Tuesday, 27 October 2009

John Lithgow: Stories By Heart (National Theatre)

I had a wonderful night at the theatre last night. Alison limped up to me in the National Theatre while I watched the jazz band playing in the foyer, we caught up over chocolate cake and a glass of wine, Charles Dance milled about -much to my delight- then we headed into the Lyttleton to see John Lithgow's one-man show.
He is a wonderful story teller, no doubt about it, I could have sat there all night listening to him! It actually felt strange to me that there was no encore! I've seen one-man plays before, but this didn't feel like a play, the bits when Lithgow was being himself, well, it was an acted memoir- he wrote it all, so I really wanted him to come out again and say "All right, one more, you crazy Limeys."
Lithgow started his show by telling his own stories, stories about his father, his father's youth and life running the Ohio Shakespeare Festival, then his decline. 2002; John Lithgow (a boy of 58 at the time) was nominated by his siblings to live with his parents and look after them for a month while his father recovered from an operation- he was nominated as he was the only one out of work at the time- Lithgow found the book of short stories that had been read to him as a child (the only prop in the play) on his parent's shelves and through telling them a bedtime story each night his father started to recover. He tells us the audience two very different stories from the book- but of course he doesn't use the book, he knows them by heart and he acts out all ten characters of the P.G. Wodehouse yarn and transforms himself into the barber from Ring Lardner's Haircut brilliantly.
So at the beginning when he's telling us about his family there's something schmaltzy about it that I think on a British stage doesn't work as well as it must have done in the Lincoln Centre, but surely he's allowed to be sentimental about his own family! It's only our attitude over here that made it a little close to cringey. Luckily straight after this dose of American schmaltz is a good helping of Uncle Fred and all is forgiven. It's a sign of a good storyteller, I could see every single character- even though obviously they were all John Lithgow- and it wasn't just the art of Wodehouse, Lithgow told it brilliantly. Wodehouse was made to be read aloud, TV and film adaptations lose everything because the funny is in the descriptions and narration not just the dialogue, so to have someone tell it and physically act it out at the same time, well, it was the BEST episode of Jackanory I'd ever seen -and that includes Rik Mayall.
In the second half Lithgow tells a different story, this is just one man talking, a barber giving a haircut. Lardner's story was obviously not as good as Wodehouse (nothing is) but it was personal to Lithgow (it was written with his home town in mind and he read it as a boy) and it was an excellent opportunity for him to showcase another character and a lot of excellent mime! He is a brilliant actor (comic actor of course) It was complete transformation from the character of "John Lithgow" who sang a a peppy ditty about murder and adultery before beginning his next tale, just by taking off his jacket he's suddenly a gossipy old Ohio barber. It was a great performance and very American compared to the Wodehouse, unfortunately the lights went off just at the crux of the story and Lithgow had to try and recreate the tension he'd just told- if I was him I'd friggin' kill the lighting guy, there were only two performances and that happens right before the end of the last one?! Anyway, he recovered it very well and we (the audience) were all gripped anyway, we all knew that wasn't the end, we were silently waiting to hear the rest of it in that second of darkness.
Probably because I'm a storyteller myself, or maybe not, maybe just because he was so good (or because I love P.G. Wodehouse!) I just loved it, I thought it was perfect theatre. First time for ages that I've come out of a theatre and thought 'that was perfect'. But it was.

Saturday, 24 October 2009

The Caretaker (Liverpool Everyman Theatre)

