Tuesday, 22 November 2011

‘A Round-Heeled Woman’ - Riverside Studios - Thursday 17th November 2011 (Including a mini-review of ‘Cagney and Lacey’: 1982-1988)

(Rated 4/5 )

This year and next year I get to see two of my teenagehood heroes on stage...
The first – Sharon Gless – who played Christine Cagney in Cagney and Lacey.
The second – next year – Tyne Daly – who played MaryBeth Lacey.
On the surface of things the show was one of many cop shows in the 70s and 80s. But delving deeper it was ever so much more. Yes there were the standard cops chasing robbers and other criminals and a case to solve every episode, but what made it revolutionary was we saw these women in their private lives and how their work impacted on their lives. It explored the relationship between these two very different women; one single and sassy and the other very much the family woman. Christine’s sassiness covered an emotional vulnerability, which she protected at all costs, and an attempt to match up to and for her father. MaryBeth’s emotional strength was constantly tested by her family situation – being a good mother was her priority and she did such an excellent job - and health issues… and even, and perhaps especially, in relationship with her work partner. And that was the crux of what made the show so special. It wasn’t afraid to explore the complexities of these two women’s lives with wit, humour and also heart-rending drama. It tested Sharon and Tyne’s acting skills and won them multitudes of awards and the love of many viewers. Huge credit to Exec Producer Barney Rosenzweig and all the writers too… phenomenal!

And so I readily admit Sharon, rather than the play, was the immediate draw for me. But, as it turned out, the play was also interesting, fun, emotional and again – something I love – has a truth about it because it is based on the real life experiences of a lovely, brave woman, Jane Juska. She posted an advert in New York Review of Books:
            “BEFORE I TURN 67 – next March – I would like to have a lot of sex with a man I like.
If you want to talk first, Trollope works for me.”
And so the stage is set for Jane’s adventures in men, sex and her journey through resolving her underlying emotional issues related to difficult relationships with her husband and son.
And in that stage setting, all scenes take place within the same area, incorporating and doubling up to be Jane’s bedroom, living-room, a nightclub, cafes in which she meets men, her outside postbox, a library, hotel-room etc etc… and all believable with just slight adaptations by Sharon or her fellow cast members. We know exactly where we are meant to be from their acting and changes in dress. Sharon makes all her dress changes on set. The others off – but they have even more changes to create; each of the five of them, (two women and three men), play at least three characters each. Most impressive in this regard was Michael Thompson, playing the youngest of Jane’s suitors and her son. He convincingly switched from one character to another in seconds and made them each so individual. Beth Cordingly, playing one of Jane’s friends and Miss MacKenzie; a character from a beloved Trollope novel of Jane’s, is also worthy of mention. Indeed all performers were good; Barry McCarthy and Neil McCaul as many of Jane’s sex interests and Jane Bertish as her friend and mother.
Sharon herself, was a total delight as Jane Juska. As the lights go up at the start of the play we see her pleasuring herself as she lies on her bed during a phonecall with one of the men. She carries this out with ease, and though pretends alarm when she notices all of us watching, seems totally comfortable with all the antics her character gets up to on stage. In fact, the wit, the recognisable Gless Glint in her eyes, the highly charged emotion and the fun she gave to Christine Cagney are all so apparent again in this role, whilst still being a quite a different portrayal. I love how Sharon generously gives of herself to her acting. Personally I feel that brings out the best in any performance.

