Monthly Archives: December 2009



(Craig Lord's article appeared in the Times of London 12/23.)   

Christ not Christmas: Passion Play 2010

The 5-hour Passion Play has more than 2,000 actors and has been staged every ten years in Oberammergau, Germany, since the 17th century

Bavaria, land of beer, busty blondes, blokes in leather pants, bracing air, breath-taking views, the bounce and boom of horn and pipe.

A place to take your Oom-pah with a hearty dose of therapeutic salts. But there is something more sobering in the soul of a state that urges visitors to get out their get up and go.

At the deep root of this Catholic corner of Germany lies Oberammergau. Its business is Passion. The Passion. And it has been that way since God was judged to have tested faith with a Plague back in the 17th Century.

We got our first glimpse of the repercussions long before reaching an Alpine village unique to the world. He was sitting at the wheel of our bus at Munich Airport. The absence of matching red outfit, fluffy white collars, black belt, boots and chunky bag fooled few.

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(Anita Singh's article appeared in the Telegraph, 12/23.) 


Amy Winehouse charged with assault

Amy Winehouse has been charged with assault and a public order offence after allegedly attacking a theatre manager at a pantomime performance of Cinderella.

She allegedly lashed out at 27-year-old Richard Pound during the show at Milton Keynes Theatre, which stars Mickey Rooney, Anthea Turner and Bobby Davro.

According to reports, Winehouse disrupted the performance last Saturday night by repeatedly yelling: "He's ——- behind you!" Witnesses claimed she referred to the Ugly Sisters as "bitches" and reduced children in the audience to tears.

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(Michael Feingold's article appeared 12/22 in the Village Voice.)

The Decade's Best Theater

From undervalued plays and underfunded companies, 10 years of freewheeling joy

I hate 10-best lists, and this column won't include one. Trying to list everything that was great in the New York theater over the past decade, and then sweating to squeeze a mingy string of 10 items from it, would be futile as well as exhausting. Of course our theater touched on greatness between 2000 and 2009; otherwise people would have given up on it long before. Just as obviously, it lapsed, often, into the mediocre, the third-rate, and the sheerly miserable: Every great city's theater does that in every decade. One way we measure greatness is by its distance from the dismal points below.

The greatest thing to happen in New York theater, this past decade, was foreign, unrecapturable, and only here on brief visits to Brooklyn. Sweden's Royal Dramatic Theatre (Dramaten) sent three last productions by Ingmar Bergman to BAM: Strindberg's Ghost Sonata, Schiller's Mary Stuart, and Bergman's own adaptation of Ibsen's Ghosts—all lightning-bolt lessons in directing, in acting, in clarity of conception and cogency of image. Even the luckiest theatergoer gets few such occasions in a lifetime.

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(Nosheen Iqbal's article appeared in the Guardian, 12/22.) 

Is Hugh Grant right about the trouble with theatre?

Watching a play is enjoyable 'about one time in 20', claims the Bridget Jones and Four Weddings star. He might be on to something

Aaahh, Hugh Grant. Champion of posh stutterers, king of past-it bachelors everywhere. When he's not perfecting his surprised, wide-eyed bumbling on screen or buying Warhols while drunk, it seems that Grant can be found offering insights into the tortured state of the average theatregoer.

"I personally find going to the theatre is enjoyable about one time in 20", he told World Entertainment News Network (WENN) last week. "The other 19 you're just going, 'Oh, come on. Let's get to the end of it and have a drink'". One might carp that these are brave words coming from a man currently doing the publicity rounds for trite romcom Did You Hear About the Morgans? – and whose own oeuvre includes the woefully tedious American Dreamz and Two Weeks Notice. But let's not be petty. Grant is, after all, our unofficial ambassador to the world of what an English gent should officially look and sound like; if he thinks one of our great national artforms is sheltering behind pretension and piety, we should jolly well sit up and listen.

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(Lucy Bannerman's article appeared in The Times of London, 12/22.)


Theatre hit heads for Hollywood as Steven Spielberg buys War Horse rights

War Horse, the children’s story that became a huge West End hit, is galloping towards the silver screen after it emerged yesterday that Steven Spielberg has bought the film rights.

Theatre audiences have been mesmerised by the tale of a boy who braves the trenches of the First World War in the hope of finding his beloved horse. Michael Morpurgo, who wrote War Horse in 1982, welcomed news that his story was being developed by the director. “I can think of no one better to do this,” he told the London Evening Standard yesterday. “It is so exciting. I only just learnt this in the last two days. After such a fantastic success with the play, it needs someone of his imagination and skill at turning books into great visual experiences for the film version.”

The film rights to the 1982 novel have been acquired by Spielberg’s DreamWorks Studios. The director said that he had been deeply moved by the story of a young boy from Devon who follows the horse to the Western Front in 1914.

He added that he had known that he wanted to make the story into a film from the moment he read it. “Its heart and its message provide a story that can be felt in every country,” he said.

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(From the 12/31/09 issue–on a tip from Taylor Mac's Facebook page:)

Best (and worst) of 2009

David Cote, Theater editor

1. Ruined
Lynn Nottage’s award-magnet was more than an urgent dispatch about violence against women in the Congo; it was masterful drama that blasted past our borders.

2. Our Town
Director David Cromer rescued Thornton Wilder’s community-stage chestnut from cozy irrelevance, grounding the nostalgia in human pain and dark irony.

