Following on from a friend of mine seeing it, I decided to have a look and see if there were any tickets still available for “The Resistible Rise of Arturo UI” at the Donmar Warehouse on the date I was available in London with no solid plans. (Last Saturday) As it turned out, there was – just one ticket apparently “near the back”. That’s OK, I’m tall, so yep, ticket successfully obtained.
As usual with my theatre trips, I knew absolutely sod-all about the play. Indeed, I’d never even heard of it before the previous weekend. That doesn’t bother me anyway, and armed with a decent review from someone whose opinion I tend to trust, I was willing to go for it. All I knew was the name, and that it was by Bertolt Brecht.
And I’m really glad I did. The original play is an allegory based around the rise of Hitler in Germany, but using the gangsters of 1920s/1930s America to tell the story. It’s been updated a bit – there were lots of references to Trump and his collaborators, along with an (odd but effective) sung intro to each major scene, using modern(ish) songs.
It’s very hard to not see the parallels between Nazi Germany and Trump’s rise, so it all felt very relevant. But still interesting in a lot of ways.
The entire of the Donmar Warehouse has been changed for this production, and it’s been made into a 20s/30s speakeasy. As you walk in, the actors are already on ‘stage’ talking, dancing and the like. It certainly made things more interesting, having Lenny Henry come round in character as the club owner, talking to – and shaking the hands of – all the guests, as well as other cast members doing the rounds.
As an aside, one thing that was great was that a lot of the audience around me were a group of visually-impaired people, coming to the theatre for a play that would also be audio-described for them by a company called TalkingSense – and as it turned out, I got talking to one of the narrators, who was sat next to me for the first half, before going to narrate the second half. I thought it was brilliant to open up theatre in this way (and I also liked that Arturo Ui managed to use one of the visually-impaired people as his ‘witness’ for one section)
Ah yes, the audience participation. This was something really interesting, and not something I’d expected at all – this version of the play makes great use of the audience. In the photo above you can see a gallery with people on it – in the second half, these become the jury for a court case, with the judge sat in the middle. Another audience member became the railroaded ‘accused’, and by the end of the play everyone is involved, either standing in support of Ui’s bid to be the main gangster (sorry, “protector”) or sitting – in which case their votes don’t count.
Note – I’m not giving away anything major here – and the production ends tomorrow!
Lenny Henry is particularly impressive as the titular gangster, developing through the production. But he’s also well supported by a generally excellent cast – all of whom also seem to be enjoying taking part in the play. (Which isn’t always the case)
All told, it’s a very dark vision of life – yet also extremely funny. I laughed a lot more than I would have ever expected to, in a play based on the rise of Nazi-ism. If the run were longer, I’d probably enjoy going to see it again. It’s quite a thing.
On Saturday, I went into London – primarily to see Don Juan in Soho again, as I’d booked a ticket for myself, and then my friends booked theirs for a couple of weeks earlier. If I hadn’t enjoyed it when I saw it with them, I’d have given up the ticket or whatever, but I did like it, so I was OK with seeing it twice.
This time though, I wasn’t going to be drinking beforehand. Among other things, there were some bits of the play I was hazy on, or couldn’t get to gel with the rest of it, so that was another reason to see it again. Instead, it was a nice day, so I decided to go for a bit of a walk.
And, because I’m an idiot of world-shattering proportions, I came pretty close to breaking myself. I didn’t, but it came closer than usual to happening.
I hadn’t accounted for a couple of things – primarily, the sun and temperature. London on Saturday was bloody hot, and sunny. Me being me, I hadn’t really made any plans or preparations, I’d just got a route in mind, I’d got my boots on, and walked it. Two hours, and 7½ miles later, I was pretty knackered.
Because of the warmth, I also noticed that the plane trees along a lot of the route were chucking out something that affected the back of my throat, and made it harder to breathe – not life-threatening by any stretch, just harder work than usual – which made it all more tiring.
Having now read that Wikipedia page, I’m more sure of this – the quote
However, it has a number of problems in urban use, most notably the short, stiff hairs shed by the young leaves and the dispersing seeds; these are an irritant if breathed in, and can exacerbate breathing difficulties for people with asthma.
seems to confirm my theory somewhat.
By the time I’d got to the Albert Memorial, I was pretty much stuffed, and also thinking I’d probably been in the sun for longer than I should’ve been. But by then, well, I was on the ‘final straight’ so I kept on going, just at a slightly slower pace.
I did OK though, and was then more sensible once I’d got to my intended destination, by opting to sit downstairs in the shade, drink lots of water, and generally take some time out. From there, it was a simple short stroll to the theatre, and once the play was done, I closed the circle of that route, and walked back up to Euston.
