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THE 2005 EDINBURGH INTERNATIONAL FESTIVAL
By Glenn Loney, August 15, 2005
Caricature of Glenn Loney
by Sam Norkin.
Please click on " * " to skip to each subject in this index:
The 2005 Edinburgh International Festival: *
The Play’s the Thing! *
And the Six Plays of The Synge Cycle Are More for Your Money! *
David Harrower’s Harrowing Blackbird, *
Staged by Peter Stein, With Lots of Lights: *
Shan Khan’s Prayer Room: *
Coming Soon To a Campus Near You? *
Man & Wheelchair Overboard! *
The Death of Klinghofer Reprised by Scottish Opera: *
The Scottsh Ballet Dances Balanchine: *
Apollo, Episodes, Rubies Artfully Revived: *
Mozart-Year Prelude in Usher Hall: *
Zaïde, plus Benda’s Ariadne auf Naxos! *
Beyond The Fringes: *
London Footlight Footnotes: *
The 2005 Edinburgh International Festival:
When I discovered that Her Majesty the Queen had knighted Brian McMaster—Artistic Director of the Edinburgh International Festival—I wondered how I should now address him. "Brian" had always been fine before. Wendy Gannon, of the Festival Press Office, suggested I avoid "Sir Brian," as he prefers "Brian" or "Mr. McMaster."
It is an honor well-deserved, especially as he is to retire as chief of this prestigious Festival—always a showcase of the most interesting new work in Performing Arts from around the world. Over the years of his tenure, he has moved the focus of the Festival in new and often challenging directions. Perhaps the spotlight fell unduly on Catalonia, but otherwise how would Barcelona’s mad avant-gardistes have reached a wider public? Including that of New York’s BAM…
This past summer, as usual, the Festival offered an interesting selection of dramas, to balance the dance, opera, and concert programming. Although Festival Director McMaster rose to his present eminence through the world of dance, he has been well aware of the need for such a wide array of performing-arts presentations.
The Play’s the Thing!
And the Six Plays of The Synge Cycle Are More for Your Money!
The dramatic high-point of the festival was surely The Synge Cycle—both for its epic scope and for the energetic intensity of its native Irish players. John Millington Synge did not live long enough to endow the Irish and the International Theatre with a repertoire of dramas as extensive as that of Ireland’s George Bernard Shaw, nor as artfully poetic as those of Synge’s mentor, William Butler Yeats.
But he did go directly to the Irish People—to the poor and the peasants, to farmers, fishermen, and villagers—to mingle with them and observe their daily lives, their cares and concerns. And especially to listen to them: to the lilt of their brogues, to the earthy imagery of their expressions, to their instinctive gifts for conversation and lofty rhetorical outbursts.
These he captured in his dramas, giving the lie to the cliché of the Stage-Irishman that was then pervasive on British and American stages. This Truth-to-Nature, however, initially did not play well with Irish audiences. They had a far more noble and romantic image of themselves.
Outraged at Synge’s The Playboy of the Western World—which featured a loud-mouthed boyho who becomes a hero because he says he’s killed his dad—they threw potatoes at the stage of the Abbey Theatre. Yeats—with Augusta, Lady Gregory, a founder of this now venerable ensemble—was outraged in turn: "You have once again disgraced yourselves," he scolded.
[Playwright Sean O’Casey’s honest view of the Irish was also stormily protested on occasion. Like Shaw and Wilde, another Irish playwright, he made his home in England.]
Synge’s early Irish audiences would surely have burnt down the theatre, had they been confronted with nearly nine hours of his dramas. Not so in Edinburgh this past summr. Critics raved and seats were filled.
On Yeats’ advice, Synge—from an old Anglo-Irish family—went to the Aran Islands, where he first made direct contact with simple Irish folk, wresting a bare living from wind and sea-swept lands. Later, he explored other areas of Ireland, where he found the local dialects more effective for the stage.
As the Playboy is set in the far west of Ireland, it’s almost poetically appropriate that it and the rest of Synge’s dramatic works have been produced as a unity by the Druid Theatre of Galway. Founded in 1975, it was the first professional ensemble beyond Dublin.
