Monday, August 29, 2011

The Summer of The Greeks at The Space

Just when you think you'll never see a Greek Tragedy again, two come along together.

Last week, I was thrilled at chance to revisit The Space, the arts centre on the Isle of Dogs, where the aptly-titled Lazarus Theatre Company (they specialise in revivals) is currently staging two adaptations of Greek plays: Electra and Orestes, billed as The Summer of The Greeks

As a rule I like small-scale domestic works , but there's something compelling about Greek drama, with its focus on stupendous events and legendary characters in extreme situations. The chorus and lead players give off waves of intense emotion so strong you feel quite battered by the experience.

They're meant to be staged outdoors, in vast open-air ampitheatres suited to epic themes of human pride and divine retribution.

The nearest I came to the theatrical experience they aimed for was watching Antigone at Holland Park. However, I recall once wandering around an authentic Greek theatre in a cliff-top location in Taormina, Sicily. I sat high among a myriad of stone steps curved around a three-sided arena, looking down on the stage below. I was trying to imagine what it must have been like be in the audience for one of the great epics, such as Oedipus Rex, with a gods' eye-view of human follies.

My first visit to The Space a few weeks back was to see Tartuffe, when the French comedy classic had been given a rambunctious treatment, with actors chasing around in period costumes between irregular rows of seats. Even a small-scale domestic drama seemed to burst the boundaries, so I wondered how a pair of epic tragedies would fare.

The adaptations had been trimmed to suit the small-scale ambience, but the theatre was amazingly versatile, too. The interior had taken on a dignity to suit the occasion; all straight lines and well-ordered rows, reminiscent of its origins as a Presbyterian church.

On the previous occasion there hadn't been time to visit the 'Hubbub' cafe, comprising an upstairs bar and bench-and-table combinations under the trees to one side of the theatre. A lively crowd of young actors stood about- the whole 30-strong company had turned out for the press-night showing of both plays as a double bill. In the interval, under cover of studying the programme notes I listened to them talking about rehearsal mishaps. It was a nice contrast to the soul-stirring drama onstage.

My review of the play is on the Remotegoat website.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Boston and Brigadoon: The Gift of Lightning at Waterloo East Theatre

I was pleased to see a new venue, Waterloo East Theatre, listed on the Remotegoat list of venues. The play sounded a bit 'different', too - about a young Irishman whose life is changed when he's struck by lightning. Must be all the influence of all those blockbusters I see at Cineworld that attracted me. In fact, I think it was the proximity to Waterloo Station.

Sure enough, it was only a short walk up a street called Alaska, opposite the Waterloo Road entrance. As we arrived, at the same time as a jolly crowd of thirty-somethings, we even spotted a nearby pub to get a drink when we came out.

The theatre foyer was tiny, with a spiral staircase up to a balcony - but access to the theatre was off the foyer beside the quaintly-named 'Wet Bar' - no beer on pumps, but they served nicely chilled white wine and, according to my companion,a pleasant red, as well as the usual range.

The box office and bar staff were very welcoming, as you'd expect on a press night. Press nights are good for spotting celebrity thesps who attend to support their fellow actors. The downside is they laugh like hyenas and try to instigate standing ovations even when they aren't quite justified.

As it happened,The Gift of Lightning was thought-provoking as well as enjoyable and I gave it four stars in my review

The venue had about three times as many seats as the nearby the Union Street theatre, arranged in rows. I prefer the intimacy of theatre in the round, but in the Waterloo Rast's coffin-shaped space this would be well-nigh impossible

The play itself was short, giving us time to try for the pub, but it was so crammed and so noisy that once again we ended up in the basement bar called The Wellesley, on the main concourse of Waterloo Station