Once I was home, I was properly knackered, and my legs were more sore than I’d have expected as well. But happily it all recovered overnight and was fine, so I’m happy with what I did – I just could’ve been more sensible about the entire bloody thing. I suppose that “being sensible” might actually happen one day, rather than only ever occurring to me in hindsight, but well, we’ll see.
On Saturday, I went into London for the day. The primary objective was seeing David Tennant in Patrick Marber’s “Don Juan in Soho” at Wyndham’s Theatre. However, that wasn’t til the evening, so I had time to walk and be bad in the meantime…
So, having driven down to North London, I took the tube down to Old Street (which is the laziest I’ve been in a long time, as I usually only get to Euston then walk) and visited Blues Kitchen to try their new special.
Then a walk back towards Soho, and the newly-discovered joys of Chick’n’Sours, where I had their special of Bang-Bang Chicken strips, which is all kinds of awesome. And alongside that, a couple of cocktails – with hindsight, a bit of a bad move, but well, it was par for the course.
After that, it was time to meet the people I was going to the play with – first of all, M, and then (later) two of her friends. In between, we had another drink, and then when the other friends arrived, they decided they wanted cocktails. I know just the place, said I, and lo, back to Chick’n’Sours, where a significant number of cocktails were consumed…
Before the play, we’d got reservations at Marcus Wareing’s new place, Tredwell’s, and so that was where we ended up next, and more drinks were had as well as decent food. The final bill was higher than I’d expected, but I’m assuming that’s down to a) drinks, and b) possibly not taking advantage of the Prix Fixe menu. (I’d need to go back in order to figure things out – I failed to keep the receipt, so can’t check , and honestly don’t really care all that much) It was good though, and all four of us enjoyed it.
By the end, I was… somewhat the worse for wear, although not ridiculously or dangerously so. Besides, by the time we got to the theatre I was already sobering up.
The play itself was thoroughly enjoyable – as always, I didn’t really know what to expect, and some of it was a bit odd (small dance scenes and the like) but all told, I really liked it. Tennant himself is obviously having a great time playing the vile and reprehensible Don Juan, and the supporting cast were all pretty damn good as well. It’s on ’til June 10th, and I’d recommend it if possible.
However, the seats at Wyndham’s are some of the most uncomfortable known to man. A two-and-a-bit-hour performance was more than enough time to spend with my knees wedged into the back of the seat in front of me.
And then, once everyone else was on trains back to respective stations and homes, I took some time to return to the station where I’d parked the car. I was completely sober by the time we’d got out of the play, and the extra time/walking boosted that even further. If I’d been in any doubt, I’d have waited at the car, or found somewhere to get some food.
Then a quick drive home, and all good. All told, a decent way to spend a Saturday…
As I said before, on Friday I went to see Hamlet at the Almeida Theatre in London, starring Andrew Scott. (Moriarty from the BBC’s Sherlock – which also means that I’ve now seen Hamlet performed by Sherlock, and Moriarty)
Honestly, I’m still not sure what to make of it. I’m not even 100% sure of whether I liked it or not. I wouldn’t want to go and see it again – which is the usual final verdict one way or t’other – but I’m still glad I did see it.
In some ways, it’s very clever. It’s obviously been updated (or at least the staging has) with events being announced via a large screen, showing the coverage in a BBC News style. Additionally, rather than being guards on the battlements etc., the the ghost of Hamlet’s father initially appears on CCTV screens in the security office of the castle.
In other ways, it’s rather less clever – or perhaps I’m less clever, and just didn’t get the relevance of things. Ophelia’s madness and grief are just thrown in, with no real explanation or build-up. It’s handled almost an incidental, which seems odd when one considers how integral and essential it is to the final act.
Indeed, in a lot of ways there seemed to be the assumption that the audience were well versed in the ways of Hamlet – something I’ve found a couple of times over the last year or so, particularly with Shakespearean stuff.
I’m reliably informed that it stuck a lot closer to the original subject matter – I hadn’t appreciated how different some of it was in the Hamlet I saw with Benedict Cumberbatch last year – but that’s fine. I do feel that I really should probably actually read the bloody play as well, and get it fixed better in my brain.
For me, the final act is a stretch – I’m never overly comfortable with the hysteria and overwrought reactions of grief and betrayal, and find myself left cold by it as a result. That’s no criticism of the play, or of the actors therein, it’s just it doesn’t sit well with me.
So all told, it was a decent play and well done. I just still can’t quite put my finger on why I’m as ambivalent about it as a whole, though.