Friday, 29 May 2009
Jesus: The Wasted Years
Old Red Lion Theatre
Jesus is a drunken teenager. Satan is a reformed character, who spends his time reading Barack Obama's book. Mary is a slapper. God is losing it, and, with his receptionist called Beverley, does an impressive Alan Sugar act. Such promising material promises an original show, but unfortunately falls at its feet.
The show's opening is hopeful, and suggests we are in for something unique, but jokes and routines become tired very quickly. The ongoing gag about the Princess of Wales being 'popular' in heaven is initially amusing, but gradually becomes overdone and in slightly poor taste. It soon becomes apparent that the cast, particularly Jesus (Robert Meakin), are playing for laughs, and slow down for their punch lines. This would be fine, indeed it would even be imperceptible, if they managed to provoke an audience reaction.
The studio theatre of The Old Red Lion brings the audience up close to the sometimes slightly uncomfortable action. Sex scenes between God and Mary are presented with an unavoidable immediacy. If such scenes were either funny or part of a larger statement, then such provocative material could be explained. However, it seems that encounters such as God having a fetish for sniffing women's underwear are presented only to see how far the boundaries of acceptability can be pushed, without doing anything with them.
What presents itself as a comedy does occasionally teeter on the edge of having something quite interesting and important to say. The notion of character reform is broached, when Satan is shown to be a benevolent mastermind, who provokes hatred in order to generate love for Jesus. The ideas of gaining our knowledge from experience, and adapting to fit in with the modern world are also present, but are unfortunately shied away from.
Had the material been compressed into a 20 minute sketch, the glimmers of comedy that do work would have been much more successful; Satan's ringtone, God mistaking Hitler for Charlie Chaplin, and his crying of 'oh me' when Mary gives him oral sex. But surrounded by lacklustre material, pointless songs and an odd and unnecessary strip show, what is genuinely funny is too deeply buried to get a proper laugh.
Helena S. Ramplay
Jesus: The Wasted Years runs until 13th June
Lysistrata and The Bacchae
Lion and Unicorn Theatre
This evening, the Lion and Unicorn Theatre brings together two Greek plays, one comedy and one tragedy by two very different international directors. The first is Aristophanes' Lysistrata with director Kaitlin Argeaux updating the lascivious tale to modern street culture. The battling Athenians and Spartans are replaced by London Youth Gangs as Lysistrata, played by Ruth Kestenbaum, rallies woman-kind to withhold sexual pleasures from the male population until they agree to cease fighting and bring the Peloponnesian War to an end.
The production features contemporary dance and movement with hip-hop bump and grind being used to convey the sexual tensions. There is some very clever and well worked choreography by Justyna Scuotto and the ensemble routines are the highlight of the piece. Body slaps and taps are used to give the movement a keen sense of rhythm while the show is accompanied by dance music, created by Richard Hale (a.k.a. DJ Halo) who also plays the Magistrate.
Sadly the acting is rather uncompelling and the power of the language and its true comic potential are never found, many of their speeches being lost to the constant movement. However, the bold physicality provides some humorous scenes - especially memorable is the scene between sexually frustrated Cinesias,(Durassie Kiangangu) and his torturing wife Myrrhine played by Maria Gray. The performance culminates in a rap style epilogue providing a suitably modern but effective end.
For a show featuring so much rhythm and movement it is a shame that the lighting rig could not yield a more inventive design, some colour and sidelight could have transformed the dance sequences. A more experimental production, using dance interpretation of Lysistrata, could have made for a really interesting modern angle.
The second show of the evening, Euripedean tragedy The Bacchae, directed by Arlene Martinez-Vazquez, takes a very different form from the first. Embittered Dionysus, interestingly yet not altogether convincingly played by a woman, Amy Avery, seeks revenge on members of his family for refusing to believe he is a God. Dionysus' cult of worshippers tell the story through folk style singing and chanting that provides a good haunting overtone whilst puppets are used to represent Cadmus, Agave and Pentheus. The puppets are impressive and are well operated to reveal the emotion of the characters. However, the lack of live action in the piece presents a communication barrier and it is sometimes difficult to work out what is happening.
