Daily Archives: August 22, 2011

Danny And The Deep Blue Sea

THEATRE
Danny And The Deep Blue Sea
St. George’s West (Venue 157)
4 stars ****

IT”S NOT A new play, or even one that’s old enough to have come back into fashion again; it belongs to that time in the early 1980’s when – with society becoming harsher, more competitive and less compassionate – people looked increasingly to their private lives for some kind of redemption.

Yet John Patrick Shanley’s Danny And The Deep Blue Sea remains a terrifically compelling drama, a searingly honest two-handed play that confronts just one question, deeply personal to us all; the question of whether it is true that romantic love – discovered in a single night – can transform lives, put dreams within reach, and protect us from the worst the world has to offer. Roberta and Danny are two deeply damaged people, already heavily scarred by life at the age of 30 or so, who meet one night in a bar in the Bronx, and somehow – with a little sex, and many outbursts of rage, and some heart-stopping moments of tenderness – decide to love another, and to see where that takes them.

At St. George’s West, this play is performed by 8(Ocho) of Berlin with a searing intensity, in what must be two of the finest acting performances on this year’s Fringe, from Alessija Lause and Nikolaus Szentmiklosi. The Brooklyn accents are pretty perfect, the live guitar music by Ivica Vrgoc provides a powerful, understated backbeat. The key to the production’s success, though, lies in the precise and powerful response to this play from two actors – one German/Croatian, the other Hungarian/ Romanian – who grew up far from Brooklyn; but who recognise in this story a hard, brave, beautiful drama about the human capacity to dream of happiness, and how it survives the toughest transitions, the hardest beatings, and the deepest emotional wounds.

Joyce McMillan
Until 29 August
p.253

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I Malvolio, May I Have The Pleasure?

THEATRE
I, Malvolio
Traverse Theatre (Venue 15)
4 stars ****
May I Have The Pleasure?
Traverse@The Point Hotel (Venue 105b)
4 stars ****

IT’S NOT A FACT THAT interests anyone very much; but some time in the last generation, Britain quietly reached the end of its long 400-year history as a broadly Protestant, not to say puritanical, nation. So it’s more than intriguing to see a theatre artist as talented and brilliant as Tim Crouch revisit – in detail, and with terrific skill and passion – the Shakespeare character who stands like a gatekeeper at the beginning of that historical period: the steward Malvolio, from Twelfth Night, who is a “kind of puritan”, who is relentlessly mocked and bullied by an alliance of clever servants and hard-drinking toffs, and who famously, at the end of the play, refuses to have anything to do with the neat nuptial celebrations, vowing prophetically that he’ll be revenged “on the whole pack of you.”

Crouch’s 60-minute Malvolio was originally created, along with three other similar plays, as a way of introducing restless teenage audiences to Shakespeare; but there’s never anything less than fully adult about this searing deconstruction of the conflict between Malvolio and – well, who? Not only the other characters, it seems, but us, the audience of relentless good-time boys and girls, laughing at Malvolio’s humiliation, mocking the brief hope of love he enjoys, and seeking amusement in a decadent, cross-dressing, make-believe art-form that Mavolio, like any good Puritan, roundly despises.

In creating his Malvolio, Crouch doesn’t have to reach very far back in British history to find the kind of highly-disciplined, authoritarian character he needs; this Malvolio comes across like a 1950’s ex-military man in some undignified postwar job, trying to discipline a crowd of neds who laugh at him behind his back. And the audience recognise the character too; gone from the range of figures we are urged to respect, but still deeply present in a life-denying corner of our psyches – in the raging headlines of the Daily Mail, or in the office health-and-safety control freak, lining up the paper-clips in neat rows, and trying to make sure that no-one has any fun at all.

Adrian Howells’s latest show-cum-personal encounter, May I Have The Pleasure?, is exactly the kind of theatrical event that Crouch’s Malvolio would dismiss as a sign of our terminal decadence. Slightly shapeless, strongly sensual, and, as Howells would be the first to admit, just a little self-indulgent, it leads us into a glamorous function-room laid out with the debris of a wedding reception – balloons, favours, empty glasses – and, over 90 minutes or so, tells the story of Howells’s remarkable experience as a serial best man, bridesmaid and pageboy, a role he has performed some eight or nine times in his life, without ever himself being the bridegroom or bride.

The point of the show is to explore the pain and possibilities of remaining single, in a society where the vast majority still aspire to coupledom; and despite the elegance of his presentation, Howells has very little to say on that subject that isn’t pretty obvious. He is, though, a formidable historian of the post-Malvolio transition British society has undergone in his 49-year lifetime, from a society where most people’s lives were held in a tight rictus of class and convention, to one where the social fabric is so weak that it imposes few restrictions, and where he happily attends the civil partnership ceremonies of his gay friends. And all of this is conjured up with almost painful vividness in the archive of old wedding videos Howells uses to illustrate his show; a litany of flared trousers, bad hair, looming divorce and terrible speeches that is both embarrassing and intensely poignant, too close to home, and yet somehow irretrievably lost.

Joyce McMillan
Until 28 August
pp. 271, 279

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The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle

EIF THEATRE
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle
King’s Theatre, Edinburgh
5 stars *****

IN A FLAT SOMEWHERE IN MODERN TOKYO, a man is folding laundry, obsessively smoothing it into neat piles. There’s no sense, though – as a thread of strange, haunting song from live musician Bora Yoon launches New York-based director Stephen Earnhart and co-writer Greg Pierce’s great new stage version of Haruki Murakami’s acclaimed 1996 novel – that we’re about to experience a story grounded in domestic naturalism. For all around the hero’s head, as he kneels by his laundry-basket, there swirls a world of images, dreams, ghosts and premonitions, brilliantly conjured up not only in Tom Lee’s ravishing set of shifting screens, but also in Jane Shaw’s magnificent sound design, which seems to whisper, echo and insist from every corner of the theatre.

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle tells the story of an ordinary man of 30 or so, Toru Okada, whose wife has disappeared; and of his struggle for her soul against the forces around her brother Noboru, a violent, bullying media star with political ambitions who believes that Japan should rediscover its machismo, its militaristic soul. The story swirls unsettlingly with mingled strands of sex and violence, many of which lead back to Noboru; if the old soldier who comes to visit Toru represents the best of the old military tradition, Noboru represents the worst of it, repackaged for an age of pornography, prostitution, and sadistic reality television.

It’s into this darkness that Kumiko has vanished; and for a short, rich, intense yet often dreamlike two hours, James Yaegashi’s gentle, searching Toru tries to find her there. The colours of his inner journey are intense and breathtaking, the stage pictures unforgettable, the acting of Earnhart’s fourteen-strong New York company precise, beautiful, and richly detailed. And the show that emerges – like the novel itself – is a work of art that speaks deeply and powerfully to the theme of this year’s international Festival; in that it goes to the heart of recent Japanese experience, and finds there a pulse of lost, dislocated and dreaming humanity that is instantly recognisable to any one of us, living in a world both bounded and made infinite by the big screens around us, in any modern city on earth.

Joyce McMillan
Until 24 August
eif p. 18

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