My London Your London

A cultural guide

Month: February 2006 (page 1 of 2)

Theatre Review: Christmas is Miles Away at The Bush Theatre

The artistic form of choice to express the horrors of the First World War was poetry. Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sassoon and Rupert Brooke brought home the misery, terror and boredom of life in the trenches, and the recurring nightmares it induced. We have not, as yet, seen an emergence of a literary oeuvre of what history may well call the Iraq wars, but no doubt time will cure that. Could it be theatre? I’d like to think so.

Christmas is Miles Away, now at The Bush Theatre, will then have a place, albeit, I’m afraid, a small place, as an early attempt to tell – if only from the perspective of the home front – of the effects of the first Gulf War on one young squaddie, a young man, still a boy really, who was messed up enough even before he arrived at the war.

But that’s not how Chloe Moss’s third play, which debuted at the Royal Exchange, Manchester last year, starts out. We are in the middle of what seems like a classic coming of age story. Christie (David Judge) and Luke (Paul Stocker) are ill-matched “best friends”; the former the teachers undoubtedly call “the smart one”; the words they use about Luke are probably unprintable.

He’s your classic inarticulate, angry, bottled-up teen – not that, in his company, Christie is much better. They communicate through grunts, shrugs and monosyllables: “nothin'”, “what?”, “yeah”. But Moss, and the actors, do a good job of ensuring that the audience still finds this perfectly clear.

Into this rather volatile, conflict-ridden relationship comes the inevitable problem, a girl, Julie (Georgia Taylor), who’s winningly naive, nervously adventurous, and well-intentioned. Inevitably, however, her presence means problems, particularly when a drunk Luke, thrown out of his own house, wants to hang out at Christie’s at 4am.
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Theatre Review: The Little Dressmaker at the Union Theatre

Olga Ivanovna is animated, clever, pretty, passionate and trapped in a small town, in a country that views another state, and another language, as holding the key to all elements of high culture. What is she to do? She twirls, she glows, she leaps around, collecting every visiting “star”, every scrap of local talent, shining desperately as the life of every party.

You might remember the actress Amy Stratton from Brookside and Coronation Street (as Jenny Gibson and Davina Dawes respectively, so I’m told), but at the Union Theatre in Southwark now she is Olga, a spectacular, sparkling, but oh-so-fragile Olga. And she’s the undoubted shining light of an ambitious production, The Little Dressmaker, which Linnie Redman has adapted from Chekhov’s short story “The Grasshopper”. This is commonly presented as a morality tale about the dangers of thoughtless following of emotion, but, taking a feminist slant on the story, my sympathies are with Olga.

Perhaps the men in the town have few opportunities, certainly there are few for her friend “the Musician”, played here in a technically virtuoso performance by David Laughton (on piano, violin, squeeze-box and balalaika*). Despite his skills, he is reduced to camp posturing and disappointed flouncing, but how much fewer are the chances for women?
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Theatre Review: Other Hands at the Soho Theatre

by Jon Grant and Michelle Stratton
In a world dictated by technology, in a society where efficiency and not personality is key, Steve, an easy-going IT expert, and Hayley, a fiercely ambitious management consultant, struggle to co-exist in Laura Wade’s new drama Other Hands. They are drawn to each other through a shared inability to grasp their own feelings.

Yet, Other Hands isn’t so much a story about the entanglement of love and the complications arising within the secret politics of relationships that mount with every passing year, but a commentary on how we attempt to relate with one another in a world surrounded by machines. From Steve’s focus on virtual role-play games, to the forays into internet dating of Lydia, the neurotic victim of society’s efficiency drive, Wade suggests that we have, and are, growing apart from humanity in an attempt to find a role or acceptance in society.

As the main characters continually fail to relate with one another, they find this inability manifests itself in the form of RSI, a debilitating injury of, in this instance, the hands, which ultimately render both characters disabled as they struggle to grasp their feelings for one another. This plot is played out cleverly, and is a truly original thread in this otherwise clichéd mix of attempted affairs and friendships-that-threaten-to-go-further.

