Yvonne Korshak reviews Off-Broadway, Broadway, Film and Art

Author: Mark Haggard

The Symposium: L-R Kimberly Faye Greenberg as Lillian Hellman, Dorothy Weems as Dorothy Parker, Kim Rogers as Agatha Christie, Kristen Gehling as Muriel Gardiner, Penny Lynn White as Alice B. Toklas.  Photo: Samantha Mercado Tudda

Review | Little Wars, A Workshop Production by Steven Carl McCasland | Directed by Thia Stephan Hyde | Beautiful Soup Theater | Roy Arias Stage IV

A symposium — a drinking party with dinner in the offing, only here the participants are not Socrates and the male literati of the “golden age” of ancient Athens, as in Plato’s dramatic dialogue.  This symposium is of 20th-century writers and — quite an update! — they’re all women:  Gertrude Stein, Alice B. Toklas, Agatha Christie, Lillian Hellman and Dorothy Parker, along with Muriel Gardiner, well known for saving many Jews during World War II, and Bernadette, a young house maid.  The time is early in the war, and the gathering at the Stein-Toklas household in the French mountains.

The Symposium: L-R Kimberly Faye Greenberg as Lillian Hellman, Dorothy Weems as Dorothy Parker, Kim Rogers as Agatha Christie, Kristen Gehling as Muriel Gardiner, Penny Lynn White as Alice B. Toklas.  Photo: Samantha Mercado Tudda

The Symposium: L-R Kimberly Faye Greenberg as Lillian Hellman, Dorothy Weems as Dorothy Parker, Kim Rogers as Agatha Christie, Kristen Gehling as Muriel Gardiner, Penny Lynn White as Alice B. Toklas.  Photo: Samantha Mercado Tudda

As Alice and Gertrude await their author guests, Stein speaks of them so sardonically that you wonder why she invited them, but of course, that’s the woman we fast come to know, full of contradictions.

The first arrival is not a writer (though she later became one):  she’s Muriel Gardiner, in France to raise money for false passports to enable Jews to escape from Germany.  Intending to sleep at the train station, she’s persuaded to stay (a Platonic trope).  Soon Lillian Hellman, Dorothy Parker and then dramatically Agatha Christie arrive, and tongues are loosened by plenty of scotch, poured on request by the somber Bernadette.  Although nobody formally sets the theme for the evening’s conversation in the way Plato made famous, there is one: self-revelation.  And as in Plato, it helps that the liquor flows freely.

The authors set themselves to figuring out what the circumspect Muriel Gardiner is doing here, and it emerges that she’s undercover as a spy and freedom worker.  What a fascinating choice McCasland makes:  the first identity revealed is the one that’s most apparently hidden (though I thought she was too loose-tongued for a spy, she spilled the beans too easily).  We learn not only her purpose but, as she speaks, of her passionate devotion to her cause, powerfully conveyed by Kristen Gehling, and of her personal life and sacrifices.

L-R Penny Lynn White as Alice B. Toklas and Maggie Wirth as Gertrude Stein.  Photo: Samantha Mercado Tudda

L-R Penny Lynn White as Alice B. Toklas and Maggie Wirth as Gertrude Stein.  Photo: Samantha Mercado Tudda

McCasland’s outstanding ability to write in the diverse voices of others reaches a climax in the revelatory monologue spoken — uttered, stormed forth — by Gertrude Stein in which this paragon of toughness wails and, yes, complains:  Why am I not normal?”, a plaint that goes way beyond her being gay.

She’s homely, ugly, odd looking, a character, she doesn’t talk like other people, she doesn’t think like them, she doesn’t write in a “regular” way, she’s not normal.  And in case you think for one moment that could be an easy path, she lets you know for sure: it isn’t.  That monologue, as played by Maggie Wirth, is a theatrical high point.

L-R Kim Rogers as Agatha Christie and Penny Lynn White as Alice B. Toklas.  Photo: Samantha Mercado Tudda

L-R Kim Rogers as Agatha Christie and Penny Lynn White as Alice B. Toklas.  Photo: Samantha Mercado Tudda

Alice B. Toklas’ devotion to Gertrude Stein, her femininity, her dependence and rooted strength are so charmingly expressed by Penny Lynn White I’d see the play the play over just to see her do it again.  She’s enchanting, and, with the playwright’s help, makes Toklas make sense.

