Monday, March 30, 2015

Radiant Vermin

5/5 rating
Radiant Vermin | Soho Theatre

Unwavering performance. Period. There is no set. There are no props. There is just one light change. There is good story but not strong enough by itself. And there are but two actors. Actually, there are three actors but two of them holds it together for most of the play.
As I said, the story is good. It's a darkly funny story and full of surprising metaphors. Gill and Oliver, a young couple from the Generation Rent, find themselves with a free home when they never thought they might own a home. As it turns out the home needs no money for renovations, only the sacrifice of homeless people or 'renovators'. And as the locality is gentrified with the number of homeless people reducing and the net worth of the neighbours increasing, Gill and Oliver find guilt clawing at them but convince each other they are doing it for their children. Wouldn't you do the same for yours?
They couldn't have given a better metaphor for gentrification than the actual sacrifice of the homeless which gets more 'humane' with more practice, who then transform into fairy sparkles that renovate the house and make it shine. I think that's where the title radiant vermin comes from. Miss D (the third actor) who gives the couple their home is the government that is seen as less bothered about the homeless or even the middle class but more worried about raising the value of property and accommodating the rich and she gets her dues of course, when the NeverEnough shopping centre opens up catering to the new neighbourhood. In the end, Miss D gives them another contract which requires double the work. You see, it's hard to be first-time buyers but it doesn't get any easier for second steppers or the third or the fourth.
Still, as I mentioned, while the story is really good it's not good enough to live it's own life. The actors made it work. And clearly if you had 90 mins of two people on stage, you need really good actors to pull that off. Gill and Oliver were both wonderful as actors. The epitome of their acting is  the well-timed and well executed scene of dual-monoacting (for lack of a better word) of Gill and Oliver as the three couples, their children and a single man in the neighbourhood,so that's 6 roles per actor (if I did my math right). Yes it starts out clearly but it starts getting confusing and that's how it's supposed to be as the light turns red, the actors change roles faster, they start mutters and spluttering their dialogues and the heat is turned up until Oliver has a nervous breakdown. 
Here I wish the play allowed for an audience pause for a burst of applause, unfortunately missed.
While all three of them are incredible actors, special mention must be given to Gill played by Gemma Whelan for her outstanding performance. I didn't realise she is the same actor who plays Yara Greyjoy in the TV series Game of Thrones until after the play. No wonder!

The play is not magnificent but it is really good, will make you laugh and is certainly worth 90 mins of a your time, especially if you a Generation Rent Londoner.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

3 winters

3/5 rating
3 Winters | National Theatre

K and I watched 3 Winters at Lyttleton before we watched Dara. But it just took me a long time to collect my thoughts on the unfamiliar. 
For most part, the set is just one living room, except shown across three winters, decades apart in Zagreb, Croatia. The play alternates between these three winters, one set in early communist era post the second world war when Rose takes possession of this house that the rest of the play is set in. She takes the house where her mother used to work as a maid and who was turned away with the then two year old Rose, to spite fate. The play then goes forward to when Croatia is in turmoil during the fall of the Soviet Union fighting for its independence then forward again to the privatisation of Croatia and the equality of all replaced with capitalism and it's exploitation.
The play alternates between these three winters and the same living room is altered every time to the detail to maintain the differences in the times. Old Caroline, the daughter of the original master of the house, keeps muttering that the house should stay within the family. And it does. Such love we have for property and how we build our securities and identities into it brick by brick.

I don't know much about Croatian history and I must accept it might have been more powerful to me if I did. But I do believe the play could have done better in terms of explaining the social and political situation. And something more innovative than the projection of chaotic colourful images on the stage with the set already on it. (Since the play already has a clear timeline on it's website, may be that could have been projected instead?) While I should have read up on Croatia before going to the play, it helps for the director to remember the play is set in Zagreb but not its audience.
The second winter is the one after the fall of the Berlin Wall in the churning Soviet Union, where Croatia is trying to find its identity and independence. Rose is long dead and her grandchildren continue living in the house even as some portions of the house have been given to others. Here is where to some extent I've lost the plot as to who they support or how that support breaks up marriages and if that is what the play was trying to convey.
Apart from the storyline being very subtle for a foreigner, the play was impeccable. Acting was amazing, my favourite being young Lucia, and the distinct transformation of young aloof Lucia into possessive adulthood as any young Croatian to uphold the identity of the country with such passion equalling that of her great grandmother's to own what is hers by right from the clutches of her oppresses was so brilliantly done. The struggle of Croatia through history unfolded beautifully in the generations of women from one family in one living room. Though, a couple of times I felt the alternating time line was a tad too confusing for the audience and a little unnecessary.

PS: while we watched 3 Winters, the entire set of Dara was lying to one side of the stage, hidden from view. And this living room was at the back of the stage when it was replaced with the Mughal courtyard of Dara.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Fireworks

5/5 rating
Fireworks | Soho Theatre

It's a Palestinian play adapted in English called Al'ab Nariya or The Fireworks by Dalia Taha.
Let me begin by saying that I was so shaken and overwhelmed that even after the play it took me a few minutes to find my bearings.
The stage was very small at Jerwood upstairs, and the audience was small too but every seat was taken and people squeezed in to accommodate more. That's one cosy setting. So when they showed us living rooms on stage it felt like were all inside the living rooms making the play that much more intense.
The play focuses on two families living in a building in a war struck Palestine. Not that they wanted war. They just happened to be living somewhere where war happened to break out and now they have blackout tape and bombs dropping everywhere. While all the neighbours are leaving because of the bombing, these families haven't yet.
Simple stories of simple families caught in the extraordinary. This heart warming story shows the children of the fiercely protective families and how they deal with the loss of loved ones. 
A mother mourns for her young boy, a casualty of war, that she neglects her daughter. A father who protects his girl by making her believe the bomb raids are fireworks in the sky. A mother who starts believing in God when she is helpless in protecting her family. A wife who fears for her family when her husband starts to yearn for revenge. A boy whose games turn progressively abusive growing up in an environment of violence.
They used a startling electric blow out to change scenes and the feeling you are left with is electrifying fear. It keeps you glued from the beginning to the end. Every time the scene changes you feel electrocuted with a chill in your spine.
Every single actor was brilliant, specifically the two mothers. The play is real and so real that it stays with you for a long time. And you know this was what theatre was meant to do.