Richard II, Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre London, 2003

Theatre at the Globe is not self-evidently a transcendental experience.

If you’re budget-conscious like us, you take the £5 tickets in the pit, where you get the best view in the place but have to stand for three hours. If it rains, you can’t use your umbrella, and if you don’t have some other waterproof covering you buy the theatre-issue plastic poncho which is extremely unglamorous and makes you very unpopular with the people around you due to the rustly noises you make while trying to wrestle it on. You then stand completely motionless in your cling-wrap prison until you can buy some overpriced tea in a paper cup at the intermission to clasp in your hands in the hope that it will warm your cold-stiffened body.

You are watching an all-male, all-authentic-practices production of Richard II. All the costumes look ridiculous. The men dressed up as women still look like men dressed up as women, despite the feminine mannerisms they take on. You miss the famous speech about England because you are wrestling with your poncho.

You should be miserable, but you’re not. The parting kisses between Richard and his Queen are heart-wrenchingly tender, and you’re transported beyond the cross-dressing, make-up and Adam’s apples to the simple acceptance that this is a man and woman in love. You have finally seen the great Mark Rylance, and are not disappointed by his subtle, many-textured Richard. Time and time again you are struck by the enduring power of Shakespeare’s words and wit today, and the ability of the cast to communicate this to us despite their lack of microphones and the occasional overhead helicopter.

As the company performs an ending dance, you vaguely note as you clap your hands sore that, again, they look ridiculous to your modern eye. None of it matters. In the midst of your euphoria, you are gripped by a sudden sadness, the same one that recurs every time you feel that surge of love for this blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England: you are leaving soon.

From Scratched-Up Shakespeare To Sonic Youth

The Bomb-itty Of Errors on Friday was truly, dare I say, da bomb. Shakespearean rhyming couplets adapted for rap with an on-stage DJ scratching, beatboxing and grooving right along with the performers. Four guys playing a multitude of characters, including women, to hilarious effect, especially when quick scene changes were involved. Bawdiness, and some random suggestions of animal lovin’. “MC Heidelberg” complete with ringlets and prosthetic nose. A plethora of pop cultural references, almost reminiscent of the Beastie Boys in Paul’s Boutique. The only rolling Shakespeare does in his grave to this should be a headspin.

Afterwards I somewhat unnerved the waitress at Misato when I suddenly realized what they were playing on the restaurant’s piped music and shrieked “Oh my God! This is Sonic Youth!” in the middle of ordering myself the teriyaki salmon bento. With background music like that, I couldn’t help but enjoy the meal and should add, for the benefit of those that click on the review link above, that service was efficient and friendly despite my little geeky outburst.

Voyage (Tom Stoppard)

I was thinking a bit more about Voyage, which was pretty damn stunning both in terms of the ambition of the script, and scale of the production, even if I must admit that some of its countless historical and philosophical allusions were probably lost on me at eleven in the morning. At the end of the play we felt satisfied enough that we’d understood its highfalutin’ philosophical themes, but still had to devote some time to clarifying who got off with who, and why. Guess there’s some way Stoppard has to go before he’s good enough to join the team at East Enders.

Something else I noticed – another example of what seems to be a frequently-used theatrical device of quick, easy, evocation of a character in terms of their accent. In Lord Of The Rings, one of the dim hobbits just happened to sound Irish. Here, Belinsky’s lack of formal education somehow seems to be suggested more by his distinctly unposh (English) accent than by the oft-repeated fact that he can’t read French. And of course everyone in the play’s actually Russian, so where does that leave us in the Michellian School of Theatre Commentary? I don’t actually know. This is why I took the safe option of a legal degree.

Tori Amos (Hammersmith Apollo) / Rent (Prince Of Wales Theatre)

Tori on Friday. Rent on Saturday. Hence broke, grouchy and essay crisis-ridden on Sunday.

Tori:

Was objectively good, but not what I waited seven years to see. As a performer she gave all the charm and musicianship I’d expected from her, but managed to choose a setlist with very few songs from her repertoire that I love, which is quite an achievement given how much I do like most of it. It could be argued that some songs weren’t possible because she wasn’t playing with her band – Hello Mr Zebra comes to mind as a song that might suffer from the loss of those jaunty horns, but you could also say that someone like her who adapts things like Smells Like Teen Spirit for solo piano could probably find a way round that.

There were songs that simply left me cold – Juarez, Honey, Suede, Not The Red Baron. There were songs I don’t “enjoy” per se, but still had to hear live, and was glad to have experienced – ’97 Bonnie And Clyde, Me And A Gun. Then there were songs I do quite like but which still fall short of the ones I truly love – Putting The Damage On, Little Amsterdam, Upside Down, I Don’t Like Mondays, Leather, Time, Cruel, Only Women Bleed, I’m On Fire, Landslide. Then there was one song I love – Playboy Mommy. This is why I ultimately left a little disappointed, not with her, I guess, but just by chance.

Songs I’d have liked to hear: Silent All These Years, Precious Things, Pretty Good Year, Past The Mission, Cornflake Girl, God, Professional Widow, Blood Roses, Hello Mr Zebra, Marianne, Jackie’s Strength, 1000 Oceans, Real Men.

