Tag Archives: London

The Elephant Man starring Bradley Cooper

7 Aug

Joseph Merrick (or John Merrick) aka The Elephant Man has always been someone that has fascinated and moved me (please see my review of his biography here).  I remember being made to watch the film by David Lynch as a thirteen year old at school because my History teacher wanted to get a bunch of rowdy Year 9’s to feel empathy and compassion.  I think her exact words were: ‘This’ll teach you empathy.’  It did, for me, but I think I’ve always been ridiculously empathic so it wasn’t a surprise that after around ten minutes, I was weeping uncontrollably.  It didn’t, however, work for some of the “harder” Year 9’s who watched, bemused, disgusted and I was reminded that probably not much has changed since the 19th century in terms of attitudes and fear of anything different.

I didn’t have huge expectations for the play starring Hollywood actor, Bradley Cooper.  My main reason being that I think famous actors doing their stint in Broadway/ The West End is just a way to appear as a “serious actor” and that annoys me.  I also think many of these actors are hugely overrated, and acting on the West End without any ability to edit, zoom in, or re-film, would only emphasise this and make for a poor viewing.  But in particular with this play, I felt that people would be drawn predominantly to see The Elephant Man because “that guy from Hangover” is in it, which I feel is completely disrespectful to Joseph Merrick and his story.  To some extent, I feel this was true.  I sat in front of some audience members who were vocally bored and actually walked out before the end.  The people next to me were similarly rude and fidgety, so I guess I had bad luck with my seats as I spent a great proportion of the night trying not to get too pissed off by the people around me.

Bradley Cooper surprised me.  I know he’s started to take more serious roles like Silver Linings Playbook and American Sniper but my expectations were low for reasons outlined in the above paragraphAnd even more so, when I realised he wasn’t wearing any sort of prosthetics – I imagined I would just sit there throughout the play thinking ‘that’s not Joseph Merrick; it’s just Bradley Cooper gurning.’  But the truth was he was utterly convincing as Merrick, from the way he walked to the way he spoke.  He portrayed Merrick incredibly accurately (according to the literature that exists on him) as an intelligent, endearing, earnest individual with an air of innocence and wisdom all at the same time.

Bradley-Cooper-in-the-pla-009

While Cooper was amazing, the other cast members did not seem to hit the same mark.  Treves (played by Alessandro Nivola) was rather bland and uninspiring, which made his internal conflict scene at the end rather difficult to believe.  I felt that Patricia Clark, who played Mrs Kendal, the famous actress befriended Merrick was good (despite her English accent) – in particular, the scene in which she shows herself to Merrick is beautiful and incredibly moving.   At times, though, I felt that her character was more of a caricature and that detracted from the sweetness of their relationship.

Scot Elllis’ direction resulted in the play being fast-paced, unfocussed and erratic at times, however, I really enjoyed the play’s emphasis on Joseph Merrick’s life once he reached Treves – it became more about Merrick’s development as a person rather than merely focusing on the appalling hardship he endured, which was an interesting dimension to explore.  A play worth seeing for anyone with an interest in learning about Joseph Merrick but for those who merely want to see Bradley Cooper with his top off and are not interested in learning more about Joseph Merrick, please stay away.

‘The Mentalists’ starring Stephen Merchant and Steffan Rhoddri: a review

9 Jul

I’m a huge fan of Stephen Merchant, and have been for years.  His talent shines through as a writer that is acutely able to explore humour in what are often dark and uncomfortable situations.  I loved The Office (although who doesn’t?), Extras and Hello Ladies, an incredibly underrated show and a huge mismatch for the US audience.  I love his repartee with Karl Pilkington (a comic genius in my books) and Ricky Gervais, and I have often spent hours listening to old podcasts and radioshows with the three of them chatting about nothing much in particular.  That’s not to say that Stephen Merchant’s work has been solidly top-notch, though – Life’s Too Short, for example, lacked substance and that was due in part to sloppy writing and a main character, played by Warwick Davis, who just wasn’t funny.

Anyway, I’m going off on a tangent to say that when I got tickets for The Mentalists, a play written by Richard Bean, and stars Stephen Merchant and Steffan Rhodri, I was excited and preparing myself for a night of laughs.   This was a mistake on my own part.  I hadn’t researched the play properly and assumed it would be full of Merchant-like humour, but I later realised that the humour is much simpler and less faceted, which makes sense as Bean wrote One Man, Two Guvnors, a play that attracted huge audiences in London but I found to be quite boring and greatly overrated.  (Incidentally, if it is slapstick and farcical comedy you want, Michael Frayn’s Noises Off is hilarious). This is Merchant’s first real acting gig, in other words, so don’t expect a play-like adaptation of his own work.

