Megan's Head

A place where Megan gets off her head.

Tag: Francis Chouler

Unconquered by Mary and The Conqueror

My date (a theatre loving actress) and I popped off to Artscape‘s Arena last night for the opening of The New Writing Season’s 2011 first offering, Juliet Jenkin’s Mary and The Conqueror. I am feeling particularly indebted to those involved in this programme because of the support, belief and opportunity they gave my play The Tent, so I really wanted to love this production but I really didn’t.

The premise is; on a beach in some weird waiting afterlife, Mary Renault the author meets one of her historical characters that she was obsessed with, Alexander the Great. This is how they both end up reflecting on the loves of their lives, both same sex relationships. After analysing their lives and accepting some stuff Mary is able to ‘get into the water’ with Alexander and leave.

The cast is Diane Wilson, Adrienne Pearce, Armand Aucamp and Francis Chouler and they are directed by Roy Sargeant.

The big question about this production, and the play itself, is why? What’s the point? No doubt there are answers somewhere but they don’t end up on stage. The interactions between Mary and Alexander drag on repetitively, with her responding in the same way to his questions (and in the same tone) and he refusing to give a straight answer in a weird coughing up of trying to find the words. While both boys are terribly pretty in their little white Speedos (why little white Speedos, I have no idea) we have no real sense of the lives that they lead, and the ups and downs of the relationship between the conqueror and his general ends up feeling a little trite and immature, and mostly, quite boring. It’s hard to follow all the talking about stuff that happened or will happen, but never happens on stage. It’s odd hearing them speak in a funny pseudo Italian accent. It’s awkward watching them pose and swagger, caress and fight. It’s a bit like chaaf chaaf acting, even though they are both very pretty in their little white Speedos (or have I already said that?).

The women fare a little better with a more genuine and earnest exploration of their relationship, but it’s also repetitive, and predictable. Their secret love affair, played out against the background of a conservative Camps Bay community never quite sparks to life after the promise of the first scene, although I really enjoyed Adrienne Pearce’s character and performance.

The moment of the piece for me was Adrienne Pearce in her monologue; slightly different from the style of the rest of the play, where she is shatteringly revealing about becoming ill, and it is deeply moving. We needed many more of these.

Part edutainment/reenactment historical, part secret same gender relationships in a tough time, part how to live with a difficult and ambitious figure, nothing really gets going here. While Alfred Rietmann does a great job of making it look beautiful, it’s all a little pointless and rather dreary. Sorry.

Trying…and Failing

My Out The Box Festival got off to the worst start this evening when I was trapped in the Intimate Theatre courtyard for the first performance of Trying. This experience was definitely in my top five of worst pieces of theatre ever, and I am so sorry about the fact that my talented friend and colleague Nicole Franco is in it. (I feel like that about Francis Chouler too, from whom I have come to expect such good things).

In fact, the last time I hated a show as much was two Out The Box festivals ago, and I had that same hideous feeling tonight, of being desperate to escape and totally unable to because the show was in the courtyard where the entrance was on stage.

Rachel Wood (the director) pulled twelve performers onto stage, as well as assembling a production team for video, sound and lights. Which is the reason why there was a technical hitch or three that meant that the show started 15 minutes late; not great at a festival where some people were booked for another show that they couldn’t make.

Once it got started though, I was in theatre hell. Endless, meaningless moments, little or no characters or sense entering and exiting. Arbitrary dancing. Horrible improvised (I assume) relationship scenes. Inappropriate jokes. Ages and ages to set up more arbitrary moments. Dreary movement pieces that went on forever. Cringeworthy, under rehearsed, directionless, repetitive, unconvincing and plain bad. This is ‘experimental’ theatre of the most unsatisfying. And I kept on thinking of the absolute waste; of resources, of talent, of time, of energy, of everything really. There was this one moment quite near the beginning where the one Israeli actress is sort of lying on the tarred floor and another actor is kind of running up and down, backwards and forwards alongside her. I overheard her whisper to him, “Ok, ok, it’s enough!” and he stopped. I so wished I could have said that and the show would have gone away.