Lysistrata and The Bacchae runs until 31st May
Thursday, 28 May 2009
Ajax - The Madness Season
There's definitely something about the Greeks. While hordes of young writers are out there knocking up brand new, topical and contemporary plays - and with hundreds more sitting at home dreaming of writing these sorts of plays - directors continually turn to the works of Aeschylus, Euripides et al. And its little wonder when you hear the beautifully tragic power contained in each of these texts coupled with an era-spanning relevance that is, at times, frighteningly accurate. Here, Jack Shepherd takes the reins for the second production of the Madness season at Riverside Studios, this time setting the Love & Madness ensemble to work on Sophocles' Ajax.
Agamemnon, Odysseus and Ajax find themselves relocated to a First World War infirmary, accompanied by a Chorus comprising of doctors, nurses and patients who are soon to meet their maker. The action begins with a dishevelled looking Odysseus - Matthew Sim - lying on a hospital bed while Jody Watson's Athena, complete with 1900s nurse's uniform, tells of the madness suffered by Ajax, which has been brought about by the Gods. With the stage set, we are then treated to an hour and twenty minutes worth of blood, violence and fundamental questioning of the notion of the hero brought about by the suicide of the title character.
By placing the tragedy in the not too-distant past, Shepherd awakens the brutality of the text and not only highlights the ever-lasting nature of the Classics, but offers an alternate portrayal of the great Greek heroes. As soldiers are rushed into the ward, crying and searching for Ajax, the rush and panic of the action draws you in and makes you pay close attention to every word uttered - words that are uttered with such clarity that it feels as if the play was written a mere two weeks ago.
One drawback from last week's Macbeth was the early dismissal of Iarla McGowan who, as Banquo, found himself knocked off before the interval. Thanks to the beauty of the ensemble, we are here given a chance to soak up his obvious talent in his sublime portrayal of Ajax. Undulating between crazed psychotic rantings and soft, intimate disclosures with the utmost ease, it really is a joy to see him walk the stage. That is, of course, until he kills himself. Lucia McAnespie - Techmessa - provides another enjoyable performance while Dan Mullane makes Agamemnon truly terrifying as he confronts Teucer, Ajax's brother, with a swagger and vocal quality much reminiscent of Alan Sugar throwing his weight around the boardroom.
The minimal, bare bulbed set provides the perfect backdrop for this production allowing the performers a clear, uncluttered arena. Showing the depth of their company, Love & Madness here showcase how exciting an ensemble can be.
Ajax runs in rep until July 25th
Back for the fourth year running, the Camden Fringe is set to take over NW1 and fill it with an unusual mix of classical theatre, new writing, stand-up, children's theatre and a few productions that defy any attempts to label them.
Between the 3rd and 30th August you can check out any of the 399 performances of the 118 productions on the bill, all of which are spread across four venues: the Etcetera, the Camden Head (formally the Liberties), the Camden People's Theatre and, new for 2009, the Roundhouse Studio Theatre.
The full-line up will be officially announced on Monday 1st June, but our insiders have managed to get a peek at a few of the names that will be doing turns this year. Caryl Churchill has re-written her 1997 This Is A Chair, while the Get Over It girls are producing a glam-rock version of Macbeth with an all-female cast to boot. Looking backwards, there's an outing for The Regina Monologues, presented by Queen Victoria as a drag act. To finish it all of with a bit of laughter, comics Robin Ince and Scott Capurro are on offer while sketch shows Four Monks and a Nun and The Intimate Strangers get physical.
For the full line-up and ticket information check out the festival's website from Monday 1st June.
Monday, 25 May 2009
Pictures from an Exhibition
Young Vic Theatre in association with Sadler's Wells
Pictures from an Exhibition is a brave new venture by the two leading theatres in London. The title suggests a performance inspired by Russian composer Modest Mussorgsky's most famous piano suite. Combining Sadler's Wells' expertise in dance and the Young Vic's innovative theatre making, with rising young American director Daniel Kramer - whose credits include Angels in America (Lyric Hammersmith), Woyzeck (NYC) and Hair (Gate Theatre) - this is a production that sets high expectations.