Jonathan Pryce makes his big return to the Liverpool Everyman, the theatre that made him, the theatre that has a big photo of 'Company of 1975' in the foyer that made me squawk with excited laughter -presumably Jonathan took the photo- at first glance I managed not to see Julie Walters right in the middle or Bill Nighy lurking behind, but only Nick Le Prevost of course and his magnificent hair.
While I was in America Jonathan had a few days off because of illness (I was frantically calling the theatre yesterday to check he'd be in the matinee we'd booked) I'm reckoning a cold because the theatre was so EFFING boiling that it could only be because the actors were cold, the audience was awash with sweat. Anna felt herself drifting away at one point becacuse of the heat but because I had been looking froward to seeing it of course I was wide awake and cramming in fondant fancies for a sugar buzz that would see me through the sleepy-heat of the second half.
Aside from the theatre, the play and the performances were top notch. Well, I'm not a Pinter fan, but this was definitley the performance of his classic to see; all three actors were very very good. Tom Brooke as the nasty brother was excellently scary and vicious, I imagine David Tennant (and even Jonathan himself back in 1980) would have played the role in a very similarly nasty and manic way. Good actor that boy, nice-but-dim in that awful Richard Curtis film and then convincingly terrifying in Pinter, tres impressive. The other brother (Peter MacDonald) was very good too, his monolgue was wonderful and his practically silent performance through the rest of the play was compelling too. And of course Jonathan Pryce does not disappoint, he plays a very real character which I imagine would be very easy to overplay, he's a sad figure but my favourite bits were as usual his physical comedy. I say as usual but lots of the times I've seen Jonathan on stage the bits I like are the horrific breakdowns, there wasn't one in this so I will cling to the tragi-comedy, the wag of a finger or the roll of an eye- the surpressed pleasure and appreciation for a second-hand smoking jacket.

Monday, 19 October 2009

Oleanna (John Golden Theatre)

Kill her Bill!! Kill her!!!
What self restraint, I thought, two minutes before the end of the play, if I was him I would have stabbed her to death by now. But then came the ending, no stabbing, but you know, he sort of lost it...
A confusing play in three acts, three scenes really, yet another one act play I booked (should have seen a musical and got my god damn money's worth!). Both extremely unlikeable characters, both actors I think over acting a bit too much- in fact Julia Stiles- who I'd only heard good things about was dreadful! Really dreadful! And Bill Pullman's ticks and fidgetty acting really annoyed me too!
The best part of the play was the free half hour discussion at the end where the confident American audience expressed their views very coherently- all right for them and their compulsary public speaking classes...grumble... what about my English polite shyness?! Does that mean nothing?! You know, most of the time the confidence comes across as arrogance! So fuck you all!!
Anyway, Oleanna was a really infuriating play, but it was supposed to be. I just can't help thinking it would be much better performed by English actors, say Jonathan Pryce and Ruth Wilson?

A Steady Rain (Schonfield Theatre)

So Daniel Craig and Hugh Jackman are doing a play- who cares what it's about I'm there!! Hugh Jackman is ultimate hot and Daniel Craig was in that brill episode of Drop the Dead Donkey (and he's also James Bond).
Well, it turns out that A Steady Rain is ok, it would have been better suited to radio or Afternoon Play slot on TV. It's not brilliant, it has no surprises, in fact it's quite predictable and average, and seeing as neither of the two Adonises do much more on stage than sit in chairs for an hour and a half I'd say it's a waste of such hotties.
But here's news for you; I went to see Jackman and he was corny, over the top and completely miscast in straight theatre, also he seems to have suddenly got kind of weasely and his face is too small for his head... Daniel Craig is a mighty good actor, he played the part really really well, he was quite cute in real life, not too much like Sid James... and I liked him an awful lot more than Showtime Jackman. I should have known really that he was going to be excellent, he was excellent in Our Friends in the North (not to mention that episode of Drop the Dead Donkey where George makes him sing the Birdie Song) And Jackman, well, I should have waited for him to do another musical, he was fab fab fabulous in his Oscars opening ceremony.

Paranormal Activity (2009)

This film would have been perfect if they'd have cut it one second before the ending they chose to use. It was a really really good horror film, but that stupid bit of CGI ruined the two hours of extreme realism that the film makers had done so well.
Cut on Katie smiling.
I expect it was American Hollywood types who said "No! Make it more obvious and therefore ridiculous!"
Both actors were great though, very normal and likable, realistic. Scary!
(Though sometimes very funny with an American audience!)

