The Comedy About a Bank Robbery at the Criterion Theatre review ****

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The Comedy About a Bank Robbery

The Criterion Theatre, 15th October 2017

Abandoned by the SO, and with BD now, like MS, deep in academe, LD and I needed entertaining. The solution. A fix of Mischief Theatre. Now it is not the first time we had seen this. The whole family had been to TCAABR before, and we have hoovered up the rest of Mischief’s output with relish.

Why? Because it is very, very funny. We would probably still say The Play That Goes Wrong is the best of the three, and TCAABR works in a very different way, what with its “screwball” feel and American setting, but frankly all three, (assuming Peter Pan Goes Wrong pops up again – maybe courtesy of Auntie Beeb), are must sees. TPTGW is on tour in the UK next year. Do not miss it if it comes anywhere near you.

Comedy in the theatre is tough to pull off. Comedy in the theatre which really makes you laugh is really tough to pull off. Comedy in the theatre which makes a diverse audience laugh is even tougher. TCAABAR takes a surefire plot winner, a bank heist, and, with a combination of unsubtle punnery, farce, slapstick, visual jokes, often spectacularly constructed, and one-liners, the nine strong cast, (the three original MT founders are now in the Broadway runs I think), fair whizz through the action so that the whole thing is done and dusted in a couple of hours. This is an extraordinary physical performance from all concerned as much as anything else.

No plot details here. You will see for yourself if you have any sense. What I will say, and this is where a second viewing, (from stalls vs our original circle perch), really drives it home, is just how flipping clever the whole thing is. Not just in terms of the action, but how this fits together with the set. The proscenium arch stage in the Criterion, which itself is buried underground, is not huge and shifting between the scenes requires precise stagecraft. The eight main characters, and one other actor who takes on all the other roles, also act as a chorus during the transitions which are often accompanied by musical numbers which match the 1958 Minneapolis setting. Adding yet more texture.

My guess is that this is going to run for some time yet but no point in delaying the pleasure. Get the family out for a Christmas treat. It might turn out to be your seasonal highlight.

 

The Wedding Present at Cadogan Hall review ****

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The Wedding Present

Cadogan Hall, 14th October 2017

Regular readers of this blog (remember chums, the best clubs are exclusive) will be aware that the Tourist doesn’t really do “gigs”. It is all a bit loud for his aged ears. The number of bands/artists he would pay money to see is severely limited and dwindling in number thanks in part to the Grim Reaper. Many venues are beyond the pale on the grounds of comfort, excessive booziness (the Tourist has taken a vow of abstinence following many happy years of excess) or claustrophobia. Festivals need friends and time, both of which the Tourist seems unable to cultivate.

Here though was a rare, and, as it turned out, wonderful exception. Even the most casual observer of the pop panoply  will know that, to paraphrase the immortal JP, “the boy Gedge has written some of the best songs of the Rock n Roll era”. He has also written some of the best tunes, and created some of the greatest guitar melodies. The latest Wedding Present double album, Going, Going …, is, I admit, maybe not their finest work, but it is still, like the albums The Fall and Wire churn out, light years ahead of anything the youth can create. I pray Gedge has finished yet.

It does begin in a strange vein with four post-rock instrumental tracks, Kittery, Greenland, Marblehead and Sprague, with slower tempi and expansive dynamics. A small choir and a classical ensemble (strings and a trumpet) are used to grand effect. Given that this concert was a run through of the album, said choir and players were up there on stage with the band. The contrast between Dave Gedge’s and Marcus Kain’s driving guitar rhythms, Charlie Layton’s thumping drums and Danielle Wadey’s swirling bass, and the wordless choir and soaring strings, maybe works a bit better on the recording than live but it is still a worthwhile departure. The good news is that from Two Bridges onwards, we get back firmly into classic WP territory, with professional Yorkshireman Gedge muttering the usual maudlin, but somehow still intensely moving, poems on failed relationships and unrequited love over the pumping (less jangling) rhythms we know and love.

