Dear Evan Hansen – Music Box Theatre.

Tonight I got to see Dear Evan Hansen at the Music Box Theatre in NYC. Dear Evan Hansen is a new musical by Pasek and Paul starring Ben Platt. Pasek and Paul are notable for their music in La La Land. The musical follows the story of Evan Hansen, a socially anxious high school senior; a letter that was never supposed to be read; and a lie that should never have been told.I had been itching to see this since I saw Ben Platt perform ‘Waving through a Window’ on Seth Meyers. With Dear Evan Hansen winning six Tony awards and having been heralded as the Hamilton of the 2016/17 season, I was expecting big things. I was not disappointed.

DEH is a deeply emotional show. This is definitely aided by Ben Platt’s brilliant performance, but also by the directing and staging of everything, particularly the musical numbers. ‘You will be found’ and ‘Waving through a Window’, both gave me chills. The most wonderful thing about the staging was that it was so simplistic. The musical felt so contemporary, which is so hard to do. Of course, another factor that made it feel so modern was the use of social media as a part of the narrative and the set. The set was so sparse and bare; with rotating platforms that was just a small part of the set. The technology used in creating the set and atmosphere was fantastic. The design of social media, videos, emails and letters constantly bombarding stage, made you feel so overwhelmed, but so alone at the same time.The cast were fantastic. Ben Platt was brilliant, however not the only star of the show though, Colton Ryan, Connor Murphy, and Laura Dreyfuss, Zoe Murphy, were both fantastic and definitely contributed towards those six Tony Awards. The music by Pasek and Paul was fantastic. I can’t imagine this story being told in any other form. The music was vital in showing how the characters felt, without being too ‘musical theatre-y’, again another factor in why the show felt so contemporary. Despite the story being very melancholic and emotional, it was surprisingly funny. They managed to make it funny effortlessly, without it being too corny.

I think one of the reasons the story resonates with so many people, is because it’s so relatable. It’s so easy to feel alone in a time where everything is instant, and validation is usually given in the form of shares and likes. People get to curate their lives. It’s so hard to see what people actually feel. To use the cliché – you can be surrounded by people, and still feel alone. Almost everyone has felt like Evan Hansen at least once in their life (minus the dubious moral choices). It’s a story that’s been told before, but now it’s been brought to 2017, with the music and the technical aspects, it’s so much easier to see in everyday life.

I absolutely loved the show, despite my fears. I’m so glad I got a chance to see it with the original cast. It was a melancholic, funny, technical wonder, with a hint of hope strung throughout it.  I have so much else to say about this, but luckily that will be in an essay, so you don’t have to worry. I’m sorry that this is still so long. Hopefully, this show will transfer to London next year!

Advertisements

Blink Barons Court Theatre

Last night I was invited to go see Blink at The Barons Court Theatre directed by Peter Kavanagh, starring Minnie Murphy and Joe McArdle, written by Phil Porter. Blink explores the ideas of love, relationships, between two very damaged people, Sophie and Jonah, played by Minnie Murphy and Joe McArdle respectively.

I spent a long time trying to work out how best to describe the humour, it wasn’t quite absurdist, but it wasn’t run of the mill comedy. I finally settled on quirky. You laughed where you wouldn’t quite expect it. This is largely part to the capturing performances from McArdle and Murphy. The chemistry between the two actors is apparent from the first duologue, despite the fact that they rarely interact in the first half. This all enhanced by the beautiful intimate space of the basement thrust theatre, that created a personal connection between the audience and actors. The different character skits are welcome break from an otherwise fairly slow and serious play. And in these times, McArdle uses his face more than his words, to get the comedy across. McArdle, embodied a childlike innocence, in his gentle portrayal of Jonah that had a melancholic undertone. Murphy almost paralleled this, in her melancholic, serious portrayal that had innocence strung through it.  I must say that I was surprised, that the play didn’t become stilted or clunky in its flow. Many two actor pieces can become forced, and I was worried about that. However, it was paced very well, and flowed, despite a short interval in the middle.