There are six dramas in the Synge Cycle. Synge died of cancer before he could write more, and even his last play, Dierdre of the Sorrows, was not quite fnished at his death in 1908. For that matter, he never saw a production of The Tinker’s Wedding. It was not performed in Ireland until 1963! It still cuts too close to the bone for some Irish Patriots…
The Druids, led by director Garry Hynes—the first woman-director to win a Tony, for staging The Beauty Queen of Leenane—divided Synge’s six-part opus into three evening programs: 1] The Shadow of the Glen & Playboy, 2] Tinker’s Wedding & The Well of the Saints, and 3] Riders to the Sea & Dierdre.
For the complete Cycle—played three days en suite: 27 & 31 August and 3 September—the order was wisely altered. This made for a very long day of theatre-going—beginning at 2 pm.
But it was good to begin with the short but powerful tragedy, Riders to the Sea—especially for spectators unfamiliar with Synge’s works. Louise Lewis, Gemma Reeves, and Marie Mullen are quietly moving as west coast island Irish women who have seen their men go down to the sea and never return. Now Bartley is going off on a morning when the waves are most dangerous. But he has to fish to live… Only a piece of his clothing returns.
As Playboy is the best-known and the most effective of the six, it was fortunate that it was performed as the virtual climax of the evening. Aaron Monaghan—also Bartley—is marvelously effective in this role. Entering a rural County Mayo pub as a fearful shy boy—showing the effects of the endless abuse heaped on him by the father he says he has just killed—he soon expands and blossoms into a boastful quasi-hero, as he discovers the admiration his violent exploits inspire in the locals, especially the giggling girls.
Catherine Walsh is radiant and a bit rowdy as Pegeen Mike, keeper of her father’s pub. She clearly despises the comically wimpy but moderately prosperous suitor [Nick Lee] her father [Derry Power] has picked for her. Christie Mahon immediately captures her fancy, but a gaggle of local girls fancy him as well. Not to overlook the wiles of the amorous Widow Quin, ardently played by Marie Mullen.
Christie wins all the prizes in the holiday games. Shawn Keogh loads him with gifts, begging him to go away and leave Pegeen to him. Christie is sitting-pretty.
Unfortunately for Christie, his nearly-dead Dad crawls into the pub. When Christie wants to finish the job, the locals are horrified. But Da’ is delighted that Christie has learnt how to stand up for himself. So off they go, leaving the dust of Mayo behind them. And poor Pegeen has "lost the only playboy of the western world…"
Ending with Dierdre is sequentially logical, but it is something of a stylistic let-down after the synchronicity of the other five plays. It evokes an ancient Irish saga, and its self-conscious striving for a Yeatsian poetic diction quite distances it from the rest of the Cycle. Gemma Reeves is the lovely but harried Dierdre: she has been chosen to be the bride of the aging High King, but she demands seven years with Naisi [Richard Flood], the man she truly loves. This ends badly for all… It is rather like an attenuated Tristan und Isolde—she was also an Irish girl, who didn’t love the High King of Cornwall!
In The Shadow of the Glen, a bored, desperate housewife, Nora Burke [Catherine Walsh], has longed for real love and an escape from her oppressive husband and their dark & lonely farm cottage in County Wicklow. Her prayers are partly answered when he dies.
She lays out the corpse with a significant lack of piety. Michael Dara [Nick Lee] arrives: another answered prayer. Unfortunately, the corpse suddenly comes back to life!
Nora resolves this domestic dilemma, but not in a way that Irish audiences of Synge’s day wished to see on stage…
The Tinker’s Wedding rowdily satirizes manners and customs, especially as they relate to matters of marriage and orthodoxy. But the self-regarding priest [Eamon Morrissey] is soon made mock of by the shifty "Travelers." They even take his shoes and socks, after they have "bagged" him.
Ireland’s gypsies are called Travelers—or Tinkers—for that is what they do, going from place to place with their horses & caravans. For centuries, the traveling Tinkers’ trade has been the mending of damaged pots and pans: hence, "Tinkering."
[Unfortunately for old traditions, it’s now cheaper to buy a new pot than have it mended. So if you are missing a hen or a pig after the tinker has rung your bell, it might have been cheaper to let him plug that hole in the tea-kettle!]