And that relaxed open attitude is also what comes across in spades when you meet her in person. Luckily my friend and I had noticed where this was earlier, when Sharon was there with others. It is not labeled as a stage door! It was a long wait for her after the show. I’m used to the rapid exitings of the likes of those currently in the spotlight glare of the great success of their recent shows and fame. We were told by a waiting fan that Sharon had to remove her eyes! Actually contacts of course – out she came in large black-rimmed glasses. I was still expecting to only have a little time with her, so did my best to overcome the nerves of meeting a childhood heroine and role-model, and moved forward for my moment. She happily autographed my programme – only costing a pound, as one of the ushers proudly told me ‘The cheapest in London’ - and then I asked if I could have a photo with her. I was still feeling I must be quick and not take up too much of her time. As usual though, my camera decided otherwise. People new to it always experience a difficulty in pressing the shutter button to the right extent, which has delayed the taking of pictures and increased my time with my heroes, as well as often creating funny expressions on their faces! This time it ran out of memory and my friend had to hand it back to me for me to delete some shots. She later told me it would have been great to film Sharon and my interaction as we both studied the photos and I decided what could be sacrificed! In the end I found one – won’t even admit what it was ;) – and we got a picture together of me with a massive smile on my face hugging Sharon with a dubious look on hers. I imagine she was wondering if it would take. Following our success, Sharon went up to my friend, gave her a very firm handshake and said, with a hint of a question in her tone, ‘You’re the friend.’ (At the time I confess I was completely unaware of the significance of this. The audience had been full of lesbian women and so ‘her friend’/my friend could imply more than simply friendship. In reality she was probably referring to something I said to her before about my friend with the camera but I just don’t remember in the hazy memory fog that descends on me when I meet my heroes.)   I moved away for others to have a turn but realised there was time and space for everyone and Sharon seemed happy to chat for as long as we liked. Another fan asked for a photo with her and said she was scared – Sharon told her not to be. She cheerily talked about it being the 30th anniversary of Cagney and Lacey and how Tyne would also be bringing her play to London. And that we’d been a lovely audience. Then it was time for Sharon to have something to eat and I grabbed another moment. I hugged her – still amazed at how long that was possible for – and told her how much I enjoyed and loved Cagney and Lacey and thanked her for her part in it.

P.S. Riverside Studios is accessible to the disabled, however, if you are going by tube – I imagine the same is true for the bus – it is a longish walk and not that easy to find. It is worth arriving early to get the seat of your choice; there are no prior allocations. If you want to eat there, booking in advance seems to be a good idea – the restaurant and bar were both fully booked that night. Unfortunately after a while I found my seat uncomfortable – I had problems with pain in my thigh – though I am not sure if the culprit was the seat or me. But it has a lovely simple stage and auditorium – a blank canvass for the actors’ and audience’s imaginations.

A Round-Heeled Woman – Review by TheRestrictedReviewer © 2011     

Twitter: @RestrictReview

Sunday, 20 November 2011

‘Leonardo Da Vinci: Painter at the Court of Milan’ - National Gallery Saturday - 12th November 2011

(Rated 7/5 )