Little Wars is a play of telling rather than showing, dependent on McCasland’s writing rather than plotting.  By the end, we’ve heard each woman’s story and some of these are stronger than others.  Dorothy Parker, played with touching irony by Dorothy Weems, enlivens her miseries with touches of the dry wit that rings throughout Parker’s writing: there are several good Parkeresque lines — I’d have liked even more.

Kim Rogers is so exciting as an actress and has such superb stage presence that, though what Agatha Christie had to say seemed less original than some, I loved every minute of her revelation of man troubles anyhow, watching how Rogers did it.

Bernadette’s story is grim, and told with suppressed fury by Morgan Detogne, though the account itself while of extreme, awful events, was too easily anticipated in its outlines.

Long after the war, Hellman’s writerly veracity was challenged on television by another writer, Mary McCarthy, with Hellman responding with a lawsuit. A key issue was Hellman’s claim that she had met Muriel Gardiner (Gardiner herself said she had not known Hellman) and further that Hellman had stolen Gardiner’s personal story of rescuing Jews and acting as an anti-Nazi spy in her own writing to her own advantage.

Although the matter seems at best moot, for some reason McCasland has come down in defense of Hellman, and the view that the two met is a raison d’etre for this play. Given his sympathy for Hellman, it’s surprising that his portrayal of her is thin, rescued in this production by Kimberly Faye Greenberg’s humorous impersonation of Hellman’s look, style and mannerisms.  The character isn’t given much content but Greenberg has her puffing away on the ever-present cigarette with convincing arrogance.  While the other guests open their purses generously to Muriel’s cause, Hellman is the holdout, saying “it wouldn’t matter,” a weak reason for a strong woman, and out of character, nor do we understand why she changes her mind and makes a generous contribution.

Little Wars fulfills a nostalgic fantasy — like Plato’s Symposium.  Well known bright lights from the past gather and we’re there, too — catching their jokes, clueing in on their interactions, and deepening our understanding of what makes them tick.  Fly-on-the-wall style, we’re among the great, brilliant, and witty.  Thanks to McCasland’s talented writing and ability to create a world, and to flawless casting, they come alive for us.  We’re there to learn from them, and love them.  There are future plans for developing Little Wars — I’m eagerly looking forward to more.

Little Wars played at Roy Arias Stage IV on West 43rd Street in Manhattan.

My Picks of the Edinburgh Fringe | Request Programme by Franz Xaver Kroetz | Directed by Hedvig Claesson | SIRIS Original Theatre | Kafka And Son | Directed by Mark Cassidy | Richard Jordan Productions Ltd/Threshold/Assembly

Viewing the Edinburgh Fringe

Two vignette reviews cannot do justice to the productive maelstrom that is Edinburgh Fringe Festival, run every August in parallel with the other Edinburgh Festivals (International, Book etc).  Of the 2,500 productions, most will make a considerable financial loss as in the past; nowadays, ribald so-called comedy has so outgrown experimental theatre that this is the association that many people now have for the Fringe.  It was always possible to go as couple and as an audience be outnumbered by the cast, and there is still much amateur acting, but also a very large number of good productions for which the audience and reviewers are not numerous enough.  Darwinian profusion and competition: much good writing and acting talent is first seen at this important showcase.  Aided by track record of author and company, and nowadays by internet-accessible reviews of the production before it came to Edinburgh (from almost any quarter of the globe), it is possible at relatively affordable prices to feast breakfast-to-suppertime on shows including music, dance, cabaret and children’s fare, whilst mostly avoiding those productions you need for the occasional laughable story, but would want to tell friends to avoid.  I am thus confirming rather than showing any original insight original in awarding  *****  to the following two.