The attention to detail was evident in the sound and set. Simplistic, yet effective. The music however, I found to be slightly overwhelming, if not unnecessary, in the first half. It’s understandable given Kavanagh background, however I think it is too much in the theatre, especially this small space. It did, although work in the second half, and felt almost triumphant.

The idea of love, however unconventional, is prominent throughout the piece. A quirky and wholesome performance. It had me laughing, wistful, and sometimes heartbroken.

Blink is running at the Barons Court Theatre until the 20th of May.

Top productions of 2016

Another year has passed, and despite this one being particularly bad, there was still lots and lots of theatre. So here are my top five productions of 2016, excluding the fringe- it just became impossible to narrow down to five, if I included the fringe. I may do another post describing my top five fringe productions.

5. Lazarus at the Kings Cross Theatre

08lazarusjpsub-master675Now this may be, that it is the last production I saw, but at No.5, it’s Lazarus. The new musical, written by David Bowie, another icon we lost this year. It was a melancholic and thought-provoking story, with suitable music, and a very dystopic production. The visual images created were something to be in awe of. As I said a beautiful chaotic mess of a show.

 

4. I am Thomas at the Lyceum

I%20Am%20Thomas-103%20(c)%20Manuel%20Harlan%20-%20Liverpool%20Playhouse

Politically charged and hilariously funny, it’s I am Thomas from the Lyceum, which I saw in March. The Direction and the ensemble’s work pulled off a fantastic show with a great vision, all about freedom  of speech, in the height of the Je Suis Charlie movement. The music was brilliant, adding another layer to this piece- it was like an onion…

3. The Shakespeare Trilogy at the Donmar.

donmar-the-tempest

Okay, so I know I’m cheating a little bit, but I struggled picking just five shows, and they did have the same cast and director- basically. The Shakespeare trilogy consisted of The Tempest, Julius Caesar, and King Henry IV. It was an entirely female cast, and set in a female prison. I had some qualms about Julius Caesar, however the production was made clear, when I saw Henry IV. The Three shows worked as an entity, but also separately. The productions were creative, heartfelt and sorely needed. Setting Shakespeare in a modern environment was something that needed to be explored in mainstream theatre, also with a diverse and female cast it broke the stereotype of an old white english man performing Shakespeare.  The productions were fantastical, mythical and scary at some points. Definitely some of the best Shakespeare I’ve seen.

2. The Glass Menagerie at the Edinburgh International Festival.

download

I wasn’t actually going to go see this, I absolutely  hated the play when I studied it – it was boring and nothing happened in it. The ending was not satisfying, and I just didn’t get the characters, except maybe Tom, though I even found him to be a bit of a lad. I even wrote an epilogue for it, which was how unsatisfying I found the ending. (It was a terrible epilogue by the way. When I was younger I was under the delusion I could write scripts…) Anyway a friend convinced me to go with the one sentence ‘there is such beauty in the mundane’  And he was so right. I managed to snap up one ticket for the last night- I may have left work early for it… oops, but I decided I had to see it. And I am so glad I did. It has to be one of the most poignant and beautiful productions I have seen this year. The set was unbelievable, the direction and acting was brilliant, and I saw the beauty in the mundane. In the characters I hated, I found redemption, and the ending turned from unsatisfying to almost hopeful. The music was amazing. The whole production was poetically serendipitous, showing these damaged characters as fragile as glass. It brought meaning to the meaningless. And a quote – “Time is the longest distance between two places” , has earned a place on my laptop.