The Well of the Saints was presented some seasons ago at the Edinburgh Festival by the Abbey Theatre itself, in a haunting production—many votive candles!—by the Abbey’s former Artistic Director, Patrick Mason. The Druid version is much less misty.
The very bright light of day falls on two raffish old blind beggars, Martin and Mary Doul, amusingly played, with many crochets, by Eamon Morrissey and Marie Mullen. They live from what they can beg at the crossroads. Strangely, they are happy enough, for they see with their Minds’ Eyes, not their own. She believes he’s handsome and strong; he sees her as beautiful and tells her so.
But villagers have long been concerned about the duo. They cannot go on this way, begging day after day.
Fortunately, a kind of wild-eyed St. John-style evangelist [Marcus Lamb] is working his way from village to village, performing miracles with Holy Water from the Well of the Saints.
He heals them, but this proves more curse than blessing. Seeing each other as they really are is a terrible shock. They cannot believe what they see. Nor do they much like what they see of the world around them and the gossipy villagers.
Darkness descends again, but this time they refuse another anointment with the sacred water—infuriating the self-righteous "Saint."
[This idea is echoed in Brian Friel’s latter-day Irish drama of blindness, Molly Sweeney. Sight, with its blinding colors, is really too much for her after all those years of "seeing" in her imagination.]
The Druid Synge Cycle is exactly the kind of production that ought to be seen at BAM, the Brooklyn Academy of Music. It has a brooding basic set: three dark shabby walls, with door- and window-frames: a hearth upstage, a storage-nook high in the back wall, a loamy stage-platform. These can become an impoverished peasant hut, a farm-house, a rowdy pub, or a legendary dwelling—each differenced slightly with set-props.
David Harrower’s Harrowing Blackbird,
Staged by Peter Stein, With Lots of Lights:
On the proscenium-stage of the elegant Edwardian King’s Theatre, the curtain is up. The handsome stage boxes and the overhead are crowded with expensive lighting-instruments. This creates instant expectation in a seasoned spectator: what’s going to happen onstage that so many spotlights are needed to illuminate the actions?
On the stage, however, there is no scenic-astonishment. Instead, the space seems to be a kind of conference-area or even a lunch-room for employees. There is a table strewn with fast-food leftovers, plus some chairs. There are some battered lockers against the stage-right wall.
Upstage, there is a low wall topped with sections of a stage-wide glass window, with a door breaking the structural monotony. From time to time, nameless functionaries will walk by, some pausing to peer in at the room’s occupants.
Spectators never learn who these employees are—or what they actually do, other than add a kind of dubious tension to the confrontation in the room between Una and Ray, played by Jodhi May and Roger Allam.
It seems that years ago, Ray "interfered" with the 12-year-old Una and effectively ruined her life. It’s suggested she was a bit of a Lolita, but this Humbert Humbert actually took her off to an island for a weekend of sex. In the immediate aftermath, she ran off , and he tried, without success, to find her. She, in turn, tried to find him. Disaster—but not shown on stage.
He went to trial for this and to prison. Advice from his lawyer during the trial may have made matters worse for Una afterward.
Initially, it is unclear who Ray is and what he does here. He wears a white shirt and tie, but later it seems he may only be the janitor. He is disturbed to see Una, whom at first he insists he doesn’t recognize.
The entire suspense and interest—if any—in this play is developed and sustained by gradually revealing previously withheld information about what has happened long ago and denials of those reported events, plus some in-fills about later career-choices.
This is not the same thing as a play with a central conflict that develops through dramatic action—and dialogue—to reach a climax and meaningful closure of some sort.
Near the close of Blackbird, it is apparent that, despite all the suffering Una has undergone, she still nourishes a kind of love or lust for old Ray.
Although, after many denials about any relationship, he has admitted he was really smitten with Una, it’s also almost accidentally suggested that she was not the only early-teen he has been attracted to. A little girl comes in looking for Uncle Ray. It’s clear she is not his niece.
Suddenly, the audience is deliberately blinded by vertical bars of fluorescent-tubes moving across the stage as the set is changed from lunchroom to underground garage. With a real car!
Ray and Una are last seen grappling on the floor, and it’s not clear whether he’s strangled her. Or if she’s inflicted trauma on him… But their fingers reach out to each other, rather like Jennifer Jones and Gregory Peck in Duel in the Sun!
