james debate
james debate

Thursday 13 September 2012

As my busy work schedule forces me to carefully ration out my blog postings like a weight-watching worker at a soup kitchen, I increasingly find myself having relying on these 'post-digests' to cram everything notable into a single bite-sized form.

Earlier in the Spring I brought you one such digest on the early 2012 London theatre scene. Well I am pleased to say that even as my writing efforts are on the wane, my commitment to enjoying the London stage remains strong. Here for your entertainment is a summer update, covering the essentials of London theatre these past few months:

"Gatz" Theatre Review
Directed by John Collins
Written by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Starring Scott Shepherd, Jim Fletcher, Susie Sokol
Theatre Noël Coward Theatre

gatz noel coward It sounds like a bad Andy Kaufman routine (in fact it was one), but bear with me.

New York's Elevator Repair Service theatre company have put together a new adaption of F. Scott Fitzgerald's most famous novel, the Great Gatsby. Only this is no adaption, it's the entire novel, acted out before a live audience. Yes, this production is eight hours long in total, plus a one and a half hour break for dinner, and presents for your enjoyment the entirety of the novel, word for word.

"Why would someone do this?" You might ask. Well the Great Gatsby is not just a famous novel, it's a novel that's equally famous for its failed attempts at adapting to other media. There have been other plays and films, but not one has done it justice.

Aficionados will tell you that it's the loss of F. Scott Fitzgerald's unique sway of language that makes the text so difficult to adapt. That's the rationale behind this ambitious production which utilizes the entire novel unabridged. Fortunately it's a production decision that has turned out to be absolute brilliance.

Make no mistake, this is not just an evening out to see a show, this is the whole day. Not there just for passing entertainment, one feels as though they are participating as much as the performers. The good news is that this production is easily worth the time. In fact, after bracing myself for something of an ordeal, the whole afternoon passed by in what seemed no longer than an ordinary stage play. Such is the slickness of this production that proceedings rarely seemed to drag at all throughout it's eight hour run.

It's a great novel and excellently rendered by the cast, with particular regard to narrator/Nick Carraway played by Scott Shepherd who allegedly has the entire book memorised. But this is more than just a dry reading of a classic work; the production itself is set in what appears a mundane office enviroment, Shepherd sits at a desk typing away, casually sneaking a quick read of Gatsby while his co-workers wander around tending to their own business.

As we draw deeper into the novel, the setting begins to mimic the events laid out on page until we reach a point where the entire office space is simply acting out the novel itself. This dynamic is used very effectively, often with a good sense of humour as it contributes to the full audience experience. Rightly so, when you're making an entire day out of a theatre trip, you need to offer more than just the basic narrative for sustenance.

So while it may sound a bit much, this is one production I can not recommend highly enough. It is one of the best things I've seen in theatre this year, and some of the most fun I've had at the theatre as far back as I can remember.

"Timon of Athens" Theatre Review
Directed by Nicholas Hytner
Written by William Shakespeare
Starring Simon Russell Beale
Theatre Royal National Theatre

timon of athens simon russell beale national theatreAs anyone who is familiar with the London theatre scene will tell you, seeing Simon Russell Beale perform Shakespeare produces as great a thrill as any on stage. Few actors can speak the Bard's four-hundred year old dialect with such accessible ease, and yet such is his mastery of phrase that one would barely even notice that he was speaking in an archaic fashion.

He is on form again with Timon of Athens, one of Shakespeare's lesser known plays. Timon sets himself as the generous and spendthrift heart of Athens social culture, until suddenly he finds himself short on credit, and is promptly abandoned by all his fair weather friends and opportunists.

It's an important story, and one that is as typically and impeccably produced by the National Theatre company as it is strongly acted. But the real distinguishing element is how topical and current the setting feels. Nominally set in Athens, the NT's stage production is visually and contextually placed squarely in the skyscrapers and galas of the London financial district.

You don't have to be obsessively plugged into current events to see how such a story might fit in to the current state of the economy, and from the sterile boardrooms to swanky art galleries and soho clubs, the production hits very close to home. As the story progresses, this opulence quickly transforms to the focus on the social inequity crisis, complete with allusions to the prominent Occupy movement. It's hard to believe that this was written so long ago.

All this makes for a remarkable feat of an old play, and great credit must be given to director Nicholas Hytner. At the same time, it serves as just another example of how a well written play can remain timelessly relevant.

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