 

Drum roll please for my top production of 2016…. (It won’t come as a surprise I assume…)

 

  1. In The Heights at The King’s Cross Theatre

In the Heights

In the Heights is at my No. 1. spot, as  I said is probably not a surprise. I saw this back in February, and I managed to get tickets for £15. In The Heights was written by Lin Manuel Miranda, and it set in the lower east side of Manhattan, in a Latino community in Washington Heights. The main selling point of this show, is of course the music. I watched it in February, and I am still listening to it constantly.  The complex lyrics, with Latino roots was the perfect way to show the core of the inspiration, as Lin Manuel Miranda is an immigrant from Puerto Rico.  I’m absolute sucker for Lin Manuel Miranda, but that is not the only reason. The actors were brilliant, and lovely as well. The youthful charm and energising tone to the performance made it an incredible night. I felt a part of the cast and the community. For once I didn’t want to run up and perform with the actors, because I was already up there. I cringed at what the characters said, and cried when they cried. I could not stop smiling, except you know, when I was crying.  The political connotations came through the comedy, and identity and immigration, were the core aspects of the show. It was full of life and symbolism, and I absolutely loved it.

 

Notable few:

Okay, so I said top 5, but here a few notable ones that I couldn’t just not mention. –

Aladdin: Full of colour and childlike imagination.

The Libertine: The writing in this was brilliant. The characters and story was so sad, but it was shrouded in comedy.

A Night in Miami: The political statements made in this were amazing, and heartbreaking. Along with a beautiful rendition of ‘A change is gonna come’ 

Kinky Boots: An extremely fun night, with fabulous costumes, and an amazing message to help change society for the better.

 

This was a longin. And this is without Fringe productions- eek.  There may be a post coming soon for that. But all in all. I hope 2016 has been great, and here’s hoping 2017 will be even better, and here’s to less loss in the arts world next year.  See you all in 2017!

-Charlie

 

“The Theater must always be a safe and special place”

“The Theater must always be a safe and special place” – Donald J.Trump (via. Twitter) 

I type this, as I sit in an LCP seminar discussing this particular quote from the President Elect Donald Trump. This tweet followed the Vice President elect, Mike Pence’s  trip to see Hamilton, where he was booed by the audience, addressed at the end of the production by the cast. Brandon Victor Dixon addressed Pence, after the curtain call, as he tried to make a speedy exit.

“Vice-president elect Pence, I see you walking out, but I hope you will hear us, just a few more moments. There’s nothing to boo here, ladies and gentlemen,We’re all here sharing a story about love. We, sir, are the diverse America who are alarmed and anxious that your new administration will not protect us, our planet, our children, our parents, or defend us and uphold our inalienable rights. We truly hope this show has inspired you to uphold our American values and work on behalf of all of us. All of us.”

Pence reacted, not in anger, but instead asking whether this was appropriate, and called into question the position of Theatre in our society. Is it a place for political debates? Were the cast of Hamilton right to call out Pence in the Theatre?  As much as I dislike Pence, his reaction was commendable. He told his children, that the booing was the sound of freedom and complimented the cast. Trump reacted, oppositely, through his usual media, a rant on Twitter.

“The cast and producers of Hamilton, which I hear is highly overrated, should immediately apologize to Mike Pence for their terrible behavior” -Donald J.Trump (via. Twitter)

“The Theater must always be a safe and special place.The cast of Hamilton was very rude last night to a very good man, Mike Pence. Apologize!” -Donald J.Trump (via. Twitter) 

There are so many things that make me angry about these statements. Firstly that the president elect is so petty, about some one respectfully calling out his administration, with their fears, that he will insult their career and art. Secondly, his definition of a ‘safe space.’ According to Trump, a safe space, in college, to stop women from getting raped and sexually assaulted, is political correctness gone mad, but the minute a middle-aged, straight, white man, is respectfully called out, it’s a necessity. Trump, was not the first person to call the Theatre a safe and special place.

In recent history, Theatre, has been considered a safe, special space, especially for minorities, with many mainstream performances having political roots. The production, that I think of, when discussing this, is RENT. The characters of which are made up of Black, Gay, Straight, Queer, Trans Americans in New York. A story that would have been hard to tell at the time, through other mediums.