The much-admired German Wunderkind—now considerably older—Peter Stein was engaged to direct this drama, so someone obviously thought this was a major new script. In the event, despite all the extra spotlights, this all seemed Much Ado…
David Harrower—who had such a success with the Traverse Theatre production of Knives in Hens—is clearly an important Scottish Talent. That was both an interesting play and a harrowing production. He wrote this play when he was an EIF Creative Fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies. Not the one in Princeton…
I have no idea what the significance of the title bears to the content of the play. I must have dozed off if it was mentioned anywhere. Knives in Blackbirds, maybe?
Shan Khan’s Prayer Room:
Coming Soon To a Campus Near You?
This new play—commissioned by the Festival and staged by the Birmingham Rep—is sure to have a lot of productions, even in America’s Red States. Its simple and timely premise is that serious problems will soon emerge when a college sets aside a Prayer Room for students of the various Major Faiths.
When Muslim students gather, window-shades have to be pulled down over Christian images and texts. This obviously annoys the Born-Again student Christians when they reclaim the turf.
A lone Jewish student, Rila [Hannah Watkins], lights her lonely candle in a corner, even as a fanatic Christian student-leader [William Ellis] outlines God’s Plan for Mankind, which does not include the Salvation of any Jews who have refused to accept Jesus Christ as their Personal Saviour.
Nor, for that matter, will all the Christian students at the meeting enter into the Kingdom of Heaven. The leader has a very clear idea of who is already Saved. And who is Not…
Rila enlists the aid of a quasi-Jewish student, Reuben [Iddo Goldberg]. When they attempt to have a prayer session—with an old Torah Reuben has found at home—Muslims students enter and set out prayer-rugs toward Mecca.
A scuffle ensues, the Torah is torn, and Jade, the girl-friend [Ashley Madekwe] of one of the rowdy Muslims is arrested. As she has been in trouble before, she now faces prison.
Matters have been complicated by a good-natured black student, Bunce [Jimmy Akingbola]—suffering from some kind of nervous disorder and on prescriptions—who amiably tries to follow along with the Christians, frequently misunderstanding their pronouncements.
A Muslim student draws a gun, furious that his girl is going to jail. The College head [Howard Ward]—who is also Rila’s hated step-father!—wrests the weapon away, only to shoot the agitated black fatally.
Some spectators were annoyed that the Christian Faith was presented in such a way that the student leader seemed an immature, ignorant, intolerant, vindictive, spiteful bigot. Indeed, his fanatic rhetoric did get some laughs from moderates in the audience. But he actually said what Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson preach on Nationwide TV.
[Nor have the new Pope’s recent ukases regarding priestly dissent from Roman Catholic Dogma augur well for increased Religious Tolerance and Interfaith Cooperation.]
Currently—as over the ages—it’s not simply a matter of: I’m Right and You’re Wrong! But: You Are Also Going To Hell! So why should a college Prayer Room not also become a Battlefield of the Faiths? Rather than a Haven of Reconciliation?
Khan’s play now mixes comedy and melodrama, not entirely smoothly. And some details need to be explained: what did Jade do before she came to the Prayer Room that is going now to put her in prison?
With some more work-shopping, this drama has the potential to become a very timely play for college-campuses, if not for church social-halls.
This play is very much to the point in dealing with the increasingly acrimonious arguments about religion in the schools: Prayer Rooms can be even more divisive than merely having Classroom Prayers or posting the Ten Commandments. Most politicians demanding Commandments in the Classrooms have no idea what is really covered in these Divine Do’s & Don’ts…
Premiered at Edinburgh’s Lyceum Theatre, the production was staged by Angus Jackson and designed by Lucy Osborne. After Edinburgh and Birmingham, it will surely move to London. And on to New York?
Man & Wheelchair Overboard!
The Death of Klinghofer Reprised by Scottish Opera:
When John Adams’ resoundingly contemporary opera, The Death of Klinghofer, was originally shown at BAM—the Brooklyn Academy of Music—it excited angry protests from many American Jews, especially those who are ardent supporters of the State of Israel.