The opening scene provides a good framework of what is to follow: Mussorgsky is grieving the loss of his dear friend, the painter and architect Viktor Hartmann, and as a result he delves into a hallucinatory journey in search of the sounds that can bring his beloved friend back to his own reality. The text serves beautifully, balancing well with movement and sound. Acting, dancing, and piano playing fuse to generate a highly energetic performance, interwoven with the distinct and memorable Promenade interludes.
The choreography is witty and rich in classical and contemporary references. However, one quickly becomes aware of the over-excessive lighting design, which dominates the stage frequently obscuring the performers and blinding the audience. The nightmarish atmosphere is created heavy handedly with garish colours that resembles a pantomime. And if pantomime is what it intends to be, then it is certainly not what one expects.
The stage set comprises of five doors varying in style, and a piano under a large, empty picture frame. There is also a vending machine selling vodka which adds a surrealistic touch to the otherwise static and less innovative design, in comparison to the rest of the elements. The relationship between the music and the imagery - which is at the core of Mussorgsky's work - is ignored but without a good reason.
The fine tuning of story, movement, acoustic, and visual elements is what it is missing to make this performance powerful. It has all the smoke and sound, but the music inspires a more elevated sentiments than what is being presented here.
Sunday, 24 May 2009
Brilliant - Fevered Sleep
Lilian Baylis Studio
If making theatre for adults involves extracting, distilling, and fermenting complex phenomena that humans develop and encounter over time, then making theatre for children would be a journey which takes backward steps to find the roots of that which makes us laugh, wonder, question, discontent, anticipate, puzzle...
Brilliant is the last part in a trilogy of Fevered Sleep's latest creations for 3 to 5 year olds. The auditorium at the Lilian Baylis Theatre is reorganised to become an intimate space for small children. The story echoes a classic American bedtime tale 'Goodnight, Moon' in which the ritual of saying goodnight to everything in the young child's bedroom turns into an imaginative voyage. Light - in its myriad forms - appear, and child play ensues. The stag is playing a violin, and the moon, the stars and the lights dance. Wonderment is the adult way to describe what is happening on stage.
The magic and beauty of light is enlivened by various devices such as smoke, colour, mirror, and shadows. The main character, performed by Elisa de Grey, captures a child's spirit with delicacy and delight. The result is almost therapeutic. However I do not think the kids would agree with me. These little people have their own way to look at things and to respond that grown-ups have long forgotten.
And hence they make up a very different theatre going experience. The children in the theatre have toys with them; they eat, make noises, walk and talk whenever they feel like it. The parents, on the other hand, are apologetic and try to control their kids politely. About 10 minutes into the show, comments arise:
'I like orange!' (the light colour changes from blue to orange)
'There're five!' (the number of switches that have appeared)
'You missed it!' (the performer chases the the magic moon and keeps missing it)
'She missed it!' (the discussion among the kids starts...)
'Is it over now?' (it is just a black out)
The responses are unfeigned and liberating. It is definitely not easy to make a piece of performance for young children, and Fevered Sleep have found the key to unlocking the ways children see the world and in creating a piece that invite children to be themselves. And gratefully, they did not forget that grown-ups should enjoy it too.
Old Red Lion Theatre
John Dunne’s production endeavours to unravel the story behind the Great Hunger, as the Irish Potato Famine of the late 1840s is more commonly termed. A one-act version of Famine, entitled Gorta (from the Irish for hunger) was originally performed in London’s Elephant Theatre in 1982. Here it returns in fuller form to the Old Red Lion Theatre.
Amidst references to the god-fearing populace, frustrated and rebellious peasants and absentee landlords, Dunne paints a relatively realistic picture of rural life in 19th Century Ireland. A single family, already torn apart by romantic and religious ideals, find their problems further compounded when the potato blight strikes the village. In microcosmic effect, as the family’s personal malaise steadily worsens, the famine leads to extensive physical disintegration and suffering of greater society.