The second funniest part of the show was when John Caviggia arrived very late, entered the stage, made his excuses and sat down, all the while complaining that he had heard there was a technical hitch and couldn’t believe the show had started without him. The funniest part of the play was when John Cavggia’s cell phone rang. And he answered it, announced to his friend Rita that he was in a show, commiserated with her about her cat’s gout and then explained that it was a new phone and he didn’t know how it worked. The person sitting next to me thought he was part of the show. He wasn’t.

Romping Taming of The Shrew

Last night was my annual trip to the suburban bush, for Shakespeare among the trees. Maynardville is a treasured institution of Cape Town, and, for some, I imagine it’s their only theatrical trip of the year. That’s why it’s important for me that the experience is a good one. It’s Shakespeare, and a bad production can put someone off for good.

I met friends before the show and we picnicked on the lawn. I made sushi and picnic salad pockets (but that’s a discussion for another blog) and we listened to the actors warming up, and then we all filed in to take our seats under the stars. For the last almost ten years I have managed to make sure I was invited to opening night of the yearly Maynardville, but this year there was a double glitch so last night I sat down with Cape Town’s general public. It was a treat. (One of the things I have been really good about is not reading what anyone else thought about the production so I could have a very open mind.) Before the lights went down a young woman behind me told the Wikipedia summary of the story to her quite inebriated and very jolly boyfriend. It was a wonderful summary, for in case the story was difficult to follow, but she had nothing to worry about.

Now, I need to say a few things about the actual play. I can totally take or leave the Taming of the Shrew. No, actually, I would rather just leave it. It is not my favourite Shakespeare play. I have never before seen a successful production of it (I remember a particularly laborious one at Artscape many, many years ago). I think it’s because often the production gets seriously bogged down with the terrible responsibility of trying to manage the sexism and misogyny inherent in the story. Well, the huge success of this production is that it doesn’t take this on! There is a “who cares?” attitude about it that allows it to be silly, comedic and clever without a smidgeon of high horse or excuses. What follows is a story that is clear if not ridiculous, performances that are delicious if not serious, and spectacle that can be enjoyed without any analysis.

Director Roy Sargeant has done a really good job, particularly in these areas: He has cut the script brilliantly. The story skips along and makes total sense, and he has managed to keep all the important bits in. He has taken a concept and style and setting that works really well with the text and has run with it. This makes the production brave and cheeky (although the Seffefrican beginning and end is unnecessary and a bit clumsy) and, from an audience point of view, delightful and accessible. He has not for one moment been bogged down with the issues of the story. It is as if he had a ‘whatever’ attitude. And it works.

The other thing that Roy did brilliantly is the casting. This is a delicious cast. Anthea Thompson and Grant Swanby, the leads, are fabulous. Anthea is brilliant, with her ability to send up, be ironic, really speak the language and give it shtick. She was my nine year old friend’s favourite. And what a relief to see a more mature Kate, giving the story more credbility. Grant is delicious, relaxed, flowing and gorgeous to watch and listen to. Then there is the next tier of characters and actors. I am going to list my favourites, Mark Hoeben is brilliant. Brilliant. I loved every moment of him on stage. Francis Chouler is really, really good. He totally got the character right from the start. Darron Araujo is amazing. He is hilarious and delightful. Adrian Galley is wonderful; easy, warm, funny and great. Nobody was bad. And John Caviggia as the widow was hilarious and mad. Even the teeny, non-speaking parts were well performed, and special mention must be made of the lion puppeteers who were outstanding.

The great thing of having a small(ish) cast is that the production didn’t suffer from the big parts being played by actors who are good at Shakespeare and the smaller ones not managing. With this cast I heard and understood every single word. I can’t tell you how important this is for me.

Dicky Longhurst’s designs are delicious. The Italian circus styling, retro combined with modern cheeky Rome, is sumptuous and gorgeous, and fun to look at. That lion puppet was magnificent. (My only quibble was Richard Lothian’s blue one piece which was his costume from A Circus Side Show. At least make one change to it. It’s mine!). Faheem Bardien’s lighting is awesome. His tent of fairy lights is especially delightful and magical. And the shlocky Italian retro pop pre-show and interval music is my best!

This production offers a non-snobby, totally accessible, fun, beautiful to look at, exciting Shakespeare. If Shakespeare makes you nervous, this is the one to see.

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