As the opera takes its name from the vicious killing of Leon Klinghofer, an aging American Jew—confined to a wheelchair—by Arab Militants, it might be imagined that making this brutal murder a symbolic centerpiece of the opera libretto would have met with Jewish approval, focusing attention on the desperate lengths to which some Palestinians will go in their Jihad against Israel and Jews in general.
But that’s not quite the way Alice Goodman’s libretto functions. It is, in essence, something of a Choral Opera, opening with a very affecting Chorus of Exiled Palestinians, followed by a Chorus of Exiled Jews.
Some of the more verbal Jewish protestors had not even witnessed the opera in performance, but those who had were very disturbed that Goodman—herself a Jew, but also an Epicopalian clergywoman—allowed the Palestinians to have understandable human feelings about losing their homes and farms so that the State of Israel could be created.
She was no less understanding of the Survivors of the Holocaust, but even-handedness was not what was wanted by some. I have to admit, when I first saw/heard the opera at BAM, I was surprised, even shocked, to hear the Palestinian plaint.
Not that it was necessarily false or misleading. Simply that this is something that many do not want to hear about…
When I taught in Saudi Arabia ten years after the creation of the Israeli State, a some of my students—which also included ARAMCO Americans, Europeans, and Asians—were young male Palestinians from the Arab Refugee Camps. They had no future in the camps: Arabs there after all these years still do not.
King Ibn Saud had brought these men to the oil-fields to work. When you read of Saudi Terrorists, you may actually be reading about Palestinians who tried to make a life for themselves, while preparing to reclaim their families’ lost lands.
Indeed, it was quite a shock for me to read some first-assignment Palestinian papers in the English Comp class: "My Aim in Life." Of course, some wanted to go to America. But others wrote of their desire to "drive Israel into the sea" and to "kill Jews." Their sadness and anger of the loss of their homes and their hunger for revenge were almost palpable.
So I could certainly relate to Goodman’s sensitive Chorus. To both Choruses, of course!
Goodman’s attempts to understand and project the emotions and aims of her four Palestinians—confused and fanatic though they are—are worth some attention, especially among those who will see the opera and still query: "Why do they hate us?"
But both she and Adams are wonderfully even-handed. They even show the selfish, overweight Austrian lady-tourist who cannot be concerned with the Arabs’ death-threats because only Jews, Americans, and English are at risk.
And Marilyn Klinghofer’s sad recollections when she learns of her husband’s death are moving in their very simplicity of remembrance.
When I saw this opera at BAM, it was a shock to see such a grisly incident dealt with onstage: the opera seemed calculated to cash-in on current events.
Adams’ previous Nixon in China, also shown at BAM, had similarly annoyed me. An operatic Cheap-Shot—but I did like the sets and Henry Kissinger getting involved in the ballet of Red Detachment of Women.
I didn’t like the physical production of Klinghofer at BAM, but that may have influenced my unease about the entire work. I assumed I’d never have to see it again, in any case…
The Edinburgh staging—by Anthony Nielson, with design by Miriam Buether and lighting by Chahine Yavroyan—is much more elemental. In fact, it is largely a bare stage-deck, with a backwall of ship’s portholes. Some texts and images are projected on the ship-wall.
Looking at this bare-bones production and listening to the incantory power of the first two choruses—followed by Adams’ Ocean Chorus, Night Chorus, Desert Chorus, and Day Chorus—the opera seemed more and more amenable to semi-staged concert presentations. It doesn’t need a cruise-ship set. The human—and inhuman—inter-actions of the singer/actors are enough, given the powers of the libretto and the score.
Despite its title, Edinburgh audiences did not see Klinghofer shot. Nor did they see the dead man thrown overboard in his wheelchair. Some might judge that a loss in theatrical-effect. But the actuality could well have detracted from the total effect of the opera. In Goodman’s libretto, only after the Achille Lauro has safely docked in Cairo, does the Captain tell Marilyn Klinghofer of her husband’s death.
But if the killing and the wheelchair overboard are not to be shown, then why did director Neilson—and presumably Adams and Goodman—decide the audience needed to see some especially tacky home-videos of the Klinghofers before their departure? These were truly excruciating to watch.