Maybe it’s not accidental that the first word to pop into my head, having seen this exhibition, was in Craig Revel-Horwood’s voice ‘A-MAZ-ING’! One lovely, amusing - IMHO though I know not all agree, perfectionist gay critic about the work of another lovely, witty – so it is said, perfectionist gay creator of extraordinary delights for our eyes to behold. I went with a good artist friend of mine. I was looking forward to discussing the works with yet another lovely, fun, perfectionist, but not gay this time – hey some straight men are pretty amazing talents too, creator of art and critic. We were fortunate to have complimentary tickets, courtesy of another good gay artist friend of mine – okay what is it with me and gay artistic people?! ;) – and not have to queue for the two hours, which those who had arrived on the day for tickets, would have to. I’ve never before seen such a long queue outside the National Gallery! I wouldn’t have been able to stand it. As it was I had a lot of difficulty walking round and standing to take in the exhibition, and, by the end, was in pain. But, as is said, the price we pay for beauty – and these works are extraordinarily beautiful and priceless. They are completely alive! Look at a Da Vinci painting such as The Belle Ferroniere or The Lady with an Ermine and you will experience that these are works of life created by art rather than simply works of art. I commented to my friend that it was like looking at a photo rather than a painting, but actually his works have more life than in a photo. I felt held to look, and look, and look and could not tear myself away. There is so much to take in; just, for example, the way Leonardo played with the effects of light and shadow and techniques he used to create realistic skin. At one point, I indicated the play of light he had created on Ferroniere’s jawline, and was so drawn in, my little finger drew in to indicate. A guard hastily warned me not to get too close. Afterwards we joked about how famous I could have been if I’d tripped and jabbed Ferroniere with my finger – the woman responsible for ruining one of Leonardo Da Vinci’s greatest paintings – not the way I’d like to be remembered! If possible The Lady with an Ermine is even more exquisite. Leonardo intended these works to inspire love in the viewer, and there is no doubt he succeeded, but not only for her man, Ludovico Sforza, but in all who see her. I won’t go into artistic detail relating to techniques – there are many fair better qualified to comment on that than I. The feelings created by those techniques; the ‘results’ speak for themselves. I am able to write about my feelings in response to these performances in art. But one point of technical note – my friend was so impressed by Leonardo’s use of tones and shadows, rather than lines, to create flow in drapery/material – gorgeous. As are his miniatures. You’d think that detail or impression of reality would suffer in scaled down versions, but they are as impressive, if not more so, than his full-scale works. And it is the attention to detail – his almost obsessive study of nature and precisely how things are; the perfectionism, that comes out in all his works. He studied and studied and noticed to the nth degree.
For me this precise observation of the natural world came out most in the first of his Virgin on the Rocks, or as I mistakenly called it Madonna on the Rocks. I love the gentle flow of the colours – so natural, the way he has the light shine through onto the scene and also the natural perfection in the mountains and flowers creating the setting of the piece. Stunning. Then, across the room is his later recreation – the second Madonna on the Rocks. This one didn’t work so well for me. It is far less natural, and far clearer in its contrast, but unreal. Was this an attempt to make it look more divine or was he under pressure to conform to the ideas of the time as to how a good painting should look? This one he ‘abandoned’; as he said, ‘Art is never finished but abandoned’ – and he had to be summoned back to complete it.
There are many other works in this exhibition. A multitude of small studies by Leonardo – many of them leant by HRH The Queen – including hands, feet, noses and the internal workings of motions of the body, which reflected his belief that the motions of the mind were reflected in the body; his studies of beauty and the grotesque – good men were beautiful and evil men had grotesque physical features: All this work used in his painting The Last Supper – a copy of which, by another painter, is exhibited. There are also works by Leonardo’s disciples/followers, and a newly discovered Christ as Salvador Mundi. You can see how his disciples have attempted to copy their master, and at the same time, these works are obviously using copied techniques and are not as skilled. It’s a strange experience seeing a ‘new’ Leonardo. Again Leonardo uses his powers of invention to create the divine. For me this doesn’t work so well. But it’s a taste issue – I prefer his more natural work.
Having spent a long time studying all the feasts for our eyes, it was time to satisfy our stomachs with a feast of sandwiches from the National Gallery cafĂ© – very tasty.
And finally – even though I’d already had a lovely Leonardo shopping trip with even lovelier friend helping as personal shopper – time to go and look at the goodies again – very tempted by the Leonardo fridge magnets but they were all sold out! Well that is aside from one pack which included one of the magnets with an imperfection in it. Not having that – like Leonardo I strive for perfection!

Leonardo Da Vinci: Painter at the Court of Milan – Review by TheRestrictedReviewer © 2011

Twitter: @RestrictReview

Monday, 14 November 2011

‘Lunchtime with Mark Rylance’ - Criterion Theatre - Thursday 10th Novemberber 2011

(Rated 5/5 )

Mark Rylance an absolute delight!

Billed as 'Lunchtime with Mark Rylance' this has to be one of my best lunchtimes ever!  Slipping now and then into acting and vocal demonstrations, he talked about his hits Jerusalem and La Bete and his tendency to be given long soliloquies and heightened language because he does them so well. But this was in no way boasting - he is the most unassuming, gentle actor I have ever encountered, who shows such delight in his work, especially in the theatre, which he loves for providing a community/family with fellow actors and crew, and perhaps even more importantly to us, an up close and personal interaction with the audience. He talked at depth about this and how it is a collective experience and his performances vary in communication with us as the audience; be it verbally, physically or via some transpersonal {my word} connection. He imagines us going in to the theatre and coming out again, and during a performance we can be Hamlet's soul, or for Rooster trees and animals :).

