Saturday, 27 April 2013

The Audience by Peter Morgan @ Geilgud Theatre (London)

Stars do their turn in the West End and Broadway all the time. Mainly, I am disinterested, however my ultimate respect for Dame Helen Mirren's craft drew me to queue for return tickets on a chilly Spring evening in London.

The play itself is a slow, pedestrian piece with little spark in the story. The production itself, for all its West End high-value budget lacks interest visually. The supporting cast are of varying quality (Though a few stand out).

Yet I was able to set every one of these mediocre aspects aside in the wake of the sheer brilliance of Helen Mirren's performance. On stage for nearly the entire length of this full length play, Mirren transforms before our very eyes (with the help of stagehands in costume) through various points in The Queen's life. Literally moving from an older Queen counseling John Major, to a young Queen in her first meeting with Churchill, and various points in between, Mirren's physical and vocal work are breathtaking. She is utterly transformed - almost shape shifting - between these, and yet with a consistently clear sense of who this woman is and what she truly wants in life. In short, Mirren is unbelievable.

Ultimately this is not a script which will stand the test of time, nor do I expect any actor - regardless of skill - to be able to step in and make this even moderately interesting.

Narrative by Anthony Neilsen @ Royal Court (London)

This concept had such potential. Aiming to follow in the footsteps of Beckett and Ionesco, Neilsen presents a script which departs from traditional concepts of narrative with a forward trajectory, instead giving us multiple scenes, none of which propose to have an end point. Unfortunately, in my estimation he falls short. The characters and scenes do not escape a forward trajectory; actions and consequences do still have cause and effect, and by the end there is a sense of completion (albeit shaky). The path to this point is frustratingly peppered with absurd concepts; people growing horns, communicating with the dead via skype, trying to take photos of their arseholes. 

Whereas there was potential for this to say something about our inability to connect, instead it showed frustratingly selfish people, most of whom I couldn't be bothered with. 

This isn't to say it didn't have high points; a few of the scenes were strongly written and performed. The lighting design was stunning. It is just the script itself; purporting to be about nothing, but telling us that so often that it did, in fact, gain meaning. 

Friday, 26 April 2013

My Perfect Mind @ Young Vic Theatre (London)

I happened to chance a return ticket on this sold out extended run, and was immensely grateful. The play's concept has the potential to become a monument to celebrity, focussed around Edward Petherbridge's real life experience of having a stroke whilst preparing to play Lear. This brilliant two hander, however, steers well clear of this. Instead, it offers a funny, touching look at the life of a performer and a life spent pretending to be someone else. Staged on a cleverly designed open space, in which we see all of the workings, objects morph to differing purpose, and the room takes on many locales with ease. The characters, too, move smoothly from one moment in time to another - this almost spastic understanding of time clearly reflecting the concepts of identity and memory being put forth in the script.

Brilliantly written. Brilliantly staged. Brilliantly performed.

There is a moment when Petherbridge stops the action and says "this isn't hte kind of Lear I wanted to be in". We are grateful that it was.

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Oedipus Stadt @ Deutsches Theater, Berlin

This new translation which premiered with the Deutsches Theater (Berlin) in August 2012 takes the many plays comprising the Oedipus myth and combines them; we begin with Oedipus Rex, are thrust into Seven Against Thebes after his blinding, see a sprinkling of The Phonecian Women (and I am quite certain Oedipus at Kolonus, though my very dodgy German may betray me) and finally we fall into Antigone. All of this happens in just a couple short hours. The result of combining the pieces of the myth from their respective longer plays into shorter bits is that the hubris of this family, their fatal flaw, is crystal clear. Each of the characters dives into power, willful to set things "right", and each of them learns of their terrible error and the pain it causes. 

First, the staging - within a traditional theatre space, the stage has been morphed into a white bowl, with stark and visible lighting, within which rests a large unfinished wooden curve extending from the front row of the audience up the back wall. The actors enter and exit down log runways on either side of the curve stage, echoing their footsteps in loud shoes. Every movement within this space was highly specified, self-aware and yet highly emotionally connected. It is as if the concept of verfremmdungseffekt is as inherent as breathing for these performers. There were countless visual moments which caught me in the pit of my stomach, but none more so than the moment toward the end of Seven Against Thebes/beginning of Antigone in which the characters (at varying times and sometimes together) ran up the curve, then slid down, countless times, exhausting themselves yet continuing to push on in futility. The simplicity of the direction was outstanding.  