The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown

Suzie and I had a book club in Chicago, In between sight seeing and meal times we'd retire to the nearest cafe and open our books- her American copy with the Mason's seal on the front and my English copy with the key that appears only on one page of the book and is never used. Anyway, the point is it was much more exciting reading it with someone else, Suzie was always three pages ahead of me so I would hear her gasp and say things under her breath along the lines of "No way!" a minute or two before I did the same.
Yeah, I liked Angels and Demons and The Da Vinci Code (the first one especially as I read it in Rome) so I was really glad that this one came out just in time for my trip to America- a trip that involved 8 seperate flights (last one tomorrow). It was just as good as the other two- if you like that sort of thing- we especially liked the No-Way!-Chapter three quarters of the way through, and the Phew!-Chapter fifty pages afterwards!

Saturday, 17 October 2009

Reviews coming soon!

I am currently in an internet cafe in Manhattan with eight minutes to go, Kim's internet has broken so I can't post any reviews right now but I will be reviewing the following shortly:

Paranormal Activity (2009)
The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown
A Steady Rain starring Hugh Jackman and Daniel Craig
Oleanna which I am seeing tonight with Kimothy.

Monday, 12 October 2009

Tosca by Puccini (Lyric Opera of Chicago)

Phew, at least in Chicago (where the opera house is an amazing building shaped like a chair with it's back to New York where the owner's girlfriend could not get a job as a singer- though actually, she was shite so she couldn't get a job in Chicago either...) they do opera how it was supposed to be performed.
Suzie and I saw Tosca, my grandmothers favourite opera, on Saturday night. The three sets- one for each act- were tres impressive, the church was my favourite (see photie) and the way they crammed it with people at the end was very cool, it looked like a real cathedral! The last set did look a bit like where you wait in line at Disneyland for the Pirates of the Caribbean ride- though I liked it because of that! And Scarpia's place was pretty creepy.
Yeah! What a character that Scarpia is, I was like; Woah! He's my kind of creepy bastard!!
The opera singers were really good and the translation (the subtitles) wasn't distracting at all, we already knew the story so it was quite easy to ignore the screen and just listen to the music and watch the show. This is traditional opera, it looked and sounded amazing. We wore our legwarmers with our fancy dresses on the train home- Chicago is COLD!!

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Whip It (2009)

Me and Suzie went to see Whip It yesterday, I haven't been to the cinema in America since I saw Cruel Intentions, I think that must have been ten years ago- I was on a skiing trip. Wow, cinemas in America are AMAZING! It was only six dollars each and we got FREE popcorn!! And the popcorn was buttery and salty not that awful sugary crap we get in the UK.
And the film was good too, though me and Suzie went out of the cinema (movie theatre) talking about Home Alone, "Why the hell are we talking about Home Alone?" "Oh yeah, 'cause Marv was in that film."

Friday, 2 October 2009

After Miss Julie (American Airlines Theatre- New York)

Miss Julie is played by Sienna Miller, an old school actress, she's old school in the way that she sleeps with movie directors and they let her be in their films- or in this case plays.
I wanted to see this play because I love Johnny Lee Miller, it's his Broadway debut, I'm pleased to say he did not disappoint, he does a very good job in this one-act three-hander.
The other girl in the play is Marin Ireland, obviously American, the rest of the audience probably thought she was great but her confused accent was so awful I thought she must be there just to make Sienna seem like a good actress! If you're casting a play set in England with two English actors, why not go the whole hog and get in another, not some Yankee who was either doing a very bad Irish accent or a very bad Yorkshire accent... Miss Ireland did a very good job reacting though, which was her main role anyway.
So, Sienna, well, she was ok as the spoiled sex-mad tart, no acting required. But I really wasn't sure some times if her breakdowns were supposed to be badly acted. The character of Miss Julie seemed to be a chronic liar, so I thought perhaps she was doing it on purpose- I'd say from the ending that those emotional outbursts were supposed to be real and that she is just a bad actress. Her acting reminded me of my friend Alison's acting- Alison is a junior researcher on the Jonathan Ross show, she is not an actress.
There were bits that only I laughed at and bits that all the Americans laughed at, this happened last time I was in New York, I laughed at the tragically cruel jokes, that must be British humour. Johnny was very good, Sienna tried, you could tell she was really trying, but I hope she doesn't get good reviews, she really wouldn't in England. Though like they said in the play, "Americans die for the accent!"So they might be fooled.