December can be a pretty quiet month for theatre going, if you’re not into seeing The Nutcracker or A Christmas Carol again. Luckily, London has plenty of alternatives for us humbugs. Still, between working on the lighting design for Feral Pigeons’ The Sisters: Return to the Isle of Queef and having a lovely visit with my sister and our extended family over the holidays, I only made it to seven performances this month. Which maybe makes this a digestible PlayList for a change.
She Was Probably Not A Robot at Camden People’s Theatre. A hilarious and intensely original solo performance, full of strange and wonderful images: surfing on an air mattress after being washed out to sea by a city-destroying wave; a tin foil cardboard box headed robot floating in outer space; a drenched and deserted home being reclaimed in a ghost world. Lost love, dead dogs, and assassinating the parallel universe version of yourself in order to start again and do it better this time. But the most remarkable thing about this piece is writer/performer Stuart Bowden’s extraordinary presence in the room with his audience, recapping the first five minutes in fast-forward for the latecomers, getting us to sing along from the very beginning, and demanding an honest connection in every moment.
Beauty and the Beast at the Young Vic. This collaboration between real life husband and wife Mat Fraser and Julie Atlas Muz was pure joy. Unabashedly theatrical and unflinchingly honest, the show tackles themes of love, fidelity, beauty, disability, making art, and the power of telling your own story. Their puppetry was inventive and delightful, from the bits of tissue paper that became frisky bunnies to the overtly sexual food props (melons, cucumbers, you get the idea). The style of the whole production somehow managed to be a send-up of the fairy tale genre while celebrating real life fairytale love. Also delightful was running into a new friend by chance – one of the things I’ve missed about San Francisco is being almost sure to catch up with friends and colleagues whenever I go to the theatre, so I’m thrilled that’s beginning to happen here too.
In the Next Room, or The Vibrator Play at St. James Theatre. I’ve never met a Sarah Ruhl play I didn’t like. This one is a bit different from the others I’ve seen – no waterfalls in elevators or houses made out of string here – probably because it’s set in a specific, historical time and place, complete with hackneyed ideas about technology and sexuality. The premise is surprising and full of potential, and mostly pays off except for a couple of uncharacteristically weighty moments toward the end which, in this production, were intellectual rather than heartfelt tragedy. And a thematic but misguided directorial/design decision to draw the curtains around the thrust stage between scenes, which led the audience to applaud as if the play were over after the penultimate scene. Because it’s difficult to cram a Sarah Ruhl Magical Realism Moment (TM) like getting naked in the snow outside to rescue your marriage into a single-interior-set historical drama. Of course, practically, you have to close the curtains for a moment to roll up the rugs and push the furniture back. But maybe a moment like that demands a transition that matches the style of the moment to come, not the style of the moment before.
Women in Arts festival from So and So Arts Club. Sarah Berger put together an incredible three days of performance, discussion, and networking in mid-December, where I was delighted to meet some new friends, run into some Twitter buddies I’d never met before, and chip away at the mammoth issues around what it mean to be a woman in the theatre world today. The vibe in the room was always electric, and I was only sorry I couldn’t see more of the festival than I did: Madame Bovary, Commencing, The Peacock and the Nightingale, and Lulu 7. Sarah aims to make the festival an annual event; I can’t wait to get involved in the next one.
3 male directors / 3 female directors * solo show “She Was Probably Not a Robot” does not credit a director
3 male writers / 5 female writers
10 male actors / 18 female actors