a rather heavy topic of depression, mental health and deep desire, the play is richly peppered with sarcastic remarks and witticisms, that make the play very addicting. I watched it twice and would watch it again in a heartbeat, as this production was simply amazing. What adds to the plot’s already dark beginning is the fact that Rattigan wanted his play to specifically start with the suicide by the fireplace, as it was the way his former lover had ended his life. It is said that unable to write openly about his relationship, Rattigan wrote it coded in this play.

 

I don’t think I will ever be able to imagine anyone else but Helen McCrory as Hester. She was stunning as Hester, her desperation and addiction to Freddie portrayed with incredible rawness on stage. Hester is convinced that there is nothing for her beyond this, until she is somewhat inspired by the former doctor who is tending to her after the suicide attempt. Every character in this play is fascinating in their own way, from the neighbours to Hester’s ‘not so ex’ husband, Freddie and his friends, but Heter steals all attention. Helen McCrory is wonderful to watch, especially in the end, which is as open as it gets. I thought about it a lot, and I personally like to see it as a beginning not an end for her character.

 

It is a wonderful, albeit dark play, and if you are looking for a bit of heartbreak mixed with a good doze of British sarcasm - I highly recommend you watch or read this play. My copy of this script is as heavily tabbed and bookmarked as my Oscar Wilde plays. Terrence might end up being my other favourite playwright of all time.

 

Play script: 5 stars

Play by National Theatre: 5 stars

 

Sources:

Book/Play review: Hedda Gabler by Henrik Ibsen + National Theatre Live

This is going to be the review for both the script and National Theatre Live production, as there are some certain differences to Hedda’s character, which I found really interesting. Beware of plot spoilers ahead.

“Hedda Gabler” is a four act play written by the norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen in 1890. The edition that I read was translated by Jens Arup and the introduction written by James McFarlane (Oxford World’s Classics). The introduction gives us a brief synopsis of Ibsen’s life and work.

 

The play starts on the morning after Hedda and her husband, Jorgen Tesman, arrived from their six months long honeymoon. Tesman holds a University Fellowship in cultural history and used the opportunity of their honeymoon to do his research, which Hedda finds incredibly boring and ridiculous. They are visited by Tesman’s aunt, who lives nearby and takes care of her seriously ill sister. The next visitor is Mrs. Elvested who brings the rumour of Ejlert Lovborg being back in town. There is also a rumour, brought by Tesman’s friend, a judge named Mr. Black, that Lovborg is going to apply for the same position in University as Tesman and that his latest book was very successful. All of this prompts a series of events that snowball to a climatic ending.

 

“Hedda Gabler” is a very interesting play with multiple layers. Written in the 19th century, it shows us a character of Hedda who is quite obviously ahead of her time. Ibsen even intentionally titled the play with Hedda’s maiden name as if to show that she was not just her husband’s wife. Hedda is smart and strong-willed, she is hungry for knowledge and dominance - things that were only available to men in that time. She was brought up by her father, the general, and is said to have learnt to ride a horse and fire a gun - as a matter of fact, she owns a pair of pistols that play a prominent role in the play. She despises any sign of weakness, expressed by either a man or a woman. There are mentions of her pregnancy throughout the play, but she ignores or diverts the attention whenever the subject is brought up, which made me think that she viewed her pregnancy as yet another boundary of the marriage and the weakness.

 

Hedda can be quite cruel and unsympathetic towards people in her quest to overpower them, and Ibsen even said that the play is “the study in demonic”, which made me think at the very beginning that Hedda exhibits signs of psychopathy. It is, obviously, almost impossible to prove, and I think it would be safe to assume that Hedda was suffering from some sort of mental illness, as a result of her life.

 

Hedda is trapped by the society norms and expectations. She married Tesman because it was expected of her. She doesn’t love him, she doesn’t care about his research, but she does care about appearances and social status. She has high expectations for his potential promotion at University, as that would bring money and status, and that is why the moment that promotion is threatened, she springs into action. Hedda does all she can to protect herself and her status, however, it still leads to her downfall, as she is unable to break away from the society’s rules. She can’t leave her husband, she has no way of making money or supporting herself. In a way, she even envies Mrs. Elvested her simple courage to leave her husband for Lovborg. At the end, she takes her own life as her only way of escape.