Oh well. Just my view, others saw it differently, and I still left the concert no less of a fan than I was before it.

Rent:

If you’re in London, and you’re considering going to the production currently running at the Prince of Wales Theatre, don’t. Adam Rickett is a terrible, terrible Mark: camp acting, reedy singing voice; whoever acted Roger seemed to think he was a member of Spinal Tap instead of a struggling indie musician and felt the need to strut everywhere crotch-first and generally just act very cock rock, had an accent that seemed to waver wildly between Geordie, vague American and comically stereotypical New Yorker, and a singing voice that couldn’t hack the high notes in One Song Glory.

Light My Candle was either directed by an utter moron, or the actors completely screwed it up. Either way, I don’t understand how anyone who’d ever seen a good production of Rent, listened to the soundtrack, or even just read the fucking libretto, for crying out loud, could have butchered it so completely. Musicals don’t tend to lend themselves to gradual development of relationships or characters. You’re expected to accept that he loves her and she loves him, truly madly deeply, usually to the death; why and how this is so is superficially explained at best, and just imposed at worst. The reason I’ve always loved Light My Candle is that it seems to convey, better than most, some feel of how people interact before the sweeping heartfelt declarations of undying love. The flickerings of attraction. The banter, sometimes shy, sometimes daring, the wondering, the hoping, finally the confirmation. We got none of this. No Mimi bending to search for her stash on the flood and Roger sneaking a look, Mimi noticing:

M: They say I have the best ass below 14th street – is it true?
R: What?
M: You’re staring again.

Just Mimi getting down on the floor and deliberately arching her booty up at him like a slapper right from the start.

No understanding of Mimi’s response to Roger’s quip about Spike Lee shooting down the street – first “bah humbug” because she’s laughing at the joke, second “bah humbug” at him, tenderly, a little awkward, their hands finding each other. We got two careless “bah humbugs” from the couch, then Mimi shooting across the stage and grabbing at him.

I realize I sound like a complete obsessive to anyone who isn’t familiar with the musical, and probably even to most people who are. I could go on, but I’m too tired and pissed off. Just be glad I haven’t seen a bad production of Les Miserables yet.

Loving Les Mis

I came home on Monday from dinner with Jiawen and was engaged in all-out nose-honking (I have been attacked by the snifflebug) while watching the Les Miserables 10th anniversary concert on TV. My mother came out for a midnight glass of water, and said “Goodness, dear, you’ve seen this, what, over ten times, and you still cry?”

I don’t still cry. It was just the sniffles. But Les Mis remains one of the great heart-wrenching loves of my life, and just right now there’s nothing I want to do more than reread the book (this resolve may have become somewhat weakened by the time I’m wading through the 20 pages about sewers, but we’ll see), rewatch the musical when I get back to London, and relisten to the soundtrack (all 3 CDs, and I know almost all of it by heart).

I know Les Mis isn’t exactly a high-brow pleasure – professing my love for Stephen Sondheim might be more musically astute. I don’t care. I’m not ashamed of the fact that for me it pushes all the right buttons and tugs all the right heartstrings. It’s the same way Beethoven’s 5th has its hand round my heart even if his 6th is the one my brain loves.

I love every note sung by Javert (my favourite character), and every subsequent return to the musical motif in which he first enters (“Now bring me Prisoner 24601”, during Look Down).

I love the blossoming of the harmony in At The End Of The Day at “Like the waves crash on the sand/Like a storm that’ll break any second”.

I love it when both Valjean and Javert hiss “Javert!” simultaneously during their first confrontation (Valjean: I am warning you Javert!/Javert: You know nothing of Javert!)

I love Mdm Thernadier. “Master of the ‘ouse/Isn’t worth me spit/Comforter, philosopher and lifelong shit!”

I love everything Enjolras sings. “One more day before the storm!” abruptly ends the saccharine love triangle passage in One Day More for the passionate idealism and brotherhood of the students, and from there the song unfurls in all its glory, and I’m goose-pimpled from beginning to end.

“They will come when we call.” “Damn their warnings, damn their lies/They will see the people rise.” They didn’t come, and the people didn’t rise, and the slow painful turn of the barricades after the final disastrous battle is always agonizing.

The anguish of Marius’s “Oh my friends, my friends, don’t ask me/What your sacrifice was for” (Empty Chairs at Empty Tables) gets me every time.

I love the entire passage in the epilogue where the spirits of Fantine and Eponine appear and sing with Valjean. “And remember the truth that once was spoken/To love another person is to see the face of God.”

And those closing strains die away, and the finale begins, a faint chorus of distant voices singing in unison, the orchestra silent. “Do you hear the people sing lost in the valley of the night? It is the music of a people who are climbing to the light.” In the next verse the orchestra gives a tentative bass, and then everything starts to gain in momentum and strength till the final jubilant “Tomorrow comes!”, and there’s a lump in my throat, and I’m shaking, and I clap, and clap, and clap.