Mark left the stage and then came back to thank us for coming to hear him talk.

Lunchtime with Mark Rylance – Review by TheRestrictedReviewer © 2011

Twitter: @RestrictReview

Friday, 4 November 2011

‘Top Girls’ - Trafalgar Studios - Thursday 20th October 2011

(Rated 4/5 )

I became curious about this play when reading about play structure. It has a very unusual set-up and yet follows conventional rules of heightening drama. But enough on technicalities and theories…
I first read the script when I was confined to a lot of sitting around having broken my ankle. The writing was powerful and intriguing enough to transport me into the worlds of Marlene and her contemporary (1980s) family and colleagues as well as her historical, fictional and mystical dinner-party guests from times gone by. Finishing the play I was left with a strong feeling of wanting to see it staged…
The opportunity came when Suranne Jones took on the role of Marlene and the production arrived in London having been transferred following a highly successful run at The Minerva Theatre in Chichester. In keeping with the themes of the play, as the audience wait for the interesting and varied women to join Marlene in celebration of her work promotion, the back screen shows a montage of famous women from now and many thens – the fun part to see how many you can identify. And while you do that to think about what impact they have made on our world and our lives. The power and influence of womankind! And that is exactly what the play inspires you to contemplate as it presents us with a multitude of scenes involving women making their way apart from men; with men; without men; in spite of men; as inspirations to men; working, having children and the two together or not; abused by men or celebrated by them; in positions of power or almost enslaved – all about the essences of womankind; real, created and imagined. There are no male characters and yet in a way they are conspicuous by their absence and that makes their presence and influence felt.
Marlene has won a promotion over a man but only – it would seem – by rejecting her disabled daughter to the care of her sister. In the third act we see the two sisters conflict over the different lives they have chosen or had chosen for them. And in the second act we see women at different levels and abilities in Marlene’s agency – living their working lives and bringing out the politics of women making careers in the 1980s. It may sound dated and yet still feels relevant for today.
As someone who tends to wander off in her mind to past times, I was most fascinated by the scene at the beginning of the play in which Marlene welcomes the possibly fictitious legendary13th century Pope Joan, Chaucer’s character Patient Griselda, World-Traveller and Natural Historian Isabella Bird from the 19th century, Japanese Emperor’s Concubine turned Buddhist Nun Lady Nijo; also from the 13th century, and subject of the 1562 painting by Pieter Breughel; Dull Gret, to a contemporary restaurant meal. These women come across as very real; inspiring and annoying, strong and weak, as they share their stories of courage, challenge, pain and trauma in their journeys towards their goals. Each of them bring so much to the scene and the whole play that I really missed them when they were gone. That said the actresses themselves had not gone, as they all – aside of course from Suranne Jones who was playing Marlene throughout – doubled, or in some cases tripled, up as other characters during the rest of the play. All but Dull Gret – played superbly by Olivia Poulet, who later equally and impressively plays Marlene’s daughter – constantly interrupt each other, making the naturalness of the exchanges highly remarkable. I found it interesting to monitor my own responses to them. I felt irritated by Lady Nijo and Patient Griselda as they spoke about their suffering at the hands of men and mostly in relation to their children. I’m sure that is intentional, bringing up the core issues which Caryl Churchill was dealing with in relation to feminism; we want women to have equal power and rights and are used to that being the case today in 2011. It makes us cringe to hear these stories of abuse and ill-treatment from women, who in their time and culture (Lady Nijo) and according to their personality of patience and obedience, simple accept it. However I found Isabella’s attention-demanding moaning about her illnesses and accompanying self-glorification also annoying. I think that probably says more about me and my own lack of moaning about my disabilities and modesty about my abilities ;). Dull Gret provided great comedy as she stole food and crockery from the table and looked bemused about how she should eat and drink. Pope Joan was the most bizarre maybe – to me she came across as the strongest of the women and yet to become a pope in the thirteenth century she had to dress as a man and succeeded until her woman’s body betrayed her by giving birth as she rode her horse in a public parade! As they all get progressively more drunk she resorts to a multitude of lamentations in Latin. It turns out Dull Gret has had the most children and seems completely unphased by it all. Our hostess, Marlene, says nothing about having any children. We discover the truth later as we go back in time. Marlene is a success in business but, I would argue, not in life. She believes her own child to be unworthy of a job and doesn’t seem to be able to hold down a relationship. Success, of course, depends on your point of view but she, like all her dinner guests, seems to have suffered just as much though differently to achieve her career goals. Suranne Jones is very lovely and convincing as in all roles I have seen her. The only thing I would say is this role felt similar to many others she has played and I wonder if she suffers a little from type-casting. I’d love to see her play something completely different.
Perhaps amusingly by the end of the whole play I felt Dull Gret to be the most successful. Maybe it is her fight against the strangely shaped devils to kill off all evil done to her and her nearest and dearest and symbolically it feels as though she has psychologically defeated all impediments to success in all aspects of life.