 

I found the way Hedda manipulates people incredibly fascinating. She is a true mastermind in this play, although she does fall prey to Mr. Black. In many ways, “Hedda Gabler” is a feminist play as it shows a woman struggling to be on the same level as men. Since it was set in the 19th century, it is obvious, that the root of all her troubles is the time and society itself. That is why I was incredibly excited to learn that National Theatre production moved the time of the play to contemporary age.

 

 

 

 

If we take Hedda out of the 19th century and the boundaries that existed there, would she still exhibit the same internal conflict? Would she be still trapped? How different would she be? Those were the questions that kept running through my head.

 

This new version of the play was written by Patrick Marber. He quite masterfully adapted the script, changing some of the settings and dialogues to fit the modern time. Hedda is played by Ruth Wilson, who brings both fierceness and vulnerability to her character.

 

Why did modern Hedda marry Tesman? She didn’t have to. But she did because she felt that she was getting old. Was she really as trapped as she thought she was? Because she could have left her husband, she could have divorced him, she could have started a new life. So, why?

 

I think, that the difference between Ibsen’s and Marber’s Hedda lies in the fact that while the former is trapped by society - something that she unable to change, the latter is trapped in her own mind. Modern Hedda is brilliant and beautiful but she is also lost and unable to find her way out. Why? It is hard to say as we don’t get any glimpses into her childhood. However, it is clear that there are certain, probably self-imposed, rules, that Hedda has to abide by. And that makes me believe that Hedda is plagued by mental illness more so in the modern version than the original play. I found both the script and the NT production to be equally fascinating, but for me those were two different Heddas: one trapped by society and another by herself.

 

Was Hedda a demon, who gave a recovering alcoholic a drink and then a gun to “do it beautifully”? Or was she a coward with “no talent for life”, who couldn’t break the chains of marriage and society? I believe that she can be viewed as both and none at the same time. Hedda Gabler is a unique character, who defies all expectations.

 

Sources:

 

  • Ibsen, Henrik. Four Major Plays. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008.
  • Hedda Gabler - National Theatre Live. March 26, 2017. http://ntlive.nationaltheatre.org.uk/productions/59687-hedda-gabler

Play review: My Night with Reg by Kevin Elyot (Mirvish)

My Night with Reg I watched "My Night with Reg" on February 24, almost by the end of the play’s run, which is unfortunate as I would have loved to see it again. This was one of those plays which I had on my list as something that I would like to see but it was nowhere near at the top. More so, I bought the ticket only because it was on sale on Boxing Day, since I am not too fond of Panasonic Theatre as a venue.

I also knew next to nothing about the play as I have never heard of it before but I did have an inkling that it might have something to do with LGBTQ+ community (I still have no idea how I guessed but here you go!). But then the show started its run, three actors of the main cast did a short interview during Morning Show on Global (which I watch faithfully every day), so it gave me a better understanding of what I was going to see. And I got excited.

It is a rather short, only one hour and a half long, chamber play. There is no intermission, however, there are three distinctive parts that span across several years. The transition is so quick that the audience is often left to wonder how much time has actually passed.

 

It is a play written by British playwright Kevin Elyot. The events take place within gay community in London in 1980s, when the threat of HIV/AIDS is on the rise. The story is about a group of close friends who go through love, heartbreak, betrayal, and death, somehow still maintaining their friendship. The central figure in the majority of conversations is a mysterious Reg, who never makes an appearance, but whose existence affects most of the characters in one way or another. In spite of a looming threat of terminal disease and occasional bouts of depression, the play is surprisingly funny and racy (plus, it includes full frontal nudity on stage - just saying!). There are a lot of tongue in cheek jokes, as well as jokes that might fly over the heads of those who are not part of LGBTQ+ community (I was sitting next to a couple who seemed to be confused throughout of the play), however, the problems that those guys face are universal and relatable.

