The Theatreguide.London Reviews
Archive: FRINGE AND OFF WEST END 2000
For the archive, we have filed our reviews of several London Fringe shows from the year 2000 on this page. Scroll down for the one you want, or just browse.
Resident Alien - The Revenger's Tragedy - Sentence Deferred - Shoot Me In The Heart - Soho: A Tale of Table Dancers - The Soldier's Tale - Summer in the City
Resident Alien Bush Theatre 2000; Drill Hall 2001-2002, subsequent tours; New End Theatre 2009
Quentin Crisp, who has recently died at the grand old age of 92, grew up as a flamboyantly effeminate homosexual in an age when that was literally illegal in England, and the experience gave him a philosophically detached view of life which he expressed with aphoristic wit. (He once called himself "one of the stately homos of England".)
Since he earned his living as a nude model, his 1968 autobiography was titled The Naked Civil Servant, and it made him something of a gay icon, and since then he has been a B-level celebrity, famous for being famous.
Tim Fountain's play, based on Crisp's writings and diary, is structured as A Day in the Life Of. We meet Crisp in his cluttered New York slum apartment, as he slowly dresses and makes up to meet interviewers (who never show up). Along the way he pontificates wittily on figures from Oprah Winfrey to Margaret Thatcher, and topics from politics to housekeeping ('Never dust. After the first four years it doesn't get any worse. The key is not losing your nerve.')
Crisp is played by another gay icon, drag performer Bette Bourne (not in drag). The impersonation is pretty good, though the actor in Bourne makes him unable to resist being far more animated and actory than the laid-back Crisp.
An entertaining introduction to a delightful and now sadly missed character.
The Revenger's Tragedy Bridewell Theatre, Spring 2000
There's a common assumption that soap operas are a modern invention, and that our ancestors entertained themselves nightly with the finest classics. But of course that's rubbish - soap is as old as the moment the Serpent (or maybe Gabriel) witnessed Adam and Eve's first argument, and the teeming 17th century provided a most willing audience indeed.
And so the Present Moment theatre company has unearthed The Revenger's Tragedy, first performed in 1607 and which may or may not have been written by Thomas Middleton. It's a cracker of a plot, so take deep breath and here goes....
Vendici (the hero) is mad at the Duke (the old guy) because he seduced Vendici's girl, leading her to kill herself (our hero keeps her skull in a box). He disguises himself and gets a job with the Duke's son, who wants him to procure his own sister. Just to see her reaction, Vendici makes her the offer, and she turns him down, but their mother is won over.
Meanwhile the Duke has just married, creating three new sets of kids: his son, his bastard, and his wife's sons, one of whom has been imprisoned for rape. They all hate each other - surprise, surprise - and the Duchess seduces the bastard. The son hears of it and tries to attack them, but accidentally attacks the Duke, and is put in jail. The stepsons plot to have him killed, but a mix-up kills their brother instead.
The Duke uses as a pimp Vendici, who provides instead his beloved's skull complete with poisoned lips, thus killing the Duke. There are now four groups, all trying to kill each other: the son, the bastard, the stepsons, and Vendici & his brother. In a climactic scene (here staged as a shoot-out in Peckinpah slow motion), everyone kills everyone else, except Vendici and his brother. The other old guy is made Duke, and Vendici makes the mistake of bragging about his part, and they are sent off to die.
Get the idea? The action has been updated to the gangster world of 1920s America. The characters and plot make the transition smoothly - not, as the publicity would have us believe, because it's the story of the dynamics of three dysfunctional families, but because it has all the elements of a great soap, i.e. timeless.
As a production there are some impressive moments, such as the fatal entrapment of the Duke and the slow motion Sam Peckinpah-inspired bloodbath at the end, but unaccountably things drag despite the frenetic pace of language and events and spirited performances from the cast.
Well, you can't fault the Bridewell for continuing its policy of a challenging range of drama, and I for one am happy to take the rough with the smooth, even if this particular offering tends more to the former.
Sentence Deferred Rosemary Branch Theatre, Spring 2000
The heady self-discovery of the 60s touched the entire world, turning to violence in different ways as society overreached itself. Such is the setting of Charles Smith's ambitious and moving Sentence Deferred.
The fictional nation of Benue (read Nigeria) is on the verge of civil war as the British leave their former colony to the excesses of independence. Edward Ijoko, a judge's houseboy, is discovering his own personal freedom through education and the Gospels.