Andrew Schroeder was admirable as the ship’s Captain, willing to risk his own life to protect his passengers. Jonathan Summers and Catherine Wyn-Rogers were the Klinghofers. Oriol Rosés, as Omar—who longs for the Holy Death of a Martyr—was affecting.
Darren Abrahams was Molqi, the leader of the Terrorists, with Kamel Boutros as Mamoud. "Rambo" was D’Arcy Bleiker, with Clair Booth as the British dancing-girl. Edward Gordon conducted the orchestra of the Scottish Opera.
Barely a week later, as I was having lunch at the Garrick—the historic Gentleman’s Club that caters to the theatre—I was hailed from an adjoining table. Who would recognize me in this fabled room, hung with famous portraits the Great and Famous of the British Theatre?
It was none other than my valued Brooklyn College colleague, Joe Melillo, now chief of BAM. He was lunching with Anthony Sher and other luminaries. I sensed that he was abroad hunting for more Outstanding Productions for future BAM seasons.
"Are you going to bring the Edinburgh Klinghofer to BAM?"
"No! We did it right the first time!"
The Scottsh Ballet Dances Balanchine:
Apollo, Episodes, Rubies Artfully Revived:
With critics bewailing the receding influence of the now long-departed George Balanchine on his own ballets and on his once brilliant company, the New York City Ballet, the Flame-Keepers continue searching for the non-New York ballet ensemble that will be able to revive or recreate some of his masterpieces as they were once danced.
As a longtime ballet-specialist, Edinburgh’s Festival Director, Sir Brian McMaster, has been notably interested in keeping these ballets alive and presenting re-incarnations at the festival. The Miami Ballet has offered its tributes to Balanchine’s genius in the Playhouse. Edward Villella’s dancers have shown themselves adepts.
Now the Scottish Ballet comes forward with elegant Balanchine choreographies recreated by Patricia Neary. Erik Cavallari was an assured Apollo, inspiring the Reduced Muses, Terpsichore—Eve Musto, Polyhymnia—Soon Ja Lee, and Calliope—Claire Robertson, in Apollo, to Stravinsky’s score.
Episodes moves to four different Anton Webern works, one of them an adaptation of Bach’s Fuga a 6 voci. This was animated by Oliver Rydout and Soon Ja Lee as the Lead Couple, with an lovely corps of Ladies, some of whom were occasionally out-of-synch. Webern’s 5 Pieces, Opus 10 was brilliantly performed by Eve Musto and Robert Doherty. For the Episode inspired by Webern’s sole symphony, Opus 21, Sophie Martin and Adam Blyde were the Lead Couple. For the Concerto, Opus 24, Patricia Hines and Paul Liburd did the honors gracefully.
Rubies was a stunning experience, with the costumes of Karinska replicated. But without the sparkling suggestive settings originally created by Peter Harvey and recently recreated by him in St. Petersburg. Eve Musto danced the solo, with Claire Robertson and Cristo Vivancos as Lead Couple.
Nicholas Kok conducted the Scottish Chamber Orchestra. Ruth Crouch was solo violin for Apollo, and Simon Crawford-Phillips solo piano for Rubies.
Mozart-Year Prelude in Usher Hall:
Zaïde, plus Benda’s Ariadne auf Naxos!
In 2006, both Vienna and Salzburg are going to present all of Mozart’s operas, including some that are properly known as Singspiele and even a few that are plays-with-music, like Thamos, König von Aegypten. The Edinburgh Festival offered a foretaste of one of these lesser-known works, Mozart’s Zaïde, composed in Salzburg, shortly before Mozart decamped for Vienna.
It sounds very much like a prep-piece for Die Entführung aus dem Serail, and, indeed, it was based on a forgotten drama called Das Serail. It even has a Sultan Soliman and a comical eunuch, Osmin—hilariously sung by Christopher Purves. But the Singspiel project was abandoned before completion. None of the libretto remains: only 15 musical numbers which are in themselves well worth reconstructing in a semi-staged production.
Kate Royal was dazzling as the heroine, Zaïde. Her voice is liquid silver, soaring on the highest of Mozart’s glorious notes. What did not quite work was the volume and brightness of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Sir Charles Mackerras. It was fanned out immediately behind the singers and often threatened to overmaster them. Too much energy and too many players for an ideal Baroque orchestral sound?