Request Progamme by Franz Xaver Kroetz

The frightening thing about Miss Rasch, the sole character in Request Programme, is not that she is deeply abnormal, but that she is marginally normal with obsessive tendencies, and living alone, very very alone, in her mini-apartment.  The author Franz Xaver Kroetz is a much-honoured left-leaning German political playwright.  Rasch is a not uncommon name in German but it also means “quick” or “over-hasty”.  Controversial in the Germany of its birth in the 1970s, this play was staged in New York in the 1980s.  The script running to 7 pages is more like a screen-play and gives no words for the actress to speak, only broad prescriptions for her return from the office, domestic round of evening meal, cleansing of crockery and some acts of personal hygiene, and preparation for sleep. The challenge of this very free hand accorded to Swedish director Hedvig Claesson and actress Cecilia Nilsson is therefore to sustain sufficient interest in detailed observation of movements and objects through the long introduction, in which the mild obsessionality is only marginally humorous.  The excruciation is managed brilliantly by Nilsson with a facial expression blank and fixed, as is common in combined anxiety and depression.

Just when we can take no more silence, sound arrives through the radio request programme.  This is a middle-brow medley but the musical content does not call for too subtle decipherment; it seems largely irrelevant with the exception of a piece of Tina Turner rock which briefly elicits some very human crazed gyration during the dish-drying — the only expression of any positive emotion, which is rapidly self-censored.  Significantly, all the dedications from the requesters to the show concern dysfunctional relationships, but these amount to at most a few hundred words.  Later, on checking the lock but failing to get to sleep immediately, Fraulein Rasch proceeds in steps of only minor hesitation to commit suicide, swilling down the pills with a pre-opened (therefore undoubtedly flat) mini-bottle of champagne from the mini-fridge.

Many Edinburgh Fringe productions are staged in church halls but this was in the loft office of a language school.  The central set is ingeniously designed for theatre-in-the round with an audience space of only 20 seats.  The mini-versions of sink, fridge, table and bed-sofa with bedding compartment, underline the hemmed-in quality of a life felt by its owner to be worthless.  These and more minor properties become very important with the lack of words, and give coherent hints of the emotional poverty of the character’s life, or perhaps some lost richness. A kitsch china dog of the type whose unglazed back permits home-grown cress shoots to grow for ultra-fresh but ultra-small vegetable portions; an equally kitsch candlewick rug which the character is completing, with a design featuring a dog and a baby.   Request Programme continues almost 40 years after it was written to push the boundaries of our idea of theatre.

Kafka and Son, developed by Alon and Mark Cassidy from a letter Kafka wrote to his father

Franz Kafka was a tortured soul, as is evident from his writing, in which there is renewed interest because of the currently contested ownership of the archived papers.  In 1919 Franz wrote his father Hermann a long letter full of psychological insight and not too self-centred, which Hermann probably never received.  The purpose was to explain why Franz was afraid of his father and to resolve an intolerable set of problems arising from that fear.  It is from this that the script has been meticulously constructed.

The father, a successful businessman was apparently not just a bully but a systematic tyrant, sarcastically deprecating and deriding all of Franz’s activities and thoughts: childhood milestones, writing, marriage intentions, and exhaustively undermining the boy’s confidence.  Even the Judaism to which Kafka senior paid lip-service, and might have offered some solace as an alternative authority structure, was vilified with little subtlety.  The letter is fashioned somewhat as a legal case.  Hermann is given some limited right of reply, via a repudiation of the complaints in the letter; but we are set up to find this unconvincing because it is in caricature form by the mainly Franz character (it would be marginally incorrect to call this a monologue).  In effect, Franz illustrates the bullying via ripostes presumed from the father, of which the argumentative content is poor, as we would now expect.  The father’s imputed replies grant no concessions, whereas in the writing Franz articulately and dispassionately gives some concessions, seeking chiefly to clarify rather than blame, and his position is consistent.  Arbitrariness and inconsistency, the hallmarks of tyrants, pervade these replies.