Theatre is now used to challenge that norm. Trump wants it to be comfortable, to not invoke change. The statement felt drenched with irony, and made me uncomfortable. Who is he to say, what the theatre, can or can’t be? Broadway has always generally been democratic, rather than republican. Yes, the Theatre is and should be a safe and special place, but his definitions of safe and special, are not ones I agree with. It shouldn’t only be safe for the straight, white man. Which I and many others, think that Trump’s administration will lead to. How dare he use a phrase, so commonly used, in protecting minorities, when his campaign and his policies be so heavily rooted, in racism, bigotry, sexism, homophobia, and everything else.

The other question raised, is, were the cast right to get involved in Politics? Since the dawn of Theatre, it has always been used as a way to inform people, and discuss politics, from Greek Tragedy to Brechtian to Contemporary Theatre. I think the cast, of a show about politics, especially a cast made up of minorities, had a right to an opinion, and using their platform was admirable.  As I said, Broadway has never shied away from it’s democratic tendencies.  Addressing the issues of Trump’s policies, at the end of a show, which glorifies, and rightly so, immigrants, was particularly powerful, and amplified the core aspects of the show. Especially as Trump’s policies tends to target immigrant. I am constantly drawn back to the line ‘Immigrants. We get the job done’, which the reaction, to that showing, according to reports, was very lively.  The cast addressed Pence respectfully, and kindly, better than how Trump treated the cast.

Julius Caesar – Donmar Warehouse

I went to see Julius Caesar, part two, of the Shakespeare Trilogy at the Donmar Warehouse, following The Tempest, yesterday.  Again I got tickets through the Young + Free initiative, which provides 25% of their tickets for free to under 25s. Julius Ceasar is about the rise and fall of the title character, and his betrayer, Brutus.

Again this production was set in a female prison, however it was a far less magical, mythical production, than The Tempest, which I think was very effective in the story it was telling. The theatre in the round aided to make a truly visually and audio immersive production. And the whole tone of the production was great Switching, from comedic, to eerie, to poetically tragic. It had a good pace, and the sound and lighting all aided to the shifts in the tone.

The whole cast were brilliant. I was so excited to see them again, as it is the same cast in The Tempest. Their connection to every audience member, I would have to say, made the production for me. Their interaction, their conviction and the true grittiness of their performance was perfect. There were moments that were just so realistic, you forgot that you were watching a performance in a theatre, you thought you were watching inmates perform Shakespeare, and it just made you really uncomfortable. Especially from Harriet Walter, who was usually the cause of this uncomfortableness. Also Jade Anouka, who played Mark Antony, brought a really playful aspect to the play. My favourite scene had to be the funeral. The rhythmic presentation, aided with the lighting and the rest of the cast, was very empowering and riling.

The production was full of different ideas and conventions, which I loved, individually. However, I felt like there were too many, and none of which, that they were really committed to. It mixed and matched too much.  I loved them all at the time, but in looking back at it, they didn’t seem to follow through in the whole production, and it just left me quite confused.

Overall, it was an amazing cast, and the director produced an extremely immersive and tense production, which was very enjoyable to watch.

Finally, I wanted to say, that I was really glad to go to the theatre yesterday, especially with all that had happened in the U.S. I thought Theatre is the perfect way to escape this, but the thing is, is every performance is influenced by outside events. As much as I tried to forget about Donald Trump, I couldn’t help but see his reflection in Julius Caesar, or at least the Caesar that Brutus paints. The rise and fall of his, and Brutus’ power and the eventual fall of Rome to Octavius, felt like a weird dystopia, that felt familiar, and oddly foreshadowing.

Scrapping GCSE Drama?

First we began with the idea of scrapping A-level History of Art, which as an idea was a travesty, but still went through. However in the aftermath of National Youth Theatre leader, Paul Roseby, suggesting that GCSE Drama is irrelevant, it is now being reconsidered as part of the GCSE syllabus .