stephen merchant

The Mentalists is a play centred around two characters, Ted (played by Merchant) and Morrie (played by Rhodri).  It is set in a dingy Finsbury Park hotel, and the main objective for them meeting there is for Morrie to film Ted talking into the camera to the public about the need to form a utopian society.  I felt that Merchant did a good job at conveying Ted’s obsessive, frustrated nature and his manic behaviour, as he would jump from anger to excitement to seeking reassurance from Morrie.  Rhodri was good as Morrie, the seedy hairdresser who would make wild fantasies up about his family, making it even more poignant when we learn that neither character knew their parents and both grew up together in the care system.  The acting was good but the play itself was flawed.  I liked the fact that it touched upon some dark themes – indeed, in the second half, the play took a disturbing but comic turn, which I felt was refreshing and avoided the sentimentality I felt was present in the first half.  That said, the dialogue was overly repetitive at times which sometimes meant it was difficult to keep engaged.  In addition, whilst the backgrounds of the characters did make them slightly more endearing to the audience, I wasn’t rooting for either of them, so when the events took a darker turn at the end, I found there to be a lack of suspense.  There were bursts of humour scattered throughout the play, and while there were some laugh-out-loud moments, much of the humour seemed to fall quite flat with the audience.

Merchant performed as a ‘proper actor’ despite some stammering and fluffing up of the lines, which is probably to be expected given how dialogue-heavy the play is and the fact that we went on the second night.  That said, I feel he really holds his own when he writes and acts in his own work, and that is something I look forward to seeing more of in the future.

View From the Bridge at Wyndham’s Theatre: a review/ rant

12 Apr

On Friday I went to see the highly acclaimed performance of Arthur Miller’s ‘View from the Bridge’, directed by the Ivo van Hove and starring Mark Strong, of ‘The Imitation Game’ and ‘Before I go to sleep’ fame.  I had purposely avoided reading the reviews in depth but even so, it was impossible to be oblivious to the hype around this adaptation.  As a huge Arthur Miller fan and someone who has studied the play in the past, I was pretty confident sitting in my seat waiting for the performance to start that I was going to see something pretty special.

Let’s just say, I should know by now not to believe the theatre critics as I was sorely disappointed.

viewfromthebridge

Van Hove’s numerous techniques to add dramatic effect did not stop with the stark, minimalist set, but included overly long pauses punctuated with a beeping noise to heighten tension, and a scene at the end where the stage directions are read out as the scene is being played out.  Rather than add drama, though, these served only to irritate and distract from the intrinsic drama unfolding in the scenes.   Yes, the play is a tragedy but van Hove’s decision to make everything overly dramatic from the beginning resulted in a conflict and denouement that was less so – the time when the play is at its most dramatic.

Before watching this play, I was unfamiliar with Strong and his work.  Whilst technically his acting was fine, I felt he did not seem to embody the character of Eddie Carbone – the “every” man with flaws and vulnerabilities.  Firstly, Strong seemed – well, too strong, especially given that he was supposed to be physically weaker than Marco.   Perhaps this is entirely subjective but I had always pictured Eddie as someone who is distinctly normal looking – he is a longshoreman with a loving wife and he likes to go bowling.  He finds Rodolpho (who, along with Marco, just arrive to America “off the boat” yet both actors assume American accents) or anyone who isn’t as ‘normal’ as him strange because he isn’t used to anyone else.  In the play, I imagined him to appear approachable and friendly, the kind of harmless man who is liked by everyone in his neighbourhood.  I didn’t feel that Strong embodied this persona and this ‘normality’ is exactly what endears Eddie Carbone to the audience.  It is vital in a play that encourages the audience to empathise and question humanity.

I really disliked the portrayal of Katy, played by Phoebe Fox.  In the play, Katy is supposed to be a young woman, nearly eighteen, who has been overprotected and indulged by Eddie Carbone.  Her burgeoning womanhood mixed with her “Daddy issues”, and Eddie’s repressed and confused feelings about his niece are simmering away in the play with increasing intensity until the climax and tragedy unfolds.  The production, however, completely disregarded any idea of subtlety and had Katy practically straddling Eddie and sitting around with her legs spread open in the first scene.   In addition to this, Fox’s erratic portrayal of Katy was, quite frankly, bewildering – her combination of mumbling, shouting and running around with her underwear exposed made her seem like she suffered from some sort of hyperactive disorder.

Even despite everything I’ve said, I did find myself a little moved in the second act but that is credit to Miller’s exceptional writing rather than the production itself.  As my sister’s boyfriend remarked, the end scene with its dramatic music and pouring blood is reminiscent of a scene in the cult 90s movie, Blade, and perhaps that would have been more entertaining.  I should remember to say (despite my frustrations) that Mark Strong as Eddie Carbone and Nicola Walker as Beatrice Carbone delivered solid, worthy performances but ultimately I came away feeling frustrated and disappointed.