Whilst this plot is readily summarised, the dialectic and its illustrations are sufficient to support an hour’s one-man show.  At the most cataclysmic moments, scene-changes are in effect created by alterations of lighting along  with mood, and by altered use of the minimalist stage properties, a mattress free wire-sprung bed and some metal animal caging.  Periodically throughout, one of these serves also as the writer’s desk, but also once as a cage of refuge, underlining the refuge in writing.  These alterations are expertly managed in a virtuoso performance by Alon Nashman, abetted by skilled direction from Mark Cassidy, in a production that has played in major Canadian cities.

The writing desk cage is covered with black feathers, which serve variously as quills and other things — food for the gourmandising father or — when the feathers scatter — as general trappings of chaos.  Although Kafka wrote in German, the family name means “jackdaw” in Czech, a black bird to which European tradition ascribes kleptomania for bright objects.  There is also one large white feather.  In some contexts white feathers have been a badge of cowardice.  Indeed, fear and failure previously to confront his father are an issue that Franz himself recognised, but the symbolism imparted is more that of the escape into writing.  Does this piece of theatre render the letter more accessible and the writer and his works more explicable ?  Definitely.

Request Programme  plays at Inlingual School, 40 Shadwick PL » Pleasance, through 27 August.

Kafka and Son plays at Assembly George Square Edinburgh, through 28 August.

Review | Emperor and Galilean by Henrik Ibsen | In a New Version by Ben Power | Directed by Jonathan Kent | National Theatre | Olivier Theatre | London

The National Theatre has a great reputation for brilliant staging of old and new drama based on historical fact, to which witness the great success of The White Guard, Coram Boy, and Pitmen Painters, on the last of which I have written previously.  This reputation remains intact with the present production, despite lesser success in my own view and the average of very varied reviews received (2 to 4 out of 5 stars).

In theatre or historical fiction (and occasionally, in painting) there is an issue of how, starting from consistency with the known sources and fixed points of established history, the work of art can add to the understanding of what was probably going on.  The sublime example on ancient Rome is Margaret Yourcenar’s Memoirs of Hadrian.  Is this what Ibsen (for Emperor and Galilean is indeed by him, despite being left off many lists of his works) was trying to do?  It seems only secondarily so.  Ibsen’s preceding plays, Brand and Peer Gynt, have romantic and mystical elements in common, and address philosophical problems of free will and belief (Brand is a questing priest and Peer Gynt is set in a mythical fairytale past).  These now seem dated historical curiosities.

Emperor and Galilean is a theatrical curio of a different kind, first published 1873 but not produced for 23 years thereafter.  I suspect that Ibsen was so overwhelmed by his visit to Rome (1864) that he felt he had to write something of cosmic sweep for an international audience and took some years getting this idea, as well as the mid-century idealistic philosophy out of his system. This, Ibsen’s third and grandest play, was gestated alongside those first two in the 1860s.  Ibsen also thought it his greatest;  however its relative failure in terms of productions (Ibsen is the next most produced dramatist after Shakespeare) perhaps signposted Ibsen elsewhere — to great success with the psychological and social conflicts of the Scandinavian bourgeoisie. The later plays seem much less dated, even glaringly modernist (eg, A Doll’s House, 1879).

Under the short rule (360-363) of Julian “the Apostate” (331?-363) the Roman empire is thought nearly to have reverted to paganism from Christianity, which had then only been the established religion for 4 decades.  This is indeed an issue of cosmic sweep, set in a complex period with a complex flow of historical processes, on which the sources are patchy.  Success in capturing the relation between the events of the period and Julian’s enigmatic and ascetic personality also eluded Adrian Murdoch (The Last Pagan, Inner Traditions, 2008), with his much better contemporary access to primary and secondary materials than Ibsen had.  The sources are good enough for some leads but not for a very detailed set of what-if? historical analyses (which fiction has already done on Julian).  It is uncertain just how near or far from success Julian’s dis-establishment project might have been at the time of his death in action in Mesopotamia.  This occurred in yet another Persian war, one that he had felt obliged to pursue to consolidate loyalties in the East.  In Ben Power’s adaptation of the play, this nemesis results (based on probably inaccurate historical sources) not from hubris but from gullibility.  This would be a most unbecoming demise for Julian, a cynic who forswore a religion partly because of its excessive demands for suspension of disbelief.