In many ways, the central message is strong and persuasive: the widespread chaos incited by the potato blight caused people to question their ideals and even religious beliefs and catastrophically brought the country to its knees. This concept has the potential to create a thought-provoking production evoking the true gravity of Ireland’s tragic plight in which millions lost their lives.
Although the production has great potential, it still seems somewhat unpolished. For one, the excessive number of scenes overcomplicates the story, detracting from very good pieces of writing in places and some strong performances. Russell Kennedy deserves particular mention for his role as the tenacious Steward. He delivers a measured performance, capably gauging the transition between emotions in his confrontation scene with the young Teresa, played by Gillian Horgan. Yet the magnitude of this graphic scene is, in a sense, mitigated by the lack of conviction she displays in her closing statements: for the violation of this strong-minded young girl can be seen as indicative of the ongoing violation of the whole of Mother Ireland in the wake of the famine. Her defeatist attitude is certainly understandable and indeed appropriate, but distinctly lacks the necessary emotional intensity to draw the play to the catharsis which the audience has been expecting.
In spite of some shining moments and various strands which could have formed a truly powerful production, it seems that the dramatic intensity of this performance never quite comes to fruition.
Friday, 22 May 2009
Macbeth – The Madness Season
It would be interesting to work out how many times “Is this a dagger I see before me?” is uttered in a single year. With Shakespeare, and in particular ‘the Scottish play’, proving as popular with everyone from Sam Mendes to the local village players, how is one to go about making theirs stand out from an ever-growing crowd? Down at the Riverside Studios, Neil Sheppeck’s Love & Madness hint at one way to do the Bard differently.
From the moment you step foot into Studio 3, which has been transformed into 1960s East End pub for the evening’s performance, you know things are not what they seem. Firstly, there are a number of chairs on the small stage that are occupied by both cast and audience members. Secondly, the bar of the auditorium is actually on stage meaning you have to cross performance area if you want to get a drink before the play begins. This pretty much sums up Love & Madness’ work with classic texts such as Macbeth - trying to break down the divide between the 17th century text and the audience of today. Here Macbeth, Duncan and Macduff become Kray-era London gangsters fighting for the rule of their manor.
Its an interesting concept and, as seen from the final showdown between Macbeth and his caesarean-born nemesis, with the latter ultimately avenging the death of his wife and children with a crowbar, it makes the brutality of the action very real and contemporary. However, you end up wishing Sheppeck would push the idea further, being ruthless with the text and creating a stronger sense that this is a set of bloodthirsty, power-craving cockneys rather than a group of Scottish noblemen. The aforementioned violence of the production’s conclusion leaves you wishing the rest of the play was more like this.
While some cast members struggled with Shakespeare’s text, in particular Jack Bence and Brendan Wyer as Malcolm and Ross respectively, others excel in making it sound like everyday talk. Will Beer’s Macbeth is superb as he travels from grateful goon to psychotic guv’nor all with glimmers of Alfie (in the Michael Caine days before Jude Law messed it up) and Danny Dyer. Jody Watson makes Lady Macbeth not so much isolated ice queen, but rather over-aspiring nosy neighbour and slots her into the chosen period with absolute perfection. The decision to give Lady Macduff – Lucia McAnespie – the porter’s scenes is meanwhile utterly inspired, performed with the comic timing of a pro.
While it’s far from a perfect production, it’s both enjoyable and exciting and a perfect way to start off the group’s first residency season. It will whet your appetite and leave you wanting more. Lead on Macduff.
Macbeth runs in rep until 26th July
Wednesday, 20 May 2009
The Thin Line Between
By Phil Burt
Ordinarily, madness is not a thing to be shouted about. While its a far cry from days gone by with the tendency to lock someone up and throw away the key at even a hint of a crazed expression, its still not something to rejoice clearly seen recently with the over exaggerated fear of mind altering diseases such as foot and mouth and swine flu. But, as always, the same rules don't apply to the theatre. From last year's Hysteria by visiting Brazilian company Grupo XIX de Teatro, to the recent National theatre pairing of Felix Barrett and Tom Morris with Every Good Boy Deserves Favour, it would appear that madness is the topic de jour. So, have fledging group Love & Madness, who are about to begin their first residency season at Hammersmith's Riverside Studios, simply jumped on the insanity bandwagon? "To be honest, I don't know exactly where the name came from" muses group founder and artistic director Neil Sheppeck "If I really thought about it, its probably because both love and madness are the ingredients of passion, which is the driving force behind all good creative work. So it feels right that it's our name. Plus, only few people get into acting for money or because its just another job - to want to do it there has to be a great love and part of you that's slightly crazy"
The group had a beginning of sorts back in 2000 when Sheppeck, a jobbing actor at the time, would continually discuss his ideas for staging Macbeth "Barrie Rutter (founder of Northern Broadsides) turned round to me and said "Stop talking about it and just do it"....I had a couple of months free so I thought, lets give it a go" Sheppeck did just this first hiring the basement of Earls Court's Finborough Theatre, a space never before used for performance, and then taking the production up to the 2001 Edinburgh festival where it did "amazingly well". It was only after a successful second Shakespeare piece, this time Othello, that Neil decided to formalise the company under the title they use today. The last six or so years has seen the group tour the UK and Ireland extensively, reworking and revitalising classics while also developing new work, all in an attempt to make good, clear theatre. "We were very based on classical work to start off with, and making that contemporary - which we still try to do - but we've also started doing more recent work and a lot more modern writing. We've actually gone from what was initially classical prose that we were interested in, to just wanting to perform theatre well".
While the period plays are retrieved from may have changed, one thing that has remained integral to the group from day one is the importance of the ensemble, an element that sets them apart from other British companies and attracts a number of well-known followers. Theatre veteran Jack Shepherd has had a close alliance with Love & Madness since early 2007 when he directed The Tempest and became what Sheppeck terms "an unofficial mentor". It would appear the emphasis on the quality of work rather than a desire to acquire fame and fortune is what drew Shepherd to this company of actors, as well as the intimate, personal bonds that had already been established "I think a family has been developed coming from working with the same people over and over again. People within the industry are quite cut throat and don't open up very easily, and don't necessarily come across as very genuine people. We find that anyone who works with us who has any kind of pretension either learns to lose that very quickly, or they don't work with us again. That attitude doesn't make for a good ensemble, which is ultimately people who trust each other and get on to do creative work...and I think that's something that attracted Jack"
The upcoming season at the Riverside sees Love & Madness come full circle as they begin the run with the production that started the whole thing off - Macbeth. Joining the Scottish play on the bill is Sophocles' Ajax, directed by Shepherd, and A Skull in Connemara, by Martin McDonagh, which will bring the whole season into the 21st century. Rounding off the residency is the positively tantalising piece that is, for the moment at least, referred to only as Project X. Sheppeck has set his actors the task of devising this production while rehearsing and performing the other three and, through using these as starting points alongside day to day events taking place in the world outside the theatre, there is the potential to create something entirely unique that can take on any shape or form. "Within a season where we're doing Greek work from thousands of years ago, Shakespeare from hundreds of years ago and McDonagh of over a decade ago, to do the final piece that is inspired by 'the now', I don't see how it can be more contemporary." But while the lack of rules and restrictions may be a scary prospect for some directors, Sheppeck refuses to be worried "When you're working with amazing text by Sophocles and Shakespeare, where the language is so rich and so important... to be inspired by these you're not going to end up with some naff soap opera. If you're spending five weeks constantly working on great, great pieces of writing you cannot help but be influences by them - so watch this space!"
And so, what can we expect from the group after the doors of the Riverside close on July 26th? "I love the idea of taking it further you know. We've done lots of work in the UK and Ireland but it would be great to go further to Europe or elsewhere. Our ambition doesn't seem to end.....there's all sorts we can do." Looks like we better start preparing ourselves for a worldwide epidemic.
The Madness Season will be running at Riverside Studios until July 26th. The following productions will be in rep from these dates:
Macbeth - May 20th to July 26th
Ajax - May 26th to July 25th
A Skull in Connemara - July 16th to July 26th
Project X - June 30th to July 25th
For more information visit the Love & Madness website HERE or jump straight to the Riverside Studios HERE
Friday, 15 May 2009
A Door Must be Open or Shut
King's Head Theatre
Until 24th May
This revival of the one act Alfred de Musset comedy starts with English Baron, played by Thomas Arnold, spying his neighbor, the Marquise, Jessica B. Sarrion, through the opposite window and deciding to pay her a visit. The double-hander starts slowly; the two soon enter polite discussion as the hapless Baron skirts around, perpetually flustered, trying to express his underlying feelings for the Marquise whom he has been visiting for the past year. The Marquise's wealth and beauty ensures she has many suitors but she is tired of receiving endless compliments and of the men who court her, and she renounces the very idea of love. The Baron, however, professes love remains eternally youthful despite the aging ways of expressing it.
The dialogue is sharp and witty despite the couple being continually interrupted by the sound of the bell indicating the expected arrival of company which stirs the Baron to bid his farewell and attempt to leave. No one comes, the Baron stays and the couple are left to continue their conversations which become increasingly heated leading to frank admissions on both sides. The door of the title is thus continually in flux between open and shut and becomes the fixture between escape back to safety and status quo or remaining to confront burgeoning affections. The end of this short piece comes abruptly leaving you wanting something more.
A stylized all white nineteenth century drawing room, designed by Deborah Striebig and Bryony Rumble, provides a suitably elegant backdrop for the production and allows for attention to still focus on the spoken word. Alongside Andrew Joslin’s costumes it sets the period excellently. Mention must also go to the programme which is beautifully presented and in keeping wax sealed.
The comic interludes keep you entertained but unfortunately the acting suffers from a lack of conviction, a shame as a bit more energy could have given the show real bite.
Tuesday, 12 May 2009
Madame de Sade
By Yukio Mishima, translated from the Japanese by Donald Keene
Donmar West End at Wyndham's Theatre
Mishima's Madame de Sade plays like a film with no action. Specifics of the setting are projected onto a huge screen, informing us it is 'Paris, 1772'. However, given the already extensive amount of detail in the expositional dialogue, this projection appears as an unnecessary stunt. Leeway must be given for the revealing of a back-story, but Madame de Sade begins, continues and ends recounting what has occurred either previously or off-stage.
The inert scripting hinders what are otherwise convincing character portrayals, especially true of Madame de Sade herself, Rosamund Pike, whose performance strongly overshadows that of Fiona Button as Anne, and even Judi Dench as Madame de Montreuil. Against the over-wordy tendency of the play, Pike resists a declamatory delivery and, during the dream-like sequences of pulsating music and rolling projections, achieves a visceral energy.
The single set evokes a sense of decaying wealth and grandeur, and its silvery iridescent quality allows the cast to be semi-reflected in its sheen. Aptly mirroring the self-obsession that pervades the play, the set facilitates the mingling of moving projections with its texture. Candles, blood-jets and clouds, the projections and accompanying sounds provide a core of emotional vitality that is unfortunately lacking from the rest of the often flaccid dialogue.
At times thrilling, at others deadening, Madame de Sade shows that even a star-studded cast cannot transform a lacklustre script.
Helena S. Rampley
Monday, 11 May 2009
The White Crow (Eichmann in Jerusalem)
York Theatre Royal until 30th May
Damien Cruden, director of White Crow, says that in staging Donald Freed’s play he wanted to use sound and space to bring the audience closer to the story of the Nazi criminal Adolf Eichmann’s trial in Israel in 1961. By manipulating the small, intimate atmosphere of York Theatre Royal’s Studio Space and combining it with imaginative set and sound design, the production is both mesmerizing and thought provoking, moving away from the perhaps expected sentimentality to a mature consideration of the question of guilt and responsibility.
The first act takes place within an enclosed office where policeman Dr Baum is questioning Eichmann in preparation for his trial. Their exchange is picked up by a microphone in the middle of the office and recorded for authenticity and this is what the audience hears. This highly naturalistic staging forces the audience to question their relationship to the seemingly isolated pair. In the second act, the walls are removed, opening the room out until Eichmann and Baum are less than a metre away from the audience. This forceful contrast heightens audience reaction to an almost painful point - as Eichmann strides around refusing to admit to his obvious part in the Final Solution and questioning the motives of his captors, you can feel those in the front row instinctively trying to move further away from him.
Characterisation of Eichmann is cleverly constructed to make the audience continually reassess their perception of the SS Colonel who insists he was ‘Only following orders’. Robert Pickavance produces a controlled and thoughtful performance, careful never to tip the balance in favour of outright evil or vulnerable victim in creating a man determined to avoid becoming a scapegoat. The enigmatic Dr Baum is movingly and sympathetically portrayed by Sonia Petrovna, creating the perfect foil to Pickavance as she tries to find a shred of humanity in Eichmann.
Craig Vear’s accompanying soundtrack is at times seamlessly integrated into the performance but at others an unnecessary emphasis. In keeping with the naturalistic style, it is drawn from sound effects and simple notes rather than mood music. The sound of trains and of Hitler’s speeches are used to remind the audience of the world away from the interrogation cell, but the menacing drones underpinning some of Eichmann’s more prophetic words are overdone. This audience needs no reminding of the constant evil hovering in the room, trying to find one of the pair to settle upon.
The White Crow explores complex questions and is a fine example of how the possibilities of theatre can be explored and crafted into a meaningful audience experience.
Friday, 8 May 2009
Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith
Hailed as one of the greatest love stories of all time, reproducing Emily Brontë’s classic novel for the stage is perhaps a tall order from the outset. Here British-Asian theatre company, Tamasha, rise to the challenge of bringing Brontë to Bollywood.
This isn’t the first time that Brontë’s work has been relocated into a different cultural context and it certainly won’t be the last. We see here the Yorkshire moors transformed into the Rajasthan desert, Cathy becomes Shakuntala, a spice merchant’s daughter, and Heathcliff appears under the guise of street urchin Krishan. The story itself is an abridged and modified take on the novel: a beggar man, who we later discover is the elderly Krishan, recounts his tale of unrequited love to a young boy he encounters on the streets of Bombay.
Although in its entirety the story would make a long stage production, we are shown here that shortening or ‘fast-forwarding’ it in turn erroneously deprives the production of the novel’s very essence ─the combination of the couple’s bittersweet passion and Heathcliff’s brooding resentment. It is clear that Shakuntala and Krishan are miserable without each other and resent one another for this misery. However, what Tamasha’s production definitively lacks is the magnitude of the visceral bitterness inherent in Cathy and Heathcliff’s relationship, which plagues them and their descendants until they are ultimately reconciled in death.
Nonetheless, Kristine Landon-Smith's production has a lot of merits. The cast put on strong performances, particularly in the case of Youkti Patel as Shakuntala and Rina Fatania as Ayah. The whole thing is comical, vibrant and thoroughly enjoyable. Yet even though local references and smatterings of Hindi dialogue don't detract from the performance itself, you do have the occasional sense that some of the audience are in on a secret that you are not.
Although Tamasha has succeeded in bringing an interesting concept and a challenging undertaking to the stage, ─and I never thought I would say this of a Bollywood production ─ I think the passion could have been more over-the-top, more overstated, more…Bollyfied. The production renders more of a soap opera than a passionate love story and should reflect more of Brontë’s drama, which is itself, in a sense, histrionic. Remember that this limitless passion is powerful enough to transcend generations and indeed lifetimes. This production could have done with bringing out more of the melodrama that is so intrinsic to traditional Bollywood theatre and done the novel the justice it truly deserves.