 

I, personally, found the play both heartwarming and heartbreaking. All of the characters have their own secrets and troubles. The threat of HIV/AIDS is never discussed or mentioned explicitly, although it is being referred to more than once. There is also a mention of rape, which is sort of glossed over as well. I had a feeling as if the Guy’s apartment was some sort of a bubble in which they all encompassed themselves, trying to hide from the realities of death, disease and reality. This bubble, unfortunately, starts to crack as the play progresses and the friend face the deaths of their loved ones.

 

I think all the actors did an amazing job at playing their characters. If I had to pick my favourite, I would say that Daniel was probably my favourite. I stayed for a bit of Q&A at the end of the play, which provided a bit of more insight into the characters of Bernie and Benny.

 

I wish I had read the play before watching it but I am going to rectify it soon. This was the first time it was performed in Canada, but hopefully not the last time.

 

Personal rating: 4 stars

 

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Play review: The Audience (Mirvish)

The Audience

 

The Audience is a play by Peter Morgan, written and originally produced in 2013 by National Theatre, with magnificent Helen Mirren as The Queen. (Morgan is also the the creator and writer of Netflix original series The Crown.)  The play received several awards, starting with Helen Mirren who received the best actress Olivier for her portrayal of the Queen in 2013. The play was briefly brought to Broadway in 2015 with Helen Mirren reprising her role of Queen Elizabeth II but with the whole new cast. Later in 2015, the play was revived in West End with Dame Kristin Scott Thomas as Queen Elizabeth II.

I was lucky to see the live broadcast with Helen Mirren three times in the past few years. And I admit that I might even consider seeing it again if I have a chance. Needless to say that I loved the play so much that I was ecstatic to learn that Mirvish decided to bring it to our local stage. Description from Mirvish website:

 

THE AUDIENCE takes theatregoers behind the walls of Buckingham Palace and into the private chambers of Queen Elizabeth II as she meets with each of her Prime Ministers through her 60 year reign, from when she was a young mother to now as a Great Grandmother. From the old warrior Winston Churchill, to the Iron Lady Margaret Thatcher, through the charm offensive of Tony Blair right up to today's meetings with the current incumbent David Cameron, the Queen advises her Prime Ministers on all matters both public and personal. Through these private audiences, we see glimpses of the woman behind the crown and witness the moments that shaped a monarch. Don’t miss being a part of THE AUDIENCE.

 

In this production, Fiona Reid takes on the role of Queen Elizabeth II, and she does it splendidly. Seeing as I have seen this play enough times to know certain lines almost by heart, it allowed me to pay additional attention to the way the lines were delivered and the production itself.

 

The set design is rather simple, representing Buckingham Palace with two big armchairs as the main focus for the majority of the play. The only major difference in the setting and scenes that I noticed was that Mirvish decided to show the coronation - something that was not part of National Theatre’s original production.

 

There was one particular thing that I was very much so looking forward to in Mirvish production was how they were going to deal with changing the Queen’s outfits. During the course of the play, the time jumps from recent years to the beginning of the Queen’s reign, which required Helen Mirren to change quickly on stage. There were barely any pauses between the scenes and dialogues, and sometimes she had to jump right into another scene. I was extremely curious about how Mirvish was going to deal with that. NT managed to orchestrate the first change on stage so quickly that I remember audience applauding right after it happened. And all following changes were done on stage as well.

 

I admit that Mirvish disappointed me a bit. The first change happened on stage in a very similar way - with the help of two ladies. However, Mirvish cheated a bit: they dimmed the lights and focused the audience’s attention on the equerry and his monologue. For some other changes, Fiona was hidden behind the folding screen and delivering lines from behind it.

 

I understand that having an actress quickly change the costume and wigs on stage is a rather complicating endeavour, that is why I was so impressed by NT production.