We are therefore left asking, if historical accuracy is not overriding for Ibsen, what in the dramatic character of the stage Julian has he given us to make us identify with him enough to feel affected when things go wrong as his rule unfolds?  I have to say not a lot:  perhaps an over-wariness in the adaptation about too much intellectual argument in theatre, especially theological and philosophical argument nearly two millennia old, has deprived us of an opportunity to appreciate his reasoning.

In Ben Power’s competent shoe-horning adaptation of Ibsen’s 8 hours into an action-packed 4,  the career narrative is so dominant that we get a rather sampled reportage of the way in which the Christians were perhaps unnecessarily provoked, but little sense of the dynamics and interplay of historical events.

More revealing is the way in which Christian Rome, though from just before Julian’s birth we should more properly be calling it Byzantium’, is shown as retaining all the shortcomings of its predecessor: to stay alive as a member of the elite, you had either go into exile or seize power yourself.  The pace of the career narrative is Shakespearian, somewhat recalling Macbeth; the source of seduction is only slightly the attractions of power (and despite a bizarre scene with the wife, who is also sister of the menacing preceding emperor, Julian’s uncle Constantius, it is not particularly a power-hungry spouse).  But sorcery and obscure prophesy are seductions as for Macbeth.

Julian is portrayed as trapped by his situation; he starts out professing to want freedom of worship to include Christianity, but the political monopoly in an established monotheistic religion makes conflict inevitable.  Julian rightly despised Christian superstition and seemed initially in the tradition of Marcus Aurelius to favour the classical learning and philosophy that was to be lost to the West for a millennium as Christianity grew to hegemony.  This point was not lost on the anti-Christian Edward Gibbon in History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1776-88).  Yet Julian appears also to have indulged in and favoured similarly superstitious pagan practices, and not to have drawn much of value from his flirtation with philosophy in the backwater that was 4th-century Athens.  As with Christianity in his earlier maturity, he became disillusioned.  It is perhaps surprising that a century after Gibbon, Ibsen felt he had to give Christianity a much better press (eg, in his sympathetic portrayal of Gregory of Nazianzus as saint and martyr) than he gives Julian — perhaps a touch of Ibsen’s growing sympathy for the underdog which at this point Gregory becomes.

Ibsen worked up the play in the post-Darwin 1860s, when religious values were waning, so it is not surprising that he thought the apostacy would be relevant to the audience’s concerns, despite its remote historical and geographical setting.  Ibsen was later quite frank about the opiate value of religious belief, and Rebecca in Rosmersholm (1879), has lost hers.  Society was facing the possibility that God may not exist.  But Julian did not “disbelieve in God” in the sense Rebecca or we would understand of espousing materialism;  the general cultural assumption on deities in the ancient world was “anything goes”, and Julian felt that the Judaeo-Christian God’s monopoly was not justified socially and politically.  There is no very good evidence that on his deathbed Julian said “You have won then, Galilean.”  It is an anachronism, implying that he could have been obsessed with our own hindsight what-if question, rather than the pressing matters of his power base and the Persian war.

The unifying force which Constantine had seen in Christianity had led to a political role for the clerical hierarchy, the decay of both pagan religion and classical learning, and a question about the relation between church and state, one which was important at the time of writing the US Constitution and which is to some extent still with us.  The newly established religion was a threat to the intellectual fabric of ancient civilisation and to the divine cult of the emperors.  The meeting point of the drama with historically plausible conjecture, is that Julian started with the former laudable fear but that it shaded into the latter less laudable one, because power always corrupts. This message is there in the play but extracting it requires much concentration due to the many distracting sub-plots and prior knowledge of the history certainly helps when there is not time to read the excellent but lengthy programme notes.

This is a play mostly for those with an interest in ancient history and/or theatrical realisation.  Despite the length there is no boredom and much engagement created by the usual excellent NT acting and the flexible use of the set on the rotating multi-depth stage.  The imperial religious procession of Constantius is a breathtaking delight, worthy of a place in the annals of staging and costume.  I was not quite so sure about Julian’s fellow sun-worshippers appearing as trance-held hippies, but even in an action-packed drama there is room for humorous moments.