Finally, I would be remiss not to mention the brilliant Susanne Wolff. The usher we spoke with in advance of the show advised that she has built a career on playing men, and in this instance was the most powerful Kreon I could have imagined. Strong and wilful, she played such an understated fiery soul, peppered with beautiful physical work. I could not take my eyes from her, and as the piece progressed into Antigone, when she assumed a key role, this feeling grew. There was a moment when Menoikus was arguing, and physically got right up into her face. A lesser performer would have done something, even minute, to indicate their displeasure. Wolff did absolutely nothing, with chilling effect. In short, she was unbelievable. 

I am extremely grateful to have happened upon this in my short time in Berlin; it has excited me to consider returning to my own grapple with the Greeks, and Antigone specifically, No More Prayers. 

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Wine & Words - Fundraiser for Theatre By The River

So, there is this snappy little theatre company in Winnipeg called Theatre By The River. It was formed by some awesome folks whom I was in undergrad with at the brilliant University of Winnipeg Theatre Department (seemingly ages ago...).

They are having a fundraiser! For only $20 you can have wine and listen to actors read brand new play excerpts. This year, I am honoured to be one of the writers whose work is featured in this year's event, as a piece of my new play in development Trying will be read.

Please come out if you can to support art, local theatre, and wine.

Sunday, 7 April 2013

Live Experience, Recorded Medium

I've been giving a lot of thought recently to the experience of recorded media within a live theatrical performance. How does our interaction with the recorded media shape and colour our experience of the live performance in front of us? I'm sure everyone has been in an audience when a poorly mastered sound cue took them "out" of the world of the play, reminding them of the reality of their situation seated and observing a real and live, truthful fiction. In such instances, the recorded medium which is intended to add "reality" to the scene serves exactly the opposite purpose reminding the audience of the falsity of the performance, the pretense and conventions, the audience's choice to "buy in".

Of course, there are times when particularly well-designed sound can add significantly to the experience. Most notably in my memory was the sound design for Rupert Goold's Decade (Headlong, London UK, 2011) wherein beautifully spaced siren sounds across multiple speakers in the space created an effect of ambulances surrounding the building, heigtening the potential as an audience member to be coerced in to the world of the play. These instances add colour to the theatrical experience, and for audiences seeking something like the "reality" of movies and television, offer a shade of this.

Other art forms use recording; dance, most obviously, but also music. The work of Steve Reich has for years dabbled in the inclusion of recorded media within live performance; in the case of Reich's work, he pushes at the edge of our understanding of live performance. The recording is being played live, and also manipulated (at times by Reich himself) so what makes this any less live? Going further, modern DJ culture, even when sold as a "live" performance is still at its core a living performance of recorded media. The sounds pre-exist, unlike the cellist or drummer who creates the sound live, pushing it into the ether in that very moment. But is one necessarily better than the other? The DJ is still manipulating that recorded sound in a way that is unlike any previous manipulation; the risk factors at play mean that like the violinist who could play a squeaky note, the DJ could not mix the sounds together in a pleasurable way, could not match the beats together, etc.

All of this thought leads me to my current project; alongside my husband (DJ and Producer John Norman) I will be creating a piece of audio theatre which will correspond with a live DJ performance of his. Each of us will be working with our sounds, the materials pre-recorded. Then, the audience will be invited to experience them live from their recorded state. Furthering the experiment, we will question what occurs when the two live experiences of recorded media are experienced together; audience members will be able to listen to the play in their personal mobile devices with headphones, while around them hearing the DJ set. Our key questions are: how do these two experiences function independently, and in tandem with one another? Is there a new sort of experience this opens up to the audience members? Is either performance impacted by the correlation with the other?

More on the project soon....keep some time open in mid-August to come check it out.