Marching on together – a play at the Old Red Lion pub/ theatre in London

12 Feb

Last Friday I went with some friends to watch a play, ‘Marching on together’ by Adam Hughes, at the Old Red Lion pub/ theatre.  I bought the ticket mainly because I wanted to see my friend, so I hesitated when I found out the play was about – shock horror – football.  Football hooliganism in particular, which seems like the worst theme a play could be about for me – it conjures images of skinheads and beer and violence.

image

And to be fair, I wasn’t wrong.  The play is set in Leeds in 1984, and follows the story of Macca, ex-leader of the notorious Service Crew, as he is released from prison to find that his former friends (members of the Service Crew) have moved on and he is standing still, trying to fit in with the new football hooligans as life as he knew it crumbles before him.  It is not all about football hooliganism – the miners’ strike is in full swing and Macca attempts and fails to reunite with Linda, his former girlfriend, and their young son.

That said, it was much better than I anticipated and there were times in the play when I was genuinely moved.  The plot was rather predictable in some respects and I wasn’t overly convinced by the ending which involved a set of coincidences, which seemed a bit too convenient in my opinion, and left the play teetering on the edge of sentimentality.  However, the acting was very good.  I think the intimacy of the venue, the realist dialogue and snappy scenes, broken up with amazing 80’s tracks, helped push the play forward and engage the audience.  As a definite ignoramus when it comes to football hooliganism, I actually found that aspect fascinating from a social standpoint.  ‘Marching on together’ helped me understand the motivation for young men (in most cases) to turn to football hooliganism – in most cases, it seemed to be a need to assert themselves, to belong and feel something other than the banality of their, often impoverished, lives.  The play emphasised how addictive some people found the fight, and I felt that the play effectively depicted Macca’s mental distress and descent into depression with his simultaneous increasing desire to fight and pummel anyone who was not a Leeds supporter.

Overall, it was enjoyable.  It was a bit strange that after a play about football hooliganism, we found ourselves in a pub rammed with beer-swigging spectators, one screaming expletives in my ear, as there was a rugby game on.  It was rather formulaic but still a great insight into a grim topic, and the acting more than made up for any of its flaws.

Electra – a performance with Kristin Scott Thomas at the Old Vic

25 Sep

I’ve always been interested in Greek mythology, so when I heard that the Old Vic was staging a production of ‘Electra’, I was excited and managed to book tickets to go along on the opening night.  Before watching the production, I knew the basic premise of the story – Electra seeks revenge on her cheating mother, Clytemnestra, and stepfather, Aegisthus, who murdered her father – but weirdly I knew more about Jung’s Electra complex so I was eager to learn more about this play which has spawned such an interesting psychoanalytical theory.

The image of Kristin Scott Thomas’s elongated, deathly pale face that is around everywhere to advertise the production made me think I’d be in for a dark, intense and haunting experience – an uncomfortable watch, one of those that lingers in your mind long after you’ve watched it.  Unfortunately it wasn’t really any of these things.

The Murder of Clytemnestra

The Murder of Clytemnestra

The subject matter – murder, infidelity and repressed sexuality – is obviously dark but this intensity was never really captured by the production.  Perhaps this was because the script swayed from tragedy to comedy, never fully managing either successfully.  Indeed, basic points of the plot such as Orestes pretending to be dead as part of a plot to avenge the death of his father seemed redundant and futile in the production, especially given that Orestes seemed to murder Clytemnestra and Aegisthus with very little difficulty.   I ended up wondering why Electra had waited all these years for Orestes to murder her mother and stepfather, when it seemed ridiculously easy to do.  The production subsequently lacked any kind of tension or suspense, and the apparent futility of Orestes’ deception resulted in an anti-climactic ending that left me feeling rather cheated.

This is not to say that I didn’t entirely enjoy the play.  The brevity of it (there was no interval) meant that you never felt as though it was dragging on, which would have been quite easy for such a production, and the acting was technically fine.  On the face of it, Kristin Scott Thomas is an adept Electra – wailing, sad and full of resentment towards her mother and her lover.  Her deep, almost baritone voice, lent a touch of poignancy and regret to some of her lamentings.  (Others just made me think of a toddler throwing a strop on the floor).

What her performance, and the Frank McGuinness’s version of the play in general (it is by no means the fault of one individual’s performance), lacked was any deeper emotional content to draw the audience in, to make them connect, empathise and feel that King Agammemnon was someone who had suffered a betrayal so bad that avenging his death was the possible action.

And even Kristen Scott Thomas, with her frantic hand-wringing and writhing around on the floor in a dishevelled dress, couldn’t accomplish that.

The Human Factor exhibition at the Hayward Gallery

18 Aug

Several weeks ago, I went to the Hayward Gallery at the Southbank Centre to visit the Human Factor exhibition.