However, the best scenes belong to the portrayals of said affairs and friendships. The “sex” scene between Greg (Michael Gould) and Hayley (Anna Maxwell Martin) is extremely clever and, despite each character’s overall lack of depth, genuinely comes to life. It develops the characters with it as we begin to wonder upon Hayley’s declared intention to “sleep with another man”.
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Exhibition Review: ‘How do I love thee?’ Elizabeth Barrett Browning at the British Library

OK, I admit it, I’m a sceptic about romance, and the whole prince coming to rescue the imprisoned princess, but if you are looking for a real life example that actually worked out, then the case of Elizabeth Barrett Browning is hard to deny. Hers might have been a classic Victorian romantic story. Educated as a precocious hothouse flower, under the heavy arm of a classic paterfamilias who’d certainly worry social services today, she formed a secret attachment with a fellow poet that led to her elopement to Italy. Were the Victorian morality tale to be followed through, this would have ended in disaster, but this is a rare such story with a completely happy ending. (She even got to take her beloved dog with her.)

The story is now told – complete with many of its original artefacts – at the British Library, in an exhibition entitled How do I love thee? That title comes, of course, from possibly her most famous work, which was voted Britain’s “favourite love poem” in 1997. It is from a collection entitled Sonnets from the Portugese, which describes the flowering of her love for Robert Browning, during the last months of their secret courtship. (“My Little Portugese” was his nickname for her. ) The exhibition text reports that it went through more than 100 editions in the 20th century.
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Theatre Review: New Anatomies at the Cockpit and the Hen & Chickens

Isabelle Eberhardt was one of those Victorian-era women who did not so much throw over the traces as fling them to the heavens, then run away laughing. Born in Switzerland, to an eccentric, drunken anarchist father and a inept German mother who had fled to him from her Russian general husband, Isabelle grew up, at least on the account of New Anatomies, the play that has just opened in London, addicted to fantasies of the desert and Islam that had been her childhood refuge.

As a young woman, with both parents dead, she visited, with her staunchly conventional sister Natalie, her beloved brother Antoine in Algiers, where he had run away to the Foreign Legion. There she adopted male dress, the name Si Mahmoud, and took to the desert in the company of members of a Sufi mystic order. Despite her Islamic faith, she also, said one acquaintance, “drank more than a Legionnaire, smoked more kif than a hashish addict, and made love for the love of making love”.

Forced back to Paris, she can only return to the desert as a French spy. But can she be truly free? Somehow you know what the answer is going to be, even if you haven’t cheated by reading the biography first.
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Theatre Review: It’s A Girl at the White Bear Theatre, Kennington

The five women playing all of the parts, including the male parts, might have reminded me of my school days, and as for the song and dance sections – well they might have been better sticking to taped music – but it is a long time since I’ve laughed so much in an hour as I did last night at the opening of It’s a Girl! at the White Bear Theatre.

The conceit behind the production is that this is being presented by The “Bradshaw Regain Your Shape After Pregnancy Coffee Circle”. “Bradshaw” – somewhere Londoners call “up north” and northerners call “down South” – has, at the beginning of the play, been selected as the site for a “low-level” nuclear waste dump. They’re “trying to twin us with Chernobyl,” one of the circle complains.

But at first the identified heroine of the piece, Linda Bragg (Joanna Doyle, who does a nice line in pony-tailed vulnerability) is more concerned about getting pregnant, with her husband Melvyn (played to full comic effect by Marie Blount), who’s enthusiastic about the project. But when she succeeds, without the help of the American gangster-style doctor (Margaret-Ann Bain), her husband loses interest: “You’ve got a full tank and you want me to squeeze in a gallon”, he complains. Then he’s horrified at her sudden desire for a home birth: the bed’s “not even orthopaedic”, he exclaims.
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