(Mark Fisher’s article appeared 10/25 in the Guardian.)
A handful of times during Alan Rickman's performance as John Gabriel Borkman, the audience at Dublin's Abbey theatre lets out a laugh. Sometimes it is because of references to dubious banking practices, which seem to us newly topical, but the rest of the time it is because of Borkman's casual misogyny. In the translation by Frank McGuinness, his lines include: "If there are good women, we don't know them," and: "I suppose it's reasonable to see things as you do. You are a woman."
"American audiences will hear an accent and style surprisingly like their own in its informality and strong r-colored vowels," Meier said. "The original pronunciation performance strongly contrasts with the notions of precise and polished delivery created by John Gielgud, Laurence Olivier and their colleagues from the 20th century British theater."
(Maya Dibley’s interview appeared in the Guardian, 10/31.)
I'd never heard of this before I went to see it. I was doing a placement at the National theatre studio where my first play, Gagarin Way, was on. I'm from a working-class background, so it was a fluke that it had ended up there. I didn't really go to the theatre much either, so while I was in London I went to see lots of different things. Afore Night Come was really strange – that's what I loved about it, it was different.
(Charles Spencer’s article appeared in the Telegraph, 10/29.)
I was once upbraided by a leading director for saying it wasn’t a theatre critic that was required to review one of her equally disturbing later plays but a psychiatrist. But I remain convinced that her peculiarly bleak dramatic vision owes a good deal to her recurring clinical depression, a condition that reduces life to a grim, grey tunnel in which the possibility of hope and optimism seem to have been extinguished and only life’s cruel miseries really register.
(Abigail Deutsch’s article appeared in the Village Voice, 10/27.)
As Is, director Walter J. Hoffman's powerful revival of William M. Hoffman's revolutionary play, captures a gay couple breaking up in the context of a larger social blow: AIDS.
This 1985 drama was among the first to record the shattering impact of the disease on New York City. After leaving Saul (a cute, kvetchy Todd Michael) for another man, Rich (an anguished, bookish Jeff Auer) contracts HIV and finds himself rejected by his family and new boyfriend.
(Michael Feingold’s articles appeared 10/27 in the Village Voice.)
Julia Cho's last play produced here, The Piano Teacher, centered on a sinister character, unseen on stage, who abused vulnerable children by telling horrific fables. Now Cho herself has written a fable, but The Language Archive (Laura Pels Theater), this year's Blackburn Award winner, turns out to be about as charming, beautifully wrought, and un-horrific as a fable can get. Modest in its ambitions, small in scope and, as fables tend to be, slightly abstract, it has a bittersweet hardheadedness that keeps its charm from lapsing into sentimentality, and a verbal tang that makes even its more predictable turns fun to relish in performance. Though probably not a great play, it's a sturdy one, likely to last.
(Sandie Angulo Chen’s article appeared 10/11 on Moviephone.)
Even four decades after the movie's theatrical release, the hills are indeed still alive with 'The Sound of Music.' The story of the beautiful young Austrian novice Maria (Julie Andrews) who's sent to play governess to the seven unruly Von Trapp children and falls in love with their widower father, Captain Von Trapp (Christopher Plummer), remains one of the most beloved musicals of all time. Unbelievably catchy songs, career-defining performances and a touching, crowd-pleasing plot made 'The Sound of Music' one of those timeless must-see films for all audiences.
(Michael Billington’s article appeared in the Guardian, 10/27.)
Ena Lamont Stewart's remarkable play was a big hit at Glasgow Unity in 1947, famously revived on the Edinburgh fringe in 1982, and now it gets an equally loving revival by Josie Rourke at the National. Rightly so: this play, set in a Glasgow tenement in the 1930s, reminds us what economic hardship really means, and yet has an ebullience that suggests a Scottish O'Casey.
In a book that simply uses her own name as its title, two-time Tony winner (Evita and Gypsy),Patti LuPone (with Digby Diehl) nails the star autobiography. She kisses and tells on lovers Kevin Kline, Peter Weller, and current husband, Matt Johnston; regales us with theatre stories and makes good on tabloid gossip: for example, a blow-by-blow account of the disastrous London opening of the musical Sunset Boulevard—it landed her in a snake pit with the likes of Andrew Lloyd Webber, Glenn Close, Meryl Streep, and Barbra Streisand to name four; and settles old scores with just about everyone who ever crossed her: Topol, Paul Sorvino, Bill Smitrovich, and much of the entire chorus and dance corps of Anything Goes at Lincoln Center. Plus she goes further, adding an eight-page section of color photos with black-and-whites throughout and explaining what it takes to create roles, play them for extended runs, and survive in the major leagues of show business: “I’ve never wavered from my love and dedication to the craft of acting and the belief in the value theatre holds in our culture,” she writes.