Emperor and Galilean plays at the National Theatre, Olivier Theatre, London, through August 10th.

Film Note | Inside Job | Documentary Film by Charles Ferguson | Contributions and Narration by Matt Damon

Many people had their say on the Wall Street fraud (it would be indulgent to merely call it a crisis or crash, when a bank is mis-selling mortgages which it knows are trash and will fail, but is also insuring itself against such failure).  This documentary says a lot, very clearly and comprehensively (see for example the New York Times review).  So what is there to add 5 months after the film’s debut and 29 months after the collapse?  And what is there to say from a country not included in the critique to the extent it might justifiably have been by virtue of its considerable financial muscle and its own spectacular bank failures?

Review | Edinburgh Festival | King’s Theatre | Caledonia, Edinburgh | National Theatre of Scotland | August, 21-26, 2010

… Pageant of Failure …

“The Scots are fond of blaming others for their own misfortunes, especially the English.” This maxim is well known to sophisticated and travelled Scots and holds a grain of truth; it is, almost verbatim, one of the more severe of the many self-mocking lines in this intriguing mixture, a staging of the tragedy of the 1698 Darien expedition by Scotland to colonize the isthmus of Panama. The dramatization raises two interesting issues: (a) what aspect do you concentrate on (politics, greed, human folly, texture of life) and (b) what theatrical register do you adopt (music-theatre, pageant, satire, searing personal drama with well-painted main characters? Caledonia is worth seeing and informative, but ultimately fails because it answers these questions with “a little bit of everything.”

Principles of investment and return have been known since Old Testament times, but that great social invention, the Joint Stock Company was fairly new in 1698, so its limitations were poorly understood. Explorers’ fantastical belief in Eldorado was paralleled with merchants’ and investors’ belief in the ability of these new companies, fuelled by some particular idea wth familiar or common-sense aspects, to multiply wealth indefinitely out of almost nothing. William Paterson, who had successfully established the Bank of England some years before, had patriotic as well as mercantile motives. He persuaded the Scottish Parliament to pass legislation enabling a state-backed but private venture analogous to the East India Company, so that Scotland too could get in on the burgeoning colonial activities of the seaboard nations of Western Europe. Half of the meagre national wealth was subscribed.

The particular idea was a road between the Atlantic and Pacific, analogous to the Panama Canal: it’s only 6 days’ walk, said the indigenous tribes, and common sense makes this compare well with a 2-3 months’ sail, particularly one round Cape Horn. The scheme was blocked by England (which had shared a monarch of Scottish lineage for almost a century) both at the investment and trade embargo stages. The very little and misleading information reaching home about the progress or otherwise of the scheme came via French and Dutch boats. Leaving aside this disappointing English self-interest and the inhospitable climate and terrain, the idea that Spain would have tolerated any continuing colony by a small nation on territory assigned by the Pope to Spain at the Treaty of Tordesillas in 1493, over 200 years before, was absurd from the start.

Given the successful Latin-American theme of this year’s Edinburgh Festival, the dismissal in a few lines of dialogue by Paterson of some expressed general doubts about risk with the demagogic assertion that Scots are undeniably hardy fighters seems an issue dodged not just by 1690s Scots, but by the author. Why was this not obvious, when the wealth and might of Spain were well-known and had a further century to run? After the inevitable failure (the US expedition of 1854 and the first attempt at the Panama Canal were not brilliant successes either), English guilt and intention to preclude further possibility of such ventures successful or otherwise, led to compensation of the main investors by England, and also to the loss of Scottish Independence (in 1707, when “Great Britain” became a reality.)  History shows that the lessons of prior history mostly go unlearned, and the collapse of the mainly English speculation known as the South Sea Bubble was only 2 decades later.