The website sells it as:

Spanning the past 25 years, The Human Factor focuses on artists who use the figure as a means for exploring far-ranging concerns. Compelling and thought-provoking, their work brings into play ideas about history, voyeurism, sexuality and violence, while reflecting on how we represent the ‘human’ today.

At the same time, the artists in The Human Factor pointedly revisit and update classical traditions of sculpture, while drawing on representations of the human body in contemporary popular culture. Inventively remixing past and present, they transform that most familiar form – the human body – in ways that surprise, unsettle and engage us.

I’ll be honest.  I didn’t read any of the above or know anything about the exhibition.  Instead, I saw the posters around of that oversized bear with his arm around a policeman and I thought that looked like an interesting childhood-themed sculpture . On closer inspection, though, ‘Bear and Policeman’ by Jeff Koons isn’t a cute, quirky sculpture but something far darker (which is clear if you actually take some time to note the bear’s creepy expression) with undertones of perverse sexual humiliation and dominance. That’ll teach me to judge a book by its cover. Or rather it doesn’t. It teaches me that if I am to judge a book by its cover, at least make sure I really spend time looking at the cover so I fully understand the cover before I judge it.

The exhibition was generally full of dark surprises like this – a particular favourite of mine was by the witty Maurizio Cattelan, and involved walking in a room that was made to appear like a church towards a tiny, crouched figure at the front. At the back, the pious figure looks almost childlike and but as you move closer, you realise that this figure is actually Adolf Hitler. It shocks, surprises and encourages one to consider what he would be doing in a church – whether he seeks remorse or divine power to implement his regime of terror.  There was also an incredibly life-like sculpture of JF Kennedy’s corpse laid out in a coffin, in a sharp suit but with bare feet, evoking an air of odd familiarity towards this iconic American president, who almost appears to be sleeping peacefully.

AN45984601Visitors-to-the-H

The overall ambience of the exhibition was unsettling – death, decay, despair, consumerism were but some of the themes explored, which is inevitable when grouping art under such an umbrella term as the ‘human factor.’ Perhaps it is me, though, and my weirdly high standards when it comes to art, but I felt some of the art works lacked soul and deeper meaning. They’d been created to shock and incite some emotion in the audience, but for me, while I understood the symbolism and the sculptor or artist’s intention behind the work, I didn’t feel anything. It was almost as though some of the works were too obvious: a sculpture of a modern-day Jesus to represent persecution still occurring today; a sculpture of a futuristic woman in the pose of a Greek god – the oxymoronic nature of the future with the past, modernity with tradition; crude sculptures of women with their buttocks, breasts and lips exaggerated to emphasise the objectivity of females… the list goes on.

An interesting exhibition with a few witty and thought-provoking gems scattered amongst a sea of obvious, disappointing and unoriginal works.

The Corruption of Dorian Gray – The Lion and Unicorn Theatre

20 Jul

I read ‘The Portrait of Dorian Gray’ a couple of years ago and absolutely loved it so I was excited to go and watch ‘The Corruption of Dorian Gray’ at The Lion and Unicorn Theatre the other week.  The theatre, based in Kentish Town, is attached to a charming pub so we could enjoy a few relaxed drinks before we went in.

I’d read good reviews of the play so sat down on the tiny and majorly uncomfortable wooden stools (which seems to be a problem with these quaint, indie theatres… and those too-cool-for-school coffee shops but that is a rant for another time).  It followed the story quite closely and I thought the actors were all very well cast, especially the ultimate corruptor Henry Wotton, who is played by Will Harrison- Wallace, who was both infuriating and enticing as I found him in the book.  Dorian Gray, played by Michael Batton, was never my favourite character but he was played well, with a mixture of evil and likeability – plus, Batton – a mixture of Daniel Radcliffe and Hugh Dancy – encapsulated the Victorian gentleman and probably has the most pronounced cheekbones I’ve ever seen in my life.

dorian gray

Adam Dechanel’s production emphasised the darkness of the book – so much so, there was what seemed to be a never-ending scene of some strange hedonistic orgy to highlight the seediness of London’s underworld, and the descent of Dorian Gray.  The production also highlighted the homosexuality between Basil and Gray, which is clearly alluded to in the book but explicitly shown in the production.

Objectively, the production was solid, yet I felt it lacked something.  I don’t know if this is because reading such a story allows for a subtler experience but with this production, I felt the messages were being rammed down my throat at some points with overly hammy acting, and they needn’t have been so explicitly portrayed.  The book seems more of a philosophical contemplation on beauty, youth and corruption; however, the realistic limitations of the stage mean that the production is much more hard-hitting, explicit and in some scenes, quite difficult to watch.  That said, my boyfriend loved it so it really is a matter of personal preference.  But overall, it’s a tricky story to adapt for stage; it was well-executed and worth a watch.