P.S. Trafalgar Studios is a theatre without circles. There are simply stall seats going up and up. Apparently, according to a box office lady who sold me Top Girls tickets, ‘all seats are good seats’. Prior to this I saw Lenny Henry’s Othello, and even though further back on that occasion I still had a very good view. This time it was even better and I was also armed with my opera glasses. I did, however, find my seat a little uncomfortable – perhaps too upright. And again there’s the issue of needing a friendly arm to support you to your seat if you have challenge of the lower limbs.

Top Girls – Review by TheRestrictedReviewer © 2011

Twitter: @RestrictReview

‘The Tempest’ - Theatre Royal Haymarket - Thursday 13th October 2011 / With reference to… ‘Richard III’ - The Old Vic - Saturday 27th August 2011

(Rated 4/5 )

The Tempest – thought to be Shakespeare’s last play and possibly written by him for his last performance in a lead role also – is a play I had not read or seen yet wanted to for some time. I had heard it described variously as weird, fantastical, surreal and probably Shakespeare’s most autobiographical. I recall seeing a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream at The Globe Theatre, on a night of high winds and rain, and, of course, in the open air. One of the people I was with commented that, on that particular night, it was a more appropriate setting for The Tempest! Perhaps The Dream, with its themes of fairy magic and fantastical happenings, is the closest of Shakespeare’s other plays to The Tempest. And yet in fantasy land there can live greater truth than in reality. It would seem that the attention to detail and study of events, which Shakespeare used in most of his other plays, was let go in this instance. He seems to come so much more from feeling/emotion than clever wit. There are very few, if any, plot tricks and devices: No real sense of the tools he uses time and again of mistaken identity and multitudes of settings and scene changes. We have one setting in real time in accordance with the oldest ‘rules’ of Aristostlean drama.
All that matters here is to understand how this man – Prospero – feels about his isolation for twelve years on a desert island with his daughter in the environment he has created for himself; his plan to take revenge on those who banished them – including his own brother – and plot to marry his daughter with his brother’s son; and in order for all this to occur, how he uses his magic and employs the spirits to create the tempest, shipwrecking those on whom he wishes to take revenge and carrying out tricks upon them. As is common in Shakespeare we have the villainous brother and the clowns, including the King’s fool, played by Nicholas Lyndhurst in high comedic form.
In the end this is, unusually for Shakespeare, a simple surreal psychological journey of one man, setting free the daughter he adores, letting go of revenge and learning to forgive. And in this whole process letting go of his magic and tricks. And herein lies the autobiographical element – was Shakespeare processing the loss of his creativity in writing and performance before his own end in a kind of drama self-therapy? Perhaps symbolically, as Prospero releases his hold on his daughter to the care of another man, her cousin, so Shakespeare frees his written offspring to be adopted in performance by his fellow actors of the time, and, as he sadly was never to know, by many generations of actors since. His creative children have grown up in ever so many different ways as his characters are embodied by different actors, and plays taken under the wings of numerous production teams and interpreted by such a variety of directors.
For me the feelings and emotive forces in this play come through stronger than from all his other work. The drama involved in the likes of Hamlet, Othello and King Lear, is more complex, more compelling, certainly more intelligent and exceptional, yet I felt the truth pouring out of this play in a deeper, more profound way. Aren’t writers advised to write what they know and is that not usually the best of their work? Shakespeare’s research and insights into humanity cannot be flawed, but no research is required to write that which comes directly from the heart and in that, there is a pure freedom of expression. The other main, and highly significant, contributor to this feeling is the performance of Ralph Fiennes as Prospero. His embodiment is so gentle and powerfully moving. As he put on his magic coat at the beginning of the play, I felt a comfort and serenity, and during his epilogue my goosebumps had goosebumps.