 

I found Fiona a bit more brisk and less warm than Helen in her portrayal of the Queen. She made shorter pauses between lines, which took me some time to get used to, to be honest. However, her performance was as good, as funny, and Fiona’s little dance during the Scotland scene was just precious (although Helen was even more hilarious). I personally liked KATE HENNIG as Margaret Thatcher more than her counterpart, Haydn Gwynne (however, Haydn was fabulous in her indignation! Seriously, comparing these productions is like comparing green and red apples - both are great!).

 

And the corgis! Don’t forget the corgis, whose two second dash across the stage resulted in an unified ‘awwwws’ from the audience.

 

Overall, I really enjoyed seeing this play. I do admit that my heart will forever be taken by Helen Mirren. Nevertheless, I can easily give this play 4 out of 5 stars. I watched this play on February 3rd, 2017 on stage at Royal Alexandra Theater.

 

If you love British history, the monarchy or old good British humour, this is the play for you!

 

Personal rating: 4.5 stars

 

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Play review: Amadeus - National Theatre Live

Amadeus Amadeus

 

Amadeus is a play by Peter Shaffer, written and originally produced in 1979, which recounts the fictional story about the lives of famous 18th century composers, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Antonio Salieri. The play was turned by Shaffer into an award winning film with the same title in 1984.

I admit that I can’t really remember if I ever watched the movie, but I was quite familiar with the plot of this play even before watching this production, as years ago I read the poetic drama ‘Mozart and Solieri’ by Alexander Pushkin, which, undoubtedly, served as an inspiration for Peter Shaffer’s Amadeus.

 

The play depicts Solieri as an established Italian composer in Vienna, who is quite comfortable in his position in society, until one day he hears of a young composer by the name of Mozart who is said to be as eccentric as he is talented. Solieri believes nothing of this until he himself hears Mozart’s music. He is struck by its beauty and feels immediately threatened. As the play progresses, Solieri presents himself as Mozart’s friend while, in fact, plotting his demise. After Mozart’s death and at the end of his own life, Solieri stages the big revelation claiming that it was he who killed Mozart, before taking his own life.

 

In this production, the role of Solieri is played by Lucian Msamati, who is most probably familiar to many for his role on Game of Thrones. The role of his rival, Mozart, is played by Adam Gillen who looks like a cherub but behaves like a spoiled kid, disregarding social etiquette and causing trouble for everyone. I can only applaud both actors for their! However, if I had to pick between the two, Solieri would be my favourite. I couldn’t help but sympathize with a man who was, perhaps, limited in talent but not ambition and who worked hard to be accepted as an Italian at the court of the Austrian king.  

 

The play incorporates pieces of operas and concerts by Mozart, and the orchestra assembly is part of the action itself. The musicians are not hidden in the pit but, on the contrary, move freely across the stage. Some of those musical numbers looked rather unusual. I remember one violinist playing while lying on the floor, which left me wondering how she managed it with limited arm movement range. Quite impressive.

 

I watched this play as a live broadcast on February 2 in my local cinema. I found the first act a bit slow at the beginning, but the second one was more fast paced and powerful. I wouldn’t call this play my absolutely favourite thing but I was very impressed by the acting and music.

 

Personal rating: 3.5 stars

 

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Play review: The Entertainer - Kenneth Branagh Theatre Company

The Entertainer - Kenneth BranaghI am fortunate to live close to a Cineplex movie theatre which allows me to go to pretty much every special event or theatre play broadcast they do. I try to go to all of them (or 99% of them), regardless of whether I have heard of them or have seen them before. Most of the time I luck out and come home thoroughly impressed by acting, production, etc. I very rarely leave disappointed. But sometimes, just sometimes, I get this "meh" feeling, and, unfortunately, The Entertainer falls into this category. To to put it shortly, The Entertainer failed to entertain me. (Sorry, couldn't resist the pun!) The Entertainer is a John Osborne play about a middle-aged man, Archie Rice, who is a musical-hall performer, but his career is a failure. He was married twice, had numerous affairs, and at the beginning of the play he lives in the house with his second wife Phoebe, his father Billy, and his younger son Frank. His daughter Jean comes to visit unexpectedly, following her quarrel with her fiancé Graham who breaks an engagement with her because she went to a Trafalgar Square to join a protest. This family's get together and their quarrels are quickly overshadowed by the news of Mick, Archie's elder son, taken prisoner of war in Middle East. The play is set in 1960s in Britain, and is full of various references to "the old days". The broadcast opened with a short film about a young John Osborne (not the playwright) who was talking about THE John Osbourne (the playwright), which was somewhat funny but also confusing. The Entertainer is a production of Kenneth Branagh Theatre Company, in which Kenneth stars as Archie Rice but doesn't direct it. The play is on stage at London's Garrick Theatre. The Entertainer is a three act play, however, this production split into two acts with one intermission. The scenes in the play switch between Rice's family living room and their bickering and the stage of a theatre where Archie performs. The transformation is quick and fluid with the characters often freezing after a punchline and the limelight suddenly illuminating Archie (and once Frank) who talks or sings or tap dances on the stage, surrounded by dancing girls. I found the transitions to be quite fascinating. However, when Archie was on the stage of an imaginary music-hall and was looking straight at the audience of Garrick Theatre, it felt as if Kenneth was basically breaking the fourth wall, while still being in character, and I found quite curious but also a bit annoying. He would react to laughs or comments from an imaginary audience and the discrepancy of the reaction of the actual audience at Garrick didn't seem funny at all. (I was in the audience of a cinema hall watching Kenneth as Archie on the stage of Garrick Theatre pretending to be on stage of a music-hall. It was a bit weird. Kenneth, undoubtedly, is an extremely skilled actor as he managed to bore me out of my wits by Archie's performance. Archie is mediocre, grumpy, angry at life. He had an affair with Phoebe when Jean was just born. He continues to have affairs with other girls while being married to Phoebe, and even plans to marry a young girl but his own father prevents it. He has been avoiding to pay taxes for 20 years and he consistently hides from creditors. He is dismissive of Phoebe, his father, not cordial with his daughter. He is a disappointment and acts like one. His character left me confused: are we supposed to sympathize with him, or despise him, or what? Throughout the play, I just wanted to shake him and tell him to get a grip. He was offered a very good option by Phoebe's brother's daughter to come to Canada (Toronto no less!) but he refuses to take it even though there is nothing for him in England. I loved the actor who played his father, Billy Rice. He was really on point, old and grumpy and grumbling about "old times". He had the funniest silences and face expressions. Jean and Phoebe were plain, boring, and predictable. Frank was nice too, however, I feel that I liked him only because he had a nice voice and reminded me of the lead actor in War Horse (National Theatre). Unfortunately, the plot of the play was overall way too predictable. I could tell where it was going miles off. And the ending was anti-climatic. The stage design and light were great. I loved how easily the stage transitioned between the house and the music hall. You can see how the stage incorporates the items of both. The music was great too, but the plot was just way too boring. I sat through the whole thing but to be honest I would not recommend it unless you are a fan of Kenneth Branagh or John Osborne's work or both. For me it was curious but nothing beyond that.

Personal rating: 3 stars

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New Year Resolutions

I'm quite aware it is February ;) I wrote those down a month ago, but never got to share them.

  • read 70 books*
  • listen to 10 audiobooks
  • see 10 theatre plays
  • watch 50 movies
  • start art journal again
  • write more
  • blog regularly (once a day)
  • take more photos and share them
  • consistently write book reviews
  • write plays/events reviews
  • take care of my health
  • start going to the gym again
  • travel to new places
  • meet new people
  • smile every day

*I set my goal at GoodReads for 70 books as well, but it is not the same. On GoodReads I keep track of both books and audiobooks, but in my journal I keep them separate. Which means that I will hit my GoodReads goal before my personal one.

I must say that my book reading challenge is going quite nicely AND I have already listened to 10 audiobooks, so that is quite encouraging :D

I also started a new art journal. I hope to keep doing that throughout the year.

I still suck at writing and posting reviews right after the events/plays/reading books. But I am working on it!