That doesn’t mean it was easy: the story of Evita, the part that made LuPone a star in 1984 is not about a “glorious ascent.” Instead, it was a “trial by fire, with the constant threat of being burned at the stake.” The truth is, the director Hal Prince was unhappy with the interpretation; LuPone’s competitive alternate was ready to take over the part; and the singing voice was shot: during the run, she spent fourteen hours each day in enforced silence, restoring whatever she had left. Her reviews—as well as those for the entire rock opera in America–were lackluster—and, ultimately, she felt that she and costar Mandy Patinkin had to perfect “the art of roping in skeptical audiences who dared us to be worth the money.” Nevertheless, they became Broadway’s hottest ticket at the time, with Patinkin always receiving the larger hand each night at curtain calls. The surprise is that, given her character anyone bothered to clap at all—the real Evita, an uber-opportunist, married a fascist dictator who protected Nazis after the war.
LuPone was beginning to avail herself of a strange ability—she could make the villainess, the anti-heroine identifiable [after Evita, there would also be, as examples, Mrs. Lovett, who knew and kept the secrets of a man who turned from a barber to serial killer (Sweeney Todd); and Rose, who, unrelentingly, forced her daughters to become successes on the stage, no matter the path (Gypsy)]. Regarding Evita, the actress says she wanted to play her as a girl on “a roller-coaster ride . . . with a big smile . . . as if she were saying, ‘Look at me. Look what I got away with.’ ” With regard to a song like "Rainbow High", the interpretation is different than that on the original concept album where the song is sluggish. LuPone’s version, however, in its galvanizing speed, drive, and intensity is an anthem to narcissism. The song can speed up your pulse and spark fantasies of forbidden, ecstatic self-will; Evita, the nefarious saint, was made into an adrenaline rush perfect for American materialists in the go-go ‘80s—LuPone made her one of us.
Her crash-and-burn portrait of the iconic lead in Sunset Boulevard was intended to be identifiable as well. “I wanted to create a character, not a caricature. . . . To be sure, Norma Desmond was a woman who was larger than life, both as a great actress and as a movie goddess, but at the same time she still had to be recognizable as a flesh-and-blood human being.” The critics were divided; at least one found the character pedestrian. I seriously doubt she was boring, though; what other actress can elicit such a visceral reaction from the audience time after time? “Some of the actors . . . were technically brilliant,” she realized at Juilliard. “They had beautiful speaking voices, beautiful diction, beautiful projection, but they were not very good actors. You can be taught to act, but you can’t be taught the X factor.” No matter what you want to make of an individual interpretation, that’s what LuPone’s got.
The night I saw Gypsy at City Center, the audience was primed, the score roared, you couldn’t take your eyes off her—I even happened to be at a performance when one of the props broke. She took a broom, brushed up the pieces and, without missing a beat, continued the show. LuPone owned the stage. In discussing Gypsy she says, “I did not see the ‘monster stage mother’ that had become the standard description of Rose. I hooked into her love for her children and her desire to do only her best for them, however misguided those intentions were. That’s the way I wanted to play her. It was a departure.” Personally, I had a difficult time reconciling her interpretation of the songs with Ethel Merman’s piercing phrasing (etched into my skull after years of listening to the original cast album). I also didn’t understand LuPone’s conception of her craft; she was singing the songs so straightforwardly, seemingly tossing them off (I’m not saying that they’re easy to sing)—I thought she was missing a more dramatic rendering. It’s a style, a choice, though—and I’m glad she explains it: we realize, through the book, that she’s employing a method gleaned from David Mamet: “Remain open . . . ‘let(ting) the script do the work’. . . . The easier I played . . . the more I comprehended the material.”
It should be mentioned that Patti LuPone: A Memoir is not Proust, but it doesn’t have to be. The forward structuring of the book can break (the section on Mamet, for example); I felt the edit could have been tighter (there are repetitions and similar expressions–I would have watched continuity a little more closely); the index also seems perfunctory (not even Peron makes it in, and I found myself scrambling to find the acting material); additionally, it would have been helpful to have had an appendix with her production history. The voice, however, is intact. I suppose booksellers only saw this as a tell-all—and it can be read just as a confirmation of LuPone’s diva reputation. I’m glad it’s more.
In an outstanding year for London theatre, our judging panel have picked out the most remarkable performances and productions. The choices reflect the explosion of young talent emerging alongside theatre grandees who are at the top of their game. The London stage has become the envy of the world. No other city comes near it for vitality, originality, intelligence and glamour. In a time of austerity, we salute the dazzling example of our capital's theatre, never dropping its standards, and never, ever surrendering…