In spite of years of study of Shakespeare in school, and feeling the need many times, as an audience member, to have some understanding of the script beforehand, in this case I did not. Though I did not understand all the intricacies of the dialogue, I got the essence of it and that was good enough. In a way, as with all accomplished acting, the power of the meaning; the subtext, comes across beyond the text, and in a sense, focussing on the text itself can get in the way of that. Unfortunately, I did not have the same experience when I went to see Kevin Spacey’s Richard III. That was in no way due to poor acting. One aspect had to do with the importance of the detail of the - as we now know – falsified history of Richard III; who he was created to be and what he supposedly did. It is a play – like many of the histories in my opinion – that requires prior knowledge of the events and characters involved. It is also important for me to be able to see the emoting of the actors involved. The Old Vic is too big to allow that for those in the cheap seats. When broadcast on screen at one point, Kevin’s emotionally expressive facial nuances were as clear as crystal and so varied – at various times scary, amusing and touching. Without that, for me, there is a lot missing from my the theatrical experience. This inspired me to buy a lovely set of 1940s opera glasses, so that, even if disabled by sitting far back ‘in the gods’, I can still spy on the minutiae of an actor’s emotions on the stage far below. That is, if they hold their heads up! One complaint – and the only one – I have regarding Ralph’s acting of Prospero, was that he bowed his head on some occasions.
In some ways it’s bizarre to even think of comparing the calm, magical Prospero and the tyrannical Richard. Whatever his vengeful acts, Prospero is all about his growing understanding of what it is to be human and forgiving. (Alongside his story, Prospero’s daughter is literally also learning how human beings are as she encounters others – aside from her father and the island’s native Caliban – for the first time. Through her experience and the contrast Shakespeare draws between humans and spirits/fairies, we also learn more about ourselves along with the human characters in the piece.) Shakespeare’s Richard is an inhuman tyrant, who may show moments of doubt and guilt, but was in contrast to those labelled as tyrants today, directly involved in the acts of terrorism and death he was instigating. In his case there is no learning of compassion and forgiveness. At the end of their respective plays both Prospero and Richard are set free, as are those under their influence. Richard’s death ends his cruel reign. Prospero asks for our indulgence to set him free and for ‘spirits to enforce and art to enchant’. This feels like the spirit of Shakespeare entreating to us never to forget him though his ‘ending is despair’ at the loss of the magic of his creative ability.
William Shakespeare, in my humble opinion, it is certain that as long as this world still exists, with producers still to produce your plays, actors to embody your characters, and audiences still to witness them, your spirit will reign supreme and your art enchant for evermore.

P.S. The Theatre Royal is a lovely old ornate theatre, but for those with disability of the lower limbs I would advise taking someone to lean on as you make your way to your seat: The stairs are small and awkward and there is no handrail to hold on to. As already mentioned the size of The Old Vic can lead to visual disabilities that have nothing to do with actual disability of the audience member. I have also experienced it to be far too cold as a result of over-enthusiastic air-conditioning. However it is not the only theatre with that problem.

The Tempest – Review by TheRestrictedReviewer © 2011

Twitter: @RestrictReview