Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Let's Get Theatrical

It wasn't that a million wonderful shows leaped out at me when I was in London last weekend. As it was, I had time to see but one play anyway, amid the other appointments I had manage to arrange. But the more you look at what's on in London, the more you appreciate the depth of offerings for those there to pursue theatre.

I didn't even try for The Habit of Art, the play at the National by Alan Bennett that depicts an encounter between W. H. Auden and Benjamin Britten. Bennett's plays are usually stimulating--maybe you caught The History Boys when it played New York?--I'd love to see this one sometime but you don't easily get into the National's hits unless you book way ahead of time. Same is true for the Almeida in Islington, which had what was described as an imaginative production of Measure for Measure.

I considered the original production of Billy Elliott, the musical that has been such a success in New York. And also looked into Enron, in that the Brits do some of these contemporary issue plays really well. Another, also at the National, is The Power of Yes, David Hare's play about the financial crash.

In terms of classics, you have your choice of James Earl Jones doing Big Daddy in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, also All My Sons and Ghosts. There's also plenty of Shakespeare, Moliere and Lope de Vega, and a new production of Shaw's Mrs. Warren's Profession, which we will also get, different production that is, at the Shakespeare Theater here this spring. Kim Cattrall of Sex in the City is doing Private Lives.

So I haven't even given the half of it all. But what did I end up seeing? A comedy called Jerusalem by Jez Butterworth which was one of the most totally English-oriented shows I've ever caught. The title comes from Blake's famous poetic tribute to England's "green and pleasant land" although the focus is on some bounders and misfits, headed by the lead, Johnny "Rooster" Byron who lives in a trailer on the outskirts of some Wiltshire village and imbibes either alcohol or drugs when he isn't putting on a party complete with loud music and strobes. The locals want to bounce him and his group of societal outcasts in St. George's Day. The lead is played by a well-known English actor, Mark Rylance.

The show itself has its moments but although I pride myself on a fair familiarity with both Brit culture and slang, I probably caught about half of it. I was persuaded mostly by raves in the Financial Times and Time Out, neither of which are rollovers for shows. Let's put it this way--I enjoyed an evening that for better or worse, I'd be unlikely to have a chance to have in the U.S.

But it's sobering to consider how many choices I had. And I haven't even gotten to the revivals of musicals like Oliver and Chicago and Terence McNally's A Man of No Importance, from Oscar Wilde's original play.

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