His neglected wife Elizabeth seeks solace with another man only to be discovered mid-clinch by Edward who chases his rival away. Shots are heard, a body drops and the finger of suspicion points at the hapless Edward - since martial law has been declared, the army investigates.
Notwithstanding a degree of roughness, here is a magical ensemble that has taken the play for its own, enhancing the language and characters. Indeed, such is the input of each player, it is impossible to separate major roles from minor.
Clearly Justin Pickett is heart-rending as the wrongly accused Edward, and Angela Agor is fatefully determined as his doe-eyed yet ambitious wife.
But there is also Robert Phillips' chillingly suave army captain, while the prison guard pairing of Kwame Baankyi and Patrick Spence is inspired, creating a sinister double act worthy of Channel 4's US prison drama Oz.
John Atterbury, Cleo Sylvestre and Christopher Kojie add equally inspired performances, all to David Evans Rees' confident direction. With added polishing, the least this play deserves is to become a tour staple.
Shoot Me In The Heart Gate Theatre and tour Autumn 2000
Julio Liinas's short story De Eso No Se Hablo ('We Don't Talk About It') is a minor classic of South American magic realism, and the 1993 film, though not widely seen, captured much of its quiet beauty. Now the eclectically experimental company Told By An Idiot have translated it into theatrical terms, with incomplete but general success.
In a small South American village a widow (Lesley Vickerage) has a daughter of stunted growth (Lisa Hammond) who is the object of neighbourly tut-tutting but unlimited maternal love. When a supposed suitor to the mother (Vincenzo Nicoli) actually falls in love with the daughter, both scandal and love are multiplied, until the arrival of a circus produces a fairy tale ending.
Under the direction of the company's leaders, Hayley Carmichael and Paul Hunter, the three central figures are supported by five other performers who double and redouble roles, without regard to age, gender or even species (playing, at various times, animals and church bells), to help create the magical atmosphere. Scenes are played in mime, or with an offstage actor speaking all roles, while others are performed in gibberish.
As a result of this inventiveness, much of the tale's humour comes across even better than in the film, though the personal and emotional stories are somewhat reduced in impact. Although the three principals play their scenes with an understated naturalism, the main effect is not to draw us into their experience but to contrast with the stylized performances of the others. And this puts a lot of emphasis on the story's satire of society and the isolation of the feeling individuals.
Some of the theatrical cleverness doesn't work at all. A scene involving a crutch and a spade is opaque, while the pathos of a key sequence in which the suitor mistakenly brings the girl a pony rather than the full-size horse she wants isn't effectively captured in the mime.
Other touches, mainly the satirical ones, are effective; and the evocation of the circus helps give the ending a mystical, magical quality.
In addition to strong performances by the principals, effective cameos are provided by Martin Hyder as a hypocritical priest and Stephen Harper as a comical old man.
The production tours Britain after its London run, with remarkably low ticket prices; and the opportunity to see such theatrical invention should not be missed.
Soho: A Tale Of Table Dancers Arcola Theatre Winter 2000-1
Here you get two interestings premieres for the price of one as East London's Arcola Theatre celebrates its inaugural season with the London debut of one of last year's Edinburgh Fringe's hits, Soho - A Tale Of Table Dancers.
In fact this powerful show was developed by the newly formed Royal Shakespeare Company Fringe, aided long the way by the British Council - and the show has therefore taken so long in arriving in its rightful home of London because it got deservedly snatched away to tour Israel as a flagship of, er, British culture.
Naive, sexy, determined, Veronica turns up for her first stint as a table dancer in a typical sleazy dive in Soho, London's sex-industry centre. As Club Venus's slimy MC Marco informs her pompously, the hours are 9pm to 3am and there is no touching the punters - under pain of legal action. In their own way, the rest of her fellow performers initiate her into the short-cuts of survival.
Once herself a table dancer, writer Rebecca Lenkiewicz offers a private window on one and a half hours worth of backstage banter and bitching. And, like all those documentaries on trannie rentboys in the streets, the play keeps you guessing right up to the end: will a terrible doom befall these brazen hussies or will the showgirls meet their princes? But in reality, it is a human sort of play, one that rises above a mere cheap climax. What is probed instead is whether they are performers or sex workers, whether the punters use them or vice-versa and who really pays at the end.
Searching for a way out are Victoria Woodward as vulnerable but ultimately wilful Veronica, and Emma Poole's stern Yugoslavian Nadia looking for Mr Right. Marking time are Natasha Joseph's prickly but earthy single-mum Ursula, and Lenkiewicz's Stella who hones her acid wit by lines of cocaine.
Unfair to single out Clare Francis's cocky Emmanuelle - the clear-headed professional who knows exactly when to leave job and emotions behind her, while Peter Pacey's sad, frustrated Marco provides necessary comic link for the dancers with the club's unseen sleazy clientele.
The forces of Helen Raynor's slick direction and Vanessa Ewan's choreography cannot disguise an underlying unevenness in the energetic company's performances but the effect is simply to add to creating the mood for a place where "the dancefloor is your own personal showcase".
Jostling for attention are a wide range of emotions, but what surprised me was the unexpectedly strong comic scenes that can only come from appropriately strong writing. Stand-out moments include Marco's monthly go at the girls for touching clients and Nadia's extremely bizarre East European depiction of an erotic dream.
Strongly moral and poignantly funny at the same time, performed by a company that is second to none. A must-see.
The Soldier's Tale Southwark Playhouse, Spring 2000
As with most puppet shows intended as full-length dramatic works, there are successful and less successful aspects of The Soldier's Tale, an absorbing, dark and yet immensely entertaining piece.
Composed in 1918 by Igor Stravinsky as a sparse reaction to the lavish ballet scores that made his reputation, the Awkward Silence compnay has replaced the original dancers and narrator with mannequins.
A soldier on his return from war bumps into the devil who tricks him into exchanging his violin for a magic book. But the devil cannot play and the soldier cannot read, so they agree to swap skills. What follows is the usual East European tosh concerning a pact, a princess and the unwise decision that leads to an easily avoidable doom.
Puppeteers Cath Hunter and James Marson create a wealth of expressions and attitudes although the puppets are a little shapeless, particularly in the colouring and face departments, which mean that the otherwise effective moody lighting muddies things somewhat.
The tale is a dreary no-hoper but it is beefed up by Kathryn Boddy's detailed eye shows the close relationship of direction and design in such shows and moments such as the narrator chalking links on the walls, the soldier flirting with the princess. There is also the artful blend of styles - the shadow play to indicate links - the use of props which bring totalyly to life the game of cards and the banquet scene.
To be honest, the music is neither here nor there. The problem with Stravinsky is that while undeniably a musical genius, his ouevre is bland. In fact he wouldn't have spotted a good tune even if he had Lennon humming it to him.
Undeterred, however, Pete Flood fields percussion with MD duties over a bright seven-piece ensemble that is impressively controlled in such an enclosed space.
Summer In The City Battersea Arts Centre Winter 2000-1
Footnoted 'Excursions through the mind of American artist Edward Hopper', Lifetime Theatre/Bristol Old Vic's arty production comes via the writer/director team of Toby Farrow and Martin Constantine that gave us last year's successful Gringos.
Hopper's pioneering realism presented evocative, haunting snapshots of ordinary people's ordinary lives. Against the perspective of Lizzie Hughes' city set, a series of distinct yet interlocking narratives unfolds - three cities in the summer, three tales of love inspired by the same painting of a flophouse room where a woman in a red dress sits enigmatically on a bed by a man lying face-down in his underwear. You will have seen the postcard.
The first variation on the theme sees hypochondriac Josh (Daniel Nettle) visited by his brother's girlfriend Becky (Grace Mattaka). In between Josh's coughing fits, a sexual tension arises between them and we learn that Becky does karaoke.
The next pits Guy (Alex Dunbar) as a hardworking tenant whose Ślandlady' Brian (Danny Kerr) hassles him for rent before taking a more physical form of payment. Transvestite Brian's monologue while Guy humps him is a treasure if only for its novelty.
In the most successful piece, Nicki (Elizabeth Hurran) and Dan (Gyuri Sarossy) are a fraught couple who chuck blame around for their disintegrated relationship after failing to make love. Here the sense of accumulated history effectively clicks into action and the situation works well.
Linking the trilogy are witty slice of life monologues on the painting plus a brief introduction to Hopper repeated in English, French and, bafflingly, dodgily pronounced Hausa (amma ba laifi!).
Some of the bits work, but even the cast's commendable efforts cannot bring life to these promising characters nor fully join up the pieces of this ambitious mosaic.
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Review - Theatre 2020Review - Resident Alien - Bush 2000; Review - Revenger's Tragedy - Bridewell 2000; Review - Sentence Deferred - Rosemary Branch 2000; Review - Shoot Me In The Heart - Gate 2000; Review - Soho - Arcola 2000; Review - Soldier's Tale - Southwark 2000; Review - Summer in the City - BAC 2000