Smashing stuff. A few pretentious black and white landscape films to add to the mix, some proper cranking up to 11 of the guitars in parts, and even a couple of encores, Perfect Blue from Take Fountain, and, as the reward for the patient enthusiast, the classic fugal Bewitched from Bizarro. What a racket at the end. Now I have to say of all the varied material from Going, Going …, which looks back to a lot of Gedge’s previous songs, my favourite is Rachel, which is a preposterously catchy, innocent pop masterpiece. I am also partial already to Little Silver, Birdsnest, Bells, Broken Bow and Santa Monica (the final track which culminates with some painful but exquisite chord progressions).

Best of all it was at the Cadogan Hall. One of my favourite venues (though my last visit was to hear some Shostakovich Preludes and Fugues and a capella Poem settings – pick the bones out of that contrast). Nice little perch in the balcony. Loud enough but not deafening. Lots of room around me. And what seemed like a nice crowd with just enough distinctive quirkiness and maturity.

Now there was a time kids, in 1990 I think, when the Wedding Present churned out Top 40 hits at breakneck speed. I appreciate that is likely pre-history to you, but if you were to listen to Grandad’s ravings, (me not Gedge though the vintage is comparable), here are 10 you might start with. (Hopefully they are on that Spotify).

  • Everyone Thinks He Looks Daft from George Best
  • What Did You Last Servant Die Of from George Best
  • Shatner from George Best
  • Brassneck from Bizarro
  • Kennedy from Bizarro
  • Take Me from Bizarro
  • Corduroy from Seamonsters
  • Octopussy from Seamonsters
  • Don’t Take Me Home Until I’m Drunk from El Rey
  • You’re Dead from Valentina

 

 

 

Victory Condition at the Royal Court Theatre review **

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Victory Condition

Royal Court Theatre, 12th October 2017

Apparently the writer of Victory Condition, Chris Thorpe, likes to experiment with the dramatic form. I haven’t seen Confirmation, a one man work in which he also took the lead as a white supremacist, which apparently prodded and provoked its audience. It sounds uncomfortable but fascinating. In other works he has stamped on a mobile phone and set Tory party press statements to death metal tracks. Sounds like a top bloke.

However, I wasn’t entirely enamoured with this Victory Condition. A couple, simply titled Man and Woman, return from a holiday in Greece, to their tasteful, if somewhat bijou, metropolitan flat, (an ingenious design from Chloe Lamford which doubles up for B also showing at the RC – B at the Royal Court Theatre review ***). They unpack, they get changed, have a drink, make a snack, play videogames, get a pizza and generally potter about in choreographed cozy domesticity. They don’t speak to each other. Instead they narrate, through two cut-up independent monologues, an entirely different reality.

Man, played by Jonjo O’Neill, with his lilting Northern Irish voice, tells the story of a government sniper, who falls in love with a person he sees from his position, imagines that person (we don’t know their gender) having a dream about an alien invasion, and eventually shoots the person in order to turn them into a martyr, Sharon Duncan-Brewster, equally eloquent as Woman, recounts a narrative about a person who has a brain haemorrhage on the Tube on their way to work. This person seems to be imagining a meeting at work where time stands still. Then then she opens up to all manner of other, seemingly unconnected events around the world, and maybe a trauma from their own childhood which has caused the clock to stop. Her monologue, memorably, imagines just how mundane our own behaviour would be in the event of increasingly catastrophic events that imperil human existence.

Now this summary is based on reading the text. As you can see I am not sure I fully grasped exactly what the two characters were describing. I also note that the dialogue at the end of the play where Man and Woman discuss their own lives back in an ostensibly “real” world was omitted from this production directed by the RC’s own Vicky Featherstone. There was instead just a few seconds at the end, following a flash, where the couple acknowledged each other. Some of the stage directions which describe a cityscape beyond the flat’s interior, which seems to be succumbing to some sort of disaster or attack, also appear to have been omitted. This means that the enigmatic texture of the play was amplified. Put this together with the cut-up nature of the monologues and the message here was difficult to discern.

Nothing wrong with theatrical elusiveness and formal experimentation. Here though it did make me wonder whether the insight justified the effort involved in following the two monologues. Some of the images which flowed from these monologues were undeniably striking, as was the contrast with this routine of “ordinary” life, but ultimately I just couldn’t engage with the two characters up there on the stage. I closed my eyes a few times. Not through boredom but just to see if this would actually work better as an entirely aural experience. It did.