The same problem of balance between orchestra and players afflicted Georg Benda’s Ariadne auf Naxos. It was accentuated by the fact that this was a duo-drama—and a fairly pretentious one, at that—with Benda’s musical interludes and backgrounds.
Rainer Trost—who sung splendidly in Zaïde as Gomatz—was hard put to declaim the sententious poetry of Theseus to any dramatic effect. Dagmar Manzel had the same problem as Ariadne, reclining on an elegant chaise, to create the effect of "semi-staged" in Usher Hall.
One could have wished for them the challenge of Strauss’ Ariadne, instead of this Musical Exhumation.
And, no, you do not really want to hear Thamos, König von Aegypten.
Beyond The Fringes:
In a brief Festival week—with a full program of regular fest offerings—it is virtually impossible to check out most of the Hits of the Fringe Festival: the Fringe Firsts. A French-speaking version of Monty Python’s Flying Circus at the Assembly Hall was a hard-working attempt at crazy comedy that frequently mis-fired. Usually, the Assembly’s wide-ranging production programs are of good quality.
The Traverse Theatre, of course, seldom disappoints, either with its own productions or those invited from other leading avant-garde ensembles in Scotland, England, Wales, and even Canada.
The Volcano of Toronto premiered My Pyramids, or: How I Got Fired from the Dairy Queen, and Ended Up in Abu Ghraib, by Pvt. Lynndie England. I am very sorry I missed this, but it will surely come to Manhattan? Judith Thompson actually wrote it, not Lynndie. But you knew that somehow…
Other Traverse offerings included: The Found Man, East Coast Chicken Supper, Dublin by Lamplight, Snuff, The Night Shift, An Oak Tree, After the End, The Girls of the 3½ Floppies, Product, and The Devil’s Larder.
Not to worry: Some of these shows are sure to surface at 59E59 in 2006. Last season, the admired Brits Off Broadway program at that new venue included two Traverse Fringe successes: The People Next Door and When the Bulbul Stopped Singing.
This Brits Initiative proved very rewarding last season—everything I saw was challenging and very professional. Long ago, when serious dramas were still Broadway fare, some of these shows would have been imported to Broadway. No producer can afford that now: the audience for such works has dwindled to subscribers of Manhattan Theatre Club and the Roundabout…
London Footlight Footnotes:
For many years, London theatre press-agents generously gave your reporter press-tickets and arranged interviews when he was writing for After Dark, Theatre Week, Christian Science Monitor, Players, New York Herald-Tribune, New Drama Quarterly, Theatre Arts, Theatre Crafts, Educational Theatre Journal, Theatre Design & Technology, CUE, Entertainment Design, Western European Stages, and many other cultural publications.
When the Royal Shakespeare Company still had a London venue—first at the Aldwych and later at the Barbican—this scribe was on the press-list, as at the National Theatre. Not to overlook the English National Opera and the Royal Opera, Covent Garden.
That is no longer the case, but it was a good forty years’ run! Now I have to pay when I see opera, dance, or theatre in London. So I no longer feel the obligation to write formal reports on theatre-going.
Nonetheless, some productions are so impressive, they deserve at least a mention:
In early autumn at the National Theatre:
Outstanding: Theatre of Blood, hilariously adapted from the notorious film starring Coral Browne, Vincent Price, Robert Morley, Diana Rigg, and others, by Lee Simpson & Phelim McDermott. Each onstage murder of a Theatre Critic evokes all kinds of historical theatre-memories and insane devices. Oscar-winner Jim Broadbent is marvelously hammy as an over-the-top Old School Shakespearean Actor. His riotous lines are a farrago of the Bard’s greatest works!
Excellent: Aristocrats, a handsome revival of Brian Friel’s sadly satiric evocation of the last days of an old Irish Catholic Family and Estate.
Tickets for the virtually sold-out musicals Billy Elliot and Mary Poppins were like hen’s-teeth, but much more expensive. How about $150 for a seat with "obstructed view"?
Wait till they come to Broadway…
Copyright Glenn Loney, 2006. No re-publication or broadcast use without proper credit of authorship. Suggested credit line: "Glenn Loney, New York Theatre Wire." Reproduction rights please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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