3. Les Éphémères
Seven hours of interlocking human narratives on rolled platforms spanning generations almost wasn’t enough. Merci beaucoup, director Ariane Mnouchkine!

4. The Lily’s Revenge
Another epic: This time, glam-punk performance diva Taylor Mac sent audiences on a five-part vision quest that queered love and marriage.

5. The Shipment
The subject of race in America is never black-and-white—and audacious Young Jean Lee drove the point home in an exquisite piece of cringe comedy.

6. Fela!
Are you trying to shake up the Broadway musical, Bill T. Jones? With this mind-blowing Afrobeat homage to Fela Kuti, you succeed.

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(Walsh’s article appeared in Irish Theatre Magazine, 12/17.)

Child's Play:  Making Theatre for Young Audiences

We are increasingly aware of looking after minority groups within the arts, either through representation or provision. But when it comes to children, responding to their needs can be a trickier affair. Some of this has to do with the fact that young people are rarely at the helm of decision-making, where they might express their wishes as their grown-up counterparts can. A greater deal has do with the fact that the provision of cultural experiences for children is often determined by the education system, where funding is traded in for learning outcomes. This complexity is also influenced by commercial ventures, with large sums of money being swapped for entertainment-by-numbers. Given this dynamic, there is always a risk of compromising the artistic integrity of theatre for young people if performance is dictated solely by pedagogical or financial standards.

While youth theatre, theatre in education, and commercial theatre are reasonably well-established in Ireland, there is not the same amount of quality children’s theatre available. At its best, theatre for young people does not compromise the aesthetic experience in favour of offering acting opportunities to young people, fulfilling the objectives of school curricula, or providing easy entertainment – although there is often some overlap in intent and appeal.

The concept of catering to young audiences emerged in the early twentieth century, at a time when childhood was seen as a relatively separate phase of human development. Russian actor Natalie Sats is credited with founding the first theatre for the young to be performed by adult professionals in Moscow, shortly before the 1917 revolution. Later, similar groups were established in the US, the UK, and throughout Europe, particularly after the second World War. In her essay, ‘A History of Children’s Theatre in the United States (1961), Nellie McCaslin claims that children’s theatre had “the express purpose of giving wholesome pleasure”, while theatre in education and drama in education aimed at providing learning opportunities.

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(Jeremy Kingston's review appeared in The Times of London, 12/17.) 

A Daughter’s a Daughter, Trafalgar Studios, SW1

Here is an unexpected treat, a 50-year-old play by the novelist Mary Westmacott, who under another name wrote about 100 detective novels and several plays, one of which has been running in London for 57 years. That other name is, of course, Agatha Christie.

Christie persuaded Peter Saunders, who staged her Mousetrap in 1952, to try out A Daughter’s a Daughter and it ran for one week in Bath. This was in 1956 and it is hard to believe that the short run was due to an unfavourable reception because this turns out to be a rattling good play. Old-fashioned, certainly, in the way that many plays of that period have difficulty dealing with more than two characters at a time.

I want to think that Saunders never intended the run to be more than that brief flowering, and a possible reason is that while the play provides terrific opportunities for the two principals — a mother and her daughter (roles played here in Roy Marsden’s clever production by Jenny Seagrove and Honeysuckle Weeks) — it is not about murder and the ending is pungently bleak. But in a sense the play is about a murder, the murder of a woman’s happiness because she puts love for her daughter before a proper regard for herself.

In the opening scenes, set in 1945, the characterisation is fairly simple. The newly demobbed daughter, Sarah, returns to her mother’s home after three years abroad and wants everything to be the same as before. Appalled to find that her widowed mother, Ann, intends to remarry, she sets about preventing this and succeeds because her mother refuses her nothing.

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(Tim Rutton's review appeared in the LA Times, 12/18.) 

'Hellraisers: The Life and Inebriated Times of Richard Burton, Richard Harris, Peter O'Toole and Oliver Reed' by Robert Sellers

Wild tales, well-told, of the Brit booze brigade.

One of life's oddities is how often a series of genuinely comedic incidents congeals into, if not tragedy, then tragic loss.

Robert Sellers certainly has no intention of turning readers' thoughts in that moody direction, but "Hellraisers: The Life and Inebriated Times of Richard Burton, Richard Harris, Peter O'Toole and Oliver Reed" probably will, though there's a tremendous amount of unapologetic, unself-conscious fun to be had on the way to introspection.

Burton, Harris, O'Toole and Reed were four of the great actors to emerge in postwar British stage and cinema; they also were legendary drunks, who not only pursued their avocation — it surely was more than a recreation — in public and without regrets. Today, when what we used to term a "hard drinker" is routinely referred to as a "high-functioning alcoholic," it's difficult to imagine an account of their lives free of judgment or amateur psychoanalysis. Sellers, a drama school grad and former London stand-up comic-turned-film writer and pop culture critic, manages to pull it off.

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(Patrick Healy's article appeared in The New York Times, 12/17.) 

More Buzz About Mounting ‘Streetcar’ on Broadway

Stephen C. Byrd, a theater producer who holds the rights to mount “A Streetcar Named Desire” on Broadway, said in an interview that he would “love” to transfer the critically acclaimed production now at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, starring Cate Blanchett, to Broadway in 2010.

Mr. Byrd, who produced another Tennessee Williams revival, the all-black “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” on Broadway in 2008, said he had not yet actually seen the “Streetcar” production with Ms. Blanchett as Blanche DuBois, but was going Saturday.

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