So, my grandparents and my cousin Dana arrive bright and early tomorrow morning. I haven't seen any of my family since January. I mean, I've seen David and Julie, but adopted siblings, for purposes of this blog entry, don't count. So, it's now been six months plus since I was last in the presence of another Holson (or Schwartz, for that matter). I've Skyped with them all (at one point, I think I might've even had a conversation with my aunt's dog, Max, though I don't think he said too much. He's the strong silent type), but I haven't actually been able to touch them or smell them (they don't smell bad, they smell like people. That's important. If you didn't smell like a person, you'd be a vampire. Or a zombie). Tomorrow morning, I'll be able to hug my grandmother and kiss my grandfather on his bald head and make Dana do the guppy face (it's something we've done since she was little. I know it's weird). I can't wait!
Macbeth- The New London Company, The Lion and Unicorn, 25 June 2012
The New London Company has created an ambitious Macbeth at the Lion and Unicorn in Kentish Town. Director Scott Ellis has done a remarkable job of turning the potential pitfalls of performing such an epic piece in a small space to his advantage. Staged in traverse, so that the audience is forced to look into each other’s eyes as well as those of the Thane of Cawdor, it is a pressure-cooker Macbeth. The presence of a young cast helps to foster that feeling- instead of a middle aged middle manager suddenly imbued with excess power, Ben Kavanagh’s Macbeth is filled with the urgency of youth. It is a fascinating take on a complicated character- a manchild returned home from war triumphant but battle-scarred, who looks to his young wife for comfort but finds only ambition. As Lady Macbeth, Natasha McClure is imposing, though occaisionally whiny. Tamara Astor proves herself a versatile performer- she injects the play with much-needed levity as the Porter, amuses as the only female amongst a trio of truly weird Weird Sisters, and touches the audience as Lady MacDuff, staring down impending doom whilst holding onto her baby for dear life. Only Albert Clack, quite literally the elder statesman, feels out of place.
The problem of the production lies in the ending. When the lights came back up, my companion and I looked at each other and said “that’s it?” We know well how Macbeth ends, but it felt too quick, too easy. Perhaps that means we enjoyed ourselves.
Gatz, 10 June 2012, Noel Coward Theatre
Gatz is not a play, it’s a commitment. It’s an eight-hour theatrical marathon. Granted, that includes two fifteen minute intervals and a dinner break, but it’s still an incredibly long evening at the theatre. Actually, it starts at 2:30 and goes until 10:45 or so- it’s an incredibly long afternoon and evening at the theatre. And it’s worth every minute. The premise is deceptively simple: a bored corporate drone finds an old copy of The Great Gatsby hidden inside his Rolodex, which he proceeds to read out loud. What transpires over the next eight hours is The Great Gatsby, every word of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel of jazz age decadence and tragedy among New York’s wealthy elite, played out in a twenty-first century office.
There is no reason the very literal contemporary office setting should make sense for this story. It does. Placing the classic text within the drudgery of a typical workplace acts as an indictment of the American dream; the staff struggles day-in, day-out to achieve even a bit of what the protagonists have, and while they might not meet as sad an end as the characters of the beloved book, their lives are eminently meaningless. This one day, reading aloud as a group, seems to provide these worker-bees with a sense of community, so lacking in our digital world, feeding their imaginations and fueling their souls. Under the direction of John Collins, each of the twelve performers gives a fascinatingly nuanced performance- as both office drudge and twenties flappers or sheiks, though it is Scott Shepherd as Nick Caraway, the narrator, who gives the performance of the night. The text is paramount; Mr. Shepherd, the Gatz website claims, knows every word of the novel by heart. Yes, he’s been performing the piece for close to six years now, but it is nevertheless an impressive feat. He flows effortlessly from delivering the first-person narration to Nick’s dialogue to the myriad other miscellaneous characters ascribed to him.
One cannot help but enter the Noel Coward Theatre with trepidation- how on Earth could this be a watchable performance? Gatz makes a name for itself by relying on the talents of its team, and the beautiful novel at the heart of the project. With a different director or a less-capable cast, this could have been a deadly evening; instead, it was near perfect.
Gatz plays as part of the London International Festival of Theatre (LIFT), Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays through 15th July.
As those of you following my blog (or my Facebook or my Twitter or... who know me) know, I started grad school back in October. It hasn't been an simple time. There's been some culture shock, a few disappointments, a little heartache, and a fair amount of general anxiety. I haven't loved my course all the time, but I've loved my coursemates. I've adored my housemates from Day One. I've made really great friends. I've seen a lot of theatre. I've fallen in love with the Globe. Seriously, I'm crazy about the place. If I could marry the Globe, I would. And I don't believe in marriage.
Here's the thing, the year's not over yet.
Since coming back from Christmas, it's felt like "that's it, it's almost over." Now it really almost is. ALMOST. We still have nearly half a term left of teaching (which for us MATS lot means hanging out with our course leader, Joel, once a week). We still have work to do. I have two play reviews I'm meant to be writing right now (and instead, I'm blogging. And not for the class for which I'm meant to keep a blog). My course has dissertation proposals due at the end of the month. And after those proposals are due comes the writing of the dissertations.
I'm not scheduled to go home until the end of September (and hope to stay longer). That's literally months away. So can we all please, please, please stop pretending that this year, which while not easy by any stretch of the imagination, has been really important to me, is over? It's kind of bringing me down.
A twenty-first century Antigone needs to be a story of honor in war time, of rebellion against an oppressive regime. Yes, Antigone buries her brother because it is a sister’s duty, but that doesn’t mean the play needs to be about the oppression of women. Unless a director can come up with an interesting way to play on the obvious women’s rights issues at hand within the ancient text, they should be ignored altogether. Let’s have an Antigone about family, about honor, about political unrest; the Women’s Lib angle is played out.
Polly Findlay’s production of Don Taylor’s new translation of Sophocles’s classic tragedy seems firmly moored in the 1970s, subtly subjugating the female characters while pretending that they have all the freedoms of men. Soutra Gilmor’s set expands upon that, creating a man’s world- a dark, wood-paneled office with smoky glass doors, reel-to-reel tape decks, and pendant lamps which hang low enough to occasionally obscure the onstage action. The production sought to use all the Olivier’s bells and whistles, whether it needed to or not. The set rotated twice during the performance, for no reason other than it could, and the cast, a whopping twenty people, seemed at the same time to overwhelm the stage, all while standing too still to use it properly.
As Creon, new head of the Theban military dictatorship, Christopher Eccleston is disappointing. He takes charge of the new regime well enough, but when the situation calls for any show of emotion, he falters. At the end of the play, Creon appears more frustrated that his government is falling apart than that his family is all dead. Jodie Whittaker’s Antigone is most effective in her final appearance onstage, happy to die for the honor she’s been able to accord for her family, though screaming about injustice for all to hear. It’s an odd thing that the production, so grounded in the world of men, is at its strongest when only a woman is speaking.
Antigone plays through 21st July.
Amy Holson-Schwartz is an American playwright and producer currently living in London.