Sunday, September 14, 2008

Theatrical update

I have recently seen two incredible shows. Work has run me so ragged these past two weeks though that I haven't had the time or the energy to blog about them. How sad is that? Anyway, first things first:


I very nearly didn't bother with this show, several times over. I have a minor obsession with Edith Piaf since seeing La Vie En Rose. When this revival was first announced, I thought "oooooh" and then it was announced that Piaf would be portrayed by Elena Roger and I thought "oh". My only exposure to Elena Roger is the cast recording of the London Evita revival, which is absolutely fucking shocking. She sounds like a cat in a blender on it so I went back and forth and back and forth over whether or not to see it now. Then they announced the rest of the cast and the combination of Luke Evans and Steve John Shepherd were enough to convince me to buy a ticket. And about three days after I did, the entire run had sold out, and this was a few weeks before the first preview.

On the day I was due to see it, I worked an overtime shift from 6am to 1pm and by the time I had got home and got showered, I was so very tired that I almost didn't bother getting myself to London. However, I gave myself a buckle down speech and hauled myself on to a train. And my god am I ever glad I did. Piaf is one of the most outstanding productions I've seen in the last decade and I am SO happy it's transferring to another theatre for 14 weeks due to demand. I plan on seeing it again. And again. The play itself is lightning fast, shrinking her life from discovery to death into 95 minutes and peppering it with a fair few of her most well known songs. But it works with fluid and clever staging and taut direction to match the tight and fast play.

But the real revelation was Elena Roger. She had some pretty big shoes to fill with this, firstly Piaf's and then Marion Cotillard's performance in La Vie En Rose, which will surely be recognised as one of the greatest performances of the last decade soon enough. But Roger rises to the challenge and absolutely tears it up. She's simply phenomenal as Piaf, riveting and fearless. What's more, her singing is absolutely fucking amazing too. Famously Argentinian, Roger is not even slightly French but has learned all the songs for the show phonetically in French, so she sings them in a French accent with flawless pronunciation. It was a bold and brave move for her but it pays off spectacularly. "L'Accordeoniste" is worth the admission price alone. The staging of "Mon Dieu" is breathtaking. But it's the closing of the show with "Je Ne Regrette Rien" that brought a lump to my throat and tears to my eyes. It was so simply and beautifully done that it absolutely slayed me. Gratifyingly, the audience were going bonkers before the lights came back up for the curtain call and when Roger took her solo bow, the reception was deservedly deafening. See it when it transfers. You won't regret it.


Unless you were either very lucky or you are very rich, alas you won't be able to see this most recent revival of Hamlet. The casting of David Tennant in one of THE plays has caused a frenzy, to put it mildly. It is currently in the middle of a three month run at the RSC's home in Stratford-Upon-Avon. In December it transfers to London for another month. The performances in Stratford were sold out a year before performances began and the London run, which went on sale on Friday, sold out in three hours. Tickets are currently on eBay for insane amounts of money.

By luck rather than judgement, I had a ticket for this past Monday evening. My housemate (the crippled lesbian, remember her?) had booked disabled access seats but was too unwell to attend (she has tickets for the last week in Stratford and is going to see it if she has to be carried in on a body board so it's ok). I took a friend of mine who lives a fair distance from me and I don't get to see often enough instead. The Courtyard Theatre, where Hamlet is playing seats 1000 people but feels like it's the size of my front room. There is an enormous stage with seating on three sides in a horseshoe shape. I was in row J but honestly felt like I was practically on stage.

It lives up to its hype and expectation. Tennant is a wonderful Hamlet, amping up the comedic aspects and the lost child aspects of the role but nailing the anger and the tragedy too. His confrontation with his mother resulting in the murder of Polonius was absolutely electrifying and the final showdown was both exciting and beautiful. He is more than matched by Penny Downie as Gertrude of course, who sweeps about the stage in a succession of amazing costumes and delivers a glorious performance. There is not a weak link in the cast, because when you have actors of the calibre of Tennant, Downie and Patrick Stewart, you can't afford one. Mariah Gale, as Ophelia, is out of this world, her mad scene borders on terrifying.

It's telling that this production runs for over three and a half hours, with only one interval and it felt like it was over in no time at all. The first half is just short of two hours but you don't notice or care that your bladder is yelling at you for the pre show drinks you had with dinner. David Tennant has been a stage actor for years and of course has sky rocketed in the fame stakes since becoming Doctor Who. This is a perfectly timed performance to remind everyone that there is an awful lot more to him than that and there is no better way to prove you really can act than by taking on this role. And I say brava. Jude Law closes the Donmar's West End season next summer with their production of Hamlet. The compare and contrast will be fascinating.

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