Reservations about art subjects as part of academic qualifications have always existed, with some universities not accepting certain arts subjects as part of an application. The suggestion from Roseby, is to integrate theatre into the more academic subjects, I have to question how? And what use is that? The best example of that for me, is English. But I still have to disagree, If my only experience of Theatre were the plays that we studied in English, Shakespeare, Priestly, Tennessee, I would have never come to study Drama at University.

As someone, who studied the Scottish equivalent of GCSE’s,  National Five, I am not sure, if I am outstepping my place discussing this, however, I can say, with a fair amount of certainty, that I would never have come to study Drama at University, if I did not have the access to studying Nat 5 Drama, or the teachers that supported and encouraged everyone’s passions in our school, be it theatrical or otherwise. For me studying Drama at school became such an important aspect of school for me, socially, academically and basically everything else. Without Nat 5, I would have not pursued Drama, it was so important in introducing me to the world of Theatre, and the idea that I could have a career in it, or at least further my studies in it. Without it, I would possibly be studying a degree that I didn’t want to do, or I would be completely lost.  And of course for that, I have to thank my school for having such a fabulous Drama department.

However of course that is not to say the GCSE Drama course is flawless, earlier this year, they dropped the requirement to see a live Theatre performance and analyse it for an assessment, this was replaced by a recording. As good as recordings are, you do not get the same effect, if you are sitting in the audience. I for one, generally think that a good performance will make you feel like a community with the other audience members. You do not get the same atmosphere watching a recording, and it will effect how you analyse a production. And some people, may think the content is irrelevant, or the fact that people see it to be soft or easy, are arguments enough to justify those people thinking it should be scrapped.

It would break my heart, if GCSE Drama was scrapped from the syllabus, people seem to consider it to be a soft subject? I don’t understand this, I think it requires the most of amount of work, from teachers and students alike. If GCSE Drama is scrapped, it would be the beginning of scrapping all drama in schools. Creativity and passion must be nurtured, so it can bloom, not cut at the root.

 

A Night in Miami – Donmar Warehouse

I went to see A Night in Miami on Saturday night at the Donmar Warehouse, through their Young + Free initiative for under 25s, providing 25% of their tickets for free. A Night in Miami, follows a night in a motel in Miami, where Muhammad Ali, Malcom X, Sam Cooke, and Jim Brown had convened. When the world saw them as icons, in this play they were just four friends, celebrating the world heavyweight champion.

 

With the show lasting an hour and a half, without an interval, or set changes, it is not surprising that the show’s success lies within the tension held. Walking into the space, you can already hear cicadas, and planes rumbling overhead, immediately setting the scene. The garish hotel set, oddly spacious, however reminisce of the 60s. The set, had a little cove where, most likely due to where I was sitting, meant the sound was absorbed and difficult to understand. But hey, when the tickets are free, who can complain?

 

With the show set in the height of the Civil Rights movement, the tension in the movement, and within the black community indeed made the show. It was held throughout the performance in the audience and on stage. Every time the tension built, it either bubbled over or there was a break, in the form of the music of Sam Cooke, or a snappy one liner. Creating the perfect tone for the show. This was all aided by the soundscape and the brilliant chemistry between the four actors. The involvement of the audience was a welcome break in the tension, adding electricity in the air, and a humour to the piece, that was different to the repeated one liners. It was a very realistic and poignant glimpse into the civil rights movement. Sope Dirisu, captured the youthful Muhammad Ali, with a playful and spirited energy. Arinzé Kene, Sam Cooke, had a brilliant voice, and his rendition of A Change is Gonna Come, with footage portraying protests from the 60s, all the way to the Black Lives Matter Movement in Missouri, on the cyclorama behind, was a chilling moment – emphasising how much of a problem equality still is. The performance felt far longer than ninety minutes, I think showing the weight of the issues addressed, with an ending flooded with finality.

 

Overall a very important, topical and political performance, to be performed right now, brimming with chilling images, conceived by the directors and actors.  Also an enjoyable play to watch. I loved the script, and ended up buying a copy. I would highly recommend. It is showing at the Donmar until the 3rd of December.