So with the main historical facts known, where does the dramatist begin? Even though the fiasco of Darien figures in outline standard Scottish histories, and is the subject of good recent books, audiences’ knowledge and concerns are parochial in time and space. Author Alistair Beaton adopts basically the pageant format, despite not having the resources (cruel parallel!) that the English National Theatre had for the successful and pageant-like Coram Boy, also with present-day temporary resonances (there’s child-abuse and sex-trafficking.)  Pageant can accommodate the other elements of music and satire but must inevitably sell short characterization and dramatic evolution. The unifying theme is the crowd unwillingness to evaluate the risks in get-rich-quick schemes. This opens up resonances between 1698 and 2008, particularly as the over-belief in the spreading of risk via a joint stock company has a close parallel in the over-belief in the spreading of risk via complex derivatives. Much of the slapstick and satire are well-executed and genuinely funny, as are the many jokes that exploit the financial resonances.

Resonances extend to jokes about trends in Scottish constitutional arrangements and the idea that votes of elected representative can be bought by providing a good meal, both topical. But this is all too obvious and laboured, being many versions of the same joke, leaving too little to the imagination. There is good acting, particularly by Paul Higgins as Paterson, but though some of Paddy Cunneen’s composition wittily combines the centuries, the singing is not good enough to swing it as musical theatre.

I found myself thinking at moments that the shades of Brecht and Weill were hovering in the wings and orchestra pit; but alienation was lacking, so I fear that this association could lead to more false expectations than ones that would be borne out for someone else. Regrettably, this is not another Black Watch.

A very pithy review by Brian Logan has to emphasize the financial resonances without the space for historical and  political context, and it does not comment on the musical aspect, but I agree with his 3 stars out of 5.

The lack of close or emotional treatment of bereaved families, ruined lives, and the lack of dramatic development are frustrating. The music-hall stereotype of the Presbyterian minister brings easy humor, but I missed any character embodying the counter-balancing moral virtues that Scots also have, and which enabled them from about 1750 to 1950 to be disproportionately making the British (ie mainly English) Empire work ? (see eg Niall Ferguson’s: Empire: How Britain Made the Modern World. Penguin, 2003). Are we meant to see the current trend to Scottish Independence as a return to a golden age where English shackles are shed, or a return to dangers of parochial folly? Some say that the current Libyan controversy has stopped that trend anyway.

It will be interesting to see whether this play has any wider effect on Scots’ idea of themselves. It is ironical (in the correct sense of Greek tragedy) that the foundation of the long respected Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) was one direct consequence of Darien and the Act of Union. Other Scottish Banks had over-reached themselves in the recent unravelling of unregulated Reaganomics, but none so spectacularly as RBS.

Walking out into the night from the King’s Theatre, the theatregoer passes acres of unlettable office space that was to have accommodated the continuing spectacular growth of financial services in Edinburgh.

This is indeed a time for some national re-appraisal.

Review | The Habit of Art by Alan Bennett | Directed by Nicholas Hytner | Starring Richard Griffiths and Elex Jennings | Simulcast of the Play Presented by the National Theatre, London

I saw The Habit of Art “live” in a cinema well outside London, as did thousands across North America, though not on Broadway, under the new NTLive initiative, using high-definition satellite relay. This is a new technological compromise between live theatre and cinema (long-focus lenses and ingeniously unobtrusive camera technique ensure a better view than from the stalls). It’s worth a debate in its own right (does one clap and laugh aloud ?) However, the play’s the thing.

Review | The Pitmen Painters by Lee Hall | Directed by Max Roberts | National Theatre | Manhattan Theatre Club

The Pitmen Painters is currently playing in NYC at the Manhattan Theater Club.  This review, written when the play was in London, may interest you.

… a rich tapestry of art, drama and recent history … with personal recollections of Richard Lyon …

What makes a particular play run and run?  No single property surely, but some of them are well illustrated by The Pitmen Painters now back at London’s National Theatre for the third time, and for a 4-month season.  I would hazard that two such properties are interrelated:  breadth of appeal and the efficient weaving of an optimum, slight, degree of ambiguity (ie several messages, none too heavily stated), achieved by having several strands in the dramatic development interwoven with enough coherence to not fall apart.  Rank ambiguity is tolerable in the visual arts because we can choose to walk to the next picture, but not in a play;  we can’t reasonably disrupt the performance by leaving before the end of the first act.  Waiting for Godot was a success but a rare one, in what is historically a very minority taste.

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén