Chris Coleman's Blog

Singing Pigs, Russian Aristocrats, Ancient Ruins:  London, the Whirlwind

Posted by Chris Coleman | 25 May 2011

We arrived at Heathrow on Sunday May 15 after a two hour flight to LA, then a ten hour flight to London, and in various states of awakedness. The afternoon free to wander, and then dinner that evening at this wild Turkish restaurant called Sarastro’s.  We had to climb into the raised ‘tree-fort-like’ area where our table was located, and were entertained by a wildly comical string quartet while we waited for our food. Most at my table chose the chef’s specialty which was a delicious lamb shank. 

 In our party are folks from PCS, Geva Theater Center in Rochester, and Pioneer Theater Company in Reno, Nevada.  Mark Cuddy, the Artistic Director at Geva is with us, as is Tim Bond, the AD at Syracuse Stage.

 

Monday

Bus Tour of the city today, which was as interesting as last year.  The history is so deep and the politics so multifaceted that it would be hard to memorize it all.  Things that stuck out to me today:  the apartment building near Harrod’s in which one apartment sold for 200 million pounds.  Hard to imagine something grand enough to warrant that kind of investment. 

 

And the realization that most of the area we are staying in (Kensington) wasn’t developed until the last half of the 19th Century.  After Prince Albert commissioned the Grand Exhibition in the 1850’s to show off British Technological prowess, he was so pleased with its success, that he bought up a bunch of land in the area, and began to put universities there.  After his death, Victoria continued to build it up and put several of the cities’ major museums there in honor of him.

 

Also loved revisiting the Globe Theater and realizing that it is the third “Globe Theater,” the first having burned to the ground after a stagehand firing a canon as a sound cue in "Henry VIII" caught the roof on fire; and then when the Puritans took power.  (Which made me realize I don’t really know the history of Cromwell’s capture of the throne or what life was like under those Puritans.  Clearly not so great as they only lasted eleven years.)

 I loved seeing the original Roman wall of the city. The Romans captured the island in AD 43 and occupied the country for about 350 years. Cymbeline takes place early on during the occupation when the natives are trying to throw off the Roman yoke – so it was intriguing to hear a bit about it.

Took the tube to Covent Garden station this evening in search of the New London Theater where we were to see Warhorse.  My contact lens popped out of my eye mid route, and I caught it, but having never had to improvise without wetting solution, held tight to my lens (which was the one that would have allowed me to see the action clearly), until I arrived at the theater in search of a pharmacy.  Only one in sight was closed, so I just used tap water in the ‘toilet’ (they don’t call them restrooms) and was fine.

Warhorse was as stunning as it was last year.  I sat on the fourth row so was more aware of and blown away by the virtuosity of the puppeteers operating the horses and other animals.   What a workout for those guys, and fascinating watching them make the sounds of the animals at close range.  Also more aware of the details of Marianne Elliott’s staging and equally impressed by her ability to create amazing stage pictures.

Oh, one of my favorite learnings from our tour this afternoon:  What we call the "hood" of a car, they call the “bonnet”; what we call the "horn" they call the "hooter" – which our guide, Brian, relayed has caused some rather hilarious misunderstandings from time to time.

I find the Londoners equally ill equipped to offer directions this year as last.  When I stopped into a card shop on the way to the theater to doublecheck if I was headed in the right direction I asked the fellow, “Can you tell me which way Drury Lane is?”  He said, “I can’t but I can look it up on my phone.”  After a minute or two he pulled up a map, but it was useless as he couldn’t tell me which was North, South, East or West from where we were standing. After taking a guess I found Drury Lane TWO BLOCKS from his doorstep.  Oy.

 

 Tuesday

Walking tour this morning to the oldest parts of London with our guide Jeannie.  Favorite stories:  St. Paul’s Cathedral was saved from Hitler’s bombs during WWII by courageous citizens who climbed over 500 steps to the top of the dome, tied ropes around their waists, then rapelled down the side so that when fire bombs hit the dome they could throw them off, or stick them into a bucket of sand.  Everything around it was destroyed but the Cathedral survived.

Also saw the remains of a church that is haunted by the widow of Edward II, who supposedly is seen carrying his heart in a wooden box.  (Complicated story).

 

And St. Bartholemew’s Church which was built in 1100.  Gorgeous, intimate building that has been seen in numerous films (Four Weddings and A Funeral and The King’s Speech among them).  The “Verger” (the keeper of the building) is an American who told us great stories about the people who had been buried their over the years. 

Then took the tube to the National Theatre.  Our group took the tour of the building, but since I’d done that last year, I nabbed a ticket to see Zoe Wanamaker in The Cherry Orchard on Friday night, and then headed back to my hotel to work on Oklahoma! For a bit.

My left leg had been cramping on and off (combination of the long flight and all the sitting?) so I got a massage at the gym.  My therapist, Amy, was from North London and I was trying to place her accent.  I asked her where she studied massage, and she told me the name of the school, and then said, “For Free.”  I said, “Wow – it was free?  Why is that?”  She said, “No, for free.”  I said, “You didn’t pay any tuition?”  She said, “No for free years.”  Realized she was saying “Three”.  So though she didn’t have a strict cockney accent, the F replacement for the TH slipped in sometimes, as well as V for TH in words like “with”.  She loved hearing my attempt to do her accent, which she said sounded Australian.

Then tonight to see Betty Blue Eyes, the new musical comedy in the West End.    I knew little about it other than the fact that it got good reviews.  The piece is modeled on the film “A Private Affair” by Alan Bennett (History Boys, The Habit of Art) which starred Maggie Smith and Michael Palin.  It takes place shortly after WWII, when Elizabeth II and Philip are getting married, but rationing of food is still commonplace in England.  A demonic ‘meat inspector’ shows up in this tiny backwoods town trying to find illicit use of meat and manages to put two of the town’s three butchers in jail.   The story centers around a regular guy foot doctor (chiropodist?), whose socially aspirant wife thinks he has disappointed her and their plot to steal and butcher an illicit pig he has spotted in a nearby farm.

 The Composer and Lyricist (George Stiles and Anthony Drewe) are the team behind the popular Mary Poppins musical, and the book writers (Ron Cowen and Daniel Lipman) wrote the American version of Queer as Folk and the TV show Sisters.  Richard Eyre, former director of the National directed, and Sarah Lancashire (apparently a famous British tv star) starred in the Maggie Smith role.

It was daffy and wry and hilarious.  Totally charming, and just enough off center to keep us giggling throughout.  I particularly liked Reece Shearsmith as the husband who reminded me of a young Dick Van Dyke.  Had that same effortless humor and likableness.  And the Pig (Betty Blue Eyes) was remarkably lifelike (though no human operators in sight), and adorrrrrrable.

Hard to imagine in translating across the ocean as it is so very British in its sense of humor.  Those of us in attendance adored it.

 

Wednesday

We have been starting the mornings with a 20 minute discussion of the show from the night before.  A great way to hear the variety of responses and thoughts.  And particularly interesting this morning as the group from Geva saw Priscilla Queen of the Desert while we were seeing Betty Blue Eyes. 

 Bomb scare in Ireland yesterday surrounding the Queen’s first visit to her close neighbor.

 

Did the walking tour to the Tower of London with our guide Nicki.  Again – the guides are absolutely top notch.  Extraordinarily knowledgeable and quite entertaining.  We were a small band which allowed us to pepper her with questions.  I’m obsessed with understanding dialects, so was fascinated to learn that Nicki grew up in Southwest England (near Devon where Warhorse took place).  She went to boarding school (begged her parents to let her go at 11 after she read a series of books about girls in Boarding Schools) where elocution lessons of ‘received pronunciation’ (or standard speech that a broadcaster might use) was mandatory.  But when she did her imitation of her Dad’s accent it was delicious: thick with hard rrrrr’s and much more musical dipthongs.

I was interested in Betty Blue Eyes that the ambitious housewife was the only character with what sounded to me like an ‘upper crust’ accent – and Nicki’s story made sense of it a bit.  The character probably went to boarding school where she was surrounded by girls richer and higher status than she, so she emulated them to keep up.  I remember Joanne Edwards (a friend from Atlanta) talking about coaching Mississippi dialects for films once she and Dex (set designer I’ve worked with a good bit) moved to Oxford.  I asked how you coach Southern dialect and she replied:  “Dialect is about a) environment, b) class, and c) intention.  You can grow up in the same household, but if you decide to be a construction worker and want to fit in with those guys in Mississippi you are going to sound one way; whereas your brother who gets his Doctorate of Divinity from Duke and comes back to become an Episcopal minister, may sound totally different.”

 

The Tower of London was totally fascinating.   The earliest part was begun by William the Conqueror shortly after his conquest in 1066, and completed over the next 500 years.  He is counted as the first Monarch in the current line of British Monarchs.  Back in Elizabeth II’s day you would have arrived at the Tower by boat, and been allowed entry through "the traitor’s gate." 

 

We walked through the Jewel House, and saw a video of Elizabeth II’s coronation.  Fascinating to see how young and beautiful she was and how odd it must have been to hold that silly scepter and orb and wear the big, heavy robe.  On one hand you’ve been raised from birth to think, “I am in line with those who have ruled this country for over a thousand years, and my destiny is to lead and inspire the people.”  On the other hand the ‘role’ of monarch without any of its power, must feel a bit like you’ve been given a life sentence of scrutiny and boredom.  The castles are huge and impressive, but really – they can’t be very fun to live in.

 Interesting talking with Tim Bond about his mixture of feelings about the royals.  He has English, African and Native American blood – so he is both fascinated by the lineage of the rulers, and repelled by the price paid in blood by the subjects of the rulers. 

 

Also saw ‘The Bloody Tower’ where the two boys were alledgedly murdered to make way for Richard III’s ascent to the throne, and where Sir Walter Raleigh was held in prison for 9 years (his apartment was small but didn’t look too shabby).


There were actors dressed in period garb enacting the roles of various prisoners, which looked to me like its own version of theater hell.

 

Then that afternoon a really fun meeting with Rupert Lord at MLR, a literary and talent agency in the city.  Thomas Pearson, one of my favorite literary agents in NY, introduced us via email and I asked for a meeting.  We were joined by his associates Helen and Gavin.    I shared with them a brief snapshot of life at PCS and of our interest in developing and producing new work.  Told them about JAW and some of the relationships we’ve developed with American playwrights.  Expressed my interest in getting their help to know more about the most exciting writing talent (in particular) that they see happening.  In addition to some established folks they rep (Peter Shaffer, Richard Nelson) – they also represent Tarell Mccraney, the brilliant young American who wrote The Brother/Sister Plays that I saw in NY last year. 

We talked about shows that I’m seeing here and discovered that they rep the composer and lyricist for Betty Blue Eyes.  They shared a bit about the development of that piece.  They also rep the composer for One Man, Two Guvnors the show at the National I was slated to see that evening.

They were all quick and fun to talk to and had loads of ideas of people and plays I should get to know.  I promised an email recap when I get back to the States introducing them to Rose and beginning a conversation for the future.

Continuing my dialect obsession I also mentioned to Gavin that his was the most 'posh' accent I had heard thus far (hoping to get some background on him), to which Rupert quickly added, “Don’t buy it:  it’s totally acquired.”  We all laughed.  We had been talking about the play “Posh” that I saw last year at the Royal Court, about a group of snottie, over-educated rich boys.  Gavin said, “Well I went to the school that play was based on, so I did learn to keep up.”  Hilarious.

 

Then that evening to see One Man, Two Guvnors, Richard Bean’s adaptation of Goldoni’s Italian comedy The Servant of Two Masters.   It was directed by Nicholas Hytner in the Lyttleton (their proscenium space), and we entered to hear an early 60’s boy band, with music by Grant Olding (Rupert’s client) who was also performing.  The music was great – and a bit fascinating as the lyrics were about people and places in England, but they sounded like a band from Alabama. 

 

The comedy is built around a manservant (with an extraordinary appetite) who haphazardly ends up working for two masters (one of whom is a woman disguised as her dead brother) – and has a hell of a time keeping up with the demands of both – and keeping the communication in and around them from colliding.

James Corden who starred in the original History Boys played Frances, the manservant – and was comic genius.  Clearly a master comedian and improviser – his interactions with the audience (four or five ad libbed sequences with audience members, including one who got pulled up onstage for about ten minutes) and physical schtick was sidesplitting and hilarious.  The whole cast was good actually.  Particularly the guy who played an 84 year old waiter who has the shakes and a pacemaker. 

James Corden is apparently something of a tv star in Britain, as he received cheers from the high school students behind us on his first appearance. He is the creator and star of this show on BBC called Gavin and Stacey.

At first I was confused by the playing style, as the show was staged in a very flat, kind of high school manner.  Then it started opening up, and as the comic machine built momentum it was just hysterical.  Though I did feel it was likely 35 minutes too long, and that the musical sequences – as appealing as they are – felt like they stopped the forward motion of the play.

Also felt like the set was kind of ragtag.  This was 2nd preview, but doors wiggled when you shut them, and flats wobbled on and off in what looked like operator errors.  Glad to see we aren’t the only ones who take some time to find our sea legs.

 

Thursday

 

By "coach" (what they call a chartered bus) across Salisbury Plain (beautiful rolling hills and lush countryside) to Stonehenge.  Some history along the way:  England became an island about 8000 B.C., and first inhabitants showed up about 4000 B.C.  Stonehenge showed up about 3000 B.C. about the same time the first pyramids were being built in Egypt.  Each vertical stone weighs 40 tons – and they somehow managed to transport them from mountains in Wales to their current site.

 

There are multiple theories about it's purpose.  It functions as a calendar, and shows you when the Summer and Winter Solstice happen.  Some think it was the center of a religious festival honoring those who had died in the prior year, and that pilgrims arrived with remnants of those they had lost and released them into the River Avon. 

 

Whatever their purpose – it’s obvious that it was significant – and they are quite beautiful and peaceful to take in.  (Though actually they looked smaller in person than I expected, sort of like a movie star).

 

Then on to the resort town of Bath.  Brian, our guide, (who bore an uncanny resemblance to Mead Hunter, our former Literary Manager) said you might think of Bath as a 17th Century equivalent to Aspen.  The upper crust came to gamble, relax and marry off their daughters.   It’s a gorgeous little town that feels a bit Italian.


The most fascinating part was the museum of the Roman Baths.  The Romans first invaded in 55 and 54 B.C., without successfully conquering the island.  They completed the conquest in 43 A.D. but by that time there were Romans from all over the empire hanging out in the area.  The baths were a huge community gathering space, where you could come for the healing powers of the mineral springs, worship the Goddess Minerva, get a massage, catch up on the latest gossip, have a meeting with a political ally or just see and be seen. 

 

In the display they showed the inhabitants dressed in Roman clothing, which is kind of weird to consider – especially if the climate is anything like it is today.  In Summer you could dress like a Roman, but the rest of the year you’d be pretty chilly.

 

The Romans occupied Britain for 350 years, and like most areas of the empire, Britain took on many of the fashions and customs of the occupier. 

 

In the afternoon, I jumped a train back to London – so I could get ready to see In a Forest Dark and Deep by Neil Labute at the Vaudeville Theater.  Matthew Fox (of Party of Five and Lost fame) had invited me via email if I was to be in London during the run, and as the dates lined up, he set a ticket aside.  Matthew has built a house with his family in Bend, where his mother and brother now live.  The year before Lost hit he emailed expressing an interest in our talking about projects he might do with PCS.  Then Lost hit, and he got sucked into that vortex.

 

In a Forest is about a sister and brother who’ve taken divergent paths.  She is  Dean of something (Humanities?) at a small college near the town where they grew up.  He is a carpenter, who’s had a few failed marriages, and also has a short fuse and a history of domestic violence.  She was once a great beauty who apparently slept around more than he thought she should.  She calls for his help packing up an apartment she had rented out, he arrives – and all kinds of secrets swim to the surface.

It was great seeing Matthew in action on stage.  I’d always liked his work in television, but was curious to see if he would bring the same ‘earnest, decent guy’ persona to this play.  His Bobby was fantastic:  a rough, earthy, slightly hostile guy with a mouth like a sailor.  He seemed like people you know who are pissed at the world because things didn’t end up the way they wanted.  He was dangerous, sexy, unpredictable – completely present.  Fascinating to watch.

While I think it’s Neil’s most straightforward piece, it was still full of interesting twists and great language between the characters.

Afterwards I was invited backstage where I got to meet the playwright and then Matthew and I headed to a bar across the street for drinks.  He looked thinner to me than he does onscreen and he explained he’s dropped 15 pounds in preparation for a film he shoots later this summer where he will play a wiry serial killer.

He’s also more intense in real life than I expected.  Kind of reminded me of Scott Coopwood’s energy.  He grew up on a farm in Montana (or was it Wyoming), did an economics degree at Columbia – aiming to work on Wallstreet.  Paid his way through college doing commercials, and then decided to try his luck as an actor.  Studied at the Alantic Theater Company in NY after being inspired by an essay by David Mamet, and then one thing led to another.

A really fun first meeting.

 

Friday

 

Took the train to Hampton Court, which was Henry VIII’s most famous palace.  It’s about 45 minutes outside the city.  The court moved wherever the King moved – and all kinds of business would have been conducted in this place.  And all kinds of fun would have been had.


When the King was in residence there would have been as many as 800 others in residence.  I was fascinated to hear that one of the perks for the most prestigious guests was an apartment with a private bathroom!

 

One picture showed the King eating in a chamber with 30 others watching on.  Only the king ate, the others watched.  He actually had a servant with him when he peed and pooped too.  Now that’s just a step too far, if you ask me.  What up with that?

I was most fascinated by the King’s kitchen that was like a huge catering operation that was not only constantly preparing food for all those guests, but expected to provide the most exquisite dishes a visiting dignitary could have anywhere in Europe.

 

Loved hearing about the different methods of cooking.  There were a lot of pies on view, but apparently they were really just a method of baking meat:  too hard to have specific pots for every person, so they put the meat in a crust.  When it was served, the guest would cut off the top and spoon the meat and sauce from the middle, leaving the rest of the crust.

 

Also loved hearing how they refrigerated things.  They kept them in storage in these stone rooms, down a corridor that was so narrow it wouldn’t receive the light of the sun, but would always allow for precipitation to fall, thus keeping the temperatures low enough for storage.

 

Christopher Wren built the second half of the palace later on (forget the dates) – and the rooms in this area were smaller in scale and richer in detail.

 

That evening back to the National to see Howard Davies’ production of The Cherry Orchard.   One of the things that I love a lot about the National is that often when they are producing a classic that isn’t in English, they will commission a new adaptation of the text.  In this case, Andrew Upton, the co-artistic director of Sydney Theater Company did the adaptation (he is also Cate Blanchett’s husband), as he did for Davies’ production of Bulgakov’s The White Guard which one a bunch of awards last year.

 

Davies is one of my favorite directors and I was not disappointed in his work.  The show was in the Olivier (the National’s 1300 seat thrust stage), which I had just asked Tim Bond two nights before, “Have you seen a production in the Olivier that actually used the space well?”  He said he’d seen a couple, but those I had seen felt like they were apologetic for the deep thrust of the space and didn’t know how to exploit the space’s dimensionality.

 Davies and his designer Bunny Christie did a brilliant job of utilizing every inch of the space in a way that felt both truthful, clear and gorgeous.  The first act was far downstage in a ‘great room’ in Ranyevskaya’s country estate:  it was a delicious space constructed of old, worn wood.  It definitely looked like it had been a rough hewn mansion at some point in history, but it felt Russian – not French or British as it might have in other productions.  And it felt really run down.  At the end of Act One the back wall split open, and slowly revealed a huge expanse of tall, yellow grass that looked like the wild bank of a river.  It was flooded with sunlight, and the ten or so ensemble members (beyond the principals) who played servants emerged in a variety of relationships and effortlessly shifted the scenery.

What a luxury to have 10 ensemble members who don’t speak, but just help add to the life of the place.  They were particularly brilliantly used in the third act party scene, which felt like there was indeed a wild, drunken Russian party happening all over the house – that would burst in and out of the room.

The cast was spectacularly good, with a fantastic performance by Conleth Hill as a hard edged, ambitious, resentful and also quite funny Lopakhin; a gorgeous James Laurenson as the charmingly doddy Gaev:  he was effortless, airheaded, garrulous and affectionate.  And Kenneth Cranham as Firs, the ancient servant that gets left behind:  he was totally real, oblivious, present.  Actually the whole cast was strong and there was a wonderful sense of overlapping and interrupted thoughts.

 Andrew Upton’s text brought references close to the present without being too obvious.  The critics beat him up a good bit as I guess to their ears he had pulled it out of the original period – though I didn’t feel it was inappropriate.  My favorite line in a review said, ‘For what he’s done to Chekhov’s text, Andrew Upton should be thrown in the Thames and drowned.”  Well then.

 Zoe Wnamaker played Ranyevskaya and was the production’s headliner.  She’s best known in the states for her award winning performances as Beatrice in the production of Much Ado About Nothing with Simon Russell Beale that played at BAM a few years ago; and in Bart Scher’s production of Awake and Sing at Lincoln Center.  She is definitely theater royalty over here – and you can see why.  She is fascinating to watch, has a raspy interesting voice, is both elegant and irreverent , and managed to be sexy and tough. 

 I was knocked out by Howard Davies’ staging and scene work.  He had imagined the group life of each weird event that pops up in Chekhov’s story, and built the aliveness and shape of that beat in a boldly physical almost improvisational way.  I was fascinated to read in an interview in the program, that he had staged the first three acts in the first four days of rehearsal.  He says:  “I try to establish the shape of the play very early in rehearsal.  Making clear the moments we have to hit.  Like marking-posts on a long mountainous walk.  And in between those we have latitude to develop character and narrative but I try to lay out very clearly those landmarks.” 

 I was also fascinated to learn that the designer didn’t design the costumes until a week into the rehearsal process, because she likes to imagine the actual actors moving in them before creating the clothes.

 The National gets a third of its budget from government funding.  I think the largest government contribution to an American arts organization is probably 10 percent.

Sooooo with a production this alive and beautiful, why wasn’t I moved by the loss of the Cherry Orchard? Couldn’t figure it out last night, but this morning I think it was Zoe Wanamaker’s performance.  She was infinitely watchable, but ultimately you never bought her fragility.  You felt like, “Well this gal will be fine if things fall apart – she’ll just find a new boyfriend and move on.”  When she learned that the estate had been sold, the devastation was staged into the scene, but you felt her “showing you’ how she felt about it, instead of feeling like you were just watching her being ripped to pieces by it. 

 

Saturday

 

By coach to Stratford-on-Avon this morning with beautiful weather and with Jeannie as our wonderful guide.  First headed out to the church where Shakespeare was buried.  Jeannie acknowledged that the prominence of his gravestone and his family’s was due more to his success as a real estate developer than as a playwright, as his plays weren’t even published until 7 years after his death.  He apparently made far more money buying and selling houses in London than he did writing plays.

 

Staying at the Hotel Arden which his literally across the street from the RSC’s home. It’s a beautiful little hotel, with a lovely garden out back – and a terrific restaurant (we had a great dinner prior to the theater that night.)

 

In the afternoon to the Royal Shakespeare Company to see The City Madam by Philip Massinger.  The Swan Theater is their 400 seat thrust, that feels quite intimate and reminded me a bit of the Winningstad theater in Portland.  It was directed by Dominic Hill (the newly appointed Artistic Director of the Citizens Theater of Glasgow, one of the more respected regional theaters in the UK).  I couldn’t decide if it was a restoration comedy or a morality play – but the costumes were luscious and the actors pretty good.  Though it felt to me that they were a bit in love with how clean their diction was, which always makes it actually harder to understand what they are saying – as real people are trying to figure out how to communicate WHAT they are thinking and feeling to the person they are speaking to, than to how crisp their p’s and d’s are. 

 

I did particularly enjoy Christopher Godwin as Sir John Frugal, a long-time RSC veteran – as he had an ease with the language that made him more grounded than the others.  And Nicholas Day was a hoot as the foppish Lord Lacy (reminded me a bit of Brian Thompson).  And Jo Stone-Fewings as Luke Frugal, the conniving brother of Sir John – was terrific, managing to be both super clear and real at the same time.

 But ultimately an act of this one was enough for me.  Kind of boring.

 

Then that evening to The Merchant of Venice in the newly renovated Royal Shakespeare Theater.   Apparently the old mainstage was a boxy proscenium, so for the new space they’ve opted for a three tiered arrangement that mocks the shape of the Globe – but with a much deeper stage that thrusts out into the audience.  It has a great feel to it – though I wondered what it would be like to watch the show from the top tier.  (I noted the steep rake both in this theater and the Olivier last night, which works to the actor’s advantage as sound waves travel at a 45 degree angle, so the sound quality is likely better at the top seats than on the floor).

 

Rupert Goold directed Merchant, and I had seen his production of Enron last year.  So this confirms that he is one of my least favorite directors.  He set the play in a Las Vegas casino, and the actors performed with American accents of a variety of geographical locations, and with a wide disparity of success.  The show started with a number by Launcelot Gaubot as an Elvis impersonater, whose lyrics were completely indecipherable from where we were sitting.

 

The waitresses were go go girls, and the characterizations were cartoons throughout.  Portia was an idiotic Southern girl, who was weighing her suitors on a game show.  Patrick Stewart played Shylock  and he was trying to find some sense of reality inside this schlocky world the director had created.  He was watchable, but small in energy, and a bit at sea.  Scott Handy, another company veteran, was quite good as Antonio:  grounded, clear, real and with a credible American accent.

 The director punctuated scenes with schlocky musical numbers (as he did with Enron), and the whole thing reminded me of a bad graduate student production by a young director who became so enamored of his gimmicks that he forgot that what we had come to see was a story. 

I did get a kick out of the fact that in the program the first patron listed is “Her Majesty the Queen.”

 You pay for your programs here (about 6 dollars), and they are beautiful.  Love that they ask academics to write the articles about the world of the play for them.  They also have a great bookshop.

 

 Sunday

 

Slept late and had breakfast with Mark Cuddy.  We swapped stories about trying to wade through the rights on musicals when you want to make a change to the locale or something. 

 

Then a lonnnng walk along the River Avon.  The sign said that there was a 3.5 mile loop along the river and into the Warwickshire Countryside.  Which was true.  Ish.

 

The countryside part was gorrrrrrrgeous.  I kept hearing Titania's line from Midsummer:  "I know a bank where the wild thyme grows . . ."

 

Waving grass.  And open fields.

 

And enormous cows, who did turn their heads when they saw me walk by.

 

And bridges.  And more countryside.

 But after a bit I was thinking, “This is more than 3.5 miles.”  Finally came to a sign that showed I had already walked four miles and hadn’t even found the "turnaround" yet.  So I crossed over the river and made my way back along another pathway.  It was fine as it was a gorgeous day.  But eight miles was a little more ambitious than I’d planned.

OH:  I was quite intrigued by this sign, and am still curious as to what exactly "Snooker" is.  Thoughts?

---

Other thoughts about the trip.  Because London is both the theater capital and the film/tv capital for the country, it is a lot easier for actors to jump back and forth between mediums.  And there are simply a lot more opportunities to work out in the classics than a top rank film actor would have in the U.S.  So the big tv/film actors over here seem much more comfortable and adept at knocking around in the great material.

It’s a shame.  I mean can you imagine if we had the chance to see our best film/tv actors onstage on a regular basis in the great plays? What would that mean for all of us, and what would it mean for them?

I was also struck by the wide range of ages present in each audience I sat with. Especially at the National and the RSC.  High schoolers, young couples, all the way up to pensioners.  Is that about price structure, the educational system, a habit of attending?  Can we bottle it?

President Obama arrived the day we left.  Editorials in most of the daily papers about his trip - most glad he's finally warming to the "special relationship" between the U.S. and Britain.  One went so far as to say, "U.S. Presidents can forget about the longstanding friendship between the two countries, until they're looking around for a military ally and then of a sudden their memory becomes much clearer."  Interesting.

All in all, another fantastic, inspiring trip.

 

Comments (3)

This was well planned, memorable trip. Thank you for sharing your blog.

  • Laura B
  • Hermiston
  • 26 May 11 01:42

Chris,

You are AMAZING! What a wonderful blog. I really would love to use this to promote the tour. We’ll talk.

Barry

  • Barry Tobias
  • NYC now...hoping for SD next week
  • 25 May 11 08:20

V. good report, Chris.  Glad you saw so many terrific sites and got in so much theatre.

Snooker is a special kind of billiards or pool:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Snooker

Among other differences from your typical *Eight Ball* pool table and game, the corners of the pockets are rounded.  Requires greater accuracy.

Quite sure that there are some place in Portland where one can play.

  • Reynolds Potter
  • Portland
  • 25 May 11 07:07

Join the conversation!

Portland Center Stage welcomes your comments and criticism.

We invite you to share your comments with us on our Facebook page.

Ticketing

For current and upcoming shows, please see our Season Calendar.


Sign up for the PCS email list.

Season Sponsors

Accessibility